PUZZLING OVER HOW THE HELL WE GOT HERE
Ezra Klein had some theories this morning about why so many bills got passed during the lame duck:
...It was the Republicans. DADT repeal passed because Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Scott Brown voted with the Democrats. The tax deal went through because a host of Republicans voted with the Democrats. Same for START, the food-safety bill and the DoD authorization. If the bill helping 9/11 responders get medical benefits passes, that too will be because of Republican support.
The question is why the Republicans didn't just drag their feet and let things expire and then come back to everything in 2011, when they'll have more allies in the Senate and control of the House? ...
The answer, I think, is that there are plenty of Senate Republicans who aren't too comfortable with the class of conservatives who got elected in 2010. These legislators knew they had to stick with McConnell before the election, as you can't win back the majority by handing the president lots of legislative accomplishments. But now that the election was over, the bills that had piled up were, in many cases, good bills, and if they didn't pass now, it wasn't clear that they'd be able to pass later....
Ezra thinks they wanted sensible legislation to pass, so they felt they had to get that legislation passed now. But has it ever seemed as if Republicans, even the so-called reasonable ones, cared about passing good legislation? Not that I can remember.
Big Tent Democrat sees things quite differently:
...The answer actually is that Republicans took credit for the things that help them politically (tax cuts, stopping the spending bill) and avoided blame for things they do not want to be attributed to them....
The repeal of DADT was obviously not a GOP goal, but its passage over their opposition in a lame duck Congress does not hurt them politically. More importantly, it HELPS Republicans like Scott Brown and Susan Collins who are up for reelection in 2012. The political advantages are mixed here though, as it clearly helps Dems as well as they delivered on an important promise....
In terms of the START treaty, blocking it was a clear loser for the GOP because, in the end, they were going to pass it anyway. better it be passed on the perceived Dems' watch now than on the GOP watch later. Plausible deniability. The political calculus was obvious imo.
I do not know anything about the food safety bill in terms of substance, but I'm pretty sure it did not have any political resonance....
In addition, BTD makes the reasonable point that the tax-cut deal pleases Republicans, as does defeating the omnibus. I'll buy that. It's the rest of it I don't get. Do these Party of No folks suddenly care about food safety, or even START? Couldn't the New England Republicans have gotten brownie points for support DADT repeal without it actually passing? And wouldn't it help Republicans in general to have Democrats, especially the president, look ineffectual and weak?
I see a few possibilities. Maybe the Republicans really do feel that they need to seem like a party capable of governing -- maybe they fear looking too much like the petulant government-shutdown party of Gingrich, because they think that was Gingrich's downfall.
Or maybe the GOP apostates are starting to wonder about the rigid-voting-bloc strategy -- when they were doing this in conjunction with the ordinary wingnuts who run the party, those wingnuts tended to support their reelection bids despite their occasional moderate moves; now, however, any apostasy can get you primaried by the even crazier wingnuts of the tea party movement, so, paradoxically, maybe the best strategy is to embrace centrism and get ready to run independent if necessary. (See: Murkowski, Lisa.)
I think it's a mix of this and Republican satisfaction with some of the deals that were cut -- I agree that they won some big victories. But I'm surprised that they didn't go for total victory. I'm surprised they didn't think they could.
UPDATE, THURSDAY: I was just listening to a recap of how the Zadroga 9/11 bill finally got through Congress, and it occurs to me that, while Republicans did bargain it down, they actually didn't have a game plan when Jon Stewart's pressure campaign got traction. We think they can do what they want at will -- I've certainly thought that for a long time -- but they're so used to a complete lack of pushback that when pushback comes, they're caught a bit flat-footed. If they got a little more public pressure from the outside, you think maybe they'd find it just a tad harder to run roughshod over everyone all the time?