The chatter continues today about Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s outburst at the National Governors meeting, with observers again decrying the “partisan wars” that have infected our “polarized” politics.
Surely polarization is a real phenomenon on the elite level. Government is divided on the federal level and one-party control of state governments has increased.
But the Jindal episode also illustrates the other side of this story: while the two parties are obviously locked in partisan stalemate, there is far less evidence that the voters are polarized on the issues themselves.
In Jindal’s diatribe , he claimed that Obama is “waving the white flag” on the economy by focusing on executive actions in the face of Congressional gridlock, and took a shot at Obama’s push to raise the minimum wage by decrying his “minimum wage economy.”
The evocation of the minimum wage sheds light on the real cause of “polarization.” Here is a policy that is supported by broad majorities, one Republican officials have voted for in the past. Large chunks of Republican voters support it. But as two recent polls showed, Tea Party Republicans overwhelmingly oppose the hike, while non-Tea Party Republicans support it. The GOP position is dictated by the Tea Party.
This applies to economic issues in general. While many Republicans see a need to develop a GOP poverty agenda, Republicans have shied away from policies that involve government spending money to combat poverty and increase mobility. On specific policies such as the extension of unemployment benefits, and more generally on the question of whether the federal government should act to reduce inequality, GOP stances are largely dictated by the preoccupations of Tea Party Republicans, whose economic worldview is largely isolated from the broader public, rather than non-Tea Party ones, which are much more in line with the rest of the country.
Jindal also used his diatribe to attack Obamacare. This is also instructive. Jindal has blocked the Medicaid expansion in Louisiana. Yet as detailed in a terrific Politico piece, GOP governors blocking the expansion are playing mainly to conservative activists; GOP governors who have bucked that pressure and embraced the expansion are actually faring better politically than are those refusing to accommodate any part of Obamacare.
There is probably majority consensus even in Congress behind a host of proposals that would help alleviate poverty and spur the recovery: a minimum wage hike; a UI extension; infrastructure investments to create jobs. Dem lawmakers are advocating for these proposals. Republican lawmakers oppose them.
Pundits lament Congressional gridlock and dysfunction. But if we define “gridlock and dysfunction” to mean Congress is paralyzed from acting on policies that have majority support from the public and even in Congress, then the leading cause of the problem these observers themselves are identifying is that the Congressional GOP remains in thrall to the Tea Party agenda. If the Tea Party didn’t have that influence, all these proposals might have a better chance of moving forward; so might a broad budget deal combining tax hikes and spending cuts. It’s just that simple. That’s the main cause of the stalemate, and it’s why Obama is resorting to the executive actions Jindal laments.
* OBAMA TO ROLL OUT NEW INFRASTRUCTURE PROPOSALS: Here’s another example of the above: Today Obama will ask Congress for an additional $300 billion in infrastructure spending, and announce the creation of a competition for $600 billion in federal grants for infrastructure projects.
Broadly speaking, infrastructure repair to create jobs is another idea that has broad majority support, and even the support of Republicans, but it’s a non-starter, thanks to today’s Tea Party-dominated GOP.
* OBAMACARE ENROLLMENT CONTINUES TO CLIMB: Enrollment in Obamacare has now hit four million, with 700,000 signing on since the end of January, which could put the law on pace to come close to its original target of seven million by the end of March, given that experts expect a surge approaching the open enrollment deadline. It’s unclear how many have paid (though insurers have estimated four in five have done so).
Still, whether the seven million target is hit ultimately doesn’t tell us much about the law’s long term prospects; what really matters will be the health mix. Either way, we continue to move deeper into a phase where Republicans will have to make ever more strenuous efforts to pretend those benefiting from the law don’t exist.
* OBAMA GRAPPLES WITH NSA REFORM: The Wall Street Journal scoops that the administration may be seriously considering scrapping of the NSA surveillance program:
Administration lawyers have presented the White House with four options for restructuring the National Security Agency’s phone-surveillance program, from ditching the controversial collection altogether to running it through the telephone companies, according to officials familiar with the discussions….None of the three options for relocating the data have gained universal favor. But failure to agree on one of them would leave only the option of abolishing the program.
Anything short of ditching the program will probably be met with scalding criticism from civil libertarians, who will argue that Obama risks making a key piece of his legacy the preservation of Bush surveillance programs.
* NO, OBAMACARE IS NOT A ‘JOB KILLER': Glenn Kessler takes a comprehensive look at the argument over GOP claims that the health law is a “job killer,” and while he says the debate can only be settled over time, his overall verdict is that the evidence just doesn’t show the law is killing jobs. A key insight:
Republicans tend to cite anecdotal evidence whereas the administration relies on broad overviews of the data. Generally, anecdotal accounts are less trustworthy than broader data sets, but the broader data can also obscure real-world impacts.
Key to the GOP “war of anecdotes” strategy is to pretend that contrary data or stories simply don’t exist, not only in the battle over whether the law is a job killer, but also over whether it is directly hurting or helping people.
* REPUBLICANS LEARNING THAT GOVERNING IS HARD: Related to the above: Don’t miss Jonathan Cohn’s take on how the latest GOP effort to “fix” the “problem” of Obamacare “job killing” — which was trashed by the CBO yesterday — really illustrates the unwillingness of Republicans to grapple with the basic tradeoffs at the core of health reform. Read the whole thing for the details, but the conclusion is key:
Obamacare’s critics are…great at attacking Obamacare. But they’re lousy at coming up with alternatives that look better by comparison. There’s a reason for that. The downsides of Obamacare are real, but, in many cases, they make possible the upsides. Take away the former and the latter go away, too.
I’d only add that the broader GOP political strategy against the law requires pretending the law’s upsides don’t exist.
* HOUSE REPUBLICANS DEBATE WHETHER TO PURSUE POLICY: The New York Times gets at a core dilemma House Republicans face: Even they push forward a tax reform plan in hopes of jumpstarting real policy debate, they are also pursing message bills — on the IRS, on Obamacare, on Obummer Big Gummint — that seem designed solely to help with the 2014 elections:
That underscores a quandary facing House Republican leaders as they head into the midterm elections: Should they limit their agenda to political bills tailored to aid Republican campaigns like the I.R.S. bill, or should they take big risks on ambitious policy proposals, like simplifying the tax code?
The key question remains: Do Republicans think they need actual policy accomplishments to run on this fall? That’s not snark: some openly say pursuing policy risks upsetting a current political dynamic, marked by Obamacare’s ongoing collapse, that favors them as is right now.
* AND KEEP AN EYE ON OBAMACARE IN GEORGIA: Governor Nathan Deal, who blocked the Medicaid expansion in his state, now wants to save money by restricting access the uninsured have to emergency rooms. It’ll be interesting to see if this becomes an issue in the Georgia Senate race, where the GOP primary candidates are vying to prove their anti-Obamacare bona fides, while Dem Michelle Nunn (a critic of parts of the law) supports the Medicaid expansion.