Sunday, June 27, 2010


This week, a couple of key Senate Republicans said they would never agree to any compromise on energy policy if it included a cap-and-trade provision. If a proposal puts a cap on carbon emissions, and applies that cap to anyone or anything, anywhere, even a little, Republicans said they will kill the legislation and not allow the Senate to vote on it.

It led Mark Kleiman to raise a good point, and I hope he won't mind if I quote it at length.

Why, I'm so old that I remember when market-simulating pollution-control regulations -- polluter charges or cap-and-trade -- were the official conservative alternative to command-and-control regulation. I was sympathetic to that critique, and frustrated about the environmental movement's unwillingness to see reason.

But now that the enviros have embraced a GHG tax or its cap-and-trade equivalent as the way to deal with global warming, conservative support is nowhere in sight. They're all too afraid of Grover Norquist.

Remember this the next time a conservative explains how we ought to voucherize public education. The minute that happens, the conservatives will come back and decide that we need to means-test the vouchers. That done, they'll attack the remaining program as "welfare."

This is not a group of people it's possible to do business with.

This is important. Cap-and-trade -- any version of it -- has been deemed wholly unacceptable by Republicans this year. But given the intense opposition to the idea, it's easy to forget that Republicans used to consider cap-and-trade a reasonable, market-based mechanism that was far preferable to command-and-control directives that the right found offensive.

And I'm not talking about the distant past -- the official position of the McCain/Palin Republican presidential ticket, not even two years ago, was to support cap-and-trade. Not just in theory, either. The official campaign website in 2008 told Americans that John McCain and Sarah Palin "will establish ... a cap-and-trade system that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions." McCain/Palin's official position added, "A cap-and-trade system harnesses human ingenuity in the pursuit of alternatives to carbon-based fuels."

Even George W. Bush awkwardly endorsed cap-and-trade before leaving office.

Democratic policymakers could, today, endorse the policy put forward by the Republican ticket from 2008, and GOP senators would filibuster it. Republicans said they wanted cap-and-trade, but now refuse to take "yes" for an answer.

The goal posts are always on the move, which in turn makes substantive policymaking with Republican lawmakers practically impossible.

Indeed, after Kleiman posted his piece this week, plenty of others noticed how common the phenomenon is. Matt Yglesias noted:

Another major example I can think of is the Earned Income Tax Credit, once touted as the conservative alternative to welfare and/or restoring the real value of the minimum wage, but now supported almost exclusively by liberals while conservatives castigate the poor for not paying taxes. Section 8 housing vouchers, put forward as an alternative to public housing and then repeatedly cut by GOP congresses is another one. Of course this kind of consideration doesn't invalidate any given idea -- I think auctioned, tradable emissions permits actually are the best way to regulate most sources of pollution and that housing vouchers are superior to old-school public housing. But this kind of continual pulling away of the football by the conservative movement makes it quite difficult for us to reach stable consensus around decent policies.

Ezra Klein noted that Republicans used to support industry bailouts, but now consider them creeping socialism. Jon Chait noted that the Republicans "fervently embraced the logic of Keynesian stimulus in 2001," but now fundamentally reject the same idea.

In perhaps my favorite example, the concept of an individual mandate as part of health care reform was, in fact, a Republican idea. Now, the GOP considers it the single most offensive part of the Democratic policy.

The point isn't to point out Republican inconsistencies; that's fairly routine. The point is to demonstrate that Republicans are so fundamentally unserious about solving public policy challenges, that they'll shamelessly move the goalposts at a moment's notice. The party supports cap-and-trade, EITC, industry bailouts, housing vouchers, and mandatory health insurance -- right up until there's a Democratic president. Then, Republicans are no longer willing to even consider Republican ideas.

When the David Broders of the world lecture the dysfunctional Congress on the importance of policymakers working together in good faith, this dynamic tends to be overlooked entirely. Credible people who are serious about solving problems can formulate consensus solutions. But they'll invariably fail because Republicans have no qualms about fighting against their own proposals.

The same old story happens again and again. Dems in the House pass reasonable legislation, and Senate Dems dicker with centrists and Republicans over "compromises," weakening the legislation step by step over many weeks, only to find zero Republican support in the end.

