First, let’s just face it. For the next couple of years, at least, this is the end of any progress on jobs or the economy. Whatever legitimate gripes progressives had with the outgoing Democratic Congress, they got a lot done. More, in fact, than most others. Ezra Klein called it a “Do-Something Congress.”
That this has been the most “do-something” Congress we’ve seen in 40 years hasn’t made much of an impression on the public. Multiple polls have found that only a minority of voters know that the 111th Congress got more done than most congresses. That’s true even among Democrats. Nor has their productivity made the 111th Congress popular. But if they failed as politicians, they succeeded as legislators. And legislating is, at least in theory, what they came to Washington to do.
Interestingly enough, the Washington Post dubbed the 110th Congress a “Do-Something Congress”, when the Democrats took over in 2007, in hopes it would get more done than the outgoing Congress.
WHEN DEMOCRATS take over the House next year, the regular workweek will stretch to a backbreaking five days — up from the now-customary Tuesday-through-Thursday arrangement. Members of the House and Senate — no doubt reeling from the two weeks they’ve worked since the election — will have a mere four weeks off after they leave town Friday. Hard to believe, but the new leadership actually expects them to come to work on Jan. 4 rather than enjoy the usual elongated holiday break as they wait around for the president to deliver his State of the Union address in late January. In the Senate, the weeklong March break is being eliminated and the two-week April vacation cut in half.
…It would be quite a change. The 109th Congress will have been in session for a grand total of 103 days this year, which, as Lyndsey Layton pointed out in yesterday’s Post, is seven days fewer than the “Do-Nothing Congress” of 1948. An ordinary full-time worker with a generous four weeks of vacation would have clocked 240 days of work during that same period.
With the GOP taking over the House, the likelihood is that we’re faced with another “Do-Nothing” Congress, at least in term of creating jobs, fixing the economy, etc. As Bill pointed out before election day, the country is about to be saddled with a Congress that not only doesn’t work, but one determined not to let the President work either.
That’s not just because of gridlock, though there will be gridlock. It’s because conservative philosophy basically holds that a “Do-Nothing Congress” is exactly as it should be. And that’s exactly the GOP’s victory may be a Pyrrhic victory. Hemmed in by by a base that wants one thing, major (though anonymous) donors that want another, and an American voters angry that not enough been done to ease their economic pain -- and who want more done -- Republicans won’t be able to make it work without abandoning their base, their donors, the basic tenets of conservatism, or Americans demanding solutions the GOP just doesn’t have.
It won’t work. That’s what we face for the next two years. The best chance Democrats have for 2012 is to give voters a clear choice that does work, by offering solutions founded in progressive values, making the case for them, and fighting for them.
It Didn’t Work.’
The election results made clear what progressive have been saying for years: Democrats’ nearly pathological pursuit of bipartisanship was doomed to fail because the other party was never interested in bipartisanship, and in the end voters didn’t reward them for it either.
From health care reform, to financial reform and the climate-bill-that-never-was, allowing Blue Dog Democrats to dominate policy negotiations came at a huge cost. First, it served to strengthen the obstructionist strategy the GOP announced even as Obama was sworn in. The White House and Democrats in Congress have spent two years scaling back progressive policies they ran on -- and won -- and often bartered away the very change that their supporters voted for and that the country needed, in a pursuit of bipartisanship.
It didn’t’ work, because the other party was never interested in bipartisanship in the first place.
Indeed, even before Obama’s inauguration, the conservatives started down the path of obstruction, when the conservative movement’s spokesperson Rush Limbaugh said he hoped the president failed -- even given what that would mean for the country. From there, the GOP set out to make Limbaugh’s dream come true by obstructing every effort to enact the kind of change Americans voted for when they put Obama in the White House with approximately 53% of the popular vote (compared to Bush’s 47.9% in 2000 and 50.7% in 2004) and gave Democrats gains of 21 seats in the House and 8 in the Senate. (Republicans lost 5 seats in the House and gained none in the Senate in 2008, by the way.)
The list of bills that were obstructed by the 123 closure motions filed in the Senate is a litany of change that the country needed, Americans demanded, and congressional Republicans obstructed.
- FDA Food Safety Modernization Act
- Paycheck Fairness Act
- Promoting Natural Gas and Electric Vehicles Act of 2010
- Creating American Jobs and Ending Offshoring Act
- Small Business Jobs and Credit Act of 2010
- Restoring American Financial Stability
- American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010
- Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act
- Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
- Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2009
- Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights Act
- District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2009
- American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
- Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009
The GOP’s only regret? That they didn’t obstruct more. Their plans for the next congress? No compromise. More obstruction. Who can blame them? It worked. For them.
It turns out that all that bending-over-backwards for the sake of “bipartisanship” didn’t profit the Blue Dog Democrats or the party as a whole. The Blue Dogs -- who worked hard to whittle down health care reform, put the brakes on climate change legislation, etc. -- lost half their caucus in this election.
Not only did conservative voters not reward them for acting like Republicans, the Democratic base -- the coalition that helped sweep Obama and the Democrats into office -- was abandoned and alienated to the point of not even showing up at the polls.
By comparing these 2008 national exit polls and these from yesterday, both from CNN and asking essentially identical questions, we learn some useful things.
…Here, as far as I can see, are the three big top-line differences:
1. The 2008 electorate was 74% white, plus 13% black and 9% Latino. The 2010 numbers were 78, 10 and 8. So it was a considerably whiter electorate.
2. In 2008, 18-to-29-year-olds made up 18% and those 65-plus made up 16%. Young people actually outvoted old people. This year, the young cohort was down to 11%, and the seniors were up to a whopping 23% of the electorate. That’s a 24-point flip.
3. The liberal-moderate-conservative numbers in 2008 were 22%, 44% and 34%. Those numbers for yesterday were 20%, 39% and 41%. A big conservative jump, but in all likelihood because liberals didn’t vote in big numbers.
Add to these figures the fact that overall turnout was down by about a third, or more, from nearly 130 million to about 82.5 million. That’s at least 45 million no-shows, and the exits tell us the bulk of them were liberal, young, black, Latino. If 25 million of these no-shows had voted, Democratic losses would pretty obviously have been in the normal range, and they’d still control the House.
Voters didn’t “reward” Republicans for their obstruction in this election. Democrats effectively benched their base after 2008, and the based stayed firmly planted on that bench despite 11th hour calls to finally get in the game.
The result? The other side won by forfeit, with an worn out playbook of old ideas that haven’t worked in the past, and shouldn’t have won they day for them.