In other words, the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity. Or put another way: “It’s a Madhouse…a Madhouse!” So, yeah, this is my day job, and, sad to say, it’s mostly been like this since 2010: Two-to-three days out of the week, the House votes to repeal, defund, delay, or otherwise hamstring the Affordable Care Act. On the off day, it usually pays homage to some other deeply stupid and destructive Republican shibboleth, like, say, scrapping literacy programs, gutting the EPA, or kicking four million poor people off of Food Stamps.
That’s business as usual ’round these parts, and this idiotic, self-inflicted shutdown is just the apotheosis of the creeping crazy that has afflicted the House over the past three years. On the off-chance that people just might get better access to affordable health insurance — from a free-market-based plan originally conceived and enacted by Republicans, mind you — the GOP have now completely shut down the federal government. And since it’s looking like America just isn’t backing their play on this, the GOP already have their eye set on a bigger hostage: the nation’s credit rating. Here’s Clownshoes Ryan on this: “I think it will fold into the debt-ceiling fight. I think that’s inevitable, and preferable in my opinion…I like combining all of our leverage, which is sequester and the debt limit.”
That Ryan quote brings up an important and often-overlooked point about this current madness: There is a method to it, and for the GOP — however bad the headlines — this is mostly going according to plan. For, absent all the Sturm und Drang surrounding the Affordable Care Act, when it comes to the actual budget situation: The Democrats have (once again) already caved, and the Republicans will almost assuredly be getting the Austerity Economy they so desire. To wit:
Dave Dayen: “The new fiscal year, which begins October 1, is the natural moment to assess the harm sequestration has wrought, and fix it to prevent more damage. But the extreme nature of the House Republican demands has made a ‘clean’ budget resolution with spending cuts intact the compromise position in the debate.”
Digby: “The Democrats already folded. Sequestration is now the ongoing law of the land and Paul Ryan’s budget wet dream is considered the ‘clean’ continuing resolution…the Democrats have been losing on policy every step of the way since these budget battles began, even as they seem to be winning the politics. What could be more telling than the fact that the numbers in Paul Ryan’s budget are now considered the starting point in any new negotiations to end the shutdown?”
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA): “It’s baffling to me that the Republicans aren’t claiming victory. I’ve talked to a lot of them, privately, and a lot of them say, ‘Yeah, this is what we want. We should call it a day.'”
The point being, and with the caveat that a crisis situation has its own dangerously combustive logic — who knows what happens once ambitious, patently amoral dudebros like Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan call the shots? — the ACA fight is mostly a big shiny object to keep the fringiest of the right-wing loons happy and everyone else distracted. However much further down the rabbit hole the Republicans intend to take us — and it seems like they now want this to bleed right into the debt ceiling fight for maximum destructiveness — they’ve already got what they wanted in many of the ways that matter. They’re happier than a pig in slop whenever government seems broken. They rejoice every time lazy Beltway media pundits shrug and publish he-said, she-said stories about DC dysfunction. And they for all intent and purposes won their Austerity budget the moment Senate Democrats sent back and began pushing a “clean”-CR — meaning a government funded at sequester levels — as the compromise solution.
So, yeah, it’s a demoralizing time in Washington and no mistake — especially since, if anything, we’ll be lucky if the White House doesn’t try to step into the breach with another social-insurance-slashing Grand Bargain at some point. Hope and Change! But ah well, at least they keep making movies.
Honestly, what is this horseshit? In a disturbingly complete 180 from his comments the last time this came up back in 2006 — although, to be fair, he eventually folded like an accordion then too — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dusts off the Cheneyite talking points to call for an immediate, unamended extension of the PATRIOT Act. (It passed the Senate today, 72-23.)
