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California: Still Ahead of the Curve


Few Golden Staters would deny that California has a tendency to believe itself the center of the universe. But even they would be impressed by the California-centrism on display in Ryan Avent's post outlining the difficulties facing a third stimulus package. Avent thinks that California is "the huge obstacle" to getting a third stimulus passed. "California is the state in the worst shape, and it’s also the state no one wants to help, because its problems stem from terrible institutions and a horribly dysfunctional government," he writes. "They’re not just cyclically screwed; they worked very hard to get themselves into this mess, and the rest of America, quite reasonably, doesn’t want to bail them out."

This doesn't make very much sense. The "rest of America" is probably about as clear on the structural dysfunctions of the Golden State's government as I am on what made the Real Housewives of New Jersey so very mad this week. Rather, the reason the country is unlikely to pass a third stimulus is much the same reason that California is having trouble pulling out of its nosedive, and much the same reason that California didn't fix its structural problems sooner and, for that matter, much the same reason that the country didn't address its structural economic problems sooner: a legislative process biased toward inaction combined with a relentless rise in political polarization.

Passing a third stimulus would be hard under normal circumstances. But does anyone doubt that it is much harder under the 60-vote requirement (the same requirement that lopped $100 billion off the original stimulus)? And that it will prove virtually impossible as the 2010 election nears and GOP consultants convince Republican lawmakers that their only hope is a weak economy that sours the public on Barack Obama? California isn't standing between us and the policies that would ensure our future. It is our future.

To put it another way, every wonk in Washington -- conservative or liberal -- will tell you that health-care costs threaten to bankrupt the nation. But it is proving virtually impossible to get serious health-care reform through a Senate that requires 60 votes to overcome the filibuster. Eventually, that inability to address hard, obvious problems will trigger a fiscal crisis, just as it has done in California. The conceit behind Californian exceptionalism -- and I say this as a native -- is that we are ahead of the curve. That's true in fashion, it's true in culture, and I'd wager it will prove true in fiscal crises.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 13, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  California , Government  
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Next: Health Care Should Not Be a "Benefit"


Just here to make the case that a proposed next stimulus should be called the second stimulus, rather than the third.

While I'm aware of Bush's paltry stimulus in 2008, (a) most people have forgotten about it, (b) it wasn't very large, and (c) most of the money was wasted in terms of stimulus.

So I'd argue that rather than calling the Bush stimulus the first stimulus, we should call it the 0th stimulus. Yes, the zero'th stimulus. Can you argue that it deserves better?

Once we agree on that, then Obama's stimulus package passed early this year becomes the first stimulus, and a hypothetical additional stimulus package would be a 'second stimulus,' and everyone would be using the same numeration whether or not they remember about Bush's not-so-stimulus.

Posted by: rt42 | July 13, 2009 8:39 AM | Report abuse

Now that I've said that, I think Obama needs to try to pass a second stimulus, whether or not there's any prospect of getting it through Congress, for the most basic of political reasons: sometimes it's important to lose well.

Losing well is making the point that you're trying to do the right thing, but the other party is making it impossible for you to do so. If unemployment is at 10% in October 2010, you want to make sure the voters know who to blame.

It can either be the GOP, for blocking a large enough stimulus program, or it can be the Dems, for having not tried to pass one in the first place. Take your pick.

Posted by: rt42 | July 13, 2009 8:43 AM | Report abuse

I'm not finding Democratic excuses that they can't pass anything because they need 60 votes to break a filibuster when they in fact do have 60 votes to be very persuasive.

Posted by: redwards95 | July 13, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse

It takes a lot of chutzpah to blame the minority party for something when the Majority party has a filibuster proof majority. Seriously... this is the time when you can go out on a limb and pass something you believe in without compromising to make it weaker and less effective. The Democrats can OWN this issue.

Posted by: spotatl | July 13, 2009 10:09 AM | Report abuse

Any time either party is able to assemble a 60 vote majority it will, by necessity, be made of senators from multiple regions of the country and it would be difficult to get a group of that size to reliably vote as a unified block. Do I think the Republicans would have an easier time enforcing party dicipline than the Dems? Sure, but even they would either stumble from time to time or dilute their bills for thier most moderate members.

That said, I'm not convinced that the time is right, politically, for another stimulus. With energy and healthcare bills working their way through Congress and a fraction of the last stimulus bill spent I just don't think you're going to get to 50 votes to pass it, let alone 60 to overcome a filibuster.

Posted by: MosBen | July 13, 2009 10:30 AM | Report abuse

On the "chutzpah" comment...

While it's true that the Democrats have 60, that does not mean they all agree on everything.

Senators by and large are highly independent, have very large egos, and have a very large amount of power to enforce their own personal needs into any legislation that passes their way.

Believing themselves to be the center of the universe, they tend to think their opinions are the only ones that matter. They also tend to think the opinions of their largest backers are those that actually matter.

So you end up with a senator from, say, Nebraska, who will not vote with his party on much of anything because it does not fit his own needs. Not to mention that it may not be best for his particular state (or may not, depends on whether his personal goals actually do align with those of his state... personal > state).

Senators only look out for their own turf, their re-election, and for nurturing their own ambitions. They don't really care about what's actually best for the US.

So yes, Democrats have 60, but of those, not all are going to support you.

That means that when you have 5-10 senators from your own party who usually do not want to support your initiatives (for political, personal and/or other reasons), and then you have 40 senators from the minority party that will NEVER support you, you can actually spread that blame.

As the sayign goes, the Senate is the place where all good bills go to die.

Posted by: JERiv | July 13, 2009 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Hey Ezra,

You and Yglesias keep whining about filibusters. You know the Democrats could change the filibuster rule with a simple majority. Since its the only thing according to you standing between us and liberal utopia--I wonder why they haven't done it?

Posted by: panza2mil | July 14, 2009 12:16 AM | Report abuse

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