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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Tea Partyers’ grave fear: Why they disdain young people — even their own!


Thursday, Oct 17, 2013 06:30 PM EDT

Tea Partyers’ grave fear: Why they disdain young people — even their own!

Sociologist Theda Skocpol tells Salon what drives the angry right -- and what comes after the government shutdown

Tea Partyers' grave fear: Why they disdain young people -- even their own!Louie Gohmert (Credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The past weeks’ showdown in Washington, D.C., has shocked and perplexed some observers. Theda Skocpol was not among them. Skocpol, a veteran Harvard professor, is the author of books on topics ranging from the politics of the U.S. welfare state (“Protecting Soldiers and Mothers”) to the state of grass-roots political engagement (“Diminished Democracy”), and of the definitive social science tome on the Tea Party (“The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism,” with Vanessa Williamson).

With the immediate debt ceiling/shutdown showdown coming to a close, Salon called up Skocpol Wednesday to discuss how the media misunderstand the Tea Party, how an unpopular movement can move so many members of Congress, and why the right hates Obama’s moderate healthcare law so much. What follows is an edited and condensed version of our conversation.

Has this month shown us anything we didn’t know about the Tea Party?

I think people in mainstream media and D.C. politics kind of wrote the Tea Party off after 2012. They thought, “Well, this isn’t popular anymore, and the Democrats succeeded in defeating the primary goal of Tea Party forces.” But I think that was always misreading what the Tea Party was about. It’s been there all along to keep Republicans from compromising. I think we’ve seen over the past two weeks that they have the ability to just tie up the federal government and put the country at risk, and they don’t show any signs of backing down. And I don’t think they will, even if they’re defeated in this episode.

Frances Fox Piven argued to me that the Tea Party is something old and something new – it has some demographic continuity with the Birchers or Christian right, but also represents a genuine shift motivated in part by fear that white people are losing their privilege in the U.S. Do you agree?

In many ways I do. We actually did the research, both by pulling together national [data] and by doing observations in groups in three regions. There’s no question that at the grass roots, approximately half of all Republican-identifiers who think of themselves as Tea Partyers are a very conservative-minded old group of white people, some of whom do go all the way back to Goldwater and the Birch Society. They are skeptical of the Republican Party as it has been run in recent years. But they both hate and fear the Democratic Party and Obama. We argued in many ways that anger comes from alarm on the part of these older conservatives that they’re losing their country — that’s what they say. That they’re the true Americans, and they’re losing control of American politics. So that’s the grass-roots component.

Now there is a somewhat new development at the top. There’s no sense in which the grass-roots protests are a fake, or a creation of big money forces. But we have seen the unleashing of billionaire-backed, highly ideological groups that are outside the Republican apparatus, itself symbolized by people like Dick Armey. And much more recently, by Jim DeMint giving up a Senate position to move to Heritage, and turn Heritage into a much more hard-edged political machine. These guys are calling the shots about what happens in Congress. And that’s why we saw the amazing thing [Tuesday] of Heritage Action, under DeMint, indicating that it would score a vote for the leaders’ proposals negatively — within 20 minutes, [Republican leaders] switched. And that’s because they fear now the aroused grass-roots activists, the people who paid attention and vote in Republican primaries. And equally, they fear money coming to challenge them as ideologically impure if they vote the wrong way on key legislation.
So it’s a pincers movement – top-down [and] bottom-up. It really has taken control over the governing part of the Republican Party. It’s probably got less effectiveness in elections.

“Pincers”? How so?

What makes this so powerful is not popularity. People don’t like them; that’s irrelevant. When you’ve got a bloc of legislators in the states and in the Congress, and they can be empowered by very attentive voters who vote in primaries, and then by big money funders who are the ones to challenge other Republicans who don’t go along with the extremists, then you’ve got really a double whammy. The only thing that could counter this would be if more traditional conservative forces started raising money that they used to protect people from challenges on their right. And there are some signs that that’s beginning to happen, but not very many.

Do you expect we’ll see more of that?

We may. But I think this is going on for a while. These folks are coming back at it again in a few months, and they will keep coming at it.

Some Democrats I talk to have this view that this will not happen again in the near future because the voters are going to punish the Republican Party – by taking levers away from the Republican Party and by weakening the leverage of the Tea Party within the GOP.

I think it’s way too soon to conclude that. There’s a huge difference in the electorate that turns out in the midterms. If they do it again next year — which I think they will, at least some of it – it could change the equation in November 2014 a little bit. But let’s get real here.

I mean, you’re going to have to talk about taking the majority away from Republicans in the House of Representatives. You have to talk about getting rid of the filibuster check in the Senate. And I don’t think many liberal commentators are paying any attention to the very important developments that have occurred across so many American states where very extreme Republicans have supermajorities at the moment. So that’s all got to be chipped away at, because as long as a fired-up and morally dogmatic minority, backed by ideological money, can manipulate legislatures, it can choke things up. Their goal is to show that Obama and the Democrats can’t govern, and unfortunately they have some of the levers to do that.

To what extent do you think that the tactics Republicans have taken up show something about our political institutions’ ability to work in the face of what some would call more parliamentary tactics?

Well, I don’t think this is parliamentary. I think this is truly extremist. The filibuster rules, of course, are rules, and they can change. And the ability of one or two senators to hold up everything may be something that even the minority will want to change, because you know, Sen. Ted Cruz is really a cruise missile. He has unsettled Senate Republicans plenty.

American institutions do not in any way require that the same party or the same faction controls the presidency and both houses of Congress. And so that creates openings for obstructionists to really grind everything to a halt. We’ve seen Republicans, as they fear that they can’t make it in majority elections, turn to creating new uses for old institutional mechanisms and rules. That’s what’s going on right now.

A decade ago, you observed a long-term decline in American civic participation and the groups that used to foster it. What does the Tea Party mean for that?

At the grass roots, it’s a return to some traditional methods. The grass-roots Tea Party actually formed, at their height, about 900 local groups — genuinely new groups. I wrote in “Diminished Democracy” that the right has been more effective at either sustaining or re-creating federated action, which is the key to American politics — to be able to organize across many districts, many states, and still be part of something national. The Tea Party is a different kind of manifestation of that.

They’ve actually destroyed the organizational integrity of the Republican Party right now. That’s why the situation is so scary for the United States. The Washington press corps wants to write again and again that both sides should compromise. The fact of the matter is that Obama doesn’t have anybody to compromise with. He can’t make a deal, because the Tea Party forces have discombobulated the Republican leadership. John Boehner can’t make a deal with anybody. He can’t deliver even on what he wants for breakfast.

