Maddow States it Plain

I thought Rachel Maddow had a very smart take on the fallout from the Massachusetts Senate race. I’ve placed a lengthy excerpt below the fold.

On paper, after Al Franken was finally certified as winning in Minnesota, Democrats had a filibuster-proof, 60-seat majority. On paper, that’s what they had. But in reality, those 60 votes included a bunch of senators who really had no interest in voting with the rest of the Democrats on much of anything. Their little unicorn–their little myth of 60 reliable votes led the Democrats to draft policies in a way that they thought maybe could get all of those 60 votes.

Instead of working on the most effective possible policies that could still get a majority vote, Democrats have been allowing lassos at this mythical beast, trying to find the perfect, most conservative possible, but still theoretically, Democratic solutions to every problem, in order to earn these 60 votes that they’d love to believe are theirs. And in trying to accommodate guys, like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh, they came up with watered-down, Republican-like policies that were, frankly, less effective.

Hello, smaller stimulus just for the sake of being smaller. Remember that?

The way that you build political momentum is not just by having attractive individual candidates. It’s by winning. And it’s not just by winning elections, but by being associated with winning policies.

Politics and policy are two different things, but they are linked things. By winning elections, you get the ability to affect policy. By affecting good policy, you win more elections.

And hitting the 60-vote threshold made Democrats worse at policy. It made them think they could lasso this unicorn. They could get every Democrat on board and still maintain good policy. Even when some of those Democrats found it to be in their political interest to just say “no” to everything in order to be seen as kind of a Republican-ish type of Dem.

That unicorn is now gone, after last night’s special election. And the choice for Democrats is either to throw up their hands and say, “Well, the Republicans say we need 60 votes for everything, so I guess we can’t ever do anything now.” Or they can say, “Hey, we’ve got 59 votes. It’s not filibuster-proof, so let’s not continue to concede that for the first time in American history, every single vote of consequence in the United States Senate will be subject to a filibuster and will take 60 votes.

Either get rid of the filibuster, because it’s being abused in a way that it never has been before–look at that chart–or at least change the rules of the filibuster. Or pass everything through reconciliation, where you need 51 votes and not 60. There are limitations to that, but it’s not like big policies don’t pass this way.

That’s what President Bush did with his tax cuts in 2001, passed through reconciliation with 58 votes. Bush’s tax cuts in 2003, passed through reconciliation with 51 votes. The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which reduced spending on Medicaid, passed through reconciliation with 51 votes.

You don’t have to get 60 votes every time. And now that 60 isn’t even theoretically possible, with Republicans pledging to vote “no” always on everything, now that the mythical unicorn of the 60-seat majority is gone, it’s time for Democrats to choose a path forward. Either quit and let the party with 41 votes control the agenda, or fight with 59 votes and give people a reason to vote for you again.

Comments

  1. #1 eric
    January 21, 2010

    Go back to the original filibuster rules I say. If a Senator wants to stop a vote, he/she needs to physically stand in the senate and read something, at the podium, until either the majority of voters gives up or the reader falls down flat.

  2. #2 Matt Springer
    January 21, 2010

    Reconciliation is a strictly budgetary maneuver, which is why the examples given are tax/spending bills. It doesn’t (or isn’t supposed to, under the rules) work for anything else.

    Using the original talk-till-you-drop filibuster wouldn’t make any difference either. They result in exactly the same outcome since you just have to find four or five senators to talk in shifts, and in the meantime nothing else gets done either. Hence the modern “gentleman’s filibuster”, which at least allows other business to proceed.

  3. #3 Tyler DiPietro
    January 21, 2010

    This may be totally ignorant, but constitutionally each house of congress is only given the ability to determine the rules of its proceedings. There wouldn’t be anything unconstitutional about just changing the rules on a whim via simple majority from a strictly textual perspective, though I’m unaware of any court precedent on the issue.

    Regardless, it’s all irrelevant. The reason no one wants to change the rules or get rid of the filibuster altogether is because each party knows it will be in the minority at some point and wants to have the tool available to them.

  4. #4 Oran Kelley
    January 21, 2010

    This is totally disingenuous.

    A) Republican-like policies? Like the health care reform package? Yes, that right, it looks just like all the health care reform packages Republican congresses have passed.

    B) All those reconciliation passages were for budget-related bills. You can’t pass regulatory overhauls this way.

    And you can’t get rid of the filibuster unless you have the votes to do so. I’m not at all sure they do.

  5. #5 Tyler DiPietro
    January 21, 2010

    “Republican-like policies? Like the health care reform package? Yes, that right, it looks just like all the health care reform packages Republican congresses have passed.”

    Dear Oran,

    Romneycare.

    Faithfully Your’s,

    — Tyler DiPietro

  6. #6 J.J.E.
    January 22, 2010

    The filibuster needs to be discarded. It is a pretty poorly written rule. Having debate is an important issue, and having some sort of rule that required debate if someone insists is great in principle. But when all you have to do to enact a bs “gentleman’s” filibuster is simply file a motion and the legislation to be “debated” is simply filed away WITHOUT debate is complete bs. There is no reason to require super majorities for legislation.

