We’re Still Doomed


Speaker Boehner has buckled to the forces of unreason and agreed to put forward a continuing resolution to fund the government that also defunds Obamacare, despite the fact that this has approximately as much chance of becoming law as I do of becoming NBA MVP. Jamelle Bouie sees in this latest development yet more evidence of a GOP stuck in a self-defeating feedback loop of awfulness:

It’s a striking dynamic. Thanks to its fanatical base, the GOP is unable to move forward and improve its image. Instead, it’s stuck in an endless loop of stunts and confrontations, each one sapping its strength and appeal, and setting it up for another poor showing with voters who are tired of the nonsense.

Part of me wants to play the fatalist contrarian and note that, due to redistricting — and the fact that during off-year elections, the Party that holds the White House almost always loses seats — the likelihood that House Republicans will actually suffer the consequences of their stubbornness is low. And another part of me wants to say, “Now, wait a minute. House Republicans aren’t cemented into their current seats; a wave election could pry many of them loose,” which is true, too.

But as I’ve discussed earlier, the idea that a shutdown would doom the GOP seems to me to be a stretch. I don’t doubt the conventional wisdom that says a shutdown will, like the last one, prove a mistake for Republicans. But the midterm is quite a ways away, still, and the public’s memory tends to be simple and short. It’s not impossible that a shutdown is seen by many as a sign of Obama’s weak leadership, for example. There is no guarantee.

What this means is that public opinion, while significant, is not going to play the God-like role that we, living in a nominal democracy, tend to assume it will. It won’t swoop down from the heavens and smite recalcitrant conservatives. It won’t rise from the bottom and lift up moderates and Democrats. It’s more likely to simply hover over the proceedings, spreading a vague, malaise-like discontent. More of the same from the past three years, basically.

In that circumstance, internal Party dynamics will remain the most decisive factor in how what little work that gets done gets done, which means that — unless Boehner abandons the Hastert Rule — a minority of Tea Partying House Republicans will still wield an effective veto over policy. Brian Beutler continues to insist that a shutdown won’t happen; or that if it does it’ll be a shutdown in name only, a mere consequence of the runout of the legislative clock. Maybe I’m a Cassandra, but when it comes to a way forward, I just don’t see it.

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82 thoughts on “We’re Still Doomed

  1. I am putting New Mexico’s congressional delegation on notice that if a budget deal cannot be reached and the government defaults, causing a disruption in my wife not receiving her Social Security monthly annuity and myself not receiving my monthly civil service retirement, we will send to those members who voted for ‘going over the cliff’ our monthly utilities and grocery bills. Let them live on our reality.


    • Items which do not go through the annual appropriations process — “permanently appropriated” in the jargon — will continue to be paid. Social security and retiree benefits will continue to be paid, as they are on the list of things permanently appropriated. Medicare and state Medicaid claims will also continue to be paid. National parks, OTOH, close immediately. Locally, there are a batch of people here in Colorado who are wondering what happens to FEMA.


      • Completely unrelated to your post but it caused me to think about something.

        What if the Founders did come back to 21st century? I imagine we would see a kind variant of The Grand Inquisition from the Brothers Karamazov where current politicians who go on about the Founders, tell the Founders that they are no longer necessary and problematic for being around.


      • I imagine we would see a kind variant of The Grand Inquisition from the Brothers Karamazov where current politicians who go on about the Founders, tell the Founders that they are no longer necessary and problematic for being around.

        “You gave us miracle, mystery and authority. And you will be hanged at 9:00 am.”


      • Do you know if military pay falls into the “permanently appropriated” bucket?

        No, but the one thing that can happen is that the military *can* go to work without a paycheck in the offing, while federal civilian employees cannot. I was in the military, but a student at a training command during the Gingrich/Clinton shutdown; we went to work everyday (most civilian employees did not, but that command at the time didn’t have many of them). I think the timing of the shutdown actually effected only one payday, but I can’t remember if the pay came on time or later. (I was a bit past living paycheck to paycheck by that point)


      • No, but the one thing that can happen is that the military *can* go to work without a paycheck in the offing, while federal civilian employees cannot.

        I don’t understand all of the details, but there are some civilian employees who are deemed “essential” and who will continue to work in the event of a shutdown. Prison guards, for example. Staff at federal research labs where Bad Things happen if all the employees stay away. Air traffic controllers. Last time we did this, some continued to get paid out of funds left over from the previous fiscal year, some worked with payment deferred.


  2. “Against stupidity, the gods themselves labour in vain.” This Congress should be impeached. It will not do the business of the nation.


    • You denied that the US political system is kaput a few weeks ago. Still standing by your guns? The congress is doing the job of the nation. They are representing their constituents. The question is which nation. Believing that political paralysis was inevitable about five years ago lead me to relocate to Canada to have a better seat from which to watch. I’ve got my bag of popcorn at the ready.


