Friday, January 16, 2009

The Know-Nothing Caucus

I think the nay voters on cloture for the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act make a good list. These are the folks who in all likelihood are entirely unreachable by Barack Obama on most votes, short of directly bribing their constituents. Well, okay, it's not a perfect list; Dick Lugar voted "Nay", but he's almost certain to vote with the President on foreign policy and even a decent number of economic matters, especially when it comes to the auto sector. And I doubt Bob Corker, who voted "Aye", is going to be voting for much of Barack Obama's economic policy (some Southern Republicans keep at least modestly good relationships with trial lawyers, who tend to be very powerful in Southern States for a variety of historical reasons). But it is a good starting point. The cloture vote could not get 80 votes, even if all three absent Senators, including Jim Bunning (R-KY), had voted for it.

The punchline, which I think Team Obama seems to be understanding, is that why there may be broad bipartisan intellectual support for much of the Administration's agenda, that's not always going to translate into broad political support. Every economist worth his or her weight in dung realizes we need a substantial increase in government spending, but that's not going to convince David Vitter of anything unless they ... well, I'll let you use your imagination on that one. Thus 80-20 votes just won't be in the cards, meaning Obama needs to sway people like George Voinovich and Chuck Grassley, not Pete Sessions and John Cornyn.

15 comments:

Neil Sinhababu said...

Do you think Barack really thought he could get 80? I was hoping there was some non-straight-up interpretation of that, because otherwise it played into my worst primary-era fears about a future Obama administration.

Nicholas Beaudrot said...

I don't know. I mean, other than thinking he can get eighty, why would he say it?

Neil Sinhababu said...

Well, making himself look like he's really trying to reach out. Certainly you won't look like you're putting effort into the bipartisan thing if you're saying, "We're gonna ram it through with 51! Raaahh!"

Stephen said...

Yeah, the 80 vote thing is just ridiculous. It seriously makes me wonder if they're trying to set the goalposts so far out that they're guaranteeing "failure." You know, when the Democrats took over in 07 they suddenly needed 60 votes to get anything done when 50+Cheney was always enough before, and now that they'll have 59+[moderate Repub] it needs to be 80.

I guess that's overly cynical. However, the main alternative is that the Obama folks are getting starry-eyed at their own post-partisan rhetoric, which is dangerously and inexcusably naive.

Either way, Americans have just handed the Democrats a historic majority, one that really shouldn't be possible given how divided this country is. It'd be nice if they didn't fritter it away by spending more time and effort trying to please David Broder and Rush Limbaugh than they do trying to get some work done.

Ron E. said...

I have a hard time believing Obama meant the 80 votes literally. I interpret the remark more as he wants more than 0 or 1 GOP votes. If he could pick up somewhere between 5-10 Republicans, he'd gladly take yes for an answer.

corvus said...

I am with Neil on this. But I think there is a cynical angle to this Pollyanna behavior as well.

Right now, the GOP has really no power except obstruction, They know they won't get an credit for any successes, so there is no incentive to help. All they can do is obstruct, and then if/when the Democrats screw up, they can swoop in and say I told you so. But by being inclusive, that makes it harder for them to just obstructs, since now if they blow him off, they will look like dicks. So they have to work with him. Obama is offering his hand in friendship, and when they take it, he isn't letting go.

Stephen said...

But by being inclusive, that makes it harder for them to just obstructs, since now if they blow him off, they will look like dicks.

This will shock you, I know, but I think you've got this entirely backwards.

First, can you name a Republican in DC that actually cares if he/she looks like a dick? Elected official or not, can you name even one for whom there is any evidence that this matters?

Second, you're right that the only power they have left is to obstruct. If "looking like a dick" isn't actually a powerful disincentive, then by constantly over-emphasizing his desire to have virtually everybody on board with his policies, Obama is actually making the obstructionists' job easier, not harder. Every Senator becomes not one of 100 or even one of 41, but one of just 20 that can completely derail: the stimulus, universal healthcare, climate change legislation, energy policy, the budget - you name it.

The question, of course, is whether Obama and Reid are willing to settle for only a simple majority or only 60 votes to pass the legislation they want, or if they will negotiate away the core of their bills to please people who will end up not only voting "no," but attacking the Dems when the legislation fails to do what it was originally designed to do.

corvus said...

This will shock you, I know, but I think you've got this entirely backwards.

LOL.

I think you are interpreting what I met by "looking like dicks" a little to narrowly. Which is my fault. I should rely less on dead metaphors and more on precise description.

What I mean is that if the Republican party as a whole appears to be sabotaging the agenda of the president, whose approval ratings hover just below 70%, they will be blamed for that by the American people, and held in lower esteem for it. This will build up ill will among the populace for their party, and if they are then successful in obstructing Obama's agenda, the public will blame them, and not the president, for any problems stemming from the resulting inaction.

Also, I don't think it follows that because Obama says he wants 80 votes, that means he won't settle for less. There are a variety of ways he can argue himself out of that, and even turn it to his advantage. Such a statement functions mainly to create an atmosphere where Republican non-cooperation looks petty. However, your last question still stands; this process might not result in the best stimulus bill possible.

corvus said...

"what I meant"

Damn it. Even when I proofread I still have typos!

BruceMcF said...

"You said that you wanted this bill to pass with 80 votes in the Senate. Yet it only received 68. Are you disappointed?"

"Well, of course I am happy that it passed. I wished it could have received more Republican support, but what I want to focus on are those nine Republican Senators{*} who were willing to rise above the partisan bickering that has plagued Washington for far too long, and work with us to put together a bill that will do so much for ordinary American working families."

Anonymous said...

fyi, it's Jeff Sessions of Alabama, not Pete Sessions (ewho is a House member).

but yes, there are 15-20 Senators whose votes Obama will absolutely never get: DeMint, Cornyn, Kyl, Coburn, Thune etc. with few exceptions they come from very red states in the old Confederacy.

BruceMcF said...

In other words, y'all are thinking of it as a bargaining tactic rather than as a framing.

As a framing, so long as a majority of Senate Republicans vote against a bill that ends up passing, they have "failed to support a bipartisan compromise".

Looking ahead to 2010, which is not that far away after all, a main Republican campaign theme, if available, if the need to keep a check on the President and "One Party Rule" ... while a main Democratic campaign theme, if available, will be the need to fight "Republican Obstructionism".

Look at the "I'd like it to pass with 80 votes" as a framing in the expectation that very little is likely to pass with 80 votes.

And consider the position facing a Republican Senator deciding whether to simply oppose or try to win a concession on a bill. On the one hand, with a deal with one or two other Republican Senators, a bill gets to the floor of the Senate, and obstruction is a futile act of defiance. On the other hand, the President has said he wants more than just 60 votes ... he'd rather have a (slender) majority of Republican votes if he can get it ... so maybe, even if they have the vote(s), it may be possible to get an extra concession in return for support.

But of course, if there are ten Republican Senators engaged in negotiating for lesser concessions to get their symbolic "bipartisan" support ... and a range of measures on the calendar leaves it ambiguous who exactly is negotiating for what on what legislation ... it becomes harder to hold the 41.5 Republican votes together to maintain a successful series of filibusters.

Stephen said...

if the Republican party as a whole appears to be sabotaging the agenda of the president, whose approval ratings hover just below 70%, they will be blamed for that by the American people, and held in lower esteem for it.

Well, that does make more sense, and is in line with BruceMcF's thoughts on it.

Given the Democrats' history on such matters, though, I'm still worried.

corvus said...

Worry is a perfectly reasonable feeling, Stephen, but I would take comfort in our President-elect. I think this guy is much more skillful than what we have come to think of as "Democrats," and like Neil and Nick I think that Reid has been underrated by the party base. So I am cautiously optimistic that the people in power now will be able to outmaneuver the Republican leadership.

But yeah, Democrats. So fingers crossed.

low-tech cyclist said...

It really is pretty amazing, when you think about it: even when you allow for the fact that a few of those 23 (Lugar, Hatch, Graham) have occasional lucid moments, a majority of the Senate GOP caucus (the remaining 20 'nay' votes + Bunning) are such serious believers in a flat Earth that they've gone and fallen over the edge.