Congress cuts LIHEAP — because giving billions to the rich is no fun unless you also get to screw the poor

Susie Madrak notes that the shutdown deal in Congress cuts winter heating aid for low-income families.

I used to be confused as to why LIHEAP was always among the first programs on the chopping block when states or the federal government wanted to cut the budget.

LIHEAP, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, helps low-income families pay the heating bill.

Congress just cut the program by 25 percent — or $3.5 billion. Every one of those dollars would have gone to keep a poor family warm in the winter, meaning that those families wouldn’t have KEPT any of it. Every dollar of that funding would have quickly passed through the hands of those families and gone directly to big corporations — first the utility companies, then the energy companies that supply them.

And that’s why these cuts confused me. I figured that, very roughly speaking, we’ve got two kinds of lawmakers: the kind who like welfare programs for the poor and the kind who like corporate welfare. LIHEAP is both of those things. Every dollar of it does double duty — the poor make it through the winter and big corporations get handed billions of dollars of taxpayer money. Win-win. Everybody’s happy.

But then in 2007 I watched the financial crisis happened and the powers that be sprang into action to rescue the banks — as they absolutely ought to have done. The global financial system had ground to a halt and the world’s economies were teetering on the brink until the Treasury and the Congress slapped together the TARP and bailed out the faltering banks with $700 billion.

At the time, this seemed like an outrageous surprise. But it did have to be done. If not for the TARP, or Troubled Asset Relief Program, the jobs crisis we’re still stuck in would likely have been even more severe. But while the banks had to be saved, they didn’t necessarily have to be saved in that way.

The banks were given the money to make up for expected losses from “toxic assets.” Those toxic assets were things like home mortgages from homeowners whose houses were suddenly worth far less than the cost of the loan.

So there were two ways to bail out the banks. We could have given a chunk of that $700 billion to those underwater homeowners, turning those “toxic assets” into just plain assets. That money, like LIHEAP funds, would have passed quickly through the hands of those homeowners and on to the banks.  And thus, like LIHEAP, the TARP would have solved two problems at the same time — simultaneously lifting underwater families out of debt and bailing out the banks.

But instead, the TARP funds went directly to the banks. Thus the banks got bailed out, but the homeowners are still in debt.

And I realized that this is how it works.

We had to help the banks without helping the homeowners — help the creditors without helping the debtors — for the same reason that LIHEAP is always first in line for budget cuts. Because, for the people running the show, it’s no fun giving billions of dollars to the super-rich unless you’re also screwing over the poor.

This was, after all, how the tea party started — with CNBC’s Rick Santelli ranting against mortgage modifications for homeowners left underwater after the housing market collapsed.

“How many people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgages?” Santelli screamed. “It’s time for another tea party.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we can’t have nice things.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    Okay, I think I get it now. The Republicans are going to keep the federal government lurching from shutdown threat to shutdown threat, pulling back each time in exchange for just a few more cuts to important programs like this.

    If that’s the case, it’s going to be a long slog until 2012 — hopefully then we can boot them back into a minority and elect legislators who can actually do their jobs.

  • Anonymous

    And why not? They’ve realized that all they have to do is make vague threats and the Dems cave.

    Of course, this time ’round it seems like they might actually carry out their threats, but eesh. This is no way to run a government.

  • P J Evans

    This is no way to run a government.

    They’re trying to break the government. They think starting wars and helping business are all that government should do.

  • nirrti

    And this is exactly what we get when we have a bunch of dems that refuse to grow a pair. I don’t think the dems care any more about poor people than republicans care about unborn fetuses. They just use them as talking points to get more votes from their prospective constituents.

    If any of these politicians actually gave a damn about people freezing in the winter…or going hungry….or going without their medication to pay the rent, there would be none of this bs about “caving in”. After all, they sure didn’t “cave in” when it was the banks that had their hands out, did they.

  • Ursula L

    The Red State/Blue State divide is also one that tends to be southern versus northern.  So how much of this is regional?  

    Where I am, in western NY, good heating is the difference between life and death right now.  In a milder climate, it might seem more of a luxury.  

    And HEAP money would, if properly distributed, tend to be given out more in colder climates than warmer ones, because the need is greater – a colder season, for a longer part of the year.

    So, to a southern conservative, thinking in the context of their own climate, it may appear to be money moving from the south to the north, to give the poor a luxury.  It’s the kind of thing a cynical person could play for politics – why should our money go to the people there for something that is, in our experience, unnecessary?  

    ***

    It’s something that I’m also reminded of by the space shuttle program.  Both lethal accidents were the result of development that failed to consider the effects of cold weather.  The space program was largely based in warm locations.  Would they have happened if the people designing the machine had to deal with snow and ice routinely?  

  • Jenora Feuer

    Heh.  That reminds me of a story told to me by my mother, who used to be a schoolteacher up in Prince George, British Columbia.

    There was a call to build a new school at one point, back in the 1960’s.  There were presentations from architects, and the design chosen was a new idea by a group of architects who had built schools in California: instead of a simple straight school building, the building would actually be built in a square, completely enclosing the playground area.  It would be more secure and build a ‘community’ idea.

