Monday, January 15, 2007

Congressional Party Unity

The conventional academic wisdom holds that congressional Republicans are far more unified than Democrats. That wisdom is taking a hit in the newspapers. The Washington Post reports:

House Republican leaders, who confidently predicted they would drive a wedge through the new Democratic majority, have found their own party splintering, with Republican lawmakers siding with Democrats in droves on the House's opening legislative blitz.

The New York Times reaches a similar conclusion:

After years of rock-solid party discipline and fealty to President Bush, Congressional Republicans have suddenly fractured in their new role as members of the minority, with some prominently deserting the White House on Iraq and others bolting from their leadership on popular domestic issues.
The change should not be surprising. Even during their time in the majority, Republicans had only slightly higher party unity than Democrats. CQ reports that House Republicans averaged 88 percent party unity in 2006, just two points ahead of the Democrats. In the Senate, the parties were tied at 86 percent each. The figures were typical of the past dozen years. And in 2006, Democrats were already showing strength. In the January 1 CQ (subscription required), Jonathan Allen says:

In 2006, the Democratic leaders, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California and Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, kept the troops in line to record their best rates of success on party unity votes in years. House rules are written to give the majority party an overwhelming advantage. Still, House Democrats won 20 percent of the almost 300 roll call votes that divided the two parties last year. That pace of victory was the highest since 2000 for House Democrats, who averaged a 15 percent success rate during the first five years that President Bush was in office. In the Senate, where procedural votes often require more than a simple majority and a minority of 41 can block action, the Democrats were triumphant a third of the time last year. It was their strongest showing since 2002, when they were last in the majority.

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