Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

Same question as the one for conservatives, also leaning on the 4th of July week and my Salon column yesterday about the importance of elections:

What politicians are you most proud of having supported?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

Here's one for the week leading up to July 4th. Long-time readers will recall that I'm an advocate of particularly celebrating politics and politicians on the 4th; I also have a new column at Salon this week on the importance of elections (warning, conservatives: you won't like my examples, but the piece should work with examples of your own).

At any rate, this gets to the question: what politician are you proudest to have supported?

Saturday, June 29, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

I suppose this isn't a tough one, isn't it? Whichever you want -- I'll just mention the VRA decision to kick it off, as one that mattered...I don't even want to guess at what didn't matter, but I'll be interested to see if there are arguments pro or con on the Texas abortion filibuster.

 So, what do you have? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Young Voting Update: Scotland!

OK, I admit, I haven't been following the upcoming referendum on Scottish Independence. If it's not about aliens trying to win Wimbledon by turning everyone into...oh, never mind. It just hasn't been on my radar.

Until now! Because they've extended the franchise for that election to 16 and 17 year-olds.
103 MSPs voted for the bill with 12 voting against it.

The legislation will allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in next year's Scottish independence referendum.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish government had long wished to extend the referendum franchise and this bill was a "crucial first step towards next year's historic poll".

Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson said: "Scottish Labour strongly supports the principle of giving 16 and 17 year olds the vote and believes the right should be extended to all elections".
Well, first Tacoma Park, and now this. One more, and we'll have a certified trend. Good for Scotland.

For Republicans, Hastert Violation Beats Discharge Petition

The latest excitement among those who want an immigration bill is the possibility that the House could use a discharge petition to bring a bill to the floor

There are basically two possibilities here in which a discharge petition happens, and neither is likely. Why? Because the House leadership really, really, doesn't want discharge petitions to become common. And the rank-and-file share an interest in it, too.

One is that Speaker Boehner and most Republicans really want a bill to pass, but they don't want the blame. That means the eventual floor vote would have the bill passing with mostly Democratic votes, so the only question is the path to get it there: either Boehner can bring it up despite his promises not to (presumably after some event "changes" things, such as a House-authored bill going down in flames), or they can give tacit approval to some Republicans to sign a discharge petition. He'd rather have the former. Sure, that means that he has to take the heat, but that's what you get for sitting in the big chair.

The other is that Boehner and most Republicans really oppose having something pass. In that case, the Republicans who signed a discharge petition would be seriously undermining what the rest of the Republicans want. 

The key here is that House leaders strongly want to maintain party discipline on procedural votes, and a discharge petition is a very strong violation of party discipline -- even stronger, really, than a vote against a "rule" on the House floor.

The power of the majority party in the House basically comes down to agenda-setting, exercised in part by committee chairs but most critically by control of the House floor through the Rules Committee. 

A "Hastert" violation -- putting something on the floor that most Members of the majority party oppose -- doesn't cede control of the floor. A discharge petition does.

Therefore, it's far more likely that if they want something to pass, they'll put it on the floor themselves. And if they don't, it's unlikely that rebels would sign a discharge petition. It's one thing to vote against the party on substance; it's a much bigger deal to work with Democrats to gain control of the House floor.

Granted, for supporters of the bill, using the possibility of a discharge petition to apply pressure to Republicans who support a bill makes sense anyway. But the practical effect would almost certainly be having those Republicans push Boehner to bring the bill up, not to have them actually sign on. 

So the existence of the discharge petition procedure is a lever that bill advocates can use. But ultimately, that's probably not how a bill gets to the House floor.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Felicia Day, 34.

And quickly to the good stuff:

1. Dan Drezner wishes everyone would go on vacation.

2. Scott Lemieux has more on Shelby County.

3. Wow, Stuart Rothenberg goes medieval on a piece which was, to be fair, well deserving of it.

4. Ann Friedman on speaking as a woman.

5. And Patrick Egan on public opinion, Roe, Loving, and Windsor.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Hey, Immigration Reporters! Will "Blame Both Sides" Work?

Brian Beutler has a nice piece today arguing that Republicans are already turning towards blaming Barack Obama and the Democrats for the collapse of the immigration bill.

Here's my question: is there anyone out there listening?

Presumably, the target for this sort of thing is neutral Latino opinion leaders -- not a large group, but a non-zero one -- who are open to a "blame both sides" argument. Maybe even Republican Latino opinion leaders who are willing to accept a lot, but not everything.

It seems to me (and I'm working from memory here, but I think I'm correct) that in fact Republicans had some success during Obama's first term in blaming him for the lack of progress on immigration. Of course, the facts were a little different then; Obama and the Democrats weren't pushing a comprehensive bill, and Obama's administration was in fact disappointing to Hispanics on deportations and other border issues. Sure, Democrats had an argument (support for DREAM Act, and that Republicans were even worse and were blocking them from even trying for a major bill), but at any rate my strong impression is that Republican spin was at least somewhat successful.

So: Hey, reporters! I don't care what whether the arguments Republicans are going to make hold water or not; I want to know whether they'll work. What's up with those Latino opinion leaders who took a "blame both sides" view of immigration reform during Obama's first term? Are they open to the arguments that Obama wants to sabotage the bill in order to have the issue for 2014? Or are they going to shift from "blame both sides" to "blame House Republicans"?

Ed Markey

I haven't done a post yet on the new Senator from Massachusetts, mainly because there was no surprise here, and he's presumably about as predictable a new Senator as is possible.

I have talked about how Ed Markey is a setback for getting the Senate to be younger, but if you're looking for trivia, Eric Ostermeier has plenty more: about older Senators winning special elections, and about Markey's new record for longest House service before moving to the Senate. 

I don't have much to say substantively about Markey. I suspect he'll be a disappointing Senator because he'll find it difficult to adjust to the way the Senate does things, but I certainly could be entirely wrong about that. I'm thinking, at least a bit, about one-term North Dakota Senator Mark Andrews, who didn't adjust well.  

So instead I'll go with something even more trivial than what Ostermeier had...alphabetic quirks of the current Senate. See, Mo Cowan, the interim placeholder Markey will be replacing, was one of -- get this -- 16 Senators whose names begin with a "C." OK, I'm not going to go back through history, but that does seem like rather a lot to me. Anyway, Markey will beef up the "M" caucus; he'll be the 12th. 

Oh, and when Markey is sworn in it will cut in half the number of African American Senators, back down form a historically high two back down to one. Easy enough to look up...beginning with Edward Brooke taking office in 1967, there's been one black Senator for 24 of the 46 years up through 2012, leaving 22 years with zero black Senators. Then Tim Scott was sworn in this January, and Mo Cowan served from February until whenever Markey takes office. It is possible -- or maybe likely -- that Cory Booker will soon join Scott, presumably getting back to two for the remainder of at least the 113th Senate. 

One more: in case anyone is wondering, Markey does not appear to be a dynastic politician. I wouldn't count John Kerry, either (his father was a foreign service officer, although apparently "One of Kerry's maternal great-great-grandfathers was Robert Charles Winthrop, the 22nd Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives." In case anyone is wondering, short-timer New Jersey Senator Jeff Chiesa isn't a dynastic politician, either (nor is Cory Booker, whose parents were IBM executives).

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Sandra Smith, 73. The one and only Dr. Janice Lester -- and, of course, James T. Kirk. Was also in a good Columbo.

Just a bit of good stuff:

1. A few days old, but: a nice look at the FISA judges. Good reporting by John Shiffman and Kristina Cooke.

2. Yes, Kevin Drum is certainly right about this one: nobody cares about federalism.

3. Sarah Binder looks at the 2006 precedent in order to think about whether Congress is likely to act on the Voting Rights Act.

4. And Jack Balkin on Windsor (via Lemieux).

June 25, 1973

It's worth just quoting the banner headline from the next day's New York Times:
Ex-Counsel Says He Warned President of a 'Cancer' Explosive Testimony Dean Tells Inquiry That Nixon Took Part in Watergate Cover-Up For 8 Months
It had been true to some extent ever since Haldeman and Ehrlichman (and Dean) left the White House at the end of April, but Dean's testimony, beginning on June 25, made it clear: Watergate was now about the President of the United States.

