Monday, February 1, 2010

Saying the Unsayable

Greg Sargent

* Chuck Todd says the unsayable: The only way for Dems to secure bipartisan cooperation is to completely embrace Republican proposals and nothing more.

* Michael Steele, wary of GOP candidates facing primaries from the right, extends an olive branch to the Tea Party movement: “We want to be your partner in the same fight.”

* But Tea Party chieftain Dick Armey tells GOP: Not so fast, you want to be our partner, you do it our way.

* Zinger of the day: Frank Rich says Harry Reid is the “face of Democratic fecklessness in the Senate.” Again: Pass the health bill, and Dems get a thousand articles about the new law. Fail to pass it, and they get a thousand columns about how feckless they are.

* Hindsight is 20/20, but…if Dems hadn’t gotten snookered by the GOP’s play-for-time strategy, delaying health reform over the summer in the futile quest for bipartisan support, they would have had a health care bill by now. Maybe Dems might learn from this?

* Hmm, one can hope: Los Angeles Times says despite public demurrals, Dems are in fact working seriously behind the scenes to pass the Senate health bill with a reconciliation fix.

Sully: It's Alive!

As nihilist Republicans, weak-kneed Democrats and the MSM CW patrol the capital city desperate to kill healthcare reform, the drama is not over yet. Jon Cohn has a must-read on the latest developments in a strategy to save something real. Try not to let your eyes glaze over at times - this is parliamentary politicking and policy-making at its most arcane. But it seems clearer and clearer to me that Obama is deadly serious about getting this done - more so than some of his advisers:

Even the decision to focus on jobs, banking, and the economy right now--while letting the "dust settle" on health care reform--may not be quite the sign of retreat it seems at first blush. Many insiders have suggested to me that giving leadership a little breathing space to negotiate, and giving members of Congress more time to adjust to the post-Massachusetts political landscape, will ultimately make a deal more likely. In today's Los Angeles Times, Rep. Gerald Connolly, president of the House Freshman Democrats says that strategy may be working: "The more they think about it, the more they can appreciate that it may be a viable . . . vehicle for getting healthcare reform done."

Yglesias: Strange Tales of Congressional Procedure

Continuing a theme from yesterday, I think it’s more important than is generally acknowledged that most people have no idea how congress works. Consider, for example, the following hypothetical scenario. The Green Team has 13 Senators on the Senate Energy Committee and the Brown Team has 10 Senators. The President also belongs to the Green Team and he promised in a speech to pass a bill banning the use of puppy-burning power plants. The Brown team hates that idea. Then along come two Senators from the Green Team who offer an amendment saying, well, as long as you don’t burn more than three puppies a year you can do it. Then the committee takes a vote and the amendment is adopted, 12-11, with the 11 “no” votes all coming from the Green Team. Then the overall puppy bill comes up for a vote and it passes 13-11 on a party-line vote.

What happens next? Well, typically what happens is you start getting liberals complaining that the Green Team voted for a weak-ass sellout bill. Unanimously. They have the majority, they control everything, and this is the best they could do? Why didn’t they really fight? Meanwhile, the Brown Team complains that it’s been shut out of the process and the Green Team is passing these costly bills that put the interests of puppies ahead of the interests of people and that doesn’t even really stop puppy-burning anyway!

Anyways, this kind of thing happens all the time. Things happen because a small fraction of centrist Democrats side with the vast majority of Republicans, but then the overall legislative vehicle ends up being moved on a party-line vote. This leads to people criticizing “the Democrats” for doing things that only a tiny minority of Democrats actually did, and Republicans run around acting like they have nothing to do with outcomes even though they’ve actually been decisive in shaping them.


I've never held House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) in high regard. But I couldn't agree more with something he said this morning.

Despite White House overtures for congressional Republicans to work with Democrats, the top GOP official in the House said Sunday that such opportunities are limited.

"There aren't that many places where we can come together," House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said on the NBC program "Meet the Press."

Republicans were elected to stand by their principles, and those principles are different than the "leftist proposals" offered by President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats, Boehner said. [...]

"Leadership is about standing on your principles and opposing those policies that we believe are bad for the country," Boehner said.

What's wrong with that? Absolutely nothing (except the part about President Obama pushing "leftist proposals," which is a silly assessment).

While I didn't see the exchange, if this report is accurate, Boehner argued that Republicans intend to push their ideas, and oppose the policies they find offensive. The goal for congressional Republicans isn't to find "common ground" or "bipartisan solutions" with those they completely disagree with; their goal is to fight for what they believe in, opposing the majority's agenda.

