Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Baseball Post

I've been behind on these, too, and have some stuff to get through before I turn to the HOF ballot, which I'll do in December sometime.

But first: Brian Sabean.

Steve Rubio did a re-evaluation post after the World Series; see also Bryan Murphy's apology. I'll start by quoting Steven:
I know Sabean has had the last laugh, and to his credit, he never gloats, although inside he must love being right, in the midst of so much criticism from the lunatic fringe. Every general manager has good and bad points. In Sabean’s case, his bad points were so obvious, and so aggravating, that they overwhelmed my ability to see the bigger picture. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment has been to finally convince people like me to accept his good qualities, as well.
I think that gets to a large part of it. Sabean's weaknesses are just so obvious, and always have been. His strengths have always been there, however, and I think they've been a lot less obvious. I've written about him lots of times before, but essentially he's had two major strengths: drafting and developing pitchers, and aggressive problem-solving. The problem was that he really did appear to have a mid-career slump as far as problem-solving goes; in the late Bonds years and then during the down time, he sometimes was willing to sit passively through and obvious problem. How, exactly, did Deivi Cruz and Neifi Perez combine for almost 800 PAs in 2004? Where was the timely trade to rescue the disaster of a bullpen that season? Since Sabean's talent evaluation has always been hit or miss, he's needed to stay aggressive in order to keep the team in good shape; it doesn't really hurt if you pick up a dud as long as you're willing to go out and get the next guy. So Sabean teams really need that midseason boost more than others, I'd guess; when he's active, it works out well, and when he's not, very bad things can happen.

But anyway: my big criticism of Sabean, the one that I said he should be fired for the year before he won the World Series the first time, isn't really the poor talent evaluation.

It's that for a long, long, time, Brian Sabean limited himself to just one source for position players: established major league veterans. It wasn't a preference; it was an obsession.

And you can't win that way, at least unless you happen to have the guy with the cape carrying you most of the way. It's just too big of a handicap. Brian Sabean wouldn't use players from so many categories in his first dozen years: drafted and developed, of course, but also players who were in the minors elsewhere, or were platoon or bench players elsewhere; and foreign players, either major league ready or not.

So what happened? Sabean changed.

The obvious one is the drafted and developed players: Posey, Belt, Crawford, and then also Schierholz. Also, Pablo Sandoval was an overseas signing and developed. Without Posey -- without Posey -- that's more homegrown hitter talent than Sabean had in his first twelve years (through 2008) combined.

Then there's the real shocker: Andres Torres. In his first twelve seasons, Sabean had never done that: pick up a guy who had flopped in his only major league trial, and make him into a regular. Of course, Torres not only had a great (if fluky) year, but then was traded for Angel Pagan, who had a very nice year in 2012. And if you do it once, you can do it again: Sabean found more free talent with Gregor Blanco in 2012. No, Blanco wasn't anything great, but he was better than, say, having to play Xavier Nady every day. Joaquin Arias wasn't exactly a regular in 2012, but that was the same thing, picking up free talent and making something out of it.

The point is that for twelve years, there were no comps for Torres, Blanco, and Arias. And that meant sometimes scraping bottom, because the choices were burned-out ex-regulars or non-prospects. Again: not saying that Torres, Blanco, and Arias are anything special, although Torres was quite good in 2010. It's that Sabean finally was willing to tap into talent streams which he had ignored in the past.

I mean, he's the same old Sabean, unable to really tell the difference between...Mark DeRosa, Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, Jeff Keppinger, Bill Hall, and Marco Scutaro, or between Cody Ross, Pat Burrell....well, you know the corner outfielders they've shuffled through. But by expanding the options to include homegrown and free talent, everything gets a lot easier.

And meanwhile, the strengths are still there. Or, perhaps, a bit stronger. When I wrote about Sabean in 2009 I of course didn't include Bumgarner in the drafted and developed; I also didn't include Romo, and I only made passing reference to the Bearded One. But in my long list of drafted-and-developed pitchers, I did have one important category: "burnout cases such as Vogelsong, Ainsworth, Williams, Foppert, Bump." Guess that part has to be revisited!

So I'm obviously very glad that the Giants didn't listen to me and fire Brian Sabean in 2009...but I'm also glad that Sabean did what I had blamed him for not doing. Without it there's no way that he brings two titles to China Basin. With it, he becomes a first-rate general manager. And he deserves a ton of credit. It's awful hard to change, but Brian Sabean really did change over the last three years. He's a  better GM now than he was in his first dozen years, and he deserves the credit he's received.

Those Romney Internal Polls

The New Republic's Noam Scheiber has (some of) Mitt Romney's internal polling from the last weekend of the campaign, and has discussed it with Romney pollster Neil Newhouse.

It's worth a few comments.

First, as Andrew Rudalevige notes, these polls do not justify the type of confidence that Team Romney was reported to have on election day. Romney is close, and closer than the polling averages had it -- but he's still losing. This set of numbers really doesn't inspire a lot more hope than the public polling did; both leave open a real possibility that Romney could win if it turns out he runs a bit better than the polls, but neither really give any reason to expect that.

Second: it's very hard to see any harm in it. Every campaign needs to act as though it believes it will win. But that means that every person in every campaign needs to act that way, and the easiest way to do so is to really believe it. I see nothing in this story, and generally I've seen nothing in any of the post-election coverage, to indicate that Romney's campaign erred in any way based on their apparent wishful thinking about the polls.

Third, in particular it's very hard to argue that redeploying resources to Pennsylvania at the last minute was a mistake. It's probably easier to argue that they should have been targeting Pennsylvania all along, but then again I'm not really aware of evidence that they made any significant targeting mistakes, either.

Fourth, it's very much worth tracking the consistency between what is now reported as the inside Romney campaign view and what (many, most) GOP-aligned news outlets were saying.

Fifth, none of this really gets to the key questions going forward, which as I see it are about (1) why Barack Obama's national vote wound up pretty high in the plausible range of what the fundamentals predicted, and (2) whether the Democrats have opened up a long-term electoral college advantage.

Now, I think all of this is based on the premise that there really wasn't much that Romney could have done about most of the lay of the land. Could he have discouraged African American and young voters from coming to the polls? Hard to see that. Could he have flipped the Latino vote? No, not really; on both policy and, really, rhetoric, his hands were tied by his party.

What he had the ability to do, especially in the final weeks of the campaign, was to move around resources to where they would be most useful. As far as I can tell, Team Romney mostly did a reasonable job of that. They also had control of their own turnout operation, which received lousy reviews...but it's pretty hard, I think, to tie that to polling-based overconfidence, or really anything beyond managerial incompetence (assuming that is that it's true, which we don't really know). So while there's plenty of interesting material in this scoop, I'm not sure how much it really tells us at the end of the day.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Joan Ganz Cooney, 83.

And how about some good stuff:

1. Everything you want to know about the Asian American vote, from Karthick Ramakrishnan and Taeku Lee.

2. Ta-Nehisi Coates on "Lincoln."

3. Nicholas Beaudrot on the Senate.

4. The geography of disability, or why different states have different rates, from Kathy Ruffing.

5. Seth Masket continues the conversation about potato chips.

6. And Paul Krugman keeps up the Paul Ryan watch. I really wish we could get him to call Ryan "Eddie Haskell," though.

November 29, 1972

The president and Haldeman are still at Camp David; they have another Watergate conversation, mostly about how Haldeman now thinks that Congress is going to drop the whole thing because they don't have anything.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Elsewhere: Filibuster, Fiscal Cliff, Social Security

A few from this week...

At PP Tuesday, I argued that the evidence from nominations showed that Mitch McConnell's claim that increased cloture was a result of Harry Reid "filling the tree" and blocking GOP amendments is wrong.

Then today at PP I tried to explain the bizarre Republican habit of insisting that they should pick the Democratic negotiating position -- now, demanding that Democrats propose Medicare cuts, and earlier, insisting that Barack Obama should support Simpson-Bowles.

And yesterday, I had one about Dick Durbin's proposal for a special commission on Social Security -- or, all about what special commissions can and can't do.

By the way -- in case you missed it last night, I'm back to Watergate blogging. So if you enjoy those, I did two last night, with more to come. Much more. Truth is, I'm not sure how I'm going to be able to handle it as it goes along. Things are still going to be fairly slow for a while, but then it starts getting pretty hectic. Oh well; I'm enjoying it, and perhaps some of you are too.

