Stories by Steve Bell

Steve Bell is former Staff Director of the Senate Budget Committee, a former managing director at Salomon Brothers, and now Senior Director on Economic Policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

The GOP’s Earmark Distraction

November 13th, 2010 at 1:38 pm 4 Comments

Two deep and abiding  themes collided this week in Washington, D.C.–the public relations desire to deflect from tough fiscal choices and the  policy need to confront them in  the name of fiscal sanity.

Two documents symbolize the battle: the release of the recommendations of the co-chairs of the president’s fiscal policy commission (Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson) and the op-ed piece in the Washington Post condemning “appropriations earmarks” written by Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake.

Rep. Flake, responding to a defense of earmarks by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, contends that earmarks have led to less oversight by the Appropriations Committees and have weakened Congress’ control over fiscal policy.

The Bowles-Simpson debt reduction plan contends that while control over earmarks is not entirely irrelevant to the size of the nation’s fiscal problems, 99% of the fiscal problem is over-promising and underfunding of multi-trillion dollar commitments to future generations in the form of Social Security and other pensions, Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlements.

It is some kind of sign of the times that almost everyone agrees that earmarks are a big problem, but that the Bowles-Simpson recommendations are, pick your choice: “too tough, too radical, not tough enough but also too radical, extreme to the point of an attack on all we hold dear in America, crazy, or politically impossible.”

Thus, once again we observe the collision of form and substance.

The debate makes me think of two events during America’s Civil War: the 1861 Battle of Boonville and the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg.

Both cost lives; both had winners and losers.  One was so minor as to have almost drifted out of the minds of all but true Civil War historians; the other remains in the minds of almost all educated Americans.  One made little difference to the outcome of the war itself; the other transformed American history in a manner so profound that it echoes in many political discussions l47 years later.

Ask Lee or Meade, or Lincoln or Jefferson, which one really counted.  Ask them if they would have traded a different outcome at Boonville for a different outcome at Gettysburg.

The scuffle over earmarks seems like a Battle of Boonville in this great war for fiscal sanity; the Bowles-Simpson plan begins the fiscal Battle of Gettysburg.

Next week, the Bipartisan Policy Center in D.C. will release its year-long report and recommendations on future fiscal policy.  If anything, it may well prove even more radioactive to politicians than that of Bowles and Simpson, because it is likely to be even more transformative to America’s future.

I have a way to satisfy both sides: if Rep. Flake and others who worry so much about the pernicious impact of earmarks will support the Bi-Partisan Policy Center’s fiscal blueprint, or that of Bowles-Simpson, then every member of Congress will support elimination of earmarks.

I know from my 30 plus years of work on federal budget policy what would happen to that proposal.

Concern about earmarks is merely a way to kick the fiscal can down the road, while telling constituents that “we have done something about spending.”  No one would have to be told that “we did something” if Congress adopted a comprehensive plan like that of Bowles-Simpson or the Bi-Partisan Policy Center.

If Lee or Meade had worried about Boonville, instead of concentrating on Gettysburg, history would treat them as incompetent at best, murderously stupid at worst.

Bachmann & Hensarling’s Fake Fight

November 10th, 2010 at 7:31 am 4 Comments

Official Washington, advice as defined most often by the Washington Post’s choice of stories, prescription seems enchanted by the narrative of a civil war within the Republican Party.  The fact that only one significant leadership race seems likely `to be contested, and that fairly amicably, has been lost in the flurry.

As of now, Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann are both running for the position of House Republican Conference Chair.  Most accurate reporting indicates that Hensarling, who has received the endorsement of Rep. Eric Cantor, as well as Rep. Ron Paul, is ahead in the race.

This race supposedly pits the GOP establishment (Hensarling) against the Tea Party insurgents (Bachmann).  Yet, the matter seems merely a question of style, not substance.  It is difficult to imagine any significant issue the House is likely to address on which Hensarling and Bachmann will vote differently.  Both oppose tax increases; both want government spending cut and the government shrunk; both want “Obamacare” repealed;  both oppose “cap and trade.”  The list goes on.

The real difference between the two is style.  Hensarling, compared to the flamboyant Bachmann, presents a calm, reasonable demeanor most of the time.  Hensarling will listen and say “no.”   In the parlance, Bachmann is more “in your face.”

