Government Shutdown Avoided and Guaranteed

As I write, the news is that an agreement has been reached for the budget for the fiscal year (or what’s left of it).  This is good news, though it was purchased by the Democrats giving up far more than they should have.

Apparently, the House will not be able to pass the compromise without Democratic votes as the Tea Party members feel House Speaker  John Boehner gave up too much (he got more than his opening bid!).  Which brings up the question, is Boehner an historically weak Speaker, or an exceptionally clever one?

I can not decide if the Democrats should give just enough votes for it to pass or if they should vote for it unanimously (or as unanimously as they can).

Now comes the hard part: next year’s budget.   I see just two possibilities.  One, no agreement is reachable and the government shuts down.  I think this outcome is guaranteed.  There is one alternative.  Boehner could pass a budget with the 192 Democratic votes and 25 Republican votes (including his own).  This requires Boehner to be willing to lose his job as Speaker.  It also requires that he and the other 24 Republicans face a Tea Party opponent in his primary.   I see this as the only hope of avoiding a shutdown.

If we get through this fall, with or without a shutdown, then we have just one budget left for this congress, and that would be on the table during the election!  That will be interesting!!

Delegating Powers to the Vice President in the Mubarek Administration

OK, that does not roll off the tongue as nicely as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  But either metaphor serves in the case of our elected federal officials and the deficit.

Let us begin with an old chart from the Congressional Budget Office via our, ahem,  good friend Ross Perot:

This chart is a bit dated, but the curves have not changed much.  Future deficits are the result of medicare/medicaid and interest.  The last being the same as saying future deficits are the result of future deficits.   If future deficits can be brought under control, then the interest payments will take care of themselves.

Want something more recent?

This is from February 25th, 2011.  It assumes that the Bush tax cuts will expire and that the Obama stimulus tax cuts also expire.   Note that the growth of health spending goes from over eight percent of GDP to 12% of GDP while the total deficit at that point is 3.2 percent of GDP.   So the entire projected deficit in 2021 could be attributed to the growth of medical spending.

The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) actually includes several measures intended to bring down medical costs.  The CBO grades the Act as lowering the deficit even though they did not take many of the cost saving  measures into consideration on the grounds that the measures had not yet shown they would work (they were not even law at the time…).

So the only serious deficit reduction effort in Washington today is the Democrats defense of health reform.  Obama freezing spending and the Republicans talk of cutting spending amounts to nothing more that delegating powers to the vice president in the Mubarek administration.

Oh yes.  If you want to clear up the short term deficits, this chart might prove useful:


For good or for ill, the spending that the Republicans want to cut is there for a reason.  People like it.  That spending is popular.  War, the Bush tax cuts, and the recession drive the short term deficit.

Even if the wars end tomorrow, the savings there will be minimal.   Something else will come along.  It always does.

Many of the cuts the Republicans propose would actually weaken the economic recovery and so increase the deficit.

The Bush tax cuts should be allowed to expire.  All of them.

Everybody’s Scratching Somebody’s Back

Some of the message coming from various Republicans lately is that the public employee unions give the Democratic Party an edge since the Democrats are supposedly happy to give the unions whatever they want and then the unions provide the dollars and the votes to elect the Democrats.  A fine circle of back scratching.

In the first place, if this was such an effective dynamic, how did a Republican get elected to the Wisconsin governorship?  Why are there any Republican office holders anywhere?  And, why is it that

over the last fifteen years the pay of public-sector workers, including teachers, has dropped relative to private-sector employees with the same level of education – even including health and retirement benefits.

(Yes, I just used that a couple of posts previously…)

I suppose it is all hunky dory that big business and the wealthy give loads of cash to Republicans who vote to give them tax deductions and tax cuts, and to ease the regulatory burden.   It is so much easier to make money when one is free to pollute the environment,  treat employees as expendable assets, and customers as people to swindle.

The Pendulum Gets Shoved

Back in June of 2009, I posted about the “death” of the Republican Party and who would save it.  Today, as predicted, the Republican Party is resurgent and I read stories of how the republicans are going to threaten democratic control of the senate and the presidency.   Who will save the Democrats??

The Republicans!!!    With the last election results being driven mostly by the economy, unemployment specifically, the republican controlled House of Representatives has not yet done a thing to address that issue.

