Monday, October 5, 2009

Finance Mark-Up End Notes

I want to call it a postmortem, but since they aren't getting around to voting for a while as they wait for the gears to grind over at CBO, I can't quite call it that. Speaking of the vote, Ezra Klein makes an excellent point and does good reporting this morning. The reporting is that none of the Democrats is a swing vote in the sense that they would vote no to kill the bill, but that four of them might vote no to send a message, as long as the bill has the votes to advance. The point is just to realize that such things are possible -- that votes aren't always what they seem.

Meanwhile, since so many of us (certainly including me) payed a lot of attention to the markup, I figured I'd pick some winners and losers. As usual, I'm talking politics, not policy.

Winner: Hands down, it was Debbie Stabenow. She generally got good notices from liberals for her comments, plus her quick comment produced the breakout video clip of the markup. I don't know what kinds of ambitions she has, but she's put herself on a lot of liberals' maps in the last month.

Runner-up: Jay Rockefeller's reputation among liberals has been in disrepair for some time, and the markup went a long way to redeem him (I've always thought Rockefeller was a pretty good Senator, so I'm happy to have his reputation back to where it should be).

Loser: Kent "I've read one book, although I pretty much didn't understand it" Conrad. Conrad's big issue is supposed to be budget deficits, but he spectacularly failed to tie any of his concerns to it; he basically opened his mouth a lot, and didn't seem to have any idea of what he was talking about.

First runner-up: Olympia Snowe. Her bargaining power was reduced when the Dems finally (and, health and all permitting, for the duration of this process) reached 60, and when the Baucus bill proved more or less acceptable to, perhaps, all 60 of those Dems (her support is still a big deal, but somewhat less than it was). She didn't choose to articulate a coherent moderate Republican position -- why she was for a bill and what kind of bill she would support. Of course, that's in large part because she probably got a lot of what she wanted already, but she did little to sell anyone on it.

Runners-Up: The rest of the Republicans, generally. Grassley seems to have hurt himself back home, but I really couldn't judge that from what he said; I've never understood his appeal at all. Must be an Iowa thing. The GOP was hurt by having John Ensign there pretending to be a respectable Member of the Senate, and none of the rest of them, at least to my ears, seemed to care very much about any of it. Conservative pundits mostly ignored the whole thing and focused on czars and ACORN and other such junk; no one on the committee managed to coin anything catchy.

Last but not least: The Chair. Well, he did (assuming the vote comes in OK) what he wanted to do. Three weeks ago, I defended Baucus's process, saying that the delay through the summer wasn't a bad thing, but it was still too early to judge the results:
I will say one thing: if Baucus can get something through his committee with fourteen votes by the end of September, then he'll deserve a lot of praise.
I'll stick with that, pending the vote, but I'll add that getting it through at all, even with a 12-11 vote, would still be pretty good. People who don't like dealmaking and compromises aren't going to be happy with Baucus -- who, it should be noted, voted against a public option despite the popularity in polls of a public option and despite his own statement that he supports it. Baucus throughout has claimed that his goal is to get 60 votes, and he's willing to do what it takes to get there. Those who would rather get nothing than half a loaf will criticize that, but what would really destroy his grade is if he doesn't get half a loaf after all. We're still not there, but overall I'd say he's backed up his words with action. So: still incomplete, but so far, so good. at least on his own terms.

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