I sure am glad I’m not into drunk blogging, because given the Wizard of Oz show last night, aka SOTU, I’d still be plastered.
BTW, Cory Remsburg stole the show.
On the 2014 election front, the president may be facing some real problems in his “year of action” (which I’ve come to believe mostly refers to how often he’ll wield his pen signing executive orders – something he blasted as a Senator. I’m sure it’s Bush’s fault):
[T]he 2014 Senate playing field is potentially brutal for Democrats. Democrats are defending seats in five states — Arkansas, Alaska, Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia — where Obama’s approval rating was at or below 35 percent in 2013, according to Gallup. In four other states where Democrats hold a Senate seat that’s up in 2014, Obama’s approval rating was well below his national average of 46 percent: Louisiana (40 percent), Colorado and Iowa (42 percent), and North Carolina (43 percent). In Oregon, New Hampshire, and New Mexico the president had a 45 percent job-approval rating, just below his national average. That’s a whopping total of 11 Democratic seats that could potentially be in play this November.
Republicans also have seats they must defend, but far fewer of them. In Georgia, where the GOP must defend an open seat, Obama’s approval rating of 45 percent is below his national average. In Kentucky, where Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is running for reelection, only 35 percent of voters have a favorable view of the president.
This is intersting on a couple of fronts. One, if the GOP holds on to the House (and there’s no real reason to believe that won’t happen) and take the Senate, executive orders are about all this president is going to have at his command. Second, since Harry Reid went nuke, it will be interesting to see how he enjoys being on the other side of it. Oh rest assured he’ll be like a goose who wakes up in a new world everyday, because you can count on him to blast such an abuse of power and the traditions of the Senate.
I find some solace in all of that even though I’m not a fan of the establishment Republicans. And I darn sure don’t think they’ll do what I think is necessary to dismantle this monstrosity called ObamaCare or, for that matter, solve any other problems by just getting out of the way. They’re “lawmakers” and that is their product – well that and taking your money for hare-brained scemes like jobs programs, etc. Nope, I fully expect the GOP, should they control Congress to cave to the pressure of special interests – like Democrats and media calling them names and talking about how mean spirited they are – and basically pass a Democrat lite agenda. Watch immigration for the cue.
Where I find the solace is in defanging Obama for the last few years of his presidency. He’ll wield his executive order pen and thunder (or perhaps by then, squeak) about Republicans blocking his agenda (something they should gladly admit too, but they won’t – they’ll cower), and blah, blah, blah, etc., etc., ad infinitum.
Nope, the good news is if the GOP can take Congress, the Obama nightmare, er, presidency, will be effectively over.
That, I will drink too.
Perhaps I should say the building myth and the reality.
What is the building myth? That the worst is behind it. Megan McArdle fills you in:
Many of the commentators I’ve read seem to think that the worst is over, as far as unpopular surprises.
But she then takes a chain saw to that particular notion:
In fact, the worst is yet to come.
· 2014: Small-business policy cancellations. This year, the small-business market is going to get hit with the policy cancellations that roiled the individual market last year. Some firms will get better deals, but others will find that their coverage is being canceled in favor of more expensive policies that don’t cover as many of the doctors or procedures that they want. This is going to be a rolling problem throughout the year.
· Summer 2014: Insurers get a sizable chunk of money from the government to cover any excess losses. When the costs are published, this is going to be wildly unpopular: The administration has spent three years saying that Obamacare was the antidote to abuses by Big, Bad Insurance Companies, and suddenly it’s a mechanism to funnel taxpayer money to them?
· Fall 2014: New premiums are announced.
· 2014 and onward: Medicare reimbursement cuts eat into hospital margins, triggering a lot of lobbying and sad ads about how Beloved Local Hospital may have to close.
· Spring 2015: The Internal Revenue Service starts collecting individual mandate penalties: 1 percent of income in the first year. That’s going to be a nasty shock to folks who thought the penalty was just $95. I, like many other analysts, expect the administration to announce a temporary delay sometime after April 1, 2014.
· Spring 2015: The IRS demands that people whose income was higher than they projected pay back their excess subsidies. This could be thousands of dollars.
· Spring 2015: Cuts to Medicare Advantage, which the administration punted on in 2013, are scheduled to go into effect. This will reduce benefits currently enjoyed by millions of seniors, which is why they didn’t let them go into effect this year.
