Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Minor Reaction to Senate Compromise

The Principle-Agent problem is fun!

We all can figure out pretty quickly that Democratic Senators != Democratic activists and they have different interests. But rarely do they differ so much as today. And whose interests are better, for the party and for the country?

The Democratic deterrent to the nuclear option was to stop all Senate procedures by ignoring deference to the majority, and constantly proposing any bills it liked for the remainder of the term. This was just as wonderful sounding to Democratic activists and pundits, as Justice Sunday was to the right. And make no mistake, this would be just as big an overhaul of everything the Senate stands for as anything the GOP was doing (but the Senate has “crossed a line no one has crossed before” many times in its history anyway).

But the idea of nothing happening in the Senate was so drool-worthy (even to me). No Social Security reform, no vote on John Bolton, no tax cuts, no other misadventures for Bush, and instead a huge black eye for the Republicans and utter failure for their ability to funnel money to corporate interests. Of course it’s only the Republican party that wants to satisfy interest groups with everyday legislation, not our own honorable minority. And of course while we keep the Senate dead for 2 years we’ll win the political fight before the public, by trumpeting what a bad judge Priscilla Owen is!

Get real. The Senate Democrats had mouths to feed too. Not everything that goes through Congress now (and wouldn’t if things were stalled) was going to be utterly inimical to them and their backers. You can call this corruption, or maybe just taking care of their home states with pork, or maybe you’re a part of one of those interest groups (a farmer, or a corporate world researcher, or… well almost anything really). But the fact is that any Senator has their interests in mind, and not just partisan liberalism – otherwise the Senate would have stalled centuries ago. Activists and pundits can only see the world in absolutes, so they didn’t see what a huge loss this would be for the various parties involved.

Sometimes we value non-partisaness in our representatives. No, not just from the other party *smile*. Clearly there are things that need to be accomplished on behalf of the people, new ideas entering the world that aren’t solely about one party’s established mindset. And the degree to which anything is stopped for political symbolism at the expense of practical results is usually pretty bad. On the other hand, “bipartisan” indeed can just be another word for corruption. Jack Abramoff worked with Democrats and Republicans alike, and any good urban liberal has to admit that Democrats have been some of the worst offenders when it comes to farm subsidies.

Dem activists today aren’t feeling as betrayed as Republican activists. They feel they expected nothing, and are glad to get something. And they feel positive momentum, even if it’s fueled by the public’s boredom with economic discussions and regular atrocities out of Iraq. But it’s still very important to keep in mind that a pundit is not actually the party. But then, neither is a Senator that would vote for someone they consider evil so they can make sure Peoria gets a new agricultural research center.


At 9:20 AM, Blogger Neil Sinhababu said...

So, is the argument here that it wouldn't be good for the Senate to shut down? Or that most Senators wouldn't like it, on balance? I deny the first but accept the second.

With the Republicans in control, anything that increases voter dissatisfaction with Congress helps us. Especially as terrorism fades from public view, I don't think the criticism of Democrats as obstructionists really influences any votes. We'd also get good optics out of him forcing votes on all those happy pieces of legislation to lower gas prices and help veterans.

It's also unclear how far Reid's shutdown would be applied. I don't see why he'd have to shut down every last project. He could just ask for the endless procedural motions on things he didn't like, and let innocuous stuff slide by.

At 9:36 AM, Blogger Rousseau said...

1. It was unclear how Reid would work this exactly. Dissolving deference would basically mean so much can happen that no order can be formed. He said he would let the budget and national security stuff go through, but it's hard to see how when you've openned the doors to eternal chaos.

2. He can't "let innocuous stuff" slide by. It was a threat, of harm to both sides. The reason this was scary (and not done before) is because it was really a true filibuster, it stops everything and you can't pick up again. Senators definitely want and need the small things, and it was only the threat of losing those that gave Dems any bargaining power here.

In particular, the judges would get passed. It's simply that in reaction, Dems crush the Senate. There's no way republicans can cut a deal later on and bring the senate back around, because the worst has already been done and can't be undone. Whereas for the next year and a half Dems will be stalling things, and seem like a whiny boy saying "well you fucked me over, and now I'm screwing you", which no does not play well to anyone except the person who was fucked.

3. The argument here is that we are naive amateurs, with both the good and bad things of idealists. The pundits really do think it's only about making GOP look bad or whatnot. Shutting down the Senate had real costs that the Senators appreciate, far more than this one political battle. That attitude of some liberal pundits that it's only Republican crony interest groups who lose out and that means a win on two counts, was very silly.

Now, was it a good thing that pork will continue to role through? Do we want a Congress that does nothing but adhere to party-ideology and the tactics of making the other party look bad? I like ultra-partisanship myself, but I realize other people don't. We might hate GOP senators running the show at times, but the idea of GOP pundits running the show seems so much worse.

I think the compromise was a loss of liberal ideals to pork.

At 10:22 PM, Anonymous guile said...

nice, cozy place you got here :)..

At 9:17 AM, Blogger Rousseau said...

Glad you enjioy it guile. May I ask how you found it?


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