“Destroyed the organizational integrity of the Republican Party.” How so?

Republican Party committees can’t necessarily keep themselves at all levels from being taken over or end-runned by Tea Party forces. The leadership in the Senate, [and] especially in the House, can’t control their various actions, can’t use a combination of carrots and sticks to put things together. It means even that in elections, Republicans can’t control the message they’re sending out. You can declare that you’re going to have outreach to women and minorities, and the next day Rush Limbaugh can say god-knows-what. People can show up at the U.S. Capitol with a Confederate flag in front of the White House. Things are kind of out of control.

The Confederate flag – is there some larger significance in that popping up when and where it did?

There’s a strain in the Tea Party, especially at the grass roots, that’s xenophobic and racist, and certainly the Confederate flag also symbolizes regional resistance to federal power – there’s lots of themes here that resemble nullification, and even the pre-Civil War crisis.

But I don’t really think it’s helpful to announce that the entire Tea Party base is racist.  I don’t think it’s that simple. For one thing, they’re just as riled up about immigration as they are about blacks. There’s certainly a worry about a change in the social composition of America. But we found in our research that they also resent young people — including in their own families.

They think young people are not measuring up. That the grandsons and daughters and nieces and nephews expect to get free college loans, and don’t get a job, and hold ideas that are not very American in their view — like Obama. Obama symbolizes all of this.

How does that play out in the politics around the Affordable Care Act, and these accusations of raiding Medicare?

One of the big mysteries that we’ve tried to deal with in our research is why the Affordable Care Act, which after all is fairly moderate — it’s an extremely important piece of legislation, but it’s moderate in its means — why would that become a flashpoint?

Well, despite all of the particular policy features that came from conservative origins, it is a powerfully redistributive law. The people left out of the insurance system have been lower income and more moderate income workers.  They’re a younger population, browner and blacker. And then you come along with a president who symbolizes everything that conservatives and Tea Partyers hate. And he proposes to raise taxes on wealthier people, Medicare beneficiaries and business to pay for insurance for those people who’ve been left out. So Obamacare really symbolizes the idea that this new America is going to take something from “our America.”

And for the ideological forces, Freedomworks, Americans for Prosperity, Heritage Action — you just have to go back to Bill Kristol’s memo in 1993 on Clinton healthcare. They’re worried about filling in one of the big holes in the American welfare state, and creating a positive relationship between the government and working-age people that will make it hard for Republicans to win elections or proceed with their preference: to roll back Social Security and Medicare, let alone another big piece of the American welfare state.

Another thing you’ll hear from Democrats is that every past program like this has been controversial at the time, and then becomes popular to the point Republicans won’t even admit they want to get rid of it. Is there reason to expect the same here?

Yes. It’s going to be a tough battle because of the new levers the Supreme Court gave to the states to reduce the Medicaid expansion. There is a question in my mind as to whether a regional group around Texas will stay out permanently. But over the last month, while we’ve been having an Armageddon-like battle supposedly over Obamacare in Washington, several more Republican-led states have accepted the Medicaid expansion, or are on the verge of doing it. In the final analysis, this is about money for healthcare, and states and localities as well can’t be denying care to people who get sick in this country.

Business interests and hospitals and doctors are grudgingly accepting this vast expansion of resources in their sector, and the disconnect in public opinion is so extreme. If you ask them about the particular provisions in the law, almost all of them are very popular, including with majorities of Republicans. So once this thing is actually carried through — and it’s obviously not going to be easy, and it’s not clear that the Obama administration is entirely up to it — this law is here to stay. It’s not going anywhere. By 2016, it will not be reversible. And by about five years after that, people will be wondering what all the fuss was about.

You said the right is more effective at building the kind of organizations that wield political leverage. What do you think explains that?

Partly, the right in this country, over the last half-century, has recognized that fighting across many localities and states is worth it. And they’ve developed mechanisms for doing that, and that turned out to have a big payoff in Congress. There’s also a whole series of reasons why older conservative voters, backed by ideologues, have this combination of apocalyptic moral certitude with organization that really gets results. Especially in obstructing things in American politics.

I don’t happen to think that the left and the center-left could imitate this. For one thing, they don’t have the presence across as many states and districts. But it’s also not clear it’s a model worth imitating. I think the real problem that you’ve got right now on the left is how to defeat this stuff, how to contain it, how to beat it — given the permeability of American political institutions to this kind of thing. And I don’t think it’s clear what’s going to happen.

Right-wing nuts nab new way to sabotage Obamacare


Thursday, Oct 17, 2013 07:44 AM EDT

Right-wing nuts nab new way to sabotage Obamacare

Remember how the shutdown deal only gave the GOP "small" concessions? One low-profile component could prove costly

Right-wing nuts nab new way to sabotage ObamacareTed Cruz (Credit: AP/Alex Brandon)

The final deal to avert a breach of the debt limit and end the government shutdown included what has been described as a “small concession” to Republicans: tightening the income verification measures for customers on the Obamacare insurance exchanges to qualify for subsidies. But considering the hurdles associated with this step – and the enormous IT problems we’ve already seen with the exchanges – the concession may not be small at all.

As one prominent health care expert tells Salon, the impact could contribute to an attempted sabotage of the law by those who want to see it repealed. Rather than letting the health care law survive “unscathed,” the income verification piece could trigger a new round of headaches for Obamacare, and this time, Republicans – and the country – will be paying attention.

Conservatives have been grumbling for months that Obamacare invites fraud, by using an “honor system” to verify the income levels that determine subsidy amounts on the exchanges. Just last month, House Republicans passed the No Subsidies Without Verification Act 235-191, with all of their members voting in favor. The bill prohibits any subsidies from being distributed until the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) certifies that a system of income verification is operational.

HHS did say back in July that they would rely on “self-attestation” to determine the initial subsidy level, with sample audits to verify information. But later, HHS announced the sample size would equal 100% of the population, and that they would test self-reporting against sources like past tax filings and Social Security data. While they haven’t officially changed the regulation, income verification tests are included in the exchange’s data hubs. So you can say that the Republican measure just forces compliance with spelling out the regulations for a full verification regime.

However, there’s another part to this, the simplest and easiest way to ensure that everyone receives the proper subsidy level. It’s called the Internal Revenue Service. Every American sends in a tax return annually showing their exact income level, subject to routine verification by a large government agency. Under Obamacare, the IRS can claw back excess subsidies after the fact, something frequent conservative critic Avik Roy acknowledged in July. He added that “the IRS’ record of impartiality is, shall we say, contested,” and that people in poverty who don’t file tax returns “would probably not be subject” to clawbacks (weasel word alert!). Roy is relying on the discredited IRS scandal here to suggest that the agency wouldn’t do their job when Obamacare recipients (read: Democrats) are involved. But he also takes a very curious stance for a conservative: that the IRS, far from being a group of jack-booted thugs who will stop at nothing to take your money at the barrel of a gun, is simply too lazy to do its job!

