The Speaker Of The House Impasse

Former Speaker of the House John Boehner quit the job with a tear in his eye, and for weeks House Republicans have been thrashing around, trying to find a replacement.  Political reporters have had a field day.  They’re speculating about the kinds of things pundits always speculate about — namely, what the impact of the inability to choose a replacement Speaker will be at the ballot box — without arriving at a clear answer.

Here’s the clear answer:  voters don’t care.  Seriously — we just don’t.  We’re so used to a dysfunctional Congress that an intraparty dispute about who should be the Speaker of the House really has no impact.  As a voter, you can’t help but think about how you might be affected by what Congress is doing, and leadership squabbles and political infighting have no plausible impact, period.  It may be full of nuances and backroom maneuvering that is fascinating to the punditry, but for the average Joe it’s just more background noise emanating from Washington, D.C., the capital of background noise-making.

It’s being reported today that Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Congressman who was Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate in 2012, has answered appeals that he stand for Speaker by setting certain conditions in a meeting with fellow House Republicans.  According to the New York Times article linked above, Ryan said he would serve if House Republicans could unite behind him as a common force, if the “bomb throwers and hand wringers” would shut their yaps for a while, and if he could serve as a communicator and legislator rather than a peripatetic fundraiser.

Ryan says that he changed his mind about potentially serving as Speaker because he concluded that this is a dire moment for the country, with all kinds of budget issues lurking, including a fight about extending the federal debt limit — again — and an impending dispute about funding needed to avoid a governmental shutdown — again.  I’m not sure how “dire” all of this is, really, because we have seen these same issues, over and over, under Congresses and Administrations controlled by both parties.  It’s hard to conclude that the current state of affairs is any more dire than what we have seen before, where the inevitable result is a last-minute compromise that just delays the issue for a while longer.

Ryan says he thinks Congress has become the problem, and he wants it to become the solution.  Sounds good — but words are just wind.  If Ryan can really get Republicans to unite behind him, and can actually get Congress to act in a responsible way by making meaningful budget cuts, voters might actually sit up and take notice.  Until then, we’ll just ignore the stupid shenanigans and silly infighting and go on about our lives.

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Why I’m Voting For Mitt Romney And Paul Ryan

On Tuesday, I’ll walk in to the polling booth at the church in New Albany where we vote and touch the screen for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.  I recognize that that decision won’t come as much of a surprise for loyal readers of our family blog.  I think it’s only fair to explain why, if only to add one more person’s perspective to the national conversation about this election.

In my view, the most important issue confronting our country is our federal deficit and national debt — the latter of which has passed the $16 trillion mark.  I care about other issues, of course, but I view our debt as the most fundamental issue of all because it involves basic concepts of national sovereignty.  Our debt is so large, and has existed for so long, that we tend to think of it as a kind of abstraction . . . but every dollar of that debt is a real obligation of our country, reflected in an instrument sold by the U.S. treasury to a willing buyer who will be paid a specified interest rate.  With each additional bit of borrowing, we give those people from whom we are borrowing leverage that may allow them to dictate terms — at first, the terms of the debt instruments, by insisting on higher interest payments, and then eventually the terms of how our government operates, by dictating whether we need to adopt austerity measures in how our country operates if we hope to obtain additional loans.  At that point, our national sovereignty is at stake.

We know this to be the case, because over the past few years we have seen it occur in Iceland and Ireland, and in Greece and Portugal.  Those countries borrowed irresponsibly and saw the interest rates on their debt instruments rise as investors became increasingly concerned that the debts might not be repaid and demanded higher rates as the price for accepting that risk.  And, ultimately, outside forces — the International Monetary Fund, European Union bankers, and others — went to each of those formerly sovereign nations and told them what they needed to do if they hoped to continue to borrow money.  Those governments accepted the conditions and agreed to the austerity measures imposed by outsiders because they had no choice.

I don’t want to see that happen here — yet, over the last four years, we have seen the United States move down that very same path, with annual trillion-dollar deficits that have taken our total debt past the unimaginable sum of $16 trillion.  We also passed a significant milestone on that road to perdition when our national credit rating was downgraded.  I don’t think that downgrade has received the attention it deserves.  Imagine!  Credit rating agencies presuming to raise questions about the credit of the leader of the free world, a country so stable that its currency gave rise to the now-antiquated phrase “sound as a dollar.”  But the ratings agencies are so presumptuous, and we are kidding ourselves if we think our many lenders aren’t also carefully considering our credit-worthiness.

I don’t want to wake up one morning and see that our political leaders are having to dance to the tune called by teams of grey-suited bankers from the IMF, or China, or Germany.  If that happens — and if we continue to rack up trillion-dollar annual deficits, it inevitably will — we shouldn’t kid ourselves about what it would mean.  Does anyone think federal funding of NPR or contraceptives, to identify only two of the issues being discussed during this campaign, would survive under the austerity measures forced upon us by creditors?  Does anyone think the bankers would hesitate to require fundamental changes in entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare?  Does anyone think our country could continue to function as a world leader, and a force for good, as a debtor nation struggling to deal with its overwhelming credit problems?

