When “Bad” Bipartisanship Happens to “Good” Partisans

By mw | Related entries in Bipartisan, Debt, Deficit, Democrats, Divided Government, Partisan Nonsense, Republicans


Democrats and Republicans see eye to eye on debt ceiling and deficit reduction.

In the dark days before the debt ceiling compromise vote, with the doomsday debtapocalyspecountdown dominating the media, several polls struck a common theme: The public demands bipartisan compromise. Taegon Goddard’s Wire summarized the gestalt of the moment:

“A new Pew Research poll finds 68% of Americans say that lawmakers should compromise on the debt ceiling debate, even it means striking a deal they disagree with. Just 23% say lawmakers who share their views should stand by their principles, even if that leads to default.”

So it follows that when our representatives and leaders in Washington D.C finally got together and crafted a truly bipartisan deal, the country cheered wildly. Or not:

“A majority of Americans disapprove of the deal struck Sunday by President Barack Obama and congressional leaders that will raise the country’s legal borrowing limit, and three out of four believe elected officials have acted like “spoiled children.”

Since that legislation was signed, nothing but cries, lamentations and the rending of garments has been heard across the land. The animus from the right, left and center for the debt ceiling compromise is quite extraordinary. Q&O had a good survey of the early reaction and little in the popular assessment has changed in the weeks since.

Congressional and presidential approval levels plunged to new lows. When describing the debt ceiling compromise and the process to get there, the media pejorative of choice: Our government is… DYSFUNCTIONAL! And it must be true. I mean ~750,000 Google search hits on “debt ceiling dysfunctional” can’t be wrong. Who am I to argue with that? But maybe, just maybe – Our government is working exactly as it was designed to work, and our representatives are doing exactly what we, the voters, sent them to Washington to do.

For all of the lip service paid to the virtues of bipartisan compromise from pundits and bloggers across the political spectrum, there appears to be very little support for a picture perfect example of a bipartisan centrist compromise when Congress does enact one.

Consider the actual vote for the debt ceiling legislation:

Senate Vote: 74 For 26 Against
Republicans: 28 For 19 Against
Democrats: 46 For 7 Against

House Vote: 269 For 161 Against
Republicans: 174 For 66 Against
Democrats: 95 For 95 Against

There is simply no way to characterize this vote except as an overwhelming bipartisan compromise victory. Moreover, to the extent that “Centrist” actually means anything in concrete policy terms, this was a purely Centrist piece of legislation. The extremes of both parties voted against it. It required a bipartisan coalition of more moderate, centrist, practical Democrats and Republicans to pass this legislation. Liberal votes were not needed. Tea Party votes were not needed. It passed overwhelmingly. It is exactly this model that future deficit reduction legislation will follow.

Don’t get me wrong – to call it thin gruel is to give this legislative stew more flavor than it deserves. It does not solve the deficit problem. Not even close. However it did accomplish several difficult objectives. It started turning our ship of state toward a course that will solve the problem. It started the process of making difficult cuts. It put a mechanism in place that can and will take more meaningful steps toward solving the problem. It erected an artificial deadline for a solution to be enacted by Congress, which is a necessary if not sufficient condition for our Congressional leaders to make the hard deficit decisions. In short, it offers real hope for the first meaningful steps toward fiscal sanity in decades.

Navigating the Titanic at full speed through an iceberg field is a tricky proposition at best. The steps taken in the debt ceiling compromise were considered significant enough that two of the three rating agencies immediately reaffirmed our AAA status. S&P is the odd man out (I’ll have more to say about S&P in a future post). Fitch has since reaffirmed our AAA status with no expectation of a downgrade. Moody’s does not appear inclined to follow S&P. So with our “dysfunctional” Congress at the helm, our ship of state managed to dodge two icebergs and glanced off a third. We are still floating, we’ve throttled back and we are on a course that may steer us clear of any more icebergs.

A course correction to the predominantly One Party Rule excesses of the last 10 years by a divided government that has been in place less than 10 months will be neccessarily incremental. It cannot be otherwise. No one could or should expect otherwise.

