Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 13, 2009

SNOWE RISKING PUNISHMENT.... If Olympia Snowe supports health care reform, her Republican colleagues will be more than just annoyed.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) is risking a shot at becoming the top Republican on an influential Senate committee by backing Democratic healthcare legislation, according to senators on the panel.

A Senate Democrat on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee said Republicans on the panel are threatening to vote against Snowe, who is in line for the senior GOP post that is about to come open.

"Wake up," the Democrat told a reporter last week when questioned if the Republicans would retaliate against Snowe for crossing party lines.

An unnamed Republican senator on the Commerce Committee said Snowe would be assured of the ranking member post under normal circumstances -- the spot will be vacant once Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison leaves the chamber to run for governor in Texas later this year -- but the GOP might balk if she supports health care reform. "A vote for healthcare would be something that would weigh on our minds when it came time to vote."

Or, put another way, "It's a nice ranking-member-post opportunity you have here. It'd be a shame if something happened to it."

It often goes overlooked, but it's worth remembering that the Senate Republican caucus, unlike Senate Democrats, have mechanisms in place to enforce party unity and discipline. When Democrats break party ranks on key bills, there are no consequences. Those who let GOP leaders down, however, know in advance that enticements like committee positions are very much on the line.

Indeed, there are widespread rumors that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) shifted away from cooperation on reform and towards belligerence immediately after his Republican colleagues made it clear that his future committee assignments were in jeopardy if he worked with Dems to pass a reform bill.

For Democrats, seniority rules. For Republicans, party loyalty can trump all.

Snowe, in other words, may very well be punished for doing the right thing. And she knows it.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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Seniority is a terrible basis for the assignment of these positions. It would be much better if the Democrats handled it the way the Republicans do.

Posted by: Mark on October 13, 2009 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, everybody seems to grasp how power works *except* the Democrats. Weird.


Posted by: aimai on October 13, 2009 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

Could the D's give her something? Can't the D's give her a plumb committee chair?

Or does the gentle lady from Maine desire an ambassadorship? University president somewhere? Come on, there must be something the D's could pony up. They suck up to Joe "I'm just a little ol' independent for John McCain and don't mind me while I stab my former party in the back by going to the repub. convention" Lieberman. Seems like Snowe is a hell of a lot more honorable and decent than Joe L, or the half Nelsons ....

Posted by: bigwisc on October 13, 2009 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

Snowe will be a Dem by this time next year...

Posted by: mars on October 13, 2009 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

I hope she doesn't vote for it, then the FC bill will lose some of it's influence on the final bill. That can only be good news for the reform process.

Posted by: Paul W. on October 13, 2009 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

I'm getting old but I seem to vaguely remember some Senator actually going out and campaigning for the Republican presidential candidate and still getting a Democratic chairmanship. What was the guy's name? Lie-something? (The "nature or nurture" question again ...)

Didn't make sense to me. Maybe it was just a nightmare; my memory's not what it was.

Posted by: Fleas correct the era on October 13, 2009 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with other posters on this board. The republican approach is the better one.

The fact that democrats do not have common sense mechanisms in place to enforce discipline allows for folks like Lieberman, Bayh, and Ben Nelson to run the caucus. That's not right, and I hope it gets addressed in the near future.

Posted by: ChrisNBama on October 13, 2009 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

The Republicans are batshit insane, with a track record of screwing up everything they are in charge of.

The Democrats are fearful and spineless and thus have a track record of not actually improving anything, although they don't screw up as badly as the Republicans.

Methinks that there is a terrific opportunity here for a 3rd party that positioned themselves as competent centrists. Methinks that party, with proper funding, would not be a "3rd" party for very long.

Posted by: ZH on October 13, 2009 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

What about Snowe's constituents? They favor reform, and the public option, by a wide margin!

Posted by: sue on October 13, 2009 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

Party loyalty makes more sense than seniority. I don't care how long someone has been entrenched. I care how much they support what the party told me they'd support when they absolutely begged me for money.

