Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Why you should still be very skeptical of the GOP's healthcare push

Yes, they're still at it.

Here's why you should still be skeptical.  You may have read that Rand Paul is "against" the Graham-Cassidy proposal.  Why do I put "against" in quote marks?  Well, back during the last GOP "repeal-and-replace" effort, I referred to Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee as the "drama club."  They were just being melodramatic about everything.  In the end, they wouldn't stop anything that would otherwise pass, but they had to go through the dramatic motions of out-conservative-ing everyone by calling every bill not-conservative-enough.  But, it was all theater.  Hence, "the drama club."  Now, Rand Paul is against Graham-Cassidy.  It is the GOP's last chance.  Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins are real no votes.  McCain has switched to yes, and he was the one who killed "skinny repeal."  If McCain revives "repeal-and-replace," will Rand Paul be the guy who kills Graham-Cassidy, or is he just being... dramatic?  I'd lean towards the latter.

But shouldn't that mean Graham-Cassidy passes?  I mean, with McCain switching, Rand Paul faking it, and everything else, what's to stop Graham-Cassidy?

The other person I kept warning about during all of that previous repeal-and-replace mess.  The Senate parliamentarian.  Here's the deal.  The Senate is using "budget reconciliation" to block Democratic filibusters.  It is a special procedure that only works for bills that apply to budgetary matters.  Non-budgetary matters cannot be addressed in a budget reconciliation bill.  Any non-budgetary provision is subject to a filibuster.  Who decides if a provision is strictly budgetary?  The Senate parliamentarian.  "Skinny repeal" was kosher, as far as reconciliation rules went, because all it did was repeal the individual mandate, which is a tax, and therefore budgetary (despite all of the bullshit surrounding it).  That was why skinny repeal had no problems with the Senate parliamentarian, and nothing to fear as far as reconciliation rules went.  Everything else Republicans have tried has been... dodgy at best.

When the GOP had their last real effort at a replacement bill killed by the Senate parliamentarian, I got a little... colorful with my metaphors.  And here we are again.  I have a lot of questions about what she will do with Graham-Cassidy.

Short version.  Graham-Cassidy allows waivers for states with respect to regulations on pre-existing conditions.  You can make a case that anything has an indirect effect on the budget, but that's a pretty far stretch there, buddy.  Given her rulings in July, I really want to see what she has to say on Graham-Cassidy.  She kills that provision, and Graham-Cassidy falls apart, regardless of that drama queen, Rand Paul.

Wanna know what's going to happen with Graham-Cassidy?  Wait to hear from Elizabeth MacDonough.  She's the Senate parliamentarian, and depending on the GOP's perspective, she's either the one who saves them from having to pass a bill that they secretly don't want to pass, or... like I said in my July 22 post, "a fucking Reaver."

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

I really don't know anything about Southeast Asian music.  Blindspot in my musical knowledge.  Sorry.  So, here's something Cuban.  Ruben Gonzalez, "El Cumbanchero," from Introducing Ruben Gonzalez.  Go figure that a jazz nut would be into Cuban music.  Gonzalez got some exposure from Ry Cooder's Buena Vista Social Club project, a couple of decades ago.  Anyway, good music in Cuba.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Roy Moore and the Alabama Senate runoff

What's going on in the Alabama Senate runoff?

Roy Moore is going to become the next Senator from Alabama.  Here's the basic stuff.  Alabama is a solidly Republican state, so whoever gets the GOP nomination (the runoff between Moore and Luther Strange is for the GOP nomination) gets the seat.  Moore is an... unusual candidate.  We normally distinguish between "quality" candidates and weak candidates based on elected experience, and focus on experience in state legislatures when looking at House elections, and either House or gubernatorial experience when focusing on Senate elections, just because that's sort of a natural progression.  Moore, though, is a celebrity politician in Alabama from his tumultuous time on the Alabama Supreme Court.  The thing is, a serious legal thinker in the Senate would be a good thing, in my opinion.  OK, a serious thinker period would be a good thing.  There aren't many of them.  Mostly, though, Moore's schtick was defying the federal court order to take down a ten commandments monument that the federal courts said violated the establishment clause of the first amendment.  Legal problems ensued for him, but that kind of thing goes over big with Alabama Republicans.

In other words, he was tea party before there was a tea party.  His little ten commandments stunt wasn't actually about policy.  It was about posturing.  The tea party, and now the Freedom Caucus, have been focused, not on achieving any actual goals in Congress, but on grand spectacles.

