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Living the DREAM

As if they didn’t have enough messy business to deal with this month, the congressional Republicans are now obliged to decide the fate of some 800,000 “dreamers.” The issue involves complicated policy questions, the political considerations are trickier yet, and given the way everything else has been going lately it could well end badly for the Grand Old Party.
President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he would phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allowed youths whose foreign parents had illegally brought them to America as children to avoid deportation for several years and be granted work permits and permission to apply for citizenship, and because the policy had been instituted by an executive order of President Barack Obama he’s constitutionally entitled to do so.
There are strong arguments for doing so, as well, starting with the idea that the constitution requires legislative approval, and that six state attorneys general threatened to file a very promising suit about it today. There are also all those oft-made arguments about the economic and social costs of failing to enforce immigration, and if there wasn’t a widespread public sentiment for stricter enforcement Trump probably wouldn’t be president. There’s also a theoretical possibility, at least, that the deliberations of a duly-elected House and Senate might come up with some wiser than the current or previous president could think of, and if they can’t, well, that’s a pretty sad state of affairs for everybody.
There are plenty of arguments being made all over the press that Trump shouldn’t have done it, however, and our guess is that a sentimental public will now find many of them persuasive. The arguments for Trump’s order are legalistic, involve abstract analysis of the very mixed social and economic costs and benefits that any intellectually honest person will acknowledge, and must be so carefully phrased as so to leave no suspicion that any unpleasant racial motivations are involved, all of which leave Trump at a rhetorical disadvantage. The arguments against Trump’s action come with true stories about the plucky offspring of illegal immigrants who have contributed to their schools and workplaces and the American military, the video footage will show many of them to be darned cute, and Trump’s antagonists in the press are very effective at that kind of rhetoric. There’s a valid argument to be made even without the sentimentality, too, as those true stories do demonstrate the social and economic benefits that immigration bring and which any intellectually honest person must acknowledge, and even Trump concedes that the 800,000 people who suddenly find themselves facing deportation to lands they’ve never known are entirely blameless for being here.
There’s surely some wise solution to the problem, but it’s proved elusive to both Democratic and Republican congresses for several decades now, so it’s hard to see how the Republicans of the moment are going solve everything in the six months Trump’s phase-out gives them. Even when Obama was getting great press and polling well and had huge Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress they couldn’t pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, an ugly formulation that yielded the acronym DREAM and that touching “dreamers” description of the children of illegal immigrants, and when Obama decided to enact the same policy by executive order he had to admit it would have been better if Congress had acted. Now that there’s a tough-on-illegal-immigraton Republican majority in Congress and a Republican president who prides himself on being tougher on illegal immigration than anybody, we wouldn’t be much surprised if the Democrats’ DREAM at long last comes true.
Polling shows that cute kids who have contributed to their communities and are here through no fault of their own enjoy considerable public support, far more than for the president and far, far more than the Congress, and the numbers are almost as bad as the ones that sunk their long-promised plan to repeal and replace the Obamacare law. The Republican majorities in Congress don’t march in the same ideological lockstep as that Democratic majority used to, with many taking a more business-minded approach to illegal immigration and appealing to districts that won’t tolerate any suspicion of racial intolerance, and a lot of Republicans these days feel free to clash with the low-polling Trump in ways that no Democrat would have ever dared with Obama. There are enough Democrats still left in Congress that it won’t take too many Republicans in Congress who don’t want to explain to their voters why they’re kicking out that cute and blameless A student who didn’t chose to be here to get some sort of permanent residency for most of the “dreamers” passed, and a lot of the usual arguments about illegal immigration doesn’t apply to a law that deports criminals and requires tax payments and expects social and economic contributions. We can even see Trump signing it.
Our guess is that Trump signed the order in an attempt to further rouse his most hard-core supporters, most of whom are willing to be far tougher on illegal immigration than Trump really is, and even less concerned than he is if you suspect racial motivations, but he also framed the decision as a constitutional matter and hoped that Congress would come up with something that had “heart,” and that sounds suspiciously tolerant. The decision follows Trump’s pardon of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was so famously tough on illegal immigration he was convicted of routinely violating the Fourth Amendment rights of natural-born citizens who looked like they might be illegal immigrants, and a now downplayed threat to force a government shutdown to get funding for a border wall that only the most hard-core supporters seem to want, and Trump does so love those who so love him, so it’s also possible that he’ll wind up vetoing all those cute blameless kids out of the country.
There’s an opportunity to craft some piece of legislation that doesn’t kick those cute blameless kids out of the country but also includes some bipartisan-supported measures that would more strictly enforce the border and mitigate some of the economic and social costs that any intellectually honest person would acknowledge, and for now we dare to dream. The law surely wouldn’t include enough money to build a wall along the entire border of Mexico, but Trump might well sign it anyway. His political strategy of rousing his base might bring out the crowds at his ongoing campaign rallies, but what most seems to please them is anything Trump says or does to outrage all the snowflake liberals in the rest of the country, which by now includes a lot of Republicans and the vast majority of everyone else, but if he gets some extra border agents and an E-Verify requirement that should make up for the cute blameless kids who get to stay in the country.
That’s what we’re hoping for, at any rate, and there’s six whole months to get it done. This month will mostly be about keeping the government open and the Treasury from defaulting and fending off a nuclear war with the nutcase dictatorship in North Korea, as well as the cost of a recent hurricane in Texas and maybe one that seems to be heading for Florida, but after that we expect it will be clear sailing.

