In Obama’s Second Term, Forget Legislating and Learn to Love the Veto

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I’m not sure who is arguing that we need 435 liberals in the House to get anything good done. Personally my goal is 218+ Democrats. No doubt that’s a heavy lift. There are only about 35 swing districts, and Democrats need to win 17 to take the majority. Because of the wildly successful round of Republican gerrymandering, Democrats need something like a 7% win in the popular vote to win a majority of the districts as they are currently drawn. This year Democrats won the national House popular vote by 1.12%. About 1.4 million more people voted for a House Democrat than voted for a House Republican, but Republicans kept a majority of seats anyway.

So I’m with Rich Wilkins on his point that liberals who want a House majority need to get used to working alongside the kind of right-wing Democrats who can win in more conservative districts:

Today’s GOP establishment is yester-year’s nutjobs, and these Congressmen breaking from them provide a glimmer, a small one that I’m sure will close next week, of hope that there can be agreements made in President Obama’s second term. We now know who we’re reasonably going to have any chance of ever speaking to, and who not. The idea that we’ll replace all the “moderate” Republicans is also not really going anywhere. When the Dents, and Leonard Lances of the world, are moved into more conservative leaning districts, if we beat them it will have to be with a moderate Democrat, which many in our party have grown to hate.

More importantly, this is political reality. We will never get 435 solid progressive votes. Never. You would like to have 218, and that would be great, but we don’t have that now, not even close, and we probably won’t this decade. Thanks to re-districting, if we want the House back, the activists on the left are going to have to kiss and make up with the concept of “Blue Dogs,” especially in districts that we don’t currently have. Six Republicans are in left-leaning districts, and we need 17 seats, so we’re going to have to cut our losses and accept some people who break with us 20%, maybe even 30% of the time to win. In the meanwhile, the only way to pass any meaningful legislation going forward during President Obama’s time in Washington is going to require a coalition of some portion of our 201 House members and these 85 Republicans. Otherwise we fail. This is the Congress we have, so yes, I do think we have to stop thinking of these guys as the devil.

Two points about this:

If you want to say we should run more conservative Democrats in marginal districts, I want to agree with that, but everybody needs to say what positions their dream Blue Dogs would take.

I have no problem with Democrats running to the right on issues where the Republican position is actually popular in the district. What I disagree with is the notion that rural and exurban voters want to be ruled by insurance and bank lobbyists, or are clamoring for Social Security cuts. Those are not the conservative positions that are popular in swing districts, and I see no reason for Democrats to think that nominating Social Security cutters or bank-friendly future lobbyists will help them win over Reagan Democrats. My view is that swing district voters are receptive to a populist economic message, and that Republicans have done a good job framing their agenda in populist terms, while Democrats have been very squeamish about that kind of messaging. Democrats crave the approval of DC chin-strokers and chafe at accusations of “class warfare,” while Republicans understand that they pay no electoral penalty for DC disapproval of crude populist framing.

Second, I don’t agree that a successful second Obama term requires passing legislation through the House. The big agenda items in the second term involve vetoing bad ideas and protecting the policy wins from the first term. Obama needed to let all the Bush tax cuts expire and propose some different Obama tax cuts, he needs to implement the Affordable Care Act and veto Congressional efforts to change or defund it, he needs to veto changes to Dodd-Frank, etc. This is what the second term is all about. All the things happening automatically over the next 4 years advantage Obama. He just needs to sit back, make veto threats, and do all that he can through executive orders and various agency policy changes.

The reason liberals didn’t like the cliff deal was that doing nothing and going over the cliff would’ve given us a much better deal automatically than anything House Republicans would’ve agreed to. Rich thinks we should’ve agreed to Social Security cuts (chained CPI is a 3% benefit cut) and whined less about the $400,000 cut-off in exchange for a better deal. I disagree. The only items worth bargaining for were a permanent end to the debt ceiling and an extension of the payroll tax holiday. Republicans ruled out both early on, even while the chained CPI trial balloon was still being floated by the White House. With those items off the table, there was no point in making a deal. Going over the “cliff” and negotiating from the 2013 baseline where all the Bush tax cuts have expired would have put Democrats in a way better negotiating position.

It’d be nice if we could win a House majority in 2014, but the big important pieces of the Obama agenda in the second term don’t require Congress. The White House’s agenda is mostly on autopilot, and the only way to screw it up is if Obama pre-compromises with the Republicans to please the DC bipartisanship fetishists.

This entry was posted in Budget, National Politics.

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