One has to wonder why both major political parties spend so much effort and cash trying to get into the majority. It’s so much more fun—and arguably powerful—to be in the minority.
House Democrats are understandably wounded and frustrated over their devastating losses at the polls last fall. But were things so much better in the majority? The House, in the first two years of President Obama’s term, approved more than 300 measures that sat, unpassed, in the Senate—and are now dead, with a new Congress installed. And isn’t it better to be playing offense on Medicare, accusing the Republicans of trying to dismantle one of the electorate’s most beloved programs? Certainly it’s less risky than coming up with a plan to reform an increasingly expensive set of entitlement programs. Republicans accuse the Democrats of not coming up with a tough-love plan to reform entitlements, and they have a point. Democrats, too, had a point when they accused Republicans of failing to come up with a comprehensive healthcare reform plan. Guess who won that fight in the midterm elections? [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on healthcare.]
In the Senate, being in the minority is like being a favorite aunt or uncle—a lot of the fun without as much responsibility as the parents. The minority Republicans might not be able to get their agenda passed with actual legislation, but they can achieve a lot of their agenda by thwarting that of the Democrats. Witness the holdup of numerous Obama administration nominees, some of whom are being held up for reasons entirely unrelated to their would-be jobs. [Read: Why the Republican Medicare Strategy Just Might Work.]
Elizabeth Warren, Obama’s pick to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is being held up by Republicans who want the new entity restructured before they will approve her. This is a backhanded way of trying to undo a law that was passed in the previous Congress and signed by the president.
And today, Nobel Prize-winning economist Peter Diamond withdrew his nomination to serve on the Federal Reserve board, since Republicans had been holding up his nomination for more than a year. Diamond is an expert on pensions and behavioral economics, but Sen. Richard Shelby, the senior Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, has criticized Diamond for not having specific monetary experience. So, now, as the country is struggling its way out of a recession and worrying about a double-dip recession, the Federal Reserve has two vacancies. It might make for a good campaign issue, anyway.