The media needs conflict to excite audiences and Bachmann provides great conflict.  Hensarling may seem downright reticent in comparison. The question really is, “What does the GOP need in the House right now?”

On that question, the answer leans toward Hensarling.  He will act as a steady conduit between Republican newcomers who want to storm the Capitol and the more senior members of the leadership, who will want to focus on four or five issues that can produce legislation quickly.  In addition, one should remember that perhaps as many as half of the new Republicans have had experience in the political arena before—either as county commissioners, state legislators, or other elected posts in which the normal give and take must occur.

Indeed, the larger question behind the Hensarling-Bachmann race is simply this—what is the Tea Party, who is the Tea Party, who represents this amorphous, multi-faceted movement that seems to have sprung organically from the soil of disenchantment with government.  Neither Hensarling nor Bachmann can claim leadership of the Tea Party, since most Tea Party activists proudly reject being led. And, it may turn out that even those self-identified as Tea Party activists will find disagreements between them and other Tea Partiers.  Nothing is as homogenous as headlines suggest.

I suspect that the Republican leadership will concoct some formulation that sees Hensarling become Conference Chair and Bachmann given another post that gets her a seat at the leadership table.

Oh, and if the media really wants leadership excitement, it should continue to focus on the real civil war—between the progressive wing of the House Democrats (Pelosi and Clyburn) and the centrists (Hoyer).  Now that truly is a battle for the soul of a party.  If Pelosi is elected Minority Leader, as most expect, then both Hensarling and Bachmann, and almost every other member of the Republican  caucus, will have reason to rejoice, Tea Partiers or not.

One Bill the Lame Duck Won’t Kill

October 19th, 2010 at 5:25 pm 5 Comments

When Congress is out of session, generic and all the real news is out on the electoral trail, viagra sale it leaves D.C.-based media types a little short of new material.  It becomes doubly difficult when the new material sounds just like the old material.

Thus it is with the concern about the Continuing Resolution for Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2011 (which I will shorten to “C.R.”).  You will recall, advice especially if you are an appropriations lobbyist, that the Congress passed a C.R. that expires Dec. 3rd.  None of the 12 individual appropriations bills has been passed by Congress, which continues an old theme.

Speculation is that several bills may pass Congress when it returns for its lame duck session.  The reality is that very little will pass.  With the GOP expected to regain control of the House, and Democrats holding a much-reduced margin in the Senate, it makes little sense for the GOP to go along with almost anything.  Why would it do so when it could devise bills much more to its liking four months from now?

Congress “must” tackle the expiring Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, we are told.  It also may want to do something about China and its trading methods, energy legislation, and at least 15 or so additional bills.  None will pass.

Indeed, I now have serious doubts that the lame duck Congress will be able to reach agreement on what to do with the Bush tax cuts.  If enough Democrats in the Senate feel threatened by the next election cycle, they may defect to the GOP and the result would be the full extension of the cuts.  Another possible outcome would see the Bush tax cuts expire and the House in the 112th Congress quickly pass a GOP version of the tax cuts in February 2011.  That though would lead to a major faceoff with President Obama over a tax cut he would find difficult to swallow.

Those who believe that compromises can be made on either the C.R. or the tax cuts seem optimistic . My own guess resorts to the famous “Occam’s Razor.”  This philosophical theory goes more or less as follows:  “if many competing hypotheses seem possible to explain an event, choose the one that is simplest.”  (For scholars, what William of Ockham really wrote was, “Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity.)

So, we have many possible outcomes for the lame duck legislative calendar.  Perhaps 50 to 60 members of Congress will have been defeated.  Partisanship will be more fierce than ever.  Democrats, especially, will begin to become independent from the caucuses.  With so many outcomes possible, let’s choose the simplest—the C.R., will pass, relatively clean, and it’s less than 50-50 that the Bush tax cuts will be handled in any final fashion.  Nothing else of significance seems likely.

In case folks have missed it, this is just about what has happened in one form or another at the end of most recent sessions of Congress.  So, the same old tune, just another year older.

Did the GOP Pledge Just Bail Out the Dems?

October 4th, 2010 at 4:53 pm 9 Comments

A famous phrase politicians and their advisors ought to remember, goes something like this: ”When your enemy is tying his own noose, leave him alone.”