What has Congress achieved, since the first unified GOP government in a decade?  Jack fucking shit.  Why?  The party has been taken over by the will-to-spectacle.  There is no better demonstration of that than Trump, but Roy Moore...  He'll keep the show going.  The will to spectacle.

Scholarly observation time.  Those powerful interests who supposedly run everything?  What are they getting for their money?  Um...  Uh...

Maybe they aren't that powerful...  Amazing what happens when gooberism gets in the way...

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

Charley Patton, "Going to Move to Alabama."  You're paying attention to Alabama, right?

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Is the Senate actually close to passing something on Obamacare?

There are rumblings from Bill Cassidy, co-author of Graham-Cassidy about this.  So...

It's always in the last place you look, right?

Don't you hate the jackass who says that?  Of course it is.  If not, that means you kept looking after you found whatever it was you were trying to find.

It's always your last attempt at replacing Obamacare that works, right?

See where I'm going with this?  On the other hand, if the past is guidance for understanding what will happen in the future, then...  then the Republicans will do what they have done so far on healthcare.  Perhaps come very close, as they did with "skinny repeal," which I thought was very close to passage, and then fail spectacularly.

So, we see the problem.  There is a ticking clock right now for the expiration of reconciliation authority.  If the GOP doesn't pass Graham-Cassidy by the end of the month, they have to go through more procedural rigamarole on their next attempt.

So, a few observations observations here.

1)  McCain supports Graham-Cassidy.

2)  McCain was the person whose whimsy killed "skinny repeal"

3)  McCain gave a big speech about how everything needed to go through "regular order"


What the fuck is regular order?  I've addressed this before, and it isn't really well-defined.  Basically, it's the Schoolhouse Rock "How a Bill Becomes a Law" thing.

Not to be confused with how we amend the Constitution...

So anyway, McCain wanted Schoolhouse Rock.  Um, where are those committee hearings and debate?  If that isn't happening, that doesn't meet any reasonable definition of "regular order" that I can devise, in which case what McCain demanded isn't happening.

So obviously, McCain will have to vote no, right?

Otherwise, he'd be a big, fucking hypocrite, right?  I mean, to give a sanctimonious speech on the floor of the Senate about the importance of "regular order," and then vote for a version of a "repeal-and-replace" bill that didn't go through regular order only to kill "skinny repeal" and bask in the glory of positive media coverage for finally living up to his "maverick" reputation, and then just a few scant weeks later, casting the pivotal vote for another repeal bill that didn't go through "regular order"... I mean, that would just...

That would never happen, right?  Right?

Like I said, unless McCain is a big, fuckin' hypocrite and a sanctimonious windbag without any real principles.

Google "Charles Keating" sometime...

Point being, we haven't seen anything like "regular order."  What does that mean?  A few possibilities.  This could get dragged past the reconciliation deadline.  This could fail again, with someone other than McCain objecting.  Graham-Cassidy could pass!  We don't know.  The whole point of avoiding regular order was to avoid any public scrutiny, thereby also making it hard for us, the observers, to make assessments.  My first-stop source of legislative news is Roll Call.  Here's Roll Call's "Healthcare Hub."  Do you see jack-fucking-shit about serious hearings through regular order on Graham-Cassidy?  Neither do I.

Draw what conclusions you will from that.

Sunday music: If you don't love bluegrass, you hate America

Emmitt-Nershi Band, "This Is The Time," from New Country Blues.  This isn't the original version.  Emmitt-Nershi Band is a collaboration between Drew Emmitt, who is the mandolin player from one of my all-time favorite bands, Leftover Salmon, and Bill Nershi, guitarist for a band that is more hit-and-miss for me, The String Cheese Incident.  Both bands have some bluegrass elements, but Leftover Salmon is far more creative and eclectic, in my opinion.  The original version of this track is from Leftover Salmon's Euphoria album.  I'm not using it today because this version is a little more straight bluegrass.  The version on Euphoria has some calypso rhythms and other odd elements because Leftover Salmon is awesome.  But, today is Sunday, and by tradition of this blog, bluegrass day.  So, here's some bluegrass.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Healthcare debates and "the Overton window"

This is a fun bit of commentary I keep seeing.  If you aren't familiar with the concept of the Overton window, it goes something like this:  there is a range of options that are considered... considerable.  Any option outside the Overton window is just never going to get onto the table (window, table, whatever), and hence never get adopted.  If you want something to happen, you need to get it into the Overton window first.  That is a necessary first step for victory.

