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Why aren't Senate Democrats angrier at Ben Nelson?

nelsonelevator.JPG

If the economy really decides elections -- and there's plenty of evidence that it does -- then it stands to reason that nothing is more important in a given legislator's reelection campaign than the state of the economy. And, as we all know, the state of the economy is bad.

But it's not just bad: It's also worse than it has to be. And it's worse than it has to be in part because of Ben Nelson, who was instrumental in knocking more about $100 billion off the original stimulus, blocking the recent effort to extend unemployment benefits, and making it difficult for the Senate to contemplate further relief measures, like state and local aid.

I want to be clear: I'm not making a judgment about whether Nelson is right or wrong in these votes. As his office points out, his state has a low unemployment rate, and his voters are quite conservative. So there's an argument to be made that he's doing his job just fine. But he's making his colleagues' jobs much harder. Every Democrat aside from Nelson voted for the unemployment extension. Nelson's filibuster blocked it. That means millions of people lose their unemployment checks, and when that happens, they blame their senators, even if it's not their senators' fault.

My understanding of how the Senate works is that Harry Reid would lose his mind if Nelson traveled to Nevada to campaign against him. But in terms of actual effect, these votes are much worse for Reid and his caucus than a whistlestop tour from Nelson could ever be. Instrumentally, it's important for Democrats to maintain good relations with Nelson because they need his vote, and getting it sometimes is better than getting it never. But the tendency to see elections in terms of campaigns and candidates rather than economic outcomes is probably saving him from the sort of social pressure he'd be under if senators thought more like political scientists and connected their votes to the voters' votes, and so saw things like a filibuster against unemployment insurance as a direct problem for their reelection campaign.

Photo credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 12, 2010; 10:21 AM ET
Categories:  2010 Midterms  
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Comments

Ben Nelson should consider switching parties. Clearly the Democratic party does not see fit to make room for this senator within their party. Republicans should make room for Senator Nelson in their party.

Posted by: lancediverson | July 12, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

It's a good point. Nelson not only voted against these measures, but he voted to sustain a filibuster of them.

I guess there is a fear that voting for cloture, and then voting against a measure is too much like "being for something before you were against it".

Posted by: Unwisdom | July 12, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

It's probably because they don't have any leverage over him whatsoever.

Posted by: mschol17 | July 12, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Why aren't Senate Democrats angrier at Ben Nelson?


Well maybe because he's better to them than another Marco Rubio type conservative from Florida?

Posted by: visionbrkr | July 12, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse

"But the tendency to see elections in terms of campaigns and candidates rather than economic outcomes is probably saving him from the sort of social pressure he'd be under if senators thought more like political scientists and connected their votes to the voters' votes, and so saw things like a filibuster against unemployment insurance as a direct problem for their reelection campaign."

Perhaps because they see the filibuster as being directly beneficial for their reelection campaigns.

At this point, any jobs/stimulus/what have you legislation isn't going to make a difference by election day. The bed has been made, as it were, and now it's an issue of perception.

Best case scenario, let unemployment benefits expire, which should reduce the reported unemployment rate to somewhere in the 8s by election day. Get Republicans on the record voting against/filibustering jobs legislation as often as possible.

"Republicans got us into this mess, now they're trying to prevent us from getting out. But we're making progress..."

If those benefits pass, we're still in the mid/high 9s on election day, and the deficit talking points have extra ammo. If things aren't headed in the right direction, people vote for change.

Your general argument, that Senators don't spend enough time thinking about elections and voters, feels naive in the extreme.

Posted by: eggnogfool | July 12, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

The Senators spend time thinking about reelection and donors, not reelection and voters. They do what is in the interest of their donors and cronies, not the voters. They think the voters are stupid.

Nelson also does not have any appreciation for the interconnectedness of the US economy. Laid-off workers who lose their benefits and can't afford meat as much hurt Nebraska and its huge meat-packing industry.

Nelson is only a Democrat because there were too many GOPers ahead of him in line.

Posted by: Mimikatz | July 12, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

No unemployment? Thank the republicans! For the rest of you -When the economy stalls again - you can thank the republicans too. The republican’s weren’t worried about the deficit when that big insurance company and their friends the Wall Street execs were giving themselves bonuses with taxpayer money!!! Next election – let Congress feel the sting of the unemployment lines!!! No more raping and pillaging the middle class!!! – How many years have you paid taxes? 30? 40? Your government bails out bankers and Wall Street execs using your tax dollars – but unemployment is allowed to expire? What happened to "by the people" or "for the people"? Or are the big campaign contributors the only "people" who count to congress? They are playing games AGAIN FOR THE THIRD TIME while you are wondering how to feed your kids? Figure it out! Malfeasance – Failure of a public official to perform their duties!!! Next Election MAKE YOURSELF MATTER BY VOTING!!! 10% unemployment carries 10% of the vote! Use it!! Fire them all next election or recall every Congress member NOW for Malfeasance – Failure of a public official to perform their duties!!! Next Election - Lets get people elected who actually represent all the People- this current congress represents only special interest groups!

