A More Complete Look At House Bailout Voting

by: Chris Bowers

Sun Jan 25, 2009 at 02:23

Arguing against David Sirota, Nate Silver argues that voting in favor of the bailout was progressive, and opposing it was conservative:

Nevertheless, the vote may be interesting from the standpoint of figuring out where the different coalitions in the Congress stood. There is a notion, which I think is a misguided notion, that the proper "progressive" stance is to oppose the bailout. Occasionally, you'll come across an issue that splits the political spectrum literally down the middle, with the most progressive members and the most conservative members of the House uniting on one direction on a measure, and moderates in both parties taking the other stance. Is the bailout one such issue?

No, it isn't. On the contrary, this was a fairly conventional vote in which the more a Congressman tends to define themselves as liberal or progressive, the more likely they were to vote to extend the bailout. The Congressional Progressive Caucus voted in favor of continuing the bailout by a 49-15 margin; by contrast, the more conservative Blue Dog Democratic Caucus voted 27-17 to block the bailout. And nearly every Republican voted against the bailout.

BooMan echoes these claims, and calls me a Blue Dog.

The problem with these claims is that Nate only looks at one of the three bailout votes in the House, and the one that he admits was "entirely symbolic" at that. Further, he leaves out one of the three ideological caucuses: the moderate New Democrats who are affiliated with the DLC. Looking at all three votes and all three ideological caucuses, the picture becomes a lot more complicated.

More in the extended entry.

Chris Bowers :: A More Complete Look At House Bailout Voting
Consider the first bailout vote:

New Democrats: 62.71% yes
Blue Dogs: 59.57% yes  
Progressives: 47.76% yes

This first vote, which was not symbolic, and actually resulted in a temporary defeat of the bailout, saw Blue Dogs voting for the bailout at a higher rate than Progressives. This is not surprising, since the bailout could just as easily be viewed as corporate welfare, rather than, as Nate terms it, spending money on reinforcing infrastructure.

Here is the second bailout vote, which passed due to lobbying from Obama:

New Democrats 79.3% (46-12)
Progressive Caucus 69.4% (50-17)
Blue Dogs 63.8% (30-17)

In this case, direct lobbying from Obama swayed Progressive and New Democratic votes, but made little impact with Blue Dogs. This is more of an indication of which caucuses are willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt than it is about ideology.

Now, here is the third vote, including the New Democratic caucus:

Progressives: 76.6% (49-15)
New Democrats: 75.0% (42-14))
Blue Dogs: 38.4% (17-27)

Rather than support of the bill increasing the more liberal a Democrat becomes, Progressives and New Democrats actually supported the bill in equal measure. This is despite the fact that New Democrats and Blue Dogs share more than a dozen members. Further, it is pretty obvious that the sudden anti-bailout shift of the Blue Dogs had everything to do with the third vote being symbolic. Amazing how they went from strong support of the bailout to strong opposition, just at the moment when the vote moved from being meaningful to being symbolic! In the end, the Blue Dogs stand for nothing if not symbolic, as opposed to real, fiscal austerity.

The increased Republican opposition is also obviously political, rather than ideological. Even though 91 of House Republicans supported the bailout back in October, only 4 voted for it this time around. Clearly, House Republicans are now voting against Obama for the sake of voting against Obama.

Overall, when bailout voting wasn't symbolic, when Obama wasn't President, and when Obama wasn't Obama making direct appeals to the Congressional Black Caucus to support the bailout, opposing the bailout was in fact more a more common Progressive position than a Blue Dog position.

Personally, not having received a direct phone call from President Obama urging me to change my position on this matter, and with no increased conditions on TARP actually being passed into law, I remain at the original progressive position. Further, over the course of all three bailout votes, the strongest and most consistent supporters of the bailout were the DLC New Democrats. As one would expect, bailout supporters are all corporate-welfare loving DLC types.

While I know it is a lot more complicated than all that, I wanted to show how easy it was to dismiss Democrats with whom you disagree as conservative tools.

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I have to say (4.00 / 12)
I find the nature of Silver's argument to be bizarre.

Look, you don't determine whether a vote on a bill is progressive by counting numbers of Congresspeople who happen to style themselves progressives who voted for or against the bill.

What you do is return to basics, and ask yourself whether the bill is, in fact, progressive on progressive principles. God only knows what kind of other than pure motives can interfere with a particular vote by a set of politicians who, again, may only like to be regarded as progressives. Obviously, showing solidarity with a President who wants -- at least at certain moments -- to call himself a progressive is such an interfering consideration.

