Thursday, September 26, 2013

Polling on the deficit

Kevin Drum points us to a NYT/CBS poll, specifically a question about the deficit and whether people approve of the way Obama is handling it:

54 percent of the public disapproves of Barack Obama's handling of the deficit. And yet, as the chart on the right shows, the deficit is shrinking dramatically. Last year it dropped by $200 billion, and this year, thanks to a recovering economy, lower spending from the sequester, and the increased taxes in the fiscal cliff deal, it's projected to fall another $450 billion.

Bottom line: It's unfortunate that the deficit is falling so fast. It's a headwind against the recovery that we don't need. Nonetheless, the deficit is falling fast, and no one seems to know it yet. The chart above is one that deserves much wider distribution. Be sure to show it to your conservative friends at every opportunity.

I strongly suspect Kevin is right that most people are thinking about that question in terms of cutting the deficit. So while I disapprove of how Obama is handling the deficit (it shouldn't be falling, at least that rate, we need to be spending more to help the economy) and think everyone should agree with me, the vast majority of that 54% very likely aren't disapproving because it's falling too fast.

I went to the actual poll to check the wording and what other questions they were asking. What I found was several questions about the deficit that prime people to think of the issue purely in terms of cutting it instead of increasing it. For instance, here are some of the questions under the section heading "The Budget Deficit":

Overall, what do you think is the best way to reduce the federal budget deficit?

Cut federal spending 33%
Increasing taxes
Combination of both 60%
Don't know/No answer

If you HAD to choose ONE, which of the following programs would you be willing to change in order to cut spending ?

Medicare 20%
Social Security 14%
The Military 49%
Don't know/No answer 17%

The first question assumes that the deficit should be cut. They don't even ask if people think it should raised or kept at the current level. Maybe this is why so many people think the deficit should be cut, that's all they ever hear from politicians and the media. Perhaps if people were asked a question like, "Would you support a deficit increase if the spending could help the economy grow faster?" they might not just assume the deficit always has to be cut.

In general, do you think it is acceptable for a President or members of Congress to threaten a government shutdown during their budget negotiations in order to achieve their goals, or is that not an acceptable way to negotiate?

Acceptable 16%
Not acceptable 80%
Don't know/No answer

Notice how this one pins the idea of threatening a shutdown on both the president and congress. In reality it's Republicans in Congress that are threatening a shutdown if Obamacare isn't defunded, not the president. And they don't even ask the more important question, whether Republicans should threaten not to raise the debt ceiling. This whole thing is a mess. Not only do most people not have a great understanding of these issues, they are being asked skewed questions while not being asked other questions that would be relevant to the issue. We should never put too much stock into any given poll. But we should especially not put much of any in this one and any like it.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

House will vote on CR, including defunding Obamacare

Speaker of the House John Boehner announced today that he would put a continuing resolution (CR) up for a vote later this week. The CR is just a budget placeholder that continues current levels of federal spending. Nothing too crazy in simply doing that, aside from the fact that it contains sequester cuts and general austerity while the economy is still not doing well. But that's probably about the best deal that can pass the House. And we probably won't get a better deal if we let Republicans shut down the gov't. So all things considered it's probably best to swallow a crappy CR and move on.

The really ridiculous thing about Boehner's announcement is that the CR will include a provision that defunds Obamacare (or ACA). This has been the Republican hobby horse from the moment the ACA passed. The reason (aside from Republicans just being crazy) is that they see this as a political winner for them. Their opposition kept the bill moderate in the first place. And since it's passing, they have complained about how horrible it is, helping push public opinion about the overall bill in the negative (though when you poll people about specific parts of the bill they generally support it).

After opposing the ACA loudly during its passage and in the run up to the 2010 midterm election, Republicans made big gains in Congress, gaining control back from Democrats in the House and taking away Democrats' super-majority in the Senate. Republicans interpreted that outcome as an indictment on the ACA and evidence that the public supported their preference for completely getting rid of it. So combine what they view as a great political opportunity with something they seem to believe is a good thing ideologically and you get Republicans voting for 30 something times to "Defund Obamacare".

Not winning the presidency in 2012 and only making very small gains in Congress didn't deter the defund Obamacare effort for many Republicans. But as recently as this past March, Boehner realized that there were limits to the effort, telling some crazy right wing talk radio host that the House couldn't pass a CR with a provision to defund Obama and avoid gov't shutdown (Chris Hayes played the audio on his show tonight). He was explaining that to the right wing because they are crazy enough to want a gov't shutdown (or even worse, default after not raising the debt ceiling). And Boehner understands the problems that caused Republicans in 1995 and that it will likely hurt his party if they do it again. Given that, why would Boehner now allow the House to vote on a CR that includes defunding Obamacare?

I don't think Boehner changed his mind on the prospects of getting a CR passed. He still doesn't want to shut down the gov't. But he hasn't been able to convince enough Republicans in the House that they can either get the Senate and Obama to defund Obamacare or understand that a gov't shutdown will hurt them. So my best guess as to why Boehner chose to schedule a vote this week is to try to placate the tea party wing of the House. Some of them could be crazy enough to think they actually have a chance to defund Obamacare. But maybe some just want to be able to tell their constituents that they did all they could to defund it after they finally have to let Boehner pass a CR they don't like.

