GOP Zealots Are Making D.C. Dumber

Many of Washington’s most talented staffers will leave if a GOP plan strips out their employer contribution for health insurance coverage.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) speaks to members of the press at the Senate Daily Press Gallery June 27, 2013 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. The Senate is scheduled to vote on the final passage of the Immigration Reform Bill this afternoon.
National Journal
Norm Ornstein
Oct. 2, 2013, 6:21 p.m.

In their third it­er­a­tion of shut­down poker, House Re­pub­lic­ans eagerly seized on a new ap­proach: to de­mand the re­mov­al of all sub­sidies for mem­bers of Con­gress and their staffs for health in­sur­ance. They framed this as treat­ing Con­gress just like oth­er Amer­ic­ans. It is ut­ter non­sense. Most Amer­ic­ans have health in­sur­ance through their em­ploy­ers, and the li­on’s share of their in­sur­ance premi­ums are paid — tax free — by their em­ploy­ers. Noth­ing in the Af­ford­able Care Act will change this. Mem­bers of Con­gress and their staff have tra­di­tion­ally been treated the same as oth­er fed­er­al em­ploy­ees; they pur­chase in­sur­ance on the fed­er­al em­ploy­ees health in­sur­ance mar­ket­place, with 72 per­cent of their premi­ums covered.

A ca­pri­cious amend­ment to the Af­ford­able Care Act offered by Sen. Chuck Grass­ley, an Iowa Re­pub­lic­an, moved sen­at­ors and their staffs off the fed­er­al em­ploy­ee health mar­ket­place and onto the new Af­ford­able Care Act ex­changes, but it left am­bigu­ous wheth­er their sub­sidies would re­main. (Grass­ley, re­mem­ber, en­gaged in sham ne­go­ti­ations with his “friend” Max Baucus for many months in 2009 to find com­mon ground and com­prom­ise on a health re­form plan that was based on his own ar­dent sup­port for the Re­pub­lic­an plan to counter the Clin­ton health plan in 1993-94; he, however, pulled the rug out from un­der those ne­go­ti­ations and de­nounced in the strongest terms things he had strongly sup­por­ted be­fore Barack Obama be­came pres­id­ent.) Urged on by a bi­par­tis­an group of sen­at­ors, in­clud­ing Tom Coburn, who feared that the re­mov­al of sub­sidies — a unique pun­ish­ment — would res­ult in a ma­jor brain drain in per­son­al of­fices and com­mit­tees, the ad­min­is­tra­tion said that the sub­sidies could re­main, al­beit in a very con­strained form.

For the past month or more, Sen. Dav­id Vit­ter, R-La., has blocked every sig­ni­fic­ant ac­tion in the Sen­ate, wheth­er im­port­ant for na­tion­al se­cur­ity, home­land se­cur­ity, or the abil­ity of Sen­ate com­mit­tees to func­tion, in re­turn for his de­mand to knock those sub­sidies out. Now House Re­pub­lic­ans have jumped on this faux-pop­u­list band­wag­on, know­ing that any­thing that smacks of spe­cial priv­ilege for Con­gress — even if falsely so — will be pop­u­lar back home.

I have talked to enough Sen­ate staffers and sen­at­ors to know that the fear of a brain drain is real. Many of the most seasoned com­mit­tee em­ploy­ees, who have enough seni­or­ity to re­tire but who stay in their jobs be­cause they love pub­lic ser­vice, will bail out if their pay is sud­denly cut by sev­er­al thou­sand dol­lars due to the loss of the em­ploy­er con­tri­bu­tion for health in­sur­ance. So will plenty of staffers mak­ing $40,000 or $50,000, for whom the hit would be pro­por­tion­ately more severe. The Sen­ate as an in­sti­tu­tion will suf­fer sig­ni­fic­antly from a loss of in­sti­tu­tion­al memory and savvy that con­trib­utes to a func­tion­ing cham­ber and bet­ter laws be­ing writ­ten — which ought to be a goal of lib­er­als and con­ser­vat­ives alike.

But many sen­at­ors who privately bitch about Vit­ter’s ob­struc­tion­ism and dem­agoguery have been un­will­ing to stand up and vote to stop him; Re­pub­lic­ans in the Sen­ate voted in lock­step to sup­port the House plan.

All that is part of a lar­ger prob­lem that ex­ists, one that has had me re­fer­ring to the drivers in the GOP not as con­ser­vat­ives but as rad­ic­als. Rod Dre­her, writ­ing in The Amer­ic­an Con­ser­vat­ive in a piece called “Re­pub­lic­ans Over the Cliff,” elo­quently makes the same point. Con­ser­vat­ives be­lieve in lim­ited gov­ern­ment — but also that the gov­ern­ment we need to have — the ser­vices from na­tion­al se­cur­ity to home­land se­cur­ity to in­ter­state trans­port­a­tion — should be ef­fi­ciently and com­pet­ently provided, and that when gov­ern­ment in­ter­venes, it should do so with as much de­fer­ence to the mar­ket­place as pos­sible. The cur­rent drivers of the GOP are much more hos­tile to gov­ern­ment. Thus, the as­sault on all fed­er­al em­ploy­ees via cuts in pay and be­ne­fits; the all-out at­tack to del­e­git­im­ize the In­tern­al Rev­en­ue Ser­vice and its em­ploy­ees by Dar­rell Issa and his cronies, de­signed to make it harder for them to carry out their ba­sic func­tions; the en­thu­si­asm for the se­quester; and the lack of con­cern about the so­ci­et­al im­pact of mind­less cuts to ba­sic re­search, food safety, and home­land se­cur­ity.

Some of this im­pulse is liber­tari­an in nature, as evid­enced by Sen. Rand Paul’s pre­ferred budget, which makes Rep. Paul Ry­an’s look New Deal­ish by com­par­is­on. Some of it re­flects ig­nor­ance or will­ful sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief — not un­der­stand­ing, for ex­ample, the im­pact of in­dis­crim­in­ate cuts on our health re­search in­fra­struc­ture and on our na­tion’s seed corn in terms of our tech­no­lo­gic­al edge; or sup­port­ing the se­quester but then de­cry­ing its cuts in med­ic­al re­search (without not­ing that these cuts would not oc­cur without the se­quester).

But a lot of it is an emo­tion­al, zeal­ous re­ac­tion to Amer­ica today — an ar­dent will­ing­ness to break crock­ery and de­mol­ish ex­ist­ing in­sti­tu­tions to achieve the goal of evis­cer­at­ing gov­ern­ment as we know it, the good with the bad. As Dre­her put it, “When I think of the Re­pub­lic­an Party, I don’t think of prin­cipled con­ser­vat­ive le­gis­lat­ors who are men and wo­men of vis­ion strategy. I think of ideo­logues who are pre­pared to wreck things to get their way. They have con­fused prudence — the queen of vir­tues, and the car­din­al vir­tue of con­ser­vat­ive polit­ics — with weak­ness.”

Not all con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans are in that camp. Many, es­pe­cially in the Sen­ate, fit a more tra­di­tion­al con­ser­vat­ive mold. But few are will­ing to stand up to the zealots, and even few­er are will­ing to cast votes that de­part from the pack. All of them du­ti­fully re­cite the man­tra that Obama­care is an ab­om­in­a­tion that ought to be elim­in­ated, and none notes that it is ba­sic­ally the same plan as 1994’s Grass­ley­care/Hatch­care/Duren­ber­ger­care/Chafee­care, which was built around an in­di­vidu­al man­date, private in­surers on ex­changes, and premi­um sup­port for less for­tu­nate Amer­ic­ans. More strik­ingly, no one notes that Ry­an’s long-term plan for Medi­care, built around reg­u­lated ex­changes and premi­um sup­port, is ba­sic­ally Obama­care for seni­ors. Every op­por­tun­ity to re­form and re­fine the Af­ford­able Care Act through tra­di­tion­al in­sti­tu­tion­al means, work­ing with both parties, has been re­jec­ted by them.

Here is Dre­her’s con­clu­sion: “The Re­pub­lic­ans can­not gov­ern. These people aren’t con­ser­vat­ives. They are rad­ic­als. What on earth would Rus­sell Kirk say if he were alive to see this?”

What We're Following See More »
TAKING A LONG VIEW TO SOUTHERN STATES
In Dropout Speech, Santorum Endorses Rubio
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

As expected after earlier reports on Wednesday, Rick Santorum ended his presidential bid. But less expected: he threw his support to Marco Rubio. After noting he spoke with Rubio the day before for an hour, he said, “Someone who has a real understanding of the threat of ISIS, real understanding of the threat of fundamentalist Islam, and has experience, one of the things I wanted was someone who has experience in this area, and that’s why we decided to support Marco Rubio.” It doesn’t figure to help Rubio much in New Hampshire, but the Santorum nod could pay dividends down the road in southern states.

Source:
‘PITTING PEOPLE AGAINST EACH OTHER’
Rubio, Trump Question Obama’s Mosque Visit
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

President Obama’s decision to visit a mosque in Baltimore today was never going to be completely uncontroversial. And Donald Trump and Marco Rubio proved it. “Maybe he feels comfortable there,” Trump told interviewer Greta van Susteren on Fox News. “There are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque.” And in New Hampshire, Rubio said of Obama, “Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”

Source:
THE TIME IS NOW, TED
Cruz Must Max Out on Evangelical Support through Early March
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

For Ted Cruz, a strong showing in New Hampshire would be nice, but not necessary. That’s because evangelical voters only make up 21% of the Granite State’s population. “But from the February 20 South Carolina primary through March 15, there are nine states (South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina) with an estimated white-Evangelical percentage of the GOP electorate over 60 percent, and another four (Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Missouri) that come in over 50 percent.” But after that, he better be in the catbird’s seat, because only four smaller states remain with evangelical voter majorities.

Source:
CHRISTIE, BUSH TRYING TO TAKE HIM DOWN
Rubio Now Winning the ‘Endorsement Primary’
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Since his strong third-place finish in Iowa, Marco Rubio has won endorsement by two sitting senators and two congressmen, putting him in the lead for the first time of FiveThirtyEight‘s Endorsement Tracker. “Some politicians had put early support behind Jeb Bush — he had led [their] list since August — but since January the only new endorsement he has received was from former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham.” Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that fueled by resentment, “members of the Bush and Christie campaigns have communicated about their mutual desire to halt … Rubio’s rise in the polls.”

Source:
7 REPUBLICANS ON STAGE
Carly Fiorina Will Not Be Allowed to Debate on Saturday
1 days ago
THE LATEST

ABC News has announced the criteria for Saturday’s Republican debate, and that means Carly Fiorina won’t be a part of it. The network is demanding candidates have “a top-three finish in Iowa, a top-six standing in an average of recent New Hampshire polls or a top-six placement in national polls in order for candidates to qualify.” And there will be no “happy hour” undercard debate this time. “So that means no Fiorina vs. Jim Gilmore showdown earlier in the evening for the most ardent of campaign 2016 junkies.

Source:
×