What We Need: A Do Nothing Congress

Brian Beutler has a terrific run down of what went wrong tactically with the Democratic Congress last week (S-CHIP, FISA, etc.) But Beutler still is looking at the tactical picture and looking at a Congress that he wants to do something. The problem is that, and this is true, they do not have the votes to do something in contested areas like S-CHIP, Iraq funding and FISA. This mistaken focus is exemplified here:

There is no hypothetical package of enticements the Democrats can offer a Republican that outweigh the price that that Republican will pay within his own party. He'll only be treated leniently when his party bosses realize that, if they don't let him vote with the opposition, he might lose his seat. At some point the Republicans realized something crucial: That, for now anyhow, upholding the veto is politically neutral. . . .

What does this mean? It means that even on issues as politically popular as S-CHIP, Bush can stop all Democratic initiatives. The question is then what can the Democrats do? Simply this, END all the Bush travesties. Iraq, FISA, etc. By using the power of the purse and NOT funding them. More.

The question then becomes, as always, a political one, for the Democrats. How would such a counterintuitive strategy of achievement, of NOT doing, be sold politically?

KagroX writes today about Iraq funding:

In the meantime, Bush uses the same old leverage to scare the Dems -- the ones who won office to oppose this sort of nonsense -- into standing the Constitution on its head, and feeling "forced" to rubber stamp whatever ridiculous request the president makes.

The WaPo correctly describes the landscape:

The Democrats who won control of Congress last year on the back of public opposition to the Iraq war instantly denounced Bush's spending plan and ridiculed him for seeking so much for the conflicts after vetoing the expansion of a children's health insurance program just weeks earlier. But Bush's proposal will force Democrats to confront the politically volatile choice of again following his lead or refusing to provide everything he wants. What's more, the debate may play out just as the presidential nominating campaigns reach their climax. Although Bush wants the spending approved within two months, Democrats said the military does not need the money until early February, and they do not anticipate acting until early next year. Presidential voting begins with Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3 and the nominations could be sealed when voters in about 22 states cast ballots Feb. 5.
How do you see this one ending?

If one accepts the analytical structure that Beutler adopts, that Congress must do "something," to have political achievements, then indeed the ending is easy to see. But if a different understanding can be brought to bear, then the ending can be quite different.

The Power of Doing Nothing must be understood and embraced. It is the the only tool available now.

And this produces a dilemma for the Democratic base and progressives, online and off. How to pressure, through carrots and sticks, to produce this change of perspective? I hope at the least we can all embrace these Democratic representatives:

Dear Mr. President: Seventy House Members wrote in July to inform you that they will only support appropriating additional funds for U.S. military operations in Iraq during Fiscal Year 2008 and beyond for the protection and safe redeployment of our troops out of Iraq before you leave office. Now you are requesting an additional $45 billion to sustain your escalation of U.S. military operations in Iraq through next April, on top of the $145 billion you requested for military operations during FY08 in Iraq and Afghanistan. Accordingly, even more of us are writing anew to underscore our opposition to appropriating any additional funds for U.S. military operations in Iraq other than a time-bound, safe redeployment as stipulated above.
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    FISA (5.00 / 2) (#1)
    by Ben Masel on Tue Oct 23, 2007 at 10:21:32 AM EST
    Not a matter of funding there, but doing nothing lets last summer's awful bill expire in February. This means letting the "necessary" authority to monitor foreign to foreign calls routed through the US expire. I've got no problem with giving innocent overseas callers the same statutory protection as US persons, ie show probable cause, get a specific warrant, but does the Dem Congress have the nerve to stiff ATT and face the "protecting the terrorists" noise at the same time?

    Recent history suggest (none / 0) (#2)
    by TexDem on Tue Oct 23, 2007 at 10:44:41 AM EST

    Bush knows it too (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by Alien Abductee on Tue Oct 23, 2007 at 04:45:33 PM EST
    That's why he keeps taunting Dems to do something, like this:

    President Bush on Wednesday delivered a scathing assessment of their performance, accusing lawmakers of dragging their feet on legislation ranging from trade deals and domestic surveillance to federal spending and children's health.

    "We're now more than halfway through October, and the new leaders in Congress have had more than nine months to get things done for the American people," Mr. Bush said in his opening remarks at a White House news conference. "Unfortunately, they haven't managed to pass many important bills. Now the clock is winding down, and in some key areas Congress is just getting started."

    In the circus that passes for American politics, Democrats need to do quite a bit more than nothing - they need to be seen to be actively trying to pass their own valuable agenda and just as actively resisting Bush's harmful one. Both come down to nothing, of course, a stalemate, but the action of standing up, flapping their arms around and shouting "We're doing this! We're doing this!" is needed to stand in for action with the American electorate and rebut Bush's charges that the Democrats are accomplishing nothing.

    Will they do that? The signs aren't promising. Can they not get some creative marketing people to help them at least project the appearance of positive action even if they can't get rid of their sub-normal consultants? Over and over they fall into the trap of needing to be seen to do something, and because they can't do the right thing, do the wrong thing. What they need to do is nothing, but with crusading zeal! Where's their fire? Or at the least their sense of theater?

