Thursday, April 21, 2011


Whenever you hear a bipartisan group of Senators referred to as a "gang," beware.  It means the left-leaning members of the Democratic Party are being shut out and an unfortunate and unnecessary center-right compromise is being hatched.

In 2005, after Republicans threatened to employ the so-called "nuclear option," that would have changed the Senate rules to preclude filibusters for judicial nominees, seven Democrats joined seven Republicans to form the "Gang of Fourteen," and signed an agreement in which the Republicans in the gang would not vote for the nuclear option and the Democrats would not filibuster except in "extraordinary circumstances."  In practical terms, this meant that Bush was able appoint the conservatives he wanted to the bench and the Democratic minority, without the seven members of the gang, could not stop him.  Most significantly, Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court was permitted an up-or-down vote even though there were enough Senators voting against him to have successfully filibustered and prevented a vote on his confirmation.

There was a Gang of 10, which expanded to the Gang of 20, who were supposed to tackle energy reform and came up with a much-criticized plan that included expanding offshore drilling.   And the Gang of 12 that was supposed to solve the stalemate on  immigration reform.

In the 2009, a bi-partisan "Gang of Six,"on the Senate Finance Committee was formed to reach a consensus on health care reform.  Despite a 60-seat Democratic majority, this conservative group whose members hailed from states representing a tiny portion of the population was inexplicably permitted to control the debate over health care for months, derailing more progressive efforts.  As Kate Pickert recently described on Swampland, this Gang, before disbanding, created the least liberal draft of any of the congressional committee bills and it was the one that was used as the framework for what became the Affordable Care Act.

Now, we have another Gang of 6 senators who have been tasked with reaching a deficit-reduction plan. The six are Republicans Tom Coburn (Ok.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Mike Crapo (Idaho), and Democratis Dick Durbin (Ill.), Kent Conrad (N.D.) and Mark Warner (Va.).  Four members of the Gang served on the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, which is derisively referred to as the Catfood Commission (Durbin, Conrad, Crapo and Coburn).

So, here we go again.  The Hill reports that "because of the bipartisan nature of the group, their work is considered one of the best hopes for reaching an accord on deficit and debt reduction."   

And what will consensus look like?  A Republican in the Gang has already stated that it will not include any significant tax hikes.  And one of the Democrats has conceded the likelihood of cuts to Social Security

As Steve Benen put it, it looks like the "Democrats in this group are prepared to effectively give up any hopes of progressive governance for a generation."  While their plan may not pass, it has already provided a frame for a debate on the deficit that has crowded out more liberal approaches, such as the People's Budget proposed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus.  (See, e.g., Obama's Deficits, Real Budget Alternative.)

If the Congressional Progressive Caucus would only start calling themselves the Gang of Seventy-Six, maybe we could get somewhere. 


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