Slighting Progressives, Or Slighting Senators?

Chris Bowers sees a contradiction:

In light of my post yesterday about Larry Summers and the Obama economic team not listening to progressive concerns about the business tax-cut currently in the stimulus proposal, I’d like to highlight another passage in the New York Times story already discussed by David earlier today:


Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota and chairman of the Budget Committee, said lawmakers and the incoming administration had differences over how to focus the huge federal spending in a recovery bill. “Investment, investment, investment has got to be the central focus: energy, roads, bridges, waterways, housing,” he said. “Job creation is Job One.”
Mr. Conrad, who described the meeting as extremely positive, said Mr. Summers ended it by telling the senators, “Message received, loud and clear.”

Now, this is a very different version of the meeting than the one Senator Tom Harkin gave to TPM:


When I asked if he [Senator Harkin] felt his concerns were heard during the meeting, he looked to the floor and slowly shook his head. It was almost forlorn.

I don’t know whose version of the meeting is more accurate, but given the press coverage of Senate Democratic opposition to the business tax cuts, it is impossible to believe that the Obama economic team isn’t at least aware of the concerns. Whether they care about these concerns, and will actually address them instead of, say, continuing to prioritize cosmetic Republican support for the stimulus package, is the real question.

Personally I think there’s a pretty simple answer to this; it’s not that Obama (or Summers) isn’t listening to critics, or that they’re hostile to progressive opinion, but rather that what Tom Harkin really means is that he doesn’t feel like the transition is listening to Tom Harkin enough. After all, Kent Conrad is a pretty relevant Senator to all of this. He chairs the budget committee, an he was a major Obama backer in the primaries. John Kerry is in a similar position, as a member of the Finance Committee, an early (and very important) endorser of Obama’s, and an unusually visible member of the Senate given his 2004 candidacy for Preisdent.

Harkin, by contrast, just doesn’t carry much gravitas. Yes he’s been in the Senate for quite a while, but he’s not really a key Obama ally, and while he chairs the Agricultural Committee, he sits on neither the Finance nor the Budget committee (and while he sits on the Appropriations Committee, they have no jurisdiction over taxes), and so he simply has little relevance to the discussion, or any unique importance to Obama. Maybe it’s a mistake not to listen to him all the same, but I just don’t see any contradiction where Bowers does, I see a Senator with a bruised ego.