For This Congress, It's All Symbolic Votes From Here on Out

(Bloomberg View) -- The House on Thursday failed to pass a balanced-budget constitutional amendment in what was almost a pure party-line vote -- only six Republicans voted against it, and only seven Democrats supported it. Since constitutional amendments require two-thirds majorities in both chambers to pass, it didn't come close. 

That compares with 72 Democrats who voted for such an amendment back in 1995, when it actually passed the House and came close in the Senate. At that point, Republicans had just won by a landslide, and the remaining Democrats didn't know at the time that Bill Clinton would become quite popular and those who survived 1994 were vulnerable. It's also possible that back then more Democrats sincerely supported the idea. 

They really should have had some sort of special ceremony to mark the kickoff of the messaging-vote portion of the current Congress. With Paul Ryan leaving, it's worth noting just how remarkable it is that Republicans have basically given up on legislating this year. Sure, they have only a small majority in the Senate and internal divisions in the House, but parties rarely have unified government in their favor, and they usually have more items on their agenda than time to pass them.

Instead, after the health-care fiasco and a tax bill that they barely passed, Republicans are retreating to messaging votes. They have no plans to pass a budget this year, which means they won't be able to use reconciliation procedures to get something through the Senate with a simple majority. Nor will they try for something bipartisan. President Donald Trump is barely maintaining interest in his infrastructure initiative, and it was never something congressional Republicans wanted to do anyway. 

Of course there will be some bills signed in 2018. Just not very many, and not major ones. Instead, we're going to get plenty of messaging bills, but judging from the results on the balanced-budget amendment, Republicans are scrambling to come up with things they want to vote for that divide or put pressure on Democrats. I suppose that's not really much of a surprise. Turn on Republican-aligned media and they're apt to be -- still! -- talking about scandals involving a Democratic presidential nominee who lost almost 18 months ago and is never going to run again. I suppose the House could always just impeach her once a week for the rest of the year and it would keep the most partisan Republican voters happy. 

This all ignores the obvious: that Republicans have no interest in balancing the federal budget. And if they did, a constitutional amendment isn't the way to do it; that would be some combination of higher revenues and lower spending. But that involves hard choices. And that's pretty far from where the current Republican Congress is ... let alone the Republican president.

1. Molly Reynolds on Paul Ryan and Republican speakers.

2. Josh Huder on Ryan as a lame duck.

3. Sarah E. Croco and Jared A. McDonald at the Monkey Cage on Trump voters and Syria.

4. Also at the Monkey Cage: John Sides speaks with Andrea Campbell and Vanessa Williamson about paying taxes.

5. My Bloomberg View colleague James Stavridis on what's happening in Brazil.

6. And Benjamin Wittes on why it would be so important if Trump fires Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein: "because apolitical law enforcement is stronger with him than without him, and the president is at war with the very notion of apolitical law enforcement."

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Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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