Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Using Leverage

Ezra Klein has a great question this morning: "Why Don't We Have More Joe Liebermans?"
There are 20 senators who could spin similar, albeit less grandiose, tales of the riches and rewards that could come from stepping into a central role on health-care reform. But most of them don't. Indeed, the reason we always end up talking about a small handful of skeptics is that the vast majority of senators don't grandstand or grumble or make unexpected threats. The Senate is thought to be a body of egotists and blowhards, but the real surprise is how few of them are brave enough, or cynical enough, or ambitious enough, to maximize their leverage.
I think we need two answers for this question.

The first answer is for Republicans, and there it's easy to point to NY-23; few Republican Senators feel that the leverage gained by flirting with a "yes" vote outweighs the damage within the party. I'd say that at best a half-dozen Republicans are secure enough politically that they can even begin to think about that kind of gambit (Snowe, Collins, maybe Lugar, and then some of the retiring group, if they're sure they are done asking for things from the Republican party network) . Perhaps some of them are in fact trying to cut deals with the Democrats, but do not want that known until they know that there's a deal to be had.

The second answer is for Democrats, and here I think the answer is that there are probably a lot of Democrats who are using that leverage; it's just that few have such a public style. Try counting:

There are 13 Democrats on Senate Finance. Each of them put something into the bill, so they've already used their leverage.

There are 12 non-overlapping Democrats on the HELP committee. Same story.

Three more non-overlapping Democrats hold party leadership posts. They pretty much give up their voting leverage over bills in exchange for other sorts of influence.

That's 28 of 60 Democrats, nearly half.

The other 32 include Lieberman, Landrieu, Ben Nelson, and Bayh. Also, Burris, who has been showboating from the other side. A sixth, Kirk, just got there, although his staff has been heavily involved; I don't think he's part of Ezra's missing group.

That leaves up to 26 Democratic Senators who we need to explain. Why aren't they maximizing their leverage?

Well, first, some of them might be threatening to vote no, but for various reasons believe that their interests are better served by doing it quietly.

Some may be planning to use their leverage to secure floor amendments.

Some may be preoccupied with other bills (for example, Boxer and climate/energy -- although I will note that Kerry has made time for that, and health care, and negotiating in Afghanistan).

Some may have made deals earlier, on other legislation (or something else), that entailed keeping quiet on this one.

Some may be making deals to go along on this one in exchange for some future consideration.

And, then, some may just want the bill to pass as easily as possible, and value that more than they value whatever goodies might be available.

I'm sure that doesn't include everyone; out of the sixty, there are no doubt some who are just lazy or inept and don't bother, or don't know how, to extract anything for themselves from a must-pass situation. I do suspect, however, that it's well under half of the Democrats, and perhaps as few as a dozen. The important thing to remember is that there are a lot of risks to going public the way that Lieberman and Ben Nelson certainly have, and that some Senators -- who may be just as aggressive about using their leverage over the bill -- have calculated that their leverage is best used quietly.

1 comment:

  1. It also may be that there are some who might consider being a Lieberman but see him as a cautionary tale. His opportunistic flirting with the other party cost him his party's nomination in 2006. Connecticut is one of only a handful of states in which you can lose your party's nomination and still run as an independent. In most other states, he'd just be an overpaid lawyer right now.


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