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“Tell Congress To Take Its Appropriations Power And Shove It”

[ 98 ] February 27, 2013 |

Over the last year Bob Woodward has refined a perfect synthesis of green lanternism (“the president could convince his partisan opponents in Congress to do anything if only he were enough of a leader to lead, thorough leadership”) and tightly related centrist wankery (“the national interest is precisely identical to a pain caucus ‘grand bargain.’”)   I would have to say, though, that today’s assertion that Obama should just go ahead and violate the law like Saints Reagan and Clinton surely would have takes things one more farcical step further.

…BREAKING!  David Ignatius explains, in specific detail, how the green lantern could be raised!

Obama tries everything to gain control — except a clear, firm presidential statement that speaks to everyone onboard, those who voted for him and those who didn’t — that could get the country where it needs to go.

If only Obama were a leader with leadership capabilities, he would show leadership by issuing a firm, hard presidential statement that would immediately get everyone to agree with him, especially congressional Republicans.   Westen was right!

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  1. Julian says:

    Just wanted to highlight this gem:

    Under the Constitution, the president is commander-in-chief and employs the force.

  2. Glenn says:

    I blame Friends of Hamas.

  3. david mizner says:

    Chait’s piece also reaffirms what’s already been well documented: that contrary to Woodword’s assertion that Obama killed the awful Grand Bargain, the President was, in fact, quite willing to pass it while Boehner couldn’t get it passed his base, in the person of Eric Cantor.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      IMO, making any Grand Bargain impossible is one of the few positive political benefits of today’s GOP.

      • david mizner says:

        Yeah, but there are still liberal truthers who insist Obama never wanted to pass it. Some of them hang out here.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

          You mean the old “it’s all 11th-dimensional chess” / “if the GOP doesn’t accept proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare, Obama never offered them” arguments?

        • rea says:

          No, the liberal truthers are the ones who claim that all the talk of a Grand Bargain was just cover for Obama’s real policy agenda of cutting Social Security, Medidcare and Medicaid, rather than a willingness to trade some painful and bad cuts for a functioning government.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

            Hmmm…the painful and bad cuts supposedly necessary for a functioning government = Obama’s agenda of cutting entitlements. I suppose we can argue over Obama’s ultimate attitude toward those cuts (a good idea or an unfortunate necessity), but for those of us who don’t think they’re necessary, we’d rather he stop proposing them, though we’re certainly relieved that they haven’t been accepted.

            • rea says:

              It’s not the cuts that were necessary to a functioning government–it was the trade. The idea was to find something for which the Republicans would be willing to give up obstructionism and hostage-taking. It didn’t work. It was a bad idea. But if you gave Obama majorities in Congress such that he could propose whatever programs he wanted and get them enacted, you wouldn’t hear him talking about cutting Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare benefits.

              • Jameson Quinn says:

                And if you gave him a warp drive, he’d take us to Mars, bitches. But we live in a reality where he would prefers destructive cuts to irrationally obstructionist Republicans, and continues to believe that that’s a choice he can make. So in this world, it’s kinda accurate to say he wants those cuts.

                • sibusisodan says:

                  It’s kinda accurate in much the same way that if you had the choice between getting kick to the head or a kick to the shin, you could be said to have ‘wanted’ the kick to the shin, had you chosen it.

                  Reading somebody’s actions as transparently reflective of their desires without considering context lacks a certain something.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Or you could just decline the choice between a kick or any kind, point out that your opponent is threating in to kick you rather than negotiating over the site of impact, and make a credible threat to kick back.

                  But that wouldn’t be “bipartisan”.

                • spencer says:

                  Or you could just decline the choice between a kick or any kind, point out that your opponent is threating in to kick you rather than negotiating over the site of impact, and make a credible threat to kick back.

                  What would that look like in this context, exactly?

              • Data Tutashkhia says:

                Well, he could’ve, for example, started by indicting and convicting a few bankers, and then the whole game might’ve been played in a completely different 11-dimensional space.

