Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 16, 2010

BROOKS ON RECONCILIATION.... I read David Brooks's column on Congress' reconciliation rule a couple of times, assuming I was missing something on the first go-around. But it seems the NYT columnist really did write an 800-word piece insisting that Democrats should allow Republicans to deny votes on practically everything -- because reconciliation isn't very nice.

In the United States, leaders in the House of Representatives have done an effective job in getting their members to think in group, not person-to-person, terms. Members usually vote as party blocs. Individuals have very little power. That's why representatives are often subtle and smart as individuals, but crude and partisan as a collective. The social psychology of the House is a clan psychology, not an interpersonal psychology.

The Senate, on the other hand, has historically been home to more person-to-person thinking. This is because the Senate is smaller and because of Senate rules. Until recently, the Senate leaders couldn't just ram things through on party-line votes. Because a simple majority did not rule, and because one senator had the ability to bring the whole body to a halt, senators had an incentive, every day, to develop alliances and relationships with people in the other party.

It's worth noting that the Senate passing legislation on party-line votes has long been common in periods of intense partisanship. Remember the Radical Republicans' era of the 19th century? Indeed, for the better part of two centuries, the majority approving bills over the concerns of the opposition party wasn't known as "ramming things through"; it was generally called "the American legislative process." It'd be more common now if moderate Republicans existed, were willing to work with Democrats; and didn't engage in scandalous obstructionism.

The Senate is now in the process of using reconciliation -- rule by simple majority -- to try to pass health care.

Actually, no. The Senate already passed its health care reform bill, and it was approved (after defeating a Republican filibuster) with a 60-vote supermajority. Reconciliation would be used for a budget fix, which, as Brooks may have heard, is why reconciliation exists, GOP hurt feelings notwithstanding.

Reconciliation has been used with increasing frequency. That was bad enough. But at least for the Bush tax cuts or the prescription drug bill, there was significant bipartisan support. Now we have pure reconciliation mixed with pure partisanship.

Actually, that's not true, either. Reconciliation has routinely been used on bills with stark partisan divisions. Bush's 2003 tax cuts were approved after Dick Cheney broke a 50-50 tie. If Brooks considers that "significant bipartisan support," he's using a definition of the phrase that I'm not familiar with.

Once partisan reconciliation is used for this bill, it will be used for everything, now and forever. The Senate will be the House. The remnants of person-to-person relationships, with their sympathy and sentiment, will be snuffed out. We will live amid the relationships of group versus group, party versus party, inhumanity versus inhumanity.

And that's based on ... what exactly? Dems aren't rewriting the rules ; they're just using them. Besides, using majority-rule for all legislation in both chambers is hardly a dystopian nightmare -- Congress used to operate this way, and important legislation used to be able to pass. The "inhumanity" of a dysfunctional Senate that isn't allowed to vote on legislation anymore seems far more serious.

With increasing effectiveness, the system bleaches out normal behavior and the normal instincts of human sympathy.

Got that, Dems? If you used reconciliation the way it was intended to be used, you're all big meanies. 'Tis better to be polite and allow Republicans to prevent an elected majority from voting on its own agenda, allowing national crises to continue to deteriorate.

Steve Benen 9:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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After reading Brooks column this morning, I can't help wondering if he's trying to make up for his previous column calling Pres. Obama the most rational and reasonable person in Washington. He has to keep up his image as a conservative, probably got hate mail from the troops after semi positive pronouncements on the president.

Posted by: Kathryn on March 16, 2010 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

God damn those mean-ass Democrats! Poor little just-too-sympathetic, Jesus-like Repugnants are all upset...

Bobo -- one of america's great public intellekshuls -- is never worth reading. More so at some times than others...

Posted by: neill on March 16, 2010 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

Brooks has truly outdone himself today in reaching new heights of horse's-assery. Legislation is only 'human' if batshit-crazy Republicans agree to support it?

Posted by: dcsusie on March 16, 2010 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

One Democratic vote counts for "significant bipartisan support" when we're talking about the good old days of the GOP majority. But today you have to get at least half of the Republican caucus for nominal bipartisanship. And the liberal media buys into all this.

Don't worry, be happy now.

