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Extortion Politics: A New Form Of Governing

Josh Marshall made an interesting point in passing yesterday, asking whether conservative Republicans could achieve massive spending cuts through “old-fashioned majority votes.” Josh answered his own question: “Of course not.” The cuts on the table were only made possible by Republicans “threatening the health” of the United States.

I think this arguably one of the more important realizations to take away from the current political landscape. Republicans aren’t just radicalized, aren’t just pursuing an extreme agenda, and aren’t just allergic to compromise. The congressional GOP is also changing the very nature of governing in ways with no modern precedent.

Welcome to the normalization of extortion politics.

Consider, for example, the Republican decision to reject any and all nominees to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, regardless of merit, unless and until Democrats accepted changes to the agency’s structure. Traditionally, if the GOP wanted to alter the powers of the CFPB, it would write legislation, send it to committee, bring it to the floor, send it to the other chamber, etc. But that takes time and effort, and in a divided government, this “old fashioned” approach to policymaking probably wouldn’t produce the desired result.

Instead, we see the latest in a series of extortion strategies: Republicans will force Democrats to accept changes to the agency, or Republicans won’t allow the agency to function. Jonathan Cohn wrote a good piece on this a couple of weeks ago, noting the frequency with which this strategy is utilized.

Republican threats to block nominees to the consumer board are at peace with their opposition to Don Berwick, Obama’s first choice to run the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services; to Peter Diamond, whom Obama tapped to sit on the Federal Reserve Board; and most recently to John Bryson, Obama’s nominee to take over the Commerce Department. It’s nothing short of a power grab by the Republican Party — an effort to achieve, through the confirmation process, what they could not achieve through legislation. And it seems unprecedented, at least in modern times.

Republicans effectively tell the administration, over and over again, that the normal system of American governance can continue … just as soon as Democrats agree to policy changes the GOP can’t otherwise pass.

The traditional American model would tell Republicans to win an election. If that doesn’t work, Republicans should work with rivals to pass legislation that moves them closer to their goal. In 2011, the GOP has decided these old-school norms are of no value. Why bother with them when Republicans can force through policy changes by way of a series of hostage strategies? Why should the legislative branch use its powers through legislative action when extortion is more effective?

It’s offensive when it comes to nominees like CFPB nominee Richard Cordray, but using the full faith and credit of the United States to force through desired policy changes takes this dynamic to a very different level. And since it’s working, this will be repeated and establishes a new precedent.

Indeed, it’s a reminder that of all the qualities Republicans lack — wisdom, humility, shame, integrity — it’s their nonexistent appreciation for limits that’s arguably the scariest.

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly-Political Animal, July 31, 2011

August 1, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Democracy, Democrats, Elections, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“You Talkin’ To Me?”: Obama Calls The GOP’s Bluff

Here’s how to negotiate, GOP-style: Begin by making outrageous demands. Bully your opponents into giving you almost all of what you want. Rather than accept the deal, add a host of radical new demands. Observe casually that you wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to the hostage you’ve taken — the nation’s well-being. To the extent possible, look and sound like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.”

This strategy has worked so well for Republicans that it’s no surprise they’re using it again, this time in the unnecessary fight over what should be a routine increase in the debt ceiling. This time, however, something different is happening: President Obama seems to be channeling Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver.” At a news conference last Wednesday, Obama’s response to the GOP was, essentially, “You talkin’ to me?”

Obama’s in-your-face attitude seems to have thrown Republicans off their stride. They thought all they had to do was convince everyone they were crazy enough to force an unthinkable default on the nation’s financial obligations. Now they have to wonder if Obama is crazy enough to let them.

He probably isn’t. But the White House has kept up the pressure, asserting that the real deadline for action by Congress to avoid a default isn’t Aug. 2, as the Treasury Department said, but July 22; it takes time to write the needed legislation, officials explained. Tick, tick, tick . . .

“Malia and Sasha generally finish their homework a day ahead of time,” Obama said, gratuitously — but effectively — comparing his daughters’ industry with congressional sloth. “It is impressive. They don’t wait until the night before. They’re not pulling all-nighters. They’re 13 and 10. Congress can do the same thing. If you know you’ve got to do something, just do it.”

Obama’s pushing and poking are aimed at Republicans who control the House, and what he wants them to “just do” is abandon the uncompromising position that any debt-ceiling deal has to include big, painful budget cuts but not a single cent of new tax revenue.

