The Senate  deal

So, the current headlines are lit up with “the deal” between Obama and “Congressional leaders.”  Ummm, from what I can tell, these Congressional leaders are only Senate leaders, i.e., McConnell and Reid.   The Senate has never been the real obstacle.  It’s always been all the Republican wingnuts in the House.  And heck, as we know, even if Boehner agrees to the deal, that’s no guarantee he’s got enough Republicans to go along.  So, I just don’t quite get all this breathless reporting about “a deal” when we have no idea whether the main obstacle to a deal– the House GOP caucus– is still an obstacle or not.  My hope, though, is now that there’s this bipartisan Senate deal, the corporate masters of the Republican Party are finally placing the pressure on the House they should’ve been all along.  And don’t think for a second they couldn’t be placing this pressure.  Corporate money talks.

Are libertarians really this ignorant

[Hooray– I found my missing post in the WordPress trash.  Here it is]

So, a fairly prominent libertarian I am FB friends with posted this on Facebook yesterday along with significant praise for this article in Reason.  Suffice it to say, I was not impressed.  Basic gist– look how much the media loved liberal Paul Wellstone when he died and compare that to how mean they are to poor Tea Party types.  Hello false equivalancey!  Please, as if Wellstone were as far from the center to the left as our current Tea Party nuts are to the right.

But what really got me was that said libertarian friend– an actual PS professor– so strongly endorsed an article that contained this bit:

At this point it might be useful to clarify precisely what the dispute concerns. The question is not whether the federal government should grow. As Reason‘s Nick Gillespie pointed out a few days ago, nearly nobody in Washington has actually proposed shrinking the leviathan. To the contrary, the dispute is whether to raise federal spending from the current $3.8 trillion to $4.7 trillion over the next decade (the Paul Ryan plan)—or to $5.7 trillion (the Obama plan).
Bear in mind that those increases would come on top of one of the fastest expansions of federal spending in U.S. history. When President Obama took office, the budget stood at $2.9 trillion. Two. Point. Nine.

Spending has risen 30 percent in the past three years. It is quite a feat to grow federal spending faster than the Bush administration: Under Bush, domestic discretionary spending rose faster than at any time since the Lyndon Johnson administration.

If Bush floored the accelerator, then Obama lit the afterburners.

Oh, please.  Sure, this should be able to fool your typical not-as-smart-as-he-thinks reader of Reason, but the Poli Sci prof should know better.  First of all, spending is going to grow just because the nation is growing even if government doesn’t really grow at all.  Secondly, a huge portion of this is the rise in health care costs, which Democrats, not Republicans, have actually tried to do something meaningful about.  I would hardly call the government spending 6% more on Medicare in a year due to a 6% increase in medical inflation a huge growth in government.  It’s just the same things, i.e., statins, open heart surgery, and diabetes care, etc., getting more expensive.  Sure, the scope and size of government are related to the amount of money spent, but this is really a poor proxy.  Lastly, a lot of this spending is not a genuinely larger government, but again, short-term spending in response to the tough economy.  Do libertarians truly believe that a doubling of outlays for unemployment benefits in a time of high unemployment actually means the government has gotten “bigger” in any meaningful sense?  Finally, Krugman, recently had a blog post nicely explaining the story of spending vs. GDP.

Extortion politics

In an unprecedented event, WordPress ate my blog posts making fun of libertarians.  Maybe the wordpress bosses are libertarian.  I don’t feel like writing in again.  Instead, just read Steve Benen’s excellent post on how the Republicans have normalized extortion politics:

I think this arguably one of the more important realizations to take away from the current political landscape. Republicans aren’t just radicalized, aren’t just pursuing an extreme agenda, and aren’t just allergic to compromise. The congressional GOP is also changing the very nature of governing in ways with no modern precedent.

Welcome to the normalization of extortion politics…

[I excised the examples, but they’re good]

Republicans effectively tell the administration, over and over again, that the normal system of American governance can continue … just as soon as Democrats agree to policy changes the GOP can’t otherwise pass.

The traditional American model would tell Republicans to win an election. If that doesn’t work, Republicans should work with rivals to pass legislation that moves them closer to their goal. In 2011, the GOP has decided these old-school norms are of no value. Why bother with them when Republicans can force through policy changes by way of a series of hostage strategies? Why should the legislative branch use its powers through legislative action when extortion is more effective?

