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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

The New Congress: Historical Relationship between Congress and the Presidency and Important Issues Facing the 113th Congress and the Obama Administration

James Thurber, Professor, Department of Government, American University (AU) and Director of AU's Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies
Washington, DC
March 21, 2013

2:00 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR: Welcome to the Foreign Press Center. Today we have a briefing on the new Congress, historical relationships between the Congress and the presidency, and the important issues that are facing the 113th Congress and the Obama Administration. Our briefer is Jim Thurber who is a professor at the Department of Government at American University. He also has a book that is soon to be released entitled “Rivals for Power: Congressional-Presidential Relations.”

Please note that Professor Thurber’s comments are his and State Department’s opinions. Thank you.

MR. THURBER: Welcome. Thanks for coming this afternoon. Let’s just have a little conversation and have lots of questions and answers. She said that because I can be a little edgy in my humor as well as comments about any administration and any Congress. And this Congress is pretty easy to be edgy about. The American people think it’s doing a terrible job. It has – 12 percent in the polls, as you know, these days say it’s doing a good or outstanding job. Now my reaction to that is I’ve never met one of the 12 percent. I’m sure they’re out there, but I haven’t met them. That’s a joke. When there’s a joke, I’m going to put my hand up so that at least you can smile. (Laughter.) So, what I’d like to do today is keep it very informal. And I assume you need for me to be at the microphone so I’m going to be behind this, but I would walk around if we didn’t need it.

I’d like to talk about why we have deadlock. You know fully well that we have deadlock in the United States over the budget, over gun control, over a variety of issues facing the 113th Congress, and put that in historic perspective in terms of the relationship between the Congress and the President, and to remind you of those of you that come from places with unicameral systems or you come from a parliamentary system or you come from a place where there’s a central core power and not a lot of freedom maybe, that we maximize freedom here in terms of making it difficult to get anything done.

We had a revolution – we white male property owners had a revolution here against a king because the king was not very responsive. Our freedom has grown slowly to other populations, as you know, to African Americans that used to be property, to women, to new immigrants. But behind all of that struggle is the fact that we have a separated system that makes it very difficult to get anything done unless you have overwhelming majorities.

It’s not like a parliament. Parliamentary system, as you well know, selects the leader, the major party or coalition party selects the leader and you have followership. We elect presidents separately in eight states, eight battleground states or up to 12, and we elect people in the House of Representatives in 435 districts, that are mainly safe. Only 31 districts are safe. If you say you win by 55 percent or less in the last election, or it was 26 districts two elections before that. We have lost, in those congressional districts, moderates, because when you have so many districts that are safe, the real election is the primary, and when the primary’s the real election and you only have 8, 10 percent turnout in a primary, the true party purists turn out and they dominate things.

In some cases, like in Utah where the former Senator Bennett was not re-elected, 3,500 delegates to the convention there selected the next senator from Utah, because whoever got the nomination out of the convention wins in Utah, because they outlaw Democrats in Utah unless you’re skiing. When I have a joke, I’m going to put my hand up.

So you win – you get the nomination in the convention, you win. And so that convention was dominated by Tea Party people that were very conservative, didn’t trust Senator Bennett, who is very conservative. He didn’t get in – the incumbent.

We have a House of Representatives that has the problem now, and it’s really historic, it’s been growing, but it’s a problem of no moderates in the House. We have a bi-modal distribution of ideology with people on the far left, the progressives, and people on the far right, and getting further on the right by the Republicans, dominated by the people who turn out in primaries.

So, structurally we have a problem in the sense that there is not a movement to have districts drawn as they were in California this time by commissions, which then have equal populations compact, contiguous, but then they try to figure out a way to have more competition in the general election. We don’t have that, except in 11 states we have commissions that do it. The rest of the time parties do it. And when parties do it they draw seats that are noncompetitive and help their party. This is all relevant to what’s going on right now. This is relevant to the budget process. This is relevant to the deadlock on these big issues, because you’ve got these purists on the left and the right that their primary constituency is not the President’s constituency when he was elected; their primary constituency out of the House of Representatives are these compact districts that are pure left and right to a great extent. There’s no incentive for them to compromise. If you move to the middle, you’re going to be challenged in the next election, and that’s what they’re very worried about.

So we have a House of Representatives with a whole lot of people that are worried that they’re going to be challenged in the next primary or caucus, unwilling to compromise. Where the Republicans want cuts in entitlement programs because it makes up 60 percent of our budget of the federal government, you’ve got to have cuts there if you’re going to do anything about debt or deficit, and the Democrats, the progressives, said don’t cut anything, you’ve got to have more increases in taxes, with the President trying to find a way to build a coalition in the House. It’s almost impossible.

It’s forced me – I just finished a piece on what’s wrong with Congress and what to do about it. I drank an entire bottle of gin in order to finish it because I was so depressed. The Senate is a little different. We have sorting going on. Sorting is a phenomenon that we write about in political science. It is that behind it is the concept of people change or they go to places where people are like them. Well, part of that is the realignment of the South.

The realignment of the South; what does that mean? Well, FDR’s first election was a massive realignment where a whole lot of Republicans became Democrats for one, two, three generations. And then the ’65 Voting Rights Act came and African Americans were allowed to register and vote in the South and they started electing people to local office. And the old Dixiecrats, the Democrats that were conservative, moved and become Republicans, and then we had in migration of Republicans from the North because we have air conditioning in the South and they could live there. And they went there for the sun, no labor unions, cheap energy, and air conditioning. And so the South is totally Republican at the presidential level.

So if you look at America, the red states of the South and a bunch of those cowboy states in the middle – those square ones where we grow stuff like cows and wheat and stuff – they are Republicans. And the urban areas in America are Democrats. Now, to the embarrassment of our previous ambassador to Norway, when I was asked by a crowd of about 800 people in Oslo, “Why are the edges of America all blue and everywhere else is red,” I said, “That’s where all the smart people live.” And the Bush ambassador didn’t like it. See, this is off the record. I mean, it’s not off the record. It’s – I do not speak for the State Department. I got a good laugh then. That’s a joke, folks. (Laughter.)

It’s urban versus rural. Why am I giving you all this? You know it. I’m reminding you that this is the reason behind this historic deadlock, this agony and angst over the budget, over the debt and deficit. It’s been going on for years. I wrote a second piece on the failure of the budget process from ’74 to present – it’s on my website, maybe you have some details about how to get there – as well as the other piece on why Congress is failing and what to do about it.

Well, it’s failing because we have nobody in the middle. One-third of the House and the Senate in the 1970s, when I worked for that socialist Hubert Humphrey from the People’s Republic of Minnesota, was moderate. It is now 2 percent, 2 percent. And so the President is trying his darndest from – in the first two years when he had unified party government but now divided party government to try to bring together the coalition, and it’s almost impossible. There’s almost no way out.

There were three major bills at the beginning of this session that were passed out of the House of Representatives with two-thirds of the Republicans against it and Boehner for it. You remember them? That’s rare. You cannot have this – you can’t have a leader of the party continuing to do that, so he’s backed off that. He wants to continue to be the leader. Backing off it means we’ve got deadlock.

What are the issues? You know what they are. It’s debt and deficit. It’s tax reform. It’s immigration, and I’m going to talk about that in some detail. It’s gun control. It is – we’ve got CRs, continuing resolutions, not only on the budget but we’ve got it on 176 programs in the federal government right now – continuing resolutions. It’s shameful. We also have continuing issues about energy and environment that are the two sides of the same coin. That’s pending. A transportation funding bill is pending. An agriculture bill is pending. It is deadlocked because of this bimodal distribution of ideology, because of the nature of redistricting and the nature of sorting – that’s the Senate – and it is deadlocked because we have divided party government.

Now, statistically – and I’ve done this in my latest book – you can go back 50 years. When you have divided party government, the probability of getting things done is very low for the president. For example, this President had a historic high of a 96 percent presidential support score for the first two years. In other words, 97 percent of what he wanted he got. What he wanted, clearly he got. It was amazing; 334 pieces of legislation. It’s not only Dodd-Frank and healthcare reform and the stimulus package, it’s lots of other things which I document in this book.

But then he had lost – he got punished in 2010, went too far, 87 new freshmen came in and the Republicans, half of them, had truth. They were all running in one direction and they ran away from what the President wanted and we have deadlock, divided party government. In a parliamentary system, you don’t have that, although they may have it in Italy right now. I just got back from Italy. It’s – oh, their situation.

So when you have divided party government, you drop into the 20s and 30s in terms of getting things done. So he’s seeking to have politics in another way; for example, global warming. I said to the Bundestag a month ago that we solved global warming in the United States. I mean, it was amazing. We solved it. You know how we solved it? We elected a majority of Republicans to the House of Representatives and they haven’t had a single hearing on global warming, so it doesn’t exist anymore.

But the President disagrees, and so he’s using the regulatory process through the EPA to regulate all coal-fire plants, new coal-fire plants. He’s using the Department of Transportation to set miles-per-gallons standards, and you know about all these. You’ve been following it. He’s using investment through DOE in alternative energy sources, mainly wind and a little bit of solar – that’s (inaudible) a little bit, but mainly wind, and smart grid and other things. So he’s using the power of the executive branch through, in some cases executive order, but in terms of promulgation of rules and regulations. And he’s doing that also with respect to regulation of the banks.

So the other side in this chess game is the House of Representatives doesn’t like it, and so they’re pushing through bills that try to cut off funding for those agencies or have earmarks, back-door authorizations or de-authorizations on appropriations bill that says, “You may not do this.” And the Senate disagrees, and so there’s this back and forth in this battle and a deadlock.

By the way, Clinton had 87 percent party unity score. He lost the ’94 election. The House and Senate became divided and he dropped to 38 percent. But he came back to 53 percent in his score with getting things out. Why? Because he had a Republican Party, Newt Gingrich, that worked with him, worked with him on a balanced budget, on 100,000 cops bill, on welfare reform and a variety of other things after they got punished for shutting down government. We don’t have that. We have people who have very pure positions on the left and on the right. My colleagues Tom Mann (ph) and Nora Morsi (ph) have written about this, blame the Republicans. I blame both parties because the Democrats have lost from 59 blue dog Democrats – those are moderate Democrats that were helping to get the coalition together to get things done in the first two years – from 50 – we’ve gone from 59 blue dog Democrats to 10. So they’re pure on the left also.

The last time we had a distribution of ideology this way, measured by votes – we have a database of 1.8 million votes of members, from the founding to present, to see – we have a common vote analysis. That’s what these assertions come from. The last time we had a distribution, this bimodal distribution with nobody in the middle, was 1860. What happened in the United States in 1860? We’re not going to let you out of the room unless you can answer that question.

QUESTION: Civil War.

MR. THURBER: Civil War, right. And so we don’t have a civil war, but we have that same distribution in terms of differences philosophically between the parties. It is – it forces me to go back to fine arts, which I started. I started as a painter in fine arts. I’ve had it with this thing.

However, it’s fun to write about and I continue to write about it, and it is something that certainly is important to the world and to your media outlets, and you have, I’m sure, specific questions that you have of me. But let me end by saying that defense and foreign policy is a little different than what I’ve been describing in terms of domestic policy and this deadlock. If we have a clear external threat to the United States, we’ll have a rally effect. If we have policies that the President can control with respect to Afghanistan, he has much more freedom to pursue those. If he pursues a drone base in Mali, he doesn’t really, in this democracy, need to get permission for that unless there’s an actual act by the Congress to stop it. So he has more power when it comes to defense and foreign policy, up to a limit, unless there’s a treaty or something like that.

So in conclusion, we are in a – we’ve slowly gotten into it, but we’re in a unique deadlock in this democracy caused by a variety of structural factors that I’ve mentioned, and the American people have had it with Congress. They’re very upset with Congress about this and a little bit upset with the President, and it’s not going to work very well.

I said I’d talk about immigration; that’s different. We will get an immigration bill. And we will find – and we’re finding slowly – the media covers this – some consensus between the Republicans and the Democrats on a variety of issues with respect to immigration. I think the adults in the Republican Party have figured out that this nation will be Hispanic and that they better be responsive in a representative democracy to them, especially in places like Texas, or they’re going to lose Texas. If they lose Texas and they have lost California and New York, there’s no way you can become president.

So they’re reaching out. But also business in America wants some solutions to immigration, I mean farmers as well as Microsoft. And there’s – and it’s very complex. And it’s the kind of bill where you can get cross-party coalitions, that it’s not ideological, and I think we will get one. I don’t think we’ll get very much on gun control, maybe background checks. And on all these other issues, it will be an awful but interesting struggle between now and the next election. The next election cycle starts in August. It starts very soon. Okay?

Tough group, can’t even get them to smile, but what the hell? Let’s take some questions. (Laughter.) Yes.

MODERATOR: If you want to ask a question, please wait for the mike and state your name and your media organization.

QUESTION: Hi, Kathleen Gomes, a Portuguese newspaper called Publico.

MR. THURBER: From where?

QUESTION: Portugal.

MR. THURBER: Portugal, okay, okay.

QUESTION: How do you think that this whole political deadlock affects America’s image abroad, America’s sort of aura of competence, of credibility? Have you any thoughts about that?

MR. THURBER: You mean as compared to Cyprus and Italy and Spain?

QUESTION: Yeah, but I’m --

MR. THURBER: Portugal, Ireland?

QUESTION: Exactly. I’m from Europe and I keep hearing all sorts of comments about Europe and how Europe can’t get its act together and how long it takes, and it’s only talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. I get the feeling that the Europeans could probably say the same thing about America, so I was wondering if you have any comments about that.

And on a totally --

MR. THURBER: Wait a minute, you really are European because Europeans always have three questions. (Laughter.) Okay, I’ll take a second one.

QUESTION: Okay. The second one has nothing to do with this, with what I just asked, and it has to do with religious affiliations in the Congress. Do you have any idea how many atheists are there in Congress and why aren’t there more? Is it impossible to be – to have no religious affiliation and be a congressman or a congresswoman? Thank you.

MR. THURBER: Good. First question: I do not have hard data and so I’m going to be making some assertions and arm-waving answering the first question. I think that many people around the world perceive the United States through our commerce but also through our President. They don’t follow the deadlock of our Congress that much. Many countries and bankers and people in corporations do worry about our debt and deficit and – for selfish reasons because we owe a lot of people like China and Japan, others, a lot of money. And so they look at that dimension of whether we’re getting our act together.

They look at performance of our GDP to a great extent, and they look at our unemployment. Our unemployment is very low compared to Spain at 25 percent and Italy at 20 percent for young people, and I don’t know what it is in Portugal right now.

QUESTION: Seventeen.

MR. THURBER: Seventeen? So it’s quite low. I just got back from Italy the night before last. I was there for a couple weeks, talked to people about not the image of the United States but about problems in Italy. And so these topics came up. So it’s hard for me to make an assertion about the entire world. Israelis don’t like Obama too much; maybe they like him better now. Palestinians are upset with him. The Syrians that are pushing against Assad, they wonder why we’re not in. So it depends on where you are in terms of the image of the United States. The image of the United States itself is also fundamentally influenced – the perception (inaudible) is fundamentally influenced by culture, which means music, commerce, and lots of other things that have nothing to do with what I’m talking about, and I have not done research on that so I can’t really say, but it’s pervasive. Our culture is pervasive in terms of our music, for example, throughout the world. And so that gives a certain image of the United States.

The one thing that I do know is that people think we’re absolutely whacked out – that’s a political science concept, whacked out – when it comes to guns in the United States. They can’t understand 2nd Amendment rights and why we have so many guns and so much violence here compared to other Western democracies that are fairly stable. So that’s part of it too. So your question was very broad, and I have just shot around it.

I can’t answer your second question. I think that we do have data from the Pew Research Center from – a center that studies religion and politics that shows that more and more Americans are becoming unaffiliated with any particular religion, and I suspect that members of Congress reflect that. But I think they’re also very careful to say that they’re associated with a particular church, although maybe they don’t go and they’re not very spiritual, many of them.

That doesn’t answer your question, so let’s go to another one.

QUESTION: Hello. My name is Irina Gelevska. I’m from Macedonia, Macedonian TV, also from Europe. Can you tell me specifically – last year 54 Congressmen signed a resolution for entrance of Macedonia to NATO. That doesn’t happen at the Chicago summit. On the other half, we have presidential (inaudible) and it doesn’t seem that the enlargement is a high priority. So according to the former Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton, she said the next summit of NATO will be the summit of enlargement. Do you think there will be, let’s say, different opinions between the Congress and President about enlargement of NATO?

MR. THURBER: I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t want to try to answer that. I don’t know, but I know the politics of the Congress. When you have very strong domestic-based advocacy going on, Congress responds – Cuba, Israel, Ireland over the years. These countries are well-organized – the people from those countries are well-organized here in the United States and historically they’ve had some influence on policy. I don’t see that with respect to Macedonia. I don’t think there’s a Macedonian Congressional Caucus, is there?

QUESTION: There is.

MR. THURBER: Okay. So – I know – I didn’t know about it, I’m sorry. How many people are in it?

QUESTION: Over 20.

MR. THURBER: Twenty?

QUESTION: Yeah, over 20, I think.

MR. THURBER: Okay. And so is the chair of either of the Foreign Affairs, Foreign Relations committee on it?

QUESTION: It’s Candice Miller.

MR. THURBER: Okay. So what you do, to answer your question as to whether something might happen with respect to Congress, is do a power network analysis – bear with me – figure out who has the power to deal with it and see if they’re really saying things that agree with it or whether they are in this caucus and they’re moving things ahead.

The second thing is to find out who has the portfolio in the State Department to see what the official position is, and you’ve already got that, not the unofficial position. I can’t answer the question; I know how to analyze it, but I can’t answer the question. And it’s very important to you, I know, but I – and I respect that very much, but I just can’t answer it.

MODERATOR: We’ll go to (inaudible).

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Haykaram Nahapetyan. I’m from Armenia. I would like to ask about the ethnic communities of the United States, the ethnic (inaudible) and how much are they capable to influence the foreign policy of the United States. Which community groups would you qualify as maybe the most organized and powerful? Thank you.

MR. THURBER: Jews and Cubans.

QUESTION: What about the Armenians?

MR. THURBER: Armenians are there. I live behind the Turkish Embassy, and so I know that you’re very active in protesting at certain times, the Armenians are, and that’s part of it, but that’s only one tactic. If you want to be successful in advocating in the United States, you have to do multiple tactics, not just think of one and keep doing it. Build coalitions with other groups; you have to have grassroots throughout the United States. That’s hard with the Armenians. You have to have grass tops, getting leaders from organizations to come with you and agree with you. You have to have also direct lobbying, of course, on the Hill, the executive branch, but also in many cases advertising, getting involved in political campaigns. The Jewish community in the United States does all of that and more. You don’t – the Armenians don’t.

QUESTION: A quick follow-up. It’s a particular question, I don’t know if you have details, sir, but President Obama during his campaign in 2008 pledged to recognize the Armenian genocide and to qualify the events of 1915 as genocide. He found a different solution. He used a specific term during his presidency period about the massacre, but that was equal to genocide but not really a genocide. So the Armenian community is still waiting for more clarification from him. Do you expect from President any update on his policy about the events of 1915?

MR. THURBER: The honest answer is I don’t know, but I also feel that he probably is moving on to other issues that are more important to his Administration. It’s very important to the Armenians, I know, but he’s probably moved on.

The importance of advocacy in foreign policy in particular is to figure out a clear strategy, theme, and message, and link you specific goals to tactics that work, and that when things change, you change your tactics. And so I don’t see that with the – I have Armenian friends and I don’t know a lot about what’s going on in terms of your organization, but I don’t see that with the Armenians. They – yes, they protest, when the tragedy of the killing of Armenians occurred, every year, and they’re talking to people, but I don’t see more than that. And it’s a critique, really, as an outsider, about advocacy rather than a comment on the worthiness of the cause.

It’s very hard for ethnic communities to sustain over a long period of time pressure on our executive branch and legislative branch as has been with Cubans and Jews. And second and third generation Cubans, we had a whole conference at AU – I ran it – on the 2012 elections and Hispanics – second and third generation Cubans that are beginning to vote Democratic. They are not as committed, and so things change over time and people move on and that happens in these efforts to push for justice with respect to certain ethnic communities.

MODERATOR: We’ll go to New York. New York, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, Karim Lebhour for Radio France Internationale, the French radio (inaudible) in New York. You speak – you spoke about a unique deadlock at the moment in Congress. I was curious to know, is there any room for maneuver for Barack Obama at the moment? I mean, how far can he go to bypass the Congress by using presidential powers, for instance?

And I’m curious to know as well your opinion on the fact that – how do you explain that basically in the last election, the American public, who – which – who was very upset about the deadlock still voted for the status quo, Barack Obama, the Democrat in the White House, and the Republicans in Congress?

MR. THURBER: I have this theory with some data that says that the nature of the problem that you have in society, or the nature of the policy you have in society, drives different kinds of politics. And so there are some issues that have the capacity of having cross-party coalitions. Very few right now – one of them is immigration. But when 9/11 occurred, it looked like George W. Bush before that was not going to be re-elected. We had rally effects. He went from 48 percent to 91 percent in 10 days in the polls. Boom. We had rally effect. And that issue of antiterrorist policy brought both parties together. That’s rare in American politics. When Pearl Harbor occurred or when Saddam invaded Kuwait, we had consensus. When the Soviet Union put up Sputnik we had consensus for a long period of time to invest in NASA. They were cross-party coalitions.

We have fewer and fewer issues right now that are cross-party coalitions because we have one party that feels that government is bad. That’s an overstatement, but that it takes freedom away from people and we should shrink government, and that’s what’s behind this battle that we have right now is the philosophy is that we should shrink government. On the other side we have people who feel, as Hubert Humphrey felt, the guy I worked for, is that you define the quality of society by what you do for the poor, the sick, the aging, and those who cannot help themselves and you intervene with government.

So those philosophical positions are pure and on left and right and nobody’s in the middle, and so on many issues it’s very hard to get together. But there are some, like we reformed the patent and trade office, very important thing, and it was bipartisan. We – when we have an incident or accident, you’ll find that people come together on certain issues. But generally on the big issues we do not have a grand coalition and we probably won’t for a while, like on issues like debt and deficit. What are we going to do about it, revenues or cuts? And on other big issues like tax reform, we may have some coalitions on very narrow kinds of tax reform but not on a big broad tax reform.

Your second question – I’m talking so much I’ve forgotten the second question. Could you repeat it, please?

QUESTION: How far can Barack Obama go to bypass the Congress and basically to use presidential powers? And on the second question, because you didn’t answer this part of the first question, the second question was about, how do you explain that the that the American public, the American voters, voted for the status quo in the last elections?

MR. THURBER: Okay, so the President – I’m sorry I didn’t answer your question at all in the first one, but the President can continue to push for regulations in – especially in the area of energy and environment, to pursue his goals of dealing with global climate change – global warming caused by human beings. And he is doing that. And he’ll be – there will be attempts to stop him by the appropriations process, the power of the purses with Congress, but also by oversight hearings by Issa in the House of Representatives and others to try to change what he’s doing in the promulgation of rules and regulations there as well as in a dozen other regulatory agencies and actions.

There are 25,000 regulations that are promulgated each year. Most Americans don’t know about it. Probably a thousand of them are major. And so he will continue to do that. He can also have executive order. He can also sit in the operations room in the White House with his aides and target missiles from drones. That’s – he has a lot of power that way. So in the military side, he has more power within certain limits, and on foreign policy he has power to build better relationships, although ultimately if there’s a treaty he needs to have it supported by the Hill, but he can do lots of things that way. But he has the power to persuade, and you’ve heard that phrase before. Comes from Richard Neustadt’s book many years ago about presidential power. It is not invested in him to have a great deal of power, but he can take it. And he is in certain areas, and other presidents do take it.

Now, why did the American public vote for divided party government? They don’t. What they do is they sit down and they vote for their member of Congress. And they have districting in a way that in all but 31 states you really knew what was going to happen before the end of the election. There wasn’t an option in many cases, and – meaning that they – these districts are not very competitive as they are in the UK, Canada, and Australia where you have a commission that does redistricting. They try to have equal population, compact, contiguous, but also bring in competitiveness. We don’t do that here. We did in California. We went from one district to 11 districts that were competitive. One district was competitive out of 53 for 20 years. So that phenomena means that you’re voting for this person.

Then you think about, well, who are you going to vote for for the president? You don’t sit there and say, “I want divided party government, so I’m going to rationally vote this way and this way.” There are assertions – no offense to the media – but there are assertions in the media that Americans think that way. They don’t. They vote for the local person. They love their local person. They hate Congress. And then they say, “Well, geez. I can’t vote for that guy because of what he said on immigration,” meaning the – well, vote for him because he’s the President or Mitt Romney against him because of that.

But in the end, it comes down to eight states and it comes down to the ground war in eight states. This thing was won on the ground, not in the air. The air is all the money spent in television (inaudible). That’s part of it. But the President did a very good job of micro-targeting not only geographically but among like groups on the internet. And he had an ungodly amount of money, so he could make some mistakes and continue to adjust. We teach a campaign management institute through my center and we bring in the people who did the micro-targeting from his campaign, but also Romney’s campaign, and the Romney campaign said they blew it, they didn’t do it.

So he won on the ground in places like Ohio. And in Ohio, they weren’t sitting there saying, “We want divided party government.” They didn’t do that. They said, “Okay, we’ve got a district where this guy – this Democrat’s going to win, and I’m a Democrat. I’m going to vote him.” And then they voted for the President. Winner take all, except in Nebraska and Maine. And so the outcome is that Obama wins. And he won on the ground and he won because he appealed to Hispanics, he appealed to young people, he appealed to women. The Republican Party went out of its way to alienate women, Hispanics, and others. Sorry, it sounds biased, but when you’ve got a candidate in Missouri, Akin, and Mourdock in Indiana saying outrageous things about rape, it’s a great way to get women to leave your party and vote for the other candidate. And that affected the top of the ticket.

That’s my response to your comment, question.

QUESTION: Christoph von Marschall from the German daily Der Tagesspiegel. How bad it is with deadlock? It depends which period you compare it with. And may I challenge you on two topics?

MR. THURBER: Please.

QUESTION: First, I would – from my impression, we are better than we were between the election and Inauguration. That was just a continuation of the campaign, and since Inauguration, it got a little bit better. Senate voted for the candidates of the President for several departments.

MR. THURBER: Why do you say that?

QUESTION: Why I’m saying that?


QUESTION: Well, I think it’s getting a little bit psychologically better, and the same is true --

MR. THURBER: Now or then?

QUESTION: Now, now. Since --

MR. THURBER: We passed some very large – but we’ve – when we hit the first cliff, we just passed a very large tax increase bill in a bipartisan way.

QUESTION: Yeah, and second --

MR. THURBER: And now we are deadlocked, so why is it better?

QUESTION: It – well, from my perspective, between Election Day and the Inauguration, the Republicans remain the party of no, hundred percent. Now we are maybe at 85 percent no and 15 percent yes. And the same – and here, I am interested in your prediction. What happens with the budget? I mean, we are not where we were in summer 2011. We are not looking for shutting down the government and never knowing whether the government will be in a position to pay its bills.

MR. THURBER: We’re exactly where we were in 2011 in March. We had three CRs in the spring of 2011. We’re going through the very same system. We’re not going to shut down government, but we have these CRs, we have these artificial things that are coming, and then we’re going to go to another one, and then we’re going to go to another one.

I think that the Republican Party in particular has learned not to threaten to shut down government. Business got to them. They said this is ridiculous, this really hurts the market, so that will not happen. But we still do not have consensus about revenue increases and cuts between the two parties. We have not changed at all since the debt and deficit commission came out in the spring of 2011. Yeah, we went right to August 11th, right to the brink, and passed the Congressional Control Act. We’re not there, but your position is that it’s very different and very – much better right now? Is that what you’re saying?

QUESTION: Not much better, but slightly, slightly better. I don’t think that we will have, again, a situation like in 2011 twice.

MR. THURBER: I agree.

QUESTION: At midnight before --

MR. THURBER: I agree.

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) the government, they come together.

MR. THURBER: I agree. We will not have that, right.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay. And --

MR. THURBER: So what’s your question?

QUESTION: Yeah. So the charm about democracy is also that parties want to win elections, and now the Republicans have to look forward what to do to come into a position that they can win, or at least defend their majority in 2014 and have an option to win the White House in 2016. How does that influence your prediction?

MR. THURBER: What prediction?

QUESTION: Well, about the budget, for example.

MR. THURBER: It will continue to be deadlocked. There are 21 seats in the Senate that are up for Democrats, and 11 of them are competitive. And so there’s a lot of risk-averse behavior by those who have decided to continue to run, but many of them are not running. So they are willing to take extra chances. The Republicans aren’t. McConnell keeps moving further and further to the right to try to continue to be the leader in the Senate. Boehner is actually more moderate than it seems, and he continues to move further and further to the right, to the people in his caucus that feel that they will be challenged if they go back on their promises about tax increases, but also not doing anything about cuts in entitlement programs.

So things have not changed that much. We will not shut down government. We will not get close to shutting down government. But we still will find it very difficult to have a budget. A budget is different than appropriation bills. We’re now talking about not the budget yet of 2014; we’re talking about the CR on the appropriation bills that were supposed to come up by March 27th, but we keep pushing it.

My prediction is that both parties are very concerned about their next election already, that the Republicans know that they’ve redistricted in a way that they’ll continue to have a majority in the House. I don’t think there’s a chance, unless there’s a big event, that the House will flip. The Senate looks like it’ll flip and become Republican, and the Democrats are very concerned about that because there are so many competitive Senate seats up there out of the 31 that are up.

So my prediction is that we have continued agony, angst, and anomie when it comes to putting the budget together. Okay?

QUESTION: Just a follow-up question. So –

MODERATOR: Name, please.

QUESTION: Oh. I’m Jennifer Lee with Hong Kong Phoenix TV.


QUESTION: So is – that means that you are not optimistic that they are going to reach a new deal on the budget, so that we’re going to have another deadline such as the debt limit, and the next one, I think, is the CR in the September ’13? Is that what you’re saying?

MR. THURBER: My prediction is that we will continue to struggle through incrementally trying to put together a budget. We need, in my opinion – these are my values now – a grand deal to deal with spending and revenues to deal with the debt and the deficit over the long haul on a long period of time. They will not do that. There is a organization, Fix the Debt, in the Center for Federal Responsible – Responsible Federal Budget that has been pushing this for years. I’ve been associated with them a little bit. And what they want will not happen unless there is – pardon my language from political science – we will have – the status quo will win and we’ll have incremental changes unless there’s a, quote, “punctuated equilibrium,” boom, a big event. Okay?

Pardon the language, but that’s what happened with 9/11. That’s what happened to a certain extent with the great recession in 2008; we had to have action. Unless something like that happens, like if unemployment goes up significantly after the sequestration and for other reasons, then there will be a big move to – boom – do something. I don’t see that happening so I see us struggling slowly.

It’s not unlike other nations in the EU right now in terms of struggling, struggling, struggling through this thing. The issues are slightly different in terms of debt and deficit and transparency about debt and deficit, but it’s similar. So I see a continuation of the same thing for a while.

QUESTION: I have another question.

MODERATOR: Let’s go to the other person and then I’ll call you to come back. Thank you.

QUESTION: Yeah, my name is Bill Marsden. I’m from Post Media News in Canada. I just wanted to follow up on some of these budgetary questions. I’m a little mystified by the American budgetary process. And one of the things I’m asking myself is, what part of it is simply politics and what part of it is really serious as to the functioning of the American government and its future, et cetera?

We’ve seen these fiscal cliffs come along recently, which of course are serious, but then we see – on the outside we see the budgets, the Ryan budget, the Senate budget, et cetera. And America doesn’t seem to have had a budget since 2009 and seems to be functioning along fairly well without it. Is – are these budgets just political things? Are they things that once they’re passed are really written in stone like, say, the Canadian budget would be every two years? What is the importance of the budget in the long run in the United States?

MR. THURBER: Well, there’s a difference between the budget and appropriations, and you know that, but let me just talk about it. The budget of the United States has only been passed four times on time since the – 1976 when we implemented the Budget and Impoundment Control Act, which was passed in ’74. Only four times, okay? It sets revenue, expenditure levels, and – pardon me – expenditure levels and revenue estimates, and then they have to, in this concurrent budget resolution – it’s a resolution, doesn’t apply to the President, it applies to the body – they have to vote, if they vote on time, on deficits or surplus.

We’ve had surplus four times under Clinton, and so that’s – they didn’t even pass it twice under Clinton when they had a surplus. So it’s very difficult to get members to vote for a budget that is a resolution that tells other committees what to do when they’re voting for a deficit because you can have an easy 15-second hit on a person when they’re running for reelection, “Well, he voted for a $1.2 trillion deficit, let’s get rid of him.” And so it’s a situation where they – no one wants to do that. And you have to vote for deficits for a while until we pull out of this little problem that we’ve got, and so there’s delay.

Appropriations are different. We have – for years we didn’t appropriate on time. The ’74 act was passed to deal with that. We started appropriating on time. But lately we haven’t appropriated on time except for Homeland Security and three subcommittee bills of appropriations dealing with defense and intelligence. Labor-HHS – it’s a very large Appropriations Subcommittee bill – delays the whole thing because it has all kinds of other policies in it like pro-life/pro-choice issues, investment in infant stem cell research, things that are controversial. So that slows the whole thing down.

But it’s also used as a way to – as you used the term politics – it’s a way to force people to vote for things that then later, people can use against them when they run for reelection. That is not the primary reason. Budgets are very important. All budgets are very political in terms of what’s in them and what’s out of them, political in the sense that they have great pressure from different coalitions to leave things in and take things out. By coalitions, sometimes they’re cross-party coalitions like money for farmers, money for transportation systems. Sometimes transportation systems, unless you’re a pure ideologue on the far right, are things that both Democrats and Republicans want in a particular area. So it’s not political in that sense. It’s political in the sense that if you can bring some home to your district, it’ll help you get reelected.

Budgets and appropriations are different. What we’re battling over now is not really the budget. It’s a battle over the appropriations for FY13 and we’ll be getting into the budget of FY14 – it’s supposed to be passed – it’s supposed to be being built now. We’re already late on that, and that will continue.

Now, what Ryan is doing is he’s – he wants to be president. Sorry, but he’s presenting budgets that he feels will appeal to the base of his party. He believes in them also. I don’t think that he’s being disingenuous that way. He believes in them. And what Patty Murray is doing and others in the Senate putting together a Senate budget read is that they believe in our entitlement programs, they don’t want them touched, they’re willing to have some changes in terms of means testing, and that’s hanging it up. Sixty percent of the budget are entitlement programs, then you add another 12 percent for net interest, that’s 62 percent of the budget.

The budget is relatively uncontrollable from year to year. Only about 10 percent can be controlled. People don’t talk about that, but that’s because of long-term contracts and other things that lock in the budget. A long-term contract – if you have a contract for a weapons system, you cannot cut it off in one year easily without being sued by the contractor, so that’s committed for a long period of time and that takes degrees of freedom away from them.

So what the statements are – and by political, I mean is it electoral political – the statements between the two parties right now are trying to show their party base but other people how different they are. One party wants to shrink government, not raise taxes. The other party wants to cut – well, the other party wants to raise taxes and make some adjustments in spending. You know that. That’s part of the battle.

I think most people, as I said before, that are running in the House of Representatives know exactly what they have to do with their local constituents, and they’re going to do it and they’re not going to change and that’s part of the reason why we have this deadlock.

Now, Canada has its problems also. Every nation is not very efficient. I just got back from China and I said – when we were having a Q&A like this, and I paused and I said, “Well, maybe it’s better to have a one-party state. It’s much more efficient.” And I got a couple of people to laugh. And the Chinese really laughed. They’re getting better in terms of laughing at my humor. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: Okay, let’s go to New York for the final question. Let’s make it short. Thank you.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. Good afternoon. My name is Arie Elshout. I’m from the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant in Amsterdam. And I have a question, Mr. Thurber. You spoke about the unique deadlock and Congress is to blame for that and all kinds of structural factors. But doesn’t President Obama share a part of the blame because doesn’t he – shouldn’t he do not more to cajole or should use Congress into deals like Lyndon B. Johnson did in the ‘60s? Or is a latter day Johnson not possible anymore?

MR. THURBER: Well, that’s a very good question. I had that question when I was in The Hague about a month ago from others there. The President really has gone out of his way from the very beginning of the Administration to reach out to the other side. Three days into his Administration, he went to the Hill to talk with the Republican leadership behind closed doors in the House and the Senate to get support for his stimulus package, which was one-third tax cuts that the Republicans wanted, one-third unemployment compensation that Republican governors and Democratic governors wanted, as well as Medicaid in that one third, and the last third were “shovel-ready” jobs. About half of the shovel-ready jobs were keeping policemen, firemen, and educators hired that in many cases Republican governors wanted. So the point is that it was a package that you would think you would get cross-party support. He got zero votes out of the House, three in the Senate.

People considered him and said – and I did – that he was naïve about negotiating, that he was negotiating with himself during those first two years frequently and not really pushing hard enough the way an LBJ did. LBJ came in after a tragic assassination of John F. Kennedy. He had support from the American public but he also had lots of chits. He had – and a reciprocal relationship with lots of people in the Senate but also the House to call upon later when he was president. He was majority leader of the Senate. He liked the Congress. This President doesn’t like Congress. He has no friends in Congress and he doesn’t – he didn’t understand it for a long time. He’s getting better at negotiating, but there’s nobody in the middle to go to to pick up those votes. So he can get the progressives on the left if he’s pure on the left, but he starts moving to the right a little bit and he loses progressives on the left. It’s a destabilized situation as a result of the way we’ve elected these people, to the House in particular, but also in the Senate. So it’s – it will take another election and probably another redistricting after the next census to really change the nature of this.

Representative democracy in America will change as a result of demographics. And when more Hispanics vote in Texas and maybe it flips and becomes Democratic, and more Hispanics in North Carolina, where there’s many of them, start electing Democrats to the House, we’ll begin to change.

And we’re going to have deadlock for a while unless we have an event, unless we have an external threat to the United States and we have rally effects around that. Until then, I think we’re going to have this deadlock.

Now, is it unique? A colleague here asked about – that he felt it wasn’t unique. I think it is not unique, but we have to go back in terms of the actual data into 1860s to see this distribution of ideology. We haven’t seen it since. It’s been happening slowly since ’65, when we had the Voting Rights Act, the realignment, and now it’s almost complete and pure. And that makes it unique in modern politics.

MODERATOR: Thank you for coming. Thank you.

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