“You have to wonder, why isn’t clawback enough,” Paul Starr, Princeton professor and author of Remedy and Reaction, about the legislative fight over Obamacare, told Salon. “This seems to me another form of sabotage.”

Starr’s perspective is borne by the early experience of the exchanges. The federal exchange, which is the Obamacare portal for customers in 34 states, has performed very badly in the opening weeks. Even supporters of the law like the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein has called the rollout a disaster. Not only have potential customers been unable to register for the program after 20 or 30 attempts, those few who have been successful aren’t having their data transferred to insurance companies properly.
“Things are worse behind the curtain than in front of it,” according to health care writer Bob Laszlewski, describing how the system is enrolling and unenrolling customers seemingly at random. If HHS can’t approve subsidies until the Inspector General decides income verification is operational, that would definitely delay subsidies – nothing is operational about the federal exchanges right now. (Subsequent reports about the deal suggest that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and not the Inspector General, would do the certification. But it’s not clear what would have to be tweaked in the process.)

And you have to question whether income verification would ever be operational, and if that’s contributing to the major delays on the exchange website. Accurate, real-time income verification has been a cherished goal for members of the financial services industry for many years; they use this data to determine eligibility for loans of all types. Needless to say, big banks and financial services firms have massive resources relative to the federal government. And they haven’t been able to nail electronic income verification yet; they mostly ask people to mail or fax in forms proving income, rather than submit them through the Web (which leads to losing forms and multiple queries for data and all the rest).

Most of the information you can scrape from payroll or Social Security data would be 6-18 months out of date, especially for the types of part-time workers, freelancers, “unbanked” individuals and self-employed persons who comprise the primary group signing up for Obamacare. Demanding real-time income verification would require technology that doesn’t even exist for the financial sector, and to get it right would add significantly to the already burdensome delays in acquiring insurance coverage on the exchanges. It would also expand costs for IT development exponentially, achieving the neat trick of making Obamacare more costly and more ineffective at the same time.

As noted before, there’s an already existing method of income verification, through the IRS, that stands ready to handle any potential misreporting through clawbacks. In fact, the IRS will have to verify income anyway; people simply don’t have perfect information about their future income, especially part-timers and freelancers and the self-employed. This is how many means-tested programs like Medicare and Medicaid work, and despite the cries of conservatives, fraud in those programs mostly come from health care providers bilking the government rather than individual subscribers.
Instead of using a time-tested process that works (and would work better if Republicans weren’t so dedicated to defunding the IRS), the GOP wants to add this kludgey extra step to an already strained online exchange. The clear goal here is to make it harder to enroll or collapse the insurance exchanges entirely, along with creating the impression that Obamacare customers are automatically freeloaders and cheats, which aligns with conservative demonization of other government programs.

So far, the woes of the insurance exchanges have played in the background of the news, far behind the government shutdown and possible debt limit breach. By embarking on a white-whale quest to defund Obamacare, Tea Party Republicans have ignored the huge PR value of the exchange disaster. Indeed, many people logically assume that the problems with the exchanges are due to the shutdown (they aren’t). The Administration has basically gotten a lifeline on the bad rollout, thanks to the GOP focusing attention elsewhere. That could change with this deal, and the added hurdle of income verification.

Obviously, verifying the income of applicants to determine their proper level of subsidy is critical to Obamacare running smoothly. But there are plenty of ways to do this, particularly through the agency best equipped to verify income. Asking the federal government to perform an impossible technical feat through a shaky online portal is a recipe for further disaster. Senate Democrats made this concession to Republicans in their fiscal deal; House conservatives are well-positioned to exploit it.

David Dayen David Dayen is a contributing writer for Salon. Follow him on Twitter at @ddayen.

GOP’s huge Tea Party mess has only just begun


Thursday, Oct 17, 2013 07:45 AM EDT

GOP’s huge Tea Party mess has only just begun

John Boehner thought the last few weeks were rough? The coming months could present him with even more headaches

GOP's huge Tea Party mess has only just begun (Credit: Ted Cruz, John Boehner)

Last night, Republicans stood aside as Congress increased the debt limit and reopened the government. In return, they got nothing. Or more accurately, they got something that already existed, and gave Democrats something they’d been blocking for months.
The deal Harry Reid struck with Mitch McConnell includes a formal negotiation over the federal government, which GOP senators and various House Republicans have objected to since the spring. In exchange, Republicans got a redundant measure to assure Obamacare’s existing income verification mechanisms are actually verifying beneficiary incomes (for a less bullish take on this measure, see David Dayen’s take here).

It’s a fig leaf, minus the properties that allow it to conceal anyone’s nether regions. A fig leaf with the chlorophyll sapped out of it. Republicans can spin it among themselves as a Democratic concession, but they can’t rightly look back at the ruin of the past month, and the content of the deal, and expect that they can extort unreciprocated concessions from Democrats next time around.

The questions on everyone’s mind are, Will they try anyhow? And what will the coming months look like if they don’t?

I think the answer to the first question is “probably not,” mostly for the reasons I noted above. Republicans didn’t just sacrifice an incredible amount of public cachet in this fight. Their leaders also revealed, for the second time this year, that they’re not willing to actually allow the country to default just to preserve party unity or pressure the president to cave. Unless they’re stricken with a nihilistic sense of bitterness and the feeling that they have nothing left to lose, there’s little reason to think they’re going to approach coming deadlines the same way they approached these past two.

Before you object on the grounds that the past month’s events won’t make conservative House hardliners any less bloodthirsty: I agree. They can’t fight their nature, or their incentives, and they don’t even seem to want to.

My suspicion, though, is that the right will have about the same amount of sway in the months ahead as an erratic general who led his soldiers into a massacre, then reassimilated unnoticed far down the chain of command. He’s still there, he’s still cranky, but other officers can now point to the slaughter and everyone will ignore his guidance.

If that’s right, then you can paint optimistic and pessimistic scenarios for the winter months. The optimistic one, obviously, is that parties’ official budget delegates ink some mutually agreeable deal and take the debt limit off the table once again.
The budget negotiators will have until Dec. 13 to write a fiscal blueprint, which appropriators would use to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year, and the House and Senate tax-writing committees would use to implement any recommended changes to the tax code or entitlement programs or both.

