Filibuster Deal Crumbling?

Heidi HeitkampIn case you were wondering about that filibuster deal that John McCain made with Harry Reid, well, it looks like it is crumbling. And this is the first vote after the critical seven that Reid said must be approved. Earlier this afternoon, the Senate was anxiously waiting for Senator Heidi Heitkamp to fly back to Washington. The reason? The Democrats are trying to pass a cloture vote on the nomination of Todd Jones to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Thus far they only have 59 votes and they need 60.

There are a couple of things that are worth nothing here. First, this wouldn’t even be an issue if the Senate had passed one of the minor filibuster reforms that people like me were calling for earlier this year. The proposal was to put the filibuster onus on the people filibustering, not the majority. So instead of the majority having to get 60 votes, the minority would have to get 41 votes. The way it is today with 59-40, Todd Jones’ nomination would already have had a successful cloture vote. The truth is that this is just pathetic. Not a single one of those 40 Republicans who have voted against cloture even need to be in Washington. It is all about the majority having to prove that it has the votes to stop a filibuster; the minority has no obligation to sustain its own filibuster.

The other thing about this is that this is a fucking filibuster! I am so tired of this bullshit. The idea of the so called nuclear option was that it would disallow filibusters on executive branch nominations. The deal was that the Republicans would not filibuster 7 critical nominations. But that’s not what happened. Every one of those nominations was filibustered. It is just that enough Republicans voted for cloture that the filibusters were unsuccessful. But they were still filibustered. There was still a whole lot of time wasted. The Democrats still had to make sure that every one of them was present to vote for cloture because most of the time the Republicans didn’t even give them a single vote to spare.

So here is how it all breaks down. The Republicans apparently are only willing to do the bare minimum necessary to avoid the Nuclear Option. Sure, this one cloture vote is likely to go through, but if we are already having difficulty with the eighth vote, it is hopeless after Congress returns from the break. The Republicans were never willing to stop filibustering. The Republicans have only been willing to give the minimum number of votes. And the onus of stopping a filibuster is still on the majority. This is not a lot of progress.

I know that things are (temporarily anyway) slightly better than they were. But is this really the way the Senate ought to work? The Senate operated a long time without a filibuster; the first one was in 1837. Then, for well over 100 years, the filibuster was rarely used. And as a rarely used tool, it makes quite a nice addition to the Senate where everyone is supposedly on such friendly terms. Now it is not a tool that the minority can use; it is a tool that gives the minority veto power over all legislation and appointments. I want to be as clear as possible about this: the filibuster should go. I don’t care that the Republicans will later be in the majority. The Senate ought to be able to run like a normal legislative body. And look: after it goes away, if the Republicans again become a normal (non-revolutionary) party, the filibuster can be brought back. But it needs to go. The sooner the better.

Update (1 August 2013 3:34 pm)

Todd Jones got confirmed. But Steve Benen adds some information about the cloture vote. It almost didn’t happen at all. It was only after John McCain and Susan Collins convinced Lisa Murkowski that Heidi Heitkamp’s vote mattered at all. The interesting thing is that Murkowski is (by Republican standards) a moderate. What does it matter if the ATF has someone to head it? I mean really? This is the kind of thing the Republicans filibuster over? Really?! This has nothing to do with policy. This is just blocking everything because you can. As I said: it needs to go.

I happen to have Mr. Suebsaeng Right Here…

Marshall McLuhanThis comes from Digby who clearly reads a lot faster than I do. Let me provide a little background. In the film Annie Hall, Woody Allen is in line to see the movie (apparently for the umpteenth time) The Sorrow and the Pity. In back of him in the line is some other New York intellectual spouting off about Fellini. Eventually he mentions Marshal McLuhan. Woody Allen and the annoying man get into an argument. Allen says that he doesn’t know anything about McLuhan and the man counters that he teaches a college course on media so his insights are valid. Then, in a bit of fantasy that is entirely typical of Allen’s films, Marshal McLuhan is produced to tell the annoying intellectual that he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Allen concludes, “If life were only like this!”

Here is the scene:

So Mark Waters told a Mother Jones writer, Asawin Suebsaeng, that he is wrong to mischaracterize an article:

I do feel for Mr. Waters. We’ve all been dumb and it really sucks when it happens in public. But apparently, sometimes life is like this!

