Thursday, December 2, 2010

Legislative Blockades & Governing

So here we are, exactly one month since the Democrats got walloped in the election. Republicans have won the House and gained ground in the Senate, but of course that's not until next month which means obstructionism continues to abound.

On Wednesday Senate Republicans vowed, in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to block any and all legislation until there is resolution on the continuation of the Bush era tax cuts. From The New York Times article, here are some of the things that won't get done until the tax cut issue is resolved:

- The repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell
- The continuation of jobless benefits for millions of still unemployed Americans, with benefits set to expire (wait for it) on Christmas day
- The ratification of the New START Treaty
- Passage of the DREAM Act, giving illegal immigrants brought here as children the opportunity to become U.S. citizens
- Passage of the previously passed (but parliamentary fumbled) food safety bill

Very seriously, 2 out of 5 of those might reflexively raise the ire of Republicans. They could even be considered part of a "liberal wishlist" but 3 out of 5 seem largely mundane. But of course, in the Republican economic policy, tax cuts are supreme. It would appear literally nothing else matters. Sen. Mitch McConnell seems to suggest the legislative work the Democrats are trying to accomplish runs counter to the outcome of the election. I think he misreads the situation.

You see, the Republicans don't actually take power until next month, but I think in the minds of many Americans the transfer of power happens on election night. Republicans are in a strengthened position and I believe those that voted for them, by and large, expected that they would govern, not obstruct. I think the failure to pass some of these things will fall at the feet of Republicans. I'm a poor prognosticator so take that prediction for what it's worth, but after the holidays, if millions of people no longer receive unemployment benefits, if all Americans see the tax cuts sunset, they will also see a Republican Speaker of the House and a strengthened Senate Minority Leader. Sure, President Obama will get some blame, but he doesn't cast a vote.

I think people will see this as the Republican party, extorting Democrats and throwing a tantrum like a child that wants two scoops of ice cream, but only got one. I wonder what Republicans will do in January. Is the Republican party capable, with its current membership, of governing at all?


Colin said...

I, for one, stand and applaud this obstructionism. The American people have spoken clearly and in opposition to the agenda of the current Congress. Your statement that "those that voted for them, by and large, expected that they would govern, not obstruct" strikes me as wishful thinking. In fact, Republicans explicity campaigned on a platform of stopping the Democratic agenda and actively working to repeal it. Being the "party of no" has quite obviously worked out rather well and would seem to reflect voter sentiment.

I can only wonder whether when the House inevitably votes to repeal Obamacare next year and the measure is subsequently halted either in the Democrat-controlled Senate or at the president's desk whether you will then castigate Democrats for obstructionism and tantrum throwing. It seems to me that such accusations only get tossed around after Republicans win elections or actually vote according to their ostensible ideological beliefs.

Ben said...

Let us assume your hypothetical comes to fruition. Certainly you agree there is a difference in degree (if not kind) between holding an entire legislative agenda hostage for partisan, ideological reasons and blocking a single bill for partisan, ideological reasons.

You're right, though, the better tact would be to let the bill come to the floor for a vote, fail--and, even if it doesn't, veto it.

Ben said...

Moreover, the difference you note in the accusation being tossed out may have less to do with bias and more to do with the fact that the Democrats, you know, compromise because the believe in governing whereas Republicans, well, do not.

Colin said...

Holding an entire legislative agenda hostage? C'mon, it's a delay of less than two months until the new Congress meets when these issues can be taken up again.

I find it a bit rich that Democrats had most of this year to address most of these issues and now, after suffering a stunning election defeat, are in a hurry to pass a raft of legislation in a four week window. If this was so urgent, why was it pushed until the lame duck? Shouldn't these issues be debated by a Congress which most accurately reflects the sentiment of the American people?

This notion that Republicans obstruct while Democrats govern (apparently defined as passing legislation), meanwhile, is laughable. Oh, if only that were so. Rather, under a GOP Congress and GOP president we saw mountains of legislation passed, including the Patriot Act, tax cuts, energy bills, farm bills, a stimulus package, Medicare expansion, NCLB, bankruptcy reform -- the list goes on.

In contrast, in 2005 Democrats pronounced Bush's social security partial privatization effort DOA and made zero effort at compromise. But I am guessing that Democrats would describe that as a principled stand rather than just being the party of no.

What is going on here is nothing more than Republicans having the temerity to serve as an opposition party and actually oppose things, which apparently doesn't sit well with Democrats.

Ben said...

I don't think it's laughable and if you look the size of the Democratic caucus in the Senate during those years--to say nothing of the (compared to the last 2 years) trivial rate of filibustering--you'll note that the Democrats were well positioned to do to what Republicans what the Republicans have done to the Democrats. They chose not to, however, out of a sense that governing is important--in my estimation.

Opposition is fine and I'm the first one to admit my party is bad at being an opposition party. Hell, I'm one of the first to admit we're bad at being a majority party, too. There is, though, a difference between opposition and obstructionism--obstructionism which you of course trumpet.

Jason said...

I'd like to address a couple lines from Colin's original comment.

First, it's "wishful thinking" to believe people participated in an election of their representatives with the expectation that they intend to govern? Truly the state of our democracy is in far worse shape then I imagined if people go to voting booths to elect people they expect to do nothing.

Second, being "the party of no" worked well to win an election. It would not seem to give the Republicans a mandate to undo what has been accomplished, including health care reform.

Colin said...

Well, I suppose that Democrats going along with GOP legislation out of a sense of civic duty is one possibility.

Another possible explanation is simply that Democrats liked a lot of the legislation. After all, NCLB passd 91-8 in the Senate, Patriot Act passed 98-1, bankruptcy reform 74-25, Sarbox (99-1), 2005 energy bill (74-26). Of course, the Medicare bill and tax cuts were party lines votes, but my guess is that Dems simply did the political calculation on filibustering tax cuts and didn't think it worked out too well (especially with Bush enjoying an approval rating of 65% in May 2003 when the second round of tax cuts were passed).

I only wish they would have filibustered the Medicare bill so we could have been spared that monstrosity. I could say the same for much, if not most, of the other legislation passed during that era. Because Democrats failed to do their job and oppose legislation while in the minority is no excuse for Republicans not to do it now.

Let's also recall that Democrats were not averse to using the filibuster when they ran into an issue near and dear to their hearts, such as the opposition to judicial nominees, which led to talk of the so-called nuclear option. Also as previously stated, Democrats gave absolutely zero ground on social security reform.

Colin said...

Truly the state of our democracy is in far worse shape then I imagined if people go to voting booths to elect people they expect to do nothing.

No, not nothing -- they were elected to engage in active opposition to the current Democratic agenda. That's what they campaigned on and which the voters overwhelmingly approved of.

Second, being "the party of no" worked well to win an election. It would not seem to give the Republicans a mandate to undo what has been accomplished, including health care reform.

The hell it doesn't. It is nothing if not a mandate. The Republicans explicitly campaigned on the repeal of HCR and the American people gave that position their thumbs up.

This is in sharp contrast to the Democratic approach, in which public opinion was dismissed ahead of the actual vote and virtually no Democrats campaigned on it in the subsequent election.

If the Republicans have no mandate to undo it after receiving a huge election victory, then by the same logic Democrats never had the legitimacy to pass it.

Colin said...

Forgive my snark, but it's rather amusing that only a week after this post was written that the House Democratic caucus voted against bringing the *bipartisan compromise* tax deal to the floor for a vote. This raises obvious concerns about Democratic obstructionism and whether the party is capable of governing.