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“A House Divided”: Its Pretty Hard To Actually Govern In A System Designed To Require Compromise

The plan was to force President Obama to either sign a bill repealing his executive actions on immigration or veto it and shut down the Department of Homeland Security. But things didn’t work out that way.

Senator McConnell couldn’t get the 6/7 Democratic votes he needed to pass a bill that paired funding for DHS to repealing the President’s immigration actions and Speaker Boehner was unwilling to pass a stand-alone funding bill with primarily Democratic votes. So we got a one week reprieve before we do this all over again.

The good news is that we found out that neither Republican leader is willing to follow through with their threats to blow up hostages in order to force Democrats to give them what they want. So at some point, they’ll pass a bill that funds DHS.

Here’s the bad news:

After the Republicans gained control of the Senate and increased their margins in the House in the November elections, both Mr. Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, promised to reverse Congress’s pattern of hurtling from crisis to crisis, even over matters like appropriations that were once relatively routine.

But in their first big test, the Republican leaders often seemed to be working from different playbooks, at times verging on hostility, with each saying it was time for the other chamber to act.

The funding stalemate bodes poorly for any larger policy accomplishments this year, leaving lawmakers pessimistic that the 114th Congress will be able to work in a bipartisan fashion on more complicated issues.

The Office of Management and Budget has said that a vote to increase the nation’s debt limit will be necessary by mid- to late summer, and lawmakers were also hoping to take up trade policy, as well as at least a modest overhaul of the nation’s tax code — undertakings that now look increasingly imperiled.

When you’ve spent the last six years convincing your base that your opponent is a tyrant who is out to destroy the country and that his party’s agenda is the tool by which he will do that, its pretty hard to actually govern in a system that is designed to require compromise.

I wouldn’t say that any of that is a big surprise to those of us who have been paying attention. But what is surprising – and will be worth paying attention to over the next few months – is the apparent hostility between McConnell and Boehner. I don’t think anyone saw that coming. But it does suggest that there is more than one fault line in this divided house.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 28, 2015

March 1, 2015 Posted by | Congress, John Boehner, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Deluded And Dysfunctional, The Republicans Have Lost The Plot”: They’ve Run Out Of People To Blame For Not Compromising

Recently, in an effort to embarrass Republicans pandering to their scientifically challenged base, Senate Democrats proposed a series of votes on climate change. While most Americans and the overwhelming majority of scientists believe climate change is real and people are the primary cause of it, Republican voters are evenly divided on whether it exists at all, and reject the idea that we are responsible.

One amendment, by the Democratic senator Brian Schatz, stated simply that climate change is real and human activity significantly contributes to it. Republican senator John Hoeven offered a compromise: take the word “significantly” out. When asked why, he said: “It was about finding that balance that would bring bipartisan support to the bill.”

Reaching across the aisle in search of compromise and consensus is the professed goal of almost every candidate for public office in the US, particularly in recent times, when presidents have come to personify not unity but division. Over the past six decades, the 10 most polarising years in terms of presidential approval have been under either George W Bush or Barack Obama.

As a means, bipartisanship is, of course, an admirable goal: the more politicians are able to work together, put the interests of their constituents first and get things done, the better. The grandstanding, bickering and procedural one-upmanship that characterises so much of what passes for politics is one of the things that makes electorates cynical and drives down voter turnout.

But as an end in itself, bipartisanship is at best shallow and at worst corrosive. For it entirely depends what parties are joining together to do. This is particularly true in America, where constituencies are openly gerrymandered, both parties are funded by big money, and legislation is often written by corporate lobbyists.

Bipartisan efforts over the past couple of decades have produced the Iraq war, the deregulation of the financial industry, the bank bailout made necessary by that deregulation, the slashing of welfare to the poor, and an exponential increase in incarceration. As the hapless Steve Martin says to his hopeless travel companion, John Candy, in Planes, Trains and Automobiles: “You know, I was thinking, when we put our heads together … we’ve really gotten nowhere.”

Comity in the polity is overrated and should certainly not be mistaken for what is right or even popular. And even if it wasn’t overrated, bipartisanship is not always possible. Half of Republicans still believe the US did find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, over half believe climate change is a hoax, and almost half do not believe in evolution. There is a limit to how much agreement you can reach with people with whom you disagree on fundamental matters of fact, let alone principle.

But if the parties cannot work together, they are at least supposed to work separately. What has become evident since Republican victories in November’s midterm elections, which delivered them both houses of Congress, is that they don’t just have a problem compromising with Democrats – they cannot even compromise with each other. For the past four years they have revelled in their dysfunctionality, using Obama as a foil. Apparently unaware that brinkmanship is supposed to take you to the edge, not over it, they have shut down the government and almost forced the nation to default on its debts through a series a spectacular temper tantrums.