· Fall 2015: This is when expert Bob Laszewski says insurers will begin exiting the market if the exchange policies aren’t profitable.
· Fall 2017: Companies and unions start learning whether their plans will get hit by the “Cadillac tax,” a stiff excise tax on expensive policies that will hit plans with generous benefits or an older and sicker employee base. Expect a lot of companies and unions to radically decrease benefits and increase cost-sharing as a result.
· January 2018: The temporary risk-adjustment plans, which the administration is relying on to keep insurers in the marketplaces even if their customer pool is older and sicker than projected, run out. Now if insurers take losses, they just lose the money.
· Fall 2018: Buyers find out that subsidy growth is capped for next year’s premiums; instead of simply being pegged to the price of the second-cheapest silver plan, whatever that cost is, their growth is fixed. This will show up in higher premiums for families — and, potentially, in an adverse-selection death spiral.
In fact, she is exactly right. Note how many of these surprises happen before 2016. And, as they come true, perhaps … just perhaps … when voters are told that the rest of this nonsense is likely to come true too (it is the law, you see), they might believe it.
Perhaps. The “Cadillac tax” was inartfully delayed until after the election. However, the snowball will already be rolling down hill by then and you’d think the public would be open to believing that the rest of this abomination, that which was delayed, will indeed happen. And you’d also believe they’d want to do something about that (that, of course assumes Obama doesn’t wave the magic executive pen and waive all of this until after the election).
But then, doing something would depend on what? Well, getting elected officials that want to actually get rid of most of this monstrosity and are willing to say that and then do it. Uh, that won’t be Democrats (well except perhaps blue dog Democrats, if they’re not extinct by then).
What it all boils down too is that voters will have to depend on Republicans to do the heavy lifting. The question is will they do that if elected? In other words, will Republicans be up to the job?
If I had to base it on the current crop – yeah, not so much.
No one said it would go smoothly or that compromise was a requirement in Congress. For whatever reason, “progress”, for some, is defined in the number of new laws passed and hours worked in Congress. NBC News for instance in their daily email newsletter this morning:
By now, we’ve told you how unproductive the 113th Congress has been so far, now passing just 57 bills into law (compared with 67 passed at this same point in time by the previous 112th Congress, which then was the least productive modern Congress on record). But here’s another way to measure how unproductive the Congress has been — in terms of hours worked. “According to data analyzed by The New York Times, the House of Representatives, which ended its business for the year last week, left town with the distinction of having been at work for the fewest hours in a nonelection year since 2005, when detailed information about legislative activity became available. Not counting brief, pro forma sessions, the House was in session for 942 hours, an average of about 28 hours each week it conducted business in Washington. That is far lower than the nearly 1,700 hours it was in session in 2007, the 1,350 hours in 2005 or even the 1,200 in 2011.” We know members of Congress do much of their work with constituents back home. But the TV ads here kind of write themselves. Who wouldn’t want a 28-hour work week? Expect every incumbent to get dinged with that “28 hour work week” hit while “you at home struggle to make ends meet working 40 or 50 hours” yada yada.
Yada, yada indeed. We ought to give them medals for not intruding any further on our freedoms. OK, not really. But apparently it is forgotten that Congress was supposed to be a part-time job (thus the two sessions) and that only laws of necessity (as outlined in the Constitution) were to be passed. Now, apparently, Congress is only “productive” when it is engaged in stepping on everyone’s freedoms by passing dozens upon dozens of new laws, many of which are unnecessary or are designed to reward one constituency at the cost of another.
And we’ve developed a ruling class via career politicians and their heirs. I’ve never been so tired of the names Clinton, Bush, Kennedy, Cuomo, etc. Political power isn’t hereditary … or wasn’t supposed to be anyway.
Why do people feel the way NBC does? Because they don’t pay attention and they have no sense of history or how this nation was formed. They’ve totally bought into the mind drugs that purveyors like NBC and the NY Times offer every day. According to them, a “productive” Congress is a Congress engaged in finding new ways to run your life. As Dale said last night we’re finally to the stage that most of the country believes they belong to the state.
