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Belmont Club

The Game of Chickens

October 1st, 2013 - 2:27 pm

There are two sets asymmetries that characterize the budget showdown over Obamacare. The first is that it is the Democrats, not the Republicans, who really have the hostage. The hostage is the taxpayer dollars already paid in the expectation of services. The basic calculus of the Democratic party is that the voters need what the tax dollars paid for so much that they’ll accept even legislation they hate just to keep the music playing. John Dickerson writes in Slate.

In the first hours of the shutdown, the terrain looks very bad for Republicans. It’s amazing how consistent the polls have been about linking a confrontation over the Affordable Care Act to funding of the government. While polls show the public disapproves of the law, it has consistently told pollsters it is not in favor of tying government operations to defunding the health care plan.

But even though the Dems have the hostage, they are needier in this negotiation than the Republicans.  To the Republicans, conceding Obamacare only changes the degree to which the GOP plays second fiddle to the Democrats.  It only changes the speed at which they acquiesce to Big Government, a process that’s been going on since FDR. But for the Democrats, for whom big government is the basis of power, any step back on Obamacare would strike at the very foundation of their strength. “Forward” is not just a slogan. It’s a condition of existence. In some strange way, the asymmetry ensures it is the Dems who in the “no retreat no surrender” position. It is the Democrats who must prevail at all costs. Seung Min Kim at Politico writes:

They’re up for reelection in places where President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular, but red-state Democrats are sticking with their party in the acrimonious fight over Obamacare and shutting down the government. …

Not a single Democrat crossed party lines Monday in a Senate vote to reject House-passed provisions that would have, among other things, delayed Obamacare for one year. The cohesion stands in contrast to other divisive issues such as gun control and spending cuts that have led red-state Democrats to split with their colleagues.

The reason for this is simple. Like any Ponzi scheme they need money to keep the pensions, the promises, the whole system of rewards going. Like a Ponzi setup, an ever-enlarging Big Government has only two modes: a brilliant tomorrow or total failure.

This pair of imbalances has led to some seemingly contradictory behavior incentives whose drivers need to be understood in order to make sense of them. Max Fisher of the Washington Post, for example, notes that Obama actually can’t do anything in Washington because the whole shutdown is in part political theater, so he’s better off just doing is job.

“Look at it this way,” he writes, “the federal government shut down eight times under Ronald Reagan. What did history ultimately record as more important: any one of those eight shutdowns (say, the one in October 1986), or the Reagan administration’s successful effort to use preferential trade policies to coax some Caribbean nations away from Soviet orbit and toward the American?” The  sky isn’t going to fall in the short term.

So Fisher thinks Obama should go to China as scheduled and “cultivate American influence in that increasingly important part of the world”. But as Thomas Wright, who studies foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, told Fisher on Twitter, Obama doesn’t dare. “I’d hate him to miss it, but I don’t see how he can go. He needs to be in D.C. and be seen to lead, broker a deal, etc.”

That’s because he has to pretend the shutdown is the earth-shaking event it is made out to be.

The constraints on the President are something you wouldn’t expect if it were only a matter of waiting for the Republicans to die by from shutdown poison they ingested. As Manu Raju and Burgess Everett of Politico noted, a Democratic triumph is a little more complicated than waiting for the GOP to come up for air. They report that Obama almost got cold feet at the last minute before the shutdown, which suggests that he sees warning lights flashing in the distance. The president was tempted to negotiate with Boehner but only the assurances of Harry Reid kept Obama from doing it.

When the president considered sitting down with the four congressional leaders in the White House ahead of the deadline to avert a government shutdown, Reid privately urged Obama to call off the meeting, according to several people familiar with the situation. Reid believed that it would amount to nothing more than a photo-op that would give the false impression that a serious negotiation was occurring, even warning he wouldn’t attend such a session. Obama scrapped it.

