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Rep. Alan Grayson Headshot

Winning: Even Harder Than It Looks

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CONGRESS
Jason E Vines via Getty Images

So the GOP had us vote in the U.S. House of Representatives today on yet another malevolent bill, whose primary purpose evidently is to reduce Planet Earth to a burnt cinder. If the GOP were right that humans weren't causing climate disruption, that might prove to be something of a relief, because then we wouldn't feel so stupid about the extinction of humanity. The title of the GOP's bill was "Lowering Gasoline Prices to Fuel an America That Works Act," also known as the LGPTFAATW Act. Paging Dr. Orwell, paging Dr. Orwell...

Five House Democrats stepped forward with amendments, seeking to make this putrid saddlebag of puss slightly less detestable. There are 233 Republicans in the House, and 199 Democrats. Here is how the Democrats voted:

(1) 178 to 8.

(2) 179 to 5.

(3) 183 to 3.

(4) 174 to 12.

(5) 185 to 2.

So the Democratic amendments drew the support of between 94 and 99 percent of all the Democrats. Sounds promising, right? No, not right. Here is how the Republicans voted on the same amendments:

(1) 1 to 224.

(2) 4 to 222.

(3) 5 to 220.

(4) 5 to 217.

(5) 4 to 221.

Not a single Democratic amendment drew more than 2 percent of the Republican votes.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 113th Congress!

For a Democrat to win on any vote, that Democrat needs the support of all the Democrats, and at least 8 percent of the Republicans. Or somewhat fewer Democrats (I'm looking at you, Jim Matheson!), and even more of the Republicans.

That didn't happen today. Not even close.

But hey, I'm a Democrat, and somehow or other, I won on 13 House amendment votes last year -- more than any other member, Democratic or Republican. Plus 15 times this year -- so far. And I won on good progressive stuff, too -- protecting us from NSA sabotage of security standards, moving money from weapons to biomedical research, cutting off funding for contractors whose work is late or over budget, etc., etc.

So why have my amendments succeeded, when so many other Democratic amendments have failed? Here are a few reasons:

1) I give some thought as to what might make a progressive amendment appealing to 18 or more House Republicans. Sometimes I can make a regional pitch, as I did to coastal Republicans on an offshore drilling amendment. Sometimes I can make a Constitutional pitch, as I did on a shield law for reporters and their sources. Sometimes I can make a nationalist pitch, as I did for protecting the Buy American Act from being gutted in trade negotiations. And sometimes I can make a political pitch, as I did for increased funding for Spanish-language housing counseling. ("Do you really want Hispanics to hate the GOP forever and ever?") With some thought, I can see each proposal the way that the other side sees it, and I can come up with a way to win enough of their votes without compromising our principles.

2) I come up with things that are worth voting on. I'm not going to waste everyone's time with an amendment to establish a commission, or order a report. That's not my style. I swing for the fences. And in an institution scared by pervasive, perpetual boredom, that counts for something. I keep it real, and I keep it interesting.

3) I'm not afraid to talk to GOP leadership directly. I walk right up to them, I tell them what I want, and I explain why I want it. I don't mince words. I don't try to fool them. I don't kiss up to them. Usually, they say no, but every once in a while, they say yes. And they love being asked.

4) I work it. I work it like no one else in the House. (Sorry, but it ain't bragging if it's true.) For every amendment that I care about, I personally write a letter to every other member of the House, explaining why I deserve their support. I hand the letter to most of them myself. I talk to dozens and dozens of GOP members about what my amendment is all about. My staff talks to their staff. And I enlist the help of other members to spread the word.

You may ask, why don't other House Democrats do this, instead of sitting around and whining about how awful the GOP is? It's like the old joke:

Q: Why is there so much ignorance and apathy? A: I don't know and I don't care.

I tell other members that if they're unhappy with their job, then they should let someone else have it. No matter which side has the numbers, there are 50 different ways to win.

And it's so important to win. There are 700,000 people in Central Florida, and 320 million people nationwide, who are counting on me to do something good for them. And that's good enough for me.