On Monday, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat, voted against a bill to provide tax relief for some victims of recent hurricanes. The bill also extended spending for Federal Aviation Administration programs for six months.
Republican lawmakers — burned by criticism that some members voted against help for hurricane victims, as part of a debt ceiling extension — rushed to the microphones.
“It is a sad day when House Democrats will, in the name of politics, vote against disaster relief and air traffic safety measures,” harrumphed House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Ryan didn’t mention a difference between the two circumstances. Unlike the debt measure, the FAA/disaster bill relief required a two-thirds majority. It will pass easily later this week, with a simple majority.
But Ryan’s broader point is significant. It turns out some Democrats voted against the FAA bill because they want protections for Dreamers, the children of undocumented immigrants who now face threats of deportation.
Linking unrelated bills is common, but it can yield strange results. For an example, let’s examine the recent debt ceiling increase.
Virtually every sentient member of Congress knows the debt ceiling must be raised from time to time. It should be an easy vote, like approving the journal.
It isn’t. Lawmakers have turned it into a political hand grenade, even though almost all experts say the economy would tank if the U.S. ever truly defaulted on its debt.
This year, a significant number of conservative House Republicans pulled the pin. They refused to support a debt ceiling hike under virtually any circumstances.
That may have helped them with talk radio, but it gave House Democrats tremendous leverage. The critically important debt bill needed their votes to pass.
Democrats were willing to take the heat, but they wanted hurricane aid in the bill. They cut a deal with President Donald Trump to get it done.
Local Republicans howled. “Disaster relief funding should not have been linked to … a debt limit increase,” Rep. Lynn Jenkins said.
But the two were linked only because conservatives refused to do what had to be done. Had all House Republicans agreed to vote yes on the debt ceiling, Democrats there would have had no influence. Hurricane relief would have been a separate bill.
Instead, Jenkins, Rep. Kevin Yoder and other local Republicans wanted it both ways. They wanted to vote yes for storm victims and no on the debt ceiling — while leaning on Democrats to get the debt bill across the finish line.
That leaves those legislators facing accusations of deep hypocrisy for abandoning their storm-ravaged neighbors in favor of making a useless point about the debt.
Cleaver and his fellow Democrats have less influence than the GOP, of course. They’re the minority party. But they also risk a backlash if storm aid and safe travel are held hostage to DACA reform.
The best policy seems to be voting for individual bills on their merits. Congress seems incapable of casting such votes, which is why most of America despises it so.