I am going to write something that might sound a little bit off character: I am willing to give Bush Dog, and apparently soon to be New York Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand a chance during her time in the Senate. In practice, what this means is that while I will be interested in looking at primary challenges she receives in 2010, and while I am wary of her past performance, the defeat of the working conservative majority and the newly arrived Democratic trifecta does appear to have altered the congressional playing field. It now seems likely new alliances can be formed for progressives, and no approach to passing progressive legislation, or stopping bad legislation, should be dismissed out of hand.
Case in point: the Wall Street bailout, otherwise known as TARP. Gillibrand voted against it back in October, then she voted in favor of the auto bailout in December, then voted in favor of Barney Frank's oversight bill on Wednesday, and then voted against the release of the second half of the funds yesterday. This makes Gillibrand one of about only
40-50 26 House Democrats who would have voted the same way I would have voted across all four of those bills. (Update: Anthony de Jesus provides the list of the 26 House Democrats who voted this way).
More in the extended entry.
|Further, now that Natasha and I are spending time digging through every bill introduced to the House and the Senate as part of the progressive legislation monitoring project, we are finding some surprisingly good legislation introduced by Democrats we normally wouldn't consider strong allies. Case in point: Diane Feinstein introducing some pretty good legislation so far in the 111th Congress. Feinstein's S 116, to require that $10 billion in TARP money be given directly to state and local governments who suffered losses due to highly rated investments in certain financial institutions, seems pretty good. In fact, if Senator Dorgan's S 195 makes it out of committee, I would like to try and push for S 116 to be offered as an amendment.
For the last eight years, the pattern of the working conservative majority has been for a minority of Democrats to join with unanimous Republicans in passing bad legislation. In that environment, Gillibrand would almost certainly have been a bad choice for Senator, especially from a state as blue as New York. However, that pattern of conservative governance broke down over the Wall Street bailout, and has never recovered. Since that time, there have been two sorts of roll call votes in Congress: unanimous Democrats passing bills with a minority of Republican support, and chaotic alliances between a majority of Republicans, along with a smattering of Blue Dogs and progressives, defeated by a "serious people consensus" alliance of a minority of Republicans, a majority of Democrats and the President (whether Bush or Obama). In this environment, someone like Gillibrand is arguably a more useful vote for progressives than a more traditionally liberal Senator would be, as demonstrated by her voting patterns on bailouts.
Of course, being a Senator is not just about voting. Would Gillibrand have stood up with her Senate colleagues, and opposed the business tax cuts in Obama's original draft of the economic stimulus? How about standing with Schumer to increase mass transit funding in the stimulus? Probably not, in both cases. Also, what sort of legislation will she introduce? Hard to say, since she hasn't actually introduced any this year.
Still, given the breakdown of the conservative working majority pattern in Congress, and given that we now have the opportunity to pass good legislation rather than just oppose crappy legislation, Gillibrand may yet turn our to be a useful ally. Already today, she has reversed an earlier stance, and declared her support for marriage equality. This is one Update New Yorker who is willing to give her a chance.