                Maybe then sentencing a banker to 10 years instead of 20 would’ve been the trade necessary to a functioning government, instead of giving away my money…

                • rea says:

                  Problem is, most of what the bankers were doing was not illegal, because they had taken great pains to get rid of any law that made it illegal.

                • Data Tutashkhia says:

                  I don’t believe this can be true (is there a lawyer in the house?), but in any case: everybody has done something illegal. They got Capone on tax evasion.

                • I remember when WorldCom was the only phone company that wouldn’t go along with Bush’s illegal wiretapping, and then the CEO ended up in prison.

                  Maybe I’m a wimp, maybe I’m naive, but I’m just not down with using the federal prosecutorial powers like that.

                • Data Tutashkhia says:

                  Right. And what is the correct way to use the prosecutorial powers? They’ll lock up a college professor for giving to a Muslim charity, but the guys who wiped out the savings of 50 million people deserve all kinds of special considerations. Of course.

                  It’s all political, there is always an angle. There is no abstract objectivity in it. Never.

                • Data Tutashkhia says:

                  …incidentally, if you think putting some bankers’ heads on a stick, or closing some military bases in the South would be wrong, may I remind you that this whole New Deal thing was enacted by Roosevelt by threatening to pack the Court. How unkosher is that?

                • all kinds of special considerations

                  Ah, yes, “special considerations,” like needing to have committed an act that provably violated a defined statute.

                  It’s all political, there is always an angle. There is no abstract objectivity in it. Never.

                  This is nothing but an excuse to be corrupt, a little word game to explain why it’s ok to do something you know is wrong.

                  if you think putting some bankers’ heads on a stick, or closing some military bases in the South would be wrong

                  You actually think those are roughly the same thing, don’t you?

                • DocAmazing says:

                  most of what the bankers were doing was not illegal

                  See Robosigning, Fraud

          • david mizner says:

            Although I have my suspicions, I never pretended to know exactly why he supported a deal that would’ve cut New Deal programs; all I know is that he did.

            • FlipYrWhig says:

              Cutting waste and redundancies from New Deal programs would be an obviously good thing. There is real waste, billions being squandered on the practice of medicine that doesn’t make anyone more well.

              But well-intentioned progressiver-than-thou characters (ahem) have chosen not to understand that not all cuts to funding manifest as cuts to benefits; nor that not all cuts to benefits devastate anyone’s health (for instance, reimbursements for MRIs ordered to cover your ass). They’ve decided to embrace a Norquistian view that there is no such thing as a good cut. Even though the system we have now hemorrhages money from the public treasury into the pockets of medical device manufacturers and hospital administrators, no, we’d better not do anything about that, because doing anything about it is tantamount to feeding Granny a diet of cat food, and the One True Leftist View is… to guarantee insane profits to parasitic functionaries.

              And the idea that Social Security has to stay the way it is, when the way it is treats people who earn low wages their entire lives WORSE than people who earn high wages their entire lives, is truly bizarre. Why fight to defend Social Security for the One Percent? And yet, we act like that’s obviously what should happen. It’s maddening.

              • JKTHs says:

                Bit of a strawman eh? I don’t think liberals had much of a problem with the Obamacare Medicare cuts since they mostly were cuts to providers who would benefit from the coverage expansion or to rent-seekers in Medicare Advantage. I think the generic left position of Social Security is to eliminate the cap, perhaps apply the tax to capital income, and increase benefits in some vague way, presumably to lowish-income folks.

                • FlipYrWhig says:

                  I agree that that’s the “generic left position.” The problem is that there’s a clone army that reacts to any mention of “cuts” as though it must mean benefit cuts, and any mention of “reforms” as though it must mean “cuts.” I think being on a hair trigger about any and all “cuts,” then redefining wonkish fixes as “cuts” in order to decry and oppose them, is on par with Norquist’s declarations that anything that increases revenue in any way counts as a “tax hike.” The difference is that it comes from a commendable place, in theory.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Y’know, if you want to argue that liability (“MRIs ordered to cover your ass”), private insurers that increase Medicare costs sixfold, on average, and medical device manufacturers are diving up medical costs BUT we must support a healthcare system that does nothing to address liability, must include private insurers, and must continue to feed medical device manufacturers, then “progressiver-than-thou characters” don’t appear to be the problem.