As the Republican congressman Marlin Stutzman pointed out in a particularly candid moment 18 months ago, when Republican obduracy caused a government shutdown, “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

These hissy fits have invariably been aimed at forcing Obama to undo the very things he pledged to do if elected, and to which Republicans have no plausible, coherent response: during his first term that was Obamacare; now it is immigration reform. Opposition, in short, had become not a temporary electoral state but a permanent ideological mindset in which their role was not to produce workable ideas but to resist them.

When they won the Senate as well as the House, they were supposed to work together to produce Republican legislation that Obama would be forced to veto, definitively exposing the real source of the gridlock. In fact, they are simply imploding under the weight of their own obstinacy. They’ve run out of people to blame for not compromising with them. So now they’re blaming each other.

“The Republicans are like Fido when he finally catches the car,” the Democratic senator Charles Schumer told the New York Times. “Now they don’t have any clue about what to do. They are realising that being in the majority is both less fun and more difficult than they thought.”

Their current internal feud was prompted by Obama’s executive order for modest immigration reform, which was enacted last November. It aims to prevent the deportation of up to 5 million undocumented immigrants living in the US, provide many with work permits, and shift the focus of immigration control to deportations of convicted criminals and recent arrivals.

The Republican-controlled House, where funding bills must originate and legislation can be passed by a simple majority, has voted for a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) bill that would eviscerate Obama’s reforms. But to get the bill through the 100-seat Senate they need 60 votes. Senate Republicans have only 54 seats and Democrats, who are unanimously opposed to the bill, keep filibustering it.

In a functional party the Republican Speaker, John Boehner, would work out what changes he could make to the bill to give the Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, a fighting chance of getting the requisite majority to pass legislation they could both take credit for. Instead, Boehner has offered McConnell not compromise but commiserations. “He’s got a tough job over there; I’ve got a tough job over here. God bless him, and good luck.”

The House has sent the same bill to the Senate twice. The Senate has failed to pass it several times. In effect, they’ve treated the Republican-controlled Senate no differently to how they treated its Democratic predecessor, with similar results. Reflexively, House Republicans have their bottom lip extended and at the ready. “We sent them a bill,” representative Michael Burgess told Politico, “and they need to pass it. They need to pass our bill.” A tantrum is not far off. “Politically, [McConnell] needs to make a lot of noise,” says representative John Carter.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, roll their eyes, count to 10 and wait patiently for the noise to give way to reason. “We can go through the motions, sure, but I don’t think we’re fooling anybody,” said Republican senator Jeff Flake about the prospect of another doomed vote. “Because we need [Democratic] support to get on the bill.”

If they don’t find a solution by 27 February, then the DHS will be shut down and Obama won’t have had a thing to do with it. The true source of the gridlock over the past six years will be clearer than ever. The emperor will be out there, twerking, in the buff.

“It’s not an issue of commitment, it’s a matter of math,” said the Republican senator John McCain – perhaps failing to realise that math, like science, is no competition for blind faith and bad politics.

 

By: Gary Younge, The Guardian, February 9, 2015

February 10, 2015 Posted by | Congress, House Republicans, Senate | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Senate As A Gangster’s Paradise”: Guess Who The Two Republican Senators Are With “Gang” Records As Long As Your Arm?

When I read articles like today’s piece in The Hill with the headline “Senate Republicans feud over whether to keep nuke option,” I feel a quick burst of the cynicism hormone. Aside from confusion over the term “nuclear option” (which means adoption of filibuster rules by a majority-vote rules resolution, not the rules themselves), we’re given the unlikely impression that GOPers are agonizing over showing themselves as hypocritically inclined to reverse the loudly expressed objections they made when Democrats provided for majority-vote approval of executive and non-SCOTUS judicial nominations:

While many expressed anger over last years’ move by the Democrats and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to unilaterally change the rules through a procedure known as the “nuclear option,” some say the new rules should be kept in case a Republican wins the White House in 2016.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said Republicans will take their time reaching a decision.

“A lot of our guys still feel very strongly about just the wrongness of what [Reid] did and the position it’s put everybody here in the Senate in,” Thune said.

“Now we’re having to go through a fairly lengthy process to figure out, in the majority, how we want to proceed.”

Yeah, well, or you’re trying to display an agonized uncertainty before you do the predictable thing of making life easy for a future Republican president, with the knowledge that during the next two years a Senate Republican majority makes filibustering Obama’s appointees unnecessary.

But this does give me slight pause:

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) both said keeping the new rules would be dangerous

Graham said that, while some Republicans are “salivating” over the possibility of being able to more easily confirm their picks under a Republican president, removing the filibuster destroys incentives “to go across the aisle and pick up a few votes.”

This is code for “removing the filibuster eliminates the need for bipartisan ‘gangs’ to navigate the confirmation process.” Guess who the two Republican senators are with “gang” records as long as your arm? Yep, it’s the Amigos.

