Domestic policy discussion from the major media centers in the Mid-Atlantic...
The Left is getting impatient over the slowing progress of health care reform. The New York Times editorialized that the Democratic majority should use the manipulation of parliamentary tactics in order to push through the program without Republican support. Essentially, the majority party would have to determine that health care should be classified under the rules for budget reconciliation, a process which cannot be filibustered. A simple majority vote is all it would take to change the voting rules on health care and that in turn means another straight majority vote to pass the bill. With heavy Democratic numbers in both houses, that would mean virtual certain passage.
One recalls a similar fight over the confirmation of judges to the federal appellate courts back in 2005. Then, the Republicans controlled the Senate by a 55-45 count. Democrats were filibustering the appointment of several excellent Bush nominees. The GOP floated the idea of using a tactic similar to the one Democrats are now contemplating, in order to get the judges confirmed under a straight majority vote. The Left went ballistic. The very proposal itself was called “the nuclear option”. Editorials were filled with solemn pleas to retain the dignity of the Senate as a place where bipartisanship was a necessity. How quickly things change the minute the majority party changed.
The utter hypocrisy of the Times is no longer a surprise. The gambit itself is a high-risk one. If the Democrats push it through and the public is happy with the changes, it could usher in another long permanent majority for the party. Let the public be unhappy though, or feel like it was railroaded and the Democrats could be right back in the minority. My own thoughts? Personally, I would prefer this approach not be adopted, but that is because I don’t want to see reform, in this particular form, pushed through. If I were a liberal it would be different. The Obama-Pelosi approach to health care reform is the liberal dream of the past fifty years and I’d be more than happy to take the political risks associated with it. And let’s be honest—pushing something through on a majority vote is not cheating. But this constant bait-and-switch is. The sort of shameless partisanship that calls for differing standards applied to Republican judges and Democratic health care reform has to end. That politicians practice double-talk is almost understandable. That editorial writers feel that same need is ridiculous.
As long as we’re on the subject of Senate confirmations and voting rules, The Washington Post has noted the number of vacant government positions that are not filled. The Post believes that the number of appointees that require confirmation should be revisited. As it is now, presidents have to be extremely careful and conduct exhaustive background searches, well beyond what’s appropriate for the actual job in question. It’s done for political reasons, as you never know whose nomination will turn into a political football.
The Post is right that the number of posts requiring advise and consent should be reduced. Furthermore, the use of the filibuster should be barred for appointments to a Cabinet. It’s one thing to use this weapon on legislation or a Supreme Court job, which has lasting impact on the country. It’s quite another to demand a 60-vote supermajority for someone whose job is done as soon as their president leaves office.
The Philadelphia Inquirer is taking Barack to task over the federal debt, admonishing the President that the time for placing all the blame on Bush is well past. Indeed, it would be one thing if Barack were doing everything he could to cut spending, including calling members of his own party on the carpet for their pork-barrel habits. But he’s not. The proposals of this Administration, starting with its massive stimulus package, are making Bush look miserly by comparison.
Budget deficits can be an issue that are both overrated and underrated at the same time. Overrated, because a deficit per se is not a bad thing. As much I love Ronald Reagan’s common-sense soundbites that the government should balance its budget just as a family should, we have to remember that virtually all families carry debt. If you have a house payment or a car payment, you’re carrying debt. We draw a distinction between this kind of “legitimate” debt and that which is incurred by running up credit card bills. But the federal government has no accounting mechanism for making this kind of distinction. Consequently, we might overreact to a deficit that’s being run for a decent reason with a plan to pay it off.
Conversely, the issue can be underrated because it’s arcane and removed from the everyday lives of voters. We can see how expanded access to health care might help us, or how we’ll benefit from a federal contract to build a highway system, but we can’t see the hidden impact deficits have. But if foreign investors finance the debt by buying Treasury notes that makes the American government inherently beholden to them. Which in turn may make us a little hesitant about taking the kind of steps we need to take in the global economy to protect our interests. The consequences of which fall on the same people who benefit from the increased federal spending—but the consequences are longer-lasting than the benefits.