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Oct 13 2013

Ornstein’s Futile Suggestion for Ending the Standoff

Norm Ornstein is a very, very smart man, one of the smartest policy wonks in Washington. But I’m afraid his suggestion for a way out of the budget and debt ceiling impasse, as reasonable as it may seem to reasonable people, is destined for failure even if President Obama were to offer it.

The bottom line here is that we need some kind of agreement that will reopen the government and stop a downward spiral that uses default as a genuine and frightening political weapon. Realistically, qua Negotiation 101, it must provide the president, the speaker, and the Senate majority leader with the ability to declare victory or at least to avoid the perception of utter defeat. The two houses, two parties, and the president will still have to deal with one another on a myriad of issues for the next 40 months.

Negotiation now requires a cooling-off period—a clean extension of the debt ceiling, and a temporary CR. Then a reopening of the government for the year, with the understanding that a new commission will be established to discuss big long-term debt issues, is feasible.

But any concession by the president that is tied to a short-term CR or a short-term extension of the debt ceiling would be disastrous. Basic functions of government and the full faith and credit of the U.S. would become regular instruments of extortion in the future, resulting in periodic displays of American dysfunction and incompetence to the world, with serious economic consequences. But a concession on a different agenda—to take the debt ceiling permanently off the table as a hostage—is well worth it. What Obama needs to offer now is a proposal to make permanent 2011’s onetime “McConnell Rule.” Under that procedure, devised by the minority leader, the president could unilaterally raise the debt limit and Congress could have the option of blocking it by way of a resolution of disapproval. The president, in turn, could veto the resolution of disapproval; a vote of two-thirds of both houses would be required to override the veto.

In return for that action, if the president agreed to remove the tax on medical devices (and replace it with another source of revenue to help fund Obamacare), or agreed to some additional malpractice reform—neither action hitting at any essential core parts of the health care law—it would be a win-win. If, in addition, Boehner simply accepted yes for an answer on reopening the government, attaining the Ryan budget numbers, we could all move past this embarrassing crisis.

I think Obama would go for that. I think Reid and McConnell would go for it. I don’t think there’s a chance in hell Boehner would accept it, not because he doesn’t think it’s reasonable but because he’s terrified of the people within his own caucus who are not reasonable. That is the whole reason for this problem in the first place.

26 comments

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  1. 1
    whheydt

    Boehner is an in an untenable position. If he actually does his job, as Speaker of the House, the Tea Partiers will tear him apart. If he doesn’t do his job as speaker, then why is he bothering to hold onto it?

    Boehner’s smartest move would be to resign as Speaker. It would do him (and his reputation) a world of good and it would present the Tea Party with a major problem, since they can’t actually run the House on their own and no one they could be persuaded to vote for as Speaker would be able to do so, either.

  2. 2
    Artor

    Ornstein’s prescription is entirely reasonable, which is why is won’t happen. Boehner is too dim and ineffective to do anything but cower under the angry glare of the Teabaggers behind him. They are too greedy; even if there’s something for them in the deal, they can’t let there be something for Obama in it too. They’d rather watch the world burn than admit defeat.
    @ whheydt, you are right, that would be Boehner’s smartest move, but who ever accused him of being smart? I predict lots of orange-dyed tears.

  3. 3
    Who Cares

    Whheydt that is by looking at this from the outside.
    It is clear that Boehner likes the perks that come with the position. To the point that he isn’t doing his job since that would mean the tea party would demand a vote on getting him removed (which would have to be scheduled at most 2 days from the point of demand and IIRC is a simple majority vote).

  4. 4
    Jordan Genso

    Wait a minute. I thought the Republicans kept saying that they wouldn’t raise the debt ceiling unless it was tied to deficit reduction. Now it looks like all they are still looking to get is an increase in the deficit (by eliminating the medical device tax)?

    It’s almost as if they don’t actually care about the deficit, and they just want lower taxes on the wealthy.

  5. 5
    raven

    The two houses, two parties, and the president will still have to deal with one another on a myriad of issues for the next 40 months.

    This isn’t necessarily correct.

    1. The government has pretty much stopped doing anything. We haven’t had a budget in years.

    2. There are elections in 2014, a year away. If they were held now, a whole lot of GOPers would lose. A poll I saw this morning from the WSJ had GOP approval ratings at 24%, the lowest ever recorded.

    This is getting down to the Crazification factor of 20%, the number of people who are Geocentrists and can’t diagram the solar system.

    Whether this will translate into elections is not clear though. It did in 1995. These days, who knows? It’s a mystery how wild eyed fanatics who think national suicide is a desirable goal were elected in the first place.

  6. 6
    raven

    FWIW, the budget ceiling date is October 17, 5 days away. That is when we supposedly default on US Treasury bonds.