The fact that neither you or I or the rest of the passengers on this ship particularly liked the compromise nor the embarrassing partisan performance by the captain and crew does not change what it is – and it is a picture perfect example of a bipartisan centrist compromise. If you don’t like it, you may just not like bipartisan centrist compromises as much as you think you do. And you probably will not like the bipartisan centrist compromise that will almost certainly be delivered from the Deficit Reduction Committee at the end of this year.

Conventional Wisdom in both main stream and non-traditional media have passed judgement on the debt ceiling legislation and the bipartisan deficit reduction super committee it begat. Conventional Wisdom informs us that we have seen this movie before and we know how it ends. Conventional Wisdom tells us the bipartisan Super Committee will fail. It will fail just like the plan formulated by the Simpson-Bowles committee, just like the bipartisan plan floated by the Gang of Six Senators, and just like the bipartisan “Grand Bargain” negotiation between President Obama and Speaker of the House Boehner. There is no point in holding out hope, the judgement of Conventional Wisdom has been rendered. This is an exercise in futility.

Problem being – Conventional Wisdom is wrong. The Simpson-Bowles committee recommendations are alive and well. They were the starting point for the Paul Ryan proposal. They were the basis for the bipartisan Senate “Gang of Six” proposal. They were the basis for the Obama/Boehner “Grand Bargain” which came within a relatively trivial $400B revenue gap of being enacted. With each iteration it gets closer to passing.

To put in in the parlance of Vice President Biden, this is a BFD. An important, extraordinarily difficult compromise between two wildly different views of the role of government is in the offing. It is perfectly understandable and desirable for our leadership to take the time and go through the pain, partisan histrionics, and debate to be sure we solve the problem and get it right, or at least as close as we can get in our divided country.

Conventional wisdom also informs us that Tea Party intransigence on taxes and Liberal intransigence on cutting entitlements will doom the Committee. The membership of the committee is too partisan and too ideological to leave room for compromise.

Conventional Wisdom whiffs again.

There are two reasons why passage of a meaningful bi-partisan debt reduction compromise is a virtual certainty:

  1. The die was cast in the debt ceiling vote. Neither Liberal nor Tea Party votes were needed then nor will they be needed to secure a large bipartisan centrist majority in a future vote. The mold that formed that vote was not broken and it will be used again to shape, cast and forge a future deficit reduction bill.
  2. Historical precedent informs us that the key element needed for congressional productivity is in place to forge and pass a compromise. That element is an American public demanding change. David Mayhew demonstrated in his seminal work “Divided We Govern” that there is no correlation between congressional productivity and a single party united vs. divided government. However, he also showed there is a correlation between a “palpable public mood for change” and congressional action. The public demand for a bipartisan deficit reduction deal does not get much more palpable than we are seeing now. It is baseball-bat-to-the-head palpable. Even our Congress critters will have to take notice and act.

This is an easy prediction. We are going to have a Grand Bargain/Simpson-Bowle-ish bipartisan deficit reduction deal. It is going to happen before the end of the year.

Some in the media are beginning to relate a narrative that varies from the Conventional Wisdom script. The panel discussion on CNN’s Your Money hosted by Ali Velshi over the weekend was a good example:

DIANE SWONK: I think, actually, at this stage of the game, the best thing that Congress and the president can do is lay out the long-term plan for our fiscal solvency in the United States. That may leave some room for additional fiscal stimulus in the near term, but if we know what the long-term cuts are and the changes to the tax code will be over the next 10 to 15 years… Businesses need to know what the path is. As long as they know that, even if the path is rocky, they can deal with that. They can deal with some level of certainty if they’re given it.. And I think given some level of certainty, we’d see that confidence rise a little bit, even if it’s a tough road ahead. We know it will be. That’s where I think that we can have a biggest impact. Everything else the president’s talking about will only act on the margins.

ALI VELSHI: …Stephen, is it realistic to think that if something happens that gives Diane what she is suggesting, that businesses might actually start hiring?

