Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Blowing up the American Economy

The Government shutdown is getting to a duration where it is assured to damage the American economy in major ways, so why is the Republican leadership of the House committed to avoiding an up-or-down vote on a government funding bill?

Atlas Shrugged has the answer, but I'm a little hazy on the details. Paul Ryan has declared that Ayn Rand is a personal hero and inspired him to seek public office. The pseudo-novelist and quasi-intellectual is the namesake of the junior Senator from Kentucky. The essence of the 2012 Presidential election hinged on themes from Atlas Shrugged. Mitt Romney's 47% world-view is an echo of Rand's laughable ideology that Big Men constitute an economy.

The government shutdown is a retreat from the American economy by those who can temporarily afford to protect their own interests: the Kochs, John Boehner, and the plutocrat class. Atlas Shrugged ends with broader destruction; the demolition of the American system. The threat to default on the nation's debt matches this catastrophic attack on the American people. If Ayn Rand's 'objectivist' narratives encompassed a broader view than her out-of-touch protagonists, maybe the Tea Partiers would sense that the destruction of the American state is a bad thing. Sadly, her followers are dragging us after her, into a selfish wilderness.

Harry Reid was exactly right to name the anarchist fringe that has captured the Republican House caucus. The members of the Tea Party caucus fervently endorse anti-state zealotry. Their membership in this anarchist syndicate is incompatible with their membership in the House of Representatives. The constitutional crisis and economic travesty the Tea Paty has inflicted on the United States proves that they are unfit to serve.

They should be expelled from the institution or renounce their allegiance to an anti-American fantasy.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

GOP Civil War

James Fallows said it best a few days before the oncoming government shutdown. This was never a struggle between two parties or two branches of government. The shutdown battle has been waged between two wings of the Republican party.

Robert Costa takes us inside the chasm between House Republican factions. And Ezra Klein gets the numbers on either side in an interview with Costa.

On the moderate side, we have roughly 100 veteran lawmakers and committee leaders. These are the traditional centers of power within the caucus. The apparent leader of this faction is Peter King, who is unencumbered by the demands of leadership positions.

Costa estimates that the die-hard side consists of 30-40 members, but they have an additional 60-100 Republicans running chicken-shit scared.

Whatever happens in the coming days, it won't be due to a strong Speaker; any deal will have to be worked out in the trenches of the Republican party's internal struggle.

Fallows, Costa, and Klein appear to be the best reporters in Washington right now; I'd stay tuned to their channels for the rest of this drama.

WWII Veterans Visit Memorial

I'm glad that Veterans of the Second World War did not let the Republican shutdown of government get in their way of visiting the WWII Memorial on the National Mall. In fact, let's agree that the memorial should be open to all visitors, as it normally is, when the government is funded and open.

John Boehner is the only person who can unilaterally end the House's attack on the Federal Government and the veterans, families, business owners, researchers, and constituents it serves. Why do so few news stories focusing on this absurd confrontation state the obvious: veterans want the government they fought for to repay its debt, and House Republicans are standing in their way.

House Republicans are now offering the same obstructionist radicalism that once the domain of an exceptional, reactionary few. In a kind of anti-Mt. Rushmore, John Boehner is taking his place along with John Calhoun, Newt Gingrich, and George Wallace as the face of craven anti-Americanism. It's time to get out the schoolhouse door, Mr. Boehner, and give the people the government we've been paying for.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Elephant and What Army?

The GOP wants to gouge the American economy (via shutdown) and junk our credit (via debt ceiling). Well, who's going to let them?

The Executive branch has a choice to make. It can either pretend that the House of Representatives is behaving as the Constitution requires it; to manage the nation's finances and protect its welfare, or it can refuse to play Calvin Ball with John Boehner. The House can issue censure after censure, but it doesn't have the manpower to actually shut down the government. The Executive merely acquiesces to the lack of explicit funding because that's the way the American political system is supposed to work.

The problem for the Executive (and the rule of law), is that the American political system has failed. A cadre of radicals who don't believe in the basic tenets of republican governance has commandeered Congress. The radicals'  leverage is that they have a constitutional responsibility to pass funding bills.