Romney Campaign Still Math-Challenged

A bunch of liberals (here's one; here's another) had good fun yesterday with an op-ed by Romney strategist Stuart Stevens yesterday. The main point of the ribbing was that Romney's campaign apparently still doesn't quite understand that all the votes count, not just those from the groups they really liked.

But unless I missed it, no one noticed that Stevens still doesn't seem to have any idea of just how badly Romney lost. He says "Nor are we idiots because we came a little more than 320,000 votes short of winning the Electoral College in 2012."

320,000 votes? I don't think so. By my count, that's off by over 200,000 votes.

The final totals still aren't in, but looking around...

Romney won 206 electoral votes.

He lost Florida narrowly, by only 74,000 votes. Had he won Florida, he reaches 235.

Next closest was Ohio. He lost Ohio by 164,000 votes. FL and OH get him to 253.

Virginia was next. He lost Virginia by 149,000 votes. FL, OH, and VA put him at 266.

Oops! That's already 387,000 votes, and he's not there yet.

To get over the top, he would have had to win at least one more state. Pennsylvania and Colorado have been going back and forth as the votes are counted for the state that did it for Barack Obama...right now Obama's lead in Colorado is slightly less, and it's smaller, so we'll give him that. But Mitt Romney lost Colorado by 138,000 votes.

That means Romney needed not the 320K he said, but 525,000 votes, and again they're still counting in some of these. Regardless: Stevens was off by an impressive 64%. Which will presumably only increase as the last few votes are counted. That's a pretty big miss!

(Fine, you want to get technical? I'm sure that it's possible to find some electoral votes for fewer votes, but a whole lot less practical. For example, those last votes could have been found not in CO or PA, but in New Hampshire, which Obama won by a very slightly larger margin but of course with a lot fewer votes, only 40,000. But that's about it. Obama won Nevada by only some 68K votes, but that's only 6 EVs. Iowa, also 6 EVs, had about a 90K vote margin, so that doesn't really do anything for him. Obama's lead was under 100K in New Mexico and Delaware, but I don't seen any combination which lowers the overall total, and it's not as if that small number in Delaware was actually easier than the bigger number in Virginia).

Should we care? Oh, probably not, although I wouldn't put a whole lot of stock in any of the other empirical claims he makes in the op-ed (I haven't checked any of them). I don't really know where he gets the numbers; my guess is that it might be election night results, but who knows? I mean, I can't really blame Team Romney for not obsessively clicking on David Wasserman's wonderful spreadsheet every few hours, but then again if they want to write about the numbers, they might want to get them right.

Or, to make the obvious point, maybe that's exactly the kind of careful attention to reality and detailed quantitative study that was typical of how the whole campaign was run. But that's just silly talk. Right?

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Garry Shandling, 63.

Meanwhile, some good stuff:

1. Dan Larison on Ronald Reagan and "winning" the Cold War. Yup. Reagan deserves the same credit that everyone from Ike through Carter deserve -- for keeping to the basic policy Truman established. Not that they all did it well, whether the blots were major or minor, but they all wound up sticking with a winning framework. I do think Reagan deserves credit for accepting victory when it came, and George H.W. Bush deserves quite a bit of credit for that and for managing victory well. Beyond that, however, what Larison says.

2. John Norris is very good on what hurt the early Clinton administration -- but it wasn't just in foreign policy (and see also Larison).

3. And as much as I like Alyssa Rosenberg, and I think this is a terrific post...I think she gets David Lynch horribly wrong.

November 28, 1972

In an incredibly foolish move, Nixon has decided to nominate Patrick Gray for the FBI job; Gray had been the acting director since Hoover died, but choosing to put Gray in front of a Senate committee in a confirmation battle was not at all a wise move.

Mid-November, 1972

My apologies; I've fallen behind on the story, what with the election and all. But it's time to get back to it.

As you may recall, the five men arrested at the break-in, Hunt, and Liddy have all been indicted and are awaiting trial. Numerous members of the White House and campaign staffs perjured themselves, coordinated by John Dean, to keep the story of rogue campaign aides intact through the election; the indicted men themselves were taken care of with cash.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Counting Filibusters and Getting Reform Right

Longtime filibuster opponent Hendrik Hertzberg encountered a pretty good Michael Tomasky item on the Reid/Merkley/Udall reform package which wondered whether getting rid of the motion to proceed and forcing talking filibusters would be worth the bother, and was puzzled. Sure, Tomasky eventually concluded that some reform was better than none, but Hertzberg thinks it's obvious (his emphasis):
For the past three years, as I noted in that last post, the Republicans have been firing off filibusters at an average rate of a hundred and twenty-nine per year. That comes to very nearly one filibuster for every single goddam day the Senate is in session.

However, if the filibustering senator or senators must actually filibuster—if they must stand up on the Senate floor and talk till they’re blue (or, more likely, red) in the face—how would it be possible to keep up the one-a-day pace? How could there not be many fewer filibusters than there are now? And how could that not be a very Good Thing?


First of all: cloture petitions -- and that's what he's using for this count -- are simply terrible measures of filibusters. They may be the least-bad measure, to be sure, for some purposes. But in this case, cloture petitions massively underestimate the total number of filibusters. In a true 60 vote Senate, which is pretty much what we've had since 2009, every single measure is being filibustered. Every single bill. Ever amendment to every bill. Ever nomination. That's true whether or not there's any actual delay at all; simply insisting on 60 is enough to make it a filibuster. And since November 2008, Republicans have insisted on 60 for almost everything.

But second of all: if "a filibustering senator or senator...must stand up on the Senate floor and talk till they're blue" -- they're obviously not only stalling whatever it is that's on the floor at that point, but they're also stalling every other piece of Senate business. Hey, I'll add emphasis of my own: as long as the talking filibuster is going on, it blocks every single bill and nomination.

Which is precisely why talking filibusters died: they are bad for the majority party, not the minority.

The goal isn't to reduce cloture petitions! The goal is to allow the Senate to function better. And it's not just about 60 vs. a simple majority; it's also about being able, among other things, to rapidly get through non-controversial measures (including, yes, nominations).

And part of this, the part I'm most worried about right now, is that while partial reform (as Tomasky argues) is probably better than none, there are only so many shots at this -- they should try their best to get it right. They may not be able to because they don't have the votes. But they really shouldn't fall short because they're attached to some fantasy that if only the minority were forced to explain their position, they would be forced to give up. That's just not going to work.

Reform: Get to Conference

Since I wrote about my lack of enthusiasm for eliminating filibusters on the motion to proceed to bills yesterday, I figure I should write one today about a reform that the Senate Democrats are pushing which I do strongly agree with: eliminating filibuster opportunities on getting to conference after a bill has passed.

Norm Ornstein and Tom Mann have been complaining about the demise of proper conference committees (the formal, open, procedure in which House and Senate differences are reconciled after a bill passed both chambers) for some time now, and they're correct. Over the last several Congresses, party leaders have found it far easier to reach deals behind closed doors, often eliminating even the shell of a formal conference.

That's bad practice for lots of reasons. It also takes place for lots of reasons, with the difficulty of getting through filibusters to, say, appoint conferees only one of those reasons. But if it's even slightly a reason, that's a good reason to get rid of it (I believe there are actually three different opportunities for debate, and therefore filibuster, involved in getting to conference after a bill has passed).

I said yesterday that the motion to proceed filibuster doesn't matter much, because if there's not 60, there's no reason to move forward in the first place. What I should have added is that the fight over the motion to proceed therefore has some positive value; it produces useful information for the Majority Leader and the bill managers. It even makes sense to have it on bills but not nominations, since there's a whole lot more information to deal with on bills; someone might be willing, for example, to vote for a bill only if a particular amendment is adopted, or even only if a particular amendment can be offered. Now, that doesn't necessary mean the current method of using filibusters on the motion to proceed is necessarily ideal, but it does mean that there's a reasonable case for it.

On going to conferences and appointing conferees, however, there's no good reason at all for allowing additional delay. The bill has passed. The next round -- the bill emerging from a compromise with the House -- isn't available yet for debate. All these filibusters do is just extend delay for delay's sake; or, to put it another way, they make a filibuster more costly for a 60-vote majority for no particular reason.

So whatever else winds up in the final reform package, this one is a good idea, and good for Merkley/Udall for pushing for it.

Defending Potato Chips?

Over at the Monkey Cage, Joshua Tucker gets really bent out of shape over comparisons between campaign spending and spending on consumer items -- in the case he cites, potato chips.

I disagree!

