Posts Tagged ‘Harry Reid’

On Like Donkey Kong

November 25, 2009

In what is probably the most improbable political duel in years, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Washington Post columnist David Broder have gotten into a public slap-like-a-girl fight.

These are probably the two most middling, lukewarm, bland, bloodless, colorless, soft-focus Milquetoasts in Washington.

If it were a professional fight, they’d promote it as Mudpuddle Reid vs.  Soggy Biscuit Broder.

(On the substance, both men are right: Reid is utterly uninspiring and ineffectual as a leader, and Broder has been trying to pass off the same 1980s-era bromides as gray-headed wisdom for a long, long time.)

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.)

The Semi-Public Option

October 26, 2009

The big news today is that Harry Reid decided to include a public option in the version of the health care reform bill that will come up for vote in the senate.  A big win.  Plus, the version he included is the “opt-out” public option — the one that starts as a national program, but individual states can opt out of if they’re stupid they have objections.  Also a win, relative to the “triggered” public option or “opt-in” public option.

Nevertheless, I think Josh Marshall gets carried away in this post:

But by making it an opt-out rather than an opt-in, you start with a truly national program. That’s the key. The default is everyone is in. Even if you had 1/3 or even, conceivably half the states (or half the total national population in however many states) opt out, you’d still have enough heft to make it have the desired effect. And presumably you’d have by far most of the population in the program.

I could definitely be wrong about this, but it is my understanding that the public option being proposed — whether it’s triggered, opted into, or opted out of — will not have everyone in by default, nor will it ever have anywhere near “most of the population” in it.

The public option being proposed is available only to those whose employers do not offer a private insurance plan, and who cannot afford to buy a private plan on the individual insurance market.  Even with all the states participating, it’s going to be quite small.  It will be a “national program” like Marshall says, but the default is not “everyone is in.”  Only a small percentage of people will even be allowed the opportunity to get in.

That’s a problem, because one of the keys to making a public option work is the ability to negotiate better rates with providers, and you can’t do that if you don’t have enough policyholders.

Am I wrong about the nature of the public option they’re voting on?  Is it available to the general public, or at least a bigger chunk of it?  Anybody know?

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.

Is the mud hardening?

July 7, 2009

Not likely.  Nonetheless, there’s a rumor that Senator Mudpuddle may actually start attempting a little caucus discipline:

Now that they have 60, Reid and Durbin need to remind Dem members that when your Leader files cloture, you support him. . .

From what I hear, they started delivering that message, if a softer version of it, earlier today.

“Softer,” yes.  My money would be on much, much softer.

If true, however, and if Reid follows through on it, it’s exactly the kind of thing I’ve been describing re the filibuster.  The problem isn’t the system; it’s that the people controlling the system don’t want to work it.  Maybe, just maybe, that’s changing.  A little.  Slowly.

We’ll see.

I need to buy a lottery ticket, quick!

July 2, 2009

Senator Mudpuddle describes his senate “leadership” style almost exactly the same way I described it yesterday (see also here and here and here):

Reid says he expects the tactic of gentle persuasion to work best, given the size of his Senate Democratic flock and the political divergences within it. “I don’t dictate how people vote,” he said in an interview this month. “If it’s an important vote, I try to tell them how important it is to the Senate, the country, the president … But I’m not very good at twisting arms. I try to be more verbal and non-threatening. So there are going to be—I’m sure—a number of opportunities for people who have different opinions not to vote the way that I think they should. But that’s the way it is. I hold no grudges.”

That’s very sweet.  He would be a fine guru in a retreat somewhere.  But as a political leader in the senate, he’s teh suck, and he’s just described why.

Discipline and Punish

November 12, 2008

Whither Joe?

No, not our Joe.  Lieberman.  Do the senate Dems let him keep his committee chair, his other committee assignments, his seniority, and stay in the Dem caucus?  Do they boot him completely out of the caucus?  Do they do something in between?

To a large degree, I don’t care.  I mean, Lieberman’s a blue-ribbon jackass, but that’s hardly unusual in American politicians.  However, I do care in one respect, and that’s party discipline in the senate.  We’ve seen how disciplined the GOP caucus is, so we know that when big legislation come up for a vote on cloture, they are going to have their members whipped into line.  We also know that conservative Dems like Ben Nelson and Mark Pryor have a habit of going against their party.  So Harry Reid has got to be able to enforce some discipline on the troops if he’s going to have any chance of moving progressive legislation past the filibuster and through the senate.

If Lieberman can do everything he’s done in the last few years and not get punished for it, what would get a caucus member punished?  It’s hard to think of an answer.

It’s even harder to answer when you consider how weak a position Lieberman is in right now.  If the Dems punish him and he doesn’t like it, the worst he can do is go caucus with the GOP.  So what?  The ramifications of that are miniscule for the Dems, and huge for Lieberman.  The Dems would still control the senate by a comfortable margin, Joe would be caucusing with people who hated him 90% of the time (because that’s the rate at which he agrees with the Dems on policy), he would have no greater influence in the senate, and he’d almost certainly lose his seat in his next election.

As George Costanza would say, he’s got no hand in this relationship.

Weirdly, though, you still see quotes like this from anonymous Dem operatives:

“He’s got momentum, and we need to keep him in the caucus, and this fits into Barack Obama’s message of change and moving forward,” said one Senate Democratic aide familiar with discussions. “The message here is that we don’t want to start off a new era with retribution.”

What on Earth is s/he talking about?  What momentum does Joe have?  He just very publicly crossed his party in a presidential race to back the losing ticket; a ticket that lost by the widest margin in 20 years.  The nation disagrees with him on what he’s made practically his only issue: Iraq.  Joe’s moving right while the voters just moved left.  How does that give him momentum?

And “we need to keep him in the caucus” because . . . why was that, again?

As for retribution, as suggested above, one man’s retribution is another man’s discipline.  The Dem caucus does not have a filibuster-proof majority.  The GOP caucus will be very disciplined in opposition, as always.  So the Dems are going to have to be disciplined in leading.

I just don’t see how Reid will be able to maintain anything like discipline if he lets Lieberman off the hook, and that means the senate will continue to be a graveyard for good legislation.

Edited to Add:

The one scenario in which I could see this working is if by keeping Lieberman in the caucus, Reid had him in the situation Lyndon Johnson famously had V.P. Hubert Humphrey in.  Quoth Johnson: “I keep Hubert’s balls in my coat pocket.”