Posted by: agh1 | July 12, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

my bad. Wrong Nelson. But you get the point. If the person taking his or her place is WORSE in their mindset then they certainly won't want to rock the boat.

Posted by: visionbrkr | July 12, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

The Senate Democrats are not upset with Ben Nelson because they believe that the longer the delay in unemployment benefits, the more angry folks will be at the Republicans come November. The delay in the WV Senate appointment is the same thing. To be clear, and I am an Independent/Democrat, but I believe that the Democratic Senators have been responsible for the delays in the past, by weighing down the unemployment bills with unpopular amendments, and now by their self-serving interest in getting re-elected via making Americans truly suffer at the supposed hands of the Republicans. They could have compromised and moved the bill forward. The Republicans could have at least tried hard to compromise as well. They are not worried about the deficit as much as they are very eager to make the Democrats look bad.

The Republicans are poised to do well so think wrongly that it is in their interest to do nothing.

The (absent) media is also responsible for not laying the culpability on the respective doorsteps with clear explanations so that Americans can understand why they have been abandoned. No, it won't put food on the table, but it will help folks understand why their kids are going hungry.

The Senate thinks the American people are simple minded and don't understand the dynamics, and seem to feel that their own potential unemployment is more important than 3 million real time unemplyed voters.

Posted by: BostonJudy | July 12, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

The problem is the Senate itself. Nebraska and California each get two senators. Nebraska has less than 2 million people, while California has 37 million, so it takes 18 Californians to equal every Senate vote for a Nebraskan. Nelson will be voted in or out by Nebraskans, and that's all he cares about apparently. For the millions of out of work folks in California, he has dismissed them as irrelevant. Very sad that this legislative body has the same if not more power than an actual representative body, the House, and that people like Ben Nelson are allowed to impact decisions that affect all of us, when he doesn't care if California falls into the ocean and millions die from lack of health insurance, become homeless, lose their homes, etc.

Posted by: RepublicansLieContinuously | July 12, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

First Ezra says:
"But it's not just bad: It's also worse than it has to be. And it's worse than it has to be in part because of Ben Nelson, who was instrumental in knocking more about $100 billion off the original stimulus, blocking the recent effort to extend unemployment benefits, and making it difficult for the Senate to contemplate further relief measures, like state and local aid."

In the next breath he says:
"I want to be clear: I'm not making a judgment about whether Nelson is right or wrong in these votes."

Knee-jerk liberals who promote disastrous debt-fueled spending are a danger to our economy.

But I'm not saying they're wrong...

Posted by: spamsux1 | July 12, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

I think it's for the same reason that Lieberman is still part of the Democratic Caucus and why he keeps his Chairmanship. The Dems will allow disagreement while the Republicans would go ballistic at this "independent" behavior. Conversely, I don't think either of these Senators could survive as Republicans; they enjoy their regular forays into dissent too much.
Some might say this makes the Democrats seem more accepting but personally I see it as a failure of the Leadership to advance the wishes of the people who elected them. If the Dems can't keep "control" of Congress in November it will be because of a relative handful of lawmakers who decided that their independence superseded the good of the country.

Posted by: mikemfr | July 12, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

could the same argument be made on the converse side of "moderate Republicans" like Snowe, Brown and Collins?

RLC,

if California's going to fall into the sea they're going to do it ALL ON THEIR OWN. They don't need help from Nebraskans, Oklahomans or anyone else for that matter.

Posted by: visionbrkr | July 12, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

@spamsux1:
I believe Erza's 'not right or wrong' comment is directed at the fact that Nelson is doing what his constituents want. What may be right for Nebraska may not be for the entire country; hence the 'not right or wrong' stance.
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That said, Nebraska may have low unemployment, but I'm going out on a limb here and saying that Nebraska gets a good bit more in return from Washington than it contributes to the federal coffers financially. So to vote for smaller fed gov't without cutting off your own use of that fed gov't is a wee bit hypocritical.
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And lets be very clear, these are NOT votes on whether to pass or not pass anything, they were simply votes on whether to begin/end debating the issues so a vote to pass or not pass can be taken.
.
Another hallmark of hypocrisy when used at the level filibusters have been done since the GOP lost the Senate.

