Blue Dog Capitulation & The Electoral Weakness Bargaining Chip
by bruh3, Sat Aug 01, 2009 at 03:56:40 PM EDT
Nate Silver has a diary up in which he follows conventional wisdom to come up with the unremarkable conclusion that it will be the progressives who will have to compromise. I dispute his claim because of the relative bargaining positions of the progressives and Blue Dogs on healthcare reform.
Nate's reasoning for concluding that the progressives will have to compromise?
"As the Energy and Commerce Committee happens to be quite representative of the House as a whole, this vote is useful in forecasting the bill's overall prospects. Specifically, as it did in the committee, the compromise appears to be favored to win the support of the full House, although probably by a very narrow margin."
I think Nate is a major political thinker, but I dispute his logic here. His reliance on models is off the mark because it relies on models, not bargaining positions. A little secret of bargaining is that often one can have the weaker hand, and out bargain one's opponent. In Texax Hold'em, it is called the bluff. Here, that's the chief issue- do the progressives realize they have the stronger hand? Or, that contra-DC bubble wisdom, the Blue Dogs almost certainly are bluffing?
The outcome of healthcare reform will depend on one variable, and one variable alone- whether it survives the recess. If it does, the group that will have to capitulate are the Blue Dogs because they are in the weaker bargaining position. They will have played their bluff as far as they can reasonably take it without it having electoral consequences to them personally. The reality is that it does not matter how much money you get as campaign contribution if you are voted out of office. Yes, they could theorectically become lobbist, but how many want to take that gamble?
If progressives are smart, in a game of chicken over the final bill, the group that absolutely can not afford to have healthcare reform fail this year for the purposes of their electoral prospects in the coming years are the Blue Dogs. They need us to survive electorally. The reverse is not necessarily true.
The margin for victory in their districts are thinner than those for progressives. We are not discussing a bill like the Climate Bill where their districts were probably against reform. Here, with healthcare, their districts overwhelmingly support healthcare reform. This is why the recess is their only chance of killing reform. They must change their district's views on healthcare reform.
Let's remember that the polling numbers say that a supermajority of Americans want healthcare reform. A supermajority wants the public option.
Let's also remember that the reason why the Blue Dogs acted as they have acted was for the purpose of stalling the bill, and using that time to kill it. If the bill survives the recess, they will have run out of their chief strategy for stopping it- time. Without that time, what do they strategically have left?
If you want to think of it another way: they were not trying to stall because they have the votes to pass the bill they want on the floor. This is counter to their behavior. They have been stalling to prevent a progressive victory. Not because a centrist one loomed. It is not about idealogical composition of Congress. It is about who has what to lose. The same is almost certainly true in the Senate where the most conservative committee has been stalling for quite some time because they know the dynamics are against them. It is what people with weak hands do. They try to stall to get a better one.
If progressives are smart (so far-they have been), they will continue the game of escallation of pressure against the leadership and Blue Dogs. The Blue Dogs can not in their districts with such tight re-elect margins afford to lose any Democrats. The GOP voting block supports the public option too so they would lose nothing with the GOP voters by voting with progressives. They could, however, lose Democratic voters if they have no healthcare reform bill to taut in an off year election that will give them that needed margin. The Democrats that would survive would almost certainly be more liberal than those that are now influencing the push rightward. This is not, by the way, the goal. This is the pressure that pushes them to go left if the progressives are smart.
That's the electoral bargaining chip that no one is discussing.
The House Leadership is no better. The Leadership needs the progressives more than they need the Blue Dogs. Why? Because the progressives will make or break whether there is a bill or not, but the Blue Dogs can only threaten to not pass the bill. And, that's the point. The Blue Dogs can only threaten. They have no margin for actually following through on their threat on the final bill. The progressive caucus can do more than threaten. They face no personal electoral lose if they vote no. That's their power here.
This all requires that progressives play the game better than the Blue Dogs. To realize, that the Blue Dogs are all bark, no bite here. To realize, that the leadership needs them, more than they need the leadership.
Will they realize this? I do not know. I certainly believe this will come down to overcoming years of conventional wisdom that has told them that the reverse is true. That they need the Blue Dogs.
So, I predict, if the progressives are smart, we will see a lot of Blue Dogs complain, then pass the bill, regardless of what the final bill looks like.