The Obama Enabler’s Big Lie: “We Never Had the Votes”

One man quote machine Drew Westen had an Op-Ed in Pravda the other day that included the following passage:

Obama’s administration made three crucial errors that enabled the Republican obstructionism that has tied his hands for the past two years, with GOP leaders shooting down any idea — even if it’s one of their own — that might have helped the president strengthen the economy.

Got the D talking point? “R obstructionism.” Why, it’s positively Truman-esque! I’ll list two of the “errors” Westen lists; the third, on health care, isn’t relevant to this post:

Obama’s first mistake was inviting the Republicans to the table. … The second mistake was squandering the goodwill that Americans felt toward the new president and their anxiety about an economy hemorrhaging three-quarters of a million jobs a month.

Today, Kevin Drum responds in Mother Jones (and again I’ll quote the response only to the first two “errors”).

[T]hese three “errors” are so ahistorical that they make me crazy. First: Obama had to invite Republicans to the table. When he took office Democrats didn’t have a filibuster-proof majority. Second: Obama couldn’t get a bigger stimulus. The evidence on this score is voluminous. Whether he wanted a bigger stimulus is an open question, but it’s also moot. He just didn’t have the votes. …. [L]ife in the White House is pretty difficult when you have to constantly concern yourself with getting a couple of Republican votes, or, at best, the 60th most liberal Democrat — especially when the 60th most liberal Democrat is a self-righteous showboat like Joe Lieberman or a Nebraska pol like Ben Nelson.

Either Drum’s sense of history is defective or he’s a lot younger than I thought, and missed a lot that the rest of us noticed at the time. Let’s set the wayback machine to 2005, back in the days of the second Bush administration. Does anybody remember “the nuclear option”? The Washington Monthly‘s Steve Benen explains:

For several years, the “nuclear option” has had a fairly specific meaning. The strategy is procedurally complicated, but the gambit is about finding a way around Senate Rule 22, which says 60 votes are needed to end debate, and 67 votes are needed to change the rules of the chamber. The nuclear option is intended to change the rules with 50 votes — instead of 67 — to, in effect, make filibusters impossible.

That’s the beauty part, the veritable kryton: Changing rules that require a super-majority with only a majority. (The “nuclear option” was originally defined as applying only to judicial nominations but ex) As it turns out, from a 2004 Harvard Law Review article by Martin Gold and Dimple Gupta, late of Covington & Burling, in 2004, one advocate for the principle of majoritarian rule changes was none other than Senate Majority Leader Harry Byrd:

[I]t is my belief—which has been supported by rulings of Vice Presidents of both parties and by votes of the Senate—in essence upholding the power and right of a majority of the Senate to change the rules of the Senate at the beginning of a new Congress.

Now, the good folks at Covington & Burling came up with a different scenario from Byrd’s, in the context of judicial nominations. Pravda summarizes:

[T]he scenario most widely expected among senators in both parties is that [Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist] would seek a ruling from the chair — Vice President Cheney, if it looked as if the vote was going to be close — that filibustering judicial nominations is out of order. Assuming the chair agreed, Reid would then object and ask that the ruling of the chair be tabled. Most Republicans would then vote against the Democratic motion, upholding the ruling. Then the Senate would move to a vote on Owen, and a precedent will have been set that it takes 51 votes, not 60, to cut off debate on a judicial nomination. … “If Bill Frist asks for a ruling from the chair from Dick Cheney, of course Cheney will rule in his favor,” Graham said. “What are the Democrats going to do, appeal to the Supreme Court? There’s no place for them to go. That’s the power of the majority.”

In the event, Frist never pulled the trigger. The “Gang of 14” Senators… Oh, traded Arlen Spector for a player to be named later, and the Republicans got their “up or down” votes on their judicial nominees, which is what they wanted. So, perhaps, deterrence worked. But what was the threat, exactly? One Senator* rose to speak on April 13, 2005:

What they don’t expect is for one party – be it Republican or Democrat – to change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet. The American people want less partisanship in this town, but everyone in this chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster – if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate – then the fighting and the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse.

Of course, Byrd would have changed the rules at the beginning of the game, when the Senate bootstrapped itself. So if majoritarian rule-making is an issue of principle for this Senator, it’s not for that reason. What seems most under threat to this Senator is “comity”: An absence of “bitterness” and “fighting.” Be that as it may, we can be sure that Senator or one-time Senator knows the drill on how to abolish the filibuster; they have at least two scenarios to follow. (Byrd’s would have been ideal oh, right after a Presidential inauguration.)

Fast forward to 2012. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promises to use “the nuclear option”if the Ds are relected (“I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”)

REID: They’re filibustering until we have to change the rules.

[ED] SCHULTZ: But you’d change the rules…

REID: Oh, we could have done it in the last Congress [(!!)]. But I got on the Senate floor and said that I made a mistake and I should have helped with that. It can be done if Obama is re-elected, and I can still do it if I have a majority, we can do it with a simple majority at the beginning of the next Congress [Byrd’s scenario].

SCHULTZ: Think the President will go along with that?

REID: You damn betcha.


The bottom line is that “Republican obstructionism” is entirely of the Democrat’s making. What Reid (and Obama) want — or say they want — to do in 2013, and butchered doing in 2010, could and should have done in 2009, immediately after Obama’s inauguration. Republicans would have had no ability to obstruct had Obama and the Democrats not deliberately given them the power to do so. The gridlock is a gridlock of choice.

And look at the outcomes: A miserably inadequate stimulus package, no jobs program to speak of, a health care plan written by the health insurance companies and first implemented by a Republican, and on and on and on. Why, you might almost think the Democrats wanted to drown government in a bathtub! (Oh, wait…)

Were Obama and the Democrats stupid, or evil? I don’t know. If they were stupid, “nobody could have predicted” that the party that impeached Bill Clinton over a blow job wouldn’t play nice. If they were evil, what we see is what we get: The policies that are in place are the polices the Democrats, and Obama, want to see in place. Most days, I go with evil.

To return to our “progressive” antagonists, and their talking points. Both miss the point, as is so often the case with D factional battles: Westen disinforms because he misses the most “crucial error” of all**: failure to abolish the filibuster. Drum disinforms when he writes: “When he took office Democrats didn’t have a filibuster-proof majority,” because he ignores or suppresses the “nuclear option” which, again, was just as available to the Democrats in 2009 as it will be in 2013.

NOTE * Barack Obama.

NOTE ** “Error” implies Westen’s going with stupid.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. kaj

    17:35 EST, Monday, 30 July, 2012

    I am surprised that no one has yet reponded to this good piece of historical research into Harry Byrd, the racist from the Commonwealth of Virginia, yes, the common-wealth. Thanks for the reminder. Of Course it is the corrupt compromiser, the O’Bummer! Evil, not stupid Democrats.

      1. Strangely Enough

        Harry Byrd (per wikipedia) “Harry Flood Byrd, Jr. is a retired American politician. He represented Virginia in the United States Senate from 1965 to 1983.”

        Robert Byrd is likely the Byrd in question. Harry has got to be Reid. I think…

        1. David Lentini

          Harry Byrd was a senator from Virginia; Robert Byrd was a senator from West Virginia. Both served in overlapping terms, requiring those of us living in one state or the other to be careful with our references.

