Which Three Democratic Senators?

[ Posted Monday, August 1st, 2011 – 16:46 UTC ]

The House and Senate are getting ready to vote on the deal struck to avoid America defaulting on her debts. Nobody knows exactly the magnitude of what is being cut in detail yet, and the news media seem more interested in the eternal "who's up/who's down" horserace nonsense than in informing the public what exactly has been agreed to in this deal. This should come as no surprise, since it is (as always) ever so much more fun for "journalists" to blather on about "what it all means" seen through the political lens, instead of "what it all means" in terms of... well, what it actually is going to mean for America. Perhaps in a few days, when they get bored with the political aspects, we'll finally find out exactly what the cuts are going to cover.

One thing is for certain, though, and that is there will be a newly-formed joint congressional committee which is going to have a lot of power over the second stage of this grand debate. Currently, the progressive media seems most obsessed with pushing their own cutesy-poo names for this committee (I, for one, refuse to use the term "super Congress" -- since it is not, on many levels -- only the worst of the snappy and "oh-so-clever" names I've heard bandied about). Progressives should wake up and realize that, rather than winning the "media branding battle," they should instead start paying close attention to who exactly is going to sit on this committee. Because that is going to determine the outcome of this fight -- no matter what the committee is called by the inside-the-Beltway types.

There will be twelve members on the new joint budget committee. The membership will be broken down by house of Congress (six each), and by political party (also six each). Which means that, on the Democratic side, Nancy Pelosi will be naming three committee members and Harry Reid will be naming three.

These choices are going to be crucial for whatever the committee does (or fails to do). Because Congress has apparently learned the lesson of the Bowles-Simpson commission, where no plan managed to get approval from the required minimum number of voting members. So they've lowered the bar considerably, this time around. In the new congressional joint committee, any plan will only require seven votes out of twelve in order to move to Congress at large. Which means if one Democrat votes for a Republican plan, then that will be the committee's official plan. Any plan which gets seven votes will then move to the floor of both the House and Senate for "up or down" votes -- with no amendments possible. That's a lot of responsibility. Which makes the committee members' choice essential.

For instance, just imagine what Joe Lieberman could be convinced to vote for, should he be named to the committee by Harry Reid. Thankfully, while this was the best "bad example" I could think of, it is not likely to happen. But there are plenty of Democratic senators who would be equally as chilling to see on the joint committee as the now-Independent Lieberman. Remember, each party in each house only gets to name three people -- and if only one Democrat jumps ship, then the rest of them become largely irrelevant to the process.

Neither Pelosi nor Reid will themselves sit on the committee -- that's about the only sure bet. Tradition (and politics) pretty much preclude either leader from such committee work. Everything else, however, is up in the air -- especially in the Senate.

Nancy Pelosi will likely name three Democrats from what has been aptly called the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party." It is more than likely that the three House Democrats on the committee will fight to uphold core Democratic principles during the debate. But while the House of Representatives runs mostly on a top-down system (where the leadership is free to choose whomever they wish for such special assignments), the Senate is mostly all about seniority.

Reid could begin by naming one (or even both) of his top lieutenants to sit on the joint committee -- Dick Durbin of Illinois, or Chuck Schumer of New York. Either one would be a strong Democratic voice on the committee. If the committee were larger, both might even appear on it, but since Reid's only got three choices, it's likely that only one of them will be named. Of course, neither one of them may get Reid's nod in the end, but either one of them would likely be seen as widely acceptable within the Democratic Party ranks.

Reid could also go with the senior members of the Senate committees which deal with the budget and the economy. There are four of these major committees -- two Senate committees, and two joint committees with the House.

From the Senate Budget Committee Reid could select Chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota. Conrad has already announced he is retiring from the Senate next year, and so will not be distracted by the campaign issues others might have. But Conrad is pretty conservative for a Democrat, and was in fact instrumental in helping kill the "public option" in the healthcare reform debate. Conrad was then threatened with a primary challenge by the AFL-CIO, which may have been instrumental in his decision to step down. Choosing Conrad would be the equivalent of Harry Reid waving a big "we surrender" flag to the Republicans, from the very start of the committee's formation, in other words. Conrad, literally, would have nothing to lose by signing on to a Republican plan, if he becomes a member of the committee.

From the Senate Appropriations Committee, Reid could also select Chairman Daniel Inouye of Hawai'i. Inouye has been in Congress since Hawai'i first became a state in 1959, and who plans on running for a record tenth term in the Senate in 2016, when he will be 92 years old.

