Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Carnival of Divided Government LVI
Excessum et Renatum
Special Last Carnival
& 2014 New Year Edition

Welcome to the Carnival of Divided Government Excessum et Renatum - Special 56th and Final 2014 New Year Edition.

As noted before, the whole "Blog Carnival" concept is well past its "Sell By" date, eclipsed by Facebook, Twitter, and other social network aggregation schemes. Blog Carnivals were popular when the Dividist started this blog in 2006. The idea was to solicit and compile posts and articles contributed to the carnival on a particular subject then periodically share the content and links on the blog. Social media fulfills that function now.

We've not received much relevant content contributed to the carnival for a few years. This feature morphed into a simple compilation of topical posts and articles that caught the Dividist's attention as he wandered about the 'sphere. The format was as comfortable as a old shoe, so we just kept it going.

As we return from an extended sabbatical, kick off an election year, and attempt to insinuate this blog into social media platforms, the time has come to put this obsolete format to bed. This last effort will help the Dividist "prime the pump" after the long layoff, but the Oblogocare Death Panel has spoken. Without further ado, here the Carnival of Divided Government swan song....

Carnival of Divided Government LVI

As explained in earlier editions, we adopted Latin ordinal numeration to impart a patina of gravitas reflecting the historical importance of the series. In this the Final Carnival of Divided Government (Excessum et Renatum), as in all of the CODGOV editions, we again select volunteers and draftees from the blogosphere and main stream media writing on the single topic of government divided between the major parties (leaving it to the reader to sort out volunteers from draftees).

Consistent with this topic, the primary criteria for inclusion in the carnival is to explicitly use the words and/or concept of "divided government" in submitted posts.Among the on-topic posts, essays and articles we choose our favorites for commentary and consideration. The Dividist hopes you enjoy these selections culled over the last few months...


Hans Hassell's blog "The Monkey Cage" was never particularly fond of divided government.  Especially when a Democrat resides in the White House.  With the blog relocated into the tonier Washington Post neighborhood, Hassell helps us understand "Why divided government is killing John Boehner":
"Why have Republicans repeatedly made Boehner’s life so difficult? My new research suggests one answer to that question: divided government... during periods of divided government in which one party controls the White House and a different party controls the House, approval of the speaker drops among members of the public in the speaker’s own party... it should not be surprising that the approval of the House speaker declines in both parties during this time.  The reasons, however, are different.  Partisans in the minority react to new information about the speaker’s preferred policies.  Meanwhile, the speaker’s own party becomes frustrated with the speaker’s limited powers.  Both circumstances suggest that Boehner’s situation is unlikely to improve anytime soon."
Hassell seeks to explain why congressional approval polls are at rock bottom, why John Boehner is taking the brunt of partisan heat, and why it will not get better for him, Ever. The reason? Divided Government. Apparently this happens to every Speaker when the president is not of his/her party.  The argument is sensible. However, he does not explain why, despite this burden, Republicans will pick up seats in the Boehner led House of Representatives in the 2014 midterms.  Net net.. unpopularity is a small price to pay for the policy benefits that accrue under divided government: Restraint of spending growth; smaller deficits; greater executive oversight; reinforced constitutional checks and balances;  greater protection of civil liberties; and smaller fewer wars.


Politifact scrutinized Representative Paul Ryan's statement that the Murray-Ryan deal "is the first divided-government budget agreement since 1986." Despite a later clarification that Ryan meant to say "divided Congress" not "divided government", Politifact opined that the statement was "Mostly False":
"At the initial news conference, Ryan said the current deal "is the first divided-government budget agreement since 1986." He later clarified his statement to note it’s actually the first one "with a divided Congress" since 1986. The first claim is wrong -- there are actually more than a dozen instances since 1986 in which "divided government" produced a budget agreement. And while the second version of Ryan's claim is right, it's not very significant, since Congress has been under divided-party control for just four years out of the past 28. On balance, we rate Ryan’s claim Mostly False."  
Party control Passed budget Failed to pass budget
Unified Congress and president 6 3
President of one party, Congress unified under other party 13 1
Divided Congress 2 3
Regardless of whether you agree with Politifact's rating, their exposition provides a great overview of Divided Government vs. Divided Congress vs. United Government over the last 28 year. The important takeaway is that federal government's ability to function effectively and produce a budget does not change appreciably with a divided vs. united government.

This is completely consistent with David Mahew's findings in "Divided We Govern."   There is an interesting corollary we can extract from  their additional (statistically questionable)  finding that a united congress is more likely to succeed passing a budget than a divided congress.  Since there is almost zero probability of the GOP losing the majority in the House, if follows that if you are motivated  primarily to vote for a more productive federal government, you would vote and support Republican senatorial candidates in the hope that a united Republican congress would be more effective putting a budget on the Presidents desk.