Not that his testimony was limited to his meetings with Nixon (and to hearsay accounts of Nixon's involvement before and after the break-ins). What he had to say was devastating, too, to Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Mitchell, at least.

But it was the accusations about the president which were going to be in the headlines. And, on this first day of his testimony, it was clear that whatever would eventually happen to the president's men in court, the big question of the scandal now was (as Howard Baker put it later in the week) "what did the president know and when did he know it?"

Dean just read his statement on that first day (here's a clip of the opening of this statement); he then took questions for four days. It was, without a doubt, a sensation.

Dean, however, had little proof of his most explosive charges against Nixon; again, a fair amount of it was just hearsay. And while the administration was by now in ruins, it was far from clear how the direct contradiction between what Dean was saying and what the president and those still loyal to him were saying would be resolved.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Back to the "Live" Filibuster

Everyone loves a live, or talking, filibuster. They make for terrific drama! No question about it -- hey, say what you will about Frank Capra, but he certainly knew from compelling drama. So when there is one -- such as yesterday's marathon filibuster of abortion legislation by Texas State Senator Wendy Davis -- everyone wants more, and gets all upset that in the US Senate most filibusters are "silent" and not dramatic at all.

First, a bit of fun. Me, responding to why Democrats didn't demand a talking filibuster against the ACA in 2009:
In the old days, Senators engaged in a filibuster would read recipes or otherwise stray off topic. No need for that now! Not only do Senators have large staffs who could produce content, but there's a whole big internet available. If I were advising the GOP in that situation, I'd tell them to let conservative bloggers know that they can have their big chance for immortality: post something good, and a Republican Senator will read it on the floor of the Senate. Doesn't even have to be about health care! Excellent way to rev up the conservative blogosphere, no? Meanwhile, by forcing Republicans to perform a "real" filibuster, Democrats would transform a 24 hour network that millions of Americans get in their homes into a 24 hour Republican propaganda outlet. 
I'd say that's a pretty good prediction for the Rand Paul and Wendy Davis filibusters, no? 

Indeed, Paul did read from blog posts; Davis did solicit stuff to read. No recipes required. Well, none allowed, in the Texas example, but no shortage of germane material.

The specific question about Senate reform that this is all about is whether minority party Senators would be discouraged from obstruction if their filibusters had to be "live." Under the Merkley/Udall reform, remember, a talking filibuster staged by a small or large group of minority party Senators would still be able to continue indefinitely, but only as long as Senators were willing to come to the floor and talk. 

First, I've argued that there would be plenty of stuff for them to say. I hope that part of it can be treated as settled.

Second, if anything I underestimated the personal incentives for participating in one of these things. By midnight last night, liberals across the nation had practically nominated Wendy Davis for governor of Texas. Granted, that's not quite as useful as actually getting a nomination from Texas Democrats, but it's not nothing. Similarly, everyone seems to agree that Paul did himself quite a bit of good from his filibuster. 

Third, another thing seems to kick in on these -- the underdog bias of the Capra-loving press. Granted, both of these talking filibusters were about topics in which the minority position was probably shared by many reporters, but I'm fairly confident that the underdog bias would kick in no matter what the topic. 

Fourth, that's all about the "neutral" press. Within the partisan press, it's not only certain that the coverage would be favorable, but highly likely that it would make a great story.

Fifth, the nature of these things seems to be that once it kicks in, the minority party (or, in the Paul case, those with the minority opinion) really starts to mobilize in response. The minority, after all, has action on its side; its their Senators who are speaking. 

I just don't see it being a problem to find enough minority party Senators to speak. Sure, they have other demands on their time, but I suspect a handful would be eager to take the bulk of the time, and others would be willing to pitch in. In particular, if we're talking about trying to defeat a filibuster that way, we're talking about a bill or nomination which could not get cloture -- meaning that the minority would have more than 40 Senators to choose from.

Moreover: if Merkley/Udall was adopted by Democrats, I continue to believe that there would be strong incentives for the minority party to immediately prove that they could sustain a talking filibuster indefinitely, regardless of the underlying topic. They might wait a bit to choose something reasonably appealing, but maybe not; the topic of the filibuster, regardless of the underlying measure, would be the arrogance and the unfair and rule-breaking behavior of the Democratic majority. 

The bottom line here is that as much as these extended talking filibusters are -- and I agree they are -- they aren't a very good way of deciding things in a legislative chamber. Talking filibusters are fine as one-off publicity-attracting stunts that last a few hours but otherwise have no effects; I'm all for the Rand Paul type of filibuster. But as a real decision mechanism, it's just a lousy way of doing things. It's exceptionally difficult to calibrate the rules in order to get the desired degree of difficulty to keep one going (at least if you want something other than either easy or impossible to sustain it indefinitely). And, at the end of the day, it really makes no sense at all to use physical feats of strength and endurance as some sort of trump card. The right way to make decisions is, well, by voting. Maybe not necessarily by simple majority vote or party-determined party vote, but by vote, one way or another. 

DOMA Open Thread

I didn't do this yesterday for VRA, but I did it for the ACA case, so why not: here's an open thread for discussing the Supreme Court's marriage decisions. If you want to also talk about the Texas abortion law filibuster, be my guest! I know I'll be writing about filibusters, and I'll probably write about the SCOTUS stuff too, but for now, I'll just leave this one.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Jose Barrios, 56. No, you don't remember him -- just a very short cup of coffee, in 1982 -- but I do: three years with the Phoenix Giants.

Good stuff:

1. If you've read my various defenses of John Boehner (and for those who haven't: I think he's a pretty good Speaker in a very difficult situation), you should probably read Stan Collender, who has a very different point of view on Boehner.

2. Here's David Roberts on the Obama climate initiative.

3. And Scott Lemieux on Chief Justice Roberts and the Voting Rights case.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Catch of the Day

How about one for Seth Masket, for an excellent explanation of just what it was that prevented the pretenders from winning the GOP nomination in 2012. See also John Sides, but Seth is focused more on this part of it.

No, it wasn't the voters. It was -- you guessed it -- the Republican Party. Well, collectively, it was; individually, it was lots and lots of individual Republican party actors.

What's tricky about all of this is that there's no fixed formula to tell us how important activists are compared with, say, campaign professionals. Or how important particular party-aligned interest groups are, or how important the party-aligned press is, or how important party politicians are.

Or, within that: how important is Rush Limbaugh compared with, I don't know, Glenn Beck? How important is this governor compared with that Senator, or this Iowa-based activist motivated by home schooling compared with that South Carolina based activist primarily interested in immigration?

My sense of all this is that we're still early in the process of understanding all of this, especially since it's (at least potentially) shifting all the time. To the extent that a party is either strictly hierarchical or extremely monolithic, then it's fairly easy, but the more a party differs internally and is internally democratic, the more it's going to be very hard for anyone -- insider or outsider -- to figure out exactly who has how much of a say.

But even if it's hard to study, that's where the action is. And sometimes it's easy; the big whopping zilch in terms of endorsements that several of the candidates put together in 2012, even after they were able post impressive-looking wins in primaries, was an easy tip-off.

At any rate, the key to understanding all of this is knowing where to look. And most of the time, that means party actors, not voters.

Also: nice catch!

Functional/Dysfunctional II

On a totally different topic...

Ryan Lizza did some awesome reporting today: he happened to be sitting near a new Member of Congress who was doing fundraising calls, and Lizza live-tweeted the whole thing. John Sides has it all here.

There's nothing new here, but it's always good to get an honest look at what the current campaign finance regime does to politicians.

I have to say, however, after the last presidential election...I'm not as enthusiastic about my preferred fix as I used to be. As regular readers know, I'm for floors, not ceilings, plus disclosure -- let them raise what they want from who they want, but add some minimal level of public financing so that it's pretty easy for the parties to field active candidates even in tough districts. The research that backs this up is the idea that campaign spending yields diminishing returns (and so, for House races, the first $500K is far more important than getting from $5M to $5.5M), and therefore allowing candidates to raise money in very large chunks would not have important effects on election results. As far as influence over politicians in office, meanwhile, raising money in large chunks makes effective disclosure a lot easier because it should be pretty easy for the press and opponents to identify major donors -- and if Members want to take their money and be responsive to them, then the voters can know about it and approve or disapprove.

