Friday, July 29, 2011

No Tools For This Job

There's an old adage that goes, "When you only have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." You make do, often terribly, with what tools are at your disposal.

This explains the box in which Senate Democrats and President Obama find themselves. They have no real tools at their disposal to legislate effectively, and so they use the only tool that they have available: compromise. An otherwise very bright sociologist asked me yesterday, "Why isn't Obama doing anything to raise the debt ceiling?" There simply aren't any tools that the Presdient has at his disposal. He offered some insane incentives to the Republicans for them not to risk forcing a default on treasury debt, like raising the medicare age and indexing social security benefits to less generous measures. Republicans say that these are the main incentives that they're after, yet the compromise offer failed.

Democrats find themselves in a position where they only thing they can do is compromise, and so every Republican looks like a good-faith negotiator.

Strictly speaking, there are other tools available to President Obama, but they would certainly enact a much larger constitutional crisis. The simple option of ignoring the debt ceiling would ring as a grab of power, even though the fact is that Congress already supplanted the debt ceiling when it legislated a budget that forced the Treasury to borrow above that limit. Electoral tools are too far away; voting the bums out of office in 2012 won't prevent an economic catastrophe in 2011. No state provides for the recall of its congressional representatives. Direct appeals for public involvement haven't born any legislative fruit. The President's invitation to call congressional offices Monday night overloaded the Hill telephone system for a day, but no Republicans recanted their opposition to passing a clean debt ceiling increase. Democrats are still applying political pressure; the @BarackObama twitter account provided a laundry list of intransigent house members to followers. The move flooded twitter streams of 10,000,000 some followers with the twitter handles of their elected representatives. There's actually concern trolling from Mediaite about @BarackObama followers unfollowing the account, complete a hilariously how-to-lie-with-statistics example graph.

The ineffectiveness of the President against an entrenched domestic opposition highlights that the Executive branch's power over domestic policy direction is vastly more attenuated than its power over its foreign policy. While Obama's foreign policy is paying dividends, the domestic side of his portfolio is under sustained, heavy challenge. If only there were an acceptable democratic equivalent of Seal Team Six. The President needs a decisive moment, but dealing with this group of Congressional Republicans, there any reasonable option would be shot done. They've already shot down some pretty unreasonable concessions (for instance, the Reid plan, which gives Republicans literally everything that Boehner has asked for). There is no tool in the executive repertoire for working with such an obstinate Congress.

No comments:

Post a Comment