Welcome Conflict in 2018

Let us look to the new year confident in the knowledge that we are treading the well-worn path of those who came before us. And let us continue the work they began by conducting our politics in the institutions created by the Constitution. It may feel a bit unsettling. But welcoming conflict into our political lives will ensure that our future will continue to be brightened by a rising and not a setting sun.

#Resistance and the Crisis of Authority in American Politics

When Leandra English, former chief of staff to the former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, asked a federal judge to block President Trump’s appointment of Mick Mulvaney to replace her departing boss Richard Cordray, and to install her as the CFPB’s rightful leader, Judge Timothy J. Kelly of the Federal District Court in Washington, D.C., denied her request. Yet English’s legal team, rejecting the idea that President Trump held the directorship in his hands pursuant to the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1988 and Article II of the Constitution, has since vowed to continue its resistance to the President’s action.

Regardless of what happens next in the CFPB matter, this episode illuminated a crisis of authority pervasive in American politics today. The dysfunction it laid bare tells us that we have forgotten what authority means and are thus no longer capable of identifying where it resides in our political system. The result is a post-political order that delegitimizes conflict and undermines the institutions on which we depend to resolve disagreement and forge compromise in a pluralistic society.

A long-overlooked Senate committee could save the Republican agenda

Even with last week’s progress on tax reform, 2017 has not been a great year for Republicans in Congress.

Back in January, they had reason to expect things to turn out differently. After all, the GOP controlled Congress and the presidency for the first time in more than a decade. It was Republicans’ best opportunity to enact their legislative agenda since 2005.

But despite the 11 months that have transpired between then and now, they have yet to capitalize on that opportunity. Republicans’ failure to deliver on longstanding commitments, like repealing Obamacare and reducing government spending, has exposed deep divisions within the party over important policy areas. Even the Republicans’ effort to reform the tax code has proven to be harder than many initially expected.

Age-old Senate rules might kill tax reform

This week’s rush by Republicans to pass tax reform reveals the limits of majority rule in the Senate.

Early in the year, Republicans decided to use the special budget process known as reconciliation to pass their tax bill in anticipation of Democratic obstruction. They did so because reconciliation bills cannot be filibustered. The support of a simple majority of senators is all that’s needed to overcome any effort to delay an up-or-down vote on final passage.

This feature of the reconciliation process is the most well-known, given the tendency common today to view Senate dysfunction solely through the lens of minority obstruction. From this perspective, reconciliation offers the majority party a way to pass its agenda over the objections of the minority party.

But this is a simplistic view of the legislative dynamics inherent in reconciliation. It overlooks other features of the process that complicate the majority’s efforts to pass tax reform and exacerbate the Senate’s underlying problems.

Putting individual mandate repeal in the tax reform bill only complicates the GOP's efforts

Senate Republicans have decided to repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate as part of their effort to reform the tax code. And they may have made their job harder in doing so.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, repealing the mandate would save approximately $338 billion over 10 years. Republicans want to use those savings to help offset the cost of lowering taxes in their reform effort. And they believe that the benefits of doing so outweigh any costs associated with injecting healthcare into the debate over tax reform.

But it’s too early to tell if their gambit will work.

The GOP is in a civil war, and Mitch McConnell is making it worse

The Republican Party is in the middle of a civil war. And instead of trying to resolve it, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is making it worse.

According to a recent report, the Senate majority leader has decided to escalate his feud with Steve Bannon, the former adviser to President Trump and current Breitbart News executive chairman.

McConnell’s allies cite the decision as evidence of his toughness.

But it illustrates instead the limits of his leadership.

Jeff Flake’s Indictment of American Politics

Dudes and Pharisees. Mugwumps. Those were just some of the names that party regulars called the disaffected Republicans who refused to support James G. Blaine for President in 1884.

That contest, which pitted Blaine against Democrat Grover Cleveland, was one of the nastiest in American history. And it has much to teach us about Senator Jeff Flake’s indictment of American politics today.

Will the Reconciliation Route Work?

Republican efforts to reform the tax code received an important boost with last week’s passage of the annual budget resolution in the House of Representatives. But the GOP should not celebrate just yet. How Republicans overcome the remaining challenges will determine whether they actually cross the finish line.