Balkinization  

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Another institutional crisis in the making?

Sandy Levinson

President-elect Obama should presumably still the complaints of some of his critics who have wanted him to be more active in trying to lead, given his radio address vowing what the New York Times calls "swift action" on a very ambitious stimulus package. But the story concludes as follows:

While Mr. Bush would be out of office, Congressional Republicans could still block a big stimulus package in the Senate, as Mr. Obama seemed to recognize. “I know that passing this plan won’t be easy,” Mr. Obama said. “I will need and seek support from Republicans and Democrats, and I’ll be welcome to ideas and suggestions from both sides of the aisle.”

“But what is not negotiable,” Mr. Obama said, “is the need for immediate action.”

So put this in the context of another story just posted on the Times web site concerning the focus on the senatorial recount in Minnesota and the run-off election in Georgia:

Pushed into a deep 58-42 Senate hole by this week’s defeat of Senator Ted Stevens, Republicans are approaching the remaining two races with a new sense of urgency given that they are on the brink of losing their ability to use Senate procedure to thwart Democrats.... As any C-Span watcher knows, it takes 60 votes to break filibusters in the Senate.


So assume that the House passes an Obama bill by a hefty margin, and it gains the support of 59 senators (including Sen. Arlen Specter, who might well be concerned about keeping his seat in 2010 unless he distances himself from his reactionary colleagues). But, by stipulation, there are 41 Republicans who are willing to filibuster in order "to thwart Democrats." And, let us stipulate, the Obama bill has the support of, say, 62% of the public, which is desperate for a government that appears to be willing and able to respond to the worst economic crisis since the Depression.

The question is simple: Would the American people tolerate the use of the filibuster in such a situation, or would they rightly argue that this additionally anti-democratic feature of our system, which by no conceivable argument is required by the Constitution, should be eliminated?


Comments:

As you note at the end, your point is a political one rather than constitutional. Moreover the filibuster doesn't seem to have the same characteristics as it did when the Jimmy Stewart film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" was made. That is, there no longer seems to be any requirement for a senator to actually stand and state the case (however chosen) to prevent a vote on an issue that the particular senator doesn't favor. At least that seems to be the usual case in the current senate political environment. The only recent one where a senator was required to walk the talk was when Harry Reid, as Democrat (sic) majority leader required another Democrat, Chris Dodd, to talk till he dropped in Dodd's attempt to prevent passage of the FISA abomination. Whenever a Republican filibusters it's simply a matter of raising a finger, if only metaphorically.

In contrast when Republicans wanted to push through extremist judges they, with the narrowest of majorities (through vice president Cheney) loudly threatened to end the filibuster. There was no sense of senatorial tradition, decorum and comity. The "gang of 14" avoided that result (which the Republicans likely never would have followed through on and certainly are happy now that they didn't) by having the Democrats accept a majority of the extremist judges and promise never to invoke the filibuster except under circumstances somehow more extreme than the horrific judges allowed through. Nice.

This is about politics and a Democrat party that doesn't have much interest in fighting for the people it supposedly represents. Simply requiring filibuster debate would go a long way to ending the obstructionism. As you note, dropping the filibuster completely in the face of obvious highly popular and democratic sentiment, if not outright national emergency, would seem to be fundamentally democratic. However that option seems not to be under consideration by the Democrats.

This is about politicians that are not representative of the people they supposedly do represent. This is about "one dollar - one vote" representation. It might well be a flaw in the constitution that this circumstance has come about. Money in politics is not something new though its overwhelming influence is particularly glaring at this point.

The House of Lords that is the U.S. Senate has a strange standard of decorum and comity that only one party seems to follow rigorously, the other merely claiming ideals of civility when it's favorable politically. The consistent losers in this situation are the people the senate is supposed to represent. It is something of a wonder to me that a body of people that have among the finest health care and retirement security in the world consider such niceties for the people they represent too costly and burdensome to society, if not outright socialistic dangers? And they have no problem scorning auto execs that fly on private jets to senate meetings.
 

Sandy:

McCain arguably lost the election in large part because he got out in front of an extremely unpopular $750 billion bailout of the banks.

Now, no one wants to get out in front of the comparatively piddly $50 billion bailout of the UAW because the GOP chase down every camera they can find and scream corrupt political payoff with tax payer money.

What makes you think the Blue Dogs in the Senate and House would be united behind, nevertheless GOP senators willing to cross over to support, SEVERAL HUNDRED billion dollars more of deficit "stimulus" spending in the form of a cobbled together monster bill of Obama's campaign promises?

If Obama was smart, he would keep it simple, cut checks to everyone, call it a tax cut and invoke Reagan's 1981 tax cuts to bring the GOP in board. Then again, that does not embed multiple new individual and business entitlements into the law.

However, if Obama is foolish enough to duplicate the Clinton mistake of offering an unexplainable and incomprehensible mish mash Hillary-care style bill, I am fairly confident the GOP would welcome the political gift.
 

Once again, shorter little Lisa's bro:

"Party before country."
 

