Saturday, March 25, 2017

Why repeal-and-replace failed

The other day, I posted that the incentives were set up for Paul Ryan to pass something.  He had to stop the vote to avoid losing.  What happened?

With respect to Thursday's post on strategic incentives, there are two possibilities:  strategic mistakes, or I missed something.  I'm going with some of both.

First, my mistake.  What I didn't factor into the incentive structure was as follows.  It was pretty clear as of Thursday that nothing would be signed into law, and that was part of my reasoning.  Passing something in the House, then, just would have dragged out a doomed process.  Better to end it fast.  I didn't factor that in, and I should have, so that was where I went wrong in assessing everyone's strategic incentives.

As for strategic mistakes, um... [cough, cough] Freedom Caucus.  These are the people who drove John Boehner from office, and can't take yes for an answer.  As I wrote repeatedly earlier in the process, if the Republicans were a normal party, once Susan Collins introduced her bill with Bill Cassidy, that would have been it.  They would have run the show, the way Max Baucus did on the ACA in 2010.  But, the Freedom Caucus has an all-or-nothing mentality that prevents them from accepting... damn near anything.  They are not, in any reasonable sense, strategic actors because they don't actually select actions based on the consequences of those actions.  They select actions based on how they perceive the purity of those actions.  They would rather save Obamacare through inaction than vote for anything that isn't their absolute perfect ideal policy.  They are even dumber than Donald J Fucking Trump.  Yes, let this sink in.  Donald Trump understood the basic strategic point that you can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  The Freedom Caucus can't grasp that point.  Compared to the Freedom Caucus, Donald Trump is the voice of reason.

Remember, though, that this was always going to be a hard slog.  Prior to Trump's surprise victory, here is what I had been telling everyone.  Once the Supreme Court ruled and Obama won in 2012, I thought Obamacare was here to stay.  It is not politically feasible to take financial benefits away from millions of people, and that's what a repeal would have been.  Ted Cruz understood this when he pushed for the 2013 shutdown.  The subsidies and Medicaid expansion kicked in the following year, so he knew that the last chance, which wasn't really a chance, was to block them before they kicked in.  That's why he pushed the shutdown.  It was a scam because the shutdown was a doomed scheme to make establishment Republicans look bad when they caved, but Cruz understood the politics.  He knew that you couldn't take benefits away once they kicked in.

I started to question things when Trump won.  Perhaps Republicans might interpret Trump's victory as a sign that they could brazen anything out.  After all, the guy brags about sexual assault, lusts after his own daughter, makes fun of a disabled reporter, etc., and he still won by just never giving an inch on anything.  Not that he has so much as an inch, but, ya' know.  The point is that Trump won even though he broke all of the rules.  Perhaps, I commented here, that would convince Republicans they could rescind benefits and get away with it.  Just look at what Trump got away with doing...

As it turned out, no.  Social Security.  Medicare.  Medicaid.  Obamacare.  (Cash assistance to the poor in the form of AFDC/TANF or unemployment benefits were never large or consistent).  There have been four major programs created to provide financial benefits to large segments of the population.  Despite regular dreams and attempts to scale them back by conservatives, none have ever been repealed or significantly curtailed.  That record remains unbroken.  Why?  Because it is too dangerous to take away financial benefits.  There are plenty of House and Senate Republicans who would repeal Obamacare, but there are enough who wouldn't to stop the party.  Somehow, that's always true.  George W. Bush wanted to privatize Social Security in 2005.  Whatever happened to that plan?  Oh, right.  You see my point.

Saturday music: If you don't love country, you hate 'mer'ca

How perfect is this?!  See, cuz' Ryan stopped the vote twice.  Huh?  Huh?!  Fuck.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday music: If you don't love jazz, you hate America

Trump and idle threats

And there's this little gem:  Trump has told congressional Republicans that if the House doesn't pass an Obamacare repeal today...

That's right.  If the House doesn't pass a repeal today, Trump is done with healthcare, and Obamacare stays.  Does anyone believe that if the House passed Trump's ideal plan, whatever that might be (if such a thing even existed) on Monday, and the Senate passed it on Tuesday, that Trump would veto it?


This is an idle threat.

I've talked a lot about idle threats and whether or not Trump is crazy enough to make a threat credible when no sane person could make it credible.  No, even Trump can't make this a credible threat.  It's just bullshit.  Why is Trump doing it?

Quite simply, if the House can't pass anything today, it will be a clear demonstration that Republicans can't pass anything across chambers, and rather than have it be a display of Trump's... impotence, he wants it to look like he is carrying out a threat.  By failing.

Sean Spicer says a true thing

The White House Press Secretary says a true thing, and it's actual news.  That's our world.

In yesterday's press briefing, Spicer said this:  "You've taken a bunch of these free votes when it didn't matter because you didn't have a Republican President.  And you got to vote for repeal and go back and tell your constituents something like 50 times-- well this is a live ball now."

Yeah, that pretty much sums up why it's harder now.  Reference time:  David Mayhew's Congress: The Electoral Connection.  Mayhew asks, what if Members of Congress cared exclusively about reelection.  They would engage in three types of activities:  advertising, credit-claiming and position-taking.  That last one is what all those pointless Obamacare repeal votes under Obama's administration were about.  Republicans knew that nothing would come of those votes.  They were just showing their base how much they hated Obamacare.

Now that shit is real, it's a lot harder.  The Freedom Caucus used to be willing to vote for partial measures because they would vote for anything that was at all anti-Obamacare, and the moderates didn't have to worry about consequences.  Now?  The Freedom Caucus has dug in and the moderates suddenly care about the consequences of their votes.

