The crisis of 2011, in 2013

by John Quiggin on September 30, 2013

Since a shutdown of the US government now appears inevitable, I thought I would look back at a post from 2010, in which I predicted such an outcome, expecting it to come in 2010. As it turned out that was premature, but much of the analysis still stands up pretty well, notably including the final sentence

The crisis of 2011? (repost)

It seems to be widely projected that the Republicans could regain control of the House of Representatives. What surprises me is that no-one has drawn the obvious inference as to what will follow, namely a shutdown of the US government.

It seems obvious to me that a shutdown will happen – the Republicans of today are both more extreme and more disciplined than last time they were in a position to shut down the government, and they did it then. And they hate Obama at least as much now as they hated Clinton in 1995 (maybe not quite as much as they hated him by 2000, but they are getting there faster this time).

The big question is how a shutdown will be resolved. It seems to me that it will be a lot harder for Obama to induce the Republicans to back down than it was for Clinton. IIRC, no piece of legislation proposed by Obama has received more than a handful of votes in the House, and (unlike the case with Bob Dole in 1995) no aspiring Republican presidential candidate will have an interest in resolving the problem – the base would be furious. On the other hand, the price Obama would have to pay if he capitulated the Republicans would demand from Obama in a capitulation would be huge, certainly enough to end his presidency at one term. So, I anticipate a lengthy shutdown, and some desperate expedients to keep things running.

As far as I can tell, there is no mechanism for resolving this kind of deadlock – the House can’t be dissolved early as would happen in a parliamentary system. I think the Founders probably envisaged the House as having a “power of the purse” comparable to that of the British Commons. Whether they did or not, I’m sure this argument will be made, probably by people who have argued, until very recently, that the power of the Executive is essentially unlimited.

But, my understanding is limited and I’d be keen to hear what others think about this.
[1] I’ve tried to clarify my point about capitulation, which was poorly expressed the first time.

{ 124 comments }

1

Collin Street 09.30.13 at 10:12 pm

Maybe the president could try raising ship money.

2

Jerry Vinokurov 09.30.13 at 10:20 pm

I would say the broad strokes are certainly correct, but the larger issue that’s looming here is not the shutdown but the debt ceiling. That really has the potential to turn into a constitutional crisis, because (this seems to be the consensus) there’s no executive action that Obama could take that wouldn’t in some way violate one of the duties of the executive branch. Theories are floating around that this is all a pretext for forcing Obama into a (legally) unwinnable situation in which he would have to break some law simply because he is obligated to do contradictory things, thereby providing grounds for another impeachment. This does not seem entirely incredible to me.

I suspect that without a compromise, which seems unlikely (or Republican defections, which seem even less likely), we will bust through the debt ceiling. The resolution could come in the courts or through some other mechanism, but in reality, no one really knows what happens next.

3

John Quiggin 09.30.13 at 10:30 pm

@Jerry This all sounds plausible, but I don’t think the Repubs have worked through to the endgame. Obama’s obvious course of action is to declare that the debt ceiling is unconstitutional, and ignore it. The House could impeach him, but so what. And the courts would almost certainly declare it non-justiciable. So, the effect would be to throw a bomb and watch it fail to go off, with the president’s powers being enhanced rather than weakened.

4

bob mcmanus 09.30.13 at 11:33 pm

3: Declaring the debt limit unconstitutional does not pay the bills. He will still need the money, and/or to sell T-bills. The debt limit is actually an authorization by Congress to issue new/more bonds.

If Obama and Treasury start issuing unauthorized debt instruments, I am not sure how financial markets will react, and am not crazy about the precedent.

5

P O'Neill 09.30.13 at 11:41 pm

I know the platinum coin began as a somewhat eccentric option but that’s where the country seems headed.

6

bob mcmanus 09.30.13 at 11:48 pm

To me the debt ceiling isn’t so much about how much is spent (that is determined in the appropriations process) as about how appropriations are financed. Obama can no more legally “blow past the debt ceiling” than he could by executive order decree an 10% income tax surcharge. (And why not? Why aren’t we advocating Obama-decreed taxes if he has such Constitutional power? Why are we messing with full faith and credit?)

Yeah, and the impoundment act keeps him from moving enough money around.

7

DaveL 09.30.13 at 11:49 pm

There was an interesting piece on Slate (by Dave Weigel) which said that the Republicans don’t care because most of them come from districts redistricted/gerrymandered to be immune from challenge by Democrats. Thus, no matter what happens they will not be defeated (except possibly by even more extreme Republicans).

Weigel does not adduce the obvious inversion, which is that the same is true of the majority of the Democrats. The exceptions are the Democrats who squeezed into seats in GOP states and districts in 2008 who are up for re-election in 2014 (obviously Senators but also some Representatives). They have a lot to lose if the current standoff doesn’t throw the GOP over the cliff, and might be the first ones to cave if a shutdown happens. (If the GOP does plummet, it will be the non-Tea Party GOP who caves, but they’ve caved already and it hasn’t helped them.)

8

bob mcmanus 09.30.13 at 11:56 pm

5: The platcoin doesn’t help that much. Even if the Fed were to accept it, I still think the Fed and/or Treasury has to issue some kind of money instrument (T-bills, loans) to pay the bills.

Brad DeLong wanted a thousand billion dollar coins. I would go much lower, and simply have the Fed pay creditors and suppliers in platinum (coated, symbolic) coinage.

Now would Credit Suisse or the Chinese accept this unauthorized legal tender in exchange for their old T-bills? Would Boeing?

9

Jerry Vinokurov 10.01.13 at 12:26 am

This all sounds plausible, but I don’t think the Repubs have worked through to the endgame. Obama’s obvious course of action is to declare that the debt ceiling is unconstitutional, and ignore it. The House could impeach him, but so what. And the courts would almost certainly declare it non-justiciable. So, the effect would be to throw a bomb and watch it fail to go off, with the president’s powers being enhanced rather than weakened.

They certainly haven’t; the only thing on most of their minds, I’d wager, is the 2014 election. Compromising with Democrats could result in ouster via primary by someone running to the right. Not compromising could be disastrous, but maybe not. I suspect the Republicans have chosen the devil they do not know (the devil no one knows) over the familiar devil.

@DaveL,

It’s certainly true that most districts in general are “safe.” However ,the degree of gerrymandering is disproportionately in favor of Republicans. Pennsylvania, where I live, is an excellent example: it’s a state that voted 52-48 or so for Obama but currently has 13 Republican representatives and 5 Democratic ones, since the Democrats are concentrated in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia while the Republicans are spread out all over and control the state legislature (and the governorship, though that could change soon). The Monkey Cage ran a good series about this some time ago.

@bob,

Obama can no more legally “blow past the debt ceiling” than he could by executive order decree an 10% income tax surcharge.

We don’t know that. We’re really in a quasi-state of emergency where no one has any idea of what the actually valid moves are. But there’s a strong argument that the debt ceiling is unconstitutional anyway (c.f. the 14th Amendment).

10

David J. Littleboy 10.01.13 at 2:09 am

“since the Democrats are concentrated in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia while the Republicans are spread out all over”

Right. My understanding is that while the artificial gerrymandering is helping the Republicans, even a nominally fair drawing of district lines would leave the Republicans with a large advantage, since Democrats are concentrated in sky-high-percentage Democratic districts (usually called “cities”) and Republicans tend to live in just high enough to win reliably districts. Sigh.

Whatever. The Republicans either really believe (tea baggers) or pay lip service to the idea that government is bad, so they don’t mind all that much if the government shuts down. It doesn’t look good.

11

Ed 10.01.13 at 2:27 am

Democratic control of the Senate, and their gains in 2012, means Obama doesn’t get impeached. He doesn’t even have to veto what passes the House because everything the Democrats want to die gets killed in the Senate.

Republicans winning the gerrymandering means their majority the House is vulnerable only to some sort of superswing (10% or so) in the Democrats’ direction,which is unprecedented during the second terms of presidencies. They don’t really have much to lose from this stuff either.

There will be a last minute deal, but get used to something like this happening every couple of years or so. This is actually the way things are normally done in forming the budget in New York state, where you either have nominal Democratic control of both chambers of the legislatures, or a narrow control of very moderate Republican hacks in one chamber and otherwise the Democrats are in charge. The bad government practices of New York state are becoming the norm in the rest of the country instead of vice versa.

12

The Raven 10.01.13 at 2:35 am

Digby thinks a plausible compromise might be Obama’s Grand Bargain, involving cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

13

christian_h 10.01.13 at 2:41 am

I think (and may be off base there) that we need to adjust our understanding of the tea party aligned faction behind this. Ruining the corporate economy as we know it may not be a bug for them – my impression is they yearn for a (white) settler homesteading past that never really was. This yearning for a mythical past whose return will bring back national glory they share with fascist movements (I hasten to add their internal organization is not shared, so I would certainly not classify them as a fascist movement).

So I’m not nearly as sure as Ed that there will be any deal this time – unless Boehner and his crew precipitate a split (at least de facto) in the Republican party (as has already occurred in some states, e.g., Kansas).

14

weichi 10.01.13 at 3:56 am

The interesting political aspect of this, to me, is the way it exposes the weaknesses in the constitution. The house republicans aren’t doing anything extra-constitutional or that violates the constitution. Rather, they are breaking a set of norms that have existed for a long time around what exercises of constitutionally-approved power are acceptable. They’ve let a very powerful genie out of the bottle, one that can’t be put back absent a total political defeat for the Rs followed by constitutional amendments. There’s really no telling where its going to lead US governance.

