The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Another missed opportunity for Senate Dems over coffin amendment?

It's an egregious schoolboy howler of a misapprehension this side of the pond to suppose the houses of Congress to be under parliamentary discipline, of the type prevalent in Westminster.

In particular, there is no Leader of the Opposition to inspire loyalty, if not obedience. To a legislator, the claims to assistance of a presumptive presidential candidate of his party are tenuous, compared to the imperative of consulting the interests of his constituents. (Congressmen might hope for coat-tail assistance; two-thirds of senators will be unable to benefit.)

But, where constituency interests are not engaged, the infliction of a defeat on the majority party is surely a desirable object, for boosting morale, if for no other reason?

Yesterday, we had Roll Call 132 in the Senate on the Lautenberg Amendment, which would have required USG to prepare a protocol on media coverage of the bodies of servicemen dying abroad - currently subject to a ban on photography.

The result: nixed 39-54, with 7 not voting, including John Kerry.

The Nays include the following Dems:

Bayh (D-IN)
Biden (D-DE)
Breaux (D-LA)
Carper (D-DE)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Levin (D-MI)
Lincoln (D-AR)
Miller (D-GA)
Nelson (D-NE)
Pryor (D-AR)

Non-voting Dems:

Clinton (D-NY)
Dodd (D-CT)
Kerry (D-MA)

The RINOs were split: Snowe voted for the amendment, Chafee and Collins voted against. McCain also voted in favour.

Presumably, if there had been a chance of victory, Clinton and Kerry would have been present - or were they paired with non-voting GOPs [1]?

I recognise most of the names on the list of Nays - from their sterling obstetric work in the birth of that living abortion, the Medicare Bill [2], for instance.

The cruel fact is that the Dem Senate leadership (if that's not an oxymoron) know that a conservative state will most likely elect conservative senators - and infinitely better those senators be Blue Dogs [3] (helping the leadership towards regaining control of the Senate) than GOP, even if they vote against the leadership line every time there is one [4].

That, of course, is no excuse, for the leadership to throw up their hands: each of the ten Nays would have pet projects, would want to establish positions on issues through votes on amendments: even a minority leadership would doubtless have something to bargain with for a marquee vote like the Lautenberg amendment. How hard exactly did they try, I wonder?

A cursory search for studies analysing US Senate voting patterns of RINOs and DINOs [5] came up empty.

  1. And why can't you damned well tell pairs from the roll call pages?!

  2. The votes on which I analysed in some detail: pieces of April 13 and April 16.

  3. In the House, conservative Dems are actually organised under this label. Not so in the Senate, so far as I can see.

  4. Some dogs are bluer than others, of course: for instance, on Roll Call 56 of March 18 2003 (Miguel Estrada cloture), quite a few Dogs stayed in their kennel: only Breaux, Miller and the two Nelsons, strayed.

    And Roll Call 81 of March 25 2003 (Indian health care) was a straight party vote 48-51 (Miller sat it out).

  5. The acronyms are handy but question-begging, of course. Any party has the option to increase or decrease the size of its tent: there's an obvious trade-off between ideological purity and breadth of appeal. Stephanie Herseth ran in 'naturally' Republican South Dakota as a centrist, I seem to recall.

    A party with a large majority might well choose purity: it will generally be easier to manage, and sell the message of, an ideologically narrow party than a broad coalition embodying crashing ideological mutual contradiction - the Democratic Party during the 1950s, for instance. But, with narrow majorities in both houses of Congress, each party will naturally look to exploit whatever local conditions there might be in its favour. (New England is never going to vote for conservatives, so the GOP would rather preserve the local anomaly in its favour!)

    I doubt whether Dems would ever consider not contesting a seat in either house for fear that the chosen Dem candidate would be too conservative (and the same, mutatis mutandis, would go for the GOP).

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