Friday, August 16, 2013

Elsewhere: Budget, More

I did sort of a summary post at Greg's place yesterday on the whole shutdown/debt limit showdown situation. One of the key differences, it seems, between those of us who think a disaster is relatively unlikely and those (Chait and Benen, for example) who think it's more likely turns out to be views of John Boehner. I think he's pretty good at what he does -- in very difficult circumstances -- while others don't see a long-term plan, and think that's dangerous.

I'll toss in another point here that I should have made in one of my pieces yesterday. I talked about the importance for conservative hard-liners for the leadership to sell them out; that's what they need to prove that they are the real conservatives. What I should have added -- and it's important -- is that it's only necessary because of the absence of real policy differences. Liberals in Congress, for example, can and do differentiate themselves from moderate Democrats by, say, prefering single-payer health care to the ACA. In fact, among Democrats, it works both ways; we could just as easily say that the moderates differentiate themselves from the liberals by choosing ACA over single-payer. It breaks down on the Republican side in part because there aren't very many Republicans at all who want to be seen as moderates, and because the post-policy GOP doesn't really supply very many policy alternatives for Members to use for these purposes. That is, there is no mainstream conservative health care plan or any radical conservative alternative; without those, politicians trying to prove their differences have to invent crazy ACA opposition strategies to embrace, so that they can bash those who sell them out over those strategies.

Others from this week:

Just how stupid does Heritage think Republican politicians are?

Reading invisible tea leaves

Not all Hastert violations are alike


  1. There's a couple of issues here that are interesting to enumerate.

    1. There is no policy debate among conservatives at this point in time.
    There used to be, particularly in the *how* of what should be accomplished.

    2. The current lack of differentiation stems at least in part from the old adage, that the most conservative Republican should be elected. Ergo, everyone wants to be the most conservative Republican.

  2. I made the observation the other day that Bono has joined a tradition of (mostly) decent people who've concluded that "entrepreneurship>>>>gov't" in solving social ills. To our discussion, what policy follows from that view? Well, a liberal might say, government policies that encourage entrepreneurship.

    Ask an entrepreneur about that last observation, and she'll probably talk about paperwork, and bureaucrats, and byzantine regulations that do everything but make her life easier. Illustrating: in an era of unprecedented creep of govt into the economy/our lives, why exactly should we expect conservatives to have as an alternative proposal for what govt should do, beyond, well - less?

    We have Tea Partiers (who are 'crazy'). We have Paulites (who are 'fringe'). What is the difference between the Tea Partiers/Paulites and the 'mainstream' Republicans? The amount "less" govt they favor from the above paragraph. Debating various degrees of "less" government doesn't lend itself to new government policy, true, but nevertheless, there's your fault line in modern conservatism. Its simply not true that there are no policy differences.

    1. Some of conservatism is about "less" government -- simply removing any role for public policy and government in areas of life -- but a lot is also about structuring and regulating markets and industries differently than would liberals. Whether or not the participants openly frame it as such, the really intelligent players in all these power struggles are offering competing visions and proposals for how to use government authority, not "more vs. less.'

    2. Not to mention when you get into military, quasi-military, or social issues, the Republican party platform is the complete opposite of "less government."

      Rand Paul can talk about "less government" when it comes to drones and surveillance, but he's still a hard-line pro-life politician.

    3. And so there should be room for conservatives of various stripes to either overtly or covertly amongst themselves argue over different ways to forward their broad ideals through different ways of wielding government authority in structuring and regulating markets and industries, power balances on the "input" side and on the "outcome" side. One good example is the relatively quiet debate among some conservatives about how to handle bank regulation. Another is how to deal with farm policy. One could go on...There's plenty of room for substantive debate over government policy and authority for conservatives who share broad *very conservative* preferences and ideals.

    4. Excellent point.

      What's "more conservative": Protecting the family farm from extinction, even if it includes government subsidies? Or forcing the traditional rural lifestyle to be at the mercy of modernization by cutting those subsidies? I can see an argument for both, which is why arguing the merits of a policy makes more sense than a measuring contest over "most conservative."

    5. It's rare that I agree so completely with a commenter here, but CSH nails it.

      You think there are no policy disagreements among conservatives, Bernstein, because you are so wedded to the idea of the gaping maw of Washington swallowing ever more of the nation that any and all wishes to shrink the government are equally outside the bounds of the possible. So you say absurd things like "[T]here is no mainstream conservative health care plan or any radical conservative alternative." On the contrary - repealing Obamacare is pretty much the plan. Now, it's not a plan that requires empowering a new legion of meddlesome bureaucrats or a fresh handout to the Shiftless, but that's kinda the point.