15

weichi 10.01.13 at 4:06 am

At this point, does anyone else think that the R’s have effectively committed themselves to maintaining a govt shutdown all the way through the debt limit and beyond? It’s pretty obvious that the only CR that can get signed into law is a clean one. But the house r’s *can’t* pass a clean CR in the next days/weeks, because that will demonstrate that they’ve been bluffing all along, and their debt limit plans will fall apart. They really have to hold out until either they get what they want, or until external pressure forces them to give up. I don’t think the govt shutdown will provoke those external forces (or a democratic capitulation); it will take the debt limit crap to do that. So it’s going to be a rough road ahead for a while.

16

Jerry Vinokurov 10.01.13 at 4:16 am

Impeachment is not the trial. He won’t be removed, for sure, but he can be impeached via a party-line vote in the House.

As far as controlling the House goes: the 2014 election is an eternity away in political terms. Normally, the even money would be on the party not in the White House picking up seats, but these are not normal times. I’m not terribly optimistic about Democrats winning back the House in 2014, but 2016 is a real possibility because the increased turnout for a presidential election favors Democrats.

17

adam.smith 10.01.13 at 4:17 am

re: gerrymandering
here’s polisci support for what David says @10: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/02/17/redistricting-didnt-win-republicans-the-house/

18

Jerry Vinokurov 10.01.13 at 4:39 am

I don’t think there’s any sensible way of differentiating between gerrymandering and “Democrats just concentrate in cities.” In any situation, you are faced with the question of how to draw the districts. If you throw the entire city into a few districts and chop up the remaining space into many more districts, you have gerrymandered the results so that the city vote (which overwhelmingly goes to one party) is concentrated while the rural vote is spread out.

I take Sides’ point about having to compare with some counterfactual, but I think he’s ignoring the history of this development. It didn’t happen overnight; it’s been decades in the making. So taking incumbency into account but only going back to 2008 just prompts the question of what happened before 2008 that led to those incumbents.

19

bad Jim 10.01.13 at 5:21 am

Could we just wait a couple of weeks before discussing the debt limit? We’re not there yet. Besides, unless someone who exceeds my poor understanding can explain it, if we do get to that point the president will be constrained because Congress hasn’t authorized additional spending. Only things with their own income streams, like Social Security and, amusingly enough, the ACA, will be able to go forward (subject to numerous constraints).

Maybe Obama will be impeached; all it takes is a vote in the House, where adult supervision is conspicuously absent. Maybe every president from now one gets an asterisk beside his or her name.

The roll out of the Affordable Care Act might provide the Democrats some leverage in next year’s midterm elections. A lot of voters in the states which refused the Medicaid expansion might be unhappy to lean that they were denied benefits available to their neighbors, thanks to their governors and state legislators, and might be a little more motivated to vote than usual.

20

Tabasco 10.01.13 at 7:08 am

Does this shutdown mean the NSA won’t be spying on emails, the CIA won’t be drone-bombing Pakistan, and so on, or is that stuff exempt?

21

marek 10.01.13 at 7:43 am

Watching with mounting incomprehension from the other side of the Atlantic, the question in my mind, which I have never seen explained, is why this supposed cliff has such a gentle slope. If the federal government can’t operate without a budget, why doesn’t the whole thing close down, lock, stock, barrel and air traffic controllers?
The political dimension of that is that the partial close down seems tactically to favour the Republicans – some federal employees suffer, some national parks are closed, but the military continues, civilian aviation is not grounded. And it is because of that that the whole thing can drag on.

So does Obama have an option of calling that bluff and really shutting down the government? And if does have (or were to have) that option, would it be tactically sensible to use it, or is it just too destructive to contemplate?

22

Pete 10.01.13 at 8:52 am

“breaking a set of norms that have existed for a long time around what exercises of constitutionally-approved power are acceptable”

In that case, perhaps the simplest solution is just to declare the Republican party to be illegal combatants (remember, there is no due process surrounding this), and start approving drone strikes on the House. It’s not even a violation of Posse Comitatus, as the troops haven’t left their base!

23

Alex 10.01.13 at 9:37 am

Kenyan socialist dictatorship. It’s the only solution.

24

Tim Worstall 10.01.13 at 10:22 am

@8 “Brad DeLong wanted a thousand billion dollar coins. I would go much lower, and simply have the Fed pay creditors and suppliers in platinum (coated, symbolic) coinage.

Now would Credit Suisse or the Chinese accept this unauthorized legal tender in exchange for their old T-bills? Would Boeing?”

If that’s true then wouldn’t $100 bills do just as well? Or is there some other rule that means they cannot just increase the money printing to pay those bills?

OK, $100 bills would be too small for the amounts, but does anyone know if or why there cannot be million $ bills printed and presented for payment?

It’s not borrowing, so doesn’t come under the debt ceiling. So why not?

25

NR 10.01.13 at 10:29 am

bob mcmanus @8:

The platcoin doesn’t help that much. Even if the Fed were to accept it, I still think the Fed and/or Treasury has to issue some kind of money instrument (T-bills, loans) to pay the bills.

Are you sure? The last time around Krugman and several others seemed to think a platinum coin would in fact do the trick. What were they missing? For reference, here are Krugman’s key blogposts on the issue:

[1] http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/07/be-ready-to-mint-that-coin/

[2] http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/07/be-ready-to-mint-that-coin/

[3] http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/08/rage-against-the-coin/

[4] http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/09/barbarous-relics/

And here is a good overview of the platinum coin debate, and Paul Krugman’s position within it: http://www.businessinsider.com/why-the-mint-the-coin-debate-could-be-the-most-important-fiscal-policy-debate-youll-ever-see-in-your-life-2013-1

Admittedly, Krugman has remained conspicuously silent on the platinum coin this time around. My initial guess when reading yesterday’s column was that he didn’t mention it because he wanted to focus on the column’s main argument, i.e. that the Republicans are nuts, and that bringing in the coin would distract from this point. Could it be that a memo has gone out to commentators to just STFU about the platinum coin, perhaps as part of some kind of crazy endgame.

Okay, that is a little far fetched. But is it more likely Krugman simply realized he was mistaken all along, and just forgot to tell us?

26

Mao Cheng Ji 10.01.13 at 10:32 am

Maybe he should print a bunch of Euros instead of Dollars.

27

Walt 10.01.13 at 10:47 am

Bob: The Fed can’t mint coins — only the Treasury can. The Fed can only issue paper currency — though literally the paper currency must be printed by the Treasury, and the designs are set by law.

Tim: The Fed can print the money freely, but they need to exchange it for an asset that they can hold on their books for equal value. Thus the platinum coin.

28

Sasha Clarkson 10.01.13 at 10:56 am

Democracy only has a chance of working when what unites a society is more important than what divides it. Looking across the pond from a European liberal secular point of view, I am horrified yet fascinated by the collected schizophrenia of the US mindset.

The current crisis is just a battle in a political war, in which one side will never be satisfied by anything less than total victory. How long before this leads to secessions and/or a shooting war?

One thing for sure, the situation has been made far worse by the extremely malign influence of Rupert Murdoch. My conclusion from this is that progressives here in the UK should do their best to limit the extent and influence of his empire here. So far as I am concerned, he is an enemy foreign power.

29

NomadUK 10.01.13 at 11:43 am

Having escaped the US for the UK ten years ago (and despairing whenever I see yet another American influence exhibiting itself here), I find myself facing the prospect of returning, for the love of a wonderful woman who can’t leave the country just now. My chief solaces (companionship aside) are that my own kids are safely ensconced on this side of the Atlantic; that I will be in the great, lovely, and relatively sane state of Vermont; and that, after a few years, we may very well return (or, failing that, perhaps just find a nice cabin somewhere up north and wait for the apocalypse).

I honestly can’t imagine any other reason why I would want to go back.

30

Murc 10.01.13 at 12:39 pm

I’d like to note that the question of whether or not debt Obama issues in defiance of Congress is good debt is, in fact, almost certainly a justiciable question.

US government debt is widely traded and used as a financial instrument. If someone tries to offer someone else debt instruments that have not been duly authorized by Congress (say, as a fulfillment of a contract that demands one person or group provide t-bills to another) that creates a legal question that has to be answered: is the debt legal? Does it fulfill the terms of the contract?

It’s possible that the courts could rule that it does, but it requires a very novel legal argument: “Congress authorizing expenditures is equivalent to them authorizing the government to go into debt to meet those expenditures should other revenue sources be insufficient.”

Courts hate novel legal arguments, especially ones that go against literally the entire history of jurisprudence on a subject. (Unless, of course, the novel legal arguments exist for the purpose of gutting the VRA. Then they’re wildly popular!) Under normal circumstances, I can’t see the courts letting the executive branch just issue debt whenever it wants to in clear defiance of one of the very few explicitly enumerated powers.

These are… far from normal times.

31

Tim Worstall 10.01.13 at 1:14 pm

“Tim: The Fed can print the money freely, but they need to exchange it for an asset that they can hold on their books for equal value. Thus the platinum coin.”

Thanks for that. It was indeed the point I was missing.

32

Shelley 10.01.13 at 2:22 pm

The chessboard has changed. New thinkers like Elizabeth Warren, Howard Dean, some other out-of-the-box thinkers from outside politics need to get together and come up with a new strategy.