    So what? I don’t own any US Treasury bonds.

    Oops, I do. Chances are so do most people. It turns out that Money Market funds are mostly short term US treasuries. That means if you have cash in 401(K) plans, IRA’s, or brokerage accounts, you own US Treasuries. Maybe bank deposits are invested in short term US bonds as well, although I have no idea about this and am just guessing.. Up until recently, they were considered “as good as cash”.

    Reports are the Chinese with $1.3 trillion in US bonds are getting nervous and Wall Street firms are dumping theirs as fast as they can. This is damaging to the US although how much remains to be seen.

  7. 7
    blf

    Boehner is an in an untenable position. If he actually does his job, as Speaker of the House, the Tea Partiers will tear him apart. If he doesn’t do his job as speaker, then why is he bothering to hold onto it?

    Several commentators here, and also Paul Krugman in the New York Times, have answered that one. From his recent column, The Boehner Bunglers:

    The federal government is shut down, we’re about to hit the debt ceiling (with disastrous economic consequences), and no resolution is in sight. How did this happen?

    The main answer, which only the most pathologically “balanced” reporting can deny, is the radicalization of the Republican Party. As Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein put it last year in their book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” the G.O.P. has become “an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

    But there’s one more important piece of the story. Conservative leaders are indeed ideologically extreme, but they’re also deeply incompetent. So much so, in fact, that the Dunning-Kruger effect — the truly incompetent can’t even recognize their own incompetence — reigns supreme.

    It has been obvious for years that the modern Republican Party is no longer capable of thinking seriously about policy. Whether the issue is climate change or inflation, party members believe what they want to believe, and any contrary evidence is dismissed as a hoax, the product of vast liberal conspiracies.

    Everybody not inside the [republican] bubble realizes that Mr. Obama can’t and won’t negotiate under the threat that the House will blow up the economy if he doesn’t — any concession at all would legitimize extortion as a routine part of politics. Yet Republican leaders are just beginning to get a clue, and so far clearly have no idea how to back down. Meanwhile, the government is shut, and a debt crisis looms. Incompetence can be a terrible thing.

    (I know I’ve quoted the above excerpt below. Apologies for the repeat, but it remains the best known-to-me synopsis of what is going on with the thugs: A radicialized, ideologically extreme regime, contemptuous and scornful of negoigation, sociery, facts, and opposition, “lead” by people so deepy incompetent they don’t realize how incompetent they are and are seen to be. (I would add bigoted: Racist and misogynist.))

  8. 8
    dogmeat

    2. There are elections in 2014, a year away. If they were held now, a whole lot of GOPers would lose. A poll I saw this morning from the WSJ had GOP approval ratings at 24%, the lowest ever recorded

    Raven,

    You’re sadly mistaken. Despite the low approval ratings, I believe it utterly impossible that the Democrats will take the House with the current state of affairs. In fact, I fully expect the Republicans to gain a few seats in the House. In the Senate, these polls might show a shot at them losing some seats, but last I checked in the analysis of the ’14 election, the Senate was still a “toss up.”

  9. 9
    raven

    You’re sadly mistaken.

    As I said, maybe.

    It’s not clear that these polls will translate into votes for Democrats. They did in the past but we aren’t in the past (or Kansas) any more. We aren’t in Oz either, more like Mordor.

    Which puts the ultimate blame on…the voters. It’s an ugly fact that the people advocating national suicide as an objective were voted into office by the…voters in one place or another.

    If I was Obama and the Democats, I would definitely make national suicide a campaign issue. Do we want to go the way of the old USSR or not?

  10. 10
    dogmeat

    I wouldn’t even put it on the voters, though I wouldn’t leave them blameless. The House has been rigged for the next decade or so. Unless someone files and wins lawsuits in some of these states where it is most egregious, not much can change that. Because of the rigged districts, the Republicans could be utterly loathed and still maintain control of the House. As long as they have one house of congress and are willing to hold a hostage crisis every time something significant comes up, we’re out of luck.

  11. 11
    Reginald Selkirk

    the president could unilaterally raise the debt limit and Congress could have the option of blocking it by way of a resolution of disapproval…

    I don’t get it. The reason the debt ceiling would need raising is the budget spending approved by Congress, and the taxation levels approved by Congress. So they already have input into the process.
    It’s like the stupid-ass idea for a balanced budget amendment: instead of passing the amendment, why not just balance the frickin budget?

  12. 12
    Ichthyic

    it must provide the president, the speaker, and the Senate majority leader with the ability to declare victory or at least to avoid the perception of utter defeat.

    why?

    why has government become a fucking sporting event, with winners and losers?

    I always thought it was supposed to be about good management.

  13. 13
    Ichthyic

    Which puts the ultimate blame on…the voters. It’s an ugly fact that the people advocating national suicide as an objective were voted into office by the…voters in one place or another.

    short response that gets voters off the hook:

    gerrymandering.

