Over at MyDD, Chris Bowers recently posted an analysis of the extent to which Ds and Rs in the House have voted as a bloc in the early stages of this Congress. It’s sort of interesting, in the way that studies of how baseball players perform in very limited circumstaces (say, with runners in scoring position with two outs, on the road) are sort of interesting, but it also shows the danger of blowing up small distinctions into big implications.Chris’ basic take is that Republican House members are marginally more “loyal” to their party line than Democrats, who have more, if only a handful, of true “heretics.” But even those small potatoes are fluffed up misleadingly by his selection of eight “final passage” votes as “party differentiators.” As Chris knows, “final passage” votes in the House are an unreliable indicator of ideology, since (a) they ignore committee actions and amendments (on those rare occasions GOPers allow them), and (b) they reflect only those bills the Republican leadership has decided to move, generally because they are certain to pass. And they are also not exactly reliable signs of party loyalty, either, since both parties’ leaderships on occasion treat votes as “free” and don’t mind defections among Members in vulnerable districts.Still, the study was a good contribution to the general store of political knowledge. But now Chris has done a second post focusing on House Democrats who are “members of the DLC,” and finds, well, not much of anything.First, I’d like to rise to a point of personal privilege and address this “DLC membership” business, because it’s also been a source of confusion elsewhere in the blogosphere. There is one and only one way to become a “member of the DLC,” and that’s to plunk down 40 bucks and get all our stuff–policy papers, Blueprint Magazine, etc.–in the mail. There is something on our web page called the New Dem Directory (which is apparently what Chris was looking at) which is simply contact information on elected officials–most of them at the state and local levels–who have either joined some related New Dem-identified organization or participated in DLC events. It’s basically an online phone book, and the DLC has never used its contents to market itself or take credit for anybody’s career. There ain’t no membership cards, oaths, whip operations, or litmus tests. Are we straight on that?Now, most of the House Members in this online phone book are there because they are members of the House New Democratic Coalition, a completely independent group that shares a general orientation with the DLC, but neither asks for nor takes orders from anybody at 600 Pennsylvania Avenue. They tend to be from competitive or even dangerously vulnerable districts more than the rest of the Caucus, and thus are given “free votes” more often than their peers.Still with me here? Okay. Having analyzed these 39 Members on those 8 House final passage votes, Chris concludes they are “not dramatically more disloyal” than other Dems, and by at least one measure, are actually less disloyal. In others words, says Chris, “the only pattern here is that there is no pattern.” So, is he ready to bury the myth that the DLC, on secret instructions from Corporate America or Karl Rove or somebody, is leading its (non-)members into perfidy and Republicanism? No–he concludes we don’t have any clout with our(non-) members, and thus have to reason to exist other than to criticize other Democrats!Gee, seems to me that there are a whole hell of a lot of Democratic organizations out there who have had pretty much the same impact as the DLC on the votes of House members on these eight votes, i.e., none. Are they useless, too? Should we all just go out of business, unless we can demonstrate they we either dramatically increase or dramatically decrease the bloc voting of House Democrats on these eight votes? Lord knows, no other political activity, from policy development to political strategy to fundraising to grass-roots organizing, could be worth doing, right?Okay, you see my point by now. I’m not at all hostile to Chris Bowers; he’s a smart guy who is probably trying to be objective here. But he’s like a baseball manager who likes one player and dislikes another, and can always find some marginal, triple-loaded statistic to put the former in the starting lineup and send the latter to the minors. This is not how you build a winning team in baseball, or in politics.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
After reading a few days worth of carping about Joe Biden’s performance, I decided enough’s enough and responded at New York:
Joe Biden has been president of the United States for 43 days. He inherited power from a predecessor who was trying to overturn the 2020 election results via insurrection just two weeks before Inaugural Day, and whose appointees refused the kind of routine transition cooperation other administrations took for granted. His party has a four-vote margin of control in the House, and only controls the Senate via the vice presidential tie-breaking vote (along with a power-sharing arrangement with Republicans). Democratic control of the Senate was not assured until the wee hours of January 6 when the results of the Georgia runoff were clear. Biden took office in the midst of a COVID-19 winter surge, a national crisis over vaccine distribution, and flagging economic indicators.