Republicans aren’t just standing at the next urinal… they’re standing there and peeing on the rest of us.

Debt ceiling crisis: blame the mainstream debt scolds

Nice post from Chait yesterday explaining the huge mistake many deficit hawks made in treating the Republican party as an organization that actually cares about reducing deficits:

The failure to understand the crisis we were entering was widely shared among centrist types. When Republicans first proposed tying a debt ceiling hike to a measure to reduce the deficit, President Obama instead proposed a traditional, clean debt ceiling hike. He found this position politically untenable for many reasons, one of them being that deficit scolds insisted that using the debt ceiling to force a fiscal adjustment was a terrific idea, and that connecting the deficit debate to a potentially cataclysmic financial event was the mark of seriousness.

Alright, I do a lot of quoting of my favorite bloggers, surely you skim over some, but this next bit from Chait is a good a summary I’ve seen of the current state of the politics of economic policy.  Read it:

The political assumptions here turned out to be badly wrong. The main problem is that the Republican Party does not actually care very much about the deficit. It cares about, in order: Low taxes for high-income earners; reducing social spending, especially for the poor; protecting the defense budget; and low deficits. The Obama administration and many Democrats actually do care about the deficit and are willing to sacrifice their priorities in order to achieve it, a desire that was on full display during the health care reform debate. Republicans care about deficit reduction only to the extent that it can be undertaken without impeding upon other, higher priorities. Primarily “deficit reduction” is a framing device for their opposition to social spending, as opposed to a genuine belief that revenue and outlays ought to bear some relationship to each other.

Boehner for Boehner

The evidence at this point would seem to indicate the John Boehner’s first priority is saving his speakership.  Everything else is secondary.  Understandable, but given the circumstances, clearly the actions of a very small man.  I caught a bit of his speech yesterday afternoon and it was almost 100% fabrication.  He was basically lying the whole time.  Sure, politicians lie in speeches, but this was truly breathtaking.  Clearly, he was counting on journalists not calling him out on things which were simply empirically not so (my guess is he was right on this).  First, Chait:

The basic problem is this. Lifting the debt ceiling requires a bill that’s acceptable to 217 members of the House, 60 Senators, and President Obama. The easiest way to get a bill like that would be to write something that passes the House with maybe 10-20% of House Republicans supporting it, and the rest of the votes coming from Democrats. Unfortunately for Boehner, such a scenario would probably result in House Republicans kicking him out of his job. So we’re stuck relying on a vote coalition containing most of the House GOP caucus, which means relying on people who are extremely reluctant to raise the debt ceiling or to compromise at all.

So basically, we’re risking mass financial havoc so that… John Boehner can remain as House Speaker

And Ezra (with a fabulous analogy):

Lately, Boehner has not been governing. What should have happened Friday is obvious: Having failed to pass a conservative resolution to the debt crisis without Democratic votes, he should have begun cutting the deals and making the concessions necessary to gain Democratic votes. That, after all, is what he will ultimately have to do anyway, as whatever he passes will also require the approval of the Senate and the president.

But Boehner went in the opposite direction. He made his bill more conservative. He indulged his members in the fantasy that they wouldn’t have to make compromises. It’s as if Pelosi, facing criticism for dropping the public option, had tried to shore up her support by bringing a single-payer health-care bill to the floor. Even if that would have pleased her left wing, what good would it have done her? Her job was to prepare her members to take a vote that could lead to a successful outcome. Pretending that that outcome could be far further to the left than it actually could be would ultimately make her job harder.

And that’s exactly right.  Here’s the Post’s news report:

The House GOP leaders offered party members a reworked plan Friday morning designed to appeal to arch-conservatives…

Seriously??!!  At this point and he thinks its time to make the most extreme members of the House GOP caucus (and that’s saying something!) happy?!  What a truly appalling failure of leadership.  I used to think that Boehner and I disagreed, but that he actually cared about the welfare of the country.  Maybe he does care about the welfare of our country, but he clearly cares a lot more about the welfare of John Boehner.

