February 13, 2010 7:46 p.m.

TPM Reader CB adds some more thoughts …

Why do you think Congressional Democrats have had such a hard time dealing with Republican obstructionism? It’s been apparent for months that Republicans are unwilling to compromise on legislative initiatives, unless by compromise you mean that they will allow Democrats to agree with their proposals. In such an environment, it is pointless for Democratic lawmakers to ask themselves whether there is a way they can craft legislation so that some Republicans will be willing to vote for their proposal – there is simply no provision that Democrats can add or remove from a bill that will make Republicans want to vote for a Democratic proposal. And yet we keep seeing efforts – like the Baucus jobs bill – in which leading Democrats tinker with or even gut their own proposals in a fruitless effort to get Republicans to sign on to the legislation.

This is completely backwards – the question is not what will the Republicans want to vote for, but what will they have to vote for. With a handful of exceptions, when Republicans sought Democratic votes during the Bush years, they did not do so by crafting broad bipartisan compromises; rather, they created legislative environments in which certain Democratic Members felt that, from a political perspective, they had to vote for Republican proposals. Even with the shrunken Republican Congressional caucuses, there are still numerous Republicans sitting in swing seats who can be made to feel political heat if they vote straight party line.

Like your argument regarding “up or down votes,” I don’t believe that adopting this approach would necessarily translate to immediate legislative success – Republican party discipline is high at the moment and the political wind is at their back. But, as you note, in the present environment, the Democrats have the worst of both worlds – Republicans get to obstruct their political agenda and pay no political price for doing so. Switching to an approach that focuses on putting political pressure on Republicans to vote for Democratic initiatives at least has the potential to bear fruit (legislatively or electorally) down the road.

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