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“Entirely Dysfunctional”: The GOP Spirals Deeper And Deeper Into Obstructionism

First Susan Rice. Then Chuck Hagel. Now Jack Lew.

Once upon a time, a norm existed that presidents had the right to choose the people they wanted to staff the executive branch. Once upon a time? I mean — from the beginning of the republic right up to January 2009. Oh, Senators could and did use the nomination to affect policy — both individual Senators and, at times, the partisan opposition would demand specific policy commitments before confirming nominees.

But what’s happened since Barack Obama took office is far, far, off the scale of any of that. And because it’s been accompanied by the use of the filibuster — the sudden demand for a 60 vote Senate on executive branch nominations — it’s entirely dysfunctional.

We now have Jeff Sessions attacking Jack Lew for — get this — lack of “gravitas.” Not drinking too much, or violating obscure laws, but…well, Sessions just doesn’t like the cut of his jib, or something like that. Or, as Kevin Drum figures, it’s just that Lew insists on using real math during budget negotiations.

All this does build the case for Senate reform. As I’ve been saying, there’s just no good reason not to change the rules to have simple majority approval of executive branch nominees. But that won’t solve the problem. After all, imagine if Republicans had done a bit better in the 2010 and 2012 elections, giving them a slim Senate majority today. If so, they would have been able to simply vote down dozens and dozens of nominations. Senate reform, in other words, would not fix the problem of knee-jerk opposition to presidential executive branch nominees.

In other words, the real problem isn’t Senate rules (as much as they should be changed); it’s the Republican Party, busting through norms for the sake of making it very difficult for the government to function well. And alas, although some have done a good job of describing this disease (such as Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein), no one yet has a cure.


By: Jonathan Bernstein, The Washington Post, The Plum Line, January 10, 2013

January 14, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Long Game In The Budget Battles: Advantage Obama

Late last year, when President Obama overhauled his economic team, some people complained that the departure of Larry Summers and Christina Romer left the White House short of first-rate economists. That may have been true, but what the White House lost in intellectual sparkle it more than made up for in Washington know-how. With Gene Sperling as head of the National Economic Council and Jack Lew as budget director, it boasts two veterans of the Clinton-era budget war—two men who know how to outmaneuver right-wing Republicans.

In the past few months, Sperling and Lew have been playing from the nineteen-nineties playbook. Initially, they produced a budget for 2012 that didn’t do very much at all about long-term deficits, and was instantly proclaimed dead on arrival. Budget hawks cried foul. But the White House was playing a long game, and its budget proposal was merely an opening gambit. Then came Congressman Paul Ryan with his radical “roadmap” to budget balance over the next ten years, which featured slashing reductions in domestic spending, more big tax cuts for the rich, and the conversion of Medicare to a voucher program. I irked some readers by saying that Ryan deserved credit for at least making a specific proposal, but I still believe liberals everywhere should be grateful. By spelling out what the Republicans would do to Medicare and Medicaid, he may well have deprived his party of the White House for the foreseeable future.

If you want to know why Ryan’s “budget-cutting” plan makes no financial sense, the Financial Times’ Martin Wolf spells it out very clearly in his latest column, which is based on an analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office analysis. If you want to know why Ryan’s plan is political poison, look at Ezra Klein’s blog, where he cites a recent opinion poll showing that a plurality of Republicans—yes Republicans—think the best option for Medicare is to not cut it at all. To say the very least, Ryan presented President Obama with a big opportunity to occupy the center ground. And despite the jibes about him being a covert socialist, this is clearly the ground on which the President feels most comfortable.

And so to today’s budget speech, in which Obama presented his own eminently centrist plan to reduce the deficit without privatizing Medicare, without slashing domestic spending to the point where many government programs won’t be able to operate, and without introducing any big tax increases. I wouldn’t sweat the individual numbers that Obama presented, such as his claim that his proposals would cut the budget deficit by four trillion dollars over twelve years. Forecasting the budget deficit next year is a challenge. Forecasting the deficit three years out is extremely difficult. Ten-year budget projections are largely meaningless.

What is important is the big picture. Where Ryan proposes radical changes to taxes and spending that would alter the social contract between government and governed, President Obama is arguing that we can trim our way to fiscal sustainability. Some cuts here, some tax breaks eliminated there, and, lo and behold, the deficit will be down to two per cent of G.D.P.

To be fair, the President isn’t saying it will be easy. If by 2014 Congress can’t come up with enough cuts to stabilize the debt-to-G.D.P. ratio, he is calling for a “debt failsafe” trigger that would involve spending reductions in all programs except Social Security, Medicaid, and low-income programs. To slow the growth of entitlement spending, he is proposing to beef up the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which the health-care reform act created, and setting it at a target of keeping Medicare growth to the rate of G.D.P. growth plus half a per cent. Even the Pentagon, which has been largely exempted from budget pressures since 9/11, would have to find some (overly modest) cuts. But compared to what Ryan is proposing, these are all relatively minor changes.

Is the plan credible? Without seeing the details, it is hard to say. In the fact-sheet it circulated today, the White House avoided saying which tax loopholes it is in favor of eliminating—the mortgage interest deduction?—and it also failed to provide any projections about, say, the level of federal spending and debt as a percentage of G.D.P. in 2020. That vagueness was certainly deliberate. At this juncture, the White House still doesn’t want to reveal all of its hand. Rather than placating the budget hawks with a definitive and fully worked out set of proposals, the Administration is betting that the bond market will give it more time—time in which the American people can learn more about the specifics of Ryan’s proposals, and get even less enthusiastic about them.

This game still has a long way to run. But if I were a betting man, and occasionally I am, I would wager on Sperling and Lew coming out on top rather than the congressman from Wisconsin.

By: John Cassidy, The New Yorker, April 13, 2011

April 14, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Democrats, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Ideology, Lawmakers, Medicaid, Medicare, Politics, President Obama, Rep Paul Ryan, Republicans, Right Wing, Social Security | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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