          Robert Byrd had the KKK affiliation.

    1. Capo Regime

      Robert Byrd. Racist! Well Racist or not, he was the best the Democrats had in the Senate for decades. If we had more like this Racist from VW in the senate and house the country would probably be a lot better off. Now we have bland Bankists! I think the bankists are a lot worse than the ol boy racists of the 1960’s–Byrd by the way changed his ways and did allocute and explain his views and his later actions did show he walked the walk.

    2. nonclassical’s the WikiLeaks documentation that bushbama had a deal with bushitters
      to NOT do “transparency, oversight, accountability” for what are now known-convicted war crimes:

      “Wikileaks: Obama Administration Secretly Worked To Prevent Prosecution of War Crimes By The Bush Administration
      Published 1, December 2, 2010 Criminal law , International , Justice , Lawyering , Politics , Society 207 Comments
      One of the little reported details from the latest batch of Wikileaks material are cables showing that the Obama Administration worked hard behind the scenes not only to prevent any investigation of torture in the United States but shutdown efforts abroad to enforce the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture. This includes threatening the Spanish that, if they did not derail a judicial investigation, it would have serious consequences in bilateral relations. I discussed these cables on Countdown.

      For two years, President Obama has worked to block the investigation of torture under the Bush Administration — even as both Dick Cheney and George Bush publicly admit to ordering waterboarding of suspects.

      David Corn in Mother Jones has an interesting posting today on the issue.

      A “confidential” April 17, 2009, cable sent from the US embassy in Madrid to the State Department discloses how the Administration discarded any respect for the independence of the judiciary in Spain and pressured the government to derail the prosecution of Bush officials. Human rights groups around the world had called for such enforcement in light of Obama promise that no torturers would be prosecuted and Holder’s blocking of any investigation into war crimes.

      The Association for the Dignity of Spanish Prisoners had filed a demand for prosecution with Spain’s National Court to indict former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; David Addington, former chief of staff and legal adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney; William Haynes, the Pentagon’s former general counsel; Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy; Jay Bybee, former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel; and John Yoo, a former official in the Office of Legal Counsel. It had a compelled factual basis that these men ordered or facilitated war crimes — a record that has only become stronger since this confrontation.

      American officials pressured government officials, including prosecutors and judges, not to enforce international law and that this was “a very serious matter for the USG.” It was Obama’s own effort at creating a “Coalition of the Unwilling” — nations unwilling to enforce treaties on torture and war crimes when the alleged culprits are American officials.”

    3. steelhead23

      I believe Yves made a minor error here. Harold Byrd left the U.S. Senate in 1983 and was never the majority leader. Robert Byrd served as minority leader (81-87) and as majority leader twice (77-81 and 87-89) and finally as Senate pro tempore from 89-2010. I happen to greatly admire Senator Robert Byrd and find it a tad sad that his early racism still colors his reputation. Does no one else remember his singular rebuke of the “attack Iraq” mania that engulfed the nation? Frankly, had Obama asked Robert Byrd to end the filibuster, I believe he would have – in an instant.

  2. Goin' South

    Lambert, somebody needs to write a history of the early days of the “progressive blogosphere.” This would take us back not to 2005 but to 2003. As I recall, Kos, Duncan and Drum were the gatekeepers. They promoted, through links, the likes of Yglesias, Digby and Ezra Klein. Some of those were supportive of the Iraq War (Drum and Yglesias). None showed any awareness of class issues. All were very alert to issues of “identity politics.” (Well, except for Kos’s amazing callousness toward womens’s issues.)

    This has become the face of “progressive politics.” It disparages direct action, anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism and anti-militarism (even though some pretended to be antiwar initially). It is the politics of a very privileged set that fits very well within Joe Bageants’ jaundiced view of “progressives.”

    Predictably, this crowd fit very nicely into the Establishment, mostly as Democrats. They were essentially non-threatening on the most central issues, and good fodder for Republican fund-raising. A perfect foil.

    How did all this happen? Some was the “first to the trough” phenomenon. For Kos, it was a commitment to technological superiority. But was there anything else?

    1. scraping_by

      Second and third that one. The 2004 Presidential election was the great case of a choice that was no choice, redefining and relabeling as a means of control.

      To recap – an anti-labor warmongering neoliberal upper class twit ran against an anti-labor warmongering neoliberal upper class twit. But they were defined as ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ on the basis of a few lifestyle wedge issues. And online journalism didn’t call them out, any more than the commercial media that was directly promoting the story.

      Either the clear-eyed are growing louder, or the bafflegab is losing its smothering power (probably both). Especially among the young there are fewer followers of the Washington Consensus party line. It’s likely too late to avoid a complete collapse, but the viewpoints that can lead to rebuilding are spreading.

    2. Walter Wit Man

      It was 9/11 that changed my online habits. I never really looked at blogs or online news before then.

      I read recently that 9/11 was one of the first instances of news stations using the scrolling chyron screen, although I can’t confirm that now.

      Anyway, it was in 2001 to 2002 that I really began to look for online news (and actually I recall looking for stuff during Bush v. Gore online).

      I also remember being impressed with Drum in the early days and he and Atrios were some of my first reads so I was definitely led to other sites via them. It’s still an amazingly insular network almost 10 years later. And there hasn’t been much change–still have most of the same gatekeepers we’ve had for a while.

      1. Goin' South

        Drum had that nice header.

        Drum signed on to mainline media, but Kos and Duncan remained web “entrepreneurs.”

        I recall Duncan going ballistic if anyone violated his mythical anonymity while he posted pics of himself at the Dem convention on his own site.

        It was always about money and gaining access for the owners to the halls of power so that could obtain…more money.

        What irony that “progressives” main gathering places have been profit-making, dictatorial sites like DailyKos, Eschaton and Huffington.

        1. Capo Regime

          That “progressives” are haning out in profit making operations is probably only suprsing to people who know nothing about “progressives”. May I sell you a bridge and can I get you to pledge your support to

      2. TGOM

        I was there over that period. Before September 2001 online discussion was a mixture of websites and Usenet. It seemed to me then that that old net culture disappeared suddenly, like a guillotine blade had comimg down, and a new and strangely ineffectual “blogosphere” sprang up instantly in its place. I was very were of the “new” internet then, still am.

        1. TGOM

          (Oops, hit submit by mistake. “like a guillotine blade had come down, and a new and strangely ineffectual ‘blogosphere’ had sprung up instantly in its place.”)

      3. nonclassical you found Paul Thompson’s, “The Terrorist Timeline”, and followed up on Buzzy Krongard…

    3. Capo Regime

      A bunch of bland propagandists and “progressive” shills moved their operation to the net and accomplisehd what? Yes, historic.

    4. Lambert Strether Post author

      Goin’ South, Eschaton’s first post was April 17, 2002. So by the time I got involved in 2003, he’d been blogging for a year. (I wear an Old Eschatonian school tie, by the way; I was one of a group that filled in for Atrios when he first turned over the blog and went on vacation for the summer. I learned a lot from Atrios and I’m grateful for it, and grateful that I ended up doing something that I enjoy and that I feel matters, because he “handed me the keys.”)

