Let’s be realistic here. Unless there’s some kind of major upheaval within the Republican party that moves it back to the center, when the day comes that there’s a Republican president and a Republican senate, the filibuster will be gone. It won’t take a Democratic minority using it with the profligacy Republicans have, either. All it will take is one filibuster on something Republicans care about. Today’s Republicans don’t care about the institution’s traditions, or about what kind of precedent they might set. They care about getting what they want. If you think they won’t do it, you haven’t been paying much attention to American politics over the last five years.
Of course, there’s no way to prove this one way or another, certainly not yet. But while I think Republicans have less restraint than Democrats do in violating norms, I think this claim is overstated.
After all, we do have some experience with this: Republicans really didn’t get rid of the filibuster during the George W. Bush presidency. Are current Republican Senators really all that different than Frist-era Republican Senators? Maybe. Maybe not.
In fact, Republicans during the Bush years wound up arguing that judicial filibusters were illegitimate (although enough were willing to cut a deal that nothing was done). They probably didn’t care about executive branch nominations because Democrats basically didn’t use the filibuster against those, so it wasn’t a big deal. Legislation, though, mattered — and Republicans from 2003 through 2006 did nothing to end filibusters on bills, even though Democrats continued the Bob Dole practice of filibustering all major bills.
Would things be different for a Republican Senate in 2017 or 2021? Maybe. On the other hand, the longer they remain in the Senate minority, the more Republican Senators will use strong language in support of rules which allow obstruction. That won’t entirely constrain them in the future, as it hasn’t completely constrained Democrats who were in those Bush-era Senate minorities, but it will tend to constrain them. It’s no surprise that many of those Democrats least enthusiastic about eliminating the filibuster are those who made strong pro-filibuster statements during the years of Republican majorities in the 1990s and 2000s.
The basic story of filibuster reform is that there are cross-pressures for Senators between their interests as party members and their interests as individual Senators. It may be true that Republicans are more likely to think of themselves as party members than Democrats are, but I think it’s unlikely that Republicans wouldn’t be cross-pressured at least to some extent. And that means that they, too, might be reluctant to act.
Of course, all that assumes that the filibuster survives intact until Republicans get the White House and a Senate majority. If Democrats have a couple of good election cycles while Tea Partiers continue to gain seats in the Senate at the expense of other conservative Republicans, then that’s probably not very likely.
Sarah Binder wrote last night about the new threats that Harry Reid is making to go nuclear. The first thing you need to know is that if you’re at all interested in the filibuster, you need to read everything that Sarah writes. Especially if you read me on it — if we differ, remember that I’m just a consumer of Congress research: she produces it.
To begin with, she emphasizes that the mechanism for majority-imposed reform is far more blunt and uncertain than I (and some others) tend to describe it. That’s important.
Sarah also argues, also on something that I didn’t take into consideration in my posts on this last week: “Republicans can credibly threaten to retaliate procedurally if the Democrats go nuclear. And that might be a far more credible threat than Reid’s.”
I have two reactions to this.
The first is that a lot of liberals will read dismiss it, claiming that Republicans are already maximizing obstruction. That is incorrect. Only one judicial nomination has been defeated by filibuster during the current Congress; there are also a handful of other judicial and executive branch nominations which probably have not been brought to the floor because Reid doesn’t have 60. On the other hand, there’s a long list of nominations that the Senate has confirmed so far this year. There’s also one judicial selection who withdrew after “blue slip” obstruction, but that speaks to Sarah’s point: Republicans could make more trouble in other ways than they currently do.
Republican obstruction on nominations is unprecedented and, in my view, unjustified. They have invented a 60 vote threshold for virtually all nominations which never existed before 2009. But it is certainly not universal obstruction. It could be much worse under the current rules.
On the other hand…
I’m very hesitant to disagree with Sarah, but I really don’t think much of the retaliation threat. It makes sense to threaten to shut down the Senate, but after majority-imposed reform is imposed, does it makes sense to carry out that threat? I don’t think so — because if it was in the GOP’s interest to shut down the Senate, they would be doing it now. In other words, I don’t think Republican Senators hold off on more extreme obstruction now because they’re nice; I think they do it because they believe it’s in their interest. And once they’re faced with a new status quo, it would turn out that more less the same incentives apply.
