More on the economics of the decisive Senator

by on December 23, 2009 at 7:49 am in Political Science | Permalink

There's been a lot of moralizing about the holdout strategies of Lieberman and Nelson, but under some game-theoretic accounts it is a blessing in disguise, a blessing for Obama at least.  For instance Rahm Emanuel can now say to the House: "look, we just can't renegotiate this any more or the coalition will fall apart.  You'd better get on board with the Senate version of the bill"  A lot of these legislative games don't otherwise have a core, or it takes so long to find the core that the deal falls apart in the meantime.

The holdout behavior of one decisive Senator decreases the need to cut bargains with other members of Congress.  The key words here are "credible precommitment to no further renegotiation."  The more anxious or wavering Nelson and Lieberman were/are, the more credible this precommitment.

Often it's easier to trade with one or two guys than to suffer death by a thousand cuts by having to appease the larger group, yet again.  Keep in mind that Obama probably needs this bill more than do most of the Democrats in the House, so he can't just stonewall and win the staredown.  In addition to his other roles and effects, Lieberman arguably serves as Obama's "bad cop" enforcer.

1 E. Barandiaran December 23, 2009 at 8:48 am

There must be something I’m missing. You say “credible precommitment to no further renegotiation”. To be credible Reid must promise that whatever the decisive Senator is going to get, all others in the winning coalition will get it.

I think Reid has been dealing with each member of his coalition as if each one were the decisive Senator. Lieberman and Nelson were the last ones so they could be pressed to accept a reward that Reid could pay. Remember that the only objective of the whole reform is that Obama can claim victory–yes, I can do what Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton and many other Dems were not able to do–regardless of the cost he may be imposing on the country.

Also, Obama may still fail because he cannot ignore that there other parties to the deal other than the Republican senators; for example, read this

2 Bill December 23, 2009 at 9:41 am

Totally agree. Partition theory of politics. It would always have to get down to the smallest coalition necessary to pass. And, now those who have put themselves in the game have something to lose if they were to try to back out.

Republicans didn’t play this very well, though, because they, had some of their members sought to form a coalition on a piece, could have become the ones who drove the reform. A coalition of southern democrats and moderate republicans (if you can find one) could have had a different bill.

But, that would have required some intelligence. Afterall, what we have today is so wonderful.

3 DanC December 23, 2009 at 10:22 am

The next step is the traditional Chicago step. The threat to destroy the political career of any Congressman who refuses to go along.

They use the carrot in the Senate, but in the House they will use the stick. Why? Because the rules are different in the House, less need for consensus, and it is easier to bully a Congressman with cuts in his district.

I don’t see the Nelson vote having much impact on the House vote. aside from the notion that some Senators will not stay bought if the bill chnages too much.

4 Bill December 23, 2009 at 11:00 am

I don’t agree that people will compromise just so they can have a bill. Had that been the case, there would be no bill. It is a democratic bill (a compromise within the democratic left of center party) because the republicans chose not to participate.

5 Bill December 23, 2009 at 1:09 pm

SCOTUS will not find individual mandate unconstitutional.

SCOTUS doesn’t like freeriders.

6 dan cole December 23, 2009 at 4:30 pm

On my count, 9 Senators’ votes are now expendable. Whatever comes out of the conference committee will not be subject to another cloture vote; nor will it be subject to amendments. It will be enacted by a majority vote of 51. Thus, the conference committee can safely make one or two changes in the Senate bill. One change I would predict is that they will remove the provision giving Senator Nelson’s state of Nebraska special treatment on Medicare. That change might lose the vote of one, but only one, Senator.

7 E. Barandiaran December 23, 2009 at 9:22 pm

For the record, see this new column by Karl Rove confirming what I said in my earlier comment today.

8 Barbar December 26, 2009 at 6:19 pm

“Public Choice 101” and similar schools of thought tell us that E. Barandiaran is not motivated by the desire to tell us the truth about healthcare reform, but instead is motivated by something far less noble and inspiring. Perhaps he is increasing his reproductive fitness, or perhaps he is being paid for his efforts.

As far as what motivates Republican strategist Karl Rove to criticize the Democrats, well some mysteries are beyond the ken of human understanding.

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