The problem here is one about big numbers. Big numbers used to scare people. So the total spending on a campaign, or in this case on all the campaigns in one cycle put together, adds up to some big number and we are to believe that the system is wrong simply based on that big, scary, number. The virtue of the comparison is that it puts the big, scary, number in context. That's all. It doesn't say whether campaign spending is good, or bad, or anything else; it just helps us understand the size of the number.

We need more of this, not less, in my view. Candidates raised and spent $6B in 2012? Is that a lot, or not? I don't think most of us have any idea. I don't think most of us have any intuitive idea of what many of the numbers mean in budget debates, in tax debates, in health care debates, or the rest of it. Anything we can do to provide some sort of meaningful way to talk about millions, billions, and trillions of dollars is, in my view, helpful.

Of course that doesn't mean that campaign spending is similar to advertising on other products. It's just about the size of it. That's all, but it's something.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Dave Righetti, 54. That's the pitching coach of the World Series Champion (and two-time champion) San Francisco Giants. I don't know of any similar story: he's been retained as the pitching coach under three different managers. Who knows with coaches, but he certainly seems to be first-rate. Also a terrible Giants FA signing, long ago.

A little good stuff:

1. Great question from Tim Fernholz: "Why isn't anyone...asking about Lael Brainard for Treasury Secretary?" This blog has been woefully behind on this story; Wesleyan boosterism (Brainard is not only Wesleyan '83 but also CSS '83) should be a major Plain Blog running theme...I think the eldest daughter's plans to go elsewhere had me off my Wes boosterism of late, but I should get back to it. There's also the case on the merits, and Fernholz does a good job with it.

2. I suspect that few will be freed by the (relatively) non-election atmosphere for the next year or so more than Ross Douthat. He's taken up a campaign against the payroll tax; here's the latest installment. I'm not sure I agree, but I think he's generally stronger on policy than on electoral politics, and that's doubly true with the constraints that being a NYT conservative place on him.

3. Harold Pollack interviews Paul Starr on the ACA. Must-read for anyone interested in health care reform.

4. Wonkbloggers  Suzy Khimm, Ezra Klein, Dylan Matthews, and Brad Plumer have compiled the Biggest Fiscal Cliff FAQ Ever. Helpful, obviously.

5. And Alyssa Rosenberg asks why TV hasn't mastered the political procedural. Good item, but oddly missing any consideration of Yes, Minister.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Reform: Myth of Opening Day

Excellent news about Senate reform, at least for those favoring reform, in a Greg Sargent post today:
Dems may not change the rules on the first day of the session. Rather, the aide says, they are likely to do a rules change via what’s known as overruling the chair. Democrats ask the chair for a ruling on whether it is within the rules to, say, filibuster the motion to proceed. When the chair says Yes, Dems overrule it by a simple majority vote. And so on with the other provisions.
Why is that good news?

Because it means that the Senate reformers aren't falling for, and continuing to push, the Myth of Opening Day. Yes, one of the ways that a simple majority of Senators could possibly change the rules, notwithstanding that by those same rules it takes 67 votes, is to invent a loophole saying that you can do it by a simple majority on the first day of the Senate. And there's nothing wrong with that method, in my view. But there are several other methods, including the one outlined in Greg's post. The bottom line, as Greg Koger says, is that a determined majority can probably find a way to get what they want.

My problem isn't with using the first day of the Congress; it's with buying into the Myth of Opening Day, the idea that it's the only option. Because then if you don't do it -- or if you want another bite at the apple -- you don't have a backup option.

And the one thing that reformers shouldn't be doing is closing off any options. What they're trying to do is hard. Even for outsiders who don't have to worry about wrangling votes, finding a set of rules which would end the 60 vote Senate without turning the Senate into the House -- that is, into a chamber where all that really matters is the majority party structure.

It makes sense, of course, to set the chamber rules at the beginning of a Congress, at least normally. But the whole problem reformers are dealing with -- especially moderate reformers who want to preserve individual Senator influence -- is that Republicans aren't likely to respect norms, and are instead likely to exploit whatever loopholes they can find. Which is their right -- but in return, Democrats really have to leave all of their own loopholes open.

Including those that allow them to go back and get it right if the first try doesn't work.

Catch of the Day

Missed this yesterday, but it's one that I really want to highlight: to Ezra Klein, for calling out Mitch McConnell on the GOP myth that the Affordable Care Act was written behind closed doors.
After the Senate’s Health and Finance committees drafted versions of the Affordable Care Act, Reid did combine them in private before bringing them to the floor. But the idea that the law wasn’t written in the public eye is ridiculous. Both the committee processes were endless and, with the exception of Max Baucus’s sojourn into the “Gang of Six” process, quite open, and Reid’s effort to combine the bills mostly preserved the committees’ work. After the law came to the floor, there was both a long period of public debate and an extremely open amendment process — you can read the many, many amendments that got voted on here. As someone who had to cover that process and thus spent almost six solid months watching C-SPAN, I’ve little patience for those who suggest it was all conducted behind closed doors.
Essentially, there are four or more stages to most major bills that get considered in the modern Senate. They are drafted; they get considered and passed by one or more committee; negotiations take place to find a version of the bill which can receive 60 votes on the Senate floor; and then there's actual floor consideration.

It's absolutely true that the first and third steps of that process take place away from the fully public, CSPAN-available committee rooms and Senate floor. That's not new! There was nothing particularly special about the ACA in that regard.

Indeed: there was nothing particularly special about the procedures under which the ACA was drafted, considered, and passed. At all. The one procedural wrinkle that might be in the current edition of Barbara Sinclair's Unorthodox Lawmaking (I'm one edition behind, so I don't know what she added) was the dual final passage using reconciliation, but even that wrinkle was only a normal adaptation of normal techniques for an unusual situation. In other words, it's exactly the kind of ad hoc departure from the textbook Congress that Sinclair notes is standard procedure in the current Congress.

Combining pieces of a bill from the work of multiple committees, however, has been the way that Congress does its business for decades now. So are negotiations with individual Senators between committee action and the Senate floor. Mitch McConnell surely knows that, and he certainly knows, or at least once knew, that plenty of Republican amendments to the ACA were considered both in committee and on the Senate floor.

Again: nothing unusual about the procedures under with the Affordable Care Act was drafted, considered, and passed.

And: great catch!

Reform: The Motion to Proceed

One of the popular reform proposals, and one which Harry Reid has been talking about quite a bit, is eliminating the opportunity to filibuster the "motion to proceed" to a bill.

I'm...not all that excited about it. Yeah, I know the rhetoric -- that it's somehow undemocratic to block even consideration of a bill. I don't much care about that. Lots of bills don't reach the Senate floor, for lots of reasons.

The main reason that bills don't reach the Senate floor is that they don't have the votes to pass, and the majority doesn't like to waste scarce floor time on things that won't pass. Eliminating the need to get 60 to get to the floor doesn't change at all the (de facto) requirement that a bill needs 60 to pass. And so the majority isn't going to bring a bill to the floor unless it has that 60, regardless of whether the motion to proceed is a hurdle or not.

(There's an exception, but in my view not an important one. Sometimes the majority wants to bring a bill to the floor for spin value, even knowing it cannot pass. The motion to proceed hurdle prevents that, sort of, but not really; the majority can keep the debate over the motion to proceed to the bill on the floor as long as they like, and that should produce exactly the same spin value).

Stepping back...there are several possible problems -- not all of which everyone would agree are problems -- that Senate reform could address. 

One is that it takes 60 Senators to pass a bill or confirm a nomination.

Another is that one Senator, or a small group of Senators, can delay things for quite a long time; in some cases, that delay may be long enough to kill something.

Another is that a party can delay something for quite a long time even if the majority has 60 votes or more for passage; again, in some cases, that delay may be long enough to kill something.

And yet another is that a party can delay so many things for so long that the overall capacity of the Senate is affected, even if they don't actually kill (or even try to kill) any of the bills or nominations they use along the way. Take six hours of floor time on a judge who is eventually confirmed unanimously instead of, say, one hour, and that's five hours that can't be used for something else.

Eliminating the motion to proceed does nothing at all for the first of these problems. It does little or nothing for the other three, depending on what other reforms are introduced; there are just so many opportunities for delay in the Senate rules, few of which are fully exploited by the opposition, that eliminating one of them mainly rearranges things a bit.

