Well, as all political junkies probably knew the second it happened, the U.S. Senate passed the debt ceiling “compromise” bill, Pres. Obama signed it, and it is now law.
Making my way through the reams of reporting and commentary on the debt ceiling issue, I am finding a common theme: mismatch
John Sides points to a mismatch between public opinion and the affect that opinion has on Congress’s actions. (I know, big surprise.)
There are two lessons here. First, many if not most Americans don’t like politics very much. They do not understand why all the disagreement and fighting is necessary. This is well-known, of course. For some relevant political science, see John Hibbing’s and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse’s Stealth Democracy. They write that Americans
are consequently turned off by political debate and deal making that presuppose an absence of consensus. People believe these activities would be unnecessary if […] decision makers were in tune with the (consensual) public interest rather than cacophonous special interests.
Second, and more importantly, public opinion about political processes doesn’t have big consequences. It didn’t matter much during the health care debate, for example. And there isn’t much evidence that it cost Obama a lot of support during the debt ceiling fight, even if the public found that fight to be “ridiculous,” “stupid,” or “disgusting.”
But note the corollary: Obama allegedly wants to seek bipartisan solutions that allow him to be seen, particularly by independents, as “making Washington work.” This just doesn’t work. Not only because such solutions are hard to come by, but because the public cares more about fixing stuff than about how that stuff gets fixed. For this reason, a robust economy is a thousand times more helpful to Obama than are his bipartisan credentials. And, for that matter, it’s more beneficial for members of Congress too. …
The real political benefit to this deal is how it affects campaign strategy in 2012, when the presidential race will probably be close and campaign tactics might make the difference. For Obama, the deal makes issues relating to the deficit and the size of government more advantageous for him and less advantageous for Republicans. …
In other words, the public cares most about concrete results, and their elected officials care most about campaign strategy. So the two are totally out of synch.
Then you have the mismatch between what is in this debt deal and what’s needed in a deep recession such as we’re in now:
Last week brought the disconcerting news that the economy grew no faster than the population during the first six months of the year, in part because of spending cuts by state and local governments. Now the federal government is cutting, too.
“Unemployment will be higher than it would have been otherwise,” Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive of the bond investment firm Pimco, said Sunday on ABC. “Growth will be lower than it would be otherwise. And inequality will be worse than it would be otherwise.”
He added, “We have a very weak economy, so withdrawing more spending at this stage will make it even weaker.”
Nate Silver finds a mismatch between Republican voters’ views on tax increases and spending cuts, and the attitudes of Republicans in Congress on those subjects:
Not only were defense cuts objected to by large majorities of Republicans in the CNN poll, but so were cuts to Medicare (just 13 percent of Republicans were in favor) and to Social Security (18 percent in favor). Cuts to Medicaid, to farm subsidies, and to benefits for retired government workers were preferred to defense cuts — but were nevertheless opposed by a majority of Republican voters in the poll.
These sentiments extend even to voters who say they support the Tea Party. In the poll, 44 percent of Tea Party supporters were in favor of increasing taxes on those making more than $250,000 per year. That compares to 38 percent of Tea Party voters who support cuts in defense spending and just 22 percent who said they favor Medicare cuts.
What the Republicans in Congress think, of course, may be an entirely different matter. Public opinion has so far had very little relationship to the choices that Washington has made in this debate.
The White House attempts to appease those annoying liberals who keep saying it’s insanity to cut spending in a recession and cruelty to cut programs that are there to help the very people who are suffering the most as a result of the recession:
- The ‘trigger” would force an even division of non-defense and defense cuts, and since the latter is anathema to Republicans, they would not have any incentive to deliberately sabotage the committee in order to force the deep entitlements cuts they want.”
- Republicans gave up “leverage”: “Now that the committee — which is half Republicans and Dems — will all but certainly advance a package of cuts in exchange for the later debt ceiling hike, the argument is that Dems can live to fight it out another day on entitlements” and on raising taxes.
When Joe Lieberman is listening to Isaiah 58:2-10 being read aloud on Yom Kippur, he should remember that it is of men like him that Isaiah was speaking.
This isn’t really a “dirty little secret” anymore.