Everything in Josh Marshall's "on the bright side" post is right. Even if we lose the House in November, we'll have passed some wonderful stuff. Health care reform is the big thing, and I'm also happy about financial reform. You win elections so you can do stuff, and we got our money's worth of stuff. We didn't deal with climate change, and I disagree with Nate Silver's optimism on that front -- anything that depends on the Republican Party becoming smart technocrats and appreciating the need for more revenue will fail. But getting health care reform through made everything worthwhile.
Of course, I wish there were some kind of story about how we could keep control of the House this November. I wish people would pay attention to nonpartisan economic forecasters who say Obama's stimulus bill (which all the Republicans voted against) kept us out of a horrific depression. I wish Republicans weren't taking the convenient opportunity to be hardliners about their ridiculous pro-misery domestic spending views, so that they could generate more economic adversity and more votes against the party in power.
I don't wish for a pony, because I know that Singapore is no place for one.
"Everything in Josh Marshall's "on the bright side" post is right. Even if we lose the House in November, we'll have passed some wonderful stuff. Health care reform is the big thing, and I'm also happy about financial reform. You win elections so you can do stuff, and we got our money's worth of stuff."
Of course, as someone with some knowledge of political history, you are well aware that we put our money over the past several election cycles into making the 111th Congress the most conducive to passing progressive legislation of any Congress in over 40 years. And given how these things work, we're not likely to see another Congress as conducive to passing progressive legislation for several decades to come.
So what did our money get us?
Well, we got an emergency stimulus package that was perhaps 25% larger than the one we could've gotten in a theoretical third Bush term.
We got military funding and military policy that is essentially unchanged from what we would've gotten in a third Bush term. (Any plans to revive War or Car, Neil?)
We got a financial reform package that addresses perhaps a fifth of the issues that caused the greatest financial panic in 80 years, and one that is different only on the margins of what we could've gotten in a third Bush term.
We got one center-left Supreme Court judge, and one center-center Supreme Court judge. We got fewer lower court justices through than any previous first Congress of a President in recent history.
And, of course, we got a healthcare bill through. No matter that the bill was written by a Wellpoint lobbyist. No matter that the bill permanently institutionalizes the private healthcare cartel system that costs American families twice as much as systems in similar countries. The bill does achieve the (laudable) goals of providing some help to the poor and the chronically ill. But it pays for those laudable goals by stripping $500B out of Medicare (!) and by taking money mainly from unionized workers (!). It's essentially the same bill we would have gotten if Mitt Romney had been President during the 111th Congress.
Most amazingly of all, the great sword for passing legislation in the era following the Senate rule reforms of 1974-1975 was essentially left unused. Congresses under Bill Clinton, Bush the Younger, and Ronald Reagan used the great sword of the 50 vote Senate to each move many trillions of dollars of authority around. The 111th Congress used the great sword only to re-ratify the 60 vote Wellpoint-Romney healthcare bill after Scott Brown messed up the original plan, and to pass a $50B (laudable) fix to the student loan system. I know a lot of folks have trouble distinguishing $50B from many trillions, but I also know you are not one of them, Neil.
Upcoming, the 111th Congress will choose between authorizing tax cuts for everybody above the median income level, or just authorizing tax cuts only for folks above the median and below $250k per year.
"I don't wish for a pony"
To be repetitive, the 111th Congress is the most conducive to passing progressive legislation of any Congress in over 40 years. And given how these things work, we're not likely to see another Congress as conducive to passing progressive legislation for several decades to come.
The way the legislative factory works is that you get essentially nothing out of Congress after Congress after Congress. And then about once a generation, you get a pony out of a Congress. The 111th Congress was the Congress that was supposed to deliver a pony.
And not only did it not deliver a pony, it didn't deliver a cat or a dog either. Instead, it delivered a gerbil.
If you really think we got our money's worth out of the years of effort necessary to produce the 111th Congress, I want to urge you to contact me if you are ever involved in any large financial transaction. I'd really like to be on the other side of that transaction...
Good to see you again, Petey!