All that is still valid, in my view. However, another positive effect of floors, not ceilings, is that it would allow politicians to raise the same amount of money in less time, thus freeing up their time for actually doing their jobs.

But I don't really believe that any more. The incentives seem to run one way: more. And there just doesn't seem to be any kind of rational calculation about the marginal effects of another hour of fundraising. If that's true, then it doesn't really matter how easy it is to raise money; incumbents are still going to spend ridiculous amounts of time and energy on it. The only solution to that would be full public financing, and that's unrealistic both politically and (probably) Constitutionally, and in my view a bad idea anyway -- I think people should be able to participate in elections, including financially.

I don't know; I'd be interested in suggestions. Other than full public financing (again, regardless of what one wants, it's not going to happen): is there any realistic way to put Members of the House back to work and off this particular set of phones?


After today's Voting Rights Act decision, Chuck Todd says:
Voting in general is a mess. A functional Washington would see today's decision as an opportunity to do a big voting fix. But... Well...
I think this is almost completely the wrong way to look at it.

I talk a fair amount about what I see as a dysfunctional Republican Party. But I don't think that "Washington" is dysfunctional in general. And to the extent that it is (e.g. the executive branch nominations process), that's not the problem with voting.

Dysfunctional, to me, is about...well, it's about not being able to function. So things such as the majority party in the House repeatedly bringing things to the floor and failing to pass them. That fits. More generally, an inability to make choices that achieve one's goals. For example, I don't think most House Republicans really wanted the series of deadline crises they forced in the last Congress; they just couldn't find a way to avoid it. It's dysfunctional, too, to believe things that are not true -- to the extent that Republicans really believed the "unskewed polling" idea in 2012, or believe now that IRS targeting of Tea Party groups was responsible for the 2012 election results, that's dysfunction.

But not every disagreement is a sign of "dysfunction." In particular, on voting what we have isn't dysfunction; it's radically different preferences. Voting is a "mess" because the parties disagree about how easy voting should be, and there's no obvious compromise available -- that is, voting will either be easy or difficult, and what will determine it will mainly be partisan strength.

The one part of this where Todd may be correct is on tabulation -- neither party has a general preference for slow counts, and I don't think either party has a preference for or interest in inaccurate counts. So to the extent that's a problem, he's right about it. But one party very plainly does want long lines in the polling places in some precincts; does want registration to be cumbersome; does want additional hurdles at polling places; does, in short, want to make voting difficult. As far as I'm concerned, that's unfortunate, but please don't blame it on "Washington" not being "functional."

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Sonia Sotomayor, 59.

And to the good stuff:

1. Norm Ornstein responds to Mitch McConnell. I used to be (mostly) on McConnell's side on this one -- Norm is exactly correct that McConnell has flipped. I don't mind hypocrisy or partisan jockeying for advantage -- that's what politicians do -- but I did like McConnell's old position a whole lot better.

2. John Sides on Politico.

3. Seth Masket passes along some comparative research on the effects of polling on elections. Interesting.

3. Dan Larison probably has a better critique of Haass than I did.

4. Amy Walter has a useful note: "Why Obama's climate proposals won't get much pushback from House D's: just 7 of 43 Ds who voted agst Cap-n-Trade still in House."

5. And this time it's Kevin Drum being sensible on Snowden.

Monday, June 24, 2013

More Cranky Monday Blogging

OK, everyone is picking on Ross Douthat's column from yesterday. Why isn't anyone picking on Richard Haass?

Much of his piece yesterday, the part concerning foreign relations, seemed sensible to me. And I have no real problem with his point that, given the lack of major danger abroad, it's a good time to solve domestic problems. But then there's this:
At home, we must work to restore the foundations of American power. In many cases, this doesn’t even require spending more — often there is little relationship between our investments and the results.

The United States spends nearly twice as much as other industrialized nations per citizen on health care — often with worse outcomes. We spend more per student on education than most other wealthy countries, with few results to show for it. Attracting top-quality teachers, rewarding them for success, and enabling parents and students to choose effective schools would be a better use of resources.

And with only modest government funds we could foster public-private partnerships to rebuild this country’s often crumbling infrastructure, refashion immigration policy to give preference for visas and green cards to many more immigrants with advanced degrees and needed skills, and above all reduce long-term entitlement obligations, cutting the ratio of public debt to G.D.P.
In other words: I'm going to use my expertise on foreign affairs to tell everyone what they should be doing on domestic policy, and I'm going to pretend that my particular policy preferences are simply common sense that everyone obviously should support.

It's not true! As Jamelle Bouie said in a nice post last week: "Americans—both in and out of Washington—like to think that because we share a common national identity, we also share common interests. And in the broadest sense, we do. But for issues of public policy—on the questions that drive our politics—there’s far more disagreement than not." His point there was that this is perfectly healthy and natural, and he's exactly right.

Nor is it the case that the US has ignored education, health care, and other domestic issues out of some sort of misguided obsession with mythical threats from abroad. Simply not true!

There's just no hint here of two massively important factors: that people disagree over policy, and that policy -- even when everyone does agree -- is sometimes really, really, hard to get right.

It's enough to, yes, make me cranky.

Very Mildly Cranky Monday Blogging

Ah, Monday Cranky Blogging. It's been a while. I'm not sure why; it's possible it's because the Sunday newspapers are running fewer annoying pieces...and it's possible it's because I'm less willing to read, and thus get annoyed by, the ones most likely to get me upset.

Which gets to a mostly solid Sunday column by the always excellent David Leonhardt about the judicial confirmation battles. Leonhardt looks at the claims and counterclaims about how much obstruction there's been, and concludes that obstruction of circuit court nominees has been about the same during Barack Obama's presidency as it was during the George W. Bush years, but that the obstruction of district court nominees has been worse.

I think that's basically the right story to tell. So why am I a bit cranky?

Leonhardt could have done a bit more about obstruction at the initial nomination stage, but at least he mentioned the "blue slip" problem, and he had limited space to work with, so that's pretty good, actually.

However, the item really is missing anything about partisan context.

The current Congress has had either 55 or 54 Democrats; the 109th Congress, in 2005-2006, had 55 Republicans. That's a dead even tie.

The previous Congress, 2011-2012, had 53 Democrats; the 108th, 2003-2004, had 51 Republicans. So Obama had a slightly better partisan context for his second Congress.

But the Congress they had at the beginning of their first terms were wildly different. For most of the 107th Congress, Democrats held a 51-49 majority; for about five months at the beginning, Republicans had a slim 50-50 majority, with Vice President Dick Cheney breaking the tie and allowing them to organize the body. For Obama, the historic 111th varied between 58, 59, and 60 Democrats -- a lopsided majority, and sometimes a filibuster-proof (sort of) supermajority.

That's a big deal! For one thing -- blocking the president's judicial nominees with a majority is really a much different thing than blocking them with a minority. In general, I don't think presidents are entitled to the people they want on the bench; if they select judges that the majority of the Senate opposes, then that's not really "obstruction" in the same way that using parliamentary procedures to push back a vote or to prevent one altogether is.

The bottom line is that there's no reason to have expected Bush's nominees in 2001-200 to have been as successful as Obama's in 2009-2010, all things being equal -- including out-party opposition.

As I said, overall it's an excellent item. Just excluding this one point makes me, oh, a little cranky.

Elsewhere: ACA/Obamacare, Boehner, more

Two new columns and a blog post I liked, plus some other stuff:

My Salon column this week was another argument that John Boehner is doing a pretty good job, considering the circumstances.

At TAP, I predict the new rallying cry: "keep your Obamacare away from my Affordable Care Act!" -- or, in other words, Obamacare stays unpopular even if the ACA is successful and therefore untouchable.

And I didn't go full-blown cranky, but I got annoyed at something on Friday and wrote about how no one is ever "really running" Washington.

Others at the Post last week:

What the Farm Bill says about immigration in the House

How to explain Obama’s approval ratings? Events, not polarization

‘Regular order’ on immigration suffers another blow

The need to feed The Crazy will cost the GOP

Hillary! Hillary? Hillary!?!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Ken Reitz, 62. Here's the thing: in 1975, there was just no way for the normal baseball fan to realize what a bad regular 3B Ken Reitz was. We had triple crown stats. That's it. And we didn't really have any framework for understanding the difference between, say, a 270/5/70 guy and a 230/25/90 guy, anyway. Oh, and baseball people really weren't much better informed. At any rate, I have nothing against Reitz as a person, and among all the baseball players in the world he was surely in the top several percent...but he got eight years as a major league regular 3B, and I'm fairly sure he wasn't one of the top 24 or 26 3Bs in the US in many, if any, of those seasons.

