The holidays are just around the corner, and the preparatory legislative sausage-making on Capitol Hill is in full swing. What a happy, happy time of year!
Well, perhaps not. In fact, almost nobody has been happy with the way the past week shaped up. Except possibly Republicans, but they've been pretty quiet either way, so it's hard to tell.
The week started out with cloture votes in the Senate on two competing tax proposals by Democrats. Both failed. Each got only 53 votes. Soon after, President Obama announced the deal he had worked out with the Republican leadership. Howls of rage were soon heard from Democrats up on Capitol Hill, and across the land. The president then gave a press conference, visibly and vocally annoyed with just about everyone in the process. Liberals fixated on the strong words he had for them, ignoring the strong words he had for Republicans. Republicans... well, like I said, Republicans have mostly been laying low this week. By week's end, some Democrats were in open revolt against the deal. As I write this, Senator Bernie Sanders is conducting a largely pointless exercise on the Senate floor -- but one guaranteed to seduce the media into calling it a "filibuster" (look for the abundant references to Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, which can't be far behind), even though it is not. After he's done speaking, precisely nothing will have changed. But it does make for good television, I guess.
Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senator Joe Lieberman are playing an extended game of "chicken" with Republican moderate Senator Susan Collins of Maine, over repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT). Collins had been negotiating to move DADT repeal (as part of the military's annual budget bill) to the Senate floor. These negotiations broke down over Collins' increasing demands that the clock, in essence, be run out on the matter -- but with enough political cover for her back in Maine. Reid didn't blink, and moved the matter to the floor. Republicans blocked the debate, meaning for the first time in 48 years -- in the midst of two wars, no less -- the Pentagon's budget won't be passed by Congress. Republicans appear not to be paying much of a political price for doing so, due to Democrats' complete inability to hammer them over the issue. DADT repeal has now been stripped out of the Pentagon budget, and will be brought up as a stand-alone bill, which may actually improve its chances for passage.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, passed the DREAM Act, and moved it over to the Senate, where chances for its passage are slim. This was after she successfully held a vote on passing tax cuts for all but the extremely wealthy last week -- one of the bills that only got 53 votes in the Senate. To the end of her Speakership, Pelosi proves her leadership skills are the best of any Democrat in Congress.
But these side issues were mostly ignored, due to the tax cut issues sucking all the oxygen from Washington. All told, it was a graphic look inside the sausage factory, which is a nauseating experience for the public (who don't work there on a daily basis).
Before we get to the main award, we've got to hand out a few minor ones.
Our first Honorable Mention goes to Bernie Sanders, who is technically not even a Democrat (but since we made the rules, we can bend them at will). Sanders is still speaking, showing an amazing amount of stamina. He's tilting at a windmill, but he's giving it everything he's got, you've got to at least admire that. The tax bill isn't even scheduled for a vote until Monday, meaning Sanders' extended floor speech -- currently six hours long and counting -- is not actually a filibuster. He's not holding up a vote by speaking, in other words. But for giving voice to an overwhelming amount of frustration out there, he's going to emerge from the experience as an even-bigger hero to the Left. Which at least deserves a mention.
Our second Honorable Mention goes to Joe Lieberman (who also isn't even technically a Democrat, but we're playing fast and loose with the rules this week, so deal with it). Lieberman has been tenaciously fighting to get DADT repealed before the Senate adjourns for the year. Together with Harry Reid -- who also deserves an Honorable Mention this week -- he has been strongly standing up to Republican obstructionism on the matter. The outcome is still uncertain, but without Lieberman and Reid showing some backbone, the issue would be dead as a doornail right now. Which is why they deserve recognition.
But the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award this week is not going to make me any fans, I realize, because it goes to none other than President Barack Obama.
[Picture me ducking from a shower of rotten fruit launched from the peanut gallery.]
Hey, c'mon, give me a chance to explain, OK?
[Another rain of rotten fruit, with one particularly-well-thrown ripe tomato hitting me square in the face...]
Jeez, just how much rotten fruit did you guys bring?
Seriously, though, Obama was faced with a near-impossible situation. He made the best deal he thought was possible under the circumstances, and he's been defending it ever since.
Now, you may not like the deal. In fact, you may loathe it. I'm not exactly a big fan of the deal myself. In fact, the deal stinks. But Obama, in making the deal, was just doing what a lot of people have been begging him to do for a long, long time -- get his hands dirty.
All throughout the healthcare reform debate, pundits were calling on Obama to take a stand -- any stand. He mostly sat on the sidelines, instead. I fully admit, I was one of those calling on Obama to get involved in the dealmaking process and lead. I called on Obama to do this repeatedly. So did a lot of other folks out there.