American exceptionalism isn’t a figment of anyone’s imagination. It is, or was, a product of our founding. And as long as we stuck to the principles of our founding, we remained an exceptional country. Now it seems we’re headed toward the mediocrity of any number of other countries simply by trying to fix something that wasn’t broken. We’ve fallen for the siren song of “free” stuff, and there are enough Americans benefiting from the state robbing others to give to them that they see no reason to change that slide into the abyss. As long as the free stuff continues to come their way while they live, well, that’s just fine.
And the NBCs of the world are just fine with helping us along to that unexceptional, over-regulated, nanny-state existence that they apparently think is best for us and our country.
It’s hard to describe this blinding stupidity as anything other than … well, blindingly stupid. I think this one sentence encapsulates the #Fail quite nicely:
This is a good moment to advocate greater executive branch power because we’ve just seen a monumental example of executive branch incompetence: the botched Obamacare rollout.
If you think Brooks is trying to get all counter-intuitive on you (a la Thomas Friedman’s wistful longing for Chinese authoritarianism), think again. It’s just full on stupidity.
Brooks’ argument is that Congress is too beholden to the “rentier groups” (i.e. moneyed interest groups and lobbyists) and that the judiciary is too involved in the process:
In the current issue of The American Interest, Francis Fukuyama analyzes this institutional decay. His point is that the original system of checks and balances has morphed into a “vetocracy,” an unworkable machine where many interests can veto reform.
First, there is the profusion of interest groups. In 1971, there were 175 registered lobbying firms. By 2009, there were 13,700 lobbyists spending more than $3.5 billion annually, and this doesn’t even count the much larger cloud of activist groups and ideological enforcers.
Then there is the judicial usurpation of power. Fukuyama writes, “conflicts that in Sweden or Japan would be solved through quiet consultations between interested parties through the bureaucracy are fought out through formal litigation in the American court system.” This leads to uncertainty, complexity and perverse behavior.
After a law is passed, there are always adjustments to be made. These could be done flexibly. But, instead, Congress throws implementation and enforcement into the court system by giving more groups the standing to sue. What could be a flexible process is turned into “adversarial legalism” that makes government more intrusive and more rigid.
In other words, because the power to form laws is relatively disbursed amongst constituents, elected officials and the court system, gridlock happens sometimes and that’s just totally unacceptable. Because, heaven knows that if Congress isn’t cranking out new laws at a fast enough pace, the world will end. (That seems to be the meme going around anyway.)
So what would be the benefits of more powerful Executive branch?
Here are the advantages. First, it is possible to mobilize the executive branch to come to policy conclusion on something like immigration reform. It’s nearly impossible for Congress to lead us to a conclusion about anything. Second, executive branch officials are more sheltered from the interest groups than Congressional officials. Third, executive branch officials usually have more specialized knowledge than staffers on Capitol Hill and longer historical memories. Fourth, Congressional deliberations, to the extent they exist at all, are rooted in rigid political frameworks. Some agencies, especially places like the Office of Management and Budget, are reasonably removed from excessive partisanship. Fifth, executive branch officials, if they were liberated from rigid Congressional strictures, would have more discretion to respond to their screw-ups, like the Obamacare implementation. Finally, the nation can take it out on a president’s party when a president’s laws don’t work. That doesn’t happen in Congressional elections, where most have safe seats.
Note the two “advantages” I’ve bolded. It’s as if things like Solyndra fiasco and the IRS targeting of conservatives never happened.
Lest there be any confusion about Brooks’ prescription, he sums it up as thus:
So how do you energize the executive? It’s a good idea to be tolerant of executive branch power grabs and to give agencies flexibility. We voters also need to change our voting criteria. It’s not enough to vote for somebody who agrees with your policy preferences. Presidential candidates need to answer two questions. How are you going to build a governing 60 percent majority that will enable you to drive the Washington policy process? What is your experience implementing policies through big organizations?
We don’t need bigger government. We need more unified authority. Take power away from the rentier groups who dominate the process. Allow people in those authorities to exercise discretion. Find a president who can both rally a majority, and execute a policy process.
At least he’s being honest about what the political and chattering classes truly want. As an added bonus, Brooks has inspired a better description of his cant than “blindingly stupid”: contemptible.
A primary reason for structuring our government with the checks and balances it has was to prevent a concentration of power. The POTUS was specifically limited because of the position’s duties, and the danger exercising them could mean to the freedom of the people. America didn’t want a king. Well, we may gotten one anyway.
