Tag Archives: Congress

This is bad reporting.

Let’s assume you’re a normal person. And let’s propose a scenario in which, after years of gridlock between Republicans and Democrats in Washington, the GOP finally seems to be willing to give a little — now that they’ve definitively lost the last two presidential elections and polling appears to be mostly on the side of Democratic policies.

In such a situation, you’d probably welcome the prospect of a Republican thaw and assume it may help produce actual bipartisan legislation for once, no?

Well, no. Not if you’re the New York Times:

But the politics of one core dispute between Democrats and Republicans — what to do about Medicare — are changing. And some of those changes complicate President Obama’s agenda, even as he continues to flex his postelection muscle.

One shift is the shrinking magnitude of the Medicare spending problem — a consequence, at least for now, of a recent slowdown in the rise of health care costs. That diminishes the willingness of Congressional Democrats, and perhaps the administration, too, to accept the sort of Medicare curbs that Mr. Obama has indicated that he favors.

Another is a moderation in the public stance of Republican leaders. In recent weeks, they have advocated smaller changes to Medicare than the “premium support” or voucher plan that Mitt Romney advocated and that Mr. Obama denounced in last year’s presidential campaign.

As a result, Mr. Obama’s ability to deliver a bipartisan compromise on entitlement spending may be waning even as Republicans edge closer to one.

That’s right: Republican moderation is partly why President Obama may be unable to “deliver a bipartisan compromise.” If that sounds ridiculously counterintuitive, it’s because it is.

Yes, I realize the point of the article: that Obama and the Democrats now feel they have the upper hand, which might make them likelier to press their advantage while they have it — thus derailing the hope of a deal. (Never mind the fact that there is virtually no historical/empirical basis to support the notion that the Democrats have taken, or will ever take, advantage of whatever leverage they have.)

But this contorted logic only makes any sense in the context of the conventional wisdom that major media players like the New York Times help create. Mainstream journalists love to mock bloggy sites like Politico for their seeming giddiness in reporting on Washington insider politics, and yet this article — appearing in the Paper of Record, no less — is Beltway cynicism at its worst.

Maybe if the Times focused less on creating counter-incentives that don’t yet exist and exerted more effort instead on sensible reporting of actual political developments, we wouldn’t have so many of these manufactured crises in the first place.

On the supercommittee

For the last week or so, I’ve been reading all over the place about what a colossal failure the Congressional supercommittee has been for failing to reach a deficit deal and, as a consequence, automatically triggering $1.2 trillion of “sequester” cuts. To take one recent example, this week’s Economist stated that “the implications of the committee’s failure are more disturbing than the reaction of the markets has let on” and argued that, going forward, “Congress will be trying to undo the supposedly automatic budget cuts it agreed to only in order to make it impossible for the supercommittee to fail.”

Perhaps this is a naive question, but why is no one floating the possibility that the “failure” of the supercommittee was actually intentional? Or at the very least, semi-intentional. One of the biggest problems with the debt negotiations going all the way back to the debt-ceiling crisis, it seems to me, was that even the members of Congress who wanted to cut a deal felt they didn’t have sufficient political cover to do so. This was especially true on the Republican side, which is facing extraordinary rightward pressures from the Tea Party, Grover Norquist’s cultish no-tax-increases “pledge,” et al.

So then, wouldn’t automatically triggered cuts, in the event of a “failure” to reach a deal, work beautifully for both sides? In that, during months of negotiations, the two parties couldn’t reach any agreement in the traditional sense (writing a deficit-reduction bill and passing it) due to pressures from their respective political bases, instituting the very same type of deal but calling it a “failure” (for which each side can blame the other) is a fancy little way of avoiding criticism by pretending that that the “sequester” cuts were not expected to ever occur. Now, both Republicans and Democrats get to hammer each other for obstructing the deal, but there’s no clear loser — except for the institution of Congress itself, whose approval ratings are, quite frankly, already at rock-bottom anyway. Democrats get to talk about how they’ve cut defense (liberal red meat) and how Obama will veto any attempts to reverse this; Republicans get to crow about taking a step to tackle the deficit (conservative red meat). I wouldn’t necessarily call it a “win-win” situation, but I don’t see how it’s particularly damaging for the parties either. The one “loser” besides Congress in all of this could be Obama, but given the disparity between his approval ratings and those of Congress, it seems the American public has at least a cursory notion of which institution has proved itself so useless for the past couple years.

Am I wrong on this?