Retribution for Democrats Cooperating with White House?

Congressman: Democrat Leadership Threatening ‘Retribution’ for Dems Who Cooperate with White House (Human Events)

Rep. Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.) was asked at a CATO conference in Washington yesterday whether he had persuaded any Democrats to back his plan to rescue Social Security from its financial troubles. Under his legislation (HR 4851), no new taxes would be needed to pay for “transition costs,” participation in the new system would be voluntary and individuals would be allowed to divert a portion of their payroll tax into a mutual fund.

A questioner from the audience, stressing his own Democratic credentials, said he believed Ryan’s plan should attract members of his own party and wondered whether the Wisconsin lawmaker had secured any Democratic sponsors. Ryan said he had been working with friends on the “other side of the aisle” who were favorable toward his solution, but he faced an enormous problem: intense pressure on his colleagues from the minority leadership. “We were in planning stages [with friendly Democrats],” said Ryan. But each essentially told him: “I like what you’re doing. I like this bill. I think it’s the right way to go. But my party leadership will break my back. The retribution that they are promising us is as great as I have ever seen. We can’t do it.”

I’m always skeptical of stories reported by highly partisan sources using very unspecific heresay evidence. Apparently, though, this is legitimate, as even Markos Zuniga is buying it. He cites the story above and a second example from the Senate:

Senate Democrats Vow to Defend Their Leader (Reuters)

U.S. Senate Democrats admitted on Thursday they did not do enough to protect their ousted leader, Tom Daschle, from Republican attacks and vowed to defend his successor, Harry Reid, who is now under fire. . . . Senate Democrats vowed to defend Reid aggressively.

Says Kos,

We’re finally starting to act united. Not as “centrists”, or “liberals”, but as “Democrats”.


Steve Bainbridge responds,

[B]y my count there are about 30 red states, which could give us 60 GOP senators, which would let us tell the Dems to shove it once and for all.

Well, maybe. There are enough Republicans in Name Only to make that doubtful. And, as Betsy Newmark notes, Members of either party can always threaten to cross the aisle.

While I agree with Kos that Democrats should stick together to defend Reid if they feel Republican attacks on him are unfair, I disagree with the idea that party leaders should discipline Members who occasionally vote against the leadership on bills.

The United States does not have a parliamentary system, where party loyalty is a must for the system to run properly. Members of the House represent their Districts and Senators their states, not their party. Their first loyalty is and should be to their constituents. Certainly, party leadership should manage committee assignments and especially chairmanships from a team concept. For example, before he made pledges to guarantee the president’s judicial nominees an up-or-down vote, I supported denying Arlen Specter the Judiciary Committee chairmanship. But I would have given him chairmanship of another committee where his views and the needs of his constituents would have more closely aligned with the Republican agenda. Organizing one’s members so as to maximize one’s goals is a legitimate function of party leadership; punishing those who don’t tow the party line is not.

Update (1015): In somewhat related news, LAT’s Ron Brownstein argues that the Democrats are much more unified now than at this point in Bush’s first term. He cites a number of reasons why this is so, including this: “The GOP success at capturing Democratic Senate seats in states that Bush won also reduced the number of moderates urging a more conciliatory approach — and raised doubts among the remaining centrists about whether such a strategy offered much of an electoral defense.”

Steven Taylor, though, is unconvinced, noting that it’s not like Bush got a honeymoon in 2001. Agreed.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. SoloD says:

    It is safe to say then that you believe that Joel Hefley should still be Chair of the Ethics Committee, and that Chris Smith should be chair of the Veteran’s Affairs Committee?

    Those are only two examples off the top of my head of Republicans who didn’t toe the DeLay line and paid the consequences.

    As far as party loyalty goes Democrats are still amateurs at enforcing it.

  2. James Joyner says:

    SD: I didn’t follow either case particularly closely, so don’t have an opinion on the specifics. Generally, I’d say assigning chairmanships is a different issue than general “retribution” against Members. Chairmen are party of the leadership and thus wear both a Member and a Party hat. Senior Members who are at odds with their party on most issues, though, are likely to be aligned in enough areas to find them a suitable post.

    Mostly, though, I take Ryan’s charges as saying the Minority leadership in the House is threatening to deny projects in the districts of Members who don’t play ball and that sort of thing.

  3. Anderson says:

    Like SoloD, I’m a little astonished at the implication that the Democrats aren’t simply starting to borrow some pages from the Republican playbook.

    The Repubs should just reflect that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Instead, I suspect, they’re a bit alarmed that the Democratic Party might be starting to be “on speaking terms wiv itself,” to quote a forgotten sage of yesteryear.

  4. SoloD says:

    I guess I don’t see the distinction between a discipline through loss of a chairmanship and other pork. Both are punishment for not toeing the line. (And I also don’t doubt that the Republicans don’t hesitate to pull a project or two, if necessary.)

    Also, it seems a little self-serving for Ryan to be saying, in essence, that bunches of Democrats would be backing his proposal except for the leadership threats.

  5. McGehee says:

    Ah, the sweet smell of Democrat denial. Music to a Republican’s nose.

  6. Kevin Drum says:

    Yeah, this is a little rich considering Tom DeLay’s iron grip in the House.

    And pork? You jest. Surely you know that Democrats are no longer allowed to share in pork projects?