My phone still, even just yesterday, rings off the hook from the DSCC and the DNC, and they can't figure out why I won't give them money any more.

Posted by: doubtful on October 13, 2009 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

It would be somewhat hypocritical to criticize the Republicans for doing something you wish the Democrats would do more of.

Posted by: qwerty on October 13, 2009 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

No one is criticizing the Republicans for holding a big stick over Snowe. We all admire them for doing it. Steve happens to think that Snowe should vote for Baucus's bill because its "the right thing to do" but most of the rest of us say "good riddance" to empress Snowe and the hamleting around she's done. Trying to get her vote has cost the Dems months of time and produced a really bad bill--the Baucus Bill itself.

I admire the Republicans for having the sense to stand up for their own hideously bad policy. The policy may stink but the strategy is good. Since I think Democratic health care policy is good, I wish they'd use the same hard strategy to get to it.


Posted by: aimai on October 13, 2009 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

Anybody know the mob history here?

1) When did the Democratic crime family decide to forsake omerta and choose the warlord model?

2) And did that choice lead to the ceding of vast tracts of territory to the more discipline-rich model followed by the Republican crime family?

3) How have the two models be massaged and manipulated by the drug-supplying lobbyists and money-laundering corporations?

Posted by: koreyel on October 13, 2009 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

Interesting approach to "centrists" by each party.

Democrats let centrists rule the party's agenda by cowing to their demands that the policy be crafted to please them. Gotta keep'em happy, we don't want to lose their vote, every vote counts, yada yada. They even fear not getting votes for cloture.

Republicans by contrast have such big cojones they are willing to risk the 40th seat by telling their centrists to get in line or we'll put the smack down on you. I guess it's just their way of putting Snowe in her "place".

Posted by: oh my on October 13, 2009 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

Seniority trumps all for Senate Dems except for their BS logic that makes ass saver Frank Lautenberg a relative newbie and serial betrayer Joe Lieberman a committee chair. Dems should abandon the seniority system, take Max Baucus's gavel away for delaying this whole process, and make Sen. Olympia Snowe (I-ME) the new Finance chair.

Also, I want a pony.

Posted by: joejoejoe on October 13, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

No one is criticizing the Republicans for holding a big stick over Snowe. We all admire them for doing it.

I, for one, don't admire political gamesmanship on either side of the aisle. An honest attempt to represent and help the lives of constituents alone is worth my admiration. Everything else is so much jockeying for positions, titles, and campaign money that it makes me sick. The only real constituents these days seem to be the power brokers of the corporate lobbying world, whose 100% greed is balanced only by the desire of politicians not to fuck over the voting public too badly .

Posted by: tempered optimism on October 13, 2009 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

While I acknowledge some disappointment with the Democrats discipline, the GOP needs to recognize that discipline is not going to do them much good if they can not hold onto even 40 seats as a result. None of this is of any benefit to the country where ideally you have a competition between ideas and our elected representatives vote for the ideas that he or she believes will best serve the country. Instead you have Democrats checking on how much money they can get from the lobbyists, the GOP saying "no" to anything because that is percieved to be bad for the Democrats in general and Obama in particular and the GOP makes the second leap that if it is bad for the Democrats and Obama it is good for them and no one seems willing to consider the merits of the legislation as to whether it is good or bad for the country. I am with ZH as impractical as it is: neither party deserves to survive.

Posted by: Terry on October 13, 2009 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

Do these people ever think about doing the right thing instead of their own asses?

Why, at her age and with her financial security, would she give two sh*ts about a committee assignment?

Posted by: Virginia on October 13, 2009 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

I, for one, don't admire political gamesmanship on either side of the aisle. An honest attempt to represent and help the lives of constituents alone is worth my admiration. -tempered optimism

I don't consider it political gamesmanship to be beholden to the party you're a member of. If one wants to be free of the bonds of partisanship, then by all means, declare independence.

But, if you take money from an organized political party, money that I and other Americans donated for the purpose of reaching explicitly state goals, then I see no reason why we cannot demand some loyalty.

