StanCollender'sCapitalGainsandGames Washington, Wall Street and Everything in Between



Are We Governable?

15 Feb 2010
Posted by Pete Davis

 We certainly aren't acting like it. It's time to reflect when good people -- well liked on both sides of the aisle and certain to be reelected -- bow out. Senator Evan Bayh's (D-IN) retirement announcement today was a shocker. Read his statement. I would lift up: 

"After all these years, my passion for service to my fellow citizens is undiminished, but my desire to do so by serving in Congress has waned. For some time, I have had a growing conviction that Congress is not operating as it should. There is too much partisanship and not enough progress -- too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving. Even at a time of enormous challenge, the peoples’ business is not being done."
 
He cited the failure to pass the bipartisan deficit reduction commission and the failure to pass the jobs bill as evidence. He's fed up and has decided he can be more effective elsewhere.
 
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was understandably livid to be informed of Bayh's decision at 11:30 a.m., just after it leaked to the press. This put him and Senate Democrats at a huge disadvantage, both in terms of immediate public relations and in terms of the appearance that the Democrats are on the run going into November's election. Former Senator Dan Coats (R-IN) has a good chance to wrest the seat from the Democrats. Delaware and North Dakota will almost certainly flip to the Republicans, Charlie Cook lists five other Democrats in tight races: Lincoln (AR); Bennet (CO); (IL) Burris retiring; Reid (NV); and Specter (PA). He also lists four currently Republican seats that are tossups because of the retirements of Bond (MO); Bunning (KY); Gregg (NH); and Voinovitch (OH). Right now it doesn't look like the Republicans will pick up more than five or so, but that could change. The Senate is currently 59D-41R, so it would take a 10 seat pickup to flip it.
 
No matter what happens in November, the Senate is likely to fail to do the people's business. Action is desperately needed on a wide range of issues. Here's my short list of Senate actions required by the end of April:
  1. Jobs bill
  2. Deficit Reduction Commission
  3. Already expired:
    1. Estate Tax, currently repealed, but jumping to 2001 law in 2011
    2. 71 other expired tax provisions, including the R&D tax credit.
  4. About to expire:
    1. Highway authorization
    2. flood insurance
    3. postponement of the 21% cut in Medicare physician reimbursement rates
  5. Defense supplemental to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan wars
  6. budget resolution
  7. Confirm non-controversial judges and other presidential appointees on "hold" for reasons having nothing to do with their qualifications.
We also desperately need financial reform and health reform this year, or else we risk another AIG and skyrocketing health insurance premiums.
 
Unfortunately, we're going to test the theory that no action is better than action that confers partisan advantage.

"Unfortunately, we're going

"Unfortunately, we're going to test the theory that no action is better than action that confers partisan advantage."

The party in power had nothing standing in their way regarding their plan to "rob Peter to pay Paul".

Maybe the Senate backroom deals and the House's one hundred and eleven new bureaucracies leaked to the public which, thank God, have finally had enough.

Sorry, but no legislation is better than bad legislation. Three cheers for the party out of power, talk radio, and the internet.

Now it is incumbent on the party out of power to be ready to confer with the party in power.


article title

wonder why you used that article heading; it dont have nothin to do with us...its the sytem that has become dysfunctional..


Seriously?

You think this isn't about us? The most active political group is a bunch of rednecks who think Obama swooped down from Kenya to destroy their Medicare and replace it with government run health care. Another, 30% of the voters support a party that ran up an additional $6 trillion in debt in the last 10 years but thinks that tax cuts and eliminating government waste (which, of course, doesn't include any program they personally support) will magically erase the deficit. And, finally, 40% more voters support a party has no balls. This IS our fault; we HAVE the government we asked for.


Governability: Partisans, Politics & the People

Pete - glad to see somebody else raising the question. Don't know if you saw Brooks last oped piece but it was dead on this subject. The real jewel in the crown was his interview last week on Charlie Rose, where it was his central theme.

