For those of us on the train for Senate reform, Elizabeth Drew's Politico piece is worth reading, as she offers a very strong -- and very convincing -- defense of the chamber's status quo. The short of her argument is that reformers are vastly overstating the extent to which the body is paralyzed or "dysfunctional"; by and large, Drew argues, this Senate has "essentially met all of the president's major goals," including one of the most significant public-policy "breakthroughs" in a generation. Yes, the Senate hasn't moved on climate change and immigration, but as Drew notes, those are issues where there is significant disagreement within the Democratic caucus.
As I've argued before, I think this line of defense misses the damage intense minority obstruction does to the Senate's other priorities; in addition to passing legislation, the Senate is responsible for confirming the president's executive-branch and judicial nominees. Thanks to the filibuster and other parliamentary maneuvers, GOP senators have kept hundreds of executive-branch nominees and dozens of judges from filling their positions. President Obama has the lowest judicial confirmation rate of any president in the last 30 years, and for a long time, key executive-branch agencies were pitifully understaffed.
That said, there's a lot Drew gets right in her piece, and this in particular needs to be said more often:
A lot of people also confused the fact that for the first time in 30 years a party, in this case the Democrats, had 60 votes (actually, 58 Democrats and two independents who caucused with them) with the idea that it automatically had 60 progressive votes, or 60 votes for the president's program, which it rarely had. Some of those 60 are moderates from more conservative states (or smaller states, which have disproportionate power in the Senate). Also, Democrats technically had 60 votes for only seven of the 13 months of this Congress so far.
Generally speaking, I don't think progressives do enough to grapple with the fact that they are neither a majority in the country nor a majority within the Democratic Party. The health-care bill is instructive here; in many ways, it represents a compromise within the Democratic Party and an attempt to balance the interests of the major Democratic factions within a single piece of legislation. Moderates and independents have far more electoral influence, and while we can -- and should -- work to move their views leftward, it's simply the case that their preferences will have more weight with Democratic leaders.
-- Jamelle Bouie
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