Political Animal


October 15, 2012 10:43 AM Chicken Little May Be Right

By Ed Kilgore

One of the memes you are going to definitely hear a lot of if the presidential contest stays close and if the turnout machines and ad campaigns ratchet up interparty hostilities to whole next levels of hate and fear is that it really just doesn’t matter who wins. After all, between the features of our system that inherently frustrate political majorities and the objective difficulties of the problems the country faces, it’ll be Gridlock City either way. This observation, of course, is often paired with an injunction that both parties bend to some sort of Bowles-Simpson magic, but the underlying sense is that both parties are equally incapable of governing without pixie dust of some sort. (There is, of course, a very different school of thought that the election doesn’t matter because both candidates are advocates of the same basic ideology of corporate neoliberalism, but that won’t get any airing in the MSM).

Jonathan Chait, however, begs to differ, in a long and persuasive piece on the post-election plans of both candidates.

Like me, and most other liberal writers, Chait views all the recent talk from RomneyLand about “working with Congress” to come up with a detailed agenda as a complete charade designed to convey an attractive bipartisanship and disguise unpopular policy positions. The actual plan is the precise opposite: quickly enact an agenda that’s already been drafted and passed by the House.

Of the many secret post-victory plans floating around in the inner circles of the campaigns, the least secret is Romney’s intention to implement Paul Ryan’s budget. The Ryan budget has come to be almost synonymous with the Republican Party agenda, and Romney has embraced it with only slight variations. It would repeal Obamacare, cut income-tax rates, turn Medicare for people under 55 years old into subsidized private insurance, increase defense spending, and cut domestic spending, with especially large cuts for Medicaid, food stamps, and other programs targeted to the very poor.
Few voters understand just how rapidly Romney could achieve this, rewriting the American social compact in one swift stroke. Ryan’s plan has never attracted Democratic support, but it is not designed for bipartisanship. Ryan deliberately built it to circumvent a Senate filibuster, stocking the plan with budget legislation that is allowed, under Senate “budget reconciliation” procedures, to pass with a simple majority. Republicans have been planning the mechanics of the vote for many months, and Republican insiders expect Romney to use reconciliation to pass the bill.

True, if Republicans fail to win a Senate majority, this scenario gets a lot trickier, but as I argued last week, it’s more likely that a Romney administration and GOP congressional leaders would search to the ends of the earth for ways to buy a couple of Democratic senators instead of rethinking an entire strategy for a legislative revolution under the command of a Republican president deeply distrusted by conservatives.

Chait is more provocative in arguing that Obama has a post-election agenda as audacious as Romney’s: using the Big Stick of the “fiscal cliff” to force the GOP to choose between courses of action they’d otherwise never accept.

Last summer, Obama was pleading with Boehner to give him $800 billion in additional revenue. Come January, he’ll have $5 trillion in higher revenue without doing anything. Since Obama’s own budget proposes to raise only $1.5 trillion in new revenue and trim entitlement spending, he could then offer Republicans a deal that cuts taxes (by, say, a couple trillion dollars), increases military spending, and reduces entitlement spending. In other words, he could offer a right-wing bill—and the end result would be a mix of policies to the left of his own budget, and to the left of the Simpson-Bowles proposal.

Chait is a lot more confident than I am that Obama will be able to sell (or harder yet, convince Republicans to help him sell) an alternative fiscal agenda as a tax cut with increased defense spending, instead of a tax increase with defense cuts. But it’s a plausible scenario, or at least a lot more plausible than the official Obama expectation that an electorate defeat will “break the fever” of GOP extremism and make bipartisan action possible once again.

Putting aside the intentions of the two candidates, there are other “it doesn’t matter” arguments you hear. Some Democrats figure the next president will be massively unpopular, and would prefer a one-term Obama presidency followed by a real, enduring Democratic comeback in 2014 and 2016. Others think the next president will benefit from a cyclical economic recovery which will vindicate the great wisdom of his policies. And quite obviously, the long list of potential GOP presidential candidates who gave ‘12 a pass were motivated in part by the willingness to concede this election and make ‘16 The Big One.

