My Solution for Breaking the Logjam in Congress

I had a brilliant idea this morning while reading this bit in The American Prospect about our “centrist” problem, by Alexander Sammon:

It’s the same story in the Senate with Kyrsten Sinema, who is on the receiving end of generous ad buys from pharma groups one day, suddenly opposing drug pricing reform that she once ran on the next; taking money from Exxon one day, and opposing climate measures the next (as a former Green Party member no less). Ditto Joe Manchin, who makes hundreds of thousands of dollars from coal investments, and just so happens to oppose the climate provisions himself.

Has anyone considered raising boatloads of money and just paying Sinema and Manchin to vote as we need them to vote? Because trying to reason with them is going nowhere. Somebody call George Soros!

Alexander Sammon is writing about “The Undignified Demise of Centrism.” He recalls the congressional battles of 2009 and 2010 that gave us the Affordable Care Act. The centrists steamrolled over progressives, and the eventual ACA was nearly entirely the centrist version of the bill. Fast forward to the present:

The fight over BBB has been the opposite. No faction has revealed itself to be less intellectually rigorous or serious than the moderates. They are unwilling and seemingly unable to articulate a single positive concern, legislative vision, or priority for the Democratic agenda. They are allegedly worried about spending, but oppose tax hikes and hugely effective cost-saving in the way of drug pricing reform. They are worried about inflation but can’t even engage with the reality that the entire bill seeks to lower the most acutely inflationary costs—housing, education, health care, and child care—for American households. They can’t conjure a contrary vision, or even a counteroffer, other than making things smaller for smaller’s sake. They don’t even speak to the press to explain themselves. They do, however, oppose.

I quibble with Sammon in his assumption that the centrists of 2008-9 were any more “intellectually rigorous” or “serious” than they are now. It’s just that there were enough of them that they were able to get their way and eliminate the more progressive proposals for the ACA bill, just because they could. The only apparent reason for that I could see was conservatism for the sake of conservatism, and for not rocking the status quo boat too much and scaring off swing district voters with big, radical, lefty-ish change, even if those voters would benefit from that change.

But now that the “centrists” are in a minority, and they can’t just overrule everybody and pretend they are being “serious,” the vacuity of their “positions” is being exposed.

This really goes back to the late 1970s-early 1980s, when a bunch of young, well-educated hot shots became the rising stars of the Democratic Party. Calling themselves “neoliberals” and “New Democrats,” this crew drew big, fat lines between themselves and the old New Deal-Great Society coalition, which was on the wane, as well as the New Left, which also was flailing around rather badly at that point. They finessed the rising tide of Reaganism by taking watered-down Reaganistic positions — “big government” bad, capitalism and “free markets,” good. They proclaimed themselves to be pragmatists who looked for “solutions that work” without resorting to the knee-jerk ideologies of the past, not acknowledging that the New Deal worked pretty darn well back in the day. Please see my old post The “Neos”: Neoliberalism, Neoconservatism for more background.

The election of Bill Clinton in 1992 resulted in the dominance of this faction over the Democratic Party for the next 25 years. It wasn’t just the Clintons, of course. Washington conventional wisdom decided that the members of this crew were the “serious” Democrats. By the 2000s pretty much anybody who was anybody in the Democratic Party had come up through the ranks with the Clintons. Anyone who pushed back against them was too “radical” to be taken seriously. This faction set the limits of what government was allowed to do and what “solutions” were to be considered “pragmatic” and which were not. Actual results were beside the point.

One of the side effects of the rise of the New Democrats, an unintended one no doubt, was that it lost touch with the working class voters who used to be the backbone of the party. The white working class bagan to move away from the Democrats in the late 1960s in a racist reaction against the Great Society, of course. But the New Democrats made that rift even worse. The New Democrats created a party that was favored by educated urban professionals — people doing very well in the status quo — but not so much other demographic groups, especially those whose jobs were moved to other countries. Both parties had a hand in that, but the Democrats paid a bigger price for it.

But if Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 marked the beginning of neoliberal dominance, Hillary Clinton’s defeat to that walking clown show/wrecking crew named “Donald Trump” appears to have marked the beginning of the end of it. The New Democrats are still around, but (as I’ve written recently) it is no longer presumed that theirs are the only voices in the party that matter. They are a minority. Much of the Beltway press still is deferential to them, probably out of habit, but much of it is moving on.

Unfortunately, what’s left of the New Democrats can still do a lot of damage.

And that brings us to the ongong negotiations over the Build Back Better bill. The neoliberal minority, still quivering with outrage that anyone dare suggest they are no longer the mainstream of the party, are busily trying to cut the bill down, because that’s what they do. It’s what they’ve always done. They don’t know how to be any other way. And I have no idea how this is going to resolve.

But maybe we should just pay money to the foot draggers to get their support for what needs to be done. That seems to be the only argument they understand.

Suggested reading:

Kate Riga, TPM, The Sausage Making: Progressives Jockey To Keep Their Beloved Programs Off The Chopping Block

Paul Waldman, Washington Post, Democrats negotiate over whether to shoot themselves in the foot

13 thoughts on “My Solution for Breaking the Logjam in Congress

  1. I love this article!

    Has anyone considered raising boatloads of money and just paying Sinema and Manchin to vote as we need them to vote? Because trying to reason with them is going nowhere. Somebody call George Soros!  

    The exact same thought I had after reading the article title; including the Soros reference.

    But maybe we should just pay money to the foot draggers to get their support for what needs to be done. That seems to be the only argument they understand.

    George Soros would need a lot of added billionaire support to get competitive in buying the needed (D) senators and congress-critters involved.  There are a lot more than just sEnema and Manshit including congress-critters like Richie Neal of whom there more than just a few.  It would take a lot more than Soros' Open Society Foundation with their billion dollars to bid against the bankers and corporations and the rePuke billionaires.

    I do especially love this article – wish I could give it a lot more than just a single like.

  2. Why are we worried?  Who needs a commonwealth?  Let's just go for a common poverty.  I did not go into space today, I guess it is the new fad.  I did not make a huge carbon footprint and did more to help the future of preschoolers than any government program.  How did I do that? By not wasting fossil fuels.  Still those of preschool age face a dim future.  In Norway the youth are filing a suit that their future is being wrongfully harmed by governmental policies.  This is in a county whose cars are majority electric and powered by renewable energy.  We are so behind.  

    No, we need a tax on fossil fuel energy to pay for social programs.  There is no way we can waste fossil fuels like we do and not make every child's future (not just in this country but on earth) in jeopardy.  Sure we need preschool for those showing developmental delays.  I have seen those programs work, at least to the extent that a delayed development may be able to be treated to the extent that lifelong treatment of a handicapping condition may be abated.  Is the science settled.  Hardly.  We have much to learn and know. 

    We do know that Head Start is not a miracle program.  Rick Heber who posited his Miracle in Milwaukee study has been imprisoned for fraud and academically discredited.  The outlandish claims of his research (which aired on 60 minutes) has seen no validation although it is an ongoing child care program at tax payer expense.  If you think this is an outrageous statement and make a polite request I will provide references.  Otherwise I appreciate your trust.  

    Your links are excellent.  Progressives do need to prioritize their wish list.  At one point in time progressives bought into a pipe dream on Head Start.  It is no miracle social program.  It does provide services for some of those in a day care dilemma. 

    If the party moderates would have reasoned intelligent critique of progressive notions they might have my support.  They have  shown nothing but opposition with vague rants to GOP talking points.  

    Let me just close with this.  If we do not solve the climate change problem we need to consider mandatory biological changes to all Sapiens on earth to survive the earth as it will exist.  This is really our only necessary progressive agenda.  Who knows the cost or sequence of action needed to get this item accomplished. We best take our best shot at a climate change solution now.  Time is not on our side.  We are on our way to extreme dystopia.

  3. I'm gonna wade in and make myself unpopular. Corruption has been groomed over decades as a career path FROM Congress TO big money after Congress. This is bribery made legal by delaying payment of the bribe. That's not what I've seen proposed.

    You tell a Congressman there's 10 million in it if they vote for or against a bill, that's quid-pro-quo bribery. That's the only form of bribery the USSC thinks is illegal. The relationships of institutional bribery are not conducted like a hooker in a miniskirt offering a cheap quicike. The Senator is ALWAYS wooed like a princess even if the result is the same as the aforementioned hooker. 

    K Street has perfected this with the implied promise of a future job dangled on the inplied threat of the offer being withdrawn should the congress-critter vote against the interests of the K Street firm that dangled the job. Always with the delacacy that allows the whore – I mean Senator – preserving the illusion of dignity and honor while she's tossing her knickers in a dumpster. 

