No Other Choice

People only do what they have to do, which they really don’t want to do, when they have no other choice – as with that tedious college term paper long ago, or every college term paper long ago, and as with taxes every year. It’s not a matter of running out of excuses – the human mind is endlessly inventive – it’s a matter of running out of time. Just do it, whatever it is. It has to be done. It’s due – but then it might be done already, slightly ahead of time. The other factor that makes people do what they really don’t want to do is a reluctant cost-benefit analysis. The benefit of letting things slide, doing nothing – all that delicious free time – is outweighed by the cost of sitting in the shade sipping lemonade. There’s increasing guilt, and growing worry that gets worse by the minute, and there are those obvious reputational costs. No one wants to be seen as a flake and a worthless jerk with no ambition. The sixties are long gone. The days when that sort of thing was charming and authentic, if it ever was, are over. Those who put off what must be done – who defiantly do nothing, and expect to be admired for doing nothing – simply haven’t looked around, at how people are looking at them. It’s not pretty. The costs are high.

The Republicans must have sensed this, because on the last weekend in July, in the middle of the second term of the Obama presidency, after six years (or more) of opposing everything that man tried to get done, and doing nothing but oppose him, offering no alternatives to anything, the Republicans announced that they are ready to govern, and for the first time in many years, they will suddenly prove to a skeptical America that they actually can govern – believe or not. No, they haven’t come up with an alternative to Obamacare – but it has only been six years since that was proposed and four years since it was passed. They say they’re working on their alternative, which they really meant to propose in 2008 and which should have been what was passed in 2010, but things came up – Benghazi or whatever. They do, however, finally seem to sense that reputation cost of farting around. They seem gleeful that Obama’s approval rating has dropped into the dismal forties, and stays there, but Congress’ approval rating dropped to about seven percent long ago and may soon not register at all. This is not good.

That’s why they decided it was time to show America that they were ready to govern, and could govern rather impressively – even, as the folks who hate big government, or the concept of government itself, as government eventually should be drowned in the bathtub, they really never wanted to govern at all. That’s a problem, a conceptual one, and they put off dealing with that for one last day. They allowed themselves one last day of useless nonsense – spending a full day in the House debating whether to sue Obama for illegally and unconstitutionally modifying some implementation deadlines in a minor part of Obamacare, and then dramatically voting to sue the bastard – and the nation yawned. Presidents have always done this sort of thing. It’s the president’s job to figure out the best way to administer the laws that Congress passes. It’s in the job description.

That’s kind of basic stuff, but everyone knows that Boehner was doing this because he’s afraid to impeach Obama. His younger Tea Party associates, and Sarah Plain, certainly want to do that, but he remembers when the Republicans impeached Bill Clinton. The other old hands in the party remember too. The nation turned on them, for a generation, so it’s obvious that John Boehner did a cost benefit analysis. The cost of going forward with this nonsense lawsuit was going to be very high, he’d look like a jerk, but the cost of the Tea Party caucus in the House, and Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, turning on him, would be far higher – and without this absurd lawsuit they’d all be calling for impeachment soon enough, which would be a disaster for the Republicans. He had to do something. He did what he probably didn’t want to do – this – but there was no other choice.

At least they got this out of the system and could turn to their promise to show America that they could govern. On the last day in July, before the next morning’s start of their August recess, when both the House and Senate would leave town for five or six weeks, they’d pass the pieces of actual legislation, about important stuff. They’d pass a bill to appropriate billions of dollars to fix the Veterans Administration and all its hospitals and clinics – because we don’t let our troops down. That would show America they could govern effectively, and then pass something to shore up the Highway Trust Fund. That’s about to run out of money, halting all work on repairing roads and bridges all across the nation, and halting construction of anything new and needed – and dumping many hundreds of thousands of workers into the unemployment lines. They won’t wait for the next bridge to collapse or unemployment to triple, tripping the economy into a deep recession. They’d fix this, and they’d pass funding to keep the border and immigration services funded. They are about to run out of money – those tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America who had shown up on our side of the border, and had turned themselves in asking for help, were eating up all the resources. George Bush had pushed through a law that said such kids had to be treated humanely, not just shoved back across the border, and should fed and clothed and housed until a judge could hear what each of them had to say, individually, about why they were here, and if they had relatives here, and what would happen if we sent them back to Honduras or wherever. That sort of thing is damned expensive, and we can’t have the border control guys walk off the job because they’re not getting paid. Until Bush’s stupid law is repealed – and we can just shoot the little bastards – we’re going to have to spend a lot of money we never expected to spend. The Republicans swore that they’d fix this too. Just watch. It will be impressive.