Contrast this with Reid in 2005: “‘We killed the Patriot Act,’ boasted Minority Leader Harry Reid…to cheers from a crowd at a political rally after the vote.” Ladies and gentlemen, our Democratic Senate Majority Leader. And, yet, however hackadocious Reid is being in this instance, let’s remember — this is coming from the top, from the constitutional scholars at the White House. After all, as Mike Riggs notes in Reason: “If the PATRIOT Act lapses, and a sarlacc does not swallow LAX immediately after, it’ll be that much harder to convince Americans that those provisions are necessary.“
Come Senators, Congressmen, please heed the call: In a decent companion piece to James Fallows’ foray on the subject earlier this year, The New Yorker‘s George Packer tries to figure out what the hell is wrong with the Senate. And one of the best answers is buried in the middle of the piece: “Nothing dominates the life of a senator more than raising money. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat, said, ‘Of any free time you have, I would say fifty per cent, maybe even more,” is spent on fund-raising.’“
The other big and much-needed solution: Filibuster reform. But with a handful of Democratic Senators already balking at the idea, that’ll be a tough climb this coming January, and no mistake. Nonetheless, it is very much a fight worth having. “[O]ver the past few decades the reflex has grown in the Senate that, all things considered, it’s better to avoid than to take on big issues. This is the kind of thing that drives Michael Bennet nutty: here you’ve arrived in the United States Senate and you can’t do fuck-all about the destruction of the planet.“
“‘We’ve spent countless hours over the last few days in consultation with senators who’ve shown a genuine desire to reform the health-care system,’ Reid said. ‘And I believe there’s a strong consensus to move forward in this direction.'” Yer damn skippy. The Senate health care reform bill will include an opt-out public option, mainly because Senate progressives demanded it. “Reid and the leadership faced this basic math: There is only one Snowe and there are 60 members of the Democratic caucus. If just a few Democrats abandoned the bill, it would fall short even with Snowe’s support.“
Also worth reading, Nate Silver’s concise ten-point summation of why a public option made the Senate bill. Note #1: “The tireless, and occasionally tiresome, advocacy on behalf of liberal bloggers and interest groups for the public option. Whatever you think of their tactics — I haven’t always agreed with them — the sheer amount of focus and energy expended on their behalf has been very important, keeping the issue alive in the public debate.” Keep up the good fight, y’all. This ain’t over yet.
Update: To wit, Senator Lieberman is up to his old antics: “I told Senator Reid that…if the bill remains what it is now, I will not be able to support a cloture motion before final passage. Therefore I will try to stop the passage of the bill.” Let’s remember. Lieberman — who played this same game back in 1994 — was allowed to keep his chair last November mainly on the pretense that he wouldn’t hold up important Democratic legislation. One would think this counts.
I’m unclear as to what the GOP thinks will happen if we move these detainees into our regular prison system (other than that it’ll probably be harder to waterboard them.) What kind of fantasyland do these yokels reside in? These detainees aren’t Lex Luthor or the Joker. They have no vast army of misguided goons waiting to help them in the Big House. (In fact, I think they’ll find they don’t have much in common with your run-of-the-mill hard time lifer.) Nor have they concocted any diabolical master plans to escape from these extremely secure institutions. Newsflash: Those supercriminal types you read about in comics don’t actually exist. (And, while we’re debunking conservative fantasies, forget what you saw Jack Bauer do: “ticking time bomb” scenarios don’t in fact happen either, and, even if they did, torture is in no way effective as a means of obtaining the information you’d need. Not that its efficacy matters anyway, because it’s a war crime regardless.)
Absurd. Blatantly absurd. And altogether irritating that, once again, too many Democrats in Congress are not only taking these inchoate lunacies seriously, but grimly echoing them as if there’s even a modicum of sound reasoning going on here. Can these conservatives and their Dem enablers distinguish between the Real World and their bizarre, half-baked realm of nightmares anymore? At this point, I half-expect Chuck Grassley and Harry Reid to tell me they’re imprisoning Zubadayah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, et al in a pane of glass and shooting them into the far reaches of space. I mean, it worked for General Zod in Superman II, right?
“‘There will be people in districts all over the country that will wonder why, when there’s a good bill to get the economy moving again, we still seem to be playing political gotcha,’ White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in an interview.” Well, so much for the post-partisan era. Despite several attempts at across-the-aisle diplomacy by the new administration, the House passes President Obama’s stimulus bill 244-188 without a single Republican vote. Sigh.
Perhaps a little history lesson is in order. Journey with me, if you will, back to 1993, the last time a new Democratic president tried to work with this same crew of jokers on a new, recession-busting economic plan. As you may remember, Clinton’s 1993 budget also passed the House and Senate without a single GOP vote. Let’s see what the Republicans had to say back then (courtesy of some old, off-line research of mine):
Dick Armey (who, btw, made an embarrassment of himself on national television last night): “This bill would grow the Government…shrink the economy” and “will mean fewer jobs for ordinary Americans.” [Congressional Record, 8/5/93]
Newt Gingrich: The bill will “kill jobs and lead to a recession” that would “force people off of work and onto unemployment and will actually increase the deficit.” [Houston Chronicle, 8/7/93, 1993; AJC, 8/6/93]
Bob Dole: The bill “would take America in the wrong direction.” [WP, 8/4/93]
Ronald Reagan (yes, they wheeled him out with talking points): The bill will “only cause the deficit to increase and will likely wreck any hopes for economic recovery.” [“Just Say No to Clinton’s Package,” NYT op-ed, 8/3/93]
Rush Limbaugh: True to form, the GOP’s poster boy bet the DNC $1 million on the air that three of the following five things would happen by 1996: 1. The deficit would grow. 2. Unemployment would rise. 3. Inflation would swell. 4. Interest rates would surge. 5. The President’s approval rating would fall below 45 percent. [ James McTague, “Off to the Races,” Barron’s, 3/18/96]
Well, I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of the untold economic devastation that was the remainder of the Clinton years. (If you’re keeping score, Rush went 0-for-5, and never paid up.) As it turns out, just as with Boehner this time around, the GOP had decided beforehand they weren’t going to vote for any Clinton bill. As Bob Woodward notes in The Agenda (p. 109), Dole told Clinton this three weeks before the bill was even proposed.
