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The Trouble With Bipartisanship

Something I'd like to highlight from Robin Toner's Bill Frist profile (my emphasis):

At the moment, though, Dr. Frist faces what looks like a solid wall of Democratic opposition and suspicion, particularly on Social Security. Mr. Reid said Tuesday that every Democrat in the Senate now opposed Mr. Bush's proposal for diverting payroll taxes to private accounts. Democrats say they are still angry over their leaders being shut out of the conference committee that worked out the final Medicare law, legislation affecting 40 million Americans. They also remember Dr. Frist traveling to South Dakota to campaign against the Democratic leader, Mr. Daschle, who was defeated.
Getting "angry" about that is rather beside the point. The point is simply that it demonstrates that there's no point in forming bipartisan legislative compromises in the United States Senate. The Republican Senate leadership demonstrated, through their handling of the conference committee process on that bill, that the whole negotiating process was undertaken in bad faith. Now I sincerely hope this doesn't mean we never again see a bipartisan piece of legislation pass, but unless Frist et. al. manage to explicitly and credibly disavow the use of this tactic, there simply aren't any deals to be brokered. Democrats should forgive (i.e., don't do things because you're "angry") but never forget. You don't bargain with people who don't stick to the deals they've made.

February 2, 2005 | Permalink


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» He'z Da Doctah from Pandagon
Bill Frist will cut you up like an autopsy, bitches, and you best to watch out. 'Specially you, Ted Kennedy. "I can play hardball as well as anybody," he said, unprompted, at the end of a recent interview. "That's what... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 2, 2005 10:12:12 AM

» Frist profile from Stygius
It sets out the difficult position Frist has constructed for himself, as he simultaneously tries to be (a) in charge, (b) the President's man, (c) presidential material for 2008 and (d) successful. Frist needs all of these things to work together f... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 2, 2005 4:10:02 PM


Angry? Snakebit would be more like it. If the snake bites, quit handling it unless it has been defanged. The Dems are right to play hardball. Especially when the legislation is rotten.

Posted by: bakho | Feb 2, 2005 1:07:23 AM

Too often what I read about the behind-the-curtain Senate leads me to believe that at least Democratic Senators value their personal relationships with other Senators more than principle or constituent service.

My personal belief is that at least every public relationship should be perceived as negative. The starting premise should be Hobbesian or Sartrean:your boss, coworker, client, partner is dedicated to your complete destruction to his own advantage. Once that is accepted, then you sit down to talk. There will be no misunderstandings. While friendship may be possible, it should be ignored in negotiations and transactions. I would tentatively consider applying this same principle in the home.

I did not elect my Senator to be Frist's good buddy, ore part of the "Club." That the Democrats are hurt or disappointed shows just how despicable a group of cowards they are.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Feb 2, 2005 1:08:51 AM

Reid has been a more effective leader than I had hoped he would be.

One consequence of that may be Republican disillusionment with MR. Frist and a weakening in, or even abandonment of his current position as the presumed heir to the regime. If he gets his ass handed to him time and time again until the end of his term, the GOP won't want him as their standard bearer. They disliked Lott for his compromises with the Dems, after all, and Frist has a stronger to begin with. So he'll lose Rove and be remembered as Howard Baker with a Indonesias stamp in his passport.

At the same time, I am convinced that Frist resides on the "beatable" side of the GOP field. Less so than, say, Brownback, but still, Senators don't win, Frist's delivery isn't great, and his life story isn't that inspiring (even though Kevin Kline did almost play him in a movie). It would be nice to have him fill the John Kerry role and be just strong enough to get the nomination but fail in the general. Without Frist around, Rove and Co. could well turn to McCain, Rudy, or Condi. Considering how the whole Jeffords thing and Lott thing played out, knocking Bill around will probably backfire to tragic results.

Posted by: SamAm | Feb 2, 2005 1:39:57 AM

It would be nice if the Democrats have finally awakened to the fact that the current incarnation of the Republican party is hell bent on complete destruction of the Democratic party as a political force. There is no point in working with them -- they will stab Dems in the back every damn time. It's a sad statement about the state of our government, but that is the reality.

Any bipartisanship in the current situation is another nail in the Dems coffin.

