How to Win This Year’s Thanksgiving Day Political Arguments

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Nov. 27 2013 3:10 PM

Turkey.gov

Slate’s annual guide to your Thanksgiving dinner-table arguments.

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Another nightmare is coming: People won't be able to keep their doctor the way the president promised either. That’s because, in an effort to keep costs down, insurance companies are slashing doctor payments and limiting the number of doctors they will cover.

It's called the Affordable Care Act, but according to, the Kaiser Family Foundation premiums in 2014 will likely be higher in most states. Even if they can get the website moving again, the law faces a slew of hurdles—the beleaguered IRS has to oversee the enforcement, next year those companies with more than 50 employees who were given a one-year reprieve from the mandate will be forced to join, and the system for paying insurers for "risk corridors" hasn’t been worked out. But this is about more than a health care law. This was the president's signature legislative accomplishment. His team had three years to prepare, and even though many involved knew it was going to collapse on launch and tests just before the launch failed to handle 500 users, they went ahead anyway. Health care inflation may be down, but that's because 77 percent of that cost decrease comes from the recession, not a law that was passed in 2010.

You think the healthcare.gov failure was planned in order to create the conditions for single payer: Once the pies are served, we'll have plenty of extra tinfoil to help you make your hat.

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Filibuster Reform:

For it: There's nothing in the Constitution about the filibuster. The Senate changes its rules to meet the times. In an earlier era, members broke across party lines. Now everyone votes in lockstep. The most conservative Democrat has a more liberal voting record than the most liberal Republican. In this new environment, the minority has used the filibuster excessively. In the history of the republic, there have been 168 cloture motions filed on behalf of executive and judicial nominations. Half of them have occurred during the Obama administration. A little cranberry with your turkey is fine, but when the cranberry replaces the turkey something has gone wrong. In a lot of cases the filibuster was being used to block appointments not because the candidate wasn't qualified but because Republicans didn't like the underlying law. Republicans didn’t object to Richard Cordray as much as they objected to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau he was supposed to lead. It was also true of the Court of Appeals judges that caused Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to finally use the "nuclear option” last week. Republicans didn't object to them as judges—just that they would give Obama a perceived advantage on the country’s second most important court. Fortunately for everyone, by removing the 60-vote threshold, more qualified people are going to come forward and accept administration jobs because they won't have to endure such a crazy process.

This isn't some Democratic Party gambit. It was Republican leader Bill Frist who first came up with the nuclear option in 2005. That was back when there were far fewer cloture motions. The nature of the institution is changing: Only 32 senators have been there three terms or longer, down from 44 six years ago, and half of the body has been there one term or less. You long for a Senate with norms as quaint as the spittoons still on the floor of the chamber, but that Senate doesn't exist any more. If it did, Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee wouldn't have been able to take over the body as they did during the government shutdown against the will of the majority of the members in their own party. With that kind of partisanship, the polite rules of the past prevent anything from getting done. Republicans have promised to retaliate, but I thought you were fighting this on constitutional grounds? So your answer to what you see as tyrannical actions is the promise of more tyranny?

Against it: By lowering the number of votes it takes to break a filibuster, the Democrats have helped the Senate become more like the House of Representatives where the majority controls everything. The Senate is supposed to be different. This is more than just a limited modification that only applies to judges and appointments. There was once an unwritten rule that this change could only take place at the start of a session. That meant the Senate could evaluate the change on its own merits. Now, by changing the filibuster rules midterm, Democrats have made it easier to change the filibuster easier in the future when the minority launches a filibuster to block a Supreme Court nominee or a piece of legislation.

Democrats have argued that lowering the standard is simply a move toward a basic democratic principle of majority rule, but the motives were not that high-born in this case. If they were, Democrats would have been able to produce this magic trick at the beginning of the Senate session. This was a political move: an attempt to secure Obama’s legacy by changing the partisan makeup of the lower courts, especially the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. It's the court that handles all challenges to legislation and regulation—EPA rules on power plants and financial services regulations under Dodd–Frank. Now the court will lean left and protect Obama. Democrats site inflated numbers to justify filibuster reform, arguing that Republicans have tried to block more nominations than Democrats. They are counting "cloture motions,” which are different than filibusters. If you count actual filibusters, 10 of George W. Bush’s nominees were filibustered, versus five Obama nominees.

Your new Democratic senators—more than a half have never served in the minority—don't know what it's like to rely on the filibuster to hold the majority in check. They are being shortsighted. Democratic Senators once believed this; Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden did. Republicans will be glad to show them what it's like being in the minority after the 2014 elections. 

Government Shutdown:

Good idea: The confrontation over the budget let the public know exactly which party was willing to do whatever it took to avoid the disaster of the Affordable Care Act. Out in the real America they want people who will stand up and fight for what they believe in. Standing on principle is never a bad idea. Now that the Obamacare disaster has arrived, the president's approval rating is falling. Public opinion about the president's health care law is as bad as it has ever been, and people know which party was standing up for them all along. 

Bad idea (Moderate Republican version): Obamacare was going to be a disaster anyway. Our task is to show that we can govern. Showing principle is great, but you have to get elected to do things to change the system. These debating society adventures hurt our party's image by reinforcing the idea that we are so obstructionist that we’ve lost all good sense. The ploy did nothing to slow the law or decrease its popularity. The country was willing to back a showdown with the president over the deficit. We found the one thing the country was not willing to abide: shutting down the government over defunding health care. Nearly every poll taken showed that a majority of the public opposed that gambit.

Bad idea (Democrat version): The government shutdown cost the economy $24 billion and over 120,000 jobs while achieving nothing. Next.

My Party Is Better Than Yours:

Republican: The president's approval ratings are as low as they have ever been. They are in George W. Bush territory. In the past, during low approval ratings moments—like the 2011 debt limit fight—people still trusted the president. That is not true now. Only 49 percent of Americans trust him in the latest CBS poll. That number was 60 percent a year ago in the same poll. Fifty-three percent do not find him trustworthy, in a recent CNN poll. In the same poll, only 40 percent said he could manage the government. Once your numbers get that low, they don't bounce back—particularly at the end of a presidency when approval ratings naturally fall. Yes, they might have recovered with Reagan and Clinton, but the economy was much better during those administrations. There is no bright side today. That's why almost 70 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, nearly the highest figure of Obama’s presidency. Yes, Obama will not be up for re-election again, but this is bleeding over into the Democratic congressional picture too, which is why it matters. In late October’s Generic Ballot polling—the crude measure that tests how the parties will fare in a nonpresidential election—Democrats polled an average of 7 points better than Republicans. Now Republicans hold a 1-point edge when you ask people whether they plan to vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate. 

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