The House of Representatives held a hearing yesterday on the Obama Administration’s exercise (or non-exercise) of it powers, and asked whether or not the Executive branch was properly following the “take care” clause of the Constitution. AllahPundit provides some commentary on the hearing, focusing Prof. Jonathan Turley’s testimony:
If you have time for only one snippet, though, skip to 2:33:00 for his list of Obama’s five most egregious violations of separation of powers. Some are familiar to you — declaring that he wouldn’t deport illegals who might qualify for DREAM, refusing to enforce the employer mandate, etc — but the ones about him shifting money around without regard to how Congress has appropriated it might not be. Turley makes two valuable points here. One: Courts tend to give the executive a wide berth in separation-of-powers challenges on the theory that Congress has the power of the purse and can defund any executive agency it likes. But that’s not true anymore, he says. Obama, by defying appropriations, has claimed some of that power for himself. What check does Congress have left? That brings us to point two: Even if Congress can’t stop Obama, the courts can. The problem there, though, says Turley, is that O and the DOJ have argued successfully in many cases that no one has standing to sue him because no one can show an injury from his power grabs that’s concrete enough to justify a federal lawsuit. So the courts can’t check him either.
The only check left, it would seem, is through elections. Which isn’t a check at all on a term-limited President. Of course, there’s always the impeachment route, but that doesn’t seem likely (despite what some in the media think). Turley thinks it’s not even being considered:
Now, I was the lead witness but I was testifying in through the haze of a raging flu. So I went back and checked. Impeachment was mentioned in passing but it was quickly discounted. Indeed, I specifically testified that, as someone who testified at the Clinton impeachment, I did not view such a measure as warranted given the ambiguity of past decisions. Indeed, the references to impeachment were made in the context of the loss of meaningful options for Congress to respond to such encroachments when the President reserved the right to suspend portions of laws and fought access to the courts in challenging such decisions. Yet, the Post simply reported that the word impeachment came up (not surprisingly) in a discussion of the options given by Framers to Congress in dealing with unlawful presidential conduct.
During the hearing, not only did I discount impeachment as an option, but a Democratic member specifically asked the panel about the references to impeachment. No one could remember how it came up but it was clear that no one thought it was a substantial issue — or significant part of the hearing.
In a discussion of checks on the presidency, impeachment is one of the enumerated options given to Congress. Notably, past judicial opinions involving such separation of powers controversies have also discussed impeachment with the power of the purse as devices given to the Congress. In discussing impeachment with these other powers, courts were not advocating impeachment or suggesting that it was a viable solution in that given case.
In the end, since the Senate is held by the same party as the President, impeachment isn’t a serious option. But the Obama Administration’s unwillingness to faithfully execute the laws passed by Congress remains a serious issue. At this point, the only options left would seem to be either shutting the government down, or refusing to pass any new laws since the POTUS won’t execute them anyway. And whither goes the Republic.
And, he and Democrats will eventually pay for that:
The partisan battles that have paralyzed Washington in recent years took a historic turn Thursday, as Senate Democrats eliminated filibusters for most presidential nominations, severely curtailing the political leverage of the Republican minority in the Senate and assuring an escalation of partisan warfare.
Saying that “enough is enough,” President Obama welcomed the end of what he called the abuse of the Senate’s advise and consent function, which he said had turned into “a reckless and relentless tool” to grind the gears of government to a halt.
Of course Obama and Reid (along with Biden) were some of the more outspoken defenders of the filibuster when Democrats were in the minority. Minority rights, you know. Blah, blah, blah …. words without end, words without meaning.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV): “…the so-called nuclear option… attempt to rewrite Senate rules so we would be another House of Representatives; that we would throw away the Constitution of the United States so the Federal courts could be packed.” (Sen. Reid, Congressional Record, S.8911, 9/5/06)
REID: “We stand united against an outrageous abuse of power that would pack the courts with out-of-the-mainstream judges.” (Sen. Reid, Congressional Record, S.5198, 5/16/05)
Now, of course, it is an “obstruction” and we’re likely to get exactly what Harry Reid railed against then.
Well, we’ll see how that works out for them when they’re in the minority again and another party is sitting the the White House, won’t we?
