It’s a great sign that President Obama has been reaching across the aisle to have meetings with GOP members (and Democratic Congresspeople). One thing everyone on the Hill agreed about was the need for President Obama to spend more time on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue, but it never seemed to be something he liked to. Budget chairman Paul Ryan is making the rounds of talk shows after his lunch last week with President Obama and the ranking member of the Budget Committee, Chris VanHollen. He described his lunch as including a “frank discussion” but while no one expects him to completely give up his principles, the budget he released this week looks pretty close to what he released in 2011 and 2010. Moreover key provisions, that were soundly defeated in November’s elections are back. This despite the fact that not only did GOP candidates get fewer votes — one million fewer nationally, read more here, in both the presidential election but also in House races, and exit polls taken on election night 2012 their ideas were losers, too. Meaning, voters were asked what they thought of tax increases or other GOP policies and the people said no. Why do the Republicans have control of the House of Representatives? That tried and true tactic of gerrymandering. In 2010, a number of states redrew their congressional districts (Texas’ attempt to become a GOP utopia was undone by section 5 of the voting rights act, proof that provision is still relevant.)
Perhaps Ryan isn’t up on this part of the process because his new budget looks a lot like he took his 2011 budget and just added rhetoric from the losing 2012 campaign. Look, I would not expect him to give up on his core principles but at least concede political reality. His budget doubles down on the less popular parts of his plan (making Medicare a voucher program), maintains the unpopular “repeal Obamacare” provisions and then makes an unexpected run for the “what?” by keeping cost savings included in the Affordable Care Act (ACA or “Obamacare”) — he just tosses out the benefits.
Of course Ryan knows this is part of the process he also knows something that makes sense to most people but isn’t a talking point for either party; the election really doesn’t matter. At least not in the House. A Representative in the House has one real job, represent his/her constituents. Having an opinion you’re like to share with someone who represents a different district, sending correspondence to that Member is a waste of time. Their staffs don’t read letters or email from outside their district. As we have gerrymandered districts that are more and more extreme, the Congresspeople have less and less reason to listen to the other side. Ryan may believe the positions his budget supports represent his core values — he has submitted nearly identical budgets twice before so there is no reason to assume he is lying. He probably also knows that this a preliminary one, both budgets released are clear political documents (though Senators don’t get to pick which voters in their state they can ignore).
You may have heard Speaker John Boehner has made comments recently about the “Hastert rule.” When we had Speaker Dennis Hastert, he made the rule by saying he refused to bring any bills to the floor that didn’t have a majority support, “The Republicans have the majority, why should we cede power to the Democrats?” Since then, speakers have ignored the rule (even Hastert) when they needed to. I wonder if Boehner will need to do the same to get a real budget passed.
Oh, and any budget that takes us a full fiscal year will beat the continuing resolution craziness that has been how we have been running the federal government since 2009. I’d say “there ought to be a law” against that but since when does our legislative branch pay attention to that sort of thing?