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Thursday, January 28, 2010
By Steven L. Taylor

Striations

365.28 (1/28/10)

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By Steven L. Taylor

Employing amazing research skills available only to academia  Googling  “length of sotu” I was able to quickly answer a question posed in the previous post.

Obama’s speech last night was 1:08:20, making it longer than all of Bush’s SOTUs and longer (only by a few minutes) than half of Clinton’s.   There a nifty list from 1966-present that one can consult here:  Length of State of the Union Messages and Addresses (in minutes).

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By Steven L. Taylor

I listened to the speech last night and thought it was a decent speech as far as such speeches go.  Nothing especially dramatic leaped out at me, and always I will be interested to see what sound bites emerge in press coverage.  Indeed, judging by Memeorandum, the issue of most discussion is not an actual sound bite, but Justice Alito mouthing “not true” in response to the President’s characterization of the recent campaign finance ruling (video and reactions to Alito here).

My general impression of the speech was that the tone was good, politically speaking, for the President’s current situation and that it would likely provide a little boost to his numbers and initial indications are that that is the case (for example:  Poll: 83% of Speech Watchers Approve of Obama’s State of the Union Proposals).

It struck me as longer than normal, but that is a subjective judgment as  I haven’t seen a word count or length in minutes, let alone one that compares the speech to previous SOTUs.

I was struck by the tepid (if not outright negative) response from the Republicans on various proposals made by the President regarding small businesses, especially small business loans.  It struck me as a proposal that a Republican president could easily have made and that would have, therefore, been greeted with GOP applause.  The GOP is usually telling the country about the importance of small businesses as an engine for job creation, and yet there was this odd (so I thought) moment in which Eric Cantor (R-VA) turned to Minority Leader John John Boehner and seemed to sneer at the proposal.  One will allow that the devil is in the details of a given policy, but I just thought that was a strange reaction.

One thing is for sure:  I continue to wish we didn’t have to go through the nod to “equal time” to the party out of power (and I think this every year regardless of who is in power).  After having suffered attentively listened to one speech, the last thing I want is to listen to another one (and one that really has minimal significance).  Governor McDonnell’s remarks were fine as far as they went, but really, putting a guy who has been in office for a few weeks as a counterbalance to the President of the United States strikes me as a mismatch.   It was, at least, better than Jindal’s response to last years SOTU-that-wasn’t-really-the-SOTU.   Having an audience (even it was one that seemed a tad too enthusiastic) is a good move.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010
By Steven L. Taylor

Time for New Cards

365.27 (1/27/10). Received some good news today…

By Steven L. Taylor

Preach it, Brother Cleese:

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the LAT,  Senate rejects creation of commission to trim federal deficit:

The Senate on Tuesday rejected a proposal to establish a potentially powerful commission to reduce the federal budget deficit, despite President Obama’s endorsement and swelling voter anger about government spending and debt.

The bipartisan measure would have required Congress to accept or reject the commission’s recommendations without making changes, a provision designed to prevent lawmakers from dodging the most politically risky proposals.

While I understand the BRAC-like logic undergirding the idea, the bottom line is that there is something problematic about taking one of the most fundamental functions of the national legislature and outsourcing it to a commission.   It’s one thing to have a commission determine a specific set of policy recommendations (like which military bases to close), yet another to cede the ability to lay down a blueprint for overall policy (which is what budget are, in basic terms) for years to come to such a group.  Not to mention there is a real question of whether such recommendations would ultimately be binding over the long-haul (after all Congress makes, and therefore can change, the laws of the land).

The vote was bipartisan in composition:

Supporting the proposal were 36 Democrats, 16 Republicans and one independent. The opposition was a coalition of Republicans who worried that the panel would give new impetus to tax hikes and Democrats concerned that it would force cuts in Medicare and other prized programs.

The following statement gets to the heart of the matter, but not really in the way that the source of the statement declares:

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), a cosponsor of the proposal, said its defeat was "yet another indication that Congress is more concerned with the next election than the next generation." Gregg is retiring from Congress at the end of the year.

Gregg’s accusation is leveled as his colleagues in the Senate, but the notion that the heart of the matter is the next election (or elections at all) points the finger not at politicians, but at those to whom the politicians ultimately answer:  the voters.  The bottom line of all of this is that while on the one hand the public doesn’t like deficits and debts, neither do the like serious spending cuts or tax increases.

I would note, too, that the structure of our government fosters the need to compromise (not that it always seems that way), and the need to compromise leads to more expensive policies with a low likelihood of new revenues to pay for them.  Consider:  1) bicameralism requires the need for the House and Senate to come to agreement (sometimes with different parties in charge of the chambers),  2)  the nature of representation in the Senate fuels this by having a different constituency represented than does the House, 3)  the rules in the Senate (the now infamous 60 vote needed to end debate) further adds to the need to cut deals and compromise,1 and separation of powers means that the legislature and executive (often of different parties) must also negotiate and compromise.

Consider further:  it is always easier to compromise by spending more and always harder to compromise by cutting spending or raising revenue.  After all, what Representative or Senator on the fence is going to go home and say “well, I ended up voting for the bill because it cut funds to bridges in our state by 1%” or “that tax increase was what convinced me!”  The structures and incentives in the system encourage spending, and that’s why we have a large debt and growing deficits.