I recognize this is a dire scenario, and some believe it just can’t happen here.  My response is to look at what has happened in Europe, to countries that have just been ahead of us on the irresponsible fiscal policy curve.  Their experience shows, I think, that it can happen here — and it will, if we don’t do something about it.  I’m too proud of this country and what it has accomplished to let that happen without trying to change course.

I don’t think President Obama places a high priority on grappling with our deficit and debt problems.  He’s talked about them, but his actions speak louder than his words.  He continues to propose budgets that would result in trillion-dollar debts for years into the future, and continues to propose the creation of new federal agencies and federal programs as the solution for every problem.  He hasn’t used the bully pulpit of the presidency to encourage Congress to act.  I’ve seen nothing from President Obama to indicate that his performance over the next four years on this crucial issue of national sovereignty would be any different than his performance over the past four years.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, on the other hand, do focus on the issue of our deficit and our debt and have proposed approaches.  I think they understand the fundamental nature of the problem and would make working with Congress to address the issues in a meaningful way their top priority.  I want someone in the White House who will tackle the debt problem, not let us drift into catastrophe.  That’s why I’m voting for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

Listening To The Veep Debate On The Radio

Yesterday, on our drive home, we listened to the C-SPAN rebroadcast of the vice presidential debate.  Being up north and out of TV broadcast range, we hadn’t seen the debate live or heard any of the post-debate spin.

It was odd to hear a political debate rather than to see it, as if we had been hurled 50 years back in time to 1960.  And, as legend says was the case for the first Kennedy-Nixon debate that year, the visual TV medium apparently created a different perception of the Biden-Ryan debate than did the aural radio experience.  Because we were just listening, we didn’t see Vice President Biden’s facial expressions and physical gestures that have been the subject of so much talk.

We could, however, hear the Vice President’s chuckles, ejaculations, and interruptions.  At times the cross-talk made it impossible to understand what anyone was saying.  I’m not sure politicians fully appreciate how annoying it is when they try to talk over each other, whether it’s during a debate or on a Sunday morning talk show.  It’s not persuasive, either; instead, the interjections make it seem like you believe you can’t afford to let your opponent finish his point.  That seems more like weakness than vigorous advocacy.  When lawyers present an oral argument, they argue their case, listen to their opponent’s position, and then present a rebuttal — without interruptions or attempts to monopolize the microphone.  Why can’t politicians show the same courtesy?

Other than the irksome disruptions, incidentally, I thought the debate seemed evenly matched.  Biden showed more passion, Ryan showed more precision, but each side got through their talking points and sounded their themes.  My radio review would score the vice-presidential debate a toss-up.

The Veep Candidates Square Off

Tonight the second of four national campaign debates takes place.  Vice President Joe Biden and Republican candidate Paul Ryan will go at it for 90 minutes.

I know many conservatives have been slavering for this match-up, and I imagine many Democrats are hoping that Biden can right the ship after President Obama’s underwhelming performance during the first presidential debate.  The veep debate will cover both domestic and foreign policy issues, and will consist of nine 10-minute segments.  The moderator will ask a question, each candidate will have two minutes to respond, and then the moderator will guide the discussion of the issue for the remainder of the time period.  Martha Raddatz of ABC News is moderating, and given the uproar about Jim Lehrer’s laid back approach during the first presidential debate, I expect that she is getting lots of free advice about how she should discharge her moderating duties.

Conservatives are looking forward to this match-up because they believe that Ryan is knowledgeable and capable and Biden is a gaffe machine who inevitably will stumble into some blunder.  That could happen, of course, but I think it’s equally likely that Biden will more than hold his own.  He’s an experienced national figure who’s been through lots of debates before, whereas this will be Ryan’s first time all alone on the big national stage.  If the Democratic ticket wants to bounce back from the President’s poor showing in the first debate, Biden needs to deliver a strong performance.  I’m sure he’s been very focused on making sure that he is adequately prepared.

In the end, I’m not sure that the vice presidential debate means much of anything.  I don’t think anyone votes for a ticket based on the veep — but tonight’s debate should be interesting.

This Election, Ohio Truly Is The Heart Of It All

Ohio used to call itself “the heart of it all,” because of the state’s purported heart-like shape and central location.  This presidential election, Ohio truly seems to be the heart of it all.

You can’t walk around downtown Columbus without hearing about a political event.  This afternoon, Florida Senator Marco Rubio gave a speech at the Ohio Statehouse for Republican candidate Mitt Romney.  President Obama showed up a bit later for his own event in German Village.  I was working at my desk when I heard the distinctive sound of a presidential motorcade rolling past, with sirens blaring and deep klaxon-like horns barking. The President stopped at the hotel a block from my office, where the street was blocked off by police cars and motorcycles and those huge black Secret Service SUVs.