Besides: in my view, the Senate majority hasn't come anywhere close to fully using the available floor time, so I'm not entirely convinced how big a problem these last three obstacles are. Are there really bills which had sixty votes over the last few years which were put aside simply because the minority was going to take up too much time? Certainly not any high-priority bills.

(This does not appear to be Harry Reid's view. His concern is how long it takes for debate to begin. But the Senate doesn't have to sit around doing nothing in the meantime, so what's the problem?)

All that said: I don't exactly think that the extra filibuster opportunity on the motion to proceed to a bill is important to the proper functioning of the Senate. The Senate does just fine without filibusters on bringing nominations to the floor; it will do fine without filibusters on bringing bills to the floor. I just don't really see how eliminating it will change much of anything.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Mike Skinner (The Streets), 34.

While I wait for an answer, the good stuff:

1. Good Matt Yglesias point about not worrying about short-term panic in the markets. I wouldn't say it's not a cost at all, but it's a pretty minor one.

2. Greg Sargent spoke to Norm Ornstein and had a nice post on filibuster reform.

3. This John Patty post (via John) on the bargaining positions of the fiscal cliff players is excellent. Also, I really have no patience for reading this stuff. I'm pretty sure that's my failing, and not the fault of Congressional/game theory scholars. For what it's worth...Stan Collender gets there a lot more easily.

4. NYT Public Editor Margaret Sullivan deserves kudos for this one.

5. And Seth Masket watches Star Trek, is appalled. Well, sure. But we're watching with our youngest, too, and just saw the one where an accident which injured Scott was caused by a woman...which might, in McCoy's expert analysis, make Scott hate all women. Of course! It's still a great show, though.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Will (Can?) Republicans "Shut Down" the Senate?

In this morning's Politico filibuster story, Republicans threatened to "shut down the Senate," in the words of GOP Whip-to-be John Cornyn (via Greg). 

Filibuster reformers such as Ed Kilgore respond to such threats by saying, in effect, bring it on -- and he and Kevin Drum ask a good question:
Can Republicans really obstruct the Senate even more than they do now if they put their minds to it?
The answer? Yes. But it's not a reason to avoid reform.

As far as what Republicans can do: they haven't quite blocked everything. Most things, but not everything. Quite a few nominations have come to the Senate floor without needing cloture. In many cases, they don't even insist on a recorded vote. Not only that, but Republicans usually don't insist on maximizing disruption. They usually don't demand the 30 hours of post-debate time that they are entitled to under the rules; they usually yield it back. They usually don't demand serial cloture votes on minor legislation. They don't object to switching away from a bill that's on the floor to another bill (remember, the modern tracking system which allows the Senate to get work done while a filibuster is underway is a benefit for the majority party, not the minority). And I'm sure that if you asked Greg Koger or Sarah Binder or Steve Smith, you could get a longer list of potential tools that the minority party hasn't used yet.

So, yes, they could do a lot more to obstruct than they currently do.

However. Would they shut down the Senate if Democrats forced through a rules change by majority vote? Almost certainly, the answer is no -- because nothing about reforming the rules would change the incentives for the minority party to obstruct. Take nominations, for example. Why would Republicans have a greater incentive to obstruct them after majority-imposed reform? To punish the majority? What does that give them?

Indeed: after the majority shows they are willing to impose rule change by simple majority, the minority party may have reduced incentives to "shut down" the Senate. After all, what's been done once could be done again. So if Republicans really did start forcing, for example, a week of floor time to get minor executive branch nominees confirmed, Democrats could threaten to change the rules to eliminate that option.

Two caveats. One is that an immediate post-reform tantrum is certainly possible. It's more likely that it would be symbolic than across-the-board, but it wouldn't be surprising if Republicans do shut things down for a week or so before resuming "normal" filibustering.

The other is that normal filibustering will itself be altered, at least perhaps, by whatever the actual rules changes wind up being. The way this will actually work is that once the details of reform are made public and then passed, minority party rules experts will study them and determine the best way to continue blocking things. Assuming that's possible under the new rules -- and that appears to be Harry Reid's intent, to change but not end filibustering -- then we'll get some sort of new-look filibusters, which may or may not be less dysfunctional than what we have now.

But no: Democrats should not worry too much about threats to "shut down" the Senate, even though Republicans almost certainly would be able to do it. Basically, if they didn't do it so far, they had good reasons not to do it, and those reasons would not disappear with reform.

Reagan's Second Term and the Bizarre Reputation of Tax Reform

Politico today has a pretty weak item about second terms and what Barack Obama should do to secure a good one. I'm no expert on Teddy Roosevelt, so I'll pass on that part of it (and remind myself that I should really learn more about that era; suggested reading?), but calling Ronald Reagan's second term a success is, well, odd.

In particular, calling Reagan's second term a success compared to Bill Clinton's is odd. Politico's Edward-Isaac Dovere acknowledges the Iran-Contra scandal, but seems to vastly underappreciate it. In several ways. First, it was pretty obviously a bigger deal in policy terms than the Lewinsky scandal. Second, the effect on personnel was large, beginning with a White House Chief of Staff and a National Security Advisor. And, third, the effect on presidential popularity was entirely different. The Lewinsky scandal coincided with a Clinton surge in popularity, with Clinton consistently over 60% approval throughout 1998. Reagan, however, was hit hard by Iran-Contra; he fell about 15 points right away, and stayed at his new level of just around or below 50% throughout 1987 and into the summer of 1988 before finally recovering.

(As Brendan Nyhan notes, the article generally buys into myths about Reagan's popularity and his communications skills).

Anyway, what redeems Reagan's second term for Dovere reform. Well, some foreign policy triumphs too, but I'd put those aside, given that it was about 90% Gorbachev, and Reagan's main accomplishment was not messing it up (and he almost did, in Iceland).

But: tax reform? Really? I've been seeing a lot of this lately, and I don't get it, really. Oh, I'd say it was an accomplishment; as policy, it was probably just fine, and it didn't unravel all the way, even now. But it was only somewhat Reagan's, as opposed to Congress's, achievement. It had nothing at all to do with Reagan's real goals. just wasn't all that big an accomplishment, was it? It certainly didn't seem so at the time, and I don't see how subsequent events have proven it to be.

I guess my general feeling about tax reform is that it's a mixed bag. First of all, I'm with those who don't understand why reducing the number of tax brackets is even remotely a good thing (or a significant bad thing; it's just sort of change-for-change-sake). So that leaves the benefits of reducing special tax treatments and lowering rates. I'll trust the economists who say that the benefits of that are real, if not especially large. But I'll also note that the inevitable next step is that the various favorable treatments creep right back in after reform.

Now, perhaps the benefits of cleaning the whole thing out once a generation or so are still worth it (even given that there are presumably costs of change, too). Maybe not. But it's just hard for me to take the 1986 tax reform as any sort of big deal.

Is it good advise for Barack Obama to point to Reagan's tax reform "achievement"? I'm not really convinced. Consider one of Bill Clinton's second term achievements: children's health care (S-CHIP, 1997). Isn't that something far better for Obama to emulate? Not in health care, of course, but the analogous issue area for Obama -- one where his legislative initiated failed during his first two years -- is climate. The idea would be for Obama to find some relatively small, but still meaningful, climate program, and find some way to get it through a divided Congress (for Clinton is was a thoroughly Republican Congress, so Obama may have a slightly easier task).

I do think that revenue-neutral tax reform is probably something that Obama could get done over the next four years, and if House Republicans want it I don't really see why he should oppose it. I just don't see why Obama should consider that an important goal.

And, really, I don't see why any president should seek to emulate Reagan's second term. His first term? Yes, Reagan does have solid lessons for any president, conservative or liberal. But his second term? It's full of examples to avoid, not ideas to use.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Roz Chast, 58.

Back to normal schedule this week, which means back to the good stuff:

1. Members we'll miss, by Jennifer Steinhauer.

2. Do tax breaks to encourage savings for retirement actually work? Perhaps not. Annie Lowrey reports -- in a new and promising NYT blog for reporting on the fiscal cliff negotiations. Anything that has Lowrey and David Leonhardt (and several other excellent journalists) reporting is going to be worth reading."Debt Reckoning" sure is an awful title, though.

3. Paul Krugman looks at some data about "takers" and finds it's just health care costs. Larger point: pick a budget problem that people think is a big deal, and odds are that it turns out to be really about health care costs.