The remarks should make it pretty clear that Republicans have no interest in working with Democrats on finding solutions to pressing policy challenges. But here's the thing that so often gets lost in the discourse: Republicans are the minority party, which means it's their job to oppose the majority's agenda.

"There aren't that many places where [the two parties] can come together"? Well, no, of course not. Democrats and Republicans perceive reality in entirely different ways, and advocate for wildly different solutions to various problems (they don't even agree on which problems exist).

But if Boehner's right about this -- and I believe he is -- then why in the world is it incumbent on the Democratic majority to work with Republicans to find "bipartisan" answers to every question? If Boehner has no intention of "coming together" with Dems in the middle -- a reasonable, albeit rigid, position -- why must the political establishment maintain the fiction that the governing majority is doing something awful unless they bring the discredited minority on board with every proposal?

Ron Brownstein noted recently:

We are operating in what amounts to a parliamentary system without majority rule, a formula for futility.

In some respects, it's even worse than that. In nearly all modern democracies, parties that win elections get a shot -- they're able to do what they want to do, putting their party platform to work. If the policies are effective and voters are satisfied, the parties are rewarded. If not, they're punished.

The job of the minority party (or minority parities) in modern democracies is not to stop the majority from governing. Indeed, the very idea is practically absurd. Rather, minority parties consider it their job to criticize the majority, tell the electorate how they'd be doing things better, and hope voters agree when the next election rolls around.

But we're dealing with expectations and procedural tools in the U.S. that are inherently foolish. We can elect one party to lead, and then give the minority party the ability to stop the majority from leading. Worse, the political establishment tells voters -- and the public agrees -- that the majority is doing something intrinsically wrong if they advance policies that the minority disagrees with.

Boehner left no doubt this morning that he and his party don't want to work with Democrats on shaping legislation. That's fine. But with that in mind, can we let go of the ridiculous notion that Democrats are on the wrong track unless Boehner likes their ideas? And more importantly, can we abandon the absurd procedures that allow a small minority party to prevent the legislative process from functioning?

Aravosis: Krugman calls FOX News 'deliberate misinformation' to Roger Ailes' face

It really is sick that an organization like FOX even exists. Even sicker is having to explain to conservatives the difference between FOX and CNN, or FOX and the NYT. They quite literally don't get the difference between trying to be objective and trying to be Republican. To paraphrase something a friend said years ago about a different topic, FOX is lucky that we don't live in the kind of country it's trying to create, because it would be the first to go.

(Hat tip FDL)

DougJ: Pure speculation

Dana Milbank had a column the other day about how it would be great for Obama politically if Republicans gained control of Congress. It was pretty typical TNR-style contrarian wankery, though since this was the first time that anything has ever been good news for Obama, maybe I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Now, I have no idea if Republicans will get control of the House—it seems like a longshot, since they have to pick up 40 seats to do, but I’m no Nate Silver, so what do I know?

It seems worth asking: what would Republicans do if they gained control of the House? Presumably, there would be a lot of absurd, numberless bubble-chart proposals, for sure, but I don’t think anyone would pay much attention to them. My guess is that politically, the biggest thing would do is start lots of investigations. What do you think they would investigate? Anita Dunn and Van Jones, probably, but what else? Would they delve into Obama’s pre-presidential years? Would they hold hearings on his birth certificate? Would they impeach him? Would the press go along with all of this the way they did with Whitewater and Travelgate and Socksgate? My gut feeling is that the answer to the last three questions is “yes”.

Update. There is already an impeach Obama website, per the comments.

I do think that Republican candidates for Congress should be asked whether or not they support impeaching Obama.

Update. Michael Savage is onboard. Does anyone know if Glenn Beck has recommended impeaching Obama?

Update. A friend who is a bit more knowledgeable about Congress writes:

But weren’t the wheels already starting at the Clinton White House by this time? Clinton entered office with a Flowers and Whitewater (they were both campaign issues IIRC) and then the WH Travel Office issue broke in the first or second year of his term.

Obama has nothing right now, other than maybe the little bit of land, and that was clearly not a real issue. He hasn’t lied about it, either. Plus, he seems to be really committed to his wife and family, and his wider family is both small and seem pretty sane.

Republicans need at least a 20 vote majority to impeach, plus the right kind of zealots on the Judiciary Committee. Not every Republican on the Judiciary committee is willing to wipe his/her ass with the Constitution just for political benefit.

And there’s no special prosecutor law anymore. Starr did all the legwork for the Clinton impeachment.

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