Posts Tagged ‘Democratic caucus’

Lieberman to Reid: You My B*tch

October 27, 2009

Remember a while back, when Joe Lieberman actively criticized and campaigned against the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate?  Called him unfit to be commander-in-chief?

I said at the time that if Harry Reid didn’t punish Lieberman in some way, he would make it very difficult to maintain discipline in his caucus.  (Similarly, with Ben Nelson.)  If actively campaigning against your own party’s* presidential candidate doesn’t get you disciplined, what could you possibly do that would?

Not to be all “told ya so” and everything, but…

Lieberman has now come out against the health care reform bill that Reid is sending to the floor for a vote.  He says he doesn’t like the bill, and is perfectly willing to help the GOP filibuster any bill he doesn’t like.

Because Reid did nothing before, he can now make no credible threat to Lieberman (or the more ambiguously wavering Dems, like Blanche Lincoln).  The only tool he’s got is trying to buy Lieberman off, which presents two immediate problems:  a) it’s tough to buy a senator when you’re bidding against the insurance industry, and b) whatever Reid has to give him, it’s going to be bad.

If you’d shown a little spine in the past, Harry, you’d have more options now; and Joe’s vote, if we can get it at all, wouldn’t cost us good legislation down the road.

(* Yes yes, I know.  But Lieberman still caucuses with the Dems and holds committee chairmanships as a Dem.)

System-Blaming We Can Believe In

September 4, 2009

Matt Yglesias finally gets around to pointing out some senate rules that actually do keep the Dems from getting things done and actually should be changed:

Democrats hand out committee chairmanships by a blind seniority rule. Republicans do not. Chairman need to rotate out of their positions after fixed terms, which then gives the caucus as a whole input over who takes over next. Consequently, the Senate leadership has some meaningful leverage over Republican Senators—even Senators from liberal states. If they’re really determined to make Snowe (and Collins) vote “no,” they have tools at their disposal to make that happen. By contrast, the Democratic leadership heads into tough fights basically disarmed with no real tools of discipline and leverage at their disposal beyond the vague risk of a primary challenge. One day perhaps the Democratic caucus will decide that it wants to be an effective legislative party and it will adopt some principles that equalize the playing field. But until then, it’s going to be extremely difficult to overcome truly determined Republican opposition even with a large majority.

That explains a lot.  A lot.  I’d love to see the Dems change it, but I find myself doubting they ever will.

A Near Miss

July 27, 2009

Matt Yglesias sees reality without actually quite seeing it:

Meanwhile, the geography of the 2010 Senate races is also highly favorable to the Democrats. And given the contrast between ironclad discipline on the GOP side and the “anything goes” attitude on the Democratic side, it looks like for a while yet we may be in a California-style dynamic where Republicans can’t win elections but Democrats can’t actually pass a governing agenda.

See, there?  That whole “ironclad discipline” vs. “anything goes” contrast?  There’s your problem.  That’s why “it looks like for a while yet we may be in a California-style dynamic where Republicans can’t win elections but Democrats can’t actually pass a governing agenda.”

Note, too, that Yglesias agrees with me that, contra Klein, there’s nothing about the senate rules that makes it inherently less amenable to discipline, as the GOP has been proving for a very long time, now, as both a majority and a minority.  It just takes leadership from the top, and pressure from below.  Republicans get the latter from talk radio and Fox News.  Dems should be getting it from superstar bloggers like Yglesias and Klein.

Yet five will get you ten that within 24 hours Yglesias repeats his claim that the problem is the system, not the people.

One more time: when there’s no price to be paid for breaking with your caucus, because your leadership won’t inflict one and progressive opinion shapers are giving you a pass by blaming the system, why not go off the farm?  The mainstream media love you because you look like a moderate and a Very Serious Person.  You get more leverage and therefore more control over the content of legislation and the president’s ongoing agenda.  The voters back home think you’re a stand-up guy or gal, voting what you think is right (or what is best for the home folks) instead of the party line.

Unless you represent a thoroughly liberal state (or district), of course you’re going to buck your party’s agenda.