4. I'm pretty sure Stan Collender's reading of the news stories about the fiscal cliff negotiations is the right one. 

5. And I haven't seen the movie yet, but Andrew Sprung on Lincoln, politics, and democracy is a must-read.

Sunday Question for Liberals

Who is your dark horse candidate for a cabinet job?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

A bunch of liberals are complaining again about John McCain showing up on the Sunday shows all the time. I've said in the past that it's not up to liberals or Democrats to decide which Republicans are on those shows (it's a valid complaint if liberals are underrepresented, but that's a different question). But it is a valid complaint if conservatives don't want him on those shows. So: do you like it or not that John McCain is on the Sunday shows all the time, and is generally still, four years after his presidential campaign, probably ones of the most visible Republicans out there?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

What Mattered This Week?

A quiet week in domestic politics, so I suppose I'll go with the ceasefire in Gaza. No, it almost certainly didn't mean that a real solution to the underlying situation is at hand, but anytime people avoid a disastrous escalation it's probably a good thing, no?

I don't really have much for the didn't matter side of things, but I suppose I can mention the idea of eliminating the Ames Straw Poll, which I wrote about yesterday over at Greg's place.

But I was traveling, and so I may have missed all sorts of things. What do you have? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Yet Even More on the Live Filibuster

Yes, I'm back on this one: the futility of the reformers' romantic attachment to "talking" filibusters. I'd give it a rest, but we're only weeks away from when reform will (probably) be considered

At any rate: several people more expert than myself have talked about this over the last week, and if you still think the focus on forcing the majority to talk is a good idea, I recommend looking at what they have to say.

First, Greg Koger had a very interesting post pointing out that whether a Merkley-style reform would work depends a lot on how exactly the rules are changed. It's not enough to simply call for talking filibusters; if it's to "work" in the sense of making the minority really have to pay a high price for filibustering, then the rules have to be tinkered with to actually make that happen. Sarah Binder followed with an item which emphasized the uncertainty of reform; about this point, however, she said "I generally share Greg’s degree of skepticism about the potential effectiveness of the talking filibuster reform." See too Steven Smith's comment to Sarah's post, in which he makes the key point:
The majority, of course, generally does not want talking filibusters. As the minority knows, the majority usually wants to get to other pressing business. Negotiating around the filibustered bill would still be common.
That's really what it all comes down to, and why Smith concludes that it's "quite uncertain" whether these reforms would "reduce filibustering."

Now, I don't want to simply argue from authority, but for those outside the field: these are perhaps the three top scholars of Congressional floor procedures in general and the filibuster in particular.

They aren't saying, by the way that the rules cannot be drafted to make talking filibusters required in a way that attrition is the likely result. Nor am I! What they are saying is that it would take a very carefully refined set of rules.

In other words: it's not hard at all to draft rules under which filibusters could be beaten by setting up a physical challenge which the minority could only meet for some very limited set of time. It's also not hard to draft rules under which talking filibusters would be required, but could be sustained indefinitely -- indeed, that's basically the current case, except that "required" live filibusters under such rules will rapidly give way to negotiated silent filibusters because it's the best alternative for the majority. But what's the point? No one cares, or should care, about talking per se; what everyone should care about is the balance of influence in the Senate. So forget about the talking part of it, and get on with real reform.

For even more, see another comment to that Sarah Binder post from Richard Arenberg; a good post by Dylan Matthews from last week; and a general post about reform from Matt Glassman.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Elsewhere and Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I don't think I'll be posting anything on Thanksgiving, but perhaps I might on Friday (and I'll be over at Greg's place Friday afternoon). For those celebrating, then, enjoy!

A couple of things to leave you with...I wrote one over at PP today about the question of whether conservatives are really going to take on Rush Limbaugh.

And an old one: from last year, things for political junkies to be thankful for. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Stan Musial, 92.

The good stuff:

1. Excellent article on women in politics and the remaining barriers by Kate Sheppard, but it isn't quite true that Heidi Heitkamp is the "first woman to represent North Dakota in Congress, ever." First woman elected to do so, but when Quentin Burdick died in 1992, Jocelyn Burdick served for two months.

2. Really good point about unintended consequences and Senate reform from Sarah Binder. Something I need to keep in mind more often: what we "see" happening in the Senate may not reveal to us the full options that both sides have under the rules. So if one rule is changed, that might just mean that other options get exploited. 

3. And Sarah Kliff on ACA implementation and ignorance.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Judicial Nomation Reform?

I think the strongest case for protection of minorities in the Senate is in confirmation of judges. It's a lifetime appointment; we're now being governed in part by decisions made thanks to elections in the 1980s and 1990s (and, for some appeals level judges, even earlier). One can certainly make the case that even a concurrent majority in both the presidency and the Senate should not be sufficient to automatically deserve to get their way.

And yet: judges have to be confirmed. Stalemate has to be avoided. Even the strongest supporters of the filibuster agree, I think, that a situation in which the minority party has the ability to simply shut down the confirmation process across the board isn't the way to go. At the extremes: a Senate, even a Senate majority, which insists it will only confirm a particular choice and reject all others would be flipping the Constitutional procedure on its head, and it's even worse if a minority of 42 or 43 or even 49 Senators is able to make that demand.

So the question is exactly how Senate minorities should have a say. I've been saying that I'm fine with continuing the current filibuster/cloture rules, but perhaps with a smaller supermajority needed (I also think there should be no holds at all: once a nominee clears Judiciary, they get a set vote at a time certain. But put that aside for now).

Matt Glassman, however, proposes something different that I find intriguing: replace unlimited debate and cloture with time limits. Long ones. He suggests (and I'm cleaning up from twitter): "If I were King of Senate, I would immediately switch to long limit on debate (say 30 hours) for all nominations --judicial or executive branch." And "You could have really long time limits. If the majority wanted a single judge that bad, tying up the Senate floor for say, 150 hours, would be very costly."

I find the idea...intriguing. It wouldn't imply any romantic ideas about a talking filibuster; presumably it would involve a set period in which both sides would have a normal opportunity to speak, with a fixed time limit. No cots. No recipes and phone books (or, as I've argued, reading from the blogs and other easily available talking points). It would impose costs on the majority which they would be willing to bear if they are intense enough, which fits well with my feeling that intense majorities should be protected.

On the other hand, I'm not sure how one would set the incentives properly for the minority. We don't want them to exercise their full rights to delay everything, right? We do want the minority to be protected (in some fashion) on judges they strongly object to; we don't want them to use the rules to delay in cases where they have no objection to a judge, thus forcing the majority to choose between the (non-controversial) judge and a legislative agenda.

Remember, all of this from my point of view is from the perspective that minority party Senators would mostly be glad to take to the Senate floor and recite talking points, so that forcing them to talk per se doesn't really impose much of a cost, and simple attrition can't work (unless you set up the rules so severely that you're basically establishing a physical challenge that cannot be met. That's possible, but it strikes me as a horrible way to run things; if that's what you want to do, just make the effect the rules and skip the drama).

So: I don't know! I'm open to suggestions. The challenge: beginning from a premise that we do want to protect intense minorities, but also that we want to empower intense majorities, how do we design a system for judicial nomination confirmations? I'm not satisfied with any of the proposals out there, including, really, my own. I strongly believe that judges are different from executive branch nominations, and both are different from legislation. But what's the best way to do it?

My instinct is that large time limits can be part of a package of judicial nomination reforms, but not the whole thing. But I really don't know. So I'll throw the question out to

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Joe Biden, 70. The Practically Perfect Veep.

Some good stuff:

1. Lessons from 2012 from The Gamble, the campaign book by John Sides and Lynn Vavreck.

2. Jonathan Chait on the fiscal cliff.

3. Rod Dreher on Marco Rubio, Genesis, liberals and conservatives. I think he's right in principle about (many) liberals, but to be fair: there are plenty of Republican politicians who do, in fact, seem to be actually anti-science, whether or not particular strains of Christian belief are inherently anti-science.

4. "The Rich People Who Don't Know How Tax Rates Work," from Dave Weigel; see also Kevin Drum's "Handy Tax Table for Innumerate Rich People."

5. And Paul Krugman on Paul Ryan.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Catch of the Day

To Nate Cohn, who previewed the vote counting and reminded us before the election (as Andrew Sprung reminds us today) that Barack Obama would gain considerable ground on Mitt Romney after election day -- a lot after election day.