Krugman on knee-jerk centrism

Do yourself a favor and read Krugman today.  100% spot-on criticism of our political press.  Every political reporter should have to read this.  The gist:

As I said, it’s not complicated. Yet many people in the news media apparently can’t bring themselves to acknowledge this simple reality. News reports portray the parties as equally intransigent; pundits fantasize about some kind of “centrist” uprising, as if the problem was too much partisanship on both sides.

Some of us have long complained about the cult of “balance,” the insistence on portraying both parties as equally wrong and equally at fault on any issue, never mind the facts. I joked long ago that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read “Views Differ on Shape of Planet.” But would that cult still rule in a situation as stark as the one we now face, in which one party is clearly engaged in blackmail and the other is dickering over the size of the ransom?

The answer, it turns out, is yes.

And great catch on some, presumably unintended commentary, over at Chait’s blog:

The problem with American politics right now is Republican extremism, and if you’re not willing to say that, you’re helping make that problem worse.

David Brooks is off today.

Daily Show does School House Rock

Oh my goodness, for a lover of School House Rock (I still show “I’m Just a Bill” every time I teach my intro class), this may be the best Daily Show segment ever.  And spot-on political commentary (as usual) to boot.  Just watch.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Pink collar

Drum posted an interesting chart yesterday showing that women are way disproportiately bearing the loss of jobs in the category of “office and administrative support occupations.”

The biggest reason you always see that very misleading “women make 75% as much as men” statistic is that women work in different jobs from men– what’s called the dual labor market.  At the hospital, more of the doctors are men and more of the nurses and billing clerks are women.  In an office, more of the lawyers are men, and more of the administrative support and paralegals are women.  You get it.  Anyway, these are so-called “pink collar” jobs and where businesses have been cutting back, these jobs have borne a huge share of the cuts.  You can see it in my very own job.  Most NCSU faculty are men.  Facing budget cuts the administration is doing everything it can to protect faculty jobs (as it should, I would argue), but that means a lot of administrative support– mostly women– is being cut.  There will be two less employees in the main PS office in the coming year– both women.  Some nice further explanation here, if you are interested.

The platinum coin solution

This is too far out there for Obama to ever use, and I presume there’s gotta be some macro-economic downsides, but that aside, I love this idea.  Via Yglesias:

I keep hesitating to write about this because it sounds insane, but Jack Balkin’s a professor at Yale Law School so I’ll let him say it:

Sovereign governments such as the United States can print new money. However, there’s a statutory limit to the amount of paper currency that can be in circulation at any one time. Ironically, there’s no similar limit on the amount of coinage. A little-known statute gives the secretary of the Treasury the authority to issue platinum coins in any denomination. So some commentators have suggested that the Treasury create two $1 trillion coins, deposit them in its account in the Federal Reserve and write checks on the proceeds.

It actually seems to me that there’s a colorable argument that President Obama is legally obliged to order Secretary Geithner to order the mint to start creating large denomination platinum coins. The debt ceiling is legally binding. We can’t borrow any more money. But at the same time, the Social Security Act is still valid. There are appropriations bills that extend through September. The assumption is that starting August 2, the Treasury will start “prioritizing” payments. But whence the legal authority to do that. By contrast, the legal authority to mint platinum coins is right there in the statute. This would, I assume, lead to a downgrading of American sovereign debt.

Oh right, there’s the downside.  Those pesky ratings of our debt.  The whole trouble we (i.e., everybody but nutty Republicans) are trying to avoid.  Still, seems better than some of the other options.


No equivalence

Joe Klein is certainly on the left side of center (though not that far), but he certainly represents the knee-jerk “pox on both their houses” centrism so typical of Washington journalism.  Thus, quite notable that he’s actually figured things out here.

And so, here we are. Our nation’s economy and international reputation as the world’s presiding grownup has already been badly damaged. It is a self-inflicted wound of monumental stupidity. I am usually willing to acknowledge that Democrats can be as silly, and hidebound, as Republicans — but not this time. There is zero equivalence here. The vast majority of Democrats have been more than reasonable, more than willing to accept cuts in some of their most valued programs. Given the chance, there was the likelihood that they would have surrendered their most powerful weapon in next year’s election — a Mediscare campaign — by agreeing to some necessary long-term reforms in that program. The President, remarkably, proposed raising the age of eligibility for Medicare to 67.