Reihan Salam blogging at NRO, takes a look at the Ryan - Murray budget compromise, finds it acceptable, and reminds the critics of the plan that "You Don’t Get Everything You Want in Divided Government":
"These measures are modest, but they represent real reforms. If we don’t raise Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation premiums, for example, there is good reason to believe that taxpayers will have to finance a bailout in the not-too-distant future. Increasing airline security fees is not ideal, and my preference would be that we rethink the government’s role in this domain more broadly. But as Ryan and Murray have both emphasized, the nature of divided government is that you don’t get everything you want."
In terms of deficit reduction, "weak gruel" does not begin to describe the tasteless broth of the final budget agreement. The Dividist would have preferred to see more long term cuts in the unsustainable entitlement programs. Much more. Salam prioritizes rationalization/restoration of defense sequester cuts over deficit reduction as a whole. This is not surprising for an NRO contributor, as it remains a bastion of the Neocon approach to foreign policy.

But to his larger point about expectations under divided government, Salam is correct. We are better off with this bipartisan budget than without it.  As the noted economist Mick Jagger once intoned "You don't always get what you want, you get what you need".


Dan Balz of the Washington Post notes that while voters seem to prefer divided federal government, they are content to elect single party governments at the state level. He explores the policy ramifications of this phenomena in "Red, blue states move in opposite directions in a new era of single-party control":
"Today, 37 of the 50 states are under unified party control. Republicans hold the governorship and majorities in both chambers of the legislature in 23 states; Democrats have full control in 14 states. In 12 states, power is divided between Republicans and Democrats.... Among the 17 states that the Bureau of Labor Statistics says had statistically significant declines in unemployment over the past year, eight are controlled by Republicans, seven are controlled by Democrats and two have divided government. Two of the top three performers — North Carolina and Florida — are under GOP control while the other — New Jersey — has a Republican governor. In these 17 improving states, California’s unemployment rate, at 8.5 percent,was the highest. Presented with some of those realities, Jindal said there are fairer measures of success than the unemployment rates. He cited overall job growth and, crucially, how businesses rank the states. He and other Republican governors point to Texas as the nation’s leader in job creation since the 2008 recession, and they credit low-tax, low-regulatory policies for the successes."
The Dividist has always limited his advocacy of a divided government voting heuristic to the federal government. We have endeavored in this blog to be meticulous about applying historical and economic scholarship on divided federal government to a voting heuristic applicable at the federal government. The historical evidence does show unambiguously that federal spending is restrained under divided government compared to single party rule. Although sympathetic to divided government at a state and local level, it is not clear that the same benefits accrue consistently across the states, if at all. As intended by the founders, voters are conducting a great experiment in unified Republican, Democratic, and divided government in the state laboratories.  It'll be interesting to watch the results.

The 2013 government shutdown was arguably divided government's darkest hour. And yet...


In October Doug Mataconis blogging Outside the Beltway cited a Gallup poll to make the case that "Despite Gridlock, Americans Prefer Divided Government To One-Party Rule":
"...this poll says the same thing that previous polls have said. For all its faults, the American people tend to prefer a system where power in Washington, D.C. is in the hands of different parties. In some sense this seems to contradict other polling that shows that the public wants their representatives on Capitol Hill and in the White House to work together to solve the nation’s problems, but I’d suggest that there’s a certain wisdom to it. Clearly, the public recognizes that a system that forces both sides in a sharply divided nation to come together and work out the nation’s problems is preferable to one where one side is able to impose its will without much regard for the objections or opinions of the minority. That, after all, is what our Constitution, the very concept of Federalism, and the Bill of Rights are all about and, quite clearly, the public believes that this is how it should be. For the most part, I think they’re right."
Amen brother. Couldn't have said it better myself.

One of my pet peeves is the way Gallup and others ask the divided vs. unified government question in these polls. Here is the question that Gallup asks: "Do you think it is better for the country to have a president from the same political party that controls Congress does it make no difference either way or do you think it is better to have a president from one political party and Congress controlled by another." The problem is that the question poses a non-existent, non-partisan apolitical alternative to divided government.

This is the way Gallup poses the question:

Which do you prefer:
  • A) Divided Government
  • B) Unified One Party Government
  • C) No Preference
The problem:  This question does not accurately reflect an actual political choice that Americans must face when they enter the polling station to cast their vote. It's like asking:

Which do you prefer:
  • A) Divided Government
  • B) The Council of Elrond
  • C) No Preference
A better question that reflects their actual real-world choices would be in two parts and would look like this:

1 - Which do you prefer:
  • A) Divided Government
  • B) Unified One Party Republican Government
  • C) No Preference

2 - Which do you prefer:
  • A) Divided Government
  • B) Unified One Party Democratic Government
  • C) No Preference
In some elections, notably the midterms, only one of the two alternative question/answer sets exist as a possible outcome. For example, in 2014 the only choice for voters is between  Divided Government and Unified One Party Democratic Government. There are no other choices.

Asking the question this way would resolve the polling contradiction that Mataconis notes in his post. In 2014, we would expect independent dividists (those who prefer divided government) to side with partisan republicans in opposition to unified one party democratic rule. In 2006 independent dividists sided with democrats to restraint one party republican rule.

