The Senate Bourbon Committee

Take a look at the Democratic lineup on the Senate Finance Committee. Notice something odd?

No, not that kind of Bourbon; that kind, the kind known for being conservative, who in Talleyrand’s immortal phrase, “forget nothing and learn nothing.”  Where do they go?

The Finance Committee.  Check out the roster of Democrats: it’s a pretty conservative bunch.

If you were going to make a list of the most effective progressives in the Senate, you might mention Boxer, Mikulski, Dodd, Leahy, Reed, Whitehouse, Levin, Durbin, Feingold, Franken, Harkin, Merkeley, and maybe Klobuchar.

Well, guess what?  None of them are on the Finance Committee.  Neither was Kennedy.

When Schumer wants to be effective, he is, and not surprisingly, he has been the leading progressive voice on health care in the Senate.  (Don’t tell me about Rockefeller: his laying down as the ranking Demnocrat on Intelligence during the Bush years is infamous.  He is now chair of the very powerful Commerce Committee.  Heard about any important hearings he has held?  Me, neither.  Ditto with Kerry: in 2004, Bush was right to say that he had accomplished nothing in 20 years in the Senate.)

So if you want to know why health care is having a hard time getting through Senate Finance, you now know the reason.  But why has Finance become so conservative?  Answer that and you might learn even more about the dysfunctional Senate.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

2 thoughts on “The Senate Bourbon Committee”

  1. The other day I was bemoaning (to myself) the lack of a senator who is going all out for a "progressive" health-care bill the way some of the Representatives are doing. Then I remembered that there used to be such a guy: Paul Wellstone. You can be sure that the phrase "single-payer" would at least have been heard, repeatedly, if he were still around. Maybe it wouldn't make any difference in a final bill, but itwould be nice to have someone with a little charisma and guts fighting the good fight.]

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