STEPHEN MOORE: Yes, it is, except the only difference I’d have with Diane a little bit is I think it matters a lot what that path is. One of the things, for example, that happened, as you know, Ali, this week was that Warren Buffett had that famous piece in “The New York Times” talking about raising taxes on the rich, and President Obama on his magical mystery tour this week has really picked up on that… Let’s get the entitlements under control. And as we’ve talked about many times on this show, now is the time really fix the tax system once and for all.

DIANE SWONK: Well, and you and I agree on that. I mean, you know, Steve — you and I both agree on the idea that we need to fix the tax code, and not just raising taxes only on the rich, although I’m more sympathetic to that than certainly you are. But I do think that revenues have to be a part of the equation, but it has to be a part of a more streamlined, better understandable tax code, a simpler tax code….

JOHN KING: … you know, a lot of people out there will say, Well, why can’t these politicians get along? The American people bear some responsibility for this. In 2010, they elected a president — left of center, who came to Washington, who said, Government must take a bigger role in people’s lives — in helping the economy. Then in 2010, they sent in a new Republican majority that said the exact opposite, that government is the problem. And so you have this — this isn’t just ugly politics. This is a competition of some big ideas…”

We have a divided government because we have a country that is deeply divided on the big question of the proper role of government and an electorate with wildly divergent views on the best way to deal with our unsustainable spending and debt addiction. In those circumstances compromise does not arrive from a genteel “Council of Elrond” meeting of the minds in dispassionate discussion of our elders, wizards, elves, Democrats and Republicans.


Under these circumstances compromise can only come out of conflict between the opposing camps and result in a solution that will be unsatisfactory to both. Under these circumstances compromise can only be achieved under the threat of dire consequences where the political pain of not acting is greater than the political pain of acting. Under these circumstances compromise can only be achieved at the eleventh hour with a hard deadline. All of the circumstances needed for a successful compromise by the end of the year are in place. And they were put in place by the debt ceiling legislation.

Regardless of whether the debt ceiling “crisis” was “manufactured”, it put all the elements in place for a real deficit reduction deal this year. The debt ceiling “crisis” had conflict, dire consequences, a deadline, and an electorate demanding action. It was perfectly predictable that a bipartisan compromise would be reached. The debt ceiling legislation created a more manageable vehicle for that same conflict over deficit reduction, complete with a deadline, dire consequences, and most importantly an electorate that is even more demanding of a bipartisan compromise.

Consequently, this committee will develop a bipartisan, centrist, compromise solution built on the foundation of the Simpson-Bowles recommendations. It will have deep spending cuts across the board including defense and entitlements, and it will raise revenues under the cover of tax reform. It will pass at the last minute accompanied by partisan rancor and gnashing of teeth.

And most of us still won’t like it. But I will.

x-posted from Divided We Stand United We Fall


This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011 and is filed under Bipartisan, Debt, Deficit, Democrats, Divided Government, Partisan Nonsense, Republicans. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

22 Responses to “When “Bad” Bipartisanship Happens to “Good” Partisans”

  1. Solomon Kleinsmith Says:

    Bipartisan, yes. Compromise, no. Victory, hell no.

    Of course it’s bipartisan. That’s obvious.

    When one side gets most of what it wanted, and the other gets next to nothing, that isn’t compromise.

    And this did not put us on a course to fiscal sanity. It did not have any economic stimulative effects. It did not close any tax loopholes. How it could be perceived as a victory… I really don’t see how that is possible. Not driving off a cliff isn’t a victory, it’s averting disaster. Victory would be actually accomplishing something that put us on track to fiscal sanity.

  2. mdgeorge Says:

    As usual mw, you’re demonstrating a good dose of confirmation bias.

    If you looked a little closer, you’d realize that people think it’s dysfunctional because our glorious divided government wasted months and the country’s debt rating over a manufactured non-issue while there’s still 9% unemployment. Feel free to call that success, but you’re not winning any converts with that definition.

  3. mw Says:

    Maybe, Doc. I could be wrong. As it is written… “Beware of the false prophets… You will know them by their fruits.”

    There is a prophecy in this post:

    “This is an easy prediction. We are going to have a Grand Bargain/Simpson-Bowle-ish bipartisan deficit reduction deal. It is going to happen before the end of the year… this committee will develop a bipartisan, centrist, compromise solution built on the foundation of the Simpson-Bowles recommendations. It will have deep spending cuts across the board including defense and entitlements, and it will raise revenues under the cover of tax reform. It will pass at the last minute accompanied by partisan rancor and gnashing of teeth.”

