As a general rule, I try not to write about hypocrisy in politics. It’s such a constant, such a fact of life, that it can feel a bit like complaining about traffic or the weather.
But just as there’s a difference between waiting an extra 20 minutes during rush hour and being stranded in your car for five days — or between a typical snowstorm and what’s happening currently in Buffalo — there’s a difference between the routine hypocrisy of politics and the kind we saw this week from Republicans in the House. One kind is an annoyance to be quickly forgotten; the other leaves a mark.
Before getting into why they’re so egregious, however, let’s pause to recap the Congressional GOP’s recent machinations.
Aware no doubt of how President Obama’s announcement this week on immigration reform would dominate both the media and the public’s attention, Republicans in the House, led by Rep. Paul Ryan, have been working to make sure the next head of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) — which acts as Congress’s honest broker when it comes to scoring fiscal policy — is not a nonpartisan technocrat, as has usually been the case, but rather a loyal member of the conservative movement. And, as former CBO chief Peter Orszag recently explained, because the CBO has no institutional protections from partisan hackery, and maintains its integrity mostly through tradition, there’s precious little anyone can do to stop them.
While there are no doubt many changes ideologues like Ryan would like to see the CBO make, reports indicate that the main reason GOPers want to install a right-wing hack as its chief is in order to make the agency integrate “dynamic scoring” more fully into its estimations. “Dynamic scoring,” for those who don’t know, is a phrase conservatives like to use to give a tenet of their anti-tax religion — lower taxes lead to more revenue! — an intellectual gloss. More importantly, dynamic scoring is generally the special sauce right-wing “wonks” put into their projections in order to claim that massively cutting taxes on the rich won’t lead to fiscal ruin. Remember the absurd claim that Bush’s tax cuts wouldn’t explode deficits? Thank dynamic scoring for that.
So that’s what’s happening under the radar with the CBO. And if that were the whole story, it’d probably fall under into the “routine traffic and weather” category of hypocrisy I mentioned earlier. What makes this more of a Buffalo snowstorm-level problem is the context — specifically, the fact that Republicans are destroying yet another norm of American politics, the nonpartisan CBO, at the very same time that they’re waging a relentless and disingenuous campaign to persuade the media (and thus the American people) that the way the Affordable Care Act was written was a breach of democratic norms without precedent.
Yes, this is where “Grubergate,” the most recent of the GOP’s seemingly endless supply of manufactured outrages, comes in. If you’re not familiar with this tempest in a teapot, I recommend you catch up by reading my colleague Joan Walsh. But for our purposes here, all you need to know is that Republicans have been devoting a ton of energy toward making MIT’s Jonathan Gruber’s admission, that the White House designed Obamacare with the likely political ramifications of the CBO score in mind, equivalent to the 18-minute gap in the Nixon tapes. Because the president knew that calling something in the bill a “penalty” instead of a “tax” would make it harder for conservatives to scream that Obamacare was the tax hike to end all tax hikes — as they did (and are still doing) with Hillarycare — that means, conservatives argue, that the bill itself was only able to pass through the most dastardly lies.
As BuzzFeed’s Adam Serwer noted, the Grubergate politicking is most likely an attempt to lay the groundwork for defending a possible future Supreme Court gutting of the ACA. (Although Gruber’s confirming the right’s suspicions of liberal technocrat elitism and piggishness, by calling voters stupid, is operational, too.) But when you see it through the lens of Ryan’s dynamic scoring push, you’re confronted with a level of bullshit that is flabbergasting — even in the context of partisan politics. According to Paul Ryan and other Republicans, it is absolutely not OK for a president to design a bill in a way that makes it harder for its opponents to demagogue. It is not OK to write a bill and think of the CBO at all. What is OK, apparently, is corrupting it from within.