Do Not Expect too Much from Individual Senators

Joseph Britt: @zathras3 on Twitter:Thread by @de1ong in response to an observation I made about @SenBobCorker & the Senate #TaxBill-it understates resources available to a senior Senator, but is dead accurate on damage to the Senate done by McConnell trashing regular order.

Joseph Britt: @zathras3 on Twitter: “Forgive me for pointing this out, but these descriptions of Corker’s thinking suggest a guy who started thinking about fiscal policy a month ago, rather than someone who’s been in the Senate for years…”

Brad DeLong: de1ong on Twitter: Look: they have 80 hours a week to work: 20 fundraising, 20 coalition maintenance, 20 management, 20 policy.

There are, say, 20 important policy issues they have to cover. That means 1 hour a week on average on each policy issue. That means in 3 years a senator spends as much time thinking about a policy issue as does an undergraduate taking a 1-semester course. & knowledge depreciates. If you spend only 1 hour a week on something, you never become an expert at all. You pretty much have to start from sophomore level every time you try to gear up.

Now this is supposed to be solved by (1) committee chairs/ranking members who are experts and who share your values; (2) committee staff committed to the Holy Monastic mission of technocratically teaching you & answering your questions; (3) thinktanks that regard you as their boss rather than their lawful prey over whose eyes they can pull the wool; and (4) long-term personal staff who share your values and are experts.

McConnell’s breaking of regular order has broken (1). And with (1) broken, the experts on (2) have little opportunity to speak. The Republican thinktanks now regard informing senators about what the issues are and how the world works as last among their priorities—indeed, as a negative priority. And with gridlock and so much less opportunity to do some legislatin’ since McConnell began root and branch opposition to Obama, personal staff quality and continuity has, I think, greatly declined as well.

So, yes, Corker sounds like a junior who began taking his “fiscal policy” course a month ago because that essentially is what he is. And all kinds of people have been trying to help him. And he has been trying to do his best. But McConnell snookered him…

Must-read: Paul Ryan: “To Tea Party: You Are the Problem”

Must-Read: It is very good to see Speaker of the House Paul Ryan call for legislatin’ rather than speechifyin’. Prospects for substantive dialogue are vastly increased when it is legislatin’ that is on the table, as are prospects for win-win technocratic governance.

Now if we could only get him into the policy-consequences-estimatin’ business as well…

Paul Ryan: To Tea Party: You Are the Problem: “My theory of the case is this…

…We win when we have an ideas contest. We lose when we have a personality contest. We can’t fall into the progressives’ trap of acting like angry reactionaries. The Left would love nothing more than for a fragmented conservative movement to stand in a circular firing squad, so the progressives can win by default. This president is struggling to remain relevant in an election year when he’s not on the ballot. He is going to do all he can to elect another progressive by distracting the American people. So he’s going to try to get us talking about guns or some other hot-button issue and not about his failures on ISIS or the economy or national security. He’s going to try to knock us off our game. We have to understand his distractions for what they are. Otherwise, we’re going to have a distraction this week, next week, and the week after that. And that’s going to be the Obama playbook all year long….

And so what I want to say to you today is this: Don’t take the bait. Don’t fight over tactics. And don’t impugn people’s motives. It’s fine if you disagree. And there’s a lot that’s rotten in Washington. There’s no doubt about that. But we can’t let how you vote on an amendment to an appropriations bill define what it means to be a conservative. Because, it’s setting our sights too low. Frankly, that’s letting the president define us. That’s what he wants us to do. That’s defining ourselves as an opposition party, instead of a proposition party.

So we have to be straight with each other, and more importantly, we have to be straight with the American people. We can’t promise that we can repeal Obamacare when a guy with the last name Obama is president. All that does is set us up for failure… and disappointment… and recriminations.

When voices in the conservative movement demand things that they know we can’t achieve with a Democrat in the White House, all that does is depress our base and in turn help Democrats stay in the White House. We can’t do that anymore.

The extremely-sharp Paul Waldman comments:

Yes, the party of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, cares not for ‘personality.’ And look, nobody ‘trapped’ Republicans into ‘acting like angry reactionaries.’ They did that all on their own. But it’s interesting that Ryan cites guns as a distracting hot-button issue that is important only because Barack Obama is forcing conservatives to talk about it against their will…. It’s hard to tell where Ryan draws the line between real issues and distractions, but every time you define an issue as the latter, you’re telling some major Republican constituency to shut its mouth….

Look at all the things Ryan is criticizing here. First: ‘Don’t fight over tactics.’ That’s just about all Republicans have been fighting about for years…. The tea partier and the squish both want to repeal Obamacare; the only difference between them is that the tea partier thinks shutting down the government is an appropriate tactic to make it happen. They both want to reduce the size of government, but the tea partier thinks forcing the United States of America to default on its debts is a good tactic to bring that about. They both want to defund Planned Parenthood; the only difference is whether they think it’s a fight worth having right now.

Ryan also says: ‘we can’t let how you vote on an amendment to an appropriations bill define what it means to be a conservative.’ This, too, is a direct shot at the Tea Party. The argument they’ve made over and over is that things like how you vote on an amendment do indeed define what it means to be a conservative…. Did you vote against Obamacare 50 times, or only 49 times? Did you knuckle under and vote to keep the government open? Have you opposed ‘amnesty’ 100 percent of the time, or only for the last few years? These are the distinctions that have defined the tea party’s conception of conservatism.

And perhaps most shockingly, Ryan says…. ‘When voices in the conservative movement demand things that they know we can’t achieve with a Democrat in the White House, all that does is depress our base and in turn help Democrats stay in the White House.’ This is the very heart of the battle that has consumed the party and fed the rebellion playing out in the presidential race. Republican base voters are fed up with a congressional leadership that told them that if those voters helped take back the House and then the Senate, that they’d stop Barack Obama in his tracks–but then failed to deliver.

Ryan is correctly arguing that it was stupid to make promises that couldn’t possibly be kept, but he’s arguing that it was making the promise that was the problem, while tea partiers and the base still believe it was the not keeping the promise that was the far greater sin. They see Mitch McConnell and Ryan’s predecessor John Boehner as feckless and weak, lacking the courage to stand up to Barack Obama. In their view, McConnell and Boehner are contemptible not because they lied to them about what could be achieved but because they didn’t achieve the impossible.

Near the end of the speech, Ryan gives an implicit critique of his party’s presidential candidates…. ‘We should not follow the Democrats and play identity politics. Let’s talk to people in ways that unite us and that are unique to America’s founding. That’s what I think people are hungry for.’ In case you didn’t notice, the GOP presidential candidates are also playing identity politics right now. The frontrunner for the Republican nomination has proposed banning Muslims from the United States and building a wall across our southern border, called Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers, and questioned one of his opponents’ standing as an American. Another candidate said that no Muslim should be elected president…. Identity politics has been central to Republican campaigns for the White House for the last half-century…. In any case, if you had to come up with two words to describe the current GOP presidential campaign, ‘inspirational’ and ‘inclusive’ would be pretty far down the list. And if Republican primary voters are hungry for national unity, they’ve done a good job of keeping it a secret.

So in this speech, Ryan has essentially repudiated the entire last seven years of Republican politics, up to and including what’s happening right now…

Must-read: Matthew Yglesias: “2015: The Year Congress Started Working Again”

Matthew Yglesias: 2015: The Year Congress Started Working Again: “The story of the 2015 legislating boom…

…is that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan decided to care less about presidential politics…. Making Obama look bad has stopped being a legislative priority…. None of the leading GOP contenders are particularly well-liked by the party’s congressional leaders, so there’s less interest in helping them out…. While competition for political office is zero-sum, actual public policy isn’t…