Bush Didn't Get All He Wanted with 55 GOP Sens.

John Aravosis writes:

I've heard people say that it's not fair to criticize the Democrats for botching health care reform because the Democrats never truly had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Sure, they have 60 votes in principle, the argument goes, but with Lieberman, Nelson, Landrieu, and Bayh counted as four of those votes, it's not really a solid 60.

Perhaps. But then how was George Bush so effective in passing legislation during his presidency when he never had more than 55 Republicans in the Senate? In fact, during Bush's most effective years, from 2001 to 2005, the GOP had a grand total of 50, and then 51, Senators. The slimmest margin possible.

The general thrust of what John writes is right -- that George W. Bush was able to get a great deal done with far slimmer Senate majorities than the one enjoyed by Barack Obama today. Leadership, John explains, is what it comes down to: President Bush spoiled for the fights that the current White House seems to be avoiding.

But while John is broadly right, it's important to note that George W. Bush wasn't able to achieve everything he wanted with 55 Senators. Indeed, he was unable to even get off the ground the signature domestic policy of his Presidency: Social Security privatization.

This point is important. Yes, George W. Bush was able to get through the Senate massive tax cuts, as well as foreign policy initiatives and nominations. Yet these are in a way easier through our political system as, in the case of the two latter efforts, the balance of power in areas of nominations and foreign policy rests squarely in favor of the executive, and, in the case of the former, tax cuts rightly or wrongly are easier to get through the Congress than other pieces of legislation.

George W. Bush was able to get through the Senate at least two significant pieces of domestic legislation: No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D. The scope of these two bills, however, pales in comparison wit the healthcare initiative currently making it through the Congress. These two bills simply do not compare to the effort to attain near-universal healthcare coverage. And as noted above, the one legislative effort of a comparable scale advanced by George W. Bush -- the partial privatization of Social Security -- didn't even manage to get off the ground, let alone through committee and the entire Senate.

Legislating isn't easy -- particularly not when the legislation in question would so fundamentally reshape the country. So at least from this vantage, it's remarkable that healthcare reform, the largest domestic policy initiative in at least four decades and perhaps even in seven, is so close to becoming law regardless of the fact that there are 60 Democrats in the Senate.

Tags: Filibusters, Senate (all tags)

Comments

39 Comments

There's a simpler answer

Bush got what he got because, in several instances, a bunch of Dems supported what he wanted to do and the filibuster wasn't a threat.  E.g. both wars, the tax cuts.  When Bush wanted something that the Dems largely and strongly opposed, like privatizing SS, it went nowhere.

So, on several large legislative items, Bush had all of his party, and, often, several members of the opposing party.  Obama, by contrast, has no members of the opposing party, and not even his entire party.

by JJE 2009-12-15 10:50AM | 0 recs
Bush Didn't Get All He Wanted

George Bush got "stuff done" (beyond tax cuts and medicare drugs expansion, what?) becasue a lot of those "dems" counted as "dems" in the 60, supported him. Therefore the GOP total in the senate was more like 53-55 and similarly the Dem majority today is more like 55-57.

But it should be noted that Bush signature policies - SC privatization and immigration reform got nowhere. SC didn't even make it to committee and I think Immigration made it out of committee but i'm not sure.

by vecky 2009-12-15 11:00AM | 0 recs
Judicial Nominees

Don't forget all the judicial nominees that the Democratic caucus successfully blocked. Imagine how awful things would be if Dems didn't hold firm on those.

The Senate frustratingly blocks change in both directions.

by Luigi Montanez 2009-12-15 11:00AM | 0 recs
Re: Bush Didn't Get Al

"...the largest domestic policy initiative in at least four decades and perhaps even in seven, is so close to becoming law regardless of the fact that there are 60 Democrats in the Senate."

I have to wonder if you really believe this part?

