When Olympia Snowe angers her colleagues by voting yes on health reform, they won’t just be annoyed they may actually punish her by denying her the opportunity to become ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee. That’s something she’ll need to think seriously about. And it’s also something Senate Democrats should think seriously about. As Steve Benen remarks:
It often goes overlooked, but it’s worth remembering that the Senate Republican caucus, unlike Senate Democrats, have mechanisms in place to enforce party unity and discipline. When Democrats break party ranks on key bills, there are no consequences. Those who let GOP leaders down, however, know in advance that enticements like committee positions are very much on the line.
Indeed, there are widespread rumors that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) shifted away from cooperation on reform and towards belligerence immediately after his Republican colleagues made it clear that his future committee assignments were in jeopardy if he worked with Dems to pass a reform bill.
It’s also worth being clear on this: The Republicans do this the right way. The Senate Republican caucus is organized, like the House caucuses of both parties, like a partisan political organization whose objective is to advance the shared policy objectives of the party. The Senate Democratic caucus, by contrast, is organized like a fun country club trying to recruit members*. Join Team Democrat and Vote However You Want Without Consequence! But it’s no way to get things done.
I would emphasize the fact that merely acquiring the means to apply discipline doesn’t require you to actually use them. Common sense indicates that Blanche Lincoln should be given more leeway to break discipline than Maria Cantwell gets and nothing about adopting a mechanism that allows for the possibility of discipline means that you’d be required to try to enforce it in a blinkered way.
* Speaking of which, it’s interesting to speculate under which circumstances Senator Snowe might switch parties.