Bayh and the Blue Dogs explain themselves

BAYH AND THE BLUE DOGS EXPLAIN THEMSELVES…. I’ve been critical of efforts from Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and other “centrist” Democrats to organize a new working group to water down President Obama’s domestic agenda. I tried to keep an open mind, though, while reading an op-ed from the group’s leadership — Sens. Bayh, Tom Carper, and Blanche Lincoln — in the Washington Post today.

The three said they “feel compelled to set the record straight,” because their goals, they say, have been misconstrued.

As moderate leaders, it is not our intent to water down the president’s agenda. We intend to strengthen and sustain it. Moderation is not a mathematical process of finding the center for its own sake. Practical solutions are practical because they offer our best chance to make a difference in people’s lives today without forcing our children to pick up the tab tomorrow.

The stakes are too high for Democrats to fear a policy debate. Such debates produce better legislation. On nearly all important votes, a supermajority of 60 senators will be needed to pass legislation. Without Democratic moderates working to find common ground with reasonable Republicans, the president’s agenda could well be filibustered into oblivion.

So, Bayh & Co. will water down make legislation less progressive so Republicans will be less inclined to oppose key bills. Is this a recipe for success? We saw this play out during the stimulus debate, and the result was a weaker and insufficient bill. (Indeed, the same Democrats want to make it easier for Republicans to filibuster health care and energy bills. I wonder why that is?)

This is built on a faulty premise of negotiating from weakness. Democrats start off with a popular president, a popular agenda, and a 58-vote majority. Instead of wondering how to make good legislation worse to make Collins, Snowe, and Specter happy, perhaps the majority party should consider a) reforming the filibuster rules; or b) pressuring Republican “centrists” to vote for good bills that will make them more popular back home.

In 1993, the three of us, as much younger politicians, stood with great expectations as the last Democratic president was sworn in with big plans, a head of steam and a Democratic Congress ready to begin a new progressive era. In less than two years, it all came crashing down, with disillusioned moderate voters handing the GOP broad congressional victories in 1994.

Um, guys? 2009 is not 1993. The party would be wise to start realizing this. Obama has more support than Clinton did 16 years ago, Democrats have more seats than they did 16 years ago, and the broader political dynamic has flipped — Republicans were in ascension then, and are in decline now. Bayh and the Blue Dogs are acting shell-shocked, and it’s clouding their judgment.

Tim Fernholz noted, “It’s a good sign, at least, that Bayh et. al. have faced enough political pressure that they felt it necessary come forward and reiterate their support for the president.” It’s a good point. Perhaps those pressuring the Blue Dogs should keep doing what they’re doing.