The chuckleheads [Upate 2]

Bird Dog's picture

After Boehner's Plan B failed in the House, fellow Ohio Congressman LaTourette went on to NPR to criticize those in his own party.

LATOURETTE: No, I don't know. And, you know, that'll die with the leaders. But my sense is that if you've watched this Congress, there's been 40, 48, 50 Republican House members that no matter how they try to accommodate them, they wouldn't be accommodated.

BLOCK: Well, those 40 to 50 people whom you're talking about, you've called them before chuckleheads. Is that how you describe them?

LATOURETTE: Well, they are chuckleheads. And by chuckleheads, I mean that, you know, our responsibility in the majority is to govern. And you don't put forward an agenda no matter which party is in charge successfully unless you can deliver enough votes on your side to put the bill in play with the Senate and the president.

And, you know, so the same people that say that we can't go down the path that President Obama wants to lead us or Nancy Pelosi, they haven't gotten it through their heads that every time Speaker Boehner can't garner 218 votes on our side, he has to then go over hat in hand to the Democratic leadership or the White House. And anybody that thinks that then becomes a more Republican bill is a chucklehead.

I agree with LaTourette. This isn't governing. The Urban Dictionary defines chucklehead as "some clown who takes nothing seriously" or "a blockheaded bonehead moron", to name the two most popular versions. In effect, LaTourette is criticizing, nay, insulting intransigent Tea Partiers because they're moving their own agenda backward, apparently unwittingly. Chuckleheads aren't just elected representatives. After all, there were a number of voters who picked 'em, not to mention the ones who picked Mourdock over Lugar and O'Donnell over Castle, etc. This is why I'm not terribly optimistic about the outcome of the fiscal cliff negotiations, not unless the chuckleheads come around. But as it is, Boehner is in an untenable position. On one side, the Tea Partiers were never behind him. On the other, Obama and the Democrats are political foes.

UPDATE 1: Peter Wehner is one of the clearer thinkers on the conservative side of the spectrum and he gets it.

3. House Republicans have now managed to put themselves into a situation in which if we do go over the “fiscal cliff,” early next year President Obama will propose tax cuts for somewhere around 98 percent of the American people. If House Republicans go along with Obama, then it may dawn on them that Plan B was a significantly better deal from their perspective, since it limited tax increases to those making a million dollars or more rather than whatever lower figure Obama will propose.

If House Republicans don’t go along with Obama, then they will vote to prevent tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people simply because tax cuts weren’t also given to the top income earners. I understand that Republicans will have supported tax cuts for 100 percent of the public rather than 98 percent. Still, the political effect of all this may well be that Barack Obama will have created a situation in which he’s viewed as the champion of tax cuts for the vast majority of Americans. That would be a stunning achievement by Obama and House Republicans, who could hardly have done more damage to themselves if they tried.

4. The results of this week – and especially if we go over the fiscal cliff – will be that the Republican Party will look increasingly extreme and adamantine. Even if you believe that characterization is completely or largely untrue and unfair, it exists, and conservatism has to take into account the world as it is.

Edmund Burke, in defining statesmanship, wrote, “We compensate, we reconcile, we balance. We are able to unite into one consistent whole the various anomalies and contending principles that are found in the minds and affairs of men.” That sensibility has been missing among some House Republicans, I think – many of whom seem to have convinced themselves that they made a stand on principle that will redound to their credit. They may be right, but count me skeptical. House conservatives got what they wanted, which is no deal and (perhaps) a trip over the fiscal cliff with their flag flying. If that happens, I suspect the GOP, conservatism, and the tax cutting cause will all suffer. Which may eventually underscore for them why prudence is such an important political virtue.

5. President Obama is far from blameless in all this. He never gave John Boehner enough in exchange for Boehner’s willingness to break with a decades-long GOP commitment not to raise tax rates. If Obama wanted to avoid going over the fiscal cliff, he once again showed that he is a fairly inept negotiator. If he does want to go over the fiscal cliff, he may become quite familiar with the axiom, “Be careful what you wish for.” Because as Bob Woodward put it, “This is the Obama era, it is [the president’s] economy. Speaker Boehner’s an important player and this is significant, but it is Obama’s job to lead and define — so if there re negative consequences here, particularly in the economy, it is going to be, ‘In the Obama era, things didn’t get fixed.’”

6. Quite apart from who deserves the most blame for where we are, there is something slightly depressing in terms of the failure to govern in a responsible and reasonable way. Our political system right now is not only unable to rise to the moment and confront the challenges we face; it seems to be badly broken and staggeringly incompetent. The lack of trust in, and growing cynicism toward, our governing institutions will only increase. And that is not a good thing for a self-governing republic.

The Economist outlines the Obama strategy.

Fostering the civil war in the Republican Party is crucial to Mr Obama's chances of getting any part of his agenda passed over the next four years. The top items on that agenda are climate-change legislation, immigration reform, and (suddenly) gun control, along with keeping up some measure of progressive stimulus until the economy is fully recovering. But if the Republican faction in the House stays as united as it has been for the past 18 years, only immigration reform has any chance of passing. If Mr Obama can crack Republican party discipline on taxes, he may be able to press the other items on his agenda as well. Alternatively, he can look forward to elections against a divided, angry GOP in 2014, and hope to go into the last two years of his term with a stronger position in the House.

