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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Session Suddenly Not So Lame

It’s increasingly apparent that the Congress which hadn’t gotten a whole lot done since the enactment of health reform legislation may well go out with a flurry of genuinely significant activity. The tax deal cleared Congress last night, even as the Senate killed an omnibus appropriations bill leaving most discretionary spending decisions to the next session. And it looks like the repeal of DADT is back on track for a stand-alone vote. Prospects for ratification of START are less robust, but there’s still a chance a vote could be held in time to coincide with commemoration of the birth of the Prince of Peace.
The tax deal vote (see the roll call results here) went pretty much as expected; the key political factor was that a narrow majority of Democrats (139-112) voted “aye,” which means the White House is not openly aligned against the president’s own party (contrast that with key votes of the Clinton administration, including NAFTA and welfare reform, where a majority of House Democrats split with the president).
“No” Democratic votes were mostly from the more liberal wing of the party (including, interestingly, quite a few folks in leadership), but with a decent sprinkling of deficit hawks. Lame ducks mostly voted “aye.”
The appropriations vote was notable for the defection of nine Republican senators who had earlier supported (and in some cases helped write) the omnibus bill. But that outcome became virtually certain when it became obvious earmarks were the glue used to put together the legislation. Tea Party types led by Jim DeMint succeeded in creating a virtual litmus test against earmarks, so the bill was sure to go down. This also means House Republicans will be responsible for writing appropriations measures of their upon taking over the chamber next month; that will force some interesting decisions and expose some important intra-GOP rifts.
If DADT and START get Senate votes, it will represent a pretty impressive win by Harry Reid in overcoming Republican dilatory tactics, and a pretty strong finish for this Congress.

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