Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A delayed vote on healthcare means...

... absolutely nothing.  (Which is what you are about to become.  Sorry, couldn't resist).

Look, this accelerated timeline for a healthcare vote was absurdly stupid and impractical.  Legislative negotiation on anything this complex takes time, and the idea of rushing the process is... well... didn't we see how that worked in the House?  And the House is where party leaders have actual power.

So, the fact that McConnell couldn't pull it off on the insanely accelerated timeline originally planned says nothing about whether or not the GOP will be able to pull it off eventually.

What it means is what we already knew-- they don't have it worked out yet.  (Is that the same thing as meaning nothing?  Probably not, but I really wanted to use that Spaceballs reference.)  As I said yesterday morning, they are still messing with the lapsed coverage provision, which the Senate parliamentarian could axe, and nobody knows what's going on with Heller.  The drama club (Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul and Ron Johnson) is doing what the drama club does-- putting on theater.  That theater consists of pretending that they hate the first offer, but we can ignore that since it is just spectacle for the rubes.  But, until the stuff with Heller, the lapsed coverage provision, and other issues are addressed, McConnell is stuck.

He is, though, in the same position as Harry Reid in 2010.  Harry Reid had 60 Democrats (but only really for a few months...*), and needed to keep all 60, so he gave everyone exactly what they wanted.  McConnell has 52, but 2 are lost causes:  Collins and Murkowski.  There is probably no way to keep them on board, and the House Freedom Caucus at the same time.  So, he's basically at 50, and he needs 50.  It's a brutal process, and it may not be possible.  However, the difficulty of the task means that we shouldn't mark him down for the fact that it is taking time.

Do we factor in the observation that McConnell planned an early vote?  Eh...  It was aspirational.  Delay costs him nothing.  Had he held a vote and lost on the motion to proceed, then I'd say he doesn't know what the fuck he's doing, but as is?  Don't read anything into the delay.

Current rough Bayesian assessment of Republicans' eventual chances?  Somewhere in the 40% range.  They are below 50% with Heller objecting from the left, and I have a really hard time seeing how the parliamentarian goes along with the current proposal on lapsed coverage, but the fact that they are trying this hard suggests to me that even if the current proposal doesn't pass, someone will try to blackmail Heller with something.  I don't know... kidnap his family, or something.  I'm being semi-facetious here (hi, FBI!  It's a joke!  Me, a jokester!), but I can pretty much guarantee you that Heller is receiving death threats from all sorts of cranks right now, and national Republican leaders just had to ask an independent conservative group to pull anti-Heller ads from Nevada to try to manage the pressure because figuring out the proper balance of hard and soft pressure is difficult.  Basic lesson about politics, though:  a committed minority will generally defeat an apathetic majority, and the GOP is very committed.  Don't discount the power of that commitment.  Yes, the mechanics are against the Republicans here, but it doesn't look like they are going to give up.

*Historical side note:  the 2008 election only gave the Democrats 59 seats, but initially, they had 58 seated because incumbent Senator Norm Coleman from Minnesota refused to concede to Al Franken for a loooooooong time.  Even after Franken was seated, though, that only brought the Democrats to 59.  It wasn't until turncoat Arlen Specter switched parties that the Dems went up to 60.  Specter blatantly admitted that he was terrified of a rematch against Pat Toomey in a GOP primary in 2010 (he only narrowly beat Toomey in 2004, and he read the tea leaves, so to speak), so he switched (and then lost the Democratic primary to Joe Sestak, who lost the general election to Pat Toomey).  That got the Dems up to 60, but then murder-a-girl-in-a-drunk-driving-accident-and-get-away-with-it-guy, Ted Kennedy died, and Scott Brown won the special election to replace him, bringing the Dems back down to 59, so the Democrats didn't have 60 for all that long.  Anyway, worth remembering that Democrats didn't really have all that long to control everything.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

What we have and haven't learned as we barrel towards a conclusion on healthcare reform

A lot is happening quickly on healthcare reform.  What matters and what doesn't?

What does matter is the recent change to the bill on lapses in coverage.  If you go a period of time without coverage, you are locked out of the individual markets.  Why?  Well, the GOP has decided that they don't like the individual mandate, even though it was their fucking idea (or, rather, it was the Heritage Foundation's idea, and they picked it up and ran with it until the Democrats got on board), but since you need healthy people in the insurance pool, how do you get/keep the healthy in the insurance pool without a mandate?  The solution is to lock anyone out of the individual market, by government order, if they have a lapse in coverage.

Why is that better, from a free-market, keep-the-gub'mint-outta-my-way perspective, than the individual mandate?  Um...  Yeah.  This isn't based either on economic theory or an underlying philosophy on the proper boundaries of government action.  They just recognized that they needed something, and tried to find something that isn't Obamacare.  Anti-intellectualism at its finest.