    The idea sounded great, and it got built… and then the first big snowfall happened, and everybody discovered that the only way to clean the snow off the playground involved carrying it through the gymnasium to get it outside, one cartful at a time.  The architects from California had never actually had to deal with real snowfall before.

  • P J Evans

    I hope they didn’t design a roof that was flat or nearly-flat. Because that’s another form of ignorance-based-on-weather. (Actually, there are enough places in California that get real snow that the architects should have known better.)

  • Lori

    My high school in Michigan was designed by some guy from Texas. All the hallways radiated out from a central block of common space (library, cafeteria, lockers). Each “arm” had to back to back classrooms running down the middle with glass-enclosed hallways on the outside. Glass outside walls in Michigan are a Bad Idea.

    There was no way to keep them warm in the winter so everyone had to wear their coats & gloves to get from one class to another. Because there were windows in the classrooms looking out onto the halls, when it was really cold the classes were cold too.

    To this day I have no idea why people in Michigan approved that design.

  • guest

    Thanks for this Ursula–both of these are useful and thought-provoking points.  I’m a civil engineer who grew up in California–when I worked for a time in Kansas someone actually had to explain to me, when I was designing foundations for a retaining wall, what a ‘frost line’ was.   (Though on the other hand I was better at seismic design than my colleagues were….)

  • P J Evans

     The solid rocket boosters were built by a company in Utah – they ought to know about cold. (Heck, that’s part of engineers’ work, to know what the operating conditions might be and design for them. Clearly there was Big Fail involved.) I don’t know why you think the other was a problem with cold weather – it was a chunk of ice caused by the fuel temperatures that did the damage.

  • Ursula L

    The solid rocket boosters were built by a company in Utah – they ought to know about cold. (Heck, that’s part of engineers’ work, to know what the operating conditions might be and design for them. Clearly there was Big Fail involved.) I don’t know why you think the other was a problem with cold weather – it was a chunk of ice caused by the fuel temperatures that did the damage.

    They might know, theoretically, if they stopped to think about it.  

    But they don’t have the instinctive understanding of snow and ice that you have when you had a sheet of ice go flying from the SUV in front of you on to your windshield because the fool driver didn’t clean their roof.  

    Ice built up.  It happened to be because of the cold fuel temperature.  But making the jump to the realization that the ice will break, it goes flying, it hits things, and you’re going to have to deal with the impact – the folks involved didn’t have routine experience with that, and they missed something that should have been obvious. 

  • Anonymous

    So, to a southern conservative, thinking in the context of their own
    climate, it may appear to be money moving from the south to the north,
    to give the poor a luxury.  It’s the kind of thing a cynical person
    could play for politics – why should our money go to the people there for something that is, in our experience, unnecessary? 

    It’s a nice thought – they’re not really voting to have people freeze to death, they’re just uninformed.  But there is no fricking way in the modern world they can be uninformed unless they have chosen to be.  Also, these are politicians we’re talking about.  What, they’ve never had to be in Washington DC in the winter?  It can get cold enough for winters to be lethal without heat there.  (Assuming that somehow a person smart enough and educated enough to get themselves elected is still too fucking stupid to look up how cold it gets in the northern part of the country.  And hell, there are very few states where it never gets lethally cold.)

  • Ursula L

    I’m fairly sure that there is a level of cynicism involved in spreading the idea.

    But there are lots of different aide programs. Why, specifically, focus on a heating program?  

    My thought is that the politicians realize that their southern target audience might understand theoretically, know heat is necessary, but it’s an abstract knowledge, rather than the knowledge of someone who was walking in a blizzard  last week.  

    In a warmer climate, you may need heat sometimes.  But occasional use of a space heater, or an extra sweater, is enough.  Five months of nonstop central heating is different not just in scale, but in kind.  

    It’s a lie.  It’s a lie you can get away with in a warm climate, because it isn’t as obvious a lie to someone listening casually, as it is for an audience in a cold climate.

    Are there southern states that provide aide for air conditioning in the summer?  It’s something I don’t need, here – an open window and fans suffice.  But there may be places where it is as much a matter of life and death as heat in the winter is for me.  But I’m not sure that if you were speaking to a political rally in mid-winter Buffalo, you’re audience would immediately think “nonsense” if you talked about wasting money on air conditioning aide.  

    It’s the difference between selling an idea to an audience who has to stop and think to realize they’re being lied to, versus talking to an audience where the lie is as obvious as the sun in a clear summer daytime sky. 

  • Anonymous

    Ah, so it’s the politicians being able to sell their evil to their constituents.  That makes sense.  Sadly.

    Are there southern states that provide aide for air conditioning in the summer?

    That I don’t know.  I do know that in Arizona (at least when I lived there) you could donate money to the energy company to provide for AC in the summer.

  • FangsFirst

    I live in *North Carolina*…and not the mountains. Duke Energy–obviously a southeastern company–allows for donations to provide *heat.*

    So…take from that what you will.

