Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sunday Question for Everyone

What's a realistic policy outcome you are particularly hoping for in 2014?

What Mattered This Week?

Okay, I know, I'm a day late, and I'm not sure if any of you are around anyway, and even worse I've really been on full vacation this week and can't even suggest anything...but let's do What Mattered anyway.

So anyway: what have you noticed? What do you think mattered this week?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sunday Question for Everyone

What's a gift you would like to give to a politician you like? This is for sincere, not sarcastic, gifts, but creative ones if you can think of them.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

Sure, why not do this one?

Let's see...I'll go with the nominations that made it through the Senate. Yes, there was some foot-dragging that successfully delayed others, but nothing that's really a big deal, and the ones that got through are now done. Plus there were new judicial nominations this week. Both the number of judicial vacancies and vacancies without nominees -- most of them blue slip issues -- remain stubbornly high, but things are better than they were.

Obviously this week's silliness -- Pajama Boy, White Santa Claus, Duck Dynasty, whatever else -- didn't matter, and once again you don't need me to tell you that.

What else? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, December 20, 2013


Well, this is a big one.

I've accepted a position as political blogger for Bloomberg View. I'm consolidating all my stuff over there. Yup, after four plus years, I'll be your Plain Blogger no more.

Or at least, not over here. The plan is basically to do what I've been doing since I started: same topics, same regular items, same everything. I won't, at least at first, be doing columns there (or elsewhere). Just the blogging, all back under the same roof, as it was when I started here. It all kicks off a little after New Year's. I'm very excited about it; it's exactly what I've wanted, having all my stuff together again (and, yes, to get paid for it, too). I'm very impressed with the folks over at Bloomberg View; all I can tell you is that every time I asked any of them about whether they wanted more of this or less of that, they basically had the same answer: we like what you've done, so keep doing it. So that's what you can expect when I get over there.

What do I want to do now? I want to thank a whole lot of people. John Sides and Seth Masket, for linking to me and making me surface-respectable right away. Andrew Sullivan was very generous with his support from very early on. Ezra Klein has been terribly important in boosting the meeting of political scientists and journalists, both publicly with links and other support and behind the scenes. Both Andrew and Ezra trusted me with guest-blogging gigs well before I was anyone's obvious choice for that sort of thing. Matt Yglesias, Kevin Drum, and Jonathan Cohn have been very generous, again from early on, with both links and with occasional advice when I asked. And certainly Greg Sargent has done more for me than I can ever hope to repay.

More: the people at The New Republic, Salon, and the Prospect who picked up my stuff. Paul Glastris, too, at Washington Monthly, and Fred Hiatt at the Post. Also the editors who I've worked with and taught me how to write columns...quite a few good ones, but especially Seyward Darby, Gabriel Arana, and Jaime Fuller.

I'm missing a lot, and I apologize to those I'm leaving out. If anyone is still reading: what I need to impress on people is that really without exception bloggers have been extremely open and generous towards me the whole time I've been doing this.They may bring the snark, but what's important is that they act as colleagues, not competitors.

And thanks so much to all of you for reading Plain Blog, and especially to the commenters who made this a really nice place to hang out. I hope you all follow me over to Bloomberg.

As far as this place...

I'm off on vacation beginning Sunday and going through New Year's. After that, I'll have a couple of days, and then start the new gig. I'm really not sure what, if any, posting I'll be doing in the interim. Not much, for sure, but I may do the occasional item...haven't even decided whether to put What Mattered and Sunday Questions up this weekend (we're driving to Phoenix on Sunday, so I'm not exactly going to be plugged in very much).

After that, I really don't know about the old blog. I'll certainly be leaving the site up for the old of now, I'm not aware of anything that I do here that they don't think fits over there. But we'll see. All I really know is that most of my stuff will be over at Bloomberg View. I'll see you there!

Thursday, December 19, 2013


I know there hasn't been much here lately, but I've been busy as usual over at PP, plus a bit at Greg's place.

I'm really skeptical about the "Obamacare rollout hurt Obama's approval ratings" story. It just doesn't match the numbers, as far as I can tell. Part of which is that it's a bit difficult to know what to make of the shutdown. Since I'm inclined to think the shutdown hurt Obama's approval, I see less movement from the ACA fiasco than those who believe the shutdown helped him.

Here's some others from the last week or so:

Return of the Huck.

A big lesson from the fiasco

Polling? Interviews? Just get it right.

No, don’t shut up the minority on judges

More Senate drama

Once More on Judicial Strategic Retirements

I one of those who have been writing for quite a while that if Breyer and Ginsburg care primarily about advancing the positions they've fought for on the Court, the best thing for them to do is to retire. Now. Or at least, pending confirmations of their replacements. But before the 2014 midterms, and certainly before the 2016 elections.

Ginsburg has been firing back. But the best case I've seen for resisting strategic retirements comes from Linda Greenhouse, who channels Ginsburg to Emily Bazelon:
I think from her perspective she is taking a long view of history, not a case by case one, or a term by term one. She has to believe that justice will win out in the end—or that, if it doesn't, her departure at one point or another couldn't be the major factor. I agree with her and I think people ought to give this issue a rest and concentrate on electing Democrats to the White House and the Senate. ... I think the issue is serving as kind of a displacement for the liberals’ general sense of powerlessness—they seem to feel that getting Ruth to resign would be something concrete they could accomplish when all else is failing. 
It's a nice sounding argument, but it won't wash. "Justice will win out in the end?" Politics doesn't have an "end." It just has a series of "nows." Nor is there any certainty about any of it. Political events are incredible contingent, and path dependent; it's very, very, easy to tell counterfactual stories involving slightly different election results and the implications that spin out from there.

Of course, not all events begin new paths of their own. And sometimes, the path is overwhelmed by other factors, whether they are technological, or demographic, or whatever. But Supreme Court Justices, right now, in this extremely partisan era, and in a closely divided court? I don't know anything about "in the end," but it's very easy to see how a flip or two in who serves on the Court could make very large changes which would matter very much for a whole lot of people for decades.

Now, for most political actors, it's certainly true that there's more they can do about House and Senate elections than there is about changing the mind of two individuals. So, sure, if you're a liberal, don't get mad as Ginsburg or Breyer; help a Democrat win a Senate seat.

But I'm not talking about what Democratic activists want -- after all, many of them don't care very much (whether they should or not) about what SCOTUS does. At best, most activists and most voters care about one or two Court outcomes. After all, they have plenty of competing issues, and no particular reason to believe that the Court should be at the top of their list. The people who do care about what the Court does, passionately -- at least, we suspect they care passionately -- are the Justices themselves. So this is on them, not on anyone else.

None of which is to say what Ginsburg or Breyer should do in any absolute sense. It's a great job, and both are clearly -- now -- able to do it at the highest level. As I've said before, giving that up in order to better fight for their principles is a lot to ask. If either of them believes that it's not worth's not up to any of us to pick their priorities. All I'm saying, and I think it's just clearly true, is that if their top priority is fighting for the legal principles and the outcomes they prefer, then resignation is the best way to ensure that priority.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Tim Reid, 69.

I keep thinking that some blogging will happen, but it doesn't seem to be (here; regular posts at PP all week). With any luck, this won't be the third day in a row with only the good stuff:

1. Ta-Nehisi Coates, always.

2. Good analysis from Greg Sargent on Obama, John Podesta, and executive action on climate. One additional point: a normal opposition party would consider, given the possibility of significant action, cutting a deal to protect party-aligned interest groups as much as possible (while, perhaps, securing some other policy gains in return). That's essentially the story, for example of Bush's early administration education initiative. It might not end that way; the administration could reject a deal that the out-party was willing to make, or the out-party might ultimately decide that the substantive changes they could purchase wouldn't be worth it. But at any rate, with the current GOP, it's just a non-starter.

