Saturday, February 21, 2015

The 'Nucular' Option

The Modern Humorist Councils Us On A Worst-Case Scenario
I’ve been radicalized. By Harry Reid and Barack Obama. Goodbye moderation and sweet reason. No more clinging to constitutional and procedural restraint. It’s time to go nuclear. 
. . . 
[ Democrats ] have filibustered the bill in the Senate, where it will die. And as the night follows day, Republicans, not the filibustering Democrats,will be blamed for shutting down DHS and jeopardizing the nation’s safety at a time of heightened international terrorism. 
A nice cul-de-sac. But there is a way out for the GOP. Go bold. Go nuclear. Abolish the filibuster. Pass the bill and send it to the president.
Charles Krauthammer: Abolish The Filibuster 
Krauthammer--and several other Republicans (in the House) have figured out a way past the Democratic bloc-voting that is killing their Fund-DHS-But-Not-Amnesty plan: all they have to do is change the Senate legislation procedure so that it takes a simple majority to pass a bill. Let democracy reign!

While one might legitimately ask why, if the filibuster was so bad, the Republicans call for when they were in the majority. This might be it:

Essentially, the Republicans from 2008 on (Obama's administration) have used the filibuster a fairly historic amount--they wouldn't, likely, speak against it when they were reliant on it. Of course now they're the majority in both chambers and would like to get around the Democrats to move their legislation forward--particularly on immigration where they are about to get blamed for a DHS shutdown (if the polling is to be believed).

Let's look at the Nuclear Scenario--its merits and optics . . .

The Nuclear War
This is what happens: The GOP controlled Senate calls for the vote and, by a majority, changes the rules so that they can pass legislation with a simply majority. They then pass the House DHS+Defund Amnesty bill and send it to the president. At this point we have several branches:
  1. Obama vetoes it and takes the blame. Under 20% likely.
  2. Obama vetoes it and doesn't get blamed. About 70% likely.
  3. Obama caves and signs it. Less than 10% likely.

The survey we have suggests a 23% gap in blame between the GOP and Obama (no mention of Senate Democrats). This is a significant gap since the GOP is likely united in their blame meaning that the state-of-play is likely fairly solid at this point. We are also looking at Obama's approval and note that since late Sept 2014 he has increased in job approval by 3%. We also know that his personal favorability ratings seem to have had some improvement since the election and State of the Union (approximately 10% in Gallup). 

From these numbers, if we assume that a DHS shutdown reaches a conclusion in about 3 weeks (about how long The Omnivore estimates people will let DHS employees go unpaid before they start getting nervous) then we have to postulate that:

The Obama Caves Scenario (Less than 10%)
For this to happen something must change dramatically and fast. The Omnivore isn't sure what this could be except a terrorist attack is foiled the day before the de-fund goes into effect and polling shows the public WANTS DHS ONLINE AT ANY COST!! Since it seems that DHS has yet to foil a terrorist attack, this appears unlikely. 

The Obama Gets Blamed Scenario (Less than 30%)
For this to happen we have a Nuclear-Scenario, a passed bill, an Obama-veto, and . . . a winning argument that Obama should be blamed. The optics have to be that Obama is standing in the way of defending the country and not that the GOP is playing-politics with their de-fund amnesty amendments. There are several arguments the GOP could try to make--but they will (a) have to actually make them as a unit with message-discipline and (b) they will need to be made convincingly. We will look at these below.

