Today, Harry Reid will go out on the Senate floor and call for a constitutional amendment to reverse recent Supreme Court decisions maximizing the influence of big money in politics. It’s a significant escalation of Reid’s war on the Koch brothers — and, more broadly, of the Dem strategy in 2014, which is in effect a strategy of running against plutocracy.
Reid will say that hearings are set for next month on the proposed amendment, which would “grant Congress the authority to regulate and limit the raising and spending of money for federal political campaigns,” as Reid will put it. Buzzfeed reported yesterday that Reid will throw his weight behind the proposal — first put forth by Senators Tom Udall and Michael Bennet — and will force “multiple votes” on it.
Reid’s office provided me with a transcript of his planned remarks. An excerpt:
“The Kochs’ bid for a hostile takeover of American democracy is calculated to make themselves even richer. Yet the Kochs and their Republican followers in Congress continue to assert that these hundreds of millions of dollars are free speech. For evidence of that, look no further than the Republican Leader, who has flat out said, ‘in our society, spending is speech.’…
“The Supreme Court has equated money with speech, so the more money you have, he more speech you get, and the more influence in our democracy. That is wrong. Every American should have the same ability to influence our political system. One American, one vote. That’s what the constitution guarantees. The Constitution does not give corporations a vote. And the Constitution does not give dollar bills a vote…
“I urge my colleagues to support this constitutional amendment — to rally behind our democracy. I understand what we Senate Democrats are proposing is no small thing — amending our Constitution is not something we take lightly. But the flood of special interest money into our American democracy is one of the greatest threats our system of government has ever faced. Let’s keep our elections from becoming speculative ventures for the wealthy and put a stop to the hostile takeover of our democratic system by a couple of billionaire oil barons.”
This — plus Reid’s planned votes on the amendment — are best understood as part of a larger strategy that also includes the emphasis on a “fair shot” agenda designed to combat inequality and increase economic opportunity and mobility.
It’s absolutely true that the Dem effort to run against big money in politics proved fruitless in 2010. But as I’ve reported here before, Democratic pollsters and strategists believe that views of the economy and the political influence of the wealthy have fundamentally changed after the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011 and a 2012 presidential race in which the GOP candidate was cast as an agent of plutocracy. They think struggling swing voters are more open to the argument that the influence of big money in politics is one of the key reasons (along with other long-running trends) for rising inequality and a key cause of why the economy is rigged against them and for the wealthy, something majorities also believe.
And so, the ongoing attacks on the Kochs — and the new push for a constitutional amendment — probably wouldn’t have any political impact in a vacuum. Rather, Dems are pushing them as part of a broader argument about what has happened to the economy in recent years, with the gains of the recovery going to the very top, while lower-end wages remain stagnated. The argument is that electing Republican lawmakers would do nothing to change this economic status quo, because the GOP continues to be organized around the protection of the interests of their very wealthy backers, whose influence over the process must be broken before any serious policy response to inequality and stalled economic opportunity and mobility can happen.
After all, that recently-revealed Americans for Prosperity memo spelled out that the real goal of all those millions in anti-Obamacare ads is to persuade swing voters that the answer to their economic problems is as little government as possible. As the New York Times detailed recently, this vision of what is good for America would also benefit the Koch brothers’ bottom line to an untold degree. Reid will reference that memo today.
UPDATE: Mitch McConnell’s spokesman responds by suggesting that limits on campaign donations are indistinguishable from limits on free speech.
* YES, BOEHNER COULD ACT ON IMMIGRATION: John Harwood charts the path the Speaker could follow if he decided to get his caucus to pass immigration reform. The key takeaway is that it would be hard, but this doesn’t mean it would be impossible. And it would have payoffs:
It could return him and the House to the legislative problem-solving he has long valued but has rarely been able to accomplish as speaker. It could engrave on his record the adaptation of American law to historical, cultural, demographic and economic changes. It could help his party stem its alienation from the swelling Hispanic electorate and revitalize its ability to win presidential elections.
Regular reminder: Boehner himself has said even most rank-and-file House Republicans want to solve the problem of the 11 million. And it becomes even harder to do next year. Out of excuses.
* THE LATEST GOP EXCUSE ON IMMIGRATION: You will be hearing a lot more of this as the window for action for House Republicans closes over the next few months:
Senate Republicans say they’ll try to pass immigration reform legislation in the next two years if they take back the Senate in November. The Republicans say winning back the Senate will allow them to pass a series of bills on their own terms that have a better chance of winning approval in the House.
Yeah, right. What immigration reform bill could pass a GOP-controlled Senate that would be comprehensive enough to begin repairing the party’s relationship with Latinos?
* ARKANSAS SENATE RACE A TOSS-UP: Larry Sabato’s crystal ball shifts the Arkansas Senate race from “leans Republican” to “toss-up,” in the wake of new polls showing incumbent Mark Pryor leading challenger Tom Cotton. Beltway prognosticators are coming around to the idea that many of these Senate races could go either way and will be long, hard, unpredictable slogs — which means that control of the Senate is itself a tossup with perhaps a slight GOP lean. In other words, folks are abandoning the idea that Obamacare means GOP control is inevitable.
* A NOTE ON THE “CONSERVATIVE GRASSROOTS”: E.J. Dionne argues that for all the talk of a conservative grassroots rebellion against the GOP establishment, what’s really going on is that this is an inside-Washington struggle for control of the party:
Thanks to Supreme Court decisions opening the way for unlimited and often anonymous campaign contributions, we are entering a time when “follow the money” is the proper rubric for understanding the internal dynamics of the Republican Party. Washington-based groups tied to various conservative interests and donors will throw their weight around all over the country, always claiming to speak for those “grass roots.” Primary voters will be left with a choice between two establishments that, in the end, differ little on what they would do with power.
Or, as Paul Waldman asked recently: “can you name a significant substantive difference on an important policy matter between the GOP establishment and the Tea Party?”
* POLL FINDING OF THE DAY, MUST-BE-IGNORED-AT-ALL-COSTS EDITION: A new Fox News (!) poll finds:
In the end, do you think the health law will be a good thing or a bad thing for the country?
Good thing: 47
Obamacare’s favorability rating is now higher than in any previous Fox poll (though it’s still at 43-53). Surely this poll finding will get just as much attention on the right as Fox findings usually enjoy.
* AND THE QUOTE OF THE DAY, OBAMACARE ACCEPTANCE EDITION: GOP Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the intelligence committee, tells his constituents:
“The chance of repealing Obamacare is zero.”
Good to have this cleared up. Now how about sharing that with pretty much every other Republican lawmaker and candidate in the country?