3. Brad DeLong, over at his new digs, brings us Christina Romer and more on Bernanke.

4. Stan Collender on Paul Ryan.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Alan Rudolph, 70.

Travel day yesterday, so I hardly saw any good stuff, but there are these:

1. Andrew Sprung, as usual, listens to Obama better than most of us.

2.  Keith Bentele and Erin O’Brien track black voting and restrictions on voting.

3. And really, no more (blogging) Dan Drezner?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Bob Ojeda, 56. Mainly because he always reminds me of Blue Sox hero Steve Olin, who would have been 48 now. Sad. Also, because in the 30+ years I've known her, my wife really cared about baseball for about a two week stretch: Mets vs. Astros, Mets vs. Red Sox.

The good stuff:

Jon Krasno and Gregory Robinson make the case for shifting the filibuster burden from the majority (needing 60) to the minority (needing 41). I'm okay with this, but I've never really believed that it would make much difference. Nor do I think it's a likely compromise position and more. So not much hope for it, but it does make sense.

Greg Sargent with two of his smart focuses: that the way to judge how is doing is by watching the insurance companies; and that Republicans are utterly convinced that the ACA has already failed, past tense.

And I haven't read it yet, but very much looking forward to Jon Ralston on Harry Reid.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Glitch Gloating? Good

I'm not sure whether it was in response to my earlier item or not, but Andrew Sprung tweets:
So constructive to have all hands in a major political party poised to highlight & gloat over every glitch in major new gov service.
Presumably he's being sarcastic, but you know what? It is constructive! It's absolutely a good thing to have a major political party poised to highlight every glitch in what government is up to. Not so much the gloating, but that's not doing any harm. The highlighting is definitely a good thing. One of the strong points of the two-party system is that it leaves an out party with every incentive to identify everything that's going wrong. Not just in government, but in the nation as a whole.

The problem isn't highlighting the glitches, or even gloating about them. The problem is that the current radical GOP is actively opposed to fixing ACA problems, to the point of obstructing attempted fixes. That's a problem. But it's also not normal at all. A healthy party would either promote fixes in order to get more mileage out of their claim that the administration botched thing, or at the very least use glitches and needed fixes as an opportunity to get its own policies adopted. Flat-out rejectionism is definitely a problem, but it only comes up because the normal party incentives of winning elections and enacting public policy don't seem to be working as well as they should for the radical GOP.

But seeking out poor public policy and calling attention to it? That's extremely healthy for the system.

Blame Obamacare/Disappearing Obamacare

Kevin Drum notes that everyone is blaming Obamacare for things that would happen anyway, and that the incentive structure calls for this to continue, for a while at least. Sam Baker had a longer, and also good, item about this last week.

I'm gonna be churlish and say: Called it! Way back when I was a wee baby blogger, and months before the ACA passed:

On health care, it's safe to predict (if the bill passes) that even though few provisions will go into effect before the 2010 and 2012 election, Obama and the Democrats will totally own health care, at least for high-information GOP primary voters. We can expect lots of medical horror stories (true ones -- there are always true medical horror stories) that are attributed to Obamacare. On top of that, there will be death panels; not real ones, of course, but newly invented scary future effects of the newly passed bill. Any Republican who cut a deal and voted for that bill will be risking the blame, along with all Democrats, for every medical horror story that happens for the rest of their careers, but especially over the next couple election cycles (I should note that Republicans are hardly alone in that; for the past forty years Democrats have pinned all medical horror stories on reform-blocking GOP candidates. The special genius of the 2010 and 2012 cycles is that the responsibility will flip, at least for GOP primary voters, even though reform won't yet be implemented).
Okay, so I should have added the 2014 cycle, too, and probably 2016 as well.

I still believe, by the way, that "Obamacare" will eventually disappear, at least assuming it's reasonably successful. Of course, the fiasco in October wasn't good for making "Obamacare" disappear; I've always said that it disappears if it succeeds. It's possible, too, that the conservative information bubble is so obsessed with the law that they'll still be blaming everything up to and including the common cold on Obamacare decades from now. On the other hand, sooner or later there will be another Democratic president, and once that happens Fox News and all are sure to compare the radical socialist leftism of that new president to the reasonable moderation of Obama. Will "Obamacare" survive that? Hard to guess.

I'd really love to know what percentage of people who have new insurance through the exchanges think it's "Obamacare." Whatever that is -- and it's surely lower than 100% -- it's certain to decline over time. And I'm guessing that only a small fraction of those with new expanded Medicaid insurance think of it as Obamacare (or ACA). Hardly anyone with employer-based insurance thinks of it as related in any way to Obamacare, I'd assume; nor do they think it has anything to do with government policy.

Back to the blame thing...the point isn't whether ACA is a success or not; the point is that it's going to be blamed for lots of things, many of which it has nothing to do with, whether it's a success or a failure. That's just the nature of the thing.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Steven Bochco, 70.

I'm traveling and in meetings early this week, so posting may be sporadic, but that's no excuse for skipping the good stuff:

1. I mostly blame the mainstream conservatives who make up the bulk of the GOP conference for the shutdown; here's a perspective that puts Speaker Boehner at fault. I disagree, but plausible!

2. Josh Huder on the future of the filibuster.

3. And Dan Drezner: Yankees, or North Korea?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

Same question, plus a bit more. What's the general consensus of neutral experts going to be by, oh, the end of March on how the ACA is working? Series of disasters? Surprisingly successful, given the fiasco in October? Too soon to know? Or something else?

And what of Barack Obama's job in implementing the law. Presumably he'll still be knocked for October, but among liberals, will it look not so bad in retrospect? Sign of all that is wrong with his presidency? Demonstration that he makes at least his share of mistakes, but is good at recovering from them? Or something else?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

What's the general consensus of neutral experts going to be by, oh, the end of March on how the ACA is working? Series of disasters? Surprisingly successful, given the fiasco in October? Too soon to know? Or something else?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

The confirmations. I think I said this before, but put aside the drama (and real importance) of the Senate rules fight: the nominations at stake, especially those three DC Circuit picks, are quite important.

Of course the various Mandela memorial flaps don't matter, but you all knew that.

What else? It was a pretty newsy week, seemed to me. What do you have? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Yeah, Bipartisanship Isn't About To Break Out

Brian Beutler has this right:
Ever since he became speaker, Boehner has been reluctant to forge coalitions with Democrats, particularly when Democrats end up controlling the policy and supplying the overwhelming majority of votes. As a rule he’s only done this when sticking with the right would send the country past some deadline or over some cliff, and even then he’s acted reluctantly. 
See also Jamelle Bouie.

The bottom-line context underlying the temporary (and it's certainly temporary) emergence of bipartisan peace in the House is the one I keep pounding on: at the end of the day, whether before or after a shutdown, John Boehner knows that eventually he and Barack Obama are going to wind up on the same side of something that funds the government going forward. That's an absolute, unavoidable fact of appropriations deadlines. Which means that at the end of the day, whatever he does on the way there, Boehner is going to be a sellout and a RINO for agreeing with the Kenyan socialist in the White House.

Given that context, a shutdown was, and is, an almost certain disaster for the Speaker (and for whatever Republicans would wind up voting for the eventual measure that ends the shutdown). I'm still not sure why the House went down that road in October, but having done it once and (believing they) paid the price, it was even more unlikely that they would do it a second time.

But there's no reason at all to believe that this means anything for those issues -- most issues -- in which there is no certainty that they end in agreement between Obama and Boehner.

Which means, for all those other issues, what matters is whether mainstream House Republicans want bills to pass (or, for GOP priorities, whether Obama and mainstream Senate Democrats want something to pass).

The rest, such as Boehner lashing out at conservative groups? It's mostly, or entirely, window dressing. This is one that fits perfectly into a story of clear incentives -- and the same incentives just aren't there on many other issues.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Tom Verlaine, 64.

Good stuff:

1. More good points on ACA implementation from Ross Douthat.

2. Josh Huder on the long-term fallout in the Senate. Fair enough -- but I'd emphasize that what happens in 2015 depends on the 2014 election results.

3. And Jared Bernstein on the Volcker rule -- but really about policymaking and personnel.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Senior Funeral Exploiter

I don't really have anything to say about this, other than to say that it's not the first time. Or the second time. In fact, the evidence strongly suggests that there is, somewhere (at the RNC? Fox News?) a Senior Funeral Exploiter whose job it is to carefully monitor all funerals, memorial services, and other potentially solemn occasions in which Democratic politicians are expected to attend with the goal of finding some "inappropriate" behavior. And once it's identified, it spreads rapidly through the GOP-aligned press.

