Balkinization  

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ben Nelson, John Kyl, Barack Obama, and corruption

Sandy Levinson

If any single event contributed to the electoral fiasco for the Democrats, it was the shameful (and shameless) "bargaining" with Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson, in which he, in effect, sold his vote for an indefensible preference for his home state. (It was, of course, stripped from the final bill, but the damage was done in terms of the cost to the "integrity" of the bill.) The deal was widely condemned at the time, by people from all sides of the political spectrum, as exemplifying the corruption within the modern sausage-process of legislation, particularly within the ever-egregious and indefensible(in terms of 21st century democratic theory) United States Senate.

Why, then, is there no expression of outrage at the equal corruption (indeed, probably more costly, in monetary terms) by which the Administration is trying to buy the vote of John Kyl for the New Start treaty (which, thanks to the Constitution, needs the support of 2/3 of the Senate, which means that a substantial number of Republicans have to break with the "deny him any and all accomplishments" strategy of Mitch McConnell)? If it is in fact necessary to spend such money to safeguard American national security, then President Obama should be harshly criticized for not adopting the policy independently of Kyl's vote. If, on the other hand, he believes (and is correct in believing) that it is unnecessary, then he is engaging in sheer bribery, using our tax dollars to purchase Kyl's vote. In any event, this episode should dishearten us at least as much as the disgraceful bargain with Ben Nelson. How many unemployed people are being asked to sacrifice benefits so that We the People can purchase Kyl's (and other Republicans') votes? Why aren't Tea Party people at least as angry at this as at earmarks, which are relatively small beer in comparison to the billions wasted on unnecessary military expenses?

Note to discussants: I'm really not interested in a debate as to whether it is a good idea to spend the money. I doubt that any of us (including myself) have the necessary expertise to come to a genuinely informed decision. My point is that if we stipulate it is necessary, then President Obama should be supporting it, period. If not, then it is indefensible to bloat the budget in order to purchase Kyl's vote.

Comments:

If not, then it is indefensible to bloat the budget in order to purchase Kyl's vote.

Doesn't this depend upon how important the treaty is? If it is, for example, a matter of life and death, then, when a holdup man says, "your money or your life," you don't, like Jack Benny, think it over for long.
 

"Why aren't Tea Party people at least as angry at this as at earmarks, which are relatively small beer in comparison to the billions wasted on unnecessary military expenses?"

While earmarks are 'small beer' in relation to the over all federal budget, they're important because they're the bribes which are paid to get individual members to vote for the larger expenditures.

Another question arises. This treaty was signed back in April or May. It's suddenly urgent that it be voted on in the next few weeks? Only because of the fear that the new Senate won't ratify.

Do I really have to point out that, from a standpoint of democratic legitimacy, "It might not pass if the newly elected members were voting on it!" is the absolute worst excuse for bringing something up during a lame duck session? We already know this isn't urgent, because if it were, it would have been voted on months ago. It should not be brought up until January, whatever it's fate.
 

Principle versus Principal, or vice versa? If Kyl's vote is to be bought, might not other Senators use their non-Second Amendment arms for their alms?

By the Bybee ($%&#*@), the Jack Benny anecdote is inappropriate as Kyl does not have a loaded gun. If the Jack Benny robber were exposed to the public via TV or other media, he/she might have second thoughts about his/her threat, what with all those witnesses. So let's put the spotlight on Kyl.
 

The difference is that Ben Nelson extracted concessions that benefited his state only and not the union as a whole. While some may think Kyle's priorities are wrong, it doesn't seem that he is pushing them to benefit Arizona only.
 

Sandy:

The outrage over the Cornhusker kickback was that the Feds would only reimburse Nebraska for the spike in Mediaid costs that Obamacare would impose on the states. You had a twofer there - the anger at Obamacare for imposing the costs in the first instance and Nebraska's special and arguably unconstitutional exemption.

The negotiations between the GOP and Obama over START involve a compromise of a disagreement over national security policy. No bad policy and no special exemptions.
 

To Shag: What if exposure does not prompt Kyl to withdraw his threat?

To Ian: A senator could have illegitimate motivations other than benefiting his state. What if Kyl is pushing his priorities solely to benefit a campaign contributor, or solely to make a Tea Party challenge to his reelection less likely, or solely
to hurt the nation in the hope that Obama will be blamed for it?
 

Henry asks:

"To Shag: What if exposure does not prompt Kyl to withdraw his threat?"