33

Mark Field 10.01.13 at 3:46 pm

“In any situation, you are faced with the question of how to draw the districts. If you throw the entire city into a few districts and chop up the remaining space into many more districts, you have gerrymandered the results so that the city vote (which overwhelmingly goes to one party) is concentrated while the rural vote is spread out.”

Just to add to this, let’s not forget that city/suburban lines were often drawn for essentially racist reasons, namely to isolate minorities in the cities and move whites out to the suburbs. Respecting those boundaries for drawing the electorial map simply reinforces the fundamentally illegitimate nature of those lines.

34

JW Mason 10.01.13 at 3:54 pm

The solution I’ve always liked is to get rid of the assumption that districts need equal population, and just weight the vote of the representative by the population if the district. Then you can get rid of redistributing and just draw the lines at natural boundaries. A few New York State counties actually use this system for their Boards of Supervisors.

35

Jerry Vinokurov 10.01.13 at 4:21 pm

That’s a neat solution but it flies in the face of Reynolds v. Sims.

36

JW Mason 10.01.13 at 4:40 pm

Jerry, no it doesn’t. As I say, this system is actually in use in some New York counties, where it was adopted precisely to keep the existing town supervisor structure without violating one-person one vote. For example.

37

Jerry Vinokurov 10.01.13 at 4:56 pm

Has this been tested before a court? It would also seem to imply that the weighting of votes would have to be adjusted at the House level.

38

JW Mason 10.01.13 at 4:59 pm

I don’t know how, or if, it would work at the national level but I am pretty sure it’s been upheld in New York. This system has been in use for decades.

39

JW Mason 10.01.13 at 5:08 pm

Ah ha, here we go.

40

mpowell 10.01.13 at 5:22 pm

Murc @ 30:

Here’s the thing: how do you distinguish between the good debt and the bad debt? Do these notes have serial numbers on them? If there is no reasonable way to distinguish between good and bad debt I don’t think there’s a judicial question on the legality of contractual fullfilment. The only way the judiciary can get involved is by directly ordering the president to stop issueing new debt.

41

mpowell 10.01.13 at 5:25 pm

JW Mason: I don’t see how that remotely solves the problem. Democrats are still concentrated to a really high degree in cities. If you simplify each city as one district with varying numbers of votes per representative you’re still stuck with districts with 70% Democratic voters and then a bunch of rural districts (or one rural district) with 60% Republican voters. And you’re no better off under that system. The R’s maintain their 6% or so electoral advantage in the House.

42

Jerry Vinokurov 10.01.13 at 6:10 pm

I assume that this alone would not solve the problem and that you’d need to actually redraw the district boundaries to make it work.

43

Tim Worstall 10.01.13 at 7:21 pm

@ mpowell @ 40.

“Do these notes have serial numbers on them?”

Yes, absolutely. There is a unique identifying number to each and every piece of Treasury debt ever issued.

And late at night so possibly very silly but:

“Here’s the thing: how do you distinguish between the good debt and the bad debt?”

Given the unique IDs the market would sort out pricing pretty quickly. Assume….no, imagine….that Treasury continued to issue bonds beyond the limit. No, go on, imagine. These bonds are not backed by the “full faith and credit of the US”. But if there were only a few tens of billions of them, possibly a few hundreds of billions, I’d bet that the discount they trade at would be low. For all would assume that, problem over, they would be brought back into that fold of the guarantee.

English history is littered with Royal borrowings that required later Parliamentary appropriations to pay off, on much the same basis. The assumption was that the debt would get paid.

44

Martin James 10.01.13 at 11:32 pm

I think the constitutional design is working properly. For a short period of time, the democrats had control of both houses of congress and the presidency. They passed what everyone agrees was a major change in health financing and policy. They did so without Republican support. To this extent, they changed what had been a long tradition of making on piecemeal movers towards a more complete national health policy.

The voters had a chance to vote after this action. The democrats retained the Presidency and the Senate but not the house of Representatives. The constitution provides for specific powers for the house and many of those powers are quite powerful such as the origination of revenue bills.

The question that I don’t here many people addressing is “What changes to the Affordable Care Act is it reasonable to make based on a new distribution of power?”

The Republicans seem to be over-reaching (but not violating the constitution) by asking for a full repeal. But aren’t the democrats also over-reaching by expecting to maintain everything that was enacted even though they lost control of the house?

I understand that elections have consequences but that argument cuts both ways. The question at hand is “What consequence should the democrats face for the Affordable Care Act because they lost the house?” Neither Everything and Nothing seem to be the right answer but that is what each side is maintaining.

Both sides are finger pointing and both sides are guilty of dissimulation, but the constitution seems to prefer that the government we deserve, is the government that all three parties House, Senate and Presidency agree to fund

45

MPAVictoria 10.01.13 at 11:55 pm

Shorter Martin James: Hey guys did you know that both sides do it? If only the democrats would negotiate!

46

David J. Littleboy 10.01.13 at 11:57 pm

“But aren’t the democrats also over-reaching by expecting to maintain everything that was enacted even though they lost control of the house?”

No. PPACA is established, blessed-by-the-supreme-court (and refusal of the US voters to elect a president who promised to overturn it) law. Changing it, according to the constitution, requires holding the house, 60 votes in the senate, and either the presidency or a veto-overriding majority in the senate. The Republicans don’t have that. If the Democrats fold on this, what’s to stop the Republicans from dismantling the whole social safety net in the US, e.g. privatizing Social Security and handing the whole SS trust fund to Wall St.?

47

Martin James 10.02.13 at 12:11 am

It would seem to me that if the House chose not to fund anything, that is their constitutional right and the people can hold them accountable at election time. That is what Roberts said in his opinion. The Supreme court doesn’t protect people from the consequences of their votes, including their votes for the House. He didn’t specify presidents only. I have not heard the Supreme Court opine that the House is doing anything improper in its actions in blocking the funding of any laws, have you?

I’m not arguing that democrats should as a matter of strategy negotiate, or that they are obligated to negotiate, I’m thinking as a person that values consensus and stability (in other words a person that likes separation of power over any particular policy result be it attacking Syria or funding the government) what is it reasonable for me to want the potential compromise to be.

If the Democrats get everything they want from control of only 2/3rds of the government then by that way of thinking separation of power has been weakened. If the republicans get everything they want from only controlling 1/3rd of the power, then separation of power is weakened, but the constitution seems to be biased in favor of less government in that case.

Mr. Littleboy, if Romney were elected but with a democratic senate do you seriously think that it would be repealed? No the Democrats in the Senate would retain the right to block new legislation, correct?

Federal elections aren’t referendums on policy they are electing representatives to do the People’s business.

48

MPAVictoria 10.02.13 at 12:14 am

“Federal elections aren’t referendums on policy they are electing representatives to do the People’s business.”

Just love how you are glossing over the fact that the democrats actually received 1.5 million more votes in house elections.

49

Collin Street 10.02.13 at 12:32 am

If the Democrats fold on this, what’s to stop the Republicans from dismantling the whole social safety net in the US, e.g. privatizing Social Security and handing the whole SS trust fund to Wall St.?

Nothing, but it was always thus. This is what the english civil war was all about.

[why the US constitution doesn’t reflect lessons learned from the english civil war is kind of an interesting question.]

50

David J. Littleboy 10.02.13 at 12:37 am

“No the Democrats in the Senate would retain the right to block new legislation, correct?”

Exactly. That’s how the system is designed. Intentionally, on purpose, in the constitution. Passing legislation, or modifying existing law, requires all three branches of government to agree. PPACA passed the house, passed the senate, survived “reconciliation”, was signed by the president, was accepted as constitutional by the Supreme Court. It’s as legitimate a law as it’s possible for a law to be. What the Repugs are trying to do is unconstitutional. A vile and sleazy end run around the document they claim to hold holy.

The incredibly hypocrisy of the Repugs is, of course, beyond words: the mandate was an invention of the Heritage Foundation as a capitalistically acceptable means of avoiding taking health insurance away from the insurance industry, since the insurance industry was doing such a horrifically bad job. Preexisting conditions? Unheard of in any other industrialized country. Losing health insurance when you lose or change your job? Unheard of in any other industrialized country. Refusing to honor insurance policies because of mistakes in the fine print in the insurance application? Unheard of in any other industrialized country. Bankruptcy due to medical bills? Unheard of in any other industrialized country. Being uninsured at all? Unheard of in any other industrialized country.

51

David J. Littleboy 10.02.13 at 12:48 am

“This is what the english civil war was all about. ”

Huh? England had a civil war? That must have been glorious.

(Another illiterate Americun smoked out of his hole.)

Somewhat (but only somewhat) seriously, it’s hard for Americans to read English history; our eyes glaze over at the plethora of kings. Steven the seventh, Charlie the 23rd. Aaaaaaaaaaarg.

52

nick s 10.02.13 at 12:51 am

Digby thinks a plausible compromise might be Obama’s Grand Bargain, involving cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

Although she’s made that prediction almost as often as the Tea House has voted to defund the ACA.

What consequence should the democrats face for the Affordable Care Act because they lost the house?

That’s a bullshitty argument, not just given the discussion of gerrymandering. A more plausible reading of the ‘constitutional design’ is that it is designed to make passing laws difficult, and that any attempt to alter passed laws requires overcoming at least as many obstacles. A more worldly reading, reflecting the distribution of votes for House seats and the Senate’s structural bias towards small states and rural states, is that it’s already too bloody easy for Republicans to get their way.

