The measure of a party’s commitment to limiting government is what it does in power. In opposition a party can do a few things, but obviously not as much as when it wields both executive and legislative authority.
By that criterion, what is one to make of the Republican Party?
With one house of one branch of government under its control, the GOP is fighting desperately to stop an expansion of social insurance—Obamacare—and might like to cut non-defense spending as well. Because holding the House of Representatives is not enough to repeal legislation, the GOP has to resort to more drastic steps—refusing to pass a continuing resolution to fund government if Obamacare is part of the CR. And now the party is signaling a refusal to raise the debt ceiling unless it gets something in return. Without a debt-ceiling hike, the federal government begins to default in about a week.
But no problem: shouldn’t a small-government party be happy to close the government for a while, showing everyone just which employees are “essential”? And isn’t the national debt something a small-government party wants to see capped and paid down, not constantly raised? Read More…
Robert Costa reports this morning:
In the coming days, the House will likely consider legislation that would establish a bipartisan negotiating group to resolve the current fiscal impasse. It’d include select members from both chambers, and once passed, it’d start immediately.
This sounds alarmingly similar to 2011’s deficit-reduction supercommittee, which could not reach bipartisan agreement of any kind and whose miserable failure led indirectly to the creation of the budget sequestration that nearly everyone hates, but is kept in place by Republicans who enjoy mutilating their nose to spite their face.
It seems increasingly clear that the House leadership is playing out the string in the hopes that Obama or Senate Democrats will crack.
Yet consider another report (also from the indispensable Costa) on the implacability of the Houses kamikaze-cons:
“They may try to throw the kitchen sink at the debt limit, but I don’t think our conference will be amenable for settling for a collection of things after we’ve fought so hard,” says Representative Scott Garrett (R., N.J.). “If it doesn’t have a full delay or defund of Obamacare, I know I and many others will not be able to support whatever the leadership proposes. If it’s just a repeal of the medical-device tax, or chained CPI, that won’t be enough.”
Representative Paul Broun (R., Ga.) agrees, and says Boehner risks an internal rebellion if he decides to broker a compromise. “America is going to be destroyed by Obamacare, so whatever deal is put together must at least reschedule the implementation of Obamacare,” he says. “This law is going to destroy America and everything in America, and we need to stop it.”
Does this sound to you like there’s even a remote possibility that any deal, big or small, could pass muster with both Senate Democrats and 218 Republicans? If not, why are we putting the country through this? Why are Republicans inflicting real, immediate, and tangible harm on the economy in order to accomplish the impossible (delay or defund Obamacare) address an abstract future threat (debt) or merely to save face? Why isn’t the majority of the House majority isolating its rightmost faction and ending this pointlessly asinine pissing match?
Contra the conventional wisdom, I maintain that no one in leadership will lose his job. The very nature of Tea Party opposition, whether it issues from the likes of Bazooka Ted and His Gang in the Senate or the unappeasable Jacobins in the House, is to throw weight without consequence. They evince no interest in actually wielding power from the inside, which would require restraint, conciliation, and moderation. They are hysterics on the brink of utter demoralization. The danger they pose to democratic norms, institutional comity, and political functionality is precisely why they can’t be bargained with; they must be marginalized.
It’s time, Republicans: it’s time to throw the One Ring into Mount Doom.
After a weekend of trying to imbibe as much as I could of the back-and-forthing over this latest Manufactured and Unnecessary Crisis—despite much better things to imbibe, like postseason baseball, football, or even hemlock—I shouted at no one in particular:
What the hell is this thing about, anyway?
I mean, is it Obamacare?
Or is it long-term debt?
One minute, the showboating Bazooka Ted and His Gang tried to hold up the bank and defund—or maybe just delay; or at the very least marginally fiddle with—Obamacare. Something! The “Vitter Amendment”! Anything! The next minute, we’re talking about a “grand bargain” again. An “epic battle” over spending. Doing something to save our grandchildren from runaway government debt.
If you want to win an epic battle, it’s probably a good thing to have a coherent idea of what you’re actually battling over.
In the showdown over the shutdown of the U.S. government, the Obamaites tipped their hand yesterday as what their strategy is.
Taking a page out of Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals,” the plan is to maximize the people’s pain—to maximize the political damage to the enemy, the Republican Party.
What else explains it?
Consider this: Asked Wednesday if there were any danger of America defaulting on her debt, President Obama rushed to assure a reporter that, yes, indeed, there certainly is such a peril.
Why would a president act in so perverse a manner, were he not trying deliberately to rattle or panic the markets?
Obama’s tactic worked. Thursday, the Dow plunged below 15,000. Read More…
They’re a bunch of certitude-surfeited Jacobins.
That’s the implication of this New York Times report on hardline House GOPers who precipitated the current government shutdown, er, lapse in appropriations.
Sample quixotic-sounding quote from Rep. Steve Pearce of New Mexico: “At times, you must act on principle and not ask what cost, what are the chances of success.”
Here these 30-odd Republicans stand. Damn the torpedoes, they can do no other!
You know what, though?