The classics of the genre are the Paul Wellstone funeral, and Bill Clinton at the Ron Brown funeral. I seem to recall others, too, but don't have any handy citations.The Ron Brown one was classic...Republicans basically spent all eight years of the Clinton Administration trying to get everyone to accept what they thought was self-evidently true, that Clinton was a phony and a usurper; "catching" him "faking" grief at Brown's funeral, they thought, would convince everyone. Oh well.

Anyway, what I wonder about it, as I tend to do about these things, is whether this is supply or demand driven. Is there something about the consumers in the conservative marketplace that makes Funeral Exploitation particularly lucrative? Or is this something that conservative elites just are certain will resonate, and so they're constantly pushing it. 

I don't recall any equivalent on the other side; please remind me if I missed anything. Surely Democrats have exploited similar "gaffes," but none of them I can think of were funeral-based. 

So I have no idea of why the pattern exists, although I'm pretty sure it's not about Democrats actually being a bunch of rude jerks (I assume good manners are equally distributed among politicians). Ideas?

Pause, Then Politicize

After Mandela died last week, Dave Weigel wrote an item telling people to "Go Ahead, Politicize Mandela"in response to some twitter requests to cut out the partisan sniping for a while.

I'm sympathetic to that point of view...but I also think there's an etiquette issue here, too, as I also said a while ago. And I think that for at least a short while -- a pause -- the etiquette issue deserves precedence over the politics.

Basically, it's polite to wait a short bit before jumping into partisan or other political point-scoring, and people should be polite.

I want to emphasize: short bit. I'm talking pause, not some sort of long-term ban. I agree that there's absolutely nothing wrong with using any event as an excuse to score partisan points or to press a political argument. Politics is important! Those who want to take action don't need to apologize for it.

However, etiquette tells us that we should act as if we respect the feelings of others, and of those feelings one would have to think that grief ranks pretty high up. Mourning is not in itself political, even if the person being mourned was intensely political; even if, as happens in some cases, the cause of death was intensely political. Those of us who live in a political world should remember that not everyone does, and that it may be particularly crass and hurtful to have to deal with that stuff along with one's grief.

I have no rule of thumb for how long a pause is appropriate. Certainly long enough that one's first encounter with, say, a natural disaster isn't going to be a slam at the president (or the Speaker, or whoever) for supposedly causing it. And certainly not so long that the media spotlight has moved on. I'm thinking hours, not days.

But yeah. Really, your Very Important Point about Ronald Reagan and Nelson Mandela could probably wait six hours, or even to the next day, without overly diminishing whatever positive effect you wanted to get out of it; you didn't need to post it on that first day. Even if you think it's outrageous that some conservatives could profess to be mourning Mandela without renouncing Reagan. There's plenty of time for that on the second day, or at least the fourth hour. The same applies to natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and whatever else sparks this kind of thing. You aren't going to be sacrificing any important political advantage if you hold off at least as long as it takes for the press to get the basic facts figured out.

After that, though? Absolutely have at it. After all, all of us live in a political world, whether we realize it or not, and after a point pretending that we all agree about everything ceases to be polite and is, instead, just condescending.

Where is the line? I don't think there's a hard-and-fast answer to that. It depends on the medium, on the occasion, on the tone...lots of stuff. The point is to balance two equally worthy things: the respect that mourning and grief deserve, and the virtue in action. Etiquette rules and norms generally help us get through tough calls in these areas, but we don't have much to help us (and certainly not on twitter), so we need to muddle through. Look: there are plenty of things I'd say about a colleague or acquaintance after she passed away to an outside friend who didn't know the deceased that I would never in a million years say to her family members at the funeral. Given that there are few recognized rules, all we can do is to try to be sensitive -- without shortchanging the rest of it.

So what I have is Pause, then Politicize. Okay?

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Mayim Bialik, 38.

Good stuff:

1. Sarah Kliff on the people who may fall through the cracks.

2. Jamelle Bouie on demographics, the parties, and the future. Regular readers know I strongly agree with his argument.

3. See also Reihan Salam's response.

4. Ed Kilgore on Republicans, counterrevolutionary ideology, and internal party conflict. I'm not as convinced as Kilgore is that a substantial and influential group of Republicans sincerely believe in a "constitutional conservative" ideology...but I do think he's on very firm ground in thinking of (many within) the GOP in revolutionary (or counterrevolutionary) terms. And at any rate, he's certainly right that anyone who sees something similar to Reagan/Ford, or even less plausibly Goldwater/Rockefeller, is just seeing a fantasy. Must-read.

5. At a more practical level: Jessica Taylor has a good lay-of-the-land look at Republican insurgencies.

6. And Sarah Binder on the budget deal.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dogs, Not Barking

Right to it:

1. Ross Douthat mentioned this one today: as far as we know, it turns out that employers are not dumping their employees on the exchanges. At least so far. I do think it's likely that over time the ACA will wind up pushing people out of employment-linked insurance, but it appears that a fast, destabilizing dump isn't happening. Good Douthat piece, by the way, especially in that he's absolutely right that the best way to think about the ACA now is in terms of potential outcomes and the future policy questions they will raise, not "success" or "failure."

2. I talked about this yesterday...this one is less a dog not barking than a dog barking in the wrong direction, or something like that. Republican Senators are apparently doing a "filibuster" stunt today to protest the nuclear option (or maybe it's more of a "what have you got?" protest)...but they're really not shutting down the Senate. @Mansfield2016 nailed this one (and really, follow if you're interested in judicial nominations at all, including Senate procedure and reform issues): Republicans haven't objected to overnight time counting towards post-cloture time, something they could do. The same was true yesterday for the recess for party meetings. In addition, Republicans haven't objected to having committees meet. And as other have noted, the budget wars have semi-thawed, with Senate nukes apparently having no effect at all. Yes, they have forced a few votes which weren't necessary, and by not yielding back post-cloture time (so far!) they're definitely delaying and obstructing. But remember that GOP obstruction of nominees has been the norm for years now. This very much appears to be ordinary delay, not nuclear fallout. I'm increasingly confident that I was right on this one.

3. Afghanistan casualties continues to be, in my view, a very big and very undercovered story -- especially when troop deaths aren't happening. The last coalition troop death was back on November 17, and there were only four in November (3 US deaths). For the year, the coalition total is 148 (118 US), down from 402 (310) last year. This year will be the fewer coalition troop deaths in Afghanistan since 2005 (US since 2007); it will be fewest combined (Afghanistan plus Iraq) troop deaths since before the Iraq war began. I don't think we've really spent enough time thinking about how being at war for over a decade matters, or how it will matter when the Afghanistan adventure ends, or at least mostly ends, in just a few more months.

4. And the real reason I did this one today: the Fairness Doctrine is back! Well, not the Fairness Doctrine itself, of course, but conservative paranoia that it's coming back any second now. Via friend-of-blog John Anderson.

Read Stuff. You Should

Happy Birthday to McCoy Tyner, 75.

Tons of news yesterday, but you'll still want the good stuff:

1. Mann and Ornstein want to save Congress.

2. Lynn Vavreck reviews Double Down.

3. John Sides on the Steve Stockman challenge.

4. Scott Lemieux is a little obsessed with liberal health care reform fantasies...but he's also totally correct.

5. And Sarah Kliff provides a user guide to the ACA and

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Catch of the Day

Jonathan Chait:
The problem here is that their definition of who would “benefit” is exceedingly narrow. You “benefit,” by his way of thinking, only if your actuarial costs exceed your financial contributions. But that isn’t how most people think about insurance. Insurance isn’t a kind of gamble where you bet you can beat the house by consuming more in medical care than you pay in premiums and deductibles. It’s protection from risk. People like that protection. They will pay to acquire it.
Yeah. I really do think that one thing that's happened in the continuing reaction to the ACA is that a lot of conservatives have convinced themselves that people don't really want health insurance after all -- that health insurance per se is some sort of liberal hoodwinking of an otherwise sensible popular. As far as I can tell, that's just simply not true. People do want insurance: old people, sick people, young people, healthy people. And, also as far as I can tell, they don't just want catastrophic protection; they want comprehensive, "good," insurance.

