Monday, June 17, 2013

Nuclear Logic (Why Lautenberg Probably Doesn't Matter)

Greg has some reporting out today on the concerns among Senate Democrats that Frank Lautenberg's death  may tip things against majority-imposed reform; with several Democratic defections possible and at least a couple likely, losing that one sure vote for reform could be the difference.

I don't question his reporting -- that is, I'm sure that Democrats are saying what he reports they're saying -- but I don't really believe it. I continue to believe it's highly unlikely that the Democrats will act unless they're very close to being unanimous. One defection, maybe; two, perhaps; more, and I don't think anything happens.

That's in part because of the spin on it; I think a lot of Democrats are likely worried that a narrow vote with every Republican and a four (or, previously, five) Democrats opposing reform would mean that they'll lose the spin battle. I think that's probably a foolish reason; it won't really matter who wins the fight over whether majority-imposed reform is "good government" or "majority tyranny." No one cares about Senate procedure;  most of the press will forget about it in a couple of weeks, and voters will never have noticed.

(Caveat: it's certainly possible that the conservative information loop will find majority-imposed reform to be a product that sells, but that just means it's substituting for some other product; it won't affect votes in 2014 or 2106).

However, it's also in part because I don't really think that the most reluctant Democrats are acting independently. I think quite a few Democrats are reluctant to change the rules. The balance here is between the incentives for them as individual Senators to retain their individual influence within the Senate and the incentives for them as Democrats to advance the party agenda. What determines the balance isn't so much individual variation among Democrats, but the level of GOP obstruction. My strong suspicion here is that there will either be 52 or more votes (out of the 54), or there will be well under 50.

The tricky part is that no one wants to specify exactly how many and which positions Republicans would have to obstruct in order to trigger that 52+ number, since doing so would give them license to block everything up to that line. What's more, I'm not convinced that any of the Democrats, including Harry Reid, have a precise formula in mind. Instead, I think they'll work it out together, based on what Republicans do, what Democratic party actors do, and perhaps to a small extent what Barack Obama does. But I do think that it's going to be more of a collective decision than a set of separate individual decisions.

Oh, and I think some sort of bipartisan efforts to avert majority-imposed reform is fairly likely.

No prediction from me on the outcome of any of this. And I'm an outsider here; the reporting could well be more correct than my outsider analysis. But that's how I see the incentives involved.

1 comment:

  1. I've always agreed with your individual influence vs. advancing party agenda argument, but remember, we're only talking here about nominations. In that light, I think there's less incentive for Dem senators to want to protect their individual prerogatives than meets the eye. If they control the Senate under a Republican president, they will exert that influence through the committee process. If they are in the minority, should any Dem Senator really believe he or she will be able to extract some kind of concession from the next Republican president by placing a hold on a nomination? It's much more likely that the GOP WH/Sen majority will already have buy-in from enough of the remaining conservadems to reach cloture anyway.

    The strongest reason Dems have against eliminating cloture for nominations *is* party agenda: so that they can, when necessary, prevent the fifth vote to overturn Roe from ascending to the Supreme Court.

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