AFD Ep 35 – A Second Inauguration

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

“AFD Ep 35 – A Second Inauguration”
Posted: Mon, 21 Jan 2013

Description: Bill discusses President Obama’s second inauguration with guest Neal Carter. Former co-host Kelley checks in to talk about her upcoming service with the Peace Corps. Bill looks at the Republican defeat on the debt ceiling and what it signals for the next two years, and then explains more about the crisis in Mali. Finally, Bill offers some thoughts on the future broadly.

GOP backing off on debt limit fight

This month, so far, is turning out very well for the White House. The Republicans are already caving on the debt ceiling increase, despite all the apocalypse talk from the pundits. Not only have House Republicans reportedly made peace with the reality of their diminished power and inability to extract concessions, but their Senate colleagues (including the powerful Minority Whip) are explicitly reversing tough talk about government shutdowns and acknowledging that the debt ceiling is going to go up and they can’t do much about it or set the terms. The White House is about to walk away two months early with a ceiling raise and no ransom-style spending cuts.

And the caving is coming alongside the apparent abandonment of the “Hastert Rule” that I discussed earlier this month. Essentially, under that rule, Speaker Boehner would have to get support from a majority of the (heavily extremist) House Republicans to pass something, but without that rule he can just go get the House Democrats to vote it through with a couple dozen moderate Republicans. That immediately moderates any deals toward the center because the more conservative House Republicans lose their obstruction capacities and bargaining leverage. They can either cut a reasonable deal or watch as an even worse — from their perspective — deal goes through without their input.

AFD Ep 34 – David Waldman on Filibusters

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Description: After a lengthy hiatus, Bill returns to the air with an in-depth interview on filibuster reform with David Waldman, a commentary on the issues facing the new Congress, an explanation of the French military campaign in Mali, and a note on the US timetable in Afghanistan. Sasha also chimes in for a discussion of the status of women in American politics at the start of 2013.

The Fiscal Cliff Deal (and What It Means for Boehner)

So the House of Representatives passed the New Year’s Fiscal Cliff Deal that the Senate passed in the middle of the night by a large margin, a few weeks after Speaker John Boehner’s unilateral “Plan B” proposal failed abysmally because neither the House Democrats nor his own Republican Majority were interested. So instead of the conservative Republicans getting a pretty good deal, they had to sit and watch in impotent rage as Speaker Boehner, 81 other Republicans, and nearly all the House Democrats held and passed a vote on a pretty damn great deal for the Democratic White House.

Here’s the quick summary of what Democrats got:
It’s a pretty good deal (for us). No changes to entitlement benefits (i.e. Social Security or Medicare), income taxes go back up to Clinton levels for the super-wealthy (individuals making over $400k/yr, couples making over $450k/yr), everyone else’s income taxes remain at the Bush Tax Cuts levels, unemployment insurance benefits are extended after expiring a few days back, all scheduled “sequester” spending cuts are delayed for 2 more months, milk prices are stabilized, and there’s some delay on a Medicare payment restructuring plan with regards to doctor compensation (but I don’t know much about that). The payroll taxes will roll back up to at least 2008 levels (which helps Social Security’s solvency), which was theoretically always supposed to happen eventually, since the cuts were a short-term stimulus. Democrats only conceded about $200 billion over ten years in potential revenues on the marginal incomes between $200k/$250k and $400k/$450k, which is not that big a problem in the grand scheme. I guess this means there’s a new tax bracket, which is fine by me. There’s also no resolution on the next debt ceiling raise that will need to happen in a few months, but that wouldn’t have been likely in an 11th Hour (or 13th Hour?) deal anyway, and it wasn’t urgent.

About those Spending Cuts:
If this were still going to be the ultra-obstructionist, big-Republican-majority 112th Congress we’ve had since January 2011, it would be a big problem that the spending cuts were delayed by 2 months, because it would just manufacture another artificial crisis/showdown in two months. But the 113th Congress is sworn in on Thursday of this week, and that means a new calculus, even if the Republicans still control the House. I think the 2 month postponement only helps the Democrats, not the Republicans. It’s now more on our turf to decide. Tuesday was the last opportunity for House Republicans to use their big 2010-won majority to shape cuts, and they blew it. Their majority isn’t as big once the 113th Congress is sworn in on Thursday. If Boehner and the remaining GOP moderates keep caving, Pelosi, Reid, and the White House will be calling the shots on things like spending cuts.

