Most of America doesn’t follow politics – it’s a tedious business filled with hideously unpleasant people pretending to be the smartest and nicest and most honest folks you’ll ever meet – but most Americans do want to know what’s going to happen next. Will these people do something foolish and ruin the economy, again? Are we going to war again, for another ten years, in two or three different odd places at the same time, places no one’s ever heard of, for reasons they can’t quite explain? Will both birth control and e-cigarettes be banned, while both gay marriage and smoking marijuana become legal everywhere? Will public schools be forbidden to teach science? Will there even be any public schools in the future? Will they shut down postal service entirely? Will they take all poor people, and those in what remains of what used to be the middle class, out back and shoot them – or make rich folks chip in more so no one has to shoot them? Will unemployment insurance and food stamps, and then Medicaid, and then Medicare, and then Social Security, be phased out, and will they repeal Obamacare and take away all health insurance for the twenty-four million who will have that by the time the next presidential election rolls around? Even for those who don’t follow politics at all, these questions are interesting, and for many, vital.
Those questions cannot be answered. The only thing that can be said is that it looks like the Republicans will hold the House in the upcoming midterms, and may win back the Senate – they have a slight edge there at the moment. The details don’t matter, and if that happens, the Republicans can do what they want, and it will go nowhere, because Obama will have two more years in the White House and can veto anything they come up with. To those who don’t follow the constantly-shifting detailed ins-and-outs of politics, that simply means expect two years of a lot of angry shouting and nothing at all getting done.
After that, all bets are off. Hillary Clinton will be our next president, unless she chooses not to run. The Republicans have no one who could possibly defeat her head-to-head, no matter how many of their billionaires pour in hundreds of millions in the form of those now-unlimited contributions. Republicans, after all, are still fighting each other over who hates the poor and immigrants and Obamacare, and labor unions and loose women and black folks, more than the other guy, and seeing who can shout Jesus and Ronald Reagan and Sheldon Adelson the loudest. None of that plays well outside their own circle, and at the moment, behind the scenes, what’s left of the Republican establishment is huddling with the business folks, trying to get Jeb Bush to run, but even he knows better. The country doesn’t want a third Bush. The first two were quite enough, thank you, and anyway, Hillary Clinton or any other Democrat has a demographic advantage from here on out. The supply of angry old white men is diminishing rapidly, and naturally, and billionaires and corporate officers and bankers and hedge fund managers, all counter together and counted twice, are far outnumbered by the rest of us. They don’t call them the One Percent for nothing. The writing is on the wall. These folks can’t avoid the inevitable.
That may seem obvious, but Salon’s Joan Walsh points out that they do have a plan to delay the inevitable for quite some time:
Three stories in the last three days brought into focus exactly how Republicans plan to tough out the demographic extinction that is eventually coming for them, if they remain a 90 percent white party in a country that will be less than half white within 25 years. One, they’re doing as Wisconsin did, and ramming through voting restrictions in states controlled by Republicans. As the New York Times reported Sunday, Wisconsin is only one of nine states have made it harder to vote since Obama’s re-election (18 states had already made it tougher after he won the first time, according to the Brennan Center).
Two, they’re working hard to demoralize the Democratic base by blocking policies Democrats promised to enact, like immigration reform. Another Times piece showed how Latino activists are finding it hard to register and motivate Latino voters, because the failure to make good on immigration legislation has them convinced anew that voting doesn’t matter. Of 50 people approached by a young Latina organizer, “not a single person” was interested. “They were like, ‘Why? Why would I bother to vote?'” the organizer told the Times.
Finally, an AP story detailed how a combination of geography and gerrymandering let Republican state legislatures draw congressional district lines that will let the GOP control the House, even as Democrats get millions more votes in House races overall…
This sounds cynical. It’s an implicit admission that they know full well that they can’t possibly win on the issues, and is probably in part illegal, but Walsh notes that it’s not dumb:
The truth is, most Republicans don’t think they have to “attract more people,” if they limit those who can vote to the people they already attract: older, wealthier white people. They don’t need “ideas” either; they can go without their own immigration reform bill, or a plan to “replace” Obamacare, as long as they’re playing the trifecta of voter suppression, voter demoralization and gerrymandering. If Republicans hit that trifecta, they don’t have to worry about being overwhelmingly outnumbered by Democrats. They can steamroll the midterms, when the electorate is reliably older and whiter, and lock up state houses by spending big money in a low-turnout year.
They even have a shot at the White House, though that route is harder, because Democrats are developing an electoral-vote lock, thanks to the combination of big states turning deeper blue and higher presidential-election-year turnout by young and nonwhite voters. But winning the White House is worth less and less if a president is thwarted by Republican nihilists, and the cynicism that results could ultimately overwhelm the Democrats’ demographic advantages.