      * * *

      That said, the original plan was to replace David Broder, not to become him. We haven’t achieved that, but as the media corporations increasingly assert ownership over the Internet, it might become “join or die” time. Not sure how that plays out…

      1. Goin' South

        I remember you, Leah and a few others filling in. That’s how your writing came to my attention.

    5. Lambert Strether Post author

      “first to the trough” is a vivid way of saying that in a scale-free network like the internet, nodal distribution follows a power curve. And luck and initial conditions have a lot to do with who ends up at the top. (In other words, there’s an issue of network design here that anybody who wants to develop an online network or system driven by egalitarian values needs to think about.)

      * * *

      That’s an interesting comment on Kos’s commitment to technological superiority — which also allowed him to censor and purge his users.

  3. jo6pac

    Great work, I’ll take Evil and will be Voting Green it has to start somewhere. It sure won’t happen inside the party of the demodogs and I see no reason to try and change them. Calif. Demos tried and were beaten down.

    1. ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®©

      I’ll vote for Jill Stein.

      But in Ohio, I’ll have Dems Mary Jo Kilroy (House) and Sherrod Brown (Senate) on my ballot, and they deserve my votes.

      Not like Obama (I voted for him in 2008…he’s been far worse than I imagined he could be).

      1. jo6pac

        I agree with those votes true Dmos and I have that problem in Calif. for local elections

      2. Klassy!

        Sherrod Brown? LOTE for sure, but not truly deserving of any enthusiasm.
        Certainly not to be trusted with any vote on Iran.

        1. LucyLulu

          I don’t live in Ohio, never have, but Sherrod Brown is one of the good guys, one of the rare honest ones. If I were only to vote for candidates that I agreed with on every issue, I’d never vote.

      3. MontanaMaven

        That’s why nothing changes. We tend to say, “vote them all out!!…except for my guy or gal.” Vote them all out. Vote Green or Libertarian. Shake it up if you are going to participate in this Kabuki at all.

        1. LucyLulu

          Why should we vote out the honest and ethical players? We have no assurances their replacement will be of equal character. Most likely they will not. Besides, a few experienced hands around always helps.

          Personally I can think of about six members from both houses (and from diverse parties) I would feel confident voting back into office. One is my representative, who has worked to do honest investigation of the banks (mentioned here more than once), but unfortunately he is not running again. I would throw out both state senators in a heartbeat.

  4. briansays

    blanche lincoln is gone/defeated
    nelson and lieberman retiring
    figure healthcare lobbyist or israel lobby
    but look at it positive we still have max baucus to kill any public option

      1. MontanaMaven

        Had a “discussion” last night at the bar with a Democratic operative passing thru on his way to New Hampshire to work the election. He’s a lawyer and is working with S.E.I.U. Told him he was doing the devil’s work. That S.E.I.U. had been very obstructionist here during the health care “debate” and fully supported Baucus and his plan. Said he had done some good work with Occupy DC, but again with S.E.I.U. I smile and said, “It’s all Kabuki and just be aware it is evil.”
        He smiled and said it was nice talking to me. He’s perfect for the job. Little emotion. We also spent time talking about comic book movies. As long as I can keep my distance from the election and have fun, I will remain sane. And I will need my sanity for the coming meltdown.

  5. TMC

    They didn’t end filibuster for two reasons: (1) They didn’t want to end it becuase it’s their excuse to do what they are paid to do by their corporate puppet masters; and (2) The Democrats are feckless cowards who are scared of their corporate masters.

    They can still end filibuster using Parliamentary Rules with Biden in his position as president protempore of the Senate. They won’t.

  6. Lyle

    Conversely the majority leaders know that they could easily become minority leaders every 2 years. I think this knowledge leads them to not pull the nuclear option because it could well be the ultimate boomerang longer term. For once you have a politician thinking beyond the next election. Once the rule is changed it is changed for good.

    1. TMC

      Conversely, the Democrats cowered at the threat by Frist. So what is their excuse not to use the same tactic to end Republican obstruction?

    2. Brooklin Bridge

      Conversely, the Democrats cowered at the threat by Frist. So what is their excuse not to use the same tactic to end Republican obstruction?

      Exactly! And why are we the people so easily gulled? It’s not that humans are idiots. It’s that, like any animal, we have hard wired limitations and one of them is what supports the golden rule of political perpetual motion: You can’t fool all of the people all of the time, but you can fool enough of them enough of the time – over and over and over and…

  7. M. Black

    There is some confusion in this article, and the comments, between Senator ROBERT Byrd, a former Democratic majority leader, and Senator Harry Reid, the current Democratic majority leader.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Thanks, it was late! (I don’t dare go in to correct because of a technical issue that is being addressed; I hope despite my late-night confusion the context lets matters be sorted?)

  8. Xylix

    Lambert, you get the details right but miss the big picture. That is, progressives never had a majority.

    Essentially the problem arises from the fact there are (at least) two factions in the Democratic party. One faction is progressive. The other is soft neo-liberal. The soft neo-liberal wing hates progressive laws, so in order to avoid implementing one this faction ‘allies’ itself with the republic party. Through this means progressive bills can be watered down until nothing is left.

    We’ve seen this ruse repeatedly:
    * The erosion of the stimulus bill
    * The knifing of the public option
    * The ‘million dollar’ cut off for revised Obama’s tax plan

    The most commonly used tactic to ‘excuse’ this behavior is the ‘invincible filibuster’

    In a way the democratic party can be more easily understood if you see it as a progressive party that combines with a second, center-right party to form a government.

    (The Republicans, BTW, do the same thing. The Tea Party and Evangelistic wings are clear factions)

    Almost ironically, our center-right president Obama is clearly to the left of the neo-liberal faction. We know this because if he were not, his bills wouldn’t have to be watered down.

    1. Eureka Springs

      If the House Progressive caucus were remotely progressive they would have insisted upon single payer, loudly, from the get go… And at the very least refused to support ACA without a PO. Not one progressive stood their ground on any of these points.

      There is no excuse.

      1. Xylix

        Your claim that no progressive Democrat “insisted upon single payer, loudly, from the get go” is flat out false. A two second Google search is all it takes to confirm that.

        Now, I agree whatever support there was, wasn’t enough. But saying there was no support is just wrong.

        I had a lot more to say, but my crap keeps getting cut off. Probably for the best.

        1. Walter Wit Man

          Talk is cheap. The progressive caucus made a pledge to kill any bill that didn’t include a public option and they broke that pledge.

          And Obama ritually humiliated the progressives. It was a complete progressive failure.

          The progressive caucus was the largest political caucus in Congress. They had a mandate to enact health care reform after winning an ‘historic’ election in 2008. Clinton and Obama battled over the health care issue in the primaries and made feints to the left . . . including flirtations with single payer so people can act indignant when Democrats are accused of ignoring single payer.

          Yet the progressive caucus voted for the Obama/Romney corporate solution–after saying they wouldn’t. The Republicans would never vote for something after drawing a line in the sand like that. Republicans scuttle bills to get what they want.* Especially when their position is popular.