Two out of three ain’t bad. They got the Veterans thing done:

Veterans enrolled in emergency care as of Aug. 1 who face long wait times, or live more than 40 miles from a VA facility could seek private care. It also gives VA $1.3 billion to open 27 new outpatient clinics, allows the VA secretary to fire top officials, allows veterans to qualify for in-state status for tuition at public colleges, and provides care for veterans who were sexually assaulted during their service.

It also cuts funding for VA employee bonuses by $40 million less than last year.

That’s settled, and that bit about veterans seeking private care gives the Republicans the toehold they always wanted in their effort to privatize all of this. It’s a start toward what they’ve always contended, that if the medical care of all veterans were to be provided by the private sector, seeking massive profits, the care would be magnificent, and cheap, and far more patriotic, in a capitalistic way, because no one would buy what the private sector was selling if it was overpriced crap. The profit motive always produces low cost extreme excellence – just like your local cable provider at home. No, wait – bad example – but you get the idea. The Democrats seem to have decided that was a discussion for another day. They just wanted something done, and it was – and that thing about cutting employee bonuses was pure meanness, but if that’s what it takes to get something passed, so these guys can tell their base they really stuck it to some government employees, so be it. Each side has to get something in politics.

It was the same with that highway thing:

Congress gave final approval Thursday to a $10.8 billion bill to keep federal highway funds flowing to states through the summer construction season and the fall elections. The Senate passed the House-written bill on an 81-13 vote after rejecting it earlier this week. The legislation includes enough money to fund highway and transit programs at promised levels through next May. It now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The Democrats gave in. They wanted the system fixed, and the Republicans said no, here’s some money to keep the work going for ten or twelve months, and we’ll talk about fixing things next May, unless we do this stopgap thing again. Check with us later – and since the Republicans were adamant about that, and because the Democrats don’t want any more bridges to collapse, they collapsed. This would have to do. There was no other choice, and there was this:

The two houses had played legislative ping pong with the issue in recent days because of a dispute over the House bill’s reliance on what critics called a “gimmick” for its funding. The bill covers more than half of its cost by letting companies defer required contributions to their employee pension plans, thus raising corporate profits and, temporarily, the tax revenues from those profits.

That’s odd, but this is a dispute over a larger issue – the worthless, greedy, grasping American worker, ruining businesses in America with all their demands for this and that, mostly nonsense about wages and pensions. They’re lucky they get paid at all and it’s no wonder everyone offshores as many jobs as they can – so let the honest businessman, just trying to make an honest buck, be allowed to defer those stupid contributions to those stupid employee pension plans. America is, after all, pretty damned tired of losers demanding stuff from the good guys, the real Americans who created actual businesses. It’s about time the losers chipped in, with their fancy pension money, for the good of America – and so on and so forth. Republican and Democrats have different views about American workers, but at least some roads and bridges will now get fixed, even if next May all bets are off. And the issue of whether employers should be forced to pay what they said they’d pay into employee pension plan, as stipulated in the employment contract, is an issue for another time. These workers just got screwed. American can discuss whether they should have gotten screwed some other time.

So that’s two out of three. Republicans can govern, or maybe not:

House Republican leaders were ambushed by another conservative insurrection on Thursday, forced to scrap a pivotal vote on a border security bill and scramble to find a solution amid a familiar whirlwind of acrimony and finger-pointing.

The failure to move forward with legislation aimed at coping with a surge of unaccompanied minors at the U.S.-Mexico border left Republicans unable to act on a problem that they have repeatedly described as a national crisis. As the drama unfolded in the House, the Senate also failed to advance legislation to address the immigration crisis, unable to overcome a procedural hurdle and then leaving town for five-week summer break.

The congressional chaos ensured that President Obama’s administration will not have the resources necessary to stem the recent tide of tens of thousands of migrants from Central America, many of them children entering the United States alone, until mid-September at the earliest.

This was a mess. The House Republicans couldn’t agree with each other, and the forty Senate Republicans blocked the sixty Senate Democrats from bringing anything to a vote, because even if it takes fifty-one votes, a simple majority, to pass legislation in the Senate, it takes sixty-one votes to agree that something should be voted on. Those are the Senate rules, but in the House it was even odder:

As late as Thursday morning, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and his allies claimed they had enough votes in the GOP-run chamber to pass a stripped-down, $659 million border bill aimed at speeding up deportations. But a revolt by hard-liners – inspired by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) – led Boehner to pull the bill in the face of certain defeat.

The retreat sparked panic among GOP moderates, who have felt marginalized and bullied during years of warfare with a small but influential tea party caucus. In a remarkable scene Thursday ­afternoon, angry rank-and-file members rushed to the House floor to surround Boehner and his newly installed majority leader, Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), waving their arms and jabbing their fingers as they demanded a vote.

After an emergency meeting in the Capitol basement, GOP leaders emerged with vows to try again Friday – though with no clear idea what they might be voting on.

