David Broder Fails To Correctly Place Blame For Bayh's Departure

David Broder comes to the pages of the Washington Post today, carrying a brief for Evan Bayh, and performing his usual operatic lament about the lack of magical bipartisanship that would naturally solve all of America's problems. Once again, I am having a hard time making sense of Broder's reasoning, probably because none is extant.

But here's the basics. Bayh, along with "10 moderate Democrats" informed Senate Majority Harry Reid that they would not vote to raise the statutory debt ceiling unless the Senate was allowed to vote on the creation of a special debt commission. Bayh got his way on that, and, as Broder notes, the White House gave the measure their "blessing." But the vote failed to obtain the sixty votes needed to surmount a filibuster, losing 53-46. As Broder says, "This was the final straw that pushed Bayh over the edge." In case that's lost on you, he makes the point redundantly in the same paragraph: "Bayh told me that the "sorry episode" of the commission vote, as he called it, was what convinced him it was time to quit."

Here's where things start to go off the rails:

Both parties were to blame, he said. Twenty-three Republicans (and one independent) voted no, seven of them people who had previously co-sponsored the commission bill. So did 22 Democrats, many of them committee chairmen looking out for their own prerogatives.

Were both parties truly to blame? This doesn't seem to be the case. Another way of looking at this is to say: 36 Democrats voted for the commission, while only 16 Republicans did the same. (Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) also voted in support of the commission. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) did not. Lisa Murkowski (R-AL) did not vote.) This seems to me to indicate that one party was chiefly responsible for the failure of this measure to pass.

Broder assigns a special weight to the 22 Democrats who voted no, especially those who were "committee chairmen looking out for their own prerogatives." There's a problem with this logic. There are sixteen standing committees in the Senate. Ten of them are chaired by Jeff Bingaman, Barbara Boxer, Kent Conrad, John Kerry, Mary Landrieu, Pat Leahy, Carl Levin, Joe Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln, and Chuck Schumer. All ten of those committee chairs voted in support of the deficit commission. The ones who did not were Daniel Akaka, Max Baucus, Christopher Dodd, Tom Harkin, Daniel Inouye, and Jay Rockefeller.

Did these men vote against the deficit commission because they were "looking out for their own prerogatives?" Who knows? Probably! But Broder is assigning the wrong significance to the votes of Democratic committee chairmen, who would not have gotten the measure passed even if they had voted as a bloc.

Who is to blame? The answer is staring Broder right in the face. Not "both parties." It's the seven Republican co-sponsors of the bill who, in the end, voted against it. Those were the seven votes the measure needed to pass. That's who is to blame. This is not complicated stuff.

Now, it should be noted that it's odd that Bayh is citing the Senate's unwillingness to create a deficit commission as the reason he's quitting the Senate, given that the White House is creating the commission by executive order. This is, again, one more policy battle that Bayh is getting his way on.

But the fault here is not Bayh's -- he very publicly blames those seven Republican co-sponsors. The fault here is Broder's. He's so desperate to turn this into some sort of "pox on both your houses" situation that he flat out ignores the fundamentals of the vote, and trumps up some meaningless hooey about how Democratic committee chairs helped to founder the bill, which is just not based in fact.

Why Broder cannot state simply who is at fault here is baffling. But chances are, it's because it cuts against his love of bipartisanship -- his cure-all for everything. Clearly, this bill did not fail because of hyper-partisans. It fails because seven of the people that Bayh had on board -- the product of supposed bipartisan outreach -- ultimately demonstrated themselves to be acting in bad faith. And this has been, for a solid year, the end result of all bipartisan outreach. In fact, it's pretty easy to see what happened here: the White House signaled their support for the commission, and those seven Republican co-sponsors suddenly defaulted to "Waterloo" mode.

But Broder wants to blame the blameless, rather than identify those who are truly responsible. And this is part of the reason why those who operate in bad faith will never pay a political cost. But Broder will undoubtedly continue to suggest that reaching out to these bad-faith actors is the most essential thing in politics.

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