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On the Shutdown Blame Game

October 1, 2013 2 comments

If your social media experience today is anything like mine, you have some conservative or right-leaning friends crying “a pox on both your houses,” while your liberal or left-leaning friends are chanting “Down with the GOP!” Some could interpret this to mean that right-leaning friends are more fair, clear-eyed, and rational about the situation while left-leaning friends are being partisan nincompoops. In many situations, that could easily be the case. However, in this specific scenario, it’s simply that this whole shutdown is entirely the House Republicans’ fault. Let me explain the many reasons why this is true.

(For ease of writing, I’m going to refer to Republicans and Democrats instead of specifying “a large block of House Republicans including their leadership,” or “the Democrats in the Senate.”)

Play the Cards You Have

This is a fairly simple concept. How realistic is it for each side to secure that for which they are asking? Back when poker was a big television event, viewers always had the luxury of knowing which cards each player held. Well, in this situation the Republicans are waiting on a flush draw and the Democrats already have a full house. The only way Republicans can win is to convince the Democrats to fold a superior hand. I’m talking about vote counts. The House Republicans continually pass bills which have no chance of winning a majority in the Senate, where there are 54 Democrats who support Obamacare. Meanwhile, multiple reports have indicated that there are enough Republicans in the House who would vote for a “clean” continuing resolution that a vote would pass.

So the Republicans keep passing bills that will not pass the Senate. And the Democrats keep passing bills that will pass the House. All they have to do is put it up for a vote. The Democrats’ plan has the support of the majority in both chambers of congress. Clearly, on “winability,” it’s advantage Democrats.

The Electoral High Ground

There was an exchange just before midnight during the Ted Cruz non-filibuster in which Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia conceded that Sen. Cruz was elected by a wide margin in both the primary and the general election on a clearly-stated opposition to Obamacare, and thus felt legitimately honor-bound to fight for its removal. Sen. Kaine then went on to explain that other representatives were equally honor-bound to do the opposite, and there were more of them.

You see, in the 2012 election, Obamacare was a pretty front-and-center issue. Yes, the economy was on everyone’s mind when they took to the ballots, but the outcome of Obamacare was clearly known to be a consequence of this election. The results were that Democrats received more votes for the Presidency, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. They picked up seats in both chambers, expanding the Senate majority and narrowing the gap in the House. The American people weighed in, and the Democrats got more votes. The Republicans were able to maintain the House majority only due to a combination of geographic realities and some gerrymandering (more the former than the latter; sorry liberals). But the conclusion remains that more voters cast votes for representatives promising to uphold the law than to repeal it.

Moral High Ground

You’ll notice, thus far, that I have not made any arguments about the merits of Obamacare itself. That’s because I find them irrelevant to the issue of a shutdown. There have been numerous government shutdowns in the past, and while a handful centered on abortion issues, the vast majority of the times that the government couldn’t agree to funding levels before a deadline passed occurred because the government couldn’t agree on funding levels. This is a budgetary debate. There are many, many things that take place within the government with which I do not agree. I don’t think that there is a single one that I find worth failing to meet the obligations of elected office, governing, and funding that government. I think that to inflict real harm on the nation’s economy and several hundred thousand federal employees over an ideological agenda is simply wrong.

Survey Says

One point often made is that the American people are against Obamacare and therefore the Democrats should listen to them and give ground. While this flies in the face of election results, polling data speaks fairly clearly. However, very few of those polls ask the proper follow-up question. The CNN Poll does. When asked whether they disapprove of Obamacare because it is too liberal or not liberal enough, a solid 11% of the respondents say they disapprove because it’s not liberal enough (that’s 11% of the total population, not 11% of those who disapprove). Suddenly, those election results make a lot more sense, don’t they? If you assume that those who disapprove of Obamacare because it is not liberal enough are more likely to back a Democratic agenda, then suddenly the 10-12 point majority opposing the bill swings the opposite direction.

On top of that, every single poll out there indicates that shutting down the government is wildly unpopular under any circumstances, for any reason. So on the health care bill, the public is siding less with Republicans than Republicans seem to think, and on shutting down the government the public is adamantly opposed to the Republican tactics. Make DC Listen!

