Monday, September 30, 2013

Elsewhere: Boehner, Cruz, more

Today's TAP column was about how John Boehner is far more secure in his job than people seem to think.

Over the weekend at Salon, I argued that Ted Cruz didn't get closer to the White House this week; it's one thing to annoy other Senators, but it's another to lead your party off a cliff in a very visible way.

And at PP today, I pointed out again that if 25 or so sane Republicans refuse to vote for the Cruzified CR, the fight would likely be over.

Later this afternoon, there was some reporting that exactly that might happen -- in fact, that the latest CR (which has the Vitter Amendment and a delay of the individual mandate) might lose Republican votes on both sides of the GOP. If it does go down, then there's only one House majority on the CR, and it's going to be pretty hard at that point for Boehner to resist putting a clean CR on the floor and letting it pass. On the other hand, if it passes...then Republicans are threatening at least one more round tonight (all-night ping pong!). So we'll see.

I'm remembering that the House was in, for some reason, during the epic 16 inning Mets/Astros Game 6. Maybe we'll get a great game in the AL 2WC playoff tonight to keep us entertained during the ping pong. Anyway, I see the House is in; guess we'll learn more soon.

Could It Be An All-Night Ping Pong Party in Congress?

So far today, the Senate tabled the CR version that the House passed Saturday night, and House Republicans are meeting and reportedly are going to pass a third version of their anti-Obamacare CR.

Reporters are tweeting that Republicans are coming out of their meeting a lot less enthusiastic than they were on Saturday. They surely know that their new CR is DOA in the Senate; perhaps they intend to pass this one, have it get sent back again, and then surrender. Perhaps they can't even hold together for one more futile round.

But maybe not!

Which brings up one possibility.

Both sides seem to believe that there's a spin advantage if their side is the most recent one to act. All day yesterday, Republicans were complaining about the Senate not working on Sunday when the House had (supposedly) done their job. No doubt if the House quit for the day right now, with the ball on their side of the Capitol, Democrats would complain that the House wasn't working while the government shut down.

So unless I'm missing something in the parliamentary situation -- maybe Steve Smith or Sarah Binder could correct me if I'm wrong -- we might actually get an all-night ping-pong.

The Senate was able to table the House amendments and sent it back in basically no time at all (mainly the time for the vote) this afternoon (the parliamentary procedures here are beyond my expertise, but that's what happened). Presumably, the same thing will be the case the next time, too. And the one after that. And after that.

The House, I believe, needs a bit more time...I'm guessing that it's a good three, four hours for them to get from deciding on a next move to final passage; that's not counting whatever time they need for a meeting to decide that next step. Still, I'm writing this at 3:30 in the afternoon DC time...if they finish this one at dinner time, they could do another at midnight when the government technically shuts down (hey, they can claim for as long as it lasts that they acted and the Senate didn't) and maybe get two more rounds in before the federal work day starts. Or doesn't start. Maybe they could compress it even more, and squeeze in a couple more rounds, although it does seem to me that they need to draft amendments, get a rule from the Rules Committee, then get the rule passed, and then pass the amendment(s) and get final passage, and that sure seems like three or four hours minimum to me.

All night ping-pong? I'm not quite predicting it, but it wouldn't surprise me at this point.

Catch of the Day

An excellent one from Philip Klein, who argues that conservatives are now overcompensating for being too easy on Bush-era Republicans by being unrealistically harsh towards Obama-era Republicans:
Republicans can prevent the passage of gun control, as they have. But when it comes to the current debate, many conservatives have been arguing that if Republicans cannot get Obama to wipe out or seriously undermine the signature legislative accomplishment of his presidency, the only reason is that Republicans lack sufficient courage. And that's a completely absurd expectation.
Read, as they say, the whole thing. Note, of course, that what we're seeing here is exactly parallel to the magical thinking about the presidency that many liberals have fallen for throughout Obama's presidency. That's not to say (and Klein certainly doesn't say) that all the criticisms of either Republican Congressional leaders or the president are wrong; it's just that pretty much all of the criticisms based on the premise that if only they (he) had the guts and the dedication...if only they they really wanted whatever it is...then they could get it.*

What Klein doesn't add, but could, is that this belief in magic makes conservatives easy marks for demagogues who promise that Republicans could have everything if they just fight hard enough. Thus Ted Cruz, who really (as Ross Douthat has been pointing out lately) had nothing substantive to offer conservatives, winds up the conservative hero while those who have been working on real policy proposals lose the spotlight, at least for now.

Nice catch!

*Which is interesting: it suggests that the problem isn't so much about the presidency per se as it is about a general reluctance to accept, and perhaps a failure to understand, Madisonian democracy.

Shutdown Notes

Bullet-point style, looking ahead...

* The government shuts down if Congress doesn't act today. There is still, however, plenty of time if everyone cooperates to do a short-term extension, whether it's a one-day, one-week, or any other length.

* The House can do that easily if Republicans want it. In the Senate, it could be blocked by one Senate...however, it would make little sense for any Senator to do so (which doesn't mean that Cruz or Lee won't, but I don't think they would).

* If Republicans (or, for that matter, Democrats, although the latter seems extremely unlikely to me) back down at the last harm done. Everyone bluffs; if this is all a bluff, then a lot of the claims about GOP norm-defying in this case are massively overblown.

* Along with that: a very short term shutdown, really anything up to a week, isn't all that big a deal. Most past shutdowns were like that; if we get one of those, it's really more hype than anything else. Yes, it costs some money, and inconveniences some people, but it'll be forgotten rapidly.

* However: the same dynamics that get us to shutdown are fairly likely to produce a longer one.

* Yes, House Republicans will begin to hear complaints about the shutdown from the start. But at least for a while, those complaints will surely be outnumbered by partisans urging them to fight on.

* That's particularly true if Republicans really are testing the theory that a shutdown will eventually produce a major public opinion swing in their favor, with people joining them in saying that Democrats should just give up ACA in order to get the government opening. I think that's a crazy theory, but if they believe it, then the next logical step would be to wait and see whether it works.

* Basically, if Boehner is deliberately moving to a shutdown in order to teach his conference a lesson (and there are hints of that in the reporting), he's making a bad move.

* On the other hand, if there's a plan to retreat within a day or two that doesn't rely on Republicans suddenly coming to their senses...that seems like a silly plan to me, but again, a very short shutdown is no big deal.

* I suppose I can imagine at least one way it might make some sense: if many Republicans really believe that Obama (and Senate Democrats) are bluffing and would never allow a shutdown over Obamacare.

* But otherwise, if Boehner thinks (or if mainstream conservatives think) he can get a controlled one or two day shutdown, he's playing with fire. There's going be a lot of pressure to "fight this through to the end," and only moderate, if building, pressure to end it quickly.

* All of which is why I've always thought that Boehner's best move was to avoid a shutdown, and why I still think there's a fair chance he'll avoid it.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Carlos Guillen, 38.

Good stuff for what should be a very newsy week:

1. Sarah Binder looks at the House Republican conference.

2. Amy Fried on why Democrats aren't going to agree to delay the ACA.

3. Granted, this is all speculative, but I think that Molly Ball has the better of the argument about the effect of a shutdown (if it happens) on the next round of bargaining and brinksmanship

4. Sarah Kliff reports on WH efforts to lower expectations on October ACA sign-ups.

5. And probably worth bookmarking the September Kaiser survey, giving the state of public opinion before the exchanges kick in.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

September 29, 1973

Nixon's handling of the tapes during this period is astonishing -- if, perhaps, understandable given the predicament he was in. His custody of this evidence (already subpoenaed, with the court fight continuing) was personal. Haldeman still had access during part of this time; now, on September 29, he, the tapes covered by the court case, and Rose Mary Woods (his longtime and loyal secretary) went to Camp David so she could start, with little assistance, preparing partial transcripts.

They then discover -- apparently, they didn't realize it until that weekend -- that two of the nine tapes the court had asked for didn't exist, thanks to glitches or holes in the taping system. They also discover how difficult the job actually is; Woods spent 29 hours that weekend, running the tapes over and over to try to make out as much as she could, without finishing the first one.

As Emery notes, Woods was working with the original tapes; no copies had been made, or any other safety precautions.

Of course, Nixon could have turned the tapes over to his lawyers...but clearly Nixon trusted Woods with the whole truth much more than he trusted his lawyers, at least until he could learn what he was up against.

Sunday Question for Liberals

The same obvious question I used for conservatives: how do you see the government funding/debt limit showdowns going from here?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

I guess I'll go with the obvious question: how do you see the government funding/debt limit showdowns to go from here?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

Yeah, yeah, the budget wars, but I'm going with US/Iran.

What didn't matter is fairly easy: while other things he did may have been important, the Cruz fauxlibuster was pure, 100% meaningless hype.

What do you have? What do you think mattered this week?

House Follies

So the House is going to apparently pass, on another party-line vote, another doomed CR -- this one delaying the ACA for a year.