In light of the impending government shutdown, D.C. Mayor Vince Gray and the D.C. Council have seized the opportunity to fight for their city’s autonomy by declaring every District governmental employee an “essential” employee. If the federal government does shutdown, the District will continue to run, business as usual. While Gray’s stand leaves District residents breathing a sigh of relief that their garbage collection will continue, the move stretches the limits of charitable interpretation.
According to Section 1, Article 8 of the Constitution, Congress has the power to “exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over the district.” The District government falls under federal control, and so under the Antideficiency Act. Congress passed the Antideficiency Act in 1884, the AP reports, in order to gain greater financial control over federal agency spending. However, the legislation was more formal than practical, and “agency chiefs…assumed Congress didn’t want them to turn off the lights and go home….This look-the-the-way system worked for decades.” That is, until Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti interpreted the bill as a ban on governmental work lacking federal funding approval. Although he moderated his interpretation to allow essential government services, such as the military, to continue even without an approved spending bill, his reading has ruled to the present day.
The District is technically under federal control; it exists as the seat of the federal government, independent of any particular state’s jurisdiction. However, the District is not just an amalgamation of governmental buildings: it is also home to 632,323 tax-paying individuals who depend on local services, such as the DMV and garbage collection. These residents voted in April earlier this year to approve a charter amendment securing budget autonomy from Congress; that measure is not set to go into effect until January 1, 2014. In the meantime Mayor Gray has argued that “it is ridiculous that a city of 632,000 people—a city where we have balanced our budget for 18 consecutive years and have a rainy-day fund of well over a billion dollars—cannot spend its residents’ own local tax dollars to provide them the services they’ve paid for without Congressional approval.” Thus, his justification for expanding the word “essential” to cover all District employees.
As a resident of the District, I have a certain sympathy for Gray’s position: I, too, hope that my trash continues to be removed every Wednesday morning. However, redefining the word “essential” in a game of political chicken with the Office of Management and Budget overreaches the District’s current political limits. The contract of our country, for which the District serves as the seat, is that our political proceedings are not intended to rest on the whims of those in whom we have invested governmental authority. We have legal recourse to change laws that we disagree with, and the District did just that by passing the referendum going into effect next year. Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney even suggests that by employing the District’s contingency fund, a stand-off between local and federal authorities might be entirely (legally) circumvented.
Like the Affordable Care Act, D.C.’s local subjection to federal whims may be bad policy. The answer to bad policy, however, is not civil disobedience on a governmental scale. The D.C. Council, though they may want to do so, cannot justly achieve their autonomy by stretching a federal word past its breaking point. Nor can the House Republicans justly attempt to undo one law, Obamacare, by shutting down the entirety of the government. The answer to bad policy is politics, conducted with respect for the rule of law and the integrity of our governing institutions.
“In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies,” said Winston Churchill.
What is the truth behind the Beltway lies about these crazy Republicans crashing our government?
Twice in the last week House Republicans have voted unanimously to fund the U.S. government.
If national polls are to be believed, those House Republicans are doing exactly what America wants. A majority of Americans oppose a government shutdown. And a majority oppose Obamacare.
Who, then, is preventing the government from being funded?
Harry Reid and Barack Obama. Neither will accept any continuing resolution that does not contain Obamacare. Both will shut down this city rather than accept any such CR.
It is Harry and Barry who are saying: If we don’t get full funding of Obamacare now, we shutdown Washington until the House delivers.
The battle, then, is over this question: Will the next great liberal entitlement program, Obamacare, with its manifest failings and flaws, be imposed upon the nation—against its will?
The House says no. The Beltway says yes.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof compared Senator Ted Cruz to Don Quixote in a Thursday column, describing the senator as an impassioned but delusional knight-errant charging windmills of Obamacare terror. “Cruz is a smart man, and maybe this is just disingenuous demagoguery,” he said. “But there’s a scarier possibility: After spending too much time in the Republican echo chamber, he may believe what he says.”
Kristof invokes a right-wing media bubble so potent it “tugs the entire Republican Party to the right and that transforms people like Cruz into crusading Don Quixotes.” He has a point—it’s easy to uncover murmurs of conspiracy and fear in the Republican Party, and it’s embarrassing at times to see the naiveté fostered in our discourse by a lack of openness, refusal to appreciate alternate points of view, and disdain for the beliefs of others.
But Kristof is wrong to level this charge only at the right; the left shares its own collection of giants-actually-windmills. Salon’s front page Thursday included a film review of a horror flick about a fictional cannibal Christian family. This was their deck: “a gruesome horror film becomes an indie mood piece on the dangers of religion.”
Media bubbles do indeed produce an echo-chamber effect, but that would do little if they were not echoing the rhetoric of a crusader. Don Quixote’s power lies in his make-believe nobility. Today’s parties—left and right—are similarly entranced by their own grandiose myths. The sound of crusading greatness, of superior dogma, sings sweetly in our ears. Yet so much of politics is commonplace, stale, and frustrating. We gild our windmills and mount our invisible steeds in an attempt to embellish it all. But how much of politics is really so grand or straightforward?
