Blue Dog House

Robert Waldmann
dares to debate Nate Silver

Nate Silver argues that health care reform might be in more danger in the House than the Senate. He notes that there are, by the standard DW-NOMINATE rating system, many conservative Democrats in the House and none (zero) in the Senate (Ben Nelson rates marginally marginally left of center). More importantly, there are many centrist Democratic Representatives and very few (arguably exactly one) centrist Democratic Senator[s].

This means that the 60th percentile of DW-NOMINATE scores in the Senate is about the same as the 50th percentile of DW-NOMINATE in the House (coincidentally 0 that is exactly centrist). Mechanical application of this calculation suggests that the vote in the House is about as tough as a cloture vote in the Senate.

So far so good. Then Silver argues that the vote in the House is, in fact tougher. I find this argument totally unconvincing. More after the jump.

1. Silver argues that the bill on the House floor will be to the left of the Senate bill. He assumed that the bill will be the Appropriations/education and labor bill. This makes no sense. Republicans plus blue dogs have a majority (of one vote) in the House energy and commerce committee. The bill that gets to the floor from that committee will be acceptable to blue dogs. Now the leadership can force a vote on the other bill, but only a gross failure at nose counting would cause them to force such a vote and lose (plus then they could go to the energy and commerce bill no ?).

2. He notes correctly that a vote for cloture is not identical to a yes vote. This is true and important and I agree with his second argument.

My real quarrel is with the third — where can arms most easily be twisted. Silver argues that it is harder to whip 40 representatives than one or two senators. I think he is totally totally wrong and has it backwards. He writes

But while you might be able to muscle one or two or three hedging members into a yea vote on health care (or a vote against a filibuster in the Senate’s case), it’s much harder to do that 40 or so legislators, where there is less individual accountability.

This is crazy. Pelosi can singe out individuals and say she will hold them responsible and punish them if they vote no. Nothing forces her to threaten all blue dogs equally. Selection can be based on who is likely to need money from the DCCC, who has constituents who support the house bill (I’d guess they all do and they are simply ignorant or lying when they say their constituents oppose soaking the rich).

But the key point is that Reid can’t threaten Nelson et al with much. They are immensely powerful and they know it. He’s going to have to beg Nelson for votes on cloture for the whole 111th congress. To eliminate Nelson’s power one would have to change the rules of the Senate — that takes 60 votes and Nelson and the Republicans will vote no.

In contrast, Pelosi can uhm fix ten blue dogs chosen at random any time she wants. Legislation is really written in conference committees. The House leadership decides who is on a conference committee. “Vote no and you will not be on a conference committee while I am speaker” should work. Also how many Representatives are eager to serve only on the Indian Affairs committee.

Recall that DeLay forced unanimity on the Republican caucus including the very few moderate Republican representatives. In the House, the whip really stings.

More broadly, can anyone remember a time when a Presidents initiative was blocked in the House and not the Senate ? Ever in US history ? I can’t and ask for information.