          Democrats support single payer? Hell, they can’t even fulfill a pledge regarding a fake public option.

          *Assuming for a second that the Republicans are sincere–they’re not–but let’s just live in a Democratic world for a sec.

        2. Lambert Strether Post author

          You mis-state the claim. The claim is that the caucus never “insisted.”

          Yes, individuals did “insist”; the gentlemanly John Conyers was completely ineffectual; and [genuflects] Kucinich, after swearing up and down that he’d never surrender on single payer out of sheer principle, went on a ride with Obama on Air Force One, and the very next day was not only supporting ObamaCare, but whipping for it on the House floor.

          I’m glad Kucincich got redistricted out. I know it’s “worse is better,” but he really muddied the waters.

          1. MontanaMaven

            Agree. It’s part of the play. The Democratic Party was taken over by the Eisenhower and Rockefeller Republicans a long time ago. My Senators are very neo-liberal and 50 years ago would have been called Republicans aka people who believe in elite rule by finance but love the gays and the environment. Max voted for the evil 2005 Bankruptcy Bill that made it virtually impossible for regular people to get out of debt. Tester continues with siding with finance and voting against cramdown. The telltale votes are their ones on debt.

          2. Cujo359

            I’d put it this way – in the end, they voted for and supported the ACA, without the things in it that they said they would need to see in it before they supported or voted for it. That’s not “insisting”, at least not in the real world.

    2. TGOM

      “Almost ironically, our center-right president Obama is clearly to the left of the neo-liberal faction.”

      You sound like the MSM remarking about how the most transparent Adminstration ever is “almost ironically” persecuting goverment whistleblowers in record numbers, or how the most internationalist and human-rightsiest Administration ever has “almost ironically” adopted a policy of intentionally murdering rescue workers.

      We know this because if he were not, his bills wouldn’t have to be watered down.

      Flat-out baloney. Even a casual observation of how this Administration behaves when making policy in areas that fall outside of Congress’s jurisdiction shows that they are well to the right of the ConservaDems, no mean feat. The “failed” legislative initiatives are just Kabuki.

      1. Xylix

        There are degrees of everything. A man can break into a house and steal everything. A man can break into a house, steal everything, rape your wife, set the house on fire and laugh when you burn to death.

        Both individuals are criminals.
        But, the crimes are not even remotely the same.

        Likewise, Obama can be a corrupt neo-liberal, and still be to the left of the Senate. He can also be a corrupt neo-liberal and still be better President than Romney.

        In any case, you can’t compare Executive actions versus Legislative actions. The powers are too different. The only lens we have (and it is a crappy one) is legislative versus legislative. And we only get this when Obama proposes a bill.

        1. JTFaraday

          “Likewise, Obama can be a corrupt neo-liberal, and still be to the left of the Senate.”

          While that rationalization is a little too twisted for me and would probably prompt my BS detector to explode, just because he theoretically “could be” doesn’t mean “he is.”

          (It must be election season).

        2. Glen

          Not disputing your analogy at all, I just can no longer figure out who is supposed to be the Democratic robber and who is the Republican robber.

          I’m going to have to vote for somebody that more clearly represents my views which is not the Democratic or Republican party. Prior to this election I was a thirty+ year Democratic party voter.

    3. Circling hyenas

      Thank you for explaining why Dems suck. It will supply valuable context as we sit home and let them get routed at the polls.

      1. Xylix

        Yes, because letting the hard-core neo-liberal — and at extremes flat out fascist — faction take control is sooo much better.

        Sorry, I believe that it is the marking of an adult is the courage to do what’s best… even when doing so is distasteful.

        Then again, perhaps if I tried “Not voting”, I might be imbued with a mystical power that lets me solve all the country’s problems.

        [The “lets not vote” meme is a pet peeve of mine. I remember when an Iraqi faction tried that. Turned out to be an invitation for the other powers-that-be to stomp on their face. I don’t see it playing out any different here.]

        1. citalopram

          Like it or not, either Obummer or Obombney will win. Jill Stein et. al doesn’t have a chance in hell. The system is rigged and your vote will not change anything.

          If it makes you feel better, go ahead and pull the lever. Maybe if Obummer loses, the Dems will think twice about stabbing their progressive base in the back.

          You also have to assume that votes are being accurately counted, and voter fraud doesn’t exist. I would argue that Bush confirmed that it does exist.

        2. Lambert Strether Post author

          Ah, the infantilization trope (“the marking of an adult”) beloved of D weasels and Obama fans everywhere. So how’s strategy of voting for evil workin’ out for ya?

          * * *

          On not voting: My personal strategy is to good for a good candidate, on the novel theory that voting for good candidates strengthens the party for which that candidate runs; in my case, the Green.

          I don’t believe in not voting, because that strengthens the “voter apathy” talking point. So I’d vote for any not-evil non-legacy candidate, a write-in candidate (perhaps “Mike Check”), or spoil my ballot. All those alternatives get counted.

          1. jonboinAR

            Vote for a person, whomever it is, you would like to have as President. Period, and always. Write-ins are invited. Pretty much, all votes count equally. Your vote doesn’t count “more” if it’s for one of the major candidates. It actually effectively I should think counts “more” if an interesting candidate gets counted because of your action.

    4. Lambert Strether Post author

      No, I don’t think I do. From a straightforward partisan perspective, the Rs in 2009 had their boot on the R throat. The Rs were completely discredited, and when Bush appeared in public…. Well, have you ever seen Les Liasons Dangereuses where Madame de Merteuil appears in her box at the opera? Like that. And then there were all the reasons they could have started indicting Rs all over DC, for reasons the “progressive” blogosphere had been cheerfully developing (remember the DOJ attorneys scandal?)

      In 2009, the Ds had a mandate for “hope and change,” they had the House, and very unexpectedly (IIRC) the Senate. (And remember all the foo fra about how Obama was transformational?) The Ds had the Rs down on on the ground. So instead of stomping them and caving in a few ribs, the Ds gave them a hand up, dusted them off, and let them right back in the game.

      That’s what not exercising the nuclear option in 2009 means. Whatever the policies might have been, the conflict between the legacy parties is complete kabaki. Because when the Ds had the chance to radically change the rules of the game in their favor, they didn’t.

    5. Walter Wit Man

      Dude. It’s a fake fight.

      Do you really think political actors can be so inept? Such bumbling fools as the progressives? They have to be bought off. There is no other rational explanation!

    6. Hico

      We’re going to do to Obama what the right did to G.H.W. Bush in ’92. We’re going to wave bye-bye as this recession purges you like a greasy worm bolus. If you’re beaten badly enough, maybe you’ll stop trying to shut us up and tell us what we think.

