Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mitch McConnell: Bully (but Only If Democrats Let Him Be One)

We're getting close to put up or shut time for Harry Reid. Mitch McConnell wants to stall the stimulus package for at least a week, which is all fine and dandy. The real question is whether or not McConnell will try to delay the bill using the Gingrich tactics from the Clinton health care plan
  1. Find some tiny provision of the bill that is modestly objectionable.
  2. Hold endless press conferences about how this particular provision, if passed, will show that Democrats want to take away your foot massager, destroy the American economy, and lead to the destruction of the institution of marriage.
  3. Force Democrats to remove the provision, potentially having cascading effects elsewhere in the bill.
  4. Return to step (1) and repeat.
Now, history does not repeat itself, it merely rhymes. There are three big reasons to think that Dems are in a stronger position than '93 and should treat McConnell's words as an empty threat,
  • 57% of the country did not vote for Bill Clinton; while the evidence suggests that Clinton would have won a two-way race, many more voters had little or no attachment to Clinton as a President.
  • While the headline unemployment figure is not terrible by historical standards, it's pretty clearly on a trajectory to get worse, which was not the case in
  • McConnell just doesn't have plausible case to filibuster anything that's remotely popular.
In 1993, Democrats held 57 Senate seats, but that 57 included between seven and teen Southern Democrats who would today be significantly to the right of the Nelson/Bayh/Landrieu triumvirate of centrists. This bloc outnumbered the handful of Republican moderates (Chafee, Danforth, Durenberger, Kassebaum) that might be tempted to work with a Democratic President.

Today, however, even the most conservative Senate Democrats are unlikely to feel political pressure to show independence from the White House. Meanwhile, Arlen Specter and George Voinovich face reelection in 2010 in states that went for Obama by non-trivial margins, one of which (Pennsylvania) is now a fairly safe state for Democrats, while the other (Ohio) will be one of those hardest hit by the slowdown in the auto industry. Throw in Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and if the moderates decide that their electoral fate lies in playing nice with Barack Obama, these are just empty threats. Reid should just put money in the stimulus package for SUPERTRAINS and dare Specter to vote against the needs of his suburban Philadelphia constituents.
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