Posted by: Timothy Klein | Feb 2, 2005 3:08:04 AM

i was only a baby then, but later on, i remember reading about the senate in the 1950s, when everett dirksen, gop, illinois, and lyndon johnson, demo, texas, used to disagree about items -- the gop wasn't ready to dismantle the new deal yet -- but it seemed they could live with each other afterward.

not so now, at least in the house, where tom delay, unfortunately, still has power, and hasert is his puppet.

i blame the evangelical christians who are running the gop. disagree with them on anything, and you're a heretic/sinner/traitor.

Posted by: harry near indy | Feb 2, 2005 3:59:08 AM

For the life of me, I can't figure out how Frist, a member of one party, helping to campaign against Daschle, a member of the other party, could be construed as some kind of bad faith. As for being locked out of the conference comittee, I suppose it is unfortunate that the Republican leadership are aping some of the shit Democrats pulled when THEY controlled Congress...

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Feb 2, 2005 5:30:33 AM

The Scorpion and the Frog.

A frog and a scorpion are standing next to a river, and the scorpion asks the frog for a ride. I'd be a fool to do that, says the frog, you're a scorpion. Yes, says the scorpion, but I'd be a fool to sting you, I'd drown. So they set out, and sure enough ,the scorpion stings the frog. Why did you do that?, says the frog, you'll drown. True, says the scorpion, but I'm a scorpion.
I look forward to watching the scorpion drown.

Posted by: John Isbell | Feb 2, 2005 7:38:36 AM

Liberals see the world as inclusive. Everyone deserves equal opportunity and access, including conservatives. There is a place for conservatives in the liberals’ world; however the opposite is not true for conservatives. Conservatives are exclusive. There is no place for liberals in the conservative world. Conservatives are seemly incapable of realizing that if everyone left of center disappeared the center would then be the left, and even now, if you are far enough to the right the center seems left to you.

A world with out liberals is a fascist state. I don’t know what you call a world without conservatives, since being conservative in outlook is the more natural state. Liberalism comes with enlightenment.

Posted by: scout29c | Feb 2, 2005 8:08:32 AM

It's not that there's no place for you. It's merely that, since you lost so many elections, and don't have a majority in Congress anymore, you should stop expecting to get your way. You can still have an effect if you can peel enough Republicans off on this issue or that to put together a temporary majority, but barring that, expect to be frustrated a lot.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Feb 2, 2005 8:33:02 AM

Well it's about time. I'd like to see angry Democrats act together to stand up. It would be a welcome change from years gone by.

Posted by: J. | Feb 2, 2005 8:44:44 AM

Brett: "don't have a majority in Congress anymore, you should stop expecting to get your way"

And since the rules of the Senate require a 60-vote
supermajority to push anything through, and the
current Republican leadership has acted in a way
which eliminates any meaningful bipartisanship,
you too should stop expecting to get your way.

It's a long 2 years to the next elections, but if
Republicans want to run on a platform of "we want
to gut Social Security, and those mean Democrats
won't let us", we'll look forward to it.

Posted by: Richard Cownie | Feb 2, 2005 9:10:03 AM

The bad faith isn't campaigning against Daschle. It's proposing compromise Senate bills to get something passed, and then removing all the compromise bits from it them in conference committee. When legisltaors vote for a bill, the expectation is that what they're voting for is what's written in the bill on the table. Not whatever the GOP later decides they were voting on.

Conference committees are supposed to reconcile two competing bills, not toss one out the window in favor of the more partisan one from the House. And since the GOP leadership has started using them in the latter way, it means that every single bill they propose in the Senate is in bad faith. They have no intention of actually instituting any of the compromises proposed in Senate bills. So any Democratic Senator must realize that, any bill they vote for is the GOP House version of the bill, regardless what window dressing the Senate GOP puts in to try and fool them.

Posted by: Doug Turnbull | Feb 2, 2005 9:25:31 AM

Yeah, but that 60 vote rule can go, any time 51 members decide they no longer want to put up with it. I suspect you're going to convince them of that fairly quickly.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Feb 2, 2005 9:25:56 AM

"I suppose it is unfortunate that the Republican leadership are aping some of the shit Democrats pulled when THEY controlled Congress..."

More mythology from Brett to explain why his party is fucking democracy. Even if it were true, which it is not, "they did it first" is simply not a defensible moral or ethical position, it doesn't show principles, character, responsbility, or leadership.

But a revealing window into the psychological development of this group, is it not?

Republican congressman who've been around since the eighties and aren't total wingnuts will tell you it's never been vicious like it has been in the past four years. I particularly like the incident where Republican committee members called capitol police and tried to Democrats arrested for complaining about being locked out of committee.