  • P J Evans

     It’s right up there with the idea that we don’t need volcano monitoring programs and tsunami warnings: the people doing the talking, and the people they’re really talking to, don’t live in areas with either volcanoes or much chance of tsunamis.
    I don’t understand why they think that disaster funding isn’t a real need, either. That requires either an excess of optimism, or real ignorance.

  • Ursula L

    It’s a matter of priorities.  I’m in Buffalo.  I just need to think over the events of all the years I’ve lived here for it to be utterly obvious that planning for proper snow removal is far more important than worrying about tsunamis.

    If you assume that there aren’t the resources to prepare everywhere for whatever is a risk there, then you need to prioritize which needs are more important than others. 

    And the things that you’ve actually seen cause problems are needs that are far more real to you, on a gut level, than things that you’ve only read about or seen on TV.  Who are you going to believe, experts with data or your own eyes, your own experiences and hardships?  

    Part of the problem is that progressive folks need to be very vocal that there are enough resources to plan and prepare sensibly for the needs of everyone.  

    Conservatives assume shortages, and set ordinary people with very different sets of needs against each other.  I say snow removal is more pressing than tsunami threats, someone on the coast in the south says that tsunami threats are far more important than snow removal.  Conservatives quote me as proof that tsunamis don’t matter, quote them as proof that snow removal doesn’t matter, and say that it is wasteful to prepare for either.  

    Humans have the resources and ability to prepare and provide for human needs.  It may sometimes mean that you compromise some wants to meet needs, but it also means you don’t have to set needs in competition against each other.  

  • http://blog.carlsensei.com Carl

    ‘Twas ever thus.

    Matthew 18:28–30 

    But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, “Pay me that thou owest.” 

    And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all!”

    And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.

  • Anonymous

    Ebert in his Atlas Shrugged review had most perfect summation of Objectivism/this line of thinking ever, “I’m on board, pull up the lifeline.” We either behave like the social animals we are and look out for each other, or we behave like John Galt and die separately, it’s coming down to that stark a choice. 

  • FangsFirst

    Alas, I will forever remember Ebert as a childish jerk who thinks way too much of himself, looks down on others and made fun of the mentally disabled.

    Not long ago a veteran moviegoer told me that when he sees an actor playing a mentally retarded person, he is reminded of a performer playing “Lady of Spain” on an accordion: The fingers fly, but are the song or the instrument worthy of the effort?

    The other adjectives and descriptors refer to other lovely things he did and said over the years, some directly obnoxious, some just condescending as all hell. Sometimes unclear whether he just thinks almost everyone else is an utter ignoramus, or is so enamoured of himself that he doesn’t realize some of his “intellectual realizations” would be (and have been) realized by almost everyone else viewing the same movie–not just the intellectual elite he describes himself as falling amongst. Unless it takes a brilliant mind to recognize Three Stooges gags as “satire” (what?) and not gut-wrenching horror (yes…really.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Pelikan/100000903137143 Jonathan Pelikan

    Many people were understandably upset when I said ‘there’s only two sides’ but in modern American politics, there really is. There’s the United States of America over on this side, and FOX News on the other, and one of those sides is going to triumph in 2012, to the detriment of the other.

  • Nev

    How many people want to be their brother’s keeper, anyway?

  • Anonymous

    Ah well, I figure that a broke clock is still right twice a day and all that, so whatever his faults, he’s right about how awful The Cult of Rand is. 

  • FangsFirst

    Ha! I was definitely not disagreeing on his opinion of Rand!

  • Chunky Style

    About the Dems “caving” all the time.  A lot of the problem is, a lot of people vote Republican and they put a lot of Republicans in Congress, the net result being that the GOP has every legal right to oppose legislation they don’t like.  You’ll find that most instances of the Democrats “caving” are situations where the Democrats are legally obligated to get the Republicans’ approval to get things passed.

    The solution is to bump so many Republicans out of Congress that they no longer have to be negotiated with.  To put it in perspective, when Medicare was passed, there were only 30 Republicans in the Senate, so they couldn’t have filibustered even if they’d wanted to.  (They were also better people: 14 of those 30 voted in favor of Medicare.)

  • Anonymous

    About the Dems “caving” all the time.  A lot of the problem is, a lot of people vote Republican and they put a lot of Republicans in Congress, the net result being that the GOP has every legal right to oppose legislation they don’t like.  You’ll find that most instances of the Democrats “caving” are situations where the Democrats are legally obligated to get the Republicans’ approval to get things passed.

    An aggressive, tough negotiating style that is exactly the opposite of how the Democrats negotiate would mean that bills get passed with or without Republican approval. The midterm massacre would have most likely been avoided had the Democrats taken a strident, uncompromising, strong stance and bloodied the noses of the Republicans at the first moment they could. The moment the Republican policy of obstruction was started, the Democrats needed to press them and press them hard until they broke, specifically if they threaten to filibuster then they should have been forced to filibuster. Having Republicans on C-Span 24 hours a day, 7 days a week speaking nonsense in order to block legislation to aid 9/11 aid workers would have destroyed the party in a way that even Fox news couldn’t have salvaged.

    No, the Democrats were weak, as they always are. And allowed the Republicans to block legislation without actually having to block the legislation. The American people do not respect weakness of any kind. It was just one of their many problems when they took power.

