Yes, this is most certainly futile: Republicans aren’t going to do it, and most people who care don’t want it to happen anyway. But I’d like to see the filibuster saved and I think it’s not only possible but actually in the interest of all Senators, so I’ll push on with it.
Basically, as I argued a while ago, I think that the filibuster (and the good things about the Senate) has a better chance of surviving long-term if the current post-nuclear situation is replaced by a negotiated settlement on nominations. The key is to get both sides to agree to something which would be better for the minority party than the post-nuclear status quo, but better for the majority party than where things were before Harry Reid acted.
In particular, I think simple majority cloture on judges is suboptimal. As long as we’re talking lifetime appointments, I have no real problem with imposing some sort of supermajority requirement. When I’ve written about this in the past, I’ve always said that I had no particular attachment to 60, but I’ve never really had any particular notion of why any particular number should be set as the standard. So, futile as it is, I’m going to return to it with a new argument: the number required for cloture should be pegged to the size of the Senate majority party.
Or, actually, because as long as they’re (hypothetically) revisiting the rule, they should set it to the size of the Senate minority.
The most obvious option for the number needed to sustain a filibuster would be equal to the size of the minority party. So, with 45 Republicans right now, continuing a filibuster would require 45 “yea” votes. What does that do? It means that if the opposition party is unified in rejecting a judicial nominee, then Senators from the president’s party may have a tough vote. If the nominee is relatively popular, no problem. If not, then, well, that’s as good a sign as any that the nominee is in some way unfit or out of the mainstream.
After all, normally we could assume that any party which wins the White House and also wins the Senate — the conditions under which any of this matters — will be able to produce judicial nominees who are at least avoid being dramatically unpopular. In fact, all else equal, there’s no reason to expect that they’ll be unpopular at all. But given the loose connection between opinion on public policy and elections, it’s certainly possible, especially if the president actively attempts to fill the bench with ideologues.
Some other variations: one could set it at minority plus two. With a 45 member Republican conference, they would need 47 votes to sustain a filibuster. That makes cloture quite a bit easier; only a truly unpopular nominee would likely lose. Or set it at minority minus two. That way, the majority would have to win at least two minority party votes for cloture (assuming everyone was present and the majority party was united). As we’ve seen, however, that option may be good for the minority party as a whole, but can force tough choices for Senators who don’t want to obstruct but also don’t want to be seen as squishes.
In other words, in some ways keeping the number exactly equal to the size of the minority party takes the pressure off them, and puts the pressure on marginal Senators from the majority party. In exchange, of course, at least as opposed to 60, the majority party would normally be able to confirm.
Whatever the exact number, presumably it would be capped at 60 (so a 65 Senators majority party would be able to easily get cloture). I suppose it would have to be drafted carefully to prevent gaming the system (the minority party couldn’t change the number by having a half-dozen Senators declare themselves Independents); that seems doable.
Yes, some majorities would find it a lot easier to stick together than others. If the president’s party has a couple of Senators who normally vote with the out-party on judicial issues, it’s going to be harder to get cloture. But that was true under the old rules, too. Remember, it’s been rare even in the last two Congresses for Republicans to unanimously oppose cloture on judicial nominees; that may change some with only a simple majority needed for cloture and could change under any set of rules, but if things break down the majority still could threatened a new round of majority-imposed reform.
Again: I don’t expect to see this happen, mainly because I don’t think Republicans are willing to compromise; I think they would rather get rolled than cut a deal. Democrats might not take it either. But I still think it’s a deal that works for both sides, and for the Senate.
I’ll join those who are impressed that Chris Cillizza went back toassess why he was wrong when he asserted during the summer that the Senate would never go nuclear. Acknowledging past errors is absolutely admirable.*
So I hope I’m not being too crass by saying that, alas, Cillizza still doesn’t really get it right. The problem is that he sets it all up as a story about the Democrats and about Harry Reid in particular. Back in July, he argued that Senate Majority Leaders by their nature were always going to seek to preserve, not blow up, the institution; now, he thinks that the key thing he missed then were all the new Democratic Senators who never served in the minority and therefore were less committed to preserving Senate traditional protections.
I don’t think he gets Reid wrong (although he might have put more weight on the side of Reid that’s all about being a tough partisan fighter), and he’s right that there was a clear pattern of more senior Democrats being the most reluctant to pull the trigger.
I should get to the point: what Cillizza gets wrong, both in July and now, is that the key players here weren’t Reid and the Democrats; this was all about the Republicans. As I’ve said many times, there’s always going to be a tension between what’s best for Senators as individual Senators, and what’s best for them as party members. The more the minority obstructs, the more that party incentive kicks in. As obstruction ratcheted up in the 1990s, 2000s, and then the Obama era, it’s not clear exactly where the line is where the party incentive clearly takes over, but it’s certain that “nullification” obstruction was solidly over that line.
It took a while for nullification obstruction of executive branch positions produced an ultimatum and a showdown, but that’s what this summer’s confrontation was about. Since Republicans backed down, Democrats didn’t have to follow through. When Republicans then extended nullification obstruction to judges, Democrats predictably reacted with a new ultimatum, and had little choice but to follow through when Republicans this time did not retreat.
Indeed: what happened during the original nuclear confrontation, over appellate judges during the George W. Bush presidency, is that Democrats mostly backed down. In other words, one could argue that in that case, too, the key was the minority party — first in ratcheting up obstruction, and then in backing down when it resulted in a nuclear threat.
Sure, the majority isn’t totally passive, and isn’t purely just reacting. It’s certainly possible that a more senior group of Democratic Senators might have been more patient at the end. But any analysis that doesn’t mainly focus on the unprecedented obstruction of the Obama era is really just missing the biggest part of the story.
*And, again very much to his credit, it’s something he does all the time. I thought that I had written something about Cillizza’s claim back in July and went hunting for all the things I’ve written about him here, and while I found a lot of pretty harsh crankiness (he seems to have been one of the first inspirations for Cranky Blogging), I also found several times he was featured in “Read Stuff” for good pieces — and, in particular, good pieces in which he looked at criticism of things he had written and decided the critics had a point. So being open about his mistakes is nothing new for Cillizza. It’s an absolutely great but fairly rare quality for any pundit or reporter, or for that matter anyone, I suppose.
A few bullet points on health care reform at the start of December…
*The brutal truth of “repeal” is that whatever the politics, every day a flat-out repeal of the ACA becomes more and more nonsensical. The status quo ante no longer exists; changing the law back to how it was in 2009 wouldn’t bring back the health care situation that existed then.
*Hey, health care wonks! I’ve been using this line about how repeal no longer makes policy sense for some time now, but while I’m confident that’s correct, I’m certainly not enough of a health care wonk to write up all the details that make a return (via repeal) to 2009 just plain gibberish — what I called the Humpty-Dumptyness of the situation. Someone want to take a crack at it?
*It’s also true, as Brian Beutler says today (and Kevin Drum said last week) that in simple political terms flat-out repeal is less and less plausible every day, with more and more people having insurance through the exchanges.
*All of which is to say that the US health care system has now been (almost) fully Obamacare-ized, and future changes will build on the ACA. That might even had been true after a GOP landslide in 2012, but it’s certainly true now.
*Which in turn means that radicals who insist that Republicans who deviate at all from the hard-line repeal message are asking those Republicans to (continue to) absent themselves from the real debate over what’s next.
*Of course, that would be less true if there really was a Republican alternative to the ACA — if “repeal and replace” had ever become a true alternative. But even so, any alternative to Obamacare will, at this point, have to build on Obamacare.
*It also means that all-or-nothing assessments of the ACA (or of Healthcare.gov) are not only inaccurate, but particularly unhelpful because nothing is really at stake in whether the law “succeeds” or “fails.” What matters is what current, Obamacare-ized health care does well, does not so well, and does badly, and what new laws/regulations/practices can help where improvements are needed.
(Yes, I did try to come up with an appropriate Humpty Dance title for this one, but alas I couldn’t make it work. Partially because I don’t mean to imply that post-ACA health care is broken; what I mean, as I hope is clear, is that the status quo ante can’t be put back together again. But mostly because I couldn’t find the right quote…I could, however, have opened with “Stop whatcha doin’ ‘cause I’m about to ruin the image and the style that ya used to.”)
Here’s the thing, though. None of this has anything at all to do with the “success” or “failure” of the ACA. Yes, if Amazon was down every night for scheduled repairs and then occasionally the rest of the time, Amazon wouldn’t last long. But, as I said the other day, not a single state motor vehicle registration or driver’s licence program has every failed because local DMVs are typically a mess.*
Which doesn’t mean it won’t matter, going forward, whether Healthcare.gov is well-run or not. It’s just that it will be a normal political issue. No different from whether the VA is well-run, or whether Pentagon procurement wastes a ton of money or not.
I’m confident that’s true of front-end problems. I think it’s probably true of back-end problems, at least within reason. Yes, it’s going to be a big deal for the individual people involved if a small percentage of customers have miscalculated subsidies, or if the insurance company they thought they signed up for doesn’t ever hear about it. It’s the kind of mismanagement scandal that can and should create big headaches for an administration. But it’s not the kind of thing that causes a government program to “fail” or to be repealed.
