Amid Chaos, DeFazio and Sanders Seize the Moment

Jeff Alworth

All the best stuff happens behind closed doors.

This past week, those of us in the political cheap seats watched an amazing spectacle over the effort to extend the Bush tax cuts. First there was the Obama-McConnell agreement, delivered as a fait accompli, followed up by the DeFazio/Sanders insurrection. I don't know about anyone else, but I had the sense that we were seeing only the tiniest, made-for-TV parts of what was actually happening--and Peter DeFazio obliquely confirmed it in two discussions he had after the fact. First, here's how he described it on NPR:

"Well, the press, which was down the hall, behind--and we were behind closed doors--could hear the chants of 'just say no' which broke out spontaneously just before I offered my resolution. We had be wrangling for a while, and when I finally stood up to offer it, there was a tremendous amount of, I would say, enthusiasm."

There's a story there, clearly, and Jeff Mapes got part of it when he talked to DeFazio himself:

DeFazio said he talked to a couple of his colleagues about taking a resolution to the House caucus. It was something that hadn't been done in the 24 years he's been in Congress, he said. Such a resolution coming from a member could be seen as a threat to the leadership.

And, in fact, DeFazio, said when he started circulating the resolution among members, he started taking some heat.

"There were some people - not the speaker - but some of the people in leadership were yelling at me," said DeFazio, accusing him of causing mischief.

There's a lot more to the story, and a whole lot more to what's happening among Democrats as they plan to deal with this issue. But even cheap-seaters can read some of the writing on the wall. The midterm "shellacking" has reshuffled the deck of negotiators in Washington. For the first two years, Obama worked mainly with the blue dogs and (futilely) with moderate Republicans. After the midterms, he decided to just work with the Republicans. Among Dems, the liberals have been willing (if not always happy) to go along with deals struck in the Senate. But with Obama dealing directly with Republicans, the liberals are jumping ship. Neither Bernie Sanders nor Peter DeFazio are among the leadership, but for one week, they seized the moment.

Politics seem to be getting very interesting.

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    The party has already split. See what Obama does, not what he says and it is clear that progressive can't trust him. There is too much at stake to play his game another day. Sign me hippie punched just one time too many.

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      I don't mean to be rude, but this is a little crazy. I think liberals need to get some perspective on this. No president in the 20th century would pass these purity tests. Clinton? One of the least progressive Dems in the 20th Century, preceded perhaps by Carter. JFK/LBJ, who started a war that really did split the party--no. Truman? Well, he nuke the Japanese. I have to think you'd ding Obama on that one.

      FDR--okay, now we're talking. But of course, FDR had 12 years and a World War to work with. And even he made some fairly important illiberal blunders.

      Liberals can feel betrayed all they want. But it suggests to me that they weren't very serious if they're willing to give up after two of the most successful years in the past half century.

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        I fundamentally disagree w/ your rosy picture of Obama as do many great progressive thinkers. I don't think you should be so confident in your assessment,

        The nature of the office of the president combined with the timing of Obama taking office (8 yrs of Bush and decades of failed economic policy) allowed him to pass a fair amount of positive legislation. However when you compare what was done to what could have been done w/ control of both houses of Congress and a lot of political capitol, it doesn't seem so awesome to a lot of people.

        Obama has proven himself to be a corporatist. Thom Hartmann likes to say that we were hoping for FDR and got Bill Clinton.

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          A lot of things don't seem awesome to a lot of people. And during FDR's time, he was also constantly attacked from the left. So what?

          Get into specifics, Joshua. Describe the presidents who have done better. Describe the ways in which Obama failed. Otherwise it's just gauzy fantasy.

          I'm happy to ding Obama where he deserves to be. I was disappointed with the Afghanistan build-up, his increased drone strikes, and much of his bellicose and secretive foreign policy.

          But legislatively? He had about a year with a filibuster-proof majority and a Senate determined to use those filibusters in unprecedented ways. Obama's not the messiah--he has to work with Congress. How would you expect him to have done things?

          Specifics, please.

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            Failures off the top of my head---increased troops, increased time in Afghanistan!, increased surveillance, appealed a good DADT ruling, set up commissions for the deficit with non-liberals, started personally referring to SS as an entitlement, undermined reproductive rights, e.g. no abortion in high risk groups, no birth control as preventative care, delayed environmental regulations, put into place entities to process claims of people effected by the BP spill which cut their recovery, no serious prosecution of BP, increased hunting down of 1st Am speech, fake net neutrality, and let's not even get into the debacle of the public option.

            He's a player who says he supports this, is open to that and then when he has done the opposite, says he was forced to do it. When we call him on it, he yells at us.

