Free Markets, Free People
I have a pretty good idea, but first, here’s the gist of the demand:
President Obama pressured Republicans on Wednesday to accept higher taxes as part of any plan to pare down the federal deficit, bluntly telling lawmakers that they “need to do their job” and strike a deal before the United States risks defaulting on its debt.
Declaring that an agreement is not possible without painful steps on both sides, Mr. Obama said that his party had already accepted the need for substantial spending cuts in programs it had long championed, and that Republicans must agree to end tax breaks for oil and gas companies, hedge funds and other corporate interests.
So how should the Republicans answer this demand?
Well, as I mentioned in my post about why the GOP should stand firm on declining to raise taxes, the problem isn’t tax revenue. It is, quite simply, spending.
What the Democrats and Obama will promise you is they’d use any increased revenue brought in by increased taxes to reduce the deficit and debt. But that is never how it really works and we know that. It’s like giving an alcoholic another shot – he’s going to drink it. Revenue isn’t the problem. Spending is the problem.
So what the GOP must do is say, “Mr. President, when the government has proven that it can indeed cut spending and cut it drastically, and it has done everything it can conceivably do in that regard, if there is a revenue problem at the bottom of it, then we can discuss tax increases. But until such a time that it is proven – through action, you know actual cuts – that the government has done all it can in the area of spending cuts, there’s nothing further to discuss in terms of tax increases.”
Pay attention to this because it is important:
The portion of Americans who say they believe the U.S. is on the wrong track is higher than it was at any point during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, when unemployment peaked at 10.8 percent after the 1981-82 recession, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll. The ABC poll showed the wrong-track number during Reagan’s first term peaking at 57 percent in October 1982. The Bloomberg poll shows 66 percent of Americans think the U.S. is going in the wrong direction now.
This is the number I continue to talk about because to me it is the truest indication of the mood of the country. The mood is obviously critical to the re-election, and wrong track polling has consistently indicated the way previous elections are going to go. There is a threshold that portends bad news for the incumbent, and we’re well past that. The question is, will it stay there? The answer seems to be, by all indications and forecasts, yes.
As the public grasps for solutions, the Republican Party is breaking through in the message war on the budget and economy. A majority of Americans say job growth would best be revived with prescriptions favored by the party: cuts in government spending and taxes, the Bloomberg Poll shows. Even 40 percent of Democrats share that view.
This should be something every GOP politician should have tattooed on his or her inner eyelid to help them focus. Concentrate on the message about the economy – it’s a winner. Wander off into wedge issues and you give your opponent an opening and a way to distract the public. If you do that you deserve to lose.
Apparently, according to a Rasmussen poll, a majority think a government shutdown would be a good thing if it led to deeper cuts in spending.
I’m not sure how seriously to take this in light of other polls which say Americans want cuts but not to any number of our most expensive entitlements.
That said, let’s look at the numbers in the Rasmussen report. Again, as far as I’m concerned, the key demographic here is “independents”. They’re the swing vote in any national election.
Fifty-four percent (54%) of Democrats say avoiding a government shutdown is more important than deeper spending cuts. Seventy-six percent (76%) of Republicans – and 67% of voters not affiliated with either of the major parties – disagree.
That works out to 57% of the total saying that deeper spending cuts are more important than avoiding a government shutdown.
To most that would mean the GOP is on the right track pushing deeper cuts.
Oh, and one little note here, just in passing – all of this could have been avoided if the Democratic Congress had done its job last year and passed a budget. As it turns out, I’m glad they didn’t because just like the health care bill, I’m sure we’d have been stuck with an expensive monstrosity. But what’s happening now about “government shutdown” is a direct result of Congressional Democrats not doing their job.
That said, let’s look at another interpretation of the numbers from Rasmussen. This one shows the divide between “we the people” and “they the politicians”:
There’s a similar divide between Political Class and Mainstream voters. Fifty-two percent (52%) of the Political Class say avoiding a shutdown is more important than deeper spending cuts. Sixty-five percent (65%) of Mainstream voters put more emphasis on spending cuts.