              • Malaclypse says:

                Why fight to defend Social Security for the One Percent?

                Because policies that only help the poor become poorly funded policies. Always.

                • 99% of people are poor?

                  You’ve got the principle right, but I question the application.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  99% of people are poor?

                  No, but I’m stumped as to means-tested policies that don’t end up being policies for the poor. Arguably certain tax deductions, I suppose.

                  Either way, yes, I support SS for the 1%, because they are part of society, even if they refuse to realize it.

                • No, but I’m stumped as to means-tested policies that don’t end up being policies for the poor.

                  Medicare premiums are currently means-tested. Is Medicare a program for the poor? Has its political popularity withered as a result?

                  Social Security benefits are, indirectly, means-tested, because they are subject to taxation as income, meaning that poor people get to keep all of their SS income, while the 1% have to pay 39.6% of it back to the Treasury.

                  Again, the principle you bring up is very important one. We need the bedrock entitlement programs to be universal programs that everyone benefits from and welcomes. Any effort to make them more progressive should make that need a top priority.

                  I just disagree that the principle renders all efforts at progressivity unworkable.

                • FlipYrWhig says:

                  That’s a good pragmatic political reason. But it’s not actually a progressive reason. Having a Social Security program that’s more like “welfare” would be more progressive than what we have now. It might not be politically smart, for the reason you articulate. But let’s not mistake the practical defense for an ideological one. Giving high-earning people better retirement benefits than low-earning ones is not progressive in the least.

                • FlipYrWhig says:

                  I have to say, if I were working from scratch to draw up a suite of social-welfare programs, there’s no way I’d design an old-age pension such that it gave rich retirees more money than poor ones. If that’s what it took to get it passed, then, fine, perfect, good, enemy of, etc. But it’s not more in accordance with social-democratic/left perspectives to do it that way. It’s less.

              • david mizner says:

                No, actually, liberals oppose specific regressive “reforms” that Obama was willing to include in a package, like raising the Medicare retirement age to 67, which Obama no longer supports, and chained-CPI, which he still supports.

                • FlipYrWhig says:

                  He only supports the Chained CPI in conjunction with other reforms, like the institution of a minimum benefit.

        • socraticsilence says:

          Um, I don’t think its going out too far on a limb to say that the conditions the President required for such a bargain were so high that no conceivable modern GOP leader would have accepted them, at least no leader who had any hope for a political future. Its not that Obama didn’t want a Grand Bargain of any sort- he probably does, but that he doesn’t want to give away the ship in the way some liberals imagine.

          • I will just say that I think it’s a little odd that, in some people’s construction of the world, 99% of the commenters here have a solid enough grip on the situation to know that House Republicans will never agree to these proposed deals, but apparently the people working in the White House don’t have any such thought or awareness. I mean, I’m not saying they might not in fact be right about the whole thing, just that at some point these “liberal critics” could at least acknowledge that they’re making a lot of assumptions that haven’t actually been proven in any way, not screaming some sort of obvious reality that everyone else is just willfully refusing to admit.

            • Murc says:

              in some people’s construction of the world, 99% of the commenters here have a solid enough grip on the situation to know that House Republicans will never agree to these proposed deals, but apparently the people working in the White House don’t have any such thought or awareness.

              I can’t speak for others, but “the Obama Administration doesn’t actually support these awful policies; they’re merely a pack of liars” doesn’t make me feel a whole lot better about the situation, and it makes me wonder how, as a citizen, I’m expected to form some sort of coherent judgment and plan my actions accordingly.

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                Ah yes, Murc’s theory that political leaders at the head of diverse political coalitions could speak with perfect candor at all times. Really can’t see any problems with that.

