- Democrats can pass the reconciliation today (sorta): A bet on the 'endowment effect.'
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Democrats can pass the reconciliation today (sorta) (permalink)
This week, millions are playing Congressional Kremlinology, guessing whether House/Senate Dems have the votes for the $3.5T reconciliation package, playing Fantasy Football Sophie's Choice to cut programs if corporate Dems whittle it down.
But as Harold Meyerson writes for The American Prospect, there's a high-stakes, high-risk gambit that would let the willing, principled Democrats pass the whole package – simply cut the programs' funding to four years, rather than a decade.
That reduces the package's bill to a level that can be covered with agreed-upon "payfors" (these are the self-inflicted, nonsensical budget-balancing measures Dems insist upon, as though the US could run out of the dollars it creates by typing zeroes into a spreadsheet).
Passing this short-term version of reconciliation would give us four years of "affordable child care, universal pre-K, Medicare coverage of vision and hearing and dental care, paid sick leave, child tax credits, tuition-free community college, significant climate mitigation."
Which is, you know, a lot. But it's also a lot to lose, because even if this works, it would all be up for grabs in four short years, at which point a different Congress could let the whole thing fail just by doing nothing.
It's a bet – a bet that, while people won't punish politicians who fail to deliver on this stuff, they will absolutely destroy any politician that tries to take it away once they have it. That proposition has been received American political wisdom for generations.
It's why the GOP went so hard after Clintoncare in the nineties: as neocon archvillain Bill Kristol wrote to Republican lawmakers in 1993, if Americans got decent, reliable heathcare, it would be political suicide to take it away from them.
There's even a name for this, the endowment effect: "people are more likely to retain an object they own than acquire that same object when they do not own it."
In experiments, the sums people offer to buy something are lower than the sums they demand to sell it – the mere fact of owning something makes it feel more valuable. Political strategists extrapolate from this and conclude that well-run public services can't be cut.
In support of this, consider the story of the angry right-wing voters, who, during the Obamacare debate, told politicians to "keep government out of my Medicare."
Thus the wager: if Dems pass the full package, funded for a mere 4 years, that will be enough time for the endowment effect to kick in and even the most reckless, sadistic Republican Congress of the future won't dare to touch it.
There are problems with this bet, though. The endowment effect may not be as politically salient as politicians believe. Certainly, at least some of the alleged Tea Party government-out-of-Medicare stories are overstated – or worse, crude hoaxes.
Even if the endowment effect applies to politics, voters will only punish politicians for dismantling GOOD programs. If the Dems lose the legislature in 2022, the GOP could sabotage these programs to make them easy to kill.
That's hardly a reach for the Government-Is-Bad-At-Everything-Party, who've made an art out of governing badly, then seeking re-election while pointing out that their theories about state incompetence were proven by their own misrule.
That's not all: a four-year funding horizon may not be enough time to stand up the programs, thanks to the bizarre centrist love-affair with foot-dragging and slow rollouts that solve today's urgent problems in a seven or ten or twenty years.
If all that a four-year funding guarantee gets us is preliminary work – rather than tangible benefits to voters' quality of life – there will be no endowment effect, and no reason for a future Congress to fear electoral penalties for dismantling them.
All that said, I think this is still an exciting idea. Medicare was rolled out in less than a year, back in 1965. If limiting the funding guarantee frees progressives from having to compromise with bribe-taking corporate Dems, they might be able to do the same.
And, as Meyerson points out, there's precedent for this strategy working. When FDR was rolling out the New Deal, he took money from long-term projects (dams, bridges, etc) and spent it on quick-hit programs like roads and post-offices.
By employing "millions of Americans in a matter of weeks," FDR won "vast public support for his New Deal."
Getting the reconciliation programs running now isn't just good politics – it's good, period. America can't wait for infrastructure, care, health and climate action.
We should have been dealing with this stuff for decades. The best time to start in on them would have been, oh, say, 1990.
The second best time?
This day in history (permalink)
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