    Both Senators won't risk enraging the first suitor to sell out to the second – unless it's a lot more money, guaranteed, and not quite illegal.  I don't think it's possible. 

    The metaphor is sexist if you think the person who offers to buy a woman's honor is better than the woman willing to sell it. IMO, they are partners in something dishonest – neither better than the other.  Members of Congress are married to the people who elected them – selling out to big money is adultery on a massive scale. As a citizen I never consented to an open marriage.

    • If they walk like a duck, quack like a duck, swim like a duck, dress like a duck, and solicit like a duck  and deny being a duck what is a good citizen to do?  Could be unintended consequences and runaway inflation. 

    • Frankly, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if making a big show of a "counteroffer" to the likes of Sinema and Manchin wouldn't be just the thing to call the public's (and their voter's) attention to what they are doing and possibly embarrass them out of it. 

  4. You can try to bribe them, but some people aren't bribable with just money.

    For instance, sENEMA and Manshit (h/t: SadOldVet).

    Imo, they like the rituals behind bribery more than the money. 

    They want to be wined, dined, flirted with, and romanced!

    And sometimes, you just can't give up being the asshole who's the center of attention.

    Outside of our Tang-colored ex-presiDUNCE, since the failed coup, whose names have been bandied about almost daily?

    sENEMA and Manshit!

  5. I had this nightmare where for a mere $600 (as of March 2018), one can file an IRS form 1023 to announce formation of a charitable, non-profit organization under the Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4).

    These organizations can lobby under specific restrictions except for certain exceptions which are  or are not intended to keep their tax exempt status. I dreamt this was the Schrodingers tax theory.

    My nightmare ended with the United States dissolving into the United Lobbyists Union in which everyone worked for a charitable non-profit, either by lobbying or by being a recipient of the charitable organizations, with the one rule being the money must be recycled back into the charitable organization. Thus, the circle of life.

    Weird, huh?

  6. I would have counted as a "New Democrat" back in the 1980's; volunteered for Gary Hart's 1984 primary run. 

    I was awakened to politics in Spring 1970 (at age 15) by first Earth Day & Kent State – my core priorities are Pro-Environmental & Anti-War, with "minors" in Civil Rights & Anti-Poverty.  By late 1970's, I had a very dim view of Unions.  Many were…

    – corrupt (lotsa Mob links)

    –  racist (Railroad Unions were strongly segregated: Engineers & Conductors were all White, Porters & dining car servers were all Black, until late 1980's)

    – anti-environmental (Coal, etc)

    – pro-war (big Military contractors were largely Unionized)

    – and concerned only with the welfare of their own members, often at the expense of others (of course, welfare of members is the inherent purpose of Unions; but that didn't appear so important to me in the 1970's, when working-class Americans were relatively comfortable).


    With the decline of US Manufacturing through the 1970's, most big Unions became essentially conservative: maintaining the status quo, to protect themselves from the decline.  This exacerbated the worst aspects of the problems I listed above.

    What I didn't understand was that Unions contributed a huge portion of Democratic campaign money.  As Reagan killed off Unions, Democrats lost monetary support, just as campaigns became more TV-oriented and more expensive.  Unions had also functioned as free campaign machinery, which then had to be replaced with paid staff members.  By early 1990's, the Democratic Party was in deep doodoo: it's infrastructure (party machinery) was crumbling, the GOP was running rings around them (intellectually, strategically & tactically), they had no forward-looking message, and they were running out of money. 

    And this is where the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC, = Clinton Democrats) stepped in to save the day.  The rise of the Religious Right scared some of the GOP's traditionally reliable donors (Old Money, Ivy League Europhiles).  The GOP had taken the Culture War thing too far, and the Clinton's were able to attract money from both Wall Street & Silicon Valley.

    This saved the Democratic Party from extinction.  (I am not exaggerating: in the early 1990's, the GOP appeared to have a permanent lock on US politics.)

    This (money) is also why a large portion of (older?) paid Democratic Party operatives are still "Clinton Democrats" – they know who is paying the bills.  This is probably also why the Democratic Party is so locked into the Culture War strategy – focusing on Identity & social policies, rather than the economic issues of the New Deal (or any updated version thereof).


    Bernie Sanders surprised (and scared) the traditional power-centers by raising millions of $ through small donations.  This was enough for him to mount two credible primary campaigns, which shocked the Clinton Democrats & their supporters.  It has also allowed him to funnel money to other campaigns – AOC and a few other candidates – but it just isn't enough to fund the whole Party (and Bernie might not want to do that anyway).

