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Shed a tear for Dodd

dodddown.JPGThe appeal of Richard Blumenthal to liberals has been that he's likely to keep Chris Dodd's seat. Nick Baumann thinks that's backwards: The appeal of Blumenthal, he says, is that he's likely to do a better job in Dodd's seat:

Liberals shouldn't shed too many tears for Dodd. Blumenthal's a better candidate, but he also has a chance to eventually become a better senator. He doesn't have Dodd's ties to Washington or Wall Street. He has all the right enemies. And he has lots of experience fighting the same interests that Dodd was seen as too cozy with. Blumenthal pioneered the concept of the modern state AG — Eliot Spitzer (first AG, then governor of New York) and Sheldon Whitehouse (first AG, then senator from Rhode Island) were just following in his footsteps. Now it's finally Blumenthal's turn.

Because I'm a sleazy Beltway establishment-type, I think this is at least a bit wrong. Legislating isn't just a question of purity and ideas. It is, at least in large part, a question of being good at the work of legislating: knowing parliamentary procedure, understanding the legislative process, sensing where your leverage is on a bill, building long relationships with other lawmakers so they'll be open to your interventions, etc, etc. Dodd, as one of the longer-serving members of the body, was also among the best at that work: There's a reason Ted Kennedy asked him to quarterback the HELP Committee's health reform bill after Kennedy fell ill. And there's a reason Dodd managed to pass it quickly and smoothly out of his committee.

Blumenthal might be less compromised than Dodd, but it will be a long time before he's got Dodd's legislative chops. And that's not a criticism of Blumenthal: He's been getting very good at being attorney general during the years when Dodd was getting very good at being senator. We tend to think about elections in terms of candidates rather than jobs, but in every other sphere of life, we tend to think of candidates in terms of the jobs they'll be filling, and that's probably the better way to do it.

Photo credit: Charles Krupa/AP.

By Ezra Klein  |  January 8, 2010; 10:38 AM ET
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Every failing industry has reasons why they're actually doing a better job than anyone else outside the industry realizes. DC is no exception.

No one cares about mastery of the process, its all about results.


"There's a reason Ted Kennedy asked him to quarterback the HELP Committee's health reform bill after Kennedy fell ill. And there's a reason Dodd managed to pass it quickly and smoothly out of his committee."

There isn't really a health reform bill from the HELP Committee. There's only the health reform bill-- that ultimately passes or doesn't. Dodd did a great job getting his out of committee, but a pretty poor job getting key principles from the HELP bill into the final bill. The latter is what matters. Not who followed the legislative process the best along the way. Who got the results. Look at Dodd's record for RESULTS-- and then answer the question on his value.

Posted by: wisewon | January 8, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

It also misses the big issue that it would be much better to have Dodd and Blumenthal then Liberman and Blumenthal.

Posted by: endaround | January 8, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

We should look at Dodd's results, not mastery of the process? Putting aside the obvious on its face reality that mastery of the legislative process is essential to getting results (see Kennedy, Ted), I'll say that if Blumenthal is responsible for a piece of legislation even half as good as the Family and Medical Leave Act that Dodd wrote and shepherded through the Senate, he'll make a hell of a senator. And that's just one example.

Posted by: Yossarian79 | January 8, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

The Baumann quote strikes me as odd because it basically restates the case for Blumenthal as a better candidate, not as a better senator. "He doesn't have Dodd's ties to Washington or Wall Street... the special interests that Dodd was seen as too cozy with hate Blumenthal, etc." Campaigning is about perception, governing is about results, as wisewon says. And Dodd's been a pretty great Senator in my opinion, with sizable comparative advantage in his knowledge of a number of important policy areas. Particularly in the under reported area of Latin American policy, Dodd is THE guy in the party, and we're losing that to our and Cuba's detriment.

Posted by: nmendoza | January 8, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Can we say something good about Chris Dodd for a moment? I want to as a former constituent of his.

Many Democrats have won elections because of Chris Dodd's progressive accomplishments -- Family & Medical Leave, child care, Head Start, and more. Chris Dodd is one of two HELP Committee chairmen ever to pass a health care reform bill (Ted Kennedy being the other). In the last 30 years, only Ted Kennedy had more substantive progressive accomplishments in the Senate than does Chris Dodd. We are all greatful for Chris Dodd's service in the Senate, and the Senate already feels a little bit smaller now that Chris Dodd has announced retirement.

Posted by: BradGabel2002 | January 8, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

wisewon, you are wrong about Chris Dodd and the HELP HCR bill.

The HELP bill's mininum actuarial value, for example, was 76 percent. That's significantly higher than either the House Tri-Committee (70%), the House bill itself (70%), the Finance Committee (65%), and the full Senate (60%).

Also, the HELP bill's insurance rating rules had a 2:1 age rating, although HELP's bill allowed for a smoker rating. That's significantly better than the Finance Committee bill.

The individual mandate in the HELP bill also was significantly better than the Finance Committee bill, as were the subsidies.

So to act like Chris Dodd did nothing trivializes his accomplishments as one of two HELP Committee Chairman ever to pass a health care reform bill.

Posted by: BradGabel2002 | January 8, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Dodd also did well for himself financially. The little hut in Ireland, that taxes weren't paid on, all the sweetheart deals with mortgages. His personal corruption is the reason he was asked to walk the plank.

Posted by: truck1 | January 8, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Call him the Cadillac Consultant. He's Jonathan Gruber. One of the most quoted defenders of President Obama's proposal to tax so-called "cadillac" health care plans, and a big defender of the more-conservative Senate version of health care reform, has secretly received nearly $400,000 from the Obama administration to consult on... what? Health care reform.

Posted by: obrier2 | January 8, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

I'd say the two other reasons Ted Kennedy asked Dodd to quarterback the HELP Committee's health reform bill--that Dodd was next in line in seniority and happened to be one of Ted's oldest and dearest friends--were pretty much controlling in this instance. I mean, if he had been a few seats down the line behind Harkin and Mikulski, I'm not sure Kennedy would have handed the ball to Dodd.

Posted by: andrewlong | January 8, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Dodd was a decent Progressive in the Senate. Dare I guess that he will now move on to his just reward - no, not death . . . Wall Street or K Street (is there really a difference these days?)

It will be interesting to see if AG Blumenthal can maintain his Wall Street "enemies list" status or if he too will go over to the dark side.

Posted by: WisconsinReader | January 8, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

I think it's really disappointing that you only define great Senator in terms of legislating. That's obviously a central and key function of Congress, but conducting effective oversight is also essential--and I think that this important role for the Senate is precisely what Nick's describing. It's important for Congress to make sure that the executive branch is enforcing the laws that it writes, and not just walking away after the President waves his pen.

Posted by: ohiotodc815 | January 8, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Let's be clear about why Dodd is so unpopular that he has to step down: He's perceived as corrupt. He's seen as being in bed with the financial industry on a policy level, and on a personal level he's seen as grasping for personal gain from his office. His own seedy dealings have destroyed his ability to represent his constiuents, and you have to weigh that self-destructive failure in the analysis of whether he is a good legislator.

Posted by: tomtildrum | January 8, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

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