If they come to an agreement, then you won’t have to read any more stories about crisis governance until about January 2015 at the earliest. The challenge, as always, is that even median Republicans still categorically oppose increasing taxes even modestly. The establishment and the radicals have been at war with each other for weeks now, but they never battled over this single uniting principle.

Here’s McConnell, whose deal quashed the radical rebellion, yesterday afternoon:
“Crucially, I’m also confident that we’ll be able to announce that we’re protecting the government spending reductions that both parties agreed to under the Budget Control Act, and that the President signed into law. That’s been a top priority for me and my Republican colleagues throughout this debate. And it’s been worth the effort. Some have suggested that we break that promise as part of this agreement. They’ve said Washington needs to spend more, that we need to raise taxes — that we can just tax our way to prosperity and balance.”
If the budget committee deadlocks, this will be the reason. Outside the narrow constraints of budgeting, there are plenty of things Democrats want other than tax increases. But it’s hard to imagine them surfacing in an official budget conference as a replacement for new revenues.

Thus, there’s a high likelihood that these negotiations will end the same way as all the others that preceded them did: no agreement. An agreement is only compatible with the GOP’s anti-tax absolutism if Democrats drop their demand for tax parity and agree to pay down sequestration with other spending cuts. Possible, but unlikely. And gridlock would create a new challenge for Boehner and test whether the hardliners learned anything at all from this whole experience.

The deal extends funding for the government through Jan. 15. Republicans are now very, very invested in not triggering another government shutdown. Much more invested than they were last month, when party leaders got forced into shutting down the government against their better collective judgment.

Democrats won’t shut down the government. They’re not going to make demands unrelated to the issue at hand, like Republicans just did, and refuse to fund the government unless they get their ransom. But they will fight harder than ever to ease sequestration, and their leverage will come both from the deadline and the House GOP’s inability to govern itself. This is where the dynamic between Boehner and his hardliners will become relevant again. The only way for him to beat back Democratic demands without shutting down the government will be to pass appropriations in some form that neither exceed sequestration nor include the kinds of extraneous riders that will invite easy veto threats from Obama.

This will be an immense challenge. Hardliners aren’t particularly interested in funding the government without demanding ransoms, and even if they were, it might not be possible at the funding levels the party supports. Earlier this year they had to yank the one domestic appropriations bill they’d hoped to pass on the floor, because it was too austere for Democrats and moderate Republicans, and not radical enough for the hardliners.

They’re not going to get a lot of help from Democrats if they try to appropriate at 2014 sequestration levels. And if they can’t appropriate on their own, without once again dragging Obamacare into the equation, they’ll have a problem.

Perhaps that just means the government will be funded with continuing resolutions in perpetuity. Agency budgets will remain stuck in the past, and subject to more damaging sequestration cuts. It does seem like McConnell would prefer this outcome over a real budget with higher spending. But if Senate Democrats can appropriate at higher levels, perhaps with assistance from chastened moderate Republicans, Boehner will get jammed again. Would he really shut down the government again rather than put a bipartisan omnibus spending bill on the floor?

Once that deadline passes, the debt limit will have to be increased again. The statutory deadline is Feb. 7, but extraordinary measures could delay that by several weeks. How it gets increased depends a lot on everything that comes before it. If the parties agree on a budget, it will probably be increased as part of it. If they don’t, it’ll have to be increased independently. And at that point Republicans will get to decide whether they want to try their hand at extortion one more time.

Brian Beutler Brian Beutler is Salon's political writer. Email him at bbeutler@salon.com and  follow him on Twitter at @brianbeutler.

Even When the GOP Loses, It Wins

Even When the GOP Loses, It Wins



Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, walks away from the microphone during a news conference after a House GOP meeting on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Just hours before a default on our national debt and sixteen days into a wrenching federal government shutdown, it now appears that the barest measure of sanity has prevailed in Washington. The Senate has reached a deal to reopen the government at current funding levels through January 15 and to pass a debt ceiling hike though February 7. The measure is expected to clear the House tonight with scant but necessary Republican support.

Because the deal only includes minor concessions, the Beltway consensus is that it represents a resounding defeat for Republicans, who “surrendered” their original demands to defund or delay Obamacare. In the skirmish of opinion polls, that may be true, for now. But in the war of ideas, the Senate deal is but a stalemate, one made almost entirely on conservative terms. The GOP now goes into budget talks with sequestration as the new baseline, primed to demand longer-term cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. And they still hold the gun of a US default to the nation’s head in the next debt ceiling showdown.

Surrender? Any more “victories” like this and Democrats will end up paying tribute into the GOP’s coffers.

This debate started in 2011 when the president accepted that he couldn’t get support for jobs programs and instead called for “balanced” deficit reduction that included tax increases on corporations and the wealthy and spending cuts. In response, Republicans threatened to default on America’s debts, forcing through the Budget Control Act, which cut nearly $1 trillion in spending over ten years with no tax increases and exacted another trillion in cuts either by agreement of a “supercommittee” or, failing that, automatic across-the-board cuts of $1.2 trillion over ten years. Now the Republicans’ “surrender” locks in that sequester while pushing for further reductions to basic safety net programs—all while tax increases remain off the table and the threat of default is still pointed at the country’s head. Tea Party zealots may have lost their bid to torpedo healthcare reform, but the right continues to set the terms of the debate.
This is particularly perverse because austerity only adds to the country’s troubles. More than 20 million people still need full-time work. Incomes are still stagnant. The top 1 percent continue to capture what little growth there is. The International Monetary Fund says even that will slow, projecting a rate of 1.6 percent growth in the coming months. We are closer to a renewed recession than a healthy recovery. Meanwhile, deficits are falling more rapidly than at any time since the demobilization after World War II. More spending cuts will only cost jobs and slow growth.

We should be debating the real challenges ahead. How do we get the economy moving and create jobs? How do we empower workers to gain a fair share of profits? Can we forge a global effort to shut down off-shore tax dodges and end the obscenity of multinational companies pocketing millions in profits and paying nothing in taxes? Will we squander the opportunity to rebuild our decrepit roads, airports and sewers when interest rates are low and labor in abundant supply?

The GOP may be bearing the brunt of the public’s rage, but anger is also directed at Washington and government generally. Nearly eight in ten say the country is seriously off-track. The Tea Party may be plummeting in public esteem, but it is taking government down with it. There is simply no way to rebuild widely shared prosperity without a government with a clear strategy in the global economy. There is no way to make needed public investments and temper the extreme inequality that threatens our democracy without progressive tax reform. The terms of the Republican “surrender” take us in the wrong direction.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated. A previous version appears in the November 4, 2013 print issue.