      The reason that the Republican Party is the party of federalism is precisely that conservatives disagree on lots of things, and so federalism provides an escape valve (as well as a means of sweeping things under the carpet). But the reason that the Republican Party is ideologically cohesive is precisely that it is interested in governing. Republicans are willing to put their disagreements to one side and come together as Republicans to solve the country's problems - which is why, for example, Republicans are united in wanting to repeal Obamacare even though there isn't necessarily agreement on health care policy generally.

      Now, in the past, Republicans would have been willing to work with Democrats too. But unfortunately that has only ever ended in betrayal. If Democrats want to work with us, that's fine, but clearly we can't have any truck with the institutions of the Party of the Shiftless. So it is our responsibility to hold our politicians' feet to the fire. The aim isn't just to get (R) candidates elected, it's to change the country for the better.

    6. @Anon 2:28:

      I have a difficult time reconciling your impression of the Republican party as "federalist" with the actions of the party that would enact a national abortion ban or a Constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Nor do I see anything "small government" about the party's support for extraordinary rendition, the suspension of Habeas Corpus, or the ongoing surveillance state.

      One may be able to make grand pronouncements about unifying qualities of the Republican party, but "federalist" or "small government" aren't accurate.

    7. My entrepreneur spouse says the largest impediment to doing business in the US is patent trolling, the second is the exorbitant price of seed capital, and the third would be anti-competition policies practiced by large corporations in America (i.e., lawsuits).

      I think the largest impediment has to be the tax structures implemented by the second Bush Administration, which reduced taxes, and thus incentives to invest in high-risk business.

      The government has a huge role to play in promoting entrepreneurs. Little in the conservative press is concerned with it.

    8. PF, you say that there should be room for conservatives to disagree on how to implement their agenda.

      Do you in fact see any? 'Cause I don't.

      How do you think such room should be made?

    9. @Anon 9:12,
      Mine was more of a political philosophical point about how "conservatism" is underdetermined as a set of specific political and policy priorities. It's actually a multifarious historical tradition and contemporary landscape (in magazines at least), guided by some broad inclinations and social-group affinities, but containing at least several competing strains and agendas. Theoretically there's ideological room to argue over implementation, as you put it, but also over what should be on the agenda (what even counts as a problem), what should be prioritized, and if there's agreement on a more specific policy, then on the details of that policy and how to promote it.

      Those disagreements don't always or even usually, if we're being disinterested, look like one between a clearly "more" conservative position and a "less" conservative position. It's usually different types of conservatism vying with each other, and both types are probably roughly equally inspired by bedrock broad conservative ideals.

      There's something oddly reductive about the cult-like zeal among Tea Partiers to designate who's "most conservative." So many of the prominent actors within the GOP in opposition have decided to rhetorically combat Democratic policies and liberal/progressive political causes overwhelmingly in terms of anti-government libertarianism (with maybe a soupçon of foreign-policy neoconservatism and aging Moral Majority-ism). "The most conservative" has somehow come to mean the most relentlessly and vigorously contemptuous anti-government, tribalist libertarian.

      The vast majority of national GOP politicians and powerful party actors have bought into that (and worked to create and sustain it). And they seem to take comfort from its reductiveness: it simplifies things for them, even if one senses that some of them are compromising their own preferred understanding of conservatism. I suppose it's because they feel embattled, and, as Kal 1:35pm says below, because they're content to wait until time returns them to power. But I do sense that there used to be a greater variety of conservative types serving openly as politicians in the GOP, from unashamed establishment grandees to all prongs of the old fusionist trinity. Now everyone wants to be a frothing anti-government hyperbolizer. They're cowed and strangely uninterested in seeking to influence what form of conservatism the GOP could promote in the future.

  3. Another related point: Republicans are not at all interested in governing right now and many Republican interests are fine with that, such as the right-wing media machine.

    Political eras are defined by Presidents more now than ever, so this current 8 year period will be defined as Obama's time much moreso than it will be defined as the Republican House's time. The fact is that Republicans don't see themselves as having a responsibility to govern unless they control the White House. Until then, they see their responsibility as preventing the Democrats from governing.