Granted, that’s obviously a big if. So let’s examine whether or not that is likely to happen. The 113th Congress will start with a Republican majority with only a 23 seat edge. I think that’s probably in the neighborhood of the size of the northeast/northern Republicans and the small cadre of people who still back Boehner to the hilt. They won’t vote with the Democrats on a lot of stuff, but they’ll vote with them on quite a few national-scale priorities if Boehner asks them to. Boehner won’t get voted out as speaker, but he has clearly lost all control of his caucus. Previously he could control his caucus to some extent, so he could be obstructionist and fight the White House and still get things. But now he can’t deliver Republican majorities for anyone’s bills. His only power play now — to demonstrate any level of control over the situation and to leave any kind of mark in his tenure as speaker — is to show that he can get some things, or rather any things, through. (Because at the end of the day, he’s still not one of the Burn Everything Down tea party Republicans, and he probably thinks of himself as a statesman.) Those things will from now on be designed by the White House and by the Senate Democratic Leadership, and they will only pass with Democratic help in the House. If the filibuster gets reformed, the Senate Democrats will have an even easier time passing legislation to send to the House. So Boehner will have to choose between trying and repeatedly failing to pass conservative legislation because neither the House Democrats nor the House Republican Conservatives will vote for it or trying to persuade House Democrats to vote with him and two dozen Republicans on centrist policies. And some Republicans will agree to do this either because they are actually moderates or because they realize that they are more likely to retain the Republican majority in 2014 by being able to claim some amount of credit and cooperation on accomplishing some stuff than by preventing anything from getting passed for two years. A lot of the few remaining folks in the Boehner loyalist cadre were veterans of the Gingrich Majority of the 1990s that almost collapsed in the 1998 & 2000 elections due to inability to pass almost anything and get it signed into law. The Republicans already got dinged badly in the 2012 House elections (and would probably have lost their majority were it not for favorable redistricting by the state legislators elected in the 2010 Republican wave) because Americans saw them as uncooperative bordering on saboteurs. Right direction or wrong direction, Americans nearly always prefer action in some direction over action in no direction.

About that Debt Ceiling:
The debt ceiling, untouched in this middle-of-the-night deal, is going to need to be raised again in, I guess, March or thereabouts. I’m not totally sure of the timeline but it’s not all that important here. It’ll be after the spending cuts postponement is up in 2 months. But it’s another point where the 2011 Republicans would have seized the opportunity to create a crisis and force a showdown right up to the brink of disaster. They did that in 2011. But the Republican majority and Speaker Boehner in particular won’t have that kind of leverage anymore.

I think the world-ending showdowns from 2011 and 2012 are probably over for the next two years or will be far, far less frequent. Once again, Boehner’s majority will be a lot smaller starting Thursday (only a 23 seat edge) in the 113th Congress, and he no longer has influence over most of that majority. He and some of his supporters would really prefer not to bring down the government and economy, even if the conservative wing is claiming to be just fine with that outcome. Since he’s never going to reach a deal that could win a Republican majority and Senate and White House passage, and will in fact embarrass himself every time he tries (as happened with the “Plan B” proposal), he no longer has an incentive to futz around trying to get such a deal — and the White House knows that. No leverage for him, now. Likelier scenario is that he bangs his chest a bit and then puts together a deal with the Senate Majority and White House that the House Minority Democrats will back. And then he, his merry band of two or three dozen Republicans who aren’t complete maniacs on the debt ceiling, and the House Democrats will cobble together a slim majority and pass a deal. The White House, I believe, has already said that they will exercise the Amendment 14 Section 4 option (a unilateral raise) if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling. They don’t want to do that — it’s still an open question has to whether or not the Courts would accept it and no one really wants to find out the hard way — but they will do it if they have to. So he can negotiate or not negotiate, but the debt ceiling will be raised either way, so it’s in his interest to negotiate the best deal he can get, given that this White House would prefer a deal to that extreme option.

