by Jonathan Singer, Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 11:17:21 AM EST
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.