Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Yes, this is the best health reform we can get right now

If you're a liberal who's grumbling right now about the tyranny of Joe Lieberman and the spinelessness of Barack Obama and feels, like Howard Dean, that the Democrats should scuttle health reform in its current form, let me recommend two posts to you. One is by Brendan Nyhan, describing the Green Lantern theory of politics (the idea that you can do anything with enough will). The other is by Jonathan Bernstein, talking about what would actually be necessary to get more liberal legislation passed.

The long and short of it is that there are not sixty votes in the Senate for a public option or Medicare expansion and there never were. The fact that the sixtieth most liberal member of the Senate is now the biggest veto player out there isn't, in my opinion, just or desirable, but that's what the rise of the sixty-vote Senate has wrought. If we had majority rule in the Senate, or if the Senate didn't exist, we'd have a public option right now. But that's not the world we currently live in.

Jonathan Ladd recently tweeted that the two parties seem to do things differently: Democrats are Krehbielians and Republicans are McCoxers. Translated, this means that when Democrats run things, legislation is determined by the median member of the chamber, and when Republicans are in charge, legislation is determined by the median member of the party. Translated further, this means that Republicans know how to enforce party discipline and Democrats don't.

There may be some truth to this, although I think we're really talking about differences in chambers. Pelosi has pretty consistently pushed through as liberal legislation as seems possible in the House. Reid is confounded by the fact that on controversial issues, he doesn't even have a functional majority caucus. There are 59 Democrats. Lieberman sometimes votes with them, unless he doesn't want to. To the extent you need 60 votes to do anything, Reid can't do anything. Applying pressure to Lieberman is useless and quite possibly counterproductive.


Marc, formerly Lidzville said...

Why is the response to Lieberman's actions always "let's sack Lieberman," rather than "let's sack Reid for constantly needing Lieberman." At this point the long term strategy has to be to deny Lieberman leverage, not give him some and then manage it, right?

Seth Masket said...

I think the only way to deny Lieberman leverage is to basically kick him out of the caucus. He probably responds by joining the GOP or at least voting with them more. That may not seem much different from the status quo right now, but Lieberman voted with the Dems just last weekend on a big spending bill that included funds for needle exchanges. He'll likely vote with the Dems on cap-and-trade. Dems could lose this vote and likely couldn't replace it with entreaties to Collins or Snowe.

Lieberman has leverage because that's how he's positioned himself, not because of how Reid has treated him. He has no loyalty to any party and is a very safe incumbent, so no one can really pressure him. He also apparently has no loyalty to any policies, or at least he's willing to see policies he once cared about lose as long as it keeps him pivotal in the Senate.

Jonathan Bernstein said...

I agree except that I don't think he's a safe incumbent at all; I think he's almost certainly basically serving out his last term, although he might not think of it that way.

I don't see what Reid could do to avoid needing moderate Senators (with Holy Joe not the only one). I assume Reid (and the WH) are doing all they can to persuade the Mainers to switch, but that's about the limit of things.

Marc said...

That's a pretty convincing explanation. Looks like the only option is a scandal. I'll put up the first fifty to hire either a a good PI or one of Spitzer's ex's -- or both.

Seth Masket said...

Remember Alfred's lesson from Dark Knight: "Some men just want to watch the world burn."