Monday, July 28, 2014

Ready To Govern?

Ready To Govern?

There is an interesting article by Peter Schroeder and Cristina Marcos in The Hill The GOP Wants to Show it Can Govern” which might seem somewhat like a parody, but is deadly serious.  With less than 100 days to go before the midterms, elections that virtually every analyst is sure will result in substantial gains, the GOP (now) feels the need to show it can govern.

Why?  Well, we know that Barack Obama can’t govern (that’s a topic for another day) but even if the GOP takes the Senate, there’s still the Constitutionally messy fact that he remains in the White House through the end of 2016.  And, while impeachment is a favorite word among the faithful (a recent poll showed that 57% of Republicans think that Obama should be impeached and removed from office) there is also the other Constitutionally messy fact-- good old Joe Biden is still vice-president.   Biden may be mocked, but they have nothing on him.  Removing Mr. Obama might be a bracing hot towel to the face before a good Republican shave.  Removing Biden would be a coup d’état, and the country would know it.  Imagine the knife-fight for Speaker. Probably not the best thing for the Republican brand.

So, why the concern about governing, especially when not governing is working out so well for them?  It’s a real risk to go on record as doing something.  If you actually pass legislation, real legislation, not showpiece repeals of the ACA or bills you know have no chance of making it to the public, then the electorate can examine what’s in those bills.  That might be quite bad—if they saw what you wanted to do when governing, they might not want you to govern.

But that’s the gamble. The GOP leadership knows that after six years of opposing Mr. Obama on absolutely everything, and after wresting control of the House in 2010, they haven’t show even the desire to do anything constructive. They push the line that the House has passed some bills (which then go to die at the hands of the evil Harry Reid) but in their more self-reflective moments (and they are having one of those now) they fully understand that their accomplishments are meager.  And, they are about to go on recess, with their crowning (and only) achievement being authorizing a lawsuit against Obama for his use of executive action to delay ACA’s employer mandate (which they oppose anyway and were happy to see.)

This is, in fact, the same playbook they have been using since 2011.  The only reason why it’s had some success is that Mr. Obama hasn't been the second coming of George Washington.  It is great for fundraising, appeasing some of their more vituperative media supporters, and driving turnout of the base, but sooner or later people will say, “OK, Obama is terrible.  Now tell me how you would be better?”

Some in the GOP think that question is being asked right now.  Schroeder and Marcos single out two big-ticket items that need prompt legislative attention and are tremendously volatile: the VA system and the under-the-age-but-over-the-border-crisis. 

The VA is a horrible problem. It has been terribly mismanaged for decades, and is the very definition of a bipartisan failure.  And it gets people where they live. You don’t have to be political to understand it’s fundamentally wrong that a soldier could be injured in service, and then mistreated at home. More cynically, if you are political, supporting the vet is a proxy for patriotism.  Or, to put it more crassly, it’s the buzz without the bar-tab.

Answering this imperative, both sides actually tried to do something.  But the gap between the Senate bill and the House bill was huge—they contain vastly different amounts of funding and a different approach to paying for it.  The Senate bill, spearheaded by Vermont Senator (and real Socialist) Bernie Sanders, was proposed as “emergency bill” that was exempt from deficit caps.  The House bill was far smaller and required offsets from other domestic (not military) spending.  This afternoon, a compromise was worked out between Sanders and GOP Congressman Jeff Miller of Florida that makes the Senate bill about half the size ($17B) proposed by the senate, but required only $5B in offsets. And it permits vets who aren’t getting timely care, under certain circumstances, to seek treatment from the private market. It’s not what either side wants (and no one seriously believes that this is going to fix the VA) but hopefully it will be seen as a credible step.  That’s if it passes.  I think it will pass the House, because a previous Democratic resolution to simply adopt the Senate bill picked up 13 Republican votes.  That will lead to one of the most fascinating spectacles of the year—the signing ceremony at the White House. It’s a pretty safe guess that the GOP won't be clamoring for invites or photo-ops.

Still, the VA fix is the politically easier thing, because in the end, it only requires money.  The border situation is far more complex—and it’s particularly complex for Republicans, who have to thread the needle.  Democrats have a fairly coherent (if not entirely popular) policy—we should be welcoming to legal immigration and find a rational way to deal with illegals.  It’s naïve, but it has the virtue of being simple.  Republicans have too many (often angry) stakeholders with different ideas.  There are the secure the border people, and the deport-en-masse people, and the business-Chamber of Commerce wing (who very much want more immigration) and the party professionals who worry about an alienating message being sent.  They can’t all be satisfied. 

That has to have the GOP establishment losing sleep.  Immigration has been on a medium-boil for the last couple of years, but the kids raise the temperature enormously.  There has to be action.  The party leadership knows it.  They just can’t take off five weeks without doing something.  Obama has proposed a $3.7 Billion bill that would provide funding for border security, faster deportations, care, etc. but it has absolutely no chance whatsoever. But it’s something.  Right now, the GOP has nothing except a lot of tough talk.

That is the problem with governing.  It isn’t like a party platform where you can dollop out the red meat to the true believers.  You have to lay it out to everyone and take responsibility for it.  As Barack Obama has learned a thousand times over with Obamacare, you own it, for better or worse.

Is the GOP ready to govern?  Are they ready to own something?

Or, are they just going to call the limo, head for the airport, and ask Putin to lend them some Cossacks?

July 28, 2014

Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)

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