      • Oh, the political process isn’t kaput. When the GOP leadership calls the Tea Partiers a bunch of Wacko Birds, we know a few neurons are still firing. But the political process is on life support. I had thought better of Boehner, thought him more capable of dealing with his Flock of Wacko Birds. Some Turkey Farmer he’s turned out to be.


      • It’s not over yet BP. The Weeper is wriggling and squiggling, trying desperately to find a way out that doesn’t involve pissing off his right wing. I still hold out hope that when he realizes it’s shut down or piss off the tea party he’ll choose the latter.


      • It is easy to imbue the mind of crowds with a passing opinion, but very difficult to implant therein a lasting belief. However, a belief of this latter description once established, it is equally difficult to uproot it. It is usually only to be changed at the cost of violent revolutions. Even revolutions can only avail when the belief has almost entirely lost its sway over men’s minds. In that case revolutions serve to finally sweep away what had already been almost cast aside, though the force of habit prevented its complete abandonment. The beginning of a revolution is in reality the end of a belief.

        The precise moment at which a great belief is doomed is easily recognisable; it is the moment when its value begins to be called in question. Every general belief being little else than a fiction, it can only survive on the condition that it be not subjected to examination.

        But even when a belief is severely shaken, the institutions to which it has given rise retain their strength and disappear but slowly. Finally, when the belief has completely lost its force, all that rested upon it is soon involved in ruin. As yet a nation has never been able to change its beliefs without being condemned at the same time to transform all the elements of its civilisation. The nation continues this process of transformation until it has alighted on and accepted a new general belief: until this juncture it is perforce in a state of anarchy.


    • yeah they told us that. For the record “Essential” federal personnel will report to work (sans pay), so air traffic control, weather forecasting, and VA medical services will likely continue. So too some law enforcement, Customs and Immigration. And uniformed military as noted above.

      The rest of us can actually get fired and fined if we even check our email in a shutdown.


  3. But the midterm is quite a ways away, still, and the public’s memory tends to be simple and short.

    This is where the rubber hits the road. If the government-shutdown-avoidance bill ends before the midterm elections, expect the Democrats to be a lot less interested in negotiating in the next round.


  4. A question: What is the difference between a shutdown now and the previous one? I’ve been reading predictions that we’d end up defaulting on the national debt, for instance. Did we do that in 1995? If not, what’s the expected difference?

    Okay, that’s several questions. But thanks in advance to whoever takes the time to answer!


    • A shutdown is distinct from defaulting on the debt. congress needs to do two distinct things to keep running nowadays. First, it needs to appropriate money to spend on stuff, meaning you need to direct the treasury to spend money on this or that priority. That’s because discretionary spending is only funded in a finite way; congress might appropriate x dollars to fund the department of education for the next y months. When that time or that money runs out, if there’s not a new appropriation bill then there’s no money to fund the department and it shuts down.

      Second, there’s a legal requirement that the treasury department can only borrow up to a certain amount of money. That’s the debt limit. Because we’re running a deficit right now, we keep butting up against that legal limit. If Congress doesn’t raise it, then the treasury can’t legally borrow any more money and can only pay for things with tax income, which means it suddenly runs out of money. There’s stuff that it’s been directed to pay, but no way to legally pay for it, so something that the government is legally obligated to pay doesn’t get paid. That could conceivably be payments on outstanding debt, which would constitute defaulting on the national debt. The first problem is what came up in the 90’s and led to a government shutdown, in which government services just shut down until an agreement was reached.


      • Both, but separately, and with differing levels of seriousness.

        The real problem is that the more dangerous problem, default because of the debt limit, is thebmost artificial. The debt limit was created as one of Congress’s ways to try to limit the president, keeping him from borrowing money independently of Congress. But since then the budget process has changed in ways that exercise greater institutional control the budget, so it’s no longer necessary. Instead it’s just become a symbol. Eliminating it would appear, or be spun as, giving up on trying to control federal spending, even though it does no such thing, and any problem with federal spending is in the mix of appropriations and revenue measures that create the need to take on yet more debt.


      • Okay, so the thing to keep an eye out for isn’t really the shutdown like in the 90s but instead the debt ceiling thing like we had a couple years ago. Do I have that right?

        As [email protected] says, both are in play, the shutdown starting Oct 1, and the debt limit later in the month if I recall the last Treasury estimates right.

        The executive branch can’t spend money until it’s been appropriated by Congress. Appropriations may be permanent (eg, Social Security) or for a limited period of time typically a fiscal year (eg, National Parks). Come Oct 1 and the beginning of a new fiscal year, many appropriations will expire and the executive will lack authority to spend money in those areas — that’s the shutdown, sort of. Lots of federal employees like prison guards and air traffic controllers are deemed essential to public safety and will continue to work, but in most cases without pay.

