Harry Reid is reportedly moving toward an elimination of judicial filibusters, which is good news indeed. Might I suggest, Mr. Leader, the following strategy:
- Nuke the filibuster for executive appointments
- Dare the GOP to filibuster another judge
My guess is that they fold after step one, or even before. I’d be happy if they didn’t though. My overall prediction is that if any portion of the filibuster is nuked, the entirety of it will be gone within a year or two, just like how the passage of the first, limited Civil Rights Act ensured that the major one would come just a few years later. The thing is, while I would favor that outcome heartily, it wouldn’t be necessary except that Republicans are simply addicted to filibustering. They simply cannot allow anything of significance to go through sans filibuster even though they control the House too, so there’s really very little need to filibuster ENDA or gun background checks or what have you. And there’s very little indication that the occasional filibuster of a Goodwin Liu or a Caitlin Halligan would have doomed it either. A tiny bit of moderation would probably have kept it around for the long haul, but Republicans are so obsessed with thwarting Obama that they can’t rule out any tactic and thus continually overreach. This is a pattern that keeps helping Democrats (see also: Tea Party primaries).
I remember back in 2006, after Democrats won Congress in the midterms, that the conventional wisdom about the new Speaker and Majority Leader broke down like this: Pelosi was allegedly this very liberal, independent, activist leader, while Harry Reid was a stolid centrist without much in the way of dynamism. It’s interesting to consider this now nearly seven years later, when you can make a fairly solid case that the reverse is now true. At this point Harry Reid is the Democratic leader I trust the most on budget issues, both in terms of issue positions and the ability to do the right thing. Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi has let herself become Obama’s proxy on practically every issue that’s come up recently and often not on the right side, nearly to the point of becoming a rubber-stamp. There are good reasons as to why she might have chosen to do this–running the House minority doesn’t count for much at this point in time, so drawing closer to Obama makes her stronger in some ways–but it’s sad, and it’s wrecked my estimation of her as any kind of independent force. Can you imagine Pelosi agreeing to chained-CPI if proposed by Bush? Of course not, and it suggests that she’s become ideologically compromised by her relationship with Obama. Admittedly, Pelosi was always more pragmatic than her image would have you believe, and Reid at the moment is far from perfect in a number of ways (e.g. filibuster reform). But it’s hard to argue that Reid has kept the faith with progressives to a greater extent than Pelosi has the past couple years. Given the latter’s (most likely) irreparable damage with the electorate and large number of enemies, I find myself unexpectedly thinking that a clean sweep of the Democratic House leadership would not be a bad thing at all, might increase Democrats’ House prospects since it takes the bogeyman of Speaker Pelosi off the table, and perhaps going with a few non-septuagenarians in there (crazy I know!) might better reflect the base of the party right now.
So the question then becomes: who would replace Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn? I’ve heard John Larson‘s name batted around as a leadership prospect a number of times and I’d definitely endorse that move, every time I read him quoted in news articles he sounds smart, sharp and candid. He’s served in the House leadership twice and even resembles Tip O’Neill if you squint a little bit. It seems also very likely that Chris Van Hollen would figure in, given his leadership role, relative youth and DCCC leadership. I also think this would be a good move. Probably he’d be a solid choice for whip. Which would leave the Majority Leader post empty and, obviously, a House leadership team with three white men would go over like a lead balloon (as well it should). Looking at the House leadership chart here leaves one with a couple of good options–the symbolism of giving the post to John Lewis would be sweet, and it would be a fine valedictory given his age and distinguished career. But Xavier Becerra would also be a good choice, as there isn’t a large history of Hispanics in House leadership offices (Ted Cruz’s de facto role notwithstanding), and the post would be a logical next step from his current post as caucus chairman. Plus, he’s originally from the Sacramento area, which is obviously a plus for me–the last famous politician originating from the area was disgraced former Sen. John Ensign, and we could use a bit of redemption.
Lev’s post about Obama’s frustrating “me-too!” obsession with deficits put me in mind of a cartoon I’ve always wished someone would come up with. … So I just came up with it myself.
Pres. Obama is right to be frustrated by the worsening abuse of the filibuster in the Senate. Senate Democrats deserve every inch of scorn for being too timid to actually use the power they’ve accrued. I suspect the rapid re-evaluation of Lyndon Johnson on the left has at least something to do with his having been a Democrat who was not afraid to use every bit of power he could, in contrast with today’s Dems who walk on eggshells even after winning a major victory.
