Avoiding the Stalemate State

Get ready for a lot of stories bemoaning the coming period of political gridlock in the federal government. Jacob S Hacker and Paul Pierson offer up a typical sample of the genre in The American Prospect. But it doesn’t have to be that way if the GOP in the House acts in a pro-government/small-government way.

A united GOP in the House could insist on a new paradigm for passing legislation, passing all the good stuff first. Yes, it gets less passed, but isn’t that the point? The House can, legitimately, say that it’s not shutting down the government. It can bang out funding for the essential programs in each department in the spring, pass (or not) the middle tier popularity programs in the summer, and then present the real stinkers in the fall, right before elections.

There would be no government shut down. The Parks people could not shut down Mt. Rushmore and the George Washington Monument because their operations would be funded. Programs that could not get a majority to vote for them would be shut down but that happens every year. It’s how the system is supposed to work.

The political choices for Democrats would be very unattractive. Their attempts to stuff in budget stinkers into the must-pass bill will be turned back with the reasonable explanation that the program is funded in a different bill and that it will get a vote, but not here. Once the early bills pass, government shutdown is averted.

Is the GOP going to be smart enough to create a better way to fund the government? I hope so. What concerns me is that nobody else seems to be talking about appropriation sequence passage reform.

Thanks to Bastiches in the comments who gave a pointer that led me to a September 30 speech by John Boehnor which I had not seen to now. The relevant section:

While the culture of spending stems largely from a lack of political will in both parties to say ‘no,’ it is also the consequence of what I believe to be a structural problem. As Kevin McCarthy often says, structure dictates behavior. Aided by a structure that facilitates spending increases and discourages spending cuts, the inertia in Washington is currently to spend — and spend — and spend. Most spending bills come to the floor prepackaged in a manner that makes it as easy as possible to advance government spending and programs, and as difficult as possible to make cuts.

Again, this is not a new problem. But if we’re serious about confronting the challenges that lie ahead for our nation, it’s totally inadequate.

I propose today a different approach. Let’s do away with the concept of “comprehensive” spending bills. Let’s break them up, to encourage scrutiny, and make spending cuts easier. Rather than pairing agencies and departments together, let them come to the House floor individually, to be judged on their own merit. Members shouldn’t have to vote for big spending increases at the Labor Department in order to fund Health and Human Services. Members shouldn’t have to vote for big increases at the Commerce Department just because they support NASA. Each Department and agency should justify itself each year to the full House and Senate, and be judged on its own.

It isn’t exactly what I’m talking about (the level of granularity is different and the sequencing idea is entirely absent) but it’s a very close cousin and that is much appreciated. This speech helps the tea party because even if Boehnor is not serious about the proposal now (tough to tell without actual reform legislation text), focused public pressure to support this would lead him and the rest of the GOP to run to the front of the parade. And if he is serious? We might end up with an actual small government party again under this kind of leadership. We certainly could use one.

In either case, this remains a good pressure point between now and January for small government activists to press for reform. And now it has the advantage that soon-to-be-speaker Boehner has come out on the right side.

21 thoughts on “Avoiding the Stalemate State”

  1. The worst thing to do is divide the spoils before the battle has been fought. It is a prescription for defeat.

    The democrats will win the election.
    1. Already they have prevented overseas troops from getting ballots. Troops do not vote for people who support the guys who are shooting at them.
    2. Eric Holder has made sure plenty of dead people are registered.
    3. Members of the Tea Party are not being allowed to vote
    4. Black Panthers are back
    5. He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named has got Iranian money committed to a massive ad blitz starting today
    6. The democrats are going to be counting the ballots – just like they did in Minnesota and Democrat judges have been instructed to bless the counts (just as they did in Minnesota).
    7. The dead shall rise from their graves and vote early and often.
    8. The news media are rehearsing their surprise at the Democrat victory.

    There is nothing you can do

  2. Good that someone is talking about the tactics needed to govern as a conservative.

    One question is how does a conservative House control the EPA without a conservative Senate? Many mention defunding which is the House’s Constitutional perogative. However, the Administration will respond to such a threat by refusing to issue new discharge permits or certify Environmental Impact Statements, effectively through sabots into the regulatory machinery and worstening our economic woes.

    Frankly, Mr. Vason is descending into paralyzed pessimism. Certainly there will be electorial abuses by the Democrats but a delegitimized government is one we will not obey. A question that should be on everyone’s mind is how far do the Democrats want to go and how tough are we willing to fight back.

