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‘That Dumb Cowboy Bush’

Matthew Yglesias, making another version of his argument that the multiple veto points in the legislative branch overly empower the minority and make America “ungovernable,” drew a quip from Glenn “Instapundit” Reynolds: “Funny, that dumb cowboy Bush seemed to get a lot done with fewer votes in Congress.” Yglesias clarifies: “I meant to convey the fact that the political system seems incapable of addressing large-scale objective problems.”

I think if Reynolds were to revisit his quip, he’d have to agree with Yglesias. What, after all, did Bush “get done” on domestic policy? As a libertarian like Reynolds knows, his biggest policy achievements made the government bigger, kicking costs down the road for someone else to pay. In 2001 he made an alliance with liberals and got the No Child Left Behind Act passed. In 2003 he made an alliance with liberals and got Medicare Part D passed. When Bush put his weight behind the sort of reforms that Reynolds likes, and that his base wanted — Social Security reform, for example — it died in Congress.

The big exception to all of this, of course, was tax policy. Bush got enormous supply-side tax cuts through Congress. But as Reynolds must know, those tax cuts didn’t need 60 votes to get through the Senate; they went through the budget process and needed 51 votes. I don’t think anyone would make the argument that tax cuts should have to pass a supermajority threshold. I know very few conservatives who are glad that Democratic filibusters, when the party was at an ebb of 45 Senate seats, could kill entitlement reform. But in our current system, cost-shifting policy like that is easy to pass and large-scale policies are tough to pass — note that “deficit hawks” like Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) are not proposing actual entitlement reforms, but toothless “commissions” to look at those reforms.

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