Especially when I see Howard Dean saying:

"This is essentially the collapse of health care reform in the United States Senate. Honestly the best thing to do right now is kill the Senate bill, go back to the House, start the reconciliation process, where you only need 51 votes and it would be a much simpler bill."

by Jerome Armstrong 2009-12-15 11:09AM | 0 recs
Re: Bush Didn't Get Al

I don't get why insurance reform, where everyone is mandated to buy private insurance, is that great of a deal.

I know there are some good things in the bill, but why package them with an obscene mandate?

by Jerome Armstrong 2009-12-15 11:12AM | 0 recs
Re: Bush Didn't Get Al

You mean like the MA mandate?

by vecky 2009-12-15 11:26AM | 0 recs
I agree 100%

I think you know a lot more about the Legislative Process than I do, and you wrote exactly what is on my mind.

My question is: why not use reconciliation to create a public option later (after this stuff passes through the Senate making it permanent)?

I know reconciliation is impermanent (10 years?), but the only hurdle I am aware of is that it would have to come out of the SFC.

by NoFortunateSon 2009-12-15 11:26AM | 0 recs
Re: I agree 100%

Legislative exhaustion? I don't think many Dems in congress want to broach HCR again until after the general. There is a general sense that they need to switch to jobs and the economy.

by vecky 2009-12-15 11:29AM | 0 recs
True, which is why the President pushed

To get this done before Christmas, even if it leads to an imperfect result. He knows the economy and the economy alone will spell doom if not properly addressed. History will have to be the judge of his haste, for I am far too confused with every opinion going every which way.

Do you remember in 1988 how liberal was a dirty word? Now the Republicans can't even get socialism to stick. I feel the cat is out of the bag on the PO and Medicare expansion. The public knows. I think it will be demanded by the public, especially with a mandate.

by NoFortunateSon 2009-12-15 11:35AM | 0 recs
Re: True, which is why the President pushed

haste... the senate has been debating this thing since April...

by vecky 2009-12-15 11:48AM | 0 recs
Normal time and Senate time

I know, but the Senate seems to move at a snail's pace.

by NoFortunateSon 2009-12-15 12:12PM | 0 recs
Re: Normal time and Senate time

I can't think of another piece of legislation that took this long....

by vecky 2009-12-15 01:15PM | 0 recs
Reconciliation has to come out of Budget

not Finance. Not that there is that much room between Budget's Conrad and Finance's Baucus.

by Bruce Webb 2009-12-15 11:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Reconciliation has to come out of Budget

As I cited here, Bruce, I believe the Budget Committee's role in reconciliation is purely ministerial.

by Steve M 2009-12-15 11:49AM | 0 recs
Re: Reconciliation has to come out of Budget

Interesting but not determinative.

First it gives even weight to Finance and HELP and we saw how that worked out in practice, SFC simply started from scratch. And I would think that Budget needs to vote affirmatively to get it out of Committee and would seemingly have some responsibility to harmonize the recommendations coming out of HELP and SFC which could give it two bites at the apple. And since Budget Chairman Conrad is also the number 3 Dem on SFC seems to give him at least three bites at that apple.

Plus I am a little confused at the specificity of the language in Sec 201. Does whatever comes out HAVE to cut a trillion from the deficit?

I don't quite get it.

by Bruce Webb 2009-12-15 12:11PM | 0 recs
Re: Reconciliation has to come out of Budget

That's a minimum requirement.

by Steve M 2009-12-15 12:12PM | 0 recs
My error

I confused the two in haste. thank you for the correction.

Both would be hostile to a PO.

by NoFortunateSon 2009-12-15 12:08PM | 0 recs
Re: Bush Didn't Get Al

I think the bill is worthwhile because of the insurance reform provision AND because of the subsidies that will allow 20-30 million folks that are currently uninsured to purchase insurance.  The fact that the latter piece is seemingly being ignored right now is somewhat bewildering to me.  Isn't expanding coverage by that amount worth doing even if the bill is otherwise far from perfect?  

