Monday, December 29, 2008

A Look at the Outgoing Senate, The Fillibuster

The 2007/2008 session of congress is still winding down (it won't be officially done until January), but I thought we'd take a look at some statistics from the Senate this post. The Senate is often said to be 100 different independent parties operating within one body and that is evident when you look at the statistics. Thanks to the National Journal for the voting record information. In our scoring +100 Liberal is a perfect liberal voting record, +100 Conservative is a perfect Conservative

Here are our awards for the session:
(1) Liberal Stalwarts
No, it isn't Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, sorry conservatives.
Here is the top 10:
1. Sen. Kennedy (D) -- MA -- +90% Liberal
2. Sen. Boxer (D) -- CA -- +90% Liberal
3. Sen. Reed (D) -- RI -- +87% Liberal (the OTHER Reed)
4. Sen. Durbin (D) -- IL -- +82% Liberal
5. Sen. Harkin (D) -- IA -- +81% Liberal
6. Sen. Leahy (D) -- VT -- +78% Liberal
7. Sen. Sanders (Socialist) -- VT -- +76% Liberal (yes, the Socialist is the SECOND most liberal member of the Vermont delegation)
8. Sen. Mikulski (D) -- MD -- +75% Liberal
9. Sen. Lautenberg (D) -- NJ -- +74% Liberal
10. Sen. John Kerry (D) -- MA -- +72% Liberal

Note: Obama is +70% liberal, which would rank him 13th most liberal in the Senate. Hillary Clinton is +50% liberal, which would rank her 29th most liberal in the Senate. Independent Joe Lieberman ranks a +33% liberal, 37th most liberal in the Senate.

(2) Conservative Stalwarts
1. Sen. Sessions (R) -- AL -- +81% Conservative
2. Sen. Bunning (R) -- KY -- +81% Conservative
3. Sen. Isakson (R) -- GA -- +78% Conservative
4. Sen. Allard (R) -- CO -- +77% Conservative (leaving Senate in Jan)
5. Sen. Chambliss (R) -- GA -- +75% Conservative
6. Sen. Inhofe (R) -- OK -- +73% Conservative
7. Sen. Cornyn (R) -- TX -- +72% Conservative
8. Sen. Coburn (R) -- OK -- +71% Conservative
9. Sen. DeMint (R) -- SC -- +71% Conservative
10. Sen. Kyl (R) -- AZ -- +71% Conservative

Interesting that almost no one in leadership made the top 10 list here. It goes to show that most of the congressional leaders are by necessity, pragmatists.

(3) Most Moderate Senators
1. Sen. Smith (R) -- OR -- +4% Conservative (leaving Senate in Jan)
2. Sen. Nelson (D) -- NE -- +5% Conservative
3. Sen. Specter (R) -- PA -- +6% Liberal
4. Sen. Collins (R) -- MA -- +6% Liberal
5. Sen. Lugar (R) -- IN -- +7% Conservative
6. Sen. Snowe (R) -- MA -- +8% Liberal
7. Sen. Voinovich (R) -- OH -- +14% Conservative
8. Sen. Landrieu (D) -- LA -- +16% Liberal
9. Sen. Warner (R) -- VA -- +16% Conservative (leaving Senate in Jan)
10. Sen. McCain (R) -- AZ -- +16% Conservative

Interesting to note, McCain makes the Top 10 moderate list. We really did have a liberal running against a moderate in November and the liberal won.

(4) Various Distinctions
Most Liberal Republican: Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine -- +8% Liberal
Most Conservative Democrat: Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska -- +5% Conservative
Most Liberal Delegation: Massachussetts -- Senators Kennedy and Kerry average a +81% liberal
Most Conservative Delegation: Georgia -- Isakson and Chambliss average +77% conservative rating
Most Moderate Delegation: Maine -- Both seats held by old school Republican moderates Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, #4 and #6 on our moderate list
Most Polarized Delegation: Iowa -- Sen. Harkin (D) ranks a +81% liberal, Sen. Grassley (R) a +53% conservative
Overall Leaning of the Outgoing Congress -- +3% Liberal
Prediction for the New Congress -- more liberal than that!

So, what can we glean from all of this?
First of all, that party label still doesn't mean everything in the US Senate, like it does in countries with parlimentary systems. Geography and individual views have at least as much influence on governing philosophy as does party. There are still a few true moderates left, although their ranks keep getting smaller with Sen. Gordon Smith (R) losing in Oregon this go around and Sen. Arlen Specter (R) of PA likely to retire. But at least Maine maintains a moderate Republican delegation.

One thing is clear -- party lines do tend to get draw. Democrats and Independents hold all the top liberal spots, Republicans all the top conservative spots. In fact, there is only 1 instance where there is a Democrat more liberal than a Republican -- Sen. Ben Nelson (D) of Nebraska ranks more conservative than Senators Smith (R), Specter (R), Snowe (R) and Collins (R), but not by much.

Another interesting note is Obama's choices for leadership roles:
Sen. Barack Obama (D) -- IL -- +70% liberal
Sen. Joe Biden (D) -- DE -- +58% liberal
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D) -- NY -- +50% liberal
Sen. Ken Salazar (D) -- CO -- +28% liberal

Obama picked Democrats out of the Senate, but all more conservative than his own record. He passed on the liberal John Kerry in favor of more moderate Hillary Clinton.

We will look at the house in a later posting, although analyzing 435 voting records is a lot more complex than 100. What you tend to find in the house is greater polarization as you can run as districts tend to be more ideologically polarized than states. This, combined with the impact of the Voting Rights Act (which mandates black-majority districts that tend to be intensely liberal) and state gerrymandering (which tends to create safe, polarized districts) makes the house more ideological and the senate more contemplative.

Saving the Fillibuster
Now that Democrats firmly control both houses of congress, there is a whisper campaign in left-wing circles to do away with the fillibuster, the so-called "nuclear" or "constitutional" option that the Republicans considered earlier this decade. I opposed Republicans eliminating the fillibuster at the time and I oppose Democrats doing so now. The fillibuster is an important tool in American politics to moderate policy shift when one party controls all of congress and the presidency. While it is not written in the constitution, it is enshrined in American political tradition and should be maintianed. Democrats should look for ways to build bridges with moderate Republicans right now, not look to rule by one-party rule. They will control 58 to 59 seats in the new Senate. Is it too much to ask that they seek to get 1 to 2 Republican votes out of 40 to 41 to gain approval for legislation?

No comments: