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

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Intra-Partisan Gridlock

It is kind of fascinating that the President's budget sailed through Congress without one Republican vote, and that fact caused barely a ripple among the commentariat.

Obama is now demanding to be judged on legislative results, not process ones, and the media is playing along. The only reason it ever gave a damn about the unified Republican front against Obama's stimulus and budget bills was because Obama made bipartisan cooperation a marker for success. When he failed at that, the media dutifully reported on that failure.

But what matters in the end is legislation, not roll calls. And with Obama's team no longer forced to water down legislation in a fruitless quest for irrelevant Republican votes, we'll see much better policy in the end.

I call that progress.

Jeffrey Toobin highlighted this best yesterday when he said, "On this whole issue of bipartisanship, can I just ask, who cares?... The public cares about results."

However, I have to quibble with the idea that Obama's team is "no longer forced to water down legislation." Because the enemies still reside inside the Democratic Party, not just in the GOP. For instance, in that same no-Republican-vote budget, the Blue Dogs got their PAYGO resolution.

Leaders of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition stood shoulder to shoulder with House leaders on Wednesday and rallied around a $3.5 trillion budget agreement that also paves the way for an eventual pay-as-you-go law — a provision that became a prerequisite for Blue Dog support of the budget document [...]

“The Blue Dogs have been focused on restoring fiscal responsibility and accountability to the federal government for many years, and we’ve fought for a return to the statutory pay-as-you-go rules of the ’90s as a way to accomplish that goal,” Blue Dog Co-Chairman Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) said.

Yet they acknowledged that they might have to settle for a codified version of the Democratic pay-go rule that allows for offsets to be found five or even 10 years after new spending is enacted.

PAYGO isn't totally bad, in that it forces Congress to find a revenue source instead of borrowing or running deficits. I actually don't have a huge problem with that in normal times (not during a recession, however). And tweaking it so you can find offsets multiple years down the road neuters it somewhat. But this is but one example. The banksters stopped cramdown today. They have their sights set on stopping credit card reform in the Senate. There are plenty of bad actors trying to torpedo meaningful climate change legislation. There remains a two-party system in this country, but both of them reside in the Democratic Party. I completely agree with the President when he says that bipartisanship cannot be framed as "give me everything I want or else." I do understand politics as the art of the compromise. But Obama - and his supporters - may be guilty of looking at this through too partisan a lens. Just because the Republicans have been sent off to the sidelines doesn't mean that powerful forces aren't at play to disrupt Obama's agenda. Here's Matt Yglesias:

I largely agree with this, but in many ways it still strikes me as far too optimistic. To take just one example, climate change. The administration and the congressional leadership have ruled out the use of the reconciliation process to pass their energy/climate agenda. Since it’s completely inconceivable that you could get 60 votes in the Senate for the sort of cap-and-trade proposal that Barack Obama outlined during the campaign, this means they’ve preemptively surrendered on an agenda that they ran and won on during the course of a two-year presidential campaign. And that campaign-season plan, though excellent, fell somewhat short of what scientists say is necessary to prevent a potentially irreversible catastrophe. As I wrote in my hundred days roundup that’s a very significant failure.

On health reform, it seems certain that a bill will pass and be signed into law that’s called “Obama’s health care bill.” But it remains very unclear to me and to everyone how much the bill will actually do to tackle either the social injustice or the fiscal instability of our current health care system. Meanwhile, on the banking sector the debate about the administration’s policies is essentially between people who think they’re screwing up because they’re corrupt (Simon Johnson, Joe Stiglitz, Paul Krugman) and those who think they’re doing close to their best when faced with objective political constraints (Felix Salmon, Brad DeLong).

Matt attributes this to partisan gridlock, but I think he's wrong on that. It's intra-partisan gridlock, between those Democrats bought off by big money interests or fundamentally conservative-thinking versus the rest of the caucus. Eventually, Obama - and more to the point, Harry Reid - needs to get his caucus under control. He has some tools at his disposal.

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