    I see in the news that Republican poll watchers in Houston were intimidated (little old ladies at that) and the local Democrat Party went to court when the polls opened seeking an injunction against poll watchers!

    If the ballot box is made ineffective due to dirty tricks, that next step will take us down the road of civil war.

  3. Sol,

    “They can’t cheat if it isn’t close.” is the quote/book from Hugh Hewitt.

    Get off your defeatist butt and get 10 people to the polls.

    Here is my prediction. Rs take the House, and go 49-51 in the Senate (which I argue is better than winning it)

    Care to place $50 on the line for your curmudgeonly prediction?


    Good post. I would argue that the Rs NOT winning the Senate sets them up better for 2012 than if they win both houses. This isn’t to say I’ve picked which races I’d like them to lose, as I hope they all win. I’m merely pointing out that your strategy would be more likely to succeed if they have an obstructionist president and Senate to run against.

    As for gains, it is up to us to make any gains stick. Left to their own devices, the Rs will find a way to blow it. This is why we need to field GOOD Tea party candidates in as many areas as possible, and be unafraid to take on R incumbents who fail to meet some 60-75% benchmark.

    We also need to start building R/conservative infrastructure EVERYWHERE, and ignore the “you’ll never win that district/state” dogma coming from party morons.

    All of us need to become ambassadors to the left. We need to ask all the people we meet whether they support “self government.”

    Every person who answers “yes” is a potential target for conversion.

    Lastly, I have no idea what a “concern troll” is. Please enlighten me.

  4. I spent 2 and a half hours last night calling my neighbors on behalf of the Republican challenger to my liberal Democrat congressman, Mike Honda. Honda is a long term incumbent down to only 46% in internal polling. I’ll walk my precinct this weekend.

    Sorry but I’m rooting for GOP in both House and Senate. It might be better electorial positioning for the GOP to not regain the Senate in 2010, but it will be best for the country and Western Civilization to clear away as many Democrats from seats of power as soon as possible.

    Would we have said it is best to have lost at Midway after our defeat at Pearl Harbor?

  5. I don’t think Obama is as agile politically as Clinton and Boehner is not as hubristic as Gingrich was but I think it is better to cut spending piecemeal and dare Obama to veto small appropriations bills. Gingrich was boasting about shutting down the government but he was also distracted by his book deal and his romances. You might read Bob Novak’s biography, “Prince of Darkness,” for some perspective on Gingrich. It seems to me that a strategy of breaking the appropriations into specific bills and requiring department heads to justify expenditures would be easier to defend. It’s a lot of work, which is why it hasn’t been done in 40 years but now is the time to start.

  6. Sol Vason – The cure for cheating is prison terms. Gather your evidence and press for prosecutions. I am.

    Joseph Somsel – The cure for Executive intransigence is indeed defunding but it needs to be targeted defunding. If you put in strong language preventing the executive from shifting funds around and only funding the core, important, and popular functions of a department, the sort of executive sabotage you posit is going to be fodder for the 2012 campaign. I’m not in favor of an impeachment because I think it’s destructive of the country but highlighting anti-government sabotage on the part of Dems as a blackmail tool to extract more spending is certainly worth doing and I think would be an electoral winner to boot.

    Bruno Behrend – I live in a very blue county (lake, Indiana) and am working with the local GOP to build infrastructure. I understand your point.

    Michael Kennedy – The battle to sell this strategy starts the day after election day and it’s a 535 battlefield campaign.

  7. One tactic I think would be highly effective is for the GOP house to pass only small, focused spending bills as Mike Kennedy suggests. Keeps them from being loaded up with amendments to fund Obamacare & porkers’ pet projects that we should be declining to fund, and gives the opposition nothing to shoot at PR-wise.
    But why would we want to limit our gains? Take the house, take the senate, take 34+ governorships, and as many statehouses as possible. This year the tax-payers will win out over the tax-eaters. But they’ll still be tax-eaters in 2012, so we better win out big at every opportunity.
    It ain’t over til it’s over, so everyone get 10 people in your neighborhood to the polls this year.

  8. Just get ready, because the same homeless people living in the streets right now, will be front page news next year. They will just show up and no one will remember them being there before.