    So until they can enact an agenda of their own the Republicans don't need an agenda worth enacting. They don't need policy ideas or program changes since the things they really want to do are DOA in the Senate and the Oval Office. I think Boehner et al are just holding on until they can have unified Republican government again, at which point they will try once again enacting an agenda.

    Of course, out parties aren't always like this. The Democrats were very pro-active with their agenda in 2006, running up to the midterms. And when they took control of Congress for Bush's last two years they passed all sorts of legislation and were genuinely interested in governing, even though Bush shut them down on major issues like appropriations and Iraq withdrawal.

    I bet we'll see a more policy-focused Republican party in 2016 if it looks like they will control both Congress and the White House come January 2017.

    1. Such a colossal waste of their supporters' time and money!

  4. The big thing I'd stress is that the reason Boehner takes it day by day and doesn't have a big master plan is because there's no rational and reasonable way to deal with dysfunctional insanity, i.e. the Republican Party. I love Chait, but asking for some big rational plan to fix all this is like asking a bull rider to come up with a big rational plan to make the bull okay with you riding him.

    On a larger note I'd say that big grand plans in politics are really overrated. You can come up with a big plan for a campaign, sort of, but when you start trying to come up with grand some master plan to control politics forever you often get into the realm of having Alberto Gonzales fire dozens of US Attorney's because you'd like your political flunkies to have their jobs or the K Street Project so you can be be in the majority forever. It usually doesn't end well.

  5. Great analogy with the bull rider.

    My sense as well is that big, complex plans are too difficult to execute to be a realistic part of anyone's strategy in Washington. Ive been watching House of Cards on Netflix recently, and though it's entertaining, the depictions of individual-level power are sometimes ludicrous. I can't imagine many actual pols calculating their path forward in that way. And that's especially true of someone in Boehner's position, hemmed in by various structural forces that he has no way to control.

    1. Yes. About HoC I also think it's really helpful if you think about this in terms of practically. What really does John Boehner (or Richard Nixon for that matter) really know about stuff like murdering someone or extortion, not a whole lot. In fact John Dean told Richard Nixon this exact point when they were trying to cover up Watergate:

      "[Obstructing justice will] cost money. It's dangerous. Nobody, nothing -- people around here are not pros at this sort of thing. This is the sort of thing Mafia people can do: washing money, getting clean money, and things like that uh, -- we're -- we just don't know about those things, because we're not use to, you know -- we are not criminals."

      To put it another way, Tony Soprano is really good at killing and extorting people, but he would give a terrible press conference.

      JB wrote a big post about the presidency back in the day that touches on this:

  6. So the problem is that the GOP is too united?

    I'm used to people saying that the Democratic Party is too disunited (and was even worse in the 60s-80s) and it stopped them from having a coherent message, coherent strategy, working together to get things passed. It's weird to see you make this too united argument, but it does kind of make sense.

    Maybe someone could create a general theory of what the optimal amount of unity and agreement is for a party.

    I do think that, even though Boehner is having a hard time and they're sabotaging the country's welfare, the GOP is doing very well at holding together and advancing their political goals (as worthless as those may be). They have prevented Democrats from passing much of anything, even things that have strong public support. They only have one house of Congress but the budgets have mostly gone their way, they've blocked up executive agencies they dislike. And they've managed to do this while so far paying no political price. I mean, the closest comparison to our economic situation is the time the New Deal was enacted. It's playing out a lot differently this time.

    1. Both sides have been stymied in their prime policy goals. The GOP wanted to make the Bush tax cuts permanent--that didn't happen. They wanted to change Medicare into a voucher system, deeply cut other federal poverty programs, and cut the federal workforce. Those things didn't happen.

      Frankly, neither side's agenda has been enacted in the last three years. The only GOP success has been slowing down the growth of the budget through the sequester, and that was a mixed bag for them, as it was for Dems too.

  7. Anon 2:28,

    Sorry, but this is malarky. I don't believe that Reagan-era conservatives were "post-policy." I see some of it in the 1990s, but only some; the Gingrich-era conservatives weren't post-policy.

    The idea that conservatives believe that a simple ACA repeal is good and sufficient policy is nonsense. There isn't a conservative out there who will tell you that the status quo ante was some sort of conservative health care system utopia.

    And of course there are serious conservatives who have worked, and are working, on real policy solutions to the problems they see. Not big government solutions, of course! But nevertheless. But those are basically marginalized conservatives these days.

    CSH: I do believe that the Paulites tend to be willing to engage with policy. I haven't studied Rand Paul's budget, but AFAIK it's a real budget, with real numbers.

