Notes on the Political Train Wreck

September 29th, 2013 at 11:18 am

The House actually pinged two bills back to the Senate: one that conditions funding the gov’t on defunding the health care law, and the other that exempts military pay from the shutdown.  I suspect the Senate will unanimously approve the latter.  The former will lead to the shutdown.

–There’s a line of thought (e.g., from Ezra here) that says the shutdown lessens the likelihood of failing to raise the debt ceiling, and thus defaulting.  The idea is that the shutdown goes very badly for the R’s and wakes up complacent outside forces that pressure Speaker Boehner and other House R’s to block the radicals when they try to do the same thing with the debt ceiling.

Hmmm…maybe.  The logic is rational enough, though one can weave other pathways that are much less reassuring.  The House radicals will not have spent their crazy on the shutdown—they’ll be sure to push for default.  So once again, this is a matter of whether Speaker Boehner will allow the vote for a clean lift of the ceiling to pass with support from the D’s.  I think he will—perhaps he’s thinking, “I let the Cruzers have the shutdown, but I can’t let ‘em push the default,” so I still regard the likelihood of default as low.  But it’s far from zero.

–I went to a party last night with people from all walks of life, and amidst a bunch of headshaking at how screwed up everything has gotten, the most common question for me was, “why do they hate Obamacare so much?”  Note that this question was decidedly not from people who had strong feelings either way about the law.  Most of the folks I spoke to about this viewed the law like a utility company, which is kind of how I see it: a regulated solution for a necessary societal good with public and private characteristics, like electricity.

The solution to this problem must involve risk pooling, and that implies mandated coverage, which in turn requires subsidies for those of low and moderate incomes.  And there you have it—health care reform in a simple sentence.  Sure, there are lots of other ways to get there—one could ask why there isn’t a “Coffee Party” threatening default unless they get single payer.  But most people intuitively get the above, and fundamentally don’t get the connection between Obamacare and…oh, I don’t know…the Fugitive Slave Act.

The answer is something like this, I think: the radical opposition has decided to organize around repeal, and that’s all they need to know.  They’re robotically carrying out their marching orders.  Who’s giving the orders?  For that, you have to follow the money to those financing the Tea Party, whose goal is much less government, much less social insurance, and much lower taxes on their income and wealth, which they now control more of than at almost any time in the last century.

There’s still an economy out there.  Early next week, I’ll turn back to what I should be writing about: economic conditions.  It’s not just that policy makers are not helping to deal with our still too fragile recovery and still elevated unemployment rate.  It’s that they’re seriously threatening to make it worse.  The shutdown hurts a little more, as does not dealing with the sequester.  And fooling around with the debt ceiling is far worse.

Of course, one bright spot around all this from the obstructionist’s perspective is that we won’t know as much about the damage they’re doing because we won’t get the economic reports we need until the statistical agencies are re-funded and can release their reports.

For example, this Friday is when the September jobs report should come out, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics says they won’t be able to release it in a shutdown.  This is particularly bad timing, because a) the Bureau has already collected the September data and will just end up sitting on it, and b) the Federal Reserve is (appropriately) in high data-driven mode right now and they need these data in a timely manner to gauge the taper (i.e., to determine when they slow down the pace of their asset buys).

More to come as developments develop.

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11 comments in reply to "Notes on the Political Train Wreck"

  1. azlib says:

    Allthis because a “majority of the majority” in the House gets to control the debate and the rest of the majority are afraid of a primary from the right. What a bunch of wimps.

    • Jared Bernstein says:

      You mean “a minority of the majority,” I think. The T Party are about 1/3 of the R majority in the House.

      • purple says:

        I think most Republicans are sympathetic to their stances. The Tea Party are just the shock troops, doing the dirty work, and changing the terms of the debate.

        A truly crazy fringe would not have this much sway without sympathy within established power circles.

