Dave Weigel enters the counterfactual sweepstakes and wonders how different America might be today absent the long delay in seating Al Franken:
If Franken had eked out another 1000 votes in Minnesota, or if Republicans simply decided not to keep suing to overturn the recount he won, the Democratic agenda would have been radically different. In January and February, the 59 — not 58 — Democrats in the Senate would have only needed to grab one Republican to pass the stimulus. That probably would have resulted in a larger stimulus bill, with extra billions of dollars (maybe $110 billion) going to tax cuts or spending. Democrats would have had the votes for card check, and gotten that out of the way quickly, while Ted Kennedy was still healthy. Just having that extra vote to play with when Obama’s popularity was peaking might have shaken up the whole schedule, gotten nominees like Dawn Johnson into their jobs, and led to more action in the Senate that pleased the Democratic base and — possibly — had a marginal impact on the economy. As it was, Democrats only had a functioning “supermajority” from September 2009 (Franken in the Senate, Paul Kirk in Ted Kennedy’s seat) to January 2010, and all they did with it was pass health care.
I think that’s wrong on card check, where resistance inside the Democratic caucus was pretty big. But the larger point is correct—we likely would have had bigger stimulus, more growth, more nominees confirmed, and it’s possible the Rahm Tipping Point Theory of legislating would have worked. At a minimum, we’d have a somewhat more progressive policy status quo, somewhat less joblessness, and probably a somewhat different outlook for the midterms.
Weigel notes that “Here’s something amazing about the Franken mess: Republicans appear to have paid no price for it.” Exactly. I think that this highlights one of the most admirable things about the Republican congressional caucus. Both its leadership and its rank and file show a good deal more commitment to the substance of things and less concern about transient matters of appearance. Senate Republicans clearly understood that legislative outcomes in 2009 were a very important issue and focused their energy pretty decisively on playing an objectively weak hand to influence them. Senate Democrats, dealt a strong hand, spent an amazing amount of time fretting about process and superficial matters and only really buckled down in 2010 by which time their hand was much weaker.