I suppose there might be some level at which things are so bad that customers really don’t show up, or at least that effects are more than at the margins. But fundamentally, people want health insurance, and Healthcare.gov (and the state exchanges) are where people are going to go if they’re on the individual market. Whether it’s relatively easy or relatively difficult.**
Again: I’m not saying that mismanagement at Healthcare.gov is a non-issue. It’s absolutely an issue, and a big story. It’s just almost certainly a normal politics story about how well (or badly) government is working. It may even be a part of the story of the next generation of government health care reform. It’s just not part of a battle over the survival or repeal of the ACA, because that battle ended a while ago.
*Is this no longer true, by the way? And is the reputation no longer true, regardless of the facts? My last experience in Texas — in a newly opened office — was just fine, and a few years ago I had an excellent customer experience in Indiana.
**Old guy moment: I was going to say: just as people shop at malls even if they hate malls, because that’s where the stores are. Dated! And, yeah, maybe the miserable experience many people believed that circa-1980s shopping malls gave them had a lot to do with the demise of malls. But not before an awful lot of stuff was purchased.
David Gergen is the prototypical Washington wise man, an experienced operative who has served under four presidents and was famously brought into the Clinton White House to provide more experienced leadership. When he’s not working in the White House, though, he often makes the rounds as a pundit - and you’ll never guess how he thinks President Obama should solve his problems!
As Mark Halperin noted on Twitter, Gergen called this week for the administration to hire a “heavyweight” to get his agenda moving in Congress:
David Gergen, who has worked for both Republican and Democratic presidents, said the president needs to bring in a Washington “heavyweight” who is schooled in moving an agenda through the capital.
It’s advice he’s repeated again and again over the years. In Gergen-land, there’s no political problem that can’t be solved by getting more “heavyweights” involved - check out this (no doubt partial) list from a quick Nexis search:
“What good president have done — most effective presidents have done have then supplemented those — that inner circle with heavyweights whom they can look to.” (Diane Rehm Show 11/4/13)
“If we had had a commission like this [the Iraq Study Group], of heavyweights, who had spoken up so publicly and forcefully, when Lyndon Johnson was president … the Vietnam War would have ended much earlier.” (Associated Press, 12/8/06)
“I still think [President Obama] needs heavyweights from the business community.” (CNN, 10/22/10)
“The current shuffle is coming extremely late for a recovery — too late, probably — and so far, the administration has not brought in any outside heavyweights.” (New York Times, 4/23/06)
There’s a weird sort of Green Lantern-ism to Gergen’s belief that “heavyweights” can overcome the structural obstacles presidents face to achieving their objectives. Staff are easy to blame, of course, when things go poorly for an administration, but there’s little evidence to support the notion that they can, say, magically push Obama’s agenda through Congress.
(The problem of David Gergen advising presidents to hire him or people like him is closely related to the expert service problemthat creates perverse incentives in fields like auto repair, dentistry, and medicine.)
Michael White’s essay on the dismal state of the National Institutes of Health is a must-read for anyone who cares about progress in medical and public health research. The positive impact of the 1998 bipartisan initiative in Congress to double the NIH budget has been completely wiped out.
Of all the bad news in White’s article, this is particular discouraging:
The tighter competition for funding has put the squeeze on younger scientists with fledgling labs; the proportion of young scientists with NIH grants is half of what was in 1998, while the proportion of funded scientists over 65 has doubled. Because scientific training typically takes over 10 years, students who decided to enter graduate school in the boom days of the mid-Aughts are now entering a job market that looks nothing like what they expected.
On the ground in my daily work in both a university medical school and a public hospital, it’s a rare month that some bright young person doesn’t tell me they are quitting science because it’s too hard to get funded. These are usually not reversible decisions. Even a well-trained young physician who leaves research for 5 years to treat patients full-time is very hard to tempt back into science if the funding picture improves (and is even harder to bring back up to speed on the cutting-edge scientific questions and methods of the day).
There is no question that we have some enormously talented and productive senior citizen scientists. But a decade or two from now, when an antibiotic resistant bacteria or new strain of bird flu is ravaging the planet, that generation will no longer be around to lead the scientific charge on humanity’s behalf. That’s why we constantly need a new stream of young people committing to health science careers. That seed corn is currently being consumed at an alarming rate, and if we don’t act immediately to rectify the situation we will suffer for many years to come from the loss of a generation of health researchers.
