Winners and losers

Not talking about baseball today but about  the 16 day drive toward the fiscal cliff.   One of my favorite commentators, Ana Marie Cox, has compiled a list that you can see in its entirety here in the Guardian.  You can agree with her or not about her choices, but she gives us some things to think about.  Here are my favorites among Cox’s choices.

Winners

Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz. The punchline for a thousand Twitter humorists and the lead for most of the many stories about GOP dysfunction, Cruz is laughing in that whiny way of his all the way to the campaign war chest. He raised over $1m in the third quarter that ended 1 October, before the shutdown, half of it through the new “Ted Cruz Victory Committee” formed last year specifically to benefit from Cruz’s “defund Obamacare” petition. Cruz’s floor speech before the Senate vote seemed to imply that the fundraising was continuing at that pace; he referred to the “millions of millions [sic] of American people rising up across this country, over two million people signing a national petition to defund Obamacare”. The online petition is also an email harvesting gambit from the Senate Conservative Fund, the PAC that helped bring Cruz to Washington in the first place.

Harry Reid

Harry Reid. The former pugilist only won a technical knockout, but that’s probably the way the Senate majority leader likes it. That Reid’s compact and focused rage held Democrats together and in chorus was obvious from the outside. Senator Dick Durbin’s insinuation that we will “never know, you will never know, how much he put in to accomplish this” only ups the suspicions about the incredible power Reid wields.

Speaker Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi. Drudge called it, naming the Democratic congresswoman from California the once and future Speaker of the House. In other words, Matt Drudge thinks the Democrats have a serious chance of winning back the House of Representatives in the 2014 midterms. Or, you know, he could have been trolling us.

John McCain

John McCain. The septuagenarian’s bipolar relationship with the media started on the upswing with his early ridicule of Cruz (though now Cruz wears “wackobird” as a badge of honor). With the threat of a shutdown, the love affair really flared back up. McCain gave both earnest indictments of the strategy and exasperated quips. He dusted off the chestnut that congressional popularity is down to “paid staffers and blood relatives” and declared sarcastically of the GOP, “We’re livin’ the dream.”

And now the

Losers

majority rule

Majority rule. While the fundamental principle of democracy seems to have survived the 16-day crisis, the fact of the shutdown and the tiny minority of congressmen that created it, the Tea Party Republicans of the House have nonetheless managed to poke serious holes in the constitution they hold so dear. Presumably, the second amendment was left unscathed.

economic principles

Economic principles. People who didn’t even know what the debt limit was last month now think it’s some kind of conspiracy. Even as the US dodged a bullet this time – though suffering the collateral damage of further credit-rating downgrades – one can’t help feeling that we haven’t heard the last of the GOP’s new caucus of “debt default skeptics”.

apples and oranges

“False equivalence” reporting. James Fallows at the Atlantic documented some of the worst offenders and as “it’s everybody’s fault” became a Republican talking point, many media critics joined him in denouncing the faux-even-handedness as actually putting a finger on the scale. The “serious people” trope (as in, “serious people are above partisan bickering”) popularized by op-ed writers such as Michael Kinsley and Ron Fournier became especially ridiculous as the crisis wore on. Kinsley’s column beseeching Obama to “give in” to Republicans “for the sake of the country” (“media will no doubt call Obama weak”!) should be taught as a cautionary example against this desire to be “taken seriously”.

gop logo

The GOP. I mean, really.

This effort has only cost us an estimated 24 Billion dollars (and counting) and there is no saying that it won’t happen again in January.  It drives me nuts that the President is blamed by many while Ted Cruz used me – and everyone else who pays taxes and needs government services – to raise money for his 2016 Presidential bid.  But the silver lining is that if the Democrats get to work, it looks like they can hold on to the Senate and take back the House.  And then John Boehner will really have something to cry about.