            Specifics are many and obvious. The main think I would have wanted was for him to be candid. But he has been too cute for his britches and not too effective at that.

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              Forgot to mention: glacial pace to even nominate candidates for the many Federal judicial openings at levels below the Supreme Court, including here in the 9th Circuits. (In fairness, this appears to be a Wyden failure as well.)

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            No American President has accomplished less with such sizable legislative majorities.

            No American President, having been elected with a sizable legislative majority, has ever lost that majority as quickly as this President.

            He's not the messiah, but to suggest as you have, that the last 2 years have been among the most successful in the past century, is laughable.

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              I'm not going to look into every president, but this is flatly wrong. Clinton had 57 Senators and 272 Congressmen. Carter had 61 Senators and 292 Congressmen. And that's just the last two.

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                I didn't say no President had larger majorities. I said that no President has accomplished less with the majorities Obama has had.

                Clinton, for example, expanded rather than reduced the EITC; increased, rather than cut taxes on the wealthiest 1 percent; passed the Brady Bill; and helped to lay the foundation for the one of the largest economic expansions we have experienced in my lifetime.

                Obama has contributed to a greater destabilization of social security; his health care reform bill increases rather than decreases long-term actual medical costs; has reduced EITC; has cut taxes on the wealthiest 1 percent; and has overseen two of the largest transfers of wealth from the Federal treasury to the banking and insurance industries in history.

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                  We've got one Obama critic who says, "we were hoping for FDR and got Bill Clinton."

                  And we've got another Obama critics who points to Bill Clinton as an example of how Obama could have been more progressive.

                  Not sure what it means, but it sure is interesting.

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            Jeff: I could fill page after page with well-supported critiques of Obama from a multitude of smart well respected progressives like Amy Goodman, Glenn Greenwald, David Sirota, Thom Hartman, Arianna Huffington, and Drew Westen just to name a few. After all I’m just a run of the mill political junkie… these people actually have the credentials. So I’ll let you use the Google if you’re really interested in these critiques. Congressional Dems certainly deserve plenty of the blame as well. Do you remember when the Republican controlled Senate and they thought the Dems were abusing the filibuster? They threatened them w/ the nuclear option and then carried on with the Bush agenda. Call me crazy but w/ after winning the presidency w/ a huge margin of victory, w/ a 78-vote majority in the house, an 18-vote majority in the Senate, I thought we could do much better and so do a lot incredibly intelligent progressives who know their history and know our political system. Here we find ourselves still in two stupid wars, a healthcare system for the health insurance companies, and passing the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires…while the Democrats still own DC. Sweeeeeet!

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        The ObamaDems are not up to the task and there is reason for wholesale despair if they are the only vehicle forward. I have long moved past betrayal.

        Let's see what can be done today on the proposed tax extension and the multitude of other provisions. No one holds out much hope that these players can say no. Let's see what we can do to dissuade them from this bad deal.

        But no, I think many of us are deadly serious about wanting real change with a real president and a real Congress that doesn't rule for the top 2%. Since you don't see or minimize the problem, or simply want to marginalize those of us who are completely disgusted with Obama and the Congressional Dems with few exceptions and what they do, then you can at least see why I say the party has already split. Being against the GOP is not enough to unite progressives when as soon as you listen to Obama (or worse watch what he does!!!) you are now thinking of him as being right in there with the GOP.


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          I'm not minimizing anything. I'm just pointing out that no American president has ever met the standard you've set. Which is fine. If you want to feel betrayed, that's certainly your right. I just find it wholly unpersuasive.

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            Jeff, you do see how every thinking person should give up any hope of any progressive change if what you say is true. The standard I held up was to keep some semblance of acting on what you said you would do as a candidate and what you do in office. Why bother voting? No matter how you vote, the winners are going to be knaves of one stripe or another.

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              "No matter how you vote, the winners are going to be knaves of one stripe or another."

              Yes, of course. Barack Obama is EXACTLY like John McCain.

              No difference at all.

              No point in voting.


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                Different strokes for different folks, Kari.

                Obama failed in ways that McCain would not have and visa versa.

                I AM going to vote, I'm just not interested in voting for a phony I know who if he had capacity, is not using it. And it never stops---e.g. we are going to get another Goldman Sachs guy to replace Summers. Our president does not take his counsel from the left. And he is running us down as a country just as assuredly as Reagan did. The problem is that we will be too weakened to come back down the line.

                Like I said, the Democratic party has split.

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                (And Kari, what I said was that IF Jeff was right there was no reason to vote.) I obviously don't think he is right.

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        If you believe that the last 2 years have been successful, I'd hate to see your definition of failure.

