David Brooks offers a variety of reasons to think that we’re in for a new era of big government liberalism. I agree with most of his points, but I’m less sure about this:
Obama will try to straddle the two camps [i.e., liberals and moderates] — he seems to sympathize with both sides — but the liberals will win. Over the past decade, liberals have mounted a campaign against Robert Rubin-style economic policies, and they control the Congressional power centers. Even if he’s so inclined, it’s difficult for a president to overrule the committee chairmen of his own party. It is more difficult to do that when the president is a Washington novice and the chairmen are skilled political hands. It is most difficult when the president has no record of confronting his own party elders. It’s completely impossible when the economy is in a steep recession, and an air of economic crisis pervades the nation.
Do liberals really control the power centers? According to the DW-NOMINATE rankings, the most conservative House Democrat is Rep. Barrow of Georgia, the 235th most liberal member of the House. South Carolina’s John Spratt chairs the Budget Committee and he’s in a tie at slot 187.5 while Charlie Rangel from the Ways and Means Committee is in a eight-way tie at 94.5. On the Senate side, Kent Conrad chairs the Senate Budget Committee and he’s the 40th most liberal Senator. Max Baucus chairs the Senate Finance Commitee and he’s the 48th most liberal senator.
On that metric, at least, moderates seem firmly in control of the key “power centers.” We have very liberal members chairing some committees, but of the four chairs holding the key budgetary levers, three are clearly moderates and Rangel’s about in the middle of the caucus.