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His Back Against the Wall

President Donald Trump has lost the first round of negotiations for his promised border wall, big league, and he should be glad of it. If he plays it just right, he might be able to wriggle his way out of the ill-advised promise altogether.
That won’t be easy, though, as Trump made it the centerpiece of his campaign. His rally audiences would serenade him with chants of “Build That Wall!,” which was also emblazoned on many of the t-shirts in the crowded arenas, and he frankly admitted to The New York Times that “You know, if it gets a little bit boring, if I see people starting to so of, maybe thinking about leaving, I can sort of tell the audience, I just say, ‘We will build the wall,’ and they go nuts.” As the negotiations for the big spending resolution started he insisted that funding for the wall be included but he was already starting to be a little less insistent when he told the Associated Press over the weekend that “People want the border wall. My base definitely wants the border wall. My base really wants it — you’ve been to many of the rallies. OK, the thing they want more than anything is the wall.”
Trump always played The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” as he exited his rallies, too, so the base should have been forewarned that some promises would be hard to keep. He’d also promised that Mexico would pay for the wall, and when he’d ask his rallies “Who’s gonna for pay for it” they’d chant back Mexico, so asking Congress for the money was already a big concession. Trump did “tweet” his reassurance that “Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying in some form, for the badly needed border wall,” but he eventually was forced to concede that it’s not the thing most badly needed at the moment.
If some spending resolution or another doesn’t get passed by Friday, right around the time everyone will be writing their “First 100 Days” stories, the government will go into another one of those occasional partial shutdowns. They’re fine by us, but most people seem to intensely dislike them, and they always get the most awful press, and no matter what all the fuss is about the Republicans always seem to get the worst of it. With the Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress and the White House even most the creative talk radio hosts would find it hard to blame it on the Democrats, so at the moment job one is avoiding poll-damaging unpleasantness.
Trump seems to have thought this would give him the needed leverage to get the money to start building the wall he’d promised his base, and within the 100-day deadline he’d promised, but he quickly realized that these sorts of negotiations are different from a real estate deal.
As much as those people at the rallies wanted the wall, all the public opinions polls showed that a solid majority of the country was against it and only 38 percent or so had any real enthusiasm for the idea. The opposition included all the Republican-held border districts, too, where landowners were facing eminent domain seizures of old family ranches and Indian reservation land and the occasional non-Trump-owned golf course, and all sorts of local economies were going to be inconveniently cut off from valued neighboring customers and friends. There were also unanswered questions about the wall’s cost and whether the money would be more effectively spent on drones and increased patrols and checking up on visa overstays and other more traditional methods of border enforcement, and just how Mexico might be forced to pay for it, and whether such a strain on relations with a neighbor was really needed at a time when net migration from Mexico is about zero, so there were likely to be some other Republicans resisting as well.
With his own approval ratings around 42 percent in an average of all the polls Trump doesn’t enjoy the kind of political capital that would cow a border Congressman enough to defy his district, and those other reluctant Republicans are also in districts where some distance from the president might be advised, so he shrewdly agreed that he’d sign whatever spending resolution the congressional Republicans could come up with to avoid a shut-down. A big victory for the base in time for those 100 day stories would have been nice, but having all the stories be about a government shutdown because of the president’s insistence on a wall that most people don’t want and even members of his own party opposed would have been disastrous, and Trump understands the publicity game well enough to know that.
Trump “tweeted” enough tough talk that his rally-going supporters can console themselves that “at least he fights,” and we expect most of them will be satisfied with that. They’re still promised that Trump will fight again for the wall, eventually, in some form, but it’s hard to imagine any time in the near future when there won’t be some new spending resolution or other impending crisis that’s more pressing, and all the arguments those border counties and the rest of the country are making will still be valid, and Mexico almost certainly won’t be any more inclined to pay for it. At this moment the wall seems another case of you can’t always get what you want.
“But if you try sometimes,” as the Stones’ song goes, “you might just find you get what you need.” Trump’s already touting all the more traditional border enforcement that he’s beefed up, most of which we and a majority of the rest of country heartily approve of, and we’re quite confident that the funding for it won’t be affected whatever spending resolution the congressional Republicans come up with to avert a government shutdown. This is a happy enough resolution for us, at the moment.
After all the court interventions and more moderate counsel the president has been getting lately his more-muscular-than-Obama approach to border enforcement is pretty much what all of those supposedly soft-on-immigration Republican presidential contenders endorsed, and about the same as the Mitt Romney plan that Trump then decried as inhumane, but the base will probably be satisfied by the familiar argument that only Trump could have made such an audacious opening bid with something so outrageous as a wall stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean as a brilliant ploy to reach these common sense solutions. His more ingenious apologists are also fond of saying that you have to take Trump seriously but not literally, and Trump is already suggesting that c’mon, he was talking metaphorically about common sense border enforcement and not an actual big, beautiful wall that no Mexican could find a ladder long enough to climb over, because c’mon, that idea’s so outrageous no one would take it literally.
We think a lot of those people at the rallies took it literally, and were looking forward to seeing some chastened Mexican handing over a literal check, but sooner or later they’ll come around. Although some of his supporters are already sore about his newfound moderate positions on issues ranging from China’s alleged currency manipulation to a Syrian missile strike that didn’t seem to have an “America First” rationale, if Trump keeps up the robust border enforcement he can let his big, beautiful wall fade into memory without taking too much of a hit in the polls. Gradually dropping the wall issue probably won’t win over any of Trump’s most determined critics, but it will deprive them of a potent issue, and he’ll have easier dealings in the future with certain Republican congressmen to accomplish something more popular.
Trump was shrewd to take a loss this round, and we hope he’s shrewd enough to lose that crazy wall idea altogether.

