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Lindsey Graham and the failure of the 'lone Republican' theory

grahamreadingbill.jpg

With Lindsey Graham bolting a bill he helped draft, efforts to address climate change in this Congress look likely to fail. And because the next Congress is likely to have more Republicans, and because the House's approval of Waxman-Markey will expire after the election and mean the House would have to write and pass a whole new bill, the situation looks grim going forward, too.

This is, understandably, causing many enviros to wonder whether Graham was ever committed to the effort. Brad Plumer, who's as fair-minded and unexcitable on these questions as they come, calls Graham's stated objections "ridiculous" and says "this whole episode really makes you wonder if Graham was ever serious about energy and climate policy in the first place."

My take, from previous conversations with Graham, his staff, and other Senate offices that were working with them, is that Graham was serious about doing this if he thought it could be done. But when he made the judgment that a carbon-pricing bill wasn't going to pass the Senate, that was also enough for him to decide that it was foolhardy to remain publicly committed to a position that's unpopular with his base. There was no middle ground in Graham's position: Either he could do this and he'd be there or he couldn't and he wouldn't. He clearly came down on the latter side. So rather than stick with the effort and give a long-shot campaign the best chance it could have, Graham is abandoning it and probably sticking the final nail in its coffin.

It's further evidence that the "lone Republican" strategy doesn't work. Time and again, Democrats have ended up in a room with a single Republican who seemed willing to cut a deal. It was Olympia Snowe on health care, Bob Corker on financial regulation and Lindsey Graham on climate change. In every case, the final bill looked a lot like what that Republican helped negotiate. And in every single case, the Republican realized that he or she couldn't get more support from their party and so they eventually bolted the effort.

If you think this has all been a cynical strategy, it's been brilliantly successful. On the one hand, Republicans have had a major role in shaping these bills. On the other hand, they haven't had to vote for these bills, and so they could cleanly campaign against legislation that a member of their party helped write. And as an added bonus, Democrats are stuck trying to defend a bill that their base doesn't like very much and that's thick with compromises that annoy political elites.

Photo credit: Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly.

By Ezra Klein  |  June 9, 2010; 10:12 AM ET
Categories:  Climate Change  
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Comments

The Repubs have played this strategy brilliantly, and the Dems have allowed themselves to be played in a vain effort to be "bipartisan". I truly hope that the Dems finally learn their lesson: draft a GOOD bill, then build grass roots support for it, instead of trying to seek illusory compromises with so called "centrist" Republicans.

Posted by: stonetools | June 9, 2010 10:29 AM | Report abuse

There's more of a strategy here that you seem to realize, Ezra, as evidenced by the fact that Mike Castle and Mark Kirk both voted AGAINST the GOP-friendly versions of the stimulus bill and healthcare reform. I guess you have to be from a red state to really understand what Republicans are capable of -- so head South and do some real reporting, already!

Posted by: scarlota | June 9, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

"The Repubs have played this strategy brilliantly, and the Dems have allowed themselves to be played in a vain effort to be 'bipartisan'"

Conservatives and the Republican base have complained exactly of this same thing (believe it or not). There has been a sense that, for too long, many Republicans have tried to reach across the aisle and have been burned every time. Yet I don't think there's a single liberal or Democrat who would see it that way.

Which brings me to conclude that what people see as compromise or efforts to "reach across the aisle" are actually artifacts of the system. While it's easy to say that they should draft a GOOD bill (which would mean, to most people who object to compromise legislation, a highly partisan or ideological bill) and then build grass roots support for it, such a strategy is clearly much more difficult to put into practice.

If it were that easy, I think we'd have single payer healthcare, Bush's Social Security reform, war with Iraq a year sooner than we got it, beaucoup taxes on the rich, a moratorium on capital gains taxes, a permanent moratorium on off-shore drilling, a billion dollar alternative energy program, amnesty for illegal immigrants, gray marriage, etc., etc.

@scarlota: "to be from a red state to really understand what Republicans are"

Indeed. Unlike Democrats, who are grown organically in futuristic hydroponic farms on the moon, Republicans are all made from recycled plastic and motor oil in a factory China.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | June 9, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Kevin, dude, I grew up Baptist in Georgia, among a family of hardcore social conservatives. Which is why I moved north to embrace my raging liberal. Hell, I'm probably related to Miss Lindsey -- we're all kin, right?