The limiting factors here are:
  1. The Mainstream Media. Let's face it, the general media will not be kind to the GOP for whichever reason you prefer ('reality' if you are a liberal, that the MSM is bought off / hopelessly liberal if you are a conservative). Either way, (a) everyone could see that coming and (b) it's always the case so it should be factored in to any planning.
  2. GOP Message Discipline. It's famously bad. Right now we are seeing two messages that (a) a DHS shutdown isn't that bad (most personnel will keep working) and (b) it will provide leverage to undo Obama's illegal amnesty. If a DHS shutdown isn't that bad, why will it provide leverage over Obama? This is better than normal: a little while ago Boehner was saying there wouldn't be a shutdown.
  3. Branding. The GOP is the party that owns shutdowns and some of the House members adopted the identity as the 'Party of Hell No.' That's well and good until you own the space and it gets used against you. The GOP may be absorbing blame for this from people who have no idea what's at stake or why this is happening. That should scare everyone reading this--but it should especially scare the GOP which has already speculated that a lot of the country is totally checked out anyway.
  4. The Sound-Bite Rule. When a situation can be summed up quickly and in a way that 'checks out' (10 min on Google) and goes against you, you have a problem. In this case the idea that the House put a 'poison-pill' amendment in the funding bill and a clean-bill would sail through Congress is both quick and easy to say (and easily enough understood) and will be confirmed by Google searches. To absorb the idea that Obama's Amnesty is illegal and that shutting down DHS was all that could be done involves some fairly nuanced discussions about why the pending court case in inadequate (i.e. that it will not stop things fast enough--not that it's a bad case). Requiring nuance means you're losing. Worse, the GOP is selling the idea that their bill was clean all along as it funded everything but this "one tiny piece" of DHS. That's true in a kind of absolute sennse--but anyone who checks into it will discover that the piece they didn't fund (a) was a specific piece of Obama's platform and that (b) as it was fee-driven the bill had to have special amendments in it to make sure fees couldn't be used for Obama's amnesty. If you hate the amnesty already, okay. But if you just kind of dislike it and think it's playing politics 'America's security'? That's going to be harder un-sell.
The Obama Vetoes and Doesn't Get Blamed Scenario (70+% Likely)
The Omnivore thinks that the way this plays out is that the Senate goes Nuclear, the bill goes to Obama, Obama vetoes it, and three weeks later, the House caves and passes a clean bill with Democratic support. This passes the Senate and Obama signs it.

Why is The Omnivore so defeatist? Well, here's why:

The Bill Would Be 'Radioactive:' The way you stick 'stick the president' with the responsibility for a veto is by passing a bill with bi-partisan support. That's how Keystone-XL was passed and Obama will entirely own the veto for it (if he does it). A bill passed by one party in the wake of a major rule change will automatically be 'radioactive.' After such a passage, any bill sent to the president will seen in a substantially different light by more neutral parties and will be suspect on the face of it. It will be 'radioactive'--partially poisoned by the conditions of its approval which will be a significant change the historical process (last change was 1975--but minority protection has been in place since at least 1917)

But The Democrats Did It: The fact that the Democrats changed the thresholds for nominations in 2013 might give the GOP some air-cover but the The Omnivore doesn't think it will be much. This is predominantly because nominations and legislation are two very different things and while ordinary folks may not get that, the media and more importantly, some factions of the GOP, will probably being reacting that way. Removing minority protections from the Senate will be a big deal and people will get that.

The Governance Problem: The final problem for the GOP is that, fundamentally, changing the rules to pass bills without bi-partisan support doesn't look like 'governance' to most people. It looks like throwing up your hands and saying "we can't make a deal with these people--so we're going to cut them out." Notably, the Democrats said the first part for several years but not the last bit. If the GOP had its house in order and was cranking out popular legislation with some tinge of bi-partisan appeal they might be able to say this was a unique roadblock but so far they haven't. The pipeline is small-ball (especially with ~2.00/gas--it may not make economic sense right now) and the GOP's face-plant on the 20wk abortion bill is a data-point against public perception that they are a lean-mean-governing-machine.

In other words, it looks like giving up.

The Real Problem: Hillary 2016
Of course the real problem with the Nuclear Option is that no one knows how strong Hillary is going to be in 2016. She might tank badly--not raising funds--and collapse electorally (or physically) before reaching the Convention. She might also be rested, ready, heavily funded and with her party nearly unified behind her. She might kick some ass in debates and hit her policy markers. She might be facing an eviscerated Jeb Bush or a Scott Walker with Chris Christie's bite-marks still fresh and infected on his calves.

We just don't know--but since we don't know, we have to assume that she will be a contender. If she is a contender then she may have coat-tails (if she wins women--not 'women of color' or 'unmarried women'--but 'women' in general, and they come out to vote for her? Her candidates might do well). If Hillary does well in 2016--a good Senate map for the Democrats--and they take back the Senate, removing the filibuster for 2 years of Obama-vetoes will look like the Seahawks throwing a football into heavy coverage three yards from the in zone: Worst. Strategy. Ever.

This is not nonsense and should not be discounted. In the new world the Democrats wouldn't restore minority protection: they'd leverage the hell out of it. The House majority would still be a bulwark of sorts--but relying on that would be a worst case scenario.

The Omnivore thinks that if the D's are looking weak next year we may see a revision of the filibuster rules--but right now? Way too early. It'd be crazy.

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