Quid Pro Status Quo: A Tale of Two Tails

In my previous post, I discussed the Senate’s consideration of a continuing resolution (or CR) that includes some provisions relevant to gun control.  In so doing, I mentioned a form of unanimous consent agreement, or UCA, (like this one) that the Senate has been using for consideration of measures that would presumably otherwise fail to obtain cloture.

Leaving aside the finer points of cloture, the key aspect of this UCA is that it guarantees a vote on the amendment in question but requires 60 votes (a three-fifths majority, like cloture) for passage.  Upon reflection, two of the first four amendments to the CR to receive consideration are particularly illustrative of the parties’ collective strategies of position-taking when compared side by side.

The first amendment considered by the Senate was offered by Ted Cruz (R-TX).  It was actually an amendment to an amendment in the nature of a substitute (i.e., a complete replacement for the CR) offered by Sens. Mikulski (D-MD) and Shelby (R-AL), the chair and ranking minority member, respectively, of the Senate Appropriations Committee.*

The second amendment I wish to compare it with is the one, mentioned in the previous post, offered by Sen. Harkin (D-IA), which was also an amendment to the Mikulski-Shelby substitute.  It proposed to increase spending on a slew of Democratic priorities, including

special education, childcare subsidies, The Ryan White AIDS Drug Assistance Program, suicide prevention, aid for first-in-their-family college students, food safety, lead poisoning screening for kids in this country, diabetes prevention, and worker safety.

In addition, as I pointed out in the earlier post, this amendment essentially proposed returning to the substance of the Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations bill except for any additional spending on Obamacare.


  1. a vote for Cruz’s amendment was a vote against Obamacare (or, perhaps, “big government”), and
  2. a vote for Harkin’s amendment was a vote for traditional Democratic priorities.

Note the order of the votes—Reid essentially allowed Republican incumbents to take clear positions against Obamacare—prior to at least a handful of these Senators voting for the CR next week.  Then McConnell and Reid (essentially) agreed to a UCA under which Democrats would get a chance to cast themselves as pro-Democratic priorities sans
Obamacare.  This quid pro status quo did not threaten the CR, because Cruz’s amendment did not have majority support (hence, no need for a UCA, assuming no Democrat filibustered, which they didn’t) and Harkin’s amendment would not receive 60 votes (but it did receive majority support, hence the need for the UCA to obviate a Republican filibuster).

Thus, this sequence arguably represents a classic, cooperative logroll between the parties (really, between the incumbents of the parties).  Policy was not put at risk, but both parties’ incumbents got to take at least one good position-taking roll call vote.  A larger take on this trade-off—a classic “question” in political science—was recently offered by Greg Koger, Hans Noel, and—well—Greg Koger.  Well worth the read.

I won’t weigh in on the larger question at this time (though I have offered a take on it in published research (ungated version)).  Instead, it is important to note that sometimes the parties work together by agreeing to stand apart.  (Also, I have already talked about part of this dynamic with the fiscal cliff, though from a different angle.)

With that, I leave you with this.


* If my reading is true, Sec. 110 (Cong. Rec. S1613)  and Sec. 514 (Cong. Rec. S1619) contain the provisions (3 in Sec. 110 and 1 in Sec. 514). The fact that the Senate is using an amendent in the nature of a substitute to the House version of the CR means that—at least from a practical-cum-technological standpoint—it is even harder to find “the Senate’s version” of the CR.  This approach also greatly expands the “voting tree” for consideration of the CR.