Taking Care of the Paperwork

When the Rules for the 111th Congress came out, it was clear that Pelosi and her leadership team were serious about speeding up the legislative process and successfully getting President Obama's agenda through the House. The big change was the elimination of the "promptly" loop-hole on Motions to Recommit.

The loophole let the Minority gobble up time on bills that were likely to pass. Since that strategy would be unavailable to them in the 111th, what new tactic would they unveil?

After the Bank Bailout, the Recovery Act, and the recently passed Climate Change Bill, I think we can say with confidence that the Minority will use the size of bills, and the time available to read them, as their tactical cudgel of choice.

Is this tactic effective and how does it affects the legislative process?

'Doing Enough to Cooperate'

When the Minority uses its options to try to kill a bill outright, they are really trying to influence the public discourse about the Majority's agenda. They can't actually stop the bills from passing, but they can make the Majority look reckless.

The tactic does depress the Majority's opinion polling, as CNN found, but it also has significant blowback:
The poll also indicates that 62 percent of those questioned think President Obama is doing enough to cooperate with Republicans. That's down eight points from February, but it's 25 points higher than the 37 percent who feel the Republicans in Congress are doing enough to reach out to Democrats and the president.

The real question is whether this tactic affects public opinion of the President and his agenda. His approval remains historically high, but low by his own performance. So the Minority's intransigence does seem to weigh on the President and the Majority, but as long as the President remains popular overall, the negative effects will outweigh the positive.

Legislating with the Cane

In a perfect world perhaps the Congress would always work cordially and reach conclusions supported by a large consensus. But such a Congress would not do very many things in a large, heterogeneous country. At best, it can only be a space where fights over irreconcilable matters can happen with minimal risk to the social order. Like the barrier around a demolition derby, the goal is not to limit the carnage, but limit the risk of it hurting spectators.

It's frustrating to watch good ideas get run into the ground by dilatory tactics, but that is what Congress is for. Better in the chamber than in the streets. Remember also: the Congress is much nicer and calmer than ever before. No one gets caned anymore.

So for the Dems, they seem to be on a good course - until Americans sour on Obama. If in the next twelve months everyone can go to the doctor without any financial considerations, that may make up for the albatrosses of the bailout and the stimulus.

No comments: