Skip to comments.(Jay Cost) Bush and Congress: What Went Wrong?
Posted on 12/31/2005 3:25:39 PM PST by RWR8189
Why did President Bush not do very well in Congress this year? Was it because he was politically inept? Was it because he offended members of his own party? Was it because they were afraid that sticking with him would kill any chance of reelection?
All of these are possibly correct. But I think that there is a more efficient answer -- and that is that the President, in dealing with Congress, simply bit off more than he could chew. He thought that there were consensus positions for reforming certain issues, but there were none. He misread the number of people willing to agree to any kind of tax cut extension, Social Security reform, immigration reform, or Patriot Act extension.
His fundamental mistake, I think, was that he failed to appreciate the nature of Congress. Congress is not the sort of body that passes lots of big pieces of reform legislation by small margins. Its structure is such that you usually have to find a very large consensus within the institution itself -- and this is very often hard to come by. At certain points in time and with certain types of issues, it is downright impossible.
This is the point that Stanford's Keith Krehbiel makes in his book Pivotal Politics. This is one of the few books I have read that tries to explain congressional activity in the broader context of the presidency. Krehbiel argues that the structure of Congress is very important. It creates roadblocks to getting what you want out of the institution. Think of all the different structural "pivots" in Congress:
1. Any bill must find a majority in both houses.
2. Any bill must, if it is opposed by the President, find a majority of 2/3rds.
3. Any bill must find a majority of 3/5ths in the Senate.
These structures explain, according to Krehbiel, why gridlock is the status quo in Congress and why, when it is broken, it is usually broken by large majorities. Think of it this way. Suppose you have a status quo policy that a bare majority of Congress wants to change to an alternative policy. Is this enough? No way. There are still two more "pivots". If a 2/5th minority of the Senate prefers the status quo to the majority's proposal, it will filibuster. If the President prefers the status quo to the majority's proposal, he will veto; his veto will be successful unless 2/3rds of Congress prefers the alternative to the status quo.
But, one might respond, what about political parties? Is it not easier to get big changes when the President and Congress are of the same party? According to this theory, not necessarily. This theory presumes that members of Congress and the President vote according to their own interests. If they prefer one position over another, they vote for their most preferred position. The party does not have the power to induce them to vote against their interests. From what we know about congressional parties, this is a very reasonable assumption. They are weak compared to European parties. Our legislative parties usually work by controlling what goes on the agenda, not by controlling members of Congress. Party leaders know that they can really do nothing to stop "mavericks".
As a practical matter, then, we will only see Congress and the President act to reform a situation when a very large majority prefers the policy proposal to the status quo.
This also explains why Bush had trouble this year. He tried to reform certain policies where there does not seem to be a large enough consensus on any given reform proposal. In other words, it was not just a matter of Bush refusing to give the other side what they want. It was a matter of impossibility: it was impossible to find any alternative to the status quo -- on Social Security, taxes, immigration, etc -- that Bush, any majority of the House, and any 3/5ths of the Senate would find acceptable. For instance, what would have happened if Bush had compromised with his Democratic opponents so much on immigration that they would have agreed with his proposal? His Republican supporters would have turned into his opponents!
Ultimately, it is impossible to reform certain issues at certain times in American history. Sometimes the size of the majority willing to go along with any given reform is too small.
So, maybe Bush's legislative mistake this year was not that he is stubborn and refuses to modify his positions. Maybe it was not that he did not sweet talk Congress enough. Maybe the mistake came last January when his White House decided what they were going to push for. They chose too many wrong things -- things that Congress could not possibly have agreed upon. In other words, Bush failed in Congress for the same reason he failed with the public -- he presumed that his election meant something more than it did. He misread his mandate. His election did not mean, for the public, that certain issues were settled. It did not mean, for the Congress, that a consensus position of sufficient size had emerged within the body. It only meant that he could keep his job for another four years.
Americans put a party with no core, unwavering, non-negotiable principles in charge.
What went wrong ? President Bush thought veto was a mafia hit man.
WHAT went wrong?!!! Just one word....RINOS!!
People will read ......