Let me say I’m not arguing that  Dems should be forced to vote in total lockstep 100% of the time the way Republicans are.  We’ve seen what that got them; on the other hand, before they cratered, that discipline got them just about everything they wanted.  So I am arguing that on the Democratic Party’s biggest, most important, most desired, highest-profile agenda items, yes, you’ve got to be willing enforce some friggin’ discipline.

Bless him, Father Occam, for he has sinned.

July 26, 2009

In my continuing disagreement with the tendency of the twenty-something liberal bloggers to blame the system for Democrats’ inability to get things done, I take note that Ezra Klein has now gone well out of his way to do just that.

In commenting on the fact that Dems are losing patience with Sen. Max Baucus over his inability to get a health care reform bill moved out of his committee (the Finance Committee), Klein says:

But this isn’t, as some are suggesting, because Baucus is a schmuck. It’s because the structure of the legislative process is more important than the individuals within it. The House has majority rule and an internal structure that lends itself to party discipline. The Senate has the filibuster. And beyond the Senate having the filibuster, Baucus wants a bipartisan bill out of his committee.

It is no surprise that the chamber with majority rule and party discipline is outpacing the chamber with anti-majoritarian rules and a bipartisan bent. We’re seeing how difficult it is to build bipartisan legislation when the minority believes it can kill the bill.

Occam (supposedly) tells us we shouldn’t multiply entities unnecessarily — in this case, those entities are explanations for the failure of Max Baucus — and Klein has done exactly that.

Let’s review the three key facts:

  1. Baucus, for whatever reason, surely having nothing whatever to do with the fact that he’s gotten more campaign money from the health care industry than has any other member of congress, rilly, rilly wants his bill to be bipartisan.
  2. The GOP believes it can kill health care reform altogether, which would be a huge political albatross to hang around the Dems’ necks in the next elections; therefore no Republican has any incentive to vote for Baucus’s bill or even negotiate in good faith.
  3. Unlike the House Dems  — and, though Klein doesn’t mention this because it cuts against his blame-the-system argument, also unlike the Senate GOP — the Senate Dem caucus is totally undisciplined.

QED.

You don’t need any more than that to explain why Baucus can’t — won’t — get moving.  So long as he clings to his forlorn hope for a bipartisan bill despite fact #2, and so long as Harry Reid continues to let him, there will be no bill.

The existence of the filibuster rule is, at this point, irrelevant.  It doesn’t apply to committee votes.  The rules for committee votes are totally majoritarian.  Just like Klein’s beloved House rules.  All Baucus needs is 12 of the committee’s 23 votes, a simple majority; which means he doesn’t even need all 13 Democrats to vote with him.  He chooses not to proceed on that basis, and Senator Mudpuddle chooses to let him dawdle.

So, while Klein says “the structure of the legislative process is more important than the individuals within it,” that’s simply not the case with health reform.  The individuals in the system are more important than the legislative process.

Baucus is a schmuck (or at least a chump).  So is Reid.  So are the Republicans.  And that’s the problem.

Make It Hurt

July 19, 2009

Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) — that famous “moderate” who grandstands by killing various pieces of legislation favored by his own party, caucus, leadership, and president, and passing various pieces of legislation favored by the other party, their caucus, their leadership, and their president — is out there “moderating” again.

This time, it’s on the president’s and his party’s highest priority: health care reform.  Let me repeat, it is the highest priority, bar none, for both his party and his president.  Obama has staked his presidency on it.

Nelson would like to kill it.  He’s doing so by once again grandstanding to the Beltway press as a moderate — “Sure, we need health care reform, and personally I favor it, of course.  But let’s not get in such a hurry.  Let’s slow down so we can bring some Republican votes along,” he says mildly, tutting.

Nelson knows, of course, that slowing down the legislation will kill it.  Which is what he really wants.  Nebraska, see, is a big health insurance state.

While it’s aggravating to see Nelson’s hypocrisy succeed so well, time after time after time, both legislatively and in the media, you can’t really blame him for doing what politicians do: covering his backside.

No, as I’ve said before, the people to blame here, if Nelson succeeds, are Pres. Obama and Sen. Reid.  They’ve got to make it clear to Nelson that going off the reservation is going to hurt; and going off the reservation on health care reform is going to hurt bad.  Since neither Obama nor Reid has ever penalized anybody in their caucus for anything (and did I mention Joe Lieberman is on Nelson’s slow-walking team?), Nelson knows he can do whatever he wants, on any legislation he wants, as often as he wants, and never pay a penalty for it.

