Monday, March 22, 2010

Questions 5: The Big Mo?

Via email:
Will this win on health care give the Democrats momentum to use the rest of the year to take on the rest of the big legislative issues...or will they instead be so battle-weary that they avoid the hard issues?
Good question.  My initial reaction is: no idea!

Wait, I can do better than that.  Let's think about this.  March, legislatively, is more or less done.  So we're talking about April, May, June, July, August, September, October.  Six months.  But of course there are breaks in there, including one large one, and they'll want to get out of town as early as possible before the election.  So there really isn't a ton of time remaining. 

The next question is what has to get done.  Unless I'm forgetting something, the must-pass things this year are the budget, of course, and, most likely, a Supreme Court nomination.  The budget is lots of items, and lots of floor time -- it's the budget resolution, and then appropriations bills, and perhaps a budget-centered reconciliation package, although I'm not aware as I write this of anything in particular that's really budget related that needs to go that way.  Of course, several major items are already through the House, and only -- only! -- need Senate action (and then we'll play some ping-pong). 

The emailer lists finance reform, climate/energy, education, and immigration as the major agenda items.  Sounds right.  I'd be shocked if immigration gets to the floor of either chamber this year...I can't imagine very many Members want to vote on it unless it is going to become law, and as far as I can see there's no way that can happen this year.  Doesn't mean it won't get some attention, but in my opinion, no way. 

I do think there's a fair chance that we'll get education and finance regulation.  On the former, there's a real incentive for Dems to get it done with the current Congress.  On the latter, there's I think a general feeling that it's important to get it done, although there's also the point made by Matt Yglesias that it's a good issue for the Dems to demagogue.  Er, strike that, a good issue for the Dems to forcefully state their position and challenge Republicans to oppose them.  But something could certainly pass.  That leaves climate/energy...I'd have to think a lot more about the politics of this, and perhaps know more about the substance, to guess how it plays out. 

I should actually address the question, though.  Does passing health care make the other things more or less likely?  I guess the answer is: compared to what?  Compared to losing on the floor yesterday, or having to yank it back at the last minute and give up -- yes, it's much better for the other things that they passed health care.  Compared to giving up in January?  Hard to say.  I do think, following Richard Neustadt, that the president's professional reputation matters, and if that's true then Obama should find everything a little easier with such a high-profile win, especially one in which he was perceived to have very little chance at several points.  So I guess I'll go ahead and say it helps, but whether it's something that makes a difference is a lot harder to say.


  1. Hi Johnathan its Nathan the Question-Asker (maybe that should be my new blogger-name!)

    Good to hear you think financial reform and education are likely to pass this year. To my thinking it all comes down to the Senate and the problem of 59 Democratic votes. So maybe a better question would have been:

    Does the passage of health care reform make it more or less likely that Olympia Snowe will sign on as the 60th vote? On which issues can Dems get that 60th republican vote?

    Admittedly I am speaking without a lot of in depth knowledge here, but I'd bet education reform is most likely to pick up that 60th vote. It seems less likely to result in partisan fireworks.

    Climate/energy reform has Lindsey Graham on board, but as Kevin Drum has said, that issue is all spinach and no cake so is unlikely to pass before an election.

    I agree with you that immigration reform ain't gonna happen (how rough for them that their big rally happened on Health Care Day).

    Which leaves financial reform, where Chris Dodd has already broken off negotiations with the GOP making it unlikely there will be a 60th vote. If they can't get Snowe to sign on, my dream scenario is that the Senate democrats force the GOP to actually fillibuster financial reform. As in Mr. Smith goes to Washington style filibuster. What better issue would there be to go to the mat on? Why not let the GOP put themselves on the record defending the banks?

    I have heard plausible reasons why Harry Reid will never do this, but I can't stop thinking it would work. Especially because Obama has proved he can mop the floor with the GOP in a policy debate. What do you think? Join me in this quest!

  2. If the GOP focuses 24/7/365 on repealing HCR and running against Dems over HCR (with lies and fear-mongering), and they try to shut down the Senate, the Dems will make mincemeat of them in November. Current discontent with Obama is a combination of (i) continued poor economic results, due largely to Bush's deep recession and financial meltdown, which is likely to improve over the next 6 - 9 months despite itself, and (ii) a solid year of GOP lies and fear-mongering about HCR, which now gives way to the sheer political accomplishment involved, and the factual reality of HCR, which is that it is centrist, helps a lot of people, and that a solid majority either supports it in its current form, or in a more liberal form.

    Yesterday's CNN poll (cited by the GOP as evidence of opposition to HCR) was that 39% in favor, 13% opposed (from the left), and 43% opposed (from the right). By 51%-39%, Americans trust Obama more than the GOP to "handle major changes" in the "health care system". This support for HCR (either as passed, or in a more liberal form) will increase when people who are unsure, or mistrustful of change, figure out that almost all the fearmongering was dishonest, and that life as we know it will continue. Those who oppose HCR because it was not progressive enough will still vote for Democrats come election day, and are angry at the GOP and its corporate backers for lying to derail the public option.

    The GOP strategy of scorched earth lying and opposition to HCR required them to defeat the bill to work politically. Thay can no longer argue that they saved the nation from all of terrible things they were claiming about HCR (claims that have proven all but impossible to disprove, especially with Fox and conservative corporate media sources carrying their water in opposing HCR). Fortunately, with passage, reality gets to play out, and the GOP right wing now gets to look like liars or fools (or both), and like complete tools for their corporate overlords. The GOP's pre-inauguration strategy of destroying Obama, Pelosi and Reid by winning a legislative battle over HCR has been turned on its head, and now they can only capitulate and work with the Dems (which would be interpreted as weakness, which the right wing base will never accept), or capitulate to the most right wing elements of their party (and thereby increase the stakes even more).

    With the increasing concern among at least a few Republicans that going "all in" with nutcases and extremists like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh might not be such a great idea, and with a growing number of voters who have HCR fatigue (and just want to move on to other important concerns now that this one is behind us, even if they don't love the bill), plus the general discontent that exists with "do-nothing" politicians in a time period where action has never been more imperitive, you may well see Republicans like Snowe, Collins, Brown, Graham, Lugar or Voinovich in the Senate, voting on occasion to pass legislation in areas like financial regulatory reform, education reform, jobs legislation, tax credits/incentives for clean energy (if not cap and trade, which may be too big of a political hot potato this year), repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell and/or Immigration Reform. If not, the GOP will rightfully be seen as obstructionist, and may well find themselves walking into a buzzsaw in November.

    My hope is that Obama, Pelosi and Reid will force the issue and press even harder to get things done, by making them actually filibuster on the floor, and making them employ procedural tricks to bring about gridlock, and thereby show the public who really is responsible for the the excessive partisanship and obstruction, and who is actually trying to get something done. Or maybe they actually will win the few over that are needed to actually accomplish something.

  3. It appears I was wrong that Dodd has broken off negotiations over Finance Reform, saying he thinks he can peel off some Repubs. The mood that is out there today, the new polls showing support for HCR, I think you are right that the moderate GOP are going to tell McConnell where he can take his strategy of total opposition.


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