Two quick points: I do wonder what that actually means, in legislative language -- what happens to already-implemented items? Does implementation preparation proceed? Obviously, it doesn't matter, since it's not going to happen, but still presumably there will be a bill...

More to the point, though, is this gem from Robert Costa's reporting:

[F]or now, Boehner doesn’t have a plan beyond passing this resolution and waiting to see what happens
Given that there's zero chance that the Senate will go along...really?

Perhaps it's just that Boehner has a plan, but isn't telling anyone. If not...well, if it's really true he hasn't thought throgh the next step, then he really doesn't deserve to be Speaker.


Friday, September 27, 2013


I slipped away for a bit this morning (Simchat Torah!); I'll have more later, but for now here's the elsewhere stuff:

Filibustering something that gets a 100-0 vote (true whether or not Cruz's speech counts as a "filibuster" is the signature Senate Republican move.

No, the media isn’t out to get poor Ted Cruz

More on Cruz and the post-policy mainstream Republicans

Way back on Tuesday, I said we probably still won't get a shutdown. We'll see...

And of course, nobody cares about the deficit

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Debbie Wasserman Schultz, 47.

Some good stuff:

1. Ah, I think I'm (happily) obligated to link to anything that starts the way this one starts.

2. Greg Koger, who knows a thing or two about it, says that the Cruz speech was not a filibuster -- but there was a filibuster, which was " the refusal of senators to allow a a vote on whether or not it is a good idea to discuss the continuing resolution, which was the question before the Senate on Tuesday and Wednesday." As I've said, I agree...but given that it was Cruz who was delaying that vote, and Cruz giving the speech, I'm not going to be a stickler about not calling the speech a filibuster. Even though it wasn't.

3. Mark Blumenthal and Ariel Edwards-Levy on Barack Obama's slow approval decline.

4. I like Kevin Drum's question for House Republicans.

5. Sarah Kliff, Sandhya Somashekhar, Lena H. Sun and Karen Tumulty do some street-level ACA reporting.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why the ACA Rollout Delays?

I read a fair amount of ACA news, but I really have no idea the answer to one question: To what extent should the various mostly minor delays and glitches -- such as this one -- be attributed to:

1. Poor execution (and if so, is the the WH? Specific agencies? The states?);

2. Poor construction of the legislation to begin with (and if so, who specifically was responsible?);

3. Implementation underfunding insisted on by House Republicans;

4. Other GOP obstruction;

5. Just general "things happen" when you try to launch large, complex programs.

Or, of course, something else I'm not thinking of.

I realize that the most urgent need for reporting is on what exactly these glitches are and how they will matter, but I do hope we eventually get some good digging into what was responsible for those things didn't go right -- and, while they're at it, why some things did go smoothly.

And in the meantime, I'd love to see some informed speculation about how important each of these five (or more) factors have been. Here, for example, is (anti-ACA) Philip Klein opting for door #2; pro-ACA Jonathan Cohn, however, seems to be thinking door #5. What about it, ACA rollout reporters and close observers?

People Think Crazy Things About Inflation

I don't recall every seeing this one; it doesn't surprise me, but, you know, this is just crazy talk:
Over the next twelve months, do you expect that the cost of living  – that is, what you pay for everyday goods and services  ─ will increase, decrease, or stay about the same?
Decrease........................................... 1
Stay the same ................................... 22
Total increase.....................................77
    Increase 1% to 3% ....................... 23
    Increase 4% to 5% ....................... 18
    Increase 6% to 10%...................... 15
    Increase 11% or more................... 15
    Increase not sure how much............  6 
So more than one in seven believe that inflation will be over 11% next year, and three in ten, total, have it at 6% or more. In real life, it's unlikely that inflation will hit 2% next year.

That's from a Hart/Public Opinion Strategies poll, which also has the somewhat helpful results that people think the budget deficit has become worse in the last year by a 8/66 (better/worse) margin, and that while Obamacare gets a 29/46 positive/negative split, "Affordable Care Act" returns a 24/37 result.

Click through for the long term trends, going back to 2007, on inflation. Just eyeballing it, my best guess is that it basically follows optimism and pessimism about the economy overall; people perceive prices going up more during hard times than good times, even though the truth is roughly the opposite. Unfortunately, all we get here is inflation expectations, not perceptions of how things have changed.

There is a famous finding that Democrats believed that inflation got worse during the Reagan years (contrary to the plain fact that it got much better). Hart/POS don't give us a partisan breakdown here.

I'd like to think that the 15% who expect Carter-level inflation next year are Tea Partiers who actually believe that Fed policies will produce runaway inflation, but it's probably more likely a combination of partisan Republicans who just select the worst possible option and people who have no idea what "11%" means.

No larger point here; just thought it was interesting that fear of inflation, or at least survey answers that look like fear of inflation, are incredibly persistent.

Boehner's Unlikely But Plausible Anti-Insanity Program

Information is starting to emerge about what the House is going to try to do in the next few weeks. Nothing is certain, especially the details, but the broad outline is fairly clear now.

What's John Boehner up to? Remember, my view is that he's trying to avoid a shutdown or debt limit breach (because the situation for him gets worse post-deadline than pre-deadline) while at the same time keeping his conference from blaming him for anything. At least privately; one of the costs I assume he's willing to accept is for many of them to blame him publicly for things they actually want him to do. But that has to be done sparingly. If he consistently "sells out" mainstream conservatives, even if they want him to, at some point they won't be able to sustain it and will have to get rid of him for the pretense to work.

This is not an easy position for him.

So in response, he's preparing a series of votes that is intended, apparently, to keep all those balls in the air at the same time. He has to win each of these votes, but not always with the same voting coalition. And remember, he's already won the initial vote on the defunding-included CR. Remaining:

* A CR retreat bill.

Proposed voting coalition: Ideally, for Boehner, it's a unanimous GOP plus a fair-sized chunk of Democrats. The CR retreat bill would be a "clean" CR (sequestration funding levels), still to mid-December, and would also include face-savers, perhaps including repealing the medical device tax and prohibiting Members and staff from getting subsidies on the exchanges.

Problems: if it's not a full surrender, which it apparently won't be, then conservatives are going to push for just a little more...which will drive away Democrats, risking (1) that the bill might fail in the House if the Crazy Caucus votes no without Obamacare defunding, or (2) that the Senate sends it back with everything stripped out again.

* Possible short-term CR extentsion(s)

Proposed voting coalition: the entire House. Leadership was floating a one-week CR yesterday afternoon; the idea would be to leave time for a proper (ha!) 10 week CR. Everyone should be willing to live with it, unless Cruz's allies decide it's a trick to get a long-term clean CR a bit at a time.

* Possible 3rd try at a CR

Proposed voting coalition: Majorities of both parties? This one shows up if the CR retreat bill winds up passing on a partisan vote and the Senate sends back a clean (or cleaner) one a second time. Boehner's hope has to be that at this point he can find a majority vote from both parties, perhaps by paring down the extras again (a totally clean one would presumably need mostly Democratic votes). Perhaps by now his conference is convinced to finally accept the win on funding levels, or just sick enough of it that they're willing to vote to get it over with.

* Christmas Tree debt limit bill.

Proposed voting coalition: Full GOP conference. This appears to be a bill filled with goodies for everyone in the GOP conference; it should pass with little trouble on a party-line vote.

* Debt limit surrender

Proposed voting coalition: This is where Boehner's going to have to violate Hastert, with every Democrat and a small number of Republicans averting a debt limit breech and accepting a clean debt limit increase that the Senate will send back to them. Maybe, if Boehner is really lucky, he can find something like forcing a vote on the budget (that the Senate wanted to take) as a fig leaf on this one, although it won't fool anyone.

* Possibly more: it's possible that they'll ping-pong the debt limit multiple times; it's possible that there could be a short-term debt limit increase (yes, they can do that).

Okay, I think that's it.

Can he pull it off?

If you squint just hard really could be possible. Each step along the way seems plausible, doesn't it? Boehner has been preparing his conference for a surrender on the CR for a while now; they got to take a defunding vote and send it to the Senate, where they can blame its failure on either Ted Cruz (for those looking for the sane primary vote) or Mitch McConnell, John McCain, and the rest of the squishes (for everyone else). The pitch, from Boehner is to transfer the demands from CR to debt limit, preparing for the CR retreat votes. Then all that's left is to capitulate on the debt limit with a Hastert violation after the Senate sends back a clean debt limit extension.

I think the key to this whole thing is to get a majority of Republicans agreeing to whatever the final (until December) CR might be. If Boehner can manage that, then it's only one Hastert violation in the whole sequence -- only one bill where Boehner probably has to take a lot of (public) blame from mainstream conservatives.

Granted, it could blow up in any number of ways.

But it avoids the procedure that could win better results but that Tea Partiers won't all: striking a deal with the White House. The best thing about this whole strategy is that Boehner can, if the votes line up right, get through the entire thing with absolutely no negotiation with Harry Reid, Barack Obama, or Nancy Pelosi.

