By their votes, you shall know them
Reihan Salam's effort to explain how you can know congressional Republicans believe something they don't mention publicly or support legislatively gets at the heart of one of D.C.'s most pernicious illusions: The idea that we should worry about what congresspeople believe in their heart of hearts, as opposed to what they're willing to vote for at this time.
Salam uses congressional Democrats in 2005 as an analogy: "The fact that congressional Democrats in 2005 didn't offer alternative legislative language for Social Security reform does not mean that all congressional Democrats proposed some kind of reform for Social Security," he says. But this is a distinction without a difference, at least if you were sitting around in 2005 asking "what sort of Social Security reform will Democrats partner with Republicans to pass?" They wouldn't partner with Republicans on anything. What they believed was irrelevant, because that belief was not strong enough to govern what they would do.
I've said many times that you cannot construct a coherent policy model for the Republican Party's policies over the past two years. Senators and congressmen who supported John Chaffee's 1993 health-care bill, Mitt Romney's reforms in Massachusetts and Medicare Part D could not have been lockstep against the Affordable Care Act, and certainly not on budgetary grounds. Legislators who voted for the Bush tax cuts and now want to extend them without offsets cannot credibly argue that the deficit can't bear $30 billion in further stimulus.
But if you created a model based on "what position would a person take if they wanted to help their party win the next election," you'd find your model almost perfectly accurate. And when you take that model in which policy barely matters and partisan incentives govern behavior and add the filibuster into it, you understand why the Senate is so dangerously broken.
The Republican Party does not currently exist as an institution interested in working with Democrats to shape policy, just as the Democratic Party in 2005 did not exist as an institution interested in working with Republicans to shape policy. Pundits and commentators like to ignore this fact as we like to write pieces about how if Congress followed our policy preferences somewhat more closely, it would surely be more successful. That's what Salam was doing in his original post, in which he said there was a conservative consensus that included a large number of lawmakers behind a conditional version of state and local aid. But there isn't. There's a Republican consensus in favor of winning the next election and a Republican consensus that winning the next election means obstructing Democratic accomplishments and that, and not policy disagreement, is the central operating reality in the United States Congress.
August 5, 2010; 9:53 AM ET
Save & Share: Previous: Wonkbook: State aid passes Senate; static kill succeeds; no more secret holds?
Next: Who overturned Prop 8?
Posted by: imartin1 | August 5, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: dbfclark | August 5, 2010 10:19 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: douglasblee | August 5, 2010 10:45 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: AMviennaVA | August 5, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: TomCantlon | August 5, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: KBfromNC | August 5, 2010 11:20 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: mschol17 | August 5, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: FastEddieO007 | August 5, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: cmccauley60 | August 5, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: kenm3 | August 5, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: tomcammarata | August 5, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: KennethAlmquist | August 5, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: MosBen | August 5, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: dasimon | August 5, 2010 6:52 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Jonnan | August 5, 2010 6:58 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: rjw88 | August 5, 2010 8:29 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: kristycrew | August 6, 2010 5:31 AM | Report abuse