Sunday, April 10, 2011

First Things First

I'm waiting to write more about the deal preventing the shutdown until more details are available. For now, I'll refer you to an excellent post by Congressional scholar Sarah Binder, which is the best thing I've seen so far.

But this post is more about your plain blogger, who you may recall did not exactly call this one right: I said that a shutdown was "likely," "very likely," and other such formulations. So I think an explanation is in order.

First, though, I want to emphasize that I can't use the last-minuteness of the deal as an excuse. That the deal happened at the last minute doesn't, at all, mean that it was especially close to not happening. No, a deal is a deal, whether it happens safely before the original deadline five weeks ago or with ninety minutes to go on Friday. About the best I can say about that is that brinkmanship did, to some extent, increase the possibility of miscalculation, resulting in a shutdown even if no one wanted it. I can say, not as an excuse but just to put this in the correct perspective, that when one talks in probabilities then one isn't really "wrong" if things go the other way. That is, I think I wrote somewhere that there was an 80% chance of a shutdown...that might have turned out to be true even though in fact there was no shutdown. So there's that. But, on the whole, I think I got this one wrong.

What I thought was going to doom this one were the policy riders added to HR 1. I said, and I still believe, that splitting money differences is pretty much always fairly simple, but compromising on policy is a lot harder. Remember, HR 1 didn't just contain the Planned Parenthood language; it also effectively tried to repeal ACA and to prevent EPA from regulating carbon -- and, on top of that, had dozens of other big and little policy matters. As it turned out, the House didn't fight at all, as far as I can tell, on ACA, and may not have fought very hard on EPA.

So: I agree (and had agreed) with Binder's analysis, which is that neither Speaker John Boehner or President Barack Obama wanted a shutdown. But I didn't think that the Republicans would be willing to let Boehner compromise away all that policy stuff. In that, I was clearly wrong. I've said before I was impressed with Boehner, but I obviously didn't take that as seriously as I should have. In the end, Boehner's incentive to get to a deal (along with Obama's incentive to get to a deal) mattered more than the incentives and preferences of House Republicans to take a visible stand over climate, health care, Planned Parenthood, and other items.

As far as who got the better of the deal...again, I'm not sure yet, but my general sense is that liberals seem to be ignoring the areas in which the Democrats won; compare HR 1 (which was the actual GOP first offer) to the final deal, and my guess is that the Republicans "won" on the size of spending cuts, but that the Democrats won on all the major policy stuff and, perhaps, on where the cuts were -- although, again, all that is tentative until we see the details. In general, I agree with John Sides that observers tend to be too focused on the details of negotiations, and not focused enough on the fundamental logic of the situation. But I'll write more about this later.


  1. I think your assessment is premature. All that came out of this was a bridge continuing resolution. GOP leadership might not want a shut down, but the TP contingent seems to have that as a specific goal; and the sentiment at their rallies is hot for it, if the cheering and chanting mean anything.

    Couldn't we see a number of shut-down dramas before this is finally resolved?


  2. Yes...see what I said the other day (Shutdown Showdown Notes). My impression so far is that the deal makes it through the House, but yup, we don't know yet how stable the coalition supporting it might be.

  3. “GOP leadership might not want a shut down, but the TP contingent seems to have that as a specific goal; and the sentiment at their rallies is hot for it, if the cheering and chanting mean anything.”

    The GOP leadership used this to their advantage -- they played good cop-bad cop, with the TP acting as bad cop. Viewed from this perspective, the extraneous GOP policy proposals (which would obviously freak out the Dems), only gave Boehner extra bargaining chips. The fact that they lost on these issues is hardly a victory for the Dems, since they weren’t a necessary part of the budget and were only thrown in to make the TP happy. It’s hard to imagine a greater Democratic rout here -- Boehner got more cuts than he had even asked for in the first place.

    In short, he Dems cut a bad deal to save themselves and the country from those wild-eyed tea party folks… and since they could have passed this budget themselves last year, they have no one but themselves to blame.

  4. The starting point isn't HR1 it is Obama's budget (expenditures and revenues) proposal for FY 2011, submitted over a year ago. I haven't see final numbers, but he asked for $3.834T and I think he got close. He got about $400B less in revenue than he sought--maintaining revenue at 2010 levels but shifting some out of FICA from employees. I don't think he's upset about the lower revenue this year because he wants to prop-up the economy.

  5. Not a comment but a question for Jonathan:

    As someone who comes from a country where budget related government shutdowns don't happen (or are so rare that I'm not aware of one ever happening, and I'm usually pretty good with my political history) I'd like to know if you think the idea/it being possible in the American system is a good/bad thing or just an unanticipated flaw in the Constitution?

    In the UK, Parliament rejecting the government's budget is seen as a confidence issue and a government must resign if it no longer has the confidence of Parliament. But then we rarely have anything other than a government with a strong majority (present circumstances obviously being complicated).

    Bit of relevant trivia: if the European Union, an organisation which also experiences regular bouts of divided government, fails to agree a budget for the next year, everything carries under the previous arrangements until a budget is passed.


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