Posted by: Lifelong Dem on March 16, 2010 at 9:49 AM | PERMALINK

One needs to consider David Brooks' function within the Village. That i s to give extremism the bland face of moderation. Everything about him is tailor made to play this role, from his perch at the New York Times to his tete a tete with Mark Shields on The News Hour he wraps completely off the deep end policies in a veneer of moderation. Since this is the goal, since he starts with this objective, there is never any intellectual honesty in his arguments. He always has to twist the facts, leave out entire parts of the story or simply make things up out of whole cloth. That is just the way they roll.

Posted by: SW on March 16, 2010 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Well duh. What's so hard to understand here? Pundits like Brooks insist the country craves bi-partisanship. They are even kind enough to define it for us - Do whatever the hell republicans want, whether they're in the majority or minority.

Maybe someone should explain to our oh-so-wise political observers that bi-partisanship will not be possible until repubs learn that compromise is not a character flaw, that it requires that they at least be willing to meet Dems half way, and that every once in a while they put country ahead of party.

Posted by: JoeW on March 16, 2010 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

I hate commenting on this stuff because it's all so obvious. But just a few words expressing amazement that we have reached the point at which the Village can fully ignore the near-total obstructionism of a party that ritually blocks all majority-led legislation -- in favor of knocking the "unsympathetic" behavior of a caucus for using the regular tools available to it to assert its majority.

Down, down, down the rabbit hole.

Posted by: shortstop on March 16, 2010 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

You'd think, once it became crystal clear to the public that the Republicans are attempting to sabotage the government and harm the public for partisan political advantage, some stigma would attach. You'd think mainstream journalists would question the motives of Republicans the same way they question the motives of Democrats, lawyers, peace protesters and the less than ultra-wealthy.

You'd think.

Posted by: Bullsmith on March 16, 2010 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

The continuing Saturday morning serial production , Pelosi the merciless conquers sweet republicanville . Flash Bobo , whose comity is reliably fuzzy , takes a dim view of the merciless tyrant transplanted from east to west .
In todays riveting episode Bobo discovers ungenteel legislation . While pondering the effect of imaginary generalisations that have no actual meaning or relevant examples for his spending money , Bobo gets heartburn .
Bobo fights !
To maintain his beautiful mind , against the creeping realisation that Pelosi The Merciless is less stupid than his purposes require , with another whole cloth syrupy anecdote .
Tune in next week !
Bobo cashes another check , and another thousand scruffy sorts expire , or something .

Posted by: FRP on March 16, 2010 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

sez Tony Judt: public intellectuals who aren’t an expert in something are “blah-blah generalists—and then you’re David Brooks. And you’re garbage.”

http://nymag.com/news/features/64626/

Posted by: bdbd on March 16, 2010 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

So, lemme get this straight - Beach bully kicks sand in the face ot the whimpy Demo - Demo goes through a crash course in Charles Atlas, and, now, somewhat buffed out, he forces bully to play patty cake with the sand. But, out of nowhere comes the life guard to demand the Demo to cease and desist because he is not "playing nice". Geez, this is akin to refs throwing flags against the guy who was just hit and has retaliated. The second guy always becomes the "Meanie".

Major problem I have with this, is that the Oregonian will have this Brooks meme juxtaposed with, say, Krugman on the Op-Ed for their ever "Fair and balanced" reporting. Of course, there, by going to their Stump section, one can reply directly to Brooks. But, then, why would he ever peruse any comments by the hoi polloi? It is not the same as when he dons his Chinos and Pendletons to walk amongst the unwashed at some Wal-Mart in the country side in order to feel that he is "a man of the people", once again.

Posted by: berttheclock on March 16, 2010 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

Does Brooks not see the incredible hypocrisy in his column? He bemoans what he calls the party line votes of the Democratic majority, but says nothing of the lock-step party line obstructionism of the minority. He fears the precedent that using reconciliation will create, but apparently had no issues with the precedent that the Republican minority's unprecedented use of the filibuster would create.

Brooks needs to realize that any argument he makes with respect to the majority's use of procedural rules within the Senate must also apply to the minority's use of procedural rules in the Senate. He cannot, as he desperately tries, only apply such rules to the party he does not like.

If Brooks is really worried about precedent, he should be concerned with the precedent of pathetic disingenuous intellectual dishonesty that he's now set for all future columns.

