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How A Minority Holds Sway

I read with keen interest James Freeman’s interview [1] with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal titled “The Power of 41 Senators”. Although being in the majority is always more effective than the minority, McConnell (along with the entire Congress) has an impressive record (I can’t believe I’m saying this about our Congress) of successfully implementing a rather conservative agenda while remaining in the minority. Why is that? As McConnell states:

“The good news is that 49 is not a bad number in a body that requires 60. The United States Senate is the only legislative body in the world where a majority is not enough.”

The reason, of course, is the Senate’s cloture rules. 60 votes are needed to force a bill to the Senate floor. And this fact may not be enough to serve Republicans after this years election, however, unless the party can hold anough of the 23 Republican Senate seats that are up for grabs in November. The print edition of the article had a side comment headline that read “The filibuster may be the only tool Republicans have in 2009”. Indeed. Later, he also commented that it only takes 34 to sustain a Bush veto, which only serves us if we keep a Republican in the White House. More on this in a bit.

McConnell went on to comment on current issues pending before Congress, including the bill passed by the House to bail-out home-owners and lenders:

Whether or not Americans want a housing bailout, Mr. McConnell says, depends largely on how the question is framed. “I think if you ask the question, ‘Do you think taxpayers’ money should be used to bail out either lenders or borrowers who made bad decisions?,’ people would say overwhelmingly, ‘No.'”

He also discussed tax policy, and (this was enlightening to me) that Democrats are promoting a plan similar to Herbert Hoovers which mixed tax increases and trade restrictions. This starts to clear up (as emphasized by McConnell) the fact that Pelosi is blocking consideration of the Colombian Free Trade Agreement. Here I thought the House Speaker was just accidentally plain dumb. Turns out it’s on purpose.

The interview includes other great comments around Taxes and the Wiretapping issues. All around a good read.

Most disappointing is the fact (and I understand it, but…) that McConnell, like many in the party, is pretty convinced that Republicans are not going to recover the majority in the Senate (or house) this year. Distressing to me is the fact that there is a solid story to tell, and distinctly favorable distinctions for Republicans to draw if the party can just get it’s collective stuff together and put it in front of the people. However, as most of us know already, having McCain at the front of the parade is distracting that message because the distinction is lost in him. A total of 35 Senate seats (12 are currently held by Democrats) are up for election this year. The fight for these seats is significantly more critical and worthy of financing than the presidency is. If Congress is lost to a leftward super-majority, it won’t really matter much who the President is (although a Republican President should still provide better Supreme Court nominees).

The message here is, let’s not fall into the trap the Democrats have and fight amongst ourselves about what’s already done, let’s focus on what we can effectively do with what we have. We still have an opportunity to have an effective impact, we should not squander it.