Another way of asking the question would also reveal more relevant results:

Which do you prefer:
  • A) Divided Government
  • B) Unified One Party Democratic Government
  • C) Unified One Party Republican Government
  • D) No Preference
We can take a pretty good guess at how the Gallup poll would have turned out if the question had been asked this way. Those with no preference would presumably remain the same, but we would expect those preferring unified one party government to split Republican/Democrat somewhere in a 50/50, 60/40, or 40/60 range with some possible leakage out of those preferring divided government into one of the partisan camps. Asking the question this way would likely show a larger plurality preferring divided government to either unified republican or democratic party government.  And that would go a long way to explaining why Americans have expressed such strong preference for divided government in the modern era, despite their frustration with consequent gridlock.

Speaking of frustration...


Jules Witcover an author and syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services, is bemoaning the fact that Congressional republicans do not behave like right thinking democrats, and offers a dour outlook for 2014 in "After a fruitless year in Washington, New Year's blues ahead":
"In all, the outlook for Obama's fifth presidential year is neither bright nor hopeful for any positive resolution of current divisions, at least until the midterm congressional elections in November. Then, either one-party control will return on Capitol Hill, one way or the other, or divided government will likely slog on for the final two years of an Obama presidency born more of hope than of achievable aspirations.

The old notion that divided government assures a desirable balance, a corrective mechanism against excessive power-wielding and an inducement to compromise has been emphatically discredited in the course of the Obama tenure. In the remaining three years, one can only hope that the hard lessons of the last five will somehow persuade the leaders in both parties to open their eyes to the imperative of working together, and of getting their own houses in order in the process." 
I hope the Tribune Corporation has Mr. Witcover on suicide watch.  As always, the most plaintive cries and lamentations declaring the utter failure of divided government are invariably from pundits philosophically and/or politically aligned with party in control of the White House.  A quick check of Witcover's books confirms this rule of thumb. 

Protecting minority interests and preventing the President from doing everything he wants to do is exactly why the founders designed checks, balances, and separation of power into the the foundation of our government. Divided government reinforces the intent of the founders and ensures that our government functions as designed.  Whether Mr. Witcover likes it or not, our government is functioning exactly as intended. The Dividist is pretty fucking happy about the whole situation.


As noted in prior entries, our federal elections are often more about voting against what we don't want than they are about voting for a positive outcome we prefer. The Dividist was trying to make this very point in a recent twitter debate with frequent "formidable opponent" @Sublimateus.

In light of our intent to more aggressively incorporate social media in this blog, we include this storified version of the discussion:

Another important 2013 development undermining minority protections occurred when Democrats and Harry Reid pulled the trigger on the "nuclear option" and opted to confirm a few judges on a straight majority vote in the Senate. The naked, bald-faced, stomach churning, teeth grinding hypocrisy of both Democrats and Republicans on this particular issue is just too obvious to even bother with a comment.  So we'll leave that to a partisan from the left...


David Callahan of Policyshop does a credible job of rationalizing the Democrat power grab but is smart enough to acknowledge the risk and offers a hopeful justification in "Filibuster or Not, Divided Government Will Remain the Norm":
“Be careful what you wish for is good advice, and I'll be the first to admit that progressives may rue the day they celebrated historic changes to the Senate's filibuster rules... The founders thought that phalanx of checks and balances was adequate even as they also imagined that cabinet and judicial appointments would be approved by a simple Senate majority. And they were right... But here's something else: The biggest proponents of restrained government have turned out to be the American people themselves, who have rarely let one political party have extended control over Washington. Any time one party has started to get too ensconced running both branches of government, they've promptly gotten the boot -- most recently in 2010."
One quibble. It is not a question of whether Progs may one day rue this power grab. It is only a question of when. And when it happens, it will not be a question of confirming a few conservative judges. The dam is broken. The Democrats blew it up. Now comes the flood. When Republicans next find themselves in a position to control the rules of the Senate, the payback blowback will not be pretty. Expect both judicial confirmation and legislation (including repeal of Obamacare) to be passed on a majority vote without giving Democrats the option to require a 60 vote plurality. And they'll have no one to blame except themselves, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama for forcing the issue.

We can only hope that Callahan's assessment of the wisdom of American voters is correct. Because the way it looks from here, maintaining a divided government may be the last and only protection for minority views from getting steamrolled by a united majority in the federal government.


With that we conclude this edition and the series. I don't anticipate there being a 57th Edition of the Carnival of Divided Government LVII - Special Rebirth Edition. But, never say never. If the blog carnival site is still running, we'll probably schedule a far future catch-all edition to snag any submissions that may accidentally stumble across the Carnival format.

But since we are abandoning this format for the foreseeable future, there is no longer any point to submitting your blog article at the carnival of divided government or using our carnival submission form. - If interested in pointing me to an on-topic post, please feel free to submit the prospective blog post or article to the Dividist at mw at dividist dot or update the Dividist's Facebook page or tweet him @Dividist.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

Carnival of Divided Government

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