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“The Outcome On The Democratic Side Is Notable”: In An Unusual Development, Congressional Dems Display Admirable Backbone

This morning, Sen. Barbara Mikulski announced that she will be voting in favor of the Iran nuclear deal, making her the 34th supporter. That means that a move to override any veto of the bill opposing the deal will fail. In fact, it may not even get to an override vote; there are 10 Democrats remaining who have not made their position clear, and if seven of them side with the administration, the bill won’t get the 60 votes it needs to overcome a filibuster.

While you might explain this outcome in purely partisan terms — the Republicans all oppose the deal because it’s Barack Obama’s, and nearly all the Democrats stand behind their party’s leader — the outcome on the Democratic side is still notable, because it represents a triumph over the kind of attack before which Democrats have so often run frightened in the past.

If you’re too young to remember the time before the Iraq War turned into a disaster, you may not realize the state of constant fear Democrats used to live in when it came to national security. Particularly since Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Republicans were always ready to ridicule them as being “soft” — soft on defense, soft on the communists, soft on anything involving foreign threats. After 9/11, this attack went into a higher gear, as did Democrats’ fear that any show of softness would instantly be met with, “Why are you on the terrorists’ side?” and “Why don’t you support our troops?”

That’s why it was widely understood among Democrats in 2002 that no one with any national ambitions could vote against the Iraq War when the drums were beating so loudly. With only one exception (Florida’s Bob Graham), all the Senate Democrats who would run for president in 2004 or 2008 voted Yea, including Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and John Kerry. Everyone assumed that was the only safe vote to take. And when Kerry became the party’s nominee in 2004, he centered his entire campaign on the story of his service in Vietnam, on the theory that a couple of chicken hawks like George Bush and Dick Cheney would never attack the patriotism of a war hero (that theory proved to be mistaken).

The failure of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars enabled Democrats to feel that they didn’t have to constantly bend over backward to show that they’re tough, when toughness is what cost the country so much in recent years. But the Iran debate put that belief to the test. That’s because for Democrats, there really is some risk in supporting this deal.

If the agreement proves to be a failure — let’s say that Iran manages to conduct a nuclear weapons program in secret, then announces to the world that they have a nuclear weapon — it will indeed be front-page news, and the Democrats who supported the deal might suffer grave political consequences. So in order to vote yes, they had to look seriously at the deal and its alternatives, and accept some long term political peril.

By contrast, there probably is less long term risk for Republicans in opposing the deal.

It’s true that if the deal does achieve its goals, it will be added to a list of things on which Republicans were spectacularly wrong, but which led them to change their opinions not a whit. The Iraq War didn’t have an appreciable impact on their views about the wisdom of starting new military engagements in the Middle East. Nor did their failed predictions about Bill Clinton’s tax-increasing 1993 budget (they all said it would cause a “job-killing recession” and every one of them voted against it) and George Bush’s tax cuts (they said the cuts would lead to an explosion of economic growth) alter their views on what effect tax increases have on the economy.

But if the deal works as intended, what will be the outcome be? Iran without nuclear weapons, of course, but that is a state of being rather than an event. There will be no blaring headlines saying, “Iran Still Has No Nukes — Dems Proven Right!” Five or ten years from now, Republicans will continue to argue that the deal was dreadful, even if Iran’s nuclear ambitions have been contained.

My guess is that now that the practical fight over this deal is essentially over, Republicans won’t bother to keep arguing about it too much. In the primaries, the presidential candidates will throw in a perfunctory line or two in their speeches about how awful it is, how they’ll tear it up on their first day in office, and how it shows that Democrats are weak. But with the deal now facing the lengthy task of implementation and no substantive victory possible for them, they won’t see much to be gained in harping on it. But they’ll probably continue to believe that calling Democrats weak on national security is tremendously effective, even if the Democrats themselves aren’t as afraid of that attack as they used to be.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, September 2, 2015

 

September 3, 2015 Posted by | Democrats, Iran Nuclear Agreement, National Security | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Exhaustion”: The Strongest Reason For Hope And A Way Out Of Our Budget Wars

There are, believe it or not, grounds for hoping that the so-called sequester, stupid as it is, might open the way to ending our nation’s budget stalemate.

