There’s a lesson in this for Democrats: Procedural hardball works.
You can see this in rising GOP anger at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky Republican, angry lawmakers say, has been too willing to agree to bipartisan deals on legislation — which allowed that alleged double-cross to happen, catching him flat-footed.
CNN reports on new “internal tensions” in the party, with House Republicans faulting McConnell for negligently letting bipartisanship break out on infrastructure, gun control and the Chips and Science Act. That bill invests $280 billion in shoring up the semiconductor industry and in science and technology development, and just passed both houses.
As one House Republican griped to CNN, Senate Republicans are “losing fights because they’re not sticking together.” The bizarre implication: None of them should participate in passing constructive legislation.
Republicans also insist that McConnell got played. He had threatened to tank the chips bill to make Democrats drop their push for a climate bill, and after Manchin temporarily killed that latter effort, McConnell allowed the chips measure to pass this week.
Only hours later, Democrats and Manchin announced a revived deal to spend hundreds of billions on climate change and health-care subsidies. Now Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) seethes that McConnell failed to “follow through” on his threat to kill the chips bill. Other GOP senators ripped McConnell for getting rolled and caught napping.
We know why McConnell keeps letting bipartisanship take place: He’s worried about Senate races in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona. McConnell admitted to reporters that Republicans voted for the gun bill because they’ve “lost ground in suburban areas.”
Regardless, there’s a moral in this story for Democrats: There is often no serious penalty for political hardball, no matter how far it pushes the procedural envelope.
Republicans have strained vigorously to gin up outrage over the Democrats’ procedural handling of all this. House Republicans raged that the Manchin deal required them to sink the chips bill. Senate Republicans held up a measure to provide health care to veterans suffering from burn pit exposure, though there’s some dispute about the motive. And Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) declared the Democrats’ perfidy would make it harder to win GOP support for a bill codifying same-sex marriage.
That’s absurdly revealing: The explicit admission is that the merits of the same-sex marriage bill (and possibly the burn pit bill) are beside the point. If Republicans do sink that measure, it will be because Democrats used their authority under the simple-majority reconciliation process to pass something entirely unrelated to it!
But that aside, here’s the thing: None of that fake outrage will matter in the least.
If anything, that GOP outrage has gotten too much credulous media attention, which has suggested Republicans might have a legitimate gripe. Of course they don’t: Democrats were not obliged to let GOP threats dictate their legislative agenda. And the idea that McConnell’s party has standing to lecture anyone on procedural underhandedness is positively comical.
More important, if Democrats do pass the climate package, Democrats and many independents might see it as energizing in a positive way, and Republicans might get negatively energized by it. But virtually no voters will remember the process that led to it.
Republicans know this. They are turning on McConnell precisely because the procedural details that they’re feigning outrage about didn’t give them an actual political weapon to wield against Democrats, and left them flummoxed instead.
As Brian Beutler writes, when Republicans threaten to withhold votes on unrelated items to dissuade Democrats from passing good legislation, that should stiffen Democrats’ resolve to govern alone wherever necessary, and to own this as a positive.
These sorts of threats are actually becoming a norm among Republicans, as David Dayen notes. That’s another reason for Democrats to shut this game down by not proving susceptible to them.
On the idea that there’s no sense in Democrats letting GOP opposition or outrage dictate what they pass, we already have proof of concept. Democrats failed to pass legislation protecting democracy because Manchin insisted it must be bipartisan and wouldn’t end the filibuster.
So how many voters warmly remember that Democrats judiciously refrained from passing something to uphold the noble principle that partisan legislating is bad? Most probably remember only that Democrats failed to fulfill a major priority — that they were ineffective.
What’s more, if the current episode turns out well — which is far from certain — it will unilaterally align the Democratic Party with major new investments in energy manufacturing jobs in the industrial and Appalachian heartlands, while sidelining the GOP as hostile to solving the most urgent problems of the contemporary era.
Obviously a lot will turn on the execution of those policies. But the process leading up to them won’t matter in the least. If they are a success, being the only party associated with them — even if it meant pulling a fast one on the opposition — will not be a negative. It will be a positive, no matter how angry Republicans get along the way.
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