Monday, December 31, 2007

Partisanship, marginal members and majority of the whole v. majority of the majority

I have to disagree with Shamanic's earlier argument that Krugman is implicitly and unfairly criticizing Barack Obama's rhetoric of bi-partisanship. I think our difference lies within the nature of the agendas being pursued and the internal and informal House organizing rules that will allow a projected diminished Republican House and Senate caucuses to be very partisan vehicles.
I believe the GOP would hemorrhage voters if Obama faced Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee (my gut says it's one of the two, but we'll know in a month or so). Obama's coattails could sweep in a dramatic Democratic majority to augment the narrow one getting thrashed between the GOP minority and the 25% man right now.

Bipartisanship is a lot less necessary the closer you get to 60 Senate seats, and while Obama's agenda is hardly revolutionary, I think the general feeling about him is that he will work diligently and -- more importantly -- smartly to implement it, creating stakeholders out of disparate interests.
I'll first disagree on the hemorraging of either registred Republicans or strongly Republican leaning unaffiliated voters from the Republican coalition. Clinton performs the weakest in the head to heads compared to Obama and Edwards, but not by a significant margin against Obama. He does better but not amazingly so.

As Greg Sargant notes at the Horses Mouth, gridlock has a simple explanation:
Partisan gridlock happens because people -- and by extension, political parties -- disagree about stuff. One party wants to do one thing on a particular issue. Another party says No. The first party offers a few concessions. The second party still says No. That's where "partisan gridlock" comes from -- underlying disagreement on issues [my emphasis]
I'll agree with Krugman, and I believe Shamanic will agree with me, that all of the major Democratic candidates are proposing roughly similiar progressive plans in a variety of policy fields. Details definately matter, but the agendas proposed, in broad strokes, are interchangable. Edwards, Obama and Clinton are all broadly proposing carbon dioxide cap and trades/auction/taxes, some form of massively expanded health care payment and access that will eventually lead to some bastard step child of single payer, and about the same Iraq policy and non-comments about residual forces.

And here is the problem with the bipartisanship mien --- addressing CO2 and healthcare are system changing moves that dramatically impact the Republican coalition's ability to restrengthen itself without dramatically recasting itself and rearranging internal power distribution.

Even very optimistically assuming the Democrats pick up a net of seven seats in the Senate and net another twenty in the House, two problems emerge. One is more pronounced in the Senate, as the six potential net pick-up seats have four Republicans (Sununu, Warner, Snow, Smith) who are occassionally willing to defect from the rest of the Republican caucus on their pet issues or to moderate their conservative votes for a swing(ish) state. Other potential Democratic pick-ups will be in New Mexico and Colorado which will lead to net improvements in Democratic margins by almost 2 full votes, and potentially the scandal seat in Alaska. The Democrats will increase the size of their caucus faster than they will increase their vote counts even assuming that no current Democrat defects on any particular vote. Seeing Landrieu lose to a conservative Republican conversely has less impact on any particular vote. The same basic dynamic will play in the House, as Democrats are targetting Republicans who already occassionally defect from the caucus, so a net 1 pick-up is a little less than 1 expected value vote on any given progressive bill.

The second problem is the way that Nancy Pelosi has decided to run her Democratic caucus and the rule sets of the House. She has decided to adapt a "majority of the whole" operation where bills will be scheduled if they have a majority of the entire House behind it. This is in contrast to the Republican rules of 'majority of the majority' where the Republican caucus would have internal whip counts behind legislation which when presented to the entire House would have near unified GOP support even if there was significant internal divisons.

Assuming as I do that carbon dioxide policy and healthcare are coalition rejiggering efforts, they will only pass the House in a majority of a majority rule framework if they are anything that vaguely resembles their campaign intent. In a majority of the whole framework, the Republican Caucus will first have higher degrees of unity due the losses of their marginal and moderate members (see New England in 2006) and the ability to offer Blue Dog/Bush Dog the marginal decision maker value and dictate to their own self-importance. Any GOP+Bush Dog bill on carbon dioxide or healthcare will be a hollow farce in actually achieving its goals beyond shoveling pork to extractive and protected industries. The only way that a good bill gets out of the House and into the Senate where it faces its own concentrated minority opposition, is through majority of the majority rules

Pushing through these two major policy initiatives are coalition cutting efforts that are also good public policy. Even if these are very good first steps and not the entire marathon, the political, and economic pay-offs that should occur will start occurring fairly quickly which means we should expect either hollow shells of bi-partisan bills, or a knock-out, drag down partisan fight as either, and especially both policies, are existential threats to the current Republican Party coalition.

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