I guess we should just talk begin talking about how Republicans do not have the high-minded principles they lay claim to -- while awaiting the next screwing, of course. I gather from Brett's body of commentary he feels we still haven't paid for foisting the New Deal on decent, hard-working Americans. And wait until you see the punishment they have in store for waging the War of Northern Aggression! Welcome to Bellmore's New Republican America, where only might makes right.

Posted by: glitter | Feb 2, 2005 9:26:22 AM

>Yeah, but that 60 vote rule can go, any time 51 members decide they no longer want to put

And if you invoke that nuclear option, there are
plenty of procedural roadblocks which the minority
can use to shut down all business, such as
insisting that the full text of all bills be
read aloud in session (I believe this requirement
can be waived only by unanimous consent).

"Democracy" is not just an elective dictatorship
where 51% can completely ignore the other 49% -
it requires the consent of the governed, and if
you don't have some level of consent from the 49%,
you're going to have big big trouble.

Ultimately you have to answer to the electorate,
and on the polls I've seen there is massive
support for Social Security in its current form.

Posted by: Richard Cownie | Feb 2, 2005 9:54:13 AM

"such as insisting that the full text of all bills be read aloud in session"

Do that. PLEASE. I would be delighted beyond words, and I'm not being snarky here. Anything to slow the flood of new laws, and spike the practice of sneaking things into bills, and forcing votes before anybody knows what's in them.

""Democracy" is not just an elective dictatorship where 51% can completely ignore the other 49%"

Oh, I agree. But don't confuse 49% of the legislature with 49% of the governed. The "governed" aren't filibustering, THEY aren't Senators.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Feb 2, 2005 10:26:20 AM

Democrats should forgive (i.e., don't do things because you're "angry") but never forget. You don't bargain with people who don't stick to the deals they've made.

Agreed. When I look at "bipartisanship" as it exists between Democrats and Republicans, I always think of the research on Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma (e.g. http://askpang.typepad.com/relevant_history/2003/12/evolution_of_co.html) in which the best strategy seems to be "tit for tat": start out cooperating, but defect in kind whenever your opponent fails to cooperate. This also mirrors common sense. Instead, the default strategy of Democrats is the iterated "maybe they'll be nice to us this time" method and it drives me up a wall--just the way it always frustrates me to watch people make the exact mistake over and over again, but also because I can usually predict that the "bipartisan" legislation will look almost exactly like what Republicans want. Democrats get zero credit for whatever window-dressing they won by cooperating, but appear to endorse the legislation, making it difficult to function as a credible opposition.

It's good to see signs that Democrats may finally be getting the message after the disasters of 2002 and 2004. At this point, it may be too late to do much. Democrats only have themselves to blame that Bush is as powerful as he is now. They gave him nearly everything he wanted (notably tax cuts and the Iraq war). He'll probably be surprised that Social Security privatization isn't as easy to railroad through. Unfortunately, the numbers are now in Bush's favor.

bob mcmanus: Too often what I read about the behind-the-curtain Senate leads me to believe that at least Democratic Senators value their personal relationships with other Senators more than principle or constituent service.

Yeah. I was thinking about something similar after reading the Fred Barnes article on Democrats as the "ruthless party" (gimme a break). I'd like for once to hear an Democratic representative say: Look, civility is all well and good, but my first responsibility is to work for my constituents, particularly the ones who voted for me.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Feb 2, 2005 10:27:09 AM

Bi-partianship is just another name for date rape. - Grover Norquist

Posted by: Armasgettin' | Feb 2, 2005 10:59:17 AM

I sympathize with McManus, but politics is about the art of the possible, and compromise and working out deals with people you oppose is the name of the game. The fact that Frist hasn't dealt in a fair, responsible way has to have some lasting impact, and I have to think that Social Security dismantling is largely a dead duck unless someone's going at it very creatively and Frist is largely absent from the process. I think Bush is going to find his agenda stymied and Senate Republicans will be scrambling to get even the basic things (like a budget) accomplished. As much as they may feel confident - or more likely overconfident - about their election chances, there seems to be a growing sense that every Republican from the northeast has very little room to maneuver on things like SS without risking their seats.

Posted by: weboy | Feb 2, 2005 11:23:16 AM

Brett: "But don't confuse 49% of the legislature with 49% of the governed."