Indeed, we’ve seen this before. Republicans threatened retaliation if Barack Obama used a recess appointment despite the House-forced pro forma sessions during a Senate recess, but when Obama acted the threat of retaliation turned out to be a dud. That doesn’t prove that retaliation wouldn’t happen this time, but as I said, I’m just skeptical about it. I’m sure there would be a lot of shouting, and there’s a good chance there would be some demonstration of something on the Senate floor, but after a few weeks I suspect it would fizzle out. Now, to be fair, one could go back to that quote I’m so fond of from Maltese Falcon about how in the heat of the moment people don’t always act in their own best interests. Given that, and just generally, I’d expect managers of the immigration bill to want to get that done before a filibuster battle begins.
But overall, I continue to think that the threat of massive retaliation if the Democrats go nuclear — the threat that Republicans could respond by “shutting down” the Senate — is a relatively minor factor in the chess game. Still: read Sarah’s post in full; while I haven’t been convinced, there’s every possibility that she’s right and I’m wrong on this one.
How would you debate a wing nut? Cass Sunstein has a very encouraging and interesting answer.
For a positive answer, consider an intriguing study by Philip Fernbach, a University of Colorado business school professor, and his colleagues. Their central finding is that if you ask people to explain exactly why they think as they do, they discover how much they don’t know — and they become more humble and therefore more moderate. […]
Interestingly, Fernbach and his co-authors found no increase in moderation when they asked people not to “describe all the details you know” about the likely effects of the various proposals, but simply to say why they believe what they do. If you ask people to give reasons for their beliefs, they tend to act as their own lawyers or public relations managers, and they don’t move toward greater moderation. The lesson is subtle: What produces an increase in humility, and hence moderation, is a request for an explanation of the causal mechanisms that underlie people’s beliefs.
Interestingly, what we do on this blog — provide evidence — is not what the investigators suggest works. I don’t know if they tested this approach, but it is well-known that evidence is confirming but not convincing. If the Fernbach study is right, what one should be doing is a lot more listening and asking than telling.
Sunstein’s column is worth a full read. Before commenting, at least do that much. If you disagree, I ask that you explain exactly why and how much you know about this subject. The published study is gated, but what appears to be an ungated working paper version is here (PDF). It’s in my pile.
I’ve seen it suggested in the comments on this blog and elsewhere that low take-up rates among those eligible for Medicaid suggests they do not find the program to be of value. I have not seen any strong evidence to support that view, but I’m happy to look at it if it is suggested to me. Meanwhile, there are other potential reasons for low take-up rates including cognitive limitations.
A new study by Ifedayo Kuye, Richard Frank, and Michael McWilliams examines the relationship between cognitive limitations and awareness of and enrollment into Medicare Part D’s low-income subsidy (LIS) program, which offers reduced premiums and cost sharing for Medicare’s drug benefit to beneficiaries with incomes below 135% of the federal poverty line and assets below $6600 if single or $9910 if married (2010 figures). The investigators’ source of data was the Health and Retirement Survey (HRS). (Yes, I have switched from Medicaid to Part D’s LIS. They are different and serve different populations. Acknowledged.)
To assess overall cognitive abilities, the HRS uses a validated survey instrument modeled after the Telephone Interview for Cognitive Status, an adaptation of the Mini-Mental State Examination for use over the telephone. Participants were asked to complete a series of tasks assessing orientation, attention, memory, word recognition and comprehension, and ability to count and perform simple arithmetic. Summary cognition scores could range from 0 (no tasks completed correctly) to 35 (all tasks completed correctly).
The chart below reports Part D enrollment, LIS awareness, and LIS application as a percentage of LIS-eligible beneficiaries, by quartile of cognition score. The paper includes other results by other cognitive metrics, but this suffices to make my point. Results are adjusted for age, sex, race, ethnicity, health status, chronic conditions, depressive symptoms, and difficulties with activities of daily living.
