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.