GOP Base Is Not Getting Better

Republican Base: Invade Iran NowThere is a new Pew poll out that asked Republican voters about their Republican leaders. And the results will undoubtedly cause a lot of people in the mainstream press to claim that it is good news: about half as many Republicans want there party to moderate as want it to become more conservative. According to Ed Kilgore, this is the wrong way to read the poll. The overall finding is 35% of Republicans want the party to be more conservative. And 32% think it is just the right amount of conservative. That’s 67% who think that the only possible problem with the current Republican Party is that it isn’t conservative enough.

Kilgore is completely correct, of course. This is what I argued last week. The country is not getting more liberal because the Republican base is waking up to just how harmful their party is to the country and its people. These people will die thinking that the country is turning communist. What I’ve been saying is only that these people will die. As Kilgore himself concluded:

If, as we have every reason to expect based on turnout patterns and the ’14 landscape, Republicans have a non-disastrous midterm cycle, there’s no reason to believe Republicans are going to demand massive changes in messaging or strategy…

This is why the Republican Party is having a hard time reforming itself. If the base was starting to moderate, it wouldn’t be hard. But think about it: currently, about 40% of the electorate is on the extreme right of the political landscape. That’s a large part of the electorate to risk losing in order to appeal to the center. The truth is that the Democratic Party could more easily move to the right on abortion than the Republicans could move to the left on anything.

To give you some idea of just how bad the problem is, here are a few numbers that Kilgore tweezed from the Pew report. These are how many Republicans want to stay as conservative or get more so compared to the current party:

60% Abortion
75% Immigration
87% Government Spending
79% Guns

As usual, the position of conservatives on government spending makes me crazy. Americans, as a group, are clueless of just how much help they get from the government. As Suzanne Mettler noted, large majorities of Americans want a smaller government with fewer services. But:

A 2008 poll of 1,400 Americans by the Cornell Survey Research Institute found that when people were asked whether they had “ever used a government social program,” 57 percent said they had not. Respondents were then asked whether they had availed themselves of any of 21 different federal policies, including Social Security, unemployment insurance, the home-mortgage-interest deduction and student loans. It turned out that 94 percent of those who had denied using programs had benefited from at least one; the average respondent had used four.

In my experience, conservatives are especially prone to this kind of thinking. When they are questioned about it, you find out that what they really want to do is cut spending on programs for those people. It just so happens that the programs for those people don’t cost much because they’ve already been cut to the bone.

But the other items on the list are just as appalling. Who could reasonably think that the Republican Party is not conservative enough on the issue of guns? Or abortion? I get the immigration issue. There are a fair number of Republicans who really do want comprehensive immigration reform. But the main thing here is just that the Republican base will not be happy until the Republican Party goes full tilt fascist.

There is no reason to care, however. These people are delusional. They look back to a time in the United States that never existed. It is effectively a white power movement. They aren’t so much concerned that they lack real power. But they don’t like to be told that they have had unfair advantages their whole lives. They are like the people who grandly offer you to join their Monopoly game after it has already started and all the property has been divided. What are those poor kids complaining about? If they had a bit of pluck, they could just get a good union job the way people did in the 1950s!

Meanwhile, we must work to create a real liberal movement. In the end, the Republican Party may not be able to reform itself. It may just be that the Democratic Party will split in two. And that wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.

Pernicious Milton Friedman

Milton FriedmanBaroque sculptor Alessandro Algardi was born on this day in 1598. Cuban composer Ignacio Cervantes was born in 1847. You can get an idea of the kind of stuff he wrote by listening to his Adios a Cuba. French modernist Jean Dubuffet was born in 1901.

Actor Michael Biehn is 57 today. Wesley Snipes is 51. And J. K. Rowling is 48.

The day, however, belongs to a man I’m none too fond of, Milton Friedman who was born on this day in 1912. There’s no doubt that he was a great economist. But he was far more influential as a popularizer of libertarianism. And in that capacity, he has pushed the thinking on the right to such an extent that now they would consider him a socialist who wants to steal everyone’s money via the Federal Reserve and its money printing.

The other thing about him is that the 2008 economic crisis showed that he was wrong about his greatest claim to fame. He supposedly showed that the Federal Reserve caused the Great Depression; if it had just increased the money supply all would have been well. That is exactly what has happened since 2008 and it hasn’t made two shits of difference. The only reason we aren’t in the same place as we were in the 1930s is because of automatic fiscal stimulus in the form of Social Security and Unemployment.

