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NJ Daily / OFF TO THE RACES

Hold the Hysterics

In a vote where the outcome is preordained, both sides can afford to dial down the rhetoric.

photo of Charlie Cook
January 17, 2011

This week, the newly minted Republican House majority is expected to vote to repeal the health care law President Obama and Democrats pushed through in March.

Republican members have an obligation to make a good faith effort to fulfill the promise they made to their voters in 2010 by doing just that. But if Democrats are serious about moderating the political rhetoric in the aftermath of the tragic shooting in Tucson, Ariz., here’s a suggestion: Skip the theatrics and drama-queen behavior accompanied by the apocalyptic warnings of what will happen if the law is repealed. What’s the point of it?

House Republicans have the votes to pass repeal in the House and will undoubtedly pick up a few Democratic votes. The repeal measure will then go to the Senate where it will die.

 

Even if it looked like Republicans could muster the 51 votes to pass repeal in the Senate, Democrats would still be able to filibuster and kill it. Plus, the measure would also need 67 votes to override an inevitable presidential veto. Anyone with a third-grade mastery of arithmetic can figure that out.

So why should Democrats make a fuss about a piece of legislation that is doomed to begin with? Democrats should surely speak out against repeal and vote against it.  

Sure, Democrats will speak out against repeal, vote against it and perhaps even use it as a campaign issue in the fall of 2012 if it works in a given state or district.
But the reality is that this is all little more than a kabuki dance. Republicans have an obligation to their base, even though they and everyone else knows the measure has no future.

Democrats should let Republicans do what they need to do, and then Democrats can do what they need to do. Then, both sides can sit down and deal with legislative proposals on health care and other topics that do have futures.

The fight over health care reform won’t be over though, as this is just Round One. The serious part starts once the repeal measure is killed in the Senate, when changes to the law will be contemplated. There will be plenty to fight over then, although it would be a good idea for leaders on both sides to encourage their members to tone down the rhetoric and act like adults.

This past week, I met with financial experts in New York. Talking with them only reinforced my view that we have some enormously challenging years ahead of us on both the economic front and on the fiscal side.  

Both sides of the aisle are going to be facing some excruciating choices and decisions. The anemic economic growth rates forecast by most top economists are simply not enough to significantly chip away at the unemployment problem over the next two years.  Beyond the overall unemployment rate of 9.4 percent—which only dropped from 9.8 percent because so many people had given up looking for work and thus weren’t counted as officially unemployed—the numbers underneath are much worse.

So why should Democrats make a fuss about a piece of legislation that is doomed to begin with? Democrats should surely speak out against repeal and vote against it.

The “U-6” unemployment rate is now 16.7 percent. This is the percentage of people who are unemployed, plus those who are working part-time because they can’t find full-time work, as well as those who have given up looking for a job.

That still doesn’t include those who have accepted full-time work at considerably lower pay than the jobs they lost. Now 6.4 million Americans have been out of work for 26 weeks or longer. That adds up to 44.3 percent of the unemployed who have been without a job for at least half a year. It is a simple fact that many of the new jobs that are being created are not suitable for those who have lost jobs, nor are they comparable to what they had. Maybe some of the new jobs might be perfect for a recent high school or college graduate, but not for their 50-year-old mother or father who has been laid off.  

Unlike after previous post-World War II recessions, this is not going to be a classic “V” shape recovery, when the economy shows its elasticity with a bounce-back led by housing.  

Foreclosures, underwater mortgages, a surplus in housing stock and tight lending practices virtually ensure that housing and real estate will be a drag on this recovery, not a driver.

Some of the most worried experts see little hope of doing anything to turn this housing problem around anytime soon. This deleveraging process is unlike anything we have seen in our lifetimes.

Similarly, there is a looming deficit crisis, one so great that even eliminating all discretionary domestic spending couldn’t solve it. Major changes in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will be required and those reforms won’t be easy to accomplish.  The fear among those who study these problems is that while the public seems willing to acknowledge that there are problems, they seem unaware of the painful solutions necessary to address these issues. There seems to be a belief that there are easy, painless solutions, as if there is a line item in the budget for waste, fraud and abuse, or that significant entitlement changes can be easily made.
Towel-snapping, playing “gotcha” and scoring cheap political points is a luxury that this country cannot afford right now.

Fights over issues whose outcomes are preordained are pointless and can be destructive.  The commander-in-chief played by Michael Douglas in the movie “The American President” had a great line: “Serious times call for serious people.” This is a time for all of the players to be serious people and to cut the needless histrionics.

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