But I would like to make one contrarian point. Harry Reid has taken the brunt of the blowback over substantive filibuster reform failing, but it’s not like there’s no argument to be made for his behavior. An important part of political leadership is insulating the people you lead from political risk, and the filibuster is an excellent tool for doing that. This is why, traditionally, it’s been a popular tool regardless of party. Absent a filibuster, senators would have to take a lot more tough votes on actual bills, not procedural votes that take a few seconds to explain what they mean. Republicans voting en masse against a bill to increase the minimum wage would look just awful, for example. Having a filibuster in place is some insurance that a lot of the controversial stuff doesn’t come to the floor, which means fewer tough votes. Only procedural votes on it that supposedly bores people.
That said, while avoiding potential risk is a component of political leadership, it’s only one component, and it’s hard to make the case that keeping Democrats from losing elections is worth the cost of enduring an escalating battle against getting ever more routine business done.
Details here. My guess is that this is Democrats being more afraid of losing the Senate next year (and the White House in 2016) than of Republicans blowing up the Senate, since they didn’t exactly do it last year after Obama’s tyrannical exercising of powers specifically delimited to him in the Constitution (i.e. recess appointments). Republicans’ attempts to blow up the Senate after the Cordray appointment petered out to just being Mike Lee voting no against all uncontroversial Obama judicial nominees for eight months to send a signal, until he stopped bothering. Admittedly, now that we have Lee-sympathetic ideologues like Ted Cruz and Tim Scott in the Senate, there’s a decent possibility that real filibuster reform might mean winning those votes 97-3, which certainly is something to worry about. What puzzles me is this:
The emerging accord is a major step away from the Merkley-Udall “talking filibuster” plan which would have required a filibustering minority to occupy the floor and speak ceaselessly until one side gives in. It’s also more modest than Reid’s middle-path proposal to McConnell, which would have shifted the burden from a majority seeking to advance legislation and nominations to a minority seeking to block them.
The problems here are obvious: primarily, that this strategy is flawed on a conceptual level. Obviously, McConnell isn’t going to have any interest in making it harder to obstruct things, so if he agrees to anything, it will be because it doesn’t make it much harder to obstruct things. Otherwise, it’s better from his perspective to be able to play the victim and have Reid use the nuclear option to force a rules change, a far better play for a Republican than striking generous deals as that will get talk radio and usually the MSM all up in a lather. About the only thing you can learn from this is that McConnell is less interested in obstructing appointments, and is willing to give some on that since it doesn’t really matter to the interests he represents, and he can just obstruct legislation all the time anyway. Statesmanship, I suppose. But the point of filibuster reform is, presumably, to stop obstruction. The idea that you could strike a deal to do this with the chief obstructor is similar to believing Democrats can compromise with Republicans on…any area of policy, I suppose.
One thing I don’t understand about the Kevin Drum argument that Harry Reid is lying and needs to be denounced (even though it’s not even clear if he’s lying). Reid actually has a pretty decent track record when it comes to making assertions about Republicans:
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Mr. Reid repeatedly taunted Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican nominee, saying he should show leadership. He was quoted in a Las Vegas newspaper saying, “I can’t stand John McCain.”
Mr. Reid called Senator Bill Frist, the Republican leader from 2003 to 2007, “amateurish,” and said in 2007 that Gen. Peter Pace, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was “incompetent.” Mr. Reid once said that Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, was “one of the biggest political hacks we have in Washington.”
Are any of these wrong? No. Obviously, the way in which Reid made the claims of the hour begs some skepticism, but Reid doesn’t have the biggest history of outlandish partisan deception, so treating it as though it were automatically false doesn’t quite seem warranted.
This is just bizarre to me. Generally speaking, liberals like to present themselves as honorable and above-the-fray. Progressives, especially ones who dwell on the internet, often consciously model themselves in reaction to this tendency, and see these traits as cowardly, wimpy, totebaggerish. Now, there are times when attacks go too far, and should be called out. But I’m hard-pressed to figure why this would be one of them. If it were Terry McAuliffe or someone of that caliber making the attacks, well then clearly they’re to be avoided. McAuliffe is a dishonest hack. But in the absence of corroborating or damning evidence, what we’re essentially making here is a characterological judgment. Is Reid’s claim dishonest? Since it’s unknowable at this time, the question becomes, is Reid dishonest? I don’t see him being more dishonest than most, perhaps less so. The Greenspan criticism I remember was from before Ayn Rand’s former pal had his reputation shredded, and Greenspan was still respected. Reid was right when saying it wasn’t popular. Doesn’t he deserve some benefit of the doubt–at least until he really gets caught in it? Again, this thing ought to be taken with a kernel of salt, but the guy hasn’t completely torched his credibility to make this kind of charge yet is all I’m saying.