What makes your comment especially bullshitty is this:

a long tradition of making on piecemeal movers towards a more complete national health policy.

Yeah, as we saw in the reaction to the proposed Clinton reforms. And the sleazy overnight vote-haggling for Medicare Part D. And if you don’t think the ACA is a piecemeal move (retaining the employer link, making private insurers in charge of administering plans on the exchange, supplementing existing state Medicaid implementations and largely maintaining Medicare) then there’s not much to be done with you.

53

adam.smith 10.02.13 at 1:02 am

What David says @50 exactly – checks and balances work through a built-in status-quo bias (that has hurt progressive goals a ton in the past, e.g. wrt labor law). Once a law is passed, it is supposed to be very hard to repeal.

54

Martin James 10.02.13 at 1:16 am

As far as I am aware they have not used unconstitutional means to accomplish their ends. Is your understanding thaat the constitution requires congress to fund all existing laws and programs? If this is correct why have neither the Pres or Senate not pressed that issue?

MPA, I was not aware that margin of victory played any role in the process. I am not arguing that the People was the ACA stopped. I’m arguing that under the laws in place the house is controlled by people who oppose it and that it is not unreasonable for them to use their power to get what they want.

55

Collin Street 10.02.13 at 1:37 am

As far as I am aware they have not used unconstitutional means to accomplish their ends.

And? Constitutional isn’t interchangeable with legitimate.

56

Martin James 10.02.13 at 2:01 am

Precisely. I’m trying to figure out what one legitanately gets for controlling only the house. I think both everything and nothing are the wrong answers, but apparently there is no middle on this one. I don’t care for either side but I do care about legitmacy somewhat which makes me want bipartisan policies even though those are tough to come by. I don’t think most voters in Republican districts consider the house’s actions illegitimate and those voters seem entitled to some say under the rules. Obama professed to want that also but settled for a win and now we have a response. Like it or not.

57

Jerry Vinokurov 10.02.13 at 2:22 am

You don’t get anything for “legitimately controlling the House,” since it’s not a prize. What you get is leverage in the legislative process. But since the ACA is already law, there’s not much that can be done about that. What the Republicans are doing now may not be unconstitutional in the strict sense of the word, but they are clearly prepared to blow up the whole system unless they get everything they ask for.

“Bipartisanship” is stupid. If one party’s position is “We will destroy everything,” meeting them in the middle by only destroying half of everything is not a viable option.

58

adam.smith 10.02.13 at 2:28 am

@Martin:
That seems quite simple: You get a veto on any new legislation, meaning you get to negotiate the contents of any new legislation, which means all new legislation needs to be bipartisan. See e.g. the various stimulus and recovery bills negotiated between GWB, Democrats and Republicans and passed by the 110th Congress for examples.

You don’t get to legimately demand to re-write any legislation ever passed.

You don’t, legitimately, get to vote against things that you actually favor like, you know, funding the federal government (note that a majority of the House actually favors a clean CR, but Boehner is not allowing a vote on that). As I’m not the first to point out, that’s not negotiating, that’s hostage taking.

59

weichi 10.02.13 at 2:31 am

“Precisely. I’m trying to figure out what one legitanately gets for controlling only the house. ”

You get a lot. And the house has already gotten a lot: a reduction in appropriated govt spending, better tax policy, the SNAP debate is over how much to cut, not whether or not to cut. The reason the house has been able to wield this power is that they have to be involved in appropriations and taxation, and there are very clear axes along which to negotiate. Ergo, negotiations have already happened over all of these issues (and more) and negotiations will continue to happen.

What you *don’t* get is the ability to repeal any law that you don’t like. As far as I can tell, there has been no good-faith effort by the republicans to enter into any kind of negotiation over obamacare. They have not been asking to enter into a negotiation that will result in changes that will make obamacare more palatable to them. They have not been asking to negotiate a new healthcare law that will follow “conservative principles” but also achieves the primary goals of obamacare. Rather, their explicitly stated goal is to destroy obamacare. There is simply no negotiation to be had here.

And because there is no possibility of negotiation over healthcare, there is no path for the house to get what it wants. Except, of course, hostage-taking: give us what we want, or we blow the place up.

60

nick s 10.02.13 at 2:41 am

What you *don’t* get is the ability to repeal any law that you don’t like.

Let’s be clear about the terminology here: this is a nullification strategy. We have seen it in the GOP refusal to name appointees to bipartisan institutions, which, lacking a quorum, cannot exercise the legal authority granted them.

What GOP has gained by its control of the House is the right not to even consider large swathes of legislation. Martin James may be squinting, Magoo-like, at the legislative activities of the do-nothing House, but his field of vision doesn’t cover the proposals that never even got on the calendar.

Government by grand mal seizure is not government.

61

weichi 10.02.13 at 2:46 am

The thing I don’t get is why they are forcing this issue now, over the CR. The debt limit is a much better hostage. Why not agree to the CR this past weekend (without all the ridiculous obamacare demands), allowing a media narrative in which they appear reasonable. Then go to the mattresses over the debt limit. Were they under the mistaken impression that failure to pass a CR would delay the opening of the exchanges, and so they thought they were in a “heads we win, tails you lose” situation?

Maybe they just figured that starting the crisis a few weeks early serves to heighten the stakes. This way, if they manage in the end to win, they get even more of what they want. In my view they’ve also increased the risks of getting nothing. But the choice of senate candidates over the past two cycles demonstrates that they are very comfortable raising their chances of failure if they can also increase the rewards of victory. Risk seems to be something the modern republican party is very eager to take on.

62

John Quiggin 10.02.13 at 2:48 am

As I mention in the OP, a feature of most parliamentary systems, absent in the US, is that, in circumstances where the legislature refuses to fund the operations of executive government, it can be dissolved, and fresh elections held. This typically ensures that the executive and legislature are brought back to agreement, one way or another.

The US founders didn’t include such a mechanism and 200+ years of history appeared to show that it wasn’t needed. If the Repubs cave, the founders will be shown to be right in practice.

Otherwise, it looks as if the constitution has effectively created three heads of executive power (the two Houses and the Presidency). And, at least as long as Congress is divided, the executive can effectively legislate through regulation.

63

Layman 10.02.13 at 3:01 am

Martin @ 56

” I’m trying to figure out what one legitanately gets for controlling only the house. I think both everything and nothing are the wrong answers, but apparently there is no middle on this one.”

Were the Republicans demanding a repeal of the Voting Rights Act in return for funding the government, would you say the solution was some middle ground on the matter? Defunding enforcement, say; or perhaps a temporary return of poll taxes or literacy tests? After all, control of the house has certainly changed since it was passed. Or does this rationale apply only to the ACA? If so, why?

64

Jerry Vinokurov 10.02.13 at 3:04 am

And, at least as long as Congress is divided, the executive can effectively legislate through regulation.

Which is in fact what the executive has been doing for decades. Except now it’s pretty much the only option left.

65

weichi 10.02.13 at 3:17 am

” And, at least as long as Congress is divided, the executive can effectively legislate through regulation.”

And that’s another thing that makes the R strategy here so inexplicable … a very obvious possible outcome of all this is a strengthening of executive power at a time when the opposite party controls the executive. Plus, the endgames which result in more executive power necessarily also result in your own political faction losing popularity and thus reducing your own chances of winning the executive in the future … chances which weren’t looking very good in the first place.

66

js. 10.02.13 at 3:31 am

The thing I don’t get is why they are forcing this issue now, over the CR. The debt limit is a much better hostage. Why not agree to the CR this past weekend (without all the ridiculous obamacare demands), allowing a media narrative in which they appear reasonable. Then go to the mattresses over the debt limit.

You are assuming a rational calculation, which is maybe not warranted? We’re talking crazy fucks living in a non-reality based media bubble (as, e.g., Krugman has stressed several times). Trying to attribute a rational strategy here seems like a mistake—at least to me. Which is also why the future looks grim.

67

John Quiggin 10.02.13 at 3:53 am

It certainly seems as if the Rs will face huge difficulties if the CR is still in limbo in a week’s time. Trying to run two separate hostage operations, and explain the difference to the public will be a really tricky task. So, they can either can either
(a) Cave quickly on CR, and hope that two weeks is a long enough interval to announce a whole new set of demands
(b) Cave on the debt ceiling but keep the government shut down over the CR
(c) Keep the shutdown, claiming willingness to negotiate, then announce a whole new set of demands over the debt ceiling
(d)Stick with the current demand, and threaten default as well as shutdown.

I’d say that their best option is to admit defeat quickly and hope to appear reasonable

68

Lee A. Arnold 10.02.13 at 4:36 am

I don’t think the Teas can give up. Obamacare has initiated an existential crisis: Fear of death. If the economy gets better after Obamacare ramps up, it destroys their ideology. For 30 years, the GOP has preached their economic theory as follows. 1) smaller government leads to more economic growth; 2) tax hikes must slow economic growth. This is the whole theory.

The Teas lapped it up, then got themselves elected, and now, they don’t have another idea in their heads.

Better economy, coming after MORE government? = end of Reaganism/Thatcherism.

In addition, admitting defeat quickly may not avail them anyway, because with this shutdown action, they may have permanently damaged their reputations.

It looks like the Tea Party (and therefore the rest of the Republicans) are losing the sympathy of the independents in the middle. We are seeing more phrases like “petulant children”, “terrorists”, and “the Republicans must split up”. This will not be so easy to reverse, and will hurt them in the next election.