So, consider gay marriage.  In the 2004 American National Election Studies survey, we asked respondents whether or not they supported gay marriage.  Among respondents, 33.3% supported gay marriage.  Times change fast, right?  After all, in 1996, just eight years earlier, Bill Clinton-- a Democratic President, signed the "Defense of Marriage Act" in order to avoid the accusation that he might support gay marriage, and in the 2000 survey, we didn't even bother to ask about gay marriage.  Why?  It wasn't in the "Overton window."  This is one of those policy areas where it might be useful to think of the Overton window.  In 1996, gay marriage wasn't even in the window, and by 2016, even social conservatives mostly weren't talking about it anymore.  In the 2016 survey, support for full marriage rights was up to 59.4%, with another 22.3% supporting "civil unions," and only 18.3% saying there should be no legal recognition for gay couples.  Opposition to legal rights for gay couples is now outside the Overton window, if you want to think in those terms.

Has the push for single-payer healthcare, led by Sanders, put single-payer "in the Overton window," and if so, does that matter?  I have read a bunch of commentary about this over the last couple of days.  A couple of points.

First, this is actually one of those topics on which my little enclave of political science is poorly suited to make claims.  The Overton window is really hard to quantify, and I like quantifying stuff.  Hey!  See those numbers up there?  Numbers are good!

Let's try this.  Put everything on a line from -1 to +1, where -1 is most liberal, and +1 is most conservative.  That scale matches up with the "NOMINATE" scale we use in political science to measure ideology in Congress with roll call voting.  One could, hypothetically, assert that there exists some range, from a to b, written as follows in math notation:  [a, b], such that only options within that range will be considered.  In fact, we do that all the time when we study Congress, except that these choices are made directly, strategically, by legislative leaders based on the desire to use agenda control to their own ends.  They'll simply say that anything to the left of a won't get a vote 'cuz we say so, and fuck you if you don't like it.

Can we move this into some general, public venue?  Well, what determines a?  What determines b?  In Congress, we have well-specified models, and they tend to work relatively well.  Even in today's chaotic Congress, basic spatial models tend to do OK when it comes to figuring out when legislative leaders block an item from the floor (debt ceiling stuff is different, for reasons I have explained).  We also know, definitively, when a vote occurs.

In the public, not only is it hard to specify a coherent model for what moves either a or b, who is to say where they are at any given point in time?  I've read a shitload of stuff over the last couple of days asserting that single-payer is now in the Overton window.  Evidence?  A bunch of Democratic muckety-mucks are now on-board with it.  Um... so fuckin' what?  It has zero chance of passing any time in the remotely near future, and public opinion is incoherent.  People are talking about it, but there are people who talk about all sorts of batshit crazy stuff.  There is a non-zero probability of anything if we take a sufficiently technical interpretation of "non-zero," so how high does the probability of an option being adopted have to get before we consider that option to be within the Overton window?

Put in those terms, the concept of the Overton window gets harder to address, for those of us in the quantitative political science side.  That doesn't make it useless.  It just means that people like me have a hard time working with it.

Next, and following from that, is single-payer really "in the Overton window" now?  A lot of people are talking about it.  People who weren't before.  That is traceable to Sanders.  That only means it is "in the Overton window," to the degree that this is a useful concept, if there is some reasonable possibility of its adoption, as far as I'm concerned.  Otherwise, I'm sort of a talk-is-cheap kind of person.  One key reason Sanders never impressed me is that he doesn't understand enough about either politics or policy to accomplish anything on anything.  He is nothing but an empty vessel for left-wing tea party-style frustrations, and back during the primaries, I basically pointed at him and called him more "tea party" than Ted Cruz in disposition.  If all he does is provide a focal point for venting and no reasonable possibility for any actual policy change, then I can make a reasonable case that single-payer is still not in the Overton window.  Talk is cheap.

I'm still going to make the case that there is no chance of the adoption of single-payer.  Even if Democrats get the White House, House and Senate in 2020, they won't adopt single-payer.  As I wrote the other day, it took half a century of shrinking ambitions to pass even the GOP's 1994 counter-offer to HillaryCare, and that was while the party's membership was moving left.

If a policy has essentially zero chance of adoption, what business do we have saying it is within the Overton window?

Then again, if this is a concept that is foreign to quantitative political science-types like me, what do I know?  Fuck it.  Here's some more country music with a "window" theme.  Cahalen Morrison.  Love this guy.  And, "Cahalen" is as cool a name as "Gurf."