    I strongly disagree that the Tea Partiers just are "less", at least not in any coherent way. And certainly not the (non-libertarian) Congressional Tea Partiers. It doesn't count as wanting less government if you agree that foreign aid should be eliminated, but you think it's three times the size as other conservatives think it is. That doesn't make it a triple-the-size cut.

    1. The idea that conservatives believe that a simple ACA repeal is good and sufficient policy is nonsense. There isn't a conservative out there who will tell you that the status quo ante was some sort of conservative health care system utopia.

      This is what I mean by you being absurd. Of course repealing Obamacare won't lead to "utopia." Of course it's not "sufficient." But it's a step in the right direction. Republicans do not necessarily agree on the long-term policies towards healthcare, but there is clear agreement that our policy right now must be to repeal Obamacare. That's exactly what a serious governing party does - put broader disagreements to one side, to focus on areas where we can agree and make a difference. Once Obamacare is repealed, we can thrash out the next steps, but there's no poing fighting amongst ourselves now.

      You seem to imagine that we are required to propose policies that will lead to "utopia." This is, of course, a fantasy held only by leftists such as yourself. Conservatives - and all sensible people - recognise that there is no such thing as utopia, that all progress is incremental, that cloud-cuckoo-land plans don't survive contact with reality (see e.g. Obamacare!) and so there is no point in mapping out the next 100 years of government policy. First we will repeal Obamacare, then we will work out the next step, and step by step we will improve America - with the Party of the Shiftless fighting tooth and nail all the way. That is what governing is about, not some utopian delusion straight out of Vision of the Anointed.

    2. @anon 5:17, your clear explanation for why conservatives don't have or want cure-all policies is good, but you ruin it with the gratuitous insult "Party of the Shiftless." It's your third usage in this thread. Give it a rest. Better yet, drop it completely if your aim is to educate, not insult.

      On a different point, the GOP is making a mistake by thinking the electorate is fine with having no replacement for Obamacare. Here's a post from a right-leaning moderate. He says:

      "I would like to hear some good ideas from the right that could improve our health care system as it stands today. The Republicans are against Obamacare. That is obvious, But if their mindset is that the status quo is fine, then they have already failed the American people."

    3. I count three references to Republicans as crazy, and one as insane, in this thread alone. Where are the civility police then? In fact, calling Republicans crazy has become a running theme of this blog and its commenters - is that meant to educate rather than insult? I have complained about it in the past, and essentially been told that if the shoe fits, wear it. Well, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

      If it makes you feel any better, I'm not saying that all Democrats are shiftless; merely that appealing to, rewarding, and enlarging the ranks of the shiftless is at the heart of all Democrat policy proposals, and that they are the key Democrat constituency. No, it's not a polite thing to say, but if the shoe fits...

      And you're right, merely repealing Obamacare is insufficient. That's why the slogan is "repeal and replace."

    4. The slogan is "repeal and replace" but the "replace" piece doesn't go beyond the slogan. Where are the replacement proposals? Where are the GOP pols who say what they plan to do in terms of replacement? We both know that there is scant evidence of GOP plans to replace, but you are the one hiding behind a slogan. Don't you feel any shame for doing that--hiding behind a slogan.

      Concerning your defense of your insults, you have a point. Insulting Republicans is more tolerated in this forum, especially the charge of craziness. I see plenty of evidence to support this charge when it isn't used globally for all Republicans. Is your use of "Party of the Shiftless" mostly retaliatory, because you are making it global.

    5. I don't know, MP. The main "insanity" of the contemporary Republicans is the madness of Boehner satisfying his various masters: the Budget-cutting Tea Party and his entitlement and defense constituencies. Certainly Jonathan has been, relative to the liberal punditariat, pretty generous with his assessment of Boehner's handling of a near-impossible situation.

      The commenters revel in schadenfreude at the GOP laid low...well, they sort of do. It may be that anonymous is a person of such class that he would not indulge in schadenfreude if Pelosi or Reid were in a similar bind; for my part, I'd be all over it like white on rice. So I don't think there's much to complain about there.

      Perhaps the best illustration of the lack of hostility in this community is our eugenics discussions. Backyard routinely finds himself on the lonely ice floe of being pro-eugenics; to his credit, he doesn't let that stop him.

      Though this audience is probably dispositionally offended at the suggestions of eugenics, the great majority of the response to backyard has been opinion or fact-based. There is very little of that "Get out the conch shell, Simon..." stuff that often propagates in a partisan place such as this.