I suspect that it would be very hard to maintain filibusters with only 41 seats unless Obama seriously overreached and was unpopular. The reason is that any 1 Senator can be bought off and thus has tremendous power in that arrangement. What holds a filibuster together is the fact that the majority would need to turn 3 or 5 or 8 Senators to break it. No one Senator has enough power to do it by himself, so it's hard to break it apart.
 

By the way, as for Bart's suggestion about the Blue Dogs in Congress. There are about 40 Blue Dogs. The Democrats' majority is much greater than that. We don't need them anymore.

As a result, Blue Dogs are quickly going to be forced to either get on board, switch parties, or become irrelevant. The only way the Blue Dogs matter again is if Obama overreaches and becomes unpopular.

We liberals just scored a tremendous victory. I suspect that it hasn't sunk in with Bart yet.
 

Besides Specter, Olympia Snowe and maybe Lugar and others are unlikely to filibuster in this type of situation, but what is most important is to require an actual filibuster. Recently, there has been no real filibuster, just an agreement to require 60 votes to pass which the media reports not as a filibuster but a failure to pass. The solution would be to require the GOP to mount a real filibuster against the economic stimulus package, which I do not think would be politically sustainable for them.
 

Dilan:

I am using the term Blue Dogs generally to apply not only to the 47 members of the actual caucus, but also to the nearly double that amount of Dem members who campaigned as conservative centrists in districts or states Bush carried. These are the folks to whom Obama referred when he attempted to reassure voters during the campaign that he did not have the votes to "take your guns" or "lurch to the left." For a good example, go hunt Youtube for a video of the new Dem senator from Alaska, who sounds like a Palin clone.

This Congress is far more conservative than the one that could not enact Hillary Care for Clinton.

Like every new President, Mr. Obama would be served better to spend his political capital on about 1-2 subjects. Reagan did not try to remake Washington in a single omnibus bill, but rather hammered tax rate cuts and defense spending until he got them passed. After the first worked, the rest followed.
 

Little Lisa's bro's rose (actually red - as in GOP) colored glasses not only have myopic thorns but stigmatic revisionism.
 

"Bart" DeBugblatter:

Like every new President, Mr. Obama would be served better to spend his political capital on about 1-2 subjects....

... and if Obama needs your prognosticatory ability and advice, I'm sure he'll come ask you, "Bart". Hell, in gratitude, he may even appoint you Secretary of Advice....

... Reagan did not try to remake Washington in a single omnibus bill, but rather hammered tax rate cuts and defense spending until he got them passed. After the first worked, the rest followed.

Yes, after he increased spending and cut taxes, the national debt doubled. Funny that. As Condi would say, "No one could have imagined...."

Cheers,
 

Obama would have an advantage that Bill Frist didn't have during the last great filibuster crisis --- the people actually give a hoot about the president's plans, whereas they didn't seem that interested in circuit court nominees. But commenters above are correct that it is highly unlikely to be an issue. When was the last time Maine or Minnesota was red?
 

I am using the term Blue Dogs generally to apply not only to the 47 members of the actual caucus, but also to the nearly double that amount of Dem members who campaigned as conservative centrists in districts or states Bush carried.

Bart, there's no evidence in 2008 of such campaigning. Indeed, even many of the Blue Dogs ran as pretty clear opponents of conservative governance in 2008. (In 2006, you might have a point.)

Further, however, I think you are misunderstanding, big time, a couple of thingst that have occurred here. First, the center of Blue Dog activity was among white Democrats in the South. Well, there just aren't that many white Democrats in the South in the House anymore.

Second, and relatedly, these sorts of dissenting caucuses are much harder to hold together when you have a greater majority of Democrats. This process may not be pretty, but even in previous congresses where conservative Democrats had more power, it was possible to buy them off with pork. In the current situation, it's even easier to do, because you don't have to buy off as many of them.

(I might add as well that on the central question of the economy, I doubt that even the Bluest of Blue Dogs are really very conservative. The idea that they would vote against a stimulus program with massive spending in their districts is, shall we say, unlikely. Again, this isn't 1993. It's closer to 1933 in terms of the political climate.)

In other words, you are basically assuming that we are still operating in an era where there were a bunch of Congressional Democrats who essentially turned into Republicans whenever there was any real liberalism on the table. That era may come back, if Obama's seen as ineffective or overreaching. But it is not the era we are in right now. I suspect that when we get down to brass tacks, whatever Obama wants Congress to pass is going to pass, with only some slight concessions to Blue Dogs and the most centrist Republicans in the Senate to prevent a filibuster.
 

to hell with it .. frist's noo-cue-lur option is fine with me .. the economy is going to hell in a handbasket while nero fiddles .. the very last thing we need when a new administration takes the helm is for a cabal of folk whose party was resoundingly defeated at the polls to attempt to impose their same old non-working helped-greatly-to-get-us-into-this-mess policies against the time of opinion what threw their brethern out the door ...

"elections have consequences" .. imo we should make sure this one really does ..
 

