Recognizing that Democrats would be reluctant to record “yes” votes for a budget that would augment the deficit, the House leadership opted to deem as passed a “budget enforcement resolution” instead, just before the July 4 recess. While the distinction between an enforcement resolution and a full budget is largely technical, there is one crucial difference: Under the enforcement resolution, Democrats can no longer use a parliamentary tactic known as budget reconciliation next year — a process Democrats had hoped might allow them to pass key pieces of legislation, such as a jobs bill, with 51 votes in the Senate, as opposed to the usual 60 needed to overcome a filibuster.
Under the arcane rules of the Senate, budget reconciliation can only be used if it was written into the budget rules passed the previous year. With no full budget, there can be no reconciliation. As a consequence, Democrats lose a valuable tool for passing budget-related items on a majority-rules vote.
Over at The Corner, conservative Daniel Foster is justifiably elated:
If in November the Republicans come very close to taking the House and cut into the Democrats’ majority in the Senate (I consider this the most likely outcome), they will nevertheless end up in de facto control of both bodies.
Without reconciliation, Senate Democrats won’t have any procedural check on the filibuster (save a “nuclear option”),1 and grabbing the usual-suspect New England Republicans will no longer be enough to get to 60. On the other side of the Capitol, even if the Democrats hang-on to a bare majority, there is still going to be a non-trivial number of conservative House Democrats who side with the GOP on tough spending and social issues. (As Kevin Williamson just put it to me, “conservative Democrats rule the world.”)
This situation would be disastrous for Democrats, whose narrow majorities would give them all of the responsibility and none of the power.
He’s absolutely right. One of the more frustrating things about the current political situation is that Republicans have been having a huge impact on policy through their use of the filibuster — both as a means of influencing particular policy outcomes, and also as a way of generally obstructing government. But because our system gives one party the majority but not the power to govern, Republicans haven’t had to take any responsibility for their acts.
This situation will grow even worse next year. The slim hope of overcoming filibusters will be gone; gone also will be the chance to pass legislation through reconciliation.
In fact, it might be better if the Republicans win control of the House by a slim majority in the 2010 elections. It probably would have only a minor effect on what legislation is passed — and anything really horrifyingly right-wing would be unlikely to get past the Senate and past Obama’s veto — but it would at least put Republicans in a formal position of partial responsibility for our useless Congress.
The logic of the cowardly Democrats is frustrating in two ways. First of all, as Matthew Yglesias writes, it simply doesn’t make sense:
Shame on everyone involved for thinking that a single vote will be swung by this goofy procedural nonsense. The apparent belief of backbench House members that the American people understand or care about these procedural gimmicks is bizarre. It was bizarre during the “deem and pass” controversy of January and it’s bizarre today.2
Secondly, the trade-off the Democrats are making — an at best marginal increase in their odds of re-election, in exchange for guaranteeing no significant legislative accomplishments in the 112th Congress — is a simply not worth it. In exchange for slightly better odds of continued employment for a handful of the most contemptible, overpaid mediocrities in the country, Democrats have given up on doing anything to help millions of far more deserving and needy unemployed Americans.
The needs of unemployed millions should outrank the needs of a few cowardly Democrats.
I can understand why Democrats in the House might see their re-elections as much more important than actually passing any worthwhile legislation next year. But they shouldn’t. The purpose of voting for Democrat Representatives is so that they will pass worthwhile legislation, and the House Democrats have given up on that purpose.
So why should we vote for them again?
- I’d be thrilled if Senate Democrats began their next session by eliminating the filibuster entirely. But I’d be shocked if that actually happened. [↩]
- Yglesias also correctly criticizes Obama’s role in this fiasco: “But the White House needs to take a share of the blame here. For a while now they’ve engaged in a fair amount of “austerity theater” as a political strategy without really considering the systematic consequences of that which include the fact that many House members who’d be happy to support the Obama agenda don’t want to position themselves to the left of the most high-profile and well-regarded progressive leader in the country. Consequently, austerity theater spreads to the House and we don’t have a budget. Which means that in the 112 Congress there will be no legislative agenda.” [↩]
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