February 2nd, 2009
06:05 PM ET

Today's statesmen, tomorrow's spenders

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Amy Holmes
AC360° Contributor, CNN Political Analyst

Yesterday, on the Sunday talk shows, Democrats unveiled their new stimulus talking point. The Democratically-led House may have added unnecessary, interest group spending, but "The Senate" (unfurl the flags and blare the trumpets here) is where legislation goes to be improved upon by the gray-haired wise men and women of the greatest deliberative body.

Uh, what?

In my three years working for then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, I recalled pitched battles where Senators of both parties attempted to lard up bills with unrelated and, often times, unnecessary spending. Remember the Bridge to Nowhere? That boondoggle came to you via Alaska's Senator Ted Stevens.

My former boss even urged the President to threaten a veto on the emergency Katrina relief bill back in 2006 because Senators were going hogwild. In fact, the Republican-led House bill totaled less than the President's request, while the Senate version exceeded it by $14.4 billion. Some extraneous items managed to get cut like $15 million for seafood promotion and $1million for a study of Hawaiian dams and reservoirs. But Senators did not show superior restraint to their House counterparts. My former boss, it should be said, did, and voted against the lard-ridden legislation.

I called my former colleague, Marty Gold, the unofficial dean of the Senate who teaches incoming Senators the legislative ropes, and who has literally written the text book on Senate procedure. I asked him what he thought about the new Democratic talking point on the upcoming Senate debate. He was elegant, but blunt.

"It's not that the Senators are inherently more politically mature. They're cut from the same the cloth, but are operating in chambers where different rules apply. Once you get into these pork barrel emergency bills, then the normal deliberative process goes out the window. It's their natural instinct to do that."

So who puts the brakes on?

"If the idea is that the Senate is a break on the House, it requires a filibuster sustaining minority. You need a Senate minority that has sufficient power, or a White House veto. In this case, the President is not likely to apply the brakes. If he gets a bipartisan bill, it will be because bipartisanship was forced by the rules of the chamber. Senate Democrats are dealing because they have to deal. If they didn't, you'd see the same interest groups. Look, many of the same Senators came from the House."

And as for President Obama's overtures to Republicans? The Super Bowl watch party, and paying the Republican caucus a visit. Marty points out that it's smart politics. "A bipartisan vote helps to neutralize Republicans. And if they resist his overtures, it makes them look small. He can say he tried and got the back of the hand. He has every incentive to reach out."

And one last thing, Marty pointed out that if you give the Democratic majority what they really want - a filibuster-proof majority - today's talk of sober bipartisanship will be a quaint and distant memory. Without the political restraint of a potential filibuster, the restraints on the majority evaporate.

So, Norm, if you're reading this blog out there in Minnesota, Senate Republicans are counting on you to keep up the fight.

And Judd, get that Senate seat deal signed, sealed and delivered before you make the Commerce post yours.

Filed under: Amy Holmes • Economy • Raw Politics
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Moe Peak

    As a Canadian what I see is that Obama needs to stick to his message and show the people what is really going on ,does anybody in a certain group really want Obama to turn things around or see him fail. This is sad to see happening, a divided house will not stand. Is it the United states or divided states. You get what you ask for keep going down this path and the country will not recover, Change what change ,Whites on one side Blacks on the other.

    February 3, 2009 at 1:27 am |
  2. J.V.Hodgson

    If the House and Senate continue to play the pork game within the recovery and stimulus plan, be they Democrats or Republicans, watch the ratings of each party change whoever tries to pull that off.
    Obama needs to come out and say he will veto anything that smells porky and in the updated TARP, he'd better tell lobbyists to stay out of it as well, thats why the first half was so much rubbish, and typical of Republican free market thinking, hence the messy follow up fallout.
    There has to be a way of forcing politicians of all types to vote issues and not be allowed them to bribe themselves to give their vote to the party policy line.

    February 3, 2009 at 12:21 am |
  3. Annie Kate

    It doesn't sound like the Senate will get the pork out of the bill but that we'll end up with more. Where is the oft expressed desire to not leave our children a deficit that will take their lifetime and perhaps more to pay? Maybe that just applies to that other Senator's or congressperson's pork and not to their own? This bill was supposed to be well targeted towards the problems we have in the economy while using some of the other issues we face as vehicles to get jobs and to get where we need to be. There should not be bridges to nowhere, or the sodding of golf courses, or any other lard item with no job creation. Just once I'd like to see Congress do what they are suppose to do.

    February 2, 2009 at 9:08 pm |
  4. Sheila

    I do not want to be a story on CNN of how I lost my house and how I'm dealing. I am on the verge of not being able to make my house payments and I want to know where is all the help, reported in the News. I'd like a group of people in my situation to get together, as a group and present our problem to CountryWide Mortgage. Female? Single? All reported as harder to get help! We need to get together and get help before it's too late! I would like to go to Washington D.C. in person to talk to these people who are controlling the Mortgage workout programs. I Do Not want to lose my house! Salary decreases, everything is very expensive and rising. Help us Now!

    February 2, 2009 at 8:26 pm |
  5. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    This Republican just wrote to her senators asking them to use restraint before agreeing to put our children and grandchildren in greater debt while serving special interests. The sad thing is, my democratic senator is pushing her own pork project with the Corps of Engineers in our state as part of this stimulus. There's a time and place to fund Corps projects. A stimulus bill so that Americans can work, feel safe about spending, and know they will have jobs in the future just isn't that time and place. Guess she's been a democrat from New Orleans who's been in DC for too long to know any better.

    February 2, 2009 at 7:23 pm |