In the grand tradition of Senate gangs, a gang of eight has emerged from behind closed doors with some sort of preliminary framework quasi-agreement relating to immigration. Some assorted thoughts.
- Everybody hang on to your butts. This is the opening salvo in what will almost certainly be a long and arduous negotiation between lots of competing political and interest group currents. Don't get too excited. After all, various gangs have emerged with agreements on budget issues, carbon pricing, and all sorts of other goodies over the past four years, but very little has come of it.
- Whiplash. John McCain (R-AZ) in 2004 -- comprehensive reform! In 2006 -- build the danged fence! 2013 -- comprehensive reform! Meanwhile, junior Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who was the most conservative House member -- was a part of these negotiations? Elsewhere, Governor Jan Brewer (R-AZ) is accepting Obamacare dollars to subsidize health care coverage for poor people? When do I get to meet Bizarro George & Bizarro Jerry?
- The useful kind of bipartisanship. There are four ways you can build a bipartisan coalition.
- Left-in coalition. aka all Democrats and a handful of Republicans. The biggest examples of this sort of bipartisanship are the stimulus bill and Dodd-Frank.
- Center-out coalition. The classic Georgetown cocktail party sort of bipartisanship. Max Baucus & Chuck Grassley hammer out a deal with a couple of their centrist buddies--people like Mark Warner--liberals decry the deal as a sellout, conservatives complain that it doesn't show any principles, the op-ed pages of the Washington Post write glowing editorials about bipartisanship and the era of Tip O'Neill & Ronald Reagan having drinks together and "making tough choices", and everyone pats themselves on the back before going home.
- Strange bedfellows coalition. A collection of outsidery folks, say, someone like Ron Wyden (D-OR) and former Senator Bob Bennet (R-UT), who sometimes come up with a "cleaner" legislative solution to a problem, but which may not create as many clear concrete winners (or too many losers) and is therefore less favored. Usually these coalitions fail to pass anything, but if they're lucky they have a positive influence on the bill that finally does pass.
- Right-in coalition. aka all Republicans and a handful of Democrats. We saw a lot of this in the Bush era, mostly around taxes, but also things like the Energy Policy Act or the bankruptcy bill.
Note that because Republicans are on average more conservative than Democrats are liberal, there is an asymmetry here. Right-in coalitions produce very conservative policy, while left-in coalitions produce center-left policy.
- That sound you heard out of South Carolina ... was anyone with a political pulse calling their campaign manager and biggest fundraisers, asking if they could start raising money for a Senate race before Lindsay Graham announces his retirement.
- Ours is a government of men (and not enough women!), not of parliamentary procedures. This drives home one of the points I've been making lately, that the specific rule changes in filibuster reform are almost less important than whether or not Senators decide to stop adhering to the norm of "it takes sixty votes to get anything done around here" and maximalist obstruction by the minority party. It's possible that this sort of agreement is a sign of things to come, but it's too early to tell.
- It's not clear how much the Senate matters. The real veto point remains House. What sort of immigration bill can get through the lower chamber? And what are the mechanics for passing it? If Boehner simply lets the bill pass with a minimum of Republican votes, you can probably get something pretty good. But if there's some sort of unwritten Hastert rule, or otherwise an attempt to corral lots of Republicans into voting for "comprehensive immigration reform", then things get tricky.
According to wikipedia, Flake is a long-term immigration wet -- he introduced a path to citizenship bill in 2007. Presumably, "most conservative" was based on votes and the bill never got a vote.
That said, the cynical view is cynical: Flake is a fifty-year-old first-term senator. Not being as politically gifted as Obama, he can't run for president in 2016, but could be a prime candidate in 2024, maybe 2020. He will need to be on the right side of history by then, so pro-reform it is.
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