Friday, October 04, 2013

Cruising the Web

At its foundation, the budgeting standoff tests our system of checks and balances. As Michael Barone writes, "Blames James Madison for the government shutdown." However, some liberals are using this moment to argue that we should junk the whole idea of separation of powers. Dylan Matthews uses this shutdown as an occasion to argue in the Washington Post that it is about time that we start acknowledging that James Madison was wrong in creating a separation of powers.
But it's not just that Madison's system is unnecessary. It's potentially dangerous. Scholars of comparative politics have shown that presidential systems with a separation of executive and legislative functions, like America's, are considerably more likely to collapse into dictatorship than are parliamentary systems where the executive and legislative branches are merged. That's because there are competing branches of government able to claim democratic legitimacy and steer the ship of state at the same time — and when they disagree profoundly, there's no real mechanism for resolving the dispute....Cases like the current shutdown are exactly why highly divided societies like ours end up endangered by presidential systems. There is an inherent conflict between the president's and the Senate's claims to popular legitimacy and the House's, and because of the Constitution's design, none of those bodies has formal supremacy over the others.

Article I doesn't have "tie-breakers" in case we're in danger of shutting down the government or defaulting on our debts. If Congress and the president can't agree on spending or on a debt level, then the fallback option is that we don't have a government and we turn treasuries into junk bonds.

The obvious question here is why, if America's form of government is so precarious, it's worked so well for so long. The answer is that America's party system has been unusually weak and diffuse. Through much of the 20th Century, both the Democratic and Republican parties provided a home to both liberals and conservatives. Since the parties didn't agree internally it was easier for them to come to a deal and much, much harder for them to threaten brinksmanship. The Republican Party of the 1960s wouldn't be threatening a default over Obamacare because many of them would've voted for Obamacare — just as they voted for Medicare.

But those days are over. The parties are polarized, and they're only getting more so. American politics is beginning to exhibit the exact symptoms scholars have seen in other presidential systems: highly disciplined, highly unified parties that both believe they truly represent the people and that both control crucial levers of power at the same time. The result, as you'd expect, is more brinksmanship and more high-stakes showdowns.

It's important to be very clear about what's scary here. It's not any one instance of disagreement or brinksmanship. It's the emergence of the sustained, structural problems that have harmed other countries with similar presidential systems. To believe that the U.S. won't eventually face terrible consequences from the mixture of polarized parties in a presidential system is to believe that the clear trends in our political system will, for reasons that are currently unclear, reverse themselves. That would be nice, but as they say, hope is not a plan. And the problems of our politics have something of a built-in defense mechanism against meddlesome voters trying to impose sanity on the system.
Read the rest to get a full sense of his argument.

Charles C.W. Cooke responds by reminding us what happens when there is no separation of powers.
Critics of the United States correctly, if oddly, point out that the system of separated powers works only here. “We are the only country in the world in which . . .” is a typically witless refrain. In South America, where presidential democracies have been tried, gridlock has customarily led to the president “speaking for the people” by ordering a military coup and removing from the equation the legislators who demonstrated the temerity to serve as a check and a balance.

As a result of its mature political heritage and its British roots, the United States was spared this trend, blossoming quickly into a country in which the conflict that usually results from divided government is virtuously accepted by the people as the price of liberty. In America, Yale’s Juan Linz argues, strife that has led to violence in less-developed nations has become regarded as “normal.” Make no mistake: Dylan Matthews and his myopic ilk would unashamedly like to change this, rendering illegitimate the positions of the minority and subjugating the exquisite fractiousness of Congress to the imperium of a national leader. This is, of course, a prerogative they enjoy as free men. But there is nothing “progressive” about it at all.

Mike Needham at The Federalist writes that this is just how democracy works.
The President lectures Congress that “you don’t get to extract a ransom for doing your job.” This misunderstands our government on every level. Congress’s job is, indeed, to fund the operations of government. But it’s a mistake to view the appropriations process as a rubber stamp on government. Rather, it is a vital part of our nation’s separation of powers.

James Madison explained, in Federalist No. 58:
“This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.”
The American people have a grievance with ObamaCare. It is unfair, unaffordable and unpopular. Every day, new evidence is coming out about how unworkable the law is. If ever there were a time for Congress to use its power over the purse to obtain redress of grievance, ObamaCare is it.

That’s not extremism; that’s constitutional democracy.
And the same principle applies to raising the debt limit. President Obama is totally misleading the American public when he says that No Congress before this one has ever, ever, in history been irresponsible enough to threaten default, to threaten an economic shutdown, to suggest America not pay its bills." Er no. As Needham writes, this has happened quite often since a debt ceiling limit was imposed by Congress in 1917.
This is, however, completely false. Gramm-Rudman was attached to a debt limit increase in the 1980s and played a role in getting our nation to a balanced budget a decade later. In 1996, an increase in the Social Security earnings limit for the benefit of senior Americans was attached to a debt limit showing that debt limits can also be used to increase spending.

So let’s just be honest about how official Washington wants our nation to function, and the fact that it has few similarities to the system set up by our nation’s Constitution and laws. Washington politicians, and their media enablers, want a system of government that is on perpetual cruise control and highly challenging to alter.

If they believe that would be a better system of government, they should take their case to the American people, amend the Constitution to remove the power of the purse from Congress and eliminate the statutory debt limit.

Perhaps such a proposal would fly with the American people. My guess is it would be overwhelmingly rejected. And, if that’s the case, people should start being honest about who really represents the unreasonable and radical faction in Washington.
Sean Davis refreshes our history of debt limit brinkmanship.
Since that limit was set in 1939, it has been amended over 90 times, or an average of more than once each year. Republican and Democratic presidents alike have asked for higher debt limits, and Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike have sworn to undertake any measures necessary to block them.
And quite a few of those examples occurred when we did not have divided government. And other examples abound of Democrats holding the debt ceiling "hostage." I'd forgotten that that was the basis for the standoff between President George H.W. Bush and the Democratic Congress in 1990 that led to Bush breaking his "no new taxes" pledge.
Congress and the president have fought for decades, regardless of party, over the propriety of raising the debt ceiling. Many lawmakers in years past used the debt limit as a bargaining chip, knowing that holding it up could give them leverage unachievable through other legislative means. That doesn’t mean that a fight this year is necessarily a good idea. But it is helpful to be reminded that this is not the first time our elected officials have pulled out all the stops — including shutdowns or threats of default — to achieve their policy or political goals, nor will it be the last.

There is nothing new under the sun.
But, of course, Obama will keep lying about this history just as he's done about the history of government shutdowns to make the GOP look to be even more extreme. Count on it.

Providing more evidence that President Obama doesn't understand our system of government, he rolled out this ridiculous argument yesterday.
“If a worker shut down a manufacturing plant until they got what they wanted, they’d be fired.”
I wonder if all Obama's union supporters know that he's in favor of corporate trustbusting in order to end strikes. More more importantly, where does he see this metaphor going? Does he see himself as the corporate head of a business and the House as his employees? So much for the people having sovereignty in our system of government.

Charles Krauthammer verbalizes what I was arguing a couple of days ago - why should a continuing resolution be regarded as the new sacred normal?
And besides, whence comes the sanctity of the “clean CR,” the single bill (continuing resolution) that funds all of government? The Democrats have declared it inviolable — and piecemeal funding, as proposed by the Republicans, unacceptable on principle. On what grounds? After all, the regular appropriations process consists of 12 separate appropriation bills. The insistence on the “clean CR” is just a fancy way to suggest some principle behind the president’s refusal to compromise or even negotiate.
Continuing resolutions have long been a bane to decent budgeting principles. They stuff all sorts of measures together and no one reads the whole thing and jam it through at the last minute because Congress doesn't get its work done. It is not a sacred tradition that shouldn't ever be challenged.

So what are the chances that the GOP would keep the shutdown going if Hurricane Karen is going to make landfall? Can you imagine how that would be played in the media? Even if the House passed through appropriations bills to fund every part of the government that would have responsibility for dealing with hurricane damage, would Harry Reid continue to block any piecemeal funding because he refuses to let the GOP "pick and choose" what part of the government they want to fund? Except for the military funding that passed smoothly before, of course. President Obama sure has been lucky in the timing of hurricanes, hasn't he?

So what is the legal authority for the federal government to close parts of federal parks that have never been closed in previous shutdowns?

John McAfee of the eponymous antivirus company is not impressed with the security protections of Obamacare.
For starters, McAfee said the way it is set up makes it possible for fake websites be set up to fool people to think they’re signing up for Obamacare.

“It’s seriously bad,” McAfee said. “Somebody made a grave error, not in designing the program but in simply implementing the web aspect of it. I mean, for example, anybody can put up a web page and claim to be a broker for this system. There is no central place where I can go and say, ‘OK, here are all the legitimate brokers, the examiners for all of the states and pick and choose one.’”

“Instead, any hacker can put a website up, make it look extremely competitive, and because of the nature of the system — and this is health care, after all — they can ask you the most intimate questions, and you’re freely going to answer them,” he continued. “What’s my Social Security number? My birth date? What are my health issues?”
And sure enough, private information is already getting out. With stories like this plus all the stories about the Obamacare sites not working or being so slow, how eager are people going to be to go online to sign up?

Kimberley Strassel investigates how Ted Cruz and Heritage Action and Club for Growth are using this whole budget situation to raise money by attacking other Republicans.
The reality is that John Boehner and Eric Cantor preside over a GOP that is considerably to the fiscal right of the free-spending Bush crowd. Yet the Club for Growth and Heritage Action can only justify their existence by operating four or five steps to the right of leadership.

The result is campaigns that would cast the most effective reformers in the GOP—Sen. Tom Coburn, House Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker—as little more than RINOs. This is the polar opposite of the Reagan philosophy to expand the party's appeal.

These attack campaigns also violate Reagan's 11th commandment: "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican." To say nothing of fundraising off them.
For a little humor, check out the best government shutdown pick up lines.