Chuck Grassley Feeling the Heat

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"Chuck Grassley Feeling the Heat"

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Ezra Klein reminds us of how a real political party operates:

The more plausible argument is that Grassley fears his fellow Republican senators. I’m hearing that Grassley is getting reamed out in meetings with his colleagues. The yelling is loud enough that staffers in adjacent offices have heard snippets. But the real threat isn’t the yelling of his colleagues. It’s their capacity to deny Grassley his next job. Ruth Marcus hints at this in her column on Chuck Grassley today, but it’s worth explaining in a bit more detail.

This is the final year that Grassley is eligible to serve as ranking member — the most powerful minority member, and, if Republicans retake the Senate, the chairman — of the Senate Finance Committee. His hope is to move over as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, or failing that, the Budget Committee. But for that, he needs the support of his fellow Republicans. And if he undercuts them on health-care reform, they will yank that support. It’s much the same play they ran against Arlen Specter a couple of years back, threatening to deny him his chairmanship of — again — the Judiciary Committee. It worked then, and there’s no reason to think it won’t work now.

I’ve emphasized the fact that progressives have very little leverage over key stakeholders like Kent Conrad and Max Baucus. That, however, is because whereas the Senate Republican caucus operates like a political party, complete with rules designed to hold senior members accountable to the rank-and-file and thus to the party’s policy objectives, the Senate Democratic caucus operates like a somewhat boring social club. Committee chairs don’t face term limits and assignments are handed out in blind order of seniority.

I’ve mostly encouraged people to focus their ire on Senate moderates rather than the White House, but this is one of the few areas in which the White House could be making a difference. Surely they can find at least an ally or two up on the Hill to float the notion that Democrats need to adopt Republican-style rules about this. When both parties operated in a discipline-free manner, lack of discipline may have worked. But the current asymmetry in the organization of the parties basically means that progressives do legislative fights with one hand tied behind our backs.

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