by dday, Wed Feb 18, 2009 at 01:44:53 PM EST
Just to update everyone on the meltdown out here in California - last night the Republicans in the State Senate engineered a putsch, deposing their leader in the dead of night because he was insufficiently unconcerned about the welfare of the state.
Around 11 p.m., a group of GOP senators, unhappy with the higher taxes that Senate leader Dave Cogdill of Modesto agreed to as part of a deal with the governor and Democrats, voted to replace him in a private caucus meeting in Cogdill's office. Shortly before midnight, it was still unclear who would replace him.
Cogdill's ouster could be a major setback to budget negotiations. Cogdill was a lead negotiator on the budget package and had committed to voting for it. If he were removed from his leadership post, a new Senate minority leader would likely try to renegotiate the deal, which lawmakers spent three months forging.
Zed Hollingsworth (I'm calling him Zed because, like the recently excavated mammoth at the La Brea Tar Pits of the same name, he's a prehistoric elephant) is indeed trying to reopen budget talks and take taxes off the table, and if there's not a breakthrough in a couple days, he may succeed. Darrell Steinberg, the Democratic leader, is vowing to hold out, but he doesn't have much left to offer the holdouts, as they remain 1 vote short in the Senate.
Meanwhile, 20,000 state employees are getting pink slips, and continued delay will make the state ineligible for federal transportation dollars because they can't provide matching funds, costing the state billions. The Republican obstructionists have cost the state untold amounts in shutdown/start-up costs, higher rates of borrowing due to the uncertainty, etc.
Given all this, I have to wholeheartedly agree with Robert Cruickshank's take on how this all does nothing but highlight the need for fundamental reform and a return to democracy in California. He did an admirable job going over the history and the menu of options, but I want to make the more emotional argument for a return to majority rule. Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money did the best and most concise job of explaining why, despite the essential truth of the Republican Zombie Death Cult, it's the process-based enabling that is the original sin.
Although Krugman is of course right to blame a "fanatical, irrational minority" for the current crisis in California, it can't be emphasized enough that what really matters is the incredibly stupid institutional rules that empower this minority: namely, the idiotic super-majority for tax increases and an initiative system that both created that supermajority requirement and provides incentives to vote for every tax cut while mandating certain kinds of spending because the issues are isolated. Fortunately, the federal level (while it has too many veto points) is not quite at this level yet, and at least the stupid filibuster rule doesn't apply to budgets.
It's very easy to get people excited and motivated about a PERSON. Not so much about a process. And yet, as we all know, without the process, the villains in this melodrama would be sidelined, a fact which actually serves both parties.
We on the left often obsess over whether the electorate can figure out who to blame in these crises. This 2/3 requirement for budgets and tax increases in California is a powerful enabler for that confusion. Because the elected representatives of the majority party are not allowed to impose their will on how the state is to be run, they cannot be held to account. Because the elected representatives of the minority party are in the minority party, they cannot be held to account. Therefore we have a political cycle that mirrors the economic cycle resulting from the inevitable bad policies. The powerful stay powerful, the voiceless stay voiceless, people lose faith in the process, leading to more entrenched power and more voiceless, and so on.
Greg Lucas at California's Capitol makes the moral case for a majority-vote budget along these lines, that it is the only way for true accountability in the system.
If the huckstering of the President's Day Weekend demonstrated anything at all, it's that the majority party should be able to pass the budget it considers best for California.
If its awful the governor, should he or she be of a different political party, can slice-and-dice it through the miracle of the veto process.
Should the governor be of the same political party and warmly endorse the spending plan well he or she can be thrown out by voters.
And, if the non-partisan commission created by Proposition 11 last November to draw new legislative boundaries does its job it will be possible to throw out members of the party that passed the budget as well.
I don't agree about the panacea of redistricting - the available data shows virtually no link between gerrymandering and political polarization - but on balance Lucas is right. It's not a marketplace of ideas unless citizens can buy one idea or the other and make their decision based on the evidence. Democracies work when ideas are allowed to stand strong or wither on the strength of results. We do not have that here in California. This is also true on the national level. Senate leaders string their constituents along with the need for more Democrats to overcome a self-imposed hurdle of the filibuster.
The extreme version of this madness is here in the Golden State. The 2/3 rule is the prime mover for all the dysfunction we see. It was actually put into place in the 1930s to stop the New Deal from reaching these shores. It was modified in the 1960s and in 1978, Prop. 13 added a 2/3 barrier for tax increases to the budget. We've been feeling the effects ever since, as taxes are flattened and ratcheted down and the state is governed for the sake of people in gated commnunities and not the least of society. It creates an artificial conservative veto over policy. The expressed goal was to save homeowners money - the actual goal was to destroy government. California is the house that Grover Norquist built, and the results are predictable.
As to my point that this serves both parties? Greg Lucas:
Just to sweeten the majority-vote budget pot a little, there's a fairly hefty number of folks who work both in and around the Capitol who assert that whichever team wins the power to run roughshod over the minority party will be so scared of exclusive blame for any badness in the budget being exclusively their fault that they won't do anything real drastic.
This is what they are scared of CURRENTLY. There are lots of checks and balances in political systems. There is no need for an artificial veto. Democrats will remain timid to stick their necks out (they're politicians), but at least they would have no excuses. And who knows, maybe they would realize they have a little bit of power and they would use it!
Arnold Schwarzenegger is irrelevant and a failure. State Democrats are spineless jellyfish. The death-cult Republican Party is a collection of flat-earthers bent on destruction. All well and good. Yet all of these discrete groups are enabled by a political system that does violent disservice to the people of the state and the concept of democracy. We must have a return to majority rule as soon as possible. For the sake of accountability.