I did an item today about today’s calls for Obama to start firing people willy-nilly that was probably not nearly harsh enough. But the one thing I left out that I really want to get to is yet another myth about a previous president.
No, not the one about second-term presidents never recovering if their approval sinks; I saw that again today, but I’ve already handled that one.
“I don’t know where the breakdown occurred on that, but it’s Obama’s ‘no new taxes’ moment,” the official said, referring tothe broken promise that is widely seen as having cost President George H.W. Bush a second term.
Hogwash! What cost George H.W. Bush a second term was a poorly timed recession. That’s all.
Bush breaking his tax pledge was a story in June through October 1990. Look at his approval ratings: it’s hard to make much of it. In particular, this all happened before the Gulf War, which relegated it to ancient history. One can argue that it hurt Bush in the long run by destroying trust in him, but that certainly didn’t seem to have any effect at all in spring 1991. Only when the economy turned south did his approval ratings follow.
I suspect that for the neutral press, this is a close relative of theequally untrue myth that Ross Perot cost Bush the election. Why? Because after three consecutive solid Republican victories, by 1992 most Republicans believed the myth of a GOP “electoral lock” and therefore were open to bogus explanations of something which actually didn’t need much explanation at all beyond the obvious one that incumbent presidents usually lose re-election if there’s a recession in the second half of their term. What distinguishes this one, I’m sure, is that a faction of the Republican Party is intensely interested in convincing everyone that higher taxes ruined Bush’s presidency, while pretty much no one else cares.
At any rate, at best breaking the pledge was a very minor factor in the 1992 election, and most likely it had no effect at all. Moreover, to the extent that it hurt at all, it may well have been because of how central, high-profile, and specific the pledge was in Bush’s 1988 campaign. I’d guess it’s easily in the top 1% of all campaign pledges ever if all those factors are combined, and pretty high up there as far as how high-profile and absolute the breaking of it was. Really, however, it likely made no difference at all in 1992.
No Labels has been unable to advance, in any meaningful way, a single item from its relatively modest list of goals. Critics dismiss it as window dressing, with some congressional staffers comparing it to a high school civics project and going as far as drafting memos to their bosses urging them not to join.
Several supporters of No Labels quoted in the article, including former Republican Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and Democratic fundraiser Nancy Jacobs, try to paint the group as encompassing a broad range of ideologies. “It’s not about people who are centrists,” says Jacobs. Is this true?
[L]et me reveal a couple professional secrets here. Intellectual consistency is a basic value for political commentators. You want to be sure your strongly held views are the product of an actual philosophy, because the temptation to see events through the prism of partisan bias is strong.He says this to put the hurt on Charles Krauthammer’s flip on the filibuster and the nuclear option between the Bush-era Senate showdown and the recent Obama-era version.
Intellectual consistency is a basic value, perhaps, for some political commentators. But I’m not sure it’s necessary for all political commentators.
Put it this way. I might read Chait because I care what Jonathan Chait thinks about things. In fact, I do; he’s a smart guy, and a fun writer.
But one also might seek out political commentators in order to hear the best, good-faith arguments for and against something that’s in the news. For that, I want someone who reliably supports one side of the partisan divide (or perhaps one ideological strain). I still don’t want phony arguments; that’s why I didn’t title this “In Defense of Krauthammer,” because I generally don’t think he supplies strong, honest arguments. There’s still a requirement for serious intellectual integrity, even for partisan arguments.
I think Chait is talking about something like a “public intellectual” model, and what I’d say is that there’s also room for a lawyer model. For a lawyer-model pundit, it doesn’t matter so much if she said the exact opposite thing five years ago, but it still matters a lot if she gets her facts right and makes well-reasoned, well-informed, arguments.
I guess the question is whether there’s really any need for lawyer-style commentators, given that it’s the professional responsibility of many politicians to essentially do that. I’d say: sure. Commentators, as opposed to politicians or their staff, are relatively free to make the argument properly, without having to worry about the political fallout from the various speed traps and potholes that politicians have to shy away from — or from winning daily spin wars.
Granted, it’s unlikely that anyone is going to identify himself as a lawyer-style commentator. And yes, one tip-off that Krauthammer isn’t worth bothering with is his extreme certainty that he’s correct, even as (as Chait notes) he flips from one side to another of an issue based on partisan tides. But overall, there’s probably a lot more room for good lawyer-style pundits than Chait thinks.