One final unavoidable caveat to all of this:
Never underestimate the power of the current crop of Republicans to cut off their noses to spite their faces. All of what I’m saying could be woefully over-optimistic and naive. They’ve shown on more than a few occasions that they will go to all kinds of unprecedented extremes unseen in the modern era even when it hurts them. They’re a bit fundamentalist in that regard. I’m arguing on a questionable assumption that at least a couple dozen of them (including speaker Boehner) are still acting on a rational self-interest basis. And you know what happens when you assume…

Pelosi’s Parliament

In the United Kingdom, parliamentary elections in each constituency (district) are generally decided more by voters’ overall party choice than by the individual candidate standing (running) for election as member of parliament in that district. There are certainly exceptions, but as a general rule people are voting in UK general elections for which party leader they would like to become the next prime minister. In the United States, except during wave elections (which are generally referenda on the president or presidential nominees of each party than anything else), people tend far more to vote for the specific person running in a district. Local politics are more important than the congressional leaders.

Therefore it has been interesting to me to see how much the leaders in Congress, particularly in the House have been discussed during races, whether in ads, speeches, debates, or articles. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader John Boehner it seems are on everyone’s lips. Now partly that is just how it seems, because I’m a political junky more than the average voter by far, but still there’s an unusual fixation on Pelosi, especially, from the electorate mostly on the right.

Here are excerpts from an article from the New York Times today looking at her campaign efforts recently to defend her Democratic majority:

In recent months, the 70-year-old speaker’s days have been packed with private fund-raising events across the country for many of the Democrats who have been publicly avoiding her like bedbugs. (Since the beginning of 2009, she has raised $52.3 million for Democratic incumbents, candidates and the party’s Congressional campaign committee, second only to President Obama among Democrats.)
It is hard to find anyone who claims to have heard Ms. Pelosi entertain doubts about winning. “She believes deep in her soul that the Democrats will keep the majority,” said Larry Horowitz, a friend and adviser.

Whether that is denial, superstition, insight or spin is a subject of some debate. Ms. Pelosi is fully aware that the bad economy, the electoral map and historical trends favor Republicans, said Roz Wyman, a longtime Democratic activist in Los Angeles.

“She knows the situation and exactly what she is up against,” said Ms. Wyman, a frequent late-night phone buddy. “We pretty much talk about everything, especially our grandchildren. But we never talk about losing.”

By all accounts, Ms. Pelosi has been engaged in district-by-district assessments of races, a type of political card-counting she learned as the daughter of a Baltimore mayor and congressman. She knows which of her members are in trouble, which need her help — and which ones absolutely do not want it. She can spout real-time reports on Republican chances of netting the 39 seats required for a majority.

While her Congressional seat appears safe, it often seems now as if Ms. Pelosi’s name is on the ballot in every Congressional district in the country.

“My opponent wants to make this election about a congresswoman from California,” Representative John Boccieri, Democrat of Ohio, told Roll Call, noting that his Republican rival, Jim Renacci, mentioned Ms. Pelosi’s name 14 times in a recent debate.

And a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll revealed that Ms. Pelosi and Sarah Palin are two of the country’s most polarizing political figures. Fifty-one percent of respondents said it was unacceptable for Ms. Pelosi to continue as speaker, a figure exceeding the percentage who say it would be unacceptable for Democrats to retain control of Congress.

Ms. Pelosi said she did not care that she was a target, as long as Democrats get re-elected — even if that means distancing themselves from her. (On Thursday, Representative Bobby Bright of Alabama became the first Democrat to publicly say he would not support Ms. Pelosi for speaker if he were re-elected.)

This unusual parliamentary-style attention to the House leaders is even more fascinating considering this observation by David Roberts at Grist last March, after the passage of health reform:

Nancy Pelosi is a G. Not only did she push the entire Democratic establishment to stiffen its collective spine after Scott Brown’s victory; not only did she masterfully and implacably whip votes for health care reform; under her leadership, the House has passed major progressive legislation on health care, climate change and energy, financial reform, and economic stimulus, to say nothing of many other smaller efforts. Were the U.S. a unicameral parliamentary system like most developed democracies, this past year would have changed the course of history and Democrats would have secured a generational majority. But: the Senate.