With the national debt standing as one of the important issues of our time, the Republicans are content with addressing it by slashing domestic non-security discretionary spending, i.e., spending they do not like.  In other words, they do not care about the deficit (there is not enough money in domestic non-security discretionary spending to do much for the deficit), they are just happy to use the crisis as an opportunity to cut spending they do not like.  (Remember how unhappy they were when Obama talked about crises presenting opportunity?)

Of course, Americans like the spending and are still unhappy with the unemployment situation.   If this keeps up, I expect the Democrats to win big.

Rules Are Rules

I have seen a couple of references to the idea of changing the Senate filibuster rules.  I am completely opposed to this.

In the first place, the Democrats were able to pass health care reform within the existing rules.  The blame for the difficulty involved lies far more on the Democrat’s own shoulders than it does on those of the Republicans.  True, the Republicans did everything they could think of to stall and obstruct, but the Democrats had the votes any time they decided to get their act together.

In the second place, changing the rules is shortsighted.  Eventually, the Republicans will again have majorities in congress.  I do not think it likely that when that time comes the GOP will begin by reinstating the filibuster.

Finally, there is Massachusetts.  The Democrats changed the rules there when they were afraid a Republican governor would be appointing a replacement for Senator Kerry.  This was completely unnecessary since Kerry went on to lose the presidency and keep the senate seat.  And it bit the Democrats in the ass when Ted Kennedy was dying and they had to hurriedly change the rules back so the Democratic governor could appoint a replacement.  I wonder how much this playing with the rules influenced the election of Brown.

There are times in life when rules need to be ignored.  There are times when rules simply do not work anymore and need to be changed.

But this is not one of those times.

Health Care Reform!

Congress has passed it.  The President signed it.  It is law.  We still need the reconciliation to be passed, but I am confident that it will get done (may take more effort than one would think, but it will get done).

Seems like a common theme I was hearing in recent weeks was how Obama’s presidency was a failure (from conservatives).  Now I hear that the Obama presidency is an historic success (from liberals).  In both cases it is a bit soon to judge.   It is still too soon to judge George W. Bush’s presidency.

This was not rammed through against the wishes of the American people.  It was passed by normal legislative procedures against the wishes of a minority of the American people.   53% of voters voted for Obama.  Anyone who voted for Obama and did not know he or she was voting for health care reform was not paying attention.   Although there were recent polls showing that a majority were against the health care reform bill, those polls actually showed that a lot of people were against what they believed the health care bill to be, not what it was.  And a few were against it because it was not liberal enough.

Don’t believe it when Republicans claim they had no choice but to oppose the bill at all costs since the Democrats refused to negotiate in good faith.  It was the other way around.  In particular, Senator Baucus spent weeks trying to get a compromise that would garner some Republican support.  Later, the Democrats stuggled to find the ground that would get both the conservative and the liberal Democrats to vote for the bill.  If there were some moderate Republicans there to stand in for the loss of the liberal Democrats…..

This is not the salvation of the Democratic Pary (though it does and will stand as an important achievement).  There are still seats to lose in November.

This is not the Waterloo of the Republican Party.  The Party is not now exiled onto St. Helena to die six years hence.   There are seats to win in November.

Now the lawsuits begin.  Under the heading of  “be careful what you wish for”, if this bill gets thrown out as unconstitutional due to the individual mandate, then the next time around the bill that will be passed will be single payer.  Yes, it might take a few years to get us back to such a point, but it will happen if this gets tossed.

There are plenty of issues to occupy Washington after health care, but my vote for most important issue is the deficit.

Evan Bayh’s Goodbye

Evan Bayh, senator from Indiana, today announced that he is not going to run for re-election.  Although Bayh is a Democrat, he has always been on the conservative side of the tent.  The most recent example of this was the Massachusetts special senate election.  The moment it was clear the Republican won the race, Bayh was making statements supporting the idea that health care reform was dead.

To the end (not that this necessarily constitutes the end), Bayh has been less than helpful to the Democratic Party.  He drops out of the race with a couple of days left to file to run in the primary.   This isn’t enough time for someone to jump in and gather the necessary signatures to get on the primary ballot, so the candidate for the fall would be picked by the Democratic Party.

Except there was one person already out gathering signatures to run in the primary against Bayh.  Tamyra d’Ippolito, a cafe owner in Bloomington, claims to be 1000 signatures away from the number needed to get on the ballot.

I’m not confident she will make it,  but it might have been better if Bayh had waited a day or two.  It is likely that Bayh’s absence really energized d’Ippolito.

