Thursday, January 3, 2013

Looking Back at the Cliff

I'm late to this post, so I'm just going to do it scattershot-style...

First, I'll give you some links. Of course you're going to want to start with what Sarah Binder says. See also Simon Jackman on voting in the House, And Jared Bernstein is worth reading on the policy and the politics.

Meanwhile, I wound up not having a post-length reaction, but I have a bunch of small points, so here they are before they get too stale:

* "Permanent" in budget-speak is meaningful and important, but it doesn't mean what "permanent" means in ordinary language. If Democrats have the votes to do it in the future, there's nothing to stop them from raising taxes on the $250 and up group that they failed to raise taxes on this time. Same thing if Republicans have the votes to cut the upper-level tax rates.

* There's a difference between wanting to vote against something and wanting it to lose. It's very possible -- likely, in my guess -- that a majority of Republicans in the House wanted the deal to pass. They just didn't want to vote for it. If that's true, then they might be a lot more happy with Speaker Boehner than they will admit in public.

* What about the role of the Plan B fiasco? It never made much sense in the first place; what exactly does Boehner have to show for it if he does get Plan B through the House? Maybe it helps in the spin war, but it's hard to see how it changes the negotiations. However, while I don't want to say he planned it this way, it probably did help in the endgame. Remember when the conference reportedly rebelled at the thought of passing the final package, and decided to add spending cut amendments and then send it back to the Senate? That collapsed quickly -- most likely because it rapidly became obvious that they didn't have the votes to do it themselves...which might have taken less time to realize because they had already realized they didn't have the votes for the vaguely similar Plan B.

* The blow-by-blow reporting, of course, is focused on personalities. And it's possible that Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell were able to work together in a way that Boehner and Obama, or Boehner and Harry Reid, couldn't. But be careful about that: we don't know if what changed were the negotiating partners -- or the clock.

* Which leads to another point: it's in the nature of these things that they come down to the last minute. We shouldn't assume the process ran badly just because it played out over New Year's. It's in everyone's interest to work for their best deal, and that usually means holding out up to the deadline. When the deadline is fuzzy, it's no surprise that they'll sort of go past it.

* There hasn't been very much talk about the Democrats' votes. Why wasn't there a parallel incentive on the Democratic side to want the bill to pass but not to vote for it?

* And barring that: surely it must have been very tempting for Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats to mess with Republicans during the final vote. If indeed there were Republicans who would have supported the bill only if necessary, Pelosi could have withheld Democratic votes, at least for a while, to try to make Republicans play their hands. At the very least, she could have demanded that Republicans provide a respectable number of votes for the package. I think she got that, especially with Senate Republicans strongly supporting it, but it wasn't a sure thing until well into the vote.

OK, I think that's about enough. Time to switch over to the new Congress, anyway.

15 comments:

  1. @JB About Plan B, I remember you said that Boehner was probably (or maybe) using the vote to try and gather information about his caucus as whip counts ect. can be unreliable. Do you still think that? Or does Plan B now look more like just a straight up fiasco. I'd agree that it's failure probably helped in passing the Senate bill but of course that couldn't have been Boehner's original plan. Personally I think the GOP might be facing the same sort of "Green Lantern Theory" of politics in the House that liberals sometimes have with regards to Obama in the presidency. That is the only thing limiting what the GOP can do is a lack of will power. Hence why you try and do things like pass Plan B.

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  2. Permanent may not mean permanent, but in this case it does mean that there will no longer be periodic deadlines triggering automatic tax increases that the GOP will be desperate to avoid. Democrats may miss those some day.

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    1. Permanent also means that you no longer have the binary choice between 'Bush-era rates' and 'pre-Bush era rates'. Make of that what you will, but I personally think that this benefits most of all supporters of higher tax rates on any income group, who have freedom to decide their own rates and policies rather than work between the two alternatives that were given in every budget crisis discussion since 2011.

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    2. It simply means there isn't an automatic expiration date, as there was with the Bush tax cuts. I don't think that's so obscure.

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    3. In the sense that I called it budget-speak, presumably. And sure, for those paying attention. But I've heard plenty of reporters act as if "permanent" meant more than that, and presumably any marginally attentive voters listening to those reporters wouldn't realize it.

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    4. I don't think you need to be an attentive voter to grasp the idea that laws are never literally "permanent"--that a new law can always be made to void an old one.

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  3. "There hasn't been very much talk about the Democrats' votes. Why wasn't there a parallel incentive on the Democratic side to want the bill to pass but not to vote for it?"

    Because the substance of the bill is basically aligned with Democratic beliefs (higher taxes on the rich, more economic stimulus) while it goes directly against core conservative ideology (taxes on "job creators" are devastating, stimulus makes the economy worse).

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    1. But you would think Democrats would have greater incentives than Republicans to go over the cliff, since that aligns more closely still with their ideology for higher taxes (and while that would have been contractionary, the stimulus in this bill was hardly significant). Instead you had lots of Republicans indicate that they were basically more willing to go over the cliff than to vote for this tax compromise. In that sense it is worth thinking about why we didn't have more Democrat defectors.

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    2. Well another major factor is there aren't going to be any Democrats facing primary challenges as a result of voting for the deal while there will likely be multiple Republicans who will actually lose their primaries as a result.

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    3. Dems bear the burden of, by and large, thinking like a governing party. From some perspectives this is a feature, not a bug.

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    4. Another important way to put Ron E.'s point is that Democratic politicians have managed to appeal to a critical mass of voters who accept (if not happily embrace) the imperatives of realistic governing. Republican politicians have chosen to appeal to voters who don't want to govern realistically, who don't like the idea of it, or who only like the notion of governing if it's done indirectly through iterated negotiating ploys that threaten and cow a weaker-willed partner. The relish for that last strategy is only possible when one is actively appealing to voters who have a certain temperament.

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  4. re Plan B: this from the Politico tick-tock:

    “In a phone call Dec. 21, Boehner told Obama that his game plan all along was to pass the bill setting the $1 million threshold, send it to the Senate to drop it down to $500,000 or so, and ship it back to the House for approval. Obama, perplexed by the secret strategy, asked Boehner whether he had shared it with Reid or House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), suggesting that they might have helped him. Boehner said he had not.”

    Now that seems rather weak to me. It sounds more like an after-the-fact rationalization. But maybe that was really his plan. It kinda worked out that way, didn't it? But there were two problems: 1. the seeming futility, since the Senate Dems were united in opposition to considering such a bill, and 2. the fact that a successful execution of this plan would require the House GOP to cave TWICE on tax hikes within a span of 10 days.

    As it turns out, the far right's strategy to go over the cliff was in fact the better choice for the GOP.

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  5. I have a less scattershot take on the fiscal cliff deal. Obama was quite strong and resolute on what he wanted. The GOP were rather deluded on what they could get almost up to the end. Obama didn't stick it to them, but struck a balance. Kudos to Obama. I hope he keeps it up.

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  6. "Why wasn't there a parallel incentive on the Democratic side to want the bill to pass but not to vote for it?"

    Democratic primary voters do not reject all compromises all the time.

    Democrats did not make a religious vow to never raise taxes, so they are not faced with apostasy.

    Certainly some Democrats preferred to vote against the bill while wanting it to pass, but a primary challenge would never hinge on this vote.

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