        The debt limit is complicated. The constitution reserves the authority to borrow money on the country’s credit to Congress. Ditto for setting taxes, the primary source of revenues for the government. While the executive can’t spend without appropriations, for most of the country’s history the President could decline to spend the appropriated amounts. Because Congress felt Nixon was abusing this impoundment power, Congress passed a law in 1974 that said the executive must spend the amounts appropriated. So assuming a continuing resolution for appropriations passes, but not an increase in the debt ceiling, the President is in the interesting position that statute (a) requires him to spend the amounts appropriated, (b) raises less revenue through taxes and such than is needed to do so, and (c) doesn’t allow the Treasury to borrow to make up the difference. There are also statutory limits on how much paper currency the Treasury can print. That’s what led to the proposals for the trillion-dollar platinum coin the last time around.

        Congressional scholars argue about the debt limit. One camp says that appropriating more than the anticipated revenue is an implicit grant of authority to borrow, particularly in light of the requirement that the executive spend to the appropriation. Another camp cites Article I and says the debt limit is an explicit limit on borrowing and takes precedent over the requirement to spend to the appropriation. The latter camp is divided over whether the President can pick and choose where to spend, or if he has to pay the bills in the order they occur, or if he must cut spending uniformly across all programs. For example, some Congress critters argue that pick-and-choose applies at least as far as debt goes, so failure to honor the government’s debt would be the President’s fault because there was more than enough revenue to make the interest and principal payments.


      • Lots of federal employees like prison guards and air traffic controllers are deemed essential to public safety and will continue to work, but in most cases without pay.

        More precisely, with deferred pay. /pedant.

        Excellent comment, Michael. The second paragraph was particularly helpful. I knew about Nixon’s impoundment and Congress’s response, but for some reason I hadn’t put together in my mind that this created conflicting requirements for the president in this situation.

        Paragraph 3 was good, too. For my part, I’d interpret the law such that a latter law necessarily superceded a prior law, so that every new authorization was in fact an implicit override of the debt limit. God only knows how that would fly if the courts ever took up such a case (which I think they wouldn’t ever do, relying on their “political questions” doctrine to avoid it).


      • For my part, I’d interpret the law such that a latter law necessarily superceded a prior law, so that every new authorization was in fact an implicit override of the debt limit.

        I agree with the action that would result — the Treasury would continue issuing debt in excess of the statutory limit — but disagree on the reasoning. Assume a continuing resolution (or, horrors, an actual set of appropriations bills) that sets the spending amounts. Then assume Congress passes an increase in the debt limit that covers only the first six months’ borrowing needs. The debt limit is now the most recent law, and by your argument (if I’ve understood it correctly) would supersede the appropriations, but there would still be no direction for how the President should act; that is, where he should violate the spending law. The whole purpose of the impoundment law was to say that the President doesn’t get to make that choice.

        I prefer Neil Buchanan’s argument. Which is basically that since the President must choose an illegal path, he should choose the one that is least offensive to executing the conflicting intents of Congress (he uses the phrase, IIRC, “least offensive to the Constitution”). He thinks, and I agree, that the least offensive path is to follow the laws on the great mass of programs that Congress has funded, and the large body of tax law decisions they have made, and ignore the limit on the debt. I am particularly opposed to having the President set policy by deciding which programs will be funded and which will not.


      • Then assume Congress passes an increase in the debt limit that covers only the first six months’ borrowing needs. The debt limit is now the most recent law, and by your argument (if I’ve understood it correctly) would supersede the appropriations,

        Yes, and although it’s not a satisfactory outcome, I’d still support that as the correct method of interpretation.

        but there would still be no direction for how the President should act; that is, where he should violate the spending law. The whole purpose of the impoundment law was to say that the President doesn’t get to make that choice.

        Then Congress has fished itself over and too bad for them. It’s told the president to not spend all the appropriations, and if it doesn’t give him more direction than that, it’s granted him discretion. Now there does come up the question whether that discretion can statutorily be granted to that degree or not, but certainly within bounds Congress has long granted presidents some degree of discretion.

        I prefer Neil Buchanan’s argument. Which is basically that since the President must choose an illegal path, he should choose the one that is least offensive to executing the conflicting intents of Congress (he uses the phrase, IIRC, “least offensive to the Constitution”).

        That assumes the president has no legal path. One of the advantages of my method is it eliminates that troublesome assumption.


    • What is the difference between a shutdown now and the previous one?

      All I can say about this is that I hope that federal disaster funds for Colorado flood victims are already allocated. It’d sure suck otherwise.