Now, it's true that if it's too expensive, people won't buy it -- so questions about young healthies and death spirals are perfectly legitimate.

But that legitimate question, as I read a lot of conservatives, seems to have transmogrified into skepticism of the entire idea of health insurance -- a refusal to believe the very obvious point that, as Chait says, people will pay to avoid risk.

Example? I see it in several of Ross Douthat's recent items, including today's (generally smart) comparison of Medicare Part D and the ACA. I basically agree with him about the rollout comparisons, but when it comes to ACA customers he just doesn't seem to see that the peace of mind insurance gives people is really a massive benefit, and therefore of course one should expect people to want (within reason) to pay for it.

Or at least that's how I read Douthat and other smart conservatives.

Also: nice catch!

Nuclear Fallout Update

While waiting for the budget deal, Senate Democrats are attempting to get through a bunch of nominations before the end of the session.

Republicans this morning are forcing extra votes, with Mitch McConnell just now forcing a re-vote on the nuclear option -- that is, the new precedent that cloture on nominations only takes a simple majority.

The tell that it's all for show? Republicans did agree to the standard motion to allow committees to meet. If they really were going all-out to "shut down the Senate," that's one they could have objected to.

We'll see. Democrats have filed cloture petitions on ten new nominations -- that's in addition to Mel Watt (cloture to be voted on this morning) and the three DC Circuit nominees, the first of whom was confirmed this morning. Reid wants to run through all 14 of these, plus other less important exec branch nominations which typically would go by unanimous consent late in the session. If Republicans maximize stalling maneuvers, Reid can hold the Senate in later, threatening to take them to Christmas.

My strong guess is that Republicans will back off pretty quickly. Sure, they'll put up a little show of obstruction, but in this case resistance really is futile.

Reid has ordered his cloture petitions with the Homeland Security Secretary last, presumably because it's a more believable claim that he won't leave town until he gets to that one. Of course, he could be bluffing; if Republicans really do drag things out, he can always drop some of the intervening nominations. I doubt it, but I guess we'll see.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Catherine Parks, 57. Why? Because she was in Bernie's, that's why. If that's not enough for you, she was on the Boat once...we really need someone to revive the Boat or something like it. On her episode? Bob Denver, Markie Post, Forrest Tucker, Lyle Waggoner...Eleanor Parker, who just died, who played the Baroness in Sound of Music, too. Back to Parks: if that's not enough, she was also in "Looker." Why should anyone care about that stinker? Because it's also Susan Dey's birthday. But she wasn't in Bernie's, so I'm less interested.

Sorry for getting lost there, but I do have a little good stuff:

1. Good Dan Larison post on intervention.

2. Elias Dinas on how electoral loyalties form.

3. And I didn't get around to doing a HOF old-timers (or whatever they're calling it) ballot post this year...maybe I'll deal with the players on Friday. I support Marvin Miller, and probably don't support Steinbrenner. As far as the managers, I've fallen hopelessly behind on the sabermetric literature on managers, but Scott Lemieux is up to date, and I see no reason to disagree with anything he says on this one. I'm not really sure what I think of Torre as a manager, but I'd vote for him as a player, so it's a moot point for me, and at worst he's a fringe HOFer as both a manager and a player. Cox is underrated; I always rooted against La Russa, but he's clearly deserving, too.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Elsewhere: SCOTUS, ALEC, ACA, more

I did a radio spot on KPCC today on the question of whether Justices should retire strategically or not, and also on term limits for SCOTUS. I'm still ambivalent on the latter; I think the last time I wrote about it I bailed by saying that since staggered 18 year terms aren't going to happen, I don't need a position on it. On balance, I think I'm perhaps a bit more for than against, but I'm really undecided. On the main point, however, I think it's pretty clear that if older justices want to preserve the principles they believe in during a time of strong partisan polarization, then they should retire strategically. Which means Ginsburg and Breyer should retire now -- if they care about what they've worked for, as oppose to caring about doing the work. If you want to listen, the link will be here when they post it.

Other recent ones:

ALEC and democracy

No, a Republican president won’t sabotage Obamacare. Well, mostly not.

One more time: The bottom line on government-funding deadlines

Obamacare and 2014

Gun Control Didn't Ruin Obama's Second Term

Alex Seitz-Wald test-drives what could easily become a new liberal fantasy:
The Connecticut massacre set in motion a cascade of events that led the White House to burn through its only real window to accomplish its goals. The month before the shooting, Obama had won a convincing reelection and a modest popular mandate. One major liberal wish-list entry, immigration reform, seemed not only within reach but almost inevitable.
Instead, not only in this story did Obama's gun control initiative sink immigration reform, but it derailed, at least so far, his entire second term.

C'mon. Let's see...this argument depends on a bunch of stuff: To begin with: that there's such a thing as a mandate (and that Obama had one on immigration), and that "The first few months of any president's term, closest to their electoral win and furthest from the next congressional midterm, are usually the most fruitful." The latter holds for first terms, but as far as I know there's no similar evidence on second terms, and certainly not second terms which also yield continued divided government.

For that matter, the list of reelections with continued divided government is a short one -- in the last hundred years, only 1956, 1972, 1984, and 1996 fit that category before 2012, and of those 1972 wasn't much of a test. I don't think it supports Seitz-Wald's point, either. Just looking at wikipedia...the 99th Congress didn't pass any major bills until December 1985, but passed several, including tax reform, in 1986. Tax reform is as good a comp as any. Reagan sent up his proposal in May 1985; Ways and Means marked up a bill in September through December, 1985 and it passed the House in the same month; Senate Finance finished their markup in May, 1986; the Senate passed it at the end of June; and then after a formal conference in July and August, both chambers passed the bill in September, 1986.

Ike's 85th Congress did pass three major laws in 1955, but several more in 1956. As for Clinton, not too much happened in the 105th (although unlike in Ike's case, the second Congress of Clinton's second term was more productive.

What I think all this says is: the "almost inevitable" was an illusion. Presidents re-elected with continued divided government don't have a Hundred Days, and they basically don't pass partisan initiatives.

Or, to put it another way: whether immigration reform passed was always going to be about what mainstream House conservatives wanted, and they really don't care very much whether Barack Obama's approval rating is at its honeymoon peak of around 51%, or if it's fallen to around 48% (post-gun bill), 46% (after the Senate passed immigration), or 41% (now). Now, if Obama was at 70% that might scare a few moderates, but that wasn't going to happen in winter and spring 2013.

Obama's second term legislative agenda was derailed on election night 2012 when Republicans retained the House. After that, it's just been a question of where to find a few productive compromises that work for both parties.

More broadly, it's just not true that Congress, or even one chamber of Congress, can only do one thing at a time. Even when the bills are going to go through the same committees, it's actually perfectly possible for two or more bills to advance through the process together. Sure, small delays are possible if two bills reach the exact same stage at the exact same time, but usually that's not the case. The more likely explanation for the delay in the immigration bill -- just as with the ACA in 2009 -- is that it takes time for Congress to work its way through complex, contentious bills.

Pass it along: gun safety probably had no effect at all on the rest of Barack Obama's second term.

Catch of the Day

Kevin Drum is absolutely right in his response to Lori Montgomery's WaPo story today about budget negotiations:
There's nothing wrong with talking about the federal deficit in a story about the budget. But this entire story is framed around a sense of dismay that Congress has "abandoned" its debt-reduction goals. This is done with no mention of the fact that Congress has already slashed the 10-year deficit by nearly $4 trillion over the past couple of years. No mention that we've been engaged in this frenzy of deficit cutting despite the fact that the economy is still fragile, which means that reducing the deficit is almost certainly a terrible idea. No mention that deficit cutting of any size in the wake of recession is unprecedented in recent history.
Basically, there are two problems with Montgomery's piece. First, that she ignores previous deficit-cutting from this and previous Congresses; second, that he takes the position that deficit-cutting is unambiguously a good thing, now and always.

