All I have is this hammer…

…and, oh look, a nail!

Aaron Carroll notes at The Incidental Economist that there’s something odd about the Gang of Sixty-Four:

From this WaPo story (mind the dumbworms), he quotes:

More than 60 senators from both parties are calling on President Obama to lead them in developing a comprehensive plan to rein in record budget deficits, a powerful sign of bipartisan willingness to abandon long-held positions on entitlement spending and taxes.

In a letter sent Friday to the White House, the 64 senators urge Obama “to support a broad approach to solving our current budget problems” along the lines of recommendations issued last year by a presidentially appointed commission. That plan calls for sharp cuts in government spending, elimination or reduction of dozens of popular tax breaks and an overhaul of Social Security that would include raising the retirement age to 69 for today’s toddlers.

Sounds like a good start to me.  It’s nice to see (a) people taking at least glancingly realistic positions on the debt before it ends the world and (b) strong bipartisan agreement in a divided, hyperpartisan age where no party can get anything done in the Senate without a supermajorit—

Wait just a minute.

Carroll again:

This was sixty-four senators. It’s an actual supermajority. A bipartisan supermajority. Heck, add three more votes in, and it’s a veto-proof majority.During the health care reform debate, one of the lessons I learned was that you really needed 60 votes in the senate to get major legislation passed. Fifty-nine was inadequate. But, as those who opposed the PPACA learned, with sixty you can pass even something many people abhor.

They have sixty-four.

If sixty-four senators want to do something, they can.  They can march into the Capitol Building and pass actual legislation that solves the current budget problems. They don’t need to ask for help, and they don’t need the President to do anything more than sign it afterwards. They are fully capable of doing quite a bit on their own.

(Emphasis added.)

So if sixty-four Senators are really really concerned about the debt and want to do something Serious about it, and they don’t actually need permission or approval or even consent — well, given another three — from the Executive to do it, why don’t they just up and fuckin’ do it? Sending this letter seems, I dunno… irrational.

Bet you didn’t see that one coming.  (And… sarcasm tag!)

If these critters really wanted to do something about the deficit, they’d do it.  They don’t. Above all, they’re pants-shittingly terrified of going back to their home districts and trying to explain why they gutted Social Security.  What they want to do is bully the President into deficit hawkishness, so they can pretend to resist and retain some of what they think passes for dignity.  “Oh my, if I have another drink I’m sure I’ll do something I’ll regret!  What’s that, baby?  Double vodka, rocks, thanks.”  (Granted that this President ought to be doing something about the deficit, as ought’ve the previous one.  But the point remains.)

Don’t get me wrong: I’m delighted that we’re talking about the deficit in more serious terms than the neo-Keynesian “In the long run, we’re all dead”.  But this is pure signaling — I find it absurdly unlikely that any Senator could be unaware of the magic number sixty, let alone sixty-four of the fuckers.  The best that I can hope for is that 64 is close enough to 67 that this letter is meant as a veiled threat to the Executive: “We’re gonna do this regardless, so you’d better get on board before we make it too obvious.”  Precedent being what it is, however, I’m deeply skeptical of that hypothesis.


2 Responses to “All I have is this hammer…”

  1. 1 kbiel
    March 22, 2011 at 15:15

    While I agree this is mostly signaling, there is a constitutional reason for sending a letter instead of just getting it done; Article I, Section 7. Yes, there are ways around it, that is why I agree that it is mostly signaling.

  2. 2 perlhaqr
    March 27, 2011 at 03:16

    Maybe they’re trying to drum up support in the House?

    Yeah, ok, I’m grasping.

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