      • “What is the difference between a shutdown now and the previous one?”

        Evil-Tod wants to answer:

        The difference is that in the 90s it was a brand new strategy, and so of course there was no way the GOP could have known it would backfire and blow up in their faces.


      • Clinton’s genius was to observe Reagan’s Rules of Engagement. Everywhere the Democrats had their feet blown off in the Dark Years of Reagan, Clinton deftly put in a landmine flag.

        Previous personal defeats in Arkansas had cost Bill Clinton re-election after his first term as governor. Clinton learned from experience. His enemies in Congress didn’t know whether to shit or go blind. He called every bluff. Obama must learn to do the same. If he’s tough enough, Obama can crush the Republicans at their own game. Boehner stands at the crossroads, likely to be squashed to a pulp by the exigencies of this battle. Like Lee at Gettysburg, Boehner’s cavalry is out gallivanting around under General Eric Cantor, ever so gallantly but ever so uselessly. Boehner is blind to Obama’s next move.

        And Roy Blunt stands like Pickett in the shelter of the trees, orders in hand….


      • there was no way the GOP could have known it would backfire and blow up in their faces.

        Every chance is a new opportunity!

        “What are the chances…”
        “Not good”
        “like one out of a hundred?”
        “More like one out of a million”….


      • “the GOP could have known it would backfire and blow up in their faces.”

        It seems to me that the election* of George W Bush 4 years later means it didn’t backfire too badly.

        *yeah, he didn’t win the popular vote. The point is that it shouldn’t have even been close, with Bush running against a de facto incumbent in a time of peace and prosperity.


  5. Harry Eten argues at the Guardian that Obama’s slipping poll numbers spell disaster for the Democratic Party in 2014 and potentially 2016. He shows how Presidential approval or disapproval is closely related to mid-term performance for the President’s party in a number of graphs and charts.

    Kevin Drum thinks a shut down is going to be a disaster for the Republican party and Tea Party because polls show that the people strongly hold those sides responsible for a shutdown if it happens.

    These are interesting times….


      • That depends on the spouses, I suppose. Real love is knowing who someone really is and liking them anyway. There are people who seem to relish a fight, though. Stand-pat, Katy Bar the Door types who think it’s possible to win such a fight, never realising how such fights erode that crucial quantity, respect, from the relationship.

        Once the respect is gone, the relationship is dead. I’ll leave it to others to pore over the entrails of this dying beast. Cascadian is probably right and I was wrong about the political process. This much is clear, there’s no respect left between Congress and Obama.


      • Though I do comment with a certain amount of bravado, I take very little joy in being right on this one. The relationship metaphor is a good one…. going back to Lincoln. We just no longer believe that it’s healthy to stay in abusive marriages anymore.


  6. Elias, I’m sympathetic to your views, but I hear all the time about “bright lines” and “principles” and stuff-n-things from libertarians and conservatives, and this seems like an example of people acting on the Bright Line Principle. And because I don’t want to leave liberals out of this, Lawd knows we have Bright Lines which we simply will not cross in our own mishmash produced by the Ideological\ Vector Matrix-cator.

    Can we view these proceedings as evidence that Bright Lines are effectively Dull Bunk?


  7. I think the “vague, malaise-like discontent” comes only if, as it was previously, shutdown or default is averted at the 11th hour. But, I don’t see a last minute reprieve this time around.

    It seems clear to me from his comments at the Business Roundtable this morning, Obama’s “long game” objective this time around is to avoid cementing a pattern of apocalyptic brinkmanship every time one of these fiscal deadlines comes around. From his remarks today, it seems he sees that cycle of dysfunction as a greater threat to the economy long term than a temporary government shutdown would be. If breaking the precedent is his primary objective as I surmise, he could opt for the shutdown over ANY Democratic concessions, let alone any shenanigans with the ACA. The hardline Republicans could get what they’re asking for.

    The calculus for the debt ceiling debate is considerably different, as Obama has got to see default as an unmitigated disaster. But, I think business interests will play a bigger role there. The Chamber of Commerce is already publicly calling out the House GOP on the shutdown/default threats and the chorus will only get louder as October 15th nears. There only need be enough Republicans who are more beholden to the folks who write the checks than their far right colleagues to peel off and work with the Democrats to get a debt limit increase passed.

    Here’s how I see the script playing out: The House GOP passes the hail mary CR bill, so Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee get share the load for awhile. Of course, the House bill will fail in the Senate, but the House GOP holds firm. With Obama preferring the shutdown to the alternatives, government funding stops for a time. This is enough to assuage the hardliners, so a debt limit increase can pass. The shutdown gets old fast – daily news stories on unavailable services will do that – and a clean CR gets passed sooner rather than later. Public opinion about the GOP is already at basement levels, so there is not enough impact at the ballot box in 2014 to overcome gerrymandering, but enough backlash for Republicans to finally realize these fiscal deadline fights won’t work anymore. (That last part is a stretch goal.)

