Monday, November 14, 2005

Government: GOP Pulls Budget Reconciliation Bill

You might have read about this in the news:

In a strong sign of splintered loyalty, House Republican leaders postponed the vote on a contentious budget bill late Thursday in the face of universal Democratic opposition and wavering support from GOP lawmakers.

House Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) conceded that GOP leaders did not have the votes necessary to pass the sweeping reconciliation bill, which seeks to cut around $50 billion in federal spending while reorganizing some federal programs, such as Medicaid, and making funding changes to others like student loans, food stamps and pension insurance.

The purpose of the budget reconciliation process is to pass the annual budget for each government agency. It's an arcane and optional process, but its been used a lot in recent decades for two important reasons. It must be "deficit neutral" - i.e. you cannot increase spending without offsetting it with cuts or tax increases. And it cannot be filibustered in the Senate. So it is often used to make unpopular cuts or pass controversial measures that would otherwise be killed. It's very unusual that the majority would have to postpone a vote on the process like this.

This news is interesting to me for several reasons...

First, it shows that the Republicans really don't have their act together. Budget reconciliation is the basketball equivalent of a foul shot - there's really nothing the other team can do to stop you, and if you don't score some points its due to your own ineptness.

It also shows the importance of public opinion, and modern public opinion polls. Bush currently has a 36% approval rating. As I've written before, unless an opinion is directly linked to an imminent social action (such as voting in the near future, or purchasing an item) that opinion is essentially meaningless quantitatively. There are no elections until November of 2006. No one is in danger of loosing their seat, right now. And in politics, a whole lot can change in a few hours, and everything could be different in one year. Bush's approval today could be 1% or 100% and it doesn't really matter, because it doesn't accurately predict anything that will actually happen in the world.

But because people believe that its important, they react accordingly, thus creating a self fulfilling prophecy. Moderates believe Bush is unpopular (he is, right now). They fear that unpopularity will cause them to loose their election. So they distance themselves from their party, and run as "an independent, moderate Senator who puts the needs of his constituents before his loyalty to the party blah blah blah." But in doing so, they damage the reputation and strength of their own party, thus discouraging their base, and tarnishing the Republican brand as a selling point. Would you buy Diet Coke if it ran ads distancing itself from regular Coke, and promising to be more like Pepsi? While this often makes sense for individual politicians from a tactical sense, it makes it impossible for the party to run a nation wide campaign based on common issues, goals, and message. Democrats have been very guilty of this for about thirty years. Maybe longer.

And finally, this is interesting to me because many anti-poverty programs that I work on are caught up in this process. Republican leaders want to drastically cut them to make room to extend tax cuts for the wealthy. If it fails or if Republican leaders have to cut a deal with moderates to get the sausage through the grinder, then my life and the lives of working Americans everywhere will be much better for it.

So thank you, Republican self delusion! Whatever you do, don't take any statistics courses. And ignore the man behind the curtain.


<-Back to the Main Page