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Entries for 'Carter Wrenn'

10
A government shutdown’s turned out to be a peculiar sort of beast.
 
First, before a shutdown, every politician – in both parties – declares the government shutting will be terrible. Awful. Armageddon. And every politician swears they want the government to stay open.
 
Then the government shuts down.
 
Next one group of politicians proposes to reopen the government one agency at a time – and passes bills to fund half a dozen agencies. The other group of politicians declares it wants every one of those agencies open too.
 
Then refuses to vote to open even one of them.
 
Next both groups of politicians agree to pay every furloughed government employee every penny of their back pay when the shutdown ends – which turns furloughs into vacations with pay but doesn’t open a single government office and costs millions.
 
Now, how on earth, you might wonder, would a Democrat be all for opening government – but then vote against opening half a dozen parts of government?
 
Or how on earth can a Republican vote for furloughing people and paying them not to work – instead of simply paying them to go on working?
 
It turns out the President, the Senate, and the House work like a three way firing squad. Not one of them can spend a penny the other two don’t agree to. Now, fortunately for the elderly, long ago another Congress agreed to pay Social Security benefits. But, legally and constitutionally, the President and the Senate can’t fund their heart’s desire (Obamacare) as long as the House says, No Way.
 
Which leaves the Democrats with three choices: Bribery. A swap. Or coercion.
 
The President ruled out a swap declaring, I won’t negotiate. Period.
 
Bribery’s out because any Republican Congressmen taking a bribe (say an earmark) to pass Obamacare wouldn’t have to worry about winning the General Election – because he’d never make it out of the primary.
 
Which leaves coercion and, say what you want about Obama, you have to admit for all his suaveness and soft-spoken words the President’s a warrior of the first order. He didn’t come from behind and whip Mitt Romney by being Caspar Milquetoast. Plus, he’s endowed with a true believer’s faith. And a riverboat gambler’s nerve.
 
So, when the Republican House offered him everything he wanted except Obamacare, he figured, To heck with it – I’ll double down and bet the pot to win it all.
 
And, just like in a poker game, that left the Republicans with two choices: Fold their cards or take a big gamble too.
 
The prospect of calling Obama (and betting  the house) made the Pachyderms  plenty nervous – a lot of them figured the safe move was time to walk away from the table. In the end they made their bet but, right away, so as not to offend Independent voters, they immediately set about reopening as much of the government as they could – everything from national monuments to cancer research.
 
That made life complex for President Obama and the Democrats. Who wanted voters mad at Republicans. To do that, the shutdown had to hurt. So reopening parts of government didn’t fit into their plans. So they refused to even fund cancer research.
 
So how does all this end? Does Obama blink? Or the Republicans?
 
Here the President has one big advantage. He’s never going to run for office again. He’s done. But in two years a lot of Republican Congressmen are going to be up for reelection.  And more than a few of them have a nervous eye peeled toward next November.
 

 

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07
Houston, we have a problem.
 
Last weekend, in Asheville, Roy Cooper threw down the gauntlet. He’s running for Governor.
 
This isn’t quite a tsunami or earthquake. But Democrats now have a bona-fide candidate (with name identification and money) standing eyeball to eyeball with Governor McCrory – pouring gas on the fire of the Democrats' campaign to 'Stop the Nasty Republicans.'
 

 

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04
Talk about strange things happening: Up in Washington two tribes of politicians have been pummeling each other night and day over who deserve the blame for shutting down the government.
 
Then, unexpectedly, one tribe changed directions.
 
First the House Republicans voted to fund national parks and monuments, then they voted to fund part of the Department of Veterans Affairs, then operations for the District of Columbia, then cancer research at the National Institute of Health.
 
Which all sounded reasonable.  
 
If the Montagues and Capulets in Washington couldn’t agree on funding the whole federal government – why not fund the parts they do agree on?
 
There was a brief glimmer of hope until the Chief of the Senate Democratic tribe declared, That’s a wacky idea.
 
Who’d have expected it?
 
One tribe says, ‘Let’s fund the Department of Veterans Affairs and cancer research – we all agree that’s good work – and the other tribe says, No way – that’s a crazy idea.
 