Everybody is trying to get Congress to do its work, including an interfaith group determined to sing to Congressman Paul Ryan so that “his heart is broken…[and] he will act courageously,” according to Greg Kaufmann.

Monday, October 7, 2013

On the Sabotage of Democracy

BILL MOYERS: And now to the people who refuse to let democracy work. The people who hate government so much they’ve shut it down. Unable to abide by the results of democracy when they don’t win, they turned on it.

Republicans have now lost three successive elections to control the Senate and they’ve lost the last two presidential elections. Nonetheless, they fought tooth and nail to kill President Obama’s health care initiative. They lost that fight, but with the corporate wing of Democrats, they managed to bend it toward private interests.

So we should be clear on this, Obamacare, as it’s known, is deeply flawed. Big subsidies to the health insurance industry. A bonanza for lobbyists. No public option. And as The New York Times reported this week, “Millions of Poor Are Left Uncovered by Health Law.” Largely because states controlled by Republicans refuse to expand Medicaid.

As far as our bought and paid for legislative process goes, Obama’s initiative made it through the sausage factory. Yet even after both the House and Senate approved it, the president signed it, and the Supreme Court upheld it, the Republicans keep insisting on calling the law a “bill,” thumbing their noses and refusing to accept that it is enacted legislation.

Now they’re fighting to prevent it from being implemented. Here was their order of the day on Thursday from the popular right wing blog RedState.com:

“Congressmen, this is about shutting down Obamacare. Democrats keep talking about our refusal to compromise. They don’t realize our compromise is defunding Obamacare. We actually want to repeal it. This is it. Our endgame is to leave the whole thing shut down until the President defunds Obamacare. And if he does not defund Obamacare, we leave the whole thing shut down.”

Once upon a time when I was a young man working on Capitol Hill, it was commonplace that when a bill became law, everybody was unhappy with it. But you didn’t bring down the government just because it wasn’t perfect. You argue and fight and vote and then, due process having been at least raggedly served, on to the next fight.

That was a long time ago. Long before the Tea Party minority, armed with huge sums of secret money from rich donors, sucked the last bit of soul from the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln. They became delusional. Then rabid. Like this:

SENATOR STEVE KING: If Obamacare is ever implemented and enforced, we will never recover from it. It is an unconstitutional takings of God-given American liberty.

BILL MOYERS: That’s false, of course. Just like those right-wing talking points that keep grinding through the propaganda mills of Fox News:

AINSLEY EARHARDT on Fox and Friends: Thanks to Obamacare, doctors will be forced to ask patients about their sex life, even if it has nothing to do with the medical treatment that they are seeking at the time.

BILL MOYERS: Not true.

MICHELLE MALKIN on Fox and Friends: That healthcare plan puts a discount on the lives of elderly people and would result in the redistribution of health away from the elderly and the infirm to other special favored interests and patients.

BILL MOYERS: Again, not true. Nor is this, from the multi-millionaire fabulist Rush Limbaugh:

RUSH LIMBAUGH from the Rush Limbaugh Show: What we now have is the biggest tax increase in the history of the world. Obamacare is just a massive tax increase, that all it is.

BILL MOYERS: That’s just a tiny sample of the lies and misinformation perpetrated by the right with the song and dance compliance of its richly paid mouthpieces. Sarah Palin set the bar for truth at about ankle height with those fictitious “death panels” that she still insists will decide our rendezvous with the Grim Reaper.

SARAH PALIN on Cashin' In: Of course there are death panels in there, but the important thing to remember is that’s just one aspect of this atrocious, unaffordable, cumbersome, burdensome, evil policy of Obama’s and that is Obamacare.

BILL MOYERS: Despite what they say, Obamacare is only one of their targets. Before they will allow the government to reopen, they demand employers be enabled to deny birth control coverage to female employees. They demand Obama cave on the Keystone pipeline. They demand the watchdogs over corporate pollution be muzzled, and the big, bad regulators of Wall Street sent home. Their ransom list goes on and on. The debt ceiling is next. They would have the government default on its obligations and responsibilities.
When the president refused to buckle to their extortion, they threw their tantrum. Like the die-hards of the racist South a century and a half ago, who would destroy the Union before giving up their slaves, so would these people burn the place down, sink the ship of state, and sow economic chaos to get their way. This says it all, they even shuttered the Statue of Liberty.

Watching all this from London, the noted commentator Martin Wolf, of the capitalist friendly Financial Times, says “America flirts with self-destruction.”
This man is the biggest flirt of all, Newt Gingrich. It was Newt Gingrich who twenty years ago spearheaded the right-wing’s virulent crusade against the norms of democratic government. As Speaker of the House he twice brought about shutdowns of the federal government once, believe it or not, because he felt snubbed after riding on Air Force One with President Clinton and had to leave by the backdoor.

It was also Newt Gingrich, speaker Gingrich, who was caught lying to congressional investigators looking into charges of his ethical wrongdoing. His colleagues voted overwhelmingly, 395 to 28, to reprimand him. Pressure from his own party then prompted him to resign.

Yet even after his flame out, even after his recent bizarre race for the presidency bankrolled with money from admiring oligarchs, even after new allegations about his secret fundraising for right-wing candidates, Gingrich remains the darling of a fawning amnesic media.

NEWT GINGRICH on Crossfire: I’m Newt Gingrich on the right.

BILL MOYERS: On CNN.com the other day he issued a call to arms to his fellow bomb-throwers, “…don’t cave on shutdown.”

At least let’s name this for what it is, sabotage of the democratic process. Secession by another means. And let’s be clear about where such reckless ambition leads. As surely as night must follow day, the alternative to democracy is worse.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Why Does the GOP Hate Food Stamps But Love Farm Subsidies?

Psychology Today: Here to Help

The Inertia Trap

How the way we think can be an enemy of change


Why Does the GOP Hate Food Stamps But Love Farm Subsidies?

The way help-seekers are viewed depends on their social status.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the GOP's plan to shut down the government sans a long- or short-term strategy is that it's arguably not the most incomprehensible position they've taken in the past month. That award goes to their comittment to ravage spending on food stamps while preserving subsides for a much wealthier group of farmers. As Jonathan Chait points out, regardless of what you think about the role and size of government, it's hard for such a position to be logically consistent without your primary motivation being the immiseration of poor people.

Of course psychology research provides a lot of explanations for the seemingly inexplicable, so I'll play devil's advocate for a moment. What could possible make somebody think we should give money to wealthy farmers but not to malnourished poor people?