The key problem for Reid was that Obama could show no weakness; if the Dems caved on this issue, even wobbled, then the ever-timid GOP might be emboldened. “‘He’s been the rock … and he’s had our whole caucus behind him,’ said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a close Reid ally who spoke with the majority leader nine times on Saturday afternoon. ‘Because if we negotiate on a short-term [government funding bill], what are [Republicans] going to do on a long-term bill? What are they going to do on the debt ceiling?’”

What indeed, when a step back in the ever forward drive for bigger government means not smaller government but the cliff.  Yet the strategy of assuming the Republicans would lose, that they must quit the game of chicken was fraught with unappreciated peril.

Reid’s no-compromise stance is not without its own risks. With Washington held in such low regard, politicians of all stripes are certain to incur fury from constituents once government services are suspended, parks are closed and hundreds of thousands of federal workers are furloughed. And Reid now is protecting a fragile Democratic Senate majority, with Republicans just six seats away from returning to power — so any misstep by the Nevada Democrat could hurt vulnerable senators in red states.

The biggest danger for the Democrats is probably the temptation to hurry things up; to give the Chicken Little prediction a little shove. As most people have noted, the sun rose today and is more than likely to rise tomorrow. The shutdown didn’t end the world. Max Fisher said as much when he argued that Obama could better use his time in China then attending to politics in Washington. But the sun keeps rising for long enough, the sharp stab of pain, the reminder of the pivotal role of government which was supposed to goad the voters into their camp won’t happen acutely enough for Reid to win.

And a draw is as good as a loss for Obama and Harry Reid. In the nature of things they will be tempted to intensify the pangs. Pour a little accellerant on things. Talk up the misery. Stir up the pot. But this is a dangerous game given the fact that Obamacare is an existential issue for the Dems. They are playing with their lives and should be more risk averse in a conflict over it than the GOP.

The game is theirs to lose and they could lose it by single miscalculation. So in all likelihood Obama will stay in Washington until he makes sure the Republicans are beaten down. If he goes to China then the optics will shout that the Sky isn’t falling, or at least that no differently than from the effect of Obamacare.


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Top Rated Comments   
I think you're correct as far as you go. The problem is that as soon as the left starts losing they change the rules of the game so they don't.

Every time over the last few decades the democrats start to see trouble on the horizon they suddenly conjure up a whole new batch of entitlements to buy enough votes to hang on.

The original welfare state created by FDR was trivial by today's standards, but when it started to fade along came the Great Society.

Now we have Obamacare. The goal is to take all the wealth the American people have been using to obtain healthcare, seize it, apply it to keep the welfare state creaking along for a few more election cycles, all while convincing the rubes that it's making things better.

If the people who previously had good health insurance are unhappy about this, tough. You don't make an omelet without breaking eggs, and in any case they probably voted Republican anyway so who cares about them?

Certainly not Barry, or any of his friends.

The task of the Republican party, or whatever succeeds it, is to change this dynamic. Good luck to us all, because I'm not sure the present party led by John Boehner and Mitch McConnell is up to the challenge.
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm not going to claim to have any idea how this will shake out, but I think the GOP has an existential risk here also.

I think the base of the party simply will not tolerate any more of the usual Republican procedure of rolling over, then bleating that the forces of perfidy were jusssst tooo strongggg to resist. I know I'm thoroughly fed up with a party that too often seems to be nothing more than Barrry's rubber stamp. I suspect that the DC-based GOP establishment has been willing to allow a shutdown only because- at long last- they fear the anger of the GOP base more than they fear the mean words and insults from the left.

As Nancy Pelosi said the duty of an opposition party is to oppose. Oppose like you really mean it, GOP. Or just go away, because if you aren't willing to go to the mat against the left then you have no reason to exist.




52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
No part of Obamacare was funded with the legislation. The closest thing they did, as I recall, is DEFUND Medicare repurpose the "savings" for starting up Obamacare.

It's interesting that the debt ceiling, budget, and the ACA are the general topics of disagreement, but the fact that all this "new" money paying for Obamacare is coming only from the Treasury's printing presses, is entirely missed.

