Thursday, August 24, 2017

On shutdowns and tax reform in unified government

In yesterday's post, I wrote about the silliness of playing chicken with one's own party and threatening a government shutdown over... anything.  Yet, right now, the looming question in policy terms is whether or not the Republican unified government will successfully avoid a government shutdown and debt ceiling breach.  During... unified government.

I find it baffling, then, that anyone takes seriously the possibility that tax reform will pass.  It won't.  A tax cut will pass, and again, I'll get back to this when things ramp up, but the basic point is that a unified government that either can't avoid a shutdown, or can only barely avoid it won't be able to pass a tax reform package.  Tax reform is harder than not shutting down the government.  Difficulty is subject to the transitive property of mathematics.  If A is either too hard for me, or just barely within my capability, and B is harder than A, then I can't do B.

I actually made this same argument over the passage of an Obamacare repeal bill, with reference to music, of course.  Passing something in the House would be easier than passing something in the Senate, therefore if the GOP could only barely pass something in the House, they were screwed in the Senate.  And hey!  Math works!

And extending that argument here, this is unified government.  Passing something is supposed to be easier than during divided government.  Time for another reference.  David Mayhew's Divided We Govern.  Many moons ago, David Mayhew decided to measure how many major laws were passed when one party ran the whole shebang, and when control the different branches was split between the parties, and he found that the same amount of stuff happened, on average, during unified and divided government.  There were periods of high productivity with divided government, like Nixon's Presidency, and times of low productivity with unified government, like... Carter!

Carter should sound familiar, depending on how long you have been reading this pretentious, little blog, because I've been saying that if Trump got elected, he'd be reminiscent of Carter since before he got the nomination, when most other political scientists were still saying we should ignore him because our pretty, little models said he had no chance of winning the nomination.

We think of dysfunctionality as being a product of divided government.  When Obama is on one side of the spectrum, and Ryan/McConnnell are on the opposite, then politics are just intrinsically fucked, and they kind of are.  Nixon's Presidency saw a lot of stuff happen because while we had divided government, Nixon wasn't an ideologue.  He was an actual deal-maker, and in the absence of ideological polarization, stuff happened.  It is the combination of ideological polarization and divided government that makes everything go to shit.

But unified government can be dysfunctional too.  What makes unified government dysfunctional?  A dysfunctional president, for one thing.  Carter didn't have a fucking clue what he was doing.  Nelson Polsby's argument in Consequences of Party Reform, from which I drew the Carter comparison early last year, was that Carter was ineffectual because, as an outsider, he had no connection with national Democratic Party leaders, and as President, never bothered trying to establish any.  Instead, he was more likely to antagonize congressional Democrats.  So, nothing happened, and he didn't get his agenda through.

Um... sound familiar?  Haven't I been saying this for a long time about Trump?  And it's getting worse.  So, instead of actually working on tax reform, which would be haaaaaaard, Trump is threatening to shut down the government over a border wall that he has admitted privately isn't important, and that his original promise was to force Mexico to fund, all the while yelling at McConnell, McCain, Flake, Murkowski, Collins, Heller...

This is not how you get tax reform done.  This isn't even how you win funding for your pet project.  This is how you demonstrate David Mayhew's point that unified government can be dysfunctional too, particularly under incompetent presidents.  Like Carter.  To whom I have been comparing Trump for a year and a half.


  1. Nope.

    Tax reform will happen.

    You just have to remember that the problem with taxes is that rich people pay some. A reform is changes in something that improve it. Thus, tax reform is easy: cut rich people's taxes.

    1. Donuts to dollars (since donuts are now worth more than $1), that whatever tax cuts get passed will be called tax reform.

    2. Here's Paul Ryan fucking with your language:

      “These reforms, these tax cuts—they need to be permanent,” Ryan told a meeting of the National Association of Manufacturers. “Every expert agrees that temporary reforms will only have a negligible impact on wages and economic growth. Businesses need to have confidence that we won’t pull the rug out from under them. They need the certainty from permanent tax cuts to hire more workers, invest in their businesses, and plan for the future.”

      (Notice how he uses the words "reform" and "cuts" totally interchangeably? In Paul Ryan's head, cuts are the only way to reform taxes.

    3. So, your argument is that it is OK if Paul Ryan does it. If Paul Ryan wants to put a racist, misogynistic, psychopathic idiot child in charge of the nuclear codes, is that OK too?

      On that substance, you know full well that reconciliation rules prevent increasing the deficit for more than ten years, so Ryan can either have big cuts that expire, or small cuts that are permanent, and offset by whatever chump change he can find elsewhere.

    4. No, I'm just pointing out that they are going to call this thing that walks & quacks like a duck a quijibo.

      As to the second point, you know the result. Big cuts that expire, because 10 years later the Dems won't really touch them much anyway.

    5. On the second point... mostly true. Of course, the Dems clawed back some of Dubya's tax cuts at the very top at expiration, so it depends on who is in charge in ten years, and whether the Dems learn that they could have used their majorities and gotten more if they had acted earlier. On the first point, please call it a duck.

    6. The data IS pretty mixed on whether Ryan and his ilk will be able to convince the rest of us to call it a quijibo.

      It's still the estate tax. But we do call these fucking Nazi motherfuckers the alt-right.

    7. Your goal is obviously to bait me into being a grammar "nazi." And damn you, it will work. ARE ARE ARE!