  2. Steve Bannister says:

    Essentially, the Ezra Klein position can be read (and you seem to concur): nothing, at this point in time, will back the crazies off from trying to kill Obamacare. Negotiating, at this point, will only make that worse (cf. their other current demands and how well sequestration has worked).

    So, let’s shut down for three weeks or so, and see if at that point in time the pressure has built sufficiently to move them away from their extreme position. Maybe, maybe not. My guess is it will. And for every day down, the probability of a Democratic controlled 114th Congress goes up.

    I do not see another rational choice, acknowledging even the possibility of default. In fact, I would reserve the trillion-dollar coin option until the very very end.

  3. D. C. Sessions says:

    Why do they hate the PPACA so much? Because Democrats like it. That’s really all it takes any more, after all. Lacking any program of their own, the Party of Rush has defined itself for the past twenty years by its opposition to the Party of Satan: anything that those people favor must, by definition, be UnAmerican, UnGodly, and probably fattening.

    Hope that explains things. Now consider two other applications of the same principle:

    1) Democrats are opposed to a government shutdown.
    2) Democrats are in favor of raising the debt ceiling.

  4. purple says:

    I’d love some names on who is funding the Tea party, other than the Koch’s .

    As for Obamacare, there are mostly middle class people losing their relatively quality employer insurance and being dumped in it. And premiums aren’t the story, from what I’ve seen there are high deductibles and co-pays – Obamacare is essentially catastrophic care insurance with some things like free flu shots thrown in.

    Certainly you can say the overall benefits are positive, but there are going to be plenty of legitimate negative stories as well. And as with most social assistance programs the lower middle classes are not going to see any direct benefit. People who are just above the food stamp cut-off, for instance, or just above the subsidy cut-off. This is the breeding ground historically for right-wing ‘populism’ and it is today as well.

  5. Rima Regas says:

    I disagree with Ezra on this one. You can argue just as strongly that they’ll behave the same way, or worse, on the Debt Ceiling because the shutdown will not have given them the desired result. These people have shirked decency and logic. We all need to stop applying the ethics we still hold when analyzing them.

  6. Sharon says:

    The behavior of the House Republicans makes a lot more sense if you just listen to “Burning Down the House” and “Psychokiller” over and over again on iTunes.

    They’re the perfect sound track for these times.

  7. urban legend says:

    “Note that this question was decidedly not from people who had strong feelings either way about the law.”

    I’m sorry, but anybody who doesn’t have extremely strong feelings in favor of the law at this point in our history is beyond idiotic. Anyone who does not grasp the historic significance of insurance companies no longer being allowed to: drop people after they get sick; or cease to cover the very sickest of them when a lifetime cap is exceeded; or refuse to provide insurance to people who had acne or asthma or any other significant (or insignificant) health condition; or charge ridiculously unaffordable rates for such conditions or exclude charges related to such conditions from coverage, including people who have lost a job that was the source of the coverage they have and otherwise could face a loss of a lifetime of savings and bankruptcy; or apply more than 20% of premium revenues to administrative costs, outrageous management compensation and profits; or not allow adult children out of school who haven’t been able to find a decent job with benefits to stay on the parents policy; or not compete openly on price in a transparent marketplace on an apples-to-apples basis, is too dense to be invited to Washington parties — and, Jared, you should not be stooping to attend parties with people that stupid.

    We have a daughter who will turn 26 next year and until very recently, because of a serious illness that was discovered a couple of years ago, would not despite apparently successful treatment have been able to get insurance outside of a large-employer employment context. This may well have been the case for the rest of her life. It was a tremendous relief to us that she was able to be kept on our policy (for a not-insignificant premium, by the way) until she reached the age of 26. It was also of tremendous relief knowing that because of ACA, she would be able to get insurance when she would be turning 26 in 2014 even if she did not have it through an employer.

    This is extremely personal, and I have zero room for civility either towards opponents of the law or even those who are “lukewarm” about it. In my mind, they are nothing but selfish bastards and they can go to hell.