What the Senate Change Means For Reform

January 20, 2010

Thomas Mann joins Kai Ryssdal of American Public Media’s Marketplace to discuss what happens to President Obama’s agenda with Republican Scott Brown winning the Massachusetts senatorial seat

Kai Ryssdal: I would be willing to bet a substantial amount of money that this is not the way President Obama thought he would be marking his first year in office. With the loss of a vote in the Senate and the ensuing re-examination of what it is that he wants to get done this year. To explore that topic a little bit we’ve called Thomas Mann. He’s a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Tom, it’s good to have you with us.

Tom Mann: Happy to be with you.

Ryssdal: So I’ll tell you what, let’s skip health care, because everybody is talking about that, and go on to some of the other particulars of the Democratic agenda in Congress, and see how they might get that done. First of all, financial reform legislation. How is that going to happen?

Mann: Well, we’ve already seen signs of bipartisan cooperation on the Senate Banking Committee, Senators Dodd and Shelby agreed to set up a process in which pairs of senators — one Democrat, one Republican — have been dealing with components of the bill. And fact is, it would be hard to hold all 60 members of the Democratic caucus together on financial reform if you had no Republican votes. So in reality I don’t think the loss of that one seat will materially affect the outcome of financial reform.

Ryssdal: All right, moving on to some of the other things that the president and Democrats in Congress said they wanted to get done. The House has already approved a climate change bill, the energy bill, it’s got the cap-and-trade mechanism in it. What about the prospects for that in the Senate?

Mann: Not good, but listen this is a tough measure to pass with the super majority in the Senate during times of great economic distress. Odds are it wasn’t going to pass before the election, it’s probably not going to pass after.

Ryssdal: What about a jobs bill or some kind of another stimulus package?

Mann: Well, that gets more interesting.

Ryssdal: Ah ha, there it is.

Mann: I have no doubt that Obama and the Democrats will press forward with the jobs bill. And they will dare the Republicans to filibuster that bill. So in the end, Republicans may defect from their party, their united opposition to anything on the Obama agenda, and they may be able to pass that bill, in spite of having lost one Democratic seat.

Ryssdal: Well, that gets us back to the Massachusetts selection from yesterday. It was all the economy, stupid, wasn’t it?

Mann: It wasn’t just that, but it was a big part of it. I’d say the public anger, fear, skepticism, distrust, concern, anxiety — all of that, not about ideological positioning, overreaching by the Obama administration — so much of that talk that I’ve heard and read today is I think largely beside the point.

Ryssdal: There is, of course, a lot that can happen between now and November. But do you think that economic feeling is going to continue through to the midterm elections?

Mann: Oh, I think it will be the driving force. We’re not going to much remember what happened in Massachusetts in January come November. It will be the economic conditions as they exist in the couple of months and weeks leading up to that election.

Ryssdal: Thomas Mann. He’s a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Tom, thanks a lot.

Mann: Happy to be with you.

Listen to the full interview here »