Don Quixote wanted to seek the true, good, and beautiful. But his desire for greatness prevented him from confronting the real world. Leon Hadar described a similar sentiment in “Why ‘This Town’ Loves Going to War”:
Ask yourself why there is this continual effort by the Beltway insiders and journalists to elevate foreign policy and national security to the top of the agenda. Could it be because they believe a “player” in Washington has a better chance of drawing public and media attention, of gaining recognition, and of accumulating power when he or she is dealing with matters of war and peace as opposed to, say, the makeup of the next budget?
Hadar is right: politicians prefer the language of war and peace to boring policy postulations. So don’t be surprised if they begin speaking of budgetary issues in warlike terms—politics become more palatable with a little ideological sugarcoating. Perhaps this explains Cruz’s statement, “Everyone in America knows Obamacare is destroying the economy.” Or when he compared acceptance of the Affordable Care Act to Chamberlain’s appeasement of Nazis. Turning politics and policy into black-and-white battles is easy. It makes everything simple. As simple as charging at imaginary giants.
This summer produced a triumph of American patriotism.
A grassroots coalition arose to demand Congress veto any war on Syria. Congress got the message and was ready to vote no to war, when President Obama seized upon Vladimir Putin’s offer to work together to disarm Syria of chemical weapons.
The war America did not want — did not come.
Lindsey Graham is determined that this does not happen again.
The next war he and his collaborators are planning, the big one, the war on Iran, will not be blocked the same way.
How does Graham propose to do this?
He plans to introduce a use-of-force resolution, a peacetime declaration of war on Iran, to ensure Obama need not come back to Congress — and can attack Iran at will. Lindsay intends a preemptive surrender of Congress’ constitutional war-making power — to Obama.
He wants to give Obama a blank check for war on Iran, then stampede Obama into starting the war.
On Fox’s “Huckabee” Sunday, Lindsey laid out his scheme:
“I’m going to get a bipartisan coalition together. We’re going to put together a use-of-force resolution, allowing our country to use military force … to stop the Iranian nuclear program. … I’m going to need your help, Mike, and the help of Americans and friends of Israel.”
In July, Graham told a cheering conference of Christians United for Israel: “If nothing changes in Iran, come September, October, I will present a resolution that will authorize the use of military force to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.”
That Graham is braying that he intends to give Obama a blank check for war on Iran is not all bad news. For he thus concedes Obama does not now have the authority to attack Iran.
And by equating Iran’s “nuclear program” with a “nuclear bomb” program, Graham reveals that his bottom line is not Obama’s bottom line, but Benjamin Netanyahu’s.
Obama has said only that Iran must not be allowed to build a bomb. Bibi says Iran must not have a nuclear program.
Yet, make no mistake. The goal of Graham, the neocons, Israel and Saudi Arabia is not a negotiated solution permitting a peaceful nuclear program in Iran. The goal is a U.S. war to smash Iran.
— Kasie Hunt (@kasie) September 4, 2013
As the Obama administration moves toward a dramatic political solution in Syria, Robert Merry detects an inflection point in American politics, the public forcing a “major new direction in American foreign policy”:
In a survey reported in Tuesday’s New York Times, the paper asked broader questions about American foreign policy, and the results were revealing. Fully 62 percent of respondents said the United States shouldn’t take a leading role in trying to solve foreign conflicts, while only 34 percent said it should. On a question whether the United States should intervene to turn dictatorships into democracies, 72 percent said no. Only 15 percent said yes. The Times said that represents the highest level of opposition recorded by the paper in various polls over the past decade.
To understand the significance of these numbers, along with the political pressures building on lawmakers on the issue, it’s important to note that American political sentiment doesn’t change willy-nilly, for no reason. What we’re seeing is the emergence within the American political consciousness of a sense that the country’s national leaders have led it astray on foreign policy. And, given the country’s foreign-policy history of the past two decades, it isn’t surprising that the people would begin to nudge their leaders with a certain amount of agitation.
It’s unclear what it will take for the “foreign-policy reawakening” to fully penetrate Washington, where many congressmen are openly relieved that a vote on the use of force in Syria has been postponed due to diplomatic breakthroughs (“For scores of Republicans and Democrats troubled by the optics of voting yea or nay, the delay was a godsend”). Moreover, Joshua Keating notes that the public has been in a “multilateralist mood” for quite some time.
In some ways this administration has transitioned away from unpopular full-scale interventionism by simply downplaying any prospect of American involvement as “unbelievably small.” In Libya, the scope of intervention was repeatedly minimized–the administration dodged a mostly apathetic Congress, claiming it was not involved in “hostilities”–while the president largely avoided even talking about America’s role and obligations in that country. But while some dinged the Syria address last week as unnecessary, it’s notable that the political moment now requires some overt grappling with the decision to commit force and a straightforward argument from national interests.
The Syria debate has revealed a certain prudence and realism among the American public. Perhaps the last-minute shift to real, creative diplomacy in this case will activate some fresh strategic thinking among the foreign policy elite. A major new direction indeed.