Otherwise, what the hell does it mean to be a Democrat?

Posted by: doubtful on October 13, 2009 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

It's worth noting that there is ZERO ability to press Snowe electorally. She crushes her opponents in Maine. The only pressure you have on her is to give her more interesting work in the Senate. Calling her 'Empress Snowe' or 'President Snowe' is fun but it's the voters of Maine who give her FU power, she didn't ask for it.

The GOP is playing an odd game of chicken by threatening her. All that Democrats need to do is offer Snowe more ability to shape legislation as an independent and Republicans won't be able to beat that offer and she'll bolt. It's only because Dems are so chickenshit that they don't just offer Snowe a gavel and end the game.

Senate Dems are more willing to fight for internal caucus rules than legislation that guaranteees affordable healthcare for all. That's why lots of people don't join political parties. Who wants to defend THAT?

Posted by: joejoejoe on October 13, 2009 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

In re: producing a really bad bill.
It has taken until today for me to read about the FC bill that…
actually it might be better if it does NOT EVEN GET OUT OF THE FINANCE COMMITTEE. (I saw it at Daily Kos)

And we have cared about it for the last six months?

Maybe all you smart people already knew this.
But I think there should have been someone saying,
health reform WILL go on in the congress even if there NO bill from the Finance Committee.
So why worry so much about what is in it?

Posted by: catclub on October 13, 2009 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

ZH on a 'competent centrists' party:

You gave the show away when when you mentioned
'proper funding'.

Who is going to fund someone competent enough to squeeze all the wasted money out of the system?

Most folks who give large amounts to political parties are intending to extract even larger amounts from the government.
Or maybe I'm hopelessly misled.

Posted by: catclub on October 13, 2009 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

The only place Dems need to enforce party loyalty is on Cloture votes. Any Dem who sides with Republicans to block a bill from coming to the floor gets thrown under the bus. Period. They can vote however they want on the bill itself. But they can NOT deny a bill the opportunity for an up or down vote.

Posted by: thorin-1 on October 13, 2009 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

what has been implied but unsaid is that if the Democrats had a credible history of engaging in the same discipline of their own members, no one would be talking about Snowe in the first place. She'd be irrelevant. we only need her to be an undisciplined Republican because we have so damned many undisciplined Democrats.

i'm with doubtful: as long as we have parties, and for better or worse we will for the foreseeable future, the label should have discernable meaning.

Posted by: zeitgeist on October 13, 2009 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

Is moderation not the key? And am I not a fool for even suggesting that such a thing is possible in this environment?

It seems to me that elected representatives retain the right to vote their consciences occasionally when they disagree with the party. The idea of a perfectly, consistently divided-by-party Congress on every vote makes me want to lie down and cry. However, there must be some significant costs for habitually screwing your own party (i.e., Lieberman) or for refusing to back it, or even to allow a vote, on issues that speak to our core principles as Democrats (i.e., Nelson and Baucus on healthcare).

The problem, insofar as it relates to Democrats and their everloving clubbishness, is that expectations have never been defined and no line has ever been drawn. None.

I am so fucking sick of these people not acting like grownups and never giving a good goddamn about what their constituents say is important to us. And until we have publicly financed campaigns, I'm not sure I even see the point in discussing this.

Posted by: shortstop on October 13, 2009 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

Why, at her (Snowe) age and with her financial security, would she give two sh*ts about a committee assignment? - Virginia @ 11:02

Tell me if this analogy works: Society hypes goals to strive for...putting a carrot swinging on a string in front of a house implies that we need to go head over heals in debt in that direction. Only to find out the carrot has a second function once the financial climate forces most to grab their ankles. That's right, the american dream is a fantasy.

So yeah, she is in a perfect position to answer to her constituents. To bad our republic isn't set up to reward such behavior.