But is it true to progressive principles to give up on true oversight and accountability of programs, on the notion that one can just trust a President to do the right thing? I should think that most progressives would, under pretty much any other circumstances, agree that there's a little problem with that concept.

Silver's attempt to use some counting game to mask the need to settle whether legislation is progressive by returning to basic principles demonstrates a real superficiality in his thinking.

Not everything can be resolved by polls, Mr. Silver.

Well, the problem is, obviously, when (4.00 / 3)
you say something is progressive on progressive principles, and I disagree. You can marshal your arguments,and I can marshal mine. And may there isn't a quantifiable method of deciding which of us is correct.

But I think you too glibly dismiss the 'progressive caucus as a measure of actually-existing progressivism' guideline. That strikes me as just a little like the 'conservatism cannot fail; conservatism can only be failed' line.

What Chris's post appears to show is increasing levels of house progressive support for bailouts. Even (especially?) if  the final vote is symbolic.

[ Parent ]
I'm sorry, (4.00 / 3)
but there is no escape from the need to settle the issue of what is progressive based on principles. Yes, progressives can in fact disagree on how those principles may apply in a given case. But, as with other disagreements, that hardly implies that it is not the case that one side alone is in the right. The basic fact remains that is principles, and the arguments based on them, that must resolve the matter, even if in certain cases there is controversy about their application.

The danger and distortion introduced by counting votes -- and which you don't even address -- is, again, that other factors can interfere with those votes.

Why is it particularly a mistake to do it in cases like this? Because those distorting factors can be systematic. So-called progressive democrats in general are going to feel a particular pressure to vote for anything Obama indicates he wants at this time. Why? Because, in their districts most especially, which skew "progressive", Obama is very, very popular. Their constituents will want to see their representatives line up behind Obama on every issue because they imagine that what he does is consistently progressive (or at least what a progressive must do, given the political realities).

What Silver would have us do with his technique is to enshrine these distorting pressures into being constituitive of what progressivism means. It is a very convenient method if your goal is to promote an attitude of Obama right-or-wrong, but not such a good method of ensuring the advance of genuinely progressive policy.

[ Parent ]
I'm sorry, too! (0.00 / 0)
I wish there were a way to settle the issue of what progressive is based on principles.

I'd dearly love to see the issue settled. But I don't see how you get around the fact that progressivism is what progressives attempt to enact, just as conservatism is what conservatives attempt to enact.

Saying that there are distorting factors is both truth and irrelevant. Progressivism and conservatism include those factors; they're what we do in the real world. If that means--and I agree that it does--a pressure to vote with Obama (or Bush), so be it. You can't magically subtract that and pretend that what you then find, minus any real world actual politics, is progressivism.

I guess all I'm saying is supporting this bailout was, at least, clearly not anti-progressive. The votes show that. For some reason, supporting the bailout (or at least halfway supporting it!) was progressive. We can't run away from that. We shouldn't try. We need to accept that this is the wages of progressivism as it actually exists, instead of positing that this is some kinda false consciousness.

If we think that supporting the bailout was wrong (and I'm typically muddled on this, myself), then we need to change progressivism, not to claim that the disagreeing viewpoint simply isn't progressive.

[ Parent ]
Well yes, but (4.00 / 4)
deciding whether or not legislation is progressive based on the principles would be ideological. And ideology is just so 1940s.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
The real progressive alternative (0.00 / 0)
Silver's silly article also leaves out all the really progressive alternatives to the bailout that were suppressed by Obama and other corporate Democrats.

Dennis Kucinich's article October 4, 2008 defines a progressive version of the Obama/Reid/Pelosi give-away a lot more accurately than a head-count of Democrats who voted for the only alternative they got from the leadership:

Driven by fear we are moving quickly to pass a bill, which may produce a temporary uptick for the market, but nothing for millions of homeowners whose misfortunes are at the center of our economic woes. People do not have money to pay their mortgages. After this passes, they will still not have money to pay their mortgages. People will still lose their homes while Wall Street is bailed out.

Now millions of Americans will face the threat of foreclosure without any help. And the numbers will soon rise for a number of reasons. Not only because of the Alt-A, jumbo mortgages which will soon be reset at higher interest rates, but because the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) is pushing up rates on adjustable mortgages and more than half of the US adjustable mortgage rates are tied to LIBOR. Homeowner defaults will grow in significant numbers.

It is not as though we had no choice but to pass the bill before us. We could have done this differently. We could have demanded language in the legislation that would have empowered the Treasury to compel mortgage servicers to rework the terms of mortgage loans so homeowners could avoid foreclosure. We could have put regulatory structures in place to protect investors. We could have stopped the speculators.