    Feel free to cut apart that scenario as you see fit.


    • Scott, since the military’s pay isn’t set in stone the GOP risks running afoul of all kinds of pain landing on veterans and soldiers. I think, if anything, the level of screaming in the event of a shut down that is going to happen is being underestimated. I think Obama has the steel to hold the line on a shut down and I hope to God(ess?) that he has his goddamn ducks in a row when it comes to the messaging war and being conciliatory and reasonable while not giving up anything without getting something in return. I think the GOP will, rightly, get hammered by public opinion on this. I think they will knuckle under if Obama holds firm. Despite the left being more supportive of government spending; the hawks on the right are far more sensitive to the howls of defense contractors and soldiers than the left is and they will go wingdings when all their priorities start getting crunched. Yes, the left won’t like any of this but they’re feeling backed into a corner and my own read on left and Dem sentiment is they’re sick to death of constant compromising to GOP madness.

      My fear, however, is that this plays out too long. The debt ceiling will arrive only a few short weeks after a shut down begins. The GOP lasted a month in the 90’s and they weren’t half as bat shit crazy as the current bunch. My fear is that they’ll literally stagger over the debt limit without even meaning to, the damn fools.

      But really what this boils down to is how much of a death grip Boehner has on his job. He could pass a clean CR and debt limit increase any time he wants with bipartisan support. Problem is it’d cost him his job.


      • North –

        I think you’re right that all end games run through Boehner. If he’s really considering retirement as reported, it might come down to whether he wants to work at Fox News or on K Street.


      • it a shutdown runs more then a week, it will be the private sector government contractors who will seal the fate of the GOP. Depending on who you read, there are about 2 Million federal civilians (plus the uniformed military) and 2 to 3 million contract staff delivering federal services. Unless those contractors have been lump sum paid in advance, they will have to stay home as well. 3 or 4 million people not working for a month will have an impact that’s unavoidable, and business leaders will take the GOP to the woodshed in private if not in public.


  8. Are there any ways to attack the debt limit from the revenue side? Federal regulations (issued by the Executive Branch) could impose fees, right? The debt limit is an issue because the current budget is running a deficit.
    What about, say, a financial transaction fee, or a greenhouse gas emissions fee. Could they be created and issued by the Executive branch (SEC or EPA) to (a) generate some serious cash flow and (b) be targeted directly at the most intransigent of the Republican base?

    Frankly, I don’t *want* to keep having this obscene, offensive behavior continue. I also would like to have some hope of voting for a Republican again in the future, but that’s sure not going to happen at this rate.


    • There is the platinum coin idea. The Treasury Department department has a right to mint commemorative coins. During the last crisis, many people argued that Obama should use this loop hole and have the Treasury Department mint a one trillion dollar coin and deposit it in the Fed to avoid a default on the debt.


      There were also some arguments regarding the 14th Amendment giving the executive the right to side step these issues through Section 4, which states that the public debt of the United States is not subject to question.



    • There’re all kinds of things you can do. Prioritize payments, juggle receipts etc… You can be sure treasury is going to do all of them. For instance you can be sure that tax receipts will guarantee federal bond payments first. Bond holders will not technically be defaulted on. This practical and technical part doesn’t help a lot mind, the government is still technically defaulting on some kind of debt to someone. It would be the living end, everything will go to hell in a hand basket.


      • There’re all kinds of things you can do. Prioritize payments, juggle receipts etc…

        Give me legal arguments for allowing the President to prioritize payments — which implies that some amounts simply won’t get paid. Particularly in light of the 1974 Impoundment Control Act and Supreme Court decision in Train v. City of New York, which at base, say that the President has no authority to mess with Congress’ specified spending levels.


      • Michael,
        Prioritizing payments isn’t about messing with the spending levels, it’s about the order of spending that is done with funds in hand. The President has every right, and some would argue the responsibility, to pay the “Most Important” bills first with the funds appropriated by Congress. The legal problem would come in a dual debt limit breach/government shutdown scenario where Congress has failed to pass an appropriation (Even a Continuing Resolution) Which looks increasingly likely. If that happens the President won’t have any legal means to spend any money the Treasury has, regardless of what has been collected.