It could still be true that beneficiaries with lower cognitive skills find LIS benefits to be of less value relative to those with higher cognitive skills. Maybe the forgoing is evidence of revealed preference. This is an argument based on a market model in which consumers are reasonably, if not perfectly, well-informed about their choices. Does it seem likely to you that people with low cognitive skills are as well informed as their otherwise equivalent high cognitive skill counterparts?
Meanwhile, we have to acknowledge that only 25.5% of high cognitive skill beneficiaries eligible for the LIS enroll in it, which is just under half of those who are aware of it. Almost two-thirds of them enroll in Part D. A large proportion of beneficiaries are forgoing support for a benefit for which they are eligible and for which they are enrolled. Why? Is this revealed preference for, effectively, a lower income? Would a well-informed consumer behave that way? And these are respondents who scored high in cognition!
Tomorrow, Los Angeles voters go to the polls to elect a new Mayor. (At least a few of them, anyway: current estimates predict onyl 25% turnout, about which more later). In September, New Yorkers will do the same. And depending upon the way things turn out, political and cultural reporters could have a field day.
If Christine Quinn and Wendy Greuel win in their respective cities, we will have female mayors of both cities for the first time. And the press will have a lot of fun with it, because the two women seem to epitomize their cities’ personalities. Quinn is famously nasty and vicious, character traits she is now trying to ameliorate at least publicly. Much less famously, but just as truly, Greuel is quite nice: I’ve known her for nearly 20 years, and you can’t deny that she is personally a very nice person.
And if you think about it, that is true more broadly. If Anthony Weiner runs for NYC mayor, we’ll get another jerk trying to get to Gracie Mansion. Greuel’s rival, Eric Garcetti, whom I’ve also known for a long time, is likewise very friendly and nice. Even the campaign by realistic standards has been pretty tame.
It seems the Senate could have a really hot summer. Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has reportedly threatened to “go nuclear” this July—meaning that Senate Democrats would move by majority vote to ban filibusters of executive and judicial branch nominees. According to these reports, if Senate Republicans block three key nominations (Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Thomas Perez at Labor, and Gina McCarthy at EPA), Reid will call on the Democrats to invoke the nuclear option as a means of eliminating filibusters over nominees.
Jon Bernstein offered a thoughtful reaction to Reid’s gambit, noting that Reid’s challenge is to “find a way to ratchet up the threat of reform in order to push Republicans as far away from that line as possible.” Jon’s emphasis on Reid’s threat is important (and is worth reading in full). Still, I think it’s helpful to dig a little deeper on the role of both majority and minority party threats that arise over the nuclear option.
Before getting to Reid’s threat, two brief detours. First, a parliamentary detour to make plain two reasons why Reid’s procedural gambit is deemed “nuclear.” First, Democrats envision using a set of parliamentary moves that would allow the Senate to cut off debate on nominations by majority vote (rather than by sixty votes). Republicans (at least when they are in the minority) call this “changing the rules by breaking the rules,” because Senate rules formally require a 2/3rds vote to break a filibuster of a measure to change Senate rules. The nuclear option would avoid the formal process of securing a 2/3rds vote to cut off debate; instead, the Senate would set a new precedent by simple majority vote to exempt nominations from the reach of Rule 22. If Democrats circumvent formal rules, Republicans would deem the move nuclear. Second, Reid’s potential gambit would be considered nuclear because of the anticipate d GOPreaction: As Sen. Schumer argued in 2005 when the GOP tried to go nuclear over judges, minority party senators would “blow up every bridge in sight.” The nuclear option is so-called on account of the minority’s anticipated parliamentary reaction (which would ramp up obstruction on everything else).
A second detour notes simply that the exact procedural steps that would have to be taken to set a new precedent to exempt nominations from Rule 22 have not yet been precisely spelled out. Over the years, several scenarios have been floated that give us a general outline of how the Senate could reform its cloture rule by majority vote. But a CRS report written in the heat of the failed GOP effort to go nuclear in 2005 points to the complications and uncertainties entailed in using a reform-by-ruling strategy to empower simple majorities to cut off debate on nominations. My sense is that using a nuclear option to restrict the reach of Rule 22 might not be as straight forward as many assume.