Moving toward the cliff

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend, a federal employee, who is not working because of the shutdown.  She can’t check her work email or phone messages and fears the backlog of problems that awaits her when she does get back to work.  She said the only way she was fortunate was that she was not one of the essential employees who had to work anyway.  We speculated on how people will get to work if October moves to November and people’s monthly transit passes run out.  Will they be expected to shell out money they don’t have to get to a job they aren’t paid for?  All her friends can do is to buy her lunch.  Fast forward 24 hours and we still have no deal.  Even if the Senate comes up with a solution it is not clear if 1) the House will even vote on it and 2) if they do, if this is just another short term postponement.  All my friend hopes is that the next deadline is past the holidays and that there is back pay.

I was trying to find some humor in the whole situation, but find that I actually feel very sorry for John Boehner.  John Cassidy posted this for the New Yorker.

Give the Republicans on Capitol Hill one thing: they don’t leave a job half done. Evidently disturbed by polls showing Congress with a single-digit approval rating, they appear intent on driving it to zero.

What other explanation can there be for Tuesday’s farcical maneuvers, which saw the House Republican leadership try and fail to seize the initiative in the debt-ceiling standoff from the Senate, in the process humiliating Speaker Boehner yet again. By the end of the day, facing renewed opposition from some of his own members, Boehner had dropped his efforts to pass a bill that would have ended the shutdown and raised the debt ceiling until February, but one with more riders than an agreement that Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, and Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, have been working on.

From the point of view of the country, that’s good news. Overnight, officials representing McConnell and Reid were rushing to complete their negotiations, which were called off on Tuesday after Boehner’s unwise intervention. As it stands now, the Senate agreement would reportedly fund the government until January 15th and raise the debt ceiling until February 7th, with the only concession from the Democrats being an agreement to toughen up the policing of eligibility requirements for obtaining federal subsidies to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Boehner is in a box.  He can’t control his own party caucus and can’t turn to Democratic votes because then he would lose his Speakership.  If the country goes into default, he will likely lose it anyway.

Once the Senate passes a bill and sends it to the House, the Speaker will face the unenviable choice of allowing it to pass with Democratic support or exercising the nuclear option of forcing a default. Having already ruled out this second option in public comments, there were reports on Tuesday night that Boehner was prepared to bring the Senate bill to the floor, which would probably insure its passage. That wouldn’t end the budget crisis—it’s never-ending—but it would put off the next showdown until the new year, whilst ensuring that the Republican ultras had gained almost precisely nothing for their willingness to shut down the government and raise the prospect of a debt default. (In another development on Tuesday, Fitch, one of the big ratings agencies, placed U.S. government debt on watch for a potential downgrade, saying that “the prolonged negotiations over raising the debt ceiling (following the episode in August 2011), risks undermining confidence in the role of the U.S. dollar as the preeminent global reserve currency by casting doubt over the full faith and credit of the U.S.”)

From the point of view of the Republican Party, things have been going from bad to worse. With the party divided, its poll ratings tanking fast, and its leadership unwilling to risk an actual default, it has been clear for some time that it was in a losing position. The discussions in the past few days have been about the terms of surrender, with the White House and Reid pressing for something close to an unconditional capitulation.

So here are a few cartoons to weep at as we proceed at a Senate’s slow pace, to the edge.

From Tony Auth

From Tony Auth

Tom Toles

Tom Toles

Signe Wilkerson

Signe Wilkerson

And Wilkerson, again.

Wilkinson2

Can we hope that there are still some adults who won’t drive us over the edge?

More nails in the Republican coffin?

For a number of years now, I have watched part of the Republican party that has as its main, if not sole, purpose, to dismantle government.  They called the Democrats bluff with the sequester which so far has appeared to have little effect.  Who cares if a military base can’t afford fireworks or if the Blue Angels can’t afford to do a fly over?  In the big scheme of things, those are pretty unimportant.  But now more and more federal workers are being furloughed.  For example, local HUD (Housing and Urban Development) offices are closing for five Fridays in July and August.  That is 5 Fridays that staff will not be paid.  This is money that won’t be spent on a vacation or for car repairs or for food and clothing – all things that add to the economy.  (Here is an interesting website that tracks furloughs.)  And while a number of agencies have figured out ways to avoid furloughs, many workers will still be affected – still more if Congress can’t manage to pass a budget for the fiscal year that begins in October.  The loss of incomes will slowly begin to mount.