This is news, because independents tend to hold a sympathy for proponents of smaller government. Trumping that however, they tend firmly to oppose rudeness and lack of comity, lack of regular process, disrespect for standing law. Indies think that if you want to change something, there are normal channels to try to do it, etc.

The Teas would have been smarter to wait for the debt ceiling, because the scaredy-Dems might have caved-in a little, on that. Too late now! Shutting down gov’t is a lesser inconvenience, and it has the virtue to Dems of still being harmful and newsworthy, and indeed a Democrat’s dream come true, as an easy opportunity to destroy the Tea’s moral profile for wanting to deny healthcare, well in advance of the debt ceiling.

Note that the President has appeared in front of the cameras, two days in a row, taunting the entire GOP.

Thus by pushing this way, the Teas may have gone a bridge too far — and the error may not be merely tactical, but strategic, and apply to the entire Republican Party.

69

Martin James 10.02.13 at 6:00 am

Lots of good responses.

Jerry says, ““Bipartisanship” is stupid. If one party’s position is “We will destroy everything,” meeting them in the middle by only destroying half of everything is not a viable option.

But isn’t the same thing the the R’s are saying but with a different definition of “destroy”. They believe giving benefits to poor people destroys the country, and they think bi-partisanship is stupid so they don:t want to compromise. Apparently you think they have the wrong values but the right strategy in not compromising.

Layman asks

After all, control of the house has certainly changed since it was passed. Or does this rationale apply only to the ACA? If so, why?

Well, for me I’m not sure but here is one answer. To the extent that the law includes expenditures directly and not just for enforcement and regulation, then ongoing funding seems more like new legislation and not like blocking existing legislation illegitimately.

I must say that R’s seem to me to have provided a lot of lip service and not done much for their constituents so taking on the Voting Rights Act would probably be popular with their voters, but to me not funding enforcement and regulation is not good government.

So for the ACA, trying to delay the individual mandate by not funding the government is less legitimate than cutting the level of subsidies for the exchange.

Here is an example to consider. Let’s say by some magic R’s will a slight majority and the presidency in 2016 and pass a new surveillance program with an even bigger number of computer centers. Let’s also say that Obama replaces a right-winger on the court and Breyer rules on the constitutionality and surprisingly in a 5-4 vote finds it constitutional. Then let’s say that in 2018 an extreme privacy wing develops in the Democratic party and helps them win the House only. This wing combines with the other democrats in the house to say they will not fund anything until the surveillance program is replaced. I think that, of course, this would be an expected (and legitimate?)thing for them to try. However , if they attempted to stop the program by not funding the regulatory apparatus.

I think that the R’s screwed themselves by not fighting earlier and harder for the tweaks to the ACA that they wanted, rather than giving in in the last debt battle over the debt limit but wanting to revisit it now . On the one hand it makes to sense, but I don’t buy the “blow up the world” rhetoric be they have caved before.

Furthermore R’s own a lot of the country and so why would they blow it up?

70

bad Jim 10.02.13 at 6:38 am

To a considerable degree the people the Affordable Care Act will most benefit live in the places that elect Republicans. It is a puzzlement that their elected representatives are doing their utmost to make certain that they are denied access to medical care, but since they’re shutting down everything they can in furtherance of that goal, it’s difficult to conclude that they have something else in mind.

It’s not out of the question that they’re more outraged by access to contraception or the teaching of evolution or attempts to mitigate the threat of global warming than the prospect of their fellow citizens living longer, but it’s clear that they’re dead set against that.

71

jeff 10.02.13 at 6:39 am

No. PPACA is established, blessed-by-the-supreme-court (and refusal of the US voters to elect a president who promised to overturn it) law.

Laws are changed all the time. Really. ACA is not part of the constitution.

72

jeff 10.02.13 at 6:43 am

I wouldn’t be surprised if the “Tea Party” wins this. Because they are not a small minority of crazies.

The Tea Party agenda is the general agenda of a big chunk of corporate America. They despise you and want you living at the same level as a 3rd world shanty town. Tea Party Republicans are just the shock troops.

Until you guys get it out of your head that this is run by a few old crazy racists in Red State, you will never understand why they keep winning the terms of the debate.

73

David J. Littleboy 10.02.13 at 7:09 am

“Laws are changed all the time. Really. ACA is not part of the constitution.”

Of course. And there is a legislative mechanism for creating and modifying laws stipulated in the constitution. The tea partiers don’t have the votes in congress to change PPACA independently (they lost the presidency on exactly this issue: Romney promised to kill it, and the people elected Obama; so there’s a popular mandate for vetoing changes to PPACA). So they are pulling a sleaze. The Dems are completely justified in calling them on that sleaze.

Oh, yes. And the famous “56% of Americans oppose PPACA” includes well over 10% of the population that oppose it because it doesn’t go far enough. And opposition goes way down when you call it by its actual name, not “Obamacare”, or tell people what it does.

74

Mao Cheng Ji 10.02.13 at 7:47 am

“Better economy, coming after MORE government? = end of Reaganism/Thatcherism.”

You seriously underestimate the power of doublethink.

75

Pete 10.02.13 at 9:52 am

@David J. Littleboy: yes, the English civil war predated American independance by a century (1642-49). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wars_of_the_Three_Kingdoms

I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that it was “about” control of funding, although a big element of it was how much authority Parliament had and whether the King could arbitrarily close it down for an extended period (rather than just forcing an election). As I was taught it in school, it was about sectarianism (protestant-republican versus catholic-monarchist), and pretty much every regional political/military power within the UK picked one side or another.

The outcome of the civil war was a win for the Parliamentary faction, but in practice was a Puritan military dictatorship that banned Christmas and pretty much all popular entertainment. This was so unpopular that after the death of Cromwell the monarchy was restored (“Restoration”) and the country tried to carry on with the pre-war constitutional arrangements.

The new Stuart monarch remained Catholic and unpopular, so Parliament factions arranged for the country to be “invaded” by the Dutch monarchy (“Glorious revolution”), resulting in a nominally monarchial system where the monarch was personally beholden to Parliamentary support. It was at this point that the distinction between the treasury of the country and the monarch’s personal or official finances became firmly drawn.

Parliament eventually took control over the Crown property off George III in 1760, because he was mad. Since then there have been residual bits of administrative mopping up, putting traditional functions of the government onto a constitutional footing; until very recently, passport issuing was a Crown function not a statutary one.

In the Westminster system, this residual crown operation means that Parliament can’t shut down the government without the Crown forcing new elections (see Australian constitutional crisis, 1970s). There is also effectively only one House in the UK since the Parliament Act 1911, passed to unjam a previous constitutional crisis caused by liberals attempting to introduce a Land Value Tax.

76

Layman 10.02.13 at 11:35 am

@ Martin

It’s clear you think for the majority in one house to threaten to withhold funding for the government to achieve a legislative purpose they could not otherwise achieve is a legitimate and reasonable tactic. How far can they carry the threat before it becomes illegitimate or unreasonable? Is it legitimate for them to withhold funding for a month? A year? Can they withhold military funding and remain legitimate?

I think you’re missing the Constitutional issue here. The President is required to execute & enforce laws. By withholding funding, Congress (by inaction rather than legislation) prevents the President from carrying out prior Acts of Congress – in essence preventing the executive from carrying out its responsibility to the law. Though it is not as clear a case as it is with the debt ceiling (where Congress refuses to authorize borrowing to pay debts Congress has already approved), it is the same issue – Congress is attempting to change the law by doing nothing, rather than by legislating. Because they can’t succeed in a law repealing or defunding the ACA, they’re preventing execution of virtually every law until their demands are met. Do you think that’s a proper, Constitutional exercise if their office?

77

Phil 10.02.13 at 1:37 pm

There is also effectively only one House in the UK since the Parliament Act 1911

Slight over-simplification – it’s true that the Lords can’t block legislation, but they can revise & delay almost ad infinitum. The PM (who invariably sits in the Commons) can invoke the Parliament Act to break the deadlock, but (by convention) is only supposed to in extremis; the current PM railroaded NHS reforms through the Lords by this means & attracted a lot of criticism for it. This may set a precedent for quicker & more frequent recourse to the Act; I tend to hope not. A wholly-elected second chamber would (presumably) have a different relationship with the Commons and be less railroadable.

78

Lee A. Arnold 10.02.13 at 3:36 pm

Mao Cheng Ji #74: “You seriously underestimate the power of doublethink.”

Quite the contrary. I think it is so powerful that it can ONLY be defeated by challenging both sides of the doublethink logic at the same instant. The first result of this effort will almost always surface as a genuine personal existential crisis. My hypothesis is that this is what we are seeing, and Obamacare is the final instigation.

The personal crisis is dimly intuited beforehand, and is met by denial, and extreme last-ditch action. You could see this vector starting to crystallize in Republican rhetoric during the healthcare reform battles and after its passage.

I have been arguing in these comment threads for 4 or 5 years now that this was going to be the end of the Republican Party in its current form. I have gotten lots of static about this, but mine is the only hypothesis still standing. Racism (against a black president) and resentment (at the undeserving poor) doesn’t begin to explain what is going on in the House of Representatives.

Yes, some people will double back on their old beliefs with some new, self-serving explanation, and others will disappear into bitter fear and loathing. But some will change into better people.

If the economy gets better after social welfare spending, if Rush Limbaugh starts having to interlard his certitudes with caveats in dependent clauses, well … that’s too much like real “thinking”. It is tantamount to the end of True Believing. It will be the end of the Tea Party, and the end of the current Republicans as a viable electoral force.

