Democrats Still Uneasy Over Playing Political Hardball

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Republicans, as we know, have promised to block Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This isn’t because they have anything in particular against Cordray. They’ve promised to block anyone unless Democrats agree to changes that would essentially make the CFPB toothless. They’ve done the same for nominees to the National Labor Relations Board. The CFPB can’t legally operate without a director, and the NLRB can’t legally operate without a quorum, so, as Adam Serwer puts it, this is essentially a way to nullify a pair of agencies they happen to dislike “through procedural extortion.”

Dave Weigel is puzzled. “I continue to ask why Democrats didn’t get concessions on a few nominees in exchange for the filibuster punt,” he writes today. Unfortunately, I think the answer isn’t hard to find: Harry Reid didn’t have the votes for filibuster reform and Mitch McConnell knew it. What’s more, Reid himself didn’t seem to have the stomach for a filibuster fight in the first place. If Reid had demanded action on the CFPB and the NLRB, McConnell would have just laughed it off. It would have been a bluff and he knew it.

Democrats could have gotten more out of this. They could have gotten real filibuster reform, or, failing that, at least some concessions in return for a compromise. But they chickened out. Even after winning the fiscal cliff battle, and then forcing Republicans to back down over the debt ceiling, Dems still didn’t understand the value of playing hardball. It was an opportunity missed.

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