Saturday, November 28, 2009

Rejectionism 2

More now on the issue of the Republican strategy of opposing Obama's initiatives full-out, including the use of filibusters in the Senate over everything.

I agree with Kevin Drum that this is "something new under the sun." Well, at least it was new in 1993-1994, when the GOP used a more modest version of the strategy to attempt to derail Bill Clinton's presidency.

So, why is it back, and this time even more intense? (The number of filibusters is way up, especially against both judicial and executive branch nominees, but also against legislation). I think there are two basic reasons:

1. Republicans believe it worked in 1993-1994. Remember that politicians and political operatives don't, generally, think statistically -- they're more likely to just assume causal relationships between anything that happened in Time 1 and whatever happened in Time 2. Since Republicans perceive 1993-1994 as a triumph for them, they were extremely likely to emulate whatever they remember happening in those years...really, I wouldn't be surprised to find out that they're wearing the same color socks. That means we're going to get a new version of the Contract with America next year (even though the 1994 version had pretty much nothing to do with the results of the 1994 elections), and it means taking Bob Dole's filibuster-basd rejectionist strategy up three or four notches.

2. The other side of it is different than the 1993 situation, but it pushes in the same direction. I suspect that if the GOP had 45 or 47 Senators that they might try to use their votes for bargaining. I think they would filibuster health care in any event (if the Dems had only 55 Senators, then they would have gone the reconciliation route from the beginning, but probably jettisoned lots of things they wanted, including the public option, long ago). With only 40, the Repubicans are pretty free to misbehave as much as they want, because there's no way that Washingtonians are going to blame things on a party that has a minority in the House, only 40 Senators, and has lost the White House. The Broders of the world will blame Obama if he gets "only" 59 of 60 Democrats (all the Dems but the increasingly right-leaning Lieberman, in other words); they aren't going to blame things on Republican obstructionism. Moreover, because the Democrats can do things without the Republicans, they are going to try to do that. Yes, Obama has made what I consider sincere attempts to include Republicans, but the incentives all run the other way.

Of course, there remains the question of whether rejectionism is a good strategy for the GOP, but I'll look at that later.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I remember in the heady days of graduate school thinking I had an awesome dissertation idea predicated on the opposite effect (for the House): that hopeless minorities (GOP in the 1970s) cooperate with the majority in order to get SOMETHING out of it, whereas close minorities (like Dems from 1997-2006) sandbag in an attempt to blame the majority party for nothing happening.

    I also remember what happened to that 4th year of grad school spent trying to prove this......

  3. Matt,

    Well? Null results? You have to tell us -- it seems like blog comments are a perfect place to speculate about stuff based on failed studies!

  4. Yep. Nada. Zip. Bupkis.

    Basically, the anecdotes in my mind that framed my start on this were the 80th "Do Nothing" Congress and the way the GOP (Michel stands out in my mind as the exemplar) cooperated on legislation throughout the 1970s and early 1980s (before the COS took over).

    However, I could find no statistical relationship (either way) between seat margins and any/all measures of sandbaggery I tossed at it...motions to recommit, filibusters, motions to recommit WITHOUT instructions, quorum calls, cloture votes, even things like hours of debate/bills passed.

    But, after a year spent really playing with these things as dependent variables, I changed the diss to the CONSEQUENCES of passing major laws. Looking back, I wish I'd stumbled on to my current research on veto threats much earlier....I'll be shopping a book next year, and that could've been my diss and a MUCH earlier publication.


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