Monday, January 14, 2013

Bad news for spending cuts, Part 2

Is the GOP still in disarray? They've been very quiet about their strategy related to the debt ceiling. Perhaps there are huddles going on right now, and in a few days or couple weeks we'll hear what the Republicans actually want. Right now, however, it's still unclear.

A GOP talking point after the fiscal cliff settlement was that tax increases outnumbered spending cuts by 41:1. Well, duh, it was a tax bill. The GOP couldn't get spending cuts into the bill because they had no leverage, and they wasted all the negotiation time haggling over tax issues, not spending. They could have tried to trade cooperation for some cuts, or a debt ceiling increase for cuts, but that wasn't their focus.

Now, they want to avenge their defeat, but their first plan sucks. They say they won't vote for a debt ceiling increase without an equal amount of spending cuts. However, they won't specify what spending cuts they want. There are some logical reasons for this:
  1. They don't want their name on painful, unpopular cuts.
  2. The Democrats will demagogue against cuts that the GOP proposes, and try to gain electoral advantage on the issue.
  3. It's the president's responsibility to provide a roadmap for the future spending.
However, logic isn't going to force Obama to take on these risks. He can run out the clock on the debt ceiling, and then there won't be any alternative on the table when we reach the debt ceiling. With no plan, the GOP will look rather bratty if they plunge us into default, so they definitely have an interest in coming up with one.

They also need to have a real plan, not a fuzzy plan like the Ryan budget. They can't propose Medicare vouchers because that's a non-starter. They will have to breathe deep and plunge into some real budgeting. Along with the blame, they would also pick up some credit.

I'd be surprised if Boehner or Ryan will do this. It's possible, but they haven't gotten much into the nitty-gritty before. Perhaps some senators will do it, though the gang of six or eight has been shrinking. Still, this seems like a potentially great project for some policy-oriented wonk, elected or not.

Perhaps in a few weeks we'll be flooded with plans, including a couple good ones. This SHOULD happen, because there's a veritable vacuum right now, and nature is supposed to abhor a vacuum. Just don't expect anything from Obama. He's obviously going to be involved in the negotiations (if any), and he'll take enough hits that way. He's got little to gain by going first on cuts, and he's not a visionary on these issues. Anyone waiting for his leadership is naive or has an axe to grind.

The GOP: Too scared to be scissors. The Dems: Paper all the way.


Anonymous said...

Nice analysis, MP!!

You must have had a good night's sleep, perhaps after the Golden Globes, huh?

What I like best is that you recognize that the politics-first-last-and-always environment drives the debate and perhaps this time around President Obama is going to play that game along with the Republicans.

The key point is whether the GOP can take the debt ceiling or anything else as a hostage as leverage to get what they want. It's a dangerous precedent to set for the country, particularly since the country is the hostage and the country would have to pay for either the ransom (although many in the GOP dispute that) or the implications of not paying the ransom.

Can the GOP really convince people that paying the ransom is better when the GOP loses so much politically if they don't? Is that the only way they can get their way? You correctly identify the dynamic and Obama seems ready to call them out on it. It's a disgusting tactic that they could use to put a reelection-seeking administration in a box, but not now. Half the GOP members of Congress seem to realize this. The other half either don't or don't care.

ModeratePoli said...

It scares me when you agree too vigorously. Great. Now I won't sleep tonight.

(Award shows = garbage)

Anonymous said...

Didn't Obama come out against raising the debt ceiling when he was a Senator?

ModeratePoli said...

Are you trying to make an important point, or just score a piddly point? The former takes more than one sentence, and the latter isn't allowed here because this isn't a place silly, pointless sniping. Do you understand?

Anonymous said...

I don't remember Democrats criticizing Obama when he came out against raising the debt ceiling when he was a Senator.

ModeratePoli said...

@Anon, I don't remember the House Republicans rallying around budget restraint either. What is your point? That defeating debt ceiling increases are always good or always bad? Please clarify.

Anonymous said...

My point is you are a hypoocrite

ModeratePoli said...

@Anon, have you searched my 300+ posts to find where I said that the debt ceiling should be raised with no questions asked? Obviously you didn't, because you overlooked this post.

I don't know whether you live in a black-and-white fantasy world where you think you know every position I hold, but I can assure you that you don't.

You don't demonstrate much understanding of politics or knowledge of political history. Your talking points are so brief that it's doubtful you understand them in any detail. Your lame attack on me is laughable. I don't even have to remove it.

But if you want to show that you do know what you're talking about, please clarify how I'm a hypocrite. (This should be a hoot.)

Truth > Spin said...

MP - do you follow Keith Hennessey at all?

He suggests a plan for the GOP that you might take a look at:

It focuses not only on the fiscal angle, but also the political optics as you've done in this diary. While I don't agree with everything you or Keith writes, a green eye shade approach tends to favor your views.

ModeratePoli said...

@truth, thanks for the link. I hadn't heard of him before. Just from skimming the post, I like the realism in his analysis. (Can't do anything but skim since I'm fighting a wicked cold.)

I'm sorry that you don't agree with anything I write, but I'm guessing that's likely an exaggeration and a punch in the arm.