The Cook Report's David Wasserman has been keeping tabs on the current vote totals, and finds today that Obama's lead is up to 3.1% nationally, and still rising. That's up from 2.3% the morning after election day; I'm not sure what it was when the networks closed up shop on election night. That's a pretty large swing! It seems pretty likely that Obama's lead will wind up a full percentage point higher than it was at that point. Of course, no one really cares that much is a national lead goes from 2.3 to 3.1 percent, but they sure might if it were to go from a 1% GOP lead on Election Day to, say, a half a point lead for the Democrat when all was said and done.

Meanwhile, Colorado was at 4.7% on the morning after and is now at 5% even (actually a 4.98% lead, just below Obama's 5.02% lead in Pennsylvania as of now).

So a five point shift to Romney, with uniform swing, would have put Romney in the Electoral College lead on the morning after the election, with a 0.3% margin in Colorado, and with a fairly massive 2.7% national vote lead. Two weeks later, Obama would have emerged as the winner by taking Colorado by the narrowest of margins, while still trailing the national vote by just under 2%. Yeah, that's gonna cause some trouble. Indeed -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Nevada and Minnesota would all have been very close, and in this scenario all of them would be subject to recounts, allegations of voter fraud, challenges to provisional ballots, and the rest of it.

I'm not sure there's much to be done about any of this, but Cohn deserves the Catch for pointing it out in advance, and it's really something that everyone should be extremely aware of in advance next time around.

Of course, another reasonable reaction would be to find a way to make the mechanics of elections a lot smoother.

Anyway, all of this is at least a mess just waiting to happen.

Nice catch!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Jodie Foster, 50.

And a bit of good stuff:

1. More on districting, incumbency, and bias, from Eric McGhee. Big point remains the same: the GOP edge this time was in part incumbency, in part gerrymanders, and in part a natural advantage in the House for Republicans.

2. Good point from David Kamin on why cutting discretionary spending seems so easy.

3. Dylan Matthews explains the Mark Begich Social Security bill.

4. And Amanda Terkel looks at legislative ideas to fix the mechanics of elections.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Question for Liberals

Okay, same question: what would you consider a good solution to the issues involved in the fiscal cliff?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

What, in your view, would be a good solution to the issues surrounding the fiscal cliff?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

What Mattered This Week?

I'm pretty sure the Romney comments, and even the reaction, go in the "doesn't matter" bin. For something that matters...I'll go with Eurozone developments. To some extent this week, to some extent just remembering it's out there.

What else? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Elsewhere: Filibusters, More, and some Housekeeping

I haven't been running these items this week, and I wound up posting less over here today than intended thanks to a balky computer this morning, but I figured I should link to at least some of what I've been up to. A bit of housekeeping down in the last paragraph, too.

The main thing has been the filibuster all week. In particular, I wrote against talking filibusters yesterday, and then again today. It's both impractical as a solution, and irrational, and...well, read the pieces if you need to be convinced.

Also one earlier in the week about filibusters and executive branch nominations: of course Republicans will filibuster them.

Today I wrote about the fiscal cliff negotiations.

Earlier I talked about why going public won't help Obama now, but why he might want to do it anyway.

Also I looked at the numbers on dynastic Senators.

And I also had a bit of sympathy for Republicans about polling uncertainty.

There's more, but that's almost certainly more than any of you want to read anyway, no?

As I said earlier, I'll be on the road next week, and I'm really not sure what my posting schedule will be, other than irregular. Probably a pretty slow week, especially if the news is slow, which it likely will be.

Hmmm...I'll be in New York; would anyone be interested in getting together for an afternoon coffee/drink/whatever? I've never tried to do one of these things, but if there's a lot of interest I suppose I'd be up for it, pending family obligations. I'm thinking about perhaps Wednesday afternoon some time? If you're going to be in NYC, and you're interested, let me know below or via email or whatever.

Romney, Republicans, and Rand

Jonathan Chait riffs today on Romney, Republicans, and libertarians. His general point that every faction after a loss simply blames all the other factions is certainly correct.

But I think it’s unfair to libertarians to stick them with Ayn Rand. I agree with Chait that Rand is electoral poison, but it’s easy to be a very conservative libertarian without even a hint of Rand. As I read it, there's nothing whatsoever about libertarian idea which require the belief in an elite group of "makers." That's Rand -- but it isn't inherent in ideas about radical support of markets over government. Now, I think the libertarian vision has plenty of problems, including at least in some versions too much of a tilt to the rich (although I think the problems are elsewhere; in my view, libertarian economics just doesn't work well). But inherent elitism isn't part of it. Plenty of libertarians honestly believe that less government interference not only is good for ordinary working folks, but should be adopted specifically on that basis. They may be wrong, but they aren't Rand.

But he's right that a lot of what we heard from Republicans in this cycle was Rand-derived, and of course there's Paul Ryan, right in the middle of it. So yes, I do think Republicans have an Ayn Rand problem. But that's not necessarily a libertarian problem.

Catch of the Day

To Dave Wasserman, who first of all has been performing a terrific service to everyone by updating the presidential election results when most or all of the major news organization sites haven't been, and second notes:

4,000+ new votes reported in Colorado, now within 0.03% of losing "Tipping Point State" honors to Pennsylvania
Which means that everyone owes a major apology to Team Romney. Even if Pennsylvania doesn't wind up as the state that put Barack Obama over the top, it was pretty close, and Romney's campaign was entirely sensible in putting resources there; indeed, the real question is probably why they didn't do more earlier.

Now, there are caveats. We don't know whether uniform swing is a reasonable assumption. Perhaps if the nation moved four points towards Romney, Pennsylvania would have only moved, say, two points, so that other states would have overtaken it and become more likely to actually flip than the Keystone State. I'm also curious about what effect if any Sandy may have had in PA. If it hurt turnout in a way that helped Romney, then perhaps it wound up closer than people expected.

But at least as the numbers have it now, Pennsylvania was a very reasonable investment for Romney's campaign in the last few days.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Martha Plimpton, 42

And straight to a bit of good stuff:

1. Where are the statewide black politicians? Jamelle Bouie is looking for them.

2. Team Obama's use of social networks and other fancy stuff, by Seth Masket.

3. Doug Mataconis on whether the GOP actually gets anything out of Fox News, Rush, and the rest of it (answer: probably not).

4. Ross Douthat on where Republicans should retreat. Interesting. There's an analogy available here in the way that Democrats retreated on the death penalty and on gun control, without many of their politicians actually changing their positions. Could that be a model for how Republicans retreat on marriage?

5. Patterns in voting: white women. By Lynn Sanders, Carah Ong, and Adam Hughes.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Education and the New Senate

I'm not sure I have a major point to make about this, but given that all our recent presidents and most of the losing nominees seem to have either Harvard or Yale on their resumes, and given the much-remarked dominance of the Supreme Court by a few elite law schools, I decided to take a quick look at the incoming class of Senators to see where they were educated.

And: nope, they aren't all from Ivy League schools.

There's only twelve of them -- nine lawyers -- so why don't I just list all their schools:

Half went to state schools: two to Missouri, and one each to the Universities of Hawaii, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Houston.

Two went to flagship religious-affiliated schools: BYU and Notre Dame.

Two to Ivies: one Princeton, one Dartmouth.

And two to small liberal arts colleges, Smith and Williams.

As far as law schools, we did get two from Harvard Law; the rest went to U Conn, Georgetown, Lewis and Clark, Wisconsin, Virginia, Washington and Lee, and Rutgers. That's not a bad group of schools, to be sure, but it's also not all Harvard and Yale.

Again, this is mostly sharing the data, not really making a point. Of course, it's not perfectly representative of the nation; to begin with, all twelve are college grads, and nine are lawyers. Nor are their undergraduate experiences even representative of all college graduates: it's certainly weighted on the elite side. Less so than the Supreme Court? Sure. Beyond that, I don't really have any additional comment. Just find this stuff interesting, so maybe others will too.

The Tanning Tax, the GOP, and the 113th Congress

Matt Yglesias had a nice item yesterday about a tanning salon owner who reportedly killed himself, blaming Barack Obama. The point Yglesias made was that, this tragedy aside, in his view the tanning tax is a silly way to finance the ACA.

I have no idea whether he's right or not. But it brings up a major question about health care reform and the Republicans. As many of us have said many times, the consequence of the original rejectionist gamble the GOP made in 2009-2010 was that they had a lot less input into...well, into anything than they would have had if they had instead attempted to negotiate for their priorities. That approach would still have yielded plenty of filibusters and unified Republican conference votes against those things that they really cared about, but it would have produced plenty of other bills that featured real GOP contributions.

All that, of course, is ancient history at this point.