— Bud Norman

Something to Crow About

The latest official economic reports were released last week, and all the big news media began singing “Happy Days Are Here Again.” There was enough hoopla to make one forget about Obamacare and Iranian nukes, if not the government shutdown and sequester budget cuts that were supposed to cause economic catastrophe.
The “headline numbers” did sound good, with the third quarter’s gross domestic product increasing by a respectable 3.6 percent and the unemployment rate ticking down to five-year-low of 7 percent, and most of the news stories were content to leave it at that. Those obsessively curious sorts who read past the headlines were likely less impressed, however, as the underlying numbers don’t show the economy has stopped being lousy.
Although the jobs report brings good news for the 203,000 Americans who found work last month, there are still 1.1 million fewer Americans working than there were when the recession started in 2008, and 3.6 million fewer with full time jobs than in 2007. While the unemployment rate might have dropped, the more telling employment rate — the percentage of the country’s potential workers who are employed — is still stuck at November 2009’s rate of 58.6 percent, and at the current rate that is being celebrated by the media it will take another five years to get back to pre-recession levels. Also worth noting is that most of the new jobs were in the public sector, which is a mixed blessing at best and not a sign of robust private sector growth, and that the record numbers of long-term unemployed seem to have found little relief.
That supposedly surging growth in the GDP also looks less reassuring on closer inspection. The report reveals that private businesses increased their inventories by $116.5 billion to account for 1.68 percent of the increase, and if this is true the most likely explanation is that the goods customers aren’t buying are starting to pile up on the shelves. Some smart people suspect that it isn’t true, and that the government has overstated the growth until the less-watched revisions are released in some future and perhaps more friendly news cycle, and in the wake of revelations that the pre-election unemployment numbers were fudged such conspiracy theories no longer seem at all far-fetched.
Still, the numbers are good enough that the president and his remaining loyal supporters in the news media will shout them loudly enough to be heard over all the grumbling about Obamacare. They’ll boast that the progress comes in spite of those stingy Republicans and their sequestering and shutting-down ways, ignoring the possibility that even such a feeble amount of fiscal restraint by assuring jittery investors that the nation’s bankruptcy might come a little later rather than a little sooner, and argue that it proves the need for ever more “investments” in phony-baloney “green energy” and community-organizing scams and infrastructure projects that never seem to be shovel-ready. After five years of slow growth and high unemployment and rapidly expanded government this will be a hard sell, but it beats talking about the rest of news.