Negotiation 101

The Republicans are reprimanding Democrats for not negotiating. “The President will negotiate with [insert terrorists, Iran, Russia, etc] but he won’t negotiate with Republican leaders,” they cry! Well, let’s look at where both parties stand.

Democrats want: To fund the government (at previous levels)

Republicans want: To fund the government (at previous levels) and to delay/defund/weaken/cripple Obamacare.

So let me get this straight. You want to negotiate when only one side has any demands? Funding the government is good for everyone. Not funding the government is bad for everyone. The Republicans are not offering any concessions. They are simply offering fewer demands each time and calling it compromise, but they are still the only one with demands.

And guess what. Time just ran out. People today will begin enrolling in Obamacare. The default position wins the day. When one side is asking for major changes, and the other side is asking for, well, nothing, it’s tough to negotiate.

Precedent

Okay. Let’s say the Democrats go along with this and delay key aspects of Obamacare for a year. They won’t, but let’s say that they do. Now, a year goes by. A legislative body has to enact a new spending bill to keep the government open, and Obamacare is about to go into effect. The House has voted approximately 40 times to repeal this law, so the odds are that a simple delay is not their end game. What is to stop Republicans from, once again, taking a stand against the bill and holding the operational purse strings of the federal government for ransom? Nothing. There is nothing stopping them from using what leverage they have over federal funding to continue to attempt to derail this law. And if they succeed using this tactic once, why on earth would they not try it again in a year?

Wrapping Up

In closing, the Democrats have a more-achievable position; they have passed a funding bill which has the support of a majority in both chambers of congress; they have electoral results on their side; they have polling data on their side; and they have a stronger negotiating position. The only way this works out for Republicans is if the Democrats fold a winning hand. I don’t see any rational justification for them to do so. Hopefully, we remember these lessons in November 2014.

On Republican Victories that Weren’t

October 1, 2013 Leave a comment

I often like to think about what might have been. I’m not going to contemplate a world without partisanship. I’m not going to ponder a world where everyone works together and sings kumbaya. Those are nice ideals, but within the reality of one-upsmansmanship and party message control, I can still see clearly a very different political path from 2009 to now; a path that starts with Republicans claiming a victory that was rightfully theirs, and would drastically change the political landscape in which we currently live.

It starts with a simple story of an idea: the individual mandate. As outlined here by FoxNews, the individual mandate made it’s way from the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation in 1989, into Republican-sponsored health care bill proposals in 1993 (by current mandate opponents such as Chuck Grassley), enacted by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts in 2006, and finally into another congressional bill proposal in 2007 co-sponsored by a Republican and a Democrat. Mitt Romney even referred to the rule as his “personal responsibility mandate.” In short, this idea was entirely of Republican origin and remained a popular means of reforming health care and reducing costs within the Republican party until very recently.

Let’s now think back on the 2009 health care debate. The Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate, but did not quite have a filibuster-proof majority. They desperately wanted to have a public option in their health care legislation. Ultimately, the death of Senator Ted Kennedy and the strong opposition and threats to join Republicans in a filibuster by Democrat-turned-Independent Joe Lieberman crushed that plan. The end result is that a massive health care bill focused around Republican ideas and modeled after a Republican governor’s plan passed through the Democrat-controlled congress without having a public option attached. Just imagine if that’s how the story played out in the messaging.

Imagine that Republicans, seeing the embrace of a conservative ideal, participated in the framework and negotiations structuring the law. Imagine that upon the failure of the public option, a bipartisan bill was passed with Republicans claiming victory for the bill and their role in its success. Their idea had won the day. They had defeated the public option. They had, in effect, hijacked the President’s attempt at a signature piece of legislation. They had brought him along to an individual mandate he opposed in his primary against Hillary Clinton. What if what is now the signature polarizing piece of legislation of Obama’s administration was instead spun, messaged, and ultimately viewed (Republicans are pretty good at message control, after all) as a strong Republican minority exposing the President’s weakness. What if Obamacare was Boehnercare? What if, in 2012, Mitt Romney ran partly on the platform that the President’s greatest accomplishment was simply piggybacking off of his largely successful Massachusetts legislation? Might he have looked stronger? Maybe even won the election? Would Democrats still be clamoring for enough seats and votes to add a public option to the bill?

