As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, February 02, 2009

To Filibuster Or Not To Filibuster

While I'm sure there are elements within the Senate GOP caucus that would like to derail the stimulus bill, that isn't the message from the leadership. A day after appearing to threaten a filibuster and doubting passage without major changes, Mitch McConnell today sounding more dulcet tones.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday dismissed the idea that Republicans are trying to block passage of a massive economic stimulus plan.

"Nobody that I know of is trying to keep a package from passing," the Kentucky senator said at a news conference Monday. "We're trying to reform it."

McConnell wouldn't get into any specific amendments he wants, but he said the package his members would support would be "dramatically different" from what passed in the House and from what is being worked on in the Senate Finance Committee and Appropriations Committee.

He said he wants to see the bill focus on helping homeowners and relieving the burden on middle- and low-income taxpayers.

There is some actual pressure against being seen as obstructionist, at least a little more than in the past. That's why Republicans are using Obama's "bipartisanship" talking point to try and persuade the public that they merely want a voice in the final package. In addition, there's some downward pressure from GOP governors, who actually have to deal with this mess, who need that stimulus money to keep their states going.

There are two other factors. First, the Senate bill is far more business-friendly already than the House bill. There are more business tax cuts in it as well as a popular patch to the Alternative Minimum Tax. Second, Democrats are perfectly ready to compromise on major elements of the bill, though probably not the tax cuts.

Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said that Senate Democrats were interested in considering Republican proposals to do more to help the sputtering housing market, including instituting a $15,000 tax credit for all home buyers.

“One of the Republican proposals is to raise the $7,500 tax credit we give to new home buyers, raise it to up $15,000 and do it for all home buyers,” Senator Schumer said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “That’s something that we look favorably upon.”

Mr. Schumer, who is a member of the Finance Committee, also said he was also interested in passing legislation aimed at getting mortgage rates down to 4.5 percent, although he said he thought that might go in the next part of the bailout measure approved by Congress last year, not the stimulus package.

He added, “I think we will get real agreement on the housing part.”

Senators of both parties also said on Sunday that they expected a significant amount of additional money — about $20 billion to $30 billion — to go toward infrastructure spending on such things as roads and bridges. Senator Schumer also said he supported an additional $5 billion for mass transit spending.

But there was significant disagreement along party lines over whether the additional spending should add to the bottom line dollar figure of the bill. With interest, the $819-billion version of the bill that passed the House last week could actually cost up to $1.2 trillion, the director of the Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Elmendorf, told the House Budget Committee on Tuesday.

Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said that he would be willing to “raise the total price tag” of the bill to include get the additional spending sought by the Republicans.

For the record, I don't ever remember interest being factored into any Bush-era spending bill to inflate its cost. Also, I'm pretty down on the business tax cuts and the "reinflate the housing bubble" approach in the Senate bill. But clearly, they're going to attempt an even more bipartisan effort than the pre-compromised House bill. The real question, as said in the article, is whether that increases the overall cost, or if other spending programs are taken out to make room.

But for many of these reasons, I don't think the Republicans can actually pull off a filibuster. While there's a core of probably 35 Republicans who won't support practically anything of this nature, I'm not sure they can get the rest. Both Nate Silver and Chris Bowers break down the numbers, with Bowers adding a convenient list:

Overall Stimulus Whip Count

* Likely Supporters (58): 56 Democrats plus Collins and Snowe
* Undecided (5): Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota), Mel Martinez (R-Florida), Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska), Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) and Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania).
* Special Case (1): Judd Gregg (New Hampshire). It has been suggested that Gregg's vote might be swayed through an appointment as Commerce Secretary. That's a pretty high price for a vote, but it is worth noting here nonetheless.
* Likely Opponents (35): All Republicans. Take the 34 Republicans with public statements opposing the stimulus, remove Judd Gregg, and add John Barrasso and Mike Johanns. There is simply to way that freshman Republicans from two of the last five remaining Republican states in the country will back President Obama over their party leadership.

Sounds about right. And I would think that within all of that, you can find two votes to give 60 for cloture, even if they don't vote for the final bill. This is why Republicans are basically picking around the edges of this bill, arguing against elements that make up a tiny fraction of overall spending, because they probably know that they can't stop it. As Silver says:

Now, I wouldn't rule out the possibility that there is more tangible Democratic opposition to the stimulus in its present form. But if so, I imagine those Senators would let Obama know ahead of time and work with him toward tweaking it rather than having him endure the embarrassment of a failed cloture vote. In other words, I doubt that Harry Reid goes to the floor unless he feels fairly assured about 60. I also wouldn't rule out the possibility that the filibuster fails and then the stimulus passes, but with only 53-55 votes.

But in terms of sustaining a filibuster, I think McConnell is most likely bluffing. Then again, I didn't think the GOP would manage unanimous opposition to the recovery bill in the House.

Anything's possible, but I think McConnell's sitting with a bad hand and he knows it. He's hoping the bipartisan fetishists will force enough changes to the bill to make it less painful (and probably ineffective, which suits Republican needs, perversely).

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