Dilan:

Who are the new Dem members of Congress who campaigned in Bush districts and states on adding several hundred billion dollars of debt to bail out the banks, the UAW and the alternative energy industry?
 

Who are the new Dem members of Congress who campaigned in Bush districts and states on adding several hundred billion dollars of debt to bail out the banks, the UAW and the alternative energy industry?

Just a quick verification: does Dilan have to provide names of people that satisfy all seven requirements in your sentence?

1) new
2) campaigned in "Bush districts" (by the way, if Dems win, they aren't Bush districts anymore)
3) campaigned in "Bush states" (see condition 2)
4) campaigned on adding several hundred billion dollars of debt
5) campaigned on bailing out the banks
6) campaigned on bailing out the UAW
7) campaigned on bailing out the alternative energy industry (an odd statement, really)

Or does some subset of those conditions suffice? I'm just trying to see whether this is a "cambric shirt" test. Should Dilan be successful, should he expect to be a "true love of yours"?
 

"Bart" DeBugblatter:

Who are the new Dem members of Congress who campaigned in Bush districts and states on adding several hundred billion dollars of debt to bail out the banks,...

Huh? I thought that the bailout was Dubya's idea....

... the UAW and the alternative energy industry?

The UAW is not asking for a bailout. The Big Three are. And the "alternative energy industry" isn't asking for a bailout either. You're entitled to your own opinions, but you're not entitled to make up your own facts.

Cheers,
 

What PMS said. Additionally, nobody really campaigned on (or against) the bailout because the bailout issue didn't arise until very late in the campaign.

If you want to search the archives of liberal sites like TPM and Daily Kos, you will see that the fact that the Democratic campaigns in heretofore "Red" states ran more liberal in 2008 than they had in the past got plenty of airing, complete with examples. But I am not going to do your research for you.

Suffice to say, you wait and see, there isn't going to be a coalition of conservative Democrats and Republicans with the votes to block Obama's legislation, unless and until he overreaches and his popularity decreases.
 

PMS:

It is actually quite simple to identify the new Dems who picked up GOP districts and states. I do not contend that Blue district and state voters would have held their Dems to account for profligate government after re-electing these spend thrifts over and over again in such oasises of restrained spending and fiscal sanity such as CA and NY.

Dilan:

The bailouts started a month before the election and were perhaps the biggest topic in the Presidential campaign. If your new Dems did not address the issue, it means they were ducking it to get elected.

Tap dancing around multiple debate questions asking him what current spending he would cut to pay for all his new spending. Mr. Obama lied repeatedly by claiming that he would cut unspecified waste to pay the entire bill.

The fact is that there is NO MANDATE for what Mr. Obama's proposal to explode the deficit to around 1/3 of the total budget, certainly not from the formerly red districts and states who elected Dems campaigning as centrists to conservatives.
 

The fact is that there is NO MANDATE for what Mr. Obama's proposal to explode the deficit to around 1/3 of the total budget, certainly not from the formerly red districts and states who elected Dems campaigning as centrists to conservatives.

# posted by Bart DePalma : 4:26 PM


There was no MANDATE for George W Bush to piss away $1 trillion in Iraq, either. And yet, here we are.

At this point Obama has a MANDATE to do pretty much anything he wants to do. Get used to it.
 

BDP: I do not contend that Blue district and state voters would have held their Dems to account for profligate government after re-electing these spend thrifts over and over again in such oasises of restrained spending and fiscal sanity such as CA and NY.

For six years the GOP-controlled Congress pushed through budget after budget, with very few dissenters (12 or 16 in the vote for the 2006 budget, iirc). During that period, the national debt went up $1.5 trillion.

The only comparable growth of the national debt in the same time frame is the 1982-1988 period, where it rose a good $1.1 trillion. At least in the last thirty years or so, GOP administrations have far outspent the (comparatively) fiscally conservative Democrats.

I understand your concern about government overspending; it's certainly one of my axes to grind. However, can we please give credit where credit is due?
 

The fact is that there is NO MANDATE for what Mr. Obama's proposal...

Your opinion carries all the weight of the noises emitted by a drool-covered vagrant. That you evidently earn income is really quite marvelous. Good for you, Bart!
 

Bart, I don't believe in "mandates". The issue is what you can get passed. As someone above pointed out, the disputed and close nature of the 2000 election didn't stop Bush 43 from getting stuff through Congress.

Obama is extremely popular right now. The issue isn't whether he has a mandate-- it's whether, if he proposes something, the Republicans can scoop up enough Democratic votes to block it. And there's absolutely no evidence that they can. The majorities are just too solid.

Now, if Obama overreaches or goes down in popularity, you have a new ballgame. But for the first several months at least, I would expect everything to pass if I were you.
 

"Bart" DeBugblatter:

... such oasises of restrained spending and fiscal sanity such as CA and NY.

Who collectively give more to the federal government than they get, as opposed to the "red states", hard-core Rethuglican, who suckle off the federal welfare teat.

Cheers,
 

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