Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Filibuster Thoughts: Coalitions

In my post last week, I said that I'd like to increase incentives for cross-party incentives. An anonymous commenter quite sensibly asked: "Why?" It's worth a response.

Basically, I'm for strong parties -- but at the same time parties where are relatively non-ideological and non-hierarchical. In other words, I think that democracy is best served when parties cooperate and internally compete to make policy. At their best, American parties have done a pretty good job of that.

Part of that involves real intraparty differences. Our parties are stronger, in my view, if they can accommodate those differences while still working together.

The system as a whole, however, is stronger if individual politicians can be policy entrepreneurs as well, and not just within the party. Indeed: democracy is stronger, in my view, when the losing party isn't entirely locked out of policy-making. After all, in single member districts, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer and, oh, Jeff Flake and Ted Cruz, are just as much winners as are John Boehner and Harry Reid -- and Barack Obama. Granted, we don't expect minority parties to win on the sorts of issues which really divide the parties. But on other issues? Sure. Why not?

Parties should matter, yes.. Making party caucuses all-powerful just squanders the strength of single-member districts, of having Members of Congress who really know the various different places and constituencies out  there. Now, in a small nation, perhaps that's not as important. But in a continental nation of over 300 million, it seems very likely to me that the problems of Phoenix are not the problems of Great Falls or the problems of Pittsburgh or the problems of Long Island. And having Members of Congress who really know and care about the various interests and issues that they represent, and can actually have the capacity to do something about it, seems extremely democratic to me.

So that's one reason to encourage incentives for cross-party coalitions. A second is that, given the Constitutional system, we're apt to have divided government fairly often, which pretty much means we have to have compromise between the parties to make any progress. Under those circumstances, it's probably a good idea to have people around who practice at it.

There's more, but that's a start, at least.


  1. Johnathan:
    Interesting article.
    Please read the "Political Siding" on THEOPINIONIST.ORG and let me know your thoughts.

  2. See, where I'd disagree is that the problems specific to geography really no longer are specific...at least to anything that we would have as a district.
    We could talk about rural voters or suburban voters or urban voters having common interests. Or any number of things that are somewhat geographically based. But the problem is that equal-population districts, carved out within states, are increasingly less likely to have anything like an "interest." The whole notion of social choice falls apart under any kind of diversity, as Arrow amply demonstrates. So, then what we have is a system of local representation for issues that aren't "local."

    If we accept that the suburbs of Phoenix aren't really all that different from the suburbs of Vegas, Denver, LA, Atlanta, Houston or any other late-growth metropole, then why not let their votes aggregate together? Once the parties homogenized ideologically, the House became a pure majoritarian institution. That's fine, but it really doesn't work with our system of local representation: when somebody votes for an MC, that MC has promised them all kinds of things. If ONE of those things goes against party orthodoxy, then voters are quite possibly making the "wrong" choice, because voters might not be aware that the R or D is more important than ANYTHING ELSE that candidate has promised.

    In the Senate, of course, it's different. But, even there, the parties are such that the filibuster has become the problem it is. The minority party has no incentive to govern, and every incentive to sabotage. The partisan incentive overrides the district incentive, particularly once the realities of primaries and funding that comes only from the poles are realized. Simply put: if we're going to elect partisans (which our system seems to really have moved towards), we need to vote for parties. But we don't. We still have this fiction of individual representation, when the power lies in parties. As you've argued, the representative relationship is based on the campaigns and the promises made. One could argue that we really have policymaking without representation, because the ONLY thing that's going to matter in making policy is the R or D, and then, only in the aggregate.

    1. I guess what I'd say is that things certainly are trending that way for various reasons, but that it's an overall loss to the republic if that's all our politics can be, and so we should do institutional design where possible to push things in the other direction.

      I think we're far from being all the way there. Individual Senators really do act well beyond simple partisanship, much of the time. So reform should take into account that sometimes they just act as simple partisans, without adding additional incentives for them to do so.

  3. Since 2010, every so often I've seen opinion pieces like this one from Bloomberg, Bring Back Earmarks suggesting that earmarks, pork, was the grease in the wheels of compromise in Congress. Certainly, since they've been left behind, there's been little compromise.

    I wonder if their return, particularly for infrastructure projects, would be another incentive for bipartisan compromise?

  4. Don't want to derail the thread but zic got me thinking: Does pork even work? I'm not aware of a single bit of federal money my senators or congresswoman, or other nearby congressmen, have ever gotten. Now I've only been through a few elections, but if it mattered so darn much I should have seen it at some point, right?

    Most of the political news is national, most political discussion is about the president, and most of the rest is generically about the parties. If politics has gotten more national then maybe pork is less effective than it used to be? I don't really get the impression that anything a congressman does matters at all except on a few high profile issues a year. And in a 65-35 district what congressman cares about those?

    Maybe JB can address this at his next round of questions. . . . I always seem to come across Question Time after they've all been submitted and answered. :(

  5. With one party wedded to obstructing the other, there's only negative reinforcement going on. Any Republican that breaks the party line will get a primary opponent. McCain's already made a filibuster threat and the session hasn't even started yet.

    I think this could only change if there was incentive to act in a more accommodating manner - even if it's because blanket obstruction would be as painful to the actor as the target.

    Make it 2/5ths of senators duly sworn to affirm a filibuster instead of placing the burden on the party that's trying to get things done. Let the gavel call for affirmation at will.

    If comity is restored, the majority party can play nice. If the minority isn't interested in compromise and just obstruction, they can stay in chambers indefinitely and miss all their fundraisers.

    Strong encouragement to play nice, and only block when it matters, and like you say, it makes cross party cooperation more likely.

  6. With regards to twinkie. Why did CEO pay go up over 300% just prior to filing? Reagans deregulation had everything to do with this. The unions were blamed by those that are either ignorant or just hate unions!


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