That’s what Ed O’Keefe of the Washington Post saw, and he saw even more:

“You can’t go home!” Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.) shouted in an interview after the closed-door huddle. He suggested such a move would send a terrible message to Obama: “You’re right, we’re a do-nothing Congress.”

According to lawmakers, few Republicans spoke out against Boehner’s border plan in the meeting, and a handful said they might be coaxed into voting yes if a few tweaks were made to the legislation. That set in motion a series of smaller get-togethers throughout the evening, as senior Republicans tried to massage the bill to make changes to draw enough GOP votes.

“America did not send us here to do nothing,” said Rep. Steve Southerland II (R-Fla.), a junior member of the leadership team facing a tough November election.

This is the sort of thing that makes you appreciate reporters with lots of sources and good access, but there are larger issues here:

For the second straight year, lawmakers have choked on dealing with legislation related to immigration. In 2013, the Democratic-controlled Senate passed a broad rewrite of immigration law and border security on a bipartisan vote, providing a long pathway to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. The more conservative House has never been able to muster sufficient support among Republicans to even debate a similar bill.

Now, in a much more modest effort to cope with tens of thousands of Central American children at the border, both chambers of Congress are poised to come up empty.

Sure, but this is a Republican problem:

In the House, Boehner sought to corral votes from within his own party, needing support from at least 217 of 234 Republicans. But a sizable group of House conservatives worked hand in hand with Cruz, plotting to bring down the legislation in pursuit of an even more hardline approach.

Democrats blamed Boehner for chasing conservative votes that were never going to materialize, after initially proposing a more robust $1.5 billion plan that probably would have drawn some Democratic votes. Instead, GOP leaders shrank the bill in an effort to grow the Republican vote – while losing Democrats.

That’s what was happening here:

In addition to the border bill, Boehner’s team had offered to let conservatives vote on a separate measure to curtail Obama’s Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program, which gave protections to about 500,000 immigrants who were brought to the country as children. By adding a vote on DACA to the docket, many tea party Republicans said Boehner was able to win them over.

The House Republican border measures would have made it easier for the government to deport Central American minors who have entered the United States illegally and would provide $659 million in additional funding to federal agencies through the end of the fiscal year. Obama had requested $3.7 billion.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest issued a statement Thursday ahead of the planned votes, criticizing House Republicans for including a DACA vote as part of their legislative offering.

“It is extraordinary that the House of Representatives, after failing for more than a year to reform our broken immigration reform system, would vote to restrict a law enforcement tool that the Department of Homeland Security uses to focus resources on key enforcement priorities like public safety and border security, and provide temporary relief from deportation for people who are low priorities for removal,” Earnest said.

Nothing got done, or could get done, and one of the problems was Ted Cruz:

Boehner was always expected to have trouble overcoming objections of hardline House Republicans – but Cruz’s surprise intervention made his job almost impossible.

The drama presented an immediate challenge to new GOP House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican who took over the post on Thursday. Outgoing Majority Leader Eric Cantor bid farewell to his colleagues in a slightly sentimental floor speech after losing his primary election in June. Boehner was spotted dabbing away tears.

But behind the scenes, it was Cruz, the Texas conservative with presidential aspirations, who appeared to be pulling the strings.

He was out to screw over his enemy, that useless squish John Boehner:

Cruz’s handiwork lighted up the telephone lines in the Capitol after an appearance on a tea party webinar. He further stoked opposition among House Republicans when he met with them privately over pizza on the eve of Thursday’s vote.

As the afternoon unfolded, it became clear that House GOP leaders did not have enough support to pass the bill, and they abruptly canceled the vote.

House GOP leaders bristled at Cruz’s interference on their turf. Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) said Cruz had “hijacked” the Republican Party. Democrats jokingly referred to the senator as “Speaker Cruz.”

The Republican Party was at war with itself again, and then there was the irony of all ironies:

As lawmakers prepared to head home, Boehner – who just one day earlier had persuaded the House GOP to approve a lawsuit against Obama, whom they accuse of executive overreach – tried to defend the House’s inaction by suggesting that the president should solve the border crisis without Congress by taking steps on his own.

“There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action, to secure our borders and ensure these children are returned swiftly and safely to their countries,” Boehner said.

Yeah, right – Boehner had just been given the go-ahead, and the taxpayer dollars, to sue Obama for doing just that. He was not having a good day as speaker:

Airplane tickets were canceled. Trips abroad were put on hold. One congressman said he may miss his son’s weekend wedding.

Boehner warned members that “we’re not even close” to having enough votes, according to those familiar with the private meeting.

That’s because they’re trapped:

Before the chaos on the House floor, Boehner had succumbed to pressure to include a Cruz-inspired measure that would defund the administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program – which has given 500,000 young immigrants legal status for meeting requirements that they remain in college or join the military.

