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Why Boehner Must Shut Down The Government

How should Republican leaders deal with the dilemma of being caught between a base that will view any budget deal with President Obama as a sellout and independent voters who are likely to turn on them if they shut down the government? Jonathan Bernstein thinks they should bite the bullet and cut the best deal they can, figuring they’ll get hit by the base no matter what:

what Boehner has to do is to convince Republican Members of the House that the hit they’re going to take from the right for compromising is inevitable. They’ll be seen as sellouts if they cut a deal before a shutdown. They’ll be seen as sellouts if they cut a deal after a six week shutdown. True believers will always be convinced that complete and total victory was just a week away if only the cowardly politicians had been willing to hang in there. They can’t win that game.

Not a bad argument. The counter is that it’s one thing to cut a deal with Obama, and another to be perceived as cutting that deal without really fighting. If Boehner shuts down the government and then cuts a deal, at least he’s demonstrated some willingness to go to the mat and fight, right? Bernstein is right that he’ll have angry Tea Partiers regardless, but I do think he needs to show that he’s fought the good fight. A deal with Obama is bad no matter what, but a deal without a shutdown looks like surrendering the fort without firing a shot.

The other quibble I have with Bernstein’s analysis is that I don’t think he’s really thinking about this the way Boehner is, or even should, be thinking about this. What is the downside to a shutdown? Republicans get less popular, have a lower chance to win the presidency in 2012, and maybe a higher chance of losing the House as well. What is the downside to cutting a deal? GOP backbenchers revolt against Boehner and depose him as Speaker of the House.

If I’m Boehner, I’m more worried about the guns pointed at my back then the guns pointed at my face. A shutdown increases the small chance that he goes from Speaker to Minority Leader in 2013, but a deal increases the chance that he goes from Speaker to (R-OH) in 2011. The right-wingers do not trust Boehner, and he has very little slack. He also lived through a series of purges and attempted purges in the late 1990s, always taking the form of purists complaining that the leadership had gone soft.

Boehner’s top priority is probably staving off internal revolt. That means shutting down the government.

By: Jonathan Chait, The New Republic, March 30, 2011

March 30, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Democrats, Economy, Federal Budget, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty | , , | Leave a comment

What A Government Shutdown Could Cost Us

I don’t want to start a market panic here. I’ve no desire to be known for “The Klein Crash of 2011.” But it’s safe to say that much of Washington finds the low, low yields on Treasurys — which represent the market’s serene confidence that the U.S. can handle its debts — a little baffling. Senior government officials have told me they think Treasurys are probably a bit overpriced, which is a bit like the executives of GE privately wondering why investors are so sure they won’t go bankrupt. The investors might be right, but it’s not comforting to hear.

The market isn’t totally wrong, of course. The federal government probably won’t default on its debt. But it’s actually pretty hard to explain how we get the spending line and the revenues line to match each other. And we have a really dysfunctional political system. We’ll figure it out somehow. We always do. But our low borrowing costs are an advantage we want to preserve for as long as possible. That means keeping the market from realizing that partisan polarization mixed with our weird legislative system makes insane outcomes easily imaginable.

This is why a shutdown would be so dangerous. A last-minute deal tells the market that America is a country that dithers and procrastinates and anguishes but eventually makes the necessary decisions to avert terrible consequences. We can be trusted to follow through, even if only at the last minute. A shutdown tells the market that our political system has become so dysfunctional that we actually can’t be trusted.

Asger Lau Andersen, David Dreyer Lassen and Lasse Holbøll Westh Nielsen — remember them? — have looked into how the market treats late budgets in the states — and late budgets in the states, it should be noted, are considerably less public and psychologically disruptive than a shutdown of the federal government during a weak economy. The answer is: not kindly (pdf). “We estimate that a budget delay of 30 days has a long run impact on the yield spread between 2 and 10 basis points,” they conclude. To put that in context, economists estimated that if the Federal Reserve pumped $400 billion into the economy, it’d lower yield spreads by about 20 basis points, or two-tenths of a percent. And it actually gets worse than that: “Markets also punish late budgets much more harshly if they occur during times of fiscal stress.”

I think it’d be fair to characterize this as a time of fiscal stress, don’t you?