Then as now, the modern Republican party doesn’t seem to understand the first thing about basic economics (their right-wing dogma precludes any grasp of Keynesianism, I guess.) They don’t seem to “get” rudimentary American history. (I’ve seen so many dumb things written about Herbert Hoover and the 1937 “Roosevelt recession” — which was caused by spending cuts and fiscal retrenchment by the FDR admininstration, not “over-regulation” — by right-wingers of late that it’s hard to even know where to begin.)They don’t seem to understand basic politics. (The American people have obviously voted for action, and a path away from Dubyanomics. Getting in the way of this bill won’t “reboot” their party in any way, shape, or form.) At this point, it’s an open question whether they can distinguish their asses from their elbows.
So…can we please stop spoon-feeding these guys now? The GOP has proven yet again that they’re not looking to play ball. If they want to be on the wrong side of the problem as usual, let them. It’s useless to spend any more time bending over backwards to accommodate their lousy, discredited ideas and inchoate, faith-based economic beliefs. It’s time to move on.
“‘If we have a candidate who has the most delegates and the most states,’ the Democratic party should come together around that candidate, Cantwell said. The pledged delegate count will be the most important factor, she said, because that is the basis of the nominating process.” Senator and Clinton superdelegate Maria Cantwell (D-WA) says she’ll vote for the pledged delegate leader in the end, meaning — barring a political meltdown of historic proportions — Sen. Obama. If this steadfast commitment to the actual rules represents a trend among her super support — and it likely does, despite the electoral vote Hail Mary — Clinton’s in real trouble. This also further supports Chris Bowers’ recent argument that the Democratic race will end on or soon after May 6, the day Sen. Obama most likely crosses the threshold of 1627 pledged delegates (a.k.a. 50% + 1 of the pledged total.)
Update: Add unaffiliated super and Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen to those leaning Obama in the final analysis. “Bredesen also joined House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in warning that superdelegates should not overturn the outcome from primaries and caucuses.” And Harry Reid, at least, also seems to think there’s an exit strategy before the convention: “I had a conversation with…[Howard] Dean today. Things are being done.” Update 2: Uncommitted and Clinton supers are not amused. Update 3: See also Clinton super Joe Andrew.
Some good news on the domestic policy front: Pushed forward by a veto-proof majority in Congress, Bush signs a Democratic Pell Grant increase into law. “The increase in financial aid is designed to come from cuts in subsidies that the government makes to banks, totaling roughly $20 billion…Bush at one point threatened to veto the bill on grounds that it included hidden costs and was an expensive expansion of federal programs.” In addition, an expansion of the State Child Health Insurance Program is now on Dubya’s desk after passing the Senate 69-30 and House 265-159, and also looks to become law despite the White House’s original opposition. “Bush and GOP leaders said the measure would push children already covered by private health insurance into publicly financed health care, while creating an ‘entitlement’ whose costs ultimately would outstrip the money raised by the bill’s 61-cent increase in the federal tobacco tax. But Republican opposition is increasingly isolated.“
And if passage of affordable college education and child health care bills by Dubya — however reluctantly — isn’t through the looking glass enough for ya, check this out: “The world must cut emissions or sacrifice the planet, Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State, told a meeting of governments on Thursday, in the most strongly worded statement on global warming yet made by the US administration….Her words reflected how far US rhetoric on climate change has moved in the past six months.”
Update: Ah, there’s the Dubya we know and…know. Despite its bipartisan backing, Bush vetoes the child health insurance bill, arguing that it was an attempt to “federalize” medicine. “‘I think that this is probably the most inexplicable veto in the history of the country. It is incomprehensible. It is intolerable. It’s unacceptable,’ said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, who pleaded with Republicans to help overturn the veto.”