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Romney pushes for changes to a bill he won't consider supporting

A group of GOP senators are effectively telling Democrats, "We'd like to see changes to the plan we'll vote against anyway." That doesn't work.

Senate Republicans are watching their Democratic colleagues work on their domestic agenda, and as The Deseret News reported this morning, they have some recommended edits.

Sen. Mitt Romney wants Democrats to remove "harmful" penalties for marriage from their so-called human infrastructure bill that he says would discourage people from tying the knot. The Utah Republican along with 32 of his GOP Senate colleagues sent a letter Wednesday to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Senate Finance Committee chairman, outlining their arguments against the provisions.

The relatively brief letter pointed to proposed changes to the Earned Income Tax Credit, which the group of Senate Republicans believe would impose a "marriage penalty."

The policy details, of course, always matter, and much of the years-long debate over the so-called "marriage penalty" revolves around the savings couples enjoy when there's one household instead of two. Complicating matters, the Democratic legislation doesn't yet exist in any meaningful sense, making it difficult to do a meaningful fiscal analysis.

But stepping back, a different kind of question comes to mind: Wouldn't Romney and his GOP colleagues be in a position to shape the policy if they were prepared to engage in the governing process?

This comes up from time to time, and it's a legislative dynamic Republicans seem reluctant to acknowledge. Romney's letter asks Democratic lawmakers to change a proposal in exchange for nothing. This isn't a situation in which GOP senators are signaling what it might take to get their support for a bill, because Republicans have already said they will refuse to support the measure no matter how much it's changed.

In other words, the senators are effectively saying, "We'd like to see changes to the plan we'll vote against anyway. If you agree to the changes, we'll still condemn your bill as socialism."

It's one thing for lawmakers to trade policy changes for vote, which makes sense. It's something else for lawmakers to demand changes to bills they don't want anything to do with.

The former works as a legislative strategy; the latter does not.