Someone pointed me to a remark someone who felt that statisticians were not doing their job to help out “mathematically challenged” psychology researchers. My first thought was that statisticians often help in an indirect way, by developing advanced methods that quantitative psychologists then translate to their colleagues, but I also realized that there was some specific advice I could give that could be used right away. This made me think that my colleagues and I should put together a short document (an article? webpage? wiki? pamphlet?) of statistical advice. Maybe 50 useful tips. Much of this is in our books but it could be useful to have something that people can use right away, with no prerequisites and without feeling that it would be a big time commitment.
The thing I wanted to talk about here on the Monkey Cage, though, is that I can’t imagine a political scientist complaining that statisticians weren’t helping them out. The difference, I suppose, is that psychology has a longstanding field of psychometrics and mathematical psychology, and these people have been developing their own methods for many decades. In contrast, political methodologists take from other fields (mostly econometrics and statistics), so they are used to having to learn the language of others. And political scientists who are not methodologists (the equivalents of the “mathematically challenged psychologist” who asked the original question) know that if they want to do statistics, they have to learn some statistics; they don’t really expect to get by otherwise.
P.S. Just to be clear: None of this is meant to disparage qualitative research. Qualitative research is great. I’m certainly not saying that all researchers need to use statistics. This discussion is all about people who are doing quantitative work and fell the need to use methods that are somewhat beyond their mathematical/statistical comfort zone.
Quite a lot has been written in the last week about inappropriate IRS scrutiny of conservative groups seeking 501 (c) (4) status as tax-exempt organizations during the 2012 election. The commentary has followed a relatively predictable pattern, as journalists have focused on who-knew-what-and-when-they-knew-it, and what the political fallout will be. Yet, there is also increasing recognition that the story is likely more complex than exuberant employees or lax management.
Simply, the IRS has made the worst of a bad situation that is not entirely of its own making. While it is certainly on the hook for subjecting applications from conservative groups to enhanced scrutiny, the IRS has also been inundated with applications, with 501 (c) (4) requests doubling from 2010 to 2012. The explosion of these requests can be traced to recent federal court decisions—namely, Citizens United v. FEC and Speechnow.org v. FEC—that have dramatically altered the rules regarding who can spend money in American elections.
The 501 (c) (4) category has traditionally been reserved for groups that promote the “social welfare.” But the courts in 2010 determined that groups may accept contributions of unlimited size and spend freely on advertising that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a candidate. A 501 (c) (4) designation is attractive to such groups for two reasons: Not only does it allow them a tax-exempt status, but it also does not require them to disclose their donors. Given the regulatory environment in place since 2010, seeking 501 (c) (4) status seems utterly rational.
Talk to people in Oregon about health care for long and eventually you will be asked something like this: “You’ve heard the air conditioner story, right?”
In this case, it’s John McConnell, a health economist at Oregon Health and Science University, doing the asking. As it turns out, I have heard the story; it’s one that Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber loves to tell. He loves to tell it so much, in fact, that it has become something of a running joke in Oregon health-policy circles. At this point, even Kitzhaber is in on it. Before he repeats it to me, he says, “I probably shouldn’t bore you with my air conditioner story.”
Here’s the air conditioner story: There’s a 90-year-old woman with well-managed congestive heart failure who lives in an apartment without air conditioning. That’s actually the whole story.
Kitzhaber, a former emergency room physician, sees this as the perfect example of what’s wrong with our health-care system. “A hot day could send the temperature in her apartment high enough that it strains her cardiovascular system and kicks her into full-blown congestive heart failure,” he said. “Under the current system, Medicare will pay for the ambulance and $50,000 to stabilize her. It will not pay for a $200 window air conditioner, which is all she needs to stay in her home and out of the hospital. The difference to the health-care system is $49,800. And we could save that $49,800 without reducing her benefits or her quality of life.”
No, that’s not from David Leip. That’s a very detailed, county-level map of the 1880 presidential election results, published in 1889. (The abstract contains similar maps of earlier elections, as well.) Not only does it show which party won each county, but it also shows the intensity of the vote using gradient shading. This may just be the earliest geographic depiction of American election results — please let me know if you know of earlier ones.