Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sunday Question for Liberals

Let's try a little counterfactual...suppose that Jim Martin had edged Saxby Chambliss in Georgia in 2008 (he lost by 100K votes in the initial round) and that Bruce Lunsford had nosed out Mitch McConnell (another 100K votes). Or, perhaps, substitute for one of those Harold Ford beating Bob Corker in 2006 (just 40K votes). Along with that, give Al Franken enough votes or court decisions or whatever to be seated right at the beginning of the 111th Congress. In other words, suppose the Democrats had been a little lucky (or luckier) and had 61 Senators from the beginning of Barack Obama's presidency (not counting Arlen Specter, that is).

OK, what do you think would have been different? On the initial and subsequent stimulus bills, on health care, on climate, on banking reform, on does everything play out?

(Unless you have a strong argument, I'd recommend assuming that the Tea Party stuff basically is unchanged. Also, I want to credit Richard Skinner for inspiring this, via email. Thanks!)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. So does that 61 include Joe Liberman?

    Perhaps health reform wouldn't have languished for months in Max Baucus' committee. I don't think it was the bill itself that was the problem (except maybe for liberals), rather it was the drawn out process that gave the GOP and FOX News time to whip people into a frenzy about it.

    Also, a second stimulus bill could have been passed. Unemployment would be lower and GDP would be higher right now and I don't have to explain to you why that would make a difference.

  3. It basically allows the Democrats to negotiate amongst themselves for Obama's first two years and avoid wasting valuable time and resources in a failed attempt to attract Republicans. I don't think this changes the health care bill significantly (maybe an extraordinarly watered down public option). The deal with Big Pharma probably still happens. I also think it might weaken financial regulation overall since the derivatives regulation was largely a result of Bill Halter and organized labor's pressure on Blanche Lincoln. The biggest difference I see it making is on the stimulus, Fed appointees, and judicial nominees. The tea party still happens but maybe with a better overall GDP and job growth they aren't given as much credibility. The GOP definitely gains seats in the midterms but maybe not the speakership.

  4. Not much different: Any further or faster the Democrat coalition might have gone would merely have revealed its own unreadiness more clearly and quickly, given it even more exclusive ownership over the muddled results, and, wherever the extra vote or two in the Senate impelled the team to out-punt its coverage further, incited an even stronger compensatory reaction.

    Escaping the shadow of Reagan and, put more broadly, growing comfortable with Neo-Imperial poltical economy in search of a new equilibrium is going to be a long and difficult process, with lots of two steps forward/three steps back. Such counterfactuals, including the more widespread "if only Obama had said or done x, y, or z" stuff, strike me as a way to project a desired future evolution on the progressive left into the past.

  5. So the pivotal vote moves from a Snowe or Collins to a Ben Nelson? Legislatively, not all that different, but probably a lot easier to get there.

    Nominations would be a whole different story.

  6. 1) The stimulus ask, which was trimmed in the WH below what economic team wanted because of political considerations, would have been larger and the economy would have grown more.

    2) Obama would have been pushed harder by Congress on foreclosure issue (write downs, bankruptcy haircut on mortgages), which might have yielded more progress on administration's biggest failure.

    3) A better deal in Dec. 2010 on tax cut extension.

  7. The Dems would have achieved moderately, but not significantly better, results and so the election would have turned out about the same. First, each of those 3 figured to be a fairly conservative Dem, being elected from a red state. None of them would have been supporters of, say, cap and trade. I think the stimulus would have been bigger and more effective - Collins in particular demanded significant weakening of the stimulus in return for her vote, so moving the deciding vote into the Democratic camp would have made a positive difference. But even a somewhat bigger and better stimulus would have shaved only a 1/2 point to a point off the unemployment rate, and a fall 2010 unemployment rate in the 8.5% range would have looked plenty bad to the 2010 electorate with nothing worse to compare it to. HCR only turns out different if the Dems do it quicker, and I think Obama and Senate Dems placed a value on a bipartisan bill, so they would have tried the Gang of 6 anyway and we would have had Town Hall August, etc. anyway. Maybe the Senate confirms more judges (though Republicans could have slowed things down with even less than 40 votes). Maybe Peter Diamond makes it to the Fed Bd of Governors, which would have made a positive difference. TARP would have been the same. The Tea Party dynamic would have been the same (rural, conservative whites feeling powerless and therefore angry).

  8. You can't spell "politics" without "optics", and while the 2009-10 Congress was actually quite an effective one, I think the speed and efficiency which 61 Democrats would have shown in accomplishing key aspects including health care and the stimulus, would have fostered an appearance of "things are getting done in Washington" that would have made Tea Party type complaints less effective with the broader middle class.

    Movement on foreclosure issues - really anything at all to bring home to Main Street - would have helped significantly with this (I don't know if that could have been accomplished)

    I think there would have been more engagement with the Democratic party and the president's program, leading to a more positive result for Democrats in 2010's elections. Not enough to keep 61 in any way; maybe enough to keep 56 and an evenly split House.

    I think ultimately, horsetrading would have badly watered down some of this stuff anyway, no doubt just as much as the Republican minority did.

    I don't think that Americans are thirsting for a Democratic steamroller government by any means; just that Obama in particular took a while to find his feet in negotiationg terms.