Oops, misread what you wrote. I'm not kidding about the cold. One question, how does the "green eyeshade" approach (presumably an accounting-centered focus) support my view? I don't get it.

Anonymous said...

You criticize Republicans for resisting increases to the debt ceiling but you dont criticize Obama for making the same position when he was a Senator

Truth > Spin said...

MP - you must be really sick. :)

When I wrote that I didn't agree with "everything", I worried it was too obsequious. I guess I didn't have to worry.

By green-eye shades, I mean focused on the nuts and bolts or the fundamentals of what matters, as an accountant would. Your post didn't suggest that X or Y ought to happen because it would be good, but rather that certain things must happen as a result of optics and prior decisions and positions. And therefore the path to the eventual outcome is already half behind us.

@ Anon6:17 pm. We get it. Obama is a hypocrite. He said one thing once and now says and does another. He isn't the first or worst offender of this, and he certainly won't be the last. If you are looking for a simple Team Red - Team Blue fight, may I suggest another site? How about TPM or Kos? They'd love to read your thoughtful posts over there.

T > S said...

PS - I hope you feel better soon.

ModeratePoli said...


"therefore the path to the eventual outcome is already half behind us." -- interesting way of seeing it!!

I often think that is true, because if you eliminate extreme solutions and extreme wishful thinking, what you have left are the middle ground solutions. I, not being an ideologue, have no trouble embracing those solutions.

Thanks for trying to correct the recalcitrant Anon. Please feel to bash him again and harder if I'm not around.

Truth > Spin said...

I don't know that what remains aligns with middle ground policy, but I understand your point. What I mean is that some issues can not be moderated or compromised. This isn't an appeal to dead armadillos and yellow stripes, mind you. Some issue lend themselves to summing and dividing by 2. Others not so much. See: King Solomon.

ModeratePoli said...


I will name you George. So George, you obviously didn't bother to read the link I gave you. You're too lazy to read, you're way too lazy to take the time to understand my arguments or the other arguments here. Can you even sum up what I wrote here?

Why don't you move your lazy ass off to a place where you aren't so clearly out of your depth.

ModeratePoli said...

@truth, I agree that there are some issues where you don't split the difference, but it's hard to imagine that budgets are absolutes like that. The day the Democrats or Republicans willingly give in and let the other side win, well, that's what would match the Solomon story. I makes me chuckle to picture it.

It's as though the Israeli were to say, "no, you take ALL of Jerusalem."

I haven't considered what issues are so significant that I wouldn't be willing to compromise, but then I'm no revolutionary. Ouch, too much to think about.

Anastasios said...

To jump in here late, MP, I guess there are two kinds of issues where one cannot compromise as a matter of principle rather than practical politics. One is an issue which is so deeply integrated into identity and/or fundamental interests that compromise is a worse risk than provoking a crisis and hoping for the best. I suppose a clear example would be whether Churchill should have struck a deal with Hitler in 1940.

A much more common situation is a circumstance that just does not lend itself to compromise and deal making due to the nature of the questions involved. Let us say a patient presents with a brain tumor. One surgeon thinks the best approach is through the left ear canal, another argues for he right as the safer option. Cutting a compromise to go in between the eyes, or even one of the temples, is not a real possibility.

I think a lot of the resistance to compromise we have comes from two problems. The first is that some people have taken such sweeping bases of identity that large areas of compromise become threats to their sense of self, as in notax increases ever. Maybe more importantly (or maybe not, as we seem to have a disturbingly large number of crazies in public life these days) is a category mistake in which people approach budgeting as if it was brain surgery.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Truth > Spin said...

Anastasios, I'd add to your list the situation the GOP feels they are in. Namely, moved goal posts. Let's put aside for a moment whether they are right. The claim is that too often when we hit these must-pass or the sky will fall situations, they they give in only to have whatever they sought undermined later or they find themselves right back in the same place later.

At some point, Charlie Brown simply must tell Lucy that no matter how small of a deal it is to try to kick the ball just one more time, that he just isn't playing any more.

Again, the GOP bears some of the responsibility for being here. They didn't and still don't want the sequester cuts to go into effect seemingly as much as the Dems oppose them. They didn't take an offer of $3 in cuts to $1 in new taxes when they had the chance.*

So, I think that there are situations where a presented deal might seem on its face to be better than the alternative, but if one believes that the benefits of the supposed deal won't accrue, then not making such a deal - or compromise - may be the better alternative.

* Whether the 3 for 1 offer would have actually occurred is an open question. I don't only mean having it get passed into law, but also not be undone down the road a little when the spotlight isn't so bright. On this matter, the GOP is correct, that is normally what happens.

Anastasios said...

All true, Truth. Many elements within the Democratic coalition feel the same way, although in different circumstances. In the Democratic case, most Democrats feel that they are constantly moving to adopt moderate Republican proposals only to have the GOP turn on their own ideas and begin to bellow about tyranny and socialism for no other reason than that Democrats have embraced the ideas.