— Bud Norman

The Shutdown, Obamacare, and the Jobs Report

As we write this the latest jobs report has not yet been released, but it is so widely assumed to be horrible that the stock markets took an early plunge on Thursday and the administration has already started blaming the Republicans.
This time around the administration’s rationale is that nobody was hiring because of the government shutdown, which of course was entirely the fault of those mischievous Republicans, but the familiar ploy might prove harder to execute. This time around will require reminding a forgetful public that there was a government shutdown, which went largely unnoticed by anyone who wasn’t so unfortunate as to be taking trip to a national park during the brief interregnum, as well as a plausible explanation for why anyone in the private sector would have been deterred from hiring someone just because some non-essential public sector employees were enjoying a paid vacation at some private sector and happily operating locale. There was a chilling terror of a governmental default and consequent economic apocalypse, we are told, but anyone who had such an irrational fear could have only gotten such a crazy idea from the administration.
Blaming the government shutdown also runs the risk of reminding voters that it had something to do with the Republican’s unified opposition to Obamacare, which the administration is now hoping will be soon forgotten. Even the most loyal media were compelled to concede that the roll-out was a glitch-ridden fiasco, and the resulting ridicule was followed by harrowing stories of disillusioned Obama voters suddenly finding themselves without health insurance and facing exorbitantly higher costs as a result of Obamacare, and attempts to blame the Republicans and their unified opposition to the law have thus far proved unconvincing. The poll numbers have reached such a sorry point that the president went to the endlessly forgiving reporters of the NBC network to say how sorry he was for all the people who liked their insurance but lost it despite his repeated pledges that if they liked it they could keep it, period, even if it is the greedy insurance company’s fault. Even such a half-assed apology, delivered with the apparent arrogant expectation that it somehow will make things right to the president’s screwed-over former voters, amounts to an act of desperation by an administration so disinclined to apologize to anyone but Islamist terror regimes and communist tyrannies.
Today’s dismal jobs report does reflect the economic activity during the government shutdown, a point that will be widely noted in the obligatory news reports, but it also coincided with the botched Obamacare debut. That event also called into question in the full faith and credit of the federal government, and in ways that are seemingly permanent. Obamacare offers incentives for workers to cut back on their hours and earnings in order to qualify for its subsidies, and irresistible incentives for employers to cut back on their workers’ hours and earnings, and the administration is left with the unenviable task of convincing people those workers and companies are to blame to reacting according to their economic self-interests.
As the government shutdown fades further into an already memory, and the consequences of Obamacare linger in the jobs reports, apologies and finger-pointing will prove even less persuasive.

— Bud Norman

Dealing With Defeat

There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in Republican circles on Wednesday, as the party went down to a widely acknowledged defeat in the great government shutdown battle of ’13.
As a result of a last-minute-before-the-phony-baloney-default-deadline deal the government will be fully back in business on Thursday, which is disappointing enough to any true Republican, and it’s hard to see what the GOP won in exchange in for the bad press and battered poll numbers that it suffered during the much-ballyhooed brinksmanship that proceeded it. The deal does not withhold funding from the much hated Obamacare law, which was the quixotic goal that started all the fuss, nor does it end Congress’ hugely unpopular exemption from the law or delayed its widely hated individual mandate, which we were the backup bargaining conditions of the rebellious Republicans, and it doesn’t seem to offer anything in the way of budget cuts or entitlement reforms or any sort of face-saving fig-leaf at all. The Democratic partisans who predominate in the press are predictably triumphalist, while the conservative outposts of the media are engaged in the usual internecine finger-pointing.
Most of the “RINO” or “establishment” portions of the party, as they’re known to their more rock-ribbed critics, are plausibly claiming vindication for their warnings against the shutdown strategy. Meanwhile the “extremist” or “loony-bird” segments of the party, as they’re known to their more cautious colleagues, are angrily and plausibly arguing that it might have worked if only the party had not been undermined by the weak-kneed defections of those darned “RINOs” and “establishment” types. Both might well be right, at least to some extent, but intra-party sniping is only further proof that the battle did not go well.
About the best that can be said of the deal is that it could have been worse, as it’s all very short-term in extending the government’s ravenous appetite for debilitating debt and record spending, and thus provides future opportunities to attempt to restrain these disastrous tendencies, but that’s not saying much. Partisan rooting aside, and the enthusiastic response of Wall Street to any sort of default-delaying deal notwithstanding, the deal does nothing to address the nation’s most pressing problems but merely puts off the day of reckoning by a few months. A few months hence the same realities of the current political and media landscape that caused Wednesday’s debacle will still prevail, and necessary reforms will likely once again be thwarted no matter how deft or unified the Republicans might be.
Which is why the Republicans should be primarily concerned with changing the political landscape after next year’s mid-term election, and stop in the finger-pointing and aspersion-casting that threatens to turn it into another debacle for the party. The government shutdown affected few people other than some unlucky visitors to the national parks and monuments, most of whom understand that the heavy-handed tactics they encountered there were the fault of officious Democrats, and it will be long forgotten in the eternal span of 13 moths from now. Obamcare’s myriad disasters will still be with us, as will the sputtering economy and overwhelming debt that Obamacare and other administration policies are causing, and the Republican party’s stubborn and poll-defying resistance to such nonsense could prove a winning argument if the GOP doesn’t cannibalize itself in the coming months.