  14. 14
    Ichthyic

    Unless someone files and wins lawsuits in some of these states

    When I was growing up in CA, these kinds of lawsuits surrounding bogus redistricting happened regularly.

    Now I can’t even recall when the last one was.

    It IS rather odd that these lawsuits are not more common, considering gerrymandering is as popular as ever, if not more so.

  15. 15
    Ichthyic

    Do we want to go the way of the old USSR or not?

    I voted with my feet, because it seemed inevitable to me.

    the US will become a giant crime syndicate, just like Russia.

  16. 16
    Jordan Genso

    @14 Ichthyic

    It IS rather odd that these lawsuits are not more common, considering gerrymandering is as popular as ever, if not more so.

    As someone who was involved with redistricting for our county commission, and had intended to sue when the Republicans blatantly violated the rules, I can tell you why I ended up not suing-

    In that type of lawsuit, the county/state picks up the cost of defending the map passed by the committee, whereas the outside group has to bear the entire cost of challenging the map. So for my organization, we were told to expect legal fees of around $50,000 just to start, and it would be much more if it made it to the state supreme court. And with Michigan’s supreme court being mostly Republican, our odds of success were low, regardless of how clear the violation was.

    So with high cost, a slim chance of success (due to a politicized court), and with tax dollars going to defend the opposition’s actions, it didn’t make sense for us to pursue it.

    If you could trust the courts to reach the correct conclusion, then the monetary cost could be worthwhile for a well-funded organization.

  17. 17
    eric

    Boehner’s smartest move would be to resign as Speaker.

    Close, but not quite right (IMO). His smartest move is to fake an illness or have to fly home to his district or something – i.e. come up with some plausible reason to be absent. Then have some more moderate conservative use some procedural trick to bring a clean bill to a vote on the house floor while he’s gone. He can then wash his hands of the situation when it passes, and join with the tea partiers in throwing the moderate republicans (who bring it to a vote, and then vote for it) under the bus.

    This would keep his conservative ideological cred intact, and gives him a decent (not good, just decent) chance of keeping both his seat in the house and his position as speaker.

    It’s not clear that these polls will translate into votes for Democrats.

    I think there are three possible “good” outcomes (by good, I mean a leading to more negotiation and less deadlock in future Congresses).
    1. The situation makes current GOP House members lose to a primary challenge from the right. The replacement is so bad, however, that moderate voters desert the GOP in the general election. Remember, this is what happened in the last election – the tea party lost seats.

    2. The situation makes current tea party members lose to a primary challenge form more mainstream GOP candidates, making the GOP more willing to deal.

    3. The situation results in current GOP House members losing in primaries indiscriminantly (i.e. to a mix of both tea partiers and moderate GOPers). The replacements are savvy enough to understand that pure objectionism will cause them to lose reelection, so they are intentionally two-faced – i.e., they talk the required ultraconservative talk in public, but they are willing to engage in just enough normal political deal-making behind closed doors to keep them getting reelected.

    I tend to think #3 is the most likely. Some number of current GOP House members will lose their reelection bids to GOP challengers, and those challengers will be very aware of why they won.

  18. 18
    Michael Heath

    Please let me add some context to Jordan Genso’s reference to the MI Supreme Court being a Republican-majority court. Our court’s incompetence is so bad it distinguishes itself as the worst of all state supreme courts amongst legal circles. That’s after considering the supreme courts in places like Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi.

    Republican-nominated moderates like John Paul Stevens and Sandra Day O’Conner long semi-successfully stood in the way of newer Republican nominees (Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Roberts, Kennedy most of the time) carrying out an obvious conservative and GOP agenda at the U.S. Supreme Court. We had an analog to especially Justice Stevens in Chief Justice Elizabeth Weaver. But Weaver’s now gone and the court is blatant in its attempts to carry-out a partisan conservative agenda.

  19. 19
    Michael Heath

    eric writes:

    [Speaker Boehner's] smartest move is to fake an illness or have to fly home to his district or something – i.e. come up with some plausible reason to be absent. Then have some more moderate conservative use some procedural trick to bring a clean bill to a vote on the house floor while he’s gone. He can then wash his hands of the situation when it passes, and join with the tea partiers in throwing the moderate republicans (who bring it to a vote, and then vote for it) under the bus.

    Not possible; that’s because House Republicans passed an amendment on this specific bill that doesn’t allow a mere House member to propose a floor vote on a clean resolution. Nor does Speaker Boehner have any power to make this happen, only Majority Leader Cantor has such power. Specifically:

    . . . the House Rules Committee voted the night of Sept. 30 to change that rule for this specific bill. They added language dictating that any motion “may be offered only by the majority Leader [Rep. Eric Cantor] or his designee.” So unless House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) wanted the Senate spending bill to come to the floor, it wasn’t going to happen. And it didn’t.
    Cite: http://goo.gl/Fkwo9v H/T Andrew Sullivan’s blog.