But it isn’t just the failure to produce a budget.  A recent New York Times editorial summed up the issue quite neatly.  They called it a refusal to govern.

On two crucial issues this week, the extremists who dominate the Republican majority in the House of Representatives made it clear how little interest they have in the future prosperity of their country, or its reputation for fairness and decency.

The two issues are immigration reform and the removal of the food stamp program for the House agriculture bill.

These actions show how far the House has retreated from the national mainstream into a cave of indifference and ignorance. House members don’t want to know that millions of Americans remain hungry (in an economy held back by their own austerity ideology), and they don’t want to deal with the desperation of immigrant families who want nothing more than a chance to work and feed themselves without fear of deportation.

On both issues, in fact, many House Republicans are proudly asserting that they will stand in the way of any attempts to conduct a conference with the Senate. That might, after all, lead to a compromise.

And it isn’t just in the House.

Few things sum up the attitude of the current crop of Republicans in Washington than their loathing of conference committees. On issue after issue, they have passed radical bills and then refused to negotiate. On Thursday, for example, Senate Republicans refused for the 16th time to allow the Democratic Senate budget to be negotiated with its dangerously stingy counterpart in the House.

On immigration, House members fear a conference with the Senate would add back the pathway to citizenship that they consider a giveaway to undesirable non-English speakers. The eventual House border bills “should not be handed to a conference committee so that they can be reconciled with the Senate bill,” wrote Representative Tom Cotton of Arkansas in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday. Instead, he and others say, the Senate should be forced to take up whatever the House produces.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell may believe that ending the filibuster with a majority vote will spell the end of the Senate and cause Harry Reid to be remembered “as the worst leader of the Senate ever”, but in my opinion, the continuous use of the filibuster has already come close to destroying the Senate.  Everything should not require 60 votes.

The New York Times editorial ends with this

A refusal to even to sit at a bargaining table is another way of refusing to govern. The nation’s founders created two chambers for a reason, but Republicans, in their blind fury to harm the least fortunate, are forgetting even those fundamental national values.

From left, Representatives Tim Murphy, Mark Sanford, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Sean P. Duffy, all Republicans, after the House approved an agriculture bill.

From left, Representatives Tim Murphy, Mark Sanford, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Sean P. Duffy, all Republicans, after the House approved an agriculture bill.

This is why the most recent Quinnipiac poll shows that while 53% felt the President was doing too little to compromise with Congress, a whopping 68% felt the Republicans leaders in Congress were doing to little to compromise with the President.  And everyone thinks Congress is dysfunctional blaming both parties.

There is something called the greater good and I think many in Congress, particularly Republicans, have forgotten that ideal.

Photograph: Christopher Gregory/The New York Times

How to get a functioning government

Winning Progressive had a very interesting and thoughtful post this morning by NChrissie B.

We need political fringes because that’s where most new ideas begin. Many will be bad ideas, like the House Republican Budget’s plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program. Others will be good ideas, like the financial transactions tax in the Congressional Progressive Caucus “Back to Work” Budget. As the Economic Policy Institute report noted, that tax would “raise significant revenue while dampening speculative trading and encouraging more productive investment.” It would also discourage individual investors from day-trading and other mistakes that churn their savings into brokers’ profits.

New ideas tend to start on the fringes – right and left – because the fringes don’t have to govern. Think tanks, academics, pundits, and bloggers can kick around ideas without worrying about whether the ideas are politically viable. We did that at BPI when we discussed a Guaranteed Basic Income, an idea from and still on the political fringe. We didn’t talk about whether it could pass in the House or Senate. It couldn’t, at least not soon. But it might gain traction in some form, at some point, and such discussions open our eyes to other perspectives on work, wages, and the social safety net.