      • H… For clarification, I’m making three assumption: (1) Congress appropriates (CR or otherwise) $X; (2) revenue for the year is $(0.8X); (3) no increase in the debt ceiling. Come the end of the fiscal year, 20% of the appropriations will not have been honored. I read your argument as saying the President can choose to prioritize payments and decide which 20% doesn’t get paid: “The President has every right, and some would argue the responsibility, to pay the “Most Important” bills first…” The 1974 Impoundment Control Act and Train v. City of New York say very clearly that he does not have the authority to make those choices. I’m asking for a cite of some sort — Constitutional, statutory, whatever — that justify your assertion that he does.


    • If you consider the amount of money that would have to be borrowed, doing an end run around taxes on the revenue side would be a bad idea. Roughly, we’re looking at about $100B per month that would have to be made up in “surprise” fees. Think a monthly $300 per person adjustment to household budgets that nobody was expecting. Super bad.


    • Federal regulations (issued by the Executive Branch) could impose fees, right?

      Federal rules and regulations are issued by the various agencies and/or departments using authority specifically delegated by Congress. TTBOMK, all of the fees that such agencies are authorized to impose are restricted to covering the costs of specific programs, and no more. There are many cases where the amount of the fee is specifically capped in statute (and gets badly out of date due to Congressional inaction, but that’s an argument for a different day). My experience with court decisions was at the state level, but one of the things that generally determines if it’s a “fee” or a “tax” is limits on use; if the revenue goes straight into the General Fund for spending however the legislature wants, it’s a tax no matter what label might be hung on it.


  9. The GOP realizes that demographics aren’t on their side so they are acting from the Dry playbook in order to get what they want. The Dry faction realized that the cities were growing in population and political strength and that Prohibition would need to be passed before 1920 and then enforced. The Drys accomplished this by refusing to redistrict after the 1920 census.

    The gerry-mandering and voter restriction legislation that the GOP is passing now is based on the same principle. I wouldn’t be surprised if the borrow from the Dry playbook and refuse to redistrict the House after the 2020 census.


  10. So, a disclosure:
    For those who are of the opinion that I’m just an crazy anarchist and I’m looking forward to gleefully watching people die in the streets from hunger, poverty, and disease… It’s extremely likely that I could be impacted by a gov’t shutdown or failure to increase the debt ceiling. While not a gov’t employee, I am impacted.

    RE the Tea Party: Listening to NPR a while back where someone (don’t recall) called those tea party reps “anarchists”, which gave me a chuckle. According to the theory “..but democracy” oft mentioned around here, these guys are just representing their constituents. And yet, most of the commentary here is about how nuts these guys are. One of the commonalties of the tea party folks, and there are a wide variety of positions/folks in the party, is that spending must be controlled and having a willingness to “break things” and obstruct the “way things have always been done” aspects of Congress to get their point across. (I happen to agree with this tactic because I think it highlights the complete useless of Congress and any humiliation suffered by these self-important gas bags is deserved)
    Let’s have a little acknowledgement that there is a significant population among the voters that THINGS HAVE GONE TO FAR in terms of federal spending, and that these folks aren’t going away. So, given that these folks represent a good number of your fellow voters, how do you propose that their concerns be addressed?


    • They are economic terrorists, according to notable Republicans.
      I don’t hold with the theory that they’re representing their constituents.
      They aren’t even representing their BACKERS very well.

      You, sir, are not looking forward to a long life because of something that Congress got passed.
      Can I pity you for being so enthusiastic about taking down an organization that has literally saved thousands of lives with one piece of legislation?

      Does Nothing he says! My life, my husband’s life, my neighbors? Worth Nothing!


      • Terrorists? Oh, yes, let’s ramp up the hysteria. Not representing their constituents? How’d they get elected? Pandering to the far left?

        No, I’m not looking forward to a long life because Congress passed some legislation. I’m looking forward to a long life IN SPITE of anything Congress does. I’m not even counting on SS as I doubt that Ponzi scheme will exist in its present form when I’m eligible.

        The ACA isn’t really the issue, and you know it. It’s just the political football chosen for the current drama play. Before it was Bengazi, or gun control, of whatever. You may rest assured that my contempt for Congress has existed a long time and will go on for longer. This is a feeling I share with a majority of the population, you know, where Congress is below used car dealers in approval.

        And I didn’t advocate doing nothing. I simply asserted that there is a large segment of the country’s population that is tired of more and more gov’t and the associated spending, and that that frustration is manifested itself in the current “debate”. So, why don’t you respond to the question I actually posed? And please try to avoid using “because you all are selfish greedy bastards that don’t give a damn about my husband, me, or anyone else” as the reason.


      • Damon,
        If anyone had bothered to listen to our former Treasury Secretary, you might have a point about “ramping up the hysteria”. They dont, even bush didn’t.

        They got elected by skillfully using propaganda (Red Team! Blue Team!).
        They do whatever their “voodoo priests” tell them is best.
        (I’m speaking not of the entire Republican caucus, but it’s a significant minority,
        say 25%).

