How Washington ‘Works’

It’s worth quoting MSNBC’s First Read on why last night’s non-vote on John Boehner’s bill mattered, even though the bill stood no chance of passing the senate or being signed into law:

By NBC’s Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Brooke Brower*** A game of leverage: Yesterday, we said that who’s up one day in this debt debate can quickly go down the next. And that’s precisely what happened on Thursday night, when House Speaker John Boehner — who had appeared likely to get his debt legislation through the House — had to postpone the vote. The reason: GOP leaders simply didn’t have the votes to pass it. Why does all of this matter, even though Boehner’s bill is supposedly D.O.A. in the Senate? It’s about leverage. Had Republican passed their bill last night, it would have put pressure on the White House and Democrats, even though Senate Dems had vowed to oppose the Boehner bill. But with the GOP’s failure last night, Democrats suddenly have much more leverage than they did yesterday. Expect Mitch McConnell and a band of frustrated Senate Republicans (whom McConnell is simply trying to keep calm) to give Boehner a couple of hours this morning to try to pass his legislation again. But if that doesn’t happen, Senate Republicans might end up cutting a deal with Harry Reid and the Democrats — moving things faster than any of us thought possible.

The thing about this is that as a matter of logic it makes absolutely no sense. Whether 219 House Republicans favor Boehner’s plan or only 215 do has literally no relevance to the situation. Any deal requires the agreement of President Obama. And any deal with President Obama will obtain a non-zero level of support for House Democrats. So if there’s a deal, there’s no need for Boehner to assemble an all-GOP majority in the House. And if there’s not a deal, then a hypothetical all-GOP deal in the House is useless. There’s no objective leverage to be obtained one way or the other.

And yet, the First Read gang isn’t wrong. This is what “everybody” says, and the leverage will exist in the hands of the “everybody” who populates the Beltway. It’ll be a matter of “perception.” But whose perception? Little-watched daytime cable news anchors? Little-read political bloggers? Nobody knows!