Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Electoral Illogic

Congratulations to the Republican Party for retaking the House of Representatives. And congratulations to the Obama Administration for halting, if not yet repairing, the downward slide in the nation's economy and reputation in the world.

The NY Times on challenges facing John Boehner as incoming Speaker of the House:

His promises on behalf of the new House majority — reducing the size of government, creating jobs and fundamentally altering the way the Congress conducts its business — are mostly as lofty as they are unspecific, and his efforts to legislate them into reality must be done with ambitious upstarts within his own party and a fresh crop of Tea Partiers, some of whom seem to believe that it is they, not he, now running the show.

The demands on Mr. Boehner from voters are many and not all consistent. There is a craving, polling shows, to see the current system upended, but preferably without gridlock or rancor. Voters want federal spending curtailed, but jealously guard costly entitlements. They angrily reject what is, but have no clearly articulated vision for what should be.

Indeed, Mr. Boehner and his party were delivered no clear mandate from voters, who, polls suggested, were rejecting a policy agenda more than they were rallying around one. One demand resonated loudly: the reduction of federal spending immediately, a daunting goal. Yet, among the first things that Mr. Boehner has said he will seek to accomplish are reversing cuts to the MedicareBush-era tax cuts, steps that are hard to reconcile with a commitment to reining in the national debt.

But if you think about it, which evidently the voters did not in general, these are conflicting promises and desires. Cutting federal spending and reducing the size of government sound nice, until you realize that that means laying off government workers, thus ending government jobs, as well as reducing investment in private enterprise which would have created private-sector jobs. So if they live up to that promise, watch the jobs begin to disappear like they did in 2008 and early 2009. The current administration's spending stabilized unemployment at 9.6%, instead of continuing to fall to Great Depression levels.

Direct promises to increase Medicare reimbursments, and continue the Bush-era tax cuts (on top of the Obama tax cuts, which were real, if not sufficiently publicized - or don't you notice that your paycheck has you taking home more than you were a few years back, even though you might not have had a raise in several years?) mean greater spending and greater deficits - because you can't spend more money, and reduce tax revenue, without the money coming from somewhere, namely, loans to the gov't that make up the deficit.

Even if today's Republicans will be different than the Bush Republicans, with no requirement of personal loyalty to Bush/Cheney, and no wars of aggression being promoted from the White House, the Republicans will be forced into "business as usual". The same thing happens with every Israeli prime minister since Oslo. We watched candidate after candidate promote himself by opposing the Oslo accords and their aftermaths, but once in office, one could not actually stop the implementation of the Oslo accords.

Just as there wasn't a major change from "business as usual" when the Democrats took Congress in 2008, there won't be a major change now. The Democrats (Wussycrats in Harold Feld's term) still felt that any legislative change must be begged as a favor from the Republicans, even if the Republicans were the minority party. And now we'll continue that, as no party has the 60 votes to override threatened filibusters.

Change we can believe in, is pretty minor change.

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