The easy argument for the GOP is, "We don't like the ACA as written, the American people hate it, it's not living up to it's promises, but, if you want it, just tell us what programs other than defense that you intend to cut to support the new heathcare subsidies, and we'll pass the legislation. But just one thing, we will never allow the cost of today's Obamacare to be passed to tomorrow's generation in terms of debt, nor to American's today in terms of uncontrolled inflation and rising unemployment. As written, Obamacare, will do exactly that, while pricing heathcare out of the budget of ordinary Americans."

That's the message. That message wins, mainly because every word of it is true.
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
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Why, "Obama invites Congressional leaders to WH shutdown summit" (a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/obama-calls-1st-meeting-congressional-leaders-shutdown/story?id=20443222">link

Can the press be even more fawning 'presidential'?
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Democrats want Obamacare to fail because they want a single payer British NHS system. They want a government shutdown because they want to replay the assault on Gingrich of 1996. The contents of the Bill or the quality of the web engine were always unimportant.

One thing meant to survive are the taxes, which will be eternal. The other important part of the plan is the jobs for the Navigators. Acorn is back big time. This is more money for them by the most expensive and complex route possible..

For the Sequester they kicked schoolchildren out of the White House. For the Shutdown they attempted to kick WW-II veterans out of their memorial.

We are governed by Disney villains.

Constant and escalating public challenges and humiliations are called for. Thoughts from our house shrinks would be useful. My expectation is that many Democrats, including Obama may have full public incoherent meltdowns. Sane Republican leaders should keep in contact with senior military leaders, and let the Russians and Chinese know they are doing so, to ensure that no domestic crisis evolves into a global catastrophe.

The odds are that soon New York will find itself governed by Bill de Blasio, otherwise to be known as Obama After Taxes. The resulting disaster may eclipse what happened to Detroit. If Wall Street crosses the Hudson river will that boost a Chris Christie bid for 2016? Given his ties to Muslim Brotherhood operatives what would a Christie Christie versus Hillary Clinton election mean for us? Is there a way out of this abattoir?
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
Why does Instapundit get an Edit feature and we don't?
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
Kathleen Sebelius and the commenters over at Time think the glitches are the result of the overwhelming response of excited health care buyers basically overloading the exchanges.

But I don't buy that. Modern load balancers and scalable virtual web engines will just ramp up capacity like a Krell Machine. It will add more virtual servers as demand increases. More than likely it the result of a complex system that is facing rollout problems.

It should have been released incrementally, both in time and space. In phases and not all at once. But I think they were in a hurry to get the money drip in. How many people were actually able to sign up?
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
Big Government has many needs
To which the GOP accedes
That can’t be bought with colored beads
Constituents to feed
The Dems think only their good deeds
Are proof against encroaching weeds
And so continue what succeeds
That is their holy creed
But no one knows where progress leads
When hard times comes one eats the seeds
The danger signals no one heeds
It’s all just fraud and greed
A true blue Dem has heart that bleeds
And unaware the rot this breeds
All hanging by the tinny screeds
Of the thinnest kind of Reid

52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
Walt;
You've absolutely out done yourself! Thinnest kind of Reid indeed!
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
Obviously nobody but nobody understands Obamacare. The "eligibility rules engine" that someone conjured up in Oregon is a phrase and an idea that would make George Orwell and Franz Kafka proud.

What does the "engine"do? I bet each person who is processed by the "engine" has to stand submissively before it with their hand out. After a truckload of backfires and grinding the engine will stamp the hand of the processed person with a logo - either "recognized person" or "rejected pollutant".

A third party looks more likely every day. A third party that first competes with the Republican Party and then eats it.

52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
After the Democrats excoriate the third party, the MSM will do the same and so will the GOP. We really do need to take over one of the two major parties via primaries.

We might have the best outcome if we attack the Democratic Party who would be wholly unprepared for such a move. Besides, every win would be a two-fer.
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
Maybe some of the problems stem from the fact that the law found to be constitutional by the SCt is not the one that exists now-it's been unilaterally and unconstitutionally changed by presidential fiat.
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
The system glitches illustrated in the video above puzzled me at first, because creating a web input form is not rocket science. Unless ... it has to incorporate business rules. Where would those business rules come from? Could they possibly be grounded in the Obamacare act, whose regulations are 8 times longer than the Bible and growing?

