Monday, February 22, 2010

GOP Obstructionism: Expanding Exponentially Like Some Recursive Virus

Ezra's debut column for Newsweek is up. He had been on a role over at the WaPo lately writing smart and insightful pieces but this column is truly Broder-esque.

Ezra's ultimate point is that we need to reform the Senate's filibuster rul but he takes an awfully circuitous route on his way there. He begins his analysis by pointing to data which demonstrates that presidential involvement in the legislative process increases the likelihood of party-line votes,
According to data gathered by the political scientist Frances Lee, when the president—not this president in particular but any president—decides to take a position on an issue, the chances of a party-line vote skyrocket. If we're talking about health, labor, defense, or immigration policy, the chances that Democrats and Republicans will stay in their separate corners increase by 20 to 30 percent. On foreign aid and international affairs, the likelihood of a party-line vote increases by more than 65 percent...

That is why bipartisanship is unlikely to take root at Thursday's summit. The more that health-care reform is associated with the president, the less likely it is that any Republican will support it.

The data is certainly interesting but it's not in anyway applicable to the situation at hand. First, Obama's position on health care has been clear for about 3 years at this point. Throughout his presidential campaign Obama made health care reform a prime issue. It was a focal point of not just the primaries but the general election as well. The research that Ezra cites doesn't seem to speak to these circumstances.

Second, the behavior of Republicans in this 111th Congress is a total historic anomaly and statistical outlier. Look just at the data on filibusterers,

Let's look at the House of Representatives as well. In the House 176 Republican's voted against health care reform, only one voted for. On the stimulus package the vote was 177 Republican's against and zero votes in favor.

The research that Ezra cites speaks to statistical trends based on the historical record. We're not living through a period of normal partisan behavior and what we're seeing is not merely unprecedented. Republican's have been exponentially more obstructionist than any other Congressional minority in the history of the nation.

Projections based on past historical trends simply do not apply to this Congress or this President. Not only that but after watching what has happened the last year and looking at the cumulative data one is left to wonder, how could Obama make things worse? If Obama involves himself in the process will we now have a negative number of Republican "yea" votes? We're at zero already. There is literally nothing Obama could say or do that would somehow garner him fewer Republican votes than he now has.

Ezra eventualy closes his piece by rightfully pointing to the filibuster as the root of the issue. We are faced with a situation where one political party has consciously chosen to abuse Senatorial rules in order to completely block a president's agenda. If you believe the filibuster is the problem (and Ezra and I agree on this) then one should simply make that case in clear and unambiguous terms. Shoddy application of political science research and an ostrich like avoidance of Republican behaviors is not helping the cause of filibuster reform.

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