  • Chunky Style

    You seem to place a lot of faith in “strength” but not so much in “the law”.

    At no point in Obama’s presidency did he have 60 Democrats, which is the minimum number to block a Republican filibuster.  At best he had 58 Democrats plus Sanders plus Lieberman, and in case you’ve forgotten, Lieberman campaigned AGAINST Obama.  The Republicans were not an obstacle that could have been overcome just by being manly.

    The Republicans obstructed and obstructed on the 9/11 aid workers, and only relented after they were made to look bad.  So why isn’t the party destroyed?  It ought to be, from what you’re saying.  It kind of makes me doubt that, if only the Dems had let the GOP make good on its filibuster threats, the public would have for sure totally understood who was in the wrong.  Remember, this is a public that bought into “death panels”.

  • ako

    How come the Republicans gain so much power with a minority just big enough to filibuster, and the Democrats are so helpless with anything less than the Presidency and a House majority and a filibuster-proof Senate majority?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    Democrats aren’t a homogenous mass. People say “filibuster proof Senate majority” as if all Democrats are the same, but if you actually look that the specific people who we elected, you’ll find that you have a pretty broad variety of opinion. The Democrat from Massachusetts is different from the Democrat from Louisiana.

    People hear “Democrat” and they think “liberal” or “progressive”, but they forget that they’re not all Nancy Pelosi. For every liberal Democrat from New England, you have conservative Democrats like Mary Landrieu, Ben Nelson, or Jim Matheson (some of whom are so conservative that they probably would be Republicans if the Democratic machinery in their states hadn’t been so powerful in the past) and if you’re actually going to try to pass legislation without any help from the actual Republicans you still have to deal with these conservative Democrats too.

    I’m not trying to make excuses for the Democratic Party, but the whole “why don’t they just ignore the Republicans??” is one of those “it’s more complicated than that” things. Technically, they had sixty votes (if you count Joe Lieberman as a Democrat) but they never had sixty liberals or sixty progressives.

  • ako

    So now sixty Democrats isn’t good enough for success, they have to be sixty progressive Democrats?  Wow, they are really ineffectual if they need things to be that easy to get anywhere.

  • Chunky Style

    “So now sixty Democrats isn’t good enough for success, they have to be sixty progressive Democrats? Wow, they are really ineffectual if they need things to be that easy to get anywhere.”

    Either that or else they’re up against a GOP that has gotten absolutely ruthless, to the point that there isn’t a decent man or woman among them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    I don’t really understand what you’re trying to say here. Does this come as a surprise to you? If you want progressive legislation, you need progressive legislators. This isn’t a new aspect of American politics. If you have Democrats who are as conservative as rank-and-file Republicans, then the fact that you have sixty of them doesn’t mean much. You could have 100 Democrats in the Senate and if 60 of them are right wingers then you’re going to have as hard a time getting progressive legislation as if they were Republicans, because for the purpose of legislation, they might as well be.

    (Seriously, is this a confusing concept? Have you ever lived in the South before? What passes for “liberal” in Mississippi would be considered center-right to far-right in Massachusetts.)

  • ako

    What I’m saying is that if the Democratic party is so utterly incapable of action in the face of the slightest whiff of opposition, what good are they?  We can all cross our fingers and wish real hard for everyone in the country to completely agree on what should be done politically, but we’re never going to have the day where the entire country becomes that politically homogenous, so the only kind of political party that has any point is one that will fight vigorously in the face of political opposition.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    I think at some level, the democrats believe what the republicans are sellling: that Real America is conservative, and any time the dems are in power, it is only a fluke — a sort of accident that happened not because the people want them in power, but because the people were distracted for a moment. And thus the dems must tread careful and not make any waves, because everyone knows that they’re not _*real true*_ americans. Yes, things like helping the poor and equal rights are *good things*, but they’re *not* what Real Americans want, so the dems can’t just make it happen, they have to cajole and finagle and slip those things in when no one’s looking, or else Real America will rise up and restore the republicans to their divinely mandated position as the true rulers of us all.

  • ako

    I think that the Democratic party is suffering from the worst salesmanship I have ever seen.  Two of the most common arguments I’ve heard from Democratic party supporters are “They might not accomplish anything, but at least they slow down the harm Republicans do, and if you don’t support the marginally less bad, you’re personally responsible for the death of everyone killed due to Republican policies” and “You can’t blame them for their failures when Republicans and/or conservative Democrats had any power at all!  They can’t do anything when there are difficulties!” 

    Those are both dismal, depressing, morale-sapping arguments.  The first might be a way to get people to hold their noses and vote Democratic yet again for one more year, but it’s going to contribute to the sense of futility and despair that ultimately drives people to political apathy.  Plus, people tend to dislike a person who’s constantly deluging them with massive amounts of guilt.  The second argument makes the party look weak, pathetic, and utterly useless, which isn’t going to motivate anyone to support it.  If you spend years trying to help an organization get stronger and more effective, and have your efforts constantly rewarded with “We can’t do anything!  We’re too weak!  Push us over this next barrier!” and it turns out that after the next barrier they’re still whining about how weak and helpless they are and how they can’t possibly be expected to do anything when there are difficulties, it starts to look like a problem that can’t be fixed with more of the same kind of help. 