  9. Jan

    The Long Shadow of Ordoliberalism


    In its attempts to rescue the euro, Germany is often seen as the odd country out. It blocks constructive solutions with its resistance to either using ECB funds or creating sufficiently large rescue mechanisms for indebted countries and banks, all while insisting on pronounced austerity. However, what is seldom understood abroad is that the German position is about more than limiting its own fiscal exposure.
    It is often claimed the German approach to the euro crisis, and its emphasis on price stability in particular, is based either on its narrowly defined interest as a capital surplus country or on the historical experience of hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic. These two factors do play a role, however they are not sufficient in explaining the German debate. The danger of a devaluation in external assets through inflation is almost never mentioned in public debate and is less important in German policymaking than the potential losses that would occur if Germany’s foreign debtors defaulted. Second, countries such as Austria and Greece have also experienced hyperinflation, but do not share either Germany’s fear of inflation or its resistance to ECB intervention in sovereign bond markets.
    An important but rarely discussed reason for Germany’s emphasis on price stability is the influence on German economic thinking of “ordoliberalism”—a theory developed as a reaction both to the consequences of unregulated liberalism in the early twentieth century and subsequent Nazi fiscal and monetary interventionism. The central tenet of ordoliberalism is that governments should regulate markets in such a way that market outcomes approximate the theoretical outcome in a perfectly competitive market. Inflation is seen as distorting valuable price signals, hence creating high economic costs.
    Ordoliberalism differs from other schools of liberalism in that it places a greater emphasis on preventing cartels and monopolies, but it keeps a number of beliefs central to other strands of economic liberalism. For example, it shares a neoliberal opposition to activist monetary and fiscal policies. Politically, the concept of ordoliberalism is closely linked to the first phase of the German social market economy from 1948 to 1966, as the legislation of this time included many basic premises of ordoliberalism.
    Germany’s “Neoclassical” Mainstream
    There are very few academic economists explicitly working in the ordoliberal tradition today. However, most influential economists in today’s universities and in the public sector have been influenced by ordoliberal ideas during their education. Unlike in other European countries and the United States, Germany has very few influential Keynesian economists and most academic economists would consider themselves to be liberal. Their ideas filter through to ministries and to the Bundesbank, which mainly hire from German universities.
    In fact, the German consensus is close to what is known internationally as “New Classical Economics”—that is, the modern branch of macroeconomics that builds on neoclassical microeconomics, with its strong influence of rational expectations. Economists of this paradigm believe that markets always work smoothly—that is, financial markets always get the price of assets in a way that reflects all relevant information correctly. They also believe national economies have the capacity to swiftly adjust to shocks. If prices and wages sometimes do not react quickly, they would argue that this is due to institutional barriers such as collective bargaining or legal minimum wages. The solution is structural reform to make markets more flexible. Fiscal problems are mainly a consequence of irresponsible behavior by policymakers, which in turn react to incentives. This perception of economic mechanisms leads to a number of policy positions.
    Budget Consolidation and Bailouts
    The German economic mainstream believes in quick and decisive budget consolidation to be achieved through reducing government expenditure and, to a lesser extent, increasing taxes. Significantly cutting the deficit favorably alters debt dynamics. As a result, the risk of future insolvency is reduced. At the same time, less new debt and less government spending today mean less taxation in the future. All this increases private sector confidence, which can in turn be expected to lead to more investment. According to this view, harsh austerity measures do not necessarily lead to a deep recession but rather improve the outlook for growth. Consequently, difficulties in reaching fiscal targets are seen as a failure on the part of the political class to make or pass the necessary cuts or tax increases and hence amount to a lack of political will. Since excessive government borrowing is seen as the cause of the crisis, bailouts are seen as a genuine threat. Rescue packages are at best a necessary evil.
    ECB Bond Purchases and an ESM Banking License
    Using the ECB as a crisis fighting tool is similarly seen critically, both when one discusses the ECB’s direct bond purchases and giving the ESM access to the central bank`s refinancing mechanism. In both cases, it is feared that ECB action would lower financing costs to governments and hence give incentives for governments to borrow more, rather than embark on structural reforms. Moreover, the German mainstream sees the danger that in the end, using the central bank in any rescue attempt might lead to an expansion of the monetary base and ultimately higher inflation.
    Economic Policy Coordination
    Although many outside Germany believe in coordinating economic policy (fiscal policies, wage increases, social security contributions, and taxation) across the eurozone, Germans have been more skeptical. For example, when Germany lowered social security contributions in 2008 and increased VAT, French experts perceived it as a beggar-thy-neighbor policy. German exports became cheaper because of lower wage costs and imports dropped as increased VAT lowered real disposable income and hence aggregate consumption. In Germany, however, few thought the move would have an impact on the rest of the eurozone. Instead, it was seen as a measure that would improve supply conditions and hence boost growth. This German view should be seen in the context of neoclassical economic thinking, which ignores how improvements in supply-side conditions in one country affect the demand conditions in others. The cut in social security contributions in Germany improved supply-side conditions there, leading to more output and employment. The lack of aggregate demand was not considered a serious potential problem. As a result, the German elite neglected the fallout for the rest of the euro area.
    External Imbalances
    A closely related issue concerns external imbalances in the euro area. Since 1999, current account deficits and current account surpluses in euro countries have increased to record levels. Greece, Portugal, and Spain have experienced deficits of 10 percent of GDP or more while Germany has run surpluses of more than 7 percent at times. These imbalances are now seen by many outside Germany as major contributing factors to the euro crisis.
    Strong aggregate demand in one country increases imports and hence leads to a deterioration of the current account. However, the German mainstream sees current account imbalances in the eurozone as a consequence of lost competitiveness and excessive consumption in deficit countries and weak investment in Germany itself. Consequently, German neoclassical economists believe the solution is wage restraint or outright wage cuts in deficit countries. In their eyes, such a policy would increase price competitiveness in deficit countries to such an extent that exports would increase and imports would fall. Stronger wage growth in Germany, on the other hand, would simply hamper German competitiveness and reduce German investment.
    The “New Keynesian” Alternative
    Of course, even in Germany, there are dissenting voices. The approach of these economists, who could be called “New Keynesians,” provide an alternative to the neoclassical mainstream approach. They see their allies in prominent American and British economists such as Paul Krugman and Martin Wolf, both vehement critics of the official German position.
    In particular, New Keynesian economists take a different view on the flexibility of an economy and how quickly prices and wages adjust. They emphasize a number of underlying economic reasons why, even after comprehensive structural reform, wages and prices only adjust slowly. For example, irrespective of the legal environment, a company does not like to cut its employees’ nominal wages because it undermines morale and productivity. Changing prices are also associated with a number of costs, such as that of printing new catalogs or menus. If prices and wages are sticky, however, a lack of aggregate demand increases unemployment. If high unemployment persists, it may turn structural and hamper a country’s long-term growth outlook.