No surprise to regular readers, but I really enjoyed Whedon's Much Ado, and also this good stuff:

1. Dan Drezner, on the Fed and hegemony, among other things.

2. Matt Yglesias is right about this: it's unlikely that the House can do anything on immigration other than pass the Senate bill. Other, that is, than nothing, which is certainly possible. 

3. Nice item on the Iranian elections from Matthew Shuggart (via John).

4. All of this from Robert Farley about Snowden seems pretty sensible to me.

5. Sarah Kliff on 100 days until Obamacare.

6. And Andrew Sprung has been reading Neustadt, and has a few arguments with him. And fair enough; as a historian, Neustadt probably isn't to be trusted. It's absolutely correct, at least in my view, to read Neustadt as essentially all about being like FDR, which is problematic to the extent to which FDR wasn't actually a 100% perfect president at all times. But it's more than that; I think Neustadt is guilty of mistaking Roosevelt's particular, personal, style with the more general points about how a president goes about gaining influence (and why it's good for the system for presidents to do so). That, and not just lack of information which later historians have uncovered, explains how he overlooked Ike's successes. Overall, however, I think Neustadt holds up extremely well, once that a few other things are taken into account.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

Unless I'm missing it, I've never asked this one: what do you think of the job that Harry Reid is doing as Majority Leader?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

I have a piece up at Salon this weekend defending the Speaker, and I haven't asked this one for over a year so I suppose it's time: what do you think of the job that John Beohner is doing as Speaker of the House?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

The Supremes held off on the headline cases this week, but decided a bunch of others. Those are important, too!

What didn't matter? I'm not sure that what happens to Snowden matters very much, I suppose, although I'm open to arguments the other way.

That's what I have. What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Catch of the Day

Kevin Drum's correspondent asked:
So, I'm just waiting for the inevitable piece from Ron Fournier asking why and how Obama and the Democrats could have let the Farm Bill debacle in the House occur. Or, how this demonstrates a lack of leadership in Washington, particularly by Obama. Or, how the leaderlessness of the White House is infusing into the House through some osmosis-like process and corrupting John Boehner.
And the winner is...NBC's First Read: "Leaderless in Washington: [...]  Bottom line: Nobody is really running Washington right now, and the public is noticing."

So I got cranky, and wrote something here about "really running" Washington and separated institutions sharing powers and the rest of it, but I'll add one more thing: no, the public isn't "noticing." Mass publics don't pay attention to squabbles such as the farm bill fiasco; they don't pay attention to who is up and who is down in the estimation of the pundits and reporters; they don't know, and don't care, about most of what people obsess about in Washington. Including those things which are terribly important to to their lives!

Granted, if pundits constantly repeat that there's a leadership gap or some such nonsense, there's a chance that people will recognize the phrase and echo it back to pollsters. But for the most part, people just don't care about that stuff.

At any rate: Nice catch!

Five Points on Farm Bill/Immigration

Yesterday, I wrote over at PP about "What the Farm Bill says about immigration in the House." I've already linked to Greg, who had a similar view, and there were others, too. 

But Ezra Klein has a bit of a counterintuitive view this morning:
I’ll admit it: I don’t know what the collapse of the farm bill portends for immigration reform. But I suspect the answer is: not much.
Will immigration go the same way? Perhaps. But it’s not a sure thing, either. There’s not going to be an immigration bill that all House Republicans are happy with. And they’re not going to pass an immigration bill because Boehner begs and pleads. But they might, in the end, pass an immigration bill — or allow one to be passed — because they trust the basic strategy.

That’s not just the difference between immigration and the farm bill. It’s the difference between immigration and everything. Washington is acting surprised that Boehner can’t control his members. But we knew that already — remember Plan B? If you’re surprised that the House is a mess, you simply haven’t been paying attention.
I think there are a few quick points to be made here.

1. He's correct that we're not getting new information here. We knew "the House is a mess." All we had here is yet another example. So in that sense, it's fair to say that close observers of the House don't really have anything new to say after the farm bill. It's less "What the Farm Bill says about immigration in the House" than "What the Farm Bill says about immigration in the House -- if you were just tuning in." Of course, lots of people are just tuning in!

2.  I don't think it's correct to say that there's a "difference between immigration and everything." Specifically, I don't think it's correct to say that House Republicans don't care about passing a farm bill. Yes, they may be post-policy, but the farm bill? I would think that a lot of them want that to pass.

3. Which gets to an important point: it's one thing to say, as I've been saying that it may be the case on immigration that mainstream conservatives want the bill to pass but without their votes; it's another thing to solve that coordination problem. The same applies if their goal is to get something to committee and then let it die; there's still a coordination problem in actually getting that done.

4. By the way: yesterday's fiasco notwithstanding, there's still every possibility that we'll still get a farm bill this year. It wouldn't be the first time something collapsed on the floor only to be revived.

5. To the extent that the farm bill and immigration have any causal pull on each other, it may well be the other way around: if Boehner thinks he's eventually going to have to pass the Senate bill on immigration with mostly Democratic votes, he may be more reluctant to pass the Senate farm bill the same way. That's assuming the Senate version of the farm bill wouldn't get bipartisan majorities; it receive a fair number of Republican votes in the Senate, but short of a majority.

And once again: I still have no idea what House Republicans actually want to do on immigration. They may well want to kill it. We'll just have to see.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Mariette Hartley, 73. Much loved (as far as I know) by my generation; don't think I could explain why to anyone. Her Star Trek appearance was OK, but I especially loved her two Columbo episodes.

The good stuff:

A Dean Baker takedown of Niall Ferguson.

Excellent substantive analysis of the farm bill fiasco from Jonathan Chait.

While Greg Sargent talks to Norm Ornstein about that fiasco.

Sarah Binder on the history of the Fed and the structure of the FOMC.

Ornstein, again, on contracting out government.

And I know I had this yesterday, but more detail from Reid Wilson:

Hotline Overlooked: Between 6/3, when Lautenberg died, and 6/22, when Feinstein turns 80, there are no octogenarians in the Senate. Last time the Senate was without an octogenarian: 1/3/81, when Sen. Milton Young retired, and 8/3/81, when John Stennis turned 80.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tuesday, or Not?

One of the biggest surprises to me recently has been the emergence of National Review as a location for some quality reporting on Republicans. I've thought of NRO as mostly a cheerleader site, but with Robert Costa taking the lead, it's now becoming a place to get information beyond what today's talking points happen to be. That's good!

That said...I'm more than a little confused about today's item, from Jonathan Strong, claiming that "The Tuesday Group, a moderate-Republican caucus long ignored within the House GOP, is quietly starting to fight back against the conference’s right turn."

The problem? There's really no evidence that House moderates are having any effect at all. In the article, I mean. Typical anecdote:
Tuesday Group members will “get up in a [meeting of the Republican caucus] and express a point of view and basically, the leaders listen to them, but everybody else sort of tunes out,” said former representative Steven LaTourette of Ohio, now the president of the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership.
It goes on like that, reporting on several recent skirmishes that the moderates lost; there's really nothing at all about any successes.

So what's the deal here? Strong noticed the existence of the Tuesday Group, thought there might be a story there, reported it out and found nothing but was already committed to a point of view? Some unexpected editorial decision from NR to show tolerance by throwing a bone to moderates? There really is some sort of resurgence of the moderates -- who, after all, have just as much ability to sink a GOP-only bill in the House as the Gohmert-Bachmann group -- but Strong didn't quite come up with the stories to convince us?

I'll admit: I'm puzzled. Interested, but puzzled.

The Future of the Real IRS Scandal!

I saw this from Kevin Drum, who sent me to Dave Weigel, and from there to a brilliant paper designed to fuel infinite resentment for conservatives, summarized by James Pethokoukis beginning with this gem:
1. Let’s say Tea Party groups had continued to grow at the pace seen in 2009 and 2010.
And ending with the conclusion that the Democrats stole the 2012 election by suppressing the Tea Party vote by foot-dragging on certifying their tax-exempt status.