  9. Repeating what most people said - Conservative Democrats would force the watering down of those bills to almost the amount of liberal/moderate republicans so it wouldn't have made a monumental difference, but enough that it would have weakened the Tea Party victories in 2010. A slightly faster, less confusing Health Care Reform process means less fodder for Fox. We'd perhaps have a slightly larger/more effective stimulus, as well as smaller, popular stimulus bills to follow, without huge concessions to follow (such as extending all the Bush Tax Cuts for minimal extensions of UI). So I don't think visibly there would be much difference.
    But behind the scenes stuff, I think the administration would have had more of an effect. More judges on the bench, Peter Diamond on the Fed, and other things that would effect governance down the line, but may not have been taken into account during the election.

  10. I'm going to say nothing much would've changed. The ACA would still be limited to what the three most conservative three Democratic Senators would tolerate, and neither Senator Nelson nor Baucus supported the public option.

  11. I don't think different Senators from Georgia or Kentucky would have made the difference, but I think if Kennedy had resigned as soon as it became clear to him that he would never again vote for cloture (probably in the Spring/Summer of 08), the Massachusetts Senate special election would have taken place in Nov 08, when we definitely would have won it, and we would have had another vote for cloture throughout 2009 to today.

  12. I think the question you have to ask is about leadership. If McConnell is out as leader I think you probably have a pretty weak Republican caucus. That would definitely make the Republican caucus much weaker. I can't really think of a stronger leader than McConnell in the Senate.

    Secondly, and more importantly in my eye, I think that more moderates in the Senate the better. I think that by diluting the power of moderate senators like Snow, Nelson, Collins, places the bargaining chip more in the middle, because both sides need to woo them to get a deal. The 60th vote moves from being just Collins to being any one of the group, which probably makes policy more reasonable and prevents fringe bargaining.

  13. I'm still p.o.'d at my Sen Wyden, and a couple of others whom I forget, coming out in like July of '09 with a call to slow down the health care bill.

    Given his current attempts right now to hand huge favors to the timber industry and screw those of us who believe that natural national resources should be conserved and managed more carefully, I don't see how his need to do a huge favor for the health insurance industry at that moment (at the expense of the interests of the senior citizens whose causes he once prided himself on championing) changes in any way.

    Plus, in general, these "historical counter-factuals" are a huge waste of time. Every step into the river of time changes both you and the river. People can bloviate all day about what might have been (and I guess that's the intention of these things), yet it leaves us all up in the air of uncertainty, since no conclusions can ever be reached.

    And in the end it doesn't change the need to find and make concrete steps today and tomorrow that will actually make things better.

  14. 63 or 64 Senators would have made a difference. 60 or 61 means you're still making deals with as many Blue Dogs/Connecticut for Liebermaners as want to be a PITA diva. Helps you on confirmations, but little else.

    However, if you knock McConnell out of the Senate? It's a fair question to ask what happens with Minority Leader Jon Kyl - we all saw how effective he was in trying to block the new START treaty.

  15. I don't see much of a policy change because of the blue dogs. Nominations become a whole new ball game, though.


  16. It's possible the Democrats would have had more leverage with the "RINO" Senators, since the Democrats could threaten to pass whatever they wanted without their help.

    Combined with nixing McConnell from the leadership, the overall strategy of the Republicans could have been different too. The scenario takes away the Senate veto from the Republicans, so perhaps the leadership would have decided to allow members to cross the line in order to moderate Democratic legislation. Without the veto, the Republicans would have little incentive to obstruct (since they couldn't), and more incentive to work with the Democrats -- albeit on the Democrats' terms.

    Also, this creates the possibility that President Obama focused on energy instead of health care, and maybe work with enough Republicans to sacrifice a few Democrats.

  17. I agree with dave. The issue is whether the whole GOP strategy is different in this scenario. If they decide, with fewer votes and no McConnell, that total rejectionism is futile, then maybe the Gang of Six and and least a few other Republicans are more cooperative. Given Obama's persistence in trying to buy Republican votes with major concessions, we might actually have seen weaker versions of the legislation that made it through. So, on the one hand, maybe cap and trade passes in some form, but on the other, HCR might have been even further watered down.

  18. Not a lot.

    Barack Obama's first, last, and only impulse is still to seek out compromise with those who reject the very idea of compromise as a desirable value.

  19. Agree with most. HCR would have been done sooner, and neater, but policy-wise, fairly similar. However, if having 61 made the Tea Party August milder, that might have had real repercussions. If that was milder, then the GOP might not be as captured by the TP. Who knows....maybe the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy would have been phased out somewhat, making the long term debt picture slightly better.

    Overall, though, not that much different. Unless someone has evidence that Obama hasn't been nominating anyone because of the Senate vote hurdle, then the problem there is at the other end of PA Ave.

  20. The President was so focused on being bipartisan during his early legislative opportunities that I think there would be absolutely no difference. He knew he needed to look moderate, so he would have opposed any bill that didn't have some bipartisan support. I think that's where the frustration with him lies, he can look very politically calculative in a situation that calls for straight policy.

  21. I'm still p.o.'d at my Sen Wyden,...coming out in like July of '09 with a call to slow down thehealth care bill.

    He had his own plan, did he not? and wasn't going to encourage alternatives....

    100 Senators, and 90 of them look in the mirror every morning and say "Good Morning, Mr. (or Mme.) President!"


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