And then there are a few Democrats I’ve talked to who really do buy the Moderate Mitt Meme and figure—particularly if he “lucks into” a Senate still controlled by Democrats—he’ll take office looking for any excuse to sell out his party, his allies, the people who financed his campaign, and all those earnest Foot Soldiers of Conservatism he is counting on in the battleground states. Personally, I find this assessment of Romney’s morality far harsher than anything I’ve ever suggested about the man. Even if it’s possible under some scenarios, I’d hardly bet the farm on any consequence of a Romney presidency other than a direct assault on the entire public policy legacy of the 20th century (with the exception, of course, of a hegemonic defense budget). Sometimes, Chicken Little is right: the sky is falling!

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Napoleon on October 15, 2012 10:51 AM:

    Any Democrat that thinks a one term Obama is better is insane.

  • Josef K on October 15, 2012 11:00 AM:

    Maybe we'll all get lucky and the pop-culture-doomsday-prophets will all finally get proved right that 2012 is the end of our civilization.

    Its not like its all that far from collapsing as is, right?

  • Ronald on October 15, 2012 11:02 AM:

    It doesn't matter what Mitt wants. If he's president, those pulling the strings are going to make sure their agenda is pushed through Congress no matter what.
    What's Mitt going to do? Veto?
    Yeah, right.
    If Mr. Romney gets elected, America is fucked.
    Go and vote. Register somebody new to vote and take them with you. GOTV is how this election will be won this year.

  • bmoodie on October 15, 2012 11:10 AM:

    Far and away, the most important difference between an Obama and Romney presidency is that, in the former, we have Obamacare implemented: the universal health insurance coverage system that Democrats have been trying to get for the last 60+ years becomes a reality. In the latter, we do not, and very likely we never get the chance again. Pretty simple, really.

  • Patricia Cole on October 15, 2012 11:11 AM:

    I will never understand why this doesn't get more play, but what about the Supreme Court??? The next President could conceivably nominate 4 Justices. For this if for no other reason ( and there are of course many other reasons) it is critical that President Obama win a second term.

  • Danp on October 15, 2012 11:29 AM:

    Chait's argument makes no sense to me. As I understand it, Ryan's plan is a budget resolution. In order for specific elements to be subject to reconciliation, the plan itself would have to pass the Senate. And yes, a resulution only requires 51% of the Senate, but it still contains all those poison pills such as Medicare vouchers. Furthermore, the President doesn't get a veto on the resolution, so why wouldn't the bribery be going on right now before Republicans lose the assistance of Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson?

  • c u n d gulag on October 15, 2012 11:33 AM:

    Any Democrat who thinks Mitt will govern from the middle is a feckin' idjit!

    In the long run, Obama or Romney, we're all dead.

    But with Obama and the Democrats, it'll be a longer run.

    Mitt'll kill us all quick. The Republican Party will see to that.

    I hate to say it, but I think there's a world-wide revolution coming, with seas of blood. And it will happen here, too, I'm afraid.

    Enforced austerity may lead to unforseen austere consequences.

    The top of the 1% in this world are acting like the rest of the 99% of us are parasites.

    Well, maybe we are.
    But many's the parasite that's killed the host.

  • SadOldVet on October 15, 2012 11:37 AM:

    Patricia is absolutely correct and as frequently happens Ed is FOS.

    Repeat again and again Supreme Court appointees, Supreme Court nominees, Supreme Court nominees! A president Mittens would not buck his bases. His nominees would be 110% pro-business (probably Obama's too) and 120% committed to overturning Roe v Wade. Ed, ask some of your women friends if they think it does not make a difference who is elected!

  • Mimikatz on October 15, 2012 12:12 PM:

    Ronald and c u n d gulag are right. Romney ran and governed as a slightly moderate in MA because MA is generally a liberal state. Had he run in Utah he would have been a different person, one closer to his own beliefs to the extent he has any. If he becomes Pres he will be beholden to the Right and the Congressional leadership and Ryan will run rings around him as he has no experience in this area. He will be quite surprised and probably petulantly unhappy, but unless he and Ann are happy being king and queen for only 4 years, he will acquiesce.