I'll add one thing: she uses "debt" and "deficit" in ways that obscure what's going on. So, for example, she begins by saying the prospective deal would "not significantly reduce the debt." Well, yes; that's not going to happen unless the government runs surpluses. While there are some who believe that would be a good idea, most economists, including many sincere deficit hawks (who do want both short and long-term deficits slashed), would not want the debt reduced next year.

Matt Yglesias is on this too, and he's right also: "Journalists who would never think of openly cheerleading for more people to get government-subsidized health insurance or for oil companies to secure a freer hand in drilling, regard the goodness of deficit reduction as a kind of non-ideological given."

Yglesias asks why that's the case. My guess? Reagan. Because Ronald Reagan's policies produced huge deficits, and his influence pushed future Republicans to adopt policies which produced huge deficits, the Democratic Party shifted to a mostly fiscally conservative party. And yet because Reagan's particular political genius lie in believing what he wanted to believe regardless of what was going on, under Reagan conservatives became even more rhetorically committed to balanced budgets and deficit obsession.

Which leaves both parties rhetorically, at least, committed to hating deficits and debt. And the norm for journalists is that if both parties support something, then it's okay to treat it as an unquestioned and unquestionable good thing.

Of course, there are plenty of liberals who don't always support balanced budgets, and a handful of conservatives who are honest about the effects of their policies. But on both sides, the bulk of the official messaging assumes that deficit reduction is always a good thing.

On the other hand, it's possible that reporter love of deficit reduction precedes the partisan (rhetorical) consensus on deficit reduction, in which case it's possible that one reason the parties adopted that stance is because they believed it would play better in the press. (I suppose I should note here, too, FDR's 1932 anti-deficit campaign rhetoric). So perhaps a more careful examination of this is in order.

At any rate: nice catch!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Michael Dorn, 61.

Good stuff:

1. Interesting point (and interesting data) about democracy and constitutions, from Xavier Marquez.

2. As regulars know, I'm quick to think the worst of Newt Gingrich, so I have to pay attention when Ta-Nehisi Coates approves of something he does.

3. Joshua Tucker reminds us to be cautious of "great man" theories.

4. While Stephen Benedict Tyson reminds us that sometimes, individual characteristics and choices matter. Both are right!

5. Want ACA stats? Kaiser has them.

6. Is there really going to be a permanent doc fix? Sarah Kliff reports.

7. And a great quote on parties from the 19th century, via Seth Masket.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

What lessons from the Barack Obama presidency -- positive or negative -- are you keeping in mind when choosing a presidential candidate for 2016?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

What lessons from the George W. Bush presidency -- positive or negative -- are you taking with you when it comes to selecting a presidential candidate for 2016?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

I'm really not sure this week. There's the apparently promising budget talks, but what's really going to matter is whether the radicals can once again intimidate mainstream conservatives; I don't think we know that yet. There's the presidents speech on the economy and inequality...that's certainly not apt to have any direct immediate effects, but it surely might signal the future direction of the Democrats. Even on health care, it's not really clear how and whether successful and unsuccessful fixes on will matter.

So I'm just going to leave it all to you. What do you think? What else do you have? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday Baseball Post

I know there's a lot going on in baseball, but just Giants today, folks.

I was okay with Lincecum. I was happy with Hudson. But I'm really not happy at all with bringing Ryan Vogelsong back.

To begin with: he was awful in 2013. He was just fine in 2012, and quite good in 2011. So we're talking about a pitcher who will be 36 next year and, really, has very little chance of being better than league average.

Granted: a low-priced league-average starting pitcher isn't a bad idea.

Take a team with four solid starters and a hole, and adding a cheap starter -- even one with a low ceiling -- makes a lot of sense.

But the Giants aren't that team. They're counting on a bounce-back season for Cain (seems likely), a bounce-back season from Hudson (somewhat less likely, but he needs less of a bounce-back), and a bounce-back season for Lincecum (really not all that likely).And that's just to get all of them to league-average.

To put it another way: the biggest problem with the Giants last year wasn't that they forgot to have a real left fielder; it was the starting pitching. And Sabean's plan is pretty much to hope that it was just an off year for everyone. Or two years, in some cases.

Or, to put it yet another way...Bumgarner and Cain could be quite good, but the other three spots now all have basically a league-average ceiling. Oh, you can make a case for Hudson to do better than that. But it's hard to see. And what's really easy for me to imagine is Vogelson puttering along, doing just well enough that he stays in the rotation despite actually hurting the team.

I don't know...Vogelsong was a great fairy tale. A terrific story. But hoping that it repeats itself? It's really pushing things.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Ignore Those Polls!

The "Millenials" poll out earlier this week showing (among other things) younger people unenthusiastic about the ACA has sparked a fair amount of discussion, but there's one particular point I haven't seen made. I'm highly suspicious of the reported finding that only a third of the uninsured from ages 18 through 29 intend to enroll through the exchanges.

There are just too many things out there for me to believe that there's any kind of predictable relationship between what they tell a pollster and what they'll actually do.

Let's see...first of all, I'm pretty skeptical about asking the younger part of this cohort about personal intentions with regard to health insurance at all. Perhaps I find it hard to put myself in their shoes, since I was a full-time college student at that age and from a middle class family; I didn't have to think about health insurance at all until after graduation. At any rate, for those at ages 18 through 25, the survey asked what they would do "after you are no longer eligible to stay on your parents plan." As far as I can tell from the survey, that was used for everyone in that age range, regardless of whether they had insurance on a parent plan now.  If that's case, then I'd suggest it's totally meaningless what a 18 year old tells a pollster she expects to do about obtaining health insurance over five years into the future.

And then there's the question of what they're signing up for. The poll used a split sample to ask about both "Affordable Care Act" and "Obamacare," which is great. But there's no mention of in either case; instead, it refers to only "government-run exchanges." I'm really not confident that most young people know what that means -- or that they would need to in order to sign up. Then there's the issue of the state-run exchanges; people in Kentucky or California may believe that they're not signing up for "Obamacare" at all. It's also true, although again there's no way to know how it affects polling responses, that a fair number of uninsured young people will be eligible for expanded Medicaid. Would they say they are planning on using "government-run exchanges" or not? That's not even figuring out what to think about those who would be eligible for Medicaid but have the bad luck to be in Texas or some other state that didn't participate.

One more thing: even for those who are eligible for the exchanges now and understand what they are, it's still not clear how well what they tell pollsters of their intentions will match what they eventually do. Some may say they intend to sign up but then never get around to it, or start shopping and then decide it's a bad deal for them. Others may not intend to and then find out that subsidies make it a good deal.

My guess is that for most young people, at some point they'll confront the question of "how do I get health insurance?" for the first time -- in many cases, because a parent is nagging them about it -- and unless they have employment-linked coverage, the answer is going to be to go to or their state exchange. And, yeah, it won't really feel like signing up for Obamacare; it's just going to be how you get (private) health insurance.

Which, I should add, is not a prediction about how many will sign up and at what age, and how that will affect the overall pool (and thus the degree to which the ACA exchanges work or don't work).

At any rate, I don't think the poll tells us anything about what young people are going to do when they get to that point of seeking insurance. General point: be very suspicious any time people answer polling question about intentions they might not have had until they were asked. Ignore those polls!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to David Lovering, 52. I'm more of a Kim Deal fan than I am a Pixies fan, I suppose. Still, good band. Good drummer.

Right to the good stuff:

Henry Farrell on Iran sanctions and negotiations.

Steve Kornacki goes back to 1992 to talk Cuomo/Clinton -- a five part series.

And a fine rant from Alyssa Rosenberg.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Elsewhere: Zombie Rubio, Budget Showdown, more

My TAP column this week was a caution flag to the press to stop burying presidential candidates too soon; my editor over there took a fairly dry piece and added zombies to the headline...and an awesome URL.

Today at PP I reminded everyone, again, that the bottom line in government funding negotiations is that eventually there will be a deal. I've made this point repeatedly, but I have a new formulation of it today: the choice isn't deal or shutdown; it's deal or shutdown and deal.