That’s one possible future, a time when it doesn’t matter who the president is, because the president will no longer matter. Congress will be controlled by those who hold that government can never do anything right, let the unregulated free market decide things and they’ll prove this whole government thing is a scam. They’ll pass next to nothing, and what they do pass will go to the White House, to die by veto, or be signed into law by a minor functionary whose job is to sign things. Back in 2012, Grover Norquist said this explicitly:
We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go. We want the Ryan budget. We just need a president to sign this stuff. We don’t need someone to think it up or design it. The leadership now for the modern conservative movement for the next 20 years will be coming out of the House and the Senate. …
Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become president of the United States.
At the time he was telling Real Republicans to get over their distaste for Mitt Romney and just get out there and drum up votes for the damned guy – having the requisite digits, he’d do – but Norquist was also predicting one possible future, and the future would include the Ryan budget. With a perpetual Republican Congress firmly in place, the government would do what was specified in the Ryan budget, and no more than that, ever.
For those who find politics both boring and at the same time deeply offensive – the two aren’t mutually exclusive – but who want to know what happens next, Ryan just released the latest version of his thoroughly predictable budget:
The unveiling Tuesday of Representative Paul D. Ryan’s newest Republican budget may have redrawn the battle lines for the 2014 election, detailing what his party could do with complete control of Congress and allowing Democrats to broaden the political terrain beyond health care and the narrower issues of the minimum wage and unemployment benefits.
Mr. Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman and a possible White House contender in 2016, laid out a budget plan that cuts $5 trillion in spending over the next decade. He said it would bring federal spending and taxes into balance by 2024, through steep cuts to Medicaid and food stamps, and the total repeal of the Affordable Care Act just as millions are reaping the benefits of the law.
Yep, the poor and the middle class get hammered, or more precisely, get nothing and have what they do have ripped away from them, but defense spending would soar. Domestic programs would be reduced to the lowest levels since such things began to be tracked, and of course Medicare would be converted into a “premium support” system – for all you’ve paid in over all the years, if you’re over sixty-five, you’d now get a small lump sum, that decreases each year, to buy health insurance on the open market, if anyone is selling that sort of thing to sick old people. If they’re not, because they’d only lose money, that’s the free market doing what it should, better than the government could do.
Everyone has heard this before. This latest version of the Ryan budget has no surprises, save for this:
Even with those tough political choices, the budget would balance in 2024 only because Mr. Ryan is assuming his cuts would prompt a burst of economic growth to raise tax revenues above what independent economists forecast. He also does not adjust the government’s revenue ledger to reflect the cost of repealing the health care law’s tax increases and Medicare cuts, which could total $2 trillion.
Assuming that burst of economic growth to raise tax revenues is called “dynamic scoring” – otherwise known as wishful thinking, and sometimes known as cheating. Note also that Obamacare is repealed, but not the taxes that pay for it, so everyone gets to keep paying, forever, for what will be taken away from them, forever. It’s a good thing his guy has mastered the art of looking thoughtful and serious. Your mother was right. Dressing well and good posture do matter, and look people in the eye, and seem sincere no matter what. That sort of thing works wonders when you’re selling bullshit. And this really is bullshit. The Senate, controlled by the Democrats, will never even take it up. If the Senate changes hands and passes it, Obama will veto it. This budget is no more than a position paper, full of imaginary numbers too.
Even so, some people will still give you grief:
A day after House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., suggested former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin take a closer look at his 2015 budget proposal, which she had dismissed as a “joke,” Palin said digging deeper won’t change her mind.
Ryan released his budget Tuesday, which the committee began considering a day later. A full House vote on the legislation is expected next week – and possible defections by conservatives mean its passage is not assured. The Wisconsin Republican said his proposal will balance the federal budget in a decade, cut spending by $5 trillion, repeal Obamacare, and reform entitlement programs. It has no prayer of being adopted by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Ryan’s budget may be just a rhetorical exercise, but Palin still called it a “joke” for not dealing with “wasteful government overspending” that needs to be dealt with “today.” Ryan replied that Palin “ought to take a look at the details, and I think she’d probably be pretty pleased.”
Thursday night, Palin told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that’s not going to happen. “No, no. Bless his heart,” she said. “He probably has more faith in politicians than I do because I’ve been in this political arena on the local, state and now national level for a long time. I don’t trust future legislative bodies to adhere to today’s legislative body wishing that 10 years from now they will cut some budget.”
“What Paul Ryan’s budget does is that ultimately it increases spending over 10 years (by) $1.116 trillion,” she continued. “That’s trillion with a ‘t’ and that stands for trouble. Trouble for our nation because it still is involving deficit spending, increasing debt, and we can’t afford that.”
Ah, she was pulling rank. She knows more about American politics than this young foolish fellow from Wisconsin, and everyone else for that matter, and she also knows that insightful song from The Music Man – which really is pretty catchy.
But David Firestone reports that she’s not alone:
The House leadership is trying to muscle Paul Ryan’s 2015 budget plan through the Republican caucus, and the amount of effort required is revealing. The budget is full of breathtakingly unfair spending cuts, but many Republican House members don’t like it because they think it doesn’t go far enough.
