Calling your shots
Banning black cats that aren't there
I’ve written two posts in the past week that I’ve decided to not send, at least not yet. A follow-up Afghanistan post and a SCOTUS/abortion post will probably get sent out sometime in September, once the fog-of-war clears a bit. Hopefully next week we will get back to at least one non-political post per week as well.
Good-faith campaigning, transparent governing
I have had a bit of a hobby-horse the past few years: politicians should state publicly on their website what their political positions are. In my mind, this should not be controversial. However, many politicians cannot or will not explain their positions on even high-profile issues on their own websites.
I won’t name-and-shame yet, but there are plenty of candidates across the country running for governor or Senate who refuse to give even a basic outline of their positions on a website. For many of these candidates, you can get a high-level overview through advocacy group surveys and their Twitter feed, but on their own public website they avoid them. Candidates should campaign under the assumption their political agenda will be popular; if they know it not to be popular they should either change their agenda, or campaign on their agenda anyhow and accept a low chance of victory.
To lead by example, I am working on my political platform; an early version of that platform is available at http://earlyversion.com/ .
I will not say writing a platform is quick or easy. But for politicians that are literally paid to do politics as their full-time job, it should not be too heavy a burden.
A bill identified by its cost
I recently came across this tweet:
Senator Sanders is clearly supporting some bill, and threatening to hold some other bill he supports “hostage” in negotiations within his party.
But what is in the $3.5 trillion bill? Sanders’ tweet has minimal details. Throwing money at health care and education has been tried for years; we are clearly past the point of diminishing returns for poorly-targeted money. And with climate change, what is needed is less consumption of fossil fuels; there is a limit to how much “spending money” can accomplish that.
My first stop to find out what is in the bill is https://democrats.org/ , the home page of the Democratic Party. To my utter lack of surprise, there is nothing about a $3.5 trillion bill. Apart from the platform (and that report of the 2020 Platform Committee is aspirational and unrelated to current legislative efforts), there is nothing ideological whatsoever on the site. It should not be too much to ask for there to be a Git repo with the current draft legislation on that site.
My second stop is Sen. Sanders’ government website, at https://www.sanders.senate.gov/ . It has some coverage, both op-eds by Sanders and third-party reporting, but both are largely focused on the top-line cost. In particular, I see nothing original to the site; everything is simply a syndication of some outside publication.
My third stop would be a Senate Committee website. Unfortunately, none of the committees appear to have even met since August 9th, the date of the NPR article. There have been no hearings during the “August recess”. No updates on their websites. Which leads me to question the expectation a bill will be passed in September.
Investing in hammers during a nail shortage
Unhappy with the first-party sources, we turn to the news media. NPR had a report in August; the outline presented there is still relevant. The first (and most glaring) problem is that this is an omnibus bill. Thanks to the filibuster, the US Senate is second only to the Sejms of the 18th century Rzeczpospolita in bureaucratic hurdles. The elected majority is allowed to pass one bill (the budget bill) per year; everything else must get a super-majority. With the current degree of partisan loyalty, partisan rancor, and brinkmanship, this is nearly impossible.
So the omnibus nature of the bill is considered a necessary sin; the fact that the bill can only spend money is also considered a necessary sin; and the fact that we must go to the press to find out what Democrats want to include in the bill is considered a third necessary sin. I’m sure there’s a saying about those who sin three times before breakfast. But anyhow. What have we bought with this price?
$135 billion … to address forest fires, reduce carbon emissions and address drought concerns - I’m going to focus on the forest fires. A CNBC article says the first omnibus bill (also known as the $1 trillion bill, or the “bipartisan” bill) includes money to pay for firefighter salaries when fighting forest fires. But what about the second bill? Will it encourage or discourage logging? How about controlled burns? A Scientific American article outlines the lack of consensus among stakeholders, so a hand-waving “we will do the right thing” or “we will do the non-controversial thing” is almost certain to do the wrong thing. Apart from a tweet disagreeing with me and claiming forest fires are because of global warming, I’m not sure Bernie Sanders even has a position on forest fires. Well, “spend money to try to stop them” may count as a position, but it shouldn’t.
$107 billion for the Judiciary Committee, including instructions to address "lawful permanent status for qualified immigrants." - You can’t convince me this should be in the budget bill. (yeah, yeah, three sins at the top of the section …) Also, presumably, approximately $106 billion is for other purposes not mentioned in the NPR coverage.
$726 billion for the Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee with expansive instructions to address some of Democrats' top priorities - Some of these “top priorities” I support (universal pre-K for 4 year olds), others I oppose (without a plan, adding federal funding for colleges is basically lighting money on fire). Is there a plan? Probably not yet. Will there be a plan? Who knows.
And it goes on. Bernie Sanders says that “every single thing” is vital, yet I would be much happier with a list of 3 (or 9, or 18, or 144) things that are vital. I would also be happier if the bill were actually written. Or at least outlined on some official website.
But Sanders has done none of that. Instead, he has merely threatened Nie pozwalam! on the bipartisan bill. If inaction is really not an option, then why won’t the various Democratic legislators get their act together and act? And yes, “just pass it” may not be an option, but I have expressly listed several other actions they should take which would be a good start.
His other option, to give up and start campaigning for the 2022 elections, is likely to be substantially worse for him; most experts predict the Democrats will lose their majority in the US House in that election.