Hope is in short supply right now, but the case for seeing a way out of the current mess rests on knowable facts and plausible assumptions.

It starts with the significant number of Republicans in the Senate — possibly as many 20 — who think what’s going on is foolish and counterproductive. The White House is betting that enough GOP senators are prepared to make a deal along lines that President Obama has already put forward.

Obama’s lieutenants argue that, while Republicans are aware that the president is seeking new revenue through tax reform, many did not fully grasp the extent to which he has offered significant long-term spending cuts. These include reductions in Medicare and a willingness (to the consternation of many Democrats) to alter the index that determines Social Security increases. Obama has proposed $930 billion in cuts to get $580 billion in revenues.

Senior administration officials note that Obama cannot stray too far from his existing offer, which was already a compromise, without losing the Democratic votes a deal would need. But his framework, they believe, could create a basis for negotiation with Republican senators, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), who dislike the deep, automatic cuts in defense spending, and others, such as Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Bob Corker of Tennessee, who dislike government-by-showdown.

Graham was especially bullish, declaring that Obama’s outreach to Republicans — the president invited about a dozen GOP senators to dinner Wednesday night — was “the most encouraging engagement on a big issue I’ve seen since the early years of his presidency.”

If the Senate actually passed a bipartisan solution, it would still have to clear the House, requiring Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to allow yet another bill through with a large number of Democratic votes. But the sequester almost certainly marked the high point of solidarity among House Republicans. Letting it take hold was an easy concession for Boehner to make to more militant conservatives; it kept them from pushing toward a government shutdown or a politically and economically dangerous confrontation over the debt ceiling.

Now comes the hard part for Boehner. Already, more moderate conservatives are pushing back against the depth of the budget cuts that Rep. Paul Ryan will have to propose in order to balance the budget in 10 years. At least some House Republicans may come to see a bipartisan Senate-passed deal as more attractive than the alternatives.

In the meantime, the House passed a continuing resolution on Wednesday to keep the government functioning until the fall. It provided the Defense Department with greater flexibility to handle the automatic cuts. The Senate and the House must agree on a bill by March 27, and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who chairs the Appropriations Committee, argues that flexibility on defense should be matched on “compelling human priorities” and in other domestic areas, including science and technology. Yet both sides seem committed to keeping the government open, which would create a kind of cold peace.

This, though, would not prevent the automatic cuts from becoming more noticeable, and they are likely to get more unpopular as time goes on. Their effects would be felt by, among others, air travelers, school districts, state governments, universities and the employees of defense and other government contractors. House Republicans representing districts with large military bases are apt to be especially eager to reverse the cuts.

From Obama’s point of view, engaging with Senate Republicans now to reach a broad settlement makes both practical sense, because there is a plausible chance for a deal, and political sense, because he will demonstrate how far he has been willing to go in offering cuts that Republicans say they support. In the process, he would underscore that the current impasse has been caused primarily by the refusal of House Republicans to accept new revenues.

While it’s the GOP that has been using serial, self-created crises to gain political leverage, many in the party are no less worn out by them than the Democrats. “Even we are tired . . . of lurching from one cliff to another,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)told the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. “I think that’s lending some pressure towards trying to come up with some kind of a grand bargain.”

Thus does the strongest reason for hope arise from one of the most basic human responses: exhaustion.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 6, 2013

March 10, 2013 Posted by | Budget, Sequestration | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“No Boys Allowed”: How The Senate’s Women Maintain Bipartisanship And Civility

When Olympia Snowe announced she was leaving the Senate, her Republican colleagues were hopping mad. Her reasons—that the place had become a dysfunctional partisan hell—only elevated their anger. How dare she depart at a time when they might win a Republican majority in the Senate if they kept her seat?