We revive the Cold War, reheat the Iraq War, intensify the Afghan War, and bomb Iran and North Korea. Instead of START (with reciprocal inspections of U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals), we STOP, because the Republicans don't like Pres. Obama (and apparently America's national interests and safety).

To Henry: If Kyl's vote is to be bought, might not other Senators use their non-Second Amendment arms for their alms?
 

Shag:

Nice rendition of Administration talking points. In reality, our nuclear stockpile is aging and as it does so the chances of failure of the weapons increases. You can make up for this increased risk of failure by firing more than one warhead at a target, but START reduces the number of warheads and the ability to utilize redundancy. Thus, the GOP is using the ratification of START as leverage to gain concessions on nuclear force modernization designed to increase reliability.

These negotiations have been going on for the past two years and are not some stunt to embarrass Obama during a lame duck session. Indeed, the GOP has been Obama's most reliable source of votes in Congress on national security matters as the left bailed on Afghanistan.
 

If Kyl's vote is to be bought, might not other Senators use their non-Second Amendment arms for their alms?

Yes, of course. I do not deny that capitulating to a holdup man sets a dangerous precedent. But, if lack of the treaty would be life-threatening (and I take no position on that), then Kyl is the equivalent of a holdup man and Obama must capitulate.
 

Don't think that incident with Ben Nelson was that notable in the scheme of things. And, logrolling to get legislation through is as American as apple pie. It's not "corruption" as I would define it.

It is somewhat different when the thing being "sold" is a treaty (domestic legislation by nature balances interests, sometimes via goodies; treaties less so) and I'm not aware that Kyl is the 67th vote.

But, if Kyl is selling principle for the proverbial 30 pieces of silver, and didn't Nelson eventually reject the goodie?, yes, he should be targeted.

If there are enough votes except for him and his vote is held captive for goodies, as with McConnell's "send some troops home to help the party out" advice, it warrants a bit of outrage.

I say a bit since it's nothing new or anything.
 

I also think Brett has something of a point with the "bribe" remark but others might argue that you have an overall budget and one part of legislating is for the representatives of the people to apply parts of it for the needs of their constituents. We can have unelected bureaucrats do that instead. If you trust them, fine.

If legislators will be able to be "bribed" with the 'small beer' at stake in earmarks, they can be "bribed" some other way, including home judges or some aspect of legislation that helps them in some way. It's small beer in the "bribery" field too.
 

Henry says:

"But, if lack of the treaty would be life-threatening (and I take no position on that), then Kyl is the equivalent of a holdup man and Obama must capitulate."

And how many Republican clowns - strike that - clones of Kyl in the Senate become the equivalent of more holdup men/women to whom Obama must capitulate?

And our former Backpacker chimes in:

"Indeed, the GOP has been Obama's most reliable source of votes in Congress on national security matters as the left bailed on Afghanistan."

So the GOP thinks that America's national security would improve if there are no inspection rights to check on nuclear arsenals of Russia? I can understand our former Backpacker's "professional" concerns with MADD on his economic situation but not with respect to MAD getting under control. Apparently the GOP wishes to expand the Senate's nuclear option internationally.

Aside to Henry: I'm not lumping you in with our former Backpacker who, unlike you, seems to take the position that the lack of a treaty would not be life threatening such that the GOP should leverage this situation in its dealings with Obama to keep him a one-term President.
 

I'm with Joe in not thinking this is all that much of a problem.

Basically, buying off individual lawmakers is endemic to representative legislatures. It's only a problem when (a) there's a vote (tyrannies don't suffer from this problem); and (b) an individual voter can be reasonably sure he's one of the last few necessary (large groups have no way to know). Thus, there's no way to eliminate it.

History bears this out. "Deals" have been made since the invention of Parliament; David Hume was the first to point out that this form of "corruption" was what actually made the system work. In the US, the very first "deal" involved the location of D.C. as a trade-off for assumption of state War debts.

It's a time-honored insincerity. Embrace it.
 

Shag from Brookline said...

BD: "Indeed, the GOP has been Obama's most reliable source of votes in Congress on national security matters as the left bailed on Afghanistan."

So the GOP thinks that America's national security would improve if there are no inspection rights to check on nuclear arsenals of Russia?


This is not a particularly time sensitive issue as Russia cannot afford to build new categories of nukes which need to be monitored. The Obama Administration can agree with the Russians to continue mutual inspections while the negotiations are completed. If not, then Obama may want to put compromise with the GOP on the front burner for the first time in two years. It would be good practice for 2011.
 

