John Boehner, Mitch McConnell (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Welcome to total failure: Why new GOP Congress' first big bills are likely doomed

GOP wants to push through Keystone and change Obamacare. That tiny "veto" thing may present some problems, however


Jim Newell
January 8, 2015 9:32PM (UTC)

Alright, time for work: we've got a new Republic Senate majority leader and a continuing Republican speaker. Big old fat Republican majorities in each chamber of Congress. It's time for yesterday's celebrations to give way to tomorrow's business. What's first up on the path to nowhere?

Whenever Republicans take power of anything, "find some way to limit abortion rights" is near the top of any list, and the 114th Congress will continue that proud tradition. (Those silly Democrats and their War on Women campaign fearmongering!)

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But the first pieces of legislation that the Republican Congress actually hopes to move -- as in, they aren't just dopey protest votes or cuts of meat thrown to the base -- are twofold: approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and changing the Affordable Care Act's definition of the full-time workweek from 30 to 40 hours.

Republicans have been hoping that these measures would have enough bipartisan support to overcome a Senate filibuster. From there, the idea is that President Obama would face pressure to sign them, or failing that, they'd have enough votes to override a veto.

And right now, it doesn't look like either bill will pass the test, and they'll go down in similar fashion, for similar reasons.

Republicans only need six Democratic votes to break the filibuster. (Assuming that Democrats bother filibustering and Republicans hold together.) Each of these bills should have enough bipartisan support to get there. In December, when then-majority leader Harry Reid brought Keystone up for a vote as a depressing last-ditch move to help then-Sen. Mary Landrieu, it got 59 votes, one short of what was needed to invoke cloture. An infusion of 9 new Senate Republicans should be enough. Same goes for the 40-hour workweek bill. Centrist/conservative Democrats love this thing. It allows them to distance themselves from The Obummercare and talk up the importance of Hard Work, etc.

So let's say that these two bills pass the House promptly and the Senate slowly. (Majority leader Mitch McConnell plans to allow open debate and amendment, a pledge he'll likely abandon after ~1-2 months after getting annoyed.) Then they'll go to the President's desk, where our executive will think long and hard, weigh the pros and cons, stare at his busts of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington for advice, consult w--

Just kidding, the White House has already threatened to veto each one. Being a lame duck is fun, isn't it?

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They'll have to override the veto. Nine pickups in the Senate and 13 in the House sounds like a great thing for the Republican party. Now they can achieve anything! It's definitely a good thing for them, but you can't simply add 9 and 13 votes to what the totals would have otherwise been in the previous Congress. Because in picking up those Republican votes for Republican bills, they consumed... Democratic votes for Republican bills.

Consider Keystone's 59 votes from the lame duck session. Nine more Senate Republicans doesn't mean that it would now get 68 votes -- enough to override a veto. A lot of the red-state Democrats who voted for it in the lame duck are now gone, off to whatever sinecures in lobbying valhalla that await them. And the CBO gave Democratic leaders serious ammunition for their fight against the 40-hour workweek bill in a report this week.

The Republican gains in November helped them either take control or pad their leads in Congress, but they also reduced the pool of Democratic swing votes for Republicans' agenda items. Congress has not once overridden a President Obama veto, and it doesn't look like it's going to become a habit now. Republicans' best bet to achieve items with modest bipartisan support is by leveraging the budget process. (They could also try working with the President on things that he won't veto, but obviously that would be treasonous and so forth.)


Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

MORE FROM Jim Newell

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Congress Editor's Picks House John Boehner Keystone Xl Mitch Mcconnell Obamacare Senate Veto




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