From the Joint Economic Committee Reid could pick Chairman Bob Casey from Pennsylvania, who might not be all that bad a choice, in terms of standing up for Democratic principles. Casey doesn't vote straight party-line (he's pro-life, for instance), but he is a pretty strong candidate, in terms of defending things Democrats hold dear. He is up for re-election next year, though.

The ranking Democrat on the Joint Committee on Taxation would be an unmitigated disaster, because his name happens to be Max Baucus, of Montana. Not only is Baucus as conservative (if not more so) as Conrad, he's also an expert at wasting time. Baucus was the one who, during the healthcare reform debate, had a group of doctors arrested and hauled away because they had the temerity to protest that Baucus refused to include any supporters of the single-payer option, in the first committee hearing on healthcare reform. Baucus then spent an entire summer doing precisely nothing with his committee, in the midst of a ticking-clock atmosphere -- which should automatically disqualify him from being named to a joint committee which has to come up with a fully-fledged plan by Thanksgiving.

There are other choices from these four committees of Democratic Senators with enough clout and seniority to sit on the new joint budget committee. Patty Murray of Washington, Ron Wyden of Oregon, or even Patrick Leahy from Vermont would all likely be strongly supported by the Democratic rank and file. Wyden, in particular, has crafted a few creative deals in the past with Republicans (although none of them actually passed, to the best of my knowledge).

Of course, Reid is technically free to select anyone he wants for the new joint committee. He could delight the progressives by naming Bernie Sanders, Al Franken, and Sherrod Brown to the committee, for instance. However, I wouldn't exactly advise progressives to hold their breath waiting for Reid's announcement of this particular trio.

I have no idea when the committee membership will be announced. It could come quite early, or it could wait until Congress returns from the four-week paid vacation they are about to take. But, as we've all seen, the stakes are high. The committee will have the same exact sweeping powers which Congress as a whole already possesses -- the ability to decide matters of taxation and federal spending. The entire exercise is nothing more than a gigantic avoidance of responsibility by Congress at large. It is all-but-guaranteed to produce lots of fun television right before the holiday season dawns, this November. Lots of high drama will, no doubt, ensue. Tune in to see the show!

But beyond the fatuous nature of the new process, handing the responsibility of Congress as a whole over to six Democrats and six Republicans is serious business. While Democrats will likely have a reasonably high degree of trust for the members named to the joint committee by Nancy Pelosi, those named by Harry Reid could be more questionable. A lot more questionable, in fact. So it might behoove the liberal and progressive groups right about now to start lobbying Reid's office as hard as they know how, in order to get candidates named to the new joint budget committee who can be relied upon to protect Democratic core interests and support the core Democratic agenda in the negotiations to come.

The only silver lining for Democrats anxiously awaiting the committee's new roster is the fact that Republicans are going through exactly the same process -- because they're terrified that a reasonable Republican senator will be named to the committee who might just go along with the Democrats. It's only going to take one vote to cross the aisle in order for either party to take command of whatever plan emerges, remember. Meaning the committee's membership is going to be absolutely crucial, in the end.

-- Chris Weigant


Cross-posted at Business Insider
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


22 Comments on “Which Three Democratic Senators?”

  1. [1] 
    dsws wrote:

    Remember, each party in each house only gets to name three people -- and if only one Democrat jumps ship, then the rest of them become largely irrelevant to the process.

    The implicit premise is that there won't be even one Republican ready to support a balanced approach. That in itself is almost as interesting as the question of which Democratic senators.

    The committee will have the same exact sweeping powers which Congress as a whole already possesses -- the ability to decide matters of taxation and federal spending.

    I suppose Congress has the power to bring a bill to a vote, without filibuster or amendment. But in order to do so they would have to do something extraordinary, like pass a joint resolution authorizing a committee to draft the bill, making the rules say it gets a vote in each chamber. But even that would just guarantee a no vote, unless they pass a law having politically-bad stuff happen unless the committee's bill gets passed. In other words, they have the authority, but (as far as I can see) the only way they can possibly exercise it is exactly what they just did.

  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    It's funny to see Democrats and the "Professional" Left all up in arms about the bullying and the arm-twisting and the aggressive tactics used by the Right to push this agenda thru..

    They all seem to forget the much worse and much more vile tactics the Left used to push thru CrapCare. An agenda which 75% of Americans were AGAINST...

    It's no fun when yer on the RECEIVING end of such tactics, eh?? :D


  3. [3] 
    tinsldr2 wrote:

    The horror the horror... are you trying to burn my eyeballs out?