— Bud Norman

Much Ado About Nothing

The stock markets went wild Thursday on the news that the White House and the Senate’s Democratic leadership have deigned to talk with their Republican antagonists about the ending partial government shutdown. Should the talks lead to an agreement of any sort that actually ends the shutdown there will likely be a boom on Wall Street that leads to champagne bottles being popped and big fat cigars being lighted with fifty dollar bills. In the even more unlikely event that the agreement not only halts the government shutdown but also some eliminates the more job-killing aspects of Obamacare and averts the inevitable collapse under the weight of federal debt, we expect that a $100 bet on a diversified portfolio can be parlayed into a sizeable fortune for those smart enough to cash out quickly.
As much as we hate to dampen Wall Street’s enthusiasm, the long-awaited negotiations seem unlikely to yield anything of lasting importance. The White House would sooner allow a default and all other potentially catastrophic consequences of an un-funded government than allow any changes to its beloved Obamacare, even though the health care reform law is much hated by almost everyone else, and seems confident that its press allies will ensure it suffers no political consequences. The Republicans appear similarly intent on extracting some sort of significant concession from the administration lest they offend their conservative base, even if the press has convinced much of the rest of the country that they’re bunch a anarcho-terrorist hostage takers, and it is hard to imagine them winning enough spending cuts or entitlement reforms to save face.
Both sides seem to be taking a beating in the public opinion polls, though, so some desultory deal or another will eventually be struck. A stop-gap measure that keeps the shutdown out of the news until the upcoming budget ceiling brouhaha is the most likely outcome, we’d wager, and if the Republicans think they have a stronger hand then the country will be right back to where are now. The White House has thus been so determined to keep the Republicans’ hands off Obamacare that they’ve even rejected a proposal to delay the much-reviled individual mandate, which would give them another year to fix their famously fouled-up computer system and put off the wrath of young voters forced to pay for being insured past the next congressional elections, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the administration were just as adamant about the need to increase the federal debt by a few trillion more over the coming years. The Republicans will still be forced by their most crucial voters to fight with any tactic at hand, including a government shutdown and all the resulting bad press, and yet another downturn in the stock markets becomes inevitable.
There’s little chance the government will remain eternally shut down, alas, so the stock markets should eventually recover to whatever extent the new Federal Reserve honcho chooses to keep the printing presses running. Ending Obamacare and restoring sanity to the nation’s finances will await a Republican administration, or such calamities that even a Democratic administration is forced to address them, and whatever bargains are hammered out in the meantime will be of little help in reviving the country’s moribund economy. Everyone involved in the negotiations will be mostly concerned with the political results, and none will realize that a forgetful public will be voting on the basis of their health insurance bills and employment prospects when the far-off mid-term elections at long last come around.
Any Republicans getting skittish about the latest polls should keep in mind that Obamacare and America’s looming insolvency are still going to be around when the votes are cast, and that it will be helpful to remind the public that the party remained steadfast against both even when the public was irked about it. Those frenetic fellows on the trading floors and the talking-heads on the 24-hour news cycle are quite intrigued by what’s going on in Washington in the next few days, but we’ll be paying more attention to football and the baseball playoffs.

— Bud Norman

Who’s Afraid of a Government Shutdown?