I agree with you every time you say 'over 40 years', and I want you to say it more. Specifically, when you describe what we achieved. Because we used the most progressive-legislation-friendly Congress in over 40 years to pass the most progressive domestic policy legislation in over 40 years. If it's a gerbil, it's still the biggest thing we've gotten since LBJ.
Now we're going to do what we always do and spend the next couple decades steadily making it better. Jonathan Bernstein thinks we can get the public option before long through reconciliation. The rest of Henry Waxman's life will be spent adding piece after piece to the thing we passed, and after he dies the process will continue until we have a sensible health care system. Without what we passed this time around, the whole project would be at least a couple decades behind. You've seen how the ambitions each time get smaller in the wake of the last failure. Finally the trend is reversed.
As for foreign policy, there's no way I see Bush leaving Iraq, as we're doing. We're planning to start Afghanistan withdrawal in a year, which Bush wouldn't have done. These are huge differences, and as much as I'd like us to be withdrawing from Afghanistan already for good War or Car reasons, we're much closer to the goal than a third Bush administration ever would've been. If you think he would've done these things, you don't remember the guy at all.
On a lot of these issues, it's unfortunate that we couldn't do more. But looking at the obstacles, I never expected us to get much more than this (except possibly cap and trade). In retrospect, one of the first things the Obama administration should've pushed for is scaling back the filibuster, and I admire Yglesias for pressing that point back in the 2005-2006 judicial fights. But I never really expected that to happen. That's why I'm happy that we achieved more than I expected us to on November 5, 2008.
O sing a song of Singapore,
Where life is such a crashing bore
That bureaucrats must while the days
By fingerprinting dogs;
And Government (in full control)
Can ding you for each foot you roll
And issue electronic shoes
To everyone who jogs.
But I, for one, will not believe
In any progress they achieve
(No matter what great strides they make
In registering cats)
Until they have a census done
And checked, down to the smallest one,
Of all that island paradise
'S roaches, snakes, and rats.
Wow. I've exceeded the Blogger character limit. I can type fast when I'm interested. Thus I must divide one piece into two posts:
"I never expected us to get much more than this (except possibly cap and trade)"
Cap'n'trade was DOA. I could've told you that back in 2007. Cap'n'trade & Card Check were the two campaign promises that no Democratic campaign actually had any thought of passing through this Congress, since they were obviously unpassable, without the use of hindsight. They were issues to run on, not potential laws.
If you actually have interest in passing legislation to address global warming in a productive manner, you ought to be in favor of an initially modest carbon tax that is fully rebated through the payroll tax. Al Gore, with careful thought to the long-term political realities, came up with that one a decade ago. Now only crazies like Bob Inglis espouse it.
"Now we're going to do what we always do and spend the next couple decades steadily making (the Wellpoint-Romney healthcare bill) better."
You really don't get it, do you? Henry Waxman is going to fundraise about making it better for the rest of his days, not pass legislation to make it better. We've had our bite at the apple. Sorry if you're not full.
The structure of the legislation is designed to institutionalize the current massively inefficient cartel. That's why the cartel spent half a billion dollars pushing it through the Hill. And I find their reasoning behind their investment to be quite sound. You've done your small part to help make the longstanding policy dreams of the right into the law of the land.
And, of course, the few laudable elements of the bill are an easily separable "program for the poor". I trust you have an understanding of the long-term political fate of programs for the poor without it being spelled out for you...
"In retrospect, one of the first things the Obama administration should've pushed for is scaling back the filibuster"
This is the absolutely fucking worst, Neil.
If what you really wanted out of the beginning of the 111th Congress was a fight over the Senate rules (something I would've been very happy about), then you sure as hell helped nominate the one Democratic candidate for the WH who absolutely guaranteed that January/February '09 fight wouldn't happen.
But that's not why this is the absolute fucking worst.
The Senate rule reforms of 1974-1975 already provide a way to unsheathe the great sword of a 50 vote Senate.
Harry Reid, the most timid seeming man in America, wanted to use that 50 vote great sword on healthcare policy. And twice, in both September '09 and December '09, the White House vetoed his notion.