I wrote in my unpublished dissertation that social movements need racial fringes to make the movement look mainstream.  NChrissie B.  is arguing that the same is true of  legislating.  The danger, however, is that the Democrats ignore their progressive or left wing while the Republicans are ruled by their right or Tea Party wing.  This is where we seem to be right now and nothing is functioning.  We need to get back to a place where there is a middle ground.  NChrissie B. uses the Overton Window as an illustration.

overton window

I’d like to see the window moved a little more to the left and I think that could happen if Harry Reid would just fix the damn filibuster rules.  I also think the Democrats (and President Obama) need to take the Progressive Caucus budget a little more seriously than they do.  It would also help if Mitch McConnell grew a backbone.

What does Chuck Hagel have to do with Benghazi?

I wish someone would explain to me what someone who was not even a government official at the time has to do with Benghazi?  Is Chuck Hagel just leverage?  Believe me, the Obama Administration could show live action footage of the event as it unfolded and the Republicans still wouldn’t be happy.

According to Politico

One Armed Services Committee member, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey  Graham, has made clear that he considers Benghazi and Hagel to be one issue —“no confirmation without information,” he said Sunday, threatening to block both  Hagel and CIA nominee John Brennan. Graham is demanding more details from the  administration about its response to the Benghazi attacks, particularly the  direct involvement of President Barack Obama.

And then you have James Inhofe.  Again from Politico

A spokeswoman for Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) confirmed to POLITICO that he wanted  to drag out the confirmation process for the former Republican senator from  Nebraska.

Inhofe’s threat continued GOP brinksmanship that got under way on Sunday when  Republican aides first said that some senators might walk out of a meeting that  included a vote on Hagel. Inhofe and another top Republican on the committee,  Sen. John McCain of Arizona, both said Monday they would not walk out, but  Inhofe repeated his vow to press the battle against Hagel.

It appears very much as if the Republicans have forgotten that they are a minority in the Senate.  If Chair Senator Carl Levin calls for a committee vote, it will be along party lines which he didn’t want.  But I don’t think there will be any bipartisan agreement there.  According to the New York Times, Levin

…called Monday for a committee vote on Tuesday afternoon on the nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense.

The committee action has been postponed for the past week over evolving demands from Republicans for new documentation on Mr. Hagel’s past statements, personal financial records and even a sexual harassment allegation involving two former staff members, but not Mr. Hagel himself. As action has drawn closer, Republican opponents to a former Senate Republican colleague have threatened filibusters and even a walkout from the committee.

Once Hagel’s nomination reaches the floor, vote counters believe that there will be 60 votes to break any attempt at a filibuster.  Maybe Majority Leader Reid need to reconsider his agreement with Senator McConnell since I don’t think it is going to work.

But Mr. Levin’s decision to call for a public discussion and vote, starting at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday ahead of President Obama‘s State of the Union address, indicated that the chairman still believes that Mr. Hagel has enough support to be confirmed. Committee aides say they have no indication that any Democrats or Senate independents will oppose him, putting him at 55 votes to start. Two Republican senators, Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns from Mr. Hagel’s home state, Nebraska, have pledged their support, and at least four Republicans have said they will oppose a filibuster.

And I still want to know what Chuck Hagel has to do with Benghazi, Senator Graham.  I think we all know that this really has to do with the fact that Hagel is not a war hawk and will figure out a way to cut the defense budget.

Photograph Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

Hopes for Obama 2.0

I thought this was a good summary of President Obama’s first term and what we hope can be avoided.

And they are still working on it.  Just look at Mike Luckovich

The more things change the more they stay the same.  John McCain is mischaracterizing Hillary Clinton’s testimony and it looks, right now like Harry Reid is going to cave on filibuster reform after all but it is an evolving situation.