    It is painful to read much less contemplate a serious discussion of politics involving "Bernie Sanders, Al Franken, and Sherrod Brown"

    Really? A Second rate comedian off of Saturday Night Live and the person who gave us this gem:

    "I look back in history, in some of the worst governments that we had, you know the first thing they did, go after unions, Hitler didn’t want unions,"

    Of course Here is a direct quote from Hitler on trade unions.

    " In the present state of affairs I am convinced that we cannot possibly dispense with the trades unions. On the contrary, they are among the most important institutions in the economic life of the nation. "

    Just sayin...

  4. [4] 
    dsws wrote:

    We can look up the actual text and status of bills on, but only if we can actually find the bill in question. No one ever mentions bill numbers, and key votes are often on amendments or resolutions that don't contain the obvious search strings.

    Why don't people ever say the bill number of a bill they're reporting on?

  5. [5] 
    dsws wrote:

    Apparently the debt ceiling bill was S.365

  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:

    It's actually ironic..

    Despite all the claims from the Left about the Tea Party, in this debacle it was the Tea Party that showed the strength of their convictions. It was the Tea Party that showed the real political backbone...

    Ya gotta love the irony... :D


  7. [7] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Idunno, Michale. No one I know who is actually in the Tea Party is happy.

    From my Tea Party friend:

    "The new debt plan does not reign in the debt. You have been fooled.

    Neither party has the courage to make true cuts in spending. This is because neither party wants to be blamed for reducing entitlements. Nature will simply take its course: the debt will continue to increase and our dollar will continue to decrease. Unless, of course, we throw out the socialists and elect people who uphold the constitution."

    Of course I think Tea Party people are people who are pretty angry and confused to begin with and may never be happy :)

    But I'm glad you're happy!

  8. [8] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Its also interesting to see how the markets reacted. If the debt ceiling deal would boost the economy, the market should be up.

    But the market is down.

    Why? Spending cuts do not boost an economy. There's no growth provisions from the bill.

    Now its true that some weak economic data came back today as well. Bt if the bill were good for the economy, we'd likely see a boost.

    The market understands this even as the rest of the country is bamboozled by GOP claims that "tax cuts create jobs".

    Want to get past the political rhetoric? Follow the market ...

  9. [9] 
    Michale wrote:


    Idunno, Michale. No one I know who is actually in the Tea Party is happy.

    I am just going by what I hear from your fellow progressives.. :D

    Read Taylor and Ben.... :D

    Why? Spending cuts do not boost an economy. There's no growth provisions from the bill.

    If this was actually a spending "Cut" you would be right.

    But this is the largest Debt Ceiling increase in the HISTORY of the country...

    Hard to see how ANYONE can view this as a spending CUT..

    "Oh look, honey!! Our Credit just went up by 1.4 TRILLION dollars!!! Just think how much money we are going to be able to save!!!"

    Seriously??? I may not be an economic genius, but I DO know enough to know that the afore statement is seriously whacked...


  10. [10] 
    Michale wrote:

    Despite all the claims from the Left about the Tea Party,

    For the record, the only blog I read that recognized and acknowledged the possibility that the Tea Party could become the power-house political force it has become is CW.COM....

    Credit where credit is due.... :D


  11. [11] 
    tommymccarthy wrote:

    I just stopped by looking for a "react" (in the current vernacular) the debt ceiling debacle....

    Howdy to "TinselDr.".....Who, seemingly, has weighed in on the SIDE of (simultaneously) The Union Movement AND Der Fuhrer (not an easy thing to do!)

    "dsws" (must tell me what that time permits..) Typically... is laboring tirelessly to provide accurate, & impartial FACTS......for which he/she does NOT receive nearly enough credit.RSVP

    And speaking of CREDIT......A big "hello" to Michale...while otherwise insufferable on this day which is...undeniably... a great victory for those who think as he does (grr)
    BUT....who thinks correctly to credit "cee-dub" (CW) with predicting (early) the influence of the Tea Party..........for which we can all be......grateful? (grrrr)

    And here I was going to make some smart-@ss remark like this:

    The most signifigant part of the "agreement" is this new, (extra-constitutional?), SUPER-committee
    (which will be whatever Mitch McConnell allows it to be, grr).....which will, going forward....decide whether "triggers" will be pulled...or fired...or whatever these kind of "triggers" do.


    1:)Does anyone besides me find this Rube Golberg contraption questionable?

    2:)Does anyone imagine this cobbled-together device can end up ANYWHERE but in front of the supreme court? (2b:) And won't THAT work out well?)

    3:) Is it just me.....or does ALL of this smack of something being being "made up as we go along" people who HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THEY ARE DOING?

