My Memory is Better than Ezra’s
Klein has been telling us for weeks now that we DFHs shouldn’t fret about the public option because (a) the enlightened few who genuinely understand the policy nuances, such as Ezra Klein, assure us that it’s unimportant, and; (b) presidents, including those backed by large majorities of their party in both houses, are completely powerless spectators in the legislative process.
To support (b) this morning, he writes:
There’s no successful model for blunting the power of centrists to write — or kill — the final compromise. President after president has found himself foiled by congressional centrists. George W. Bush never truly managed to bring Susan Collins, George Voinovich, or Olympia Snowe to heel. His tax cuts were smaller than he wanted, his Medicare expansion was pricier than conservatives liked, and his attempt to privatize Social Security was batted back.
First, the idea that the Bush tax cuts of 2001, the largest tax cuts in two decades totaling $1.35 trillion, was some kind of bitter compromise the White House was forced to accept under centrist pressure is just ludicrous. Bush got pretty much everything he wanted, and the bill was rammed through the Senate via reconciliation. As for Collins, Voinovich and Snowe? They all voted ‘yea.’
A year later, when Bush decided to preemptively invade Iraq, an act without precedent, he instructed Congress to write a blank check, and promptly got it. Once again, Collins, Voinovich and Snowe all voted ‘yea.’ Those pesky "centrists" that Klein claims got in Bush’s way actually helped the AUMF pass in the Senate, to the tune of 29 Democrats giving Bush his war. The only centrist Republican in the Senate (Lincoln Chafee) was roadkill.
As far as the Medicare bill goes,
Last month, the House passed the measure after Bush made late-night, last-minute phone calls asking members to support it. An unusually long three-hour vote was ended by GOP leaders at 6 a.m., after a 218 to 216 deficit flipped to a 220 to 215 victory.
The Senate’s 54-to-44 vote was not entirely along party lines — 10 Democrats voted in favor and nine Republicans voted no.
So Bush got the Medicare bill passed via Rove’s cajoling and the strong-arm tactics of the GOP House leadership, and Frist again rammed through a bill in the Senate with under 60 votes — with the help of centrist Democrats.
Finally, Bush failed to privatize Social Security because he had zero political capital left after being re-elected by the narrowest margin since 1916, while facing an increasingly violent quagmire in Iraq. It wasn’t a revolt of centrists that thwarted him.
But if Klein really remembers the Bush era as one in which the Bush White House had no success of influencing the outcome of legislation and was consistently held in check by centrists, I’d be happy to play a friendly game of "Concentration" with him any time.