Notice that one of the things he's doing here is that since negotiating is forbidden, he's using the first run at these bills not to establish a negotiating position, but to give his conference an opportunity for position-taking. That's the way to understand the Christmas tree debt limit bill they're preparing; knowing that eventually they'll have to settle for little or nothing, this way Republicans in the House get to declare what they were for before the Senate (and, perhaps, Boehner) sold them out.

Oh, and remember: there's still a rest-of-the-year CR that they'll have to do in November or December -- and that's the one that Democrats are claiming that they're going to fight on.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Cesar Rosas, 59.

Good stuff:

1. Hey, the Monkey Cage is over at the Post! Excellent. Here's Sarah Binder with a relatively optimistic view of the possibility of averting a debt limit crisis.

2. Jonathan Chait on Obamacare news and the conservative closed information feedback loop (which I think is Chait's phrase originally, but I'm the only one who still uses it as far as I know).

3. Wait -- the House might pass a short-term extension to give them more time to work out the CR! Robert Costa reports. Where have I heard that one before? As I've said: there may be a shutdown, although I still think it's unlikely, but what will not happen is a shutdown because they run out of time.

4. Kevin Drum on ACA subsidies as a tax.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Catch of the Day

I really like Ezra Klein's analysis of the Cruz, Paul, Sanders, and Wendy Davis filibusters/extended speeches, trying to answer the question: why don't more Senators pull this stunt, since it seemed to work so well for the four of them? Klein has three answers: doing it is difficult and carries risks (of saying something foolish); it's usually unnecessary in purely legislative terms, at least in the current Senate; and it can be annoying and counterproductive.

All correct under current Senate rules and procedures.

It's not surprising, then, that the three Senators who have done it recently share quite a bit in common. They're all ideological outliers; Paul and Cruz probably couldn't do much legislatively even if they tried, and Sanders isn't quite in the mainstream of Senate Democrats, although by nature he seems far more interested in going along to get along than Paul and Cruz do.

At least Cruz and Sanders are also good talkers, politicians who definitely have the ability to make it up as they go along (I know less about Paul, and even less about Davis). Not that it's strictly necessary; at least if rules allow it, as they do in the Senate, extended speeches can consist entirely of reading written material, and as all of these cases proved the world will provide plenty of material for any filibustering politician to read once he or she gets a sufficient amount of attention. I'd add to this that arrogance is probably a plus: not just that they have the ability to talk off the cuff at length, but that they believe that they can do so and that they can change opinion with their efforts.

Moreover, it's no surprise that at least two of the examples were seeking higher office (I don't actually know whether Davis was already intending to do so, but I wouldn't be surprised).

What all this suggests is not only, as Klein says, are there disincentives for these long speeches, but they most likely work together to severely limit the number of Senators who are interested in it. Still, I wouldn't be at all surprised if there are more of these in the future. Probably right up to the point where one of them implodes.

Also: nice catch!

More Notes on the Cruz Speech

First, on "fillibuster." As Josh Huder pointed out on twitter, there certainly is a filibuster involved here. That's correct, but the filibuster is, essentially, the objection to the motion to proceed, which forces a cloture vote and sets the clock for the cloture vote. That's the filibuster. By all accounts, the filibuster will be defeated at that point. Cruz's speech is occupying a (very large!) portion of the time within that filibuster; if he wasn't speaking, either someone else would be or the Senate would be in recess. So there is a filibuster -- which Cruz and Mike Lee are responsible for -- but this speech itself isn't delaying or obstructing anything.

Given all that, I'm pretty much fine with calling it a filibuster or not. On twitter, I went with "fauxlibuster" (was I first on that? I went with it right at the start, but I might have seen someone else use it).

Second: while it's fair to talk about the speech in the context of GOP WH 2016 (Chuck Todd called it "the world's longest presidential stump speech"), that overlooks the specific point of this specific tactic for him right now. As far as I can see, this is all about his slip last week in which he admitted, after the House vote, that defunding would lose in the Senate and that therefore the key to the strategy would be the House sticking to its position after that -- which was interpreted by frustrated House Republicans as defeatism. More than anything, this speech is his response to that -- even if it is entirely useless from a parliamentary point of view, it's going to be impossible for Republicans to complain that Cruz didn't fight hard.

Third: On the other hand -- it sure will be interesting to see whether Republicans yield back postcloture time, or otherwise fail to use their maximum available delays later in the week. Not that it really matters; this isn't the kind of fight in which adding a few days of delay actually makes any real difference. But it will be interesting, nevertheless.

Next: it's worth emphasizing, as some others have, that this stunt is in fact very different from recent similar stunts by Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul. In both of those cases, the point of the extended speech was to raise the visibility of an issue. That's certainly not the case with health care reform! Neither the issue in general, nor Cruz's views on the issue, have been marginalized in the press. And as Ezra Klein pointed out this morning, Cruz hasn't exactly been focused on the evils of Obamacare; he's spent more time, really, on bashing "Washington" (and to a large extent Republican Senators) for supposedly not listening to the will of the people.

All in all, as silly politician stunts go, this is one of the least useful and impressive. It's far more focused on Ted Cruz, personally. There's no other particular point to it. I am, in general, in favor of silly politician stunts (and I suppose this one can very much be justified on representation grounds; Ted Cruz promised the voters who put him there that he would be a blowhard, and look!). But it's a lot easier to mock this one than to get up much enthusiasm for it.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Rocco Baldelli, 32.

Here's some good stuff:

1. Jordan Ragusa says: cliff analogies for a shutdown are too strong. Hey, I used that word! I consider myself chastened. Absolutely true that short-term government shutdowns are really not a big deal. If it gets over a week, however...

2. David Hawkings on the politics of the third showdown -- the one where the parties finally get to hashing out a budget. Could be in November, could be in December, but Democrats are (finally) signalling that it's coming.

3. Harry Enten argues that the Clinton-era shutdowns had little or no electoral consequences. I think that's largely correct.

The Ted Cruz Speech

(This is a recycled item; I'm basically reprinting a post on a similar Bernie Sanders stunt a while back; pretty much only the names and the topic are changed)

Ted Cruz, as anyone who has flipped past C-SPAN2 today has no doubt noticed, has embarked on a marathon speech (mostly alone, sometimes with others) against Obamacare.  He's into Hour 11, I think, as I write this.  Technically, I don't think it can really be called a filibuster, because he's not delaying any action, but this is what lots of people have claimed they want to see.  So?

Gosh, I hate to say "told you so", but:
Republicans wouldn't fill the time reading recipes or from the phone book  They have large staffs, and an nation full of professional and amateur conservative wordsmiths.  They would have plenty of material to use.
In the old days, Senators engaged in a filibuster would read recipes or otherwise stray off topic. No need for that now! Not only do Senators have large staffs who could produce content, but there's a whole big internet available. If I were advising the GOP in that situation, I'd tell them to let conservative bloggers know that they can have their big chance for immortality: post something good, and a Republican Senator will read it on the floor of the Senate....Excellent way to rev up the conservative blogosphere, no? Meanwhile, by forcing Republicans to perform a "real" filibuster, Democrats would transform a 24 hour network that millions of Americans get in their homes into a 24 hour Republican propaganda outlet. How is that possibly good for the Democrats? 
Both written in response to liberals who thought Republicans would somehow be humiliated by having to hold the floor with "live" filibusters.

Now, do any conservatives think that Cruz is humiliating their side of the argument?  I very much doubt it, even those who believe that his shutdown/defund strategy is a terrible one.  He is, of course, not reading recipes or reading from the phone book.  He's been staying on topic, more or less, attacking the ACA and making the case that, his view, listening to constituents means following his plan.  Indeed, as I'm listening now, he's reading from a series of statements from state conservative think tanks -- just as I predicted! Well, sort of.  The real question is: does anyone doubt that a dozen Senators could keep this going, with more or less the same quality of  rhetoric, indefinitely?

(And it's worth noting: Cruz isn't actually filibustering, and he wants to talk; that's the whole point.  If a group wanted to keep a filibuster going but needed a break, they could do a quorum call that would allow them to rest until the majority could produce enough Senators on the Senate floor.  Under current rules and practices, it's easy to keep a filibuster going).

Whatever one thinks of majoritarian democracy, and whatever one thinks of various proposals for filibuster reform or elimination in the future, I hope everyone gets that under current rules, there is absolutely no advantage to the majority to force a minority larger than one or two Senators to engage in a "live" filibuster. There is simply no point in doing it.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Yes, the 2016 Campaign Is On -- But Stop Gaming Out Iowa

Yes, the 2016 nomination battles are on, and reporting on them is a great idea.

That said: let's not get ahead of ourselves. It's too early to game out Iowa, much less the events after that. It's too early to declare a candidate (say, Marco Rubio) has already lost his chance. It's not too early to say how policy positions are affecting the contest right now -- but it's still too early, for most issue areas, to have a real sense of how things play out in 2015 among party actors, and certainly too early in most cases to know how they play out among voters in 2016.