I know Republicans like I know the back of my hand. They'll destroy the country if they think they can take down the Democratic party and the black man who allegedly leads it.

Posted by: scarlota | June 9, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

A psychological explanation for why the "lone Republican" theory fails:

http://thepoliticizer.com/2010/04/16/lifson-the-answer-to-republican-obstructionism-more-republicans-debut-column/

Posted by: Tragicflaw | June 9, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Which raises another question, and one I had in the health care debate as well -- when the Lone Republican pitches a fit and goes home, why do his compromises remain in the bill? Why don't they all get unrolled? This makes no sense.

Posted by: pj_camp | June 9, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Republicans have been doing this same move since Democrats took power in 2006. Take a look back to the CHIP reauthorization bill, stimulus, Senate health bill, etc. -- its a concerted strategy on the part of Republicans to exploit Democrats' insecurity and need for bipartisan cover (which of course, they never get). Until Democrats figure this out, they will keep getting played by a party that has expessed no desire to work collaboratively on issues since 1998.

Posted by: novaobserver | June 9, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

"I know Republicans like I know the back of my hand. They'll destroy the country if they think they can take down the Democratic party and the black man who allegedly leads it."

Well, there ya go. Can't fight that logic.

Because all Republicans are exactly the same. It's like "Village of the Damned", only older and fatter.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | June 9, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Agreed with Ezra's sense that Graham was on the board. Unfortunately, not sure if there was any lever with Dems to win him back. Reid had shelved the immigration bill, Obama was on record that he was ready for the compromise there (if and when that bill was going to the floor); but Graham's consent was more dictated by bringing in few more GOP folks.

This is also an example of how BP Oil Spill is going to actually make 'Drill Baby Drill' crowd even more aggressive and shrill. They are all licking their chops to have this fight.

If Obama and Dems were Leaders, they will take this fight and try telling Americans hubris of the current energy consumption pattern. The fear of Dem loss in Nov 2010 cannot be a reason for not debating this issue openly and squarely. It is too big of an issue to pass without proper electoral contest about. Clear mandate one way or the other is needed - majority Americans are either ready for consequences of Global Warming or ready to pay the price smartly.

Will Obama and Dems show this 'morality' and sense of what is ultimately good for America regardless of short term calculus? Currently there is no such sign.

By the way, the brilliant strategy of 'luring Dems by the Trojan Horse of a single GOP and needling these bills to Right as much as possible'; that is so right on money. Surprise is Dems and Obama White House turned out to be so 'neophyte' to allow GOP to eat their lunch. Really miserable performance by Axelrod & Rahm in this case.

Posted by: umesh409 | June 9, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

I keep wondering how we can empower the moderates, and I keep coming back to divided government being the best hope. If Congress is controlled by one party and the White House by the other, both parties have incentives to work together.

Posted by: jduptonma | June 9, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

"when the Lone Republican pitches a fit and goes home, why do his compromises remain in the bill"

"Until Democrats figure this out, they will keep getting played by a party that has expessed no desire to work collaboratively on issues"

Again, I'd argue that these "compromise" bills that people have problems with are systemic artifacts, rather that the product of "too much bipartisanship" on the part of Democrats (or Republicans, when the same accusations are leveled at them by their base).

Either the system leaves them little choice but to start off from compromise when advancing their legislation, or little choice but to attempt compromise with the lone Republican even when they know the Republican will likely ditch at the last minute. There other choice have to be worse (no legislation, somebody else getting their name on a bill, holding the entire senate hostage while reading the phone book).

It's seems unlikely that the entire senate and congress has not produced anyone who has thought of going it alone and crafting excellent legislation (at least, to their eyes). The more likely conclusion is not that Democrats are too trusting of lone Republicans or that they are overwhelmed with a desire for peace, love and bipartisanship; the most likely conclusion is that purely partisan attempts at go-it-alone legislation don't work. For whatever reason, probably due both to the culture and rules of the senate (and the house), attempts and compromise and trying to make deals with lone allies on the other side of the aisle are the only way significant legislation can be approached.

Because if crafting "good" legislation plus building grass roots support worked to advance legislation and get it passed, it would be happening now, and to heck bipartisanship.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | June 9, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

I no longer believe that the people in the 3 branches of our Constitutional government serve the interests of this Nation or its people. I hope that We The People are awakening to the dangers of our own negligence of what the politicians and the bureaucrats are doing to us. The professional politicians and bureaucrats along with the labor unions now view We The People as merchandise; and they make merchandise of us all in subtle, wormy ways.