Well that would explain the glitches for sure.

If there is some connection between the complexity of the Obamacare regs and the business rules that run these exchanges then there's another factor in play. The system may be unimplementable, at least not without a lot of pushing and shoving.

A system this complex should ideally be decomposed, but in space and time; that is to say be rolled out by market and phase, unless it is homogenous. It will be interesting to watch since on thing that can't be easily fixed by hiring more people is software development.

"We are aware of the problems", the government spokesman says. Obama says Obamacare is like the Iphone, sure to have some bugs but gold in the end. I wonder whether the comparison between a government agency and the Apple Corporation is apt. But we'll see. We'll see.
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
"I wonder whether the comparison between a government agency and the Apple Corporation is apt. But we'll see. We'll see."

It well may be apt in the sense that the manufacture of their flagship products are done by commie serfs in a factory building that requires 'safety nets' to prevent those who have lost all hope from jumping to their deaths out the windows.
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
It turns out I was not completely off the mark. Information Week describes how Oregon tried to do it. http://www.informationweek.com/tech-center/it-as-a-service/obamacare-health-exchanges-how-oregon-go/240162074

" Presenting a product -- an insurance policy -- isn't the hard part. The hard part is figuring out which federal and state programs and tax credits a person or family is eligible for. Getting that part right takes creating an extremely complex rules engine.

About 1,700 individual rules affect eligibility for health insurance subsidies in Oregon. Children might qualify under different rules from their parents, or half-siblings might have different eligibility based on their parents' income. In Oregon, writing the eligibility rules engine took 12 people nine months. Confirming eligibility requires integration with multiple outside data sources, such as confirming income and citizenship with federal sources, and that process is what separates it from ecommerce sites. ...

"The policies and rules came to us a little at a time," Karjala says. "It was constantly emerging requirements." For example, the Federal hub that state exchanges connect to for verifying income and citizenship was completed this summer. That timing helps explain why exchanges are doing so much testing down to the deadline.

The solution, says Lawson, was "ruthless incrementalism. We had to build in an agile fashion and build what we know, and then put the pieces together like Legos."

All I can say is Holy Toledo.
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
Bwa ha ha ha ha

Mwa ha ha ha ha
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
But wretchard, have you seen any projects run any better, anywhere you've worked in the last ten years? I do a lot of contracting, I see a lot of shops, and the average process quality is significantly worse today than ten years ago, or twenty. People shout "Agile!" and think it covers all the lazy, unmanaged cowboy coding they do.

But most of the bugs I've heard about just sound like bad coding, not business rule issues.

Obamacare survives the Republicans but falls to the code monkeys, film at eleven. Very HG Wells.
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well there's apparently a job which I'm sure some of you might want to apply for called an Obamacare Navigator. Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/08/hhs-obamacare-navigators-95575.html#ixzz2gWeqLzVp

"More than 100 groups will split $67 million to help people “navigate” the new Obamacare health insurance exchanges — more money than the administration initially said would be available but short of what advocates say will be needed to help people sign up, especially in states where the governors are hostile.

The grants announced Thursday will go to 105 organizations, including community groups, health care providers, business groups and a handful of Planned Parenthood affiliates. The program, which got an extra $13 million from the health law prevention fund, is for those states that refused to set up their own health insurance exchanges, and the federal government is stepping in.

The “navigators” will have to fill in the outreach gaps in Obamacare-resistant states that are doing little to raise awareness of the law. With just 46 days until Obamacare health insurance exchanges open for enrollment, the timeline is also extremely tight for the groups receiving the grant awards to hire navigators and have them undergo mandatory federal training."

Near as I can tell they're like the Red Guards, there to explain the complexities of Obamacare to "Obamacare-resistant states". So that leads me to suspect that this program is somewhat less than self-explanatory. I'll go further and say that I strongly suspect that nobody actually understands it. You are likely to get 10 different answers from 10 different people.