    BTD (1.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Slado on Tue Oct 23, 2007 at 11:34:58 AM EST
    SCHIP is not as popular as democrats would like.  

    When presented with the details most people support Bush.

    When asked to support SCHIP with only the information that the media gives them they support democrats.

    That's why it will never pass as is and the dems will predictably fold and take what they can get.

    If they don't then it only shows that they could care less about children and only want to increase government.

    Dear Slado. (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by kindness on Tue Oct 23, 2007 at 02:00:28 PM EST
    What color is the sky where you live?  I've never been to upside down world, but you seem to live there.

    You use a Gallup pole to claim a majority of citizens don't support S-CHIP.  I've seen several poles from many regions.  They all have had clear majorities supporting the program.

    Then you suggest that it's the Democrats who hate kids and want to increase government.  Uhhhh...S-CHIP allows parents to buy PRIVATE INSURANCE, not single payer government health care.  And the Dems hate kids part.....The program was passed by a bipartisan majority in both the House & Senate & vetoed by a Republican wanna be King. Jesus, I can't believe I'd even be a part of debating that with anyone.

    Clearly, you win the prize for this morning.


    Post (1.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Wile ECoyote on Tue Oct 23, 2007 at 02:33:03 PM EST
    a link to a pole or a poll or even a Pole.

    Excuse my poor spelling. (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by kindness on Tue Oct 23, 2007 at 03:34:49 PM EST
    Need poll results?  Google it.

    What we also need (none / 0) (#3)
    by Edger on Tue Oct 23, 2007 at 11:03:50 AM EST
    is a "do something" electorate.

    An electorate that will hold the Democratic Congress' feet to the fire, force them to "do nothing", and Never Give An Inch until these complicit cowards DO what they were hired in November 2006 to do.

    It's almost too late now.

    A Time for Action and a Time for Obstruction (none / 0) (#5)
    by Chris Andersen on Tue Oct 23, 2007 at 01:01:34 PM EST
    There are times when the job of a political body is to be active in producing legislation (in the case of Congress) or enacting policy (in the case of the President). But there are times, such as the present situation, when one political body (the Congress) simply cannot be proactive in its work because there is a roadblock in the way (Bush).

    Such times require, as BTD points out, a different strategy. If you can't pro--actively push forward the legislation/policy that you want then at least you can minimize the damage of the policy/legislation you hate by becoming a roadblock.

    Think Clinton after 1994. His ability to pro-actively enact policy was severely limited by the Republican congress. Clinton recognized this limitation and he worked within by acting as a brake on the unwise policies of Congress (think the shutdown of the federal government, which effectively derailed the Gingrich program).

    The fundamental mistake Democrats have made since 2006 is in thinking that they had the power to act pro-actively. They were (and are) naive. What's more, the people didn't elect them to pass a minimum wage, expand S-CHIP and do many other things (even though they might approve of those things). The people elected the Democrats to put the brakes on George Bush.

    There are times that call for action and there are times that call for obstruction. Now is one of the later times.

    So start obstructing dammit!

    Isn't doing NOTHING Congress's natural state? (none / 0) (#10)
    by Sanity Clause on Tue Oct 23, 2007 at 10:48:16 PM EST
    NOTHING will stop the Bush neo-cons from preaching fear and hatred to feed their greed and arrogance. As long as they can chant the slogans, they can drum up the fear and hate that work so well to motivate voters, reporters and Congresspeople of a certain ilk, background or naivete.  Will the Democrats in Congress still fear this empty rhetoric after seven years of fear-mongering?  Of course they will!

    UNLESS "we, the people" can transcend the media hype, the drumbeat of jingoism, and the name-calling and recast the legislative process as what it should be: a PROCESS, and a patriotic one, at that.  Instead of "all or nothing" proclamations from the White House, actual legislation could be discussed.  Proposals are offered; offers are made and rejected; counter-offers are proposed.  Discussion, debate, investigation, negotiation, and thoughtful consideration ensue.  What a concept!

    The Dems in Congress and on the Presidential campaign trail need to sell such a process to the media as the normal course of business.  Thence (did I really say "thence?"), the PROCESS of NOT funding the occupation (beyond what's already been appropriated - which will fund withdrawal operations quite comfortably, I'm sure) will NOT sound like NOT supporting the troops while NOT sounding too negative.  I propose calling such action (or inaction) in response to the President's and the Defense Department's requests a "Legislative Veto" in each and every media event and press release while simultaneously castigating the media for being right-wing parrots (what the heck, it seems to work for the other guys) thereby putting the media on the defensive while imbuing Congress's deliberate refusal to act (all part of the PROCESS, after all) with an air of respectability equal to the esteem of the President's ultimate threat.  By putting a "the door's always open" but "not without my conditions" spin on this thing, those Congresspersons too reluctant, too timid, or too intimidated to vote FOR deadlines (knowing they would be vetoed, or fearing that their reputations might somehow be tarnished back home) can do the will of the people and shift the burden of compromise back to the White House.