(Revised 27 October 2015, it looks as if a deal is in the works to settle all the issues discussed below in one fell swoop. Also, graph updated to show some of the members of the House.)
The United States Government seems to be careening towards multiple crises that include a Government shutdown, a shutdown of the Railroad system, and a Debt Ceiling bill that appears to be in jeopardy. First, the current Continuing Resolution runs out on December 11. Second, the debt ceiling must be raised by 3 November. Third, Congress has failed to pass a Transportation Bill that includes a delay the Positive Train Control mandate. This must be passed soon because the railroads cannot operate without the delay and they will begin the process of shutting down their systems in November. Fourth, given President Obama’s certain veto of the Defense Authorization Bill, that bill will have to re-worked quickly given conditions in the Middle East.
So, given all these urgent matters what does the House do this week? It passes a Reconciliation Bill to de-fund the Affordable Care Act knowing that President Obama will veto it. The problem is that the Republican Caucus in the House is badly split between the 40-45 members of the Freedom Caucus and the remaining 200 or so Republicans. Using our Weekly Common Space DW-NOMINATE Scores, below we show smoothed histograms of the Democrats and the two Republican Parties in the House. Note that the area under the curves adds to 1.
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The House Freedom Caucus is concentrated on the far Right of the Republican Party and has enough votes to prevent the Republicans from passing bills with 218 votes without assistance from the Democrats. Speaker Boehner was forced out by this group because he was willing to violate the “Hastert Rule” — that is, put bills on the floor that a majority of Republicans oppose. The House Freedom Caucus is demanding that the Hastert Rule be enforced by Paul Ryan. In effect this will lead to gridlock and give the HFC veto power over controversial legislation (many Republicans are afraid to challenge the far Right for fear of Primary challenges, hence the veto power).
Speaker Boehner threw some red meat to the HFC by passing a Reconciliation bill that defunds most of the Affordable Care Act. This vote is shown below:
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This is a pointless exercise because, even if it gets through the Senate, President Obama will veto the bill. Indeed, Senators Rubio, Cruz, and Lee will vote against the bill in the Senate because they feel it does not go far enough in the defunding of the ACA.
The current state of affairs in Congress is such that it risks a true train-wreck both literally and figuratively. Unless Speaker Boehner can pull some rabbits out of his hat before he leaves at the end of this coming week these unresolved bills could produce the most serious crisis since 2011.