    Biden seems to have accepted Bernie's new influence, but I worry about residual resentment among the cadre of professional Democrats leftover from Hillary's campaigns.

    My concern right now – with Manchin & Sinema – is that there are people, organizations, & forces that really want to make sure that the New Progressives fail.  Success – significant new programs, leading voters to actually appreciate & support the New Progressives – threatens existing (but obsolete) power centers, both political & financial. 

    I suspect that Manchin is firmly entrenched in this camp.  

    OTOH, Sinema appears to be primarily motivated by attention.  IMO, the best way to woo her would be lots of appearances on MSM TV, followed by off-screen compliments about how she could have a wonderful future at the network.  If we're lucky, she'll be flashing her shoulders on MSNBC or CNN six years from now; if we're not so lucky, she'll be a pet "liberal" on FOX.

    • I have said many times that in 1993 the Clinton approach was a smart strategy. For 1993. Once we got into the 2000s, that became less and less true as time went on. By 2016 it was a disaster, the entirely wrong approach to counter the rise of Trumpism. It's not about who's "paying the bills" at this point; it's about making government policy relevant to ordinary people again. 

    • By early 1990's, the Democratic Party was in deep doodoo: it's infrastructure (party machinery) was crumbling, the GOP was running rings around them (intellectually, strategically & tactically), they had no forward-looking message, and they were running out of money. 

      I don't agree with your statement.

      In the 90s, right wing radio was a thing, and it was still scandalous that Limbaugh made statements that sounded as if he was blaming Democrats for literally destroying the nation.

      Thing is, because it was scandalous, it was *newsworthy*. This is something Gingrich already knew well – he'd have Republicans make scathing speeches to an empty House, because it played well on CSPAN and in campaign spots.

      The Republicans started to realize, in the 90s, that there were a lot of people willing to live on hate – you couldn't *call* it hate, but hate's hate, whatever you call it – and started stoking that hate.

      This is not "intellectual". This is *cunning*. This is "I see a way to do something, that no one will expect, and if I'm bold enough, I'll have the prize before anyone can stop me – and then they can just piss and moan about how unfairly I played the game."

      They didn't develop any intellectual depth; they just went all in on "Democrats are evil, awful, naughty, stinky, ugly, family hating, religion hating, socialist, marxist, fascist poo-poo heads!"

      And now we're at the point where a mainstream Republican is expected to pretend it's patriotic to try to kill their fellow Americans (just, you know, *indirectly*, so no one can say you killed this *particular* American). And it's really not surprising, precisely because there were no intellectual underpinnings to their 90s strategy.

      If they'd taken Congress in 1994, and stopped trying to pretend every Democrat was an "evil, awful, naughty, stinky, ugly, family hating, religion hating, socialist, marxist, fascist poo-poo head", they might have had some success with actually developing a governing strategy. Alas, both the Republicans, and the Democrats, took the wrong lesson from this.

      The Republicans cut back on thinking, and put more into hate. And the Democrats decided to try to address places where they could compromise, not yet realizing that the Republicans would declare that everything, done by any Democrat, was terrible.

      That brings us to today, where a Democrat's agreement with the entire world medical community is balls-nothing compared to a baseless bit of JAQing off by an uninformed moron.

      (JAQing off = "Just Asking Questions" when the answers are already conclusively determined – but unable to be made into a slick soundbite, so you can say "I can see that this is still an open question!")

      • LHW, you're totally right about the power of the Hate Radio thing, and it's even worse than your description.  They discovered that feeding people hateful BS was very profitable!  Limbaugh led to FOX, where Glenn Beck improved the "fertilizer".  Each year they ratcheted up the fury and made the links to reality more tenuous.

        This worked great for the GOP for a couple decades, but it became a race to the bottom, and they wound up neck-deep in their own bottom.  They imagined that they could control the monster they created, not realizing that the Mob required crazier fantasies each year to keep them entertained.  The Old GOP still wanted to pretend that they were civilized enough to govern the USA; Trump had no such constraints, so he was able to give the Mob want they wanted: MORE!

        All through this process, Democrats were unable to find an effective response.  IMO, this is partly because the Democratic Party has no infrastructure of Think Tanks where smart people get paid to think about problems like this.  That's what I meant by saying that the "…GOP was running rings around them" intellectually.  

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