There’s been talk lately that the federal government might shut down, due to Obamacare or the debt ceiling or a convoluted combination of the two, and some people seem worried about it. Some people will always worry about such things, we suppose, but it’s hard to see what all the fuss is about.
The government has shut down too many times to keep track of, including a sizeable number of federal holidays and almost every weekend of the year, and if not for all the furor in the press it would almost always have gone unnoticed. All the stories invariably involve families that are disappointed to find a national park closed while on their vacations, which seems a minor inconvenience at a time when all the kids should be in school, or horror stories about old folks starving in the streets for want of a Social Security check, which never seems to actually occur, and most readers remain unconvinced that there’s a real problem. The stock markets typically take a slight temporary dive, although that might be for fear the federal government will eventually return to work, but otherwise the economy stumbles along in its usual way. All the cops and firemen and other useful public servants are still on the job, drawing paychecks from state and local governments that some how manage to stay in business throughout the year, and all of the “nonessential” personnel who are furloughed for the duration prove as nonessential as advertised.
President Barack Obama is warning that a government shutdown will mean the nation’s bills go unpaid and America will be a “deadbeat” and a “banana republic,” with economic catastrophe following from the international doubt about the full faith and credit of the country, but we suspect this is only because the old saws about national park closings and unsent Social Security checks have lost their scariness. He also talks about those crazy spendthrift Republicans have been running up a huge tab against his frugal counsel and now want to “run out on the bill,” as if he hasn’t fought against their effort to restrain spending, and has offered the preposterous claim that raising the debt ceiling doesn’t mean the country will go further into debt, making the president sound rather desperate for something to say. Thus far even the supposedly anarchist wing of the Republican party has been willing to pay for all the government anyone might want except for Obamacare, and they’ll surely cave on that one sensible demand before they allow the government to default on its obligations to bondholders, so the economic catastrophe will have to await the all-too-soon date when the government debt has grown so large that the bondholders stop buying and the Fed is forced to concede that it can’t keep printing up money to pay them.
The people who are most worried about a government shutdown seem to be politicians worried mostly about who get the blame if anything noticeably bad actually does happen. Many Republicans, especially the ones with a professional stake in the party’s political fortunes, are understandably concerned that the traditional media outrage will once again bring the electorate’s wrath down upon in the upcoming mid-term elections and hand complete political control to Democratic party hell-bent on the same sort of mischief they inflicted on the country in the first two years of Obama’s reign. The Democrats, on the other hand, fear a government shutdown because it once again might have no noticeable effect and thus remind the country that it really doesn’t need to pay them so much money to run the meddlesome behemoth.
With neither party gaining any advantage from a prolonged government shutdown, it’s not likely to happen. Preventing it will mean Obamacare and another trillion or so of federal debt, both of which are far more disastrous than a government shutdown, but at least the full faith and credit of the country will be restored and banana republic status delayed for another year or so. That should get us past the mid-terms, and that’s all that anybody is really worried about.

