Can Obama Capture Some Cuomentum?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
June 27 2011 4:43 PM

Can Obama Capture Some Cuomentum?

Nate Silver asks why Barack Obama can't get things done like Andrew Cuomo can.

It’s hard not to be impressed by the accomplishment, particularly after reading my colleague Michael Barbaro’s article on the work Mr. Cuomo did behind the scenes. Six senators who had voted against the bill in 2009 voted for it on Friday night, including three Republicans. Black and Hispanic members of the Senate, whose constituents sometimes have more tepid feelings toward gay rights, voted for the bill by a 13-1 margin despite the vocal opposition of Senator Rubén Díaz Sr. of the Bronx. The Republican majority leader, Dean G. Skelos, decided to bring the bill to the floor, something he did not have to do.

I’m generally of the view that individual politicians receive both more credit and more blame than they deserve, with legislative and electoral outcomes usually determined by broad cultural, economic and political undercurrents. But the type of leadership that Mr. Cuomo exercised — setting a lofty goal, refusing to take no for an answer and using every tool at his disposal to achieve it — is reminiscent of the stories sometimes told about with President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had perhaps the most impressive record of legislative accomplishment of any recent president.

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Okay, but you don't have to be an Obama apologist to point out Cuomo's advantage -- there's no filibuster in the New York Senate . If there was, Ruben Diaz could have ranted endlessly and wound down the clock, and a determined group of senators could have made sure the bill never got a vote.

Now, Obama could have done a better job in 2009 on something Cuomo has perfected -- co-opting the other party's priorities and signing bills they want that Democrats don't want. But the incentives in Washington, for Republicans, would have still been completely different than the incentives for Dean Skelos in Albany. The essential partisan problem of Obama's first two years was that Mitch McConnell bet hard on obstruction, and court fights kept the Democratic majority at an Al Franken-less 59 votes. (The essential policy problem was a lack of effective stimulus design and oversight, but that's neither here nor there.)

Here's some prime Diaz for you.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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