I don't know what the answer to that is, as it seems to be a fundamental part of our political process these days. It leaves neither party feeling as if they can trust the other a micrometer. Republicans claim, with justification, that any cuts they get will be magicked away by budgetary shenanigans or future Congresses. Democrats feel, with justification, that any attempt they make to compromise with GOP ideas will only get the ideas thrown in their face as the GOP scrambles like mad to adopt new, ever more rightwing, positions.

The GOP will of course, say "weren't you paying attention in the 1990s? The Democrats made fools of us. They can't be trusted." The Democrats will say "Weren't you paying attention in the ACA debate? The Republicans made fools of us as they twisted themselves into pretzels to reject their own positions. The can't be trusted."

The problem is that to break such an impasse someone has to go first, followed by a positive response from the other side. Unfortunately, both sides feel that if they go first they will get betrayed ("it will be Andrews/ACA all over again!") The tragedy is, given the incentives in the system, they are probably right to doubt the other side's good faith.

ModeratePoli said...


George, the single-sentence Anon commenter, has gotten too annoying, so I spiked his most recent comment. I'm afraid his comprehension problems are beyond the scope of the work done here. He needs remedial help, but must it on his own.

This is only the second time I've had to remove comments. Kudos to all the rest!

Truth > Spin said...

Anastasios, I now think we need to address structural issues before we can effectively deal with policy matters in a manner befitting their seriousness. The system has too many points of leverage that are captured by fragmented interests and they have every incentive to maintain the status quo. It used to be that gridlock eventually gave way because the benefit of action outweighed inaction. Today, it is more the case that the benefit of inaction is greater.

I don't think replacing the current crop of people will do the trick. The problems are too endemic and part of how we nominate and then elect Members of Congress.*

As such, I think we need to have a serious national debate over some changes the Constitution and think it is time that a convention to do so be convened.

The other thing I'll add to what you wrote is that not only does someone willing to work with the other side risk being betrayed by the other side later, but they also risk being attacked by purists from within their own party for the heresy of such efforts. I recognize that this has more recently been true within the GOP, but the same thing occurs on both sides.

* For the most part, this criticism is aimed at the House, although the Senate could use a good tune up, too.

ModeratePoli said...

@truth, before we change our constitution, maybe we should try getting rid of gerrymandering. It would be faster than trying to get a constitutional convention, and it may be all the fix we need.

Truth > Spin said...

MP - it isn't only the formation of the House districts that makes up what I think of as being the fixes we need. Yet having more Members face serious opposition would be a good thing, so I'm entirely in favor of it as a stand alone reform.

But getting enough states to take action against the status quo on district design is going to be nearly as hard a lift as getting those same states to call for a convention.

And of course action by a state on districts can be easily undone. Witness the situation in Mass where the rules of a Senate appointment are changed based on who may or may not be interested.

Although I understand the risks of holding a Constitutional Convention, the Founders put a clear process for this in place and those same people went ahead and made significant modifications of their own not long after the ink was dry from the initial ratification. I think the puzzle is that conventions/amendments aren't more common.

ModeratePoli said...


Hold it right there!!! I learned something very long along--that a constitutional convention is VERY risky, and I don't want to be messing with those risks right now.

I am very risk averse, particularly downside risks. I don't know what what we have to gain with constitutional changes, but we have a lot to lose, namely checks and balances. There is no way I'd call for a convention without some blueprints available and a strong belief that it will be better. The change that I'll be convinced without seeing those blueprints--zero.

Anastasios said...

Well, I guess we would need to look at other available models. Those that seem at the present time to be functioning better than ours would be European parliamentary democracy. The great superiority of those systems lie in the fact that they are much better at forcing parties to fully own the responsibility for their policies. They are voted in, pass their programs, and then have to return to the voters for an up or down referendum. The system is simple, efficient, easy to understand, and able to adapt swiftly to change. The checks and balances lie in the fact that no Parliament can bind the hands of another, and therefore if any momentary majority passes unpopular legislation, the next Parliament can simply repeal it.

The problem comes in two spots. The first is that parliamentary systems only persist so long as the party in power resists the temptation to pass legislation permanently a
altering the system and cementing themselves into power. This is especially a danger in an Anglo-American setup of representatives elected from geographical districts in first past the post contests. This almost always results in a two-party system, but creates the danger of a party winning the majority of districts but the minority of votes. During much of the Thatcher era this was the case in the UK, as the Tories controlled southern districts often by slim majorities and lost northern districts in landslides. Of course, we have a similar situation in the House at the moment. Thus the second problem, that the only way to avoid this is through a system of proportional representation, which leads to a proliferation of parties and the ability of extremists to leverage power enormously by providing the needed extra votes for a coalition. We can see that in Israel.

I agree with Truth that the Madisonian system is dysfunctional and ultimately unworkable, and we would be far better off with the much more intelligent Parliamentary systems one sees in Europe and Canada. However, they are not without their problems. The danger of moving to a British style system in an era of dangerously dysfunctional parties is that a winning party, especially, frankly, the GOP, might well try to permanently rig the system through gerrymandering, rotten districts, restrictive electoral laws, and the like. Proportional representation would probably be safer, as the power extremists could leverage through multi-party coalitions is present but usually more limited. Of course, multi-party systems can lead to gridlock, but what else is new?