        IRA’s are more of a Ponzi scheme than SS, believe it or not. Surely you don’t believe the taxes are going to stay the same when you retire, do you? Taxed later is a walking

        I’m not saying you advocated doing nothing, I’m saying that you just said that my husband’s life, my life, and thousands of other people’s lives saved is “doing nothing.”

        How ought we to address the concerns of a minority? I don’t think we ought to bother.
        Because their concerns, when you get right to the bones, ain’t about money,
        and they ain’t about government. They’re about modernity, and a growing sense of
        alienation. A feeling that “things ain’t right” because they don’t get to boss around people no more. And, worse yet, nobody is bossing people around! (The horrors!).

        I’ll be quite happy to address the nonblackshirted crowd. But then, they’re the type to
        come up with actual solutions. I’m doing quite a lot to reduce the scope of government
        around here, despite being a liberal (we don’t like corruption any more than the next schmuck).

        If you ask “how do we reduce the size of government?” I’ll give you the numbers, let you run an audit. Then get back to me with the ten biggest examples of waste. (Coburn, bless his rotten little heart, does this routinely. Sometimes he actually finds real waste.).

        The problem with most of the Teapartiers is that they believe in killing the golden goose. And that’s just plumb stupid. They want their little worlds to continue
        without any pain, while “cutting spending.” You find me ten TeaPartiers that
        are actually willing to say which roads need to be demolished? Those are people
        I’ll welcome in a government. I live in Pittsburgh, got some experience with
        “delayed maintenance”.

        You want to tell me that you’re being taxed too much? Well and good. Find the corruption, and we’ll talk.

        I expect people to get boots on the ground and get started fixing things, from the
        bottom up. I’m not going to try and address people’s concerns if they’re not going
        to actually get real, resolvable goals — which actually have pain attached for everyone.


      • The ACA isn’t really the issue, and you know it.

        But it’s an issue that conservatives feel very strongly about, and on which the clock is running out. To paraphrase a conservative thinker from back in the early 1990s, the evidence globally is that single-payer health care (or regulation of the private health insurance business so that it’s effectively single payer, as Switzerland does) has proven so popular that it’s impossible to repeal once it’s up and running.

        Anecdotes are not data, but… My 27-year-old daughter, who had kidney stones ten years ago but nothing since, is forced into the state’s high-risk pool because no insurer will cover her. The high-risk pool goes away on Jan 1 and those people go to the exchange. The insurance companies have specified their premium rates for the the state’s exchange, and her premiums will be decreased by 40% come the first of the year. No way is she ever going to vote for someone who says, “Vote for me because I want to dismantle the exchanges.” Reports from Kentucky are that booths at the State Fair and various minor league ball games describing the state exchange there and how it will work are drawing an enormously positive response (some from people asking, “Obamacare isn’t going to make this go away, right?”).

        Defunding through the budget process is their last opportunity, and they darned well know it.


    • I’d say let them hit the point of shutdown and we’ll see how significant their concerns really are among the voting population. I’m almost at a point where I’m happy to let people have exactly what they’re asking for, good and hard. As for their professed willingness to hit the debt limit, I suppose the only thing that could help would be for them to figure out exactly how crazy that is.

      I do see where you’re coming from on this, though. When people strap explosives to themselves and blow up street markets, I’m strongly inclined to think about the issues that drive them to that point and what can be done to make it better for all of us. It’s not just a, “We can’t negotiate with terrorists!” reaction but also a, “How did we get here?” reaction. But it’s also really important that people don’t get the message that blowing up street markets is the best path to getting what they want.


    • First, I have zero problems with Tea Partiers trying to force a government shutdown. That’s part of the political process and even though I disagree with their policy position, I have no issues with them morally about that.

      However, the debt ceiling is about paying for things that have already passed. To use the horrible household budget analogy, refusing to pass a raising of the debt ceiling is the equivalent of refusing to pay your mortgage and credit card bills because you’re upset you’re spending too much money.

      In addition, yes, Tea Partiers are against “spending.” But, they’re opposed, as is evidenced by multiple polls, against cutting spending that benefits them – ie. Medicare and Social Security, which outside of defense, are the two biggest parts of the federal budget. So, I’ll believe that many Tea Partiers are concerned about the actual level of spending instead of just, “spending that goes to people I don’t like,” when a majority of them supports immediate cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits.


      • I know of very few Tea Party affiliated congresspersons who want to dramatically reduce Defense spending either. In the end, only cutting spending that goes to “them” doesn’t add up to much.


    • I’m having a little trouble sorting out which ones aren’t nuts and which ones are gas bags, but I’ll have a go at responding anyway.