    We’ll see what fruit it bears.

    BTW – As I write this I am sipping on a wee dram of truly fine 18 Year Old Laphroiag Single Malt Scotch. Courtesy of Michael Reynolds and the last wager I made on the Donk. I really don’t know if it is really this good or I only think so because Reynolds bought it for me. Anyway, I expect to run out by the end of the year and I’m willing to put up another bottle on that prediction.

    Your move, Doc.

  4. kranky kritter Says:

    There appears to be very little support for a picture perfect example of a bipartisan centrist compromise when Congress does enact one.

    Meh. Anything that could conceivably be called “a picture perfect compromise” would have achieved actual deficit reduction. We got nothing of the sort.

    Let’s begin with the known truth that raising the debt ceiling had ALWAYS previously been a routine and uncontroversial mechanical act by congress. Due to extraordinarily heightened partisanship, what was once routine required a monthlong drama. The final result was, as you’ve demonstrated, truly bipartisan. What does it say that it takes a monthlong drama and heroic bipartisan effort in order to pass a bill that achieves almost nothing at all?

    If anyone who else who has called for bipartisanship before has been unable to make it clear to you, let me state it now for the record:

    We don’t want bipartisanship for its own sake. We want bipartisan achievement.

    I now worry that I was incorrect to have previously defended you from the claim that you were turning divided government into a fetish. Where’s your description of falsifiability? What could this divided congress do or fail to do that would lead you to conclude that divided government had failed? Do you hold your views on this as a hypothesis? OR as a faith?

    If all you’re going to do is to continually claim that this congress’s every ugliness or anemic underachievement is a feature and not a bug, then you’re a true believer in divided government. You’ve stopped thinking critically, and deserve to be ignored.

    The steps taken in the debt ceiling compromise were considered significant enough that two of the three rating agencies immediately reaffirmed our AAA status. S&P is the odd man out (I’ll have more to say about S&P in a future post). Fitch has since reaffirmed our AAA status with no expectation of a downgrade. Moody’s does not appear inclined to follow S&P. So with our “dysfunctional” Congress at the helm, our ship of state managed to dodge two icebergs and glanced off a third. We are still floating, we’ve throttled back and we are on a course that may steer us clear of any more icebergs.

    Unless you are omniscient, that has to be pure spin, based on an analogy crafted just for that purpose. No one knows for sure whether the outcome would have been better had congress passed a debt ceiling hike 4 to 6 months ago with no fanfare or press. But it seems pretty likely to me. And the fact remains that we had ALL AAA ratings before the debacle, and 1 fewer afterwards. In other words, we hadn’t crashed into any icebergs prior to this, and now you’re saying we should celebrate the first crash because we’re still afloat. Give me a break.

    This is an easy prediction. We are going to have a Grand Bargain/Simpson-Bowle-ish bipartisan deficit reduction deal. It is going to happen before the end of the year.

    Here’s my easy prediction: no matter what the outcome, you’re prepared to call it a grand bargain and a victory. No matter how much of the actual deal involves kicking the can down the road while claiming illusory eventual savings in years 7, 8, 9, and 10. Claims which will NEVER actually be checked for veracity, 7, 8, 9, 10 years down the road.

    The grand bargain that faded away due to the balking of both wings was rumored to have included at least 4 trillion in reductions. Now, you’re prepared to throw a party as long as the end result of another nationally embarassing and very ugly public spectacle results in claims that we’ll eventually have overspent by 1.5 trillion less over the next decade. In other words, you’ve already committed to celebrating 150 billion in annual savings when our annual deficits are over one trillion dollars annually.

    Would you call anything this congress does a defeat for your theory?

  5. Larry Says:

    I believe the following was by Dave Ramsey –

    If the US government was a family, they would be making $58,000 a year, spending $75,000 a year, and have $327,000 in credit card debt.

    They are currently proposing BIG spending cuts to reduce their spending to $72,000 a year. These are the actual proportions of the federal budget and debt, reduced to a level that we can understand.

    ________________________________________________

    I don’t know if a huge bi-partisan agreement will come out of the committee but I tend to doubt it. The Simpson/Bowles recommendations didn’t make it to first base.

  6. mw Says:

    @Kranky
    First, I am “celebrating” nothing in this post. In fact, I am quite critical of the debt ceiling legislation as stand-alone policy saying “to call it thin gruel is to give this legislative stew more flavor than it deserves. It does not solve the deficit problem. Not even close.” I do point out that it is a bipartisan centrist compromise, and that it put in place a mechanism that will inevitably (IMHO) lead to a more meaningful compromise solution to a very real problem and do it in short order. We are looking at the possibly of the first actual Federal spending cuts in modern history, and yes, if it plays out as I project in the post, that will be very significant and a very good thing. And it will happen because of the foundation laid by the debt ceiling legislation just passed.

    Regarding the prediction – I think this is pretty darn specific:

    “We are going to have a Grand Bargain/Simpson-Bowle-ish bipartisan deficit reduction deal. It is going to happen before the end of the year… this committee will develop a bipartisan, centrist, compromise solution built on the foundation of the Simpson-Bowles recommendations. It will have deep spending cuts across the board including defense and entitlements, and it will raise revenues under the cover of tax reform. It will pass at the last minute accompanied by partisan rancor and gnashing of teeth.”

    Not a lot of wiggle room there. But lets make this easy – You decide what numbers are appropriate to slap on my description of a “Simpson-Bowles-ish sized deficit reduction plan” to quantify it, then you tell me at the end of the year whether it happened. You be the judge, then you don’t have to worry about whether I consider it a “defeat” or “victory”.

    Net net – I don’t give a rat’s ass about the partisan games, histrionics, Kabuki theater or the political rhetoric on the path to get there – all of which seems to be the source of so much hand-wringing and finger-wagging for so many. I’ll just look at the results and assess where we wind up when the show is over.

    Now if you want to claim that a Simpson-Bowles-ish sized plan is not significant or meaningful – then we’ll just have to disagree.

    Regarding my fetish. Call it what you will. I don’t really care. Personally I don’t use “theory”, “hypothesis”, or “faith” as descriptors – but rather have settled on voting “heuristic”. I did use “hypothesis” in some early posts, and occasionally lapse into that description but “heuristic” is clearly a better fit. A voting heuristic or “rule of thumb” simply states that if you vote a certain way, and it turns out that way, you can expect certain policy outcomes based on historical precedent. This is what political scientists, economists and historians say we can expect from divided government:

    *Divided Government restrains the growth of spending (Niskanen, Van Doren, Vedder, Slivinski)
    *Divided government results in better and longer lasting legislation. Major reforms and structural changes (Reagan tax reform, Clinton welfare reform) that have a passed under a divided government are more likely to survive being undone by subsequent congressional action than major reforms passed by a unified single party government. (Niskanen, Slivinski)
    *Major Wars are less likely under a divided government. (Slivinski, Niskanen)
    *Congressional oversight of congressional and executive behavior is stronger, and constitutional rights are better protected under divided government (Mann & Ornstein, Ethridge)
    *Constitutional checks and balances envisioned by the founding fathers are undermined by single party united government and strengthened by divided government (Levinson & Pilde)

    If one likes those consequences and policies, and I do, why wouldn’t one vote for it? I don’t get these results by voting for Republicans, or Democrats, or 3rd Parties. I do by voting for divided government. It works for me. Your mileage may vary. If it stops working, I’ll stop voting that way. So far so good.

    “Would you call anything this congress does a defeat for your theory?” -kk

    Last point – a correction. This is not “my theory”. Political scientists and scholars have been studying and opining on the meaning and consequences of our frequent politically divided federal government state for decades. My one original contribution is the simple notion that if you like the policy results that divided government has been historically shown to deliver, you should consciously vote for it.

  7. kranky kritter Says:

    So, in other words, you refuse to describe any outcome which could conceivably show that perhaps your “heuristic” lacks efficacy. Got it. That answers the most important question I had.

    The rest is spin.

  8. kranky kritter Says:

    I’ll just look at the results and assess where we wind up when the show is over.

    And what rubric are you using to be sure you aren’t in the throes of confirmation bias? Everything you say strongly suggests you’ve got a strong bias towards declaring whatever the outcome is a victory. I don’t think you’re going to make a new and unbiased assessment when the show is over. Instead, everything you say suggests that you are going to start from the PoV of presuming the efficacy of your rule of thumb, and interpreting the outcome in that light.

    If the gov’t fails to agree on the exact nature of the miniscule 1.5 trillion in cuts, you’re going to call the automatic cuts a victory. If they do agree on the nature of the tiny cuts, you’ll call that a victory, and you’ll use the avoidance of the auto-cuts to bolster your story even though you would have called the kick-in of the auto cuts a victory, too.

  9. kranky kritter Says:

    But lets make this easy – You decide what numbers are appropriate to slap on my description of a “Simpson-Bowles-ish sized deficit reduction plan” to quantify it, then you tell me at the end of the year whether it happened. You be the judge, then you don’t have to worry about whether I consider it a “defeat” or “victory”.

    Well, the entire thrust of my comments is geared towards asking YOU to be a fair and forthcoming judge of your own heuristic. So unless we can both agree on a number, why would I bother to judge, when you’d just reject that judgement should it seem inconvenient.

    Here is an easy starting point. From the 11/11/10 washington post:

    The blueprint drafted by former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former senator Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) would slice more than $3.8 trillion from deficits over the next decade

    OK. 3.8 trillion over 10 years. That’s 380 billion per year. If the total amount of cuts come december (the sum of the initial cuts and the expected december cuts) is in that neighborhood, that would count as “simpson-bowles-ish.” With points off for backloading. Of course, even that would not begin to touch upon whether reducing planned overspending by under 4 trillion over 10 years points us toward solvency. It doesn’t.

  10. mw Says:

    “OK. 3.8 trillion over 10 years. That’s 380 billion per year. If the total amount of cuts come december (the sum of the initial cuts and the expected december cuts) is in that neighborhood, that would count as “simpson-bowles-ish.” With points off for backloading.’” – kk

    OK. We’ve got a hard number quantitative criteria to assess my political prognostication skills as of 01/01/12. And I am throwing in the qualitative criteria (“cuts in defense and entitlements”and “it will raise revenues under the cover of tax reform”) at no extra charge.

    BTW – and with all due respect – the rest of your last three comments are all spin and speculation about what I might or might not say. You are not speaking to the criteria or rationale I outlined in some detail. You are expressing your opinion about my state of mind. Feel free, just don’t expect me to accept you as an authority on the subject.

    P.S. – With your permission, I’ll fix the blockquote on your comment. Since we will be referring back to this thread in a few months, I want it to look good.

  11. michael mcEachran Says:

    Allow me to suggest Lagavulin as an appropriate payout. It is, IMHO, perfectly balanced, as single malts and also governments aught to be.

  12. Labelle Says:

    Here, here on the Lagavulin!

  13. kranky kritter Says:

    Yes, please fix the blockquotes. Thanks.

    FWIW, to anyone who missed it, I don’t disagree with the vague prediction. Congress already put a poison pill in debt ceiling agreement. So It’s pretty reasonable to expect that they will manage at the last minute to come up with some sort of backloaded agreement that claims to make 1.5 trillion in cuts to deficit growth over the next decade.

    In fact, I haven’t heard anyone predict they’ll fail to come up with a story where they allege to have made 1.5 trillions in cuts over the next decade. If we get details, what we’ll find is that most of the promised cuts come in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021. So the real question is how we ought to feel about congress agreeing to barely cut spending growth at all over the next. (Reminder: we’re talking about reduction int he rate of growth of overspending. We are most decidedly not talking about actual cuts, in which the budget for the new year is actually less than it was the previous year.

    BTW – and with all due respect – the rest of your last three comments are all spin and speculation about what I might or might not say.

    Is that so? So then would you stipulate at this point that if congress fails to reach an agreement on the december cuts and the automatic cuts kick in, that this would demonstrate that your heuristic is flawed?

    And if not (and for at least the 3rd time in this thread alone), will you at last describe what sorts of actions and outcomes WOULD?

  14. mw Says:

    @KK -
    I don’t know how you can honestly characterize that as a “vague” prediction. I’ve accepted your link to specify the Simpson-Bowles-ish size of the package, specified there will be meaningful budget cuts in both entitlements and defense, predicted revenue increases under the cover of tax reform, and even outlined the character and timing of the vote (Liberals and Tea Party vote against – moderate/practical R’s and D’s pass the legislation at the last minute in a bipartisan vote a la the Debt Ceiling vote).

    This is more specific than anything yet proposed by the President to deal with the deficit. The only way to get more specific is to sit down and and actually write the legislation. That’s above my pay grade.

    With this you now know more details about my guess at a deficit reduction deal than most Democrats knew about the real costs, policy ramifications and terms of Obamacare when they passed it on a pure partisan vote.

    To the question of what objective criteria would demonstrate the failure of the divided government voting heuristic from my perspective:

    There are a lot of arguments and scholarship about the beneficial effects of divided government many of which I have posted here ad nauseum (and will continue to do so – because I now how much all of you enjoy it). I’ll simplify my response by focusing on the one core element of supporting scholarship that is the backbone of why I vote and advocate others vote based on the heuristic. The key finding for me is this:

    In the modern era the rate of federal spending growth under periods of divided government is always less than under periods of single party rule to a statistically significant level. Divided government restrains the growth of total federal spending. This is a well documented phenomena and to my knowledge, no one disputes this fact.

    This is a statistical argument. As such – to answer your question directly – No. A single vote on a deficit reduction bill would not necessarily undermine that rationale.

    The outcome that would undermine and invalidate the heuristic for me is if this period of Divided Government, taken as a whole, produced an increase in federal spending that is greater than or equal to either the immeidate prior or subsequent period of One Party Rule. That would break the core historical precedent on which the heuristic is based.

    Now- as a fiscal conservative and deficit hawk, I would prefer to find a way of voting that actually reduces federal spending. However, since that has never happened in the modern era, I have no idea if or how we can get there from here. I’ll take the bird in the hand – divided government restrains the growth of spending. That is the way I’ll vote -until it doesn’t.

    That is my answer. I’ll supplement here with some ruminations I’ve made before about another hypothetical way the heuristic could become irrelevant. I put this in the category of wishful thinking on my part:

    Will the “Divided Government vote” always work?
    Divided government works now. When there is an obvious divided government vote (as in ’06 and ’08 and ’10), voting for divided government is the best way to accomplish the objectives outlined in this post. It may not always be that way, and accomplishing these objectives may not always require a divided government vote. After all, it is the objectives and not the divided government state that matters. One could speculate that if this meme were to evolve into a tightly organized and highly sophisticated voting block, it could become very granular and work to maintain a divided congress at all times, so the presidential vote would always be “free-agent,” “best-man,” lesser-of-two-evils,” most libertarian, whatever. But that is getting pretty far-fetched, even for me.

    Ultimately, I see this voting tactic as highly effective, but short-term and self-limiting. Maintaining divided government has real benefits in terms of governance, and the primary benefit of successfully implementing this voting tactic is to move the country toward the objectives outlined in this post. As a side benefit, it could serve to establish the moderate libertarian center as a self-aware, broadly recognized and organized voting block. Objectively, divided government only slows the growth of the state, with no evidence that it can actually begin to reduce it. One way to describe the situation is that the “Divided Government vote” stands down when the “moderate/centrist/libertarian vote” stands up. Ultimately, if the divided government constituency is co-opted and eroded because Democrats and/or Republicans are wrestling with each other to prove who are the better, more effective moderate/centrist/libertarians, and can prove this to a skeptical, rational, empirical moderate/libertarian swing vote … well then our job here is done.

  15. kranky kritter Says:

    Once you boil that honker down to its winnows, your argument is as follows:

    If you vote for divided government, growth in government deficit spending will decrease. Therefore, one should vote for divided government.

    The problem is that this doesn’t address the possibility of other adverse consequences or assign any value to them. The only value that is given is given to decreasing the growth of overspending. As a fellow proponent of fiscally responsible spending, Let me say upfront that it’s a substantial feature. At no point have I disputed the notion that divided government can lead to certain beneficial outcomes. By now, you know this about my views.

    What you seem to continue to do, and what continues to trouble me is this. You’re utterly dismissive of anyone who talks about the possibility of collateral damage, those possible negative side affects that could come along with the benefit of decreasing the growth of overspending. A benefit I’ve already acknowledged.

    Your dismissiveness even goes well beyond blitheness and glibness into spinning the collateral damage as all being part of the big feature.

    I am happy to acknowledge that divided government can bring about some decreases in government overspending, even as I speculate that this must have also occurred on occasion without it. What I’d like to see you do is to step back just enough from your true-believerism to acknowledge that it’s not a strategy without risk. Almost by definition, gridlock brings at a bare minimum, large opportunity costs of some sort. And most importantly, anyone reasonable would have to concede that there is always the possibility that gridlock could be a deadly condition if circumstances were such that only swift and bold action could be effective.

  16. mw Says:

    “your argument is as follows…” – kk

    Not exactly. There are a lot of good arguments for divided government. That is not what you asked me. You asked me to provide a condition of falsifiability. Presumably on the assumption that I could not or would not provide one, thereby justifying dismissing or “ignoring” my arguments with your use of the “true believer” pejorative.

    It is an easier thing to ask than to answer. Nevertheless I took the time to answer it and provide an explicit condition of falsifiability. Which means you cannot continue to blithely throw the “true believer” pejorative at me with any intellectual honesty. Well, you can… but then it is really says more about you than me.

    As to the rest – I am an advocate for a microscopically small minority position which I would like to see grow to become a sliver of a minority that weighs in at a few percentage points of the electorate. I need a few good voters who are willing to swing their vote to help keep the tourniquet on before the country bleeds out. That is what interests me. I’ll continue to advocate for that position.

    We’ve already got a nation of hand-wringers worrying about whether the paramedics applying the tourniquet are being sufficiently civil and polite. They really don’t need my hand wringing help. Really. We’ve got the hand-wringing covered in spades. You can feel free to help out on that front all you want if you feel you can make an important hand wringing contribution. Somebody has got to do it. Just not me.

  17. kranky kritter Says:

    Notice your continued unbudging belligerence, defensiveness, and intolerance for admitting any conceivable drawbacks whatsoever to your approach. It;s all right there in the post immediately above.

    THAT is why I can continue to call you a true believer with complete credibility.

    If it makes me a hand wringer to insist that your unbending case for divided government ignores important realities, then I wear that moniker with pride.

  18. mw Says:

    Heh. Belligerence? Yeah… Just reread the whole thread. I’m good with it. It stands on its own. Read into it whatever make you feel good.

  19. kranky kritter Says:

    intolerance for admitting any conceivable drawbacks whatsoever

  20. Blackie Says:

    Have to say that “confirmation bias” was the first phrase that came to my mind as well, and I say that as an M-Dub fan (seems like I have to include that qualifier every time). One of the problems here is that, depending on your location, a vote for divided gov’t may mean a vote for someone far too radically to the right for independent comfort. It’s one thing to take your chances on a Rubio or Chaffetz, but the idea of voting for a Joe Walsh in the name of this heuristic is risible, and a voting pattern that enables extremists, especially of the specifically virulent nature of many TP candidates, is incredibly problematic.

  21. mdgeorge Says:

    How’s them fruits lookin, mr. prophet? I guess you haven’t technically lost your bet yet, but the “this committee” part seems dead at this point.

  22. Angela Says:

    One should vote for candidates based on issues that are important to them. Voting strategically so as to have a bi-partisan, or divided congress is really treating politics as a game, with no thought or committment to any real issue. I will not say a divided congress is a bad thing…its democracy at its best. Nor will I say that a truly divided congress doesn’t have the potential to make the process inefficient. It does. But it does seem to roll out legislation and policies that are more effectual.

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