I also wonder about what Friedman would have said if he had lived to see the crisis of 2008. It is certainly the case that most of the people who followed in his footsteps came up with clever ways to justify themselves. I feel fairly certain that Friedman would have used his own remarkable mind to justify his old thinking rather than to adjust it.

Last year, I wrote about an interview in Jamie Johnson’s pathetic documentary The One Percent:

The film contains a number of interesting interviews. The best is with economist Milton Friedman. There were two aspects of it worth note. First, Friedman shows very clearly that his economic ideas are nothing more than religious faith. He argues that progressive taxation is socialism. This goes along with his work with Augusto Pinochet in Chile. As all of Friedman’s “free market” proposals failed, the reason was never the ideas themselves. It was always that the country wasn’t free market enough. This is a typically libertarian view that we saw very often after the financial collapse of 2008: the problem wasn’t deregulation, it was that there was still some regulation that was stopping the markets from working perfectly.

The second notable part of the interview gets to the heart of the problem with the whole film. Johnson really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. His arguments come down to nothing more than, “Don’t you think that maybe the rich are too rich?” Friedman pointed out that while the rich may have gotten much more wealthy over the last 30 years, the poor have at least seen some improvement in their standard of living. Johnson countered anemically that the gains should have been more equally shared. Why? He doesn’t seem to have an answer. The truth is that many of the poor have seen their standard of living decrease. But the more important point is not that the poor are better off, it is how much better the poor would be doing if, for example, we still had strong unions in this country. To Friedman it is just a given that if the rich got less there would be no innovation, no productivity growth. But Johnson could not counter him on this because he didn’t understand what he was talking about.

Anyway, despite having a pernicious effect on the whole of humanity, happy birthday Milton Friendman!

People Will Notice If GOP Goes Crazy

Jonathan ChaitYesterday, Jonathan Chait wrote a provocative article, Are House Republicans Voter-Proof? In it, he argued that the Republicans likely have nothing to worry about in going full tilt Michele Bachmann. After all, most people don’t even know which party is in control of the House of Representatives. Why would they blame the Republicans?

Under normal circumstances, I agree with Chait. If the Republicans keep doing what they have been doing killing the economy inch by inch, the electorate will not notice. As I wrote last week, I fully expect the Republicans to pick up some seats in the House and also likely take control of the Senate. But I do wish people would stop talking about the Sixth-Year Cure. This is the belief of political observers that the president’s party loses big the sixth year of his presidency. Sean Trende has debunked this idea. What actually happens is that the president’s party loses big in one of the midterm elections. That already happened to Obama in 2010. Although it is likely that 2014 won’t be a good year for the Democrats, they are already doing about as badly as they can. There aren’t many seats (in the House at least) that they can gain.

Chait mentions 5 factors that work in the Republicans favor. The first is the silly Sixth Year Curse. The second is that Democrats tend to do badly in midterm elections. That’s true, but that’s already figured into the calculation. Third is that there aren’t many swing voters anymore. I’m not sure how this gives the Republicans an advantage when most of those swing voters are just Democrats now. Fourth is the observation that Democratic voters are concentrated and thus their votes don’t count as much. That’s true in the Senate races, but not in the House. So I don’t get his point given that the big issue is the House. And fifth is that the 2010 redistricting favors the Republicans. That’s true, but again, already figured into the calculation.

All he is saying is that the Republicans can continue to misbehave and get nothing done without a voter backlash. And that’s true! But no one is suggesting that the Republicans are idiots. They respond to incentives and they see that in 2014 they are not going to harmed if they vote yet again to defund Obamacare. What people like me have been talking about is the longer term. Over the next 6 to 8 years, if the Republicans don’t start to change, they will be overwhelmed by the demographic change. And no amount of redistricting and voter suppression is going to save them.

But this isn’t even about the long term. If the Republicans refuse to raise the Debt Ceiling or if they simply shutdown the government, people will notice. The TV news will be all about this. Even Fox News will have a hard time blaming it on the Democrats. And people won’t have to know who their legislators are or who controls the House of Representatives. They will just freak out about the crazy party that hates the government.