Reid – not smart enough see beyond today and the fact that he has just set it up for Democrats of tomorrow to pay for this in ways they never imagined.
If we could only outlaw their whiny cries of outrage when this eventually bites them in the butt, I’d be satisfied.
In a brilliant move, the GOP has managed to not only be unable to impose the debt ceiling, it has apparently found a way to capitulate and make it temporarily unlimited:
There’s no actual debt ceiling right now.
The fiscal deal passed by Congress on Wednesday evening to re-open the government and get around the $16.4 trillion limit on borrowing doesn’t actually increase the debt limit. It just temporarily suspends enforcement of it.
That means Americans have no idea how much debt their government is going to rack up between now and February 7, when the limits are supposed to go back into place and will have to be raised.
17 days for this?
And they wonder why people call them the “stupid party”.
Apparently our laws are arbitrary if you’re in a favored group. All you have to do is appeal to the King for an exemption:
Back in 2009, when Democrats were writing the massive new national health care scheme, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley offered an amendment. Obamacare created exchanges through which millions of Americans would purchase “affordable” health coverage. Grassley’s amendment simply required lawmakers, staff, and some in the executive branch to get their insurance through the exchanges, too.
To every Republican’s amazement, Democrats accepted the amendment. It’s never been fully clear why; the best theory is they intended to take the provision out in conference committee, but couldn’t do so because they lost their filibuster-proof 60-vote majority. In any event, Obamacare — the law of the land, as supporters like to say — now requires Congress to buy its health care coverage through the exchanges.
That has caused Democratic panic as the formal arrival of Obamacare nears. Right now, all lawmakers and staff are entitled to enjoy generously-subsidized coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefits plan. Why give up that subsidy and go on the exchanges like any average American?
But that’s the law. It could be amended, but Democrats, who voted unanimously for Obamacare, couldn’t very well expect much help from Republicans, who voted unanimously against it. So over the summer Democrats asked President Obama to simply create an Obamacare exception for Capitol Hill.
And the King, looking down upon his faithful minions waved his hand and came up with a “solution” by executive fiat that uses tax dollars to circumvent the law:
Not long after — presto! — the Office of Personnel Management unveiled a proposed rule to allow members of Congress, their staff, and some executive branch employees to continue receiving their generous federal subsidy even as they purchase coverage on the exchanges. No ordinary American would be allowed such an advantage.
However, a rebellion was cooking:
Vitter watched the maneuvering that led to the OPM decision. He began work on what became the Vitter Amendment, which he likes to call “No Washington Exemption from Obamacare,” that would reverse the OPM ruling. It specifies that members of Congress, staff, the president, vice president and all the administration’s political appointees buy health coverage through Obamacare exchanges. If any of them earn incomes low enough to qualify for regular Obamacare subsidies, they will receive them — just like any other American. But those with higher incomes will have to pay for their coverage on the exchanges — just like everybody else.
Vitter hasn’t exactly thrilled his colleagues. “There has been a lot of pushback behind the scenes, including from many Republicans,” he says. Political types have complained that the requirement will cause “brain drain” on the Hill as staffers escape the burden of paying for their own coverage. “My response is, first of all, it’s the law,” says Vitter. “Look, this is a disruption. It’s exactly what’s happening across America, to people who are going to the exchanges against their will. To me, that’s the point.”
Ron Johnson, the Republican senator from Wisconsin, is one colleague delighted by Vitter’s move. The idea of equal Obamacare treatment for Washington is enormously popular around the country, Johnson points out, which means even lawmakers who don’t like it will be afraid to oppose it.
“I think most members don’t want to vote to reject the OPM ruling,” Johnson says. “But I think most members would vote to do that, if they were forced to, because it is so politically unpopular to have special treatment for members of Congress and their staff.”
Seems it should be unnecessary to again make it clear that Congress should have to obey the law – to the letter – just like everyone else. That was what the original law said, no? Yet they managed a workaround that defeated the intent of the law, didn’t they?
So now another amendment is now necessary?
And here I thought that these folks were servants of the people and not a ruling elite (by the way, the big excuse is there’ll be a huge “brain drain” if the law is left in place. Let me be the first to say, given the shape our country and government are in at the moment, I’d welcome the ‘brain drain’).