One possible answer comes from a new study led by Arie Nadler of Tel Aviv University. The question motivating the study was fairly straightforward: Do people think about or act differently toward low-status help-seekers compared to high-status help-seekers? Specifically, Nadler hypothesized that low-status people would be offered "dependency-oriented" help—i.e. a full solution to their problem—while high-status people were more likely to be offered "autonomy-oriented help (tools to solve their problem.)

The study involved a series of experiments that were based around participants interacting (via a computer) with a fictional person who either sought or did not seek help on math and verbal problems. (When participants arrived they were told they would be either the problem solver or the guide, but all of them were assigned the role of guide.) Across three different experiments the problem solver's status was manipulated in different ways. In the first experiment participants were told he had either a 90% or 30% success rate on similar problems. In the second experiment they were told he lived in an area that was either high or low in socioeconomic status. And in the third experiment they were told he scored either high or low on the Israeli equivalent of the SAT.

Sure enough, when the problem solver was low-status, participants were more likely to offer dependency-oriented help—in this case, the actual answer to the problem. On the other hand, when the problem-solver was high status, participants were more likely to offer autonomy oriented help—in this case, an explanation of the way similar problems could be solved.

While that's all fairly interesting—and may even seem to run counter to the GOP's desire not to give poor people money for food—the findings relevant to today's GOP come from some additional analyses Nadler conducted in order to uncover what was driving behavior toward the help-seekers. The most jarring finding was that while high-status people were viewed as more motivated to succeed when they sought help compared to when they didn't seek help, low-status people were viewed as less motivated to succeed when they sought help compared to when they didn't seek help. I believe this is what's known in the business as a double standard. When high-status people seek help it's because they're driven and tenacious, but when low status people do it it's because they're lazy.

Nadler also found that when participants expected a strong performance on the problems (due to the problem-solver being high-status), they rated the problem-solver as having more ability when he sought help compared to when he didn't seek help. On the other hand, when low performance was expected, participants rated the problem-solver as less able when he sought help compared to when he didn't seek help. Once again, help-seeking was viewed as a positive trait for high-status people (e.g. rich farmers) but a negative trait for low-status people (e.g. food stamp recipients.)
Here's Nadler summing it all up:
The findings indicate that a request for help by a low-status person is attributed to lack of ability and motivation, elicits feelings of pity, and leads to dependency-oriented assistance. The same request for help by a high-status person is attributed to momentary lack of concentration, elicits feelings of identification with the seeker’s predicament, and leads to autonomy-oriented assistance. These findings reinforce the suggestion that the help seekers’ status determines the meaning of a request for help. When they enjoy high status, the request for assistance indicates transient difficulty, high motivation to overcome it, and ability to do so. Conversely, when their status is relatively low, the same request indicates inability and chronic dependency.
This way of thinking is essentially a giant exercise in erroneously attributing outcomes to internal factors—a tendency also know as the "fundamental attribution error." External circumstances simply aren't considered when it comes to success and failure. High status people are successful because they're great and will use your help to continue to be great, while low-status people lack what it takes to be successful, and thus they'll continue to fail no matter what you give them.

If the GOP caucus is susceptible to this way of thinking, slowly but surely their position begin to make sense. Food stamps will always be a waste because in the end their recipients will always remain a drain on taxpayers. Hard-working farmers, on the other hand, have what it takes an thus they'll put the tax dollars they receive to good use. It doesn't matter that that's not actually how farm subsidies work -- some of the money goes to people who don't do any farming or people who are dead. But once you assume you know somebody's future based strictly on their past, none of that really matters.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

As Crazy and Dangerous as a Rabid Fox


Published on Wednesday, October 2, 2013 by Campaign for America's Future Blog

by Digby

(Photo: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)

I think one of the major misunderstandings (willful, in many cases) of this budget mess is that it’s about Republicans just running around willy-nilly screaming “nonononono” like toddlers having a temper tantrum. I know it looks that way, but that’s not what’s happening. This is a strategy. And it’s one they’ve even written down.

Jonathan Chait wrote about this in a widely read piece Monday in which he explains what they’ve been up to:
In January, demoralized House Republicans retreated to Williamsburg, Virginia, to plot out their legislative strategy for President Obama’s second term. Conservatives were angry that their leaders had been unable to stop the expiration of the Bush tax cuts on high incomes, and sought assurances from their leaders that no further compromises would be forthcoming. The agreement that followed, which Republicans called “The Williamsburg Accord,” received obsessive coverage in the conservative media but scant attention in the mainstream press. (The phrase “Williamsburg Accord” has appeared once in the Washington Post and not at all in the New York Times.) But the decision House Republicans made in January has set the party on the course it has followed since. 
If you want to grasp why Republicans are careening toward a potential federal government shutdown, and possibly toward provoking a sovereign debt crisis after that, you need to understand that this is the inevitable product of a conscious party strategy. Just as Republicans responded to their 2008 defeat by moving farther right, they responded to the 2012 defeat by moving right yet again. Since they had begun from a position of total opposition to the entire Obama agenda, the newer rightward lurch took the form of trying to wrest concessions from Obama by provoking a series of crises.
And certain institutional players got in on the act and put the heat on MOC’s big time. Here’s a letter from Heritage action to the GOP caucus from last May:
Dear Congressman, 
In the coming months, you will face tremendous pressure to accept a deal to raise our nation’s debt ceiling. Conservatives around the country will insist the debt ceiling not be raised unless our nation gets on a path to a balanced budget within 10 years and stays balanced. This is not an arbitrary marker; rather, it is the marker laid out by the entire House Republican Conference in what has become known as the Williamsburg Accord. 
Conservatives cannot enter into the debt ceiling debate without understanding the promise of the Williamsburg Accord. 
On January 18, four current and former chairmen of the Republican Study Committee announced an agreement to re-sequence the 2013 fiscal fights. In exchange for holding the line on the sequester and producing a budget that balanced in ten years, conservatives agreed to postpone the debt ceiling debate for several months. In turn, the debate on the debt ceiling would revolve around enacting the policies that put the federal budget on the path to 10-year balance. 
A few days later, Speaker Boehner declared, “It’s time for us to come to a plan that will in fact balance the budget over the next 10 years.” He said it was the GOP’s “commitment to the American people.” 
As the proverbial ink dried on the Williamsburg Accord, the House Republican Conference marched in unison. Lawmakers focused on laying the groundwork to enact the policies necessary to achieve a 10-year balance, as scored by the Congressional Budget Office, and attach them to any future increases in the debt ceiling. 
At the same time, the National Republican Congressional Committee quietly poll-tested the message in key districts. Balancing the budget was a winning political argument in swing districts. The NRCC poll found that 45 percent of Democrats, 61 percent of Independents and 76 percent of Republicans thought balancing the federal budget would “significantly increase economic growth and create millions of American jobs.” 
Good policy is good politics, and we know from recent history a coherent, principled message on the debt ceiling can shift public opinion. Before landing on the Budget Control Act in August 2011, Republicans consistently said America had a spending problem and spending reductions must accompany any increase in the debt ceiling.