To which my first reaction is: that's nothing! Of course we should assume that Tea Party groups would naturally group in Years Three and Four the way they grew in Years One and Two. And we should further assume that they should grow in Years Five and Six at that same rate, too -- so we're probably talking about them pretty much reaching 60% of the electorate by 2014, and 80% by 2016, and well over 200% of the electorate by the 2020 elections. Of course that's what we should assume! By that logic, it's pretty obvious that by the end of the decade Republicans would have easily had at least 90 Senators and 400 Members of the House, not to mention well over 450 electoral votes in the presidential elections. Anything else is clear evidence of stolen elections!

And of course that was only stifled by the insidious IRS plot. Never mind, as Weigel notes, that the real heavy Tea Party lifting was by already-established tax-exempts; never mind also, as Drum notes, that back in the real world the Tea Party was never very popular outside of the Republican core and, by 2011, was quite unpopular with most voters. All that would have been totally completely different if a whole bunch of small, local, groups had been properly equipped with prompt approval of their tax status.

At any rate, my other favorite part of this particular conspiracy is this from one of the study's coauthors:
The Tea Party movement’s huge success was not the result of a few days of work by an elected official or two, but involved activists all over the country who spent the year and a half leading up to the midterm elections volunteering, organizing, donating, and rallying. Much of these grassroots activities were centered around 501(c)4s, which according to our research were an important component of the Tea Party movement and its rise. … Unfortunately for Republicans, the IRS slowed Tea Party growth before the 2012 election.
Got it? The complaint is that the IRS was slow in granting all these groups a tax status that depending on them not being primarily devoting to electioneering, thus preventing them from..."volunteering, organizing, donating, and rallying" for the "midterm elections."

I mean, as far as I can see (and I only read co-author Stan Veuger's summary post, not the whole paper) the entire thing is premised on a "constitutional right" for these groups to get tax-exempt status so that they can do things they aren't supposed to do with that tax-exempt status. And there's not even a pause to explain why some might see something amiss in that.

As I've been saying for some time: they're not even trying.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Candy Clark, 66.

Quickly to the good stuff:

1. David Karol on Politico. I'm not saying I really disagree, but I'll stand by what I said the other day -- they do a lot of real and useful reporting, and a lot of their weaknesses are fairly harmless.

2. Harold Pollack and Sam Bagenstos on ADA, ACA, Medicaid and reform in general.

3. And Josh Kraushaar has an Old, Old Senate update.

June 19, 1973

Everyone is still waiting for John Dean's public testimony to the Senate Watergate Committee, postponed now until later in the month.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Today's Lesson in Why One Shouldn't Trust Self-Identified "Independents"

Sean Hannity: "I'm not a Republican, though people often mistake me for one."

(From Political Wire, quoted from a Playboy interview I'm not going to click through to read).

Or, to quote John Sides:
The three myths [about independents] are:

1) Independents are the largest partisan group.

2) Independents are actually independent.

3) Change in the opinions of independents is always consequential.
Sean Hannity is perfectly free to call himself whatever he wants. But he is obviously a functional Republican.

Keep this in mind the next time someone tells you about how independents are a huge group of voters. For whatever reason, our political culture values calling oneself "independent," and discourages people from identifying themselves as party regulars -- if you ask people whether they vote the candidate or the party, an overwhelming majority will go with "candidate."

Our political behavior, on the other hand, demonstrates considerably partisan behavior -- most of us, most of the time, do in fact for party, not candidate.

All of which is not only very familiar to anyone who has studied the evidence, but should be obvious to anyone who listens to political actors talk.

A reminder of my good-enough way of thinking about how the actual electorate breaks down: it's one-third Republican, one-third Democratic, one-third independent...but that final one third is itself really one-third Republican, one-third Democratic, and one-third (and thus one-ninth overall) true independent. And what's more, those true independents are overwhelmingly the least informed and least attentive to politics; the stereotyped careful independent who carefully reads up on the issues and the candidates in order to make up her mind does exist, but she's a tiny, tiny, party of the electorate (I've never seen numbers, but I'm guessing some fraction of one percent).

No One Cares About the Deficit, Latest Chapter

The CBO says: the Senate immigration bill lowers the deficit (see also a nice explainer from pro-immigration analyst Matt Yglesias).

Liberals who support immigration reform have been having fun since yesterday afternoon pointing out that Republicans who oppose immigration are hypocrites because they will surely ignore or dismiss that effect on what is supposedly one of their main priorities. Well, yes -- but I have very little problem with hypocrisy in general, and even less on this "gotcha" kind. Truth is that immigration policy is terribly important to determining what kind of nation you're going to have; if it increases or decreases the deficit a bit, that's really no reason to support or oppose the policy. And $200B or so over ten years is really nothing to get all excited about. It's more the other way around: anyone who claims to care about deficits would have some obligation to change the bill if the estimates had come back the other way; finding that there's a bit of deficit reduction certainly doesn't oblige people otherwise concerned about deficits to support the bill.

Ah, but there's one group which really should weigh in: the professional deficit scolds. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, for example. That is, they should weigh in if they really want people to take them seriously.

First of all, they (and anyone else whose primary political project is deficit reduction) should be out there backing up the CBO estimates. It's not their job to say that anyone who cares about deficit reduction should vote for the immigration bill, but it is their job -- if they really care about deficit reduction -- to do whatever they can to establish the idea that CBO projections are real, and should be treated as real.

(That's assuming, of course, that they agree with CBO; if not, it's their obligation to do a serious nonpartisan critique).

Second, they should be quick to praise those who propose major legislation that helps the deficit. Not the bill itself; again, even deficit scolds shouldn't be suggesting that people support or oppose major substantive legislation because of relatively minor deficit reduction. But there's little reward out there for what deficit scolds certainly should be thinking of as acting responsibly -- the difference, in other words, between Bush-era Medicare expansion and Obama-era ACA. Indeed, that could be especially helpful for deficit-scolds who oppose a bill: "I'm against this, but the authors deserve considerable credit for doing it in a fiscally responsible way."

In fact, however, most deficit scolds typically do no such thing. Which is why no one should take most of them seriously on deficits. And why many who otherwise would be sympathetic to their supposed cause wind up thinking that their real goals have little to do with deficits and debt.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Kathleen Turner, 59.

Good stuff:

1. John Side does some teaching: why we should care what happens to Obama's approval rating. (I thought I remembered writing a version of this myself a while back, but I can't find it; either way, John's is better.

2. Kevin Drum on medical inflation.

3. And very good one from Ezra Klein on Bobby Jindal.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Politico? Why Not?

There's an interview of Politico's maestros over at TNR which, to tell the truth, I haven't read yet, but it's causing a bit of a fuss -- Politico and the normally sensible Nate Silver are feuding a bit, for example, mainly (as far as I can tell) because Politico likes to take silly swipes at Silver.

But at any rate, I like what Ed Kilgore says about Politico (his emphasis):
Regular readers know that I’m not a Politico-hater; I think the site serves a legitimate reporting function and sometimes does it well and other times at least covers a lot of landscape that might otherwise escape attention. It’s when Politico tells us what it all means or tries self-consciously to drive narratives that it gets into trouble, often to the point of self-parody.
Silver is upset that Politico's style "seem to lack very much curiosity for the world outside of the bubble." I disagree! Kilgore is correct here: what they can do, and sometimes do extremely well, is to let us know what insiders are thinking and doing. That's good enough.

Moreover, careful readers can often ignore the "what it all means" nonsense.The only thing I do worry about is when reporters, whether Politico or elsewhere, put that "what it all means" junk into the mouths of insiders who really are just worried about how to get from point A to point B. But if it's the insiders themselves who believe hocus-pocus and flim-flam, well, it's helpful to know that.

I'll go back to one of my favorite things -- that the McLaughlin Group promised (or perhaps still promises) "inside opinions and forecasts," and delivered exactly that. Not wise opinions or accurate forecasts -- but they didn't promise those!

I'll tie this all back to immigration...right now I've been arguing the key to immigration is whether mainstream conservatives in the House want it to pass, and that will depend on how they balance out what's good for the party and what's good for them personally. For that, I'd much rather know what Republicans perceive about the electoral effects of passing immigration reform, rather than a good study by a political scientist about the actual effects of immigration reform. And since I'm a careful reader, I don't really care whether reporters mistake House GOP perceptions for reality -- because for this particular question, I want to be in the heads of those Members, and I'm perfectly capable of removing myself from that if I have some other question I want to answer.

