Sunday, August 14, 2011

What if the Republicans Win?

I'm going to try to stay away from election until the Iowa caucus. Let's see how well I do. I did think, though, that I might as well put down my reflections on what happens if the Republicans win in 2012. By this I mean win the Presidency, hold onto the House, and get a majority, though not filibuster-proof, in the Senate.

(1) Senate Republicans, after using the 60-vote filibuster as a matter of routine, will find a way to get rid of it.

(2) Obamacare and Frank-Dodd will be repealed. I think this will be the end of the line for universal health care, at least for another generation. Up till now, the official Republican position is that health insurance for all, though not all that important, was not per se objectionable, but they didn't like the way the Democrats were going about it. This time they have made clear that they will fight to the death any expansion in the number of people with access to health insurance (and probably favor controlling health care costs by pricing even more people out).

(3) Having made such a big deal about the importance of spending cuts, I don't see how they can possibly change their minds and decide that big spending is only bad if a Democrat is in the White House. On the other hand, I don't believe that even a President Bachman will find the political nerve to cut spending by 40% overnight. So what we will probably get is significant spending cuts, targeting primarily programs for the poor and assistance to states. There will not, however, be any deficit reduction because all spending cuts will be more than offset by even larger tax cuts, aimed primarily at the top. It is Republican dogma that the harmful effects of deficits do not apply if they are caused by tax cuts.

(4) I don't think they will be able to kill Social Security of Medicare, or turn Social Security into a 401(k). Interestingly, even as they plan to turn programs for the poor into block grants and Medicare into something a lot like Obamacare, they have not even raised the possiblity of turning Social Security into a 401(k). My guess is that this is because the idea was toxic enough when Bush proposed it, and given what has happened to 401(k)'s since, it will be even more toxic now. I don't rule out their getting rid of Medicaid altogether, or at least for people under 65. The elderly vote a lot more than the poor.

(5) Right now Republicans are very upset at the Fed for its expansionary policies and calling for higher interest rates. A number of commentators have remarked they were singing a different tune when the economy was in recession and Bush was President. But then again, the Fed has become a lot more unconventional since then. So I really have no sense whether they will appoint members who favor tighter monetary policy, or suddenly change their minds once a Republican is in power.

(6) They will undoubtedly seek to engage in a lot of regulatory rollback, but I have not idea how far it will go. Neither do I have a sense whether they will revive torture as an official policy (probably).

(7) They will undoubtedly send any future terror suspects to Guantanamo to be held forever without a trial. Let's hope there aren't any.

If we get a Republican as President and a Democratic majority in either house, I expect utter gridlock and dysfunction. Republicans will be unable to repeal Obamacare or Frank-Dodd, but the President may seek to block enforcement by refusing to appoint any officials. So far as I know, there is no precedent for what happens then.*

I can't find the link, but I am sure Jonathan Chait ran an aticle speculating that if Mitt Romney won the election, he would convert to understand the need for stimulus (his reelection would depend on reviving the economy, after all) and speculates on whether it would be worth it. His conclusion is probably not because he dislikes too many of Romney's other policies. My conclusion is no, because it would effectively be submitting to blackmail. It would be allowing the Republicans to say, "Give us the presidency, and we'll stay sane. But if you even elect another Democrat, we'll go off our meds and make this country completely ungovernable."
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*Congress has passed legislation forbidding the President from refusing to spend money it has appropriated. This has been upheld by the Supreme Court, but today's Supreme Court might change its mind.

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