The Irrelevant House Republicans


Elizabeth Drew has an interesting piece on “The Truth About the Election” but I wanted to comment on this one point:

Obama has spoken a great deal about seeking bipartisanship, but how much this is attainable is yet to be known. The Republican ranks on Capitol Hill will have shrunk as a result of the election, and will be more dominated by the right. Few moderate Republicans in the Senate—Maine Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe among them—remain. In the House, there are only seventeen Republicans from the eastern states between Maryland and Maine, and none from New England. Obama seeks to set a new tone in Washington, but House Republican leaders, and those jockeying for leadership positions, like Eric Cantor (Virginia) and Dan Lungren (California), are playing to their conservative base and are sounding as partisan as ever—if not more so. They appear disinclined to give the new President any cooperation, shortsighted though that may be for their party.

The thing of it is that it doesn’t really matter what Eric Cantor thinks. The House Republicans are, in effect, irrelevant. The House GOP mattered in the 110th Congress because President Bush used his agenda-setting powers to frame a certain number of issues such that Blue Dogs agreed with the Republicans. In the 111th Congress, you’ll have more liberals (making Blue Dog votes less necessary) plus more Blue Dogs (reducing the proportion of the Blue Dog faction you need to get all the Blue Dog votes you need) and a Democratic president who presumably won’t deliberately shift the agenda to terrain that lets the Republicans get the upper hand.

What matters is the Senate. And I would suggest that what matters here is less the number of moderates than the number of people representing states Obama won. Namely — Senators Collins, Snowe, Spectre, Voinovich, Lugar, Grassley, Burr, Martinez, Ensign, and possibly Coleman. Obama will have a strong argument to make that the voters of those states would like to see congress cooperate with the Obama agenda, and he has the organizational tools at his disposal to ensure that voters who feel that way are able to express their feelings to their senators.