It’s sort of leaves you scratching your head.

 

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02
I opened the newspaper yesterday morning and stared at a picture of a lonely fellow standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, putting up a sign that said: Closed.
 
The headline above the picture said: “Government starts shutting down” – and the story explained Social Security checks will be late, parks shuttered, and 800,000 workers furloughed.
 
But, then, on the same page, another headline announced: “Raleigh gets another $15 million” – from Washington to build its new train station.
 
The government’s closing the Lincoln Memorial and giving Raleigh $15 million?
 
Something’s not quite right here.
 

 

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01
The politicians, when you get down to the short rows, are the varmints who decided to hang  a ‘Not Open for Business’ sign on the federal government – but, in an odd way, it wasn’t the politicians who were pouring gas on the fire.
 
In the age of the twenty-four hour news cycle and roaring commentators from dawn to dusk the government shutdown turned out to be the perfect news story. The blondes on Fox News were having the time of their lives.
 
Last night was like watching the cable news version of the countdown to Armageddon with anchormen roaring the end of the world was coming in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 hour, and tersely reporting each new hope, explaining breathlessly, The House just met, the House just passed a bill, the Senate killed the bill, Obama said, Boehner said, Harry Reid said….on and on it went until midnight when Armageddon happened and I went to bed.
 
I woke this morning expecting to turn on the TV and hear: Horrible carnage. Aftermath of the end of the world.
 
Of course, none of the news channel pyrotechnics absolves the politicians; whether you believe the shutdown’s justified or pure folly, it’s proof our politics is broken beyond any hope of quick healing. But the twenty-four hour cable news cycle may not be the best thing that ever happened either.


 

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01
After Democrats ran an ad in State House Districts, something akin to a shockwave rippled down the hallways of the General Assembly, unsettling the less stouthearted Republican legislators.
 
Last fall, after the last election House Republicans, riding high, assumed, We won. People love us. We can do what we want. They did. Then their poll numbers dropped. Then that ad hit. Then a cry went up from the unsettled, If we just give teachers raises – people will love us again.
 
But are pay raises actually the reason for House Republicans’ shrinking poll numbers?
 
No one seems to know – for certain.  This may be like the fellow who let the dog out one morning, fell down the steps, broke his leg, then angrily told his wife, The whole thing was that darn dog’s fault.
 
Legislators once thought they were loved…and now they’re thinking all they have to do to get people to love them again…is raise teachers’ pay.
 
But is that infallible logic…or a second miscalculation?

 

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27
It’s an old American saga: The President has a program he’s in love with but can’t muster the votes in Congress to fund it. So he doesn’t get his program.
 
That’s the way it’s been for over two centuries.
 
So why, now, isn’t the story coming out of Washington simply, “The President fails to win the votes he needs to fund Obamacare?” After all, when it comes to passing the budget, what’s unusual about Congress saying to the President what Congresses have said to every President, We’ll fund part of what you want – but not all.
 
Of course, no one expected President Obama to take being told ‘No’ lying down – and he didn’t. Stamping his foot he shot back, I want it all. I won’t take less, and he hit the road telling anyone who listen that the vile wicked nasty Republicans were about to shut down the whole federal government. The more he talked the madder he got. The Republicans were like children he said, adding,  Just because you don’t get your way you don’t have to threaten to blow the whole thing up.
 
But, in fairness, if the whole thing does blow up, who’s to blame? Congress which voted to give the President trillions to spend? Or the President who insisted, That’s not enough. I want more.

 

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26
Yesterday I asked why the three camps in Washington – the House Republican Bigwigs in Washington, the House Republican Conservatives in Washington, and President Obama –couldn’t sit down and make a list of the government departments they can agree to keep open and then fund them this week to avoid an absolute government shutdown.
 
Then, at their leisure, they could fight it out over funding the rest of the government – while the rest of us go happily on with our lives.
 
I expect the answer to that question may be as plain as the nose on your face: The two Republican camps in Congress, since they are less enamored of government, would be happy to fund parts of the government and let the rest lie fallow for a while. They might get a few less new jets (and a few less defense contracts for their districts) than they’d like, and there’d be a few unhappy farm State Republican Congressmen, but by and large they’d be pretty content.
 