Now the government will have to borrow $700 billion from banks, with interest, to give banks a $700 billion bailout, and in return the taxpayers get $700 billion in toxic debt. The Senate "improved" the bailout by giving tax breaks to people in foreclosure. People in foreclosure need help paying their mortgage, they do not seek tax breaks.

Disagreement on the bailout (4.00 / 3)
Disagreement on the bailout I think is fundamentally an implementation disagreement rather than a philosophical disagreement.

People who know what its like to be hobbled from fixing things properly due to overly bureaucratic rules are more willing to trust Obama on this one.

Those who aren't used to that just think that he is trying to be corrupt probably.

So the point is being for or against the bailout isn't divided on progressive lines.  It is divided based on the philosophy of implementing progressive policies.  

The problem is you simply don't understand why we disagree and just assume that everyone who disagrees with you is unethical or stupid.


Hobbled by bureaucratic rules (4.00 / 2)
A mistrust of rules and oversight, and the process of throwing them completely overboard, is exactly what got us into this mess.

Geithner's been part of the process-to-date, which has worked out so well, and been so public and transparent, that the banks still aren't lending money and the economy is taking on water like the Titanic itself.

I've had enough of my government asking me to trust it. I don't. They shouldn't need to be trusted so much as they should follow the goddam law and submit their actions to public and congressional review. And paradoxically, the more they're willing to do that, the more open they are and willing to admit that they need to be watched for the tendency to succumb to temptation, the more I will trust them.

[ Parent ]
Missing the point (4.00 / 6)
I don't think anyone is arguing that there should be no "bailout" of any kind whatsoever. I think the Progressive objection to the bailout is that is is not, and has never been, designed to do what the government claims it's supposed to do.

The DESIGN of the bailout is the question, not the existence of a bailout itself.

And the safeguards written in the bills so far ... (4.00 / 2)
are so inadequate .. it's sad ... there is no accountability whatsoever

[ Parent ]
I don't agree (4.00 / 1)
there were progressives who opposed the bailout of financial institutions.  

I was for the bailout - though the implementation and the various conflicts of interest make me want to vomit (why did, for example, Goldman Sachs get ANY money..)

[ Parent ]
I didn't call you a Blue Dog (0.00 / 0)
I said that you agreed with the Blue Dogs on one issue, and then used that agreement to argue that a Blue Dog might be more of an ally on that issue than a progressive.  And that is pretty unavoidable logic, except that you made the argument that your position was still the progressive one.

It is only the last part that I dispute.

Issue vs. Vote (0.00 / 0)
An issue is not defined by a single vote, but rather by all of the votes relating to that issue. Looking at all three votes, your argument is more difficult to maintain.

When the voting wasn't symbolic, Blue Dogs were more in favor of the bailout than progressives. New Democrats were the most favorable of all.

[ Parent ]
Well... (4.00 / 1)
BooMan starts with:

1. Oh my, this is too much:

Goes on with:

2. The only thing that changed is that you aligned yourself with Republicans and Blue Dogs and called the move 'progressive'.

And ends up with:

3. Chris finds something to like in Gillibrand because he happens to hold the Blue Dog/Republican position on something.

And now wants to back-pedal  and claim all he wrote was #3. Well, if it's a "one issue" thing, why start out with the pearl-clutching "this is too much"?

One poster believed that the way to assess the bailout by starting from principles and doing some analysis.

BooMan seems to believe the right way assess the bailout is by looking at what color of jerseys the players are wearing.

I leave which approach is more "progressive" as an exercise for the reader.  

I am in earnest -- I will not equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will not retreat a single inch -- AND I WILL BE HEARD.  

[ Parent ]
Your (0.00 / 0)
reading comprehension difficulties are not my responsibility.  I was clear that Chris had aligned himself with the Blue Dog position on a single issue and that he discovered that a particular Blue Dog shared his position on that issue, and that he therefore found some reason to feel good about that Blue Dog getting elevated to the Senate.

That is not 'calling him a Blue Dog'.

BTW, did you ever get your $10/per for writing your WWTBQ series?  

[ Parent ]
I definitely agree... (4.00 / 4)
that the voting results among the Progressive Caucus (and to some extent, the New Democrats) is more likely a function of responsiveness to Obama and the leadership than it is an endorsement of the program on principles.

If it were truly ideological, what would explain the disparity between the New Dems and the Blue Dogs on last week's vote given, as Chris notes, the overlap between the two groups?

