Aug 12, 2022 - Politics & Policy

GOP scuttles plan to undermine tax-and-spend bill

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy

Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

House Republicans on Friday abandoned a plan to prime a constitutional challenge against Democrats' $740 billion tax, climate and health care bill.

Why it matters: The plan, spearheaded by the House Freedom Caucus, was meant show the Republican base that, even in the minority, the party was flexing what leverage they have to block Democrats' legislative initiatives.

Driving the news: The plan was to have enough Republicans proxy vote to deny Democrats a physical quorum and open the door for a legal challenge to the legitimacy of the bill – and the validity of proxy voting.

  • However, just 158 members of the 427 members who voted did so by proxy, according to the House Clerk's office. That means well over a simple majority of the the House was present in the chamber.

How it happened: The plan fell about 20 members short and members at the Capitol were told they could vote in-person, according to an aide with knowledge of the events, who cited numerous factors that undermined the effort:

  • Some members who have eschewed proxy voting were concerned about breaking their streak only for the plan to fall short anyway, especially since a federal court already ruled that the House can set its own rules on the matter.
  • Others expressed fears that the Freedom Caucus would turn around and attack them for voting by proxy as they've done on votes in the past.
  • Leadership tacitly endorsed the plans but didn't proactively help with the whipping effort beyond providing lists of members and updates.
  • Some offices of members that rarely proxy voted in the past and were working with minimal staff had trouble filing their proxy letters to the clerk's office.

What they're saying: One Republican who stood firm on their opposition to proxy voting was Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), one of the four Republicans who didn't vote on the bill.

  • "My wife is about to give birth to our second child and as I’ve long maintained, proxy voting is an unconstitutional, unethical abomination that’s destroying Congress," Gallagher said in a statement.

The other side: Dozens of Republicans voted by proxy, including several who had been at the Capitol earlier in the day like Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio).

  • "I have to cancel 15 events for one vote?" Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), who voted by proxy while campaigning in his district, told Axios. "I'm just in a mode where you can't just move the schedule around."

Remember: Proxy voting letters require members to state that they are voting remotely "due to the ongoing public health emergency."

The bottom line: The bill passed 220-207, but Republicans' threat to proxy voting lingers as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is likely to ban the practice if Republicans make the majority.

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