Instead of a Grand Bargain, Let's Have a Little Bargain

Flickr/Julia Taylor

As part of the agreement to reopen the government, a House/Senate conference committee was formed to negotiate a new budget. The last time we tried this, with the "Supercommittee," the two sides couldn't agree, and that failure triggered sequestration, which was supposed to be so terrible for both sides (defense cuts that Republicans don't like, domestic spending cuts Democrats don't like) that it would force them to do anything to avoid it. But it now seems that Republicans don't have too much of a problem with sequestration. They're moving toward the position that undoing sequestration isn't something everyone agrees should happen, but instead is a concession Republicans would be making to Democrats, for which they'd have to be repaid with something they want, like cuts to Social Security and Medicare.* Sound familiar? It's not that different from when they said they didn't want the government to shut down, but not shutting the government down was a concession for which they'd need something in return.

While anything could happen, it seems that the odds are stacked against the conference committee being able to come to an agreement. Republicans want not only to cut social insurance, but also to slash all kinds of domestic spending. Democrats don't want that. Democrats would like to see more tax revenue. Republicans don't want that. Finding agreement is going to be hard.

But there is a way out. What if everybody put aside their demands, just for a year? What if they passed a budget that didn't do anything big at all, but just funded the government at about the level it's at now? No sweeping changes to the tax code, no draconian cuts, just an ordinary old budget where we tweak some things here and there. Would that be so bad?

Four Reasons We Don’t Need to Count Down to a January Shutdown

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

The government has re-opened, the debt limit disaster was avoided, and something resembling peace has broken out in Washington. The cynics, however, have been quick to note that all of this is only temporary, with the next shutdown deadline falling on January 15. This round of budget squabbling resolved basically … nothing, so another debacle is likely. Ted Cruz is already threatening a repeat of what he just put the nation through.

Don’t count on a sequel to the 16-day hell we just witnessed, though.

Beware a Grand Bargain

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

Will President Obama and the Democrats win a major battle only to lose the war?

The longterm war that Republicans are fighting is a deadly serious struggle to destroy the most important and valued achievements of the New Deal-Great Society legacy, Social Security and Medicare.

Wall Street billionaires like Peter G. Peterson and Stanley Druckenmiller have been softening the ground for decades by claiming that Social Security is bankrupting the country and destroying future prospects of America’s youth.

Let's Shut Down the Filibuster

AP Images/Evan Vucci

How you think about many immediate issues facing the country should hinge on your expectations about the future. Consider the battle shaping up this fall over the confirmation of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees, particularly the three he has nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit—Patricia Millett, Cornelia Pillard, and Robert Wilkins. Control of the D.C. Court is important in itself, but the bigger issue is the willingness of Senate Democrats to restrict use of the filibuster and revamp the ground rules in an institution that has often obstructed liberal reform.

A Spine Is a Useful Thing to Have

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

How much damage have the Republicans done to themselves going into the elections of 2014 and 2016? And has President Obama resolved to hang tough, not just in this round, but in the one that follows and the one after that?

The contrived shutdown crisis proved two things.

How Liberals Should Feel about the Shutdown/Default Agreement

Don't go too wild with the celebrations. (Flickr/Susana Fernandez)

We have a deal. At this writing no votes have been taken, but by the time you read this, the agreement brokered between Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell may well have passed one or both houses. So how should liberals feel about it? Let's break it down.

Take the Fourteenth!

AP Images/Charles Dharapak

Remember the proposals that were current back in 2011 to have President Obama invoke his authority under the 14th Amendment to keep funding America’s public debt, even without approval from Congress? Well, that proposal has suddenly become highly relevant again, even urgent.

The GOP Craziness You Missed over the Weekend

It's only a flesh wound!

We're at kind of a weird point in the shutdown/default crisis. Everyone knows Republicans have lost; it's really just a matter of working out the details of how we get out of this. The sane ones are trying to come up with some sort of agreement that will end the crisis before any further damage is done to their party while providing something they can call a concession from the Democrats, thereby allowing them to save face, to the extent that John Boehner can hold the damn vote and claim that it isn't an abject failure.

But alas, sanity seems to be in short supply on the right side of the aisle, even at this late hour.

