Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country we bring you the unmissable quotes from political conversations on WNYC. On today's Brian Lehrer Show, outgoing Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd reflected on the Democrats’ hard-fought (and still unpopular) accomplishments of the past year.
Chris Dodd is Connecticut’s longest-serving senator, and 2010 is his 30th year in office. It will also be his last. Back in January, Dodd announced that he would seek retirement rather than re-election this November.
He’s gone out with a bang – two bangs, to be exact. This year, after helping to pass the controversial healthcare overhaul bill, Dodd had his name at the top of another divisive piece of legislation: The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
Unpopular as those bills have been, Dodd defends them as necessary steps in the right direction. He said that healthcare reform, which was the more divisive issue of the two, needed to happen.
This is an issue screaming for some answers…Every administration, one way or another, has tried to do something abut this issue. So it’s been a bipartisan concern, legitimately so, to try and come up with some answers to this. I’ll be the first to admit that we have a long way to go and you’re going to dial this thing different directions before you get done with it, but it is the beginning that we had to make. Someone had to step up and get this done.
The Democrats got it done, but the political cost to themselves and President Obama has the potential to be great. Dodd said it’s a price worth paying, and that it’s worse to be known as a “do-nothing” Congress – a hand that Republicans may have been trying to force.
They never offered an alternative…There was strictly opposition. What you’d normally have is a substitute bill that says, “We think we ought to reform the system, but here’s our substitute idea.” There never was one.
Ironically, Dodd said that the Democrats’ exact 60-seat majority, which was supposed to give them a blank check for legislation, may have been their undoing.
One of the problems we have is that 60-40 breakdown is the worst two numbers you could have. In the 40. the Republicans had to stick together and couldn’t lose a single vote in order to try and hold the line. Democrats needed all 60 to get anything done. Had there been 55-45 or 65-35, I think we might not have ended up in quite the situation we did on so many pieces of legislation.
Despite the difficulties and the backlash, Dodd remained resolute about the need for recent reform legislation. Citing President Truman’s Marshall Plan and the Voting and Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s as examples – both widely unpopular in their own time, now recognized as significant achievements – Dodd said that these new bills will prove equally essential in the long run.
Time and time again, historically, doing the right thing was not always the popular thing to do. I happen to believe that regarding healthcare and financial reform, we did the right thing in both cases, and history will record that.
Hear the whole segment on The Brian Lehrer Show on Wednesday.