Senate: Record Unity for Dems, Record Disunity for GOP
by Jonathan Singer, Thu Aug 16, 2007 at 06:25:26 AM EDT
There has been a lot of unhappiness -- much of which is well placed -- over the fact that Democrats in Congress have not achieved nearly as much as many had hoped they would have by this point. Particularly in the case of Iraq, but not limited to Iraq, many think the Democratic Congress should simply be doing more.
I've had a chance to see some numbers on the current Congress -- specifically the Senate -- as well as past Congresses to see how well the party leadership has been able to keep its members in line. Clearly on votes like the most recent Iraq supplemental bill there was a lot of agreement within the Senate Democratic caucus, though not necessarily on the right side of the issue, so these party unity scores are not a perfect metric by which to gauge the relative effectiveness of the party leadership. That said, it is a fairly good metric and one worth looking at.
Percentage of votes in which 90 to 100 percent of a caucus votes together
Congress DEM GOP 110-1 (2007) 77.4 55.8 109-2 (2006) 70.3 65.6 109-1 (2005) 71.0 65.0 108-2 (2004) 69.9 78.2 108-1 (2003) 72.6 85.2 107-2 (2002) 66.0 67.2 107-1 (2001) 70.3 65.6 106-2 (2000) 72.2 67.1 106-1 (1999) 72.5 70.3
As you can see, by this reading the Democratic caucus has been more unified than any other Democratic caucus in roughly the last decade (the amount of time for which I have data). While this level of unity has been achieved at least in part due to the fact that there are fewer Democratic Southern conservatives and moderates in the Senate than there were in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it is nonetheless a noteworthy occurrence given the necessity of party unity in a 50-seat (and at times, with Joe Lieberman's propensity to defect, a 49-seat) majority. It's no coincidence, then, that Harry Reid was recently voted the second most powerful person in Washington by those polled by GQ.
He could choose his words more carefully--and put away the cots--but his knowledge of Senate rules and his ability to keep Democrats (Democrats!) aligned make him a far more imposing majority leader than Bill Frist ever was.
At the same time as Senate Majority Leader Reid has been able to keep the Democratic caucus aligned at among the highest levels of unity on record, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has had a terrible time keeping his troops in line. Not only is Republican disunity at its highest level in the last several years, it is at its highest point by a fairly large margin.
Unfortunately the bar for the Republicans is much lower than that for the Democrats. While the Senate GOP needs only 41 votes to block progress (and Republicans are indeed on track to demolish the record for obstructionism), Democrats need 60 votes to pass legislation. Nonetheless, it's good to see that the Democrats are maximizing their ability to get things done by generally staying as unified as possible, which while not ensuring victory for a number of the reasons mentioned above at least makes victory on key issues more achievable.