Posted by: rpixley220 | July 12, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Charleymiller2010.wordpress.com

RE: An Open Letter to All Senators of the United States


Your Honorable Senator;

You bailed out the financial institutions, you bailed out the auto industry, you bailed out the trillion dollar insurance industry, you continue to bail out two “not wanted” military occupations in foreign lands, all because you state, “they are to big to fail.”

Now you won’t even bail out the American people who have supported and paid for all of these bailouts. You have turned your backs on those who have suffered the most, those who are about to or have already lost their homes, livelihoods, and most of all, those who have children to feed, with nowhere to turn. Instead of the American dream, you have created the American nightmare.

The American people have lost faith in what appears to be a broken two-party system. I urge you to immediately restore that faith, take a stand, and bring forth a correct measure to extend benefits to the unemployed and end these wars, the promise you promised to do. Show the American people that you can remove yourselves from the politics, do this now! I urge you and pray you will pay attention and listen. God bless America and God bless you.

Posted by: charleymiller2010 | July 12, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

visionbrkr - "could the same argument be made on the converse side of "moderate Republicans" like Snowe, Brown and Collins?"

No, because when it really counts, those so-called "moderate" Republicans toe the party line. When it really counts, these so called "moderate" Dems drop-kick the party line. It's an altogether different kind of toe-action.

Posted by: KarenJG | July 12, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

@RepublicansLieContinuously:
The same argument against representative houses can be made. Take school books for example. Texas will be deciding what is in books used by quite a few states simply because it is bigger than other states and the publisher is simply publishing to the largest group's desires.
.
The Senate exists precisely because we don't want roughshod rule by a majority. We give lesser populated states equal representation in the Senate to balance the population based House.
.
Both give one side an advantage and hopefully between the two, more equal representation for everybody. It isn't perfect and to quote a political commentator I don't remember the name of at the moment "We're seeing the results of what happens when you have an irresponsible minority party".
.
Obstructionism can be used effectively, ala the civil rights movement, or it can be used badly like the vindictive HOA member who has nothing better to do than wield arcane rules to stop things simply because they can.
.
It would seem to be pretty obvious which the GOP has chose to emulate.

Posted by: rpixley220 | July 12, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

KarenJG,


really? Because Brown's seemingly voting for FinReg and Snowe and Collins could easily come over too.

You've also got several senators on record in favor of Cap and Trade.

Posted by: visionbrkr | July 12, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Of course they're not concerned about voters! After all, voters are the American people and they don't represent the American people! Like two herds of sheep, Congress is made up of two groups of followers loyal ONLY to the party that got them elected. The issues are not important, the voters (American people) are not important, the state of our country is not important, they can't think independently and the only thing they know how to do is follow the party. The American people have no representation or leadership.

Posted by: deborahjbrown | July 12, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

visionbrkr - I'll believe it when I see it. Snowe and Collins have made pretty noises about backing Dem legislation before, only to back out at the last minute. Health care comes to mind. Although they did vote for the stimulous, so I'm not completely cynical about their expressed support for fin-reg. But, again, I'm waiting to see what we see before conceding the point. Been burned too many times before by their "moderate" rhetoric that somehow just doesn't translate into an actual vote.

Posted by: KarenJG | July 12, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

All I know is that Ben Nelson is making the lives of unemployed people more difficult and it's time he starts to cast votes that help middle class families.
btw, I've been hearing great job search advice (and who doesn't need that??) on an internet radio show at www.jobtalkamerica.com

Posted by: kcsam215 | July 12, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse

Please sign the petition on the link listed below…

Im like so many others.. Was employed for 18 years since graduating high school. Started on the production floor working my way up to management then onto district manager. I actually have my first face to face interview tomorrow and “HOPE” I get the job. But so many others like myself (If I dont get the job tomorrow) need this to stay afloat. And Im like so many others
come November Senator George Voinovich Rep. for Ohio will not be getting my vote or a vote from my spouse. I will speak to every
individual in my family to help VOTE him out of office….

Change.org

uspoverty.change.org/petitions/view/tell_your_senators_to_vote_for_an_emergency_extension_of_ui_benefits

Posted by: bnw614 | July 12, 2010 10:13 PM | Report abuse

Will the Democrats remember Ben Nelson when corn subsidies come up for a vote? Nebraska already gets federal aid, it just goes by a different name.

Posted by: live2learn | July 13, 2010 8:26 AM | Report abuse

Kick him out of the caucus and let him sink to the bottom of the GOP pile. Party discipline, Reid... use it.

Posted by: gjcomm | July 13, 2010 10:38 PM | Report abuse

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