Nick Baumann

Nick Baumann

Senior Editor

Nick is based in our DC bureau, where he covers national politics and civil liberties issues. Nick has also written for The Economist, The Atlantic, The Washington Monthly, and Commonweal. Email tips and insights to nbaumann [at] motherjones [dot] com. You can also follow him on Facebook.

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The Vindication of "No"

| Wed Jan. 20, 2010 12:34 PM EST

The main takeaway from Scott Brown's win in the special election in Massachusetts on Tuesday has to be that Mitch McConnell and the Senate GOP's strategy of filibustering absolutely everything the Democrats proposed was incredibly effective. The Republicans managed to prevent the Democrats from passing their main agenda items, confirming 175-plus administration officials, or even confirming most of Obama's judicial nominees. Most important, the GOP was able to stall while the national mood shifted and Democrats became increasingly associated with the poor economy and (ironically) the "gridlock" in Washington.

This is great news for Republicans in the short term. House Democrats are wilting at the prospect of passing the Senate health care reform bill unchanged, which is the measure's best remaining chance for making it into law. The national environment is looking increasingly GOP-friendly, and the Republicans appear poised to romp in the 2010 midterms.

In the long run, however, the vindication of the "party of 'no'" strategy will hurt conservatives just as much as it's hurting Democrats now. When the GOP is back in power, Democrats will surely adopt the same strategy the Republicans are employing now. Major conservative agenda items—things like privatizing Social Security—will inevitably run into filibusters (remember, Republicans haven't had over 60 percent of the votes in the Senate since the '20s). Conservative judges and presidential appointees will be even harder to confirm than they were in the Bush years. The GOP will be left with the only thing it's been able to pass in recent years: war resolutions and tax cuts for the rich. How'd that work out last time?

Yuval Levin is Right

| Wed Jan. 20, 2010 12:09 PM EST

The National Review's Yuval Levin, reacting to Scott Brown's win on Tuesday, writes:

Democrats are of course not in fact powerless at all. But they have adopted an agenda that only a supermajority could pass (if that, even a supermajority couldn’t pass cap and trade), and with every indication of public opposition have only intensified their determination to pursue it, putting themselves on the wrong side of independent voters while persuading themselves that people would come around because this health care bill is something liberals have wanted for three generations.* They have made it impossible for themselves to change course without a massive loss of face and of political capital.

It's not often that Mother Jones agrees with the National Review. But I have to say that Levin is mostly right (at least in this particular section of his post). The Democrats aren't powerless. They still have large majorities in both houses of Congress—they could pursue passing a revised bill through the reconciliation process (unlikely) or have the House pass the Senate's version of health care reform (also unlikely, but slightly less so). And Levin is right that the Democrats did adopt an agenda only a supermajority could pass.

That's because real reform of anything—unburdened by the limitations that reconciliation rules impose—really does require 60 votes in the Senate to overcome the inevitable filibuster. That affects Republicans, too. Bush's main reform effort—the partial privatisation of Social Security—would almost certainly have failed to overcome a Democratic filibuster. Tax cuts and wars aren't reform. The Democrats wanted to actually do something, and they nearly succeeded. They still could. After all, as Levin writes, it's impossible for them to change course without "massive loss of face and political capital." It'll be interesting to see what they do.

*My one objection to the above block quote would be to point out that this health care bill is not what "liberals have wanted for three generations." It's far too conservative for that to be true.

A Republican in Kennedy's Seat?

| Tue Jan. 19, 2010 6:11 PM EST

UPDATE: Martha Coakley has conceded. David Corn has more.

Most observers seem to think that Scott Brown, the Republican candidate, will be the next senator from Massachusetts and serve out the remainder of Ted Kennedy's term. But as Josh Marshall writes, even if Martha Coakley ekes out a victory, today is a "critical gut-check moment" for President Barack Obama. Now that he's facing political trouble—in Massachusetts of all places—how will the president react?

The reporting on Obama's plans for the State of the Union address, scheduled for Jan. 27, suggest that the White House will double down on the kind of moves that have irritated liberals and demoralized his base. According to Politico, the president plans to unveil a budget that features "real fiscal austerity measures" that will "draw flak from both sides of the aisle"—code words for a contraction in government spending that left-leaning economists like Paul Krugman say will only add to the country's economic woes. Over at the Atlantic, Marc Ambinder also warns of further disappointment for the left:

[I]f, through some combination of White House pressure and magic the House CAN pass the Senate health care bill within the next few days, the circumstances surrounding its passage will not redound to the benefit of Democrats. Liberals will be angry—and they'll be even angrier at the White House's austerity budget that's due Feb. 1. And they'll be even ANGRIER when they realize that the White House will redouble their efforts to make peace with Republicans on budgetary and spending issues.

Still, not everyone sees dark days ahead for liberals. Kevin picked out a different passage from the same Politico article:

"The response will not be to do incremental things and try to salvage a few seats in the fall," a presidential adviser said. "The best political route also happens to be the boldest rhetorical route, which is to go out and fight and let the chips fall where they may. We can say, 'At least we fought for these things, and the Republicans said no.'"

Kevin thinks showing "some fight" in the wake of a Massachusetts loss might turn out to be a "blessing in disguise." And sure, such a strategy might help Obama. It may even save some Democratic seats come November. But will emboldened rhetoric help the White House actually enact any liberal policies? It's no coincidence that the increase in "fight" is coming at the same time that it's going to be increasingly hard for the administration to actually acheive anything of substance. Senators like Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) are already suggesting that Obama should move towards "the center." With Brown in office, Obama will have trouble doing the tough stuff. He'll be turning to rhetoric—and turning rightwards on "budgetary and spending issues"—because he'll have to. If this is a blessing, it's pretty well disguised. 

The Gitmo "Suicides"

| Tue Jan. 19, 2010 1:25 PM EST

Kevin already addressed this on his blog, but if you haven't read Scott Horton's latest story on the Gitmo "suicides," you should. In December, I wrote about a Seton Hall report that hinted that three detainee suicides at Guantanamo Bay in 2006 weren't actually suicides. Now Horton has on-the-record sources suggesting that the detainees were killed in a previously undisclosed off-site facility called "Camp No," and the murders were covered-up. In any sane media environment, this would be front-page news everywhere, and a congressional investigation would already have been launched. Anyway, read it.

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