  1. A simple example:  the deal given to Ben Nelson for his state to get him to support the health care bill.  And he wasn’t the only one and nor was that type of negotiation unique to the health care debate. []
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Tuesday, January 26, 2010
By Steven L. Taylor

As we continue to try and sort out the exact meaning of any number of recent political events (e.g., the Scott Brown win), it is useful to try and get away from the spin and look at some actual data.

And we have some via the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll:

Only 28 percent believe the federal government is “working well” or even works “okay,” versus seven in 10 who think it’s “unhealthy,” “stagnant” or needs large reforms.

[…]

But if the public is fed up with Washington, its anger isn’t necessarily directed at President Obama.

Only 27 percent say they blame him for not being able to find solutions to the country’s problems. By contrast, 48 percent blame Republicans in Congress and 41 percent blame congressional Democrats.

A somewhat stunning finding if one is buying into the narrative that the Massachusetts’ special election was a massive anti-Obama (and pro-Republican) signal that reflected national sentiments.  All of that paints a less rosy picture for Republican Revolution II than some would have us believe.

Still, there is no doubt doubt that the Democrats have more to lose for several reasons including:

1.  They hold more offices.  The more you have, the more you can lose.

2.  Being the party in power means that if someone is going to take it on the chin, it is more likely to be you.  And when the system is as rigidly two-party as ours, the only option tends to be the party out of power (even if the public ain’t none too happy with them, either).

Still, all of this sums to what I still think is the case:  a bad year for the Democrats, but one in which they still retain control of the Congress.

I have to wonder (because at this point I have no specific evidence) if the general anti-Washington mood won’t end up biting some seemingly safe Republicans as well just as it is likely to bite seemingly safe Democrats.

I would note that if the Republicans actually had a unified and palatable alternative to present to the public, that they might actually be able to make serious political hay this year, but to date this strikes me as an unlikely turn of events.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Sun Gets in Her Eyes

365.26 (1/26/10).

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By Steven L. Taylor

As we continue to look at the emerging pattern in terms of partisan advantages1 going into the November elections, here’s news that is good for Democrats:  Pence Will Not Challenge Bayh.

This is good news for the Democrats, insofar as a recent poll showed Pence ahead of Bayh 47%-44%, leading Michael Barone to write (just this morning):  Sen. Bayh in danger; a look at the numbers.

The degree to which that poll is reflective of Bayh being in as dire a situation as Barone argues, however, remains to be seen.

  1. i.e., wins and losses electorally speaking []
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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the NYT:  Obama to Seek Freeze on Some Spending to Trim Deficits

President Obama will call for a three-year freeze in spending on many domestic programs, and for increases no greater than inflation after that, an initiative intended to signal his seriousness about cutting the budget deficit, administration officials said Monday.

First, this is ultimately a gimmick.  Not only are we ultimately talking about a fairly small percentage of the budget (see below), but the ability of a President of the United States to impose such a freeze on the Congress (which, please note, actually makes the budget) for one year (let alone three) is so small it might as well be non-existent.  Even if congressional leadership makes positive noises in the direction of the idea, I can’t imagine that the notion could actually survive the budget process.

Second, there will be, I expect, criticism (if not hoots and howls) from the rightward side of things on this proposal (for example, this one showed up in my inbox last night and I note that Hugh Hewitt calls it “laughable”.)  And, as per my first point, criticism is fair.  However (and this is a big “however”), the normal source of spending freeze proposals is the Republican Party.   As such, there is some hypocrisy in the air here.

Policy-wise, in fact, it would seem to me that if the GOP is actually serious about fiscal conservatism, they ought to embrace to proposal and take whatever savings they can get and press for more (the process has to start somewhere, yes?).  They could even take the chance to try and accuse Obama of stealing their ideas.  However, the degree to which anyone in the Congress (or Washington, writ large) is actually interested in controlling spending/the deficit is questionable at best.  At a minimum, I expect that Republicans to try and capitalize politically on the situation, as November in their sights (after all, they’ll deal with spending once they’re in power, right?).

Third, back to the gimmick issue, the bottom line here is that this proposal underscores the fundamental difficulties to be associated with deficit reduction (let alone debt repayment) and it is that much of spending is mandatory (i.e., cannot be cut sans remarkable, if not impossible, political acts) and so the amount of the budget that can be frozen (let alone cut) is relatively small.  Part of that discretionary portion of the pie is the military, and that isn’t on the table for the freeze.

The proposal would

would exempt security-related budgets for the Pentagon, foreign aid, the Veterans Administration and homeland security, as well as the entitlement programs that make up the biggest and fastest-growing part of the federal budget: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

The payoff in budget savings would be small relative to the deficit: The estimated $250 billion in savings over 10 years would be less than 3 percent of the roughly $9 trillion in additional deficits the government is expected to accumulate over that time.

Also, service on the national debt should be added to the list.

I would note, a quarter of a trillion in savings is hardly something to sneeze at.  Still, I would refer the reader back to the first point made above.  This is DOA without substantial and widespread congressional support, which I suspect will not be forthcoming.

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