Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Catch of the Day

While I'm not a fan of the 60 vote Senate, I generally can't fault Mitch McConnell for doing what he can to gum up the works in that chamber. It's true that the minority party has a choice to make between all-out obstruction versus cooperation, and that the latter has a lot of real advantages (basically, that their constituencies can be considered in policy-making), but at least in my view the choice was made for McConnell by the overwhelming preference of his conference, and he's just been carrying out what they want over the last few years.

Whatever you think of McConnell and the GOP strategy, however, it's certainly clear that he and the Republicans have successfully implemented the 60 vote Senate on all bills and nominations, something that never existed before (and only began to be a real possibility in 1993, the last time before 2009 that Democrats won unified control of both branches). This is a real accomplishment for McConnell, and one he can brag about.

Or pretend that it never happened, as Sahil Kapur notes over at TPM: "Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has embraced the argument that President Obama was able to pass every bit of his legislative agenda in his first two years thanks to large Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. " Or, as McConnell puts it: Obama "got everything he wanted from a completely compliant Congress for two of those three years."

Yikes! Kapur lists several of the items which Obama wanted but were blocked by the 60 vote Senate, including climate change legislation, the public option on health care (at least a weak form would have had 50 votes), the DREAM Act, the elimination of Bush-era tax cuts on upper income taxpayers, and more. The stimulus almost certainly would have been larger. Moreover, the odds are good that a simple-majority Senate would have passed significant follow-up aid to the states, not to mention more timely unemployment insurance extensions. Now, it's worth remembering that the historic 111th Congress did pass a whole lot of legislation, including a whole lot of what Obama wanted, but "every bit of his legislative agenda" isn't a stretch; it's a flat-out lie.

Oh, and: Nice catch!


  1. I think calling the 60 vote senate an "accomplishment" is a bit perverse. Putting aside the devastating effects on policy and good governance caused by this obstruction, consider the logic of what you just praised:

    Would you applaud the police if they decided to start giving speeding tickets to any car going 51 mph in a 50 mph speed limit zone? By your logic, you can't "fault" the police for just doing their job, right?

    This is ridiculous. McConnell and the GOP caucus are violating the informal norms of the Senate. Whether this is good or bad depends on your politics, but call a spade a spade. If you're impressed at the sheer evil genius of it all, sort of like how even liberals have to acknowledge that Grover Norquist is a powerful man who's accomplished a great deal, that's one thing. But you're one of the "neutral" types who should be pointing out this type of abuse when they see it.

  2. I can't say I'm bothered by this one, I really can't. It comes down to one thing - DREAM Act. Everything else Kapur lists, the Democrats got, just not in the everything-and-a-pony form. HCR, stimulus, It seems to me they never had 50 votes, or even close, on repealing the tax cuts. The appropriations bills, appointments - that is procedural stuff, it's not legislative.

    1. Tybalt, maybe for you it comes down to just the DREAM Act. For people interested in other planks in the Democratic platform, and for people interested in politics generally, it also includes the 300+ House bills that the Senate never even took up in the 111th Congress.

  3. Uh...how about the greenhouse gas regulation? The union bill?

    And, indeed, as you mention he did manage to pass some version of much of his agenda, but it is an insult to the language to describe the process as coming from "a completely compliant Congress." Every. Last. Bill. was the product of a painful, agonizing process in the face of relentless opposition. There is no way that you can describe those events as constituting "a completely compliant Congress."

  4. This is part of a lie/talking point that goes something like this:

    D: It's not Obama's fault that _______ (fill in the blank).

    R: Yes it is his fault. He had a filibuster-proof Senate (completely compliant Congress). He should've done what he wanted then. He's just making excuses.

    We've probably all seen this argument on comment pages. I seem to remember that one poster tracked down the "filibuster-proof Congress" to the 5 months after Franken was finally seated and until Brown (MA) took his seat. But that still ignores the fact that getting bills through the Senate wasn't a cakewalk because the Dem caucus wasn't in lockstep.

    I call this fallacy "ignoring context."

    1. ModeratePoli, you are correct. Obama had a "filibuster-proof Congress" Congress for only five months, and Obama and his Senate allies could have/should have made better use of that small window of opportunity.

      Of course, another important bit of context is that a "filibuster-proof" Senate is only as strong as its weakest link. One Senator caucusing with the Democrats (e.g., Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman) can (and at times did) derail any attempt to proceed.

  5. Again, go back in the stacks of the library and read the dusty old history books I trudged through on my way to an honors degree, back in the Nixon era. The general opinion was that the single-member veto of the pre-1790 Polish parliament had been manipulated by more powerful foreign neighbors for a hundred years, before the nation was simply chopped up and divided by those neighbors after 1790. And that the "war of the inkpots," as Czech nationalists literally brought the Austian-Hungarian empire's parliament to full stop one year by hurling glass jars of india ink at the government party, was a powerful prediction in the 1890's of the disappearance of the Empire in 1918-9.

    Such egregious destruction of prevailing political norms, in our case backed with highly-engineered media campaigns based on scientific manipulation of emotions financed by significant portions of the ruling plutocracy, is really a huge thing in world political history. And it really stands out as a marker of coming political disaster.

    I have a lot more to say, my self-published 1980 book on these topics is still for sale (and still generally un-equaled as exploration of anti-all-ideologies), the publishing industry is still not yet smart enough to pick up the 2012 version.


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