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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Dodgeball and Deliberation

Don Wolfensberger at The Hill:
There was a time, in the not-too-distant past, when House members were drilled by their leaders at the beginning of a new Congress on three unwritten party rules they were expected obey without exception. First, always vote for your party’s nominee for Speaker; second, always support your party’s package of House rules proposed at the opening of a Congress; and, third, always vote for your party’s position on special rule resolutions from the Rules Committee that set the terms of debate and amendment on major legislation. The Rules Committee was known then, at least, as “the Speaker’s committee” because it reflected the leadership’s policy priorities and procedural means of considering them.

For a small group of hard-right junior Republicans, all three of those rules were tossed out of the window as the beginning of this 118th Congress. They first balked at electing Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as Speaker over the course of four days and 14 ballots until they had wrested from him certain concessions on House rules changes and processes they wanted him to adhere to.


In grappling for an appropriate analogy for this new procedural game in town, I finally settled on circle dodgeball, labeled here as “procedural dodgeball.” A large circle is drawn and, in the middle a smaller circle with five or so targets (or leaders). Around the perimeter are 20 or so throwers (rebels) on marked spots who try to eliminate the players in the middle by hitting them below the waist with dodge balls. Once all the center circle targets are eliminated, they switch places with a comparable number of throwers in the inner circle until they in turn are all removed. And back and forth it goes, between special rules and the suspension bills.
Unfortunately, all the players on the inner and outer circles are of the same party. The Democrats, on the other hand, are in the stands, cheering on both sides in their game of self-elimination, while providing sufficient votes on special rules to allow the handful of rebels to prevail in defeating those rules.
It’s difficult to predict when or whether all this will end. But it is a far cry from James Madison’s ideal of a Congress in which various competing factions overcome their hostilities and finally come together to act in the public interest after extended deliberations over the nature of the problems and its solution. Deliberation today is in short supply. Performative, partisan point-making has replaced serious national lawmaking as the order of the day.