The Party Out Of Power

by Patrick Appel

Yglesias argued a few days ago that the country is ungovernable because the Democratic agenda has been hamstrung by the minority. Ezra Klein has often written a posts along the same lines. Ed Morrissey, among other bloggers on the right, pounced:

Funny, but I don’t recall Yglesias demanding those changes while Democrats were in the minority in the Senate.

Yglesias says he is being misread:

Maybe “ungovernable” was not a good word for this, but I meant to convey the fact that the political system seems incapable of addressing large-scale objective problems. For example, there’s the long-term fiscal deficit. For another example, there’s anthropogenic climate change. For another example, our tax code is a very inefficient means of raising revenue. For a final one, our health care system involves a massive level of waste. These are real problems, not just ideological bugaboos. And I don’t think anything from the Bush administration experience should give us confidence that they’re solvable. Mostly Bush got “a lot done” by dodging those problems. When he did edge toward tackling themhis tax reform commission, for examplehe got nowhere.

Weigel offers some support:

When Bush put his weight behind the sort of reforms that [Glenn] Reynolds likes, and that his base wanted Social Security reform, for example it died in Congress.

The big exception to all of this, of course, was tax policy. Bush got enormous supply-side tax cuts through Congress. But as Reynolds must know, those tax cuts didn’t need 60 votes to get through the Senate; they went through the budget process and needed 51 votes. I don’t think anyone would make the argument that tax cuts should have to pass a supermajority threshold. I know very few conservatives who are glad that Democratic filibusters, when the party was at an ebb of 45 Senate seats, could kill entitlement reform. But in our current system, cost-shifting policy like that is easy to pass and large-scale policies are tough to pass note that “deficit hawks” like Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) are not proposing actual entitlement reforms, but toothless “commissions” to look at those reforms.