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Whither the "Bayh Group"?

One aspect of yesterday's budget votes that's drawing a lot of attention is the fact that Evan Bayh joined Ben Nelson as one of the only two Senate Democrats to vote against the leadership-sponsored resolutions (and for, BTW, an alternative offered by Republican Sen. Mike Johanns).

Nelson's vote was no surprise; he's always voted this way, and he's from Nebraska. But Bayh's another matter--a fairly senior senator with a safe seat, in a state carried by Obama, and a Democrat who was apparently on the short list to become Obama's running-mate last year. Because of his still-relatively-young age and his vote-gathering prowess, Bayh's also been mentioned now and then as a future presidential candidate, and tested the waters pretty thoroughly going into 2008. Ezra Klein dug around in Bayh's voting record today, and concluded that he's simply erratic, unlike Ben Nelson.

Bayh's statement explaining his vote is an expression of straight-forward deficit hawkery. But plenty of other Democratic deficit hawks had no trouble voting for the Democratic budget resolution, most notably the Cassandra of Democratic deficit hawks, Blue Dog Congressman Jim Cooper of TN.

The general feeling in the progressive blogosphere is probably best summed up by Steve Benen at Political Animal: "Yes, Bayh is the new Lieberman." This epithet is made even more piercing by the fact that the actual Joe Lieberman found a way to vote for the Democratic budget resolution.

The more immediate issue for Democrats is that Bayh was the convener of a group of 16 "centrist" Senate Democrats poised to play a key role in the shaping of budget and other legislation for the remainder of this year. The "Bayh group" was already under fierce attack for an alleged willingness to position itself between the two parties and thwart Obama's policy agenda. Some of us have suggested that these attacks were unfair or at least premature, and have tried to distinguish between "centrists" who do want to stand aside from the Democratic Party and cut deals, and those who don't.

Bayh's vote on the budget will provide abundant ammunition to those who want to lump all Democratic "centrists" into the putative-"traitor" camp, even though 14 members of the "Bayh group" voted with the rest of the Democratic Caucus.

Best as I can tell, Bayh's vote was motivated by a sincere horror of deficits and debt, which is so strong that he doesn't mind abandoning his party and indeed, his fellow "centrists" on what was, after all, the most epochal budget vote since at least 1993 and probably since 1981. For that very reason, he ought to step back from his leadership role in the Senate "centrist" group, in favor of senators whose agreement with and loyalty to the Obama agenda is much less in question. If this group remains the "Bayh group," it will struggle to achieve the credibility it needs to become anything other than a crude power bloc looking to shake down the administration and the congressional leadership for personal, ideological, and special-interest favors.

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lump all Democratic "centrists" into the putative-"traitor" camp even though 14 members of the "Bayh group" voted with the rest of the Democratic Caucus

Ed, I think you're misreading the left blogosphere's perspective. It is precisely this kind of random, ride-the-fence vacillation, untethered to any identifiable principle or fiscal rationale, that raises hackles.

This, however, sums said perspective up perfectly:

a crude power bloc looking to shake down the administration and the congressional leadership for personal, ideological, and special-interest favors

Add "and get their mugs on television" and you've got a post fit for the Great Orange Satan.

That's quite a stretch, Ed. If Bayh is such a sincere "deficit hawk" then please explain his support of reducing the so-called death tax.

I agree with the gentleman above. You are completely misreading the objections to Bayh from progressives and others. It isn't a "loyalty test" at all, and it isn't a matter of being a "traitor." The man is without discernible principles. The man is anti-constituent.

Bayh's vote on the budget will provide abundant ammunition to those who want to lump all Democratic "centrists" into the putative-"traitor" camp

You know, Ed, I hope that at some point we can have a discussion without you insider strategists going out of your way to insult us with your glib, willingly obtuse "misunderstanding" of online progressives and centrists and what we are trying to do. I guess you gain some cred with your more right-of-center media buddies when you piss off "the libruls" but at some point that isn't going to work any more.

Will you try to meet us halfway for a more constructive discussion? That would entail you actually listening and trying to understand what the objections to Bayh's position is.

Nothing is more irritating to this old-time labor Democrat than for my perfectly reasonable positions to be constantly mischaracterized. It isn't getting us anywhere that we want to be when you keep doing that.