                • Jameson Quinn says:

                  I have no problem believing the white house expected Republicans to be stupid and intransigent, and to profit thereby. But even if you want to show how unreasonable the other party is, you offer a deal that is actually reasonable, one that you yourself would take if it were the best the other side was gonna offer; you don’t offer to give up the store. All the evidence suggests that aside from any 11-dimensional chess, Obama would in fact be willing to make a “grand bargain” that is worse than the obstructionist status quo.

                • I will just say that I think it’s a little odd that, in some people’s construction of the world, 99% of the commenters here have a solid enough grip on the situation to know that House Republicans will never agree to these proposed deals, but apparently the people working in the White House don’t have any such thought or awareness.

                  Does “all the evidence” include the exclusion of entitlement benefit cuts from both the initial debt ceiling deal cuts, and the sequester?

                • Ah yes, Murc’s theory that political leaders at the head of diverse political coalitions could speak with perfect candor at all times. Really can’t see any problems with that.

                  It’s related to the idea that Newt Gingrich and the rest of the Republicans really, really wanted to pass a program of massive regulation of the health insurance industry and huge subsidies for poor people to buy insurance back in 1993. Because they said so.

                • Murc says:

                  Ah yes, Murc’s theory that political leaders at the head of diverse political coalitions could speak with perfect candor at all times.

                  This is a gross representation of my position and frankly I resent it.

                  I don’t expect perfect candor at all times. That statement would imply I expect Obama to describe in vivid detail his withering contempt for the idiots he’s dealing with on a regular basis or to, say, reveal confidential foreign policy strategies when queried about them.

                  I do, however, expect candor when he’s laying out policy positions in terms of “if this bill ends up on my desk I will sign it, because it is a good bill.”

                  Serious question: if my political leaders aren’t going to speak to me with candor, how the hell am I supposed to plan how I, as a citizen, respond to them?

                  I suppose, theoretically, you could say “Well, you have to judge what’s actually in their hearts, as opposed to just what they say and do”… but you’re opposed to that as well! You’ve come out in the past very strongly against doing that sort of divination.

                  So if it’s wrong for me to assume I’m being spoken to with candor, and it’s wrong of me to try and divine the true intentions behind the lies, and it’s wrong of me to yell about the positions said lies seem to endorse… what precisely am I supposed to? Just shut up and hope for the best? Because that seems counterproductive.

                • I do, however, expect candor when he’s laying out policy positions in terms of “if this bill ends up on my desk I will sign it, because it is a good bill.”

                  That’s a recipe for some really effective bargaining: right from the beginning, say what your actual position is.

                  I suppose, theoretically, you could say “Well, you have to judge what’s actually in their hearts, as opposed to just what they say and do

                  I would recommend, as a start, not putting “what politicians say” and “what politicians do” into the same category. You should pay a great deal of attention to what they do.

                • sibusisodan says:

                  I can’t speak for others, but “the Obama Administration doesn’t actually support these awful policies; they’re merely a pack of liars” doesn’t make me feel a whole lot better about the situation,


                  This is a gross representation of my position and frankly I resent it.

                  Sauce for the goose, m’sieu.

                • Murc says:

                  You should pay a great deal of attention to what they do.

                  So if someone in a position of power says “Yeah, I’d be happy to do something terrible” I shouldn’t say “Well, he’s awful for wanting to do that terrible thing” until he actually DOES do it and it’s far to late?

                • Murc says:

                  Sauce for the goose, m’sieu.

                  I typed representation rather than misrepresentation, yes. That’s on me.

                • Murc says:

                  That’s a recipe for some really effective bargaining: right from the beginning, say what your actual position is.

                  The conventional wisdom, as I understand it, is that, when bargaining, you stake out a maximalist position so you can then give up things in the course of negotiation in order to appear reasonable, yes?

                  Aside from that not applying 100% of the time, in the specific case of the Obama Administration, would that not imply that the half-a-loaf compromises they’ve been touting as their stated positions are in fact their maximal, negotiate-backwards-from positions? Because that doesn’t make me feel a whole lot better.

                  This all assumes, of course, that I don’t think “You say what you want, but make it clear that everything is always open to discussion” is a saner and more effective way of conducting negotiations between two parties operating in good faith with dissimilar interests.

                • So if someone in a position of power says “Yeah, I’d be happy to do something terrible” I shouldn’t say “Well, he’s awful for wanting to do that terrible thing” until he actually DOES do it and it’s far to late?

                  You should first make an effort to determine whether you believe him. Either way, speaking out is a good thing, but this determination can play a big role in what you say, and towards what end you should work.

                  For instance, look at the the first three words of your theoretical response: “Yes, he’s awful…” Is that really politics is about? Calling people bad guys? Look at the ads the AARP ran when “Obama put an increased Medicare age on the table.” Did they run “Barack Obams is an awful person” ads? Or did they run “Medicare is a wonderful program and the retirement age shouldn’t be raised” ads?

                • Aside from that not applying 100% of the time, in the specific case of the Obama Administration, would that not imply that the half-a-loaf compromises they’ve been touting as their stated positions are in fact their maximal, negotiate-backwards-from positions?

                  Only if you believe that the Obama administration uses the tactic of opening up public negotiations with a maximalist position. I don’t think there’s a very good reason to conclude that. In the ACA and ARRA negotiations, for instance, they very clearly did not open up with maximalist offers.

                  “You say what you want, but make it clear that everything is always open to discussion” is a saner and more effective way of conducting negotiations between two parties operating in good faith with dissimilar interests.

                  I hope that, someday, we have two parties operating in good faith.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  I would recommend, as a start, not putting “what politicians say” and “what politicians do” into the same category. You should pay a great deal of attention to what they do.

                  We have a winner!

              • You can’t understand politics and plan your actions accordingly unless you believe political figures are being candid with you at all times?

                Man, that must really suck.

    • Jesus, david, still insisting that you weren’t Wrong on the Internet?

      Every few weeks, mizner shows up and proclaims that some other complete lack of evidence proves he was right all along.

  4. john says:

    Geez, the comments section at Politico is insane.

  5. Daniel says:

    Could you imagine how furious Woodward would be if Obama said, “screw it, I’m going to ignore the sequester and not cut federal funding for schooling by a dollar?”

  6. snarkout says:

    Wealthy white 70-year-old thinks Obama is a bad president; news at 11.

  7. pbf says:

    Imo, partisan spin is still preferable to pulpitism/lantering though i enjoy the creativity of some of the later. mlpsR

  8. dan says:

    I remember this from Justice Jackson’s concurrence in the Youngstown Steel Seizure Case: the President’s power is at a minimum when he acts in defiance of Congressional authority, murky when Congress is silent, high when Congress has authorized it, and at its zenith when used to kill Arabs.

  9. c u n d gulag says:

    Woodward’s out to embarass President Obama, because he he had access to them for his book, Obama and his staff didn’t fluff Woodie’s ball-hair and kiss his ass enough, like W and his mis-administration did.

  10. socraticsilence says:

    Hey he has a point, an absurdly stupid point which if made makes his other argument either moot or even more intractable but a point nonetheless– the President can easily lead congress and get what he wants if he’s not bound by the constitution– I mean surely a lot of Republicans would vote for a raise in revenues if the President were to employ the “heads on sticks” approach and actually acted like the tyrant they hyperbolically accuse him of being.

    Now back in reality, no there is absolutely nothing Obama can do to get the GOP to quit throwing a tantrum and actually govern- I mean he could have possibly accepted McConnell’s offer of allowing Department heads to target the cuts and then ordered said cuts to be targeted only in GOP districts but realistically military and domestic projects are probably too geographically diversified for such an approach to work making the President’s analysis ultimately the correct one, namely that targeting the cuts would simply allow the GOP to shift the blame to the executive branch.