Over Thanksgiving break I spent some time thinking about the reactions to Michelle Cottle’s controversial Politico Magazine piece criticizing Michelle Obama for acting as an advocate for a relatively limited list of issues. “Gardening? Tending wounded soldiers? Reading to children? …Her Ivy League degrees, career success and general aura as an ass-kicking, do-it-all superwoman had some women fantasizing that she would at least lean in and speak out on a variety of tough issues. It was not to be,” Cottle wrote.
The responses from the media to Cottle’s article were quick, negative and fierce—many coming from some of the smartest women I follow in journalism.
Roxane Gay in Salon wrote that Cottle’s article was a “rankly condescending piece of shallow provocation” that was really just a guise for the “white feminist agenda,” while her colleague, Brittany Cooper zeroed in on “white feminists’ consistent inability to not be racist.”
Amanda Marcotte in Slate wrote that, “Most feminists don’t really feel it’s appropriate to micromanage how Obama does her job.”
Noreen Malone in The New Republic contended that at the crux of Cottle’s piece was “the fairly offensive notion that in order to be feminists, women must be interested in a certain set of issues.”
The critiques went on and on, all of them hinging, in one way or another, on the idea that even so much as raising the question of what Michelle Obama should, or could, or would not do in her role as First Lady, was somehow outrageous. The consensus among the pundits I read seemed to be that enlightened and knowledgeable women should not even engage in this sort of conversation—that to wonder these things means you must be racist, ignorant, anti-feminist or all of the above. Marcotte argued that Cottle must have worked hard to cherry-pick the critical quotes in her piece; others asserted that Cottle simply lacked a basic understanding of feminist history and racial dynamics.
Something about their collective, vitriolic response felt very strange to me.
Do they really believe that no intelligent women—including African American women—wonder whether Michelle Obama could or should be doing more in her role as the First Lady? Is even so much as raising that question so terribly taboo? Michelle Goldberg might not know any women who wonder these things, but does that really mean that if the thought so much as occurs to a smart woman, she must be elitist, patronizing or racist?
There are, of course, a lot of good reasons to argue that the First Lady’s job is an incredibly fraught, difficult and complicated one; that Michelle Obama could not do more than she is doing now given the limitations of the position, or that she should not or need not do more than she’s doing now, even if she could, because she can do whatever she wants as an empowered woman. And there are good reasons to argue that Obama’s choices should be contextualized in the history of past First Ladies. How does she compare to her predecessors?
And there are, of course, a host of good reasons to look at Obama not only as an Ivy League-educated “superwoman,” but also as the first African American First Lady—an identity that, as Melissa Harris Perry shows in her insightful book, Sister Citizen, is fraught with its own complicated politics. Dana Goldstein rightly pointed out that Cottle’s piece didn’t include Harris-Perry’s point that African American women, including Obama, are trying to “stand up straight in a crooked room,” their decisions warped by stereotypes that impact their national understanding and self-perceptions.
Those are all points that should be taken into account. But we must also remember that Obama is a woman in a unique position of influence at a unique period in our history. It may be true that First Ladies in the past have taken on “softer” political issues like literacy and drug use, but they also occupied the role when what women could arguably do or say was quite different. Is it so wrong to discuss whether now might be the time when that position could, or should, be altered?
I worry that the writers and pundits who claim this debate is out of line, or that it is inherently racist, or that it is somehow already untoward or insensitive, are doing a disservice to our public discourse. I do not necessarily believe Obama should be doing more, but I do believe we should be able to raise that question in good faith. We as Americans, we as feminists, should be able to discuss these questions compassionately, respectfully, critically and intellectually.
Putting issues like childhood obesity and nutrition on the national agenda is important. And some convincingly make the case that focusing on those issues in isolation is an acceptable, even strategic use of her time. But the point here is that to merely challenge that assertion, to ask if there might be room for her to tackle some of the deeper sociological determinants that impact nutrition, such as housing, poverty, and education that contribute to the choices people make in nutrition, could also be an acceptable use of our time.
I do not believe Obama is a “feminist’s nightmare.” I do not believe that Obama should have to do more than she is doing right now. But I do believe we can envision a world where it is safe to ask whether she could or even should.
It’s a big-government-dependent tool to fight climate change that was championed by Jimmy Carter, is now dominated by the French, and has never managed to compete in the marketplace. So why, exactly, do Republicans love nuclear power so much? By T. A. FrankMay/June 2010
Barack Obama’s biggest second-term challenge isn’t guns or immigration. It’s saving his biggest first-term achievements, like the Dodd-Frank law, from being dismembered by lobbyists and conservative jurists in the shadowy, Byzantine “rule-making” process. By Haley Sweetland EdwardsMarch/ April 2013