Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Catch of the Day (and Harry Reid and Conservative Daydreams)

It goes to Ezra Klein, for noticing:
That seems less weird when you know that Lieberman -- an independent -- votes with the Democrats 90 percent of the time (though his apostasies tend to come on such big-ticket items as health care and Iraq). Tales of the rift between him and his former party seem increasingly overstated.
Although of course Lieberman did eventually vote with the Dems on health care; his dissent was on the public option (and expanded Medicare, and other attempted public option compromises).  Even then, his vote wasn't the decisive one against some form of public option (it's pretty clear that Ben Nelson would never have been on board, and there were probably four or five others who would have let the whole thing sink rather than voting for any form of public option). On the votes that counted, though, Lieberman was there -- at one point even walking halfway across Washington through serious snow (on Shabbat) in order to cast a key vote.

Indeed, while there are plenty of places where I think Reid could have done more to break GOP obstruction, the case of Joe Lieberman is surely something for which he (and perhaps the president as well) deserve a lot of credit.  A lot of liberals outside the Senate wanted Holy Joe punished for his (extremely vocal) support of John McCain in 2008, and the Democratic leadership of the Senate took a lot of heat for ignoring it.  It's hard to say, at this point, that the liberal critics were right -- and it's not hard at all to imagine that had the Democrats stripped Lieberman of his committee chair position, he could have walked across the aisle and not only caucused with the GOP but started to vote with them regularly as well.  And without Holy Joe, there's every possibility that there's no ACA, and perhaps a smaller stimulus, no banking bill, and an even tougher road on unemployment insurance extensions.  Indeed, I would think that "Lieberman flips" is #2 on the conservative daydream list about 2009-2010, just after "Al Franken comes up short."

Granted, one can never tell about these things from outside -- and perhaps not even from inside.  But I think it's pretty clear that Harry Reid deserves a lot more credit than he's received from liberals for holding his caucus together most of the time in most cases, and Joe Lieberman is probably the prime example.


  1. On the other hand, earlier, more brutal treatment of Joe might have served to keep other Dems in line better -- that worked for DeLay, after all. And the Dems might have gone more quickly to reconciliation or used other Republican - like tactics to push the legislation through.

    I do give Reid credit for his accomplishments, but on the other hand, I think the Dem "strategy" was really really pathetic. It still is.

  2. I dunno, James- it seems like the DeLey era Republican Party really only had one power center- the leadership, which split on very few issues.

    But I think the modern Democratic Party has multiple power centers, and a leadership more apt to split. Lieberman himself is a good example of this; the leadership mostly supported him for re-election, but there was enough other places in the party to get money, workers, and other resources to beat him in the Primary. And when the leadership (mostly, begrudgingly) supported Lamont, there was still enough other things around for Lieberman to win the general.

    So, had the leadership taken Lieberman to the woodshed, I think plenty of Democrats would see paths to keep their jobs even IF they piss off the leadership. This is especially true for the problem Dems- Nelson, Landrieu, etc., who've never actually LOVED being firmly embraced by the party. Senators just don't seem to afraid to go it alone. But I don't know for sure, and hell, even if just worked on Nelson, it would probably have been welcome.

    OTOH, I think the hesitency to use Reconciliation was based mostly in the Byrd Rule. An awful lot of the bill just couldn't be passed through Reconcilliation.

  3. Right. I agree with you. But what I meant by using Republican-like tactics was complying with the Byrd Rule. There is no good reason to stick with the Byrd Rule. I may be wrong, but what stops the majority party from dispensing with inconvenient rules? Republicans wouldn't stay bound to a Byrd Rule or a hypothetical Bunning Rule or whatever. If the thing was a big effin deal, they would have dispensed with such nonsense. Certainly the Republicans dispensed with such niceties as eschewing bribery, for example, on the House floor, to say nothing of politely observing time limits and so forth for such items as Medicare Part D. That's what I mean when I say that Dems have a pathetic "strategy" which isn't really a strategy.

  4. What separates Lieberman from the other Conservative Democrats is -- if you'll pardon the word -- dickishness.

    Myself and many others remember Lieberman's unrelenting opposition to Medicare buy in as a compromise policy, when he had months earlier proposed that very same policy. And the only motive that could be deciphered was that liberals were OK with the idea, and Joe wanted to look tough on liberals.

  5. James, there is a good argument that Democrats should comply with the Byrd Rule.

    Keep in mind that, to date, Republicans have complied with the rule. That's why the Bush tax cuts expire. And it may well be why Social Security was not privatized. The Byrd Rule prevents any changes to Social Security in reconciliation (that is, with 51 votes).

    Keep in mind that many people believe the Republicans will control the Senate by 2013, if not next year. If the Democrats fail to comply with the Byrd Rule, Republicans will ignore it, too. Meaning that they'll be able to do what they want with Social Security.

    Be careful what you wish for.

  6. No, I'm not wishing for the demise of the Byrd Rule. Frankly, I learned more about the Byrd Rule and every other Senate rule during the excruciating health insurance reform debate than I ever cared to learn.

    And I am most definately not a proponent of filibuster reform.

    My point was only that brutal tactics seem to be successful for the Republicans, and they never feel bound by the niceties of Senate rules, including the Byrd Rule, and "comity" unless it serves their purpose. It's foolhardy of the Democrats to continue to play nice under those circumstances. But maybe they like being in the minority.

    I don't think that the Byrd Rule prevented the Republicans from privatizing Social Security during the 109th. I think it was that they didn't have enough support in their caucus. I think they will have sufficient support in their caucus come January, though. What do you think?

  7. Some years ago, I was arguing with a fellow on Wikipedia about whether Lieberman was a DINO or not. I suggested Lieberman was a bit like the Democratic equivalent of McCain, in that both are perceived as a sort of fifth column by party loyalists even though they have voting records more in line with their party than many people realize. The person I was arguing with countered that McCain cares more about the health of his party than Lieberman does about his. Since this discussion, I began to think this person had a point, and the coming years seemed to bear out what he said: McCain grew more loyal to the GOP, while Lieberman left the Democratic Party, endorsed McCain for president, and in general seemed to be going out of his way to be as much of a thorn in the side of the Democrats as possible even as he continued to caucus with them. But it's not clear to me that any of this was inherent to their temperaments. McCain moved to the right because that's where he felt his future lay; Lieberman moved rightward for precisely the same reason. I could imagine alternate scenarios in which Lieberman became more conventionally liberal while McCain left the GOP altogether.

  8. Coming late to comments, but....

    James -- or perhaps making an example of Lieberman makes the Benator decide that there's no future for him with the Dems, and he flips, too. It's just really hard to know. Nelson, unlike Lieberman IMO, really has given the Dems serious problems, but then again it's not as if the Dems have better options in NE. The thing about Lieberman is that (on nat security stuff) he's out of sync not just with the Dem caucus, but with the median voter in CT. That's not really true with Nelson, or Lincoln, or Bayh (yes, on some issues, but not overall).

  9. Oh, well I wasn't advocating the brutal treatment of Joe, I was just throwing out an alternate hypothetical. Sure, stripping Joe of all his privileges might have caused *all* of the Blue Dogs to defect, but maybe not. They run for cover whenever the Republicans say Boo! We don't know what they would do if Harry ever tried that.

    The thing is, at least the Republicans *have* a strategy -- obstruct! -- and it's been phenomenally successful. On the other hand, the Dems have been flying by the seat of their pants, hoping they don't run into a solid object. That's the strategy. So far, so good.


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