Posted by: ironmule | June 9, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Climate Change legislation sinking and all Graham did was hop in a lifeboat. I can't blame him for not wanting to stick with Captain Kerry as he goes down with his ship.

Posted by: ecocampaigner | June 9, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

De-regulate the banks? Financial collapse.
Create new 'Constitutional rights' for Coorporations? Political Disaster.
De-regulate oil companies? Environmental catastrophe.

Why do Republicans hate America?
Why do Republicans hate the planet Earth?

350ppm atmospheric CO2. Above that the planet warms and the oceans acidify. Physics and Chemistry don't negotiate.

Posted by: thebobbob | June 9, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Of course the naive intelligence of a boy or a girl does not grasp the subtler developments of human inadequacy. Children begin life with a disposition to believe in the wisdom of grown-up people; they do not realize how casual and disingenuous has been the development of law and custom, and they think that somewhere in the state there is a power as irresistible as a head master's to check mischievous and foolish enterprises of every sort. I will confess that when my uncle talked of climate change and cap & trade I had a clear impression that any one who contrived to do that would pretty certainly go to jail. Now I know that any one who could really bring it off would be much more likely to go to the House of Lords.

Paraphrased from H.G. Wells' "Tono-Bungay"

Posted by: ironmule | June 9, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

"the Dems have allowed themselves to be played in a vain effort to be "bipartisan".

"when the Lone Republican pitches a fit and goes home, why do his compromises remain in the bill? Why don't they all get unrolled? This makes no sense."

"Until Democrats figure this out, they will keep getting played by a party that has expessed no desire to work collaboratively on issues"


I don't subscribe to the "Republicans are playing the Democrats like a fiddle" explanation as to why watered down bills get passed without Republican support.

The more simpler explanation is that the watered down bill is ultimately what the majority of Democratic legislators want. Maybe not the more liberal Democratic legislators, but certainly a sizable number of conservative and mainstream legislators. They want it because that is what their corporate puppet masters want. Obviously the voters don't want it, so they need to come up with a subterfuge. "We got tricked by the Republicans" or "We just didn't have the votes" or "Joe Lieberman did it".

Republicans are unapologetic corporatists. Democrats are closet corporatists.

Posted by: niceshoes1 | June 9, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

@PJC: Which raises another question, and one I had in the health care debate as well -- when the Lone Republican pitches a fit and goes home, why do his compromises remain in the bill? Why don't they all get unrolled? This makes no sense.

I wish dems would have a substitute progressive bill to offer if the republican of the day decides (as they always do) that they can't support the legislation in the end. This would be a way to pressure republicans to stay with the compromise bill.

Unfortunately, conservadems and corporadems actually like having the republicans make the bill less progressive so they can stay under the radar while tacitly supporting weakening the bills. This is the lesson of HCR. Dems are better than repubs, but not always by very much...

Posted by: srw3 | June 9, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

The "reach across the aisle" RINO Republicans led by Graham and McCain may have finally seen the light at the end of the tunnel and it is the USSA, United Socialist States of America. The Energy Bill is a replay of Obamacare with the government in control of the energy market. There is not an iota of scientific understanding among the hundreds of lawyers in Congress that the mantra 'CO2 causes global warming' is human manufactured hoax by government employed 'so-called' scientists both here, in the IPCC and in the UK aided by grant sponsored academics as revealed by the CRU emails and files.

Posted by: mosmanpat | June 9, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

@mosmanpat: global warming' is human manufactured hoax by government employed 'so-called' scientists both here, in the IPCC and in the UK aided by grant sponsored academics as revealed by the CRU emails and files.

Your name should be moonmanpat, since you are clearly not on this planet. Climate change deniers are right up there with the birthers, truthers, young earth creationists, and UFO conspiracy promoters. The number of actual climate scientists (as opposed to fossil fuel industry shills) that do not believe that CO2 is not building up in the atmosphere due to human burning of oil and coal and causes the greenhouse effect can be counted on 1 or 2 hands.

Willful ignorance of the overwhelming scientific consensus doesn't make the effects of climate change go away.