On the other hand, it's worth knowing which candidates are sparking intense interest among party actors, as well as which candidates are running into hostility from party actors (and yes, that might be the same candidate from different groups of party actors).

OK, so that's fairly tricky. And what makes it harder is that we really don't have a good roadmap. Yes, elite endorsements seem to matter, or at least they are good indicators of what's going on...but we really don't have any systematic way to predict whether it will be Cruz or Rubio or Kasich or whoever, or to explain why party actors go for one but not the other.

The upshot of that, in my view, should be caution. Gather and report as much information as we can, but be cautious about how to interpret it. Remember how few iterations of this process we've had, and even then it's hard to generalize across them because both the system and the parties have changed over time.

Again: reporting on what the candidates and party actors are actually doing is great. Some speculation based on that is fine. But try to remember that there's still a long time remaining, and the issue landscape changes all the time, and so do candidate apparent fortunes. Caution, everyone

Ignore Those Polls! (Shutdown Edition)

There are polls out that have people opposing a shutdown over the ACA; there's also at least one poll out that has blame split if there is a shutdown.

Ignore those polls!

The later -- "who would you blame?" type polls -- are particularly not to be trusted. People aren't very good at predicting their own reactions to things, especially things they don't know much about and haven't thought much about. But I'd be somewhat skeptical of the first set, as well. It's one thing for (even) Republicans say they are against a description of the Ted Cruz/Mike Lee shutdown strategy; it's quite another for them to oppose it once it happens. Perhaps they will, but it's just not the same thing.

Here's a couple of rule-of-thumb type advice that I use on these sorts of things. Is the question one that respondents, especially those who are not political junkies, actually would have solid opinions about absent a pollster phone call? A high-profile election next week; sure. A budget deal, or a budget negotiations scenario? Far less likely. And then: does the question ask respondents for their current reactions to something, or to predict future reactions?

On questions such as these, which violate both of those conditions, I think it's far better to treat the polling at best as a vague indication of vague first thoughts. At best. Meanwhile, to predict the actual reaction (at least in polling) to future events, it's much wiser to focus on how information flows are likely to develop from those events; that's what I was doing in my TAP column about Life During Shutdown. Granted: such analysis requires political judgement, and can easily be wrong. But in my view, that's still a better bet than trusting what people say now how they think they'll react in the future. 

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Megan Ward, 44. I'm sure people who didn't go to Wesleyan can enjoy PCU; just not sure I get why they would.

The good stuff:

Here's good news: Thomas is being phased out.

Good news for racing? Hey, that is good news. Lydia DePillis on higher yearling sales prices as a sign of economic recovery. Yes, I know that most (okay, almost all) of you don't care.

Emma Roller on Ted Cruz, college debater. Double-extra warning: we know how memory works, or doesn't work. We know how partisanship works. It's highly likely that liberals remembering Ted Cruz from years ago would be either highly selective, or even fairly inaccurate, in their memories -- with their memories matching their current view of Cruz as a jerk. Might he have actually been a jerk? It's certainly possible. Is he a jerk now? I have no idea, and neither do any of you who don't hang out with him regularly. "Work jerk" isn't the same as personal jerk, no matter how much our rational minds resist that idea.

August/September, 1973

I've fallen behind again, and so this will be a catch up post leading into the major events of October.

The Spiro Agnew story finally broke publicly in August, leading to a drawn out set of negotiations, feints, and jousting. Agnew battled through August and into September, but it was no good. He even attempted, at one point, to get the House to open impeachment proceedings against him, presumably figuring that party loyalty might save him in the Senate. But he was thwarted in that one by Majority Leader Tip O'Neill, who had, as Fred Emery says, another impeachment in mind.

With the Senate Watergate hearings now ended, the battle for the tapes, mainly at this point between Special Prosecutor Cox and the White House, was the main action. In August, Judge Sirica ruled that the tapes must be turned over to the court, where Sirica would further decide what Cox would get. Both sides appealed. In September, the Appeals Court floated another compromise involving transcripts authenticated by a third party, which the White House rejected.

Back on August 22, Nixon held a press conference. Practically every question was about Watergate; the only exceptions were two about Agnew, and the final question was about Cambodia.

The House Judiciary Committee was hard at work on basic research: how did impeachment work, anyway?

And Nixon's popularity stayed in the tank. Three Gallup polls were released in August and September 1973; Nixon's approval ratings were at 31, 36, and then 33 percent.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Elsewhere: GOP, Shutdown

Two new columns out, one over the weekend and one hot off the presses today:

At TAP, I run down the likely scenarios, and incentives, after a shutdown starts. I don't think we're going to see one, but here's a guide to the next steps if we do.

And over at Salon, I sketch out the relationship between the post-policy GOP and the ability of the Crazy Caucus to bully the sane mainstream conservatives. This one sort of follows up on my "they need a Pope" post from last week: basically, mainstream conservatives need some way of proving their conservative credentials, and without policy (or a Pope) they don't have one.

While I'm here: one more on judicial nomination filibusters at PP today. This fight is coming, too.

Convoluted Legislative Weirdness Won't Matter

I do recommend everyone read Sarah Binder's explainer about the parliamentary situation with the CR and defunding.

But I do want to add my two cents to one aspect of this that's had some people talking. I don't think it will make any real difference at all that technically the defunders are asking Republican Senators to filibuster a bill which, at that point, will actually contain the provision they want. Nor, come to think of it, should it.

On whether it will make a difference: c'mon. The main audience for this whole thing is the Fox News/Limbaugh conservative marketplace. If they like the product, they aren't going to undercut it by highlighting a bit of procedural mumbo-jumbo that sounds bad. They will not report it. It won't happen, for that audience. For the liberal audience -- yup, they'll ridicule Ted Cruz over it. But if it wasn't that, it would be something else. It doesn't matter. So that leaves the "neutral" press, and, yes, they might be somewhat influence by the convoluted legislative weirdness involved, but that's going to be one factor, and probably a small one, in one type of reporting. Republicans would be nuts to let that affect their votes.

And it shouldn't. Look, it's funny that Republicans have to filibuster their own bill if they want it to pass, but it is also the dead honest truth. It "looks" bad? Only if people are watching -- and given how obscure the procedural stuff here is, only if people are watching and it gets explained to them that way. Explain it a different way, and it's perfectly normal and natural. Which, really, it is.

I mean...shutting down the government as a blackmail tactic isn't quite normal and natural, and doing it for a goal which everyone agrees isn't going to be achieved is definitely not normal and natural. One could even argue that filibusters are not normal and natural, or at least the filibuster-everything plan that Republicans took up in January of 2009. And neutral analysis should absolutely point those things out. But the specific sequence of votes and the parliamentary situation, and especially this particular oddity? Nah.

As I said, though, I don't think it's actually going to matter at all. Oh, I do expect some Senators to use it as an excuse if they choose to vote for cloture. But it's an excuse, not a reason.

A Good Measure of Where We Are? Judd Gregg's "To-Be-Sure"

Want a good measure of how far Republicans are from being a healthy paragraph? Check out Judd Gregg's "to-be-sure" paragraph.

Gregg has a column over at The Hill today slapping down Ted Cruz and other Republican Crazy Caucusers. It's legitimately brutal, and written to get attention, beginning with: "Most Americans these days are simply ignoring Republicans. And they should."

Well, yes. But then we get to the to-be-sure -- placed not close to the end, as the classic structure dictates, but smack-dab in the middle, and continuing far beyond one paragraph. This is the part in which Gregg, essentially, performs a Ritual of Conservative Obedience to establish his credentials so that the column is taken as "sane, loyal Republican criticizes suicidal strategy" and not "RINO establishment turncoat criticizes real conservatives" (and, yes, I know that RINO establishment turncoat isn't exactly the most rational formulation, but it's a thing, nonetheless. Well, it isn't, but...oh, you know). Where was I...oh, yeah, Gregg:
None of this is to deny that ObamaCare is a disaster, especially for small businesses, most states and many healthcare providers. It should be replaced with something that will actually improve the quality and reduce the costs of healthcare. There are many good ideas in this area but they will not be achieved via an inherently self-defeating strategy...

Beginning next year, there will be a real outcry regarding the arbitrariness of the sequester cuts. At that point, the fight should be joined in earnest over the issue of changing ObamaCare to initiatives that improve and expand healthcare coverage rather than march toward a dysfunctional, single-payer system. 
So not only is this substantively nonsense -- ACA may or may not be a good policy, but it certainly isn't a "march toward a dysfunctional, single-payer system" -- but it's also tactical nonsense. After all, the message shifts here from a sensible one about the impossibility of the Cruzites getting their way by holding their breath until they turn blue into one about that being nuts this year...but perhaps appropriate once sequestration hits harder. Or something like that; it's hard to tell exactly what he's holding out as Plan B here.