Again, as long as they keep their own analysis out of the helpful information they are collecting, I'm all for Politco-style reporting. I'm pretty sure the result is that we know a fair amount more than we used to about what's going on in Washington, and that's a plus -- no matter how much nonsense we have to ignore to get to it.

Please, More Reporting Like This (Judges ed.)

Fascinating parenthetical in Emily Heil's story about judicial vacancies:
Some vacancies have remained without nominees because home-state senators have yet to make recommendations to the White House to begin with — and in states with two GOP senators, that means they can delay the process there. (However, we hear that President Obama has sufficiently badgered at least Democratic senators to start providing names of judges, and observers are expecting a “raft” of new names from the White House soon.)
First, it's good reporting to note the Senate's role in the delays in judicial nominations at the very beginning of the process.

But what's this about Democratic Senators? We know (or at least we think we know) that Republican Senators have been slow-walking nominations in their states, but the general sense I've had is that the delays in Democratic states have been the administration's fault. Here, it's posed as the fault of Democratic Senators -- at least recently. Is that true?

One way to look at it is that it's fair to blame Obama up to the point that he makes it clear that he's doing whatever he can; that is, if he hasn't been "sufficiently badgering" in public, we know he hasn't done everything he can do. But overall, it's hard to tell! So, good reporting here, but more, please.

Oh - and that "raft" of new names? Seems like we've been hearing that all year, which makes me more inclined to think that the whole paragraph is mainly WH spin. Of course, we eventually did get the three DC Circuit picks, so you never know.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Carol Kane, 61. I'm actually not much of a fan of her scene in Princess Bride. But loved her in Annie Hall, loved her in Ishtar, she was great on Cheers. I had forgotten that she's in The Muppet Movie, too.

And plenty of good stuff:

1. Rick Hasen walks us through Arizona v. Inter-Tribal Council.

2. Yes, the physical bulk of bills is not in any way important, as Steve Benen says.

3. Ezra Klein is right about 30-year budget projections.

4. This one (via Goddard) really should have received a lot more attention than it seems to be getting: great story from Elise Viebeck on ACA as a constituent service problem for Republican Members of Congress: some of them will treat it as a normal casework situation, while others apparently are planning to take their undermining of the law right through to refusing to give constituents accurate information.

5. And if you want to know what's up in the MA SEN special, you of course want to be reading David S. Bernstein.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Breaking: Boehner Is Constrained By His Conference.

There's a lot of nonsense on the "Hastert Rule" going around, and a lot of nonsense on John Boehner as a "weak" Speaker.

I've talked about many times, but here's the short version:

There's just no way that a Speaker is going to habitually do things that his conference doesn't want. Any Speaker who did that wouldn't last very long at all. A Speaker isn't "weak" because he's constrained that way; Nancy Pelosi was equally constrained by her caucus, and so were Jim Wright and Newt Gingrich, and so are all of them.

That doesn't need to be incorporated into any formal rule; it's just how it is.

What's more, just as partisan context needs to be included to assess how a president is doing with Congress, so does the partisan context need to be included if we are interested in assessing a Speaker's performance. The larger, and the more unified, the majority party, the easier it is for the Speaker to appear "strong." But that's not the Speaker's strength; it's just a function of a large, unified majority. Tip O'Neill didn't suddenly get better at being Speaker in 1983; he just had a liberal majority that wasn't available in 1981-1982.

There are variations beyond simple majority size and unity. Newt Gingrich and Jim Wright both alienated Members who didn't like their bullying style (and, in the case of Gingrich, his poor negotiating record with the Clinton White House). O'Neill, Pelosi, and (I believe) Boehner have been particularly good at listening to their Members, and moving the agenda towards consensus positions when they can. But no Speaker simply dictates to co-equal Members of the House what to do, and John Boehner isn't unusually weak because he can't or won't do so.

Nuclear Logic (Why Lautenberg Probably Doesn't Matter)

Greg has some reporting out today on the concerns among Senate Democrats that Frank Lautenberg's death  may tip things against majority-imposed reform; with several Democratic defections possible and at least a couple likely, losing that one sure vote for reform could be the difference.

I don't question his reporting -- that is, I'm sure that Democrats are saying what he reports they're saying -- but I don't really believe it. I continue to believe it's highly unlikely that the Democrats will act unless they're very close to being unanimous. One defection, maybe; two, perhaps; more, and I don't think anything happens.

That's in part because of the spin on it; I think a lot of Democrats are likely worried that a narrow vote with every Republican and a four (or, previously, five) Democrats opposing reform would mean that they'll lose the spin battle. I think that's probably a foolish reason; it won't really matter who wins the fight over whether majority-imposed reform is "good government" or "majority tyranny." No one cares about Senate procedure;  most of the press will forget about it in a couple of weeks, and voters will never have noticed.

(Caveat: it's certainly possible that the conservative information loop will find majority-imposed reform to be a product that sells, but that just means it's substituting for some other product; it won't affect votes in 2014 or 2106).

However, it's also in part because I don't really think that the most reluctant Democrats are acting independently. I think quite a few Democrats are reluctant to change the rules. The balance here is between the incentives for them as individual Senators to retain their individual influence within the Senate and the incentives for them as Democrats to advance the party agenda. What determines the balance isn't so much individual variation among Democrats, but the level of GOP obstruction. My strong suspicion here is that there will either be 52 or more votes (out of the 54), or there will be well under 50.

The tricky part is that no one wants to specify exactly how many and which positions Republicans would have to obstruct in order to trigger that 52+ number, since doing so would give them license to block everything up to that line. What's more, I'm not convinced that any of the Democrats, including Harry Reid, have a precise formula in mind. Instead, I think they'll work it out together, based on what Republicans do, what Democratic party actors do, and perhaps to a small extent what Barack Obama does. But I do think that it's going to be more of a collective decision than a set of separate individual decisions.

Oh, and I think some sort of bipartisan efforts to avert majority-imposed reform is fairly likely.

No prediction from me on the outcome of any of this. And I'm an outsider here; the reporting could well be more correct than my outsider analysis. But that's how I see the incentives involved.

Finding a House Majority on Immigration

The news on immigration today is John Boehner rejecting the option of passing a bill with mostly Democratic votes. Or so he says; Jonathan Chait points out that Boehner's position makes him prone to bluffing. But for now:
"I just don't think that's the winning formula here," Cole told The Washington Examiner. "What the speaker wants to do is have a hopefully bipartisan product -- certainly one that has the majority of Republicans -- pass the House. This has got too much emotional, political impact and I think it really has to be genuinely bipartisan."
I'm sure that the Speaker wants a "bipartisan product."

I just don't see how it happens.

As Greg Sargent explains today, there's really "no papering over" the key question: is there a (real) path to citizenship, or not?

If there is, then it's virtually certain that the majority of House Republicans will oppose. If not, it's virtually certain that an overwhelming majority of House Democrats will oppose.

That, it seems to me, is obvious and easy. The more complicated question is whether there's any House majority at all behind anything.

Is there a GOP-only majority? I really doubt it. There are 234 Republicans right now, so if they lose more than 16 they will need help from the Democrats. It's possible that the whole GOP conference can be rallied to support something, but it's clearly hard work. I'm pretty convinced that there are at least 20 Republicans who would only support immigration-bashing measures, and also at least 20 Republicans who are pro-immigration. As far as I can tell, the only way something gets 218 Republicans is if they wind up putting the value of proving they can pass something ahead of their policy positions, and I'm not sure why they would want to do that.

What about a mostly-Republican bill? I'd love to see some reporting on where the remaining "Blue Dog" Democrats are on this. It seems (at least based on what we're seeing in the Senate) that most or all of them would support a comprehensive bill, but they could support, say, a border-security-only bill and still say they were for comprehensive reform. On the other hand, they would be getting on the wrong side of Latino groups -- and, remember, the wrong side of business. My guess, and it's completely just a guess, is that it's going to be very, very difficult to find a mostly-Republicans majority.

In other words, the reason I've been saying that Boehner would eventually have to decide whether to move bill with mostly Democratic votes is because I don't really think he has another option. Not just for something that could become law, but for anything to get through the House at all.