    The rest of us will be f**ked.

  • T2 on October 15, 2012 12:12 PM:

    one of the driving forces that have caused huge amounts of money to be funneled into this election by Conservatives, and have caused Conservatives to nominate someone who they really don't like..is the potential to stack the Supreme Court in such a manner that all the Conservative dreams can come true for a decade/decades to come. Totally reshape the nation into a Conservative state where rich rule without mercy, and everyone else gets minimum wage and no benefits and is happy to have that. They know that if the hispanic vote every wakes up, and if Southern whites ever wake up to the fact they are tools in there own downfall, the Conservative Dream will be gone forever. Their time is now.

  • esaud on October 15, 2012 12:18 PM:

    I think Grover Norquist said that
    Romney himself is pretty irrelevant - he just needs someone to robosign all the the bills passed by republuicans in Congress.

  • K in VA on October 15, 2012 12:20 PM:

    A Romney first term would be devoted almost entirely to procuring a Romney second term, which means he would do and say anything to keep his base happy. Anything...

  • SecularAnimist on October 15, 2012 12:23 PM:

    Why are the following points rarely if ever discussed on this blog (or by the Obama campaign for that matter):

    1. A huge proportion of the funding for the Romney/Ryan campaign, and for other Republican candidates at all levels, and for the so-called "independent" groups promoting GOP candidates, comes from the fossil fuel corporations -- in particular, from the Koch Brothers, whose fortune is based on coal.

    2. A huge proportion of the GOP ad campaigns have consisted of pro-fossil fuel and anti-renewable energy propaganda.

    3. Of all the lies spouted by Romney and Ryan, none have been more blatant, outrageous, vicious and frequent than their attacks on the Obama administration's modest support for renewable energy and efficiency technologies -- and their denial of the reality of anthropogenic global warming.

    4. One of the major components of the Romney/Ryan agenda will be to not only roll back the Obama administration's support for "green" energy and efficiency, but to move aggressively to crush the wind and solar industries, and promote fossil fuel extraction (to an even greater degree than Obama is, unfortunately, already doing).

    Above all, the Romney/Ryan campaign -- and the GOP generally -- is a tool of the fossil fuel corporations, and as such, is a threat not only to the American "social compact" and anything resembling an equitable economic system, but to the very survival of this nation, and of human civilization, and indeed a threat to the very capacity of the Earth to support human life.

  • BJ smith on October 15, 2012 12:45 PM:

    I have one thing to say. If Romney is able to convince enough idiots or to buy the elections they deserve what they get, but we sure as hell don't. I'm screaming Supreme Court as loudly as I can from now until the polls close on Nov 6.

  • Jim Bunnell on October 15, 2012 12:49 PM:

    "both candidates are advocates of the same basic ideology of corporate neoliberalism" - so air it out.

  • mb on October 15, 2012 1:00 PM:

    The fact that Mitt is a chameleon does not mean he doesn't have true colors. He's clearly willing to do or say pretty much anything to advantage himself but, imo, contrary to common wisdom, I think Mitt's let us get to know him pretty well in this election cycle. I've come to understand even his sense of humor so that I understood immediately that his comment about the windows in airplanes was a joke. Can't say that I always, or ever, "appreciate" his humor, but I do now generally know when he's emitting humor.

    Bottom line, fwiw, I think Mitt's a conservative deep inside -- maybe even a "severe" one -- and will, if given the chance, govern as a conservative empowered, no doubt, by the ever-present and indefatigable conservative majority in the Congress -- regardless of party control.

  • schtick on October 15, 2012 1:06 PM:

    Willard's solutions to the problems facing our government sounds the same as Ross Perot's; put a bunch of people in a room and let them work it out. Just utter genius.

  • SecularAnimist on October 15, 2012 1:33 PM:

    Josef K wrote: "Its not like its all that far from collapsing as is, right?"

    Nope, not far at all:

    "World grain reserves are so dangerously low that severe weather in the United States or other food-exporting countries could trigger a major hunger crisis next year, the United Nations has warned.