At any rate, the point here isn't whether Gregg makes sense; it's what he feels he needs to do to get listened to by his target audience of non-crazy Republicans (how do we know that's his target audience? Different audience gets different "to-be-sure" paragraph!). And, to tell the truth, it shows how hopeless the task is right now. Tea Party Republicans have spent four years now convincing themselves that the enemy within (the GOP) is in some ways an even bigger problem than the enemy in the Oval Office. And you know what? Advice they're not apt to take from someone grovelling to their myths really isn't going to push them in a better direction. Good for Gregg that he's trying, and he's of course correct about the defunding strategy right now, but my advice for anyone trying to push Tea Partiers back on the path to healthy governing is that they aren't going to get there unless they give up their mythology, so you might as well be blunt.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Rosalind Chao, 56.

Good stuff for the new week:

1. I'm really looking forward to reading Steve Teles on "Kludgeocracy in America."

2. If you're following the CR and the Senate, then Sarah Binder's piece on procedure is a must-read.

3. Another good one from Dan Drezner on Syria and Iran.

4. David Price (the political scientist and Member of the House, not the pitcher) on the broken appropriations process.

5. And a nice one from John Sides and Lynn Vavreck; it's an excerpt from their new book on 2012, with this piece covering the post-South Carolina primaries and caucuses. It's excellent (despite an unfortunate headline that Salon stuck them with, which suggests exactly the opposite of what their analysis says). Looking back, I'm more convinced than ever that Romney wrapped it up in South Carolina -- it knocked Rick Perry out, and put the vaguely viable Rick Santorum too far behind to really have any serious chance even if everything broke right for him.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

On climate: compared with election day 2008, more optimistic or more pessimistic? Do you think it's because your expectations were too high (or too low) back then, or do you think your expectations were reasonable at the time?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

Ted Cruz: helping himself get the Republican presidential nomination with what's happened on the shutdown, or hurting his chances?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

There's a ton of stuff to choose from, isn't there? And the big ones, or at least the potential big ones, seem to be from the secondary headlines. I'll go with the Pope -- but I'll mention, too, carbon regulation and Iran.

What didn't matter? I don't know about not mattering, but I'm certainly on the side of those who believe the House CR was a maneuver to avoid a government shutdown, not a step on the way to one. I guess we'll see.

But as I said, there sure is a lot to talk about here. What do you have? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday Baseball Post

Back to playoff structure again; I can't help it.

I just flipped on the Orioles/Rays game when it got to the 15th's now the 16th. I have to admit: this is a great game between two division rivals competing for the same playoff spot, right near the end of the season. That's not bad.

And in my preferred system, this game would be irrelevant, assuming all else equal (which we absolutely cannot, but what else are we going to do?).

Assuming that the Tigers were in the AL East, they would have a lock on second place. But they and the Red Sox would be still be fighting for the division pennant, with Detroit down 3 1/2 games. Over in the AL West, and assuming Cleveland was in the East, Oakland would be locked into first while the Royals and Rangers fought for the second slot and a slot to play the Red Sox (or the Tigers). Now, that prize would be a bigger one than the WC slots that several teams are fighting over now, since there's no coin flip game to advance to the LDS round, although the LDS round itself would be less valuable to get into (since the division winners would have some sort of very large advantage, probably needing to win one fewer game to advance).

Here on the second-to-last weekend, there are three head-to-head series between teams directly competing for a playoff spot: KC/Tex, Orioles/Rays, and Reds/Pirates. That's not great, but it's OK. After the weekend, we'll have Rays/Yankees (although that may no longer be two contenders)...but that's it. That stinks! Then next weekend, there's Pirates/Reds again, and again, that's all. So while this week has been pretty good, the final week of the season really stinks for head-to-head showdowns.

Yes, there's some luck involved obviously, but only some. The nature of WCs is that any team can compete against any other (same-league, in this case) team. If you restrict competition to divisions, and play in-division at the end, then the chances of getting head-to-head games is much larger.

There's another thing. With in-division competition, as opposed to WCs, the result will be better rivalries rivalries because the same teams every year are competing. Not only that, but it makes for more sensible regular seasons; fans know right away which teams are competing for which spots.

Oh well. We're now in the top of the 18th in the Orioles/Rays game, and I think I'll wrap this up. It may not be the perfect system, but it's working very well right this minute.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Elsewhere: The CR, Ted Cruz, more

Let's see...haven't done this for a while, so there are a few.

Today at Plum Line I got into the question of whether Democrats have already surrendered on the budget by accepting a sequestration level CR (the answer? No, probably not, but I'm not impressed with their strategy).

And I got on Ted Cruz's case for his "new paradigm" of grassroots activism.

What else?

Cruz's rhetoric is self-defeating.

The Republicans could use a Pope -- or maybe Gowron.

Five reasons we might get a budget calamity.

Summers and the proper use of trial balloons.

Revisiting Democratic Mistakes: Debt Limit

You know what the "Gephardt rule" was? Majority House Democrats back in the 1970s automatically linked the debt limit to the deficit that Congress passed, so that there didn't need to be a separate vote. Then when Republicans took control of the House in 1995, they scrapped it.

And then when Democrats regained control in 2007, and had unified government with (briefly) 60 Senators in 2009, they...well, they didn't do anything at all. They didn't even pass a debt limit increase that would have at least meant that it wasn't an issue in 2011-2012 leading up to the presidential election.

Mainly, however, they failed to simply scrap the whole thing. I don't know whether they failed to anticipate that it would be a problem if Republicans took the House in 2010, or if they didn't have the votes to act because some Democratic Senators though it would be a tough vote, or if they just overlooked it entirely. Whichever: it was a clear mistake then, and they've paid for it ever since.

To be sure: one must be careful when second-guessing 2009. Remember that there were only 58 Democrats at the beginning of the historic 111th Congress, and one of those (Kennedy) wasn't always available. Not only that: intense partisan pressure to pass things as fast as possible might have upset the process that brought Arlen Specter into the Democratic caucus, giving them 60 and the ACA (and more). Still...I do think that tossing a debt limit elimination onto some law passed over those two years probably could have been done, and wasn't.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Jim Cullum, Jr., 72.

On to the good stuff:

1. I missed this one a while back, but it's very good: Jack Shafer on real media bias and how it explains coverage of Syria and Iraq.

2. Robert Costa continues to do great reporting on Republicans, this time on Ted Cruz and his Republican critics.

3. Important from Andrew Sprung: why are Democrats getting distracted by the ACA/GOP infighting circus and failing to fight on spending levels in the CR?

4. Sarah Kliff has another batch of exchange TV ads.

5. And Brendan Nyhan reminds everyone about second terms. I'm not totally convinced, but it's a fair point to bring it up.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Those Obamacare Rape Ads Are a Scam on Conservatives, and That's Not the Worst Part

I suppose I have to talk about the creepy anti-Obamacare ads that everyone, or at least all the liberal bloggers, are talking about today.

Look, folks: this is a very obvious scam.

This is not about stopping the ACA.

This is about money.

Oh, for the donors, it's presumably about stopping Obamacare.

But for the people putting together the ads, unless they are incredibly stupid and naive, it's almost certainly about raising money from those donors. And, perhaps, making a name for themselves (or a bigger name -- I'm not looking to see who is responsible) within the conservative movement.

These ads could not be better designed to do one thing: to get condemned by liberals. Thus impressing easily scammed conservative marks, who tend to really believe that if liberals hate something, it must be terrific and effective.

This campaign is not designed to convince young people to "opt out" of Obamacare. It's part of a "campus tour" supposedly designed to convince those young people to go without insurance, but that's transparently a fraud; traditional-aged college students, the ones who are supposedly being targeted, aren't really the customers that matter (it's their older brothers and sisters...yes, some traditional-age college students may purchase their own insurance under ACA, more than was the case before, but it must be a fairly small group).

No, there are real efforts to undermine the law -- harassing the "navigators," pressuring the NFL and others not to publicize it, and more -- but this campaign isn't one of them.

Will it have any effect on actual consumer behavior? I doubt it. But it is worth noting that if it does "work" at all, it's going to work on the people who respond best to the affect evoked by the ads: in other words, people already primed and ready to hate Obama(care), people already primed and ready to hate the government of the United States, people primed and ready to suspect the very worst of the program. And do note: the way it "works" is by convincing them to go without health insurance.

So basically: if you're a rich conservative who isn't very smart about how you give your money, this ad is designed to pick your pocket. If you're a non-rich conservative, you might get duped into some foolish behavior, but that's just acceptable collateral damage. For everyone else, it's an occasion for (to be fair, entirely justified) outrage, I suppose, but basically it'll come and go without any real effects.

Hey, I know: we're not supposed to question motives. I believe that. So I'll say again: it's possible that these ads are not a scam, but a real political campaign undertaken by seriously naive and stupid operatives. Just as it's possible that the people doing the "defund" campaign sincerely believe that a government shutdown threat would achieve that, as opposed (as Jamelle Bouie and others pointed out) just finding it an effective money-raising tool). I have to admit, however: that's not what I think is going on.

If John Boehner Really Had Chutzpah...

