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“Theatrical Posturing, Not Much Lawmaking”: What We Talk About When We Talk About A Republican Senate

Presuming we have a Republican Congress next year, there’s going to be a lot of talk right after the election about what that will change 1) politically and 2) substantively. While I’m ordinarily an advocate of more substantive discussion and less political discussion (not that I have a problem with political discussion, since I do plenty of it myself, it’s just that it should be leavened with consideration of the things that actually matter), there’s a potential problem in the substantive discussion that I think we should be on the lookout for.

For instance, this morning on the radio I heard some energy expert whose name I didn’t catch say that if Republicans take over the Senate, we’re likely to see the government shift its focus toward fossil fuels and away from renewables. Which sounds perfectly logical until you ask how such a shift is supposed to take place.

This is what is often missing from policy discussion: enough acknowledgment of the institutional processes that determine how policies actually get set and altered. If you’re going to say that a Republican Congress is going to produce a particular policy change, you have to be clear that you’re saying the following events will occur:

1. Republicans will write a bill to do the thing.

2. The bill to do the thing will not only pass the House but more importantly garner 60 votes in the Senate, which means it will get the votes not only of Republicans but also of some Democrats, thereby overcoming a Democratic filibuster.

3. President Obama will sign the bill to do the thing.

It’s possible that that sequence of events could occur in some cases. For instance, Republicans have had a feverish desire to build the Keystone XL pipeline for some time, and they’ve come to attach an importance to it that’s way out of proportion to its actual impact. They seem to say with all sincerity that building the pipeline is a key to American prosperity, which is beyond absurd—building the pipeline would create a few thousand temporary jobs, and the number of permanent jobs maintaining it would literally be in the dozens. But President Obama never seemed adamantly opposed to the pipeline, and one could imagine him signing on if he got something in return. You could also see the pipeline getting a few Democratic votes from red state Democrats who want to show that they love the world’s dirtiest fuel (tar sands oil) and are therefore not hippies, so it could get 60 votes.

That might or might not happen, but it’s at least conceivable. It wouldn’t, however, represent some massive shift in our nation’s energy policy, whatever else you might think about it. And it’s an extremely unusual case.

On almost everything else Republicans want to do, either the bills they write won’t overcome Democratic filibusters, or they’ll be vetoed by the President. Much of the time, that will be because instead of embarking on a good-faith effort to find some accommodation with Democrats, they’ll just propose the thing they really want. It might be possible to forge a compromise on tax reform, but that would be a lengthy and involved process, so Republicans will just try to pass a bill slashing corporate tax rates, which won’t become law. There are ways the Affordable Care Act could be improved, but instead of working with Democrats to find them, they’ll be much more inclined to just pass repeal votes, whether it’s repeal of the entire law or repeal of individual provisions one by one (or, more likely, both).

In other words, we’re going to get an awful lot of theatrical posturing, and not very much lawmaking. We shouldn’t mistake the latter for the former.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, November 3, 2014

November 5, 2014 - Posted by | Congress, Republicans, Senate | , , , , , ,

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