The Soviets could not afford but did spend much regarding its military arsenal that led to the end of the Cold War via bankruptcy. Russia might spend again if it feels threatened, this time buoyed with its energy revenues that can hold Eastern Europe hostage. Our former Backpacker seems to be suggesting that America can afford mucho spending to update its nukes arsenal. But how would Russia react to this? Would Russia continue some of its accommodations relative to NATO, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, etc, that seem to benefit the U.S.? After all, it wouldn't cost Russia very much to close certain convenient access means that might result in significant expense and inconvenience to America and its allies. What makes our former Backpacker confident that Russia would readily agree to mutual inspections while, as our former Backpacker suggests, Pres. Obama negotiates with the GOP on START? Is Russia expected to cowtow to the Tea Party? I don't think so, just like Colorado did not. What is time sensitive to the GOP (and its CO tea bag holder) is making sure Pres. Obama is not reelected in 2012 and START is their means to STOP that (to be followed by overturning Brown v. Board of Education). Yes, the GOP is transparent.
 

Shag from Brookline said...

The Soviets could not afford but did spend much regarding its military arsenal that led to the end of the Cold War via bankruptcy.

The USSR was spending approximately 30% of its GDP on defense and was supporting a far more massive nuclear arsenal with new delivery systems coming out on an ongoing basis. Thus, Reagan's dictum: "Trust, but verify."

Russia might spend again if it feels threatened, this time buoyed with its energy revenues that can hold Eastern Europe hostage.

Russia might build up its military again even if it does not feel threatened. However, it cannot afford to do so now.

America can afford mucho spending to update its nukes arsenal.

Actually, the reported negotiations involve testing the arsenal. The Dems do not want actual tests and there is a great deal of controversy whether simulated tests are sufficient and how much to spend on them.

But how would Russia react to this?

I could give less than a damn how Russia reacts to our maintenance of our weapons systems. We are shrinking and not building up our stockpile.

Would Russia continue some of its accommodations relative to NATO, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, etc, that seem to benefit the U.S.?

These accommodations benefit the Russians more than the US since they are the ones with restive Muslim populations bordering those regions.

What makes our former Backpacker confident that Russia would readily agree to mutual inspections while, as our former Backpacker suggests, Pres. Obama negotiates with the GOP on START?

These inspections have been ongoing for years and give the Russians mutual access to our weapons.
 

One would think that inspections are more important to America than to Russia, since Americans (except GOP-ers?) can understand the MAD concept and Trust but Verify. Consider that America and its allies had inspections of Iragi facilities BEFORE the Iraqi invasion providing assurances that Iraq did NOT have WMD. OOPS! Bush/Cheney and the Neocons did not accept the inspection reports and what the hell, invaded Iraq anyway, and after MISSION ACCOMPLISHED could not find WMD. So the GOP and its War Hawks don't need no stinkin' inspections. (Meanwhile, it is quite, MADD-ening for our former Backpacker economically in CO, even with its decline in tea drinking post 2010 elections. Perhaps our former Backpacker will BUCK up and beat the TOM-TOMS for 2012. But what, prey [sic] tell, happens to his tome on Pres. Obama if reelected?)

So I would counsel Pres. Obama not to get MAD at the GOP, but do what we do here in MA: Get Even.
 

"I'm really not interested in a debate as to whether it is a good idea to spend the money.... My point is that if we stipulate it is necessary, then President Obama should be supporting it, period. If not, then it is indefensible to bloat the budget in order to purchase Kyl's vote."

Perhaps so. But can't we just stipulate, instead, that reasonable people might disagree about whether the spending is necessary? And that one might be on the fence about whether the spending is necessary in isolation, but have no reservations if it in effect also subsidizes the passage of the New START treaty? That would seem to me to be the charitable interpretation of Obama's actions: he's not sure whether the spending is necessary, but doesn't find it repugnant, so the New START treaty plus the spending is a package deal that makes sense. (And if you reverse the argument, you get the charitable version of Kyl's actions.)
 

James P. Rubin (a former Clintonite) has an interesting Op-Ed in yesterday's NYTimes (11/22/10) "Farewell to the Age of the Treaty" about a legislative alternative to the treaty process requiring 67 Senate votes, that would involve both the House and the Senate. Rubin doesn't explain why the incoming House controlled by GOPers would go along. But the nuclear debate might extend to House members all of whom come up for reelection in two years.
 

"Ben Nelson, John Kyl, Barack Obama, and corruption"
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Ivan Eland of The Independent Institute has a response (11/24/10) to Rubin's Op-Ed titled "New START Is Worthy, but Let's Not Violate the Constitution to Save It."
 

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