08 November 2010

G.O.P. Party Favors?

Even before he enters the Senate Club, Senator-elect Joe Manchin (D-WV) is being courted by Republican insiders to switch parties.  Manchin will be sworn in during the lame-duck session next week since it was a special election caused by the death of long-time Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV).

Aside from dangling choice Committee assignments (like Environmental and Natural Resources) to the new Senator for switching caucuses, the pot might be sweetened by funding pet projects.  There is talk that Republicans would back a plant that converts coal into bio-diesel fuel, which has been stalled in the 111th Congress.   This coal conversion scheme is a $1 billion pet project of the erstwhile Governor of West Virginia and would certainly show that he knows how to bring home the bacon.

Manchins aides are demur about party switching.  While Team Manchin claims, "He was elected as a Democrat and he has to go to Washington as a Democrat to try, in good faith, to make the changes in the party he campaigned on.”  But the same Manchin insider also said, "Now, if that doesn't work and Democrats aren't receptive, I don't know what possibilities that leaves open." That was such a great political answer that manages to converse out of both sides of his mouth.

These party favor forays seem to indicate that Republican leadership in the Senate does not appreciate the Tea Party premises.  Funding a billion dollar earmark for political favor in a backroom deal seems tone deaf to the good governance grievances of Tea Party types.   Moreover, this move would essentially be meaningless.

In the 112th Congress, the Democrat Caucus is 53 to 47.  The increase in Republican Senators will prevent the Obama Administration from steamrolling liberal legislation and picking off a couple of RINO defectors to overcome cloture votes. Certainly the thinking is that Manchin could be the vanguard to stampede conservative Democrat Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) and liberal hawk Joe Lieberman (I-CN) to caucus with the Republicans.  But It would take four defections in the Senate to shift party control, which is highly unlikely.

Manchin was elected on a conservative campaign although he was elected as a Democrat.  He is going to have to face that constituency in two years.   If Senator Ben Nelson wants to be re-elected, he will have to vote more conservatively and not be swayed by things like the Cornhusker kickback on Health Care. Both Manchin and Ben Nelson would be unlikely to stray far from the conservative fold even if they do not strictly caucus with the Republicans.  In the 2012 cycle, Democrats will have to defend 22 seats, some of which were marginal wins in 2006.  Combine that with the changing electoral map due to redistricting, Democrats will have their hands full trying to keep control of the Senate.

It seems like former Senator Trent Lott’s statement about co-opting new members still has some resonance amongst the Cocktail Party and (by some extension ) Senate cloakrooms where there is the expectation that it can be politics as usual.  The Midterm Elections should have shown that the voters prefer a different cup of tea for party functions.

UPDATE 11/10  Considering the day after this rumor broke, the RNSC started a campaign directed AGAINST Senator-elect Manchin, it makes more sense that the party switching rumblings may have stemmed from Manchin's staff to seem to augment his position by playing coy.

No comments: