Pages

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Constitution Isn't Making the GOP Crazy

TUESDAY, JULY 5, 2011



Matt Yglesias believes that a big part of the problem with the GOP(below) is the American system of separated institutions sharing powers:
Something that I think is worth noting about this is that, of course, Thatcher was operating in a system that put very few procedural constraints on the Tory majority in parliament. On the one hand, that allowed her to implement dramatic changes in U.K. public policy. But on the other hand, it meant that there was no tactical advantage to be gained by adopting public negotiating positions at odds with her real policy agenda. A British politician who believes that reducing high-end income taxes and replacing the lost revenue with regression consumption taxes is a good idea has no good options other than stating that this is the case and then doing it. An American politician with identical beliefs might nonetheless believe that the best strategy is to profess opposition to all forms of revenue and profess willingness to destroy the global economy in fanatical pursuit of that goal and then only very reluctantly accept the Thatcherite “compromise” once rival politicians are willing to put it on the table.
His example, however, I think undermines his point. He notes that last time the GOP had control of both Congress and the presidency, instead of eliminating Medicare they actually added to it, and substantially. Fair enough! But it's awful hard to look at the first six Bush years as an example of a party acting responsibly in office because everyone knew they would be accountable. The Bush/DeLay Republicans cut high-end tax rates, but did they replace the lost revenue with regressive consumption taxes? Hardly. Did they pay for the expansion of Medicare? Certainly not.

Backing up a bit...the problem with Yglesias's thesis is that it depends on an electorate that has strong opinions on policy choices and would punish politicians that would deviate from them. If such an electorate existed, then he'd be correct. But it doesn't. Ideological voters are going to stick with their party in general elections regardless, while swing voters are going to react (on the whole) to economic and other big-picture results, not single policies.

Now, at the extremes, sure, Yglesias has a point. If President Bachmann, Speaker Paul, and Majority Leader Paul in 2013 immediately eliminate Medicare and Social Security, yes, that would almost certainly drive their approval ratings down to single digits. But note that even in the current situation, with no clear responsibility, none of them are calling for anything that dramatic. And at the level they're actually operating at, Republicans can afford to call for the things they're calling for because they just aren't voting issues for very many people.

It is true that House Republicans can risk crashing the economy through a debt limit crisis, or by fighting for an economy-crippling austerity program, secure in the knowledge that Obama would probably pay the price is the economy tanks. But I think the evidence is strong that what's driving Republicans on these policies is that they either truly believe in them (and don't forget, the Conservative Party in Britain is pursuing austerity), or that they are frightened of primary voters and organized groups within the party who really believe in them. In other words, I strongly suspect that President Bachmann, Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader Paul might well be implementing the same policies they're advocating today. And Speaker Boehner believes that he has to advocate the policies that Bachmann and the others advocate, because he believes (and rightly so) that if not, he'll be bounced.

If the GOP really has gone off the rails -- and I think it has -- the place to look for explanation is the rewards and incentives within the party, not the US Constitutional system.


Bruce Bartlett notes that by Tea Party standards, Margaret Thatcher would count as some kind of Communist:
To those familiar with Mrs. Thatcher’s tax policies, these data are not surprising. Although she cut the top personal income tax rate to 60 percent from 83 percent immediately upon taking office, the basic tax rate was only reduced to 30 percent from 33 percent. And in 1980, the 25 percent lower rate of taxation was eliminated so that 30 percent became the lowest tax rate. More importantly, Mrs. Thatcher paid for her 1979 tax cut by nearly doubling the value-added tax to 15 percent, from 8 percent. Among those who thought Mrs. Thatcher was making a dreadful mistake was the American economist Arthur Laffer.
Something that I think is worth noting about this is that, of course, Thatcher was operating in a system that put very few procedural constraints on the Tory majority in parliament. On the one hand, that allowed her to implement dramatic changes in U.K. public policy. But on the other hand, it meant that there was no tactical advantage to be gained by adopting public negotiating positions at odds with her real policy agenda. A British politician who believes that reducing high-end income taxes and replacing the lost revenue with regression consumption taxes is a good idea has no good options other than stating that this is the case and then doing it. An American politician with identical beliefs might nonetheless believe that the best strategy is to profess opposition to all forms of revenue and profess willingness to destroy the global economy in fanatical pursuit of that goal and then only very reluctantly accept the Thatcherite “compromise” once rival politicians are willing to put it on the table.
Or consider Social Security and Medicare. When Republican politicians last had majorities and were empowered to make dramatic changes to Medicare, what they did was massively increase Medicare spending by dramatically expanding the scope of the Medicare entitlement. Now, they not only want to eliminate Medicare, they want Democrats to agree to eliminate Medicareso that they can evade political accountability. Thatcher, again, didn’t have the option of this kind of weird bluffing game. If she intended to eliminate the National Health Service, she was going to have to eliminate the National Health Service and take the hit. There was no way to try to coerce Labour into doing it for her.
Everyone is linking today to David Brooks’ column about the “fanaticism” of congressional Republicans. This kind of fanaticism is, however, fairly rational in a political system that’s come to be dominated by high-stakes negotiations rather than responsible governing majorities.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post a Comment