(In case you forget the details, the Cheney "4th branch of government" is actually supremely important in using the great sword. The White House needs to sign the veep onto the program. Without the WH's consent, the Senate can't use the great sword on its own. And for deeply depressing reasons, the WH would not give consent on the healthcare bill.)
And it's not just the incredibly important area of healthcare where the WH refused to use the great sword. The macroeconomic implications of the financial meltdown were obvious enough in spring '09 that folks on the Hill were urging the WH to allow stimulus measures into the reconciliation instructions of the budget. If the WH had not deep-sixed the idea, we could have used the 50 vote great sword to send money to states so libraries, firehouses, and streetlights weren't being shut down all across America.
The Ford administration sent Nelson Rockefeller to the Senate to make the great sword a reality a generation ago. A 50 vote Senate already exists when needed. Again, the Reagan, Clinton, and Bush the Younger administrations each used Rockefeller's great sword to move trillions of dollars of authority around via majority vote in the Senate. The current administration used the great sword to move $50 billion in authority around.
Fifty billion, Neil. During the best Congress you or I will likely ever see. During a Congress when ponies were actually feasible. And you think that's the best we could've expected...
"Good to see you again, Petey!"
I wish I could say the same.
Your goal in politics seems to be to fundraise for Democrats, not to move American governmental policy towards the direction of the common good. (Those two things often travel together, but they are not always aligned by any means. And as core goals, they are profoundly different.)
You keep political company these days with the unserious, the intellectually bankrupt, and the corrupt. You write things that are utterly disconnected to either short-term or long-term policy changes.
I'll say the worst thing to you that I can say to anyone, Neil. You've disappointed me. And I'm not often disappointed in people. I thought for a while that you were interested in this stuff for the right reasons. This isn't about cheering on your favorite sports team. This isn't about pageantry. This isn't about the lives of your favorite politicians. This isn't about the lives of the political ops you've befriended, met, or corresponded with. This is about the almighty impact of the policy decisions of the US federal government. You've heard of that outfit, right? They're the folks who explode atomic bombs on cities and send men to the moon. They're the folks who alchemize gold out of ink and paper. They're the folks who keep the globe safely spinning, or not. You can read books about it. Other than that minor point, I'm glad to see you are well, Neil! Cheers.
While we're on the atomic bombs topic, do you remember the nuclear arms reduction agreements between Obama and Medvedev?
I don't have any idea why you think that people like Waxman won't pass improvements to the current bill over the next couple decades. He passed 24 Medicaid expansions in the Reagan era! If you want somebody who'll get social program improvements through under adverse conditions, he's your guy. Right now we needed to get the individual mandate through so we could set up a universal program. We got that, and now we've got something to build on.
When FDR passed Social Security in the 30s, it didn't cover huge numbers of blacks and women. And it was a triumph! It gave us the basic framework we needed, and in the 1950s, we got everybody else covered and made the program what it is today. I don't see any reason why this time is going to be different. It's hard to pass the skeleton, but once you do it's easier to put meat on the bones.
I don't understand why you're limiting the gains to $50 billion. Health care reform moves a whole bunch more than that, even as written. And the possibilities for expanding on this framework make it even better.
I know the stakes well, and there's a reason I'm giving away huge chunks of my money to people like Jeff Merkley. If you want to hipster out and diss those of us who are playing the game the way it's slowly made life in America and the world better, over and over again, well, I'm sorry to lose you. But I'm just going to keep pushing here, same as ever.
"Right now we needed to get the individual mandate through so we could set up a universal program."
As stated, you've done your small part to help make the longstanding policy dreams of the right into the law of the land.
"(Waxman) passed 24 Medicaid expansions in the Reagan era!"
We seem to have developed differing opinions on the political efficacy of "programs for the poor" like Medicaid, when we once seemed to have the same opinion. I wonder how that divergence happened?
If you want someone to temporarily move a few bucks into Medicare so the next regime can take them back out, Henry Waxman is your guy.
Personally, I think charity programs don't have a good political track record, to put it mildly.
"I don't understand why you're limiting the gains to $50 billion."
You're the guy who's bitching about the filibuster.
$50 billion is what this Congress managed to authorize through the available toolkit for bypassing the filibuster, when previous administration authorized trillions. And those pennies were all the the WH was willing to do, when the appetite in the Senate was for something more by more than an order of magnitude.