And if you want another sign that nothing has changed, John Boehner is accusing Obama of destroying the Republican party.  I think they are doing a pretty good job without the President’s help.

Collage of pictures of John Boehner crying.

Boehner Collage – Jed Lewison

About the Republican request for a balanced approach

Ezra Klein posted this today

This is a very sharp point by Josh Barro:

The Republicans’ main problem in this negotiation is that they know President Barack Obama will not agree to cut in the area they want to cut: aid to the poor. The signal Obama has sent is that he is willing to make a deal that cuts old-age entitlements, meaning Medicare and Social Security, and Republicans are internally conflicted over those programs.

He’s right. Think back to Mitt Romney’s proposed budget. Medicare and Social Security were held harmless for at least 10 years. Defense spending got a lift. PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts were on the table, but they cost so little it hardly mattered.

And there is the Ryan budget problem which remains the basic Republican budget outline.  It is what they ran on.

These are, however, classes of cuts the White House won’t even consider. A year ago, they were open to modest cuts in Medicaid, but after the Supreme Court’s health-care decision, even that door has shut. As for discretionary spending cuts, so many of those were made in 2011, there’s just not much left to do.

That leaves Medicare and Social Security. It’s possible that the negotiators will enact a backdoor, but significant, cut to Social Security by changing the government’s measure of inflation. But they’re not going to come at Social Security from the front. It’s too politically potent. Even Ryan’s budget left Social Security alone.

As for Medicare, as Barro says, if “Republicans ask for near-term Medicare cuts, that will mean reversing a position that is popular with a core constituency (old white people) and giving up a cudgel that they feel they have used effectively to beat up the president since 2009.” It’s a pickle.

In addition, as Steve Benen on the Rachel Maddow blog reminds us, the President has already offered spending cuts, of about 1.7 trillion over 10 years.

The White House keeps saying it wants a ‘balanced approach’ but this offer is completely unbalanced and unrealistic,” a Capitol Hill Republican said yesterday. “It calls for $1.6 trillion in tax hikes — all of that upfront — in exchange for only $400 billion in spending cuts that come later.”

Let’s put aside, for now, the irony of hearing Republicans talking about “balanced” debt-reduction plans. Instead, the importance of complaints like these is that they overlook everything that happened a year ago. Jonathan Cohn had a good piece on this.

…As part of the 2011 Budget Control Act, Obama agreed to spending  reductions of about $1.5 trillion over the next ten years. If you count  the interest, the savings is actually $1.7 trillion. Boehner should have  no problem remembering the details of that deal: As Greg Sargent points out, Boehner at the time actually gloated about the fact that the deal was “all spending cuts.”

And now, with this latest offer, Obama is proposing yet more spending  reductions, to the tune of several hundred billion dollars. Add it up  and it’s more than $2 trillion in spending cuts Obama has either signed  into law or is endorsing now. That’s obviously greater than the $1.6 trillion in new tax revenue he’s seeking. (And that doesn’t even take into account automatic cuts  from the 2011 budget sequester, which Obama has proposed to defer, or  savings from ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.)

I can understand the temptation to block 2011 from memory, but what transpired is clearly relevant to the current debate. Obama wanted a “balanced” approach last year — some cuts, some new revenue — but didn’t get it. Instead, faced with the prospect of Republicans crashing the economy on purpose, the president accepted a deal with a whole lot of spending cuts.

How much new tax revenue came as the result of last year’s deal? Zero. The entire package came in the form of spending reductions and savings.

So with the new tax revenues and the already proposed budget cuts, President Obama is offering exactly what the Republicans keep asking for:  a balanced approach.  I’m not sure what they are waiting for.  Senator Harry Reid is mystified and so am I.

We need a comprehensive solution that lasts for a couple of years at a minimum because this non-economist doesn’t think the economy will improve as long as we seem to be in a continuous a budget or debt ceiling crisis.