Not surprisingly, the accepted narrative of that showdown is wrong. Many forget Republicans were winning the generic congressional vote the entire month of July. President Obama’s disapproval rating stood at 52% by the end of August. In September, Mitt Romney was leading in head-to-head polling. 
The path to balance is the path to victory. 
Conservatives should not raise our nation’s statutory debt limit unless Congress passes and the President signs into law real reforms and immediate spending reductions that place America on a path to balance within 10 years without raising taxes and keeping the budget in balance.
What they were talking about was Paul Ryan’s budget. And guess what? They got it:
The Democrat-controlled Senate passed a continuing resolution, or CR—a temporary funding measure meant to keep the government operating—that would set the relevant funding levels at an annualized total of $986 billion. That’s about $70 billion less than what the Senate endorsed as part of its comprehensive budget plan back in April. But that actually understates the extent of the compromise. 
When President Barack Obama first took office in 2009, his budget proposed $1.203 trillion in discretionary spending for FY 2014. The Senate CR is about $216 billion, or nearly 18 percent, lower than that. Actual enacted funding levels for FY 2010, when the Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress, totaled $1.185 trillion in 2014 dollars. The Senate CR is about $200 billion below that, a cut of nearly 17 percent. 
After the 2010 midterm elections, the Republican Party took control of the House of Representatives and offered a budget plan that proposed dramatic spending reductions. That plan, authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), envisioned FY 2014 funding levels at $1.095 trillion. Note that the funding in the current Senate-passed CR is about 10 percent less than the levels in the original Ryan budget. 
Finally, in August 2011, after a prolonged standoff over the debt limit, President Obama and Congress agreed to cut even more spending than the original Ryan budget demanded. The original spending caps in the 2011 debt limit deal limited funding to $1.066 trillion in FY 2014. The Senate CR accepts a cut of an additional $80 billion, or nearly 8 percent, from that compromise level. 
Progressives have repeatedly made significant concessions in order to protect the economy from a series of manufactured crises. Today’s manufactured crisis is no different. The Senate-passed legislation to keep the government open sets funding levels that are even lower than previous compromises. If the Tea Party shuts the government down anyway, it will not be because progressives were inflexible. Just ask House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)—the compromise incorporated in the Senate CR was originally his idea.
On Monday night Steny Hoyer shouted this on floor during one of the debates:
“This is not a negotiation — we’re taking their number, and we would hope that they could also take their number so we can keep the government open.”
You see? The Democrats already folded. Sequestration is now the ongoing law of the land and Paul Ryan’s budget wet dream is considered the “clean” continuing resolution. Huzzah.

And yet, they were not satisfied. (You’ve heard the old saw “give ‘em and inch and they’ll take a mile,” right?) Here’s one view of the “Williamsburg Accord” from the more radical (yes, more radical even than Heritage Action) Madison Society from a few months back:
Back in January, a number of conservatives rendered themselves irrelevant in the fight for liberty by signing onto an incomprehensible agreement with leadership, known on Capitol Hill as the ‘Williamsburg Accord’ (yes, everything in Washington has to have a silly name). That agreement was aptly hatched at the GOP Retreat in Williamsburg. They agreed to suspend the debt ceiling law for 4 months and vote for a CR that funds Obamacare on condition that leadership keep the sequester and pass a 10-year balanced budget. The idea was to pass an amazing budget blueprint for everyone to support, and fight for it in return for lifting the new debt ceiling in May or June. 
Let’s ignore the fact that the sequester was already a fait accompli, as Republicans would have been forced to succumb to tax increases in order to overturn it. Let’s ignore the fact that leadership forced the Democrat Violence Against Women Act down their throats with Democrat support. Let’s ignore the fact that there was nothing new in this year’s Ryan budget to improve upon last year’s budget other than $3.3 trillion in new tax revenue. 
Let’s look ahead to the future. We’ve been playing this game for two years. If Boehner is going to buy into the notion that the debt ceiling is off-limits, why in the world would the Democrats feel the need to agree to any aspect of the Ryan budget, much less defunding Obamacare? How could Boehner make this comment while he is concurrently telling his conference that he will demand dollar-for-dollar cuts in return for raising the debt ceiling – whatever that means? 
Hence, the conservatives who signed onto this deal were punked – unless they also buy into leadership’s claim about default. If Republicans were really serious about dealing with this issue, they would pass Tom McClintock’s Full Faith and Credit Act (H.R. 807), which prioritizes payments for interest on debt. All of those conservatives who agreed to the Williamsburg Accord are co-sponsors of this bill? Why don’t they force leadership to vote on their bill ahead of the May 18 debt ceiling deadline?
It’s clear now that the vote to suspend the debt ceiling for 4 months had nothing to do with their desire to push for a balanced budget, rather it was an expression of fear – the same expression they are evincing to Obama ahead of the new debt ceiling deadline. 
We are looking for new candidates who will not be possessed by this incorrigible fear during a time that calls for intrepid courage on the part of conservatives. I’ve already found several promising candidates, and will not rest until we find an army of new savvy contenders who plan to play by a different set of rules. The way we approach elections is not working. The movement is not doing enough to change the face of the Republican Party. And by voting to suspend the debt limit and funding for Obamacare in the CR, conservatives are making it harder for us to run against the moderates, obviating our ability to send them reinforcements. As we’ve explained this week with regards to taking down the rule on bad bills, we have failed to even match the passion and commitment of the ’94-era Republicans.
This must change. 
Over the next few weeks, at the Madison Project, we will be updating our index scores for the 112th Congress and our hall of shame, which is comprised of liberal members in conservative districts. Sadly, it’s a long list. You can email me with suggestions of new candidates at Daniel@madisonproject.com. We can either complain or we can take action.
That is the alternate universe in which these grassroots/teaparty/lunatics dwell.
And yet this fact is all too real: they’ve got the Ryan budget already. And they’ve already moved on to the debt ceiling, which all the Fox freaks were going on about last night. Krauthammer suggested they could get Obamacare defunded if they are willing to hold out. They all believe the consequences of a default are phony concerns made up to force them to back down and they are having none of it. That threat to back primary challenges in those gerrymandered districts against those who deviate from this dangerous delusion is quite real (or these members of congress believe it is, anyway.) So, they are going to play this all the way out.

