So what’s next?

This morning, we went over the preordained Republican takeover of the Senate. So, other than having to hear “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says” over and over, what will the next two years look like?

For the most part, you’d be correct in assuming that it’d look a lot like the last four years: With Democrat Barack Obama still the president, and a Republican-controlled House and Senate, it’s going to be a loud not much. Yet even with that caveat, we can still look into what a unified legislature is going to at least try, and perhaps succeed in.

The Staffing of Government

The past six years of the Obama administration have been particularly hard to staff. A significant portion of the government is appointed by the president, but needs to be confirmed by the Senate. The Senate has not been very kind about this during this administration. If you look over here, you’ll notice that there are still over 200 (!) nominees awaiting confirmation, and this is after the Senate changed its rules to kill the filibuster for nominees!* We currently have no surgeon general—despite Ebola!—because the nominee said something about gun control.

This is not to mention judges, who have been particularly difficult for the president to get confirmed.

You can expect that the next two years will see no progress on this front. The only nominees that will likely see office are those to fill cabinet-level posts, and those will be battles. It’s not clear who President Obama’s choice to be the next attorney general will be, but I certainly don’t envy them.

* Nearly half of all filibusters of confirmations in history have been Obama nominees.

Environment

The president is not without his victories, but probably his best overall achievement is environmental. During his administration, the EPA has issued strong rules limiting carbon emissions and gas mileage for cars. The stimulus program at the start of his term and an activist Department of Energy brought about an entire new and flourishing industry surrounding renewable energy. Wind power has doubled and solar power has grown six times. In a largely symbolic effort, he has pulled all stops to block the building of the Keystone XL pipeline that would funnel Canadian shale oil to the Gulf of Mexico.

Naturally, Senate Republicans aren’t such fans of this progress. They’ve been nothing but vocal about Keystone XL being a top priority for them, and that they’d overturn the EPA rules given the chance. Expect them to use whatever leverage they can muster (which is a lot) to force the administration’s hand on Keystone and chip away as much as they can against the EPA rules. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the president’s environmental legacy dampened.

Reproductive Rights

Sure, David Brooks thinks that women don’t care about affordable contraception. But you know who really does? The Republicans in Congress. They rail against the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to cover contraception, for surely it’s for sluts and not preventative medicine? Senator-Elect Cory Gardner largely neutralized Sen. Udall’s pro-women campaign by saying he is for making birth control over the counter. That sounds good, right? Well, over-the-counter means expensive and not covered by insurance, so there’s that. Expect that to be a battle in the next Congress.

Remember that the last time Republicans held both chambers they banned late-term abortion. In many of the states in which they control the legislature, they’ve enacted so many seemingly small anti-rights laws that it’s almost impossible for women to get reproductive care in those states. Why would you not expect them to bring that to the federal level?

The Rest

Sequestration (remember that?) cuts go into effect in 2015. Don’t expect this congress do to anything about that. This, of course, means draconian program cuts, government employee layoffs, and less help for the needy. Oh, and some choice tax credits also expire.

Speaking of, how about some shut-downs? Well, hopefully the lame-duck session will extend the debt limit—because it expires in March. But don’t expect the next Congress to let the debt limit extension pass cleanly like they did this year. Probably have to give up Keystone for that one.

And more budget and tax and debt ceiling argument will probably paralyze the economic recovery again. Which won’t hurt the new Republican senators, because President Obama will get the blame.

And don’t think cuts to Social Security will be off the table, because, well, that’s what they always have said they want to do.

 

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Private buses and the government as a business

CC Photo by Flickr user Mr T. in DC

Yglesias suggests that the future maybe should involve privately-owned intracity bus lines:

Bus lines don’t have the power to transform neighborhoods that rail construction possesses. But buses are by far the cheapest and simplest way of adding mass transit, and municipal leaders should always have their eyes on potential ways to improve things. One possibility that naturally suggests itself is to let entrepreneurs start private intracity bus lines just as we have inter-city buses running from New York to DC, Philadelphia, Boston, etc.

Unlike the barbering field I would want to see regulation of this kind of activity since there are genuine public safety issues and it would be useful to consumers to impose some kind of uniformity so that buses are recognizable, have interoperable farecards, etc. New York City features sufficient demand for this kind of thing that the local authorities sporadically find themselves doing “dollar van” crackdowns. I’m not sure real market opportunities for this kind of thing would exist anyplace else, but it would probably be worth other cities’ while to try to find out. Ultimately, instead of a publicly-operated and publicly-subsidized set of bus lines, you could have a set of competing private bus companies with government subsidies provided directly to the consumer.

Here in the District of Criminals, we’re (basically) serviced by two bus services. The first and bigger of the two, Metrobus, is operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and runs across the region in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. The DC Circulator, on the other hand, is much smaller and is run by the city’s Department of Transportation.

Metrobus is gigantic and broad. It runs almost everywhere and stops as frequently as every couple of blocks in most places. It also runs on a generally reliable set schedule that can easily be looked up on a timetable or online. The fare is relatively inexpensive ($1.50-1.75). The routes are very commuter-oriented and are generally geared toward and efficient at moving people from the downtown core to outlying residential areas and vice versa. In short, it can be described as a quite generic city bus system.

Continue reading Private buses and the government as a business

Another unelected Prime Minister for the U.K.?

A bit ago, I made a (likely inebriated) prediction to Estes that I suspected that David Miliband, who had served as Foreign Secretary in the last Labour government, would be Prime Minister before 2011. And, gosh darn it, it looks as though it might be closer to reality.

Gordon Brown today announced that he will resign as soon as a new government is formed, an action that had been predicted would be a necessary preerequisite to any deal with the Liberal Democrats to form a government. The Lib Dems had first approached the Tories because the Tories got the larger number of votes; however, this was predicated on the assumption that Labour lost mostly because of Brown’s unpopularity. Without Brown, it is thought that the Lib Dems could feasibly make a deal with Labour.

If, as expected, talks between the Lib Dems  and the Tories continue to take too long, the Lib Dems may look to Labour and the other center-left parties to form a not-conservative government. With Brown out of the picture, that becomes more possible and palatable to the Lib Dems.

Continue reading Another unelected Prime Minister for the U.K.?