The looming battle over infrastructure — particularly in the short term, over the fate of the Highway Trust Fund — could provide a particularly stark example of GOP anti-government sentiment colliding with reality.
The Highway Trust Fund is expected to go insolvent later this summer, and the White House has warned that such an outcome could stall countless infrastructure projects across the country and cause the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.
In general, infrastructure spending is broadly popular, even among Republican voters. But GOP lawmakers have managed to oppose various White House infrastructure spending initiatives by tying them up in disputes over how to pay for them. Yet that could prove tougher to pull off in the case of the Highway Trust Fund, because there could be numerous examples of projects grinding to a halt in GOP districts.
Currently, a short term fix that would fund the HTF is working its way through the House and Senate, though disputes over how to pay for it continue. Democrats are actually optimistic about the emerging solution. In their view, Republicans are embracing short-term pay-fors (such as pension smoothing) that play on Dem turf, suggesting to them that pressure from the business community (which badly wants the HTF replenished) and Dem Senators like Patty Murray may be working.
But even if the short term fix does pass, a longer-term fix will be required. And here’s where the limits of GOP anti-government sentiment will be on display. It’s easy for a far right candidate like David Brat (who overthrew Eric Cantor) to throw around anti-government bluster about how he’s going to jail crony capitalists. It’s also not all that hard for Republican lawmakers to attack the Export-Import Bank as improper government meddling in the economy, since few voters know or care about it. But the battle over infrastructure spending could pose a much tougher test when it comes to the limits of GOP anti-government rhetoric.
To be sure, Dems are part of the problem to some degree, too. As both Josh Barro and Paul Krugman have illustrated, we could fix this problem by raising the gas tax or engaging in deficit spending, which lawmakers in both parties are loath to do. But at risk of oversimplifying, ultimately Democrats are likely to be far more willing to do what is necessary to keep the trust fund going long-term — i.e., raise new revenues — than Republicans are. Ultimately, this dispute is going to come down to whether Republicans are willing to spend more money on the country’s infrastructure and future. And saying No will be politically hard to do.
* WATCH ELIZABETH WARREN THIS WEEK: The Massachusetts Senator is campaigning in West Virginia this week on behalf of Dem Senate candidate Natalie Tennant, after recently doing the same for Alison Grimes in Kentucky. Republicans are absolutely certain that Warren can only hurt Dems among independents, and that this is nothing more than a “base play” (to use the awful Beltway cliche). So this will be another test of the resonance of Warren populism beyond the Dem base in deep red territory.
* REPUBLICANS CONTINUE CALLING FOR DEPORTATION OF DREAMERS: On ABC’s This Week, GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who is supposedly a serious party thinker on immigration, responded to the current border crisis by calling on Obama to stop deferring the deportation of the DREAMers and criticized his request for funding because it spends too much on care and shelter for arriving children.
And so the GOP prescription to this crisis is to deport all the DREAMers and focus all new spending on removing new arrivals as quickly as possible, rather than on humanitarian protections for them.
* WHY PARENTS SEND THEIR KIDS NORTH: Don’t miss the Post’s riveting tale of a Honduran mother who risked having her kids smuggled north, and what that tells us about the broader crisis. Here is an area where Obama must be held accountable: If expedited removals result in an inhumane or legally unsound process, we could witness a whole new round of horror stories.
* REPUBLICAN GERRYMANDERING UNDER SCRUTINY: The Associated Press has a good piece reporting on lawsuits Dems have launched in North Carolina and Florida, arguing that GOP gerrymandering — which has resulted in disproportionately far more House Republicans in what are clearly swing states — is unconstitutional. The story notes that “Republican mapmakers” packed “as many Democratic voters as possible into a handful of districts,” helping Republicans “win a larger number of districts by smaller but still-safe margins,” which the suits allege has disenfranchised those Dem voters.
This could draw attention a key feature of our current era: The cossetting away of so many Republicans in safe districts insulated from broader currents of national public opinion and demographic change.
* EXPERTS SKEPTICAL OF LAWSUIT AGAINST OBAMA: National Journal rounds up expert opinion on John Boehner’s lawsuit, and finds problems both with “standing” and with the targeting of the employer mandate delay:
Simon Lazarus, senior counsel at the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center, said the issue of standing is even clearer. The Supreme Court has given the executive branch a lot of leeway to phase in new requirements or temporarily hold off enforcing regulations in order to make things run more smoothly for stakeholders. Lazarus says that’s precisely what the administration has done with Obamacare’s employer mandate, and that the House’s lawsuit is therefore just a standard political dispute unfit for the courts to resolve.“This is a political dispute, not a judicial dispute, and the courts will properly leave it to the political branches to sort it out,” wrote Nicholas Bagley, a law professor at the University of Michigan.
Of course, all of this presumes that the lawsuit is supposed to actually accomplish something other than temporarily mitigating the GOP base’s impeachment hopes (presuming impeachment drivel from the likes of Sarah Palin even indicates such hopes exist in any significant way).
* OBAMACARE IS WORKING, BUT REMAINS UNPOPULAR: Paul Krugman’s column today runs through all of the latest data points showing that the Affordable Care Act is on track to work as intended, and provides this explanation for why it still polls badly:
You might ask why, if health reform is going so well, it continues to poll badly. It’s crucial, I’d argue, to realize that Obamacare, by design, by and large doesn’t affect Americans who already have good insurance. As a result, many peoples’ views are shaped by the mainly negative coverage in the news media. Still, the latest tracking survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that a rising number of Americans are hearing about reform from family and friends, which means that they’re starting to hear from the program’s beneficiaries.
The Kaiser poll for June finds that for the first time, more (48 percent) are basing their impression of the law on their own experience or what they’re learning from friends and family, as opposed to basing it on what they’re hearing from the media (37 percent).
* AND REPUBLICAN GOVERNORS BENEFITING FROM IMPROVING ECONOMY? The New York Times has a good overview of the 2014 gubernatorial races, reporting that Republican governors are in an unexpectedly strong position to hold on in many states, and the improving economy is a key reason why:
The recession that doomed Democrats in 2010 has shifted into a recovery, driving down jobless rates and bolstering Republican incumbents. At the same time, President Obama’s approval ratings have fallen even in states that he won in 2012.
Hmmm. Maybe someone should tell the Republican National Committee and GOP Senate candidates about this. Seriously, this is worth keeping an eye on: Will GOP governors campaigning on an improving recovery undercut national Republican messaging about the Obummer economy?