Behold Washington's new math.
The first anti-Obamacare bill of the new Congress, the Save American Workers Act of 2015, was written to undo the part of the law that defines "full employment" as holding a job for as little as 30 hours per week. It passed, and on the way, it became even more partisan in color than the 2014 version of the bill. In the last Congress, 18 Democrats voted with every Republican to pass the bill, but Thursday only 12 did, including all but one of the 2014 supporters (not Georgia Rep. Sanford Bishop) and two new Blue Dogs (Florida Rep. Gwen Graham, Nebraska Rep. Brad Ashford).
By turning on the bill, the Democrats made clear that they would sustain the veto already promised by President Obama, and, yes, they have the votes to do so. If every member of the 114th House of Representatives shows up for a vote, 48 Democrats need to join every Republican to override a veto. Three times this week, when the GOP brought forward bills to approve the Keystone pipeline and delay part of the Volcker Rule, the Democrats denied them all but a handful of votes.
Just as interesting as the Republican math problem were the arguments Democrats used to hold back their votes. In its veto message, the White House said the 30-hour work week bill "would significantly increase the deficit" and cited 2014 numbers from the Congressional Budget Office to say it would "increase the budget deficit by $45.7 billion over the 2015 to 2024 period." In the Senate yesterday, in a conversation with reporters, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin repeatedly mocked Republicans for offering changes to the ACA without offering up the mechanisms to pay for them.
"I’m just not going to buy the premise Republicans now want to sell, that deficits don’t count," Durbin said. "Since they’re in the majority, they’re going to use dynamic scoring—time for the laugh track!—they’re going to use dynamic scoring to prove that they can cut any tax without an impact on the deficit. That doesn’t work. That’s why we’ve stopped short of repealing the medical device tax, because the payfor has never been explained."
Of course, the Democrats had a terrible election—no news there—and in the process they watched Republicans leap ahead of them in voter trust on key issues. Republicans pulled into a tie on health care, which had always been a Democratic advantage, and they built huge leads on taxes, the economy, and the deficit. Yet in the months after the election, they watched President Obama's approval rating tick up, and saw a dynamite series of jobs reports followed by 5 percent GDP growth in the final quarter.
Democrats paid attention to new Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's maiden speech, and how "the [economic] uptick appears to coincide with the biggest political change of the Obama administration’s long tenure in Washington: the expectation of a new Republican Congress." To counter that claim, Democrats in Congress want to reframe the GOP's bills as deficit-busters, and make sure Republicans get none of Barack Obama's credit if the economy continues to improve.