Edge of Chaos is a political podcast starring Joe Ryan and Neurotoxin. Its aim is to have a free-flowing discussion of news and current events that also examines the empirical outcomes of public policy, avoiding biases based on ideology and policy intentions. Listener discretion is both advised and encouraged.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The 'Budget Deal' and A First Detailed Look At 2014

Firstly, STOP CALLING IT A BUDGET DEAL! A budget deal would constitute a comprehensive, long-term plan that clarifies how Federal money is acquired and spent. It could absolutely involve borrowing or tax hikes, but it would have to include specific numbers and justifications. Seeing as terms like comprehensive, long-term, clear, specific, and justified are all to the Congressional leaders of both parties what water was to the Wicked Witch of the West - let's grow up and call this what it is; just another Continuing Resolution.

And for a Continuing Resolution, it really isn't THAT bad. The problems that many fiscally conservative politicians like Justin Amash and Ted Cruz are attributing to it aren't actually caused by it - it just, well, continues them. It continues the Pentagon's blank check for which it is not required to report in any accountable fashion. It continues the embarrassing incompetence of the VA - a department so behind the times in terms of technology, communication, and organization that until we turn it upside down and dump every senior official into retirement, wouldn't succeed if we threw the entire Federal budget at it. It continues the destruction of essential industries like health care and agriculture through subsidies to the most inefficient and corrupt corporations whose only talent is to be subsidy-friendly. It continues to whittle away at the value of our paychecks and savings by ensuring gargantuan deficits that are automatically transformed into public debt, debt that the Federal Reserve enables banks to issue by creating money that doesn't exist, fueling inflation. The list goes on and on, and if we CONTINUE in this fashion, I may take up a career as a bookie for patrons to place bets on which economic disaster scenario will swallow up this country. But that being said, what else is new?

The real development here has nothing to do with government spending, it's a partisan shake-up that I voraciously celebrate. Since the 2010 elections, the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party has done everything within its power to force its leadership in both Houses NOT to continue the disastrous spending policies outlined above; a place I align closely with the Tea Party although I don't back them on everything. While the media contributes tirelessly to confusion on this next point, this wing doesn't have anything close to a majority of either chamber, or even the Republican Party in either chamber. What they have done is threaten mutiny against their leadership (such as removing Boehner as Speaker or endorsing Primary challengers) to force the leadership to use procedural hurdles to block the passage of continuing resolutions; the recent shutdown was only one example. What happened THIS time was the Republican leadership refused to hear their threats of mutiny and brought the continuing resolution up for a vote, and they unsurprisingly passed with massive bipartisan support and only the fringes voting against it.

The political aftermath will be simply catastrophic for the Republican establishment. Favoring a short-term compromise like this is nothing new for the likes of Boehner, Cantor, Ryan, and McConnell; which invariably begs the question "why didn't they just ignore the Tea Party for the last 3 years?" The answer is "because they understand the political process". Those threats of mutiny are far from hoaxes or bluffs, and now the Tea Party can be fully expected to deliver on them. It takes a majority of the House (not just a majority of your party) to be elected Speaker, and Boehner slipped by on a 3-vote margin earlier this year despite having a comfortable chamber majority. Come 2015, the Tea Party WILL fire him as Speaker - Newt Gingrich resigned in 1999 to avoid the public embarrassment of having this happen to him. Then there's the Primary chaos. The Republican Party may not have made gains in 2012, but the Tea Party spectacularly increased its numbers within its elected ranks via Primary challenges and aggressively claiming open seats. For 2014, half the defending Republican Senators are ALREADY facing Primary challenges from their own party, and most are Tea Partiers challenging establishment Republicans. There's the one comic relief exception of Liz Cheney (daughter of Dick) challenging stalwart conservative Mike Enzi in WY, but the latest polls have him crushing her by a 53% margin. We're looking at a reshuffling of the Republican Party that makes 2010 and 2012 look tame, and the possible election of leadership that shares Tea Party values. If you think "continuation" and "compromise" have a difficult time now, wait until actual Tea Partiers replace Boehner, McConnell, Cantor, McCarthy, and so forth.

"OK," my detractors will grimace, "but those crazies can't win the general election. They will split the Republican vote and Dems will retake control and not need their compromises." My response is simple - SAYS WHO?

Despite the tantrums of the likes of Rachael Maddow following the government shutdown that the Tea Party is dead and everyone now loves big government, the polls indicated that fringe holding on to its base while traditional Republicans and Democrats plummeted in popularity. In the Virginia elections shortly after, extreme fundamentalist Tea Party candidates were just barely edged out by Dem establishment candidates. That was with libertarians voting 3rd party, in a swing State, and before the Obamacare roll out. In fact, since Obamacare reared its ugly face, Republicans have consistently outdone Democrats in generic ballot polling - an indicator of doom for Democrats as Republicans can typically expect to win if they break even in these slightly biased studies. Obamacare is a festering smear on the Democratic Party that's practically impossible to wash away and its failures will continue to mar them all the way into next Fall. In 2010, the Tea Party devastated the Republican establishment in the Primaries and then proceeded to run roughshod over Democrats in the generals merely on anger over Obamacare's PASSAGE, before it had any real impact. If you think 2012 - where the Tea Party again devastated its own establishment but fell short of general election gains over Democrats - was an indicator of this trend being over, you're ignoring the colossally important difference between Presidential and midterm elections. There are MILLIONS of Americans that ONLY turnout for Presidential elections, and like it or not those Americans lean Democratic. The Tea Party's base are devoted and politically involved conservatives that vote in every balloting, and probably attend rallies and give money as well. No one is insisting that the Tea Party has majority support, but they're organized, funded and active in an electoral system that heavily favors participation.

If you want further evidence of my prediction here, look at the behavior of the media. Conservative media such as Fox News is scrambling to join all the Tea Party think tanks and financiers in thrashing the Republican establishment as traitors and sell-outs. One more time - FOX NEWS IS THRASHING PAUL RYAN and JOHN BOEHNER - pinch yourselves. I'm not a fan of this media machine but they are far from stupid, and this sudden change of allegiance to praising Ted Cruz and Rand Paul as "hopes for America" is a clear indicator they are placing their bets on these guys becoming the new Republican establishment. Their insider information is far better than yours or mine. Meanwhile, liberal media such as CNN, ABC, Politico, and Huffpost are all praising the Republican establishment (pinch yourselves AGAIN) for compromising and 'not taking it for the far right anymore'. The relationship of these media outlets with the Democratic establishment isn't quite that of Fox News with the Republican, but they ARE notorious for trying to influence the outcome by denying observable reality. The last time they tried this strategy was with Obama's gun control initiative, invariably at his request, and it failed miserably. The likes of Boehner and Ryan are sandwiched hopelessly between the Tea Party on the right and Democrats that despise them from the left, and the half-baked attempt by CNN and Huffpost to find them some love somewhere to avoid the Tea Party taking their place has no viable path to success.

Yes, folks, like it or hate it, 2014 is shaping up to be the year of the Tea Party. If it were 2016 I would share some of the left's discomfort, because the Tea Party is home to a sizable proportion of theocratic nutjobs that want to restrict a slew of civil liberties on religious grounds. But no Federal abortion nor gay marriage bans are getting through as long as Obama is in the White House to block them. What the Tea Party will bring is a long overdue barricade to the continuation of our disastrous budget policies. Regardless of what you think our budget priorities ought to be, if we don't put an end to the half ass way we operate them now - our country's status as an economic superpower is unlikely to last much longer.


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