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D.C. and Sacto: A Tale of Two Political Universes

Apr11

After speaking in Los Alamitos last weekend, Gov. Jerry Brown labeled as “pathetic” the last-minute deal on the federal budget that averted a government shutdown.

“You’re not the superpower of the world if you have to stay up half the night trying to make a few decisions over a fraction of your budget,” Brown said.

Krusty the Governor should know from pathetic: he’s surrounded by it in Sacramento. That’s not to mention what seems to have been his own feckless attempts to quietly persuade a handful of Republicans to do what they have no inclination to do: give voters the right to decide whether to extend some taxes instead of slashing another $15.4 billion from the California budget.

So now Brown is on a belated bully-pulpit tour of California, hoping to build pressure on Republicans to make a reasonable deal on the budget. “You got to wear people down,” Brown told reporters. “You have to persuade them, and you have to go out to as many parts of California to create the mood, the momentum, and the environment where people are ready to face the music.”

But even Gov. Gandalf now admits he’s facing dark forces that may be too strong for his wizardry.

“Getting some of these Republicans to let the people vote for taxes or cuts is like asking the pope to let Catholics vote on abortion,” he said. “Highly unlikely.”

Passive aggressive behavior: In Washington, House Republicans – who were in danger of over-reading their “mandate” – and Senate Democrats – who were in danger of placing their genitals in a mason jar – finally made a deal because not making a deal was seen by both sides as too politically perilous.

How that’s different from Sacramento is this: In Washington, the party leaders in Congress can actually make a deal because a) they want to, and b) they have the power.

In Sacramento, not only do the passive aggressive Republicans have no incentive to allow a vote on taxes – since the 2/3-vote requirement on taxes allows them to accomplish their goal by sitting on their hands – but their leaders have no power to make a deal.

This is something Calbuzz has hammered on for some time. As we explained back in July 2009:

The governor and the Legislature fulminate and flounder simply because no one in the Capitol in 2009 has the stature, clout or influence to cut a deal like Ronnie and Jesse or Pete and Willie once did.

Strip away all the policy wonkery, weed whacking and egghead analysis  and you find that a combination of term limits and politically-safe, gerrymandered legislative seats has created a political atmosphere in which every legislator is an army of one – and none of them fears the governor, the speaker or any other leader in the Legislature.

For the moment, the Democratic leaders appear to have a bit more sway over their members than the Republican leadership. But that too may disintegrate if Brown’s terms for a deal include a spending cap or pension reforms that the jefes in the California Teachers Association, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association or Service Employees International Union don’t find acceptable.

Reapportionment and the top-two election system may mitigate the wing-nut intransigence of Sacramento in coming years – perhaps replenishing the Legislature with lawmakers who don’t believe compromise is capitulation. But until term limits are eliminated, leadership will remain a huge impediment to deal-making in the public interest.

Talking to reporters on Saturday, Brown also argued that President Obama faced “the same problem I do, only worse.” He likened the need for supermajorities to overcome filibusters in the U.S. Senate to the Legislative votes needed to raise taxes in California.

Caving in to bullies: But there is a more important way in which Sacramento and Washington are alike, as outlined in a compelling essay by Robert Reich, professor of public policy at UC Berkeley and former secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton.

“The right-wing bullies are emboldened. They will hold the nation hostage again and again,” he wrote the other day, urging Obama and the Democrats to take a stand.

All the while, he and the Democratic leadership in Congress refuse to refute the Republicans’ big lie – that spending cuts will lead to more jobs. In fact, spending cuts now will lead to fewer jobs. They’ll slow down an already-anemic recovery. That will cause immense and unnecessary suffering for millions of Americans.

The President continues to legitimize the Republican claim that too much government spending caused the economy to tank, and that by cutting back spending we’ll get the economy going again.

Even before the bullies began hammering him his deficit commission already recommended $3 of spending cuts for every dollar of tax increase. Then the President froze non-defense domestic spending and froze federal pay. And he continues to draw the false analogy between a family’s budget and the national budget.

He is losing the war of ideas because he won’t tell the American public the truth: That we need more government spending now – not less – in order to get out of the gravitational pull of the Great Recession.

Likewise, Democrats in Sacramento – including Gov. Brown – seem to have conceded the argument that public employee pensions, extravagant state spending on social services, over-regulation and over-taxation are the causes of California’s deficit. All of which is simply not supported by the facts.