Back to the basics, Democratic leaders: when a thing is free, you get overconsumption of it.  You’ve made torpedoing your own party free.  Is it any wonder senators take that offer so often?

If health care reform fails, Nelson will be the villain, and he will have well earned it.  But, as I’ve said before, it will still be the Democratic leadership’s fault.

More on Caucus Discipline

July 8, 2009

There are some public, on-the-record comments, today, about Senator Mudpuddle’s rumored intention to penalize Dems who fail to support cloture votes.

First, it seems yesterday’s rumor is true: Reid really has put out the word.  Second, the usual suspects are pushing back.  Senators Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu, who oppose key features of their party’s two biggest legislative priorities, the health care and energy bills, said they won’t be put in a “procedural straightjacket.”

Nelson said something I find very odd:

I’m not a closed mind on cloture, but . . . if it’s something that would be pre-emptive of Nebraska law . . . then I’ve always reserved the right to vote against cloture.

“Pre-emptive of Nebraska law”?  What are you, an interpositionist?  A Georgia-style state sovereignty nut?

You’re not in the Nebraska state legislature, Sen. Nelson.  You’re in the U.S. Senate.  (You’d think he could keep that straight, since Nebraska doesn’t even have a senate.)  Your job there is to write and support federal law.  If you prefer Nebraska law, you’ve run for the wrong office, dearie; the one you want is back in Lincoln.

Update (7/8/09 2:27 pm): Related, Reid has also told Sen. Max Baucus to get off the dime on the health care bill; specifically, to stop wasting time chasing Republican votes.  That suggests to me that Reid believes he can get the bill past cloture with nothing but Democratic votes.

Filibuster Politics

June 22, 2009

Matt Yglesias gets his title right, but then broadens his post in a way that, I think, makes it wrong:

[L]egislators prefer to do nothing at all. The supermajority—and, more broadly, the extreme difficulty of moving legislation—makes it easier for elected officials to make contradictory commitments to various people.

It’s clearly not the case that legislators prefer to do nothing at all.  Republican legislators crammed as much legislating into their years of rule as they could.  They clearly preferred doing stuff.

What is the case, as his title suggests, is that Democratic legislators prefer to do nothing at all.

Actually, no, that’s not right either.  It’s not that they prefer to do nothing, it’s that they’re afraid to do something.  When the GOP controlled things, the Dems were afraid not to follow along, so they helped the GOP do things — with the comfort of doing it from the GOP’s shadow.  Now that the Dems control things, they can’t stand in the GOP’s shadow, anymore, and they’re afraid to move.

So we see this “We can’t actually do anything progressive because of the filibuster” excuse-making instead of arm-twisting and hard bargaining to bring recalcitrant members along.

They have the leadership positions, but they’re afraid to exercise actual leadership.  They’re still trying to hide in the GOP’s now greatly reduced shadow, and the filibuster excuse gives them the means to do it.

Discipline and Punish 2

November 18, 2008

So the Senate Democratic caucus decided to to let Lieberman keep his big chairmanship (Homeland Security and Gov’t Affairs Committee), and all his little sub-committee chairmanships, but took one of his minor committee memberships away.  I have 3 possible reactions to this.

One: As noted before, whither discipline?

Two: As a punishment, this is worse than nothing.  If you’re going to punish somebody, punish them.  If you’re going to let them off, let them off.  Trying to look like you’re punishing them when it’s absolutely obvious to everyone that you’re not punishing them just makes you look like you got in a fight and started slapping like a girl (apologies to the girls here’bouts).

Three: I had a thought last night, while watching news reports of Obama’s meeting with McCain.  I wonder if that meeting and Obama’s absolution of Lieberman (which seems to be the key factor in the caucus’s girl-slap) are connected.  That is, I wonder if what we’re seeing is the president-elect cobbling together a filibuster-proof majority on certain key policies, and McCain and Lieberman came as a package deal.  They are famous chums, after all.

Just a thought.  But I wanted to write it down in case it turns out to be right and makes me look hella smart.