That could be wrong! A GOP-only bill is possible if Republicans agree to ignore their policy preferences for a while in order to get the "narrative" victory of passing something. A GOP-mostly bill is possible if a fair number of Democrats who would vote for a comprehensive bill would also vote for a GOP-written bill without citizenship. I don't think those votes are there, but I could easily be wrong about it. Note, however, that even if they are, that just gets something to conference...actually getting something enacted into law just gets them back to the original question, because it's pretty certain that nothing becomes law without citizenship. And, once again, most Republicans are not going to vote for citizenship.

All of which gets back to my initial sense that the question is all about whether House Republicans want a comprehensive bill to become law, or not. If not, Boehner won't bring it up, and it's dead. If so, Boehner will bring it up, and it probably has the votes (with, that is, a fairly large group quietly wanting that solution even as they vote against it and very likely denounce Boehner publicly for doing what they want him to do).

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Stu Tate, 51. His cup of coffee was in 1989, age 27. He had 18 remaining professional innings (in AAA in 1991). Pitching is brutal.

Good stuff:

1. Dan Hopkins on the Latino vote.

2. David Roberts is incredibly sensible about the nuclear (power) debate.

3. Nicole Flatow talks to a retired federal judge about the limitations of the judicial check on intelligence gathering.

4. And, off topic, but: Peter Biskind has tapes of (an aging) Orson Welles in conversation. Good fun.

June 16, 1973

The Ervin Committee hearings have been continuing. The most important witness so far has been Jeb Magruder, but at this point everyone is waiting for John Dean. On the 16th, Dean does his pre-testimony in a closed session. That was the standard committee procedure, but Dean had resisted -- he and his lawyers wanted to stage manage his own testimony, and the executive session ran the risk that his bombshells would be leaked according to someone else's agenda.

Dean was supposed to begin his public, televised testimony during the week of June 18th, but Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet leader, was in the US, and the Watergate Committee agreed to delay until after the Brezhnev-Nixon summit was completed.

Behind the scenes, perhaps the most important thing in this period is that the White House and Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox are already beginning to build to a confrontation.

Emery makes much of Dean's closed door testimony -- Dean brandished Howard Baker's secret meeting with Nixon, presumably to pressure Baker to play nice in the public sessions (or else Dean would imply that Baker was in the pocket of the White House).

And no one wants that. In early June, Nixon's Gallup approval stayed at the same 44% he had been at in mid-May. It's not disaster-level, but his time as a popular president is very much over.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

Eric Holder: weak link in the Obama cabinet who should be replaced, or target of a bum rap?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

Chris Christie: half (at least) RINO who at best is the best to hope for in New Jersey, but certainly should be nowhere near a national ticket? Or: a promising conservative presidential candidate?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

For Tuesday I Walk to the Village

And it's Election Day again in my neighborhood. I'm in one of only two districts where the city council contest wound up as a run-off, and so it gets resolved today.

That's just one mark on the ballot. It's the second election day of the year, and second of the two and four year cycles; I've only had three choices, total, to make so far. And all of them were relatively easy in that the offices at least make sense (mayor and city council), although made unnecessarily difficult because they were nonpartisan elections. That's hardly anything! I'm not certain, but I think we may have one more election day later this year if there are any Texas constitutional amendments that have to be approved; other than that, it's possible we'll go all the way until next year's primary elections.

What Mattered This Week?

I'm pretty much with the people who suspect that US involvement in Syria will matter less than it may seem, but at the same time that the overall Syria conflict does matter. 

As far as something that doesn't matter? Skirmishes about the "Hastert rule" and immigration over on the House side. It's all for show. John Boehner isn't going to try to bully this thing through unless most of his Members want him to. Whatever they say for the cameras.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Anti-Quagmire President (So Far)

On Obama and Syria: the one area of national security and foreign policy in which Barack Obama really has earned the benefit of the doubt is about slippery slopes, quagmires, and otherwise getting trapped into military adventurism that expands despite everyone's best intentions. 

His record on this is really quite impressive. He got out of Iraq (yes, he was only following George W. Bush's policy and a signed agreement with the Iraqis, but it wouldn't have been the first time a president managed to keep troops where they weren't really wanted). His intervention in Libya was limited and stayed limited. In Mali, Yemen, and other conflicts, he committed to a minimal level of action and stuck with it. And in Afghanistan, he "surged" -- but then de-escalated and appears to be on a path to continue getting out. At no point that I remember did the Obama Administration give in to the kinds of "in for a dime, in for a dollar" arguments that wind up leading to real messes. The administration has consistently been willing to absorb predictable attacks for bugging out too early or for doing too little.

Perhaps Syria will turn out different -- and those who oppose intervention there (or I suppose those who support the current level of intervention but oppose any further action) should obviously be advocating for what they want rather than just trusting Obama. But overall...he hasn't earned anyone's trust on civil liberties or open government, and he's made his share of foreign policy/national security blunders, but he might be the best since Ike at knowing how to keep engagements limited.

Catch of the Day

Kevin Drum listened to the disgraced former Speaker saying about anti-terrorism methods that "people will tolerate it as long as it's genuinely secret." Drum:
Yeah, I guess people will tolerate just about anything as long as they don't know it's happening. This is why Newt is the philosopher king of the Republican Party.
The thing is: Tom P. Baxter (as I like to call him) has always been exactly that same kind of fraud, and it was pretty clear from his presidential campaign that just about every party actor from the precinct level on up knew it, but yet they're still perfectly happy to parade him for the rubes he specializes in fleecing. I mean, we're right to laugh about it, but we also know that Republicans do seem perfectly willing to pretend that Newt is a Wise Man of Conservatives, when they actually know that he's not only not wise, but not particularly committed to being conservative, either.

At any rate: Nice catch!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Matt Freeman, 47.

Plus a little good stuff:

1. Josh Putnam's latest update on the 2016 calendar.

2. The Founders online? Cool.

3. And Ann Friedman on "the daughter problem."

Thursday, June 13, 2013

ENDA May Have a Chance

Here's how fast things are changing on issues affecting sexual orientation and gender identity: there's actually a realistic chance that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act could pass the divided Congress. And it seems very likely that at the very least, Democrats will push it  aggressively.

That was the word from Harry Reid earlier this week, when he promised that the Senate would take up the legislation "soon," although he didn't specify when. And now Barack Obama may be planning to push it himself. It's no surprise; the current bill has 48 co-sponsors; that's three more than the version which died in the 111th Congress (2009-2010), even though that Senate had more Democrats. Over in the House,  the companion legislation has 175 cosponsors.

One would expect that the bill would have no chance in the Republican House, but I'm not so sure; it's not impossible that this could wind up being like the Violence Against Women Act, something so difficult to explain opposing that the House would rather just let it pass than stand in the way. ENDA polls extremely well, with many Americans surprised that employers can fire people based on non-work factors absent of specific laws prohibiting it. I'm never sure how seriously to take that kind of polling, but I can really imagine a lot of Republican Senators being reluctant to filibuster the bill -- and it's even possible to imagine House Republicans wanting to make the bill go away by having John Boehner bring it to the floor for passage (even while they vote against it in order to protect against primary challengers).

No predictions. Just taking note of what really is an amazing change -- that ENDA could have reached the status of motherhood and apple pie (and VAWA) to the extent that politicians may actually fear stopping it.

How Soon Tax Reform?

Earlier this week, Stan Collender wrote a longish piece about the prospects for tax reform. His bottom line? Don't expect anything until 2017.

He makes several points, most of which I agree with. But I'm not sure I agree with the conclusion. In particular, Collender argues, essentially, that tax reform will happen only when Republicans give in to the Democratic position that reform should be revenue-positive this time around, as opposed to the revenue-neutral 1986 effort.

I strongly disagree with that -- as I've argued in the past, I think tax reform is really only plausible when it's revenue-neutral. Why? Because tax reform by its nature is all about overcoming well-organized, generally influential losers by putting together a coalition of marginal winners. That only works if the end product is essentially an overall net winner (because it increases economic efficiency). Use it to raise revenues, and you lose most or all of that. That's one way to look at it; another is that it's not plausible that a revenue-raising bill of any kind will attract very many Republican votes in the foreseeable future, which means that the votes just aren't going to be there.