Bottom line: Jerry Brown won a huge mandate in large part because he said he would bring order to the chaos in Sacramento and that he would not raise taxes without a vote of the people. He did not win by promising to slash teachers’ pensions, eviscerate environmental regulation or cut taxes on rich people.

In Washington, the Republicans – now talking about eliminating Medicare — are overinterpreting their electoral mandate, as analyst Charlie Cook has noted.

But the Republicans in California have no such mandate to misread: what they have is the power of a minority veto in the Legislature. Still, they seem to think they’ve got the voters on their side; Brown and the Democrats need to  disabuse them.

But please, spare us the White House’s obnoxious new mantra — “winning the future.”


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There are 5 comments for this post

  1. avatar OC Progressive says:

    Ah, “winning the future”.

    An analysis of recent emails and text messages to Obama found that the single most prevalent comment from supporters was “WTF???” followed by requests for refunds on campaign contributions.

  2. avatar Castaneda says:

    I served in the Pete Wilson Administration and I can say that the hardest legislative battle with the budget deficit in 1991 was within Wilson’s own GOP party. A talented and strident political team out of his office put the pressure on, and kept it there until one-half revenue, one-half budget cut deal was done. Now, one would rightfully suggest that the inner-party dynamics of a struggle are different, but the operative word here is strategic pressure — in other words, to get someone to act in their own self-political interest. There is some embryonic young talent in the GOP State Legislature that seeks higher elective office, that’s no secret. Hopefully, Brown has the political talent on his team to seek a strategy to move these urban legislators over to a political position that simply allows California voters, not they, to decide the tax issue.

  3. avatar chrisfinnie says:

    Reich is so right about bullies. I understand and am glad that Democrats don’t want to emulate them in order to win. But simply standing your ground works pretty well too. Ask Ghandi or Dr. King. What absolutely doesn’t work is letting them walk on your face again, and again, and again, and…

    Speaker Pelosi knew this. I’m sorry she hasn’t been able to teach the president. And I’m so sorry governor Brown hasn’t been paying attention since his last stint in the big chair. I’m sure he’d have noticed this technique in action. The rest of us did. And counseled him not to wait until the GOP came around. Not going to happen dude!

  4. avatar Andy says:

    “Democrats…seem to have conceded the argument that public employee pensions, extravagant state spending on social services, over-regulation and over-taxation are the causes of California’s deficit. All of which is simply not supported by the facts.”

    I disagree; I think they’ve just concluded that a price will need to be paid to get out of the situation they are in and it looks like they are willing to pay that price. It’s true some babies will be thrown out with the bathwater, but just like the president, California Democrats and their supporters did a lot of this to themselves.

  5. avatar Moravecglobal says:

    A shocking picture of inept public University of California Berkeley senior management: fall admit rate for Californians drops to record low 18%. There was a 43 percent jump in the number of affluent foreign and affluent out-of-state students accepted. The more non-Californians admitted, the fewer qualified Californians can be.

    In spite of eligibility Cal. Chancellor Birgeneau ($450.000 salary), Provost Breslauer ($306,000 salary) shed thousands of instate applicants. Qualified instate applicants to public Cal. are replaced by a $50,600 payment from born abroad affluent foreign and affluent out of state students. And, Birgeneau subsidizes affluent foreign and affluent out of state tuition in the guise of diversity while he doubles instate tuition/fees.

    Birgeneau/Breslauer accept affluent $50,600 foreign students that displace qualified instate Californians (When depreciation of tax funded assets are included (as they should be), out of state and foreign tuition is more than $100,000 and does NOT subsidize instate tuition). Going to Cal. is now more expensive for instate students than Harvard, Yale.

    With the recommendations of Cal. Chancellor Birgeneau ($450,000 salary), Provost George Breslauer ($306,000 salary) allowed campus police to use excessive force – rammed baton jabs – on students protesting Birgeneau‘s doubling of instate tuition. Resignation of Birgeneau is necessary, but not sufficient, sack Breslauer.

    Send a forceful message that these Cal. senior management decisions simply aren’t acceptable: UC Board of Regents marsha.kelman@ucop.edu and Calif. State Senator and Assemblymember.

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