    Speaker Boehner, like Newt Gingrich and Dennis Hastert, abdicated his duties in general as Speaker of the House at the very beginning of his tenure. Instead of being the leader of the majority which is the formal duty of the Speaker, he’s instead a leader of the party who has the majority of Representatives. So Speaker Boehner does the bidding of the majority party rather than what the majority of House Representatives support. Boehner is demonstrating fealty to the “Hastert Rule”; that approach to governance predates Speaker Hastert since Speaker Newt Gingrich also ruled accordingly.

    Speaker Pelosi’s ability to competently get a majority to pass legislation during the 2008 financial crisis as proposed by the Bush Administration is an example of competent leadership formally executed by a Speaker of the House. The Republicans formally abandoned competency during Speaker Gingrich’s tenure when they abandoned working in the country’s interests and instead focused on promoting a conservative agenda.

    eric – you would be well-served following Andrew Sullivan’s blog in order to become better informed.

  20. 20
    eric

    Michael Heath: the House Rules Committee could vote to change that rule again, yes? Thus, my ‘procedural trick’ comment.

    you would be well-served following Andrew Sullivan’s blog in order to become better informed.

    Thanks for the tip. Do you also know a good site for helping me improve my condescension? I’m clearly behind you on that, too.

  21. 21
    vilstef

    I think they’ve done their honor and credibility some serious damage. They need to be good Romans and fall on their swords or good Japanese and do the seppuku route. They should pay in advance to have someone clean up the mess.

  22. 22
    Jordan Genso

    the House Rules Committee could vote to change that rule again, yes? Thus, my ‘procedural trick’ comment.

    Not a ‘trick’, eric, an ‘illusion’.

    Andrew Sullivan’s blog

    Michael, you can take credit for getting me to become a regular reader of The Dish, with your occasional promotions. And I thank you for it. But eric is correct in calling out your comment as condescending.

  23. 23
    Michael Heath

    Jordan writes:

    Michael, you can take credit for getting me to become a regular reader of The Dish, with your occasional promotions. And I thank you for it. But eric is correct in calling out your comment as condescending.

    eric and Jordan,

    The context for my advice was not merely this one comment post. I think eric should do more research before he presents a host of premises that are simply not true or insufficiently framed. Thus my advice to read Andrew Sullivan’s blog. That’s because I repeatedly think, “not true”, when reading many of eric’s posts, not merely the one above; where I’m continually remembering a post I read at Andrew Sullivan’s blog that pointed out facts which falsifies eric’s premises or reveals a structural flaw in his framing. I think the advice was both earned and I hope, taken.

    I freely admit I’m not Mr. Sensitive nor do I care to be. I am passionate about being right on the facts, being corrected when I’m wrong, and encouraging others to do the same. I react positively to rhetorical smacks upside my head while realizing that doesn’t work with everyone. So I’m fine taking some earned lumps on my style since I didn’t have the patience in my relevant post to figure out how to finesse what I was thinking in a more palatable style. But I’m not at all regretful for encouraging eric to bone-up more.

    eric’s response @ 20 seems to have gone whoosh as well when it comes to the facts I referenced. My rebuttal was never about the rules, but instead about what powers eric falsely claimed for Speaker Boehner vs. what powers Boehner formally abdicated to Majority Leader Cantor on this specific topic. Where Boehner conceded stripping not only himself of power, but also every member of the House with the sole exception of Majority Leader Cantor and whoever Cantor deems worthy of having powers delegated to on this matter (if anyone).

  24. 24
    Ichthyic

    So with high cost, a slim chance of success (due to a politicized court), and with tax dollars going to defend the opposition’s actions, it didn’t make sense for us to pursue it.

    *sigh*

    yeah, that would explain it alrighty.

    all geared towards those with the deepest pockets calling the shots. I suppose it’s not even worth mentioning any more, let alone being surprised.

  25. 25
    Ichthyic

    Our court’s incompetence is so bad it distinguishes itself as the worst of all state supreme courts amongst legal circles. That’s after considering the supreme courts in places like Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi.

    ouch.

    Even worse than Ohio?

    They opted to take on the John Freshwater case, after all.

  26. 26
    Ichthyic

    Do you also know a good site for helping me improve my condescension? I’m clearly behind you on that, too.

    heh.

    Sullivan is ok, but avoid any article where he talks about anything related to sociology, including religion, sexual identity, etc.

    he often gets… confused… when he speaks about anything relating to his own personal conflicts.

    kinda like when Heath starts talking about Ronald Reagan.

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