Bush got about 51% of the vote (in an election with some documented flaws,
but that isn't important right now). He didn't give any
details of his SS reform during the campaign - and in fact when
he was accused of wanting to privatize SS, he denied it - so it
seems unlikely that even those 51% would favor his SS plan.
So on the issue of SS privatization, the Democrat "minority" is
probably representing the views of at least 49% of the electorate
(and more, if polls on this specific issue are to be believed).

I'm also somewhat interested in how many votes nationwide were
cast for Dems vs Repubs in House races and Senate races. Of
course it's well-known that the Senate massively over-represents
the voters in small states. But with gerrymandering of the
House, it's not clear whether that represents the will of the
people either.

It's one thing to start tweaking the rules
to try to pass laws which have broad
popular support (IIRC this was FDR's
approach); it's dangerously different to
try to change the rules to push through
laws against popular opposition. I hope
this ends in a disaster for the Republicans; but I also hope we still have
a functioning Constitution at the end of it.

Posted by: Richard Cownie | Feb 2, 2005 11:38:56 AM

Actually, what conference committees are doing now is a lot more drastic than just tossing "one out the window in favor of the more partisan one from the House".

There have been instances where a provision made it into the final bill written by conference committee even though it wasn't in either the House or the Senate bill. There have been instances of that even when both houses specifically rejected that provision.

This is a huge change from the way Congress used to function, and not just because it means compromise is impossible in either house. It means that the votes of individual legislators are irrelevant, because decisions of consequence are made by the leadership alone. It means that Congress has turned into someting a lot more like parliamentary systems (except without the institutions that make parliamentary systems work well), where the only important vote an individual MP makes is for the leadership.

More voters need to be aware of this change, because it has a huge consequence for how they need to cast their votes. It means that when someone is running for Congress, the only thing you should pay attention to is party affiliation.

Posted by: Matt Austern | Feb 2, 2005 11:54:39 AM

We are still misunderestimating Bushco. The SS debate has been set up by the last four years of fiscal and monetary policy. I would also say military and foreign policy, as the Iraq War and the way it has been managed has been a very convenient money pit.

By next summer, Allan Greenspan will go to Senate hearings and truthfully be able to say that if Bush's SS Plan is not passed and the Stock Market is not given a huge boos, the Stock/Bond Markets, the dollar, the housing market, and the domestic and international economies may all crash & burn. And Greenspan will be right. Bushco are hardball gamblers, and cannot depend on a fake crisis, so they have created a real crisis.

Now fucking scumball Harry Reid has not prepared for this by making it clear that Republicans like Bellmore would send the world into depression and possible catastrophic war for the sake of their tax cuts. Reid et al will be given the choice of compromising (90% in Bush's direction) on SS or sending the world into hell. They will cave, as they caved on Iraq, because the threat on Iraq was that Bush was going to go to war over the Senate's express legal disapproval, and the cowards couldn't face that Constitutional Crisis.

My personal preference is to send the world to hell, for it could not be worse, even deprssion and Nuclear War, than what currently leads and controls, and the Reids of the world will only get a spine when they have guns pointed at their kids.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Feb 2, 2005 12:51:33 PM

I'll ask the crowd. Come June-July 2005, we are, at Bush's discretion, in a shooting war with Iran, with Iraq in chaos.

Oil thru disruption and uncertainty is at $75 dollars a barrel. At that level East Asian economies can't sustain high production anyway, so they stop financing our debt. Dollar goes to 75 yen. GDP is at 1% annualized and falling. Interest rates are at 5 and climbing.

Exactly what do you expect Reid to do, when Greenspan says the only way out is to recapitalize using the SS trustfund? If he was going to go to total war with Repubs, he should have done it three years ago.

You are all so full of shit, you thought Kerry had a chance. Now you think you got Bush beat on SS. Christ.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Feb 2, 2005 1:57:07 PM

"when Greenspan says the only way out is to recapitalize using the SS trustfund?"

Ok, I'm dumb: Since the SS "trustfund" is all just treasury bonds, nothing but IOUs from the government, to the government, how the hell do you "recapitalize using the SS trustfund"?

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Feb 2, 2005 2:30:21 PM

"how the hell do you "recapitalize using the SS trustfund"?"

Ok,Ok you got me. Since the transition costs are borrowed, only the illusion of recapitalization.
But assets in America, measured in Euros, have lost a lot of value in the first Bush term, and a guaranteed steady influx of dollars will at least create something that looks like a rise in asset values. Be just another Ponzi, tho.

Note the only point Bellmore disagreed with.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Feb 2, 2005 3:23:58 PM

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