This Week’s Selective Political Roundup

Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine presents two brief accounts of Republican hypocrisy (there’s a little-known but important fact: Republican politicians are required to solemnly recite a Hypocritical Oath before receiving any financial support from the party).

First, Congressman Paul Ryan has said that he wants to simplify the tax code and isn’t especially interested in cutting taxes for the wealthy.  When asked why he didn’t support a proposal made by a Republican congressman a few years ago that would have done exactly that, namely, eliminate loopholes and deductions without favoring one group of taxpayers over another, he’s unable to come up with an answer. All he can say is that it’s “ridiculous” to worry about which taxpayers would benefit the most from tax reform. It must, therefore, be mere coincidence that the reforms he favors would disproportionately benefit the wealthy (“No Tax Reforms Unless Rich People Get Paid“).

Second, Republican Senators who previously claimed it’s against the rules or common practice to confirm a Supreme Court nominee in the last year of a President’s term are now saying this last-year restriction only applies if Hillary Clinton (or Bernie Sanders) wins in November. If one of the Democrats is elected President, it will be perfectly fine to approve Obama’s nominee this year. Their fear, of course, is that President Clinton or Sanders would nominate someone more liberal than Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee. Thus, “the people” should have a role in deciding who gets on the Supreme Court, but the people who vote in November should only have a role if they elect a Republican President. Otherwise, the people who elected Obama in 2012 should have their say after all. Yes, they do indeed swear a Hypocritical Oath (“[Republicans] Demand Supreme Court Vacancy Be Filled by Next President, Unless That President Is Hillary Clinton“).

Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias of Vox says “There’s a Big Problem with Sanders’s Free College Plan“. “Free college” has been one of Senator Sanders’s most popular positions. According to the campaign’s site:

The Sanders plan would make tuition free at public colleges and universities throughout the country…The cost of this … plan is fully paid for by imposing a tax of a fraction of a percent on Wall Street speculators [i.e. on transactions in the stock and bond markets].

Yglesias, however, provides a link to a more detailed “Summary of Sen. Sanders’ College for All Act” on his Senate webpage: 

This legislation would provide $47 billion per year to states to eliminate undergraduate tuition and fees at public colleges and universities.

Today, total tuition at public colleges and universities amounts to about $70 billion per year. Under the College for All Act, the federal government would cover 67% of this cost, while the states would be responsible for the remaining 33% of the cost.

To qualify for federal funding, states must meet a number of requirements designed to protect students, ensure quality, and reduce ballooning costs. States will need to maintain spending on their higher education systems, on academic instruction, and on need-based financial aid. In addition, colleges and universities must reduce their reliance on low-paid adjunct faculty.

As Yglesias points out, Sanders is relying on the states, including those that refused to accept Federal money in order to expand Medicaid coverage for the poor, to spend more money on education, even though the same states, usually run by Republican governors and legislators, have been cutting their education budgets. In addition, the public colleges and universities in those states would have to institute other reforms in order for their states to qualify for Federal matching grants.

Free college sounds great, and Senator Sanders has a reputation for brutal honesty, but he isn’t telling his supporters the truth about how difficult it would be to abolish college tuition. In Yglesias’s words: “what Sanders has is a plan for tuition-free college in Vermont and, if he’s lucky, California, but not for the United States of America”.

Lastly, two political science professors have an interesting article in the New York Times called “Clinton’s Bold Vision, Hidden in Plain Sight?“. They argue that Hillary Clinton is a throwback to the days when pragmatic Democrats and Republicans worked together to achieve great things: 

Mrs. Clinton has put forth an ambitious and broadly popular policy agenda: family and medical leave, continued financial reform, improvements in the Affordable Care Act, investments in infrastructure and scientific research, measures to tackle global warming and improve air and water quality, and so on….

A few decades ago, Mrs. Clinton would have been seen as a common political type: an evidence-oriented pragmatist committed to using public authority to solve big problems…. In the middle decades of the 20th century, this pragmatic problem-solving mentality had a prominent place in both parties. Some issues were deeply divisive: labor rights and national health insurance, for example, and civil rights. Nonetheless, a bipartisan governing coalition that included leaders from both business and labor proved remarkably willing to endorse and improve the mixed economy to promote prosperity.

More important, the major policies that this coalition devised deserve credit for some of the greatest achievements of American society, including the nation’s once decisive lead in science and education, its creation of a continent-spanning market linked by transportation and communications, and its pioneering creation of product and environmental regulations that added immensely to Americans’ health and quality of life…. Americans’ income per capita doubled and then more than doubled again, with the gains broadly distributed for most of the era….

Mrs. Clinton is heir to an enormously successful bipartisan governing tradition. Yet this tradition has been disowned by the Republican Party and has lost allure within a significant segment of the Democratic Party; it also runs sharply against the grain of current public sentiments about government and politicians….

In the context of widespread amnesia about what has made America prosper, pragmatism has come to be seen as lacking a clear compass rather than (in the original meaning of the word) focusing on what has actually proved to work in the real world.