    The weird thing is, if you look at Obama’s record in office, it should be possible to come up with more effective advocacy than “Democrats can’t do anything while Republican opposition exists!”  I mean Osama Bin Laden’s dead, the war in Iraq has officially ended, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is over, the Lilly Ledbetter Act got passed…unlike what one would guess from the “Well, there isn’t a filibuster-proof majority of Nancy Pelosi Clones, so we can’t do anything!” argument, it has not been four years utterly devoid of actual positive accomplishments.  But rather than going “Yeah, the Democrats sometimes fuck up by excessive compromising when they should stand firm, but they also do these other good things”, it’s back to the same old demoralizing whine. 

  • Lori

    I think at some level, the democrats believe what the republicans are sellling: that Real America is conservative, and any time the dems are in power, it is only a fluke — a sort of accident that happened not because the people want them in power, but because the people were distracted for a moment. 

    I think you’re right and it drives me up the wall because it’s not true.
    Conservatives love to say that America is a fundamentally conservative nation,
    but all indications are that it’s not. There are very conservative areas,
    but  when you poll at the level of policy, not party or label, American as
    a whole is pretty consistently center Left, not center Right and sure as hell
    not hard Right.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    Not much good at all, I’m afraid..

    That’s why people have to get involved on the local and state level. You’re never going to get as much progress as you want as long as so many states remain that solidly conservative. We focus so much time and energy on the federal level — which isn’t bad — but we ignore the states until the point where abortion is practically impossible in huge stretches of the country and school boards have practically made Ronald Reagan a Founding Father because no one pays attention to them until after the far-right has taken complete control.

    We need more powerful progressive voices like Elizabeth Warren… in states like Louisiana and Mississippi and Arizona. The time when it was just enough to have a Democrat — any Democrat — in office… well, it never existed. Even FDR and Harry Truman (who no one can accuse of just rolling over!) found that they had to give up huge parts of their liberal agendas just to keep Southern Democrats / Dixiecrats from revolting.

    (Incidentally, that’s why FDR never got much done on civil rights — not because of Republican opposition but because he had to keep the New Deal coalition together (which meant Southern Democrats) in order to keep fighting for labor rights and relief for the poor and programs to put the unemployed back to work and pull the country out of a recession. Truman and his Fair Deal was even more liberal than FDR even attempted but he got his leash yanked in part by conservative Democrats)

    In a lot of these states, there is no functional difference between conservative Democrats and Republicans. The solution isn’t to cross your fingers and wish real hard; the solution is to get involved in local politics so that liberals in those states have a chance at being elected.

    That’s how the Republicans did it. All politics is local.

  • Chunky Style

    “How come the Republicans gain so much power with a minority just big enough to filibuster, and the Democrats are so helpless with anything less than the Presidency and a House majority and a filibuster-proof Senate majority?”

    Because it’s easier to block legislation than to pass it, and the things the Democrats want to happen require legislation to be passed.

  • Anonymous

    You seem to place a lot of faith in “strength” but not so much in “the law”.

    Those are two concepts that are not mutually exclusive.

    At no point in Obama’s presidency did he have 60 Democrats, which is the minimum number to block a Republican filibuster.

    A filibuster can not overcome a majority unless the majority allows it. The filibuster is just political chicken. The Republicans would not have filibustered anything if they actually faced an opposition that would force them filibuster. Because the Democrats every time blinked first, the Republicans walked away with victory after victory.

    The Republicans were not an obstacle that could have been overcome just by being manly.

    That’s exactly how the Republicans are always overcome. They’re nothing more than schoolyard bullies. Any display of strength and they’ll flee to the hills, any negotiation or weakness and they’ll pounce.

    The Republicans obstructed and obstructed on the 9/11 aid workers, and only relented after they were made to look bad.  So why isn’t the party destroyed?  It ought to be, from what you’re saying.

    Because Jon Stewart (rather than the Democrats) didn’t force the issue until December 2010, elections were in November 2010.

    It kind of makes me doubt that, if only the Dems had let the GOP make good on its filibuster threats, the public would have for sure totally understood who was in the wrong.</blockquote?

    The American people would have absolutely seen Republican senator after Republican senator talking nonsensically. One of the last actual filibusters involved reading from a phone book.

    Remember, this is a public that bought into “death panels”.

    An event that only happened because of the stupidity of the Democrats. Had they actually bothered to learn a lesson from the healthcare reform attempt during the Clinton administration we would have both a much better law, and a much more popular law.

  • Chunky Style

    “A filibuster can not overcome a majority unless the majority allows it.”

    And a hostage taker cannot overcome a police force unless the police force allows it.  A filibuster means that all Senate votes come to a grinding halt, and if you actually want to see the Senate perform necessary functions, you can’t afford to let filibusters run their course.  That is the entire point of the filibuster.  That is why they have long been considered an option of last resort, from senators who feel they need to block a truly vile piece of legislation.  That’s also why the Republicans backed down at filibusters when Democrats were in the minority.