Because of that, I'd say that the recent reductions in the deficit -- and more importantly, the recent reductions in everyone's focus on the deficit, along with the at least partial demise of "grand bargain" talk -- is extremely good news for tax reform. It still doesn't make it easy, or likely, but I think the only chance for tax reform is to decouple it from deficits and grand bargains. Indeed, that's what happened in the 1980s; tax reform was (as far as I remember) placed on a completely different track from Gramm-Rudman and other deficit-cutting efforts.

The other thing I'd say about tax reform is that it's no surprise that it's rising to the top of the agenda during a second term of a presidency and during divided government. Regardless of what House Republicans are saying right now, tax reform is never at the top of any party's agenda -- for example, Ed Kilgore makes the sensible point that the IRS scandal could revive GOP flat tax mania, making "normal" tax reform that much less possible. A new presidency brings a new agenda, and tax reform is unlikely to be near the top. Especially if there's another round of unified government.

So while I agree with Collender about all the reasons that tax reform is difficult at best over the next three years, I think this is still the real window; if it doesn't happen now, it's likely not to happen for a while.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Ally Sheedy, 51.

Good stuff:

1. Political Bubbles, from McCarty, Poole, and Rosenthal.

2. Chris Bowers on civil liberties polling.

3. And Ta-Nehisi Coates on not being stupid.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

One Small Point for a Plain Blog Theory

A "townhall" meeting in Maryland about the Affordable Care Act (my emphasis):
But politics — so entwined with the health law in Washington — barely came up in the 90-minute discussion. The term Obamacare was not uttered. Neither was Democrat nor Republican. The only mention of the president was during a brief history of the law’s passage.

The only political comment came from a senior citizen who said that he likes some pieces of the law — the age 26 provision and pre-existing condition coverage — but demanded to know if people realize that it also raises taxes.
Hey, it's one meeting, one report of one meeting, who knows. But here's what I said (last summer, but I've been saying it from the start):
If ACA survives and is implemented and basically works, then it will eventually lose its name...any name. The exchanges will be called whatever they're called, and the various other pieces of it may have names (so we'll have the IPAB), but most people and even most politicians won't associate that stuff with the ACA or Obamacare. No one will think to call Medicaid expansion anything; it'll just be how Medicaid is. No one will have a name for the subsidies, any more than we have a legislative name for the mortgage interest tax subsidy. We'll have serious mistakes, too: people won't remember what was ACA and what was previous policy and what was in subsequent legislation.
Is this the first step on the road to ACA becoming invisible? We'll see, and I'll be tracking it.

Catch of the Day

The Catch goes to John Sides for pointing out some interesting research from last year. As John sums it up, Jeffery Mondak and Jon Hurwitz found:
For civil libertarians dismayed at many (most?) Americans’ willingness to accept an expanded “national security state,” the problem may lie not so much with the threat of terrorism, but with a general failure to defend civil liberties.
That's worth knowing; terrorism isn't a special case, but part of a more general lack of commitment to civil liberties.

That's generally a pretty big problem for the small group (and I'm in that group) who really do consider civil liberties a priority. Basically, you can get lip service support, but it's not deep at all, and for many it doesn't take much to get to where the trade-offs are worth it.

What's more, the incentives for politicians are asymmetrical in a way that biases against civil liberties. That is: the downside of an incremental loss of civil liberties isn't ever going to be very large. But the downside, or at least the perceived downside, of insisting on civil liberties at the expense of some competing value is almost always going to be lopsided in favor of the other value.

And unfortunately, I don't think it's a problem that can be solved. About the best we can hope for is either luck of the draw with politicians who just happen to care about these issues, or, more likely, the courts stepping in.

At any rate: nice catch!

Congress Gags Itself

I like this Kevin Drum item on NSA and oversight, but it repeats something which I think shouldn't be accepted so easily by everyone:
The traditional method of oversight is via congressional committees and the court system. But even if you assume that intelligence organizations are reporting their activities honestly, those don't really work anymore. Once a program is in place, courts end up rubber stamping virtually every application and congressional committees do pretty much the same. They simply become too accustomed to what's going on to truly pay attention. And in the case of Congress, even if some members do have issues, they're all but gagged from speaking out about them.
Congress is gagged, yes -- but because they allow themselves to be gagged. It's not inherently up to the bureaucracy or the president to set the rules about secrecy. Congress can do that. And they do, either explicitly or implicitly.

Granted: both the president and the bureaucracy can fight for the rules they prefer, too. But Congress, when they really want to do something, have plenty of tools to make it happen.

The reality here is that Members of Congress, with only a few exceptions, have been perfectly happy to gag themselves. To some extent that's because they approved of policies they didn't want publicity about, perhaps because they believe publicity would harm the consensus for those policies. To some extent it probably is because they are concerned about actual national security damage if secrets were publicized; that can be sincere even if it's wrong. But to a large extent, it's probably because pretending that they have no ability to do anything -- they can't even talk about it! -- is a very nice way of ducking responsibility.

I wrote something over the weekend saying that those upset about the NSA stories should be putting a lot of the blame on Congress, and this is yet another part of it. This is Congress's job. no one should let them off the hook with the excuse that they "have to" do what the NSA or the president says.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Jason Mewes, 39.

I'm still pretty far behind on everything after travel (and especially after a travel day), but here's some good stuff:

1. Matthew Cooper and Garance Franke-Ruta have some of my favorite advice during a fast-breaking story: slow down a bit; what we know about the NSA story and about Edward Snowden may still change dramatically, so no need to conclude anything yet.

2. How California's top-two primary is evolving, from Seth Masket.

3. And I haven't read it yet, but I've heard that Rich Yeselson on Taft-Hartley and the past and future of unions is this week's must-read.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Doug Bailey

Doug Bailey, the founder of The Hotline, RIP.

The Hotline was simply the best way to follow campaign news in 1988. And 1990. And 1992. And every election through at least 2000, which means at least through the point at which National Journal acquired it in 1996. I've had Hotline access on and off over the years, depending on where I worked, and it's been consistently excellent throughout. Not only extremely informative, but always a lot of fun. In fact, just last week I realized you could get "Wake-Up Call" via email, and subscribed.

Before the Hotline...well, you just couldn't get a lot of information. Polling aggregation, news stories about Senate and House races as well as presidential nominations, the important and the trivial; I don't know whether Bailey invented aggregation on that level, but it was definitely a big step forward for political information, and it was done right.

By all accounts, Bailey was also a good guy, and a solid campaign consultant before he left that business. I do know that there are Hotline alums all over the place, and the ones I know of are generally excellent. I assume he deserves a good deal of the credit for that, too, either directly or by establishing the right kind of workplace.

The Hotline was a terrific achievement, one that made politics better for a long time. He'll be missed.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Changing National Self-Image

Not sure if I'm going to get to any regular news posting today and tomorrow, but I've been touristing around Washington all weekend and can at least share a few thoughts on that.

Mainly, on the changes to the Mall. I hadn't previously been able to see the WWII and Korea Memorials; I also hadn't seen the King Memorial, although I had seen FDR already.

I had a fairly mixed view of the WWII memorial...I really don't have much of a problem with heroic, triumphant national self-celebration. Was it specific enough to the conflict? I'm not sure, and I'm not sure that the size was sustained by the content -- it's very large, that is, and yet it's not entirely clear why.

I do find the placement of it, along with the Korea and Vietnam memorials, striking in how it almost completely upends the old feel of the Mall.

When I first visited Washington, none of those were there. The Mall was defined by Washington and Lincoln and, although he's off to the side and only visible from a small area, by Jefferson; what's more, it's defined by Congress, on the other end from Lincoln, and then the White House, also only visible from a small area.

While the Smithsonian museums (fewer then) do take up a large amount of space, the addition of the war memorials does two things. On the one hand, it makes the national self-image seem far more obsessed with all things military. I really don't like that at all. But there's a second part to it: all three of those war memorials are focused mainly (and with Vietnam exclusively) on the ordinary people involved, not on generals and presidents. That's a real contrast with the old Mall of Abe, George, Tom, the White House, and Congress. Add to that a heroic memorial to an advocate for social justice and a very populist memorial to FDR.

So: the theory is that since the 1970s the US self-image as seen in the National Mall is both more militaristic and more democratic.
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