Before passing their own version of the budget resolution, House Republican leaders allowed a vote on a version by the Republican Study Committee, which contained much deeper and more unpopular cuts. Chad Pergram explains:
The House Republican braintrust assumed that a host of moderate Republicans would join nearly all Democrats to defeat the RSC’s idea. After all, if Democrats weren’t going to support the Ryan plan, they would certainly oppose the ultra-conservative budget drafted by Scott Garrett.
As the clock ticked down to 00:00 on the House scoreboard, the RSC plan was prevailing, mostly because few Democrats had even bothered to vote. Surely the RSC plan wouldn’t win, would it? Because if it did, the RSC would have short-circuited the Ryan plan and it would never even make it to the floor.
And that’s when Steny Hoyer showed his hand.
At 11:52 am, an email exploded onto BlackBerries all over Capitol Hill from the Democratic Whip Press Shop.
“We are now voting on the RSC budget. Democrats are voting present to highlight Republican divisions. By voting present, Republicans will be in a position of either passing the RSC budget, or voting against Club for Growth who is scoring this vote,” read the missive. “With Democrats voting present, Republicans are solely responsible for passage or failure of the RSC budget.”
By holding their votes until the last minute and then answering “present,” Democrats were driving down the total necessary to approve the resolution. In fact this tactic would drop the total WELL below 217. That’s because present votes don’t count against the final vote tally. In addition, the gambit of Democrats voting present hampered the GOP, which ironically, NEEDED Democrats to vote no against the RSC just to lug the Ryan budget to the floor.
First 12 Democratic present votes rolled in. It ballooned to 40 a minute later. Then the figure exploded all the way up to 152 in a matter of seconds.
Pandemonium erupted on the floor. You could almost hear Admiral Ackbar from Return of the Jedi declare “It’s a trap!”
The number of Democratic present votes continued to swell. Now the scramble was on. Could Republicans persuade some its members to switch their votes from yes to no before Democrats could get those who voted no to alter their votes to present?At least nine Republicans switched their votes, including House Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-CA) and the husband-and-wife tandem of Reps. Connie Mack (R-FL) & Mary Bono Mack (R-CA).