    The President always THRILLS when this or that pundit describes him as "the only grown up in the room"...during these negotiations.

    I find the metaphor overused and inaccurate...but let's go with it for the moment...

    The salient point the Prez keeps missing is.....
    The juveniles in question are NOT little children.....
    They are Teenagers....fully formed, strong as lions, and drunk on their own power.
    Further...they've already BEEN to juvie
    (under the LAST grown-up to hold his office)
    And NOW (mostly thanx to him) they have got hold of the checkbook, the credit cards, the keys to all the cars, and the gun safe.

    What they need is NOT a genial Uncle Barack to shuffle about muttering "can't we all get along"..or.."how about I tell you a story?"

    They need a grown-up to TAKE CONTROL...use whatever FORCE is available...One of the MANY instances lately in which an actual DEMOCRAT would be preferable to a "rock star" (hint)

    As I said...I don't subscribe to the parameters of the metaphor....

    Here's my smart remark:

    "Oh joy ...we now have a SUPER go with our president-in-miniature....who knew we needed either?"

    I find it on point...and clever enough...but

    My missive is signed:

    "Never more disgusted with our politics...

  12. [12] 
    tommymccarthy wrote:


    How about my old friend..Pat Buchannan... congratulating his "Tea Party" allies on their budget victory...and advising them to celebrate by nailing a COONskin cap to their wall?

  13. [13] 
    LeaningBlue wrote:

    RE: akadjian -
    Its also interesting to see how the markets reacted. If the debt ceiling deal would boost the economy, the market should be up.

    Two market related items. First, a Chinese rating agency today downgraded the USA debt. I doubt Fitch, Moody's or S&P will follow any time soon, now after the Deal That Saved America. But that horse has left the barn, in fact if not in form.

    Second, there were credible reports that BoJapan intervened in the currency market in the last 24 hours, supporting the USD against the yen. The USD remains very weak, due principally to the fact (at least, I believe, the fact) US is again in recession, if it ever really left it.

  14. [14] 
    LeaningBlue wrote:

    Regarding "RE: akadjian -"

    Among the jobs I won't be seeking to supplement my income during the depression will be web designer, or anything requiring markup not entailing a red pencil.

  15. [15] 
    dsws wrote:

    The link I posted before doesn't work. generates temporary links in response to queries, so if you want to post a link somewhere you need to find a nearby permanent link. Text of S 365, The Budget Control Act of 2011, can be found at a link from here:

  16. [16] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    dsws [1] -

    Yeah, well, poetic license. I was just annoyed at the entire "save us from ourselves!" aspect of the committee, and wasn't speaking as precisely as I could have.

    tinsldr2 [3] -

    Heh heh. Hey, Franken, Sanders and Brown would certainly make for a lively debate.

    You sure you want to deride second-rate actors who go into politics? I mean, there's plenty of fodder over in GOP-Land on that one, right? Heh.

    OK, I'm stumped -- was the Hitler quote Sanders or Brown? I'm guessing Sanders.

    dsws [4&5] -

    Yeah, I use the LOC Thomas page a lot, but I didn't bother until the deal was done. THANKS for posting the bill number, as I would like to read it (how long is it?).

    I spent the weekend reading SCOTUS court cases (mainly Perry v. US -- thanks to... um, LeaningBlue?... for the tip on that one, which made it easy to find) on the 14th Amendment (and, incidentally, the gold standard), and then didn't even get a chance to write about them. Oh, well, wasted research is always interesting in its own right. Anyway, thanks for the bill number.

    Michale [6] -

    What I find ironic is that the Tea Partiers are probably the most annoyed at what did actually pass. Now THAT's irony!

    David [7] -

    Aha! So it wasn't just me who noticed!

    Michale [10] -

    Why thankew. I saw people ridiculing the Tea Party folks from the get-go, and for about a day or so I thought about doing the same (this was right before I wrote my first article about them in early 2009). But I'm a softie for political theater of any type, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt.

    I'm thinking of writing tomorrow(Wed.)'s article about this, so I'll have more to say later.

    tommymccarthy [11] -

    I, too, admit I read that wrong at first (I read it: "tinsel door 2"). But, after he quoted the song "Ohio" to me quite a while back, I realized it is actually "tin soldier 2." I hope I'm not giving away secrets or anything, but "dsws" is a the individual's initials, so don't drive yourself crazy trying to read anything into it.

    [Aside: there's a column in the local paper which has been running funny personalized license plates, and challenging the readers to figure them out. The one that made me laugh was: 1BYCOSC. Now, I recognized the equation, but didn't solve it (trigonometry always bored me). When solved, it changes from "1/cos C" (one over cosine C) to "sec C" (secant C). Read the solution's abbreviated form out loud, to get the joke.]

