Could the leaders of both parties have it wrong? Could top Republicans and top Democrats inside DC be simultaneously obtuse about the reality beyond the Beltway? You know, out there in the USA? Is there something about life in Powertown that distorts insiders’ perception of outsiders? Okay, that last one is a trick question, because by now it’s obvious that Washington politicos of both parties are drastically out of touch with the folks they purport to represent.
Consider: On the Democratic side, President Obama has badly miscalculated on support for gun control, for Syrian intervention, and for his would-be-but-not-to-be nominee to the Federal Reserve chairmanship, Larry Summers. In each case, Obama thought Democrats would fall into line, and in each case, many of them broke ranks.
Meanwhile, on the Republican side, House Speaker John Boehner has equally miscalculated his fellow Republicans’ support for the farm bill, for immigration “reform,” and also for Syrian intervention. In addition, Boehner doesn’t have the support he wants on budgetary strategy, including the de-funding of Obamacare.
The result has been an existential crisis for DC leaders–they don’t seem to have any followers: As Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) of Nevada lamented last week, “The anarchists have taken over. They’ve taken over the House, now they’re here in the Senate.”
Okay, that was Reid complaining about Republicans, comparing them, one supposes, to black-clad punks on bicycles spray-painting a big red “A” on everything.
The objects of Reid’s scorn, Congressional GOPers, aren’t vandals, but they are plenty mad. The Hill, a non-ideological DC politics publication, nailed it with this headline: “Angry House Republicans demand better communication from leaders.” And by “communication,” insurgent backbenchers in the Cannon, Longworth, and Rayburn House Office Buildings didn’t mean they were worried about messaging to the folks back home; they were worried about the lack of messaging from the Speaker’s suite in H-232 of the Capitol to them. As The Hill added, “The rift on what to do on ObamaCare has opened up a civil war within the GOP.”
In fact, we are seeing two civil wars, one for each party. Let’s consider, first, the Democrats’ plight of strife. Obama desperately wanted to appoint Larry Summers to chair the Federal Reserve Board, but then a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation: Senate Democrats rebelled.
As The New York Times noted, the White House brought in two Obama operatives, Jim Messina and Stephanie Cutter, to help Summers. Their mission, as the Times put it: “Talk him up to the press.” But then the lefty-populist wing got into gear. As the Times reported:
A number of Senate Democrats, rather than waiting for the nomination process to play itself out, raised concerns as soon as his name surfaced this summer: his reputation for being a divisive colleague, his perceived role in coddling Wall Street and the lax regulation of derivatives, and complaints that he did not support smaller community banks as much as the nation’s giant financial institutions, among other issues.
A key moment in the anti-Summers effort was a letter, signed by 20 Senate Democrats, including Majority Whip Dick Durbin, praising Summers’ rival for the Fed slot, Janet Yellen. As one insider told the Times, “It wasn’t a subtle maneuver.”
So the dysfunction is, indeed, bipartisan. The Washington Post summed it up in a headline: “Obama and Boehner both enter upcoming domestic debates with a weakened hand.” As the Post explained, Obama and Boehner have ended up “in a rare place–on the same side…each found himself sharply at odds with lawmakers of his own party.” And, we might add, at odds with their respective activist bases.
The Post offered a revealing quote from Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA):
It’s almost as though it was the end of traditional power. I’ve been here for 20 years, and I’ve never seen so much of a repudiation of the conventional sources of power in the legislative or executive branch.
“The end of traditional power”? How did this happen? How did the order-givers end up with so few order-takers?
One might be tempted to say that the gap is simply a function of old vs. young, or insider vs. outsider. That is, who is comfortable with the Establishment–including their own party’s hierarchy–and who isn’t. But of course, the Democrats’ Dick Durbin is in his late 60s; he has been in Congress since 1983. And yet he was part of the anti-Summers surge.
Moreover, consider the views of Ted Kaufman, 74, who worked as a staffer on Capitol Hill for decades before filling out his career as Joe Biden’s fill-in replacement as US Senator from Delaware in 2009-10. Yet Kaufman’s take on Summers proved that he managed to keep at least something of an outsider’s perspective:
If you believe that banks are too big to fail, and we really didn’t do anything about it in Dodd-Frank; if you believe that we made a mistake in repealing Glass-Steagall, that banks are still involved in the London Whale; if you believe that derivatives still have not been fixed; if you believe [we should] have reduced the size of banks, Larry Summers was on the other side.