There are some reasons for optimism here. Markets seem to punish fiscal mismanagement more lightly if the state has access to lots of money, which usually means reserves. The federal government has access to lots of money — though through borrowing, not reserves — so it’s possible we’d get off lightly, too. If you look back to Treasury yields in 1995, you don’t see an obvious change, but (a) perhaps yields would have been lower without the shutdown and (b) the economy is a lot weaker today than it was in 1995. At any rate, do we really want to test this? And if so, how many times? The tea party types are already promising to oppose an increase in the debt ceiling in the absence of massive entitlement cuts. Sen. Marco Rubio says he’ll oppose lifting the debt ceiling unless it’s accompanied by “a plan for fundamental tax reform, an overhaul of our regulatory structure, a cut to discretionary spending, a balanced-budget amendment, and reforms to save Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.” That’s quite a list of demands in order to avoid economic catastrophe.

The irony of all this comes clear if you consider why we’re afraid of deficits in the first place. If the market comes to believe our debt is too large for our political system to pay back, they’ll become more skittish about buying government debt, and that’ll send interest rates higher and the economy lower. But if we have a series of shutdowns while we argue over how much to cut and how fast, our paralysis will convince the market we can’t get our act together in time to pay off our debts and they’ll send interest rates skyrocketing anyway. We’ll have caused exactly what we sought to prevent, and done it now, when the economy is weak, rather than later, when the economy is stronger. As I said at the beginning of this piece, I’d sure hate to be known for causing an economic crash. How about you, Congress?

By: Ezra Klein, The Washington Post, March 30, 2011

March 30, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Debt Crisis, Democrats, Economy, Federal Budget, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Politics, Republicans, States | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beware Condemning Barack Obama For A Low Bully Pulpit Profile

Peppered with complaints about his relative silence and flagging leadership, the president urges his friends and allies to be patient. They are understandably skittish: His low profile is underscored by unceasing criticism from his political opponents and even broadcast commentators. His supporters wonder what happened to the politician who had used new technology to communicate with the American people.

Barack Obama in 2011, assailed by friends and foes alike for quiescence in the face of—take your pick—the looming budget battle, disaster in Japan, or upheavals in the Mideast and Midwest? No. Try Franklin Roosevelt in 1935. With Father Coughlin and others railing on the radio and in Congress during a period of slow motion on his agenda, Roosevelt was besieged by nervous allies wondering why he wasn’t showing more vocal and forceful leadership. “My difficulty is a strange and weird sense known as ‘public psychology,’ ” he wrote to one supporter. He explained to another his belief that the public cannot “be attuned for long periods of time to a constant repetition of the highest note on the scale.” [See the month’s best editorial cartoons.]

FDR had mastered what his cousin Teddy had termed the “bully pulpit,” not simply through great speeches, but through an understanding of that platform’s limitations. Overexposure can diminish its power as the president’s voice becomes one of many, so it is most effective when used judiciously. Consider Roosevelt’s famous fireside chats. Popular imagination sees them as something like the modern weekly radio address. In fact, he never gave more than four in a year.

Another president who understood the limitations of the bully pulpit was John F. Kennedy. During his brief tenure too, allies complained of his failure to speak often or forcefully enough on key issues, especially civil rights.

“The nation will listen only if it is a moment of great urgency,” he once said. He liked to quote Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I, where in response to Owen Glendower’s boast that he can “call spirits from the vasty deep,” Hotspur replies: “Why, so can I, or so can any man; but will they come when you do call for them?” Kennedy understood that the power of a president’s speech is constrained, or augmented, by context. To the extent his audience is primed for a message, it resonates, multiplying the power of that address. The most effective presidents find a leadership balance where they are far enough in front of public opinion to lead it, but not so far as to lose it.

JFK and FDR had another important commonality: They were skilled communicators at times of communication revolution. FDR came into office just as most U.S. households first had radio receivers. He wasn’t the first president to deal with this new mass medium, but he was the first to understand the opportunity it provided to fundamentally change the way presidents engaged with voters.

So too Kennedy was not the first president to deal with television, but he was the first to figure out what kind of new communications opportunities it afforded. He used weekly televised news conferences, the first such presidential appearances to be broadcast. Columnist James Reston warned the president that it was “the goofiest idea since the hula hoop,” but Kennedy relished the opportunity to connect directly with the voters. And the news conferences allowed him to flash his most winning qualities: his smarts, his broad grasp of facts and data, and of course his ironic wit. Kennedy referred to these conferences as “the 6 o’clock comedy hour.” But more seriously, he said, “We couldn’t survive without them.”

