Biden reflects on GOP party discipline

BIDEN REFLECTS ON GOP PARTY DISCIPLINE…. Vice President Biden spoke at an event in his home town earlier, hoping to help raise some money for Chris Coons’ (D) Senate campaign. Biden raised an interesting point about the chamber he served in for several decades.

VP Joe Biden on Monday accused Senate GOPers of holding their top members’ votes hostage in exchange for ranking committee posts, assailing the GOP as sitting “on the sidelines” while the economy nearly collapsed.

“I know at least 7 [GOP] senators, who I will not name, but were made to make a commitment under threat of losing their chairmanships, if they did not support the leadership on every procedural vote,” Biden said at a fundraiser Monday night.

“Every single thing we did, from the important to the not so important, required for the first time in modern American history, majority votes required 60 votes. All the sudden a majority became 60 instead of 50,” the VP added, according to a pool report of the event.

The RNC said something about this being “a scurrilous accusation,” though the party didn’t exactly deny it, either.

Is it really so far-fetched? Back in October, when Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) was weighing how to vote on health care reform, word went out that the ranking member post on Senate Commerce Committee was up for grabs, and if Snowe wanted it, she had to toe the party line. One unnamed GOP senator on the committee told a reporter, “A vote for healthcare would be something that would weigh on our minds when it came time to vote” on which senator got the slot.

Two months later, Snowe filibustered a motion to proceed, filibustered to prevent a vote, and opposed the legislation — and never could explain why.

Indeed, there are widespread rumors that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) shifted away from cooperation on reform and towards belligerence immediately after his Republican colleagues made it clear that his future committee assignments were in jeopardy if he worked with Dems to pass a reform bill.

It often goes overlooked, but it’s worth remembering that the Senate Republican caucus, unlike Senate Democrats, have mechanisms in place to enforce party unity and discipline. When Democrats break party ranks on key bills, there are no consequences. Those who let GOP leaders down, however, know in advance that enticements like committee positions are very much on the line.

But this need not be considered criticism, though Biden almost certainly meant as such. Matt Yglesias explained that it’s entirely “sensible” for a political party to “demand that its members support the party leadership on procedural votes.”

Had the Democratic caucus adopted such a rule, the White House, the leadership, and the members themselves would have been spared an awful lot of headaches and the country would be in much better shape. After all, every member of the caucus puts some value on his or her ability to secure chairmanships of committees and subcommittees, so such a rule could very plausibly have swiftly led to the creation of a norm against filibustering your own party’s initiatives. Vote “no” on final passage if you like, but vote with the leadership on process.

We should be so lucky.