But, what matters is how this change is viewed by the guy I told you to watch:  the Senate parliamentarian.  This new rule is not, by any stretch of the imagination, budgetary.  It's got jack fucking shit to do with the budget, and if it isn't budgetary, then including it in the bill means the bill doesn't conform to the rules for budget reconciliation, and it can be filibustered.  The Republicans are struggling to get to 50+Pence, and have no chance of getting any Democrats on board, so this really puts things in jeopardy.  If this rule is a deal-breaker, they could be fucked.

Like I've been saying, watch the Senate parliamentarian.  If he doesn't like this new change, which is a real stretch to call budgetary, and it turns out to be a deal-breaker, then the GOP is in real trouble here.

What else matters?  We still have no clue what's going on with Dean Heller.  Watch him closely.  If he can be bought off, the Republicans still have a shot.  If he is really in the Collins-Murkowski camp in terms of needing real leftward movement to vote yes, then the GOP's plans are toast.

Now, what doesn't matter:

The CBO report doesn't matter.  Not one bit.  Yes, people will lose coverage if the Republican bill passes, in any form.  That's the point.  The core tenet of conservatism is an opposition to wealth redistribution.  Obamacare is redistribution.  It pays for poor and sick people to get healthcare by taxing the rich, and forcing health insurance companies to pay for stuff that no sensible, for-profit company would cover, if they had a choice.  All government-funded programs consist of the following:  the government points a gun at somebody's head and says the following:  "gimme your money or I'll fuckin' kill you.  Or, maybe I'll just injure you and haul your fuckin' ass off to prison.  Either way, gimme your fuckin' money."*  The government then takes that money and does something with it.  In the case of welfare, it is the following-- either give it directly to, or spend it on behalf of the poor.  Conservatives aren't cool with that.  So, they want to roll back the Robin Hood stuff.

The trouble is that Robin Hood is actually kind of popular, and 22 million people losing coverage sounds bad.  Why doesn't that matter?  Because the bill was already very unpopular anyway and the GOP has already demonstrated that they don't give a flying fuck.  This isn't news.  The whole concept of the bill is a roll-back of entitlements.  That was never going to be popular.  If they really thought this would be popular, they really would have just repealed Obamacare on Day 1, like they lied about doing for the last seven years.

Will the CBO thing generate enough press coverage to matter on its own?  Fuck no.  Hey, look over here!  Trump said something stupid/racist/misogynist/Trump-like!  Pay attention to that!

Ron Johnson, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee keep acting like my damned cats.  They want to be pet, and they walk away, demanding that you follow them.  At this point, I pretty much think that's a perfect analogy for this group.  In the end, though, like my cats, they're going to flop down on the ground, roll over, and purr while they have their bellies rubbed because they have just as much dignity as those disgusting, little creatures who lick their own asses every chance they get.  Yes, the supposed conservative objectors are making noise about not liking the bill.  I warned you ahead of time about this kind of thing, and I still think that they are full of shit.  Ignore them.  That's the trick with cats too.  If you follow them, they keep walking away.  If you ignore them, they start following you.  Treat them like cats.

*Get over it, you hippy-dippy liberals.  This is what is happening.  Don't avert your gaze and pretend otherwise to claim some non-existent moral purity.  Ain't no such thing in politics.  Don't be like one of those people who eats meat and pretends it doesn't come from an animal.

A brief note on how to read the tea leaves with SCOTUS and Trump's executive order

The Supreme Court partially lifted the injunction on Trump's travel ban until they hear the case.  What does that mean?


Be very careful making snap judgments on that, lest we find ourselves in the same position as with the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare.  Roberts surprised everyone by crossing over to vote with Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan and Sotomayor, while we were all watching Kennedy.  Weird shit can happen.

I'll probably pick this up later, but I've got healthcare to tackle this morning.

Tuesday music: If you only listen to American music, you just suck

I have no references today, so I'll just go with this for no reason in particular.  Sometimes good music can be made by people with awesomely bad mullets.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Politics, physics and protests: Where Democrats and Republicans go wrong on the politics of healthcare and whining in public

I lecture students a lot about the "science" part of political science.  Science is a method, not a subject.  I teach its application to questions about politics.  That doesn't mean that the subject works the same way as, say Newtonian mechanics.  F=ma.  Nice, clean and simple.

Politics are messy and complicated.  Right now, Senate Republicans are maybe about to pass a bill that would repeal healthcare entitlements.  A major entitlement repeal has never happened.  The bill is very unpopular.  Democrats are flummoxed that the bill has any chance at all of passing.  The popular explanation right now seems to be that it is a consequence of the secrecy under which the bill has been drafted.  As I have explained before, that secrecy makes some strategic sense in order to manage intra-party tension, but that isn't a complete picture here.