Now imagine you're a programmer taking directions from some kind of Navigator, some hack who's supposed to 'splain things to you. How would you like them apples? I have new respect for whoever cranked out that exchange software. But I wouldn't bet on it giving any answers worth a damn.

One more thing. You can readily see that the exchanges don't sell you insurance. What they sell you is the net result of literally thousands of transfer rules. Tax credits, penalties, benefits, fines, incentives all flying around in the rules engine. That spits out a number which may or may not have any relationship to the concept of insurance. That's one hell of a way to run a railroad.
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
All of the unemployed ACORN community organizers will finally have a new career path!!! "ACORN Navigator"
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
Now, if reprehensible Republicans were as nasty as, say, the Democrats, they would sign lots of people up to be Navigators and sabotage the system...spread dismay and disappointment by following, selectively, the rules.

The dems do it all the time. They call it the March Through the Institutions.

And, NO ONE WOULD BE ABLE TO TELL WHAT WAS DONE OR WHO DID IT, complexity has a 'quality' all its own.

Just sayin'...
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
I say the dems have overreached.

What's at stake, a continuing resolution? A short-term continuing resolution? Worthless anyway. The House should never have approved even the first of these four years ago.

Obambus sounded insane this morning. Even the MSM is likely to notice. The Republicans have backed waaaay off defunding Obamacare, so Obambus whinging this morning was dishonest to the point of insanity. And it's COMMON in politics for one vote to hold up a huge program.

All the whinging from Obambus and Reid and Pelosi are ONLY because the Republicans are such whimps they cannot seem to put up any response. In which case - the Democrats are right. I don't want anyone that whimpy sitting in control of anything, either.

So step up Republicans, you RINOs and white shoe types. The revolution is here, and you are history. Go ahead and switch parties, you know you want to. Or line up behind Cruz, and pray he has what it takes to get it done and isn't just the next flavor of the month.
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm not going to claim to have any idea how this will shake out, but I think the GOP has an existential risk here also.

I think the base of the party simply will not tolerate any more of the usual Republican procedure of rolling over, then bleating that the forces of perfidy were jusssst tooo strongggg to resist. I know I'm thoroughly fed up with a party that too often seems to be nothing more than Barrry's rubber stamp. I suspect that the DC-based GOP establishment has been willing to allow a shutdown only because- at long last- they fear the anger of the GOP base more than they fear the mean words and insults from the left.

As Nancy Pelosi said the duty of an opposition party is to oppose. Oppose like you really mean it, GOP. Or just go away, because if you aren't willing to go to the mat against the left then you have no reason to exist.




52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think you are correct; BOTH parties are in an existential fight. The Republican Establishment is being squeezed by the conservative's anger at the Republican's ineffectiveness, and their failure to do any more than hurl verbal barbs at the Democrats. If the Republicans don't win SOMETHING from this go-around, Cruz and the other young Lions in the party will lead the base away from the old dinosaurs, either splitting the party, or creating a new force which would hugely complicate Washington politics, and end the "go along to get along," Beltway business as usual crap.

Either way, this may very well shake up American politics and reverberate for years. I also think Cruz is way out in front of almost everybody else on this and will ride the crisis to high office.
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
No, they are not. The Repubs are just hoping for a place at the final trough. Reid and the rest of the Left hope the Masters To Come let them have some small sinecure. Same for the Establishment GoP.

The real existential fight is in our court. Who will survive what is surely coming?
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
Great analysis Wretch. The most sober I've read. This issue has really separated polls from the proles. The GOP chicken hawk RINOS are showing thier stripes abd coming home to roost.

I am too lazy to do anything about it but Cruz is right, this is about the NAZI'S (the Democrats) and the Joos (Pubs and independents). There is a growing consensus that growing old aint so great when you live ib s dictatorship.

Before I need to ask Satan for an aspirin I am going to kill me some commies. Shut 'er down now and never open'er back up. We will make do. This is existential. You cannot control government democratically but you can surely deny them satisfaction. That is all that is needed.

The greatest generation is now laying down to rest. Time to say thanks for what was.
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
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