Dorgan and Dodd's Retirements WIll Affect LegislationJanuary 6, 2010 - by Donny Shaw
Most of the talk today about the Dodd/Dorgan retirement news has been focused on what it means for the Democrats electorally in 2010. But what do the retirements mean for the remaining legislative agenda of the Democrats in the current 111th session of Congress?
Just about everything Dodd has done in the Senate over the past year has been about trying to convince the Connecticut voters that he’s on their side, not the side of the Wall Street bankers. After his name was tarnished last spring by his role in letting the A.I.G. bonuses get paid out, Dodd stepped up his game by leading publicly on consumer-protection legislation addressing things like credit card industry abuses (S.414), unfair banking fees (S.1799) and fraud in the mortgage market (S.895).
For the past few months, Dodd has been leading in the Senate on the drafting of comprehensive financial regulatory reform legislation. But his retirement plans could weaken the incentives for him to create a strong bill and, if he plans on using his powerful position in the Senate to get into the lobbying game , the incentives now might be tipped towards creating a bill that goes easy on the banks. If he wants to be working for the banking industry in a few years, they are now, in some respects, his constituency. To be clear, there’s no solid evidence that he is planning to go into financial industry lobbying, but senator to lobbyist is a common career path and Dodd’s Chairmanship of the Banking Committee puts him in an especially good position to follow it. His early retirement is due in large part to how cozy he appears to have gotten with the industry over the years.
There’s also the simpler case that Dodd may just be less motivated to push for a strong bill now that there’s no accountability moment looming for him in the near future.
As far as Dorgan is concerned, he got burned a few weeks back by Senate Democrats when they voted down his amendment that would have allowed consumers to buy cheap imported drugs. It was, according to most, a good amendment, and it fit Dorgan’s legislative style perfectly. But the Democrats (and many Republicans) voted it down to preserve a secret deal that the White House had struck with Big Pharma to win their support for the health care bill. Dorgan’s also been a solid supporter of the public option. Without the public option and without his drug importation, it seems like his vote for the final health acre bill might not be assured as it once was. Since he’s retiring, he doesn’t need Democratic party support, and he’s been known to buck the party at will in the past. His insistence on even presenting the importation amendment is an example of that.
On climate change, Dorgan’s been a problemtic vote for the Democrats. In 2007, he voted “no” on a cap-and-trade bill, for example. It will be interesting to see if his retirement plans change his position on the issue. As Joe at Climate Progress speculates, his public statements about climate change legislation would lead one to believe that he basically supports the current bill and, now that he’s free from the conservative North Dakota electorate, he may be more likely to vote for it. But, like Dodd, there’s also a chance that he’ll go to work eventually for private industry — specifically for coal interests in his state. If that is indeed his plan, as it appears, he’s not going to want to make enemies there right now; and Big Coal is no friend of cap-and-trade.
These are just a few initial thoughts and there is certainly a lot more to the dynamics here that will come out over the next few months. The main point here is that the retirement of these two key players in the Senate won’t just change things electorally for the Democrats; they will change the environment that the Democrats will be working in this year as they try to complete their legislative agenda.