With about a month to go to Election Day, one question is whether or not the GOP has interrupted the Democrats as the Democratic leadership was tying its own noose.

Less metaphorically: are the much-discussed “Pledge to America” and the “Ryan Plan” about to become targets of opportunity for Democratic candidates on the campaign trail?

Let’s review the pre-Pledge landscape:

  • Obamacare exemplified over-reaching government by Democrats;
  • Joblessness and the fear of more job loss dominated most voters’ minds;
  • Deficit and debt concerns motivated the Republican base;
  • The endless war in Afghanistan demoralized the Democratic base.

In short, most Democratic candidates had the unappetizing chore of defending any number of things.  And, in politics, if you are defending, you are losing.

Prompted by a number of considerations, the Republican House last month issued its “Pledge to America,” a document that on the surface was sufficiently rhetorical that it carried little danger to GOP candidates who endorsed it.  The question was whether it was wise to do anything that changed the “landscape” of the elections.

Last year, the thoughtful Congressman from Wisconsin, Paul Ryan, released his plan for reducing deficits and the nation’s dangerous indebtedness.  Most notably, almost no one else in the House nor Senate GOP caucuses joined him.  Indeed, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was more enthusiastic about the plan than the House Republican Leadership.

A few courageous, or naive, GOP incumbents endorsed the plan during last year and earlier this year.  Most of those now face attacks on the plan and their endorsement of it–do you really want to privatize Social Security?  Are you going to deny Medicare benefits in the future to some of the elderly?  Do you really intend to freeze education and healthcare spending?  And, so on.

All of a sudden, Democrats can (neither honestly nor logically) connect the Ryan plan with the Pledge to America.  The result will be a wave of media advertisements accusing GOP candidates of all sorts of plans — like those mentioned above.

In short, was the risk worth the benefit of issuing a Pledge to America.  Was endorsement by anyone of the Ryan plan wise?

One thing emerges from new media attacks by Democratic candidates — both the Pledge and the Plan have become targets of opportunity.  Republicans now must defend those documents.

Will this attack by Democrats work?  Perhaps not, since the anti-incumbent wave seems so massive.  But, the decision to even give Democratic candidates a chance to change the subject has to be considered a risk that out-weighs any potential benefit.

It would have been wiser to allow the Democrats to continue tying their own nooses.

DeMint’s GOP Takeover

October 2nd, 2010 at 8:07 am 43 Comments

As the public media focuses on the upcoming November elections for House and Senate, discount a brewing battle within the Republican caucus in the Senate has been largely overlooked.

Many ways exist to describe the two sides of this internal civil war—“true” conservatives vs. “RINO” Republicans; extremists vs. pragmatists; new generation vs. dinosaurs.  But, buy as is usual in politics, the battle may be embodied in two senators—Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

DeMint has successfully endorsed candidates, Tea Party and otherwise, opposed by “establishment” Republicans.  In Kentucky, DeMint’s choice, Rand Paul, defeated the candidate endorsed by McConnell in the Republican primary.  In Alaska, DeMint’s choice defeated incumbent GOP senator Lisa Murkowski, who had the full support of McConnell and the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.  In Colorado, the Tea Party choice defeated the establishment candidate, Jane Norton.  Delaware’s extraordinary Republican primary result is well-known.  In Florida, Governor Charlie Crist was cruising toward the nomination and almost certain victory, only to lose to the insurgent candidate, Mario Rubio, in the primary.  It cost Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, $21 million to beat the “true” Republican, J.C. Hayward, a favorite of the Tea Party.

One has to go all the way back to the late 1960s and early 1970s to see such fierce intraparty conflict.  Then, the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party launched an all-out attack on establishment Democrats, electing House and Senate members and, ultimately, nominating George McGovern.  Only Watergate and subsequent events forestalled the inevitable Republican wave until the 1980 elections.

Looking at the public statements of DeMint and McConnell shows the disconnect.  DeMint has said, in various forms, that he would rather have 30 “real” Republicans in the Senate than 51 nominal ones.  McConnell, during his entire career, has said that his goal is a governing majority in the Senate that can accomplish conservative goals.  Nothing distinguishes the two men more than those sentiments.