Well, that's exactly what Obama just did. Granted, he didn't fight hard for what the Left wanted in his dealmaking; but in terms of how it was handled, it was 180 degrees from how he's handled most legislation so far. Instead of mouthing platitudes from the sidelines, and then signing literally anything in an attempt to score a political victory, Obama this time chose to wade directly into the fray himself. As I said, he didn't lead in the direction a lot of Democrats wanted him to, but he did lead.
And, as he saw it, he got the best deal he could. Many disagree with his reading of the situation, but upon close examination, it is hard to see how any other outcome could have been better for Democrats. Let's examine these other possible outcomes, to see what I'm talking about.
Scenario One: Democrats only allow votes on tax cuts for incomes under a certain amount ($250,000 or a million, take your pick). This passes in the House (it already did), but dies in the Senate as Republicans vote en masse against it. Democrats refuse to allow any other tax cut vote. The year ends, taxes go up for everyone, and the public blames Democrats (or Republicans, if you're a Democratic optimist). What happens next is that the 112th Congress immediately moves tax cuts that are much, much worse that the deal Obama just made through Congress. This bill passes in the new Republican House, and Republicans in the Senate beat up Democrats in public until enough of them cave and vote for it anyway. Or, Democrats successfully filibuster it. End result: either much worse tax cuts pass, or no tax cuts pass at all, and everyone's taxes go up.
Scenario Two: Democrats' efforts to kill the Obama plan work. Again, what this means is no tax cut bill passes before Congress adjourns. The end result would be exactly the same in the 112th Congress as that outlined in Scenario One.
Scenario Three: Democrats press their case so strongly and rally so much public support for their bill (which does not cut taxes on the wealthy) that it passes the Senate, as two Republicans defect from their party on what Obama called "the Holy Grail" of issues for the GOP. In this scenario, the sun also begins rising in the West; and winged monkeys file flight plans in my colon, in preparation for flying out of my butt. Seriously, this option has zero chance of success. Why should Senate Republicans cave? They know full well that (1.) if Democrats don't get anything done by the end of the year, it is a dandy blunt instrument to beat the party over the head with for years to come, and (2.) if Republicans just wait a month or so, they can likely get a better deal for their side anyway. End result: Fantasyland, where Democrats convince a few Republicans to vote with them, and thus commit political suicide. Can anyone truly make a convincing case that this is a feasible or likely outcome? I thought not.
Scenario Four: Democrats dither among themselves, because they simply cannot rally around one single idea. Competing plans are batted about for weeks, and then the clock runs out. End result: see Scenarios One and Two.
You can go on making up other scenarios, but it is very hard to see how any of them would wind up with any result which would be better for Democrats. I'm not talking about lifting the hearts of Lefties with some sort of political theater, I am talking about end results, here. With only 58 votes in the Senate, all the other outcomes seem much worse to me than the one Obama is attempting. Democrats simply don't have the votes to do what they want in the Senate. It's a hard, cold fact, but there it is.
This is the way Obama saw things. So he bargained with the Republicans. His deal turned out surprisingly better than the conventional wisdom last week was predicting. Obama got not only a one-year extension of unemployment benefits, but also a lot of stimulus-type tax cuts as well (although no Democrat is daring to use the word "stimulus" these days, that's basically what they are). And he got a deal that has a better chance of success than zero.
But while I still think the deal, overall, stinks (along with many folks), I was simultaneously impressed at the way Obama handled himself during the week. He -- unlike most Democrats in Congress -- fully realized that the clock was ticking, so he acted fast. He cut a legislative deal, which he has not exactly been known for up until now, instead preferring to give congressional Democrats all the time in the world to hash out their differences. Such endless dithering was not possible this time around, and Obama realized this. He exhibited leadership on the issue, and he has not backed down since. He is not leading in the direction I would personally choose, but he is leading.
Which is exactly what a lot of people have been demanding of him for a very long time, I hasten to point out once again. Although I realize this is not going to be a popular choice at all, this leadership earned Barack Obama the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Feel free to disagree strongly in the comments section, as always (but I would advise at least reading the next section before you do so).
[Congratulate President Barack Obama on the White House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
There certainly was no shortage of disappointing Democrats to choose from this week, that's for sure.
Senator Joe Manchin immediately springs to mind, the only Democrat to vote against DADT repeal. If the vote count goes down to the wire, Manchin may wind up being the deciding vote, one way or another. Great way to start your Senate career as a Democrat, Joe!
The handful of Democratic senators who could not bring themselves to vote for either Democratic tax plan last weekend also stood out in the field of disappointing Democrats this week. Two plans were voted on in the Senate, and they each got only 53 votes. This is precisely why Republicans were going to win this battle anyway -- because Democrats are apparently incapable of working their own intra-party differences out before they take on the Republicans.
