Josh Marshall makes the point today that one thing hurting congressional Democrats is that they aren’t doing enough to force Republicans to cast embarrassing votes that can be used against them during the upcoming midterm elections. Matt Yglesias calls this belief “a bit dangerous and delusional”:
Look out the window at the state of the labor market. Not the labor market for the Washington DC metro area or for the kind of college-educated professionals likely to be social acquaintances of congressional staff, but of the country as a whole. How on earth is the electoral situation not going to be bleak for the party in charge? This is the worst recession since World War II.
Under the circumstances, there are two useful things a member of congress can do. One is to take actions that improve the economic situation. The other is to pass laws that tackle important long-run problems. But if you can’t do the first thing, I think you’re really fooling yourself if you think some kind of parliamentary hijinks are going to transform the situation.
I think my take is different: there’s no reason Dems shouldn’t be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Fixing the economy would clearly do Democrats more good than anything else, but honestly, it’s too late for anything passed this month to have much effect by September. And although I’m in favor of tackling long-term problems, that probably has a pretty negligible effect on short-term opinion too.
So whatever happens on these fronts, that’s the background that you have to accept. If the economy sucks, it’s going to be bad news for Dems. But once you’ve done everything you can to improve the economy and address things like healthcare reform, why not also do whatever else you can to scare up a few votes? Playing games with wedge votes probably won’t have a huge effect, but you might as well give it a try. Unless it’s literally preventing you from doing more important stuff, there’s no reason not to.