  • Anonymous

    And a hostage taker cannot overcome a police force unless the police force allows it. 

    Perfect analogy. The Republicans are nothing more than political terrorists, and you never, ever negotiate with hostage-takers. By negotiating with them you simply notify them that taking hostages is not only acceptable, but a winnable strategy.

    The perfect example is the debt ceiling negotiations. Had Obama simply stated, “I will veto anything that comes across my desk other than a clean debt ceiling raise,” and stuck to it, a clean debt ceiling raise would have happened. Even if it didn’t, and he had to veto and the debt ceiling was not raised, it would still be preferable to knowing that United States’s public debt can be taken hostage successfully. They let that crack open and now there is no stopping it.

    A filibuster means that all Senate votes come to a grinding halt, and if you actually want to see the Senate perform necessary functions, you can’t afford to let filibusters run their course.

    The Senate couldn’t preform necessary functions because of the filibusters, among other procedural trickery. Just look at how the Republicans have blocked Obama’s judicial appointments.

    Temporarily shutting down the Senate is far preferable to allowing the Republicans to kill every bill through threat of filibuster. The effect is identical, but the latter allows it to occur in perpetuity.

  • Chunky Style

    “Perfect analogy. The Republicans are nothing more than political terrorists, and you never, ever negotiate with hostage-takers.”

    Say what?  Of course you negotiate with hostage-takers in hopes of getting the hostages released safely.  That’s the entire point of taking hostages.  Please tell me you don’t work for the police department.

    Your strategy of letting filibusters happen just means that even less gets done in the Senate; true, the GOP has to put some work into it, but the Senate becomes even less functional.  I don’t see how that’s any better, and it certainly doesn’t get at the core of the problem.

  • P J Evans

    I’m not sure there is a way to fix the senate, short of electing an entirely new set of 100 – which will take three elections (four years, minimum).

  • Anonymous

    Say what?  Of course you negotiate with hostage-takers in hopes of getting the hostages released safely.  That’s the entire point of taking hostages.  Please tell me you don’t work for the police department.

    Oy vey. Do you actually understand the substance of police hostage negotiations? They aren’t actually negotiations in the sense of politics or business where two sides come to some sort of compromise. The majority of those negotiations are simply trying to talk the hostage taker down. As far as I know it is standard police procedure to never make any promises. Israel is particularly uncompromising in hostage negotiations (they’re more likely to use excessive, immediate force and damn the consequences), since Israel is well aware of the fact that as soon as it is known that taking hostages is an effective strategy, then everyone will be taking hostages.

    Your strategy of letting filibusters happen just means that even less gets done in the Senate; true, the GOP has to put some work into it, but the Senate becomes even less functional.  I don’t see how that’s any better, and it certainly doesn’t get at the core of the problem.

    First off, it wouldn’t happen. The GOP most emphatically does not have the willpower to maintain a filibuster, possibly over anything. The only reason they were and are filibustering is because it costs them nothing.

    And a less “functional Senate” is preferable to a Senate where bills to aid 9/11 rescue workers is filibustered. The core of the problem is that Republicans get to act like big bullies at no cost and no political capital. A show of strength and they fall apart.

    Particularly because the American people despise weakness. That’s why they vote for Republicans. Crazy is preferable to weak. Evil is preferable to weak. Autocratic is preferable to weak. The Democrats should have learned from 12 years of Republican rule, strength rules.

  • Ursula L

    Oy vey. Do you actually understand the substance of police hostage negotiations? They aren’t actually negotiations in the sense of politics or business where two sides come to some sort of compromise. The majority of those negotiations are simply trying to talk the hostage taker down. As far as I know it is standard police procedure to never make any promises.

    I think you may be on to something here.

    The GOP is not holding the government hostage.  

    The GOP is treating political negotiations as if they are the police and the other side are hostage-takers.  They aren’t trying to negotiate at all, they’re just trying to keep the other side talking until they can “rescue” the government from any type of non-GOP influence. 

    Which fits completely with the GOP tendency to treat anyone who disagrees with them as not being “really” American, and to treat any non-GOP power as illegitimate. 

    The problem is not that you can’t negotiate with hostage-takers.  Because hostage-taking is all about wanting to negotiate.  Political hostage-takers generally want to negotiate the safe release of the hostages in exchange for political consideration.  The problem is that you can’t negotiate with police, because the police refuse to actually negotiate, they only pretend to do so while planning a counter-attack.  

    “Give me everything I want, and then we’ll ‘negotiate'” isn’t negotiation.  But it is how the police act with hostage-takers, it’s how the US tends to act in situations where there is conflict or tension in international diplomacy, and it is how the GOP acts when it doesn’t have enough power to do what it wants and ignore the opposition.  It’s about dehumanizing the other side, and expecting the world to bow at your feet.

  • FangsFirst

    I normally feel weird about any demonization of law enforcement as a whole (whilst being perfectly aware that there’s a good-sized handful of bad apples in the bunch, all the same) and so the whole analogy of “C’mon, poor hostage-takers, evil, lying negotiators!” kinda weirds me out…
    but…

    Damn.

