Having few friends and being generally socially awkward, it is perhaps not surprising that I was home New Year’s Eve. What is perhaps surprising is that I was focused on the deal making and progress in the US Senate on New Year’s Eve and the further progress the next day on the Senate Resolution to avoid the “fiscal cliff” in the US House of Representatives.
It was fascinating to watch events unfold and there could not have been more at stake. It is generally accepted that if the scheduled tax increases and spending cuts came to be that the entire US economy would tank, taking Canada and most of the rest of the world with it. The fiscal cliff was indeed averted, temporarily at least, but it was the debate, arm-twisting and the voting that preceded President Obama’s signing of the Bill that I found both fascinating and inspiring.
It was fascinating firstly because the US Senate worked until 2:00 in the morning on New Year’s Eve night. Then, the House of Representatives worked all day and voted at 9:00 pm on New Year’s Day. No reveling or watching College Bowl games for US lawmakers!
But what I found more intriguing is how the parties split on this divisive bill. The legislation passed easily in the Democrat controlled Senate 89-8. However, 3 Democratic Senators broke both with their party and with the President and voted against the deal. They were joined by 5 Republican Senators, who broke with the 40 of their Republican colleagues, who voted with the Democrats to assure passage of the legislation.
The Bill then went to the lower House of Representatives, which is controlled by the Republicans. Passage in the House was far from a certainty and late in the afternoon it appeared that further amendments would be proposed. Had that occurred, an amended Bill would have to return to the Senate; chaos ensued when it was reported that most Senators had returned to their home states, after having worked until 2:00 in the morning.
Eventually a straight up and down vote was agreed to and after some genuine debate, the Bill passed 257-167. Now is where matters get interesting; the Republicans voted almost 2-1 against (85 yays; 151 nays). I find this fascinating since most, but not all, of the Republican Leadership including Speaker John Boehner supported the compromise legislation. However, almost 2/3 of the Caucus, led by the Tea Party Republicans, voted against their leadership. What is equally intriguing is that clearly the leadership did not represent the view of the majority of the Caucus. The Tea Party, for example, is opposed to the Bill’s new minimum taxation on the wealthy.
Even the Democratic Congressmen were somewhat divided; the Democrats voted 172 in favour and 16 against. 16 Democratic Members of the House voted against the Democratic President on a Budget Bill!
A Backbench Member of Parliament can barely mentally process such chicanery! However, listening to some of the Speeches on the Floor of the House offers some insightful perspective as to how Congressmen come to a voting decision. Some were lame duck Members, who either did not seek re-election or were defeated in November and as a result had nothing to lose by breaking with Party Leadership. More, however, voted genuinely with their perception of what their constituents demanded and clearly feared their voters more than they feared their leadership. Having to seek re-election every two years certainly forces one to be in touch with your district and reinforces loyalty to your constituents.
As several Tea Party Republicans posited, “How can I, having made a pledge to my District less than two months ago that I would never vote in favour of a tax increase, now break that promise??”
A bipartisan solution to avoid the fiscal cliff and elected representatives loyal to their word and to the voters that elected them; it was truly inspirational!!
Next: How would this all work in the Westminster Parliamentary System…….?