Should Democrats play hardball on committee chairmanships?
In comments, Eerac writes:
There's a simple way the entire party can avoid being held hostage by a few centrists. Adopt Republican-style committee management and threaten to strip filibustering democrats of their chairmanships. Lieberman and Lincoln are both heading committees that mean a hell of a lot more to them than blocking health care reform. I mean, Lincoln couldn't even be bothered to update the healthcare page on her website.
I get that many Senators are reluctant to curb their own authority, but surely many senators, young and old, are starting to realize that they are continually going to be held hostage by a group of 5 or 6 centrists. How do supporters of climate change legislation expect to pass a meaningful bill if they can't stop centrists from filibustering?
The Democrats have a real opportunity here to use healthcare as an excuse to enact some meaningful procedural reform. If that reform then goes on to help climate change and/or financial reform legislation go through, the party will be in a lot better shape then if everything ends up floundering.
There's plenty of precedent for this: In 2004, Arlen Specter warned President Bush that a Supreme Court nominee who didn't consider Roe to be settled law would probably face a filibuster. In response, conservatives threatened to rip his chairmanship away. And I don't mean "conservatives" as in Rush Limbaugh. I mean conservatives as in leaks from then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's office. Specter quieted down real fast after that, and he helped bring the anti-choice Roberts and Alito in for a smooth landing. (Later on, of course, Specter defected from the Republican Party rather than lose to a Republican primary challenger, but that's an argument against certain types of primary challenges, not threatening committee chairmanships to induce more party loyalty.)
I'm generally of the opinion that the president and the Senate leadership can do a lot less to wrangle restive moderates than people think. But playing hardball on committee assignments is certainly within their power. Harry Reid, however, is not favorably inclined toward practicing this kind of active Senate management, though I've never gotten a really good answer as to why he's so against it, or more to the point, so against threatening it.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana.
November 24, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories: Democrats , Senate
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