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    The new equation has some pluses for both the Dem House and the President. Presidents always do better when they run against Congress. And freed from the responsibilities of actual governance the House Dems can be free to take their positions without compromise. And the House GOP is going to be ugly,very ugly, enslaved to their rabid right teabagger base, they are going to be incapable of any kind of responsible action. And the favorability numbers are already very poor for the GOP, despite the election they are worse than the Dems. It would be nice if DeFazio actually took some leadership responsibility instead of his perennial role as an ineffectual rabble rousing prima donna.

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    If the "triangulation" speculation is correct and Obama is pushing off the left, the left pushing back may actually strengthen Obama's bargaining position I think. We will see what happens this week. I'm really proud Pete DeFazio is representing Oregon in this fight. I hope for some more surprises and for the +250 K tax cuts and the estate tax stuff to disappear. :-)

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    Okay, one last thing. I actually thought more about Sal's comment that "no American President has accomplished less with such sizable legislative majorities." I think a lot of Dems believe Obama had unprecedented majorities in Congress, but by midcentury standards, they were puny. JFK and LBJ had majorities of 2/3s in the Senate. FDR had MASSIVE majorities--76 (of 96) in the Senate in 1935. Only Truman had to work with divided congresses.

    As I mentioned above, Carter had bigger majorities than Obama, and Clinton's first two years were roughly what Obama's were (Obama had 60 Senate votes for only about a year).

    Despite that, Obama got health care through, expanded SCHIF and covered 4 million kids, got a stimulus through, saved GM, done a bunch of good government things, increased student loans, negotiated START, risked prestige by going to Copenhagen, and supported progressive bills in the House that never made it through the Senate. And this isn't his presidency, just his first to years.

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      Well stated for correcting the record, Jeff. the handwringers and despair mongers like to make up their own gloom and doom picture. I think in this case we are witnessing actually how little influence DeFazio actually has at this moment. The House will pass this bill this week, maybe with a tweek or two, or maybe not. It will be done with a majority of GOP votes and some Dems. But it will happen because the only alternative is a worse one, handing it entirely to the new GOP House. If DeFazio were serious about leadership he would have been working at building coalitions instead of being a bomb throwing loud mouth, which is about all he's accomplished in his career.

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    Anybody who thought Barack Obama was going to run over the Republicans wasn't paying attention.

    I firmly believe that the broad outlines of a person's personality - their basic view of the world - is fixed by the time they leave college.

    At Harvard, Barack Obama became the first black president of the Law Review -- through the support of the conservatives, who thought he was a moderate they could work with (as compared to those radical lefties that had run the place.)

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    The bottom line of all this is that from FDR's time right on through Nixon we were in an era of progressive taxation, dimunition of disparity of wealth, growing middle class, health insurance expansion provided not by subsidizung private insurance but by providing public insurance, separation of investment from commercial banking, strong labor organizing as both parties were opposed to jobs going overseas, civil rights advancements, strong environmental legislation (early '70s), expansion of social security (under both parties)...

    But now, we get half-measures that can be arrived at only by taking two steps back. And we're supposed to be happy about this?

    We need leadership that says we will asccept nothing other than moves back toward the domestic policies of FDR through Nixon.

    (Forget about the nastional security state and foreign policy- with few exceptions, these areas have always been indefensible as regards US policy).

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      Well, Stephen, all those measures you laud started out as half-measures. That's politics. Did you think Obama was lying when he pointed out how Medicare and Social Security began life? Or how many decades it took for blacks to get full rights under the law?

      I'm no moderate, but I recognize that our system means change comes in bits. You want dramatic change, you have to be willing to start with "half measures." That's how it's always been.

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        Jeff- refresh my memory, as I don't recall FDR having to make concessions to the reactionary party in order to get SS enacted. Nor do I recall LBJ having to make concessions in order to get Medicare.

        Sure, it's arguable that Dems lost the South due to civil rights legislation, but that was a reaction within the Southern voting population itself, of course.

        Obama has given away the inheritance tax, he's given up on progressive taxation, he's opened the SS trust fund to being used as a political tool (the most dangerous thing in this) and he's actually negotiated an increase in tax on the poorest working Americans (as the ending of the Make-Work-Pay credit will not be made up for by the FICA "holiday").

        And the $900 bil. added to the debt will enable the GOP to have an excuse, in near future, to go after all the social programs.

        This is real bad.

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          I would be more to the point to say that Obama doesn't even advocate public (single-payer) which is what Medicare is; doesn't even advocate a return to Glass-Steagall; doesn't even advocate progressive taxation; doesn't even advocate fair trade.

          So, by half-measures that we get today I mean that we aren't even given the possibility of advocacy, from the White House, for measures that were in place for decades.

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    Do we have to accept that Ronald Reagan has changed the world, forever?

    I hope not.

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