Seventy-six percent (76%) of Political Class voters say it is better to avoid a shutdown by authorizing spending at a level most Democrats will agree to. Sixty-six percent (66%) of those in the Mainstream would rather see a shutdown until deeper spending cuts can be agreed on.
Most of those in the Political Class (52%) see a shutdown as bad for the economy, but just 38% of Mainstream voters agree.
So … what is it going to be GOP? Stick with your guns or cave?
BTW, using the Rand Paul “we spend $5 billion a day in government” standard, a shut down sounds like a money saving opportunity doesn’t it. Call each day a defacto spending cut. 10 days, $50 billion.
I like it.
As mentioned in the previous posts, the Blue Dogs in Congress aren’t feeling the love from minority leader (don’t you love that title) Nancy Pelosi and the crew. And that may have a beneficial effect for the GOP.
Blue dogs didn’t feel the love of voters last November either, with about half of them going down to defeat after they supported the health care law. Message sent, message received. Sooo … they’re taking a look at the Republican budget and some are saying (surprise, surprise) it might be something they can support:
Blue Dog Democrats might support a plan from House Republicans to cut $32 billion in discretionary spending this year, a spokesman for the fiscally conservative bloc said Monday.
Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) said the Blue Dogs are waiting to see the details of the proposed GOP cuts before taking a position. The draft legislation from the House Appropriations Committee is due on Thursday.
Now, of course, the GOP doesn’t need a single Democrat in the House to pass the budget. Just as the Democrats didn’t need a single Republican to pass health care. But having a “bi-partisan” budget with significant enough Democratic support to call it that (and not snicker) would put more pressure on Democrats elsewhere.
But the comments from Ross and other Blue Dogs suggest at least some of the coalition’s members are willing to defect from their party and vote for the plan despite the vocal opposition of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Last week Pelosi rejected the GOP plan and said that $32 billion in proposed cuts “will come at the expense of economic growth and American jobs.”
“We must put our fiscal house in order, beginning with an aggressive attack on waste, fraud and abuse; but we must do so without jeopardizing targeted investments that are helping the private sector grow and hire new workers,” Pelosi said.
Got to love it — “waste, fraud and abuse”, the fall back of those who don’t intend to cut a dime while still talking about cutting spending. No one ever does anything about “waste, fraud and abuse” except talk about it. No one. And If Ms. Pelosi is so fired up about aggressively attacking it, why wasn’t that a priority when she was Speaker?
However the GOP doesn’t get off Scott free either – what happened to the $100 billion in cuts promised prior to the election? Why $32 billion (one of the questions I plan on asking Paul Ryan if I get the chance)?
Anyway, back to the point at hand – minority leader Pelosi is simply reaping a bit of what she’s sown:
The Blue Dog openness to the GOP comes amid strained relations with Pelosi. On Monday, Blue Dog leader Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.), who challenged Pelosi for the job of Democratic leader in the 112th Congress, said the coalition has been shut out by the leader’s office.
So, no surprise – the Blue Dogs aren’t liberal enough for the leadership (yes that’s today’s theme). In fact, they recently met with Bill Clinton to plot a bit of strategy:
The 26-member Blue Dog Coalition met Monday in New York with former President Clinton to discuss ways to move a centrist political agenda through a divided Congress. Clinton advised the group on ways to handle the situation and discussed budget, housing and energy policy, Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) said.
“One of the reasons we invited President Clinton was he had to work with Republicans after the ’94 election,” Ross said.
Now you know if that coalition is plotting a “move to a centrist political agenda”, it along with just about everyone else have decided that the “main stream” Democrats are way to the left of them. And they may find more leverage with the opposing party by being the designated “bi-partisan” validator with some “compromise” from the GOP to include some of their ideas.
And Nancy and the gang? Out in the cold gobbling on about “waste, fraud and abuse”. About the only real example of waste, fraud and abuse I’ve seen is the minority leader herself. A waste of time, a fraud as a representative of the people and an abuse of power all rolled up into one liberal politician. Can we do away with her? It will certainly save taxpayers money.