As far as mandates go, I don't fully understand why this issue has become so central all of a sudden.  In exchange for a relatively weak mandate (the penalties, especially at the beginning, are tiny), the bill provides subsidies that will allow a significant portion of the uninsured population to purchase insurance.  I can understand opposing the bill because the subsidies are too small (which they are), but your problem seems to be with the very idea of a mandate itself.  That seems backwards to me.    

by HSTruman 2009-12-15 11:48AM | 0 recs
Re: Bush Didn't Get Al

I think it is worth considering why Howard Dean, who has been supportive of the Senate bill right up until today, is suddenly against it.  I think he understands the policy issues better than 99% of us and he has been an honest broker throughout.

by Steve M 2009-12-15 11:50AM | 0 recs
Re: Bush Didn't Get Al

From what I've read, he now seems to think what we could pass through reconciliation would be better than the bill the Senate is now considering.  That's a fair point, as far as it goes, and I think you can make a strong argument that Reid and the administration should have went down the reconciliation path two months ago, rather than allowing things to get to this point.  But I don't think re-starting the process, which is what you would have to do in order to use reconcilation, is politically feasible at this point.  I tend to think failure to pass something sooner rather than later will result in passing nothing.  

Honestly, I wonder whether Dean's position isn't just posturing designed to improve the final bill in conference (and, to be clear, there's nothing wrong with that as a strategy).  As I recall, Chris Bowers thought the Medicare buy-in would apply to a maximum of 2 million people.  On the merits, I have a hard time understanding how losing that provision is a deal killer.  But as you said, I'm sure Dr. Dean understand the issues better than me, so maybe I'm missing something.  

by HSTruman 2009-12-15 12:09PM | 0 recs
Re: Bush Didn't Get Al

Well, maybe it is just a ploy.  It certainly doesn't seem like Dr. Dean, who has been a pretty good soldier through this whole process, would start throwing bombs just for fun.

It's a mystery to me why the Democrats were so quick to take reconciliation off the table.

by Steve M 2009-12-15 12:11PM | 0 recs
Re: Bush Didn't Get Al

There weren't 50 votes for the PO via reconciliation.

by vecky 2009-12-15 12:16PM | 0 recs
Re: Bush Didn't Get Al

"It's a mystery to me why the Democrats were so quick to take reconciliation off the table."

I agree completely.  The only explanation that makes sense is if it was clear they didn't have the votes for that approach.  But that doesn't really make me feel any better even if it's true.

by HSTruman 2009-12-15 12:18PM | 0 recs
Howard dean isn't against all of it

He is suggesting that it be scaled back, and that certain provisions also be eliminated.

by NoFortunateSon 2009-12-15 12:09PM | 0 recs
Re: Howard dean isn't against all of it

Well, of course he's not saying we should scrap the bill and then pass nothing.  But I think you're confusing the issue rather than clarifying.  On the yes-or-no question, should we continue trying to pass this particular bill even with all the Lieberman concessions, he is quite clearly saying no.

by Steve M 2009-12-15 12:13PM | 0 recs
Insurance reform & mandates

The original House Bill had a very important premium control mechanism that made mandates a perfectly acceptable tradeoff. I predicted in real time that the goal of the Insurance Industry would be to eliminate Sec 116 which all on its own crushed their predatory model.

http://angrybear.blogspot.com/2009/07/hr 3200-sec-116-golden-bullet-or-smoking.ht ml

Well I was right, ultimately the requirement that insurance companies hit a particular MLR got stripped out of the bill. And I would argue that its reinsertion as part of the compromise is probably what triggered Lieberman's personal trigger.

Medicare Opt-In is not a threat to Insurance Companies, in fact it helps them game the Risk Pool in ways that mean they don't even have to rescind policies. But they simply hate the idea of a mandated MLR.