How me, me, me, and male. Now let’s switch to Snowe’s female colleagues, both Democrat and Republican, who were sad to see her go. Snowe will leave a gaping hole in Washington, in their lives, and in the women’s supper club, a group of bipartisan Senators who meet monthly at one another’s houses or in the Strom Thurmond Room in the Capitol. (No, the irony is not lost on them that he was the avatar of the members who would rather pinch a woman than listen to her.)

The club is not a secret, but it is “no boys allowed” and less about conquering new territory than about finding a heightened quality of life as they seek to heighten their constituents’ quality of life. It wasn’t organized as a caucus around a subject, but to restore some of the natural camaraderie that existed before so many members left their families behind and spent every free moment of their nights and weekends fundraising.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski started the dinner group shortly after she arrived. “The other ladies call me Coach Barb. When a new woman is elected to the Senate—Republican or Democrat—I bring her in for my Senate Power Workshop and guide her on how to get started, how to get on the good committees for her state, and how to be an effective senator.”

And for a meal. Sen. Mary Landrieu lives just a few blocks from the office and serves New Orleans food with pecan pie for dessert. What the off-campus get-togethers do is foster handling the inevitable conflicts that arise. “I’m never going to agree with Sen. Lisa Murkowski on oil drilling,” says Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a tough prosecutor in a soft covering as former attorney general of Minnesota. “But when we went on family vacation to Alaska, Lisa had us over to her house.”

The stories about cross-border friendships in the Capitol are as old as the spittoons that still dot the place—but the emphasis is on old. There was a day when Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield had breakfast weekly with Republican Sen. George Aiken and when Tip O’Neill had an after-hours whisky with Richard Nixon. Now the only bipartisan friendships you hear about are between the women (there is a House counterpart to the Senate’s supper club), and both places are better for it. It is hard to picture Sen. Mitch McConnell taking freshman Sen. Mike Bennet under his wing, as Snowe did for Klobuchar, or tossing back a beer (or Kentucky bourbon) with Sen. Tom Harkin.

You can watch hours of lawmaking on C-SPAN and never see one female senator attack another. Nor do they do so behind closed doors. It’s not because women are “nicer” or the “weaker sex” that they don’t undermine, gobsmack, or betray one another even as they have reached the pinnacle of power where it is the coin of the realm. They simply got to know one another and, as a result, says Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, “resolve conflicts the way friends do.”

The list of issues the women work together on is a mile long and goes from children’s health to national security. But women can light on an issue men might think frivolous but, in fact, is anything but. One of the most liberal Democrats joined with the fiscally conservative Snowe after a few infamously long flight delays made the news. “Our constituents were getting stuck on aircraft hour after hour, stuck on the tarmac, with no food, kids screaming, nightmare scenarios, nine, 10 hours on the runway,” recalled Sen. Barbara Boxer, who, with Snowe, put together the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights Act. When a commuter plane went down in Buffalo, N.Y., the two got a new law passed that mandated sleep rules for pilots of small aircraft. They sent a joint letter to President Obama in 2009 to nominate a woman to replace retiring Justice David Souter, which he did in nominating now Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The complaint you always hear is that there just isn’t enough time for lawmakers to get to know their colleagues to create the civility that is in such short supply. Yet, a second X chromosome doesn’t give women another couple hours in the day. Women just carve out time for what they know is important.

It goes beyond dinner. When Hillary Clinton was a senator, she hosted the group’s baby shower for Hutchison. Klobuchar is in charge of games for the upcoming shower for Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who will now be separated from the other Maine twin with Snowe’s retirement. When Sen. Claire McCaskill collaborated on Second City’s “A Girl’s Guide to Washington Politics,” at the Woolly Mammoth theater in D.C., a dozen of the group found time to attend the opening.

If only the men could pick up on some of this, Congress might get above a 10 percent favorability rating in Americans’ eyes. The incivility that is driving Snowe out isn’t just atmospherics. It’s crippling the body. A dinner or two might help.

 

By: Margaret Carlson, The Daily Beast, March 4, 2012

March 5, 2012 Posted by | Congress, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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