Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 30, 2010

BIDEN REFLECTS ON GOP PARTY DISCIPLINE.... Vice President Biden spoke at an event in his home town earlier, hoping to help raise some money for Chris Coons' (D) Senate campaign. Biden raised an interesting point about the chamber he served in for several decades.

VP Joe Biden on Monday accused Senate GOPers of holding their top members' votes hostage in exchange for ranking committee posts, assailing the GOP as sitting "on the sidelines" while the economy nearly collapsed.

"I know at least 7 [GOP] senators, who I will not name, but were made to make a commitment under threat of losing their chairmanships, if they did not support the leadership on every procedural vote," Biden said at a fundraiser Monday night.

"Every single thing we did, from the important to the not so important, required for the first time in modern American history, majority votes required 60 votes. All the sudden a majority became 60 instead of 50," the VP added, according to a pool report of the event.

The RNC said something about this being "a scurrilous accusation," though the party didn't exactly deny it, either.

Is it really so far-fetched? Back in October, when Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) was weighing how to vote on health care reform, word went out that the ranking member post on Senate Commerce Committee was up for grabs, and if Snowe wanted it, she had to toe the party line. One unnamed GOP senator on the committee told a reporter, "A vote for healthcare would be something that would weigh on our minds when it came time to vote" on which senator got the slot.

Two months later, Snowe filibustered a motion to proceed, filibustered to prevent a vote, and opposed the legislation -- and never could explain why.

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.

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.

But this need not be considered criticism, though Biden almost certainly meant as such. Matt Yglesias explained that it's entirely "sensible" for a political party to "demand that its members support the party leadership on procedural votes."

Had the Democratic caucus adopted such a rule, the White House, the leadership, and the members themselves would have been spared an awful lot of headaches and the country would be in much better shape. After all, every member of the caucus puts some value on his or her ability to secure chairmanships of committees and subcommittees, so such a rule could very plausibly have swiftly led to the creation of a norm against filibustering your own party's initiatives. Vote "no" on final passage if you like, but vote with the leadership on process.

We should be so lucky.

Steve Benen 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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Comments

"Whom I will not name..."?

So...Joe is protecting wingnuts who sought to gain political advantage as they destroyed the country?

What kind of BS is that?

Posted by: rbohan on June 30, 2010 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

you would think that ex-senators obama and biden would, in fact, be aggressive about going after the dysfunctional senate on all levels, but both appear to actually believe all that claptrap about senatorial privilege.

Posted by: howard on June 30, 2010 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

Two Words : Joe Lieberman

Posted by: john R on June 30, 2010 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

My first thought was the exact same two words.

Posted by: gifgrrl on June 30, 2010 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

-What's so important about being Ranking Member on a committee? Does it pay well, and under the table? Is it just about pork? build better erections? Inquiring minds want to know. . .

Posted by: DAY on June 30, 2010 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

Sure, who wouldn't want to be Chairman of a committee in a country about to collapse and die?
Maybe out (not so) esteemed Republicans might want to read about the last days of Rome to see how that turned out. Not pretty, btw...
MILTON, has Satan say the following words, "I'd rather rule in Hell, than serve in Heaven!"
And this is yet another example of Republicans as following Satan's dictum.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on June 30, 2010 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

As a member of the Rich Wing of the Republican Party, it is very important to understand that our Republican Ranking Members will be the leaders when we buy back the House & Senate this fall!

God bless Our Supreme Court for their Citizens United Not Timid (C.U.N.T.) ruling on January 15th of this year. It assures that our (wealthy/corporate) tenuous control over politicians will become absolute.

As we go down the future path of more complete ownership of the political system by my wealthy republican brothers and I, I gloat as I remind you of the two slogans of those of us in the rich wing of The Party:

- More is never enough...
- I've got mine, f*ck you...

Posted by: RepublicanPointOfView on June 30, 2010 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

In Canada we use a British style Parliamentary system. The governing party, in particular, exerts tremendous discipline on its members because of the goodies it can withhold. It seems that the US is inexorably moving away from the Congressional system in which each member was always supposed to be free to vote his conscience. And frequently people speak as if they wish the President were a Prime Minister wielding control over legislators. Maybe you should have a constitutional convention and update your system for the 21st century!

Posted by: Johnny Canuck on June 30, 2010 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

The quote from the "unnamed GOP senator" goes a long way towards summing up the twisted Republican mindset:

""A vote for healthcare would be something that would weigh on our minds when it came time to vote."

That is just so twisted.

Posted by: June on June 30, 2010 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Johnny Canuck -

Actually, the Republicans have organized themselves as if they were in a parliamentary system for a long time and there were many articles in the press over the last 8 years that have examined that.

The parliamentary model is actually a good explanation for how the Dems operate too. Except instead of a unified party like "Labor" imagine the Dems as a coalition party made up of what would be in the Canadian system as a coalition of Liberal Dems, Labor, Block Quebecois and maybe a few other parties. Except instead of just governing as a coalition they also have to run elections as a coalition. And the President is a member of one of the individual parties - the Blue Dog party in the US (which I think might be analogous to the Labor party, if I'm understanding Canadian politics correctly) - even though he has to run as a member of the coalition.

Once you understand that you can truly understand the Zen of how fucked American politics is most of the time.

Posted by: NonyNony on June 30, 2010 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

Doesn't the entire Senate vote on committee assignments? Could the majority name a non-supported minority member as ranking member???

Posted by: Frank on June 30, 2010 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

The Majority Leader in the Senate and the Speaker of the House should bring Tough Financial Reform, and the energy plan and a Jobs bill up for a vote everyday from now until the election. EVERY DAY. Let the American People watch the news, hear about the Americans losing jobs, the economy going down the drain and, the oil spill.. EVERY DAY. Stuff only seems to sink in with repetition, so repeat this exercise everyday and run ads - asking who is offering solutions and who's voting no.

Posted by: bcinaz on June 30, 2010 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

The Republican Party, as I recall, really started down this road after 1994, when a bunch of senior Republicans were dumped from their chairmanships by Gingrich et. al. in favor of Party supporters. Their threats, in other words, are now taken seriously.

Dems wouldn't even dump Lieberman.


QED

Posted by: Daddy Love on June 30, 2010 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

Here's a concept: when it comes to allocating Senate committee seats in the upcoming session, if the "new majority is 60", then let's have the Dems have 60% of the seats on each committee, regardless of the actual numerical percentage of 100...

Posted by: artsmith on June 30, 2010 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

Let's see.....should I vote for the good of the nation or to make sure I get or get to keep my chairmanship.

Gee....it's such a tough choice.....Gimme the chair!

Posted by: dweb on June 30, 2010 at 5:39 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, dweb! I'd like to then give the ones who vote for the rich and powerful a chair....it runs on Alternating Current!

Posted by: Joanaroo on June 30, 2010 at 11:08 PM | PERMALINK

Be careful what you wish for.
Republican discipline required New England Republicans like Chaffee and Jeffords to vote against their constituents' wishes.

It was Tom DeLay's iron fist that lost the GOP their majority.

The Dems wimpy acquiescence to Nelson, Lieberman, Lincoln, and Landrieu may be what allows them to control the agenda for the next 10 years. A big tent means you don't get everything you want because not enough of the country is interested in what's on the leadership's menu.

The fix for this is not strong-arming the reluctant Dems but selling the concepts to their constituents so they CAN vote with the Dems and survive the next election.

The Democratic agenda usually helps people so we have this option. Republicans selling tax cuts to the rich... not so much.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on July 1, 2010 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK
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