House Republican leaders are slamming the brakes on voting rights legislation, insisting that any movement on the issue go through a key Republican committee chairman who opposes the proposal. [...] "Speaker Boehner has said that he believes that the Voting Rights Act has been an effective tool in protecting a right that is fundamental to our democracy. That's why we reauthorized the law for 25 years in 2006," a Boehner spokesperson said Friday in an email. "He also believes that if members want to change the law, those discussions will have to begin at the Judiciary Committee."
The original plan on Capitol Hill was for members to spend the month of July working on spending bills to prevent a government shutdown. Confederate flags, of all things, derailed the process, and now even a Democratic proposed compromise is going nowhere.
To briefly recap, Democrats introduced a measure curtailing the display of Confederate flags on graves in federal cemeteries and the sale of Confederate flags in national park gift stores. Southern Republicans balked and the mess has brought the entire federal appropriations process to a halt.
A few weeks ago, Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat, unveiled a compromise solution: Dems will drop their efforts on Confederate flags if Republicans agree to take up the restoration of the Voting Rights Act. Given the bipartisan support the VRA has traditionally enjoyed, it seemed like a decent offer.
The Hill reports that GOP leaders aren't interested in the deal.
This argument is a mess. Note, Democrats don't want to "change" the Voting Rights Act; they want to restore it after the Supreme Court gutted the law and encouraged Congress to revisit its key provisions.
Clyburn's proposed solution doesn't even require passage of the revised VRA; he's just asking for an up-or-down floor vote -- a remedy that the Speaker's office has now rejected.
Maybe the GOP-led House Judiciary Committee will take up the proposed fixes to the Voting Rights Act? No. The committee's far-right chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), has already said explicitly that he likes the status quo -- which is to say, the gutted VRA -- just the way it is.
So, House Republicans won't repair the Voting Rights Act; they won't approve the proposed Confederate flag amendments; and they won't consider a compromise that combines the two fights.
A month ago, I would have said the odds of a government shutdown are quite low, but they're increasing all the time. Between the Republicans' crusade against fetal-tissue research the party has supported for 22 years, and the fight over Confederate symbols and voting rights, it's getting pretty easy to imagine GOP lawmakers shutting down the government again in late September.
Postscript: For more on the bigger picture, I hope readers have already checked out the voting-rights piece in the New York Times Magazine yesterday as well as Ari Berman's brilliant new book, "Give Us The Ballot."