      Its irritating to be on the business end of partisan dysfunction, no doubt about it. But I don't think this community handles itself notably poorly given that.

    6. @Anon 5:17

      You write:

      Conservatives - and all sensible people - recognise that there is no such thing as utopia, that all progress is incremental, that cloud-cuckoo-land plans don't survive contact with reality.

      Wholesale repeal of the ACA is the cloud-cuckoo-land plan. The Republicans have put it to a vote 40 times since January 26, 2011, their presidential nominee ran on it in 2012, and all that time it has gone nowhere. Isn't one potential inference that repeal as a first step is less incremental and more radical than you think it is?

      It's been Step 1 for three years, and it's been unrealistic all that time; it will probably be unrealistic until, at the earliest, January of 2017. You're talking about a change in the healthcare law that stalls entirely for six years and then all at once dispenses with the whole of the ACA, as "incremental" rather than "cuckoo-land." No sale.

    7. @csh, yes, we've learned to tune out backyard, partly because he identifies himself. This anon isn't doing that. But my message is more for him--anon who uses "Party of the Shiftless"--gratuitous insults don't get you heard. Best to make your point without them, since you do have a point.

  8. Taking CSH's contention to heart, I thought about the ways that the GOP make policy. It seems to me that they wait for Paul Ryan to lay it out for them, then they rubberstamp it without looking hard at the numbers... or non-numbers. Except for Ron Paul or Rand Paul, there are no other budget proposals, or even a squeak of a different idea. I can only think of one other exception--Santorum wanted extra breaks for manufacturers, but that idea seems to have fizzled with him. I agree with that this dearth of policy discussion could fairly be called post-policy.

  9. Two thoughts:

    First, I agree with Jonathan and MP above that the policy execution by the GOP leaves more than something to be desired. However, when I read "post-policy" I tend to interpret that as "out of ideas". The GOP certainly has ideas; they just have no practical plan for how to implement them.

    Second, it was interesting that anon@3 PM talked about the barriers to entrepreneurship and included big fat hairy firms flexing their legal muscle to crowd out little guys. Interesting because of our recent Friedman debate, and Professor Krugman's declaration that Friedman is dead, and we (the GOP) have killed him.

    Guys like Friedman say many interesting and memorable things. They also say many more interesting but forgettable ones. Like Hayek before him, one of Friedman's big points of emphasis (that fell in the forgettable category) was that smaller units of economic activity were almost always preferable to larger ones.

    Which is worth considering in the context of Krugman's declaration of Friedman's demise, together with Krugman's policy recommendations, as well as the challenges of anon@3 PM's entrepreneur spouse. Basically, if there were any hope that Krugman's recommended stimulus would find its way into anon@3 PM's spouse's hands, as opposed to Obama's buddy, "Jobs czar" Jeff Immelt (Get it? Jobs czar!), well, he might have a case for more debt in the current high-debt environment.

    Perhaps he also has a bridge or swampland for sale?

    I know that last part wasn't really connected to this discussion, but its the weekend, so sue me. (Unless you work for a big firm, in which case I am duly afraid of you, so please don't).

    1. Your post is again very enjoyable reading. However, I disagree on one point. The GOP isn't just lacking in policy execution, but also in policy formation, discussion/evaluation, and negotiation. Hence the rubberstamping of whatever Paul Ryan proposes. The GOP have put so much effort into blocking and criticizing everything Obama/Pelosi/Reid, that actual policy formation is a distant second.

    2. They do suck at evaluation and negotiation - that is no lie. The software lawsuits that a lot of the big guys wage on each other present a huge barrier for the little guys, because they cannot survive such an event. If you're being funded by friends and family, you can barely survive being threatened by a patent troll. So patent and trademark reform would be a huge benefit to the economy.

      Not providing tax breaks to manufacturers who export jobs might also be helpful, wouldn't you think?

      Finally, the cash/credit crunch has eased a bit since 2008, which is kind of like the Black Knight calling an amputation a flesh wound. A friend trying to get a bank loan to partially fund a franchise purchase found that the bank wanted 20X the value of the loan as collateral. So for 5-10% of the value of the franchise, they wanted the promise of the whole thing and her house too.

      The federal government cannot fund all of these ventures. It's got to be the banks. But without proper regulation they will try to take everything.

  10. the points about polling and prediction in the heritage post are golden.


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