The public has no idea what is going on, and just blames Democrats, who appear to be in charge in DC. Now it is happening gain with vital public spending for national economy recovery -- state aid, unemployment relief, and adjustments in taxes and Medicare payments. This legislation is not just important to this or that group. It matters for keeping any semblance of national economic growth going, for creating and saving hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The President, Congressional leaders, and Democrats of all stripes should be yelling day in, day out, that REPUBLICANS ARE SABOTAGING NATIONAL ECONOMIC RECOVERY. AND PREVENTING JOB GROWTH, JUST FOR POLITICAL ADVANTAGE. That should be the message all the time, led by the President. Stop the murky compromises and the whining about "helping the unemployed." Stop pretending this is about the deficit -- nothing will hurt the deficit more than delayed economic growth. Say what it happening in terms of the national interest.

Republicans are not "compassionate" toward the unemployed, complain Democrats and bloggers. Sorry, folks, that is not what is happening here.

Republicans have figured out that if they undercut economic recovery and increase unemployment rates, they will gain in the 2010 elections -- and probably have a much better shot in 2012. They want to repeat the old cycle: Republicans undercut the economy and run up debt to pay for reckless wars and upper class tax cuts, then hand the mess to Democrats just long enough for them to take a few small steps and get the blame, then Republicans get back in office as the economy recovers. Repeat same recipe after that. It works! So why should they stop doing it?

Democrats, led by the White House, are not handling this strategy well at all. Trying to pretend this is a reasonable argument about the deficit, or that it is about "compassion" for the unemployed, is nuts. Republicans may or may not care about unemployed people, most of whom will not vote for them anyway, but Republican leaders know what they are doing strategically: slow-walking economic growth until they get back into office.

President Obama and the Democrats need to seize the mantle of the national interest in ROBUST ECONOMIC GROWTH. Polls show the public wants more spending for jobs and growth, that people care a lot more about jobs than about deficits. Economic growth is the best way to shrink the deficit anyway. Boldy propose steps that would actually produce jobs and growth -- and proclaim loudly and all the time that Republicans are cynically obstructing the recovery for their own political gain. Spell it out, so that even the most casually engaged American understands what the Republicans are doing with their obstruction. And stop with the wimpy language of "compassion" and the murkey efforts at backrooms "compromises" with folks (like Snowe and Collins) that have no incentive whatsoever to make a deal, anyway. They are just playing a delaying game.

The failure of Democratic leaders to own the language of national economic recovery, to visibly propose and demand bold steps to deal with a genuine economic crisis involving prolonged job loss and slow growth, will go down as the big tragedy of the early 21st century.

It is past time for President Obama to pin the tail on the Republican obstructionist elephant -- and do it loud and clear all the way to election day. So what if a few conservaDems are part of the problem, too? The real issue is 41 Senate Republicans who will not help the nation's economy recover fast, because they want political advantage. Say so.


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, certainly more than other House Democratic leaders, is generally reluctant to publicly criticize the other chamber -- the one that has abandoned majority-rule, making the American legislative process unnecessarily difficult.

But once in a while, Pelosi's patience is tested more than usual.

The message Thursday as a slimmed-down package went down to defeat in the Senate over GOP objections it would add to the deficit, was quite different.

In back-to-back press conferences, Pelosi unleashed her full wrath on the Senate Republican Conference, blaming them for torpedoing unemployment benefits and leaving the middle class out to dry.

"What did middle-class families ever do to Republicans in the Senate that they would snuff out every opportunity for job creation that has been sent to them?" Pelosi chided at an afternoon press conference with Democratic women to drum up support for her remaining jobs agenda, much of it either unmovable in the Senate or the subject to stalemate in the House.

Some reporters seemed slightly taken aback by the House Speaker blasting the Republican Senate conference, but need Pelosi's question be considered an unreasonable? Is it not fair to wonder what GOP senators have against the unemployed?

On a related note, I suggested the other day that it may be time for a discussion about whether GOP lawmakers are trying to deliberately sabotage the economy to help their midterm election strategy. Theda Skocpol seems to have come to a conclusion:

Republicans have figured out that if they undercut economic recovery and increase unemployment rates, they will gain in the 2010 elections -- and probably have a much better shot in 2012.... Republicans may or may not care about unemployed people, most of whom will not vote for them anyway, but Republican leaders know what they are doing strategically: slow-walking economic growth until they get back into office.

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