IMHO that is THE question and we're facing two problems. One where winning is more important than governing (which implicitly presumes the problems aren't serious or will be solved by the other guy so the luxury of being an obstacle is affordable). The other is the willingness of the public to accept partisan polemics instead of confronting harsh realities. Which ties back to a point Bruce made a while back that people are against spending but not their spending.

We are at the cusp point of a major crossroads - either we figure out how to reverse our sclerotic system or it will be our demise. Yet sclerosis is inherent - over time interests accumulate around government and spend more time and influence on managing the rule-making in search of rents than they do on creating real value. A dynamic that's destroyed every other civilization.

As you can tell the issue bothers me a tad. To the point where it occupies much of my own thinking. You might consider:
Reality, Politics, Policy & Partisans: the Undiscovered Country or America At Hard Choices Crossroads: Policies, Politics & Partisans .

But it's not an accident we are where we are. And we've finally accumulated enough conceptual and analytical machinery to de-construct the problems:
Inside the Sausage Factory: Policy, Politics, Interests and Realities of the Public Square
Now the solutions are a different matter. What do and the CGG team propose - bearing in mind how the sausage factor works and how the lizardbrains dominate decision and choices?
I think this ought to be one of, it not THE, central concern of anybody interested in policy and politics.


At least Reid is on the list.

At least Reid is on the list of vulnerable Senators. In the best of all worlds, Reid loses in November but the Democrats hold the majority and they put someone with balls into the leadership position.


Doing nothing is not an option

"Sorry, but no legislation is better than bad legislation."

Doing nothing has serious consequences. People will literally, die. We've been there, and doing nothing in Minnesota causes bridge failures (we have evidence of this). People die. They are still dying. The economy suffers more. People lose jobs. People get kicked off of health insurance (as is now happening as Gov. Pawlenty just announced that we'll take 20,000 people off of MNCare to balance the budget ) or can't get it because they have pre-existing conditions, and it is not affordable. There is no legislation to help them . . . it has been obstructed by the Republicans.

I understand why Bayh is frustrated. I would resign too. Life is too short to remain in a do-nothing job where you cannot make a contribution to society.


SIGH

You mean make a contribution to society by taking other people's money to put it where you think it will do the most good?

We live in a country where nearly 50 percent of our spending is taking from Peter to pay to Paul. So making a difference is deciding how much of Peter's money to take and which Pauls to give money to?


First off

it isn't other people's money. I pay taxes too -- lots of taxes.

Second, good government isn't just about shuffling money around. It's about policy making.

Have you ever heard of good government?

For starters our Congress could make laws that will prevent another catastrophic financial sector meltdown . . . replacing the uptick rule, for example, and making naked shorting illegal. Those policies (in some cases they are simply reinstatements of policies that were repealed during the deregulation phase) don't cost the taxpayer anything . . . and in fact will save us from losing our hard-earned savings due to market manipulation.

Most great policy, in fact, is not about taxpayer money. In the case of financial regulatory reform), it can be about creating policies to ensure the middle class does not get screwed by the greedy idiots on Wall Street.

Good government creates policies for the greater good, and in general this results in a society where the least of us have a chance to become the best of us -- a place where someone with a pre-existing medical condition isn't forced into bankruptcy because they have no affordable access to basic care, for example.

Our Congress can't seem to solve the most urgent and obvious policy problems in this country. They can't even implement reforms that would actually save us money and provide a better life (and a chance at retirement) for my family. What's with that?

I understand why Bayh resigned. The present political environment is unsustainable. No civilization has endured under these conditions . . . a nation must make progress, and this is not progress. It is paralysis.


I Could Not Agree More

I have come to the conclusion that until enough people die and enough people go bankrupt and when the tea partiers march and only three people show up, then and only, then will change come. Unfortunately, I won't be here (and I am only 36).