    According to this view, the development of aggregate demand in the euro area and in any given country is a key factor. Output will expand only if aggregate demand is increasing fast enough. Thus the demand side of the economy determines growth and employment to a large extent. In this view, austerity measures dampen economic growth, lower tax revenue, and increase government transfers. If administered incorrectly, such austerity might actually damage debt sustainability. Economists following this way of thinking argue that financial markets might overshoot prices and interest rates, possibly leading to insolvent governments. In such a situation, using the central bank as part of the rescue mechanism is seen as the most effective way to solve problems. With regard to the adjustment of current account imbalances, New Keynesian economists disagree with the mainstream German position that it is only deficit countries that should use wage cuts to adjust. Such a policy of nominal wage cuts or of prolonged nominal wage stagnation is seen as creating problems of its own for deficit countries, as this depresses domestic demand and leads to non-performing loans in the banking sector. Therefore, these economists demand a more symmetric approach to current account imbalances with surplus countries taking measures to support domestic demand, which can increase deficit countries’ exports.
    German Political Parties and the Euro Crisis
    While the programs adopted by political parties are seldom completely formed by a single strand of economic thinking, one can clearly see the shadow of ordoliberalism in the policy of most traditional German parties.
    The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) (and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU) sees itself strongly in the tradition of the “social market economy” developed under CDU economics minister Ludwig Erhard following World War II. In the euro crisis, it sees a lack of fiscal discipline as the primary cause of the sovereign debt crisis and therefore called for austerity and fiscal surveillance in an effort to increase Europe’s productivity and growth. The CDU argued against mutualizing debt and Eurobonds, invoking the Maastricht Treaty’s “no bailout” philosophy. It believed any “community of debt” would reduce political leverage for structural reforms and increase moral hazard within the EU. The CDU opposed the ECB bond purchase program—which it saw as tantamount to “printing money.” The CDU advocates an independent ECB and opposes any monetarization of government debt.
    Nevertheless, there are some indications the CDU may be willing to make some concessions in its approach to the euro crisis if and when the institutional conditions are met for the EU to eventually move towards common debt issuance. Rumors suggest the party will eventually accept Eurobonds when they receive fiscal guarantees from other eurozone countries and see signs of successful structural reform in Italy, Greece, Spain, and Portugal. However, there are also legal barriers in Germany to a mutualization of European debt along with ideological barriers. In fact, some argue that Germany would need to create an entirely new constitution in order to allow this.
    The Free Democratic Party (FDP) is a classical European liberal party and has even stronger roots in ordoliberal thinking. As a coalition partner in the federal government during the euro crisis, the FDP’s position has, of all the five main political parties in Germany, been closest to mainstream neoclassical thinking. The FDP has defended the idea that indebted countries that find it difficult to access financial markets are in this position because of their own policy failures.
    It advocates harsh austerity measures and structural reform. It has long been in favor of high penalty interest rates for rescue loans to maintain pressure on crisis governments to cut budget deficits and engage in structural reform. It demands automatic sanctions for violations of the Stability and Growth Pact and a stricter control of national budgets for violations of EU debt and deficit limits. FDP politicians have also warned of the possible inflationary dangers posed by ECB bond purchases.
    During the 1960s, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) integrated many Keynesian elements into their thinking and policymaking. Karl Schiller, economics minister from 1966 to 1972, brought Keynesian ideas into the public debate. However, in the late 1990s, the SPD moved away from Keynesianism. Under Gerhard Schröder, the party passed a number of neoliberal reforms, which included income and corporate tax cuts and reforms to the labor market and welfare system (“Hartz IV”).
    Since leaving the coalition after the general election in 2009, the SPD has moved slightly to the left again. Social Democrats have attempted to square a belief in fiscal responsibility with European solidarity. They have made a clear commitment to rescue packages for indebted countries but also insisted on austerity as a condition for support. Unusual for a European center-left party, the SPD has therefore come out in favor of a stricter Stability and Growth Pact. It agreed with the government on the need for constitutional “debt brakes” to limit budget deficits in all eurozone countries and has voted for the fiscal compact. Unlike the CDU/CSU and the FDP, the SPD has also stated repeatedly that closer economic policy coordination at the European level is needed, and that such coordination should include financial market regulation and taxation issues. Moreover, in the negotiations for the fiscal compact, the SPD sided with the French Socialists, demanding a growth pact as well. Leading Social Democrats have also spoken out in favor of Eurobonds, but official party documents emphasize they can only be part of a package deal that would include much stricter rules for fiscal austerity in other countries. The SPD is also opposed to ECB bond purchases.
    The Greens have long been advocates of better financial market supervision and regulation, a financial transactions tax, the abolition of bonuses in financial services, and the semi-nationalization of banks and financial institutions. This background has shaped the Greens’ approach to the euro crisis. A significant part of the party adheres to fiscal austerity, albeit for different reasons than neoclassical economists. They argue that in an economy without economic growth (which some Greens favor), government debt is not sustainable and hence public budgets should be balanced. The Greens never thought austerity was enough on its own and did not see fiscal surveillance mechanisms as the sole solution to the crisis. Yet, in the end, they voted for the fiscal compact in the German Bundestag. The Greens also committed to the introduction of Eurobonds very early on. Unlike mainstream neoclassical German economists, the Greens accept that Germany’s trade imbalance affects the economic equilibrium of the eurozone and they want “symmetric” rather than “asymmetric” adjustment within the eurozone.
    The anti-capitalist Left Party was created in 2007. Although it is not against the EU or the euro, it voted against the Lisbon Treaty and aims to radically reorganize European economic policy to deliver market regulation, financial market control, tax harmonization, and a financial transactions tax; and to control speculation and capital flows and improve social justice. As a result, the Left’s approach to the euro crisis is very different from that of the German neoclassical mainstream. It has criticized the incapacity of the EU as a whole to control financial markets. Unlike the German mainstream, it has argued that the euro crisis is a structural crisis touching financial markets and also a crisis of neoliberalism. The Left is also in favor of Eurobonds. Of all the five main German parties, the Left is the most New Keynesian. But although some of its left-wing arguments are sound, it lacks credibility in the German party system due to its former connection to the SED (the ruling party of East Germany); but also because it still is not accepted as a serious coalition party and has thus largely been excluded from mainstream politics in Germany.
    What this overview of the party positions shows is that some elements of the German approach to the euro crisis are unlikely to change, even if majorities shift. The mainstream neoclassical belief in the need for stricter fiscal rules is shared by the Social Democrats and also has strong support inside the Green party. The same goes for the question of current account imbalances. There is a broad consensus that the burden of adjustment should be borne by deficit countries. Although some Social Democrats would like to implement elements of an expansionary wage and fiscal policy that might lower Germany’s current account surplus, this is not official party position. A significant portion of the SPD still thinks that “Germany cannot be punished for its export successes.” A change in government would therefore not overly affect the German position in this regard. The most decisive difference between the government and the SPD in the euro crisis is the different focus on growth. While the Social Democrats have been arguing that growth enhancing policies including fiscal stimuli are important in the crisis solution, the government has long held the position that structural reforms are good, but no additional money should be spent on growth programs.
    When negotiating with Germany, its European partners should focus on issues where some movement in the German position can be expected, rather than expect a change on issues on which there is a consensus in Germany. For example, instead of attacking excessive austerity and demanding a renegotiation of the new fiscal treaty, a more promising strategy would be to demand pan-European growth and investment programs with more spending and taxation power shifted toward the European level. One approach would be to demand the channeling of unused EU funds into investment programs for the ailing eurozone periphery to provide a short-term stimulus and build a more permanent institutional structure later. Similarly, instead of opposing balanced budgets, asking for more time in reaching them might be met with more understanding from Berlin.
    This column was first published by the ECFR

