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Which party will get punished for Senate dysfunction?

A number of bloggers today have been up in arms about the apparent failure of the jobs bill in the Senate, now that it looks like no Republicans will help Dems break the GOP filibuster.

This could have terrible consequences, and Senator Debbie Stabenow, in particular, is furious. Today she argued that Republicans want the economy to tank in order to help themselves in the midterms:

"It is very clear that the Republicans in the Senate want this economy to fail. They see that things are beginning to turn around.... In cynical political terms, it doesn't serve them in terms of their election interests if things are beginning to turn around."

But there's another layer to this worth considering: Republicans may also stand to reap the rewards if government is perceived to be failing.

The problem for Dems is that there are no indications whatsoever that the public is outraged by GOP obstruction. Poll after poll shows that the public is convinced Republicans are the ones not making good faith efforts to cooperate. But even though there are indications that the public holds the GOP in low regard, there are no signs that awareness of GOP obstructionism will help Dems at the ballot box, if generic Congressional matchup polls are any indication.

Indeed, what if the opposite is true: If the government is perceived as dysfunctional, mightn't the party that's running the place end up paying the price? We've heard endlessly that people are fed up with Congress and that this is an anti-incumbent year. This is probably only encouraged by Senate dysfunction, whoever is to blame.

It's easy to imagine that the public is reacting to all the Dem screaming about GOP obstruction by tuning out the details as so much Beltway white noise -- and concluding that Washington is broken and that the current crop isn't getting the job done.

I don't know if this is the thinking underlying GOP strategy, but it certainly seems possible that GOP obstruction, in political terms, could end up helping Republicans more than Dems. If true, it certainly wouldn't be the first up-is-downism to emerge from the alternate reality known as the U.S. Senate.

By Greg Sargent  |  June 24, 2010; 4:49 PM ET
Categories:  Senate Dems , Senate Republicans  
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Next: Happy Hour Roundup


Republicans' agenda was:

"To Drown The Federal Government In A Bathtub".

If they succeeded in killing it, then they should get All The Credit For Making Sure That The Government Was Unable To Work.

Posted by: Liam-still | June 24, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Liam, what is this business about you quitting blogging and commenting?

Please tell me that's not true.

Posted by: Greg Sargent | June 24, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

I'ts been a long time since the GOP cared about policy. See "Mayberry Machiavillies" for proof of that. No, what they care about is politics.

If voting against a bill helps them politically, then they'll vote against it.

The question Democrats should be asking themselves is, "How can I make voting against this hurt the GOP politically?"

Senator Stabenow's comments are a good start. Dem Senators need to engage in hyperbolic language because that is the only way the press will cover this. And if the press doens't cover this there will be no downside for Republicans.

Posted by: nisleib | June 24, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

I'm sure that if the new spending was fully offset the GOP would support the bill.

Posted by: sbj3 | June 24, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

Most of this is about message control and activating the base. Trying to convince working Americans (the majority) and unemployed people (10% is a big number) that they should get out and work for GOP who do nothing but obstruct is a tough sell. What the GOP hopes for is suppressed voter turnout among key groups favorable to Dems. I'm not convinced that their strategy is going to work. In particular, TV ads just aren't going to get through like they used to.

Posted by: benintn | June 24, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse


I have decided that seventy is old enough to get out of the politics, and commentary business. Time to let the next generations step up to the plate. No need to hang on until I have lost enough of my faculties, so that I pull a Helen Thomas.

I believe it was Branch Rickey that said: he would rather trade a ballplayer a year too soon, than a year too late. Old people should get out of politics far younger than most of them do. Arlen for example, or Senator Byrd. Not to mention Senator McCain.

Hell, if you are at the age where the grandkids do not trust you to operate the TV remote, you have no business making decisions that decide the future of the nation.

At my age, one never knows how much time one has left, so I want to devote my remaining time to enjoying nature, literature, gardening, and my extensive library of movies.

Posted by: Liam-still | June 24, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

Liam -- how about pushing it back to 72, or 75? We need you here. :)

Posted by: Greg Sargent | June 24, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Liam, don't go.

Posted by: AllButCertain | June 24, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

Liam, 72 sounds good.

sbj, below is from Ezra Klein. Your comment over-simplifies the dilemma of short term spending.

"Those modification documents are important, because Democrats have made a lot of changes to the bill in response to Republican opposition. The total cost went from $200 billion to about $110 billion. The bill went from being deficit-funded -- which is what you want for stimulus -- to largely paid for, with only the $30 billion or so in unemployment benefits adding to the deficit. The $25 addition to unemployment checks was eliminated, and states now have to pay more for Medicaid, adding to their budget woes. The bill, in other words, has been made smaller and weaker. And that's despite 9.7 percent unemployment."