Posted by: Egan Foote on March 16, 2010 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

Another day, another bit of Bobo Brooks concern trolling. Dutifully printed and disseminated by Your Liberal Media™.

Posted by: jimBOB on March 16, 2010 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

It is regretable that Steve and commenters feel the need to trash David Brooks!

Brooks is a Villager and everyone knows that the Villagers are the fountain of knowledge of what the working people of America want. We know so because they constantly tell us so.

Aside from his wisdom derived from being a wise Villager, has Brooks every written a meaningful column? There is no need to trash David Brooks; he does it to himself with every column he writes.

Posted by: SadOldVet on March 16, 2010 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

I am waiting for the column where Brooks writes that the constitution does not require a 60 vote majority for most votes, and the idea that the Republican minority should use a Senate Rule to block every bill is anathama to a functioning democracy.

Posted by: Ron Byers on March 16, 2010 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

Why are Democrats being so apologetic? The Republican Party made a conscious decision to turn the legislative process into a scorched earth take-no-prisoners legislative war. To paraphrase George Patton, you don't win a legislative war by compromising on your agenda. You win it by making the other guy compromise on HIS agenda. Yes David, after a year of fruitless concessions and negotiations, the Democrats ARE going to be mean and nasty. They ARE going to use any parliamentary tactic available to them. They ARE going to ram HCR down the Republicans' throats on a party-line vote. And then they'll do the same thing with climate change legislation. Fuck the Republicans (and their Blue Dog enablers), fuck bipartisanship, and frankly, David, fuck you. Don't like it? Suck on it!

Posted by: fradiavolo on March 16, 2010 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

The comity! Won't somebody think of the comity!

Posted by: doubtful on March 16, 2010 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans would use reconcillation THISFAST if they could/neededto/felt like it, and never think twice. David Brooks is an idiot.

Posted by: doc on March 16, 2010 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

The good news is that Brooks' latest dishonesty indicates that the Republican Party sees itself failing to kill the health insurance reform effort, and so they've trotted out Brooks to try to de-legitimize their defeat.

Posted by: Gregory on March 16, 2010 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

Ah, David Brooks. The anti-intellectual's idea of an intellectual.

Posted by: Nothing But the Ruth on March 16, 2010 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

shortstop wrote: just a few words expressing amazement that we have reached the point at which the Village can fully ignore the near-total obstructionism of a party that ritually blocks all majority-led legislation -- in favor of knocking the "unsympathetic" behavior of a caucus for using the regular tools available to it to assert its majority

...when that same Republican Party used those same rules, and more, just a few years ago. And this willful ignorance by a class that calls itself "journalists" and "pundits."

Truly shameful.

Posted by: Gregory on March 16, 2010 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

What's that? David Brooks has published a column featuring a simplistic, historically ignorant analysis, seasoned with a layer of clumsy pop psychology and wrapped with personal projection and GOP spin?

I'm shocked. Shocked!

In other breaking news, it's Tuesday.

Complaining about Brooks is a little like bitching about the way that NPR keeps airing unanswered sound-bites of Republicans lying as if they were simply stating facts. Yes, it's true, and very annoying, but it's pretty much just what they do.

Posted by: biggerbox on March 16, 2010 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Neill - Could not agree with you more. Brooks is never worth reading . . . he's the worst kind of farce.

Posted by: Scott F. on March 16, 2010 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

DAVID BROOKS IS A REPUBLICAN!!

What part of that is hard for some political junkies who write blogs and some DC Villagers to understand??? Christ, the guy got his start on the founding staff of the Dartmouth Review. What's ever surprising about him is when he departs from right wing Republican orthodoxy.

Just because he can string five words together that make sense - unlike most of his wingnut comrades - doesn't mean he isn't a wingnut moron.

DAVID BROOKS IS A REPUBLICAN! Got it????

Posted by: TCinLA on March 16, 2010 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

On Friday on the PBS Newshour Brooks referred to Kristol as his good friend, in a way that he really meant it, not just a polite convention as heard in the Senate. David is just the more affable appearing version of dumbfuck wrong about everything all the time William. Why can't at least PBS hire actual smart people for weekly commentaries? Mark Shields is at least knowledgeable about American politics, and seems like a decent guy.

