Arcane Senate Rules Will Save the Country (Maybe)

As always, this guy knows exactly what he's doing. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

I doubt you're eager to hear a great deal more about the impending government shutdown (if you find yourself interested in it for more than four hours, consult a medical professional immediately), but there's a glimmer of hope today that things may actually turn out OK, at least until we have to fight over the debt ceiling in two weeks. And it's all thanks to absurdly complex Senate procedures, which could allow Republicans to save face while keeping the government from shutting down.

As you may have heard, the House recently passed a continuing resolution (CR) temporarily funding the government so long as the Affordable Care Act is defunded, President Barack Obama publicly renounces any intentions to help people get insurance ever again, and a nine-year-old girl with leukemia is delivered to the House floor so members of the Republican caucus can tell her to her face that she's a loser who should get a job and stop being such a drain on society (well OK, not those last two, but perhaps they'll be passed at a later date). This CR can't pass the Democratic-majority Senate, and sane Republicans know that if the government shuts down, the GOP will get the blame. But they also know they need to make as many pointless, symbolic fist-shaking gestures against Obamacare as they possibly can to forestall challenges from the right. No one understands this better than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, possibly the savviest politician in Washington, who is getting just such a Tea Party primary challenge in his ongoing re-election race. What to do?

Me, Myself, and Netanyahu

AP Photo/Ammar Awad, Pool

When Barack Obama looks at the White House appointment book and sees that Benjamin Netanyahu will come calling next Monday, I doubt he'll smile. Past meetings between the president and the Israeli prime minister have come in two types: ones in which they publicly displayed the mutual distaste of brothers-in-law who wish they weren't in business together and ones in which they pretended for the cameras that they get along.

Netanyahu's political soul is a hybrid of an early 21st-century Republican and a mid-20th-century Central European. In a certain place inside him, every day is September 30, 1938, when Britain sold out Czechoslovakia, and great-power perfidy is inevitable. A year ago, in his more contemporary mode, Netanyahu was publicly supporting Obama's electoral opponent, a detail neither man will mention on Monday.

Can Republicans Buck the Tea Party?

AP Photo/Marc Levy

Since the Tea Party emerged following President Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, Republican governors have frequently been the faces of some of the most extreme policies in recent political memory. Even before her infamous “finger point” at the president, Arizona’s Jan Brewer was signing and defending her state’s racial-profiling bill, SB 1070. In Ohio, John Kasich championed a law—later repealed by voters—to strip public employees of bargaining rights. In Florida, Rick Scott has pushed a plethora of hard-right policies, from drug screening of welfare recipients and government employees to reductions in early voting. Michigan’s Rick Snyder, who has a moderate streak, went to the extreme last December when he approved “right to work” legislation in a state built largely by union labor.

Yet Brewer, Kasich, Snyder, and Scott are among the nine GOP governors who have staked considerable political capital on Medicaid expansion, a key piece of the Affordable Care Act.

The Day after Shutdown

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

So it’s October … or maybe it’s six or ten weeks later, after a short-term continuing resolution has come and gone. The clock strikes midnight, Congress has failed to fund the government, and the next day it shuts down.

What happens next?

The Finger of Blame Points Only One Way

It's pointing. (Flickr/Gabe Austin)

Sorry to subject you to another post about the pending government shutdown (It's Friday—shouldn't I be writing about robots? Maybe later.), but I just want to make this point briefly. As we approach and perhaps reach a shutdown, Republicans are going to try very hard to convince people that this is all Barack Obama's fault. I'm guessing that right now, staffers in Eric Cantor's office have formed a task force to work day and night to devise a Twitter hashtag to that effect; perhaps it'll be #BarackOshutdown or #Obamadowner or something equally clever. They don't have any choice, since both parties try to win every communication battle. But they're going to fail. The public is going to blame them. It's inevitable. Here's why.

Immigration Reform's Make-or-Break Moment?

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Earlier this week, top advocates of immigration reform met at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the National Democrat Network (NDN), a center-left think tank, to discuss the prospects of getting a bill through Congress by year's end. "The fundamentals are stronger than at any time during the last ten years," Tamar Jacoby, president and CEO of ImmigrationWorks USA, told the audience. "[Immigration reform] is a plane on the runway ready to take off." Skeptics might counter that the jet has been sitting on the tarmac for months. In early June, House Speaker John Boehner said immigration reform was set to see the president’s desk by the end of the summer. The White House said the same thing. The Senate passed an omnibus bill in July, but August recess came and went without legislation getting through the House. Now, with the looming budget battle soaking up the Beltway’s oxygen, it seems House Republicans intend to slow-walk the bill to death.

Ted Cruz Is Not Well-Liked

He doesn't like you, either. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

"Be liked and you will never want," said Willy Loman, the protagonist of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. "That's the wonder, the wonder of this country, that a man can end with diamonds here on the basis of being liked!" Of course, the great tragic figure of the American theater was terribly wrong about that. But in politics, personal relationships still matter, even if the days when Lyndon Johnson would call up a senator and sweet-talk him into changing his vote on a bill are long gone.

I'm thinking about this because Ted Cruz—Tea Party hero, up-and-comer, future presidential candidate—is suddenly finding himself on the receiving end of a whole lot of hostility from House Republicans. By way of context, there's a broad consensus that Cruz is, as George W. Bush would put it, a major-league asshole. He's not someone who wastes time and energy being nice to people or cultivating relationships that could be useful down the road. He's pretty sure he's smarter than everyone, and doesn't mind making it clear that's how he feels. People consider him rude and condescending. This was apparent from the moment he got to Washington, and it was true back in Texas as well. But if you agree with his politics, then does that matter?

