June 24, 2002
Republicans: The Stupid Party

I don't understand the mess that the Republican House leadership has made of the necessary increase in the government's debt ceiling. In the end, this may wind up costing the U.S. government some real money, as some payments it owes are not made in a timely fashion.

I don't understand the policy aspects: the Republicans are proud of the policies that got us into our current deficit, right? They're proud of the 2001 tax cut and the current spending path, right? So if these policies of which they are proud require a higher debt ceiling, why try to pretend that they don't?

I don't understand the political aspects either: each week that passes without a debt ceiling increase gets them another week of unfavorable news stories that make Bush, O'Neill, Hastert, and company look like they cannot run a railroad.


WSJ.com - Major Business News - O'Neill Urges Congress to Raise Government's Borrowing Limit

...O'Neill offered no comfort to House Republicans who have been hoping the Treasury will find more cash to meet the government's bills and avert a crisis before the July 4 recess. "If they don't act, we're going to hit the wall," Mr. O'Neill said, "because on Sunday next weekend we've got to certify Social Security payments and we have some other large payments that have got to come."

Republicans insist the Treasury has other options to avoid a default, such as dipping into reserves in government trust funds. None of these are politically attractive for the administration, but as time passes, the door may be closing on a second alternative for the GOP: wrapping the debt matter into an otherwise-popular emergency spending bill for the war against terrorism.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R., Ill.) has wanted to do just that ever since the House approved its version of the spending bill before Memorial Day, with a placeholder amendment on the debt ceiling. The Senate balked at linking the issues and instead approved a stand-alone bill raising the current ceiling of $5.95 trillion by $450 billion -- the first increase in five years and enough to carry the government into early next year.

That debt measure could be taken up by the House, and Democrats want all Republicans to have to vote first on it as a symbol of what Democrats say is the fiscal disorder that has followed on President Bush's tax cuts...

O'Neill Urges Congress to Raise
Government's Borrowing Limit

By DAVID ROGERS
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

WASHINGTON -- Keeping pressure on Congress to act, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said the government's finances would "hit the wall" next weekend unless lawmakers increase the Treasury's borrowing authority to cope with burgeoning budget deficits.

Appearing on ABC News' "This Week," Mr. O'Neill offered no comfort to House Republicans who have been hoping the Treasury will find more cash to meet the government's bills and avert a crisis before the July 4 recess. "If they don't act, we're going to hit the wall," Mr. O'Neill said, "because on Sunday next weekend we've got to certify Social Security payments and we have some other large payments that have got to come."

Republicans insist the Treasury has other options to avoid a default, such as dipping into reserves in government trust funds. None of these are politically attractive for the administration, but as time passes, the door may be closing on a second alternative for the GOP: wrapping the debt matter into an otherwise-popular emergency spending bill for the war against terrorism.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R., Ill.) has wanted to do just that ever since the House approved its version of the spending bill before Memorial Day, with a placeholder amendment on the debt ceiling. The Senate balked at linking the issues and instead approved a stand-alone bill raising the current ceiling of $5.95 trillion by $450 billion -- the first increase in five years and enough to carry the government into early next year.

That debt measure could be taken up by the House, and Democrats want all Republicans to have to vote first on it as a symbol of what Democrats say is the fiscal disorder that has followed on President Bush's tax cuts. Mr. Hastert continues to hold out for some deal on merging the spending and debt bills. But time and the slow pace of House-Senate negotiations are working against the speaker.

The sides have yet to agree on even a top line for the $30 billion-plus spending package, and new demands, such as Amtrak's budget crisis, are cropping up. The Senate is prepared to pare back its $31.5 billion antiterrorism bill to near $30.8 billion, but that is still between $400 million and $600 million more than the latest House offer, when the two chambers use the same budget assumptions. The initial House legislation, adopted in May, had relied on exceptionally high cost-savings estimates generated by the administration for such proposals as delaying loan guarantees for airlines. As these ideas are dropped, the net cost of the House bill has risen, making it harder for House Republicans to move higher still to appease the Senate.

Appearing on NBC News' "Meet the Press," Mr. Hastert showed little sympathy for Amtrak even after Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd (D., W.Va.) proposed last week to add $150 million -- on top of $55 million already in the Senate bill -- to help carry the rail corporation through October.

Of the debt ceiling, Mr. Hastert said, "We will lift it when, first of all, we have the votes to lift it and absent that, we will lift it when we are in a dire situation."

Write to David Rogers at david.rogers@wsj.com

Updated June 24, 2002



Posted by DeLong at June 24, 2002 11:21 AM

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The Professor's comment that "I don't understand the political aspects either: each week that passes without a debt ceiling increase gets them another week of unfavorable news stories that make Bush, O'Neill, Hastert, and company look like they cannot run a railroad" is unfortunately characteristic of the errors made by really smart people who have intellectual integiryt in their lives and assumes the world values the same. The stories to which deLong refers are remarkably inside baseball read by a relatively small number of people of generally established partisan affiliation and too complicated to get picked up and run with by more "lumpenproletariat" news sources such as local newspapers, local news, (right tilted) talk radio, msn's homepage, and largely the nightly news.

