Understand your Congress

Following up on my last post, I think one thing that’s going to be critical to progressive political success is how well progressives understand Congress, and how it works. As I opined there, there’s not really anything that stand outs in the section Bowers finds awkward, if you understand that Senators tend to have gigantic egos and an inflated sense of their own importance. And so the fact that Tom Harkin is really relevant to the debate on tax cuts at this point, meaning there’s no reason for Obama to be listening to him  particularly, gets overlooked by Harkin who undoubtedly thinks there’s reason to listen to him on every issue. And maybe he does have something to add, but the administration can’t possibly listen to every member of Congress on every bill, and so they generally seek out members on the relevant committees for input. There’s nothing really unusual or even necessarily bad about that, but some members are going to chafe when that leaves them outside of the inner circle on a major bill.

Similarly, I think this sentiment is a very bad one to have:

I am so sick of [Allen] Boyd. His name seems to crop up in every list like this, from Social Security, to SChip, to Iraq, to FISA, and more. That is a primary challenge I would support in a heartbeat. As for the freshman, why did we even bother spending money on them, if they can’t even support this? There really needs to be DCCC related penalties for voting behavior like this.[…]

Generally speaking, the reason Democrats and Republicans vote differently is not out of spite or a lack of communication, but because they have different values and beliefs. There is nothing wrong with this, especially since, right now, we don’t need Republican support to pass legislation. So, why not just pass legislation that will make people’s lives better, while Republicans vote against it en masse? The only end result I can see to that course of action will be a generational Democratic majority.

I support the Ledbetter act as much as anyone, and I’m thrilled that it passed. But by the same token, I’m not really sure Bowers has really thought through this idea, and there seems to be a real knee-jerk, emotional response working here. To wit, yes all of those votes are bad votes, and it would be better had they, especially as Democrats, voted for womens’ rights in the workplace, but at the same time it’s worth looking at those districts. They’re all heavily Republican and, like it or not, Democrats are going to have to run conservatives in those districts to win. And then those members are going to turn around and vote like conservatives.

Sounds pointless, right? Well, not so much. Because even if those members are a vote against universal healthcare, cap and trade, abortion rights, or whatever, they’re also a vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, Henry Waxman as Chairman of the Energy & Commerce Committee, Ed Markey as chair of the energy subcommittee, John Dingell heading up healthcare in the House, and so on. And even more so than that, they’re very important in regards to the makeup of committees. To put it in simplistic terms, the bigger your majority in the chamber the more seats you get on committees, where most of the legislative heavy lifting gets done.

Now obviously there’s a certain tipping point here, you wouldn’t want the number of Democrats voting like wingnuts to cancel out the benefits of the expanded majority, but I see no evidence that you have that in this House, and indeed we’re only talking about 5 of them here. So, as annoying as they can be, the Blue Dogs are a net positive for progressives at this point.

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