DeMint belongs to the “theological” wing of the party—better pure in belief and action than victorious.  McConnell belongs to the pragmatic wing—losers neither legislate nor educate.  My experience has been that theologians do better in churches and seminaries than in the hard, messy work of legislating.  An analogy might be the Democrats’ decision to nominate Bill Clinton for the presidency.  He was not from the theological wing of the Democratic Party yet was able to pull the party from left to center, leading eventually to the Democratic reinvigoration of the mid-2000s.  Now, the “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party is upset because their doctrines, presented as articles of faith and woe to any who deviate, don’t seem to be dominating legislative outcomes.

The fight for the “souls” of both political parties goes on; usually, with little notice from outsiders.  It seems that (especially in the past 30 years) both parties have tried to accommodate those who demand ideological purity at the expense of reasonable legislative accomplishments.

DeMint vs. McConnell is only a verbal battle so far.  It will be interesting, if Republicans gain many seats in the Senate, to see if DeMint challenges McConnell as leader of the Republicans.  A DeMint victory might give Democrats the same momentum in the 2010s as the McGovern victory which boosted the GOP in the 1970s.

Dems Flirt with Government Shutdown

September 28th, 2010 at 1:23 pm 4 Comments

The fight that starts today over a “Continuing Resolution for Appropriations for FY2011” stands either as an error by the Democratic Party leadership or the White House.  It could hurt Democratic chances to retain the House this November.

To summarize:  at the end of this week Fiscal Year 2010 ends and FY2011 starts.  But, pharmacy Congress has failed to pass even a single spending bill for FY2011.  Under the Constitution, health no monies can be spent in the absence of an appropriation.  So, Congress must act in order to keep the government open after midnight Thursday.

So, why is the CR (as it is known on the Hill) bollixed up?

The President decided to request $20 billion in new spending and asked the Democratic leadership in Congress to attach it to the pending CR. Republicans object to the additional monies, especially in light of a variety of pledges to cut spending back to FY2008 levels.

So, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has begun the well-worn cloture path to try to pass the CR, with the extra $20 billion included.

One wonders what arcane reasoning produced the extra $20 billion request.  The two biggest political issues in the land right now are government over-spending and jobs.  Why Democrats would want a fight on spending literally five weeks before Election Day leaves one perplexed.

What is especially strange about the entire matter is that Congress could simply pass a CR with no amendments at all (called a “clean” CR) and make it effective until late November, when the Lame Duck session could deal with the issues within the $20 billion request.

In short the Democrats have picked an unnecessary fight at an inopportune time with no upside.

The CR will pass, but it is likely to be clean—unless the Democratic Congress decides that a shutdown of the government is politically beneficial.  If that is the ultimate strategy, Congress might be wise to review the results of the 2005 government shutdown.

Fearful Dems Punt Budget to Post-Election Season

September 16th, 2010 at 2:30 pm 4 Comments

The secret that was never a secret  is out — no appropriations bills for FY 2011 will pass Congress and be sent to the President before the October 1 beginning of the new fiscal year.

Of course, nurse almost no one in Washington ever believed that all the bills would be done on time.  It has become normal for many if not most of the spending bills to be done in a series of continuing resolutions, sildenafil omnibus appropriations bill, and other maneuvers.

But, perhaps we have become inured to this “new normal.”  Perhaps we don’t know the ramifications of failing to do the basic work of the Congress.

The course for this year was set when the Democratic leadership in the House decided not to even try to craft a Budget Resolution for FY11.  House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer admitted as much when he said that the prudent course was to wait until the President’s commission on fiscal matters made its report the first week of December.  Because individual appropriations bills cannot come to the Senate floor without the spending allocations implied in a budget, anyone who tried to bring a spending bill to the Senate floor would be baffled by Senate rules.

So, here we are, about 6 weeks before the November mid-term elections.  Democrats are worried about losing the House and maybe even the Senate, although that seems very unlikely.  They don’t want to even be here in Washington, for the most part, let alone vote for spending bills that will add money to already astonishing deficit projections.  Republicans, on their own, cannot do anything about the situation, although they are insisting on a variety of spending ceilings in order to let the appropriations process go forward.

Finally, Congress in all likelihood will not complete action on the expiring Bush tax cuts until the lame duck.

Step back and imagine what the average informed, well-read American thinks about all this:  Congress really only has to do two things, when all is said and done—pass spending and revenue bills.  And, it cannot even do that because fear rules Congress right now.  No wonder Congress has sunk so low in the opinion of 75 per cent of voters surveyed.

Perhaps it is not the fear of “big” government that causes such disdain;  perhaps it isn’t even the fear of a stupid government.  But, Americans have a right to fear a government that cannot even put together a budget.

Should the GOP Fear the Lame Duck Session?

August 10th, 2010 at 4:06 pm 14 Comments

A privileged resolution attempting to prevent congressional Democrats from passing “controversial” legislation during the lame-duck session of Congress sounds good, purchase but may have bad unintended consequences and may give more credit to the congressional majority than warranted.

Rep. Tom Price, sale the Republican Study Committee Chairman, will get a vote on his resolution next week.  He fears that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats will take up some legislation that could not pass in the 112th Congress in the lame-duck.

But, what happens if the argument on the expiration of the Bush tax cuts carries over into the lame-duck session?  What if emergency legislation to pay for a disaster or unforeseen defense matters emerges?

On the other hand, what if the GOP wants to pass trade bills with other nations that Democrats might strongly oppose?  Would the Price resolution preclude consideration of agenda items even his own party wants?

On the less theoretical, but more important front, it seems highly unlikely that the Senate and its rules would allow almost anything to pass that the GOP strongly opposed.   In light of the Senate barrier, it seems that the Price resolution is a solution to a problem that well may not exist.

However, Rep. Price is right to be worried about the lame-duck.

Since Congress has been unable to pass any appropriations bills, or the Defense Authorization Bill, or deal with the expiring tax provisions from 8 months ago, and faces a bitter, unpredictable fight on the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, the upcoming lame-duck could be one of the most chaotic in recent memory.

Former Majority Leader Sen. Howard Baker once said that he absolutely disliked and feared lame-duck sessions, just because of their unpredictability.  He only very reluctantly participated in one when Reagan was president.  That lame-duck was difficult; one this November and December could be positively destructive.

Yet, what choice does Congress have?

A full scale debate on taxes is baked into the legislative cake.  Can such a debate conclude in legislation presented to the president before the October “adjournment” date?  It is hard to imagine such a debate concluding in the House and Senate, and going to conference, and subsequent passage of a conference report in the four weeks Congress will return for work after Labor Day.  Indeed, it seems almost unimaginable that any tax legislation can pass the Senate floor in the absence of the budget process’ reconciliation provisions.

Rep. Price’s concern is well-placed, but even if his resolution fails, he can count on the bulwark of Senate rules to blunt most legislation.  Unfortunately, those same Senate rules may make it very difficult to produce an intelligent tax product before expiration date of the Bush tax cuts.

The Senate: Sluggish in a Good Way

August 5th, 2010 at 12:57 pm 19 Comments

Well, buy it has now become officially fashionable inside the nation’s capital to bash the United States Senate.

Last year, pilule the lament de jour was how partisan Congress and politics had become.  That view succumbed to an accurate assessment of history (remember the Civil War, sale for one thing).

Now, a lengthy jeremiad by George Packer in the latest issue of The New Yorker solidifies the Manhattan view of the Senate as just too slow in this cyber-age.

David Broder’s column this morning, “A Senate without Leaders”, praising the Packer article, also puts the official seal of D.C. approval on the view that the Senate is dysfunctional.

Packer’s fundamental thesis seems to be that the Senate has too many rules of procedure, these rules are arcane and anachronistic, and the Senate, as it really is, has made some newcomers and a few veteran Senators mad.  Oh, to add a little color and controversy to the article, Packer describes how much time Senators allegedly spend on fund-raising, how changed such legislative powerhouses as former Senator Gary Hart view the current Senate, and the obligatory disdainful quote from Norm Ornstein, claiming that the Senate has become increasingly populated by “ideologues and charlatans.”

Packer proceeds to list initiative after initiative that he apparently believes should become law, but haven’t because of the obstruction of the Senate rules and the Senate minority.  In my many years as a senior Senate staffer, I have seen such wish lists before. They mirror the wish lists every President intones in the State of Union Address, and each platform plank the parties adopt at their conventions.

Let’s try the view of a practitioner of Senate legislation, instead of outside observers who have never written a single word of legislation.