    Of course, the filibuster should only be dumped at the beginning of a session. Changing it purely for tactical reasons is sleazy. It would have been if Lott had succeeded in 2005 and would be now.

    But next time it comes up, it should be deep-sixed.

  7. #7 Collin Brendemuehl
    January 22, 2010

    Maddow lives in the myth that part == political philosophy, at least that it should demand a philosophical allegiance. She is a True Believer. I wonder how long Microsoft will continue to invest in MSNBC since Air America failed with many of the same personalities. We certainly know how well things are working for NBC.

    It’s not that Reps necessarily vote “no” on everything, but that the strongest onservatives, and some libs, are actually listening to the populist movement that says No to radical socialism. Following Saul Alinsky and Jeremiah Wright, and bringing in Van Jones, these things did not happen by accident.

    What we see happening to the Reps today is what happened to the Dems during the 70s. The radicals of the 60s moved the party by their populist involvement, following after McGovern. Today’s populist conservatives appear to be doing the same to the Rep party. And as is visible in both parties today, the elites have little concern for populist movements except as they affect elections and some legislation.

    This election result is no panacea. It is a small step in the right direction.

  8. #8 jim1950a
    January 22, 2010

    The best of all possible worlds is a grid-locked government which screws the people only sometimes.

  9. #9 J.J.E.
    January 22, 2010

    O.K. Really discourse should be measured and rational and I should use ad hominems that employ logic.

    But when I read this:

    “populist movement that says No to radical socialism”

    That populist movement does know what “radical” or “socialism” even means. And anyone who thinks that anything in American politics c2009-2010 has anything to do with “radical socialism” is fucking stupid.

  10. #10 J.J.E.
    January 22, 2010

    Of course I mean “I should avoid ad hominems and prefer arguments that employ logic”. A little word elision going on.

  11. #11 SLC
    January 22, 2010

    Rather interesting to see someone bring up Saul Alinsky as a model for folks like Rachael Maddow. Actually, Mr. Alinskys’ most devoted followers these days are the late Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. Alinsky preached that the way to accomplishing political ends was to rub raw the sores of discontent. That’s exactly what Atwater and Rove and their ilk have been doing ever since the Nixon administration.

  12. #12 SLC
    January 22, 2010

    Actually, to be fair about it, Mr. Alinskys’ first convert was probably George Wallace who made a career out of rubbing raw the sores of discontent.

  13. #13 MartinDH
    January 22, 2010

    …are actually listening to the populist movement that says No to radical socialism.

    As far as I can see, these “populists” wouldn’t know “radical socialism” if it were jammed up their arse with a red flag attached while the Red Army men’s choir sang the “Internationale”. Anyone claiming that socialist policy is being offered as a solution to any of the U.S.’s problems is f**king delusional.

    And it’s not a real populist movement…it’s a pure astroturf creation brought into being by far right wing ideologues and whose flames of ardour are fanned by the media’s whorish purveyors of racism, misogyny, and bigotry (Murdoch’s merry band of Rove, Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck et al.).

  14. #14 eric
    January 22, 2010

    Ahhh, Colin, such a breath of fresh air. I love the far right: “government” is when I am taxed to pay for their benefits; “radical socialism” is when they are taxed to pay for mine.

  15. #15 llewelly
    January 22, 2010

    Oran Kelley | January 21, 2010 9:47 PM:

    A) Republican-like policies? Like the health care reform package? Yes, that right, it looks just like all the health care reform packages Republican congresses have passed.

    As has been pointed out many times (see Krugman’s columns, to name just one example), Nixon’s proposed health care was in several ways more aggressive than the current Democratic proposals. Combine that with Obama’s wacko stances on warrantless wiretapping and state secrets, it’s not an exaggeration to say that most of the leading democrats are to the right of Nixon on many important policies.

  16. #16 Jason F.
    January 22, 2010

    IMO, just as Christian conservatives were fooled into electing G. W. Bush, thinking they were electing a social conservative culture warrior, when really they were electing a big oil and defense industry president…

    …social liberals have been fooled into electing B. Obama, thinking they were electing a social liberal culture warrior, when really they were electing a pro-large corporation (GMC, banks) president.

    We live in the most uber-capitalistic country in the world, and we are governed as such.

  17. #17 Collin Brendemuehl
    January 22, 2010

    Amazing. No “radical social” exists.
    No proposed limits on the size of banks.
    No proposed limits on pay and benefits.
    No government takeover of auto manufacturers.
    (esp. giving stock from retired people and handing it to the unions)
    No TARP tax on financial institutions to reclaim what the auto industry is unable to pay back.
    No claim that all private business is “infrastructure” that government ought to manage.
    No government takeover of part of the finance world.
    No attempt to put the health insurance companies out of business.
    None of this ever happened.