And that’s my issue with Kevin Drum here (and, to a lesser extent, with Kilgore here). He’s taking a typically high-minded, liberal posture, but it’s not because he’s repulsed by a flatly untrue story–it could be that, and you can opine that, but you can’t prove it, at least not now. Drum is really the cynical one by assuming that it’s invented, and he’s doing so because the heat’s being turned up and this guy just never wants to get singed. The fact-checking outlets are declaring the whole thing a falsehood without proof, and Drum is following suit. It’s hard to emphasize just how crazy this is going to make progressives, because it smacks of everything they’ve come to despise in liberals. And while I’m not angry myself because I know this about Drum and stopped following him a while ago, I don’t blame them.
What does amuse me is that Romney keeps prodding Reid to produce his source. He thinks he’s calling Harry’s bluff, but Harry’s calling his. Reid doesn’t need to produce anything, he can just go on saying that it was in confidence from someone in a position to know, whose career would be in jeopardy if, etc. He has nothing to lose. Romney trusts his old friend belligerence to help get him fix this as it has all the others, only it’s the wrong tool this time.
I pretty much agree with Matt Yglesias’s take on the debt ceiling situation. Democrats played their cards poorly:
Back last December when Democrats had a much stronger hand in Congress, they reached a deal with the GOP over tax cut extension and some additional stimulus. Since those measures all increased the deficit, many of us thought at the time that including an increase in the debt ceiling would be a smart idea. For one thing, if Congress wills an increase in debt, it ought to also will an increase in the government’s borrowing authority. For another thing, such an increase would minimize the GOP’s ability to launch a new round of hostage-taking.
It didn’t happen. Obama said he trusted John Boehner. Harry Reid said he didn’t want the debt limit to be raised by the 111th Congress because he wanted to force the incoming 112th Congress to take ownership over it. The results of these decisions have been a disaster.
That last part is premature, though it might well turn out to be correct. This actually gets to what I think is a pretty fair criticism of Obama’s governing strategy as president. He does have one, and I think it hews pretty close to the rhetoric he used so often during the 2008 campaign. Come on, you know the drill: there’s more that unites us that divides us, people can disagree while working toward the common good, we need more engagement than the cheap politics of personal attacks gives us. And so on. It’s a pitch-perfect message to Democrats and independents, and it has some truth to it. Obama has governed that way, more or less, and I think he deeply believes it. After all, it was his profession: getting people who disagree to come together for the common good, regardless of their differences. His book Dreams From My Father describes what he did at some length, and he pretty clearly thought he could do that as president, and that that would change Washington. It was worth a try at least.
But it really hasn’t worked out. I think the reason that Obama has not seriously resisted negotiations over the debt ceiling–if not encouraged them through his statements and actions–is that picking a fight over a clean bill probably would have required using the Plan B that the Administration has never really had when dealing with intransigent Republicans. I think Obama’s probably right in his strategy when it comes to individuals. You talk to normal Republicans, you find that most aren’t entirely orthodox in terms of conservative ideology, and even though they’ll give the expected bromides about Big Government, few want to give up clean water or Social Security. The problem is that institutions aren’t like people, and in particular with modern conservatism what you have is a bunch of dogma instead of real ideas. How can you tell? Over the past thirty years, the issue positions of the Democratic Party have changed significantly. Some for the good, some not so much for the good, but in general the changes have been due to different ideas being debated within the party. Think Bill Clinton taking on the protectionists on trade, or the history of the health care issue moving from single-payer to some combination of Medicare, Medicaid, and a regulated individual market. The Democratic Party will change over time, as certain ideas get displaced and others gain ascendance. The process never completely ends–there are still many protectionists out there–but it does largely happen. It almost never happens with Republicans. They’ve been anti-union, anti-choice, and anti-tax for decades, among other things and to the extent their stances on these issues have changed, it’s only to become more extreme. This is different from Democrats, who may keep the same general goals but are willing to change on things like trade on the basis that it’s a better deal economically, if not for everyone in the country. Republicanism is dogmatism, which as has been said is not the absence of thought, but the end of thought. That can’t be bargained with. And the engagement strategy, with the hopes of either getting agreement or exposing the other side as intransigent fools, only works with a press that’s committed to calling the shots fairly. Which we also do not have.
Then again, going postal on the Republicans as the bloggy left would have him do all the time just doesn’t have much of a track record of success. The times Obama has tried this have not worked out so well. I just think Harry Reid was clearly not thinking about the whole “buy-in” thing, that was silly. Voters have never punished politicians for raising the debt limit, it’s not the sort of issue that penetrates that way. It’s a second-order “spending” issue adjunct at best. But Congressional Democrats were clearly using the horse sense that served them so well during the debate over voting on the Bush Tax Cuts, and did not want to just fucking take responsibility. Maybe this situation was just unavoidable. But given Reid’s choice, I can see why Obama didn’t oppose the negotiations. He still sees the opportunity to do all the dealmaking and consensus stuff that he always wanted to do. I think we might just have to get used to him not passing up any opportunity to do that.
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