That's why Dems need to learn how to consistently promulgate a big picture narrative by which events the details of which will be ignored still each and every time promote a sense of, e.g., "damn, the Dems are right when they say the GOP is beholden to corporations at the expense of `normal' Americans like me." Dems need to feel less cautious with saying and repeating populist slogans that would be confirmed on a going forward basis by events as disparate as arsenic, Enron, Firestone, relative campaign funds, etc. . . .

Such an approach offers a better long term hope than the current reliance upon tactical smarts on small picture issues (Clinton and Daschle's strengths) and the growing Latino population.

Posted by: Jeff Hauser on June 24, 2002 06:19 PM

Excellent point. In addition, remember that the House is the house of extremists - the vision of it being more subject to 'whims of the mob' is correct. The Senate is considered more moderate than the House, and Helms, Armey and Gramm are all inlufential GOP leaders there - the GOP baseline for sanity is rather low.

And the picture that they're facing - a deficit now, a recession[1] that won't obediently with the Reagan II tax cut plan pumping it up more over time - is not kind to their dreams.

Barry

[1] It might not be a recession according to strict eonomic standards, but it isn't good times, either. And the 'next quarter' recovery that everybody promises each quarter seems unwilling to change the 'next' into a 'this'.

Posted by: Barry on June 25, 2002 10:17 AM

Well, I've always been a bit anti-Senate, because as an institution, it is radically undemocratic (of course, our constitution is written so that the Senate is the only part of the government which cannot be amended...). Also, as a left-leaner, I thought that it tended to benefit right-leaning forces (my chain of logic being Republicans generally come from rural regions and Democrats from urban regions, and rural regions are generally in more lightly populated states, and lightly populated states get disproportionate representation in the Senate, so the Senate is undemocratically biased to the right.). I turned out to be wrong: the Senate is currently the only institution in the government not controlled by conservatives.

Still, though, the House of Reps is not so democratic itself. Mainly, most of the "representatives" seem to be people who have been there for 20 years and who ensure that they win election by gerrymandering their districts every ten years to preserve their incumbency.

One idea that I really don't like is proportional representation by party. Somehow, a system based on nationwide parties representing their interests in the country as a whole seems... repugnantly anti-individualistic. The U.S. doesn't seem like a country designed to operate with strong parties.

My idea for a legislature, a bit of a fantasy, but a fond fantasy nonetheless, is that the entire U.S. be divided into about seventy roughly equal (exact equality isn't necessary for it to be democratic, for reasons that will become apparent later) electoral districts. The five leading candidates (chosen perhaps by a runoff election, or perhaps by which five candidates gets the most signatures on a petition, or some other method. I'm not sure.) would stand for election, but once the votes were tallied, ALL FIVE would go to the legislative body, BUT, when voting for or against bills, they have the same number of votes that they received in the election. So, if Candidate A gets a million votes in the election, his approval in the legislature counts for a million votes. In this system, all of the districts voters, not just the majority or plurality, would have a representative that they approved representing them, so long as they found one of the five candidates palatable.

Some of the numbers could be different, of course (e.g. maybe there should be four candidates per district, rather than five, and maybe the number of districts should be a hundred, rather than seventy... regardless though, you get the general idea.)

Would someone shoot this idea down? I have a feeling there must be dozens of holes in it (other than that it would require a virtual overhaul of our constitution and it would never happen in my lifetime, that is), but I haven't encountered them, and would appreciate it if someone reviewed it and explained/pointed out a few of the problems.

Julian Elson

Posted by: Julian Elson on June 25, 2002 06:38 PM

Interesting idea that I'll have to think over, but just quickly re branches of Congress and the incongruity of Dems doing better in the Senate than House -- there are two explanations.

1) Luck in some of the empty states: 3/4 Dakota senators, one from Montana.
2) MORE IMPORTANTLY: Dems get crushed in the house by the "packing" of Congressional districts to create majority minority seats. I'm uncertain whether the important symbolism of significant Afr-Am and, to a lesser but still significant extent, Latino, representation SOMEWHERE (none at state level, either Gov or Senate, for either, I'm pretty sure) is worth a) killing Dems and b) leaving few white members of the House with significant numbers of minority constituents (see, e.g., Al D'amato's career to know the important moderating influence of such constituency).

But it IS clear that creating districts majority minority creates seats carried OVERWHELMINGLY by Dems, and any vote margin of greater than 1 is "wasteful." Due to packing, Dems WASTE more votes for the House than the GOP, hence narrow minority status.

Posted by: Jeff Hauser on June 25, 2002 07:57 PM
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