Posted by: emjayay on March 16, 2010 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

This is like when I was 17 and my little brother was 11. It didn't matter what he did; how many of my CDs he scratched; how many of my books he spilt Coke on; how many times he lashed out at me unprovoked (OK, he was 11; he wasn't exactly Bruce Lee); it was always my father's line that I had to just pretend nothing had happened. The only possible problem with my brother's behaviour was that it would provoke a response in me, and that wasn't acceptable. I was the eldest. I was the responsible one.

That's what's happening here. It's all that Brooks has got. "Democrats shouldn't act like Republicans". Like everyone else, he's seen the last ten years (at least) of Republican hysertical fits and mindless vandalism, and his biggest fear is that Democrats might change their behaviour in response.

Republicans: Our Screaming Tantrum-Throwing Little Brothers. Not a bad tagline. Of course, the metaphor is imperfect. After all, my father never suggested my little brother should be the one learning to drive. Nor did either of us have the power to declare war.

Posted by: SpaceSquid on March 16, 2010 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

I thoroughly enjoyed that post, SpaceSquid.

Posted by: shortstop on March 16, 2010 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

By Brooks' argument, despite Democrats having 59 seats in the senate, unless some significant number of Republicans vote with the majority, legislation should not pass.

What's the point then in having elections?

To take Brooks' argument to its logical conclusion, he believes we should have the two parties divide the House and Senate equally and hold separate elections for their individual seats.


Posted by: karen marie on March 16, 2010 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

Brooks has given a bad name to pop sociology by his use of it for partisan purposes. Now he's trying to do the same thing to cordiality.

Posted by: skeptonomist on March 16, 2010 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

@shortstop: Glad I could help. And I *can* spell "hysterical", honest...

Posted by: SpaceSquid on March 16, 2010 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

Looks like someone has the Tears of a Rapper:

http://fliiby.com/file/320407/lkf03yb8sj.html

Posted by: Wannabe Speechwriter on March 16, 2010 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

Brooks doesn't mention that the 60 Senators who voted for health care reform represent about 65 percent of the American people. At this point, the Democrats represent the left and the center, with the Republicans representing only the far right 35 percent of the population.

Anything that passes with 60 Democratic votes in the Senate is pretty much by definition bipartisan.

If the Republicans got even crazier and could only hold 30 seats, or 20 seats, would it still be important to secure Republican votes in order to claim that legislation is bipartisan? Of course not. The entire column is completely unhinged.

Posted by: kk on March 16, 2010 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

Being lectured about the loss of civility in Congress by a Republican is like getting a lesson in table manners from an alligator.

Posted by: Mustang Bobby on March 16, 2010 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

I can't believe you waste time reading David Brooks ever. What a hack.

Posted by: SquareState on March 16, 2010 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

I am looking for some reason to give a shit anymore about anything David Brooks has to offer. Looking, but not finding.

Posted by: e henry thripshaw on March 16, 2010 at 6:00 PM | PERMALINK

"The Senate, on the other hand, has historically been home to more person-to-person thinking."

Well you see, David, I think the key word there is "historically." We're not IN history anymore, David, we're in the now where the Republicans vote "no" in lockstep. How does that figure into your thinking, huh, David?

Posted by: Sarah Barracuda on March 16, 2010 at 10:21 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, bertheclock, at least the Oregonia PRINTS someone on the left to balance Bobo.

You'd think the most liberal city in the country, San Francisco, would have it's newspaper be a hotbed of lefty opinion.

But you would be wrong.

The Chronicle has one, count it -- ONE -- op-ed columnist and it the dependably reactionary Deborah Saunders.

All I can figure is that I'm the last lefty who reads a daily newspaper in SF.

Posted by: Cal Gal on March 16, 2010 at 10:46 PM | PERMALINK

emjayay asked "Why can't at least PBS hire actual smart people for weekly commentaries?

I am so there. They haven't had a able Republican since David Gergen left.

Possibly because it is intellectually impossible to defend Republican positions and has been for, oh, twenty? years.

Posted by: Cal Gal on March 16, 2010 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

Wow. Republicans promoting "the normal instincts of human sympathy." Just wow.

Posted by: Nancy Irving on March 17, 2010 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK
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