  10. scraping_by

    “…just as available to the Democrats in 2009 as it will be in 2013.”

    Ah, but 2009 was the banksters out of control, single payer health care, closing Gitmo, and the war in Iraq.

    2013 will be destroying Social Security, ending the last of our civil liberties, and unlimited war against Iran.

    None of this Mr. Smith Goes to Washington crap from the die-hard New Dealers.

  11. Maximilien

    “Were Obama and the Democrats stupid, or evil?”

    Certainly not stupid. Politicians are rarely stupid. So that leaves evil. As in scheming, calculating, conniving, conspiring, deceiving, lying. As in “How do we get elected again?”

    It was early 2009 and Obama was beginning his 2012 re-election campaign. First gambit: His constant repetition of the phrases “bi-partisan spirit” and “reach across the aisle”. This set up the Repubs in two ways. They would be either co-opted into bi-partisanship (thereby destroying their election chances) or painted as obstructionist (ditto). Not surprisingly, the Repubs chose to wear the label of obstructionist hung on them by the Dems and a compliant “liberal” media.

    But the jig was up, for them and for voters. Obama was not about change, he was about politics-as-usual, and for him, it worked. By late 2009 his re-election was almost assured.

    Clever. But evil.

  12. sandra

    Don’t forget that the Democratic establishment bent over backwards to deny the winner of the Democratic primary in Connecticut, lying a blue streak in advertising and endorsements to put Lieberman into place to obstruct real Democratic solutions. I don’t think we can forever pretend that that was naive. It was purposeful– and Obama participated in it.
    The administration ignored Senators who were specialists in health care reform for their entire careers, and turned the
    policy over to Nelson, to Republicans and to Well Point and others who continued to stab us in the back over and over again.
    There were still 58 votes for some sane improvements for health care — but the Obama administration insisted they wanted only a sixty vote majority to show that the country was clearly united.
    Although I no longer listen to any of Obama’s beautiful speeches because they are not connected in any way to the people in his administration who are running the country,
    I still sometimes like Obama. I think that the only way to do that is to see him as badly served by all of the corporate figures in the administration who are — like the Republicans and the bankers more generally–pushing and pushing their advantage with no morality, no sense of democracy, no sense
    of allegiance to the betterment of the country.
    It actually seems to me that the people in the administration don’t care if Obama is reelected. They are Republicans anyway, and
    after they get everything out of his four years that they can, they will be happy enough with the other party.

    1. north country

      A relevant quote nowadays generally attributed to a Republican staffer explaining the two-party system to a visiting group of Soviet legislators during the Cold War, but apparently originating from arch-conservative pundit Medford Stanton Evans, probably taking off from a famous comment by John Stuart Mills:

      “We have two parties here, and only two. One is the evil party, and the other is the stupid party. I’m very proud to be a member of the stupid party. Occasionally, the two parties get together to do something that’s both evil and stupid. That’s called bipartisanship.” Take your pick.

    2. Jill


      You represent many people in our nation who “still like Obama”. I am asking you a sincere question. Why? He has openly admitted killing a 16 year old boy. He ordered the hit, he said so. It wasn’t forced on him by people in his administraion. Congress didn’t force him to do it. He did it and he claimed responsibility for it.

      If any other person you knew killed a 16 year old boy for no reason, not self defense, no reason at all, would you like them? I’m going to guess you would not. Why then do you like this killer of a 16 year old child?

      1. sandra

        Right. It’s true that I say to myself daily that I cannot vote for anyone who kills people with drones.
        And then who could imagine allowing the US treasury to fund banks with tax payer funds and protecting the banks as they continue to defraud millions of people in broad daylight?
        And the legal system, and the militarization of local police, and the coordination of vicious attacks on protesters across the country,
        and and and
        and allowing the crazy right wing and the corporatists to dominate the conversation
        yet a part of me cannot stand the terrible racism and lies
        of the right wing — and as sure as I am about all of the disappointments, like so many Americans, i want to hold on to a part, even a tiny part of the dream– despite all evidence to the contrary.
        I plan to vote Green.

        1. Jill


          Obama is a racist. Actions, not skin color, determine racism. Just as a woman can be sexist or a poor person can despise other poor people, black men and women can be racist. You won’t escape the ugly racism of America’s past and present by looking to Obama.

          Similarly with lies. You can bet Republicans are lying to you but you just listed the many lies you have been told by Democrats.

          We will end racism and political lies by refusing to tolerate them, no matter who is engaging in them. Only a citizenry who really does believe racism is wrong, who knows that politicians lying to us about the crucial matters we face is damaging, will change these horrors. A dream for justice isn’t built on refusal to face reality. Bringing forth a dream for justice takes courage. It takes clarity of thought, vision and purpose.

          Obama was the dream of Madison Ave. Justice is the dream we the people bring about.

  13. Doug Terpstra

    Nice work tearing down the curtain of Oz, Lambert, though it has been unraveling lately on its own.

    “Why, you might almost think the Democrats wanted to drown government in a bathtub!” “And look at the outcomes,” indeed, a stunning success. The fig leaf of democracy is upheld in the Roman Senate, while the neoliberal Shock Doctrine proceeds apace unimpeded by any remote semblance real democracy.

    Gotta love that Reid quote: “You damn betcha.” Makes the knees knock and sends a shudder of fear down the spine, doesn’t it?

  14. Hugh

    My impression on how the filibuster can be done away with is as follows: No Congress can be bound by the actions of a previous Congress, and as stated in Art.I, Sec.V of the Constitution, “Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings.”.

    Every two years (January 2009, 2011, 2013, etc.), a new Congress comes into session. After the credentials of new members have been verified, there is a quorum call. Once a quorum has been established, each House, the Senate in our case, is ready to proceed to business and is governed by regular parliamentary procedure (Mason’s Manual). And as noted in US v. Ballin (1892),

    “and here the general rule of all parliamentary bodies is that, when a quorum is present, the act of a majority of the quorum is the act of the body. This has been the rule for all time, except so far as in any given case the terms of the organic act under which the body is assembled have prescribed specific limitations. As, for instance, in those states where the constitution provides that a majority of all the members elected to either house shall be necessary for the passage of any bill. No such limitation is found in the federal constitution, and therefore the general law of such bodies obtains.”

    So at this point, the Senate could simply do away with the filibuster by a simple majority vote of the quorum present. This would be the clearest and most direct way to do it that I know of.

    I would also note that the “didn’t have the votes” fails if we just consider the Democratic Caucus. The party tends to select rich conservative Democrats to run for the Senate. Can anyone be surprised then that they act like rich conservatives? The Lieberman reference is especially gratuitous when you consider that Lieberman was Obama’s mentor in the Senate.

    Finally, as I have stated at length here before, the American Presidency has never been as imperial, powerful, and unilateral as it is now. Obama has vast powers to act outside whatever the Congress does or does not do. Indeed as his war with Libya showed, when he chooses, he can infringe on even the most fundamental power of the Congress, the power to declare war, and violate its acts, as with the War Powers Act, and do so with impunity.

    1. tom allen

      Tom Harkin (D-IA) led a fight in 2011, at the beginning of this session, to reform or abolish the filibuster. He warned that nothing would get done, pretty much predicting everything that has happened since.

      Guess who opposed him.

