Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Food -- And Why This Stuff Is Harder Than You Think

The food safety bill finally passed.

First of all, this adds to the already enormous accomplishments of the 111th Congress (assuming, as I expect, that the House passes the Senate version).  Democrats got clobbered in the 2010 elections, but they certainly put their victories in 2006 and 2008 to work.

Second, the bill wound up passing easily -- the final vote was 73-25.  The NYT story emphasizes how rare bipartisanship was in this Congress, but I think I'd put it a little differently.   The truth is that Democrats in the Senate did, in fact, find some Republican votes on lots of things.  Both Supreme Court nominees received GOP votes.  Indeed, while Republicans certainly did stall other nominations, those that wound up coming to the floor passed with GOP support, often in large numbers. 

As for legislation, begin with the stimulus bill, which of course received three Republican votes (including then-Republican Arlen Specter).  There's also the Small Business bill, supported by LeMieux and Voinovich.  There was a jobs bill which made it thanks to votes from Snowe and Collins.  Snowe, Collins, and Brown were needed to reach 60 on Dodd-Frank

The point is that as much as a lot of liberal pundits regularly take Barack Obama and Harry Reid to task for foolishly believing that bipartisanship was possible over the last two years, the truth is that there were a handful of GOP votes within reach.  Except for the brief window in the second half of 2009, at least one of those votes was needed -- and politically, each marginal Republican vote made it easier to retain marginal Democrats.  Indeed, as I've argued, just going through the motions of seeking GOP support made it more likely that Ben Nelson stayed on board.  Of course,  the last 25 or so of the 40 (or 41, or now 42) Republicans were impossible to get, but support from two, three, or even half a dozen was a realistic goal on a lot of bills.

None of which is to say that Obama or Reid always made the right choices.  Overall, however, I think any fair reading would say that they accomplished quite a lot in the 111th Congress, and any fair criticism needs to keep that in mind.

(UPDATE: awful typo fixed, reference to bill still needing to get through the House added for clarification)

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