In other words, Kaufmann has identified the real problem with Summers: He is a kneejerk champion of the status quo. As he should be, because Summers has made millions of dollars defending that status quo.
Yet by all accounts, Obama was determined to push Summers into the Fed job–until the reality that Senate votes weren’t there finally smacked him in the face.
So now we are starting to see the true nature of the disconnect between the governors and the governed. Some pols in DC simply become seduced by power and its privileges, and as a result, they become both arrogant and oblivious.
Meanwhile, others aren’t so seduced, or at least not as much. Or, to put the matter another way, some in DC are simply more aware of their constituents and what they want. And that, of course, is what Founding Father Thomas Jefferson wanted; he said that government should fear the people, and not the other way around.
Some might also say that this widening gap–inside the Beltway vs. outside the Beltway–has a lot to do with the widening income gap. That is, people in the imperial city are getting richer, while people in the provinces are getting poorer. Let Rush Limbaugh, who has always chosen to live far outside the Beltway, explain:
There are two stories here that dovetail, and it’s about the income gap in this country, and it is widening. Under the Obama administration, the income gap is wide. The 1% is getting richer and richer; the 99% are falling into deep poverty.
This is an AP story, and the 1%, most of them live and work in Washington. The median income in this country is $51,000 per household. That’s the “median,” not the “average.” For those of you in Rio Linda, what this means is that there are as many households earning above that number as there are households earning below it. Average does not mean that, but a mean does. There are four counties in the United States where the mean household income is over $100,000 a year. Three of them are suburban Washington.
Meanwhile, as The Washington Post reported in a September 17 headline, “The typical American family makes less than it did in 1989.” Think about that. For the population as a whole, a quarter-century of economic growth has evaporated. Yet at the same time, Washington, D.C. has been a perpetual boom town. (The New York City area, too, engorged by Summers-style bailouts and bank subsidies, has also been flourishing.)
Yet out in the hinterlands, the story is more doom than boom. And ironically, according to conservative economist Peter Ferrara, all the core demographic categories that supported President Obama so strongly–blacks, single women, the young–have lost economic ground, proportionately, over the last five years. “The poverty rate has increased every year that he has been President, from 12% in 2008 to 16.1% today, higher than when the War on Poverty started in the 1960s.”
Continuing, Ferrara added:
Indeed, under President Obama, only the incomes of the top 20% have been rising, with the recovering stock market and healthy corporate profits. The incomes of the bottom 80% have been falling consistently under Obama’s perverse, consistently anti-growth economic policies. Consequently, what President Obama has done is reestablish precisely the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.
So there’s your gap. The elites that rise as they benefit from Summers-type self-dealing, and the masses that sink as they suffer from Summersian financialism.
Indeed, this disparity gains even more clarity when we see how the fair and impartial enforcement of the law is traduced by the insiders. Back in 2009, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley worked a provision into the Obamacare law that stipulated that all its provisions would apply equally to Members of Congress and Congressional employees.
In other words, if America gets Obamacare–like it or not–then so does Congress. And that, of course, is not at all what Congress wanted, because they have the kind of cushy health insurance plan that Obamacare wants to take away from the rest of us. Grassley, an opponent of Obamacare, figured that the provision was a “poison pill” that would stymie its passage.
At the time, lawmakers and staffers weren’t happy with the Grassley provision, but the Democrats’ priority was to get the bill enacted, and so they gulped and swallowed the poison pill. And besides, smart Democrats figured that in the voluminous process of writing out the regulations to actually implement the Obamacare law, they could find a way to write in a loophole–a waiver.
Lo and behold, back in August, the federal Office of Personnel Management did just that: It issued a waiver on the Grassley provision. As Andrew Montgomery of FreedomWorks roared at the time:
Congress should have to live under the same laws it makes for the rest of us. If Congress can legislate upon the American people and be free of the consequences, they become an “elitist class” out of touch with reality and their constituents.
“Elitist class” is exactly right. And while public awareness of Obamacare’s “OPM Loophole” is low, when people hear about it, they get good ‘n’ angry. Opposition from the public–not just Republicans, but all Americans–falls in the range of 9:1 against.