    1) I think the proper term is "Rube-Goldbergian" (heh). I find it craven, but not questionable. As long as Congress agrees to the rules beforehand, almost anything they come up with is actually allowable -- their rules are actually quite flexible, and they can make things up as they go along.

    2) The full House and Senate will have to vote on whatever they come up with, so it's constitutional. Google "base closing commission" to see a precedent.

    3) It smacks, to me, of people who desperately do not want to do the job they were sent there to do, and of people who are passing the buck BIG TIME. It's political cowardice, plain and simple, and there's enough of THAT blame to go all the way around the Capitol.

    I liked your teenage metaphor -- my instant reaction was "Ground Congress until they do their homework!" Heh.

    dsws [15] -

    Yeah, it's always bugged me that Thomas doesn't provide permalinks to searches. Their web code probably hasn't been updated since about 1997. But I can't complain about the service they provide. I usually just quote the bill number "S365" and the main Thomas page link, and tell people to do their own searches. Clumsy, but what can you do?


  17. [17] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    LeaningBlue [13&14] -

    When I notice them, I fix HTML problems in comments. Both of yours look correct, now.

    Don't forget to close those tags! Read this for details.



  18. [18] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Leaning Blue -

    One more thing -- I worked on a college newspaper with a "hot wax" machine and strips of paper containing columns of type. I've done REAL "cut and paste" layout in the absolutely literal sense. But we used blue pencils.



  19. [19] 
    Michale wrote:

    You can bet that ONE person who is ecstatic about the Debt Ceiling "Civil War" is CongressCritter Wu.... :D

    Somewhere, Anthony Weiner is muttering, "Some guys have all the luck..." :D


    They need a grown-up to TAKE CONTROL...use whatever FORCE is available...One of the MANY instances lately in which an actual DEMOCRAT would be preferable to a "rock star" (hint)

    Ya KNOW it's a topsy turvy world when the Progressive blogosphere is actually admiring the Tea Party for their political resolve... :D

    "Never more disgusted with our politics...

    Until the next time, anyways.. :D


    OK, I'm stumped -- was the Hitler quote Sanders or Brown? I'm guessing Sanders.

    I think it was Franken, actually. I recall reading an article on the quote recently, but I thought it was Franken who said it. Could be wrong. Probably am..

    Why thankew.

    De nada. :D

    I saw people ridiculing the Tea Party folks from the get-go,

    The problem they have (and I am susceptible to it as well) is that they indulge in "wishcasting" rather than forecasting. They predict what they WANT to happen and then look for examples to support their wishes and ignore any facts that would dispute their wishes..

    Not knocking them for it TOO much because, as I said, I indulge in it myself on occasion.. :D

    The trick is being able to recognize when one is wishcasting and when one is forecasting..

    In the case of the Tea Party, it's clear to anyone who is not a Liberal/Progressive/Democratic Party Fanatic that the Tea Party is NOT just a bunch of redneck racist longing for a return to the Jim Crow days. They have a viable platform that many average Americans respond to..

    The Left would LOVE to create a political force like the Tea Party...

    I worked on a college newspaper with a "hot wax" machine

    I read that and all I could picture was that scene from 40 Year Old Virgin where Steve Carrol was getting his chest hair removed with a hot wax treatment.. :D I am laughing just picturing the scene... :D


  20. [20] 
    LeaningBlue wrote:

    CW -
    Thanks for the editing. I'm gonna set out to learn this stuff.

    I had an uncle whose career was a progression of jobs as editor of successively larger local papers, ending his career as an editorial writer for a major. But, in the earlier jobs, the hot lead typesetting was literally in the "next room." He died quite young of cancer, maybe in part from the journalist's breakfast of booze and cigarettes, and maybe not...

  21. [21] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Hi TM!

    I just now read your comment here and it made me smile.

    Just wanted to say that and, don't be such a stranger around here!

  22. [22] 
    dsws wrote:

    "dsws" (must tell me what that time permits..)

    As CW said, it's my initials. I have four because my wife and I hyphenated the last names when we got married.

    I have this pipe dream that some day double last names will be the norm, with couples taking the name the bride got from her mother and the name the groom got from his father. (And same-sex couples using the names from both same-sex parents.) That way everyone would have a name that traces the all-male lineage and a name that traces the all-female lineage. It would make genealogy easier, not to mention figuring out whether a woman is someone you knew in school under her maiden name.

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