Here's a little item Ed, that maybe you can address with respect to "sincere" Evan Bayh:

Thanks to the efforts of Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) and others, a bill allowing bankruptcy judges to cram-down mortgage payments for troubled homeowners hasn’t seen the light of day since it passed the House in early March. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is actually thinking of pulling the cram-down provision from the legislation, since it has met such fierce resistance, fueled by a misinformation campaign based on Mortgage Bankers Association talking points.

This is the kind of stuff, anti-constituent and anti- big D Democratic, that people find objectionable. Please explain to me, during these very, very tough times, that Bayh would play this kind of game. What "sincere", "principled" objections does he have to amending the draconian bankruptcy bill, which he supported? I'll look forward to your explanation, because I cannot understand it.

Source:
Wonk Room » Mortgage Modifications Hitting Roadblocks, As Cram-Down Bill Languishes In Senate

Tom:

It seems to me that Ed is making a distinction between two notions of "centrism" - as he says "between "centrists" who do want to stand aside from the Democratic Party and cut deals, and those who don't."

He is characterizing Bayh's behavior as clearly in the second category and calling on him to resign in favor of in favor of "senators whose agreement with and loyalty to the Obama agenda is much less in question" if they want to be "anything other than a crude power bloc looking to shake down the administration and the congressional leadership for personal, ideological, and special-interest favors."

As a labor-progressive Democrat myself, I don't see any of this as insulting a progressive perspective. There are some moderate Democrats I disagree with on issues but very much want in the Democratic Party. Then there are guys we'd be better off without. I think Ed's trying to make that distinction and not trying to put down progressives.


correction - in the second paragraph I meant to say that Bayh was clearly in the "first" category, not the "second"

I think we're having a problem with the word "sincere" here. the word has positive connotations that seem quite inappropriate in this context.

Does this help -- a craven,amoral, money-sucking hyena can be a sincerely craven, money-sucking hyena.


Thanks for all the comments. I guess I'm a bit taken aback by the idea that I've willfully offended any progressives. Joe Corso's right: the whole point of my post was the Bayh crossed a critical line on a huge vote, and needs to stop putting himself forward as representative of "centrists" or much of anybody else in the Democratic Party.

As for the "S word," "sincere": hell, I can't see into the man's soul, but neither can anybody else; I find it easier to think he's drunk his own anti-deficit kool-aid than to think he's made some shrewd, cynical political calculation. As these comments and many others suggest, he's terribly damaged his own standing in the Democratic Party, and no, I don't really buy the idea that he'll get more attention now than he would have gotten as leader of a 16-member Democratic group in the Senate, so long as he voted for the budget resolution.

So if Evan Bayh was as conniving as so many folks clearly think he is, then he's a really poor conniver.

On one small note: to those who think Bayh's vote for the higher exclusion and lower rate on estate taxes proves he doesn't care about deficits, I would point out that this was the default position of virtually all Democrats until the total repeal enacted in 2001 sunsetted (at least those who didn't support total repeal, and there were a disturbing number of those, BTW). So maybe Bayh is just trying to be consistent on this one thing. It certainly doesn't make his opposition to the budget resolution look very brave or noble, does it?

In any event, what's more interesting than how I or anyone else construes Bayh's motives is the main question I tried to raise in the post: will anyone follow him now? I doubt it.

Joe, I take your point and I probably missed that nuance in my pique. Thanks for highlighting that.

What irritated me initially is the implication by Reid et al that we out here in the real world need to just shut up and that our attempts to speak out against these kinds of unprincipled power plays by the Blue Dogs is somehow "unfair." It isn't unfair at all, nor is it premature. I have every right, as a lifelong contributing Democrat, to criticize members of my political party when I think they deserve it. And I think the Bayhs and the Liebermans deserve criticism when they team up with Republicans to start wars and to scuttle bankruptcy reform and to throw monkey wrenches in budget legislation to save this economy and to advance the Democratic agenda for which they were elected.

Kilgore doesn't have to use such loaded, inflammatory mischaracterizations to make his point, i.e. "those who want to lump all Democratic "centrists" into the putative-'traitor' camp". His dismissive tone, it seems to me, is a deliberate attempt to marginalize the views of progressives and centrists. By tossing out these loaded terms the points that you suggested he was making get lost in ever more heat and ever less light.

Ed,
thanks for the response. It appears you posted while I was composing. I appreciate the clarification. It looks like we are more in agreement than I thought.

Tom.

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