  9. If you’re in the New York area, both these folks have a good chance to win their seats:



    Both need flyer-hander-outers, doorbell-ringers, phonecallers……

  10. I look forward to the return of gridlock. Until several Constitutional Amendments are ratified curtailing Federal Power the best to hope for is that Washington does nothing.

    Of course I could also argue that there is nothing left for Washington to do; send all the criminals, miscreants and egos home.

  11. Robert Schwartz and Sinner – The left is stocking up on black top hats, black capes, and twirl worthy paste on mustaches in anticipation of re-running their successful 1995 campaign against “shut it down” Republicans. We need something better.

    This is better. It also has the advantage of clearly identifying the big spenders, upending the established battlefields around appropriations in a way that is favorable to small government, and would end run the continuing resolution nonsense that has plagued this country for many years.

    As a final bonus, every civil servant who hits the summer and doesn’t have their program funded successfully in the 2nd tranche of spending bills will be looking for work elsewhere. This is a very good thing in my opinion because it destroys the illusion that you can just get in to the civil service and coast your career all the way to retirement.

  12. I agree with the general strategy. I think the House should create some anti-logrolling rule at the start of the term to force small bills to get an up or down vote. With x number of cosponsors, a bill which reduces the deficit gets to bypass the committees and get a floor vote, for example. Maybe we can finally force things like the mohair subsidy to face an up or down vote. A bill to repeal of the Obamacare 1099 requirement should come early in 2011.

  13. “Is the GOP going to be smart enough to create a better way to fund the government? I hope so. What concerns me is that nobody else seems to be talking about appropriation sequence passage reform.”

    Actually, I believe John Boehner said this was exactly how he planned to operate the House in order to avoid total shutdown. It’s easy not to have confidence in establishment Republicans, but they seem to be onto this angle already.

  14. 5th Level Fighter – I would very much like to get a link to any sort of Boehner statement committing himself to such an approach. I googled boehner avoid shutdown and found things that were close, but no cigar. If you have a viable unilateralist strategy as I outlined above, you can credibly negotiate after you’ve passed the popular stuff. You’ve got all the chips at that point because the most attractive spending hostages have already been cleared from the scene.

    What it sounds like Boehner’s considering is the sort of summit deals that President GHWB did with the Democrat Congress leadership and Speaker Gingrich did with President Clinton. That doesn’t tend to end well for the small government cause.

    But it does look like Boehner’s position is close enough that with a bit of grass roots pressure, he can be convinced that this sort of thing was his idea all along.

    And that’s ok with me. Let’s just save the Republic and to hell with which of the good guys gets the credit.

  15. The consensus here seems to be that Sol Vason’s worries are understandable but overdone.

    Maybe. But if the GOP is successful in the House and esp. at the State level (Governorships and Assemblies), it MUST put through serious election reforms and do it pronto, because the threat is out there until it is dealt with. Real requirements that voter roles be purged, that ID be shown when voting, strict controls on absentee and early voting, strict controls on vote counting and certification, and so on—laws with real teeth that really make fraud more difficult.

    And teh people who oppose it… you’ll know why.

    And if the election does not produce a very large GOP trend, our REpublic is roughly where Rome was it in 44BC. The what? (I am NOT suggesting a direct parallel with Brutus and Caesar, just a historical analogy).

  16. Bastiches – You win the brass ring, a real pointer that led to a real speech, see the update above. For some strange reason this doesn’t seem to have been highlighted in the media I’ve been consuming. It must not have fit the narrative.

    Marty – I think you’re off with your historical analogy, but only by a few decades. By 44BC Rome’d been through attempted coups. We haven’t sunk that low yet.

  17. People have been grousing about a lack of leadership from Establishment Republicans.

    I think it has been a deliberate political tactic of letting the Democrats continue digging their own hole.

    I certainly expect that some specific approaches will emerge AFTER the election. This approach is a good one but I bet there will be others.

  18. TM,
    Agree with your take on the Prospect piece. Methinks it is too little too late. Frankly I am surprised that we have not seen more of this from left-leaning academia this election cycle. The argument for divided government can be particularly effective in persuading independents and moderates of both parties, because the preference for policy moderation trumps partisan inclination for those of an independent mindset. Voting for divided government is a way for Independent voters to give themselves permission to vote for candidates they might otherwise fine unpalatable.

    I found this piece to be particularly annoying, as it is little more than a expression of liberal policy preference masquerading as an academic analysis.

    FWIW – I have an expanded critique of their essay on my blog.

Comments are closed.