Congressional Democrats are making some meandering progress on pushing through the Obama plan tax cuts. But it’s hard to go more than five minutes without seeing examples of how so many of the folks on the Hill just cannot get their head free of the kind of legislative and procedural myopia that makes it almost impossible to win elections when you don’t have a president of the opposite party in office with approval ratings in the 20s or 30s percent. What’s worse, a lot of politicos around the country who aren’t even on Capitol Hill seem to have the same myopia even though they’re not up there with their nose in the rules of parliamentary procedure.
When I dial in on what’s happening up on the Hill I hear a bunch of talk about what sorts of parliamentary tricks and procedural maneuvers they can use to maybe kinda get an Obama Tax Cut bill through for incomes under $250k per year.
And then we get emails like this one from TPM Reader MB (and apologies to MB but this email is just too illustrative) …
Why should Pelosi take the fall? Why not Harry Reid?
Pelosi got burned on the Climate bill shepherding blue dogs to vote for the bill. We all know what happened in the senate. Why should she repeat the same performance without getting concrete assurances that the senate would vote on a similar bill?
Someone please tell me where on this blogging interface I can find the button for the primal scream emoticon because this just should not be so complicated.
There’s no ‘fall’ to take. It’s as simple as that. And frankly, there are really no legislative tricks that should be necessary. This is not a matter of the House Democrats need to stick their chin out and worry that the Senate won’t back them up.
Who cares? They don’t need the Senate to back them up. This isn’t a matter of saying legislators need to be brave and suck it up and do the right thing regardless of the consequences. This is something — just holding the vote — they should want to do for the most mercenary of reasons — because it helps them politically and hurts their Republican opponents. The fact that it’s good for the economy, good for the people struggling most in the recession, and good for the longterm health of the economy is just gravy on top.
Strictly in political terms, even if nothing else happens, the Democrats (should) want to have that vote in the House. If the Senate acts and it becomes law, great. But still good for the Democrats even if that doesn’t happen. That’s because — and it’s worrisome that people don’t get this — this isn’t like the climate bill. Get real. The climate bill wasn’t popular. Should have been popular. Was popular when you explained it to people in polls in highly structured questions. But lots of members of Congress weren’t willing to vote for it because they knew they’d pay a price politically. This bill is popular. And it shouldn’t require saying but that makes all the difference. All evidence and all logic suggests that congressional Republicans do not want to be forced to vote on such a bill. Why? Obvious. Because it puts their own beliefs and commitments on the wrong side of public opinion. And you never want that right before an election. And that’s exactly why Democrats should want it. It’s like Democrats have gotten so used to taking votes that think are right but don’t have strong public support that it’s hard to get your head around the idea that there are some votes you want to take precisely because they do put you on the side of public opinion. In this case, in political terms, as opposed to policy terms, it’s largely irrelevant whether the Senate gets to or passes the bill.
Elections are about choices. And each side is constantly maneuvering to find the question to frame an election around that is most advantageous to their side. The most effective way to do that is to find advantageous votes that formalize positions, get everyone on the record about where they stand — a point Republicans seem intuitively more able to grasp. Often you end up having elections framed around nonsense issues — made-up symbolic issues like flag-burning or the War Against Christmas or whatever else. That can work politically but it’s pretty weak in civic terms. Sometimes though you can frame elections on issues that are not only politically advantageous but are questions that are critical ones for the country.
So how do you manage to find the right issue to take into an election? It depends on whether you’re for anything the public likes, obviously, and also whether you control the legislative mechanics and can force a vote on your terms. And this is the case where the Dems have both. And it’s right on the civics and for the Democrats right on the politics to get everyone on the record, not in vague statements but in a vote, on where they stand.
If the Democrats do this right they can do at least two and possibly four of the following: 1) get a good issue to take into the mid-terms, 2) sow divisions among Republicans between ones who want to duck a tough vote and those who want to hold out on principle, 3) get good policy that will help fight the recession and 4) make it vastly more difficult for the Republicans to push through extensions of the tax cuts. The first two are basically a lock. The second two depend on whether they’re able to get the bill through the Senate.
It’s one thing if you can’t take the hard votes. But if you can’t even take the easy votes, what’s the point?
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.