Certainly, we would not be here. Certainly, Republicans who embraced health care reform and undercut the President by taking most of the credit for it would not be orchestrating a government shutdown as a last-ditch effort to defund a bill based on a long history of their own conservative ideas.

Then again, if the Republicans didn’t shift the current debate to Obamacare, Democrats would probably be pressing them to undo the “sequestration” cuts in the new fiscal year. As it is, the Democrats are offering a “clean” continuing resolution, accepting the funding level reductions enacted by sequestration as the new status quo…. yet another Republican victory for which they are too partisan to notice and accept credit.

On Why I Don’t Like Democrats

July 16, 2012 Leave a comment

A while back, I was on the mailing list of both the Republican and Democratic national parties, as well as both parties’ Governors’ Associations. As you could imagine, that led to a great deal of e-mail. Eventually, I decided that I couldn’t stand reading the Republican rhetoric, and I unsubscribed from their lists. I decided to stay on some of the Democratic lists, though, because I couldn’t stand their rhetoric, either. Confused?

The thing is that even as a proud and outspoken independent, sometimes it’s difficult for me to remember why it is that I don’t like Democrats (as a party, not individually). They are in favor of gay rights; I am in favor of gay rights. They are pro choice; I am pro choice. They think taxes need to be raised in a progressive fashion; I think taxes need to be raised in a progressive fashion. They blame President George W. Bush for overseeing the country from peace and surplus to a country in economic turmoil, two wars and increased debt; I blame President George W. Bush for those things, as well.

So with all of that agreement, sometimes it’s nice to have a little note pop up in your inbox that serves as a reminder that out-of-context, ugly, dialogue-twisting messages to serve their own political purpose come from both sides. Distortions and occasional lies are just status quo for both parties. That has again been made clear recently with the Obama campaign dropping the word “felony” into its anti-Bain rhetoric, when all sources privy to the goings-on at Bain during the time in question seem to agree that Romney was not in the wrong for the time in question. The factcheck.org entry on this issue is pretty thorough, if you’re curious.

So the Democrats are all part of the same, faulty system. But there’s something else that bothers me that’s far less quantifiable but also far more important. It seems to me like Democrats have a difficult time making tough choices. It’s actually what Congress is paid to do: come up with solutions to tough problems by making tough choices.

This shortcoming is most evident in terms of budgetary issues. Back when the Democrats controlled the House and the Senate (and the presidency), no budget was passed. The reason given in the article was to wait on the bipartisan debt reduction plan to be published, though once it was, those recommendations were not heeded, anyway. More of note from the article was the following quote:

House Democrats will not pass a budget blueprint in 2010, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) will confirm in a speech on Tuesday. But Hoyer will vow to crack down on government spending, saying Democrats will enforce spending limits that are lower than what President Barack Obama has called for.

You may notice that Rep. Hoyer mentioned the need to cut spending and enact new spending limits, but failed to produce the document that decided what should be cut and by how much. A similar failure recently took place in my home state of Maryland. The problem is that while it is easy to attack Republican cuts (easy because cuts are unpopular and because they are making some really bad choices about what to cut), it’s much harder to come up with a workable, realistic blueprint that makes the necessary cuts.

Among the most important things that need to be addressed when meting out fiscal policy is entitlement reform. Any knowledgeable, objective person could tell you that. Many Democrats may have even admitted it at some point during their careers. However, because the Republicans have a plan for reform that the Democrats and the American people probably wouldn’t like too much, the Democratic talking point has been more about preserving Social Security and Medicare than fixing them. This is likely setting themselves up for predictable counter-arguments if they ever come up with a solid reform plan on their own (what goes around, comes around).

I could go on about specific policies or examples of times that I’ve disagreed with Democratic talking points, but there should never be an expectation of 100% agreement. I think the most important issues I have with the party are as stated: they are an active participant in a flawed party system and when push comes to shove, they fail to make the tough choice. When Republicans rail against the ACA (Obamacare), a common retort is “where’s the alternative plan?” When Democrats rail against the Paul Ryan budget, I would ask the same thing to them.