But the biggest residue of the 2009-2010 rejectionist strategy is that it's been impossible for Congress and the president to go back and fix anything sloppy or ill-advised in ACA or other major legislation.

So, now we're going to be talking 2013, with a re-elected president and a Democratic Senate; repeal of ACA (or Dodd-Frank, or other GOP pipe dreams) is dead for the next four years. However, we have no idea how the House will react to that. Will they simply continue voting for repeal once a day and twice on Sundays? Or will they move, over the next six months or so, to accepting that Obamacare is really going to happen, and cooperating in improving it?

Cooperation doesn't even mean that they have to give up their opposition, to tell the truth. It just means that they would be open to old fashioned horse trading, in which they agree (for example) to allow minor legislative fixes through that would allow the law to be implemented more smoothly, in exchange for Democratic agreement with similarly sized GOP priorities. Granted, part of the problem has been that Republicans just don't have a lot of realistic legislative goals beyond keeping taxes low for upper-income filers. Still, they do have some (don't they?).

I mean, a well-functioning Republican Party might well oppose the tanning tax, and be willing to support some alternative to raise the revenues needed for the ACA. But to do so, they would have to accept that Obamacare can actually be improved (and therefore is not pure evil), and that government programs can be paid for with taxes, and therefore a party should choose the taxes it thinks best (as opposed to rejecting the whole concept of budgeting).

I don't know; there do seem to be some incentives for the GOP to accept normal legislative behavior, but there are plenty of incentives for them to stick with the crazy that (they believe) got 'em there in the first place. I guess we'll have to wait to see what happens.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Graham Parker, 62.

Just a bit of the good stuff:

1. Jonathan Chait, writing about change in the electorate while trying not to annoy anyone about "realignment."

2. Seth Masket gets all angry with Nancy Pelosi just because she sort of forget the rest of the world existed.

3. I didn't get around to reading Ezra Klein's ode to the Obama era until now, but it's very much worth checking out.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why Press Conferences, Anyway?

I wrote about Barack Obama's press conference over at Plum Line today, and I had a few comments about the challenges of negotiating in public, but that sort of begs the question that a few people have been asking the last couple days: what's in it for presidents? Why should they hold press conferences in the first place?

Now, of course there's a case that can be made that it's Good For the Nation, but leave that aside (there's also a case that it's very much Good For the Press, but again put that aside). Should presidents seeking to increase their own influence hold press conferences? Here's the case for the advantages of holding press conferences, and why there's not much downside.

* Perhaps most obviously: the press really want press conferences, and it's best to keep them reasonably happy, all else equal.

* Sometimes the president wants something as public and on the record as possible. Of course, he can just say it in a speech somewhere, but a press conference tends to receive much more notice attention (see above). So for example, Obama today give a forceful defense of Susan Rice; he could have done it another way, but this one was guaranteed to be noticed. Note that generally words coming out of the presidential mouth count for more than words relayed by the press shop or other staff.

* There really isn't much downside. Any politician capable enough to win the presidency knows how to duck a question, so that's not a problem.. Yes, gaffes are possible, but as we just saw from the presidential campaign, so what? Most people pay no attention to presidential gaffes; anything truly important, such as a presidential misstatement of policy, can be cleaned up afterwords.

* For presidents who have promised to communicate with the American people -- and most have -- it's a form of keeping a promise, which is a large part of representation. Now, a prepared speech can do the same thing, of course. But some presidents seem to perform better in the press conference format; at the very least, it varies what people are seeing.

* It's a way for presidents to force themselves to fully engage with, and force themselves to take at least somewhat seriously, whatever the press corps thinks are the important issues of the day. That's probably a fairly good form of discipline for the president, keeping him from getting too far away from what high-information Americans think are the important things going on.

* It's also a form of discipline for the White House overall. Press conference preparation involves preparing answers on all the likely questions, which means actually deciding what the answers are (including, of course, the possibility of deciding just to duck it). To be sure: the normal press secretary briefings do this as well; presidential press conferences are mainly different because the president is involved. But there's also an increased pressure to actually have answers, when possible; it's relatively easy for the press secretary to admit that there's no answer, but quite a bit harder for the president to do so.

Against that, you're giving up presidential time (a valuable resource!), and taking on the risks and costs that I dismissed above. I don't know; FDR, HST, and DDE all did regular press conferences (albeit not televised ones for the most part), and they seemed to have a pretty good handle on the job. I think it's a helpful and underutilized tool for the White House; I think Obama would be wise to have them once a month or more.

Tweet of the Day

Claire McCaskill:
Too funny. First power meeting with E Warren and D Fischer? In the Senators Only Women's bathroom. Gonna need a bigger bathroom.
McCaskill, who was first elected in 2006, may or may not realize it but the women's bathroom near the Senate floor goes back only to 1993; before that female Senators had to walk down a floor.

Twenty women still isn't anywhere near parity, but it's getting a lot closer. It's still amazing how long it took for women to start winning seats in the Senate at all; as recently as the first Senate serving with George H.W. Bush, there were only two women in the Senate, which was as many as there had ever been. Two. In 1990.

My brother has been all over the story of how the Republicans have fallen far, far behind on nominating women for office; the Senate breakdown, McCaskill's bipartisan tweet aside, now has a 16D/4R breakdown -- yes, Republicans have the same number of women in the Senate that they had in 1995. And it looks as if they'll drop four in the House, meaning they've gained a total of three women in the House from their 1995 total of 17.

But as David points out, Democrats have nothing to be overly proud of on this score; "not totally embarrassing" isn't something to brag about. Still, at least they've decisively moved away from how they were in the 1980s. Perhaps the Republicans will do the same at some point.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Xavier Nady, 34. Someday, while I'm trying to fall asleep by remembering the roster of the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants, he'll be the one I can't get. That day may be next week. But still...

How about some good stuff:

1. A Monkey Cage post-election report for Puerto Rico, by Juhem Navarro-Rivera.

2. Adam Serwer on Barack Obama's coalition; Kevin Drum on Obama's weak spot.

3. Evaluating the forecasters: Senate races. From Brice Acree.

4. Dan Drezner on the Petraeus scandal and trust in the military. My guess? There's a major priming effect here, so that the way to hurt trust in the military is to get them out of combat. When the American people are evaluating the military on the basis of their competence at fighting, they'll usually get good marks. Take that away, and the military will then be evaluated on other things, where they're less apt to do well.

5. Seth Masket on Republicans and learning.

6. And Alyssa Rosenberg, who apparently is the only one out there who likes "Dick" more than I do, suggests four Washington scandal movies.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Filibuster Thoughts: Coalitions

In my post last week, I said that I'd like to increase incentives for cross-party incentives. An anonymous commenter quite sensibly asked: "Why?" It's worth a response.

Basically, I'm for strong parties -- but at the same time parties where are relatively non-ideological and non-hierarchical. In other words, I think that democracy is best served when parties cooperate and internally compete to make policy. At their best, American parties have done a pretty good job of that.

Part of that involves real intraparty differences. Our parties are stronger, in my view, if they can accommodate those differences while still working together.

The system as a whole, however, is stronger if individual politicians can be policy entrepreneurs as well, and not just within the party. Indeed: democracy is stronger, in my view, when the losing party isn't entirely locked out of policy-making. After all, in single member districts, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer and, oh, Jeff Flake and Ted Cruz, are just as much winners as are John Boehner and Harry Reid -- and Barack Obama. Granted, we don't expect minority parties to win on the sorts of issues which really divide the parties. But on other issues? Sure. Why not?

Parties should matter, yes.. Making party caucuses all-powerful just squanders the strength of single-member districts, of having Members of Congress who really know the various different places and constituencies out  there. Now, in a small nation, perhaps that's not as important. But in a continental nation of over 300 million, it seems very likely to me that the problems of Phoenix are not the problems of Great Falls or the problems of Pittsburgh or the problems of Long Island. And having Members of Congress who really know and care about the various interests and issues that they represent, and can actually have the capacity to do something about it, seems extremely democratic to me.

So that's one reason to encourage incentives for cross-party coalitions. A second is that, given the Constitutional system, we're apt to have divided government fairly often, which pretty much means we have to have compromise between the parties to make any progress. Under those circumstances, it's probably a good idea to have people around who practice at it.

There's more, but that's a start, at least.

Filibuster Thoughts: Superbill!

I was finally getting around to responding to some comments to a post I wrote last week about filibuster responses were getting long, and so I decided to just make new posts out of them. I have at least a couple of these, maybe a bit more. The general point, to recall from last week, is that if we're to have reform it's terribly important to get it right. So here goes.

