Monday, May 14, 2012

Senate Leadership and the Tea Party

I agree with a lot of what Steve Kornacki has to say about the Tea Party and the state of the GOP this morning:
It’s not really about moving the GOP to the right; the party is already there, and has been for a while. It’s about reflexively opposing the other party on every issue, resisting compromise at all costs, and exploiting every available legislative tool to stymie the other side. This mindset is already pervasive in the House, and as the Times story shows, it’s now making its way into the Senate.
But when it comes to internal Senate governance, I'm going to disagree with him. Kornacki writes that sticking with the Tea Party "style severely constrains his ability to exercise the traditional prerogatives of a Senate leader and threatens to render him the upper chamber’s equivalent of John Boehner, who lives with the knowledge that any deal-making with the other side could spur an intraparty coup." But Senate party leaders don't have the influence that a Speaker has had, at least not since House reforms in the 1960s and 1970s produced strong party leadership.

The reason it's not especially likely that McConnell would be deposed in a coup is because it just doesn't matter all that much who the party leader is. To the extent they have much influence, it's mostly personal, not institutional. So Jim DeMint would have no particular reason to be the Republican Leader, because he's able to be the GOP leader without the title and the headaches that go with it.

The Senate just doesn't work the way the House does, and the party leadership is far less important. It's true that John Boehner is a lot more constrained than, say, Nancy Pelosi was, and it's also true that some Senate Leaders are more influential than others. But no, "neutering" Mitch McConnell wouldn't turn him into John Boehner.


  1. If the Tea Party mentality is above all about governing tactics, doesn't that actually make McConnell the most Tea Party-esque of them all? I don't actually get why Tea-Party-style GOPers would be dissatisfied with McConnell. He's played everything *very* well according to their sensibility and desires.

  2. McConnell is a singularly vicious man who could teach Tea Partiers a thing or two about exploiting legislative hurdles to advance an agenda. He has unified his caucus in ways Boehner could only dream of. Why would they want to depose him? He's exactly the leader they want.

    1. Boehner's conference was extremely unified in 2009-2010. It's different when you're in the majority.

  3. Johnson's Senate sure *sounded* about as dictatorial as Rayburn's House (I've been reading Caro's books). But I suppose writing 'in the modern age' in front of every post would get a bit tedious.

    1. To the extent that LBJ got what he wanted (and I'd be careful about assuming he really did control policy outcomes), it was almost certainly a consequence of his excellent skills. It's true that it wasn't totally separate from his position, but previous and subsequent Majority Leaders had far less influence by all accounts.

      Oh -- and vs. Rayburn -- yeah, that's pre-reform in the House. Strong Speakers & House leadership kicks in again beginning with Tip O'Neill. Rayburn was apparently a strong Speaker for his time, but it was a time of very, very weak party leadership.

  4. Considering that the Tea Party is the only group that's slowing the encroachment on my rights by the world's biggest gang, I'll take whatever they do in Congress as for the better... as long as they don't actually try to hang members of the CBC.

  5. imho, there are three pervasive left-wing themes in this community:

    1) The Fed Govt should do more stuff to help people.
    2) Rich people should pay higher taxes to cover the cost of more stuff
    3) Why are Republicans so intransigent?

    We discussed the Buffett Rule recently, where it was noted that forcing the richest Americans to a 30% tax rate reduced the deficit by 0.5%. Jeff memorably described the Buffett Rule as a "wrecking ball"; that is, an opening to get even more from rich people. Perhaps if we took every last dime of rich folks' income, we could cut the deficit by 2 or 3%. Then let's go get their assets, sky's the limit at that point.

    I suppose if liberals publicly said "I think we should add such-and-such costly program to the Fed Govt, and my middle-class taxes should go up to cover it", the Tea-Partiers-as-nuts meme might start to sound a little different. Perhaps a middle-class liberal has made that argument here. Can't recall if off the top of my head.

    As a result, the ubiquity of the "Tax (only) the Rich" meme, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that it won't come close to paying for the government we have now, starts to sound increasingly odd. It even stops sounding like class warfare; in the "rich people should pay more taxes" meme, "rich" increasingly sounds like a euphemism for "other".

    Who outside of the tent would sign up for that?

    1. I agree that it seems very hard for the left to admit that government has gotten too large and too expensive, and not just in defense spending.

      I'm speculating, but I think many want to ensure that sacrifice is shared, not just social spending cut and the rich keep all their tax breaks and all the corporate structures that sustain their wealth. (But there are also the liberals who can't do math or handle facts that are contradict their world views. But that's not just liberals.)

      What can we do when we're stuck between two groups who won't acknowledge the reality that we can't continue as is and negotiation is the only way out? Too many people are doubling down. Yech.

    2. !! CSH, every liberal pundit I've read says they want all the Bush tax cuts to expire, and that they hope that will be the result when legislators fail to come to an agreement before January. They are all extremely concerned that the President might actually hope the middle-class tax cuts get extended instead of claiming that but being secretly delighted when they go down with the rest. Chait, for one, has been saying this for years -- well, more or less, since before Bush was elected --

      This is certainly also the stated view of people like Drum, Klein, Yglesias.

      That is the main thing. The other thing is: seriously, Democrats won't raise middle-class taxes to pay for new programs? But the ACA -- the only major new program Democrats have passed -- raised some middle-class taxes to pay for itself! I know you don't believe any of the spending cuts or tax hikes will take effect, but that hardly means they haven't been written into law.

    3. I'd add one more thing to this: look at the CBC and Progressive Caucus budgets in the House. IIRC, they have a lot more long-term deficit reduction than most.

    4. @classicist, I agree that the GOP is holding the middle class part of the Bush tax cuts hostage to maintaining the upper class tax cuts. That's what they did at year end of 2010, and they'll probably do it again because it worked for them. I hope the Bush tax cuts expire and we go back to taxing much closer to what we spend.

      That said, the expiration of ALL the Bush tax cuts still wouldn't be enough to plug the deficit, so cuts are necessary.

    5. Jonathan Bernstein,

      Something wrong with the CBC budget numbers. They claim that three of the four trillion dollars that the Bush-tax-cuts-for-the-rich will cost over the next decade will go to the middle class. ??????

      All students should go to college because the median wage for grads is higher than for HS grads? Does anyone on the left know that correlation and causation are two different things?

  6. CSH, interesting points. I'd love to have a diversely ideological summit/lunchdate and go through the budget, The American President-style. How much it would save if we means-tested Social Security, which I tend to think conservative ideology prevents? And so on.


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