...what he'd do today is convince over 100 Members of his conference who have been griping about Ted Cruz and the Crazy Caucus to stand with him while he makes the following statement:


Over the last several months, I was convinced by enthusiastic Tea Party conservatives that their defund Obamacare idea really had a chance to work. I admit I was against it at first. But they convinced me that I was trapped in politics-as-usual Washington thinking, and that what we had here was a one-time opportunity to turn the tables on Barack Obama and the Democrat Party. They were right. A House vote for defunding Obamacare along with the CR would set the stage for a battle in the Senate -- and with the House giving them momentum, a groundswell of opinion from small towns, from big cities, and from farms across America could finally put an end to this terrible socialist experiment. Tea Party conservatives had me smelling the phone wires and emails and spontaneous grass-roots demonstrations that would have started as soon as our plan passed the House and hit the Senate. And so we scheduled the vote.

Unfortunately, Senator Ted Cruz undermined all that by his pre-emptive surrender yesterday. What was once a promising strategy has been destroyed. There's no going back; as much as we wish it, conservatives are very sensible and pragmatic people, and there's no way they're going to rise up to support a plan when a prominent Senator who had been talking up the idea, one who had been thought to be a real conservative, has already admitted defeat.

Therefore, now that Ted Cruz has given away our chance of using the budget deadlines to end Obamacare, we're going to move ahead with a more positive plan, centered on the budget and the spending. After all, what Americans really want to know is: What about the spending? So we're going to solve his crisis that the president caused. We'll vote tomorrow to keep the government open for the year and to adjust our debt limit to account for the lower deficits that Republican policies have brought us. But that's not all: we're also going to force the Senate to vote on our new Balanced Budget Amendment, the one that answers the question: Where are the jobs? And we're going to make them vote again -- three times -- on a budget. That'll show 'em.

I've heard recently that whoever doesn't carry the fight against Obamacare is therefore basically an Obamacare supporter. I guess that makes Ted Cruz the biggest Obamacare supporter of them all. As for us, we've voted 41 times to repeal against this terrible program, and I pledge right now that we'll vote 41 more times if necessary. I'll never give up, and neither will any of us Republicans in the House of Representatives.

Thank you very much.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Kim Richards, 49. Not only was she Tia (and the kid who played Tony really couldn't act at all), but was also a regular on "James at 16", which is a huge big deal for many people my was sort of a 1970s Degrassi, but less Canadian. And she was on "Hello, Larry."

Gut yontif to all those observing the holiday -- you really can't knock a holiday that basically just celebrates happiness for a week, can you? Meanwhile, some good stuff:

1. Sarah Binder on the politics of the Fed.

2. House Republicans have a "replace" plan for ACA, after all. Austin Frakt and Aaron Carroll are not impressed.

3. Does Mike Lee's tax plan add up? Matt Yglesias doesn't think so. By the way, as far as I can tell, and granted I just scanned a couple of articles, the health care plan they unveiled was Medicare Part D again -- all spending, no pay-fors. That they apparently haven't managed to come up with something that would expand coverage nevertheless is sort of impressive, but at any rate, Yglesias has the right attitude here -- let's see these things get scored before taking them seriously.

4. Robert David Sullivan has some fun on the 51st state question.

5. Sarah Kliff with an update on health care costs: some bad news, and some good.

6. And Kevin Drum on morning roundup posts. I'm pretty happy with my morning links posts, which are certainly not news roundups, so I don't think it's what he's talking about. I'm not actually 100% certain that it's the best use of the time it takes, but regular readers seem to enjoy them, and I know that at least sometimes I'll nudge something from obscurity to less obscurity. Not always, of course; I include plenty of non-obscure items. For me, there's a bit of a cheat element in it, since it gives me something to put up first thing in the morning that can be prepared in advance...I know I have plenty of readers in the Eastern time zone, so I do want something up relatively early.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Small Point About the Hard and Soft of Shutdown Deadlines

I think I mentioned this at some point, but I keep reading things that don't seem to get it, so a quick dedicated post about the flexibility of the fiscal year deadline.

Yes, the deadline for funding the government is a hard deadline. No CR, and the government shuts down. The deadline is the end of September.

However, one thing that Dylan Matthews didn't include in his nice explainer this morning): just as Congress can pass a one-year CR or a ten week CR (what the GOP is apparently planning for now), they can also pass a one day or ten day CR. Any length of time at all, in fact. Hours, if they want. So if we get to the end of the month and they haven't all figured it out, there's nothing at all to stop the House from passing, and the Senate from agreeing to, a little more time for figuring it out.

Of course, it has to pass. Which means it would have to be as "clean" as possible -- certainly the Democrats in that situation would not sign off on a one week defunding of the ACA, for example. So it's not clear whether a House that refused to pass a clean ten week CR would be willing to go for a clean ten day CR, and in general if one side thinks that a short negotiating extension isn't in their interest, then it won't happen.

But it can. And anyone gaming out the next couple of weeks should remember about that option, especially if they believe that simply running out of time is a significant factor in a shutdown.

In Which John Boehner Tells a Little White Lie

So House Republicans are going to (try to) pass a semi-clean CR except for including an ACA defunding mechanism. John Boehner says:
“On every major issue we’ve faced for the past two and a half years, the math has been the same: House Republicans either find a way together to get to 218, or the Democrats who run the rest of Washington essentially get everything they want,” he added, pressing for House GOP unity.
This is, well....not true.

Look: with a normal, healthy party, 218 could be important, as the process of getting to consensus would involve internal compromises and as the various factions agree to work together going forward. That would allow the conference leadership to negotiate on behalf of the party, with everyone understanding that the leadership would cut the best deal possible -- even if what they could not win might not be spread equally around all party groups.

That's not what we have with the House GOP. Instead, we basically have a group that is large enough to prevent any GOP-only measure from passing which makes crazy demands that have zero chance of being achieved in those final negotiations. And most of the rest of the party is terrified of allowing any perceived distance between themselves and the wacko demand group.

But at the same time, everyone knows that sooner or later something will have to pass the House that is also acceptable to the Democrats. And that implies that there will, at some point, be real bargaining, just as there was, for example, on the fiscal cliff. But House Republican absence from the real bargaining isn't related to whether they can first participate in a symbolic Ritual of Conservative Obedience. Basically, Boehner hasn't been involved in bargaining because his conference (reportedly) ordered him to stay out of the bargaining.

That said: I agree with Brian Beutler that the Ritual of Conservative Obedience -- the defund-Obamacare CR vote now scheduled for Friday -- doesn't make the final deal any more difficult, and it's probably a step forward that at least House Republicans have (apparently) agreed on the appropriate ritual.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to June Foray, 96. Cruelly underappreciated; amazingly talented, and in way more things than you think she has been (Brady Bunch? Yup. Married with Children? Sure. Rugrats? Powerpuff Girls? Twilight Zone? Get Smart? Check, check, check, check.). HOF-level just for Natasha Fatale.

Good stuff:

1. Seth Masket on recall elections.

2. Phil Arena on Syria.

3. And Andrew Sprung on J Street and the ADL.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Catch of the Day

I really like Kevin Drum's deflating post on Syria hype: "This is no Iraq and it's no Vietnam. Hell, it's not even a Suez crisis." That's only one of a number of excellent points he makes. Good stuff.

Why did Syria get so hyped? I've been wondering about this (and blamed everyone for getting it wrong in my weekend Salon column). It's worth going through:

* Conservatives: at first, they were split, which may have pushed those who supported the president against hyping Syria (because they might not have wanted to play up something that found them on his side); once they eventually got a story they could tell about Obama botching Syria, it then made sense for them to hype its importance.

* Liberals: Anti-war liberals, in particular, wanted to use Syria to send a message to interventionist Democrats; not just that they opposed this one, but they had been right on Iraq, and that they weren't going to go along with future adventures. In their interest to hype the importance of Syria. Pro-intervention Democrats might have wanted to downplay it because it was a hard case.

* The White House: Mixed incentives. They might want to have downplayed it because it was a hard case; on the other hand, the whole idea of punishing a chemical weapons violation was to make it clear to the world that there was a cost to such behavior -- making the publicity about any missile strikes perhaps more important than the physical damage they caused.

* The press: Well, of course, if they're going to talk about it at all, they want to claim it's terribly important.

So basically almost everyone had an incentive to pretend the proposed strikes on Syria were a much bigger deal than they really were. What's more, the groups who had a possible incentive to downplay it -- pro-intervention liberals and conservatives -- were the least likely to be hard on this one, because the White House was going to be the main source of pro-intervention rhetoric. And at any rate, many pro-intervention conservatives tend by nature to hype everything, regardless of incentives.

And that's without what I talked about in my column, which was that we've all collectively failed to find a good vocabulary for a missile strike like this, which is in fact an act of war and does in fact entail real risks of unpredictable future involvement...but also isn't "war" in the sense of, as Drum says, Iraq or Vietnam or Suez.

Which gets me back to: nice catch!