Which brings up pretty much every Democrat in Congress -- or, at the very least, all the Democrats in the Senate. Democrats had two years to agree on a tax plan. They did not. They could have introduced bills months and months ago, and had a grand debate. They chose not to. They could have made the tax cuts the signature issue during the midterm election campaign. They were too afraid, so they did not do so. They could have coalesced around a single plan after the midterms, and then stood as one when the lame duck session started. They could not manage this. They could have rallied around one of the Democratic plans proposed before Obama had a chance to act. The House Democrats did so, but the Senate could not. They could have -- after Obama's deal was announced -- drawn a line in the sand and pushed as hard as they could for one single plan. They (to date) have not managed to do even this. To put it quite bluntly, the Democrats look more and more like the gang who couldn't shoot straight. Democrats in Congress ran the clock out on themselves in this debate. It wasn't the big, bad Republicans; it wasn't Obama giving away the store -- it was congressional Democrats who set this situation up for themselves. For them to whine now about how unfair it all is ignores the fact that they had plenty of time and plenty of chances to secure a different outcome -- all of which they blew, in spectacular fashion.
So a big (Dis-)Honorable Mention goes out to every single Democrat in Washington, just to be sure nobody gets left out. Congressional Democrats had the power to change this particular outcome. They did not use it. Which, in my book, means they have no leg to stand on now, as they loudly complain about the outcome. Political cowardice led them down this road, so for them to squabble about the destination they now find themselves at is nothing more than rank hypocrisy at this point.
But, for only the fifth time in the history of our awards here, we are awarding the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week to the person who won the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week -- Barack Obama. The only other people who have ever managed this feat are Hillary Clinton, Eric Holder, and Barack Obama himself who managed it most recently back in FTP .
Obama wins the MDDOTW award this week for the sheer volume of Democratic disappointment his deal has given rise to. Democrats across the land are disappointed in this deal, and that is putting it mildly in some cases. The denunciations and predictions of doom have been unceasing since Obama made his announcement.
Meaning that this decision was pretty much taken out of our award committee's hands -- because nobody else came close to the mountain of disappointment engendered by Obama's deal with the Republicans.
It's a rare situation where one person can be both the most impressive and the most disappointing in the same time period, but Barack Obama has indeed achieved this dubious distinction this week. So, to save mailing costs, our MDDOTW will be shipped in the same package as our MIDOTW this week, because both belong to President Obama this time around.
[Contact President Barack Obama on the White House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 149 (12/10/10)
While the sausage-making in Washington wasn't exactly pretty this week (it almost never is), Democrats seemed to go out of their way to attack each other rather than taking on the Republicans. Again, most of this was due to the tax cut debate being front and center in the media, with other issues getting far less attention. But there's a reason for that, and it is that Democrats simply aren't doing a very good job (they almost never do) of exacting a political price for the way Republicans vote.
Democrats keep decrying the way Obama seems to save all his fire for members of his own party, but in actual fact, most Democrats are just as guilty of this. Republicans are just begging for some strong language from Democrats this week, but it has been largely absent, because Democrats are saving their strongest language to use against the White House. No wonder Republicans have been all-but-invisible this week. There's a saying in Washington, that when either political party has a big fight among itself, the best thing for the other party to do is to stand back and hold their coats, and enjoy the spectacle. Which is exactly what the Republicans have been doing all week long.
The tax cut deal is a big issue, to be sure. But there is much more political hay to be made out there, due to the fact that Republicans have sworn not to do anything until Democrats let them have their number one priority -- huge tax breaks for the ultra-wealthy. Everything else is less important than this, which Republicans have proved by blocking votes on other big issues.
So why don't the Democrats point this out? Here are my suggestions for how they should be doing this right about now. Rather than always leading with the fight Democrats are having in their own party, throw a few of these into the mix as well, in the hopes that the media will pick up on a few of them. At this point, it is well worth a try, at least.
Bailouts for fatcats
The enormously-respected George Lakoff wrote a column today (he's much better at this sort of thing, I'm just a rank amateur comparatively) on how Democrats need to frame things without reinforcing the Republican position. In particular, he takes apart the slogan "No tax cuts for millionaires." I encourage everyone to read what he has to say on the issue. But he fails to come up with a snappy replacement for Democrats to use instead, so I thought I'd try my hand at it.
"We've bailed out Wall Street and we bailed out the banks, and now Republicans want us to give another enormous bailout to a group of people who don't even need it. That's right -- Republicans are holding every single piece of legislation up until they get their bailouts for their fatcat friends. They don't care about Main Street, they don't care about anything else right now. Their priorities couldn't be clearer. Bailout the fatcats, or nothing else will get done -- that is the Republican position, properly put."
Republicans voted against a tax cut
This one, you could tell, really worried Republicans in the House. Because they got painted into the corner of voting against a tax cut. But they needn't have been worried, because Democrats (so far) have just refused to capitalize on the fact.