    It’s just…so…completely…

    Damn.

    Good job.

  • Ursula L

    My point isn’t “poor hostage takers.”

    My point is that the idea “you can’t negotiate with political hostage takers” is an inaccurate way to describe what is happening.

    Political hostage taking is all about negotiation.  I have something you want, you have something I want, lets trade.  Hostage takers have something they want, and they have someone whom they know has what they want, so they kidnap someone that the other side cares about.

    However, the problem is that terrorists and hostage takers don’t have a legal right to the thing they have, and making the exchange has the theoretical potential to provide an incentive for others to take hostages in the future.

    So, as a matter of policy, the police say “We choose not to negotiate with political hostage takers.”  The police capable of negotiating and the hostage takers are capable and willing.  “Can’t” is not the right word to describe what is happening.

    And the police do this, knowing that such a policy is saying, in effect “screw you, hostages, we care more about the policy and future hypothetical hostages than about you as individual human beings.”  

    The GOP could negotiate in good faith.  The other side aren’t criminals or hostage takers, they’re legitimately elected government officials.  But the GOP chooses to treat the others as Other, and to treat political opposition as criminal. 

  • FangsFirst

    My point isn’t “poor hostage takers.”

    Of course not, but in context, in the analogy, it at least kind of is. And, don’t get me wrong here: I think it’s the right point of view and utterly defensible.

    I was mostly just amazed that the analogy really is just dead on, and it’s weird because you’d think that would make sympathies go the other way *because* it’s so backward, but it’s so completely correct that it overcomes even the idea of “Woah, now, we’re siding with the metaphorical hostage-takers?!”

    Sorry…I was more interested in trying to convey the effect it had on me than explaining it…

  • P J Evans

     The Republicans only have to threaten to filibuster, and at least a dozen Democrats will give up.
    Actual stand-up-and-talk-for-hours filibusters: we don’t get those any more.

  • Anonymous
    The Republicans obstructed and obstructed on the 9/11 aid
    workers, and only relented after they were made to look bad.  So why
    isn’t the party destroyed?  It ought to be, from what you’re saying.

    Because Jon Stewart (rather than the Democrats) didn’t force the issue until December 2010, elections were in November 2010.

    And this, in a nutshell, is what’s wrong with our country. My country, my homeland, the ideals that I was raised on and all the patriotism left in my rapidly cooling, cynical heart, die a little every time I remember that we need a comedian, a fake news show, in his own words ‘the guy in the back of the room throwing spitballs at the people trying to get stuff done,’ the show that comes on between puppets making crank phone calls and fucking South Park, to get a fighting chance to stop even the most obvious of immoral, evil legislation.

    Don’t get me wrong here; I love Jon Stewart and the Daily Show, and I am continually impressed by how much they manage to accomplish on a regular basis. But holy shit, where have the rest of the voices of reason gone? Someone standing up in front of a crowd and pointing out that the Republican agenda is a blatant measure to fuck over the poor… he should not be a lone voice in the wilderness. The things that these people are doing and saying should be denounced from every rooftop, and instead we have Fox News and the Washington Post.

    Oh, my homeland, what bells shall ring for your death as the wolves rend your life’s last blood from your foundation?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Pelikan/100000903137143 Jonathan Pelikan

    (This is a long, angry post, but its anger is not directed towards you. It is just a reflection of how little forgiveness I have left in my heart for Republicans.) 

    Back when the Republicans held the majority, specifically thinking of early Bush years, they did so much stuff without much or any Democratic support whatsoever. They steamrollered whatever fucked up, treasonous agenda through Congress that they felt like, and rules and morality be damned. Conservatives have known for a long, long time that our culture is currently engaged in a war, and in war, you work towards the defeat of your enemy with every tool at your disposal, even if it’s not the nice thing to do. I want the President and the Democrats in Congress now to start fighting. I don’t expect them to win every fight, but I do expect them to fight every fight. If those damned Republicans want to toss huge sacks of money at the rich and leave the poor to die, as usual, then get up in their face and say, “see, there’s a procedural rule here that says you have to wait 400 hours before blah blah bah”. Don’t operate in good faith with these liars, these monsters, because they have never and will never operate in good faith with you.The reason I personally have felt so betrayed these past three years is that all too much, it is painfully clear that my side hasn’t been fighting at all. See: Healthcare. Or, shit. Too many examples to name. If the healthcare bill was the best compromise we could have got, well, that’s shitty, but it’s reality. But really, we don’t know, because Obama and the Democrats didn’t push the Republicans, hard, with everything they’ve got. Everybody knows that, since, again, they don’t have the street-fight mentality, the trench-warfare mentality, to lock horns with the Republicans.When some typical conservative gets up and says “hey, see that black woman over there who gave a speech about how she overcame her racism against white people and helped white farmers secure government assistance to keep their holdings? uh. here’s an edited piece of shit videotape that shows she’s really a Kenyan or an anti-colonialist.” the immediate reaction of our President should not be “… Oh. Okay. -cuts loose- Bye, innocent victim and member of my team and faithful worker on my side of politics! Nice knowing you. Your sacrifice was necessary so that conservatives wouldn’t hate me.” Bush’s people were actually criminals and monsters, for God’s sake, and he fought for them tooth and nail.