Republicans have locked themselves into an impossible position on budgeting by simultaneously vowing never to allow taxes hikes, and passing long-term budgets that create a fiscal cliff necessitating tax hikes. It's in Mr Obama's interests to gain Republican cooperation to work out the best possible deal, but if that's not forthcoming, it's also in his interests to use the impossibility of the Republicans' position to weaken them. Back before the elections, Mr Chait wrote a piece distilling the thinking he'd heard from Obama aides on the budget debates. "The term that keeps popping up among Obamans is break," Mr Chait wrote, "as in, 'we have to break the Republicans on taxes.'" That strategy seems to be working out. Either Mr Obama is going to break the Republicans on taxes, or he's going to try to break the Republicans. On taxes.

This doesn't sound like a president who is interested in negotiation. By his record, he never really was.

UPDATE 2: Obama still going according to plan.

President Barack Obama will not be making a new offer to congressional leaders to avert the fiscal cliff at a meeting at the White House Friday afternoon.


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It goes far beyond a funny name

HankP's picture

what the Republicans are doing right now is striking at the very idea that the US can govern itself. They are in charge of one of the three major branches of government, and they refuse to negotiate (as in one branch proposes X, another proposes Y, and ensuing talks narrow the difference between X and Y). They can do this, and given the results of the last few midterm elections they may not even suffer from it. But their insane approach (X is a tax increase before 1/1/2013, but a tax cut after it) has real implications in the real world. The rating agencies are sufficiently fraudulent that no one really cares about what they say now, not to mention the ridiculously low interest rates on treasuries. But eroding the belief in the world's reserve currency is not a good long term strategy, and in the past the sorts of changes haven't been handled especially well. But of course we can't learn anything from history.

I blame it all on the Internet

To a point

Bird Dog's picture

Obama drew a line and refuses to negotiate beyond that. He also threw out any semblance of the previous 3-to-1 ratio out the window, or even a 1-to-1 ratio. It's pretty much all about taxes for the Democrats. Those elections, they keep having consequences. If nothing happens, the Democrats get tax increases, major cuts in defense and get to blame Republicans for all of it. It's win-win-win for them. And even though Pelosi favored the same Plan B that Boehner put forward last May, this time around they all sided against Boehner, so I'm not seeing consistency or principle coming from your party, just power politics. And meantime, the Reid-led Senate has done exactly nothing and passed exactly nothing and yet has eluded any blame. The dysfunction isn't one-sided.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

Pelosi did not support Plan B


Plan B is more than just the $1 million mark for tax increases. 


Plan B doesn't extend the payroll tax cut, the Earned Income Tax Credit, or the Child Tax Credit, and doesn't do anything about the debt ceiling.


It's not much like what Pelosi was talking about in 2011.


And Obama has not drawn any lines he refuses to negotiate past. He verbally drew a line at the $250k mark, then went to the $400k mark. He's already put SS on the table despite his VP saying it wouldn't be. He's compromised on the debt ceiling. Just in $ amounts, Obama's last offer was more than 1/2 way toward the R side of the respective starting offers.


He's still a terrible negotiator, and the Tea Party still can't take Yes for an answer. 

My bad

Bird Dog's picture

It preserves the Bush tax cuts, except for the $1 million part and capital gains, and lets Obama's tax cuts expire. Of course, San Fran Nan would have none of that, even though a House-Senate version would restore some of the  cuts. 

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

Don't forget


That Obama gave the Republicans about a trillion in discretionary cuts last year for nothing. For that reason, a 1:1 deal (or 1.3:1 if you don't want to include interest savings) is not directly comparable to the 2011 offers. But of course, as you say... elections have consequences. Obama always plays the long game, and this was the moment he's been angling for... I'm hoping he's patient and uses it to his best advantage.

"I don't want us to descend into a nation of bloggers." - Steve Jobs

On the cliff


Obama's negotiating position is entirely driven by "Under the assumption that Republicans do nothing, what happens".  Currently, it's a pretty good situation policy-wise for him if that happens, so he's gonna roll with it.


Assuming that the Republicans do nothing is also pretty wise -- they're not even in DC right now.  Hard to blame him for playing the hand he's dealt.


Which congress agreed to this fiscal cliff back in 2011, anyways?

Same Congress, same president

Bird Dog's picture

Given Obama's strategy to break the GOP, he will get nothing done. His only chance is a 2014 Dem win in the House, which is a doubtful proposition.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

Wow. Where have you been?

HankP's picture

Haven't seen you for quite a while, welcome back.


I blame it all on the Internet

Maybe they are chuckleheads


But consider the possibility that they are being rational.


Perhaps they fear a primary challenge. Or perhaps they think that being a "pure" conservative is good for their careers.


I would hypothesize that for a lot of them the optimal outcome is that a compromise is passed, with or without Dem votes, but with their vote against. That way they will be able to stay pure, but they will not be blamed for our falling over the fiscal cliff. The corollary to that is that maybe Boehner's job is not really that much at risk... that the Tea Partiers need him as a foil that bails them out from the consequences of their actions.


By the way, Merry Xmas everybody! I'm in Australia visiting family and having a jolly old time. It is Boxing Day here right now... a bonafide holiday over here.

"I don't want us to descend into a nation of bloggers." - Steve Jobs