      Leave alone that the Congressional Budget Office projects that the ACA will reduce government spending in the long run. Some would argue with the model and I’m assuming from the “gas bags” reference you’d not be inclined to believe the CBO in any case. Instead, I’ll grant your point that there is too much government spending. The question is then is how to represent the constituents that believe this as well and actually reduce government spending.

      I’d argue it should be self-evident that “breaking things” is not the place to start. A government shutdown would not save any money, of course, because, as Michael notes above, the funds have been already been appropriated by Congress and by statute the funds are required to be spent by the Executive. It’s likely the funds would be used less effectively, since shutting down operations and then restarting them is almost certain to require a diversion of funds from each agency’s core function. And as others have noted, in the end these tactics will not work, so you get equal amounts of spending applied less efficiently to serve no purpose. Clearly, the tea party folks arguing for this approach are not representing their constituents’ fiscal interests.

      So, I’d propose that if these Congresspersons want to address their constituents’ concerns about the level of federal spending, they need to actually go out and promote policies that will reduce government spending. None of the “10% across the board” nonsense, though. That’s just saying government should do all it does now, just with less. Instead, they should stand up and enumerate exactly which programs they’d eliminate and they’ll need to show their math, so we all understand the costs for and against.

      When tea party folks start doing that, though I may not agree with them, it wouldn’t be appropriate to call them crazy or craven. Until then, well…


    • Yeah the Tea Party =/= anarchists or libertarians. They are, generally, massively hypocritical. It is blatantly obvious via the timing of their rise and their basic policy demands that the TP doesn’t care about spending itself but rather that they are not in control of the spending. The Tea Party makes broad demands on the abstract numeric of spending but when you talk about tax raising or cutting specific programs they squeal like any other self interested constituents.

      How does one deal with the Tea Party? My own take is that one does what one’s doing now: force them to face up to their own internal logical conflicts. They cannot keep taxes low, spending on their pet projects high and also prevent the debt from growing. The Tea Party needs to decide what they actually stand for: if it’s truly small government then great, their libertarians or similar and all their pet right wing projects need to get the axe. If it’s actually their right wing programs they care about then they’re conservatives and taxes are likely going to have to go up. If it’s the debt they’re honestly caring about then great, they’re deficit hawks and taxes have to go up AND spending has to be cut. But right now, skittering about with the brain of a conservative, the heart of a libertarian and the legs of a deficit hawk they’re just a contradiction.

      Oh and of course what they truly are is patsies for the right wing money machine. Their conflicting passion is paying many a paycheck among the chattering and political class.


  11. @[email protected] Aitch (and Lord only knows what the software will highlight with that)…

    Yeah, my understanding of the Supreme Court decisions is that Congress is misbehaving and has left the President with no legal path forward if appropriations exceed revenues and the debt limit doesn’t allow sufficient borrowing. IANAL (although I had to pretend often enough when I was a legislative budget analyst); I would be interested in having one of the resident legal eagles do a post laying out the various arguments.

    My complaint about what I understand your interpretation to be is that sometimes the appropriations would take precedent (if they occur after any changes in the borrowing limit), sometimes the borrowing limit would take precedent (if changed after the appropriations but insufficient to allow the full amount of the appropriations to be honored), and in the latter the President gets to pick and choose. That last would be dangerous if I were President and got to make the choices — I’m tired of the US being the world’s policeman and spending almost as much on the military as the rest of the world combined, so the DoD budget would be in serious trouble.

    As a point of clarification, if the President can pick and choose when no further borrowing is allowed, why shouldn’t he get to pick and choose between programs and borrowing in more normal conditions?


    • An argument is out there, floated during the Reagan, Clinton, and Bush II Administrations, that the President can do exactly this, as an inherent aspect of holding the “executive power.”

      I don’t buy it, because of the Taxing-and-Spending Clause, but it’s a theory with its fans in the world of legal academia.


    • My complaint about what I understand your interpretation to be is that sometimes the appropriations would take precedent…, sometimes the borrowing limit would take precedent… and in the latter the President gets to pick and choose. That last would be dangerous

      Yes. I won’t pretend that’s not exactly true.

      But principles of legal interpretation aren’t always focused on whether they give a desirable outcome. In fact to ensure that they did would undermine the very foundations of law itself.

      And while I’m not quite sure it it supports your position or mine, it’s good to remember O.W. Holmes’ claim that “”The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.”

      That said, I’m not saying my interpretation is in any sense indisputably the correct one. I’m just saying it’s plausible based on extant principles (or at least one of them) of legal interpretation and it avoids the problem of the president being in the catch-22 of having no way to avoid violating the law. Those advantages may not outweigh the disadvantages of my approach, but I think I can fairly claim they are at least real advantages.


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