The New York State of Mind

I wrote a few days ago about how the Democrats in the House, with help from President Obama, could convince 20 or so Republicans to join them in a ruling coalition.  Today I found a perfect example of how this would work.  In fact, the exact thing happened just the other day in a little town called Albany.

It was announced Tuesday that Republicans and a few Democrats have just negotiated a deal to take control of the New York State Senate, despite the fact that as of the November election, the Senate will have more Democrats than Republicans.  The Republicans have convinced six moderate Democrats to work with them, having agreed on a power-sharing arrangement that will split the leadership of the Senate between the Republican leader and leader of the so-called Independent Democratic Conference.  In fact, the two men will rotate every two weeks through the constitutional office of President Pro Tempore of the Senate.

As part of the agreement, the Republicans have agreed to allow votes on several Democratic agenda items, including campaign finance reform and raising the state minimum wage.  The last time the Democrats controlled the New York Senate they accomplished little, so many people including the Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo are taking a somewhat hopeful wait-and-see attitude.  Cuomo has refused to get involved in pressuring the renegade Dems to toe the party line.

Of course the rest of the Senate Democrats and especially their leadership are crying foul.  They have even called this maneuver a coup.  But of course, this is representative government at work.  The advantage, in this and all such coalitions, is that because the ruling coalition relies on maintaining the loyalty of a small group of centrists, it will force the Senate agenda to be a moderate one.  This could aid negotiation with the governor and the New York Assembly.

The main disadvantage I see is that in this case, the coalition shifts power toward the Republicans, while the New York Assembly (the lower house of the state legislature) and the Governorship are Democratically controlled.  In theory, it would seem a lot easier for Governor Cuomo to get his progressive agenda through if he were working with purely Democratic leaderships in both houses.  But the Democrats’ performance when they last controlled the Senate in 2009-2010 seems to indicate otherwise.

So, if Republicans can take control of one House in Albany despite having a minority of seats and despite having little influence over the other legislative house or the executive, it would seem that the Democrats in the US House have a much better chance.  They have on their side the additional carrot of limitless possibilities of getting things passed.  They can say to Fred Upton and his buddies “Come work with us, we can deliver the votes in the Senate and the leadership in the White House to make bills we write here turn almost directly into laws.”

Of course, I have to admit that one big difference, both in Albany and Washington, is that Republicans have excellent party discipline, which is necessary for any such deal to hold together.  Not so much Democrats, in either place.  But that’s the conventional wisdom from pre-Tea Party days.  Now, it could be the Republicans in Washington are ripe to be pulled apart.

It could be that John Boehner knows this could happen.  That could be part of why he’s starting to budge on the budget, recognizing that higher tax rates may be in the cards.  Boehner is a smart man, and an excellent parliamentarian.  He knows the rules of the House and how the Speaker is elected.  Seventeen votes isn’t very many, and there are very very many ways to get them.

Centrist coalitions led by moderates willing to flip would seem to be a great way to govern. They give power to the moderates, which is generally a good thing.  In fact, looking at Albany, if the Democrats wanted to win back those defectors, they could probably just offer them the same plum leadership and committee posts as the Republicans agreed to give them.  So the moderates should be able to gain influence either way the final negotiations end up.  I’ll explore in a future post why in practice, moderates aren’t able to play both ends against the middle so effectively.

2 thoughts on “The New York State of Mind

  1. Pingback: Speaker of the House Fred Upton | Jay Wilson's Blog

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