Posted by: Kevin on October 13, 2009 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

shortstop, i think in a properly-functioning Contressional party leadership system, the moderation would take care of itself in that a savvy leader is selective about how often they declare a vote to be a "party" vote.

if you do that too often, it gets to be a boy-who-cried-wolf situation and at some point you either get major pushback in your own caucus (a threat to your leadership position) or they blindly follow and the results are extreme, and the public punishes you (see Repubs circa 06 and 08).

of course being a Democrat I haven't had to worry about such overuse of party discipline since i haven't seen any since the days of Tip O'Neill.

Posted by: zeitgeist on October 13, 2009 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

Democrats don't actualy want to keep their members in line. They want defectors so they can turn to the base and say "Sorry, we tried!" and still pocket millions upon millions upon millions of dollars in bribes.

Posted by: soullite on October 13, 2009 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

The thing is that Snowe has a lot of voter support for health reform in Maine. So she needs to keep her constituents happy to get reelected. There is no reason that she can't switch her party affiliation as she indirectly mentioned once when she observed that the Republican party has moved far to the right while she has stayed the same.

Posted by: Texas Aggie on October 13, 2009 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

IT is vastly better, even if also vastly more frustrating, to have a squishy "big-tent" majority than a rigid and uniform minority. The Democrats could use a little more party discipline (with punishments) when it really really counts, but they should not become polar opposites of the Republicans. I would love to see Snow enticed to vote for a health bill and have the Republicans try to punish her - at that point, I wonder if she could be enticed all the way over the line by giving her Lieberman's chairmanship? - kill two birds with one stone that way.

Posted by: N.Wells on October 13, 2009 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

How come Republicans can vote on their committee chairs and Democrats can't? Or DID Democrats vote to make Bawkus Chair of the Finance Committee?

Seriously, I want to know.

Posted by: Cal Gal on October 13, 2009 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

Agree with joejoejoe. If I were Snowe I would go Independent and caucus with the Dems after getting something in return. Though look what the Dems did with Specter (put him at the bottom of the totem pole on Judiciary). Of course, he changed parties for a different reason - to try to keep his seat - rather than on principle (which would be Snowe's reason, should she decide to do so). Snowe can keep her options open to return to the Republican Party should it ever regain it's sanity.

Posted by: Hannah on October 13, 2009 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Snowe won't be punished for this vote. Her votes on closure and, ultimately, on the final bill if it gets past the closure vote are more important votes and any Republican punishment would be levied in response to those votes; this vote was essentially meaningless. To the extent that the Republican Party in the Senate has a hammer here, they will hold off on using it in hopes that it will influce Snowe's later votes.

Also, let's not kid ourselves on the difference between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate. Democrats certainly have the ability to use Chairmanships of Committees as a club; they are obviously much more reluctant to use it than the Republicans are. And while having some ability to enforce party unity is generally a good thing, it would be appalling if the Senate Republicans were to use their leverage over Snowe--or any other Senator--merely on the basis of a single vote. Once they cross that line, then no Republican Senator can be said to have any independence. If I were Snowe, I would be inclined to use that as an excuse to bolt the party and become an Independent caucausing with the Democrats.

Posted by: DRF on October 13, 2009 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

For Republicans, party loyalty can trump all.

That isn't party loyalty, it's gang loyalty.

Posted by: cld on October 13, 2009 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

Harry could make her a better offer if she switched parties. Or traded for her outright - we'll take Olympia Snowe and the GOP can have Joe Lieberman. Olympia gets better committee assignments and Joe loses Homeland Security - I like it!

Posted by: bcinaz on October 13, 2009 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

I hope that the healthcare bill will help a lot of people in our country that need it.

Posted by: Amy on October 13, 2009 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

I like the idea of trading Lieberman for Snowe.

Posted by: Jon on October 13, 2009 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

Cool I'm glad that this is happening...

Posted by: chris brown on October 14, 2009 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

I am so fed up with the bullshit in Washington. It does not matter what the people of theis Great Country want because it is being run by the Lobbyist in Washington. Untill we can level the playing field without influence of MONEY there will always be greed and corruption.

Posted by: Scott on October 27, 2009 at 7:11 PM | PERMALINK



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