Comprehension is another matter....
Dear Jay. How was your coma? Your little "essay" is sweet precisely because it is so amusing.
Congress abandoned itself in the year past. Everything imaginable except for unity happened this past year.
Most experienced observers feel that there is really nothing left except leftist thinking in what remains of the former Demoscats.
Sounds like you would have preferred the dems. Better luck next time.
For decades, Republicans have been blathering about how they'd implement limited government, lower taxes, balanced budgets, "fixed" Social Security (as if you can fix a Ponzi scheme) etc. etc., if only they had a chance.
Given the chance, the Republican Party's blather was revealed to be just another con-job by professional politicians.
We have two Big Stupid Government parties, and America deserves better.
Better question is. What's been wrong?
Both the President and the GOP controlled Congress have swept aside any notion of advancing a conservative agenda.
If you don't punish people for crossing you on important issues, they will continue to cross you.
Also, it was a mistake to start off with Social Security. Sure, it needs to be fixed, but there were other more important issues to use his muscle on first.
The problem is due to a lot of RINOs.
The fact is that RINOs will continue to be a pain, unless they are sent a messege that they will be held accountable by Republicans for their Democratesque votes.
Another huge problem is the fact that the Senate Republican leadership is inept at putting RINOs in line. As well, the antidemocratic filibuster is a huge problem for advancing business in the Senate.
Can you even read? Cost makes perfect sense: you need a 3/5s majority in the Senate, and not just "Republicans," but of conservatives.
At best we have 40 conservatives in the Senate, and that fluctuates issue by issue. DeWine, as good as they come on pro-life, is useless on energy bills. Craig, reliable on defense, is so "rights conscious" as to be a problem in actually securing the Patriot Act.
So the down-the-line conservatives, who would score close to 100 by the ACU, is probably in the low 20s.
That's not the kind of "majority" that allows you to change policy. Now, it does allow people like you---self-styled "Libertarian" complainers---to criticize the GOP at every opportunity without ever really DOING anything to improve the situation.
Cost remains one of the best political analysts in the country.
It is far, far more than "party discipline." It requires an ideological shift of hundreds in the House and dozens in the Senate. We have, at best, 20 die hard conservatives in the Senate, and no amount of "discipline" or vetoes is going to bring the rest into line, because the VOTERS OF THEIR STATES keep electing them (can you cay McLame and Arizona?)
Certainly not the idiot Libertarians who won't protect either the unborn or the national defense. Spare me. You're just a whiner. As long as I've been on this board I've never seen you offer ONE SINGLE positive suggestion or plan for anything.
Indeed. As I've already stated, RINOs should be sent a messege. Either a messege of "Vote like a Republican" or an eviction notice in a primary.
I'm sure that if one checks a list of close votes in the House or Senate, he'll find that the same core group of Republicans are voting with the Dems.
For example, 14 Republicans voted against the Deficit Reduction Act (which passed 217-215): Jim Gerlach, Tim Johnson, Nancy Johnson, Walter Jones, James Leach, John McHugh, Robert Ney, Ron Paul, Jim Ramstad, Christopher Shays, Rob Simmons, Christopher Smith, John Sweeney, and Heather Wilson
13 Republicans voted against the Gasoline for America's Security Act (which passed 212 to 210): Sherwood Boehlert, Jeb Bradley, Michael Castle, Michael Fitzpatrick, Tim Johnson, Walter Jones, Ray LaHood, James Leach, Frank LoBiondo, Jim Saxton, Christopher Shays, Christopher Smith, Curt Weldon
18 Republicans voted against renewing the Patriot Act in the House: Roscoe Bartlett, Rob Bishop, John Duncan, Vernon Ehlers, Michael Fitzpatrick, Tim Johnson, Walter Jones, Frank Lucas, Connie Mack, Donald Manzullo, Robert Ney, Butch Otter, Ron Paul, Tom Price, Dana Rohrabacher, John Sweeney, Charles Taylor, Don Young
And the Republicans who voted against renewing the Patriot Act in the Senate are well-known.
Club For Growth has the right idea in their effort to remove Joe Schwarz.
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