Biden named all his major appointees well before taking office, and as recommended by every expert, pushed for early confirmation of his national security team, which he quickly secured. After some preliminary discussions with Republicans that demonstrated no real possibility of GOP support for anything like the emergency $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief and stimulus package he had promised, and noting the votes weren’t there in the Senate for significant filibuster reform, Biden took the only avenue open to him. He instructed his congressional allies to pursue the budget reconciliation vehicle to enact his COVID package, with the goal of enacting it by mid-March, when federal supplemental unemployment insurance would run out. Going the reconciliation route meant exposing the package to scrutiny by the Senate parliamentarian
,It also virtually guaranteed total opposition from congressional Republicans, which in turn meant Senate Democratic unanimity would be essential.
The House passed the massive and complex reconciliation bill on February 27, right on schedule, with just two Democratic defections, around the same time as the Senate parliamentarian, to no one’s great surprise, deemed a $15 minimum wage provision (already opposed by two Senate Democrats) out of bounds for reconciliation. The Senate is moving ahead with a modified reconciliation bill, and the confirmation of Biden’s Cabinet is chugging ahead slowly but steadily. Like every recent president, he’s had to withdraw at least one nominee – in his case Neera Tanden for the Office of Management and Budget, though the administration’s pick for deputy OMB director is winning bipartisan praise and may be substituted smoothly for Tanden.
Add in his efforts to goose vaccine distribution — which has more than doubled since he took office — and any fair assessment of Biden’s first 43 days should be very positive. But the man is currently being beset by criticism from multiple directions. Republicans, of course, have united in denouncing Biden’s refusal to surrender his agenda in order to secure bipartisan “unity” as a sign that he’s indeed the radical socialist – or perhaps the stooge of radical socialists – that Donald Trump always said he was. Progressives are incensed by what happened on the minimum wage, though it was very predictable. And media critics are treating his confirmation record as a rolling disaster rather than a mild annoyance, given the context of a federal executive branch that was all but running itself for much of the last four years.
To be clear, I found fault with Biden’s presidential candidacy early and often. I didn’t vote for him in California’s 2020 primary. I worried a lot about Biden’s fetish for bipartisanship. I support a $15 minimum wage, and as a former Senate employee, have minimal respect for the upper chamber’s self-important traditions. But c’mon: what, specifically, is the alternative path he could have pursued the last 43 days? Republican criticism is not worthy of any serious attention: the GOP is playing the same old tapes it recorded in 2009 when Barack Obama (and his sidekick Biden) spent far too much time chasing Republican senators around Washington in search of compromises they never intended to make. While they are entitled to oppose Biden’s agenda, they are not entitled to kill it.
Progressive criticism of Biden feels formulaic. Years and years of investment in the rhetoric of the eternal “fight” and the belief that outrage shapes outcomes in politics and government have led to the habit of seeing anything other than total subscription to the left’s views as a sell-out. Yes, Kamala Harris could theoretically overrule the Senate parliamentarian on the minimum wage issue, but to what end? So long as Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema oppose the $15 minimum wage, any Harris power play could easily be countered by a successful Republican amendment to strike the language in question, and perhaps other items as well. And if the idea is to play chicken with dissident Democrats over the fate of the entire reconciliation bill, is a $15 minimum wage really worth risking a $1.9 trillion package absolutely stuffed with subsidies for struggling low-income Americans? Are Fight for 15 hardliners perhaps conflating ends and means here?
Media carping about Biden’s legislative record so far is frankly just ridiculous. Presumably writing about the obscure and complicated details of reconciliation bills is hard and unexciting work that readers may find uninteresting, while treating Tanden’s travails as an existential crisis for the Biden administration provides drama, but isn’t at all true. The reality is that Biden’s Cabinet nominees are rolling through the Senate with strong confirmation votes (all but one received at least 64 votes), despite a steadily more partisan atmosphere for confirmations in recent presidencies. The COVID-19 bill is actually getting through Congress at a breakneck pace despite its unprecedented size and complexity. Trump’s first reconciliation bill (which was principally aimed at repealing Obamacare) didn’t pass the House until May 4, 2017, and never got through the Senate. Yes, Obama got a stimulus bill through Congress in February 2009, but it was less than half the size, much simpler, and more to the point, there were 59 Senate Democrats in office when it passed, which meant he didn’t even have to use reconciliation.
There’s really no exact precedent for Biden’s situation, particularly given the atmosphere of partisanship in Washington and the whole country right now, and the narrow window he and his party possess – in terms of political capital and time – to get important things done. He should not be judged on any one legislative provision or any one Cabinet nomination. So far the wins far outweigh the losses and omissions. Give the 46th president a break.