Make ‘em obey the law. Make them navigate the same atrocity they foisted on the public. No exemptions, no exceptions. And that goes for every law they pass.
That, of course is exactly what Obama and, ironically, Kerry, are going to ask US servicemen and women to risk for their tattered “credibility”.
The Syrian rebels posed casually, standing over their prisoners with firearms pointed down at the shirtless and terrified men.
The prisoners, seven in all, were captured Syrian soldiers. Five were trussed, their backs marked with red welts. They kept their faces pressed to the dirt as the rebels’ commander recited a bitter revolutionary verse.
“For fifty years, they are companions to corruption,” he said. “We swear to the Lord of the Throne, that this is our oath: We will take revenge.”
The moment the poem ended, the commander, known as “the Uncle,” fired a bullet into the back of the first prisoner’s head. His gunmen followed suit, promptly killing all the men at their feet.
This scene, documented in a video smuggled out of Syria a few days ago by a former rebel who grew disgusted by the killings, offers a dark insight into how many rebels have adopted some of the same brutal and ruthless tactics as the regime they are trying to overthrow.
Those sorts of executions are tantamount to murder. I’m not saying that Syrian forces are any better, but to pretend that we’re helping out a side which is at all friendly to us or not packed to the rafters with murderous Islamic extremists is to simply blind one’s self to reality. And one has to wonder why alleged death by chemical weapons is somehow more atrocious or horrific than these murders? No “red line” here, huh?
Much of the concern among American officials has focused on two groups that acknowledge ties to Al Qaeda. These groups — the Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — have attracted foreign jihadis, used terrorist tactics and vowed to create a society in Syria ruled by their severe interpretation of Islamic law.
They have established a firm presence in parts of Aleppo and Idlib Provinces and in the northern provincial capital of Raqqa and in Deir al-Zour, to the east on the Iraqi border.
While the jihadis claim to be superior fighters, and have collaborated with secular Syrian rebels, some analysts and diplomats also note that they can appear less focused on toppling President Bashar al-Assad. Instead, they said, they focus more on establishing a zone of influence spanning Iraq’s Anbar Province and the desert eastern areas of Syria, and eventually establishing an Islamic territory under their administration.
Other areas are under more secular control, including the suburbs of Damascus. In East Ghouta, for example, the suburbs east of the capital where the chemical attack took place, jihadis are not dominant, according to people who live and work there.
While many have deridingly called our potential effort there as acting as “al Queda’s air force”, that does, in fact, hold some truth. There is a well-organized effort among the rebels by Islamists to co-opt the effort if it is successful and turn Syria into an extremist Islamic state. And we want to help that effort? Why?
And while the United States has said it seeks policies that would strengthen secular rebels and isolate extremists, the dynamic on the ground, as seen in the execution video from Idlib and in a spate of other documented crimes, is more complicated than a contest between secular and religious groups.
What nonsense. Why in the world would anyone believe that the incompetent crew that makes up this administration has any possibility of actually being able to accomplish that? One only has to survey the shipwreck that is this nation’s foreign policy under Captain “Red Line” and it is clear that they could no more make that happen than understand that ego shouldn’t drive the use of the US military.
But it apparently is going too. The siren song of “save our president” is being wailed within the Congress and the usual party hacks appear to be lining up to put the men and women of the military in harm’s way because Obama shot his mouth off before doing the very basic work necessary to ensure he could back his words up and now Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines are going to be asked to pull his fat out of a fire of his own making.
Chris Matthews of MSNBC, who served on Capitol Hill for years as a top Democratic aide, put the party’s dilemma in stark terms on Wednesday: “I think the Democrats are going to be forced to sacrifice men and women who really, really don’t want to vote for this. They’re going to have to vote for it to save the president’s hide. That’s a bad position to put your party in.”
“Sacrifice” men and women. What a freaking insult. Matthews likens a political act to a “sacrifice”. Give it a rest you buffoon. He’s apparently more than willing to risk the sacrifice of military lives in order to “save the president’s hide”.
