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House Republicans Should Heed Texas’ Warning On The Dangers Of Democrat-Driven ‘Bipartisanship’

Bipartisan cooperation under Speaker Johnson will drown Congress in the same problems that have plagued the GOP-led Texas Legislature.

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It appears the U.S. House of Representatives has entered an era of unprecedented bipartisan cooperation. Within the last month, a rare coalition of Democrats and Republicans voted to approve a rule to advance foreign aid to Ukraine and defeat a motion to vacate the chair and oust Speaker Mike Johnson from his office.

In the past, the Democrats have relished voting against the Republican House leadership while watching the corporate media blame “hard-right conservatives [for] throwing the House and its Republican leadership into chaos.”

With the recent votes, it is clear something has changed in the Democrats’ approach. It is doubtful, though, that the change includes supporting a more conservative agenda. So before getting too cozy with their new allies, House Republicans might find it instructive to learn a few lessons from the similarly bipartisan Texas House of Representatives.

Republicans have dominated Texas politics since 2003 when they took over the Texas House of Representatives. Since then, Republicans have held every statewide office and a majority in both houses of the Texas Legislature. Yet conservatives have often been frustrated over the lack of progress in enacting major Republican priorities.

One of those issues has been the state budget. Since 2003, spending of state funds has increased from $76.2 billion to a projected $233 billion, with spending up 42 percent over the last two years alone. In the 2023 legislative session, the frustration increased as a number of high-priority bills on issues such as school choice, tax cuts, border security, election fraud, and foreign ownership of agricultural land either failed or disappointed.

The cause of many of these failures is the Texas House of Representatives. For instance, in 2017, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott expressed frustration with the Texas House after a special session. “I’m disappointed that all 20 items that I put on the agenda did not receive the up-or-down vote that I wanted but more importantly that the constituents of these members deserved,” he said in a radio interview.

When frustrations with the House grew last year after the most recent failures, the rhetoric became personal. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick criticized House Speaker Dade Phelan in an intra-party feud. “The expiration date on Dade Phelan’s speakership is plainly written on the bottle,” Patrick said after Phelan had been forced into a runoff in the March primary.

The frustrations of conservatives with the Texas House date back to 2009. After Republicans took over the Texas House in 2003, they had several sessions of stable Republican leadership. But that changed in 2009. Eleven liberal Republicans decided to overthrow the relatively conservative speaker. But because it took 76 votes to do this, they needed help. So they turned to House Democrats. After some negotiations, the liberal Republicans created a bipartisan majority with 74 Democrats to elect Republican Joe Straus as the new speaker.

Democrats have been in effective control of the Texas House ever since. Not on every issue; conservatives have made some progress. But there are certain issues on which the bipartisan-elected Republican speaker (first Joe Straus, later Dennis Bonnen, and now Dade Phelan) has had to kowtow to the Democrats’ wishes. Because without the support of Democrats, the speaker and his leadership team would be out of power.

This is the danger conservatives now face in the U.S. House. Both Kevin McCarthy and Mike Johnson have had a difficult time corralling the support of their Republican majority while trying to meet conservative expectations. But now, Speaker Johnson no longer has to worry about his right flank.

All he must do is satisfy enough Democrats to offset losses among conservative Republicans. In D.C., Johnson doesn’t have the external Republican restraints that the bipartisan Texas speakers have had (a Republican senate, governor, and lieutenant governor), so the legislation coming out of Congress could shift dramatically to the left.

If this happens, the electoral fallout for U.S. House Republicans could be severe. After the disaster in the 2023 Texas House, Republican voters rebelled in their March 5 primary. Not only was Phelan forced into his May 28 runoff — the first time for a House speaker since 1972, but so were seven other incumbents. Another nine incumbents lost outright.

Conservative voter frustration at the federal level could also lead to Republican incumbent primary losses. Perhaps more likely, Democrats could gain the seats they need to retake control of the House. Certainly, that is the goal of House Democrats. Let us hope House Republicans soon learn the right lesson from Texas and repent of their budding embrace of bipartisanship.


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