    • chris says:

      Also, human beings live in GOP districts. They don’t deserve to lose their jobs because their neighbors voted for obstructionists. Also too, the effects ripple through the whole economy, unemploying people who have no direct connection to the sequester and might live anywhere.

      • Cody says:

        Isn’t the only way to make people realize they should stop voting Republican, is when they lose their jobs (hopefully more obviously then last time…) and only have their elected official to blame?

        Good luck on running with the platform “I got you all fired, because Obama is black”.

        • Good luck on running with the platform “I got you all fired, because Obama is black”.

          Actually, the platform would be “You got fired because of Obama’s un-American, Marxist policies, the flood of cheap-labor illegals he’s inviting across the border, and the tax dollars of yours he’s giving to inner-city types”.

          .

        • chris says:

          Isn’t the only way to make people realize they should stop voting Republican, is when they lose their jobs (hopefully more obviously then last time…) and only have their elected official to blame?

          Honestly, I’m not quite sure why anyone below six-figure incomes votes Republican in the first place, so I can’t really claim to be an expert on how to get them to stop. But I would be very wary of the implied assumption that they will correctly place the blame where it belongs (even assuming that, if Obama were to retaliate against the districts of individual Republicans, it actually WOULD be correct to blame the Republicans).

        • spencer says:

          I live in a district represented by a Republican. I haven’t voted for one of them since 1994, and the only reason I voted for that one is that his opponent was Hillary Clinton’s brother, who looked to be massively unqualified for anything.

          Should I be held to account because my neighbors are idiots?

  11. socraticsilence says:

    Wait I just watched it- he only wants the President to do this on the Military? Isn’t the President also responsible for the general welfare- huh can’t see how just saying “Fuck You” to congress and spending anyway could backfire– I mean other than an entirely justifiable impeachment and all.

    Additionally, isn’t Woodward essentially justifying Iran-Contra– “no funds appropriated, no problem, I’m the Commander-in-Chief”

  12. socraticsilence says:

    Is Woodward going senile, because the debates over the continuing funding resolutions for Iraq aren’t all that far into the past and I’m pretty sure that at the time Bob wasn’t going around saying they were pointless since Congress had no control over military spending anyway.

  13. Scott P. says:

    Obama tries everything to gain control — except a clear, firm presidential statement that speaks to everyone onboard, those who voted for him and those who didn’t — that could get the country where it needs to go.

    Why, oh why won’t Obama go before a joint session of Congress and lay out his view of the state of the country and what he thinks needs to be done?

    • JKTHs says:

      speaks to everyone onboard, those who voted for him and those who didn’t

      “Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others”

    • sibusisodan says:

      Yes, he could also talk about ‘getting this done’ and the need to eat our peas. I can’t imagine anyone taking umbrage at that.

      Also, too, his clear firm statement needs to be friendly and conciliatory, as well as flexible and moderate. But he must lead, and leadership means deferring to the egos of the senate as a superior branch of govt, stroking them, following their proposals.

    • Joshua says:

      Seriously.

      Now, I get why outsiders yearn for a big daddy in politics. Dubya very successfully (and hilariously, and sadly) channeled that desire in 2002 and 2004.

      What I don’t get is why a guy like Bob Woodword, who should know how DC works better than anybody, yearns for a big daddy.

  14. Shorter David Ignatius: “What I’d do is just like, like, you know, like, you know what I mean?”

  15. DrDick says:

    While I have somewhat greater faith in the ability of presidents to affect policy than Scott does, the notion that Obama can say or do anything to affect the lunatic Congressional Republicans, especially in the House, is patently ludicrous.

  16. Dilan Esper says:

    What’s an apporpriations power?

    And in the headline, no less!

  17. gmack says:

    Look, I can understand the sentiment. Watching recent Congresses in action brings out the inner Schmittian in all of us. But perhaps one might pause and think for a moment before more or less openly wishing for a dictatorship that would simply suspend constitutional frameworks?

  18. wengler says:

    According to What Would Reagan Do? (WWRD) reasoning, Obama should fill in the shortfall by selling weapons to Iran.

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