Posted by: lmsinca | June 24, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Liam: Your commentary here seems remarkably lucid to me. You're definitely nowhere near John PTSD McCain territory.

You've got to do what you enjoy. I very much hope you continue to enjoy the conversation here at TPL.

I'm SURE there are alternative explanations that occur to you for your grandkids' impatience with your handling of the remote :-)

Posted by: jzap | June 24, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

I think if Sen. Stabenow's comment about the economy turning around were more true, Dems would be in better shape. Regardless of what the Repubs do, as cynical and cruel as it is, unless we can get the unemployment numbers down, Dems will suffer. I hope they don't run to the right in the hopes of saving themselves as well, because it will only make it worse.

Posted by: lmsinca | June 24, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse


Didn't you hear? The congress upped the retirement age!

(Greg, how come no post on that??)


Posted by: suekzoo1 | June 24, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse


Didn't you hear? The congress upped the retirement age!

(Greg, how come no post on that??)


Posted by: suekzoo1 | June 24, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

I think the perceptual impact of GOP's Senate roadblock could be mitigated by one or two REAL filibuster battles. Hold those GOOPers' feet to the fire on something that has popular backing.

But Harry Reid has to pick his battle(s) carefully. Jobs bill? FinReg? Oil-spill liability? Climate change?

It's a tough call. Jobs? Problematic. The internals of the NBC poll Greg cited earlier show 63% more concerned about the deficit than (34%) boosting the economy (Q24). (More depressing news for Paul Krugman.)

If FinReg can pass w/o a filibuster, then maybe the jobs/stim/unemployment bill could be a good choice for a public battle. The optics would certainly be on the Dems' side.

Also, keep your fingers crossed for one of those relief wells to finally plug the hole. I suspect public opinion will start to shift once the acute emergency has passed and the focus turns to containment and clean-up of the pollution. That'll be when the blame game can start in earnest (read: gross negligence).

Posted by: jzap | June 24, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

Liam, I just lurk here and not often, but I had no idea you were 70. I figured you were a 30-something wise guy like my kids, the smartest kids on the planet. Man, don't go. If nothing else you're putting out a great role model!

Posted by: cheles | June 24, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

@Liam: If you feel compelled to leave just because you promised to do so if Greg banned Bilge then forget about it! We know you didn't really mean it - please stay and comment every once in a while.

Posted by: sbj3 | June 24, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

All, Happy Hour Roundup posted:

Posted by: Greg Sargent | June 24, 2010 6:03 PM | Report abuse

The problem is the Democrats never make Republican obstructionism the problem with government. Instead, the Republican's paint the Democrats legislation as the problem.

Like now, why isn't every Democrat on the hill yelling into the mic about how the unemployed will now be cut off from benefits and how this might aid a double dip recession? Because there is no democrats yelling in the mic we are to believe this is ok because the unemployed might be drug users???

Posted by: soapm | June 24, 2010 6:04 PM | Report abuse


Didn't you hear? The congress upped the retirement age!

(Greg, how come no post on that??)


Posted by: suekzoo1 | June 24, 2010 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Sorry everyone.

I was not ignoring you. I had some chores to tend to, and I used the time to run full anti-virus , and disk integrity scans.

I will wrap things up, at the end of the month. This year will be all about local politics. Those national polls on how people feel about congress are worthless. Every one hates congress, but keeps electing their own reps, for the most part.

I will see how I feel about the idea of posting once more, once the cold weather returns, and I am more house bound.

Since next year will be the year that Republican candidates for President will keep trying to be the one who is seen as the farthest to the right, it will be a good year for to let them scare the hell out of most rational voters.

President Obama should just tend to his knitting, with a Rose Garden strategy, until after The Republicans have chosen a nominee.

Once a person has be chosen to run against President Obama, I may return for a while then.

That should be a lot of fun, and I may not want to miss it.

Posted by: Liam-still | June 24, 2010 8:08 PM | Report abuse

Great job Republicans, so much for winning back the House and Senate in November! The Republican Party, winning over the hearts and minds of the American people, while killing their unemployment benefits!

Posted by: Hillary08 | June 24, 2010 9:30 PM | Report abuse

NewsBusters| Media: GOP Blocked Unemployment Bill to Hurt Economy Before Midterm Elections

Posted by: StewartIII | June 26, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

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