You probably knew that Speaker John Boehner faces a tricky math problem in assembling a House coalition of Democrats and reasonable Republicans in passing a bill that would avert a fiscal crisis. For a peek at how difficult is this challlenge for the incoming congress, check out Nate Silver’s FiveThirty Eight.com post, “In House of Representatives, an Arithmetic Problem,” which explains:
… The new House of Representatives will have 233 Republicans and 200 Democrats. Two seats remain vacant, which means that 217 of 433 votes will be required to pass a bill. Of the 233 Republicans, 51 will be members of the Tea Party Caucus, give or take a few depending on which first-term members of Congress join the coalition. The other 182 are what I will call Establishment Republicans….It seems clear that Mr. Boehner lacks the confidence of roughly three dozen Republican members of the House, and possibly more.
Say that Mr. Boehner cannot count on the support of 34 of his Republicans when it comes to passing major fiscal policy legislation. That means he would need to identify 18 Democrats who would vote along with the Republicans who remained with him.
Here’s the problem: it might be hard to round up those 18 Democrats…The reason is that most of the Democrats who remain in the House are quite liberal.
…What that means is that if Mr. Boehner has a significant number of Republican defections, as he did on Thursday night, he will need to win the support of at least some liberal Democrats. And a bill that wins the support of some liberal Democrats will be an even harder sell to Mr. Boehner’s Republicans. For each vote that he picks up from the left, he could risk losing another from his right flank.
Given Boehner’s ‘Plan B’ fiasco, argues Silver, “this arithmetic problem could turn out to be intractable at some point.”
None of which should engender much sympathy for Boehner, whose militant lack of bipartisanship thus far has been a huge part of the problem all along. Silver doesn’t discuss the option alluded to by TNR’s Noam Sheiber and J.P. Green, of a coalition of House Dems joined by a small handful of Republicans, perhaps with good reason, since it is a long shot. If any coalition is forged which prevents going off the cliff, it will more likely be in spite of Boehner’s ‘leadership,’ rather than because of it.