Now if you are a believer in bipartisanship as an end in itself, that all sounds fine. But if you think maintaining the filibuster not only makes governing very hard but empowers deal-cutting oligarchs producing logrolling abominations, then maybe you are less happy with the Senate as a Gangster’s Paradise.

In any event, if Republicans are determined to keep the limited majority-vote rules in place, and particularly if they are interested in expanding them, they ought to be able to–ironically, given Graham’s rationalization for keeping the Good Old Rules–“go across the aisle and pick up a few votes” from progressive Democrats committed to eroding the filibuster by any means necessary.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 10, 2014

December 11, 2014 Posted by | Filibuster, Republicans, Senate | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Problem Of Political Precedents”: When Failure Is Rewarded, It Encourages More Failure

In a democracy, fear is supposed to be a powerful motivator for policymakers. There’s a constant realization that there’s always another election coming, and those who want to keep their jobs – and avoid voters’ wrath – will have to be responsible stewards of the public trust.

But what if these norms start to break down? What if the incentives baked into the cake prove to be faulty?

Kevin Drum made a comment last week that struck a chord, noting that Americans seemed inclined to blame Democrats, not Republicans, “for the rising dysfunction of the federal government.”

[This] is especially galling for Democrats, but it’s a win for Republicans and yet another sign of change in the way Washington is likely to work in the future. Republicans have discovered that a sufficiently united party can obstruct everything and anything but largely escape blame for the resulting gridlock.

This lesson has not been lost on Democrats, and it bodes ill for the future regardless of who wins our next few elections.

I think that’s correct and it’s a point that’s not repeated nearly enough.

In a democratic model, the last couple of years have been a mess of historic proportions. Republicans, consciously or not, decided to roll the dice – they would ignore the 2012 election results, refuse to govern, and kill measures regardless of their merit, popular support, or bipartisan appeal. They would shut down the government. They would eschew compromise. They would ignore calls to present policy solutions of their own. They would create the least productive Congress in modern American history.

And then they would wait for the American people to give them a reward.

Which voters delivered yesterday with a lovely bow on top.

When there is no accountability in a political system, there is no incentive for even well-intentioned policymakers to behave responsibly. It seems quite twisted: an unpopular party with unpopular ideas failed miserably at basic governance, and was rewarded handsomely for its efforts. The process isn’t supposed to work this way, and yet we now know it works exactly this way.

The resulting precedent is more than a little discouraging. When failure is rewarded, it encourages more failure. When obstruction is rewarded, it encourages more obstruction. When radicalism is rewarded, it encourages more radicalism. When a refusal to compromise is rewarded, it means politicians will be led to believe they, too, should refuse to work on bipartisan solutions.

It’s not a recipe for sound governance.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 7, 2014

November 7, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, Midterm Elections, Republicans | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Drop These Silly Notions Of False Equivalence”: The Democratic Party Is The Only Home For Centrists

This is a letter to political centrists.

For those of you alarmed that Rep. Eric Cantor was not conservative enough for Republicans in Virginia’s 7th congressional district, I encourage you to read Charles Wheelan’s The Centrist Manifesto. Wheelan, a professor of economics at Dartmouth College, puts to words what we can all sense: Partisan gridlock is becoming more than a nuisance in our lives. It is threatening our economy, our children’s educations, the welfare of the planet, and every other national priority.

Take a read through Wheelan’s “Manifesto.” It’s a short read, published last year after it became clear that President Obama’s re-election would not bring a new age of bipartisanship to Washington. Wheelan calls for the center to step outside of the two major parties and stand up for itself. In noting that the fastest growing bloc of voters is Independents, Wheelan argues that both the Democratic and Republican parties have driven out moderates by standing only for their political bases — and that the only resolution to this is an organized movement of Independents.

Take a read, because Wheelan is wrong.

Wheelan’s vision may have made sense in 2013, but much has changed in the past year. We are now well past the time for quixotic visions of bipartisanship driven by centrists on both sides of the divide. To read “Manifesto” is to recall a time when Americans could reasonably believe that in spite of bitter partisanship in Washington, Congress could transcend the ideological gap to act on immigration reform, universal background checks, and tax reform. To behave, in short, like statesmen.

If we have learned anything from Eric Cantor’s demise, it’s that the Republican Party is no place for pragmatic centrists. It’s not even a place for relentless partisans who may stray from Republican orthodoxy on an issue or two.

So it’s time to just say it out in the open: The resolution to Washington’s dysfunction is a migration of Independents into the Democratic Party, because there is only one side that seems at all interested in welcoming centrists.

We should first note one of the most fundamental rules of political science: Duverger’s Law. This is the observation, made famous by French sociologist Maurice Duverger, that in winner-take-all two-party systems, voters inevitably gravitate toward one of two major parties. This is because voters do not want to waste their vote on a candidate who will not win. Recall how quickly liberal voters snapped back into the Democratic fold after wasting votes on Ralph Nader in 2000; they know Duverger’s Law well.