The same is not true of the President.
 
He’s in a harder spot: If he does not get ObamaCare funded now, with the threat of a government shutdown hanging in the air, chances are he won’t get it at all. Not this year. And maybe not next year. And, even then, he’d have to win an election and put a majority of his allies in the House first.
 
Which of course is exactly the cure for gridlock our forefathers had in mind when they created our clunky, clanky, three headed lump of a government.
 
So the President has to use the threat of a government shutdown to force Congress to give him ObamaCare and the more complete and painful the shutdown appears to be, the more likely he is to hear Congress say, Uncle.
 
Of course, that still sounds like Obama faces an against-the-odds fight, but he has a pretty fair chance of winning for one reason: John Boehner.
 
The Speaker of the House is the master Washington Insider – but he’s no warrior. Political combat is not his cup of tea. And the minute he climbs into the ring with Obama, well, the President may be soft-spoken and polite – but there’s pure warrior blood flowing through his veins.
 

 

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26
The Governor, it appears, looking at his ailing poll numbers, figured the legislature had landed him in the soup, so it was only prudent to put some distance between himself and the Republican skunks in the General Assembly.
 
Of course, it’s also sometimes difficult to trace the origin of a smell and to legislators it appears the Governor’s the real skunk: We’re not the ones, they say, paying our former campaign staffers whopping big salaries.
 
Either way, there’s not much doubt, over the last nine months Republicans have taken it on the chin – but why (and who’s to blame) is not exactly clear.
 
What is clear is we have now entered an era of friends falling out – after all, with the Governor saying a House bill cost jobs, how many Republican legislators are going to shake their heads regretfully and sigh, Oh, well?
 
This kind of politics can get very complex. It’s like watching three elephants (the House, Senate and Governor) parading around the circus ring, each with his trunk wrapped around the tail of the elephant in front of him, then suddenly one pachyderm, lowering his head, tusks the fellow in front of him.
 
That kind of surprise will, naturally, lead to ill feelings.
 

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25
With thick smoke clouds billowing out of the Capitol it’s hard to see who’s winning the latest war in Washington – plus, it isn’t a simple us versus them war: It’s a three tribe melee (with two camps of Republicans fighting Obama and each other at the same time).
 
At first, a couple of weeks ago, it looked like Chief Boehner of the largest Republican tribe was about to work out a deal with Obama to fund Obamacare and avoid a government shutdown – but then the second Republican camp (a small but fearless tribe of conservatives) threw a monkey wrench into the works.
 
The Republican Chief then reversed course which, of course, didn’t sit well with the President – who, it turns out, is a match for both the conservatives in fearlessness and Boehner in cunning.
 
Suddenly, the Republican Chief found himself under attack from both sides. He’d send a trial balloon floating over toward the Obama camp which the President would shoot down, saying, I’m not budging; then the Chief would try his hand in his own Republican Caucus, explaining, Look, Obama’s not going to give an inch. He knows if the government shuts down we’ll be blamed.
 
That homily fell on deaf ears, too – showing Boehner little more empathy than Obama had, the conservatives more or less said nobody had ever won a fight by running away.
 
Now, all that said, right in the middle of this melee, there is one thing all the tribes agree on: A government shutdown is not a good idea. After all, it means Senators and Congressmen won’t get paid. And all three camps also agree paying soldiers and sailors makes sense – so, while a sergeant’s fighting in Afghanistan, back home his wife isn’t wondering how she’s going to make ends meet at the end of the month.
 
It’s not hard to understand a conservative saying, As a matter of conscience I can’t vote to fund Obamacare.
 
Or to understand Obama saying, And as a matter of conscience I can’t let you not fund Obamacare.
 
But it’s hard to see either saying, I can’t agree to pay soldiers and policemen and to care for the infirmed.
 
So why isn’t someone – anyone – in Washington saying, Let’s fund the things we agree on (which amount to trillions of dollars) then fight it out later over the rest.
 
It’s one of those odd mysteries.
 

 

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