"We've already had several votes on extending tax cuts in both houses of Congress. On each of these votes, Republicans voted as a party against tax cuts. Let me repeat that, in case you missed it -- Republicans voted against tax cuts for 98 percent of American workers. Again and again, they were given the choice of giving Main Street some tax relief, and they chose not to. Instead, they demand a fatcat bailout, or else they'll hold everyone else's tax cuts hostage. Republicans are playing political games and running the risk that everyone's taxes will go up in a few weeks. Why the media hasn't noticed is beyond me, because I always thought that Republicans blocking tax cuts would be big news in this town."
All this would take would be about ten minutes' research, to get some choice quotes from Republicans, from a few years back.
"You know, I find it ironic that a few years ago Democrats were trying to make a point about the Iraq War by fighting in Congress against the Pentagon's budget, and Republicans were using some scathing language -- I seem to remember being called 'un-American' myself by a few of them. And that was even one of the milder things Republicans were saying at the time, over debating the course of a war and funding the Pentagon who is responsible for our brave fighting men and women. Republicans just filibustered the Pentagon budget -- meaning that for the first time in 48 years we may not be able to get it done. Their stated reason for doing so? Bailing out fatcats has to come first. In the midst of two wars, fatcats' wallets are more important to the Republicans than funding the Pentagon. In every other war in American history, taxes were raised to pay for it. Not this time, though. Republicans have lost all sense of priority here. Just imagine what they would be saying now, if the parties' positions were reversed. 'Un-American' would be the least of what they'd be calling us now, that's my guess."
Denying raises to soldiers
This is really a continuation of the last point.
"You know what the practical effects of filibustering the Pentagon's budget in wartime will be? Our brave men and women in uniform will not be getting a raise. That's right -- pay raises for the soldiers are of a lesser importance to Republicans than bailing out fatcats. This is just flat-out dishonorable. The next time you hear a Republican saying how they 'support the troops,' please ask them why directly supporting the troops is less important than bailing out fatcats."
Politics before national security
Yet again, if the positions were reversed, just imagine what Republicans would be saying now.
"I guess the feeling that 'politics stops at the water's edge' is no longer true in Washington. Republicans have refused to allow the ratification of a very important treaty with Russia to move forward, because they are having too much fun playing politics in defense of fatcats instead. If New START fails to be ratified, it will mean we will have no inspectors in Russia, we will have worse relations with the Russians, and containing Iran's nuclear program will become orders of magnitude harder to accomplish. That is what is at stake here. This is not some game. This is America's national security we are talking about. That doesn't seem to matter to Republicans, though. Because they are more content playing politics while our standing in the world could be adversely affected as a direct result. The Republican Party should be ashamed of itself. The treaty we are talking about is a continuation of the first of these types of treaty -- which was signed by Ronald Reagan. Republicans don't even care about that, apparently. Politics is more important to them than national security -- you simply can't overstate this."
A generation of Latino voters
Once again, this would be very powerful, if Democrats would only bother to point it out.
"Republicans seem determined to block passage of the DREAM Act in the Senate. If I was a Latino voter, I would be paying close attention. The Republican Party, every election cycle, tries its best to clumsily woo Latino voters, basically by saying 'All that scapegoating we've been doing wasn't really serious, come vote for us and we might not use Latinos as a rhetorical punching bag quite so often.' It is no wonder why the proportion of Latinos who are solid Democratic voters rises every year. Why Republicans would be against giving papers to a young Latino or Latina who is willing to serve in our military, fight and possibly die for America, and whose undocumented status is not even their fault because they came here as children -- it's simply beyond comprehension. Democrats are trying to get the best and the brightest immigrants a chance to contribute to our society, but Republicans only answer is to snub them once again. Republicans are on the brink of losing the majority Latino vote for another generation, and they don't even seem to realize it."
I saved the worst for the last, here. Because if Democrats can't beat the Republicans over the head with this issue, then they should just hang up their hats as a political party for good, and let the Greens have a chance at being the opposition party for a few years. Sigh.
[Note: Actually, while I've been writing this article, Democrats do seem to be making it an issue in the news with some respectably forceful language, so maybe there is some hope after all.]
"The most odious and disgusting thing Republicans have done this week was to block benefits for the front-line responders of 9/11. This is simply unconscionable. Republicans voted against the 9/11 heroes. They did so because bailing out fatcats is more important to them. More important than honoring the men and women of 9/11. How quickly they forget, eh? All those soaring speeches they gave back when 9/11 happened were apparently just political blather, because when it came time to actually support the 9/11 heroes, Republicans voted against them. Words cannot express my outrage and disgust at putting politics above the needs of these brave Americans. Any American who still honors the way they felt immediately after 9/11 should let the Republicans know how they feel, that's my advice."
-- Chris Weigant