But it is hard for Republicans/Conservadems simply to admit that their real goal is to protect the right of insurance companies to continue to drive down the ratio of medical care actually paid for to premium dollar (as the head of Aetna unwisely revealed was their goal) leading co-Presidents Snowe, Lieberman and Nelson to cloak their objections in terms of the PO.

Repeat after me: It's not the PO, its the MLR Stupid!

Three months ago the proposal before the Senate included the PO but didn't have the MLR restriction and Lieberman was perfectly free to push Medicare Opt-In. The proposal before the Senate a week ago had a much weakened PO which was swapped for a new and more strict MLR requirement. Suddenly a perfectly acceptable Opt-In three months ago is now a deal killer. I don't believe much in coincidence in these matters.

"Pay no attention to the MLR behind the curtain!"

by Bruce Webb 2009-12-15 12:01PM | 0 recs
Re: Insurance reform & mandates
Very interesting. I don't pretend to understand it yet, but found someone else writing about it as well:
http://alankatz.wordpress.com/2009/12/15 mandated-medical-loss-ratios-unintended -consequence
by Jerome Armstrong 2009-12-15 12:52PM | 0 recs
Re: Insurance reform & mandates

Elmendorf not for the first time has inserted an ideolgical argument into what is supposed to be a neutral evaluation.

Single Payer advocates assert that a government plan can provide higher quality on average at a lower societal cost and that given a level playing field would ultimately crowd out private insurers. CBO has essentially ruled that a market based competition that results in a public winner is by definition to be scored adversely to an outcome  with a arbitrarily private market share even if this means overall national spending is higher. This is a pure abuse of their methodogy. Ruling that requiring insurers to meet an 85% MLR scores as savings but that forcing them to meet an 87% or 90% ratio is nationalization and so scoring as spending is purely an arbitrary assessment that a certain level of profit is simply grandfathered in. 15 years ago private insurers in many markets were maintaining MLRs above 90%. Asserting that their success in driving that ratio to 80% and below effectively establishes a property right whose reversal constitutes a governmental taking is absurd. Yet that is where Elmendorf's logic leads us.

by Bruce Webb 2009-12-15 07:56PM | 0 recs
It might help the Senate pass it?

Especially if the liberal blogosphere rallies behind it

I don't mean to make light of Howard Dean's comments, and strangely, he is advocating something similar to that cretin Lieberman (paring the bill down, that the legislative attempt was too ambitious).

I don't know what to believe anymore... :(

by NoFortunateSon 2009-12-15 11:30AM | 0 recs
Trapped in their 60.

Thank you for this post.

When George W. Bush was President, the Democrats had a platform. The sum of the GOP platform in this era can best be described as opposing President Obama at all cost.

As such, Democrats have no bargaining power with their Republican counterparts. They are, in essence, trapped with only themselves, and in the case of the Senate due to a misfortune of numbers, therefore requiring a unanimous vote for any effectiveness. In eras past (Regan comes to mind), change was effected by a give and take between parties.

I agree that Health Care Reform is the single heaviest legislative lift of the past 40 - 70 years, which is why we're witnessing so much turmoil. I don't feel that I ever want to watch the legislative process up close ever again.

While I begrudgingly accept half a loaf due to realities in the Senate, I speculate that Republicans uniformly oppose healthcare reform not just to try and hand Obama a defeat (good luck with that) -- it's because they know this establishes the meme that government has a regulatory role over healthcare, and this will be the first of several efforts.

by NoFortunateSon 2009-12-15 11:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Bush Didn't Get All He Wanted with 55 GOP Sens

The nature and composition of our respective parties are far different. Our coalition is much more diverse and thus unwieldy. The GOP marches in lock step to a degree that we never will.

