January 31, 2010


Would losing control of Congress to Republicans help Obama? (Dana Milbank, January 31, 2010, Washington Post)

[I]t's tempting to wonder whether Obama might have better luck under a Republican Congress.

The logic was inadvertently floated this week by no less an authority than Vice President Biden, who told a group of Democratic Party leaders that the 60-seat supermajority in the Senate wasn't necessarily a good thing. "There was the expectation, left, right and center, that we could do everything we wanted to do, which was never realistic," the vice president said. "When it's 60, the Republicans can afford to say they need not participate at all." By contrast, "having 59 votes in the Senate also means something for the Republicans: They are going to have to be accountable as well."

Biden is correct that Republicans had no political incentive to participate. But, taking Biden's analysis to its logical conclusion, it's hard to see how the shift from a 60-seat Democratic supermajority to a 59-seat Democratic jumbo-majority is going to give Republicans enough ownership of the outcome to move them from reckless to responsible. If that happens at all, it would probably not happen until Republicans control one or both chambers.

Voters seem to get this implicitly. In a CNN poll this week, a plurality, 48 percent, now think it's bad for the country that Democrats control Congress. At the end of 2006, when Democrats gained control of Congress and a Republican was in the White House, only 24 percent thought Democratic control was undesirable.

Under a divided government, party purists on both sides have less leverage to block compromise. This may help to explain the counterintuitive finding by Yale political scientist David Mayhew, who determined in his study "Divided We Govern" that unified governments were no more likely to produce substantial legislation than divided ones.

Few would regard the government shutdown of 1995 as the good old days in American government.

What number do you suppose you'd get for the proposal to shut down government for awhile?

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 31, 2010 10:38 AM
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