Let's see...earlier, I said that if there's a White House problem that needs to be fixed by personnel changes, it's a substance problem, not a spin problem.

More on the invisible primary, and one of my favorite topics, which is figuring out who is a candidate and who is not, this time pegged to Elizabeth Warren: my suggestion is to watch what they do, not what they say.

And I know I already linked to this one, but why not repeat it: the case for health care re-emerging as a normal political issue.

Going Nuclear Was About Republicans, Not Democrats

I'll join those who are impressed that Chris Cillizza went back to assess why he was wrong when he asserted during the summer that the Senate would never go nuclear. Acknowledging past errors is absolutely admirable.*

So I hope I'm not being too crass by saying that, alas, Cillizza still doesn't really get it right. The problem is that he sets it all up as a story about the Democrats and about Harry Reid in particular. Back in July, he argued that Senate Majority Leaders by their nature were always going to seek to preserve, not blow up, the institution; now, he thinks that the key thing he missed then were all the new Democratic Senators who never served in the minority and therefore were less committed to preserving Senate traditional protections.

I don't think he gets Reid wrong (although he might have put more weight on the side of Reid that's all about being a tough partisan fighter), and he's right that there was a clear pattern of more senior Democrats being the most reluctant to pull the trigger.

I should get to the point: what Cillizza gets wrong, both in July and now, is that the key players here weren't Reid and the Democrats; this was all about the Republicans. As I've said many times, there's always going to be a tension between what's best for Senators as individual Senators, and what's best for them as party members. The more the minority obstructs, the more that party incentive kicks in. As obstruction ratcheted up in the 1990s, 2000s, and then the Obama era, it's not clear exactly where the line is where the party incentive clearly takes over, but it's certain that "nullification" obstruction was solidly over that line.

It took a while for nullification obstruction of executive branch positions produced an ultimatum and a showdown, but that's what this summer's confrontation was about. Since Republicans backed down, Democrats didn't have to follow through. When Republicans then extended nullification obstruction to judges, Democrats predictably reacted with a new ultimatum, and had little choice but to follow through when Republicans this time did not retreat.

Indeed: what happened during the original nuclear confrontation, over appellate judges during the George W. Bush presidency, is that Democrats mostly backed down. In other words, one could argue that in that case, too, the key was the minority party -- first in ratcheting up obstruction, and then in backing down when it resulted in a nuclear threat.

Sure, the majority isn't totally passive, and isn't purely just reacting. It's certainly possible that a more senior group of Democratic Senators might have been more patient at the end. But any analysis that doesn't mainly focus on the unprecedented obstruction of the Obama era is really just missing the biggest part of the story.

*And, again very much to his credit, it's something he does all the time. I thought that I had written something about Cillizza's claim back in July and went hunting for all the things I've written about him here, and while I found a lot of pretty harsh crankiness (he seems to have been one of the first inspirations for Cranky Blogging), I also found several times he was featured in "Read Stuff" for good pieces -- and, in particular, good pieces in which he looked at criticism of things he had written and decided the critics had a point. So being open about his mistakes is nothing new for Cillizza. It's an absolutely great but fairly rare quality for any pundit or reporter, or for that matter anyone, I suppose.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Jessica Pare, 31.

And very quickly, some good stuff:

1. Barack Obama's speech on the economy -- which Ezra Klein calls his best on that subject.

2. Jamelle Bouie on the president's speech.

3. John Sides has a preliminary forecast for 2014 House elections.

4. Adrianna McIntyre on Medicaid.

5. And Brendan Nyhan on polarization.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Still Hoping to Save the Filibuster

Yes, this is most certainly futile: Republicans aren't going to do it, and most people who care don't want it to happen anyway. But I'd like to see the filibuster saved and I think it's not only possible but actually in the interest of all Senators, so I'll push on with it.

Basically, as I argued a while ago, I think that the filibuster (and the good things about the Senate) has a better chance of surviving long-term if the current post-nuclear situation is replaced by a negotiated settlement on nominations. The key is to get both sides to agree to something which would be better for the minority party than the post-nuclear status quo, but better for the majority party than where things were before Harry Reid acted.

In particular, I think simple majority cloture on judges is suboptimal. As long as we're talking lifetime appointments, I have no real problem with imposing some sort of supermajority requirement. When I've written about this in the past, I've always said that I had no particular attachment to 60, but I've never really had any particular notion of why any particular number should be set as the standard. So, futile as it is, I'm going to return to it with a new argument: the number required for cloture should be pegged to the size of the Senate majority party.

Or, actually, because as long as they're (hypothetically) revisiting the rule, they should set it to the size of the Senate minority.

The most obvious option for the number needed to sustain a filibuster would be equal to the size of the minority party. So, with 45 Republicans right now, continuing a filibuster would require 45 "yea" votes. What does that do? It means that if the opposition party is unified in rejecting a judicial nominee, then Senators from the president's party may have a tough vote. If the nominee is relatively popular, no problem. If not, then, well, that's as good a sign as any that the nominee is in some way unfit or out of the mainstream.

After all, normally we could assume that any party which wins the White House and also wins the Senate -- the conditions under which any of this matters -- will be able to produce judicial nominees who are at least avoid being dramatically unpopular. In fact, all else equal, there's no reason to expect that they'll be unpopular at all. But given the loose connection between opinion on public policy and elections, it's certainly possible, especially if the president actively attempts to fill the bench with ideologues.

Some other variations: one could set it at minority plus two. With a 45 member Republican conference, they would need 47 votes to sustain a filibuster. That makes cloture quite a bit easier; only a truly unpopular nominee would likely lose. Or set it at minority minus two. That way, the majority would have to win at least two minority party votes for cloture (assuming everyone was present and the majority party was united). As we've seen, however, that option may be good for the minority party as a whole, but can force tough choices for Senators who don't want to obstruct but also don't want to be seen as squishes.

In other words, in some ways keeping the number exactly equal to the size of the minority party takes the pressure off them, and puts the pressure on marginal Senators from the majority party. In exchange, of course, at least as opposed to 60, the majority party would normally be able to confirm.

Whatever the exact number, presumably it would be capped at 60 (so a 65 Senators majority party would be able to easily get cloture). I suppose it would have to be drafted carefully to prevent gaming the system (the minority party couldn't change the number by having a half-dozen Senators declare themselves Independents); that seems doable.

Yes, some majorities would find it a lot easier to stick together than others. If the president's party has a couple of Senators who normally vote with the out-party on judicial issues, it's going to be harder to get cloture. But that was true under the old rules, too. Remember, it's been rare even in the last two Congresses for Republicans to unanimously oppose cloture on judicial nominees; that may change some with only a simple majority needed for cloture and could change under any set of rules, but if things break down the majority still could threatened a new round of majority-imposed reform.

Again: I don't expect to see this happen, mainly because I don't think Republicans are willing to compromise; I think they would rather get rolled than cut a deal. Democrats might not take it either. But I still think it's a deal that works for both sides, and for the Senate., Amazon, and Health Care as Normal Politics

I made the point yesterday that what we're starting to see is the re-emergence of health care as a normal political issue, along with the end fight over passing and then repealing the ACA.

I think that's the right lens through which to understand the conversation about the remaining visible problems at as discussed by Jonathan Cohn and others. Philip Klein, criticizing the improved web site, noted that it still compares unfavorably to typical commercial sites; Cohn considers the evidence.

Here's the thing, though. None of this has anything at all to do with the "success" or "failure" of the ACA. Yes, if Amazon was down every night for scheduled repairs and then occasionally the rest of the time, Amazon wouldn't last long. But, as I said the other day, not a single state motor vehicle registration or driver's licence program has every failed because local DMVs are typically a mess.*

Which doesn't mean it won't matter, going forward, whether is well-run or not. It's just that it will be a normal political issue. No different from whether the VA is well-run, or whether Pentagon procurement wastes a ton of money or not.

I'm confident that's true of front-end problems. I think it's probably true of back-end problems, at least within reason. Yes, it's going to be a big deal for the individual people involved if a small percentage of customers have miscalculated subsidies, or if the insurance company they thought they signed up for doesn't ever hear about it. It's the kind of mismanagement scandal that can and should create big headaches for an administration. But it's not the kind of thing that causes a government program to "fail" or to be repealed.