The House has abdicated that responsibility in pursuit of counter-majoritarian, ideological ends. This is an engineered constitutional crisis, and it is time for novel constitutional thinking.

There is a congressionally approved, lawful funding package for the government. The conventional wisdom is that this funding expired at midnight on September 30th. Congress set this deadline for itself in order to renegotiate the spending package. Simply because it has not replaced its agreed-upon spending contract should not prevent the Executive from fulfilling the existing demands from Congress. Contract negotiations extend past deadlines without drastic consequences because parties agree to continue working with the same contract after its term expires. The United States Federal Government should play by these common-sense rules.

And the debt ceiling? The idea of actually enforcing the debt ceiling against the Treasury's bedrock responsibility to pay the bills incurred by Congress is itself novel. The President should feel absolutely no compunction in ignoring the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling is a self-defeating law. Congress implicitly overwrites any enacted debt ceiling every time it appropriates money.

This effectively disarms the radical right. Once their nuclear options are taken away, they may even find it worthwhile to do the job to which their constituents elected them. Until then, who's going to stop the President from keeping the government running? The GOP and whose army?

American Appendectomy

Let's put this government shutdown in its political and historical context. The Republican Party is extracting its revenge on a nation that has rejected them.

The Republican party is finished in national politics. In 2012, Barack Obama became the first president to win two consecutive elections with more than 51% of the vote since Dwight Eisenhower. Democrats in the Senate picked up two seats while defending twice as much territory as Republicans, who had an extraordinarily target-rich environment. House Democratic candidates received 5 million more votes than House Republican candidates nation-wide. Republican officials openly acknowledge that gerrymandering and voter suppression allowed them to retain a bare majority in the House.

The Republican Party is a rump party on the national level. They are a vestigial organ in the body politic.

Organs being organs, they don't have much in the way of incentive structure. But parties require money, power, and attention. Their constituent parts are desperate for oxygen (Eric Cantor is thrilled to be eluded to at all, even parenthetically). Can we explain the GOP shutdown in any terms other than a plea for relevance? A significant portion of the House Republican Caucus has taken it upon themselves to dump the American Government in the Emergency Room, even though it has bills to pay, and really doesn't have time for this shit, right now.

What America needs is a good surgeon, not necessarily to remove the Republican House Caucus, but to sever it. There are assuredly 30-40 reasonable Republicans who would prefer to see a functioning government than the current mess, and recognizes that the prerogatives of party are subordinate to the demands of democracy. They must revolt against the Tea Party, and its hostage, John Boehner. They must be supported by the realist (and reality-based) business constituency that has been the traditional first leg of the Republican party stool.

But what about removal? The most convincing path is Article I expulsion. Two thirds of either house may expel one of its own members. The cause seems lost in the House, where more than a third of the chamber is devoutly unsuited for office, and our nation's troubles have taken hold. However, Republican senators up for reelection in 2014 may see some advantage in jettisoning the tea party albatross, Mike Lee and Ted Cruz.

There is also the constitutionally dubious recall election. No federal officeholder has ever faced a recall election under state recall law (18 states allow some form of recall election). A Michigan court enjoined such an effort in 2007, and a federal court prevented the recall of a U.S. Senator from Idaho in 1967. These arguments all seem to be sourced from the same "Recall of Legislators and the Removal of Members of Congress" report penned by Jack Maskell of the Congressional Research Service in 2012 (pdf).

Speaker Boehner has manufactured an acute constitutional crisis, and one that is already costing the nation dearly. States and their constituents rely on federal services to complete their daily tasks. Workers and businesses are facing layoffs and furloughs due to Republican intransigence. The economic costs of this shutdown are just beginning to mount. The House needs to end this national appendicitis now, and it can do so by bringing a simple funding bill to the floor of the house. It may not get a majority of Republican votes, but it will get enough moderates and Democrats to keep America's lights on. John Boehner must put country first. If he doesn't, moderate Republicans can be forgiven if they engineer an American first - an effective no-confidence vote and an intra-session realignment of Congressional power. Moderate Republicans can't afford to not sideline the far-right fringe and depose their captive Speaker.