    My mom has the Obama Mindset, too, and arguing with her is sometimes like we’re sailing right past each other’s heads. “But Republicans are evil and they’re the enemy!” “Well, this is America, and that means you have to compromise with everyone.” I just want my President and my party to stop walking into the Republican buzz-saw with their arms open, especially since they’ve been doing that the past fifty or so times. We’ve seen the result of that action with our own two eyes.

  • Lori

    A lot of the problem is, a lot of people vote Republican and they put a
    lot of Republicans in Congress, the net result being that the GOP has
    every legal right to oppose legislation they don’t like.  You’ll find
    that most instances of the Democrats “caving” are situations where the
    Democrats are legally obligated to get the Republicans’ approval to get
    things passed.

    This is not true. When people talk about the Dems caving it very rarely
    has anything to do with legal obligations. It’s about the (utter bullshit) idea of
    effetively requiring 60 votes to get anything passed and the way the
    Dems rolling over every time the GOP looks at them hard is not about the
    law. That’s about Congressional rules, which are not law and do not have
    the force of law, and the way the GOP has abandoned all pretense of
    being the loyal opposition when they’re out of power and is now simply
    nakedly obstructionist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Pelikan/100000903137143 Jonathan Pelikan

    Exactly. Instances like ‘oh, we can just imply that we’re filibustering now’ are what I mean when it seems like the Democrats aren’t even fighting. If they wanted, they could force those confederate sons of bitches to get down on the actual floor of the actual senate and talk themselves dry.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    It’s as if someone took Arthur Dent’s argument to Mr. Prosser seriously.

    “Well, if you’re resigned to me filibustering, we can just take it as read that I’m actually standing up talking for hours, and you don’t actually need me to stand up and talk for hours, and I can nip off down to the pub for a bit. And it goes without saying that you won’t try any sneaky voting on the bill while I’m away.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    Senate rules do have the power of law, which is derived from Article 1 of the US Constitution. The Senate theoretically can change them but it’s pretty hard since no one wants to take that risk. They could technically get rid of the filibuster now but what happens if the Republicans get 51 seats in 2012 or 2014 or whatever and decide to, for example, shut off funding for Planned Parenthood?

  • P J Evans

    On the other hand, it’s only tradition that the Senate can’t actually change the rules. No congress is actually bound by the rules of its predecessors: they just do it from inertia. I’d favor making them write all their rules from scratch every two years, just to make them notice what they’re doing. (One change I’d like to see, and it may actually require a law to do it: no one should get floor privileges after they leave office. It would limit the access that ex-congresscritters have as lobbyists after they leave and supposedly become ordinary citizens again.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    The Senate can change its rules — no one denies that — but it doesn’t want to, because both parties anticipate that at some point in the future they will be in the minority and they don’t want the other side to run roughshod over them when they get into power. That’s why no one will actually try to get rid of the filibuster; it might be used to obstruct the Democratic agenda now, but in two years or four years it might be used to obstruct the Republican agenda.

    I like the idea of making them rewrite their rules every two years though, but I don’t think they’d scrap the filibuster.

  • Chunky Style

    The classic takedown of Rand by way of John Rogers at kfmonkey.blogspot.com:

    “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”

    And a quick appraisal: “There’s a monster at the end of the book!”

  • Ursula L

    Fred, you’ve missed the main problem with HEAP – they don’t actually get to give money to the energy companies.  They merely buy energy from energy companies, on behalf of poor people.

    [sarcasm]
    The energy companies have to provide something in return for the money.  And expecting a big corporation to provide goods or services in exchange for money is Very Wrong.  They have a right to that money, and don’t owe anyone anything in return, don’t you know.
    [/sarcasm]

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com Mordicai

    I’m also fundamentally confused by stuff like this.  I see two options:

    One, cognitive dissonance.  The politicians can’t understand the nature of economics.  Economics is tough!  Alternately, they think the citizens can’t understand it, so they compromise their ethics & pander to an uninformed voting block.

    Two, an extension & extrapolation of Starve the Beast.  An actual ideology based around doing foolish, stupid & wrong-headed things…so that eventually the whole Jenga tower comes crashing down.  Maybe as part of a “screw the Other Party!” tribalism, maybe as part of a “our corporate overlords must be obeyed!” kind of Darth Vaderdom. 

    I guess it is sort of another round of everyone’s favorite game: STUPID or EVIL?  & as everyone is inclined to quip, sometimes it is both.

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com Mordicai

    Also, is it just me, or have the ads on this site become really invasive?

  • rm

    I second Jonathan P.’s “shit is fucked up and bullshit” sentiments. I don’t mind if the Democrats lose some of these battles; I just want them to fight the battles. Republicans do have the power to block things and to negotiate for evil causes. Make them pay a price for it. Make it as hard as possible. Paint them with their own shit on television as often and as forcefully as possible. Call them what they deserve to be called.


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