Given Duverger’s Law, it would follow that any potential “Centrist Party” would run into institutional obstacles not easily surmounted by even the most popular movement. And even those preaching the gospel of bipartisanship, nonpartisanship, and centrism must accept the reality that the current Republican Party is plainly interested in none of that.

This goes for the 501(c)(4) groups like Mark Zuckerberg’s FWD.us. If you want Congress to move “FWD” on immigration reform, under what circumstance could you expect a GOP-led House to buck the Tea Party and pass a bill that commands broad bipartisan support?

This also goes for moderate voters, whom Wheelan notes comprised 41 percent of the electorate in 2012.

Wheelan correctly observes that any centrist party should not simply meet both sides halfway on each issue, but rather take the best ideas from both sides. A rational observer, for example, would not conclude that climate change is “probably” happening because Democrats are sure it is, and Republicans are sure it’s not.

He also correctly notes that many Democrats have strayed from sensible policies in favor of myopic political interests. But it simply cannot be said that there is no home for centrists in the Democratic Party.

In fact, several prominent Democrats — including Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) — are on record as supporting school choice. Congress passed free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama in 2011 with large numbers of Democratic votes, and President Obama signed them into law. The Obama administration and many of its congressional allies have supported lowering the corporate income tax from 35 percent to 28 percent.

In other words, Democrats often support centrist policies without reprisal. Such apostasy would never be tolerated in the GOP.

Wheelan examines the U.S. Senate in “Manifesto,” and proposes that if moderate members began asserting themselves as independent from their parties, the cogs of Washington may begin to turn again.

“With a mere four or five U.S. Senate seats, the Centrists can deny either traditional party a majority. At that point, the Centrists would be America’s power brokers…good things can start happening again,” Wheelan writes.

He’s right, but who might these four to five senators be? At the moment, they would almost assuredly be Democrats.

Take a look at the vote scoring of the 112th Senate (which ended after the 2012 election,) done by political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal. The NOMINATE scale, an abbreviation for Nominal Three-Step Estimation, is immensely complex, and explaining it is well beyond the scope of this piece. Please accept for a moment that -1 on the scale is the score of the most liberal senator imaginable, and 1 is the most conservative. Zero is the perfect middle.

You may note the slight asymmetry of the distribution. I would mark the area between -0.25 and 0.25 as centrist territory. Thirteen of these centrists were Democrats, and only five were Republicans. Of these five, only Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Susan Collins (R-ME) remain in the 113th Senate. Murkowski, it should be noted, held on to her seat in 2010 only after a miraculous write-in campaign overruled GOP primary voters, who nominated fringe Tea Party candidate Joe Miller.

You might also note that NOMINATE scores President Obama as being as liberal as Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN) was conservative. Obama commands the approval of nearly 80 percent of Democrats, while Lugar was dismissed by GOP voters in favor of a man who believed that “God’s intent” was for women to bear the children of their rapists.

A Pew Research Center poll released this week found that 82 percent of “consistently liberal” respondents said they would like elected officials to make compromises; only 14 percent said they would prefer that elected officials stick to their positions. When offered the same dichotomy, “consistently conservative” respondents said they would prefer elected officials hold fast to their views by a 63 to 32 percent margin.

This Republican intransigence left Thomas E. Mann and Norman Ornstein, two of the most prominent scholars of the Senate, to place the blame for Washington’s dysfunction squarely on the GOP in their 2012 book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.

“When one party moves this far from the center of American politics, it is extremely difficult to enact policies responsive to the country’s most pressing challenges,” Mann and Ornstein write.

Of course, we recently had two years of almost unfettered Democratic control in Washington. Was the record of the 111th Congress, which reigned in 2009 and 2010, perfect? Of course not. But it got things done, including passing a markedly centrist health care bill that has expanded coverage to more than 10 million people to date.

It got done because those four or five senators Wheelan speaks of cooperated. Those senators were all Democrats.

On the issues, I have no apparent disagreements with Wheelan. He’s a brilliant author and public policy expert.

But he, and others, has to drop these silly notions of false equivalence. I too hope for a day when Republicans in Washington are ready to rejoin mainstream political thought. But it does no good to pretend that they exist in that space now. And given the message that GOP voters just sent us from Virginia’s 7th congressional district, they aren’t coming back anytime soon.

Until the GOP is ready to return to rationality, centrists are left with no choice but to organize and vote for Democrats, and work within the Democratic Party to advance centrist goals.

 

By: Thomas L. Day, an Iraq War veteran and a Defense Council member of the Truman National Security Project; The National Memo, June 17, 2014

June 20, 2014 Posted by | Democrats, Politics, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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