Friday, November 2, 2012

Catch of the Day

I'll go with Kevin Drum for collecting together several point about the way that what he calls the Republican "war on reality" has degraded Congress for twenty years now.

This is from a report yesterday that Republicans had bullied CRS into withdrawing a study about taxes earlier this year, which had Jared Bernstein (justifiably) quite upset yesterday. But as Drum points out, this is just par for the course for Newt-influenced GOP Republicans. Especially worth recalling is the Gingrich-era decision to scrap the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, which Bruce Bartlett wrote about last year.

The general story in all of this is that the "presidential branch" of government expanded rapidly after WWII, giving the president access to far more expertise than had ever been the case in the past. Previously, presidents would have to rely on executive branch departments and agencies, which could not be trusted to look at things from the president's point of view. Once the presidency grew, Congress reacted by beefing up its own resources. All of this, in my view, was excellent; it allowed elected officials solid, relatively objective evidence about complex policy questions, which tended to prevent the American democracy from being captured by its own bureaucracy.

Of course, as Drum and the others point out, Republicans aren't turning to the bureaucracy for information; they're turning to ideology. Or, more likely, GOP-aligned interest groups. And I have nothing against Members of Congress using lobbyists and party as sources of information. However, neutral sources of information are a terrific way to at least supplement those partisan and self-interested sources, and it's a shame that Congressional Republican haven't outgrown their Newt-era rejection of neutral information. It's bad for them in the long run, and it's awful for democracy.


  1. This is what I've been saying for a while. It's not even a war on numbers or on reality (although it is both of those).

    It's a war on empiricism as being a meaningful guide to reality. This is a war on meta-reality.

  2. Nice post, Jonathan.

    And on a related note, I want to point out that one of the things government does well (and gets little credit for doing) is provide information to citizens. From health go traffic to geology to wildlife to history to weather.

    Pretty amazing. And worth supporting.

  3. There is nothing neutral about these sources of information. Republicans are appropriately trying to discredit our entrenched bureaucracy.

  4. As I recall, some Congressional Republican wanted Louis Fisher--a highly regarded specialist on presidential powers--expelled from the Congressional Research Service because he wouldn't endorse the Bush administration's conception of war powers.

  5. Had an insight on this topic today: I think liberals like Kevin Drum get sucked into complaining about the logic of the right-wing attack on gov't; going back to chess, getting rid of gov't may be the queen's sacrifice in a larger strategy.

    30,000 foot level, suppose you had the following, absolute priorities:
    1) Never anger important constituencies like old folks or hawks,
    2) Never turn away from a half-century of regular tax cuts, and
    3) Never run more than a token deficit.

    I know what you're gonna say, its impossible, right? Difficult, surely, but there may be one way out: the first criteria is "never anger important constituencies, its not never screw over important constituencies." If you can screw them over without making them mad, you're in business!!!

    But how do you do that? Very very difficult. Follow me here: what if the real problem with gov't is not that its the idea of DFHs or bureaucrats or other losers, but rather the only entity with the scale to deliver services at a level that screws up your (net) Republican plans? If you totally demonize that entity, you might, eventually, get constituents to accept less than they would otherwise as long as the services aren't coming from evil government.... sure, when Bob's Bail Bonds and Social Security payments takes over your privatized pension, it sucks to only get $1,000 monthly instead of the $1,500 you got previously, but at least its not government!!!. And yeah, Ed's Toys and Materiel makes plastic drones that don't really compete with the real thing we used to deploy in Pakistan, but at least its not government!!!

    See, I don't think the machine actually hates government because of DFHs or Great Society or the rest - its because government is the only entity with the scale to screw up their plans. Get the people to hate government enough, and you have at least a chance of squaring the seemingly-impossible circle of critical Republican priorities.

    1. It's 30 years of tax cuts - Eisenhower cut taxes from a top line rate of 90%. But Kennedy cut them further. If there was a massive Nixon tax cut, I'm not aware of it. Reagan also raised taxes when his cuts started to run deficits. Neither Bush turned out to be interested in balancing budgets.

      And Romney's stated budget goals are no more serious about addressing deficits than either Bush. Top bracket tax cuts, business deregulation and defense contractors are the core missions of elected Republicans, anything else is negotiable. (As we saw the Congressional GOP twice give Obama concessions to keep the Bush tax cuts alive.)

    2. "Neither Bush turned out to be interested in balancing budgets"

      To be fair, that really isn't true. The elder Bush negotiated and signed a significant deficit-reduction bill in 1990. It was what fueled the right-wing revolt against him and led more or less directly to Grover's blood oath. I wasn't a huge fan of 41 overall, but he did know how to approach gov't responsibly.

      And while it's true that Reagan did sign on to some tax increases after the first big cut blew a hole in the budget, it obviously wasn't enough to undo the first one, since the deficits were still big enough for Bush I to address years later.

    3. Democrats will find ways to reduce benefits too. The Republicans are at least being upfront about their plans. Either way, if you expect to get everything you've been promised, you'll probably be disappointed.

  6. Never understood why the Ds didn't bring back OTA when the ran both houses of Congress.


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