Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls
from: althouse.blogspot.com

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Senate Blues

Andrew Leonard has an interesting analysis of why Sen. Chris Dodd may be reluctant to back Elizabeth Warren as appointed chief of the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection:

We can't dismiss the possibility that Dodd's concern over whether Warren can be confirmed is merely a smokescreen disguising some long-held antipathy towards her, instead of an honest appraisal of her chances. But there's another possible explanation, too: The insane, absurd rigamarole involved in getting anything accomplished in the U.S. Senate has drained all the life out of Dodd. Throughout the American Banker interview, Dodd repeatedly talks about the challenge of doing the best you can do under the circumstances you are in -- a process that requires constant compromise and accommodation and sacrifice.

"You want to write a good bill. You can get votes, but in order to get the votes your bill becomes a shadow of itself or you try and write a stronger bill but you don't get the votes. So what's the point, you don't have a bill," he said. "You try to write the bill in a way that would be a strong bill -- that those who are watching this would say this is a remarkable bill in terms of what it does and you've got the 60 votes to pass it."

Dodd said he was pulled and pushed from both sides.

"You are working against, what was it, a thousand lobbyists that got hired to work against this bill?" he said. "I don't have a Republican partner, I have a one-vote margin in conference. It's a complicated subject matter. I've got a left that doesn't think you're being strong enough and a right that thinks you've gone too far."

Further exacerbating the situation: the other side stands to gain politically by preventing you from succeeding at all, and is willing to pretend to negotiate as a pure stalling tactic. You might think that, now that he is no longer running for election, Dodd would feel free to lambaste this mockery as the sham that it truly is. But the opposite has happened. Dodd seems to be suffering from a form of Stockholm syndrome. He's been part of a broken system for so long that he's completely internalized its rules. If GOP willingness to abuse the process of how legislation gets made becomes standard operating procedure to the point where even non-Cabinet appointments become all-out political wars, then so be it. Better to accommodate, than fight.

In this sense, the fight over Elizabeth Warren is a proxy fight over the currently inoperative system of government we are suffering under, because there's little question that in many ways the Obama administration has mirrored Dodd's capitulation. As a result, it is true, legislation has been passed. We have healthcare reform and bank reform. But we also have a right-wing outraged at even the pale "shadow" of reform and a left wing apoplectic at how little has been achieved.

The rules that allow the filibuster process in the Senate have in fact allowed the Republican minority to thwart the will of the Democratic majority. While this pisses me off, I must admit that the Republicans are simply taking advantage of rules that were knowingly adopted a long time ago. When media types say the Democrats "control both houses of Congress," they are not quite accurate. You need at least 60 Senate votes to really do that. However, if Senate Democrats were more effective in framing the national debate they would be able to pick off at least a few Republican votes from Senators who want to get re-elected. I don't blame people like Chris Dodd for feeling demoralized. Those of us out here in the country need to give more love to Senators when they do stand up for our interests. We could also be more patient with the lengthy process of breaking filibusters. Impatience to get something passed quickly leads to watered down legislation. When Republicans are forced to filibuster for a really long time, even the media begins to notice. Under scrutiny, the Republicans are forced to at least discuss their opposition. The way the game is played now, Republicans merely threaten to drag things out and Democrats quickly cave. Forcing someone like Mitch McConnell to actually keep a team awake on the floor, for days, would make the Republicans pay a greater cost for their obstructionism .

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