The Big Difference Between 1995 and Now

One more point about Speaker Boehner and the Republicans as we approach a possible shutdown: this is very different than 1995-1996. Newt Gingrich, unlike Boehner now, really did believe that Bill Clinton was going to fold; his entire strategy for the year was to play chicken with Clinton, who he mistakenly saw as a weakling.

Newt, too, really was coming off of a stunning electoral victory. Bill Clinton's approval ratings were fairly similar to where Barack Obama is now, but where we sit in the electoral cycle is totally different, since the most recent election was an Obama-reelection in which Democrats gained seats in both Houses of Congress. In other words, it wasn't nuts for Republicans to believe that the will of the voters was on their side. It was wrong -- but not totally nuts.

Moreover, in 1995 Republicans had an understandable sense that anything was possible -- they had done something everyone had told them was impossible. Not just that -- but Newt had led them to an electoral victory everyone told them was impossible. In real life, sure, not everyone thought it was impossible, and Newt had very little to do with it, but that they thought otherwise wasn't nuts....well, I suppose it's not exactly rational to believe that your leader has magic powers, not to mention that falling for Newt's snake oil has never been very smart, but it was in a lot of ways a normal (incorrect) reaction to events. In that sense, comparing it to 2010 doesn't get at it at all; sure, there were some overenthusiastic Democrats who claimed that 2008 was the dawn of a solid Democratic era, but 2010 was far less of a shock than 1994 had been.

Put it all together, and it makes this fall very different from 1995. It still doesn't mean that we won't get a shutdown...plenty of factors make it hard to make a deal, even if leaders on both sides want one. But in 1995 Republicans sprinted off the cliff, following and in many cases believing a leader who promised them they could float on air. That's not where they are this time.

"Break the Fever" Is Futile -- Especially For Boehner

I said this over at Greg's place yesterday (and just now another version of it on twitter), but I sort of buried it in the post, and so I want to highlight it properly:
[T]he key thing to know about a shutdown is that it will end. Maybe after a day; maybe after a month. It will end, and it will end with something that both Boehner (and mainstream conservatives) and Obama (and mainstream liberals) can live with. And at that point, there is nothing more certain in this world than that radical “conservatives” will believe that if only Boehner  and Congressional Republicans had held out a little while longer, Obama would have surrendered and Republicans would have won a total victory.

So a shutdown (or a debt limit breach) has to end with Boehner (supposedly) selling out conservatives, and doing it with far more press coverage and attention than he would get from (again, supposedly) selling them out before a shutdown by cutting a deal. That’s a disaster for him — and, on the other side of the Capitol, for Mitch McConnell — and one he’ll work hard to avoid.
This is in response to Noam Scheiber, who thinks that it makes sense for Boehner to accept a shutdown because it will force Republicans to come to their senses (see also Brian Beutler today).

What I think is that the bulk of the Republican conference already knows that a shutdown won't achieve the goal of rolling back health care reform; that's the sense, for example, from reporting within the conservative press about hostility to Ted Cruz. In fact, they believe it will be a disaster, but they feel pressured to go along anyway.

The problem is that nothing about actually going through with it is likely to help.

"Break the fever" was a bad idea when Barack Obama believed in it (or perhaps he just claimed to believe in it); it's a bad idea now. The isn't some easily-shattered illusion. It's a very successful enterprise. It's not something that a clever strategy can solve; it's just part of what politicians have to work around and muddle through.

The only good news is that I'm pretty sure Boehner knows all that. It might not be enough to prevent a debacle, but it's something.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Orlando Cepeda, 76

We do need some good stuff, don't we:

1. Dan Drezner on credibility. I don't keep up on what's happening in IR at all (well, not beyond the bloggers, I suppose), but I'll add that most Americanists think less of the importance of "personal credibility...inside the corridors of power" than Neustadt did. On the other hand, if politicians think it's a big deal, then it is, even if it doesn't actually buy them anything in negotiations. And as long as the value in negotiations is positive, even if it's small? Well, rather have it than not, no?

2. I really do have to watch the Discovery Channel thing on presidential Chiefs of Staff. But I'm not sure I buy Ken Duberstein's claim that they have become celebrities. He wasn't, but Hamilton Jordan was surely more of a celebrity than all but one of Obama's CoS, no? Lucia Graves has the story.

3. Good Josh Barro point on how Obamacare will change things.

4. Interesting reporting from Amelia Thomson-Deveaux on the battle over abortion in New Mexico.

5. And I don't agree with everything Stan Collender says about the budget negotiations, but I always recommend reading him.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Q Day 8: A Baseball Question

What happened to the Giants this year? Is there hope of them turning it around next year?
Fine; I'll do a baseball one to close out, and then I'll try to go back to comments on the original post to do short hits on a few.

What happened to the Giants? That's easy. As of today, they have 47 starts from pitchers with ERA+ higher than 80, and 103 starts from pitchers with ERA+ under 80. That's not the whole story, but it's most of it. I'm not going to look it up, but I'd say that if you get over 100 starts from terrible starting pitchers, you're not going to win very often.

Can they turn it around? Sure. Matt Cain had a 5 ERA in the first half; he's at 2.65 since the break. It's very realistic to expect 30 starts above 100 ERA+ next year.

As for the rest...well, say that either The Freak or a high-priced replacement gets one rotation spot, and will keep it, if healthy, barring total disaster. That's still more likely to be better than worse. Zito will be gone, and Vogelsong, if he returns, will be more likely to lose his spot if he's this bad again. Yes, it's always possible to get worse, but those two have been so awful that it really isn't likely. I don't see any particular reason to expect a collapse out of Bumgarner...the one place where a downturn wouldn't be a surprise is the Gaudin slot, but it's not as if he was that great, or started that many.

Granted -- they aren't going to get the same level of performance out of RF next year. Or, most likely, 2B. But the rest of the lineup has every possibility of being as good or better.

Basically, this doesn't smell to me like a team that's peaked and is heading down; it smells like a team that had a collective terrible year, partially through luck of the draw, and partially from a few poor decisions involving trusting too much in the WS winning players. Of course, youneverknow, and it's not all that hard to imagine a few poor decisions and a few bad breaks and the next five years in last place. But mostly, that's not what I see right now.

Q Day 7: Evaluating Presidents?

Dan asks:
When evaluating presidents, what weight do you give to the actual policies they pass or support? Can someone be a "good" president while supporting policies that are morally awful?
It's a hard question to answer. I try to evaluate them based on policy "success" in which success means that it worked...but what works and what doesn't is, admittedly, not always an objective call. I mean, sometimes is it: losing a war is generally objectively less successful than winning a war -- or avoiding a war. And it's at least somewhat possible to objectively characterize winning and losing a war, isn't it? But even there it's dicey (did the US win the Gulf War? Seemed so at the time, but if it set up an unstable situation which made the Iraq War -- and perhaps the September 11 attacks -- more likely, then is that policy success?). And when it gets to domestic policy, it's even more difficult.

Nevertheless, that I guess I'd say is that I look at process, and at policy success; if a policy is enacted, accepted, and generally considered successful, then it counts as policy success. I try, in this, not to impose my policy preferences, but the obvious critique that any observer is going to impose his or her own policy preferences on what counts as success is a perfectly fair one. The only question is: is there anything better?

Meanwhile, longwalkdownlyndale asks:
Who do you think are the most overrated and underrated presidents, other than Wilson and Carter who you've written about a bunch in the past. 
I've written on this in the past...The overrated president recently has been JFK, who does well in scholar surveys and very well in popular polling. I think TR is a bit overrated. Wilson, obviously. I think on balance Nixon is overrated...there's a school of thought that he was good on policy even while being a crook, but that tends to overlook both Congress's responsibility for much of what gets credited to him...and Vietnam. Reagan is overrated these days; he has a fair chance to catch JFK for most overrated, I suppose.

Underrated? I'm with those who pick Grant. I'm not really a Harding booster, but I'm willing to buy the notion that he's underrated, since he's often considered a bottom-five president and I don't see how he rates that low. I think Ford is a bit underrated.

All that said, there are two huge disclaimers necessary. First: the "ranking the presidents" game is fun, and I'd argue that it helps us to think about the presidency...but it's a game, not a science or even a serious study. And, just as important, the question of overrated/underrated turns mostly on how presidents are, in fact, rated. JFK is overrated in my view as the 10th greatest president, and insanely overrated as a top-5 president...but he's just fine as a middle-ranked president. So knowing whether he's over or underrated depends a lot on an accurate assessment of the rankings.

Q Day 6: Predicting Good Presidenting Skills?

Yet another anonymous commenter asks:
Does Hillary Clinton display any skills at 'Presidenting' that set her apart from Biden, Cuomo, Warren, and company? How much of this can we determine from past achievements? 
If I had an answer for that question...

Here's, I guess, what I would say:

1. Experience is better than lack of experience. Broader experience is better than narrow: Clinton's particular strength is that she's been involved in state government, she's been, if not quite White House staff, pretty close to it; she's been in Congress (don't forget that she's been House committee staff as well as of course being a Senator); and she has executive branch experience, and pretty much top-of-the-line at that as Secretary of State.

