Who stands in the way of the reforms vital to get us out of the deep hole we are in?
Republicans, of course, have decided to be the party of “no,” staking their future on President Obama’s failure. But that isn’t a surprise.
The entrenched interests whose oxen get gored are suitably enraged, and mobilizing million-dollar lobby efforts—Big Oil, Big Pharma, insurance companies, agribusiness, global corporations, Wall Street. But we knew that was coming.
The timidity of conventional wisdom—particularly in dealing with the Wall Street banksters—has delayed the necessary restructuring of the insolvent banks. As the AIG bonus scandal suggests, the president’s economic team may well be shooting itself in the knee.
But the most treacherous opposition comes from within the Democratic Party itself, from so-called “moderate” and conservative Democrats—the Blue Dogs in the House and their cousins in the Senate—who are working to block the changes that we need. House Blue Dogs threaten constantly to join with Republicans to cut vital investments and limit basic reforms. New Dems ingloriously worked for banks in weakening the ability of judges to adjust mortgages in bankruptcy.
But it is in the Senate where the opposition is most damaging. Consider:
It was Ben Nelson, a conservative Democrat from Nebraska, who gave Republicans their legs in weakening the vital stimulus package. Joining with the Maine Republican senators, Nelson succeeded in reducing the size of the stimulus package and in cutting investment to support more tax cuts, particularly the egregious “fix” of the alternative minimum tax that goes to high-end earners and is least effective in generating jobs. Nelson not only turned on the president’s plan, he made it much weaker.
Now Evan Bayh, the Ken-doll handsome senator from Indiana, has joined with Tom Carper of Delaware and Blanche Lincoln to organize the equivalent of a Blue Dog group in the Senate. Bayh objects to early reports that described them as working to obstruct the president’s reforms and water down his budget, arguing “we’re not a counterweight to anybody. We’re not here to obstruct anything. We’re here to help get to 60 votes,” referencing the threshold that’s needed to overcome filibusters.
Exactly. That is the threat that enables them to obstruct the president’s reforms and water down his budget. Bayh and his colleagues have joined with Republicans to insist that the president gain a super-majority of 60 to pass any of his major reforms. Bayh joined with others to warn the president not to use existing budget rules that require only a simple majority of 51 votes to pass either his clean energy or his health care reforms.
The rules around what are called reconciliation bills are one procedure in the Senate in which majority rule still governs, because filibusters are not allowed. On all other major votes, Republican obstruction promises a filibuster that requires 60 votes to overcome. Not surprisingly, major changes often are packed into reconciliation bills. That is how, for example, presidents Reagan and Bush got their top-end tax cuts passed. Bayh is joining with other conservative senators to deprive Obama of the very means he needs to pass his major reforms.
The president isn’t omniscient, so I for one don’t expect Democrats to line up to support his every move. Certainly, he would be well served if opposition to his failed banking plan grows.
But Bayh and his Blue Dog senators haven’t exactly earned trust for their judgment. Bayh, for example, was a leading supporter of making war on Iraq. He joined with the noxious Joe Lieberman in casting the most votes against the president during the stimulus fight. He recently penned a truly bizarre editorial in The Wall Street Journal calling on the president to veto the final appropriations bill for this fiscal year.
In the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, with the economy hemorrhaging jobs, Bayh argued that the appropriations bill was too big and spent too much money. “Families and businesses are tightening their belts to make ends meet—and Washington should too.’ “Spending,” the senator argues, ” should be held in check before taxes are raised, even on the wealthy.”
Now listen, folks, this is elemental. The economy is collapsing. Having lost some $13 trillion in household and stock-market wealth, consumers are tightening their belts. Businesses are cutting back and laying off workers. Export markets have collapsed. States and localities are facing serious layoffs. The only thing lifting this economy is deficit spending by the federal government. It is at this time that the federal government must loosen its belt, not tighten it. Republicans won’t admit that. Bayh clearly doesn’t get it.
The new Senate Blue Dogs claim, of course, to be high-minded advocates of “fiscal responsibility.” But this is often a cover for more parochial concerns. Nelson objects to the Obama budget because it calls for moving to direct lending for student loans, saving billions in subsidies to banks and using that money to pay for increased grant aid. Nelnet, a leading student lender, will be hit badly by the change. Its headquarters happens to be in Nebraska.
Conrad argues piously that the deficits are too high, but that doesn’t stop him for opposing Obama’s call to save billions by paring the wasteful subsidies that go to agribusiness, leading contributors to Conrad’s campaign coffers.
Thus far, these Senate wannabe Blue Dogs have done a lot of barking, while threatening to trip up the reforms we need. What they really need is a little discipline. We can’t put them on a leash. But at the very least, we could tell them to behave. Why not let them know directly that we don’t appreciate their standing in the way? It is time to start dogging the dogs.
The Campaign for America’s Future has decided to make this easy. Go to this list of the Blue Dogs in the House and the leaders of would-be Blue Dogs in the Senate. Pick one, and help instruct them by phone or email. It’s time to dog the dogs.