    "Failing harvests in the US, Ukraine and other countries this year have eroded reserves to their lowest level since 1974. The US, which has experienced record heatwaves and droughts in 2012, now holds in reserve a historically low 6.5% of the maize that it expects to consume in the next year, says the UN.

    "The figures come as one of the world’s leading environmentalists issued a warning that the global food supply system could collapse at any point, leaving hundreds of millions more people hungry, sparking widespread riots and bringing down governments. In a shocking new assessment of the prospects of meeting food needs, Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy research centre in Washington, says that the climate is no longer reliable and the demands for food are growing so fast that a breakdown is inevitable, unless urgent action is taken."

    If I could ask a question of both Obama and Romney at this week's town hall debate, it would be this:

    "What will you do if the current drought, which has devastated agriculture all over America, continues for another ten years?"

  • Peter C on October 15, 2012 1:54 PM:


    Things which pass Congress as part of a 'budget resolution' may still be vetoed; it is only the filibuster that can be side-stepped by a budget resolution. We don't face Chait's doomsday scenario now because: 1. we control the Senate and don't have to bring-up the doomsday 'budget resoultuion' measure; and 2. Obama could veto it and then it would need many more votes to over-ride the veto.

  • Josef K on October 15, 2012 1:57 PM:

    From SecularAnimist at 1:33 PM:

    Josef K wrote: "Its not like its all that far from collapsing as is, right?"

    Nope, not far at all:

    Well, take heart. There's always the "Soylent Green" option.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on October 15, 2012 2:25 PM:

    Anybody that doesn't understand by now, with all the evidence of the last 20+ years, what is going on, and doesn't dismiss out of hand the possibility of anything but a blitzkrieg across the 20th century by a Republican Administration, is a FUCKING IDIOT.

    Unbelievable. Some people have been hit in the head too often by the Republicans. Those concussions really take their toll.

  • PTate in MN on October 15, 2012 6:05 PM:

    I am confident that Pres Romney will quickly and happily implement the agenda of the conservative movement and Koch-stooge Paul Ryan. Goodbye, US. Hello, 1929.

    What is stunning to me is how few Americans seem to understand what is at stake, how much money has been spent to misinform and misled Americans and how the Republicans have sabotaged the US economy to regain power.

    If, God willing, Obama pulls it out, the right wing will explode with rage and delusion. They have refused to be governed for four years now, and the next four will be worse. At what point does Freedom of Speech end and sedition start?

  • jhm on October 16, 2012 8:31 AM:

    I wholeheartedly associate myself with commenters pointing out that SCOTUS appointments are the primary reason to avoid a GOP whitehouse; bar one, it it the most important issue of the campaign.

    Its a close second, if not first, but in many ways a complimentary issue, and simultaneously one which runs counter to my basic instinct is Senate cloture rules reform. I would be prepared to say that I would trade any damage that the abolishment of the filibuster would allow the Senate to wreak, gaining a clear partisan signal in any legislation passed, were it not complicated by the possibility of a few more bobbleheads as SC justices.

    In the final analysis, much like healthcare, I feel strongly enough that the long term interests of the country are served by democratizing the Senate to say, before the outcome in November, that any opportunity to abolish the filibuster must be seized upon, regardless of partisan control of the body. The status quo is simply the path to disaster.

  • Alan8 on October 16, 2012 11:54 AM:

    The Democrats have very real desire to cut entitlements. See: http://news.firedoglake.com/2012/08/09/obama-frustrated-he-doesnt-get-credit-for-wanting-to-cut-social-security-and-medicare/

    The Democrats, like the Republicans, are owned by the 1%, and the 1% absolutely HATE Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. But the Democrats' strategy is to pose as the champions of the 99%, so they mutter about cutting these programs under their breath.

    The Democrats intend to "sell" these cuts to the American people by threatening us with the Republicans, who want to eliminate these programs.

    The Green Party's Green New Deal is a much better deal for the 99%, constructed without the poisonous meddling of the 1%: http://www.jillstein.org/summary_green_new_deal

    VOTE GREEN 2012!