One answer, of course, is that neither group is particularly cohesive ideologically, which I think is true.

Another is that one ideological difference between Blue Dogs and New Dems is that Blue Dogs more often appear to have a political interest in being seen as distinct from Democrats rather than being a distinct type of Democrat, as is the claim of New Dems.

New Dems and Progressives have a political interest (at least at this stage of the game) in allowing themselves to be closely associated with the Obama administration, and in being seen not to be obstructing it. Blue Dogs, however, are a different story. They will, in large part, benefit politically by distancing themselves, and being seen as only skeptical, cautious and hesitant participants in his plans.

In other words, it wasn't so much that the bailout is a progressive thing as it was that not opposing Obama is politically beneficial to most progressives. It's also an old (and not that good) habit of progressives -- to allow their safe seats and sense of responsibility for sustaining the Democratic leadership (both legislative and executive) to be leveraged into votes that may not necessarily be in line with their principles. Or at least to subsume their ideological principles to their political ones.

You'll recognize it as the "where else are they gonna go" syndrome. Or in this case, the "you're not really going to make your new president and leadership risk XYZ, are you?" syndrome.

Reminds me on an old radio ad for Motel 6 (0.00 / 0)
where the guest is comparing Motel 6 to (say) the Ritz, and it turns out that the only real difference between the two is that you get a mint on your pillow at the Ritz.

"Expensive candy," the guest remarks.

Well, in this case,  'the "you're not really going to make your new president and leadership risk XYZ, are you?" syndrome' cost the country 350 billion dollars, a big chunk of which Hank Paulson's Tim Geithner's golfing buddies promptly spent on salaries and bonuses, before hoarding the rest and starting a lender's strike -- all with no transparency and no accountability.

Expensive candy.

And this was the bill Obama whipped for with the CBC, let us remember. (And with all that leverage, we didn't get a better bill why, exactly?)

So, while I agree with the idea of the syndrome, the fact that it would operate for a program of this size and scale, and at such a critical moment, goes more to show the complete bankruptcy of our political class more than anything else.

I am in earnest -- I will not equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will not retreat a single inch -- AND I WILL BE HEARD.  

[ Parent ]
Yep. (4.00 / 2)
But that's sort of my premise.

Remember when Chris used the techpolitics.org spreadsheets to identify the Blue Dogs as the more problematic caucus, as opposed to the DLC/New Dems?

Those charts revealed perfectly -- indeed, were specifically aimed at revealing -- that the CBC Membership was, in large part at least, voting way, way, WAY out of sync with their constituency on issues like bankruptcy.

It demonstrates, I think, that looking at where progressives end up voting isn't really always all that helpful in understanding what the "progressive position" is.

It's how a statistician would approach the question, but not necessarily... uh... whatever we are.

[ Parent ]
A more interesting analysis (0.00 / 0)
would attempt to reflect whether congressman were in competitive districts or not.  My guess is opposition to the bailout bill more closely correlates with the threat congressman faced in the their own districts than with the caucus that they were a member of.  

I say this because I found many of the arguments against the bailout coming from the left had little from the arguments coming from the right.  

Foolish, silly game (0.00 / 0)
Methinks the Booman and Silver pieces are first and foremost exercises in self-justification.   With President Obama now at the helm, they need to feel better about their support--tepid or otherwise--for a second TARP with the same lack of accountability and transparency as the first (although this time we have hope!).  Whatever.

I had breakfast this morning at the greasiest of local greasy spoons.  My friend and I were talking about bank bailout 2, loud enough it seems that folks in the surrounding booths were compelled to chime in.  The anger was startling. Truly.  People here are scared to death; furloughs, job losses and new mortgage failures (even people with good mortgages are losing their houses now) scream from the front page on a daily basis.

I may not be sophisticated in my understanding of the financial markets, but giving billions more to the greedy fools who created this mess must stop. We need relief to state and local governments, job preservation -- not just inadequate attempts at job creation after the fact-- and any and all govt. efforts aimed directly at the American people.  And if there was ever a time we need to strengthen the safety net as the way to both restore overall confidence and provide real relief and real hope for working people on the brink it's right now.    

The point is when this latest bank bailout fails just like the first what else have Obama and the "progressives" who supported this got?   No longer will a Democratic President and Congress be able to simply blame the Republicans.  Obama did talk of the need for more shared sacrifice by "reforming" Social Security and Medicare--he's even scheduled a financial summit on this...if some "progressives" in Congress decide to join him are we going to be chided to characterize this a progressive policy development too?  



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