Yglesias

Caucus Unity Still A Problem For Democrats

Keep Manu Raju’s Politico article of Senate Democrats whining about President Obama’s American Jobs Act in mind the next time you hear that a bit more rhetorical magic would have produced wondrously different legislative results in the 111th Congress:

“Terrible,” Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) told POLITICO when asked about the president’s ideas for how to pay for the $450 billion price tag. “We shouldn’t increase taxes on ordinary income. … There are other ways to get there.”

“That offset is not going to fly, and he should know that,” said Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu from the energy-producing Louisiana, referring to Obama’s elimination of oil and gas subsidies. “Maybe it’s just for his election, which I hope isn’t the case.”

“I think the best jobs bill that can be passed is a comprehensive long-term deficit-reduction plan,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), discussing proposals to slash the debt by $4 trillion by overhauling entitlement programs and raising revenue through tax reforms. “That’s better than everything else the president is talking about — combined.”

A few things to note about this, which speak to the depth of the structural issue here. One is that Delaware is not a conservative state. Nor is it a swing state. The Democratic presidential candidate won there in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008. President Obama got 62 percent of the vote there. And even so, Carper is attacking the president’s jobs agenda from the right. What’s more, I think the most plausible possible account of this is that Carper genuinely believes that the best jobs bill that can be passed is a comprehensive long-term deficit-reduction plan because if he’s not expressing a sincerely held belief, it’s a bit hard to see the political angle here. Now on to Webb and Landrieu, what strikes me about their remarks is that they’re being mean. Webb isn’t respectfully disagreeing with the administration’s proposed offsets, he’s calling them “terrible.” Landrieu is calling the sincerity of the president’s motives into question.

For me, it’s difficult to imagine parallel behavior on the other side. Conservative states sometimes elect wishy-washy moderate Democratic senators, but when North Dakota or Alabama sends a Republican to Washington, they send a solid conservative. And while your Scott Browns and Olympia Snowes sometimes don’t vote with the party leadership, they rarely attack the leadership in quasi-personal terms. They don’t suggest that Mitch McConnell has “terrible” ideas that he’s pursuing for low political reasons.

In other words, it’s still the case that there are huge barriers to progressive change in Congress that people have to find ways of dealing with.