I suppose there might be some level at which things are so bad that customers really don't show up, or at least that effects are more than at the margins. But fundamentally, people want health insurance, and (and the state exchanges) are where people are going to go if they're on the individual market. Whether it's relatively easy or relatively difficult.**

Again: I'm not saying that mismanagement at is a non-issue. It's absolutely an issue, and a big story. It's just almost certainly a normal politics story about how well (or badly) government is working. It may even be a part of the story of the next generation of government health care reform. It's just not part of a battle over the survival or repeal of the ACA, because that battle ended a while ago.

*Is this no longer true, by the way? And is the reputation no longer true, regardless of the facts? My last experience in Texas -- in a newly opened office -- was just fine, and a few years ago I had an excellent customer experience in Indiana.

**Old guy moment: I was going to say: just as people shop at malls even if they hate malls, because that's where the stores are. Dated! And, yeah, maybe the miserable experience many people believed that circa-1980s shopping malls gave them had a lot to do with the demise of malls. But not before an awful lot of stuff was purchased.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Jerome Williams, 32. I was a big fan, and I'm really glad he got to have a career. Belongs on some sort of team with Solomon Torres, Ryan Vogelsong, and I suppose Jason Grilli.

Good stuff:

1. More on ACA, Obama, and the presidency from Scott Lemieux. By the way: I'm open to arguments that Obama (and Waxman, and Pelosi, and Dodd, and Harkin) could have done marginally better overall, if "better" is defined as getting more of what they were fighting for. My overall assessment, however, is that there was a lot more downside than there was upside; the whole thing could definitely collapsed, but better presidenting would have made very small differences. As for the question of how much agency Obama had...yes, he certainly could have pulled the plug at a few key points. But I strongly suspect that the incentives were overwhelmingly in the direction he wound up in, and that pretty much any plausible Democratic president would have gone down (and stayed on) the same path.

2. Kevin Drum is probably right about White House responsibility for the October fiasco. I do think successful GOP obstruction is an underrated factor, though.

3. "Pervasive sexual harassment and violence against female reporters, editors, and writers is rarely aired publicly, but it is an open secret in the field." Amanda Hess discusses.

4. And Josh Huder on the Embarrassing 113th.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

In Defense of Partisan Hack Pundits

Jonathan Chait argued something yesterday that I think is wrong:
[L]et me reveal a couple professional secrets here. Intellectual consistency is a basic value for political commentators. You want to be sure your strongly held views are the product of an actual philosophy, because the temptation to see events through the prism of partisan bias is strong.
He says this to put the hurt on Charles Krauthammer's flip on the filibuster and the nuclear option between the Bush-era Senate showdown and the recent Obama-era version.

Intellectual consistency is a basic value, perhaps, for some political commentators. But I'm not sure it's necessary for all political commentators.

Put it this way. I might read Chait because I care what Jonathan Chait thinks about things. In fact, I do; he's a smart guy, and a fun writer.

But one also might seek out political commentators in order to hear the best, good-faith arguments for and against something that's in the news. For that, I want someone who reliably supports one side of the partisan divide (or perhaps one ideological strain). I still don't want phony arguments; that's why I didn't title this "In Defense of Krauthammer," because I generally don't think he supplies strong, honest arguments. There's still a requirement for serious intellectual integrity, even for partisan arguments.

I think Chait is talking about something like a "public intellectual" model, and what I'd say is that there's also room for a lawyer model. For a lawyer-model pundit, it doesn't matter so much if she said the exact opposite thing five years ago, but it still matters a lot if she gets her facts right and makes well-reasoned, well-informed, arguments.

I guess the question is whether there's really any need for lawyer-style commentators, given that it's the professional responsibility of many politicians to essentially do that. I'd say: sure. Commentators, as opposed to politicians or their staff, are relatively free to make the argument properly, without having to worry about the political fallout from the various speed traps and potholes that politicians have to shy away from -- or from winning daily spin wars.

Granted, it's unlikely that anyone is going to identify himself as a lawyer-style commentator. And yes, one tip-off that Krauthammer isn't worth bothering with is his extreme certainty that he's correct, even as (as Chait notes) he flips from one side to another of an issue based on partisan tides. But overall, there's probably a lot more room for good lawyer-style pundits than Chait thinks.

Catch of the Day

To Scott Lemieux for (once again) shooting down liberal fantasies that the only thing preventing Congress from passing single-payer health care insurance in 2009-2010 was a failure of will from the president.

It's an excellent job, and sadly necessary, over and over again.

One key point that Lemieux doesn't mention this time: in one sense, this really isn't about 2009 at all. It's about 2007 and 2008, when the three leading Democratic presidential candidates converged on essentially the same plan (with Obama famously omitting the individual mandate). That says a lot. It says that none of those three candidates believed that adopting single-payer would have given them a serious edge in a closely contested nomination fight -- and that no other candidate was able to leap to the top tier by embracing single-payer. In other words, it tells us that in the world of 2007-2008, at least, the ACA was mainstream within the actual Democratic Party as it was, and single-payer was a fringe position in the actual Democratic Party as it was. Maybe lots and lots of Democrats preferred single-payer in some sense, but virtually none of them, either elites or electorates, did anything about it. And that's what counts.

What this also means is that ACA vs. single-payer had virtually nothing to do with Barack Obama himself. And so Obama-centric explanations for it are clearly, 100%, wrong.

I'd further argue, although here it's not quite as clear, that there was very little about the way that Obama fought for the ACA that had much to do with Obama himself. Yes, a Hillary Clinton WH would have looked a little different from the Obama WH...but not all that very different. Yes, presidents themselves do make key decisions, and not their staff or their party. But not only are they often severely constrained by their party (and by Congress, and by lots of other things), but they're also highly influenced by the incentives of the job, and those are the same whether we're talking Obama, Clinton, or George W. Bush.

In short, there's an excellent chance that both the good and bad outcomes on health care reform would have wound up more or less the same whether the winner of the 2008 Democratic nomination was Obama, or Hillary, or a hypothetically unscandaled John Edwards, or for that matter John Kerry or Al Gore.

Meanwhile: nice catch!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Damon Berryhill, 50. I mentioned Jamie Moyer recently. Moyer is a big deal for my larger cohort; Berryhill was a big deal, for roughly the same reasons, for me personally. Hey, you could do worse. I mean, if you have to pick a player who you want to have a long, long, long, career, you could do worse than a professional backup catcher who switch-hits. Alas, despite a very respectable 1997 season, he didn't get another shot.

Good stuff:

1. Annie Lowry on ACA costs continuing to be less than anticipated, both for consumers and for the government.

2. Dan Drezner on "The Hard Limits of Economic Power."

3. More on parties and politicians in Colorado politics, from (natch) Seth Masket. Two questions about this story. One: what rewards, if any, did Colorado's Democratic governor (or even Barack Obama) have to offer? And: what kind of campaign and governing staffs do Colorado state legislators have -- and where were their loyalties and career interests in this story?

4. And: "I get questions from virtually all over the country regarding GPO style..." Great short profile of GPO's Mike Abramson, by Roll Call's Hannah Hess.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Myths, Myths, Myths

I did an item today about today's calls for Obama to start firing people willy-nilly that was probably not nearly harsh enough. But the one thing I left out that I really want to get to is yet another myth about a previous president.

No, not the one about second-term presidents never recovering if their approval sinks; I saw that again today, but I've already handled that one.

It's this one (my emphasis):
“I don’t know where the breakdown occurred on that, but it’s Obama’s ‘no new taxes’ moment,” the official said, referring to the broken promise that is widely seen as having cost President George H.W. Bush a second term.
Hogwash! What cost George H.W. Bush a second term was a poorly timed recession. That's all.

Bush breaking his tax pledge was a story in June through October 1990. Look at his approval ratings: it's hard to make much of it. In particular, this all happened before the Gulf War, which relegated it to ancient history. One can argue that it hurt Bush in the long run by destroying trust in him, but that certainly didn't seem to have any effect at all in spring 1991. Only when the economy turned south did his approval ratings follow.