First up, Philosophical Ron asks about "Superbill" -- my proposal for basically a revved up reconciliation. The idea is that the majority party in the Senate could designate one bill a year as Superbill! -- or, less enthusiastically, the Leader's Bill. It would only need a simple majority to pass, and it could contain as many unrelated items as the party wanted, with (unlike reconciliation) no restriction on topic. On the other hand, it could be amended, also by simple majority...I'd probably want some limitation on that (number of amendments? Only germane amendments?), but basically if the minority had the votes for a poison pill amendment, tough luck to the majority. So Ron asks:

I fail to understand why your "Superbill" proposal ( 1 bill a year that can't be filibustered ) would lead to any kind of reform ore improvement whatever.

How is it defined? What restrictions will there be on saying X is the Superbill this week, then saying Y is the Superbill next week?

And how does it improve anything? All the lobbyist and insider pressure would then go into getting lobbyist-demanded provisions A, B, and C into the Superbill, and getting craven senators 1, 2, and 3 to say they won't vote for the Superbill unless A, B and C are in it.

First, I'm very open to moving around the details to make it work. While I have a pretty good working knowledge of Senate rules, there are many more expert than me; if this caught on as an idea, they would need to work out the details.

For that matter, I'm totally open to alternatives.

But the basic idea is that if the legitimate justification for supermajority obstacles in the Senate has to do with empowering intense minorities, then there also needs to be a way to empower intense majorities.

Moreover, part of the idea behind Superbill is that with that vehicle available, it's possible that the parties might more easily negotiate UC agreements for simple majority consideration of bills outside of the Superbill framework. That is, if Harry Reid can threaten that he would add a relatively minor bill to Superbill, Mitch McConnell might allow it to come to the floor as a stand-alone bill without needing 60, because he would know that it will pass anyway. In other words, not only would the Leader's Bill give intense majorities a way to push their priorities, but it would also remove the current incentive for the minority party to act as if it has intense preferences on absolutely everything.

As for the specific questions: you get one Superbill a year. It should be designed, I would think, with somewhat restrictive procedures. Perhaps once it's brought to the Senate floor, that's it: the majority could still amend it during consideration, but if it's defeated or pulled back then that's it for the calendar year. So you would want to be very careful about what you include. If, for example, Superbill was around during the 111th Congress, Democrats might have used it for a health care bill with a weak public option, but maybe not if that would have cost five votes -- and cap-and-trade might not have made it either, especially if the votes that would have lost would have been a different set than the public option votes.

On the second question: yes, everyone would definitely push for their items to be included in Superbill. I don't see a problem with that. On the one hand, there are always going to be must-pass bills of some sort which will attract provisions which interests want to get passed, but are unlikely to win as stand-alone bills. I don't see that Superbill changes that. On the other hand: of course there will be horsetrading around Superbill. That's pretty much a feature, not a bug.

I've been pushing Superbill as a (large part of a) logical solution to legislative filibusters for some time now, and I very much appreciate arguments against it -- but I've yet to be convinced that it wouldn't come closer to achieving the goal I think reformers should be after than any alternatives out there. That goal is ending the 60 vote Senate without turning the Senate into a flat-out majority party rule chamber, basically identical to a second House of Representatives. Of course, many would like to see exactly that, but it's a different argument. For those of us who do want to keep the Senate on it's more traditional path, but without the recent dysfunction, I'm increasingly convinced that Superbill! is a very promising solution.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Whoopi Goldberg, 57.

Plus a bit of good stuff:

1. More on how Team Obama used social science insights, reported by Benedict Carey. I'll keep linking to this stuff, because it is interesting...but be careful; there's a strong tendency to want to attribute election results to campaign actions, and stuff like this has an enormous appeal to people. Especially people who are reporters. We don't know how important any of it turned out to be.

2. More discussion of pollsters, pundits, and how Team Romney could have been so wrong, from Henry Farrell. Same caution as before: we only know that Romney's campaign is saying that they were sure they were going to win; we don't know whether that's true, and if so exactly how.

3. And a defense of the Electoral College from Richard Posner. I tend to agree with his first and fourth reasons, and perhaps his fifth. My more general feeling about it is that even if you buy the argument that the flaws of the EC method exceed it's virtues, it's a close enough call that reform energy should be directed elsewhere.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Nice Calls!

I did a pre-election Sunday Question asking for predictions. Some of them were excellent! If Nate Silver can be a big star for calling 50 of 50 states, in my view my commenters deserve at least a little Plain Blog here's the best calls from that thread.

Curtis nailed the 332 to 206; so did one anonymous commenter, and William Ockham, and "merrily row." Best predictions on that? Brendan Garbee said:
a good way to tell if you're a liberal is if you wanted to write that you're using Drew Linzer's model to say 332 electoral votes for Obama, but you hesitate because of how confidently the Romney campaign is howling (minus any data) that Rom is going to win by a landslide. What if they're right and liberals actually can never ever win?
Indeed -- liberal commenters generally picked Obama to win, but more were pessimists, putting Florida and in several cases one or more other state, in Romney's column; none of them went optimistic by adding not only Florida but also North Carolina.

And Jeff said:
I predict that a lot of people who were hearing from Fox News, just days ago, about Romney's likely 400-EV landslide will be wondering what could have gone so wrong. And to find out, they will turn to the one source they know they can trust: Fox News.
On Senate seats, Lester Freamon nailed it:  "Dems pick up MA, IN, and ME, GOP picks up NE. Net D+2." He also had the national vote as a 3 point win for Obama, which looks pretty good right now -- it's at 2.7, but reporters are that the uncounted votes remaining are likely to favor Democrats.

We still don't know how the House will turn out yet, but most likely it will be 234-201. Closest call? Erik M. went with "about 200" seats -- not bad!

Commenters generally were correct about the marriage ballot measures they discussed, but no one called a clean sweep. And there are several other nice calls on other races; click over to see them all. Including those who got things wrong, of course; no need to talk about those.

Thanks to everyone who participated! I had fun reading them.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Wallace Shawn, 69. I sometimes wonder about the overlap between his fans. I mean, presumably the fans of his plays are in a whole different category, but I sort of suspect that if you ask a dozen people, not only will you get several different favorite Shawn roles, but you might get a totally different top five. Me? Vizzini, which I have to assume is the most popular answer, but also his roles in Radio Days, DS9, Clueless, and...oh, I don't know, Shadows and Fog? The Moderns? Toy Story? Himself, in My Dinner with Andre? That's a lot of good choices, but again I'm guessing there are people with a totally different list.

By the way, posting may be a bit erratic this week; I'm helping to fill for Greg while he's taking a much-deserved break, so swing by the Plum Line (plus you'll get Jamelle too, and that's always nice). For that matter, it'll probably be erratic Thanksgiving week, too, because I'll be traveling.

And now, the good stuff:

1. Really smart post by Matt Yglesias about the real incentives for cooperation and obstruction for the (presidentially) out-part in Congress.

2. Good catch from Suzy Khimm: Bill Kristol's much-noticed comments yesterday that the GOP should compromise on taxes wasn't the first time he's said that. This is all pretty predictable, by the way; all that seems to be happening so far in this portion of the GOP blamathon is that each faction is blaming some other faction for causing the defeat by insisting on unpopular policy positions. See also Ed Kilgore.

3. Cuban-Americans probably didn't shift suddenly to Obama; Ben Bishin explains. General important point: exit polls are useful, but a lot of caution is advised, especially when dealing with small groups.

4. Outside money in House races, by Lee  Drutman (via Monkey Cage). I recommend the data here, but I'd be very cautious about the analysis; the relationship between campaign spending and outcomes is notoriously difficult to get a handle on, and note that even the data here are not final totals, so I'd be extra careful. We'll know more in a bit.

5. Today's theme seems to be: read it, but with skepticism. Post-election spin? It's really hard to tell what's right and what's wrong. Alexander Burns hears Republicans blaming their could be true that GOP pollsters were unusually off, and it's very much knowing that Republicans are telling reporters that it was the pollsters who did them in, but remember (1) that doesn't mean that's what they really think, and (2) even if they do really think it, that doesn't mean it's true. For what it's worth, Josh Marshall buys the case for believing it.

6. Garry Wills is cruel, but probably fair, to Mitt Romney. Key point in Romney's future reputation: who exactly is going to defend him?
Who links to my website?