I assume none of these names will come as a particular surprise to anyone. 8 GOP Senators joined Democrats in voting down a ban on earmarks for the next two-years. They were:
Sens. Thad Cochran (Miss.), Susan Collins (Maine), James Inhofe (Okla.), Dick Lugar (Ind.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Richard Shelby (Ala.) voted against an amendment to food-safety legislation that would have enacted a two-year ban on the spending items. Retiring Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio) and defeated Sen. Bob Bennett (Utah) also voted against it.
Of the 8, only one – Dick Lugar – faces reelection in 2012.
As has been said by many, the ban on earmarks is mostly symbolic since the amount of funds earmarked each year are a veritable drop in the ocean compared to the rest of the federal budget. But the symbolism of members of the Senate foregoing a spending tradition dear to incumbents to emphasize that government in all areas must cut back on its spending would have been a powerful one indeed. Instead
Instead, the usual suspects decided that midnight drop-in earmarks unvoted upon or debated, are absolutely critical to the functioning of the federal government and funding projects in their state.
Of course, somewhere in the next few years, all 8 of them will “go on the record” about wasteful spending. They’ll also claim we must cut spending in all areas of government.
But when given the opportunity to put their words into action – well, there are the results.
It is easy to be cynical about politics today, especially for long-time observers. Years of watching fingers carefully placed in the political wind to determine its direction has given those watching the process a decided and well earned reason for cynicism.
But that has to be leavened somewhat with the understanding of how this political process works, why the incentives it offers is one of the main reasons it is broken, and then applaud actions which – no matter how seemingly small or insignificant they are – work toward changing those incentives in a meaningful way.
It has been said by many that “earmarks” are both trivial and insignificant when it comes to the budget deficit. They’re barely 1% of the budget. We’re told they’re no big thing in world of trillion dollar deficits.
Yes they are significant. For many reasons. Most obvious among them is they’re part of that incentive system that encourages profligacy and waste. As one wag pointed out, they’re the Congressional “gateway drug” for profligacy and waste on a much grander scale.
Secondly while it is easy to waive away “1%” of the budget as “insignificant”, you have to ask, “is it really?” Certainly in terms relative to a 2.8 trillion dollar budget, a few billion dollars doesn’t seem like much. But it is.
We know – all of us, even the left – that we must cut spending. Period. There’s no argument about that. The argument is where we cut. And how much. Cutting 1% of spending wrapped up in earmarks should be a “no-brainer”. It is a good first step. If you’re going to say to the country, “we’ve all got to cut back”, what better way – speaking of leadership – is there to make the point than to cut out spending that is advantageous to you politically.
That’s certainly the case with earmarks and has been for decades. It is the Congressional method of using tax dollars to help ensure a high return of incumbents on election day. So the symbolism involved in cutting them out is important. Especially, as I noted, when the country is going to be asked to take cuts in things which they find advantageous to themselves.
That all brings me to Sen. Mitch McConnell essentially reversing himself and signing on to the earmark ban. I’m cautiously optimistic that the GOP leadership is actually beginning to get the message that I think was transmitted loud and clear on November 2nd. Said McConnell:
“What I’ve concluded is that on the issue of congressional earmarks, as the leader of my party in the Senate, I have to lead first by example,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “Nearly every day that the Senate’s been in session for the past two years, I have come down to this spot and said that Democrats are ignoring the wishes of the American people. When it comes to earmarks, I won’t be guilty of the same thing.”
Good. What I’m not going to do is look this particular gift horse in the mouth and try to determine whether it is a cynical political ploy or genuine. I’m simply going to take it at face value and put a plus next to earmark reform. I’ll take McConnell at his word and demand that he now be consistent in applying the same received message to areas of spending that will indeed make a huge difference. Or said another way, I appreciate the sentiment and the symbolism of the earmark ban, but that doesn’t satisfy me or anyone else. It just indicates some seriousness and willingness to do what is necessary to rein in the government’s spending. While appreciated, it in no way means anything much more than that.
McConnell acknowledges the “wishes of the American people”. Those wishes were clearly expressed as a much smaller, much less costly and intrusive federal government. Banning earmarks is as good a place to start as any. But the serious work of cutting government down to size must continue immediately after the ban is in effect. The electoral gods will have no mercy on the GOP in 2012 if the American people don’t see a concerted effort by the party toward that goal.
