Unlike Chris, I do not believe that the Republicans are going to solve the bipartisan problem by “overwhelmingly oppos[ing] whatever legislation the Democratic trifecta supports, and then constantly remind[ing] everyone how they had no hand in crafting said legislation.” And the vote this evening on the confirmation of Tim Geithner is as good a place as any for trying to explain why I feel this way.
At first glance, it might be hard to discern what motivated the following ten Republicans to vote for Geithner’s confirmation.
Bob Corker (R-TN), John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Crapo (R-ID), John Ensign (R-NV), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Richard Shelby (R-AL), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), George Voinovich (R-OH)
There are some pretty safe, conservative members on that list. And there are some conspicuous absences, like moderates Arlen Specter and Susan Collins. Consider, as well, that Robert Byrd, Russ Feingold, Tom Harkin, and Bernie Sanders voted against Geithner, and Ron Wyden and Sherrod Brown abstained. So, what might explain this strange voting pattern where liberals vote against the nominee and Republicans save the day? You might be thinking that conservative Republicans actually welcome Geithner’s policies, but that isn’t it. The explanation is that the Republicans that voted for Geithner sit on the three Senate committees that have oversight of the Treasury Department: Banking, Budget, and Finance. Let’s look at those ‘yes’ votes again and look at their committee assignments:
Bob Corker (R-TN)- Banking
John Cornyn (R-TX)- Finance
Mike Crapo (R-ID)- Banking, Budget, Finance
John Ensign (R-NV)- Finance
Lindsey Graham (R-SC)- Budget
Judd Gregg (R-NH)- (Chairman) Budget
Orrin Hatch (R-UT)- Finance
Richard Shelby (R-AL)- (Chairman) Banking
Olympia Snowe (R-ME)- Finance
George Voinovich (R-OH)
There was only one Republican in the Senate that voted to confirm Geithner that didn’t sit on one of these three committees. But what does that tell us?
It tells us that Republicans are more interested in having some influence over policy than they are in trying to filibuster everything. Geithner was confirmed with sixty votes. It normally takes sixty votes to do anything in the Senate. The Republicans could have blocked Geithner, but they didn’t.
The same thing is going to happen to bills that come out of the Banking, Budget, and Finance Committees. Not all of them, mind you, but most of the bills will be crafted with some input from Republicans, and they’re not going to vote against their own compromises. This particular example is illustrative of how the Senate is going to operate on financial and budgetary issues, but the same thing will happen on education legislation and environmental legislation. It will happen on whatever bills come out of the Small Business Committee, or the committees on Veteran’s or Indian Affairs.
Think about it. The Republicans have no gavels. They can’t set the agenda. Their ability to bring pork home to their states is limited. They cannot accomplish anything unless they are co-sponsors of bills. If a Republican senator wants to be able to run for reelection on anything but a platform of opposing everything, they’re going to have to be a partner in creating legislation. The real work in Congress is done in committee. The GOP cannot sustain filibusters when they have some moderate members and some members with partial authorship.
The Republicans will save their filibusters for things like the Employee Free Choice Act that they are united (except, maybe, Arlen Specter) in opposing. Even on that contentious bill, they may not succeed.
And, don’t forget, four Republican senators (Bond, Brownback, Martinez, and Voinovich) have already announced their retirement and don’t necessarily give a shit about party unity at this point.
No, if there is going to be a cure for bipartisanship, it isn’t going to come from the Republicans in the Senate. Their back is already broken, and they know it. All that remains is for them to get used to it.