Posted by: srw3 | June 9, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

I agree with everything that has been said about the watering down of bills without getting much / any Republican support but on the other hand I think it misses the forest for the trees, namely that major bills did get passed in the end (I could not care less whether at the end Corker or Grassley vote for a regulatory financial reform bill for example): Major health care reforms and (soon) financial regulatory reform have been passed in addition to education reform, some investments in key areas via the stimulus etc. even though there is limited party discipline among Democrats and virtually complete opposition from Republicans. Maybe better bills could have passed but I don't think this is a sure thing. If I compare the legislative achievements (not necessarily political or administrative) with other Democratic presidents this appears quite substantial. Energy / climate change appears (besides immigration) to be the main outstanding item versus Obama's campaign and that I think is remarkable. I think there are lots of other major to do's (i.e. tax reform / deficit reduction / the defence budget, reforms to structurally put the US back on a path to goring real wages for the middle class etc.) and I am much more sceptical these will be achieved but to be fair this was not much at the core of concrete campaign proposals. The obvious focus now needs to be to push energy / climate change reform. My view is this is achievable with a push in one, two or three steps. Step 1 is to pass with 60 votes what can be passed after the oil spill (this may be small and should be focused on regulatory items) but without disarming in the process (i.e. such a bill shall not reduce the EPA's powers). Step 2 pass via reconciliation (someone should check if in the absence of a new budget resolution this is possible) the tax / subsidy etc. elements that are at the core of a comprehensive bill. Step 3: either implement the rest of the package via EPA regulation or a new bill with the remaining components in early 2011.

Posted by: anonymous54 | June 9, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Agree the issue is how to empower the moderates. Filibuster reform? Divided gov? Cultural change? Campaign finance reform?

It feels like the the Californication of the US Gov is going on -- it's getting so sclerotic we can't move any direction. So we just stand around and let the country crumble. It's infuriating. We need structures that could reward bi-partisanship and there aren't any. It's all downside to work with someone from the other party.

Ezra -- could you consider some pieces on what political scientists say on the topic? Outside of filibuster reform, are there more general studies, say of how a place with these problems were able to dig themselves out?

I'm happy that Obama and congress have tried reaching across the aisle, even if the more moderate results are a little disappointing. At least they're trying something and not pretending that all republicans are evil. I assume centerist republicans give points to their guys for trying also.

Posted by: BHeffernan1 | June 9, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Graham played the same game on immigration reform. When health care passed, Graham was furious and insisted it would kill immigration reform. Later, when Reid indicated that he would go forward with immigration, Graham was frantic and claimed that he had been promised that immigration reform would not be dealt with this year. Graham has proven to be a sly, unreliable partner.

Posted by: mehuwss | June 9, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

"Republicans have been doing this same move since Democrats took power in 2006."

On which planet did the Democrats "take power" in 2006?

The Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives in the year 2007. The Republicans held the Senate and the White House until 2009.

Posted by: Patrick_M | June 9, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

"Yet the experience of four thousand years should enlarge our hopes, and diminish our apprehensions: we cannot determine to what height the human species may aspire in their advances towards perfection; but it may safely be presumed that no people, unless the face of nature is changed, will relapse into their original barbarism."

Edward Gibbon
The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

Posted by: sdavis3398 | June 9, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Tim Pawlenty played a version of this all 8 years of his governorship (not surprising, since he was a legislative leader before that).

He would force all sorts of 'compromises' to Democratic legislation, get the Dems to pass it, then veto the thing anyway.

Infuriated the left, since the Dems were passing crappy, GOP-infused junk. Then even the watery, lousy bill got nixed in the end.

He played this to great advantage fro 6 years, and in the past 2 the Dems finally caught on, sort of. Slow learners, it seems.

As far as I can tell, Pawlenty has infected the national GOP, you saw this throughout the last and current Congresses.

Posted by: RalfW | June 9, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Kevin, your comments aren't rational. You're just saying, "this is what Republicans think," which doesn't actually have any basis in fact.

Posted by: constans | June 9, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Change reconciliation rules and all these farce will stop. We can elect president with less total votes than the runnerup but need 60% votes to pass almost anything in senate.

Posted by: tarang_72 | June 9, 2010 9:36 PM | Report abuse

So it seems that the republicans are the smart ones. Although if everything was left to them our water would be dirtier than mexico's and we could make their children drink the tap water while waterboarding them.

Posted by: jkbrook11 | June 11, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

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