Ross Douthat’s Sunday column attacks congressional Republicans for what he describes as their “methodless madness.” And on Friday, he urged them to “set aside the fantasy of winning major policy victories in divided government” and instead focus on winning the next two elections. Ben Domenech, writing in The Transom, replies that Ross is neglecting the fact that House members are being entirely rational, as they are “responding to constituent majorities who wanted to see them fight Obamacare through any and all possible methods.” Had House members embraced Ross’s strategy, they might have faced vigorous primary challenges.
Ben’s point is well taken, but Ross isn’t claiming that the defund strategy came out of nowhere. Many observers, including Byron York, have explained the dynamic that has empowered a minority of House Republicans — the members Ross has dubbed “the House intransigents” — to essentially set the GOP negotiating position. The question is whether this dynamic is helping Republicans advance the goals that they share, and whether there is anything that can be done about it if it does not.
One concern is that the goals of the House intransigents might not align with those of other House Republicans. Matt Yglesias recently argued that the GOP civil war “appears to have no real content,” as Republicans generally agree on the central domestic policy questions. I’m not sure that this is true. For example, some House Republicans might be amenable to a coverage expansion effort that costs, say, 60 percent as much as the Affordable Care Act, yet which relies heavily on default low-cost catastrophic-coverage options. Others might oppose any coverage expansion effort that entails spending outside of the tax code. Similarly, some Republicans might prefer to emphasize tax cuts for middle-income households, or middle-income households with children, while others might prefer to emphasize cuts in the top marginal tax rate and in taxes on capital income. And while some of the Republicans who’ve focused on reducing the number of SNAP and Medicaid beneficiaries do so with an eye towards making these programs and others like them more work-friendly, others are primarily interested in cutting social expenditures. These differences might strike non-conservatives as minor, but they have big implications both substantively and politically. These views should be able to co-exist comfortably within the same party, given the broad consensus in favor of market-oriented public policy, limited government, and competitive federalism. But the willingness, and indeed the eagerness, of House intransigents and their allies in the Senate to attack and undermine their colleagues suggests otherwise.
Benjamin Wittes warns that the shutdown could have deleterious consequences for national security, and he accuses the shutdown caucus of “knowingly risking other people’s lives and safety in a fashion against which the most basic prudence counsels loudly.”
Scott Winship observes that “New Yorkers’ incomes rise and fall together.”
And Adam Levitin and Susan Wachter offer a “technological” explanation of the housing bubble and subsequent bust — the advent of private-label mortgage-backed securities led to an excess of mispriced mortgage finance, which in turn drove up housing prices to unsustainable levels.