Monday, April 11, 2011

What The Democrats Actually Did Wrong

Nothing new here, but it's worth emphasizing again where the Democrats did go wrong:

1. Failing to pass appropriations for FY 2011 when they had large majorities in Congress;

2. Failing to pass a large debt ceiling increase when they had large majorities in Congress;

3. Failing to even consider acting on DC Statehood when they had the votes to do it in 2009 (relevant here because apparently the tradeoff for saving ACA, EPA, and Planned Parenthood was allowing screw-the-District riders to survive).

Yes, the historic 111th Congress got a lot done, and much of what Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi did was impressive. But Democrats should have realized that the 111th was a rare opportunity to act and sacrificed district campaigning time and other competitors for (mostly) Senate floor time, and maximized the time spend passing their agenda. It was a clear, true, mistake, an unforced error, and the Democrats (and their constituency groups) are paying for it now.


  1. You're right that they should have done more. The Democrats as a caucus made those errors, but to the individual members it's hard to resist spending more time campaigning at home or avoiding tough votes when you can see the possibility of your career ending in a few months.

    The job of members of Congress is to both pass good legislation and to get re-elected. And the priority isn't always in that order.

  2. @Kal---To be even more blunt, a politician's first job is to get reelected. For me part of what was frustrating about the 111th Congress was the extent to which Democrats (mostly the Blue Dog wing of the party) made decisions that hurt both their chances of reelection and their chances of passing good legislation.

    IIRC, Democrats didn't:

    *pass a FY2011 budget,
    *pass a large increase in the debt ceiling,
    *act on DC statehood,
    *act more quickly on ACA,
    *act on cap & trade,
    *act on larger stimulus,
    *act on Senate rules reform,

    in large part because moderate Democrats thought those actions were too risky politically. As a result, they (and we) got the worst of both worlds: lots of major progressive changes blocked or abandoned (mostly in the Senate), and lots of Democrats kicked out by the voters last November.

  3. The first two are pretty straightforward, but doesn't statehood for DC fall into the snowball's chance in hell category?

    I don't remember the rules for admission of a new state (and am too lazy to look through the Constitution). But presumably a broad consensus is needed - hence the pairing of free and slave states before the Civil War, and of blue Hawaii and red Alaska at midcentury. So Dems presumably could not ram it through, and why on earth would the GOP acquiesce in adding two sure Dem Senators and a bunch of Dem House members?

  4. Rick, I think all you need is an Act of Congress. The territory in question petitions Congress for admission. Congress passes an Enabling Act authorizing the residents of a territory to make a constitution, and also sets some requirements they would have to meet. Then, if everything runs smoothly, they pass a Statehood Act. In theory, when the Dems had filibuster-proof majorities it could have happened. Then, D.c. would get two Senators, and one house member.

  5. Vox is right: all you need is a law. But, as JB has noted, when they have majorities, Reps do tactics, Dems do policy. Don't know why, but they do seem to do that.
    One correction to Rick: at the time, it was red Hawaii and blue Alaska. Seriously, those were the expectations. Way wrong, of course, but that's what the Beltway thought.

    JB, #1 and #2 are, to me, the biggest deals. I'm getting kinda tired of US legislatures kicking the budget cans down the road. I'd like some legislature to make the painful choices. Cuts, if any, are spread around pretty generally. Taxes, if any, are either temporary or targeted (like cigarette taxes). Much of the holes in budgets is made up with smoke-and-mirrors. We are now truly feeling "Reagan's revenge" (as I understand the term: by winning the popular debate on taxes, the eventual win on spending is inevitable). I mostly agree, but don't go all the way to your point on "who cares about the deficit," but I think that the conventional wisdom is that deficits are bad. In that environment, every one of these fake budgets simply ratchets up the pressure on spending the next year.

  6. DC statehood would require a constitutional change. It is not a "territory."

  7. Charlie,

    The viable plan for statehood is to carve out a remaining Federal District made up of the federal stuff where no one lives, and then to make the rest of the city into a state. As others have said, all that's needed is a simple act of Congress.

  8. Art. 4, Sec. 3:

    New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union . . . [followed by some caveats that don't apply to DC.]

    Art. 1, Sec. 7:

    Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) [are subject to presidential veto and override] according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.

    It doesn't seem likely to me that the Democrats would be able to hold their entire caucus on this matter.

  9. No, if you "carve" out residential DC it reverts back to Maryland.

    You'd need an additional act to create a new, then a new state. There will be endless Supreme Court cases on this

    Poly Sci professors should really be required to have law degrees.

  10. >No, if you "carve" out residential DC it reverts back to Maryland.

    Why? My understanding is that when Congress returned that part of the district that originally belonged to Virginia to Virginia, it required an affirmative act of Congress, in addition to the consent of Virginia. This implies, at least, that retrocession is not automatic upon a carve out.

    I think D.C. is just a regular incorporated territory.


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