In my adult lifetime, divided

In my adult lifetime, divided party government has worked better than single party government.

There are two solutions to the problems in DC. First is for a centrist third party to rise up and marginalize the wings of each party, who are the source of the problem. Second is to return a lot of functions to state governments which would bypass the gridlock at the federal level. People on the coasts could have the big governments they want and people in the south and central could have the smaller ones they want.


The Filibuster Must be Ended

It's time to end the filibuster, which for the first time in our history has recently become a de facto regular supermajority.

Here is what I think is a key reason Democrats should support its abolition:

http://richardhserlin.blogspot.com/2009/08/key-reason-why-51-democratic-...


Similar Article

@Pete Davis

You might enjoy reading an article with a similar tone by Jacob Wesiberg at Slate. Too much of the electorate expects contradictory solutions all all of our problems:

http://www.slate.com/id/2243797/

"Blame the childish, ignorant American public—not politicians—for our political and economic crisis."


How to do things properly

In the UK, our system is different - although we have a House (which is basically identical to the US version), we don't have an elected Senate, instead the House of Lords is made up of mostly political appointees.

To make up for this complete lack of democracy, the House of Lords doesn't vote against anything that was promised in an election manifesto and is not allowed to vote on the Budget Process at all. Furthermore, the House of Commons can enact legislation (subject to a time delay) without the consent of the Upper House.

Furthermore, to prevent earmarks and pork, only the government can bring about and alter Budget legislation, and no vote for anything needs a supermajority.

This means that the party in power has absolute control (subject to the courts' scrutiny) over the political process. However, they are also responsible for everything and so while power is concentrated so is the scrutiny of it.

If you wanted to improve the US system you don't need to change much. I would recommend weakening the power of Congressmen to add earmarks and abolishing the filibuster and unanimous consent procedure in the Senate. That way, if Democrats want to do stuff, they can do it. If people don't like it, then the Republicans can get in, and do their stuff. And people can scrutinise them for that.

If you wanted a bare-bones compromise measure, the single thing I would recommend is altering the rules of the Senate so that a cloture vote requires 60% of the senators present in the chamber, and not 60% of the senators who were elected. This means if you want to Filibuster, you have to turn up and if necessary, get up and get speaking!


Are We Governable?

Thanks for all the comments. I purposely used this title because I believe our dysfunctional government results from the chicken and egg of weak leadership by elected officials here in Washington and polarization back home. There are a lot of forces at work which have undermined our democracy: 1) campaign finance which makes panderers of those we elect; 2) redistricting so most House districts are one party districts; 3) low voter turnout in primaries, so more extreme elements of both parties determine the outcome; 4) life tenure in Congress for mostly rich lawyers instead of a broader mix of Americans; and 5) members of Congress who live back home because they get only a pittance to maintain a second home in Washington, don't get to know each other, and have little stake in supporting their colleagues or the institution they serve in. Fixing our government is not a question of party or ideology; it's a question of electing more responsible leaders who believe the most important thing is doing the people's business, even more important than getting reelected.

Pete, You've left out what I

Pete,

You've left out what I consider the greatest factor: what I call the "Partisan-Industrial Complex" -- politicians, media entities and figures, and consumers of both, each reinforcing and growing hyperpartisanship in the others. Due to the fragmentation of media and the immaturity of large numbers of people who would rather hear what they want to hear (an oversimplified depiction of reality with a clearly good and wise "us" vs. an ignorant, stupid, and/or evil "them") consumers of news and opinion are spending an increasing portion of their consumption with ideological echo chamber sources, using news/opinion media as a drunk uses a lamppost: more for support than illumination. The result is discussed in a book I highly recommend, http://www.amazon.com/True-Enough-Learning-Post-Fact-Society/dp/0470050101


Forces and factors...

There are a lot of forces at work which have undermined our democracy:

1) campaign finance which makes panderers of those we elect;

Although many studies find little evidence supporting this popular belief. For instance three MIT professors' work [NBER paper] (reported in the NY Times).