Governing is harder than position-taking.

We'll see if they can pull it off today.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Strategic incentives in the House on Trumpcare/Ryancare/whatevercare

Today there may be a vote on some kind of Obamacare replacement in the House.  If Ryan is smart, and he doesn't have the votes, he'll cancel or postpone the vote.  Will he have the votes?  He should.  That comes down to everyone's strategic incentives.

The basic point is that the probability that anything gets signed into law right now looks pretty low, and if anything does, it has to get watered down a lot to get through the Senate.  Collins, Murkowski, Cassidy, Portman and the rest won't let anything even remotely like the old House version get through the Senate, and the House bill has already moved right.  So, one of two things is the case:  everything going on in the House right now is silly posturing over a bill that won't get signed into law, or everything going on in the House right now is silly posturing over a bill that will get moved in the opposite direction.  Let's consider each possibility for the two sets of possible "no" voters in the GOP (assuming that mainline GOPers just vote "yes").

House moderates

Suppose the bill is just dead on arrival in the Senate, and like the Monty Python parrot, ain't comin' back.  In that case, the moderates don't need to worry about whether the bill goes too far for them because it won't be enacted.  They just need to worry about a) primary challenges (which are kind of a bullshit concern, but they think they need to worry), and more importantly, b) threats of punishment from leadership.  So, just vote for the damned bill.  In the alternative, meaning that the Senate will move the bill in the opposite direction, then it doesn't matter if the House version is batshit crazy because the Senate will do its job.  Just vote for the damned bill.  Either way, vote yes.


If the bill is dead on arrival in the Senate, then the point is merely to beat Paul Ryan into submission, making demand after demand that he is forced to meet, and then having someone to blame for failure.  If the Senate is the chamber that votes no, then you get to blame the Senate for failure while treating Paul Ryan the way Donald Trump treats women, thereby feeling bigly about yourself.  Hardliners just need a) lots of concessions, which they've gotten, and b) someone to blame, and as long as they can blame the Senate, they might as well vote yes, and call it another Obamacare repeal vote.  Things only get complicated when they are forced to deal with a reconciled bill brought left by the Senate in the case that the Senate will pass some version, but just a much more moderate version.  But, we aren't there yet.  Right now, the simple thing to do is to vote yes, having already smacked Paul Ryan around.

What happens today?  I don't know.  Most of the time, over the long haul, the House majority party gets its way.  This is Paul Ryan's first big test.  If he passes, I'll be at least somewhat impressed, but as I said here, the incentives are on his side.  The Senate, though?  I said this to my classes yesterday, and I'll say it here.  I regularly praise both Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner as remarkable and brilliant legislative leaders.  The Senate is currently scheduled to vote on an Obamacare replacement next week.  If McConnell can pull off a yes vote, next week, then move over Boehner and Pelosi.  There will be a new master before whom we must all bow down.  Republicans might pull this off, but to get it done next week?!  That would be one of the most impressive political feats I've seen.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Why the Gorsuch hearings are the most intolerable confirmation hearings ever

Yes, I mean that.

You may have picked up on this, but I'm kind of a misanthrope.  In particular, I really hate pretense, and no Supreme Court confirmation hearing has ever been more filled with pretense than the Gorsuch hearings.

Social science buzzword:  the "attitudinal" model.  This is the model of Supreme Court decision-making in which justices (we call Supreme Court judges "justices" rather than regular, old judges) are basically politicians with normal ideologies, but silly costumes.  They gussy up their liberalism and conservatism in obscuring language to pretend that they have "judicial philosophies" rather than conventional ideologies, but that's all bullshit according to the attitudinal model.

How's the empirical evidence on the attitudinal model?  Mixed.  It is hard to evaluate because most of the cases that the SCOTUS (great acronym, right?) deals with don't address issues of liberalism and conservatism.  Then there are the other complications.  If someone isn't a pure liberal or pure conservative, does that mean they aren't ideological at all?  So, when Scalia pissed off conservatives on criminal justice issues, like on 4th Amendment cases, is that because he wasn't an ideologue, or because he was just mostly conservative, but weird on some stuff like the 4th Amendment, flag-burning, etc.?  One of the key lessons from Philip Converse's 1964 piece, "The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics" is that ideology is about constraint-- to hold an ideology is to be constrained to hold that ideology's opinions across a range of issues, but neither liberalism nor conservatism can be reduced to purely logical constraint.  Buchler's corollary:  if you hold exclusively liberal or exclusively conservative beliefs, you aren't thinking logically.  So, maybe justices are kind of ideological, but in weird-ish ways.

So, there's a debate about the "attitudinal" model.

But every Senate Republican believed that Scalia was basically a conservative, and that any nominee by a Republican president (even Trump) would basically be a conservative.  They are all attitudinalists.  That's why they refused to consider any Obama nominee, including Garland, even though Hatch had previously said that Garland could be confirmed.  They held the seat open for what they, at least, believed, would be a conservative.

Yet, the confirmation hearings for Gorsuch, like every confirmation hearing since Robert Bork, must at least follow the pretense that Gorsuch has no personal beliefs, or at least none that would influence his rulings.  And of course, the Republicans in the Senate pretend to believe this absolutely.

If they believed this, Gorsuch wouldn't be sitting there.

I hate pretense.  Whether you believe the attitudinal model or not, this wouldn't be happening unless the Senate Republicans believed the attitudinal model.