2. Workhorse is better than showhorse; evidence that the candidate can master her brief is a plus, as is evidence of a good grasp of multiple issue areas, and evidence of coalition-building and working well with others within the political system.

3. Pragmatism is better than ideological crusading. Also, look for evidence in governing record, not rhetoric; Reagan was a more pragmatic governor, and president, than his rhetoric would have suggested.

4.  You do want someone with healthy political ambition; you don't want someone too prone to hubris. No, I don't really know how to judge that.

5. And, yeah, you probably want to avoid a Nixon-style hater. If you can figure it out, and separate it from health ambition and from partisanship. Good luck with that.

Anything else?

Q Day 5: 51st State?

Bart asks:
What will be the 51st state? DC? Puerto Rico? A handful of conservative counties in Colorado? A wildcard?
I continue to think that the failure of the Democrats to push DC statehood in 2009 (and, for that matter, 1993) was odd, at best, and inexplicably foolish, at worst. The District certainly has the best case for statehood (and, yes, there's also a legitimate case for just returning it to Maryland). But Democrats seem mostly uninterested in pushing something which most of them agree with on the merits, not to mention something which would get them two safe Senate seats.

As far as I can tell, nothing else is close. So I'll say that the most likely possibility is that Tea Party Republicans win Congress and the presidency and chop up a reliably Republican state to make two reliably Republican states. Utah, maybe? The Colorado plan doesn't work as well; it would presumably create two safe Republican Senate seats, but make the rest of the state, which is now a lean-Democratic state, into a safe one for Democrats. But maybe they would do that one, too.

Really -- I don't expect much of anything any time soon. But those are the two most likely, with anything else requiring significant changes in the parties or something more dramatic (I don't know...what if Florida becomes an island from the oceans rising; could island Florida want to split from mainland Florida? Or would it just be like Michigan and the UP, or New York and Long Island?).

Q Day 4: CoS?

Another anonymous commenter:
Are there any chiefs-of-staff who stand out as exemplary at the job? What about awful? How much does quality of White House personnel affect legislative outcomes?
Exemplary? I don't know...I think Jim Baker for Reagan did well; the Clinton chiefs-of-staff after McLarty were generally a good lot; and, yeah, I think Rahm Emanuel did a good job -- in part, by wisely leaving before he went all Sununu. Howard Baker probably goes on this list, too. Maybe Sherman Adams?

Awful? Well, I think Bob Haldeman sort of goes in a category all his own as a major disaster: if you and half your staff go to jail and the president resigns to avoid impeachment and conviction, that's not real good.

Beyond that, Hamilton Jordan was a disaster, as were Donald Regan and McLarty. Andy Card, maybe? The presidency was certainly a disaster while he was there, but he was widely seen as having far less influence than the usual Chief of Staff.

How does it affect legislative outcomes? Well, it has to be a subset of how the presidency in general affects legislative outcomes, with the latter being often overrated. Still, while all such evaluations have to be put into the context of both the president (as Brad DeLong always likes to say, the cossacks work for the czar) and how the votes line up on the Hill, it seems reasonable to say that Jordan contributed some to Carter's failures in Congress, while Baker contributed to Reagan's successes. Or, to put it another way: Bill Clinton's first two years would probably have been more productive if Leon Panetta had started out as Chief of Staff -- but then again Clinton hadn't yet learned that, so it wasn't just some sort of random fluke that Clinton had McLarty and then replaced him with Panetta. How to attribute responsibility in such situations is difficult!

Q Day 3: MA Presidential Candidates?

An anonymous commenter asks:
Why has Massachusetts produced so many presidential candidates? Is it attributable to specific characteristics of its state parties, or a historical fluke?
Let's see...we have party nominees in 2012, 2008, and 1988 (plus 1960); also, the 2012 winner was one of two runners-up in 2008, and there were runners-up also in 1980 and, sort of, in 1992. Yes, that seems like a lot. My inclination is to say that it's mostly just a fluke, although I suppose it's possible that there's some political culture explanation that might have some weight -- if there is, for example, a belief in some states but not others that a presidential run is risky in terms of future state-level electoral prospects.

I don't think that the MA advantage in the New Hampshire primary helps Massachusetts politicians win nominations. It is possible, however, that politicians believe that it does, and that pushes candidates towards running.

I don't recall anyone writing anything about this, so let's try something more systematic. Here are the Democratic nominees, working backwards to 1972, the first nomination contested after reform:


And to expand it with strong runners-up (that is, those who had a realistic chance of winning after, say, New Hampshire):

IL (NY); MA (NC); TN;  AR (MA?); MA (IL?, TN? MO?); MN (CO); GA (AZ, others); SD (MN, ME)

That's not counting Carter/Kennedy in 1980.

Here are the Republicans:


And expanded:

MA (PA?); AZ (MA, AR); TX (?); KS (?); TX (KS); CA (TX)

Which omits Ford/Reagan in 1976.

What can we take from all this?

First: that what Romney did is really rare -- the only comparable candidate to win, or even have a viable shot at a nomination, despite coming from a strong state for the other party was George McGovern. Of course, that's mainly because there just aren't very many Republican governors and Senators from Democratic states, and vice versa.

Second: big states generally do better. Remember, they don't have more eligible politicians, all things being equal; each state has two Senators and one governor at a time. Big state resources matter. Still, we have winners from Arizona, Kansas, and Arkansas after McGovern; eyeballing it, state size advantage looks modest.

Third: traditionally, parties liked to nominate people from big swing states, especially Ohio. That's almost completely gone after reform. I suppose the three Democratic picks from the South were all swing region selections, but there's nothing from Florida, nothing from Ohio, nothing from Pennsylvania.

I suspect it's just a fluke that the big swing states haven't had their turns, and one might count California in 1980 as a big swing state (and Texas in 1988? I don't think so, really). I might have thought that nominees these days were especially likely to come from one-party states, because that would both signal to the rest of the party that a candidate was ideologically reliable and allow him or her to govern. But that doesn't really seem to fit very well.

So, probably it's a fluke, but there might be some political culture reason for it.

Q Day 2: Speaker Boehner?

Kal asks:
What would it take for you to consider Boehner a "failure" as Speaker?
This is a great question, since I often say that Boehner is a pretty good Speaker, but don't always really explain what I mean.

So, what would make Boehner a failure? First and foremost, if his own conference turned against him (especially early in his tenure). That would be pretty good evidence. But you're probably thinking: there was a semi-revolt against him at the beginning of this Congress! Well, yes, but I think that's hard to hold against him; those who opposed him were from the fringes of the party. There's not much any Speaker could do, as far as I can see, to control that. What I'd take as a sign of failure would be if the revolt came (as it did against Newt Gingrich and Jim Wright) from the party and conference mainstream.

Both Newt and Wright were "too strong" -- that is, they tried to be party dictators in the House, and Members rebelled against that. It's harder to find objective evidence that the Speaker is "too weak." That was the problem with Tom Foley (and perhaps Hastert; his Speakership is harder to characterize because of his relationship with Tom DeLay). There does seem, however, to be general consensus that the Foley House was often unable to pass party priorities despite seemingly having enough votes to do so. I don't think that's really a problem for the Boehner House; the problem passing things appears to be based on real party divisions. One might argue that the Farm Bill is something that the overwhelming majority of the conference would like to pass, and that Boehner has failed to figure out a way to make that happen. But I can't really think of another example.

A third problem would be if the sausage-making is unnecessarily ugly. Boehner might be faulted on that one; he's had multiple episodes in which bills had to be pulled off the House schedule at the last minute, or even brought to the floor and defeated. My general sense, however, is that this isn't really that big a deal. And that Boehner deserves more credit for avoiding a truly damaging fiasco (a long government shutdown, or a debt limit breach) than blame for a bunch of awful-looking false starts.

Basically, I think the House Republican conference is a mess, and that it's going to look bad no matter who the Speaker is. There seem to be a dozen, maybe two dozen, Members whose primary motivation appears to be differentiating themselves from their own leadership (in order to prove that they are Real Conservatives and not sell-out RINOs). It doesn't appear to be issue-based, so it's just about impossible for any Speaker to cut deals to make the problem go away; indeed, the form of the opposition is hostility to any deals, regardless of policy content, with anyone. And on top of that, almost everyone else is terrified of distance between themselves and the fringe -- and terrified of agreeing with a president who, given divided government, they're simply going to have to cut deals with in order to get anything done. Those conditions make the Speaker's job impossible, and unless Boehner is responsible for those conditions -- and I think he is not -- then it's hard to blame him for the consequences.

I'm probably going too long on this, but I should add one more thing: if it turns out that Boehner does in fact retire after this term, and it further turns out that his retirement was involuntary and that mainstream Members of his conference wanted him out, then I'd have to revise my thinking, perhaps quite a bit.
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