It sure seems to matter today.

My Shutdown Lament

Truly this is a place of darkness. (Flickr/K.P.Tripathi)

I have a problem. My job is to keep up with the world of politics and then write commentary, explanations, and analysis that readers will find interesting, entertaining, or informative. Sometimes that involves big-picture looks at policy issues, sometimes it involves making pretty pictures (look here—I made maps!), but much of the time, it's about giving some kind of novel perspective on the things that are happening today, this week, or this month. I try very hard to always add something, to not just repeat what everybody else is saying but to offer something different, so that people who read this blog will come away feeling they understand the world just a little bit better. Perhaps I don't always succeed, and you may or may not get value out of any particular thing I've written. But what do you do when the news turns into some kind of hellish version of Groundhog Day, repeating the same abysmal scenario over and over, in which even the happy ending doesn't involve finding true love and better understanding of yourself and your role in the world like Bill Murray did, but at best a return to the status quo ante of mindless political squabbles and unsolved problems?

What, then, can I add about the latest twist in the pending government shutdown? How many different ways are there to say that the Tea Party Republicans are both crazy and stupid? How often can you point out that John Boehner is pathetically weak, quite possibly the most ineffectual Speaker in the history of the House of Representatives? How many times can you remind people of all the awful things that would happen if the government shuts down and/or we don't raise the debt ceiling? How many times can you scream at Republicans that they are never, ever, ever going to repeal the Affordable Care Act so they should just give it the hell up already? How many times can you cry that this would be an insane way to run a junior-high student council, much less the government of the mightiest nation on earth?

The Obamacare Is Falling! The Obamacare Is Falling!

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

As we approach the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act at the end of the year, confusion still reigns. Most Americans don't understand what the ACA does or how it works, which is perhaps understandable. It is, after all, an exceedingly complex law, and from even before it passed there was an aggressive and well-funded campaign of misinformation meant to confuse and deceive Americans about it, a campaign that continues to this day and shows no sign of abating. To undo uncertainty and banish befuddlement, we offer answers to a few questions you might have about Obamacare.

Shutdown Report: How to Play Chicken and Lose

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite

Republicans are likely incur serious political damage in their effort to hold hostage continued funding of the government in exchange for deep spending cuts. This routine has become an annual ritual, and in the past President Obama has been the first one to cave. The 2011 Budget Control Act, which includes the automatic sequester, is one bitter fruit of the president’s past failure to hang tough in the face of Republican extremist demands.

Could Conservatives Help Obamacare Implementation Work?

She only wants to help, really. (Flickr/American Life League)

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act, up to and including President Obama, have been at pains to point out to anyone who'd listen that as with any large and complex piece of legislation, implementation is going to be imperfect. There are going to be hiccups. Hurdles. Stumbles. Stops and starts, ups and downs, potholes and roadblocks and detours. They've been saying it because it's true, because they want to prepare the media and the public, and because they know that conservatives will be squawking loudly every time it becomes apparent that some feature of the law needs to be adjusted, trying to convince everyone that even the most minor of difficulties is proof the law should never have been enacted in the first place.

But let me make a counter-intuitive suggestion: Perhaps all the inevitable overblown carping from the right will prove to be a good thing, actually making the law work better in the long run

The Sum of Its Parts

Flickr/Will O'Neill

We're just two weeks away from the start of open enrollment for the new state health care exchanges established as part of the Affordable Care Act, and it's safe to say that Republicans will not be able to repeal the law between now and then. It's equally safe to say that they won't be able to repeal it by January 1st, which is when the people who sign up for insurance through those exchanges start on their new plans. That's also the date when a whole bunch of other components of the law take effect. When that day comes, will Republicans have to abandon all hope of ever repealing it?

The ones who don't understand the law (and let's be honest, that's probably most of them) might answer yes. Once it goes into effect and begins destroying lives, sapping us of our precious bodily fluids, and generally turning America into a socialist hellhole where all hope has died and the flickering flame of freedom has been snuffed out, people will quickly realize what a disaster it is and support repeal. The problem is that come January, the ACA will be transformed. It will no longer be a big, abstract entity that would be possible to undo. Instead, it will be what it truly was all along: a large number of specific reforms and regulations that in practical terms are entirely separate from one another. What this means is that once it takes effect, "Obamacare" for all intents and purposes will cease to exist.

America's Exception Deception

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

In a democracy, politicians seldom counsel the public to be modest. They flatter and praise the voters, telling them that they are just and wise, hardworking and principled, possessed of boundless vision and common sense. And here in America at least, they also generalize those virtues from the people to the nation itself. America, Americans are endlessly reassured, is unique and special among the world's countries. It isn't just that we're the most important country, which is undeniable, since we have the biggest economy, the biggest (and most frequently deployed) military, and the most influential popular culture. Those things could change someday. Instead, what voters are told over and over again is that we're "exceptional." We're not just stronger or richer, we're better. Indeed, we're stronger and richer because we're better. And we may well be exceptional in how often we're told that we're exceptional. My knowledge of the electoral politics of other nations may be limited, but I don't recall hearing about presidential candidates in Portugal or Peru who feel the need to convince voters that their country is superior to all others and they are the world's best people.

If Obama Wants the GOP’s Help in Syria, He Must Deal with Torture First

AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File

Among the lessons of Syria for Barack Obama, there is one that stands out: the destruction of the Republican foreign policy establishment makes his job harder, and the president is now suffering the consequences of his choice to avoid, as much as possible, dealing with the fallout from torture during the George W. Bush administration.