The president demands that Congress also eliminate “tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires . . . oil companies and hedge fund managers and corporate jet owners.” Without these modest increases in revenue, he says, the government will have to cut funding for medical research, food inspection and the National Weather Service. Also, presumably, whatever federal support goes to puppies and apple pie.

In truth, some non-millionaires who never fly on corporate jets would also lose tax breaks under the president’s proposal. And it’s hard to believe that the first thing the government would do, if Congress provides no new revenue, is stop testing ground beef for bacteria. But Obama is right that the cuts would be draconian — and he’s right to insist that House Republicans face reality.

My view, for what it’s worth, is that now is the wrong time for spending cuts or tax increases — that it’s ridiculous to do anything that might slow the lumbering economic recovery, even marginally. But if there have to be cuts, then Republicans must be forced to move off the no-new-revenue line they have drawn in the sand.

Even if they move just an inch, the nation’s prospects become much brighter. This fight is that important.

Every independent, bipartisan, blue-ribbon panel that has looked at the deficit problem has reached the same conclusion: The gap between spending and revenue is much too big to be closed by budget cuts alone. With fervent conviction but zero evidence, Tea Party Republicans believe otherwise — and Establishment Republicans, who know better, are afraid to contradict them.

The difficult work of putting the federal government on sound fiscal footing can’t begin as long as a majority in the House rejects simple arithmetic on ideological grounds.

“I’ve met with the leaders multiple times,” Obama said, referring to House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “At a certain point, they need to do their job.” The job he means is welcoming fantasy-loving Republicans to the real world, and it has to be done.

The stakes are perilously high, but Obama does have a doomsday option: If all else fails, he can assert that a section of the 14th Amendment — “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law . . . shall not be questioned” — makes the debt limit unconstitutional and instructs him to take any measures necessary to avoid default.

Maybe that’s why, in this stare-down, the president doesn’t seem inclined to blink.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 4, 2011

July 5, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Corporations, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Middle East, Politics, President Obama, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Evasion, Tax Increases, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Tea Party, Voters, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Efficacy Of A Republican Hostage Strategy

Matt Yglesias offered a helpful reminder this morning about leverage.

Details on the appropriations deal are still hard to come by, but you don’t need the details to know that substantial short-term cuts in domestic discretionary spending will hurt the poor while harming macroeconomic performance. The problem with not agreeing to the deal, of course, is that a government shutdown would also hurt the poor while harming macroeconomic performance.

If you genuinely don’t care about the interests of poor people and stand to benefit electorally from weak economic growth, this gives you a very strong hand to play as a hostage taker. And John Boehner is willing to play that hand.

Right.  A hostage strategy works well when the hostage taker makes it clear that killing the hostage is a perfectly viable option.

In this case, President Obama knew he was facing an unpleasant choice: accept spending cuts, which would hurt working families and undermine the economy, or allow Republicans to shut down the government, which would hurt working families and undermine the economy. As much as I really don’t like the agreement reached last night, I’m not unsympathetic to the dilemma.

But it’s worth appreciating the dynamic itself. The moment it was clear that the White House and congressional Democrats were determined to avert a shutdown, and congressional Republicans saw a shutdown as a reasonable, if not attractive, option — one that their base would celebrate — the rules of the game were already written to guarantee a discouraging result.

By some measures, Dems entered the process with the better hand. Democrats not only had the White House and the Senate majority, but polls showed the American mainstream opposed to the GOP agenda. But they also made clear that they were ready to make concessions — because they were determined to save that hostage, and Republicans didn’t much care either way.

Or as Greg Sargent put it this morning, “Republicans knew full well that the White House wouldn’t allow a government shutdown, allowing them to continue to move the spending-cut goalposts in the knowledge that Dems would follow — again ensuring that the debate unfolded on the GOP’s turf.”

The variable here would, ideally, be electoral considerations — Republicans wouldn’t kill the hostage because they’d be afraid of a voter backlash, creating a built-in incentive for the GOP to act responsibly. In theory, this gives Dems at least some leverage, too — “If you shut down the government, we’ll blame you and you’ll lose in 2012.”

So why doesn’t that work more? Probably because Republicans know that news organizations feel obligated to blame “both sides” at all times for everything, enough so that the GOP is willing to take its chances. Besides, even if they are blame, GOP officials can count on the party, the Koch Brothers, and Karl Rove to run a bunch of attack ads that will help them stay in office in anyway.

April 9, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Elections, GOP, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Journalists, Koch Brothers, Media, Middle Class, Politics, Pundits, Republicans, Right Wing, Voters, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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