      Sen. Harkin – White House Killed Filibuster Reform

      1. Cujo359

        One of the things that has undoubtedly motivated Senators to not change filibuster rules is that if they did, each of them would lose a bit of power to obstruct legislation. Politicians need power to do their jobs. They won’t give it up without getting something in return.

  15. Mary Bess

    The “we didn’t have the votes” ruse reminds one of Lyndon Johnson’s response to an ally who advised him not to press for civil rights legislation, that it was a lost cause:

    “Well, what the hell’s presidency for?”

    He got the votes.

    “Too many Americans live on the outskirts of hope,” he said when he launched of the war on poverty. The scope of his ambition was truly audacious.

    Compare him to the current occupant of the White House who only seems to be audacious about his hopes for himself. In his next term he will enable Wall Street to do for Social Security and Medicare what they did for home mortgages.

  16. rotter

    They were (are) evil…the “nuclear option” reid promises to use “if obama is elected” will be used to gut Social Security and Medicaid…

  17. David Lentini

    Even worse than the senatorial dithering, either real or feigned, was the fact that Obama, who won with a solid majority that included many cross-over votes from angry Repbulicans, could have appeal to the public to put pressure on many Rs and Blue Dogs to get a bigger stimulus and other concessions. How Obama failed to use TR’s “bully pulpit” is either evidence of one of the great crimes of Amercian politics or one of the most inept politicans in history. Given the known strength of Obama’s public appeal, I’d vote for the former—These guys did the job for Wall Street and the financial overlords, and the rest is window dressing.

  18. Deffe

    It’s not really a two party system. Democrats are the brake pedal and republicans are the gas. Capital presses down whichever is most appropriate for the time. It sucks, and it’s not always true at the lowest levels of the parties, but it sure is true for the federal government. No democrat and no republican will save us. We have to work outside them until they’re sufficiently threatened and adopt our program

  19. dbak

    the last time I looked there are only two candidates for president. So all othe great minds commentating here so disdainful of Obama need to realize that in politics we rarely get the perfect choice. Am I always happy with demo policies, certainly not. But one does not consider them in a vacumn. It seems that most of you had totally unrealistic expectations of what Obama might accomplish and by stomping your feet like spoiled children you expose your ignorance of how the world really works.The world doesnt advance in giant steps, it is a slow and dirty process. Consider health care. I would agree single payer is the way to go but do you really think the insurance companies would easily agree to this without a fight? And in your great wisdom by boycotting the 2010 elections you handed a gun to your worst enemies.

    1. Aquifer

      The last time you looked …. Look again

      I had very realistic expectations of what Obama might do, which is why i didn’t vote for him

      The world doesn’t advance in giant steps – but under Reps/Dems it is retreating at an ever accelerating pace

      Of course the insurance industries would fight – but they didn’t have to win

  20. Jill

    There is another way the lie of Republican obstructionism is exposed. No one works harder to do the bidding of the 1 percent than Obama and most Democrats in Congress. Pundits like Drum cannot have it both ways. They cannot say Obama and friends can’t do what they want, when clearly, if they want to do something, you can condiser it “mission accomplished”!

    You can’t buy better servants than Democrats. Obama in particular has been a stunning success. They will go to bat for their paymasters like no one else. They are effective, not ineffective. Their lackeys in the “press” and blogosphere help obscure their real agenda and the absolute effecitvness thereof. Still, not everyone believes in lies.

  21. ep3

    yves, in regards to the public sector employment chart. remember, obama has said that there are plenty of jobs in the private sector for those that lose in the public sector. he has said the growth in private has outweighed the public losses. yes, i know he lies. but it shows his thinking.

  22. dbak

    I’ve did a lot of looking in the last 80 years or so. Politics is a dirty game to be sure but it isn’t the only one. If you start with a preconceived opinion of what a president will be like you will almost always be wrong. The president does not have unlimited powers, there has been very bad examples in the last century of those rulers that do. Obviously to you the word compromise is a dirty word but in a democracy thats how most things get done. Your name is fitting. You’re all wet.

    1. Hugh

      Actually I think you are the one with the preconceived notions. What we have is an imperial Presidency. So it is something more than a logical disconnect to maintain in the face of that the President’s powers are limited.

      I just can’t imagine that you have been here much to try to pass off all that business as usual/compromise is sad but necessary, lesser of two evils, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good horse hockey. I’m assuming you are just another Democratic tribalist, and so completely resistant to any evidence that would undercut your world view. But just because you are steadfastedly clueless, don’t expect the rest of us to be, or to be impressed when you throw a couple of clichés in our general direction. I mean politics is a dirty game, compromise is how most things get done. Come on, is that really the best you’ve got?

      1. dbak

        Imperial President? I’ve heard that complaint since 1948 when I first started following politics. So if you think I am unable to see things as they really are you are sadly mistaken. Indeed your viewpoints are old hat,they have been around as long as I can remember and thats been a long time. Every election time people complain about the candidates. But if one wishes to win an election they must appeal to a wide range of viewpoints. Extremists such as you appear to be can make a lot of noise but rarely do they carry the day. Obama came to office at a difficult period of our time and has been faced with huge problems. Its easy to second guess his decisions but are you ready to deal with Romney?

        1. Hugh

          You simply refuse to accept that things have changed. Many of us have been chronicling how 40 years kleptocratic tendencies ceased to be traits and became the disease. Rather than canceling out or being periodically rolled back, they began building on each other creating an accelerating positive feedback loop. If you were not so trapped in your rigid business as usual mindset, you might see that economic, financial, and political conditions are not like anything we have seen in recent history. Indeed we have to go back 80 years and more to the late 20s and early 30s to get even proximate analogues.

          Politically, your raising the specter of Romeny is risible. Obama not only embraced Bush’s worst and most excessive policies, he expanded on them. That is Obama has been governing to the right of George Bush. So your Romney boogeyman doesn’t pack much punch. We are faced with a “choice” of two right wing corporatist, kleptocrat-enabling candidates. The only differences they have are on subjective issues of style. You may find the rhetoric of one less irritating than the rhetoric of the other, but you are going to be royally screwed over by both.

          1. dbak

            It is obvious that you think that you have it all figured out. If Romney gets elected we will contiue this argument in a few years if I’m still around. Reality has away of changing one’s mind. I don’t know how old you are but when I was many years younger solving the world’s problems was a lot simpler. Just do it. It ain’t that easy as you will eventually discover. No further discussions are necessary, only time will prove my point.

          2. Hugh

            As I said before you are a party tribalist. If Obama acts worse than Romney, you will say, as you do now, that politics is a dirty game and Obama had to compromise. If Romney is worse than Obama, you will say see, I told you so.

            I have not figured everything out, but I have figured out a lot of it. Unlike you, I do not cling to models and ideas when events on the ground falsify them. I look for the explanation that fits the largest number of facts and has the most predictive power. And I am open to revising and dumping anything that doesn’t work. All you have is a claim to vast experience based on your longevity, and not on having analyzed any of that experience or learned anything from it.

            Being retired and on Social Security and Medicare have probably insulated you from much of what is going on. But the truth is you are still being had, if from a more comfortable vantage point. Our elites love people like you because they can depend on your support no matter what they do to the rest of us.

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