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First Thoughts: Welcome to the perpetual campaign

Welcome to the perpetual campaign… When does the campaigning end and the governing begin?... Senate Democrats threaten to change filibuster rules… Kristol-Lowry oppose Gang of Eight immigration bill… On Rick Perry and 2016… Scott Walker heads to Indiana… And new Quinnipiac poll shows Cory Booker lapping the Democratic field in New Jersey’s Senate contest.

*** Welcome to the perpetual campaign: Here’s a thought exercise on this summer morning: Imagine that after the controversial Medicare prescription-drug legislation was passed into law in 2003, Democrats did everything they could to thwart one of George W. Bush’s top domestic achievements. They launched Senate filibusters to block essential HHS appointees from administering the law; they warned the sports and entertainment industries from participating in any public service announcements to help seniors understand how the law works; and, after taking control of the House of Representatives in 2007, they used the power of the purse to prohibit any more federal funds from being used to implement the law. As it turns out, none of that happened. And despite Democratic warnings that the law would be a bust -- we remember the 2004 Dem presidential candidates campaigning against it -- the Medicare prescription-drug law has been, for the most part, a pretty big success. But that thought exercise has become a reality 10 years later as Republicans have worked to thwart/stymie/sabotage -- pick your word -- the implementation of President Obama’s health-care and financial-reform laws. 

In this June 11, 2013 file photo, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., left, accompanied by Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas speaks on Capitol Hill. J. Scott Applewhite / AP

*** When does the campaigning end and governing begin? Recently, the top-two Senate Republicans -- Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn -- wrote a letter to the NFL and other major sports leagues warning them not to participate in any campaign to promote implementation of Obamacare. The Koch Brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity is in unchartered waters running TV ads to help prevent the law from being implemented, while the Obama political arm is also on the air promoting implementation. And Senate Republicans have vowed to filibuster any nominee (no matter how qualified) to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under the financial-reform law. Now there’s one big difference between the 2003 Medicare prescription-drug law and Obamacare: Some Democrats voted for the former, while not a single Republican supported the latter. (And just three Senate Republicans voted for the financial-reform law.) But we now have reached the stage in this era of increased polarization where EVERYTHING has become a partisan fight, even carrying out a law that has been passed and upheld by the Supreme Court. The mantra that “elections have consequences” has been thrown out the window and replaced by “everything must be a fight.” And this all raises the question: What’s the line between fighting for your ideology and ensuring that the government that pays your salaries actually works -- or even attempts to work? At some point, governing has to take place, but when does that begin? We know what opponents will say in response to this: These are bad laws, and we have to do whatever it takes to stop them. But at what point does an election have a governing consequence?

*** Senate Democrats threaten to change the filibuster rules: Those are the questions that Senate Democrats are raising as they threaten to change the filibuster rules to get Obama’s appointees to head the EPA, Labor Department, and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau confirmed. “[Senate Republicans have] essentially said they are going to disable the executive branch if a minority of the Senate disagrees with or dislikes the president the people elect,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) told the New York Times. “It’s come into a realm where it’s just unacceptable because if the executive branch can’t function, then the nation can’t respond to the big challenges it faces.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has fired back, saying that such a move to change the filibuster rules would hurt minority rights, and Democrats will someday find themselves in the minority again. “Majorities are fleeting, but changes to the rules are not,” Mr. McConnell has said, per the Times. “And breaking the rules to change the rules would fundamentally change this Senate.”

*** The copycat rule: But if we learned one thing after the Bork judicial fight in the 1980s, it’s that political parties copycat each other. And if Republicans are trying to stop Democratic laws from being implemented or preventing executive-branch appointees from being confirmed, then you can bet that Democrats will return the favor the next time there’s a GOP president. This is a slippery slope fraught with unintended consequences. In fact, we already saw Democrats in the minority on the state level trying to thwart laws that were being passed and signed into law by Republican governors and Republican-controlled legislatures. This “any means necessary” style of politicizing legislating and governing is only helping to add to the public’s distrust and cynicism toward government -- on all levels.

*** Kristol-Lowry oppose Gang of Eight immigration bill: Conservative writers Bill Kristol and Rich Lowry have penned an op-ed urging House Republicans to “kill” the bipartisan Gang of Eight immigration-reform bill that the Senate recently passed. “The bill’s first fatal deficiency is that it doesn’t solve the illegal-immigration problem. The enforcement provisions are riddled with exceptions, loopholes, and waivers.” More from Kristol and Lowry: “According to the CBO analysis of the bill, it will reduce illegal immigration by as little as a third or by half at most. By one estimate, this means there will be about 7.5 million illegal immigrants here in ten years. And this is under the implausible assumption that the Obama administration would administer the law as written.” While it’s important never to overestimate the opinions from the conservative or liberal intelligentsia, this could have some sway with House Republicans sitting on the fence. Bottom line: They provide some establishment cover. By the way, as for the substance of their criticism, particularly the part about fear of how Obama will implement the law, correct us if we’re wrong, but most of this law gets enforced under a new administration, post-2016… Tossing in the fear of how a law will get implemented seems to be simply red meat for the base.

*** Rick Perry and 2016: Now that Texas Gov. Rick Perry has announced he won’t run for re-election in 2014, the question for him now turns to 2016: Will he run for president again? On the one hand, it’s hard to imagine that someone who was outperformed by Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul in 2012 would get many GOP operatives and donors excited. The “oops” remarks will live in infamy for him. But on the other hand, if Perry does run in 2016, he’d have VERY LOW expectations. And as we’ve seen in the past, Perry has been at his best when folks underestimate him (example: shellacking Kay Bailey Hutchison in the 2010 gubernatorial primary or surviving in 2006). Perry could never handle being the immediate front-runner in 2012. But could he do better as the spunky underdog? And he’s still the conservative, who uses Tea Party rhetoric, who is also considered to be more liberal on the spectrum when it comes to the issue of immigration. By the way, in case you are wondering, Perry has been VERY careful not to say much about the national debate over immigration reform. In one interview, he seemed to endorse the ideas in the Senate bill while simultaneously criticizing the government’s ability to enact what’s passed.

*** Scott Walker heads to Indiana: Here’s more 2016 watch: Tonight beginning at 6:30 pm ET, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will be the featured speaker at an Indiana Republican Party dinner in Indianapolis.

*** Booker is lapping the NJ Dem field: Lastly, this shouldn’t surprise folks: Cory Booker is crushing his Democratic rivals, according to a new Quinnipiac poll. Booker leads the field with support from 52% of New Jersey Democratic voters, Rep. Frank Pallone gets 10%, Rep. Rush Holt gets 8%, and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver gets 3%.

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