Which brings us back to Obama, another eloquent Democrat taking criticism for inexpertly using (or failing to use) the bully pulpit. Poor Obama has gotten it coming and going. When he first took office he was seemingly everywhere at once, and widely panned as being overexposed. This lurching approach to public communications is due at least in part to the fact that Obama, like his predecessors, is trying to govern at a time of communication transformation. In fact he is arguably dealing with a double revolution, involving both the fracturing of the old mass media (presidents can no longer count on the television audience being easily captured on just three networks) and the rise of the new social media. At first Obama and his team tried to flood the zone; now they seem to have adopted a more classical view that the presidential voice is a resource to be husbanded.

Obama is caught at the crux of a tension in presidential leadership that has grown since FDR chatted with Americans at their firesides. The limitations of the bully pulpit are in opposition to the demands mass media have placed on it. In his single term as president, from 1929 to 1933, Herbert Hoover made an average of eight public appearances per month. In his thousand days, JFK made 19 per month. In his first term, Bill Clinton averaged 28. In his two years in office, according to statistics compiled by CBS News’s Mark Knoller, Obama averaged more than 42 public appearances per month. Presidents must speak more, even if it diminishes the power of their voice.

In noting similarities between Obama and his predecessors, I do not mean to suggest equivalency. It may well be that in 50 years historians will say that Obama was the first real social media president in the way of FDR and radio and JFK and television. But if such mastery does emerge, it is currently still a work in progress. In the meantime, his friends especially would do well to remember that the bully pulpit is not a cure-all. And that even our most eloquent leaders have had good reasons for their silence as well as their words.

By: Robert Schlesinger, U.S. News and World Report, March 23, 2011

March 30, 2011 Posted by | Democrats, Media, Politics, President Obama, Public Opinion, Republicans, Voters | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The High Price Of Rigidity: The GOP Wants A Government Shutdown

House Republicans have already won so much in this year’s federal budget standoff that they could easily declare victory and put an end to the maddening and dysfunctional cycle. Previous Congresses would have noticed that millions of people are still struggling in an economic downturn and tried to help, but Republicans have succeeded in shutting off that conversation.

They have won the philosophical war, compelling Democrats to agree to tens of billions in spending cuts. Yet that does not seem to be enough for the Republicans who now control the federal steering wheel.

With a hard deadline looming, talks to prevent a government shutdown have been stymied for a week because Tea Party members of the House have demanded everything: not just some of their cuts but almost all of them, and not just a reduction in spending but a reduction only in the programs they don’t like. Many are insisting Democrats also agree to nonbudgetary riders, like ending the financing of Planned Parenthood or health care reform.

They simply will not accede to anything that looks like a compromise with President Obama. Caught in this position, Speaker John Boehner knows the public is likely to blame Republicans for the pain of a shutdown, once it sees that the Democrats offered difficult compromises that his caucus rejected. That is the price he pays for riding to power on the backs of people who don’t understand that government cannot be built out of ideological rigidity.

If Mr. Boehner cannot persuade his members that the public does not want a government shutdown and will blame them, then much of the government will close its doors on April 8, when the current stopgap funding measure runs out. So far, the Republicans have wrung $10 billion in cuts from earlier deadlines, but their bill to butcher the current year’s budget with $61 billion in radical cuts was voted down in the Senate.

Democrats have put together a package of $20 billion in cuts, on top of the $10 billion already agreed to. They have not released the details, but officials say they could include some current spending and some mandatory programs, like agriculture subsidies. This package is likely to be far more painful than the last one and will almost certainly pull back the reins much further than is prudent when the economic recovery is still sputtering. But in the split-the-difference culture of Washington, it will get them halfway toward the Republican goal line, further than imaginable just a few weeks ago.

Does that mean the House will end the week-by-week bloodletting that is already hampering many federal agencies? So far the signs do not look promising. Republicans have told Democratic negotiators that the cuts can only come from their original, rejected bill. Many are still clinging to the ideological riders that will certainly draw a presidential veto. One way or the other, Tea Party lawmakers are about to learn a lesson in how government operates; the only question is whether the public must suffer for their education.

By: Editorial, The New York Times, March 29, 2011

March 30, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Deficits, Democrats, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Politics, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Voters | , , , , | Leave a comment


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