— Bud Norman

Going to the Mattresses

The Republicans in House of Representatives have decided to go to the mattresses over Obamacare, to borrow yet another cliché from the “Godfather” movies, and will likely vote today to withhold funding for the hated health care law no matter what the consequences. We wish them well in the effort, and offer whatever support we can provide, but we can’t quite shake a certain nervousness about it.
Even such slight hesitation will no doubt incur the scorn of all the right-wing talk radio talkers who have been urging the GOP to fight this battle, with ample scoffing at anyone who balks as a squishy establishment “RINO” who secretly likes Obamacare. This sort of name-calling does not persuade us, as we are quite rock-ribbed in our Republicanism, instinctively anti-establishment by temperament, and take a back seat to no one in our loathing of Obamacare, and neither does it allay a suspicion that there might be some other way to do away with the law more permanently and with less political risk. There’s a chance the Republicans’ gambit might succeed spectacularly, and we’ll be ardently hoping that it will, but any cocksureness about it will only increase the chances it could prove a debacle.
After the Republican-controlled House passes a budget without funding for Obamacare it will surely be voted down in the Democrat-controlled Senate, and even in the highly unlikely event that the Senate went along the resulting bill would surely be voted by the president, so the resulting lack of a budget or continuing resolution or some other legislative sleight-of-hand would shut down much of the government for a prolonged period. Democrats cannot abandon Obamacare without admitting they were wrong, a fate far worse than anything the stupid law will wind up inflicting on the country, and they will not fear the public relations consequences of a government shutdown. This is fine by the flame-throwing conservatives who are insisting on this strategy, and it would be no bother and a nice respite from bureaucratic busybodies to us, but with crucial mid-term elections looming in the next year it is important to consider what the apolitical majority of the country might think. A partial government shutdown would only affect the average American to whatever extent the executive branch chooses, as the de-funding faction rightly argues, but somebody is bound to be inconvenienced and it is a sure bet that major media outlets will quickly interview them for a heartbreaking feature story. The stories will be bogged down with lots of blather about mandatory spending and parliamentary procedure and official government statistics, so millions of Americans will simply take note of the headline about evil Republicans sowing anarchy to punish the poor.
None of the numerous past government shutdowns have been the electoral disaster for Republicans that popular myth suggests, as the de-funders rightly argue, but neither have they ever proved popular. Former House Speaker and government shut-down enthusiast Newt Gingrich kept citing all the election results from his time with the gavel when running for president last time around, but he was forced to do so because so many people still remember him as the mean ol’ bastard who wanted to cut government spending while President Bill Clinton is still remembered as the economic genius who somehow delivered a balanced budget. The major news outlets aren’t as major as they were back then, and conservative media have since built up a large choir to preach to, but it is still too soon to dismiss the opinion-making power of the opposition.
This time could be different, the de-funders argue, and there are tempting reasons to believe they are right. Obamacare is hugely unpopular and becoming more unpopular as it creeps into effect, with important Democratic constituencies such as the labor unions now among the critics, and even the most partisan reporters will find it hard to explain a government shutdown without mentioning that it has something to do with the law. The law’s eponymous president is also unpopular, and comes across as churlish and defensive and disconnected from economic reality every time he speaks in defense of it, so even the unloved Republicans will have something close to equal standing with the standing with the public. Those Republicans will have the better argument, too, although that rarely matters in a war for public approval.
Still, there’s something in our rock-ribbed Republican souls that would prefer a more cautious — and dare we say conservative — approach. Obamacare has become more unpopular with every step of its haphazard and politically-motivated implementation, and it seems likely that full implementation would result in complete unpopularity, so letting the damn thing happen to point that everyone’s nose can be rubbed in it would make a complete repeal and utter repudiation possible. This course would do damage to the health care system, allow millions of Americans to start relying on subsidies they will be reluctant to relent, and incur other undeniable risks, but sometimes that’s what it takes to get a policy right. The people getting the subsidies will be out-numbered by those paying for them, at least in the beginning, and the former category is far less likely to vote than the latter, so opposition to Obamacare will be a good issue for Republicans in both the ’14 and ’16 elections. Should Obamacare be somehow stopped before its full implementation the Democrats will spend the rest of our lives waxing poetic about the glorious utopia that might have been, enough of the public will believe it to keep the dream alive, and a rare chance to definitively disprove the nonsense will be lost. This strategy would displease much of the Republican party’s increasingly restive base, many of whom have a distressing tendency to sit out elections even if it means empowering the craziest sorts of Democrats, but at least it would not provide any headlines that would disturb the slumber of the apolitical majority.
The Republicans in Congress have decided to spurn our wise counsel, however, and once they are set on their course we can only hope they will pursue to a satisfactory conclusion. Obamacare must be done away with, one way or another, and if this one works we will be glad of it. Winning the day will require a party unity that we are quite willing to uphold, and plenty of media savvy that we cannot provide, so we will endure our nervousness. We recommend plenty of what the pols call “message discipline,” and can count on the right-wing talk radio talkers for that. The Republicans’ congressional leadership already seems to have distilled this complicated matter down to a “Tweet”-sized message that Obama is willing to shut down the federal government for his hated Obamacare law, which is a fair and compelling summation, and despite our misgivings about the strategy we will try to help it along.

— Bud Norman

Shoot-Out at the GOP Corral

Pretty much every last Republican left in the country hates Obamacare with a red-hot passion, and wants to see it tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail, but there is disagreement about how to go about this. The debate over the best tactic is quickly becoming quite vituperative, in fact, and to a point that it could cripple the party and leave all its members stuck with the law for the rest of their lives.
Misfortunes and miscalculations have the left the Republicans with control of only the House of the Representatives, so repeal is politically impossible, but some are urging that the party use that last bit of political clout to deny funding for the implementation of the hated law. This would effectively kill the law for a while, as the constitution gives the House power of the federal purse, thus delaying all of its harmful consequences save the economic uncertainty it has created, and it would also stave off the enticing entitlements that will be difficult to take away once a sizeable segment of the country has become used to them. Given how very harmful the law’s consequences will be, and how deeply entrenched entitlement programs tend to become, the argument for de-funding Obamacare is strong.
There’s a downside to every idea, though, and others in the party argue that in this case it will be worse than even a fully-funded Obamacare. Even in the unlikely case that enough Red State Democrats could be rounded up in the Senate to pass an appropriations bill without Obamacare the president would surely veto it, and the resulting impasse will almost surely end in at least a partial shut-down of the government. No true Republican believes that a partial shut-down of the government is a bad thing in and of itself, but it is feared that the Democrats and their allies in the media will be able to convince the typically oblivious voter that a bunch of radical anarchist Republicans are the cause of whatever problems they can find to exaggerate and convince the public that obstructionism is responsible for all of Obamacare’s failures to boot. The manufactured outrage could even result in Democratic control of the House as well as the Senate and the presidency, and any hopes for complete repeal would be forever gone. Given how powerful the media remains, and how very oblivious the average voter is, the fears seem quite well-founded.
There might be a more palatable alternative, but no one seems to have come up with one yet. The kind of discussion that might yield a better idea has been preempted by infantile name-calling and sneers, with those wanting to de-fund Obamacare no matter the political cost accusing anyone who balks at the idea of being squishy and unprincipled, while those urging caution have used language that is just slightly more polite than calling them radical anarchist Republicans. Much of the impetus for the de-funding effort is coming from conservative talk radio, an invaluable medium but one with an unfortunate tendency toward shrillness, while the arguments for a more careful plan are being laid in out the more influential conservative columns and publications, which have an unfortunate tendency toward excessive carefulness, but the ferocity of the debate is mainly due to a very troublesome divide in the party that runs deeper than just an argument over tactics.