If Tamyra d’Ippolito gets the signatures she will be the only senate candidate on the primary ballot.  So she will be the Democratic candidate in the fall.  Judging by her web page, she has no political experience and she has an uphill battle to win.

I think the Democrat’s chances for winning in the fall would be much higher if the party could pick the candidate.

With luck d’Ippolito fails to get the signatures and it will make no difference.  In any event, thank-you Evan Bayh.

Hat tip to TPM.

Memo to Democratic Congressional Reps

You have one chance.  Pass the senate health care bill.

The public does not differentiate between the house bill and the senate bill.

You already voted for the house bill.

Your republican opponent in the fall is going to pin that vote on you incessantly.

And those who support reform are not going to be all that enthusiastic because you did not pass it.

So you have the worst of both worlds:  blame for the vote, and no credit for passage.

The republicans had one goal:  prevent the passage of health care.

They have almost succeeded.

The only bills (of any consequence) that will pass between now and January 2011 (if not later) are bills through reconciliation.  The republicans have zero incentive to cooperate with anything.  Obstruction has served them very well in the polls.

Health care reform cannot be done solely through reconciliation.

Pass the senate bill and then fix what can be fixed through reconciliation.

That is all.


Somehow it already feels like ancient history, but the reader perhaps remembers the hubbub surrounding the book Game Change when it was published eight days ago.  Harry Reid was quoted talking about Obama’s lack of a Negro dialect.  Sarah Palin is also depicted negatively in the book.

Reid’s response was to stand up and admit he said what he said.  And he apologized.

Palin’s response was to simply state that the book was full of lies.

One might look at the two responses and draw conclusions about who is leadership material.

On the other hand, both of them responded in the way that their politics required of them.  Politics required Reid to man up and apologize.  Politics requires Palin to just declare the book to be lies.   (Maybe they are lies.  I don’t know).

With 63% of precincts reporting, the Republican Brown is defeating the Democrat Coakley in the Massachusetts senate race 53% to 46%.  It is not looking good.

Now the Democrats are faced with the question of what to do with health care reform.  Are they leaders or are they craven cowards to the political breeze.

TPM alerts us to the early leap by Indiana’s Bayh to cowardice.

The irony is that if the Dems listen to the lesson of Massachusetts and fail to pass health care, they will lose a lot more this fall then they will if they stand tall and pass the bill.  They already voted for it.

If Coakley does indeed lose, it probably means the end of Cap and Trade.   With luck the global warming deniers are correct.

Will we get leadership or politicians?

Justice Confirmation Hearings

I had a chance to actually watch a lot of Tuesday’s hearings for confirmation of Sotomayor.  The hearings should probably be called posturing hearings.  It does seem that much of what is said by the senators has as much or more to do with shaping their own image as it does with trying to learn about the nominee.

The Republicans, understanding that Sotomayor’s confirmation is a forgone conclusion, have their only hope of preventing her confirmation by catching her in an error.  They return to the same subjects over and over waiting for Sotomayor to make a mistake.  Sotomayor has handled all the questions with aplomb.

Sotomayor was correct to walk away from her “wise Latina woman” comment, but she walked too far away.  It is not true that a wise Latina woman will make a better decision than a white male.  It is true that a wise Latina woman might make a different decision that is just as good as the white males.  And it somehow never gets mentioned that for 180 years all of the Supreme Court Justices were white males and in the next forty years all but four Justices have been white males.

To watch the hearings is to enter a fantasy world where white males are the standard for objectivity.  Where white males are never influenced by their life experience as a white male.  But, of course, a Latina woman is going to always be influenced by her life experience as a Latina woman (even though she has a lengthy record of not favoring minorites).

The truth is that any justice is going to be influenced by his or her life experience.  That’s the way it is, the way it has always been, and the way it will always be.

It is also the way it should be.

It is also that case that every judge should be able to empathize with the people who will be affected by decisions.  This repeated mantra of “fidelity to the law” is not meaningless.  Fidelity to the law should be the guiding principle, but the law is not complete.  If it were, there would be no need for judges.  Conservatives are happy to have empathetic judges, just as long as the judge is a conservative.  Google “Alito empathy”.

Finally, an “activist judge” is a judge with whom the speaker does not agree.

Confirmation hearings should turn on one question only:  Is the nominee qualified to sit on the Supreme Court.  This is determined by asking the nominee about various issues that the Court has dealt with and likely will deal with.  If the nominee can intelligently discuss the subtleties of the various issues, then the nominee is qualified.

Sotomayor is clearly qualified.