So will the OPM Loophole go away? Don’t bet on it. It remains to be seen whether or not the Republicans who control the House will fight to get rid of it.
No wonder Mark Levin regularly denounces “phony conservatives,” adding that if the House GOP fails to act, “Obamacare” should be renamed “Boehnercare.”
Or as Erick Erickson wrote recently, “Republicans remain deeply unpopular. With Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and John Boehner in charge, how could they not?”
And in the words of Jenny Beth Martin and Brent Bozell:
Every Republican in the Senate is on the record calling for defunding, but only a handful would agree to put their name on the letter. In the House it was more of the same. The GOP leadership in both chambers refused to lift a finger to help.
And Martin and Bozell were blunt in their assessment of what was really happening: “Republicans would vote to fund ObamaCare while telling their constituents they had voted to defund ObamaCare.”
And it’s not just pundits. It’s many within the House Republican Conference, all 233 Members, who have flummoxed the House leadership on issues ranging from the debt ceiling and the budget, to the farm bill, to Syria, and, of course, to immigration. No wonder Washington abounds with rumors about Boehner’s retirement in 2014, as many of his top aides make their shrewdly timed exit to K Street .
Yet in the meantime, in this 113th Congress, what’s Boehner to do? He appears to have few good options. But one option is…call in the Democrats!
A September 17 Politico headline spelled it out: “Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)’s votes could be crucial to John Boehner”:
House GOP leadership’s decision last week to back away from a continuing resolution from the floor amid Republican opposition raises the possibility that Speaker John Boehner might ultimately have to call on Democrats to avoid a government shutdown. He has relied on the minority before, most notably during the fiscal cliff deal that raised taxes on top earners earlier this year.
So for whom, we might ask, is Boehner really working? Is he representing the values and sentiments of the national Republican Party to Washington? Or is he representing Washington to the GOP?
Of course, if Democrats help Boehner, they will extract a huge price. In the words of Politico: “But Democrats aren’t willing to just go along. For one, they’re looking to use the budget showdown as another opportunity to paint the GOP as a party beholden to extremists.”
In other words, such a bipartisan deal would mean an end to GOP efforts to link the budget and debt ceiling to the defunding of Obamacare, and also, perhaps, to spell the end of the budget sequester that Democrats hate so much.
Would Boehner go there? Would he make such a deal? If so, it could lead to a revolt in the House, cheered on by outside activist groups such as Heritage Action and the Club for Growth.
A sitting Speaker has never been deposed, although intra-party revolts broke the speakerships of Newt Gingrich in 1997, and of Joe Cannon, way back in 1910. In both cases, they were out of the Speaker’s office within a year. Yet Boehner is on such thin ice with the Republican Conference that he could yet be the first to be outright booted out.
So Democrats can chortle as Republicans tear themselves up. But as for Obama, he has only thing going for him: According to the Constitution, absent impeachment, he has a guaranteed hold on the White House until January 20, 2017.
And it’s going to be a rocky road for him, from here to there.
On the port side of politics, the anger is still welling up, reflected in this recent headline in Politico: “Left revokes President Obama’s liberal card.” The Daily Kos, for example, offers a feast of Obama-bashing, on everything from drones to Snowden.
During the peak of the Syria frenzy, liberal pundit Kirsten Powers sniped on Fox News that Obama should give back his Nobel Peace Prize. Indeed, had the US gone to war with Syria, it would have been liberals calling for Obama’s impeachment.
And while the Syria war drums have receded, the seeming reality that Obama got snookered by Vladimir Putin–and generally made a fool of himself on the world stage–has disheartened his onetime hardcore supporters.
Time’s Joe Klein, long a loyal Obamanik, described Obama’s September 10 Syria speech as a “flurry of malarkey.” And Klein added, for good measure,
In the process, he has damaged his presidency and weakened the nation’s standing in the world. It has been one of the more stunning and inexplicable displays of presidential incompetence that I’ve ever witnessed.
Meanwhile, the left’s night of the long knives seems destined to continue. As Fox News’ Chris Stirewalt wrote, “Left claims Summers’ scalp: Who’s Next?”
Good question. Who’s next inside the Democratic Party? And in the Republican Party? Indeed, what’s next for American politics? We’ll take that up in Part Two.