Thursday, February 5, 2009

Senate Democrats Don't Have Votes for Stimulus Package

Washington Post: "Senate Democratic leaders conceded yesterday that they do not have the votes to pass the stimulus bill. . . "

Meaning that 41 Republican Senators have merely said they would vote against any cloture motion to end debate and allow a floor vote on Obama's stimulus bill.

The way that Senate rules work is that a mere threat of a no vote on any cloture vote motion by 41 Senators amounts to a stealth filibuster. Democrats in the Senate do not seem ready to make Republicans actually stand on the Senate floor and publicly filibuster in front of the Senate cameras.

Neither do Democrats seem ready to threaten the "nuclear option," to eliminate filibustering from Senate rules, as Republicans did against Democrats when the G.O.P controlled the Senate.

So far the new era of bipartisanship in Washington is more uni-lateral that bi-lateral. Obama's stimulus package passed the in the U.S. House, but with zero Republican votes. Obama, who had hoped for a widely supported bill, got stonewalled despite doing three things for Republicans:
  1. fashion roughly 1/3 of the package out of tax cuts, which the GOP loves;
  2. went to the House Republican caucus and asking for their input; and
  3. pulled provisions from the bill that Republicans didn't like
Obama kindly offered Republicans a bipartisan olive branch and extended them a place at the table of ideas. House Republicans acknowledged President Obama's olive branch and thanked him, then trash talked Democrats and voted in mass against the bill anyway. Forty-one Republican Senators have now effectively filibustered Obama's stimulus package too.

Attempts at bipartisanship may be futile. As Paul Krugman says on his blog,
"If one thing is clear from the stimulus debate, it’s that the two parties have utterly different economic doctrines. Democrats believe in something more or less like standard textbook macroeconomics; Republicans believe in a doctrine under which tax cuts are the universal elixir, and government spending is almost always bad. Obama may be able to get a few Republican Senators to go along with his plan; or he can get a lot of Republican votes by, in effect, becoming a Republican. There is no middle ground."
Republican obstructionism on President Obama's proposed stimulus spending seems less than a principled stand, considering a G.O.P congress was complicit not just in reckless and massive deficit spending by the Bush Administration, but also the creation and collapse of the mortgage bubble that now imperils the nation. We should not forget that a Republican controlled congress was in full partnership with President Bush as he presided over the biggest annual growth rates in discretionary spending in the last 45 years. Now Republicans call themselves "fiscal watchdogs" as they oppose President Obama's stimulus bill - PLEASE, are they serious!

The story of how the mortgage bubble caused a near collapse of the American financial system and was the catalyst for the end of a period of sustained global economic growth is at once insanely complex and, by now, almost too familiar. We now know that dereliction of duty ran rampant in the Bush Administration and the Republican controlled congress as they stubbornly and naively adhered to their conservative ideology of tax cutting and "unfettered free market" deregulation. The failures are owned by every conservative in Congress who championed and rubber-stamped conservative deregulation and the conservative philosophy of governing. Repeat: It was a Republican president with the aid of a Republican Congress implementing Republican policies that got us into this economic mess. The truly compelling story of this decade is one that conservatives want to ignore and forget – the rapid and dramatic failure of conservative government.

Yet, even in their reduced numbers in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House they continue to demand that the nation must follow their conservative ideals of government. They reject President Roosevelt's Obama's approach to economic recovery through stimulative government spending and support only tax cuts, as they have since Hoover Reagan was President. The conservative approach to government has failed the nation and it's time to move on - as the citizens of America mandated on November, 4, 2008!
From Talking Points Memo:

Behind all the back and forth over the Stimulus Bill is a simple fact: the debate in Washington is rapidly moving away from any recognition that the US economy -- and the global economy, for that matter -- is in free-fall. The range of outcomes stretches from severe recession to something closer to a replay of the Great Depression, though that label is perhaps better seen as a placeholder for 'catastrophic economic collapse' since the underlying place of the US economy in the world economy is very different from what it was in 1929. This reality was palpable in the political debate until as recently as a few weeks ago. But Republicans are using a strategy of conscious denial to push it off the stage.

Take stock of the last few weeks and you can almost visualize the two conversations -- path toward economic calamity and debate over Stimulus Bill -- diverging.

The other key into the current debate is that the Republican position is ominously similar to their position on global warming or, for that matter, evolution. The discussion of what to do on the Democratic side tracks more or less with textbook macroeconomics, while Republican argument track either with tax cut monomania or rhetorical claptrap intended to confuse. It's true that macro-economics doesn't make controlled experiments possible. And economists can't speak to these issues with certainty. But in most areas of our lives, when faced with dire potential consequences, we put our stock with scientific or professional consensus where it exists, as it does here. Only in cases where it goes against Republican political interests or economic interests of money-backers do we prefer the schemes of yahoos and cranks to people who study the stuff for a living.

Of course, at some level, why would Republicans be trying to drive the country off a cliff? Well, not pretty to say, but they see it in their political interests. Yes, the DeMints and Coburns just don't believe in government at all or have genuinely held if crankish economic views. But a successful Stimulus Bill would be devastating politically for the Republican party. And they know it. If the GOP successfully bottles this up or kills it with a death of a thousand cuts, Democrats will have a good argument amongst themselves that Republicans were responsible for creating the carnage that followed. But the satisfaction will have to be amongst themselves since as a political matter it will be irrelevant. The public will be entirely within its rights to blame Democrats for any failure of government action that happened while Democrats held the White House and sizable majorities in both houses of Congress.

--Josh Marshall
Should the Democrats Change the Senate Filibuster Rule to make it more difficult for Republicans to stall Senate business in the 111th congress as they did in the 110th congress?

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