Game Theory and the HCR vote

We’ll know in a few hours whether Pelosi has the votes to thwart the will of the people.  Clearly they’ve been doing everything they can publicly to give the impression they do, and they’ve been doing everything they can privately to buy and bribe the votes they need. But there’s one element of game theory that leaves me doubting whether it will happen.

Imagine you’re a Democrat from one of the swing districts whose voters overwhelmingly hate this legislation.  You know that voting for it will cost you your job. You really like being a Congressman, you make $174,000 a year, and you really don’t want to give that up in this economy.

You’re hoping that the legislation never comes to a vote, and you’re confident that if the 216 votes are not there, Pelosi would not bring it for a vote (pride and all). So you could express your intent to vote against the bill and keep her from becoming confident in the 216. As a result, you’d get the approximate treatment Bart Stupak is currently receiving from all those open-minded liberals. He’s had to disconnect his phone, his wife has received obscene threatening calls and leftist nutjobs from across the country are promising to fund primary challenges against him. So maybe you don’t want to go that route.

Then you think, I could tell them I’m a yes so that they’ll leave you alone with the added benefit that if it never comes to a vote (oh please oh please) then you get credit for being a team player without ever having to cast a vote. Sure, you’re contributing to Pelosi’s count and making it slightly more likely that it comes to a vote, but that’s a small matter compared with the threat of being Stupak’ed.

From a game theory perspective, you’re best off calling yourself a yes vote for now.

But if it comes to a vote, you’re facing a different game. Switching on the floor to a “no” means you’ll invoke the wrath of Pelosi and your colleagues. Staying “yes” means you’ll be ending your Congressional career. Do you really need Pelosi as your friend if you’re not going to be a Congressman next year?

Before the vote it was clearly in your interest to say you were a yes and hope it never comes to the floor. But is it still in your interest to follow that up with your vote? It sure doesn’t seem like it to me . . . We’ll see.

Update: Well, it turns out they didn’t have the votes until Stupak caved, but in the end Pelosi and Obama engineered what will hopefully turn out to be one of the largest mass suicides in political history, forcing 219 of their members, not all in district like the Speaker’s, to vote in favor of a bill that most Americans did not want to pass.  And so it begins . . .


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