A New York Times editorial is all over the place today in its hysterical concern that Republicans are going to spend all their time investigating what Democrats have been doing these past 2 years. Let me say upfront that while there are certainly things which need investigation, the GOP can indeed hurt themselves if the investigations seem to be excessive or perceived to be "witch hunts". However, perhaps the most interesting part of the editorial is its title, an obvious shot directed at the GOP’s supposed preference for investigating over what the NYT feels is its real job – "Try Something Hard: Governing".
Funny – I don’t remember the NYT admonishing Congressional Democrats or the administration to do that when the obvious focus of both should have been jobs and the economy and not a horrific health care bill.
Also understand the premise the NYT tries to advance here. Using a Darrell Issa quote, "I want seven hearings a week times 40 weeks", they attempt to imply that’s all Republicans will be doing. That will hardly be the case.
Then we’re treated to absurdities like this:
This combativeness from the new House majority is an early symptom of its preference for politicking over the tougher job of governing in hard times. Its plans already feature the low cunning of snipping budget lines so the Internal Revenue Service cannot enforce key provisions of the health care reform law. (Why not defund Postal Service document deliverers while they’re at it?)
Why not – while the NYT calls it "low cunning", it is indeed a method by which the legislative chamber "governs". The NYT and similar media voices seemed to understand that when Democrats in Congress threatened to defund the war in Iraq. Now it’s "a feature of low cunning". A cry to govern by the NYT with a follow up criticism of doing so by the means the House is able to employ. Absurd.
Regulation? Well, last time I looked it was Congress who decided what regulations were and agencies who enforced them as the law provided by Congress said. Apparently that’s not the case anymore per the NYT:
The new majority will showcase hearings devoted to what Representative Fred Upton, the ranking Republican on the energy committee, called a “war on the regulatory state.” What he means by that is the Environmental Protection Agency’s daring to accept scientific evidence that human activity is driving global warming. Similar hearings, rooted in the vindictive rhetoric of the 2010 campaign, are likely for the new consumer protection bureau, immigration enforcement, and more.
How 2008 of the NYT to claim the EPA is accepting “scientific evidence” in its drive to regulate CO2. Obviously the carrier pigeon hasn’t made it to the Grey Lady yet that says not only is the “science” not settled, it is in total disarray and largely discredited. More importantly it isn’t up to the EPA to decided what science it is or isn’t going to accept. Its job is to enforce the law as it is written and amended by Congress. And to this point, there’s nothing in the law which allows the EPA the power or authority they are attempting to assume. What the Republican Congress wants to do is make that abundantly clear to the bureaucrats there. That’s governing. That’s oversight.
The same for the activist who has been named to the Consumer Protection Agency – the job there is to enforce existing law, not make it up as you go or enforce it arbitrarily according to an ideological agenda. And of course, immigration “enforcement”, which is again being arbitrarily applied by the bureaucrats as they see fit vs. applying it as the law demands, is in the same boat.
Reining in the bureaucracies as they attempt to overstep their bounds time and time again is “governing”. It is “oversight”. And those are two jobs the Democratic Congress has done poorly if at all as witnessed by the examples I’ve given. And there are plenty more.
The Times acknowledges, even after its ignorant tirade above, that it is the job of Congress to oversee how the laws it has passed are implemented and followed. And that it also has a duty to oversee the executive branch.
In principle, Congress’s oversight of the executive branch can be a vital necessity. Politically, however, both parties push its limits from time to time. Now is no time for myriad searches for sensational distractions when the nation’s voters cry out for solid progress.
This is the only worthwhile paragraph in the entire NYT editorial. If taken alone, it speaks perfect sense. When taken in the context of the rest of the editorial, it is a pitch for no investigations, since it is obvious that while the Times is pretending to call on the GOP House to “govern” it really doesn’t want it doing anything in that area which may point to administration malpractice or malfeasance or allowing executive agencies to interpret law as it sees fit instead of as it is written.
Tough cookies. To paraphrase Barack Obama – “they won”.