Democrats have expected a natural uprising against an unpopular bill.  F=ma.  The bill is unpopular, so people rise up against it.  That ain't the nature of things.  Big movements take organization.  Organization takes leadership, etc.  Why haven't there been mass protests about the GOP healthcare bill, the way there were against Obamacare in 2009 and 2010?  'Cuz nobody has organized them.  It isn't the secrecy of the bill-- it is the lack of organization.  Democrats have counted on some political F=ma on an unpopular bill sparking mass protests to do the work for them, and that isn't what happens.  Instead, political opponents of the GOP bill are sitting around with their thumbs up their asses right now hoping that Dean Heller or the Senate parliamentarian decides to take their side, because if not, they're fucked, and not just by their own thumbs.

Of course, in 2010, all the protests in the country did absolutely nothing to stop Obamacare from passing.  They may have helped the GOP organize for the midterm, though, and there is some solid research that the ACA vote hurt the Democrats in the 2010 midterm.  See, for example, the paper by Brendan Nyhan and many co-authors called "One Vote Out Of Step?" (here is an older, but un-gated copy for those of you not on academic terminals).  That 2010 election was a GOP landslide of historic proportions, and by never giving up, the GOP is here now.

The Democrats seem to be convinced that if the Republicans go through with some version of "repeal-and-replace," the reverse will play out.  But, you know what?  There's something missing.  Major protests from the other side.  Why?  Because the left is too fucking stupid to organize them.

Politics ain't physics.  There's no F=ma here.  Or, maybe there is, but somebody's gotta apply that fuckin' force.  It doesn't come out of nowhere.  (That, of course, is the problem with analogies-- you can always twist them around...)  One way or another, there is far more going on here than the secrecy with which the Senate has drafted its bill.  Republican opponents to Obamacare organized.  Democratic opponents to the Republican bill aren't bothering to do that.  If they sit around slack-jawed expecting political processes to occur like clockwork* without them actually having to do anything, then they are even dumber than Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  (Zing!)

Will the Senate actually pass anything?  I still don't know.  Dean Heller is a mystery-man here, and as I explained the other day, there are several historical reference points that lead in different directions for how this plays out.  I doubt that protests would do very much to affect the Senate right now.  Remember, they didn't do jack shit to affect the policy outcome in 2010.  What they did do, at least potentially, was help the GOP in 2010, and keep the party on track to where they are now.  That still matters a lot, though.  The Democrats don't seem to realize the importance of the long-game or organization.  They never really did.

*OK, that was another analogy.  So, I'm a hypocrite.

Monday morning blues: If you don't love blues, you hate America

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Supreme Court retirement/death watch

Will Anthony Kennedy retire soon?  I don't know.  If he is smart, he will seriously consider it.  He is more likely to get a replacement whose decisions will comport with his own preferences under a Trump Presidency than under whoever comes next.

Terminology:  I have referenced this before, but here's a reminder.  The "attitudinal model."  Judges are normal politicians dressed in stupid costumes.*  They have normal political ideologies, but conceal them in the trappings of "judicial philosophies."  Whenever someone describes himself as an "originalist," or as believing that the Constitution is a "living document," that's a bullshit rationalization.  They're liberals, moderates, conservatives, and occasionally idiosyncratic politicians who just don't have the integrity to admit what they are.  To an attitudinalist, Kennedy is a conservative-leaning moderate, who is vaguely-kinda pro-choice, but mostly leans conservative.

How empirically-grounded is the attitudinal model?  It's a model.  To quote George E.P. Box, "all models are wrong.  Some are useful."  Supreme Court justices can be hard to predict.  See: Roberts, John, on Obamacare.  Scalia was pretty consistent on free speech issues, leading to conservatives getting pissed off at him when he upheld the constitutionality of flag-burning, so yes, you whiny, little liberals, Citizens United was really a consistent ruling from him about free speech.  Scalia also had some weird consistency about the Fourth Amendment.  Regardless, no Justice is as predictable as you think.

Nevertheless, we usually know how nominees will vote on basic social issues, like abortion.  Presidents have gotten very good at vetting to ensure that they'll get someone they like, since Poppy Bush fucked up with that Souter nomination.

And Kennedy knows this.  If Kennedy retires now, he'll get someone who disagrees with him on abortion, but who agrees with him on most other stuff.  Should he retire?  That's a real strategic calculation.  And he's smart enough to understand that.

You know who isn't?  The dumbest person on the Supreme Court.

That would be Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Let's all take a moment out of our day today to laugh at the Trump-ian stupidity of this woman, and at how deep the consequences of her stupidity could be.

Yes, that's right, the dumbest member of the Supreme Court right now is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and it isn't close.  Now, I could pick on the idiocy of plenty of her opinions (e.g. Citizens United, which you may think you understand, but you don't,  unless you are one of my students who took careful notes during one of those lectures, and she doesn't understand it either), but I'm going to focus more on her obliviousness to political reality here.  You see, back in 2014, she gave an interview to Elle magazine (the source of all intellectual growth in the world) in which she was asked about the possibility of retirement.  Frankly, she showed how low her IQ is when she didn't retire during Obama's first term (she's older than dirt and cancer-prone), but by 2014, not retiring was Darwin Award-level dumbassery.  So, how did she explain herself?  Well, here's what she said:

Who do you think President Obama could appoint at this very day, given the boundaries that we have?  If I resign any time this year, he could not successfully appoint anyone I would like to see in the court.  [The Senate Democrats] took off the filibuster for lower federal court appointments, but it remains for this court.  So anybody who thinks that if I step down, Obama could appoint someone like me, they're misguided.  As long as I can do the job full steam... I think I'll recognize when the time comes that I can't any longer.  But now I can.

Let's unpack that, shall we?  This was during Obama's second term, with a Democratic Senate majority, post-nuclear option.  Harry Reid had already used the nuclear option because Senate Republicans blockaded the DC circuit court.

What the fuck did Ginsburg think would happen if she stepped down?  Here's what would have happened.  Republicans would have filibustered anyone.  Did Ginsburg think that the rule change Reid instituted was, at that point, an ironclad law of physics, unchangeable from then until the end of time such that no further change to Senate rules could ever be made again?  Did she seriously not understand that what happened demonstrated precisely that Reid could do exactly the same thing again to confirm anyone?  Yes, Republicans would have filibustered anyone had Ginsburg stepped down in 2014.  Reid would have been forced to use the nuclear option again.  Obama's replacement would have been confirmed.  Ginsburg was just too fucking oblivious to do it.  Instead, Scalia died with a Republican majority, McConnell blockaded the seat for a whole fucking year on the gamble that a Republican would win in 2016, allowing Trump to nominate plagiarist-Gorsuch under the nuclear option that Ginsburg had her head too far up her own ass to understand was the inevitable thing anyway.

Remember, if Ginsburg's analysis were correct, plagiarist-Gorsuch wouldn't be on the Court because the Democratic filibuster would have blocked him.  Ginsburg is an idiot.

So, why didn't Ginsburg step down in 2014?  It was that last line.  "I think I'll recognize when the time comes that I can't any longer.  But now I can."  Ginsburg just didn't want to retire.  So, she didn't.  Let's all laugh at the fucking moron.  Maybe she survives the next year and a half, and the Democrats get the Senate in 2018.  At that point, they blockade the Supreme Court so that no matter what happens, Trump can't appoint anyone, but even so, her death means she isn't there to vote, and there is a high likelihood of 5-3 conservative rulings (which isn't really that different from 5-4 anyway, but I'm getting to the real consequences...).  But, there's a good chance the moron croaks before then and Trump appoints her replacement, when she could have just done the smart thing and retired under Obama.  Would it have taken the nuclear option to confirm a replacement?  Of course, but the nuclear option was inevitable anyway.  The fact that she didn't think it was even a possibility in 2014, having just watched it happen, shows that she truly is the dumbest member of the Court.

If Anthony Kennedy is smart-- smarter than Ruth Bader Ginsburg-- he will retire in time to allow Trump to appoint a successor before the 2018 election because otherwise, the Democrats could retake the Senate and blockade the Supreme Court.  I suspect that Kennedy is smarter than Ginsburg because my dumbass fucking cats are smarter than Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  There is a high likelihood, then, that Trump will be able to appoint a replacement for Kennedy, who will be far to the right of Kennedy, and there is a high likelihood that older-than-dirt-as-well-as-cancerous Ruth Bader Ginsburg will kick the bucket before the Democrats even have a chance to retake the Senate in 2018, allowing Trump to move the Court way to the right.

Imagine this:  a Supreme Court with Roberts, Alito, Thomas, plagiarist-Gorsuch and two more Trump nominees.  That's a real possibility.  If Kennedy isn't a fucking nitwit, it will be at least one more Trump nominee.

Strategic retirement is a thing.  Ginsburg just isn't smart enough to understand it, and never was.  Of course, even if she had retired, that wouldn't prevent a Roberts/Alito/Thomas/plagiarist-Gorsuch/other-Trump-nominee Court, and that's a five-justice majority to do things like overturn Roe v. Wade, but add a sixth justice to that and the left is fucked for a long, long time.

So remember:  Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dumber than Clarence Thomas.  Deal with it.

*Former Chief Justice William Rehnquist put stripes on his robes as a Gilbert & Sullivan thing.  Yes, really.