79

Mao Cheng Ji 10.02.13 at 4:14 pm

20 years ago the Clinton admin pushed through, by a single vote, “the biggest tax hike in history”, evil enough to destroy the universe. The economy boomed (even if it was mostly a bubble). If you ask a true believer who was responsible for the boom, the answer is, inevitably: “the republican congress elected in 1994”. That’s what true believing is all about. A new welfare program of the wrong kind (which obamacare apparently is, as opposed to medicare part d) is not going to make things better; on the contrary: it’s going to intensify the resistance.

80

Bruce Wilder 10.02.13 at 6:31 pm

I tend to agree with Mao Cheng Ji that neither the Tea Party leadership, nor its followers (quite different groups, with differing ideas and motives), are likely to be affected by experience in a way that would resemble empirical learning. I think one could reverse Lee A Arnold’s observations, though, and make a case for the Democratic coalition dissolving from a combination of centrist overstretch and the experience of impotence.

Obama’s power rests on his ability to sell the plutocratic program to traditional constituencies of the Democratic party, partly on the basis that the “other guy” would be worse. The Republican clown show exists to provide a continuous flow of information confirming that the “other guy” would be worse, even as median wages continue their inexorable decline, and everything gets worse for the 99%. Continuous enactment of these dramas, like the current “shutdown” cum “debt ceiling” farce, wears thin, though. And, even though the spokesmodel-politicians from the Republican Party mouthing criticisms of Obamacare lack credibility with Democratic loyalists, the criticisms, themselves, have considerable face validity, to use an academic turn of phrase. The critics are wrong; the criticisms are right. And, that last fact will corrode the Democratic coalition.

The Republican clown show will end when it is no longer politically useful to make Obama look better than the threatened “alternative”. That could well be when the Democrats give up completely, their support deserting the Party and its coalition as a mere marketing ploy, which it largely is.

81

Martin James 10.02.13 at 6:42 pm

Layman,

You raise good questions. I’m trying to figure out what you are asking.

You asked “Do you think that’s a proper, Constitutional exercise if their office?”

I think the answer is maybe or a little bit.

If you were bringing malfeasance or dereliction of duty charges against the house what sections of the constitution are you basing you charges on?

I skimmed the constitution and it mentions compensation for the president and the debts incurred in the past and also providing for the general welfare, etc. It said congress has the power to raise revenue and that the president can call congress in to session to consider what he wants them to consider.

I didn’t see where they had a constitutional duty to fund the execution of prior laws or to provide the president sufficient resources to carry out his duties.

In general, I agree that it is bad government to govern by ultimatum. Unlike many others here, I don’t give as much weight to “that’s how things are done by reasonable people.”

My understanding is that in some sense the constitution creates a bit of a revolution every time elections are held. Not complete revolution but a bit of one. The house was set up to be elected directly (unlike the pres and senators originally) and more often to be more responsive to the people.

In order for our form of government to work, there needs to be a lot of consensus, this is by design. I believe that on many issues we do not have that consensus as a country and so we will need to find new ways to find consensus. Ignoring the other party in the process even when they are a minority is bad policy.

For example, the Bush administration set very bad precedents in terms of national security by operating on their own with little deference to the congress. Many people complained that they were violating or ignoring historical norms.

We are having something of a cold war among the parties and the Republicans are going all North Korea and test launching missiles and talking trash.

Like North Korea, that may be bad policy but they do have the constitutional goods to do it and the other side of the cold war needs to treat them like they have control over those weapons of mass destruction.

By constitutional design they have those powers but so do the other branches. One doesn’t get to say, but those North Koreans are crazy, bring me some new ones; one has to deal with them as they are.

82

Trader Joe 10.02.13 at 6:51 pm

@78 and @80

A demarkated split of Republicans into what might be labeled as small -r Republicans and TeaParty republicans might not be as awful as one might imagine. There are likely a sizeable number of Center and Center-left voters who would migrate towards a small-r republican party because that group might not be nearly as unattractive as it currently is pandering to its far-right wing.

Maybe said differently – if you removed the ugliest most far-right bit of the R party, the balance might seem a good bit more centrist and if cultivated properly might usurp some of the middle which the Democrats currently collect because centrist voters are more put-off by the loony right than are worried about the left-most faction of the Democratic party.

Clearly getting these positions and boundaries set would take some time – but the likelihood that the Republican party “ends itself” seems more wishful than likely. Indeed there might even be some “blue dog” Democrats that would cross into a Republican party that had disassociated itself from Tea Party Republicans.

83

Layman 10.02.13 at 7:19 pm

Martin @ 81

I read you as defending Republican hostage-taking re: funding the government as a reasonable tactic, and calling for Democrats to surrender something in order to free the hostages. Further, you feel the same way about the debt ceiling – it’s a legitimate tactic for the majority in one House to hold the full faith and credit of the United States hostage in order to achieve a legislative result they could not otherwise achieve through the legislative process.

Assuming I read you right, the purpose of my questions is to determine what, for you, would go too far.

For my part, I think the latter is a violation of the Constitution (14th Amendment), though I imagine under the current circumstances Scalia might disagree. The former seems to me also a violation – can it be true that the House has no obligation to permit its Acts to be obeyed? Can the House by inaction interfere with or constrain the proper duties of the executive? I don’t doubt that Congress can repeal a law; or that Congress can enact a budget which has the effect of ending funding for a law. But can Congress prevent the operation of the government and still be behaving in conformity with the Constitution? Can they do it forever?

84

bob mcmanus 10.02.13 at 7:21 pm

Assuming I read you right, the purpose of my questions is to determine what, for you, would go too far.

There is no “too far” in politics. There is only winning and losing.

Too bad liberals have forgotten this.

85

weichi 10.02.13 at 8:01 pm

worth reading this ezra klein interview of grover norquist:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/10/02/grover-norquist-ted-cruz-pushed-house-republicans-into-traffic-and-wandered-away/

He seems to view all the obamacare stuff as a sideshow distracting republicans from the area where they are already doing well, and have clear opportunities to continue to do well: spending and taxes. Views sequestration as a big win for his side – “You shouldn’t spend too much time thinking you’re dealing with political geniuses here.” (referring to Obama and other dem leaders). He thinks republicans should offer obama short-term increases in spending (i.e. partial rollback of sequestration) in return for long-term entitlement reforms, since eventually R’s will control house+senate+presidency and get the reforms anyway. As usual, 100% opposed to anything he can spin as a tax increase.

He does not sound like a guy who is worried about the republican party falling apart. He sounds like a guy who thinks that his side is winning on the big, important issues, and is going to continue to win.

86

Sasha Clarkson 10.02.13 at 8:01 pm

Pete @75

Your account of the civil wars is flawed in almost every way. The Church of England was NOT the same as Roman Catholicism. Even though Archbishop Laud was accused of papist tendencies, there was in those days no “Anglo-Catholic” faction comparable to that which appeared in the 19th century. Like the Lutherans, the Anglican church had bishops, hence the name “Episcopalianism” across the pond. The church in Scotland was Presbyterian, Calvinist and had no bishops. Charles I’s attempt to impose bishops on Scotland started the wars. Parliament was dominated by the Presbyterians, who were generally as puritan as can be, and wanted to impose their church on everyone. The Army was dominated by the independents who opposed this. Cromwell was in many ways the most liberal of all the leader at the time. He wanted everyone to have liberty of conscience – even Catholics in private so long as they did not break the peace. When urged to impose religious uniformity, he famously replied “I had rather that Mahometanism were permitted amongst us than that one of God’s children should be persecuted.” But Cromwell was less a dictator than a chairman of the board. His personal intervention failed to prevent the severe punishment of James Nayler in 1856, though it may have saved his life.

There was not an overtly catholic monarch until James II of England in 1685. His brother Charles II was much more pragmatic and generally popular.

As for George III, his first episode of “insanity” was brief, and not until 1765. His first serous bout was in 1788, but he recovered before a regency could be established. It was not until after his insanity of 1810 that his powers were given to his son by the Regency Act of 1811.

87

MPAVictoria 10.02.13 at 8:06 pm

“The Republican clown show will end when it is no longer politically useful to make Obama look better than the threatened “alternative”. That could well be when the Democrats give up completely, their support deserting the Party and its coalition as a mere marketing ploy, which it largely is.”

I think you may have finally been pushed over the edge.

The forty million people who will have access to healthcare when this is all finished would like to have a word with you.

88

Bruce Wilder 10.02.13 at 8:19 pm

MPAVictoria

The Republicans are asking for a delay of a year in the individual mandate, which would simply match the delay in the corporate mandate Obama (predictably) has already granted. Such a delay wouldn’t deny access to anyone; it would prevent some people in desperate financial situations from being fined for failing to buy high deductible policies, which would never do them much good.

There’s nothing the least bit sincere about the Republican gambit. It’s all about propaganda. But, the Republicans can raise some politically resonant points, because Obamacare has many shortcomings, as policy and politics.

I haven’t gone off any edge. I’ve stepped outside the fenceline and away from the cattle prods. You should try it.

89

Martin James 10.02.13 at 8:30 pm

Layman,

I think the 14th amendment is a stretch. Is it questioning the validity of a debt to miss payment?

If you really wanted to be conspiratorial you could argue that the endgame for Republicans is to have a Supreme Court supervised sell-off of government assets to pay off creditors through a 14th amendment action. That’s one way to privatize the government!