Walter Jones of North Carolina said he cannot vote for any budget that contains a dollar of foreign aid. Thomas Massie of Kentucky said the budget doesn’t cut spending nearly fast enough.
“I campaigned on needing to balance the budget in the next five years, not 10 years,” Mr. Massie told The Hill. “And I need a budget that makes some serious course corrections in the next year.”
Firestone notes that this one possible future isn’t dismal enough for Massie and his buddies:
He’s talking about a budget that cuts $5 trillion from spending over the next decade – a ludicrously steep decline but apparently not the cliff-dive Mr. Massie is seeking. And there’s not much doubt about where all that money is coming from. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities did the subtraction this week and determined that 69 percent of the cuts in the Ryan budget come from programs that benefit people with low or moderate incomes.
That includes programs such as Pell grants, which send poor kids to college, and Medicaid, which allows poor people to receive medical care. It even slashes subsidized school lunches.
The budget would also devastate food stamps. A report issued by the CBPP on Friday showed that Mr. Ryan would cut $137 billion from food stamps over the next decade, an 18 percent decline that would terminate benefits for 3.8 million people right away. And if Mr. Ryan’s plan to turn food stamps into a state block grant went into effect, Republican states would cut off millions more people.
Firestone is a bit amazed:
The Republicans are eager to say that they would take food stamps away from poor people. They’re proud of trying to cut school lunches and Pell grants. If the Democrats can’t get their voters to the polls with that kind of material, they’re not trying hard enough.
That may be true, or normal folks with real lives out in the world beyond Washington find all this to be tedious and meaningless, but Democrats are trying harder:
Representative Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said that in the coming weeks, the committee would be buying online advertising in competitive House districts, making automated phone calls and creating a new website, “Scandalous,” to tell of district-specific cuts.
“We are going to make this budget the centerpiece of the next seven months,” he said.
Will anyone pay attention? Perhaps they will, because these Republican guys are all-in on this thing:
Republican leaders had considered not doing a budget this year, since spending cuts for the current fiscal year and the next were set in December with passage of a bipartisan plan. But House conservatives demanded a document they could take to their strongly Republican districts.
The new budget violates some tenets that both parties have tried to observe since the budget fights of 2011 and 2012. Those fights preserved a practice of cutting defense and nondefense programs almost equally while sparing the poorest Americans from the worst of the belt-tightening.
Mr. Ryan’s plan does not strike that balance.
This is war:
Ryan did not shy away from hot-button issues. Education funding would be cut by $145 billion over 10 years. Pell grants for college students would lose $90 billion. University students would start being charged interest on their loans while still in school, reaping $40 billion.
Federal subsidies for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, as well as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting “can no longer be justified,” Mr. Ryan said.
Sesame Street’s Big Bird has to go, and college is going to be much more expensive, and there’s this:
The former GOP vice presidential nominee was asked on Bloomberg’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” about whether Republicans would keep provisions like requiring coverage for pre-existing conditions, keeping kids on their parents’ insurance until they are 26 years old and barring insurance companies from having different rates for those whose jobs include physical labor…
“If you look at these kinds of reforms, where they’ve been tried before – say the state of Kentucky, for example – you basically make it impossible to underwrite insurance,” Ryan said, according to an advance transcript. “You dramatically crank up the cost. And you make it hard for people to get affordable health care.”
You don’t want to make it impossible to underwrite insurance, which is to say you don’t want to make it hard for insurance companies to make big bucks by only insuring those least likely to get sick or stuff like that. Giving them ten times the number of paying customers, to spread the claims-costs, is meddling with how free markets are supposed to work, but Ryan did go on to say that Republicans would work to make healthcare affordable, even if he has no specific ideas, at the moment, for how to help people in vulnerable groups. His side will think of something. Trust him. His side rejects the whole concept guaranteed coverage, and reasonably priced insurance for people in high-risk categories too, but maybe an unregulated free market will fix everything. It could happen.
Obama doesn’t think so:
President Barack Obama said the budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Tuesday is a “stinkburger.”
Obama made the comments while speaking in Ann Arbor, Michigan, shortly after eating at the well-known deli Zingerman’s. Obama likened Ryan’s plan to a sandwich – but not a very good one – that might be sold at the deli.
“If they tried to sell this sandwich at Zingerman’s, they’d have to call it the ‘Stinkburger’ or the ‘Meanwich,'” Obama said.
Obama was speaking in code, not about limburger on rye with chopped garlic and thick slices of raw onion. The term is “shit sandwich” – and everyone knew it, and being served one of those is one possible future those who don’t follow politics will face, unless they get off their asses and vote. But then that’s getting harder to do, isn’t it?
Maybe it is best to not follow this stuff too closely. Those hideously unpleasant people are what they are, and what will happen, well, will happen – and being politically engaged is so complicated. It’s too bad it matters so much.