Someone should make a T-shirt that says: We had the best Congress in 40 years, and all I got was this lousy 3% reduction in my interest costs on my student loans.
"If you want to hipster out and diss those of us who are playing the game the way it's slowly made life in America and the world better, over and over again, well, I'm sorry to lose you."
I'm not "hipstering out". I'm just marginalized against my will for the next 2 to 6 years. I'm in the same basic position as a true righty was in 1954. I've got a President of my own Party who holds the commanding heights to successfully neuter my Party and let the opposition massively build its strength.
There's seemingly no way for my crowd to mount a frontal assault. (How I wish it was a 1979-type situation where we could rally around the equivalent of a Teddy Kennedy to mount a frontal assault. But that's not where this is likely headed Obama is more Eisenhower than Carter.)
But we're still out here. We'll bide our time in the resistance. And we'll build and grow.
Your crowd just ain't playing the game correctly.
Again, the way the legislative game works is that you get essentially nothing out of Congress after Congress after Congress. And then about once a generation, you get a Congress where the stars are all aligned to deliver. The 111th Congress was that Congress. We worked hard to get that Congress. And your crowd massively fucked it up. And they did it on purpose.
The Eisenhower crowd got chased out of Washington by their own side. The Carter crowd got chased out of Washington by their own side. And your crowd will follow in those footsteps. Participating in a neutering of your own Party has eventual consequences.
It'll take a while. But politics is a long game. And that's the game I'm playing. Sometimes you need to do a full cleanse before you can move forward. And that's where we've gotten to in the Democratic Party. It doesn't make me happy. It actually makes me quite unhappy. But it's where we are.
Sometimes to play the game correctly you even have to do like the right did in 1992 where you take your own guy down to reclaim your Party.
I'm not dropping out. I'm still working. I'm still contributing money and time. We're just not on the same side anymore. You've got a lacunae where you can fuck over the Democratic Party from the inside with impunity. In the 112th Congress, your crowd can maybe even take out Social Security for all practical purposes. But it's only a lacunae. The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice. And you've moved to the wrong side of that arc. I expect that shit out of most folks in politics, but I mistakenly thought you were better than that. Hence, my disappointment.
Well, I'll take it one more bite of the apple to leave things on a somewhat less confrontational and hopefully more educational note.
On policy and the 111th:
I don't expect you to agree with me that the 111th Congress was the greatest failure we're either likely to ever witness.
I have no idea if that is because you've determined to be "helpful" in contradiction to reality, or because you really don't get it. In case it's the second...
American legislative politics is like soccer, not like basketball.
Henry Waxman passed 24 Medicaid expansions in the Reagan era. And guess what? Medicaid was still a fucked up program when he was done. That's because Medicaid was architecturally a fucked up program.
American legislative politics is a long game of seemingly meaningless middle-field action that is all about getting yourself in position to attack the goal and change architectures. We spent a long time getting ourselves in position to attack the goal during the 111th, and when we got there, it turned out our striker had other intentions.
On effective partisan politics:
There are two different kinds of politically transformational Presidencies.
There are the Presidencies that change the game by moving the broad middle of the American electorate to their base's policy goals.
FDR and Reagan are the obvious examples.
I think we both imagined John Edwards playing that role.
And then there are the Presidencies that change the game by selling the policy goals of the opposition to their own bases.
Eisenhower and Carter are the obvious examples.
And at least one of us thinks Barack Obama is playing that role.
We haven't seen one of the transformational Presidencies of the second kind in a generation, so the muscle memory of how partisans should conduct themselves under such conditions is quite atrophied.
For the entirety of both of our post-childhood lives, "Just support the Democratic Party, dammit!" was the correct answer to pretty much any political question for a lefty partisan. But that's not how a lefty partisan should be conducting themselves in the current circumstances.
The enemy is now inside the tent, and giving orders. The fact that there are also enemies outside the tent doesn't alter that basic situation. And these circumstances change how a lefty partisan needs to conduct themselves from what we've become used to. These circumstances mean that the "Go team!" orientation we've always operated under is temporarily not useful. It's disorienting and very difficult, but it's still where things are at the moment.