This CR will pass the House and die quickly in the Senate and we'll be left with the looming threat of a gov't shutdown. At that point Boehner will either be dealing with tea partiers who have learned their lesson and are willing to negotiate in order to pass a CR or he'll have to reach out to Democrats in the House in order to pass a CR. My best bet there is that tea partiers really are that crazy and will not negotiate. So it will be up to Pelosi, Reid, Obama, Cantor and McConnell to come up with a CR everyone can live with. Tea partiers in the House and Senate will scream bloody murder that Obamacare is still around and the gov't didn't shut down and move along to trying to defund it in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. And I expect both deals to avoid a shut down and default to be pretty crappy, thus giving the tea party and Republicans part of what they want, all the while the country continues to suffer under a poor economy.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Breaking Bad: Ozymandias

Spoilers to follow...

It's been a few days and I'm still trying to wrap my head around everything that happened in this incredible episode. You've probably read a bunch of recaps and analysis elsewhere (I have). So I won't be repetitive in that sense. What I did want to talk about a bit was Hank, whose fate I probably had the strongest reaction to. I wrote about Hank and how his sense of masculinity had big effects on his actions. In that post I also linked to this post from Pajiba talking about how masculinity affects everyone on the show.

Hank's macho personality made him a bit ridiculous, funny and kind of annoying in the early part of the show. And as I said in my post linked above, it almost gets him killed in the middle seasons. But we don't see the same Hank as we did in the first season or so after he is almost killed by the cartel twins. I'm not sure if that experience was a symbolic way of killing off that hyper-masculinity or if it just served to grind it down and make it extremely focused on his quest to catch Heisenberg. My guess is that it's a bit of a combination, but with it being more of the former.

Hank no longer walks around the office making ridiculous remarks. He doesn't have the same bro-like relationship with Walt and Walt Jr. He's still kind of a jerk with Marie. But even with her and Skyler, he doesn't joke around with her and the rest of his family. So at least the outward projection of Hank's masculinity is gone. Emotionally, he is consumed with Heisenberg. I watched the last few seasons in marathon form. So I could be missing things. But since the hyper-masculine behavior is gone, I'm going to assume those norms that were driving him before aren't the main force driving him in his quest to get Heisenberg. I think it's more a matter of who Hank is at his core, which is a law enforcement officer who cares deeply about justice.

Hank even says in the beginning of this last season when him and Walt stand in his garage, having found out Walt is Heisenberg, that he doesn't care about family anymore. He doesn't care what the ramifications will be on Skyler, the kids and Marie. Contrast that with Walt who just tried to justify his actions to Hank based on helping his family. Walt is still driven by that gendered norm that a man has to be the one to provide for his family. He even pleads to Todd's uncle for Hank's life by invoking the fact that Hank is family. But Hank knows they are beyond that. He dies having rejected Walt's deeply twisted understanding of what it means to be a man and provide for his family. That's why Hank has been the most interesting character to me. He is driven by what is objectionably right, not by what might be best for his family or even his own career. While that would eventually lead to his death, he never broke bad.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Gif of the day

What Tennessee Republicans make me want to do:

TN Republicans hate job creators

Bruce Bartlett explains:

Consider the case of Bob Corker, the Republican senator from Tennessee, and Volkswagen, the German automaker that employs 2,000 workers at a plant in Chattanooga. As my colleague Steven Greenhouse reported last week, the company is working with the United Auto Workers on a plan to unionize its factory so it can establish what is known as a “works council” in Germany.
In an interview with the Associated Press, he called Volkswagen’s decision to engage in these talks “incomprehensible” and said the company would become a “laughingstock in the business world” if it went ahead with the plan.
The lawmakers say they are worried that a unionized Volkswagen plant would somehow ruin the investment climate in the state and compel other companies not to invest there. A more realistic explanation for why the lawmakers oppose the U.A.W.’s foray into their state is that they fear it will support the state’s Democratic party.

The strangest thing about Mr. Corker’s and Mr. Haslam’s criticism of Volkswagen is that Republicans are usually on the ones telling everybody else in government not to meddle in the affairs of profit-making businesses. After all, it’s their mantra that businesses, not lawmakers, create jobs. But I guess none of that matters in this case because even a company as successful and profitable as Volkswagen, which is competing with Toyota and General Motors to be the world’s largest automaker, must be deluded if it’s entertaining the possibility of working with a dreaded union.

The hypocrisy is apparent. What is less apparent is the fact that TN's economy isn't exactly booming. We are in no position to turn down companies that want to develop jobs in the state. But as with the decision to not expand Medicaid, TN Republicans are showing that they don't really care about the well-being of the people. They only care about making ridiculous ideological statements. These people are an absolute disgrace. It's a shame no one can seriously challenge them electorally because until then the people of TN will continue to get screwed.