The Senate used to be better when Lyndon Johnson was Majority Leader claim some.  No, I would respond, the Senate was more malleable to Johnson because he controlled the money to candidates and had a huge majority with which to work.  Read Caro and see if you really want to go back to the Johnson days.

The Senate has become more partisan than ever, the rant goes, and it took a whole 18 months to pass a healthcare reform bill because of that partisanship.  Well, it took about 20 years to finally pass Medicare, and it takes years to pass most bills that impose new regimes on long-standing economic institutional relationships. Every year that “good ideas” failed to pass the Senate were years in which I thanked the rules of the U.S. Senate.

“Bright ideas” and “reform” have become the mantra of the Blackberry generation.  “I have an idea, and it is good, and I want it to pass right now,” a truly narcissistic Senator might say.  That Senator is in the wrong business. He needs to become an executive of a state, where he will encounter partisanship of a more rugged sort than in the U.S. Senate.  Or perhaps, he or she needs to go run a company, where the success or failure of “good ideas” becomes painfully obvious quite quickly.

In a global competition in which scientific knowledge and professional competence have become sine qua non, we have a Congress made up predominately of folks who have almost nothing more than law degrees and “beliefs.”  It is slightly unsettling to hear all these good ideas about healthcare from people who have almost no knowledge of medicine; or propositions to end America’s energy dependence on hydrocarbons from those who have no experience either in energy nor engineering; or, profound pronouncements on how to cure problems in the global financial world from people whose closest touch with finance is their monthly bank and investment mail.

No, I say, thank goodness and the Founding Fathers for the United States Senate and thank goodness for its rules.

So much mischief has dropped into the proper filing tool because of those rules.

Bipartisan Purging

May 17th, 2010 at 1:11 pm 18 Comments

The defeat of Utah Sen. Bob Bennett, the harrowing race faced by Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, and the howlings of outrage on blogs from far left to far right about government policy, confirm what William Butler Yeats once wrote:  “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

While Moveon.org savages moderate Democratic members of Congress and President Obama, the various Tea Party “spokesmen” rant against Republicans who dare in any manner to look for a bi-partisan center in which to form legislation.

We used to say that the far right and far left were the “tails that wagged the dogs.”  Now, the dogs have disappeared, leaving only the violently flailing tails.  As we wrote earlier in this space, the pull of both caucuses in Congress is toward the poles of policy, not toward a constructive center.  Both parties find themselves intimidated by their “bases,” those partisans who show up to vote no matter what and who tolerate little short of hair-shirt orthodoxy.

Florida’s Charlie Crist, once odds-on favorite to win the Senate nomination for Republicans, has now become an independent and is falling in the polls.  The notion that an independent can win a party nomination in this political atmosphere seems silly from the beginning; Crist’s continued fall in the polls confirms what most political pros know already–independents rarely vote in party primaries in off-years. Any chance that the Democratic nominee, Rep. Kendrick Meek, has to win has been enhanced by the Crist-Rubio debacle.

In Pennsylvania, all the momentum is with Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak as he tries to upend once-Republican, now Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter.  Either has to be considered a slight underdog to the Republican nominee, former Rep. Pat Toomey, one of the founders of the Club for Growth, another force for “purity” inside the Republican Party.  It seems unlikely that the Democratic base in Pennsylvania will turn out anyone but a “true” Democrat and Specter fails to meet that test.

All incumbents seem to be under greater scrutiny than ever by their party activists.  Since Democrats have more incumbents at risk, it seems likely that Republicans will pick up substantial seats in the House and Senate, but not enough at this point to take control of either Chamber.

But, nothing in the polling data shows a great surge in popularity for Republicans.  Angry and fearful voters seem to dislike almost everybody and everything.  The blogosphere reeks of violent language from both extremes and woe to anyone connected to Washington, D.C.  Denizens of the Capitol, captains of Wall Street, the wealthy of any background provide fodder for the purists.

Ironically, those who call for less government, lower taxes, and a balanced budget, rarely know just for what they wish.  Those same activists would largely reject the cuts in Medicare and Social Security that a true balanced budget during the next 20 years would require.  And, those who want larger government, higher taxes on “the rich,” and less concern about deficits and debt, shield themselves from the economic catastrophe that might await the nation if present fiscal trends persist.

Yet, the screaming continues.

Yeats had it right nearly a century ago:  “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”