Cruz had offered similar legislation in the Senate, but could not get a vote in that chamber. With a push from Cruz, the effort shifted to the House, where the bill also would have blocked any future legalization programs Obama has promised to deliver this year.

That’s not the message Republicans want to send to Latino voters before breaking for midterm election campaigning. But Boehner agreed to allow a vote on the Cruz-inspired measure, calculating that it was more important to show the House taking action and worry about political fallout later.

“The way Republicans have demonized the kids,” said Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), “it’s going to come back and bite them.”

Of course it will, but everything is a cost-benefit calculation, but being unable to do anything has an even higher cost than choosing the one thing or the other thing, except that Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog isn’t so sure about that:

I know I’m supposed to regard this as a tremendous black eye for Republicans, and for John Boehner in particular – and obviously it is in the eyes of political insiders and mavens. But are any Republicans actually going to be punished for this in a way that’s going to sting? …

Which Republican is going to lose an election in November because of this? I assume the answer is “None of them.” This makes House Republicans look like terrible public servants who accomplish nothing on behalf of the American people. But America already regarded House Republicans that way before today, and they were poised to hold pretty much every seat they hold now, largely because of gerrymandering, while their party was – and still is – certain to gain seats in the Senate, quite possibly enough to gain control.

Does anyone seriously think any of that has changed?

In fact, these clowns have probably increased their appeal to the Fox-addled voting base of their party. And even if a handful of swing voters now have a blinding flash of insight and realize that Republican legislators are outright frauds, in what district is the race close enough to matter? Name me one.

That seems about right, and that would mean that the whole idea that it was time for the Republicans to show America that they were ready to govern, and could govern rather impressively, even if they didn’t really want to, was foolish. They hadn’t run out of time or excuses. Nothing was due. For them, there is no cost for doing nothing, only benefits. In fact, Slate’s Dave Weigel explains this quite tersely – “Voters are aware of a border crisis, they are aware that Barack Obama is president – they blame him for nothing getting done.”

That’s it, and at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum points out the obvious implications of that insight:

Yep. Republicans can basically do anything they want and never get blamed for it. Most voters don’t even know who’s in control of Congress anyway. When something goes wrong, all they know is (a) something went wrong, and (b) Barack Obama is the president and he should have done something about it.

That being the case, what incentive do Republicans have for making things go right? Pretty much none. This is, roughly speaking, a fairly new insight, and it explains most of what you need to know about American politics in the Obama era.

There you have it. People only do what they have to do, which they really don’t want to do, when they have no other choice – and Republicans had nothing they really had to do in the first place. No one expects them to govern, and those who elect them like it that way. Now all they have to do is convince the rest of America to like it that way.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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2 Responses to No Other Choice

  1. Rick says:

    “Republicans had nothing they really had to do in the first place. No one expects them to govern, and those who elect them like it that way. Now all they have to do is convince the rest of America to like it that way.”

    Really? To what end?

    Every once in a while, Republican leadership goes through the motions of making it look like they’re actually capable of doing something, in the same way that Netanyahu and his people pretend they are doing something over in Israel, but it’s all just P.R. Both groups may be slightly embarrassed by their public image, but not enough to change anything, since that might erode their power, and to them, staying in power is really what it’s all about, not convincing losers that your heart really is in the right place.

    Not that this is the way our country is supposed to be run, of course. After all, even if the damned country seems to be stumbling along on autopilot, those low approval numbers of all the people in charge has to tell us that things are not as they should be. In fact, I suspect if most the founders were able to see some minority House faction dominating all our law-making, and taking its cues from some flaky out-of-work ex-Governor — not to mention a member of the Senate! — they’d think maybe the design they came up with for the country needs to go back to the drawing board.

    In fact, I think the nation’s founders were probably more appreciative of the value of patience and compromise than are these purists of today who, ironically, pretend to an exclusive relationship with them. After all, there were plenty of northern states back then who weren’t crazy about co-creating a new country with slave states, especially if it meant allowing the slave states to foist the blatantly dishonest gimmick of pretending that their slaves — people they wouldn’t even allowed representation — should be counted as part of their population, all to maximize their power. But they agreed to do it anyway, maybe on the assumption that, someday, given that the inexorable direction of history seemed to be for the better, things will eventually go their way.

    And besides, at least back then, it was vitally important to get things done, because they knew their confederacy experiment was a failure and was dying, and the states were threatening to fall apart, making each individual state a ripe target for takeover by one European power or other.

    Yeah, we’re tempted to think of the founders as people who stuck by their principles, no matter what, but we forget that, without the their willingness to compromise with folks they totally disagreed with, the United States of America wouldn’t be here today.


    • Rick says:

      “Really? To what end?”

      Okay, that sounds a bit more harsh than I meant it to be. In fact, I wasn’t criticizing you, Alan; I meant that to about the Republicans.

      Sorry. Sometimes I just need to slow down and re-read these things I write before I post them.


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