Also, when money passes from a constituent to a politician, remember, it might not be bribery -- it could be extortion.

How to tell the difference? Well, who has the power in the relationship? If the politician is fighting for his life, the donor does. But if the politician has rock-solid security in the seat of power, then he does, and the donor is the vulnerable party.

In the 1998 to 2008 elections, members of Congress had an average 96.3% successful re-election rate. (96.3%!) All of 3.7% of them lost.

2) redistricting so most House districts are one party districts;

Absolutely -- 96.3%! But not just the House, state-level politics too.

In California after the gerrymander-redistricting following the 2000 Census, 153 of 153 federal and state offices were held by the incumbent party in the 2004 election. Hmm, 153 of 153 is, um ... 100%!

Note that right now Pelosi and the Democrats in California are working hard to eliminate the one reform Ahnold's gotten through, the independent redistricting process.

3) low voter turnout in primaries, so more extreme elements of both parties determine the outcome;

Yes, but that's inherent in democracies, back to Athens. The "most motivated" always vote in disproportionate numbers. We'll just have to live with that. Nobody said democracy is perfect.

(We don't have to live with all the gerrymandering we have.)

4) life tenure in Congress for mostly rich lawyers instead of a broader mix of Americans; and

See #2. Life tenure yes, but don't blame us lawyers. Life tenure for anyone in politics is just as bad.

5) members of Congress who live back home because they get only a pittance to maintain a second home in Washington, don't get to know each other, and have little stake in supporting their colleagues or the institution they serve in.

I'll pass on this one.

Fixing our government is not a question of party or ideology; it's a question of electing more responsible leaders who believe the most important thing is doing the people's business, even more important than getting reelected.

But on this I really disagree. It's not a "character -- if only we had better people" issue. That's the "good old days" illusion in politics, back in the good old days politicians were more responsible, less partisan, not so concerned about winning elections. (Ha!) But the good-old-days illusion is as false in politics as everywhere else.

Look at the Founding Fathers themselves, sitting together in George Washington's cabinet. Thomas Jefferson used State Department funds to secretly hire the most scurrilous journalists to publicly attack and libel Alexander Hamilton, sitting in the office next to him, and to catch Hamilton in a "honey pot" sex scandal (successfully!). Hamilton used the Treasury and its police powers to prosecute/persecute Jefferson's allies. This is while they were George Washington's own team.

And let's not forget that the sitting Vice President of the United States shot Hamilton dead in a political feud -- and then returned to his duties presiding over the Senate.

Now, one might imagine Dick Cheney similarly shooting an arch-political critic like, say, Paul Krugman -- but nobody would expect him to actually do it and then return to his job in DC, sitting there over the Senate.

American politics has always been hardball, partisan and to win. Usually worse than today. (We did have a Civil War, among other problems.) We've survived. The DNA of our politicians has not deteriorated.

That's certainly not to say that the incentives in the system couldn't be improved to make things run better. But that's another story. Even if they are, politics will remain hardball, partisan, and to win.


Jim, Re: campaign finance

Jim,

Re: campaign finance reform, even leaving aside causes for significant skepticism if your assertion is that campaign contributions don't influence who can run a competitive campaign, who wins, who gets how much access to make their case, or how the president or member of Congress votes, your "extortion" argument seems specious: Extortion is an offer of a deal, is it not? As in, "You give me this money or you won't get something you want, but if you do give me this money, you will get what you want (or at least closer to it)." How does that support your (apparent) assertion? If the results will be the same whether or not the "victim" pays, it's not extortion. If the results depend on whether or not the "victim" pays, then the money influences the results.




Recent comments


Advertising


Order from Amazon


Copyright

Creative Commons LicenseThe content of CapitalGainsandGames.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Need permissions beyond the scope of this license? Please submit a request here.