Thursday, December 6, 2012

Defeat in Victory for the Democratic Party

            Aside from the presidential election and the Puerto Rico statehood referendum which I have discussed in the past, another very important election was held in the state of Massachusetts last month.  The statewide senatorial election between incumbent Republican Scott Brown, who had won the seat in a special election after the passing of Ted Kennedy in 2010, and Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor and an architect of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.  When Warren defeated Brown rather convincingly, Democrats celebrated the reclamation of a seat which had long been held by their party.  The Democratic Party may come to regret their victory in this election, however.

            In Brown’s senatorial career he proposed forty-eight bills, only one of which passed.  This does not mean that they were bad bills or were too partisan.  All of the failed bills never made it out of committee, meaning that technically he has a record of 1-0 with regards to floor votes.  Some of the bills which never made it out of committee were a bill to reform federal acquisition practices, a bill to make lying about military service a crime, a bill to allow the VA to assist families of injured veterans obtain affordable housing, a bill to reduce business taxes on small businesses which employ veterans, a bill to increase aid to elderly crime victims, and a bill to establish a summer employment program for teenagers.  Hardly a partisan hack.  The bill which did successful pass, the DART Act, creates stronger financial oversight for the Department of Homeland Security.  The bill, which passed the Senate unanimously on November 28, 2012, has gone to the House. 
            Additionally, Brown has only missed a single vote during his senatorial career.  He has attended seven hundred thirty-seven votes out of a possible seven hundred thirty-eight.  That is astonishing, especially compared to other non-leadership position senators.  To compare Scott with a similar senator, let us take a look at Dean Heller, a Republican from Nevada.  Heller was appointed to his seat initially, following the resignation of Senator John Ensign.  Heller has been eligible to vote in four hundred floor votes during his tenure, but he has missed thirty.  While it is true that the majority of these missed votes came during the 2012 election when Heller had to officially win his seat (which he did), it should be noted that Brown had to run a campaign as well, yet managed to miss only one vote.  Also, campaigning to keep one’s job should hardly be an excuse to miss time at said job.
            Brown has also not been afraid to cross the aisle when it comes to voting on legislation as well.  The issue most in the news the past few days has been the failure of the Senate to ratify the United Nations treaty to ban discrimination against disabled individuals.  Any treaty must pass the Senate with two-thirds of the votes, which today is sixty-seven.  Every Democrat voted in favor of the treaty, but they needed sixteen Republicans to vote for it as well.  Only eight, however, did so, Brown among them.  In fact, a study conducted by Congressional Weekly found that Brown was the second most bipartisan senator of the past two years, voting with his party only 54% of the time. 
            The purpose of this post is not to disparage Warren.  Hopefully she will become a leader in the Democratic Party and serve her state well.  But politics, particularly Congressional politics, is a numbers game.  While each party always wants to be in the majority, neither can ever have all the seats in either the House or the Senate.  Because of this, the number of seats a party holds is no more important than who holds the seats of the opposing party.  Democrats would have been justified in cheering if Warren defeated Tom Coburn, an extremely conservative Republican senator, but instead Warren removed one of the most moderate Republicans, which will only result in the party becoming more polarized, at least in the Senate.          
  , a wonderful website which tracks members of Congress and virtually every piece of legislation proposed, charts all senators by a leadership score on the y-axis and an ideology score on the x-axis.  Brown does not score particularly high in the leadership score, but the main area of interest is the ideology score.  Brown is ranked as the third most moderate Republican behind Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins (ranked the most bipartisan senator in the aforementioned study), both from Maine.  However, with Snowe’s retirement and Brown’s defeat, this leaves Collins as the only truly moderate Republican left in the Senate.  Due to the fact that the Democrats still do not have a filibuster-proof super-majority, the party needs to find Republicans to compromise with, of which there are now two fewer. 
             One can hope that this is not the end of Brown’s political career.  Given his bipartisan history and strong support for veteran rights and outright, a savvy political move by President Obama could be to appoint him to a post in the Department of Veterans Affairs.  This would not only keep the political career of an important moderate Republican alive, but also show a willingness and ability by Obama to work with Republicans on important issues. 
            I wish Elizabeth Warren the best of luck when her six year term begins in January, but I also mourn the loss of an important entrepȏt into bipartisan compromise.  Warren can make up for this by working with Republicans as opposed to against them.  At this time in our nation’s history, with an unsustainable debt crisis threatening to plunge us into another depression, we Congress to work as a house united, for we all know the saying about a divided house.

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