But why wouldn’t they? With the exception of some chump change from millionaires in the last round, the Democrats have been losing on policy every step of the way since these budget battles began, even as they seem to be winning the politics. What could be more telling than the fact that the numbers in Paul Ryan’s budget are now considered the starting point in any new negotiations to end the shutdown.

Who’s being played here?


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The humiliated, bizarre Republican Party: What happens next



The humiliated, bizarre Republican Party: What happens next


Yep, they really shut the government down. How does this mess end -- and will a debt limit showdown be even worse?

The humiliated, bizarre Republican Party: What happens nextJohn Boehner, Ted Cruz (Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com)

Back when the conservative campaign to defund Obamacare by threatening a government shutdown began a few months ago, almost nobody believed Republican leaders would be so cowed by it that they’d follow suit. Particularly given how aware they were of the dire political consequences for the GOP.

And yet that’s what happened. The demand has dwindled — Republicans are now insisting on a one-year delay in the healthcare law’s individual mandate, and a prohibition on members, congressional aides and other government officials getting any kind of healthcare-related compensation from their employers. But midnight came and went this morning, and House Speaker John Boehner never did the blindly obvious thing. He refused to place bipartisan Senate legislation to extend funding for the government on the floor of the House — legislation that would probably pass overwhelmingly right now if he’d just agree to give it a vote. He’s sticking to a new and odd principle that Democrats must yield some Obamacare-related concession to the GOP if they want the government funded. And so it’s shutdown.

“[A]gencies should now execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations,” read a memo from OMB director Sylvia Burwell. “We urge Congress to act quickly to pass a Continuing Resolution to provide a short-term bridge that ensures sufficient time to pass a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year, and to restore the operation of critical public services and programs that will be impacted by a lapse in appropriations.”

So what happens now?

The first question is, how long will the shutdown last? Is Boehner doing this to prove a point to his conservative members or is he truly unwilling to fund the government unless Democrats give him some kind of fig leaf or trophy? Several Republicans have already given up the game. The final tug of war between the House and Senate last night was embarrassing for them. They know they’re going to lose, and many of them are prepared to vote for a clean funding bill today. Even high-profile conservatives have publicly questioned Boehner’s decision.

But the night ended on a bizarre note, with House Republicans demanding formal bicameral negotiations over a six-week stopgap funding bill (as if the lengthy process of regular order were an appropriate way to fund government agencies set to shut down within an hour) after having refused formal negotiations with the Senate over a real budget for six months. Just how Boehner backs out of that one, or squares the demand with Republicans’ extremely public intransigence on the budget this year, is an open question.

Either way it can’t last too long. Now that furloughs have begun and services are interrupted, the cry from the public to end the shutdown should escalate quickly over the course of the next week or so. And if Republicans don’t yield to that pressure, they’ll soon find themselves staring into an abyss. The debt limit will need to be increased just days later. And though the shutdown will probably reduce the pace of government expenditures enough to buy Congress a very small amount of time, the Treasury will come calling sooner than later. It would constitute another act of bizarreness for Boehner to call Congress back to raise the debt limit and then return to the regularly scheduled shutdown, already in progress.

Which brings us to another vital issue.

Over the past several weeks, an unintuitive but reasonable argument has become a new conventional wisdom in Washington: that a government shutdown is actually, perversely, in the country’s best interest. Republicans have overcommitted themselves to their voting base, and even to some of their rank and file members. They’ve promised to use the congressional budget process to extract huge concessions from President Obama, over Obama’s repeated insistence that he will not be extorted. Better, then, that Republicans come to terms with their powerlessness now, when the consequence is a government shutdown, instead of later when it’s a much more dangerous debt limit breach. Once they do, they’ll deescalate, and the threat of a debt default will recede.

I’ve never really bought that argument. Not because I think it’s “wrong” per se — I think there’s some logic to it, and I hope it’s right! But because I think it unnecessarily complicates things.

Specifically, it requires ignoring two immutable facts: first, that the votes exist in both the House and Senate to both fund the government and increase the debt limit without Obama yielding any concessions to the GOP; and second that for all his reluctance to cross the right, Boehner still controls the floor of the House of Representatives.
At the end of the day that means the questions of whether government shuts down (which it has) and whether the country’s borrowing authority lapses are separate ones, that only Boehner can answer. It’s all up to him. At least in this Congress.

And that’s where the differences between a government shutdown and a debt default become so crucial. When it comes to most issues, including a government shutdown, it makes some sense to think of Boehner as a helpless figurehead at the mercy of whichever bloc of Republicans happens to be threatening his speakership at the moment.

But when it comes to the debt limit, you have to remember that for all his shortcomings, Boehner is a powerful person with agency and a conscience. Human qualities tend to be poor indicators of legislative comings and goings, but in the coming debt limit fight it’s practically the only thing that matters.

Boehner’s conscience isn’t bothered by rattling the country, or by undermining economic confidence, or even by shutting down the government — something he just got boxed into doing by a minority of his own members knowing how bad it would be for the nation and for his party. That’s why I don’t expect him to increase the debt limit in an orderly or timely manner.

But actually flushing the full faith and credit of the United States down the toilet is a completely different thing. To assume that Boehner’s more or less on the hook for blowing through the debt limit based on how the government shutdown fight (or any fight) plays out is to make a categorical error. Or perhaps to believe that Boehner’s essentially outsourced his moral decision making to the 30-or-so Republicans who are threatening his speakership.

Nothing we’ve seen bears out that notion. If anything, he and other GOP leaders have made very clear over the past two years that they ultimately won’t allow the country to default on its debt. No matter what. Even if their political hides are on the line.

Which is all to say I don’t think it matters if the shutdown we’re experiencing now gets resolved in a day or a week or two weeks, and I don’t think it would’ve mattered if Boehner had waved the white flag at midnight and put the Senate’s spending bill on the House floor. If this shutdown makes it easier for him to increase the debt limit later this month, great! But just about everything that’s happened all year — including the way he winnowed down GOP demands in the shutdown fight just last night — suggests to me he would have done it anyhow.

The outcome of last night’s proceedings on Capitol Hill shouldn’t shake or bolster your faith that everything will work out OK. Whatever you once believed about the likelihood that Republicans would trigger a major credit event, nothing that happened yesterday should change it. Before last night I believed the threat of a noisy and destructive debt limit fight was very high, but that the threat of a genuine lapse in borrowing authority was pretty low. I still believe both of those things.

Brian Beutler
Brian Beutler is Salon's political writer. Email him at bbeutler@salon.com and follow him on Twitter at @brianbeutler.