The road ahead is quite bumpy in the short-term. But there is still a road ahead. Check out the excellent video of the (non-political) Yves Smith on C-SPAN yesterday, if you're curious for clues of the political road forward.
I'm still not clear about a feasible path to anything substantially better than what we got. As I've told you, this mildly surpassed my expectations on election night 2008. If you can look back at that moment, and not think of our mid-2007 expectations that John Edwards couldn't have ever brought to fruition given his gruesome scandal, I expect you'd think the same thing.
I think you're about 70% right about the structure of American politics, but you do often get filling-in of your previous big achievements in the periods between. Think of the ADA, passed in 1990 as an add-on to the civil rights act, or the Social Security stuff I was telling you about before.
I'm not sure what you want me to do. Even if what you're saying is right, there's nothing to be gained in opposing the bill. Blaming Obama for specific errors he made is a worthwhile thing to do (for example: putting the 900B ceiling on the total price tag). I don't regard him as the great hero of this story by any means. That would be Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid did a surprisingly good job too.
I did what I could to help us get as much as we could. From now on, I'm going to be trying to identify and help the leftmost effective people in the Democratic Party, as I always have. At the present moment, that's Nancy Pelosi, Henry Waxman, and the young guy I'm really starting to push now, Jeff Merkley. If you have more specific suggestions, tell me!
Damn you, 4,096 character Blogger limit. Split into two again.
"I'm still not clear about a feasible path to anything substantially better than what we got."
Gack. Look, it's not worth either of our time for me to just cut 'n' paste from above.
We had 218 + 50 to pass two thirds of the Democratic agenda.
If you honestly don't understand how 218 + 50 works, read some goddamn history of how major legislation has been passed in the post-'74-'75 era. Read some goddamn history of how the machine works. Read some goddamn history of the trillions that multiple previous administrations have moved around through 218 + 50 to suit their policy purposes.
We had 218 + 50 to pass Democratic legislation. We had the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader on board. And the WH repeated said no to 218 + 50, for deeply depressing reasons that no one has any poltical interest in talking about. For all practical puroses, the WH vetoed a raft of Democratic bills in the 111th Congress. I had pretty low expectations for this administration, but even I didn't suspected just how deeply craven, deceptive, and selfish they'd be.
To do one lone cut 'n' paste, the 111th Congress the most conducive to passing progressive legislation of any Congress in over 40 years. And given how these things work, we're not likely to see another Congress as conducive to passing progressive legislation for several decades to come. We all worked very, very hard to make the 111th Congress possible.
And what did we get out of the 111th using the 218 + 60 that the WH demanded?
- A Republican healthcare bill. We gave away our single greatest electoral issue without getting a policy fix in return.
- A Republican military appropriation bill.
- A Republican tax bill. (Not yet, but it's coming.)
- A Republican stimulus bill.
- A Republican financial regulation bill.
- A Democratic (!) student loan bill, cuz that $50 billion dollar appropriation was the one and only fucking place that the WH deigned permissable to use a 218 + 50 process. Yay! Student loan interest is 3% cheaper. Yay! A $50 billion Democratic bill.
The 111th was the most conducive Congress for passing progressive legislation in the past 40 years, but it didn't actually pass the most progressive legislation in that time period. It simply wasn't allowed to. In terms of progressive aims accomplished, it ranks around the second Congress of Bush the Elder, and pales before some other Congresses of that time period.
The Congress with the greatest progressive power of our times was handcuffed by a WH that just didn't want to end up owning any Democratic legislation. In the grand scheme of things in Washington, this ends up being more fucked upp than the Iraq war. And I don't say that lightly.
"I'm not sure what you want me to do. Even if what you're saying is right..."
Figure out what's true and just tell the truth.
"Your crowd" (a phrase I kinda like because, although it's a bit confrontational, it depersonalizes the criticism a bit) has become allergic to the truth. Your crowd has simply and proudly exited the reality-based community.
Come back to the reality-based community and tell the truth. It's what's best for the left, even if it doesn't seem "helpful" to the Donkey at the moment.