And make no mistake, even a partisan hack like Matthews knows this is a crisis of the president’s own making. And why are they willing to go along? Not because Syria has any compelling national interest to the United States or that it poses an imminent threat to the country. Nope. It’s pure politics:
The Obama administration’s efforts to get Congress to pass an authorization for military force against Syria are going badly in policy terms, but they are looking up in political terms. Even as the administration’s arguments become more strained, the political imperative that Democrats must support their president or risk having him “crippled” for the next 40 months is being drilled into them.
That’s it. Take us to war instead of face the political consequences of Obama’s self-inflicted wound. Apparently there’s much more at stake than a few military lives. /sarc
These are the people who you want leading you?
On last night’s podcast, Dale and I discussed the rise of a soft tyranny and expansion of the regulatory state in this country. Pres. Obama has, on more than one occasion, unilaterally declared the power to pick and choose what laws to enforce, or to simply change the way they are enforced, without any consequences (i.e. checks and/or balances). He’s not the first POTUS to act that way (albeit the most brazen about it), and probably won’t be the last.
The primary reason he, or any other POTUS, is even able to act this way is because of the massive regulatory apparatus at the disposal of the Executive branch. An apparatus created by Congress; one it seems strangely reluctant to rein in. As Kevin Williamson notes, “Barack Obama did not invent managerial liberalism,” and while his agenda is painfully horrendous, it’s “a good deal less ambitious than was Woodrow Wilson’s or Richard Nixon’s.” However, Obama has used the leeway provided by Congresses past and present to further expand the regulatory state. Williamson characterizes this as Obama’s “utterly predictable approach to domestic politics: appoint a panel of credentialed experts.”
His faith in the powers of pedigreed professionals is apparently absolute. Consider his hallmark achievement, the Affordable Care Act, the centerpiece of which is the appointment of a committee, the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), the mission of which is to achieve targeted savings in Medicare without reducing the scope or quality of care. How that is to be achieved was contemplated in detail neither by the lawmakers who wrote the health-care bill nor by the president himself. But they did pay a great deal of attention to the processes touching IPAB: For example, if that committee of experts fails to achieve the demanded savings, then the ball is passed to . . . a new committee of experts, this one under the guidance of the secretary of health and human services. IPAB’s powers are nearly plenipotentiary: Its proposals, like a presidential veto, require a supermajority of Congress to be overridden.
IPAB is the most dramatic example of President Obama’s approach to government by expert decree, but much of the rest of his domestic program, from the Dodd-Frank financial-reform law to his economic agenda, is substantially similar. In total, it amounts to that fundamental transformation of American society that President Obama promised as a candidate: but instead of the new birth of hope and change, it is the transformation of a constitutional republic operating under laws passed by democratically accountable legislators into a servile nation under the management of an unaccountable administrative state. The real import of Barack Obama’s political career will be felt long after he leaves office, in the form of a permanently expanded state that is more assertive of its own interests and more ruthless in punishing its enemies. At times, he has advanced this project abetted by congressional Democrats, as with the health-care law’s investiture of extraordinary powers in the executive bureaucracy, but he also has advanced it without legislative assistance — and, more troubling still, in plain violation of the law. President Obama and his admirers choose to call this “pragmatism,” but what it is is a mild expression of totalitarianism, under which the interests of the country are conflated with those of the president’s administration and his party.
I likened the expansion and independence of the regulatory state to 2001: A Space Odyssey or The Terminator in that these things that were created to ostensibly serve in the aid of their users developed a life, mind and interests of their own, and eventually turned on the users. A perfect example would be if the IRS scandal of targeting conservatives turns out to be completely divorced of any political direction, and instead was completely self-initiated from within the department. As James Taranto often points out, that is the far scarier scenario than the one where the White House directed the agency to target its political enemies. Corrupt politicians are bad, but they are expected and can be dealt with in a summary manner. An unelected, unaccountable and extremely powerful organization exercising its own political agenda is orders of magnitude worse.