90

Layman 10.02.13 at 8:48 pm

“The Republicans are asking for a delay of a year in the individual mandate”

…in return for which they won’t kill the hostages, this time.

91

Walt 10.02.13 at 9:04 pm

A year delay in the individual mandate would instantly destroy the Obamacare. And all the Republicans are offering in return is a 6-week delay until the government faces shutdown again.

92

Layman 10.02.13 at 9:10 pm

Martin,

The 4th clause of the 14th amendment was intended precisely to forbid a government decision to default on debt. Congress cannot stop the government from paying it’s debts; and if the government must borrow to meet an obligation which has been previously authorized by Congress, Congress cannot renege on the obligation or, by extension, prevent borrowing for the same. The USSC has long held that the clause refers to any debt of the government, not just bond debts. Thus interest payments, payments for goods and services, Social Security payment – all of them qualify as obligations which cannot be repudiated. A government shutdown, if kept up for long enough, will lead to a conflict with the 14th amendment. A debt ceiling crisis will just get there faster.

93

Martin James 10.02.13 at 9:27 pm

Layman,

Yes but the point is who decides what happens if an executive decision is appealed to the courts? Does the supreme court determine how the funds are raised and who gets them?

94

Martin James 10.02.13 at 9:30 pm

We don’t really know to what extent the Supreme Court has been signaling to the house what they would do in the event of a constitutional crisis. We do know that certain justices including Kennedy didn’t like the way things turned out the first time with the ACA.

95

Martin James 10.02.13 at 9:36 pm

He’s likely in over his head, but Mr. Cruz may have more up his sleave than anyone knows.

96

nick s 10.02.13 at 10:14 pm

Such a delay wouldn’t deny access to anyone; it would prevent some people in desperate financial situations from being fined for failing to buy high deductible policies

The actuarial foundation for the policies on offer is the individual mandate, thanks to yer standard principles of moral hazard and adverse selection. A year’s delay blows a big hole in that. You may not like the model that the ACA uses, but the way to improve it is not to amputate limbs at birth.

97

Sasha Clarkson 10.02.13 at 10:23 pm

@95

“Mr. Cruz may have more up his sleave than anyone knows.”

Like what? Pray tell – is he super-intelligent compared to everyone else? Or perhaps he has a ray gun which brainwashes his opponents?

That kind of comment could apply to anyone: what distinguishes Mr Cruz from the rest?

98

Layman 10.02.13 at 10:29 pm

Martin,

The Supremes are ideologues but not suicidal. Exactly what they decide will depend on what gets brought to them, but the result will almost certainly clarify the law in a manner most beneficial to the full faith and credit of the US. If the matter is the conflict between appropriations and the debt ceiling, they’ll toss the debt ceiling. If the President has worked around the debt ceiling in the interim, by issuing some other kind of debt instrument, they’ll hold that instrument is valid and payable. If the President has minted the platinum coin, they’ll endorse it in at least a limited way, while inviting Congress to change the law. They may criticize those actions, but they’ll endorse them. They have to – anything else triggers a credit scare, and they won’t do that.

99

Bruce Wilder 10.02.13 at 10:34 pm

I don’t like the model the ACA uses — I think for-profit health insurance is untenable. It is the “for profit” feature, which turns the actuarial calculation into yet another scam. If the offered insurance is a bad deal without the threatened fine, it is a bad deal. Why would I favor sticking people, who have little enough, with yet another bill from the FIRE scammers? Why do you?

100

Bruce Wilder 10.02.13 at 10:44 pm

The immediate point, though, is not to critique Obamacare, which is a complicated mess of a policy, but to respond to the idea that the popular experience of it will be so uniformly positive, as to change the dynamics of American politics.

We’re experiencing a constitutional crisis, and the President, just like his nominal Republican opponents, bats for the Plutocracy. At bottom, this political contretemps must be a dispute between factions of the Plutocracy, because no one else fields a team.

101

adam.smith 10.02.13 at 11:02 pm

I don’t think delaying the mandate for a year would lead the whole thing to crumble. Let’s not forget that Obama campaigned on a health plan without individual mandate in the primaries. But I don’t see how that would be feasible at this point: The offers submitted by insurers to the health insurance market places were based on estimates including the individual mandate. I don’t see how you can still force them to accept people at the same prices without the individual mandate.
I think Bruce’s hysteria about private health insurers is massively overblown. Sure, single-payer would be much preferable, but there are enough countries with well working universal private health insurance systems to illustrate that it can work reasonably well. It’s certainly better than leaving people uninsured.

Oh, and the whole constitutionality thing is silly. Shutting down the government is definitely no unconstitutional, even where it’s irresponsible and illegitimate. Refusing to raise the debt limit is insane and I doubt it’s going to happen, but I sure hope no one in the Obama administration is thinking of escalating a constitutional crisis to go before a court that’s a good deal to the right of the Bush v. Gore court.

102

Bruce Wilder 10.02.13 at 11:19 pm

My “hysteria” is about for profit insurance, not private insurance. I guess bolding and italics are not enough to bolster some people’s reading comprehension skills.

103

Layman 10.02.13 at 11:30 pm

“Refusing to raise the debt limit is insane and I doubt it’s going to happen, but I sure hope no one in the Obama administration is thinking of escalating a constitutional crisis to go before a court that’s a good deal to the right of the Bush v. Gore court.”

It’s unlikely to be the Obama administration that chooses to go to the court. If the Republicans refuse to raise the debt limit, the President has to do something. He has to ignore his responsibilities to faithfully execute the law; or he has to find some way to raise money; or he has to mint the platinum coin; or something. It is that something which will be the subject of any complaint before the court, and the complaint will be against Obama, not by him. This is why I think the scenario is likely – crazy Republicans see a way to trap the secret muslim kenyan socialist, and they won’t be able to resist it.

104

Dr. Hilarius 10.02.13 at 11:33 pm

I doubt that many of the Republicans have considered any end game other than Obama giving in to their demands. Remember, these are the people who were stunned by Obama’s re-election. They live in a bubble impervious to reality.

And I’m not even considering the house members who simply don’t care about anything other than their own immediate political advantage. If they prevail, they’re victors, if they don’t, they’re martyrs. Either way, they win.

105

adam.smith 10.02.13 at 11:35 pm

I don’t really see much of a difference. Private health insurance in Germany is for profit, it is in Australia, it mostly is in Switzerland…

106

Bruce Wilder 10.03.13 at 12:08 am

Health insurance in Germany is predominately the sickness funds, which are not for-profit. Etc. But, lets not hijack this thread any further.

107

john c. halasz 10.03.13 at 12:26 am

@105:

The health insurance exchanges were for-profit in Switzerland. Then, it being Switzerland and that the only way they can do things, a national referendum was held and the citizens voted overwhelmingly to switch them to a non-profit basis. The insurance companies are private, for-profit companies and still can gain advantages by cross-selling other insurance, but the health insurance is non-profit.

108

Martin James 10.03.13 at 12:34 am

Nothing in particular, he’s the flavor of the month. From what I have read from his father he raised his son to have something of a messianic streak. No, it just that what he considers possible may be a bit more imaginative than the rest. I don’t remember the other republicans attacking each other so much. Why do they fear him? I think the republicans created a beast they can’t stop.

Its partly to test the rhetoric of people who say the right wing crazies are really crazy.

So, the question is whether or not the USA of today is that different from Syria, Egypt, Libya in terms of revolution and civil war.

109

Herschel 10.03.13 at 2:24 am

OK, $100 bills would be too small for the amounts, but does anyone know if or why there cannot be million $ bills printed and presented for payment?

It’s not borrowing, so doesn’t come under the debt ceiling. So why not?

Chiming in a little late here, but paper dollar notes are debt instruments. Every dollar note in circulation is part of the national debt. Coins, on the other hand, are not, which is why the Treasury can mint as many of them as they like without the debt ceiling coming into play, and there’s even that special provision that the Treasury can mint platinum coins in any denomination it pleases, which allows the trillion-dollar coin, or, my preference, the mega-gazillion-dollar platinum coin which would vitiate the debt ceiling for all time.

The source of the distinction between notes and coins is that historically notes were a promise to pay in some other medium–like gold coin, for example–while coins struck from precious metal were payment in themselves, where the intrinsic value of the metal was the medium of payment. Nowadays, of course, that distinction is rather quaint; the dollar note can’t be converted to gold, and the intrinsic value of most coins is completely unrelated to their nominal value.

I don’t really understand why the Obama administration has taken the platinum coin off the table. I can’t see any constitutional objection to it that would sway even the current Supreme Court, and it could permanently remove this ridiculous obstacle to good government from the political arsenal (of both parties).

110

James Wimberley 10.03.13 at 3:08 am

Martin James: “I think the 14th amendment is a stretch. Is it questioning the validity of a debt to miss payment?”
Yes it is. Talk to some bondholders. Missing a single payment triggers action.

111

John Quiggin 10.03.13 at 3:52 am

Private health insurance in Australia is heavily subsidised for all but high income earners, who are *penalised* if they don’t have it. It’s mostly non-profit or public, and required to use a modifiied version of community rating. So, it tells you virtually nothing about the feasibility of market-based for-profits.

112

Lee A. Arnold 10.03.13 at 3:56 am

Mao Cheng Ji #79: “the Clinton admin pushed through, by a single vote, ‘the biggest tax hike in history’… If you ask a true believer who was responsible for the boom, the answer is, inevitably: ‘the republican congress elected in 1994’… not going to make things better; on the contrary: it’s going to intensify the resistance.”