The truth is a pretty compelling story right now, and no one is telling it. We've been in this odd "helpful" trance for a while now. It's structurally similar to late 2002 / early 2003, but it's far worse its effects because we're actually in power this time. I have a belief, which on the surface seems quite naive, but if you drill deeper is actually quite cynical, that telling the truth helps the left.
"I did what I could to help us get as much as we could."
I've got no interest yet in turning this into a witch hunt tagging folks who metaphorically "supported the war".
But while you have done what you could to help us get as much as we could, your crowd didn't share in that objective. You're crowd wasn't even trying to get as much as we could. They had different concerns.
And no matter what your personal intentions were, at the end of the day, we simply didn't get as much as we could. Not by a long shot. We assembled a massive army, successfully invaded Normandy, and then decided to stop the tanks, demobilize, and negotiate a peace leaving the government in Berlin in power. It's not pretty, but it's what happened in terms of grand strategy.
"From now on, I'm going to be trying to identify and help the leftmost effective people in the Democratic Party"
Like I said, we're entering a period unlike any we've seen in a generation. And that requires a pretty radical shift in behavior. Reality-based lefty partisans are going to have to learn to distance themselves from the Donkey. It's not what we're used to. It won't be like that forever, but it sure as hell is like that now.
This will be the first federal election cycle in my life (defined as since I was 15yo) where I won't send a penny to any Democratic federal candidate, the DNC, DCCC, or DSCC. Even during the period in my life where I was dirt poor, I still sent out a bunch of $25 checks every two years to individual federal D's or their orgs. And outside that period, I always sent lots more than $25. I sent out the checks during cycles when the Donkey didn't particularly great. Federal Dems have been the church I tithe to. But not this cycle. Not a fucking penny. (Though if someone literally held a gun to my head and forced me to write a check to a federal Democrat or die, I'd send the check to Nancy to distribute.)
This cycle, and likely the next cycle as well, I'm only sending money to folks outside the Party. And specifically folks who actively resisted playing along in the train wreck of the past two years. Adam Green's PCCC is one place to start, though even he's a bit too cozy with the Party for my tastes. And there are plenty of others. Help out the folks who are willing to fight like hell against what's already on the rails for the next two years. Help out the folks who want to make enemies in the current Party. It's one of those rare moments in Party history when it's actually wise to empower the bomb throwers.
And it's also time to set up what's going to have to pick up the pieces after your crowd finally gets chased out of the District after the king choppers out for good. There is going to be a power vacuum in the Party unlike anything we've seen in our lifetimes.
And I really do urge you to check out that Yves Smith C-SPAN video I linked upthread. Check out not only the truth she'll telling, but also check out how the normally right-of-center C-SPAN callers are, with only one exception, completely open and receptive to her message.
There's a very broad electoral audience out there for a populist left, but no one is selling that product to them at the moment. And that both ends of that situation likely won't change in the near future.
What's Yves is doing isn't politics, but a version of that is where we need to be prepared to storm in and we purge all the slimeballs Donkey aparratchiks and wealth-seekers the day after the king choppers out for the bunker for last time.
It'll be a bright day if we do the work ahead of time. It won't be easy in the meantime, and the rewards won't happen for a while. And the aparratchiks will be flashing their bling at us and making fun of us and calling us nasty names. But if the lefty-partisan reality-based community does their job now and consistently moving forward, it'll be an absolutely brilliantly bright day when the chopper finally ascends. Not a cloud in the sky.
However, if we don't do that job, and do it correctly, the massive power vacuum in the Party will be filled by the Zort Muckermans, Harlod Folds, and Mike Bloombergs of the world...
They're closing down police stations, firehouses, libraries, and streetlights all across American. That's all you think was feasible out of the 111th? That's how you think we got our money's worth out of hard work in multiple cycles of work for the Donkey?
Like I say, if you're ever on a side in a major financial transaction, Neil, please contact me so I can get some action on the other side of that transaction. I'm a big fan of receiving of no-risk money.
Nice post from Felix Salmon on how the tax bill President Obama (R) wants to push through this fall will cut taxes on millionaires.
Gotta love that 111th Congress...
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