    Meanwhile, complaining about Bush and the Patriot Act while remaining entirely ignorant of Clinton’s Eschelon.

    I wonder, often, if the secularists actually understand the natural world to which they cling so strongly. The level of delusion is magnificent. In a way.

  18. #18 Michael Ralston
    January 22, 2010

    No attempt to put the health insurance companies out of business.

    By … forcing everyone to buy insurance from them?
    Yep that sure would have put them out of business, forcing them to have a larger customer base!!!

  19. #19 Frank Cornish
    January 23, 2010

    Colin, if the fucking health insurance companies can’t figure out how to use their obscene profits to extend coverage to everyone without using chicanery and patient-buggery and by driving their customers into medical bankruptcy through high premiums and low payouts with high deductibles then they are not doing their fucking job and deserve to be put out of business. Ten times as many people die for lack of health care insurance every year as the number of people who died in the Two Towers and we have spent a trillion dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives because of three jets. I think we are too worried about terrorists who might be under our beds and too little about our fellow citizens.

    So quit whining about socialism. You have no clue.

  20. #20 derwood
    January 23, 2010
  21. #21 Edgar Allan
    January 24, 2010

    Disagreeing with Collin Brendemuehl is SOCIALISM!

  22. #22 NewEnglandBob
    January 24, 2010

    Two possible strategies:

    1. Let the senate filibuster. Let the Republicans go day after day, week after week, obstructing the government. This way the people will see what selfish elitists they truly are.

    2. The Democrats should get the House to pass the Senate version and then the Democrats can state that if the Republicans now want to grow up and truly negotiate a new bill to replace that senate version then they can get out of their corporate greed mode and take care of the people for a change.

  23. #23 Collin Brendemuehl
    January 25, 2010

    Ralston,
    No, by putting in a non-profit government option against which the private industry cannot compete.
    Besides, Obama stated that it was his goal to accomplish this in 10-15 years.

    Cornish,
    Do not confuse having/not having “coverage” with having available “care”. For instance, about 4M people in the US have HepC (NIH site has this documented) but, with or without gov’t intervention there just are not the resources to provide for the need. Less coverage will be available under a gov’t plan because zero profit requires earlier rationing.

    Heads in the sand.

  24. #24 Collin Brendemuehl
    January 25, 2010

    Derwood,
    That comment by doppelganger dealt with some comments that I made early in my studies. My comments were in error and his correction is noted.
    Doppelganger is afraid of the light. He is a coward. He cannot expose his real name, probably for the sake of pride and paycheck. He does not have courage of his convictions.

  25. #25 geht's noch
    January 29, 2010

    NewEnglandBob,

    You are assuming that people are smart enough to see that. I think it has become fairly obvious to any rational person that Republicans are “selfish elitists,” as you say. Most Democrats we have elected are as well. As long as lobbying and bribery controls out political system, most politicians will be “selfish elitists” and others will blindly follow them because of their “family values,” etc etc.

    Collin,

    The private industry would be able to compete if they decided to give better coverage and better service. Is that not the essence of the free market–to encourage competition that will in the end aid the consumer? And the government option (at least the original one Obama proposed, I have given up in following the iterations) was not non-profit. People would have to buy into it and those who could not afford to would have Medicaid. That was the logic.

    Moreover, let’s ignore the health care bill at the moment and all that. Is there not a fundamental problem with the fact that there are not enough resources to provide health care to all of our citizens? Are the rich, who can afford to get these resources, more deserving of a healthy life than the middle class, or poor?

    Perhaps we need to reform our entire health care system–hospitals, clinics, rehabs–instead of simply insurance… I’m not saying that I know how, but obviously, we need it. It’s a disgrace that in one of the richest countries in the world, we still let our citizens die due to an inefficient system of health care. A disgrace.

  26. #26 IanW
    February 5, 2010

    I already said this elsewhere in a comment at sci blogs, and I don’t get paid anywhere near what Maddow gets! The loss of that one vote doesn’t make a damn bit of difference to the practicality or the reality of what’s actually happening in the senate, whereby the Republicans are daily denying the mandate Obama got from the electorate.

  27. #27 Söve
    February 5, 2010

    Rather interesting to see someone bring up Saul Alinsky as a model for folks like Rachael Maddow. Thanks a lot.

  28. #28 Collin Brendemuehl
    February 5, 2010

    Is there not a fundamental problem with the fact that there are not enough resources to provide health care to all of our citizens? Are the rich, who can afford to get these resources, more deserving of a healthy life than the middle class, or poor?
    It is naive to think that giving more taxes to the government will create the resources needed. Do you really think that either the fiscal or material resources are available to treat the 4M people with HepC in this country? Rich or poor, it’s just not possible. This is not about your social dialectic. It’s about economic restructuring and anti-capitalism.

  29. #29 Aquaria
    March 1, 2010

    Because giving more money to corporations has gotten all Americans better health care.

    Perfect logic–for a blithering idiot.

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