Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Alex, I'll Take Failure for $500

Done for.
So True
In discussing Barack Obama as a big winner in the lottery a few moments ago, Howard Fineman just said: "Obama took all his winnings and turned them over to Max Baucus."
Marshall: Genuinely Surprised (Barney Frank Edition)
I've always been such a big admirer of Barney Frank, on so many different levels. So I was genuinely surprised, really shocked to see this statement he put out tonight that is just an embodiment of fecklessness, resignation, defeatism and just plan folly. The gist of his point is that that's it for health care reform. If a few Republican senators will come across the aisle and help maybe it will happen. But if not, that's it. Amazing. Just amazing.
Marshall: Burn, Baby, Burn
It definitely looks like it's all down to the House. So our Brian Beutler talked to House Dems tonight before their caucus meeting (which must have been fun, right?) and it seems like quite a few of them are ready to toss health care reform and the Democratic majority on the bonfire and just watch them burn. Read Brian's report.
Hulse (NYT): Democratic Defeat Imperils Health Care Overhaul
“The people of Massachusetts have spoken,” Senator Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat and majority leader, said. The timing of Mr. Brown’s swearing in has in fact been a point of contention. Republicans and conservative activists have raised the possibility that Democrats might stall and use the delay to force through a final health care bill while Senator Paul Kirk, the Democrat appointed to the seat, was still a member of the Senate.

Democrats had discounted that possibility and such a scenario seemed all but dead Tuesday as Senator James Webb, a Virginia Democrat and supporter of the measure, called for the Senate to take no votes on health care legislation until Mr. Brown could assume the seat vacated by the late Edward M. Kennedy.
Benen: 'BUCKLE UP'
We talked earlier about a quote from an administration official, who told Mike Allen about the White House engaging with Republicans after the results in Massachusetts are announced. Republicans, the official said, will face "pressure ... to participate in the process in a meaningful way."

My argument is that this assumption -- which the media establishment will likely trumpet incessantly in the coming weeks and months -- is, at best, naive. GOP lawmakers aren't interested in compromise and bipartisan problem-solving; they're interested in destroying Democrats.

Kevin Drum is right to emphasize, however, that the crux of the Politico article wasn't really about White House outreach to Republicans, but rather, the president and his team planning "a combative response" in the wake of the Massachusetts debacle.

"This is not a moment that causes the president or anybody who works for him to express any doubt," a senior administration official said. "It more reinforces the conviction to fight hard." [...]

There won't be any grand proclamation that "the era of Big Government is over" -- the words President Bill Clinton uttered after Republicans won the Congress in the 1990s and he was forced to trim a once-ambitious agenda.

"The response will not be to do incremental things and try to salvage a few seats in the fall," a presidential adviser said. "The best political route also happens to be the boldest rhetorical route, which is to go out and fight and let the chips fall where they may. We can say, 'At least we fought for these things, and the Republicans said no.'"

The White House rallying cry, according to one Obama confidant, will be, "Buckle up -- let's get some stuff done."

I hope this is true. More important, I hope congressional Democrats realize that crawling into a defensive crouch, waiting for the storm to blow over, would be a misread of public discontent.

Even after Massachusetts, Democrats will have a fairly popular president and the largest congressional majority in a generation. If they want to go through the motions and see if any Republicans might be willing to play a constructive role, fine, just so long as they keep expectations low. But Dems weren't given the reins with the expectation they'd do nothing with them.

Even after Brown is sworn in, Dems will have an opportunity to deliver and make a positive difference in the lives of Americans. What better way to respond to a pounding than to bounce off the ropes, taking a few swings? Pass a jobs bill, go after irresponsible banks, bring some safeguards to Wall Street, repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Prove to the country that Dems are at least trying to legislate, and demonstrate that a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president have the wherewithal to tackle the issues that matter.

This notion, which I suspect we're about to hear a whole lot of, strikes me as wildly misguided.

The narrower majority will force more White House engagement with Republicans, which could actually help restore a bit of the post-partisan image that was a fundamental ingredient of his appeal to voters.

"Now everything that gets done in the Senate will have the imprimatur of bipartisanship," another administration official said. "The benefits of that will accrue to the president and the Democratic Senate. It adds to the pressure on Republicans to participate in the process in a meaningful way, which so far they have refused to do."

This is a great idea, isn't it? All the White House and Democratic congressional leaders have to do is continue to work on their policy agenda, while reaching out in good faith to earn support from congressional Republicans. Bills will start passing with bipartisan support; the public will be impressed; David Broder will start dancing in front of the Washington Post building; a season of goodwill and comity will bloom on Capitol Hill; and Lucy really will let Charlie Brown kick the ball.

Or maybe not.

Look, much of the political landscape has changed over the last year, but if there's one thing that's been consistent throughout, it's that congressional Republicans aren't interested in working with Democrats on bipartisan policy solutions. Boehner, McConnell, Cantor, & Co. have a list of priorities -- destroy the Obama presidency, block the legislative process by any means necessary, undermine confidence in American leaders and institutions, rally the right-wing base -- but "getting things done" isn't on it.

Will that change after Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts? The only rational expectation is that the scorched-earth strategy of the last year will get worse -- they'll be less interested in "participating in the process in a meaningful way" when they smell blood in the water and have the votes to filibuster literally everything.

The Republican establishment no doubt realizes that, as the midterms approach, there will be two competing messages:

* GOP: Dems ran Congress, pushed liberal ideas, and couldn't deliver.

* Dem: The "Party of No" wouldn't let us govern. Maybe, with a few more votes, if Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman don't mind, things will get better.

If Republicans have to choose between this message match-up and working with Dems on bipartisan problem-solving, the choice has already been made. Hoping for a different outcome is unrealistic.

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