Privately, the liberal Democrats behind an aggressive new legislative strategy targeting House Republicans are calling it “Operation Bust Their Chops.”
That was the actual title that Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., used when he announced the plan during an appearance late last month at the closed-door strategy summit in Pikesville, Md., according to attendees.
Democrats are developing what they call an “amendment bank,” ready-to-go Democratic attachments for House GOP bills on any number of topics—education, transportation, veterans’ affairs, or whatever—that they believe could force some Republicans into potentially embarrassing political boxes.
The plan will be difficult to implement, given Republican control over the House Rules Committee and the procedures for handling legislation on the floor, but the band of Democrats seems determined to try.
“The idea is to find new ways to start forcing Republicans to take bad votes more frequently—politically uncomfortable votes,” said one House Democratic aide.
Publicly, the plan is still only grudgingly acknowledged, though Grayson confirmed its existence. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., cochair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, is also actively involved. The hushed murmurs about it convey that many details have yet to be finalized, and that there is a reluctance to spill information on the actual intent and scope of the program.
“It’s moving along,” Grayson said on Thursday.
As an example, one approach might be to have amendments written and ready for whenever a bill is advanced by Republicans touching on education that seeks to add funding for a popular school program in a certain GOP lawmakers’ district, or in a group of districts. Or, similarly, to have an amendment ready on a transportation bill that might seek to pay for a new port of entry into Canada or some other item that would be seen as an economic benefit to a Republican-held district or area.
The idea is to make targeted Republicans, or groups of Republicans, have to decide whether to vote against amendments that would be considered beneficial back home.
“I mean, you know, there are a lot of permutations of that concept, ‘difficult vote,’ ” Grayson said.
Offering amendments in a way that seeks to put bill sponsors in compromising positions is certainly not a new strategy. And minority party leaders in the House routinely use so-called “motions to recommit” to do similar things. But under the plan being developed by Grayson and other liberals, there would be more of these amendments stockpiled, available by topic or even region, and their use would be more coordinated, routine, and possibly more directly targeted against specific lawmakers.
On Thursday, Grayson sought to describe the effort as something quite different than a more-coordinated form of a political dirty trick or sabotage. Rather, he said the amendments that would be included in this “bank” would be also used to set an agenda “for the next go-round.”
“If the Democrats end up winning the House, then the amendments that we’d be offering will naturally become part of the next Congress’ agenda,” he said.
Grayson would not comment on whether he’s talked about this idea with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., or other party leaders. But he did say, “I don’t think leadership needs to be thrown in. I mean, leadership is accomplishing exactly the same thing on the motions to recommit, which are things that are entirely within leadership’s control, and that’s their domain.” There was no immediate response from Pelosi’s office.
There also was no immediate comment from the office of Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, or from House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas. And it appears that the plan being hatched by Grayson and other progressives would have to find a way around the roadblocks that Sessions’s panel could erect to keep these amendments from a floor vote.
One Democratic aide said that the strategy to embarrass Republicans would not necessarily be limited to floor action, and could also be carried out at the committee-level discussions and actions on bills.
“I don’t think there’s been any markup on any committee yet. So we certainly have plenty of time to put this system together and make it roll,” Grayson said.
This article appears in the Feb. 15, 2013, edition of National Journal Daily as Liberal Dems Scheme to Force Tough GOP Votes.