I suspect that for the neutral press, this is a close relative of the equally untrue myth that Ross Perot cost Bush the election. Why? Because after three consecutive solid Republican victories, by 1992 most Republicans believed the myth of a GOP "electoral lock" and therefore were open to bogus explanations of something which actually didn't need much explanation at all beyond the obvious one that incumbent presidents usually lose re-election if there's a recession in the second half of their term. What distinguishes this one, I'm sure, is that a faction of the Republican Party is intensely interested in convincing everyone that higher taxes ruined Bush's presidency, while pretty much no one else cares.

At any rate, at best breaking the pledge was a very minor factor in the 1992 election, and most likely it had no effect at all. Moreover, to the extent that it hurt at all, it may well have been because of how central, high-profile, and specific the pledge was in Bush's 1988 campaign. I'd guess it's easily in the top 1% of all campaign pledges ever if all those factors are combined, and pretty high up there as far as how high-profile and absolute the breaking of it was. Really, however, it likely made no difference at all in 1992.

Hey, Pollsters!

Three topics I'd love to know more about:

1. How many people know that is Obamacare? Especially the people who actually use it. Also, the associated questions: how many know that it's the Affordable Care Act, and how many know that there's more to the ACA than the exchanges? I'm assuming that the number of people who associate with Obamacare is higher than it would have been if it had worked smoothly from the start...I'd expect the number to be relatively high now, and start to shrink as time goes on. But either way, I'd love to know about it.

2. How many people know that the US is still involved in a shooting war in Afghanistan? How many know that the US is no longer involved in a shooting war in Iraq? I saw another reference today somewhere to "two wars"...I suppose that might have meant Afghanistan and the general "war on terror," or it could have been just a error while writing quickly, or that there was an implicit "over the last decade" that I didn't read properly, but really I have no idea. I'm fairly certain that some people think the US is still occupying Iraq, and that some people don't know there are still US troops (and US casualties) in Afghanistan, but whether it's a tiny fraction or something more substantial? I have no idea.

3. An old standby: What do people mean when they talk about the "deficit"? Or, to put it another way: what do people hear when pollsters ask them about the deficit?

Generally: I find myself curious about political knowledge (in the electorate, but sometimes among elites) at least as often as I am curious about political opinions. That might just be because there's plenty of available information about opinions and much less about knowledge; I can't tell.

This worked once! So: Hey, pollsters: I bet I'm not the only one curious about these things.

Repeal is Still Dead

A few bullet points on health care reform at the start of December...

*The brutal truth of "repeal" is that whatever the politics, every day a flat-out repeal of the ACA becomes more and more nonsensical. The status quo ante no longer exists; changing the law back to how it was in 2009 wouldn't bring back the health care situation that existed then.

*Hey, health care wonks! I've been using this line about how repeal no longer makes policy sense for some time now, but while I'm confident that's correct, I'm certainly not enough of a health care wonk to write up all the details that make a return (via repeal) to 2009 just plain gibberish -- what I called the Humpty-Dumptyness of the situation. Someone want to take a crack at it?

*It's also true, as Brian Beutler says today (and Kevin Drum said last week) that in simple political terms flat-out repeal is less and less plausible every day, with more and more people having insurance through the exchanges.

*All of which is to say that the US health care system has now been (almost) fully Obamacare-ized, and future changes will build on the ACA. That might even had been true after a GOP landslide in 2012, but it's certainly true now.

*Which in turn means that radicals who insist that Republicans who deviate at all from the hard-line repeal message are asking those Republicans to (continue to) absent themselves from the real debate over what's next.

*Of course, that would be less true if there really was a Republican alternative to the ACA -- if "repeal and replace" had ever become a true alternative. But even so, any alternative to Obamacare will, at this point, have to build on Obamacare.

*It also means that all-or-nothing assessments of the ACA (or of are not only inaccurate, but particularly unhelpful because nothing is really at stake in whether the law "succeeds" or "fails." What matters is what current, Obamacare-ized health care does well, does not so well, and does badly, and what new laws/regulations/practices can help where improvements are needed.

(Yes, I did try to come up with an appropriate Humpty Dance title for this one, but alas I couldn't make it work. Partially because I don't mean to imply that post-ACA health care is broken; what I mean, as I hope is clear, is that the status quo ante can't be put back together again. But mostly because I couldn't find the right quote...I could, however, have opened with "Stop whatcha doin' 'cause I'm about to ruin the image and the style that ya used to.")

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Lucy Liu, 45. The hardest thing about getting Holmes right has to be the precise gradation of just how smart he is. Too smart and there's no drama (or else you need to keep coming up with cheats, and what's the point of that?). Not smart enough, and why are we watching? I think Sherlock set it a bit too high, and Elementary just a tad too low. Two first-rate Watsons, though, although I'm a die-hard Nigel Bruce fan.

Hey, it's Monday, isn't it? How about some good stuff:

1. Scott Porch with suggestions about how campaign coverage could improve if the media took findings from political science seriously.

2. John Sides is correct that analysis of nomination politics should distinguish between elite and mass opinion. The important thing to note is that at this point (and throughout the invisible primary, at least), it's elite opinion that matters. If a politician is popular among the rank-and-file of some group but unpopular among opinion leaders for that group, the odds are strong that by Iowa, he or she will be unpopular among that group's voters.

3. Good Paul Kane overview of what the pathetic 113th has on its to-do list for December -- and exactly how pathetic this session of Congress has been.

4. Sarah Kliff on "vast majority" day.

5. And Philip Klein with a critique. Overall, I think his criticisms of the consumer experience are not unreasonable, but probably mostly irrelevant; most state DMVs had terrible service, but very few people decided to pass on getting a license because of it. On the other hand, the back-end problems...that's the critical question, and I agree with him (and Kliff) that we just have very little idea of what's going on -- and there's a scary possibility that no one will know what's going on until more people get through the system (which should happen in the next few weeks).

6. And it's 2014 filing deadline time in Illinois.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

Same one that I used for conservatives. What are you hoping for on Afghanistan? Is the agreement to keep the US there (in a non-combat role) after 2014 a good idea? Bad idea?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

What are you hoping for on Afghanistan? Is the agreement to keep the US there (in a non-combat role) after 2014 a good idea? Bad idea?

My Glitch is Fixed!

I tweeted about this last night, but why not make a post out of it: I've been stuck at the same place at since mid or late October, and now they've fixed my glitch! I tried last night for the first time in a week, and suddenly the program didn't hang at the spot it's been hanging. Exciting!

For what it's worth: the problem was in the initial family information, towards the end. It asked about whether my eldest was a full-time student (she is), and then whether she had a parent in the same state in which she attends school (she doesn't), and then it couldn't save and continue after I answered it. Now? It can. I was able to complete the family information. Next step is income, and I wasn't prepared for it last night, so I bailed; I'll try to continue sometime soon.

Realistic interpretation: It's silly to try to extrapolate from one customer's experience to anything at all about the system. The odds that I'll finish the process and actually have exchange-purchased health insurance are definitely much higher now, but what that says about anything else is probably a stretch.

Pessimistic interpretation: this is one small glitch which probably applied to a handful of people, and isn't really related to the big-deal back-end problems (correctly calculating subsidies, communicating accurately with health insurance companies) which could cause massive and serious problems.

Optimistic interpretation: if they got around to fixing my glitch, which probably applies to a tiny handful of people, then there's a good chance they're doing an even better job of dealing with the big-deal back-end problems which could cause massive and serious problems.

The correct one is...the realistic interpretation, of course. There's really no way to know what it means that one customer was able to get through one glitch.

Now, they're definitely improving it: logging in has been easy for weeks now after being on-and-off for a while, for example. On the other hand, they claim that response time is better; maybe it is, but the "save and continue" function is still very slow (and the system is designed to force a "save and continue" frequently, so putting in all family information for a four-person family takes quite some time). And I've only just now completed the first step, so I have no idea how the next parts will go.

Still, my glitch is fixed!
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