Democracy never lasts long,” [John] Adams famously said. “It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.” For liberal regimes, a very common starting point on the road to serfdom is the over-delegation of legislative powers to the executive. France very nearly ended up in a permanent dictatorship as a result of that error, and was spared that fate mostly by good luck and Charles de Gaulle’s patriotism. Long before she declared her infamous state of emergency, Indira Gandhi had been centralizing power in the prime minister’s office, and India was spared a permanent dictatorship only by her political miscalculation and her dynasty-minded son’s having gotten himself killed in a plane wreck. Salazar in Portugal, Austria under Dollfuss, similar stories. But the United States is not going to fall for a strongman government. Instead of delegating power to a would-be president-for-life, we delegate it to a bureaucracy-without-death. You do not need to install a dictator when you’ve already had a politically supercharged permanent bureaucracy in place for 40 years or more. As is made clear by everything from campaign donations to the IRS jihad, the bureaucracy is the Left, and the Left is the bureaucracy. Elections will be held, politicians will come and go, but if you expand the power of the bureaucracy, you expand the power of the Left, of the managers and minions who share Barack Obama’s view of the world. Barack Obama isn’t the leader of the free world; he’s the front man for the permanent bureaucracy, the smiley-face mask hiding the pitiless yawning maw of total politics.
I would add that, if the politics were reversed (i.e. “the bureaucracy is Right, and the Right is bureaucracy”) we would still have the same issue: an unaccountable power structure that invades every aspect of our lives. Coupled with a President who exercises that power based on political whims, and we have a serious issue:
The job of the president is to execute the law — that is what the executive branch is there to do. If Barack Obama had wanted to keep pursuing his career as a lawmaker, then the people of Illinois probably would have been content to preserve him in the Senate for half a century or so. As president, he has no more power to decide not to enforce the provisions of a duly enacted federal law than does John Boehner, Anthony Weiner, or Whoopi Goldberg. And unlike them, he has a constitutional duty to enforce the law.
So, one might ask (as Dale did last night), why isn’t the President being impeached for dereliction of duty? Partisan politics is one answer (see, e.g., the failure of the Clinton impeachment). A lack of will is another. Perhaps the simplest answer, however, is that Congress is quite complicit in this expansion and abuse of the regulatory state:
Congress’s supine ceding of its powers, and the Obama administration’s usurpation of both legal and extralegal powers, is worrisome. But what is particularly disturbing is the quiet, polite, workaday manner with which the administration goes about its business — and with which the American public accepts it. As Christopher Hitchens once put it, “The essence of tyranny is not iron law; it is capricious law.”
Barack Obama’s administration is unmoored from the institutions that have long kept the imperial tendencies of the American presidency in check. That is partly the fault of Congress, which has punted too many of its legislative responsibilities to the president’s army of faceless regulators, but it is in no small part the result of an intentional strategy on the part of the administration. He has spent the past five years methodically testing the limits of what he can get away with, like one of those crafty velociraptors testing the electric fence in Jurassic Park. Barack Obama is a Harvard Law graduate, and he knows that he cannot make recess appointments when Congress is not in recess. He knows that his HHS is promulgating regulations that conflict with federal statutes. He knows that he is not constitutionally empowered to pick and choose which laws will be enforced. This is a might-makes-right presidency, and if Barack Obama has been from time to time muddled and contradictory, he has been clear on the point that he has no intention of being limited by something so trivial as the law.
I agree with Williamson that Obama has pushed the limits, but I think he lets Congress off the hook too easily. Every POTUS presses the limits. Indeed, Williamson provides the example of Nixon’s abuses, and even compares Obama favorably: “… it is impossible to imagine President Obama making the announcement that President Richard Nixon did on August 15, 1971: ‘I am today ordering a freeze on all prices and wages throughout the United States.'” Williamson notes that Nixon was able to make that announcement because of power invested in him by Congress. Just as Obama has been entrusted with incredible power via such instruments as the IPAB which requires a super-majority of Congress to override its decisions. While Obama is bad, clearly the issue here is that Congress isn’t doing its job either.
Recall that in Federalist #51, James Madison explained that the way the Constitution controls the new federal government, such that “the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights”, was to divide the different departments in a way that each had interests sufficiently distinct from one another so as to provide an incentive for each to jealously guard those interests and maintain their power. This system of checks and balances was meant to prevent consolidation of power in any one part of the government.
The problem we seem to have run into since then is when the two most powerful departments combine their interests and secret away their combined powers in an unaccountable regulatory apparatus, safe from the will of the electorate. That the office of POTUS would be willing to do this is to be expected, and indeed is a large part of why there was much resistance to its creation. However, that Congress has done so much to aid and abet the effort is contemptible. Unless and until Congress rights the balance, and vigorously pursues its checking role, the problem will only worsen.