In other words, she ran the House like parliament, so maybe it’s not surprising she’s facing a parliamentary style referendum on her leadership, to some degree. No wonder the Republicans are desperate to stop her.

North Carolina Republican wants Reagan on the 50

When you’re a relatively new Republican representative from the South, there are lots of proposals you could make to burnish your credentials as a southern conservative. But some are more stupid and transparently reactionary than others. Case in point, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) is proposing that President Ulysses S. Grant be removed from the $50 bill, in favor of President Ronald Reagan. Now, we all know why Reagan: he’s the mythologized hero of the Right who don’t or won’t remember what they thought of him at the time. (For the record, McHenry was barely a teenager when Reagan left the White House, which explains a good deal.)

But why did he decide to go with the $50? His official (weak) reasoning:

President Reagan would be replacing President Ulysses S. Grant on the bill. In polls of presidential scholars, President Reagan consistently outranks President Grant. In 2005, The Wall Street Journal conducted one such poll of bipartisan scholars which ranked President Reagan 6th and President Grant 29th.

I’m deeply skeptical that this is the true reason… If you don’t remember your American History of the 1860s and 1870s, President Grant was the United States Army General who kicked Confederate butt all over the map and finally finished the Civil War in the Union’s favor… and then when he was elected President in 1868, he proceeded to implement a strong Federal Reconstruction policy in the South that protected the rights of liberated Blacks, cracked down and wiped out the original Ku Klux Klan, and implemented martial law in several Southern states until order was restored. Once Grant left office, most of his policies were immediately reversed by President Hayes as a result of the Compromise of 1877 that selected him as the winner on condition that he pull Federal troops out, which was the only force ensuring the policy’s implementation. Because of that policy, the Southern states in the post-Reconstruction period voted en masse for Democrats and against Republicans all the way until the 1960s, nearly a century later, when the Democratic hold began to slip as the national party began pushing for desegregation.

In the ensuing decades from the 1960s to the present, Republicans gradually reposition themselves as the more establishment-friendly/states’ rights party, and many Southern Democrats switched parties eventually to become Republicans. In many places, the lingering anti-Republican sentiment has continued to this day at a local level, with party switches being the only thing that finally turns a district to Republicans from conservadem/dixiecrat control. Ronald Reagan was a big factor in continuing Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy” to flip the South into a solid Republican bastion — that it is today — at the presidential level. So, this proposal is a win-win for reactionary Republicans stuck in the past down South: it dumps Reconstructionist Grant in favor of states’ rights Reagan.

Sean Wilentz, a history professor at Princeton who has actually even written a supportive book on Reagan, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times vigorously protesting McHenry’s proposal, giving many reasons why Grant deserves to remain on the fifty, instead of Reagan. He includes a lot of reasons I didn’t go over that were unrelated to Reconstruction and the Civil War, but I tend to think those are why McHenry wants to replace Grant. Wilentz makes a compelling case, additionally, that Grant’s reputation — which McHenry cites as reason for replacement — is the unjust result of extended character assassination after his death by pro-Confederate historians.

Fortunately, I don’t think McHenry has enough pull to make this go any place. Nevertheless, I think we should remain vigilant, since the Republicans did manage to use their majority a few years ago to quietly remove the Lincoln Memorial from the back of the penny.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

House Dem switches parties

Maybe’s it’s not surprising, but it’s still interesting that Rep. Parker Griffith (AL-05) switched to the Republican Party today from the Democrats. It’s interesting because he was only elected in 2008, so he’s no long-timer who’s been abandoned by the party. What is most annoying is that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) spent over $1 million in the 2008 cycle to elect this traitor who didn’t deliver much of anything in his first year in office for Democrats and will now deliver even less before probably going down in defeat in the Republican primary this year. They have formally requested that he repay the money, though obviously the time and energy spent there in 2008 is lost.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.