Seriously – that’s essentially the Matt Yglesias take on the recommendations published by the co-chairs of the president’s debt commission:
I’m not surprised that liberals don’t like the Simpson-Bowles proposals and I’m not surprised that people who aren’t liberal disagree with liberals about that. But I am surprised that there are people out there professing to be surprised that liberals are hostile to the proposal. But what are liberals supposed to think? It’s a proposal hashed out between a conservative Republican and a moderate Democrat. So of course liberals don’t like it. Imagine the conservative reaction to a deficit proposal written by Lincoln Chaffee and Russ Feingold.
Or instead of a hypothetical, how does Yglesias think the GOP would feel about a health care law written only by Democrats? To use his words, “if you want Republicans to like a deal, you need to invite Republicans to the table”. The irony, however, seems to have escaped him.
That’s not to say that pursuing a conservative-moderate deal was a bad idea. Self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals by a large margin and moderates are a much bigger force in the Democratic coalition than in the Republican one. So if you want a deal, appointing an orthodox conservative Republican and a moderate Democrat from North Carolina makes a lot of sense. But it also makes sense that liberals won’t be happy with the results.
But when the GOP was unhappy with the health care law, it was because they hated poor Americans and were the lackeys of the insurance companies, right?
An incredible election night by any measure. The obvious question that pundits will be concentrating on is “what does it mean”?
Well I think there is consensus on both sides that it doesn’t mean that the voters love Republicans. Even establishment Republicans are acknowledging that fact. And Marco Rubio made that clear in his acceptance speech where he called this a “second chance” not an embrace of the GOP.
So that leaves us with a number of other options to consider. What needs to be kept in mind is this is the third consecutive wave election and in each case the party holding the White House suffered losses. That’s unprecedented. And this particular midterm is the largest shift of seats since 1936 (update: House numbers now have a projected 242 seats on the GOP side, a net of +64 – historic or as one Democrat strategist said, a defeat for Democrats of “biblical proportion”). So one meme that isn’t going to fly is this election is “no big deal”. Democrats got spanked and got spanked hard. They have a lot of work to do to win back voters.
Another thing that seems to be a developing narrative is that this is a repudiation of the Obama agenda. I think that’s true to an extent. The biggest driver of the dissatisfaction with Democrats is the health care law as indicated by polls. And they are certainly mad about the deficit spending. But as Charles Krauthammer said last night, “this isn’t a failure of communication by the Democrats, this is a failure of policy”. So it would seem that at least part of the vote was a repudiation of the president despite claims by some on the left that its only about the economy.
That said, part of it is also about the economy. Historically the party in power doesn’t do well in a down economy. So that too must be factored in to the formula. While much of that is beyond government’s control, that which it could impact was perceived as poorly done. Very poorly done. That exacerbated the loss. And, with the focus on health care reform, most Americans thought that the legislative priorities were wrong as well. Voters have historically turned to the GOP to handle economic matters. But this is still no mandate for the GOP.
Finally voter anger hasn’t gone anywhere, it’s just taking a breather. Again, watch the direction of the country polls over the coming two years. It’s an interesting set up in DC now. Democrats actually would have been better off if the Senate had gone to the Republicans. They still control it and the Presidency and that leaves the onus on them as we head toward 2012. It also gives the GOP a free hand to pass whatever it wants in the House, regardless of where it goes, if anywhere, and make the case that they tried to reform what the people wanted reformed and Democrats (in the Senate and the President) stood in their way (reverse the “obstructionists” claim).
I think, after last night, that 2012 is definitely in play. It will be interesting to see how both parties react. I’m eagerly awaiting the Obama presser at 1 pm today when we’ll hear the first reaction from the President. But as always with him, judge him by his actions, not his words. His words have become empty rhetoric that many times doesn’t support what he ends up doing.
Democratic Rep Jim Marshall from here in GA (GA08) has an ad out which says it all:
"Georgia is a long way from San Francisco," drawls the narrator, over images of dancing hippies.
"Jim Marshall doesn’t support Nancy Pelosi," says the narrator, citing a finding that Marshall voted with Republican leaders 65% of the time."
How desperate is that?
If those two things are important campaign issues, then electing someone from the GOP should easily maintain the non-support of Pelosi and most likely up the percentage of votes with the GOP leadership, shouldn’t it?