Virginia’s Libertarian Surge That Wasn’t

AP Images/The Roanoke Times/Rebecca Barnett

As Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli duked it out during the second debate of the Virginia governor’s race last month, Robert Sarvis was on the sidelines, ribbing both candidates on Twitter. Sarvis, who’s running for governor as a Libertarian, was polling at 7 percent, a surprisingly high number for a third party candidate in Virginia. He wasn’t invited to participate in the debate, and his irritation was plain. “Audience needs a shower after all that mudslinging,” he tweeted, adding, “Debate would’ve been more substantive with me on stage. That’s a sure thing. Next time, VA!”

Postcards from the Shutdown Edge

AP Photo/Brian Skoloff)

Ten days into the shutdown, it’s easy to wonder just how much the federal government helps people day-to-day. We’ve heard about delays in highways maintenance and about federal workers who have to wait until the government opens to get paid. What about those programs conservatives are always complaining about? You might have expected stories about people suffering without help from various federal services—from food stamps to welfare checks. Instead, there’s been little to indicate needy people are going without.

That’s because the worst potential effects of the shutdown have been delayed—for now.

McCutcheon, the Next Victory for the 1 Percent

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Starting with Buckley v. Valeo in 1976 and continuing up to the Citizens United decision in 2010, the Supreme Court has repeatedly found that attempts by Congress to restrict campaign finance violate the Constitution. In 2011, a bare majority of the Court found that a public-finance law that didn't suppress speech violated the First Amendment. Based on today's oral argument in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, it is overwhelmingly likely that the Supreme Court will further restrict the ability of Congress to pass campaign-finance restrictions.

McCutcheon is a potentially new frontier in constitutional law because it involves campaign donations.

The Debt-Ceiling Crisis to End All Debt-Ceiling Crises

Don't worry--unlike what's going on in Washington now, this is only a drill. (Flickr/USAG-Humphreys)

The most important fact about the shutdown crisis, which is soon to become the shutdown/debt ceiling crisis, is that Democrats are not making any demands. The only thing they want is for the government to reopen and for the United States not to default. Since these are things Republicans also claim they want, they can't be considered demands. Republicans, on the other hand, have lots of demands, even if they keep changing. That's why the current Republican talking point—"Why won't the Democrats negotiate?"—is fundamentally misleading. One way for this whole thing to end is for Republicans to give up their demands and admit they've lost. Unsurprisingly, they're reluctant to do this. But what if Democrats started making a demand of their own?

The Myth of Obamacare's Bad Sales Job

Flickr/Brent Moore

When they went forward with their plan to shut down the government in order to undo, defund, or otherwise undermine the Affordable Care Act, conservatives convinced themselves that their plan was going to work because Americans hate Obamacare. If you look at it in an extremely narrow, context-free way, that's sort of true. If you just ask people whether they approve of the ACA, you get between 35 percent and 45 percent approval. But the closer you look, the more complicated it gets. Some people disapprove of it because they feel it didn't go far enough; add them with those who say they approve, and you'll get a majority. Furthermore, and most critical for what I'd like to discuss, the actual components of the law, like giving people subsidies to buy insurance, outlawing denials for pre-existing conditions, and so on, are all extremely popular (the one exception is the individual mandate).

One thing's for sure, though: You can't say that the ACA as an abstract entity is overwhelmingly popular. That has led a lot of liberals to blame Barack Obama for doing a bad job selling the law. I must have heard or read this from a hundred liberals over the last couple of years. If only he had sold it better! Then we wouldn't be in this mess. Sometimes, I've actually heard people say that he never really tried to sell it.

This argument is complete bunk. Here's why.

America's Neediest Families Are About to Run Out of Money

AP Images/Melanie Stetson Freeman

When Congress shut down the government, one of the many programs caught up in the fracas was Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF), the program created by the 1996 welfare-reform law. Spending on the program is mandatory, and normally wouldn’t be a casualty of an appropriations fight like the one waged now. But the law officially expired three years ago. Instead of taking it up again, Congress has simply extended the last reauthorization with each new spending bill. No spending bill, no welfare program.

Can Bibi Take Yes for an Answer?

The weeks leading up to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday had been the most positive between the U.S. and Iran in decades. Conciliatory gestures from both sides, as well as a reportedly productive meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, culminated in a phone call between Presidents Obama and Rohani, the first ever between a President of the United States and a President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, on Friday. Netanyahu clearly saw it as his job to put the brakes on, like a sitcom father dashing down the stairs to stop the kids from making out on the couch.

Except that Rohani hasn’t even gotten to first base.