On talk radio and in dinner conversations at the more conservative households, the division is usually described as the grassroots versus the establishment, but we suspect that in the halls of congress and around the more ivied think tanks and editorial boards it regarded as the amateurs versus the professionals. All of these descriptions are apt, and accurately convey an unfortunate class friction that underlies the conflict, but none are especially useful in deciding what to do about Obamacare. The grassroots sort of Republicans are quite rightly concerned with taking back their liberties from an ever-expanding leviathan of a government, understandably suspicious of anyone who is a longtime member of that establishment even if he does carry an “R” behind name, and can be easily forgiven their resentments of anything slightly elitist, but those who accuse the other side of being Republicans In Name Only should remember that a cautious pragmatism and patient acceptance of political realities is a longstanding and largely successful tradition of the party. The freshly-politicized members of “tea party” were amateurs in the very best sense of the word were was essential to win that House majority and the party’s only slight power, and it would be disastrous for the Republican incumbents to forget that, but an excess of that amateur enthusiasm also cost the party at least three Senates seats that would have been won if their only advice been heeded, and those activists would do well to consider that before running a primary challenge to a sure-fire winner and turning over another seat to a liberal Democrat.

Alas, this is not the only division in the Republican party. The GOP’s beloved Ronald Reagan won landslides with the famous “three-legged stool” of defense hawks, social conservatives, and free-market libertarians, but these days capitalist standard-bearers such as Sen. Rand Paul are at odds with the “neo-cons” who would continue to enforce a Pax Americana, the social conservatives are susceptible to any social engineering scheme that might further an anti-abortion agenda that seems to trump all other concerns, and those favoring a robust foreign policy tend to be intellectual or big-business types uncomfortable with the moral traditionalists. Each of these internecine squabbles is exacerbated by that perceived chasm between the so-called grassroots and the so-called establishment, however, and there is no Ronald Reagan on the horizon to bring the party together.
The Democrats are just as fissiparous, being little more than a coalition of interest groups defined by race, class, and sexual preference, but in recent years they have maintained a formidable party unity even when the interests of those groups are clearly at odds. African-Americans and the lowest rungs of the working class will face increased political and economic competition from the millions of immigrants that their party hopes to bring into the country, for instance, and homosexuals are unlikely to benefit from a massive infusion of Latin machismo into the culture, yet all seem willing to accept the plan for the sake of their party. It is a strength of the Republican party that its members are not prone to such blind obeisance, but it is a weakness that they cannot muster such party discipline when it is sorely needed. When its internal debates cannot even be conducted with civility and mutual respect, the Republican party is enfeebled, and both sides would do well to keep that in mind.
Obamacare should be the Republicans’ biggest advantage going into next year’s mid-term elections. The law is an atrocity, most Americans know that in spite of what they’ve been told by a billion-dollar advertising blitz and the best efforts of the media propagandists, and such key elements of the Democratic coalition as the labor unions and government workers are now forced to admit it. More bad news about the law will be arriving in million of Americans’ mailboxes over the coming year, even the most determined media will be unable to ignore it, and any candidate running on an anti-Obamacare platform should be a shoo-in. That opposition to this nonsense might well prove the Republicans’ fatal flaw is too infuriating a prospect to contemplate.
Letting the damned thing happen so every can find out what it is might well be best for the party’s long-term prospects, because in a rare moment of blessed unity every single Republican in Congress voted against it and the party will forever be able to say to the country that it told you so, but that satisfaction will be hollow when people are sick and dying from a thoroughly wrecked health care system. The law needs to be repealed and repudiated, then tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail, not just delayed for an election cycle or two, but every last Republican seems to understand that well enough. Now the party just needs to figure out how best to get it done, and they need to do it with a mutually respectful discussion, and to somehow stick together on whatever they wind up with. The bad guys aren’t the ones who are quibbling about tactics, the bad guy is Obamacare.

— Bud Norman