The Republicans have been willing to concede nothing. Their stand means higher interest rates, fewer jobs created and more destroyed, a general weakening of this country’s standing in the world. Osama bin Laden, if he were still alive, could not have come up with a more clever strategy for strangling our nation.  [emphasis mine]

Okay, I think enough GOP members of Congress are so monumentally ignorant and so used to drinking their own Kool-Aid for so long that they actually believe what they are doing is somehow good for our economy and the nation.  Nonetheless, I think on some level, some of the less nutty of them have to understand that their plans are bad for the economy and that millions of Americans will suffer as a result.  I think they see that as simply an acceptable side effect for one American to suffer the most– Barack Obama in November 2012.

Chart of the day

Interesting look at public opinion on extra-marital affairs from Yglesias (originally via Monkey Cage)

Of note is the decreasing tolerance for extra-marital sex.  Also of note, the more educated you are, the more tolerant you are of extra marital affairs.  As a highly-educated person, I don’t think I’d end up in the “always wrong,” category.  I’m reluctant to embrace the always standard for most forms of behavior.  If there was an “almost always wrong,” I’d go with that, but if the next option were “sometimes wrong,” I’d probably go with the “always” as I’m probably closer to that.  Short version of social science commentary: not only are the question wordings very important, so are are the wordings of the available response categories.

As for the socio-moral (can I say that?) commentary… Perhaps I shouldn’t say this since I know my wife reads my blog, but I think people place to much focus on sexual fidelity in a marriage.  In truth, there’s all sorts of ways that you can be unfaithful to your spouse that are not sexual liaisons with another person, but that is what our society is all hung up on.  Mind you, I have no intentions of violating this myself, but it has always struck me as crazy that many people see a single extramarital mistake as reason to end an otherwise okay marriage.  Now, of course, in many cases, an extra-marital encounter is a symptom of a troubled marriage and the straw that breaks the camel’s back, but, as a society, I think we place too much emphasis on that particular aspect.  I would argue that it is just as damaging (if not more so) to a marriage to show a pervasive lack of trust, respect, confidence, etc., towards a spouse.  Yet, there’s this idea that if somebody sexually cheats the marriage must be de fact over whereas if that same spouse works to undermine his/her partner’s confidence in a business venture or as a parent, that’s just something to be worked on.

Republicans standing at the next urinal

When it comes to thinks governing human behavior, there’s laws and there’s there’s social customs and norms.  It would be against the law to attack me in the men’s room, however, there’s nothing against the law saying that you cannot come and stand at the urinal next to me when there’s plenty of other free ones.  It would just be weird and creepy.  There’s a lot of things we don’t do, for better and worse, because you just don’t do it.  It violates social norms and customs.  Traditionally, Congress has been much the same way.  There’s the actual rules of the place, and then there’s the long-standing norms.  The reason that Republicans in Congress have been so successful in getting their way of late, is that they basically decided if its not an actual rule, just a norm, that damn the norms, full speed ahead.  In short, when it comes to conducting themselves in Congress, Republicans are standing at the next urinal.

That was going to be the end of my post, but I came across this excellent piece by long-time Congressional observer/scholar, Norm Ornstein, approrpriately titled, “Worst.  Congress.  Ever.”  And it’s not because of the Democrats (also worth noting, Ornstein definitely plays things down the middle and is employed by the conservative thinktank AEI).  I would actually assign it to my Intro Class this coming year, but I’m not actually going to be teaching Intro this year for the first time in a long time.  Since it’s going to lose that big audience, maybe you should just read it instead :-).  It’s quite good.  (Or, if you are JP, you can assign it to your class).  Anyway, here’s the part most relevant to my comments:

In 2006, I wrote a book with the Brookings Institution’s Tom Mann called The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track, in which we reflected on the high level of dysfunction in Congress that had been building since the 1990s. From the Clinton years through the middle of George W. Bush’s second term, partisan division had been accompanied by a growing ideological gulf in Congress, and along with it had come a decline in institutional loyalty and other norms, the near disappearance of meaningful debate and deliberation, and a sharp decline in the “regular order,” the adherence to and respect for the rules and procedures that normally operated in the legislative body.  [emphasis mine].

And, there’s no false symmetry here.  It is predominantly, though admittedly not exclusively, Republicans who are responsible for this.  There’s a reason this is the worst Congress ever.  And it starts with an R.

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