Less here than meets the eye

All the Republicans on the Hill can vote against the ports deal, and it can still go through, thanks to the miracle of the Conference Committee.

The House Appropriations Committee has voted 62-2 to attach a rider to the Defense supplemental appropriation to kill the Dubai ports deal.

Kevin Drum suggests that there are only three options from here:

1. The full House and Senate concur and then George Bush backs down from his promise to veto any attempt to kill the deal. This could be facilitated by some kind of “new information” that Bush claims to have been previously unaware of.

2. Bush vetoes the bill and Congress overrides. Bush is humiliated.

3. Congressional leaders manage to fudge the issue in such a way that Bush can sign the bill while still pretending to stick to his guns. Since Dems will fight this, Republicans would have to be almost 100% united to pull it off.

Seems to me Kevin has missed the most likely option: Dingbat Kabuki. Here’s the scenario as I see it:

1. The House passes the provision written by House Appropriations, barring any foreign ownership of certain critical transportation infrastructure.

2. The Senate passes a bill with a different provision to kill the ports, such as Chuck Shumer’s provision that would bar only ownership by state-owned companies from countries that recognized the Taliban.

3. Both votes are near-unanimous; every Republican who needs to has thus gone on record against the ports deal.

4. While the Conference Committee is meeting, Hastert and Frist negotiate some sort of “compromise” with the White House, in which the White House promises to look at the deal really, really closely (before approving it).

5. The Conference Committee then reports out a final bill containing neither port-deal-killing proviso. Conference reports can’t be amended, and the bill is a must-pass, since it contains the money for Katrina relief and the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. So there’s no vote on the ports deal proper, only a perfectly defensible vote to pass the supplemental.

6. Republicans go home and tell their constituents they voted against the deal.

7. The deal goes through.

It’s all really pretty easy, once you grasp the ABC’s of Dingbat Kabuki:

A. You can do anything in Conference.

B. The voters don’t understand.

C. Reporters won’t tell them.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com