It will make them into a smaller percentage minority, by less new pick-ups, and may even diminish them numerically. Clinton actually made in-roads here: some moderate Republicans now consider that Clinton was a good President.

But, “intensify the resistance?” You cannot intensify your resistance, beyond a personal existential crisis. That is the resistance end of the road. A sort of Einsteinian speed limit.

And who will join their numbers, in the face of “everybody getting healthcare” and employers happy to save the administrative and maintenance costs? The Teas are flipping out because they know it’s a done deal.

(Next up, we agitate to push up the medical loss ratio to Medicare’s 98%: so everybody gets an additional 20% healthcare rate reduction. Because if they are all the same price on the same page, then it can be non-profit. There is no excuse for private insurers to be in healthcare, they give no value-added, unless it’s upper-tier concierge coverage for the 1%, and thus freedom for the rhinestone-encrusted lifestyle.)

Yet now, Teas are holding up the entire government, making more people recognize that they are just stupid.

I would guess that even the plutocracy is becoming alarmed, because you cannot have business without having paying customers: the money must circulate and so on. And you certainly cannot run a business in a general insurrection. Or in broken credit at a debt ceiling. Collateral for the overnight shadow repo market, around $15 trillion and growing, is almost entirely Treasuries, with a few returning mortgage derivatives?

2. Meantime, Obamacare is going to increase the number of earners in an indispensable sector of the economy, so I predict a positive GDP impact.

But let us say it does NOT: instead, let’s say that Obamacare proves to have no economic effect, and say the recovery looks good simply because the downturn was so bad. It doesn’t matter for purpose of running the following experiment. You still have this to employ:

Once Obamacare kicks in, and the economic recovery kicks in, then ask of any True Believer the basic riddle of the universe: Why did the economy get better, after a bigger government program? According to the laws of your reality, that isn’t supposed to happen! It cannot happen, because “gov’t is inefficient”!

What do they say next? That, “it was really the sequester wot did it”? (Are you saying the sequester outweighed the anti-Reaganomic drag of healthcare, which is 1/7th of the economy?)

That, “it’s because the Republicans made Obama toe the line, on spending”? (After you complained about all the trillions he spent?)

That, “it’s because, after a downturn, the GDP numbers always look better”?

–Er, uh, no, not that last one, that’s a syllogism too far, just like a bridge too far. Conceptualizing both short-term and long-term effects in macro may be asking a bit too much, since it appears to be such a widespread cognitive disorder, even among some economists. … Anyway if they DID know, well then, you could have a conversation, and always reply, “Well, it’s the same thing wot happened with Reagan, you dunce! He sat through a good macro recovery, and then took the intellectual credit for it. But it wasn’t him.”

3. Now redirect your pictograph; consider the current moderate GOP — let’s say, those Republicans who perhaps later decided that Clinton wasn’t such a bad President. If there are any of them remaining, that is — and if there are, they probably are wondering how to regain moderate control of their party. Probably the best thing, for middle-run basic human needs, is to help the moderate Repubs regain control of their party. But please god not quite yet.

For now, the thing to do is attempt to cause as big an existential crisis as possible. Destroy the stupid anti-welfare state zombies meme by meme, and employ Guerrilla Rhetoric, to do it: “All dissent must be of a higher logical type than that to which it is opposed.” Here it means, applying continuous pressure to both sides of the Reaganic alchemical formulary of doublespeak. Try this one: there will be a welfare state; there will be economic growth. They won’t be able to handle it. The current occupant of the Oval Office is at least one person who understands this.

113

Collin Street 10.03.13 at 5:41 am

Chiming in a little late here, but paper dollar notes are debt instruments. Every dollar note in circulation is part of the national debt.

Not quite: the US doesn’t have a conventional central bank. When you follow the money flows, a US federal reserve note is effectively a liability of the issuing [private] bank. They’re backed one-for-one with treasury bills, but the two are different in some important ways.

[most notably, the treasury pays interest to the holder — the bank — but the fed reserve bill pays the holder — you — jack. Coupon-stripped, effectively. This is why the US can’t get dollar coins circulating, and a pretty good example of exactly what the US’s structural problems are.]

114

Mao Cheng Ji 10.03.13 at 12:45 pm

Lee, there are organizations with budgets of tens of millions, working hard, producing talking points, superficially convincing emotional arguments, rationalizations, to influence the media.

I don’t know how they will choose to play it, but (just off the top of my head) they could, for example, start scandalizing medical mistakes and screw ups, blaming obamacare. The system is overloaded and you now at risk of getting the healthy leg amputated – and of course you’re the one who’s paying for it, with your taxes. This could be a successful campaign – no? Talk about fear and loathing. Politicians will demand to stop the atrocity – how many more must die? It’s not that hard.

115

Layman 10.03.13 at 1:04 pm

Herschel @ 109

“It’s not borrowing, so doesn’t come under the debt ceiling. So why not?”

The Fed can print money, but they have to exchange it for something. Normally that’s government debt, but if the debt ceiling is reached, there’s no debt they can buy. So printing doesn’t work without borrowing. And, I think Congress controls what denominations are permitted as legal tender, so the Fed can’t print whatever notes it wants.

Thus the platinum coin. Through a quirk in the law, Treasury can mind platinum coins and assign them monetary value. This gives the Fed something to buy with the money they’ve printed, without the government incurring any debt.

116

Lee A. Arnold 10.03.13 at 2:09 pm

Mao Cheng Ji #114: “It’s not that hard.”

No one you can save that can’t be saved. Nothing you can do, but you can learn how to be you inside. It’s easy.

117

Herschel 10.03.13 at 2:22 pm

Layman @ 115:

That quote wasn’t me, it was me quoting an earlier comment. I closed the italics in the wrong place.

Collin Street @ 113:
most notably, the treasury pays interest to the holder — the bank — but the fed reserve bill pays the holder — you — jack

It should be noted that the interest the Treasury pays to the Federal Reserve is then rebated back to the Treasury.

118

Herschel 10.03.13 at 2:26 pm

but you can learn how to be you inside
but you can learn how to be you in time

119

Lee A. Arnold 10.03.13 at 2:32 pm

Even better!

120

Layman 10.03.13 at 5:35 pm

Herschel

Sorry about the misattribution.

121

Chaz 10.03.13 at 9:28 pm

@ Mao @ 114,

I don’t think that particular argument would work too well for them in the way you’ve presented it. It depends on an understanding of resource scarcity which I think Republicans generally lack and actively encourage each other to reject. They like to think that everyone could have everything they want if they worked hard and earned enough money to buy it. Accepting resource scarcity puts them morally on the hook to share. Also if they ever did come to understand that there is a shortage of doctors some of the stupid-but-not-evil Republicans would just think we need to train more doctors, and forget about the pressing need to exclude poor people from healthcare.

However, if you rephrased it to say that thanks to Obamacare, your doctor is now required to treat hordes of black people who didn’t pay for their coverage, and now that he spends all his time treating black people he’s too distracted to give proper care to more deserving people like you, then that could resonate.

122

Chaz 10.04.13 at 1:13 am

By the by, somewhere in this tangle of comments I believe some European fellow asked under what authority Obama has kept “essential operations” of the federal government in operation? As an American let me tell you that I have no clue, and ask, does anyone here know the answer?

When the Constitution was written the power to withhold funding was treated as a key power of Congress, and specifically, the power to withhold military funding was to be key to Congress’ preventing the President from engaging in unauthorized wars or domestic tyranny. For this reason the Constitution explicitly prohibits Congress from authorizing military funding more than two years in advance (no prohibition exists for other programs; they could pass 5-year or indefinite budgets if they wanted to). So it’s pretty darn clear that the intent of the Constitution is that, in absence of Congressional funding, the military at the very least must immediately shut down. This is not some unforeseen situation; when the Constitution was written the US did not have a standing army and was not intended to.

There is also a federal law explicitly prohibiting federal employees from volunteering or working without pay.

So how in the heck is it legal for the US to still have a military, air traffic controllers, FBI, CIA, and the rest still in operation? By law they should have all suddenly shut down (in disorganized, chaotic fashion). My best guess is that Obama is brazenly breaking the law For the Good of the Nation. Guess Clinton probably did the same.

Personally if I were gonna illegally operate a giant military For the Good of the Nation I would bloody well make sure everyone got their food stamps and unemployment benefits too (I assume those are shut down but haven’t seen reporting on it).

123

Pete 10.04.13 at 10:03 am

@Chaz

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/09/30/absolutely-everything-you-need-to-know-about-how-the-government-shutdown-will-work/

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/09/the-odd-story-of-the-law-that-dictates-how-government-shutdowns-work/280047/

http://www.gao.gov/legal/lawresources/antideficiencybackground.html

It appears that “cases of emergency involving the safety of human life or the protection of property” is understood to mean “keep the security forces running”. Evidently someone was testing that outside the capitol yesterday.

Besides, everyone knows that “legal” and “constitutional” are subject to power politics in America just like everwhere else; and the US is deemed to be “at war” with “terror”, so the army is “mobilized” rather than “standing”.

124

Chaz 10.04.13 at 9:30 pm

Thanks, I stand corrected. Apparently everyone’s required to work for free. Except the military. They passed a last-minute funding bill for military salaries because soldiers are more important than other people.

Comments on this entry are closed.