Free Kevin Hassett! Trump pick a victim of Senate partisanship
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Economists rarely agree. As George Bernard Shaw once quipped, “If all the economists were laid end to end, they'd never reach a conclusion.”

It was therefore all the more surprising when, five weeks ago, 44 prominent economists signed a letter urging the Senate Banking Committee to “move as expeditiously as possible” on Kevin Hassett’s nomination to head President TrumpDonald TrumpUkraine's president compares UN to 'a retired superhero' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Heller won't say if Biden won election MORE’s Council of Economic Advisers.


Facing only token opposition, the Senate Banking Committee approved Hassett’s nomination nine days later, sending it to the Senate floor for final consideration. That’s when Kevin Hassett became a hostage. Hassett, like so many of President Trump’s nominees, faces what could be a lengthy delay before the Senate confirms his nomination. 


The problem? Politics. Senate Democrats have found an effective strategy for blunting President Trump and the Republican majorities in Congress. That strategy?  Stall. Delay. Filibuster. 

According to a report from the Washington Examiner, “So far, 27 of the 41 nominees needing Senate confirmation have required Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money — Democrats rush to finish off infrastructure Biden employs flurry of meetings to unite warring factions GOP senators say Biden COVID-19 strategy has 'exacerbated vaccine hesitancy' MORE (R-Ky.) to invoke cloture, the process for ending filibusters. Cloture forces a Senate vote but also obligates the leadership to allow 30 hours of debate on the filibustered matter, effectively throwing sand in the gears of the already slow-moving legislative process.” 

It would be naïve to expect Senate Democrats to forgo unilaterally one of the few legislative tools they have to block and/or shape public policy in the Trump era.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration and congressional Republicans must accept that they, without 60 votes in the Senate and a reliable 218 votes in the House, have the appearance of control without actual control. This is perhaps, at least from the Republican perspective, the worst of all scenarios — all the blame and little ability to govern with Republican votes alone.

The solution? 

Republicans should understand reconciliation isn’t a panacea. Pursuing health and tax reforms via reconciliation ensures that Democrats, understandably fearful of being sidelined, will attempt to block Republicans at every turn. (Can you blame them?)

The reconciliation path also places undue pressure on moderate Senate Republicans in politically competitive states. Senators Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCollins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid McConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike GOP senator will 'probably' vote for debt limit increase MORE (R-Maine) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerHeller won't say if Biden won election Ex-Sen. Dean Heller announces run for Nevada governor Former Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor MORE (R-Nev.), for example, understand they risk being defeated for reelection if they back overly-partisan reconciliation bills. As we have learned in recent weeks, no senators’ votes can be taken for granted.

By contrast, a 60-vote legislative strategy would, on a bill-by-bill basis, require Republicans to entice support from at least eight Senate Democrats. Securing those votes — the political equivalent of reaching escape velocity — would prompt more Democrats to follow suit. Political scientists call that the “bandwagon effect.”

Once a given piece of legislation attracts bipartisan support, moderate Senate Republicans, who may otherwise waver in their support, will find they can support the measure without the electoral risk that accompanies a strictly partisan measure. Political scientists call that “protecting one’s backside.”

Indeed, in a Senate with only 52 Republican members, 60 votes may be easier to achieve than 51.

Democrats have a stake in bipartisanship as well. Bipartisanship gives both Republicans and Democrats the opportunity to brag to their constituents about all the good things they have accomplished (and why they should be reelected). 

That opportunity should be especially appealing to the ten Senate Democrats who are up for reelection next year in states that Donald Trump won last November.  Five of those senators are in states Trump won by double digits.

But bipartisanship won’t be possible until Democrats scrap their strategy of oppose-and-delay for a strategy of compromise-and-legislate. They should start by releasing Kevin Hassett and the other hostages. 

Jim Carter served as the head of tax policy implementation on President Trump’s transition team. Previously, he was a deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury and deputy undersecretary of labor under President George W. Bush.

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