December 23, 2015

Horse 2048 - See The House That Did Move

Ho ho ho; Merry Christmas.
As you're busily running from place to place; looking for those last minute Christmas gifts and madly racking your brain to work out what the perfect gift is for that special someone, did you happen to stop and notice what didn't happen this Christmas season? No?

Apart from the dog and pony show that is the Republican Party where every candidate is trying to out-crazy the one man walking headline of Donald Trump, the other side of the political fence is the sleeping dog of the Democratic Party where Bernie Sanders is trying to talk sense but being heard by no one and Hilary Clinton more of less just has to remain breathing to get the DNC nomination.
In all of this, the one thing which I noticed is so strange that it warrants its own blog post is the one event in US politics which has a trillion dollar price tag but virtually zero news coverage. Did you notice it? The annual panic over a government shutdown, did not happen.
Let me just repeat this. There was no government shutdown.

In a stunning turn of events, the US Congress which has been locked in a "Hooray - Boo" shouting match since about 2012, has done its job without terribly much fuss. I don't care to argue the relative merits and demerits of various policies but the fact that the Congress collectively passed legislation to continue the functionality of government is nothing short of remarkable; even though it probably shouldn't be.

We don't get to experience this sort of nonsense on a near annual basis in Australia because parliament works differently. For a budget to pass in Australia, the lower house which contains the cabinet, first has to pass the Appropriation bills. This is usually fairly easy because the government already holds and majority in the lower house (that's how they came to be the government in the first place). For an Appropriation bill to pass the upper house, if the government holds a majority there as well, then the legislation passes easily. If it does not, then the government will need to negotiate with what might be a rainbow coalition of interests. Even during the nonsense of the 1975 Constitutional Crisis, the Appropriation bills were still passed albeit through a process of knavery.
In America, the Cabinet doesn't sit inside the Congress and because of this, there are several ways of arranging the House, Senate and President by political colour which all result in deadlock. What we've seen in the past month is an Appropriation bill which passed through all three before the looming date of shutdown.

I could speak about the tensions which exist inside the Republican Party and the fact that House majority leader Kevin McCarthy has somehow managed to hold his party into some sort of cohesive order. I could also speak of the fact that minority leader Nancy Pelosi has been somewhat more conciliatory in this last month. I think that the real credit for averting an event which is now conspicuous by its absence, should go to the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan.

Admittedly I know practically nothing of the daily workings of the Congress and so the first time that Paul Ryan enetered my consciousness was during the 2012 Presidential Election when he was the running mate of Mitt Romney. As potential Vice President, he was thrown into the spotlight and even came up against Joe Biden in a televised debate. The weird thing about Ryan is that he didn't sound like a particularly forceful person. During the campaign, he explained things as he saw it, carefully and as uncluttered as he could.
Race forward to 2015 and when John Boehner ended his tenure as Speaker, Ryan was selected by the Republican Party precisely because of his calm demeanor. This has been especially important of late as somehow, he's managed to talk with members of his own party, crossed the floor and had meaningful discussions with the Democrats, done a similar sort of job with the Senate and then liased with Cabinet and the President. The remarkable thing about Ryan as Speaker is that he's gone about his job entirely unremarkably. Whilst American media is fixated upon the madness that is the race towards the national conventions, the only thing that they seem to want to report about Paul Ryan is the state of his beard; never mind the state of the union.
This means that for the first time in several years, there's a proper roads budget. It means that over the holiday season, that TSA officers and Customs officials will all be adequately funded. National Parks and Monuments will all remain open because the funding will exist to pay staff. Old people, people on Social Security pensions and Veterans will all be able to go about their business in obliviousness. The Department of Defense will continue to pay soldiers and service personnel. The list goes on and on and mostly people will not even stop to consider why.

The usual narrative about politicians is that they're all useless and then this is followed by a stream of invective in four letter words. When politicians do their job though, nobody notices at all.
The whole system of government in the US is designed to separate the various branches of government and the normal consequence is a level of antagonism between them. Speaker Paul Ryan though, has seemingly done the impossible and done something for the first time in years which the last few Speakers have not been able to do. He has been the link between the warring factions and has brokered a decent result.

As we move ever closer to the Democratic National Caucus which will probably pit Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton against each other, the Republican National Caucus promises to still be at least a ten way brawl. On the Democrat side, both Clinton and Sanders are entirely reasonable but on the Republican side, the continued presence of Donald Trump has meant that all reasonableness has flown out the window.
I suspect that had Paul Ryan been the Republican candidate for President in 2012 instead of Mitt Romney, he still would have lost against Obama but he would have been the frontrunner in the current campaign and the current clump of crazy would simply not have happened. I also suspect that he probably would have won the top spot and that from January 2017, Congress which would have Republicans control the House, Senate would cooperate with Ryan as a Republican President.

The fact that Ryan has got stuff done, has given me a hint as to what he may have been like had he been President but alas the world shall never know.
Bah humbug!

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