And Jonathan's point about the scope of the legislation is also well-taken.

by Charles Lemos 2009-12-15 11:27AM | 0 recs
Re: Bush Didn't Get All He Wanted with 55 GOP Sens

Yes, but universal health care has been a component of the Democratic platform for generations.  If our party leaders do not embrace a longheld tenet of the party, what good is it to have them included?  Alternatively, if we cannot expect our party to endorse one of its key tenets, what good is the platform?  What do we stand for?

by orestes 2009-12-15 01:24PM | 0 recs
Re: Bush Didn't Get All He Wanted with 55 GOP Sens

Incremental reform is better than no reform at all.

Where would medicare be if JFK/LBJ stood firm and said it should apply to everyone not just seniors? Hell even then it wasn't going anywhere. It took an assassins bullet and a complete lonney on the right (sane by todays standards) to get to the point where medicare was possible.

by vecky 2009-12-15 05:19PM | 0 recs
Gosh its on the tip of my tongue

"But then how was George Bush so effective in passing legislation during his presidency when he never had more than 55 Republicans in the Senate? In fact, during Bush's most effective years, from 2001 to 2005---"

Man I have a dim recollection of some event that changed opposition to the President's entire agenda into something close to treason. Something that would have justified voting against Bush's hi-jacking of a Democrat introduced cabinet reorganization that he used to crush unions that previously represented whole agencies. But opposition to which got war heroes labled as Obama surrogates, something that made opposition to AUMF in many cases political suicide. An event that allowed Bush to simply push through a bill that gutted the First, Third, Fourth and Fifth Amendments (but gave domestic terrorists a 2nd Amendment pass against chemically marking dynamite for law enforcement purposes).

And even before that game changing moment, Bush came into the game with a projected $1.5 trillion projected surplus.

Ya think that when it comes to passing legislation having a combination of a huge surplus to pay for stuff combined with being a 'Popular Wartime President' might help you get legislation passed? In at least 2002 and 2003 opposing the Bush Cheney Administration on anything was not just politically but potentially personally dangerous, it was territory that mostly was only traversed by DFHs with BDS and a minority of House and Senate Progressives. Because moderates/centrists were pissing their pants in fear after they saw what the Bushies were able to do to triple amputee war hero Max Cleland. For that period 9/11 indeed changed everything, at least politically.

The Bush/Cheney/Rove regime shamelessly used a 'Rally around the Flag' moment to ruthlessly push through much of their agenda. Not only did Obama not have that moment in his first year, the game is rigged so that another 9/11 would be used as ammunition proving he was some sort of failure. That's the way the Republicans roll.

by Bruce Webb 2009-12-15 11:36AM | 0 recs
Slaps head

Of course I meant 'got war heroes labled OSAMA surrogates'.

But then Beck and friends don't seem to see much difference.

by Bruce Webb 2009-12-15 11:38AM | 0 recs
Re: Bush Didn't Get All He Wanted

Great post and some much needed context.  I've been overwhelmed by the negativity lately on the blogosphere.  I'm doing my best to withold judgment until we see what actually emerges from Congress and lands on the President's desk.

by dvk 2009-12-15 11:51AM | 0 recs
That would be a first for the blogosphere

Not to berate us, but the hand wringing, myopia, and pessimism is quite insufferable some days.

I am not saying I am disappointed, and I understand the anger. I, too, am angry.

But I also want to see what the finished product is.

by NoFortunateSon 2009-12-15 12:13PM | 0 recs
Re: Bush Didn't Get All He Wanted

You're overwhelmed, I'm sick and tired of it.

The Liberal Blogosphere's perfect leader--a leftie GEORGE W. BUSH.

by spirowasright 2009-12-15 04:24PM | 0 recs
Bush Waited Too Long on SS

Most presidents get what they push for during the honeymoon period of their first term. Bush waited too long to push SS privatization and immigration reform. Had Bush pushed for privatization of SS in his first few months of office, or a week after 9-11, he probably would have gotten the legislation through Congress.

by Zzyzzy 2009-12-15 03:03PM | 0 recs

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