Hey, Mr. President!  Could you keep it down the next time you come to town?  I’m trying to wrap up a conference call here!

Some polls have indicated that the President has a growing lead in Ohio.  If that is true — and I’m a bit skeptical of polls — I’m not seeing it.  More importantly, the campaigns certainly aren’t acting that way.  I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more of President Obama and Mitt Romney, Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, and their high-profile surrogates, here in the heart of it all.  From all appearances, President Obama and Mitt Romney are going to be fighting tooth and nail up until Election Day to try to win the Buckeye State.

A House Divided On President Clinton’s Speech

The Webner House was a house divided last night after President Clinton’s speech to the Democratic National Convention.  It’s been a while since we’ve seen President Clinton giving a speech on the national stage, but he hasn’t changed much.  He still has that crinkly voice, the habit of starting every second sentence with “Now” or “Look” or “This is important,” and the finger-wagging and finger-pointing.  He still exudes a kind of roguish folksiness.

Kish thought President Clinton knocked it out of the park with his vigorous defense of President Obama’s performance and critique of the Republicans.  I thought the speech was too long and too unfocused, flitting from topic to topic on hummingbird’s wings without establishing any kind of theme, and not very convincing besides.

Consider President Clinton’s point on gas costs.  He said we should be grateful that the Obama Administration has issued regulations that will require cars to be twice as fuel-efficient in the future, saying that means we’ll be paying half as much for gas because we’ll be driving cars that need only half as much gas.  The problem with that argument is that the federal government has been issuing fuel-efficiency regulations for years, yet our costs increase because the rising price of gasoline outstrips any fuel-efficiency savings.  Is any American paying less for gas these days than they did, say, in 1994?  And, of course, President Clinton only focused on the cost of gas, and not the cost of the car.  How much will it cost to buy a car that meets the new standards? How many people will be able to afford them, and how many of the cars — like the Chevy Volt — will need to be sold with a government subsidy to even approach the range of affordability?

I also was struck by President Clinton’s point that the big difference between his tenure and now could be summarized in one word:  arithmetic.  He argued that Republican proposals don’t add up.  The use of “arithmetic” is interesting because a popular t-shirt in Republican circles these days is a play on the famous 2008 Obama “hope” poster; it features a silk screen of Paul Ryan with the word “Math.”  Republicans argue that it is President Obama’s budget proposals that violate basic principles of mathematics and are based on phony “savings” and overly optimistic assumptions about economic growth.  Is President Obama well-suited to attack Republican arithmetic when he has presided over a series of years that have produced trillion-dollar deficits, and his own budgets forecast enormous deficits for the foreseeable future?

Finally, President Clinton argued that no President, including Clinton himself, could have fixed the problems President Obama inherited in only four years.  The fundamental premise in that argument, of course, is that President Obama hasn’t repaired the damage in four years.  Even if you accept that conditions when President Obama took office were historically unprecedented, the problem is that President Obama, Vice President Biden, and other members of the Administration confidently predicted that the problems would be fixed and that the economy would be roaring ahead at this point.  Obviously, that hasn’t happened.  Some Americans may pause to wonder why we should reelect someone who hasn’t delivered on his assurances and now is saying that the job was tougher than he led us to believe.

Neck And Neck In The Buckeye State Battleground

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan was in town on Saturday.  He did some campaigning before he went to the first quarter of the Ohio State-Miami RedHawks game — Miami being his alma mater — and then he jetted off to some other battleground state.  Ryan’s been in Ohio multiple times already, as have President Obama, Mitt Romney, and Vice President Biden. The New York Times reports that Ryan even carries a lucky Buckeye in his pocket.

We’ll be seeing a lot more of them all in the days ahead.

The campaigns are treating Ohio as a toss-up right now, and according to polling data, it is.  The most recent look at Ohio, a pre-Republican convention poll by the Columbus Dispatch, had the presidential race tied, 45-45, and also had the U.S. Senate contest between incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican challenger Josh Mandel tied, 44-44.  What better definition of a battleground state than one where contests are not just within the margin of error, but literally tied?  The airwaves are full of ads for and against various candidates, and the campaigns seem to be scientifically targeting certain areas — even certain suburbs — as they look for votes.

It feels like a close race here, too.  In 2008, there was a remarkable outpouring of support in Ohio for President Obama.  You saw it in unlikely places like Upper Arlington, a Columbus suburb that traditionally has been a Republican stronghold.  The President won Ohio by nearly 5 percentage points.

This year I haven’t seen that same level of buzz for the President.  Activists and the professional pols are trying hard to drum up excitement, but many people seem to have backed away from politics a bit, perhaps because they believe the President hasn’t delivered the change he promised in 2008.  Whether they re-engage with the political process now that Labor Day has passed, the Republican ticket is set, and the traditional campaign season has arrived will tell us a lot about which way Ohio, the quintessential swing state, will swing this time around.