How Ted Cruz May Save The Republican Party

Ezra Klein wrote a piece the other day titled, “If Ted Cruz didn’t exist, Democrats would have to invent  him.” The great Ezra ended with this:

Over the last 24 hours I’ve seen some Republicans complaining that President Obama and the Democrats are trying to break them. Their anger is misplaced. They should be angry at Ted Cruz for putting Republicans in a position to be broken.

I am sure there are many Republicans who are angry at Ted Cruz. But one of them isn’t Mitch McConnell. In fact, if Ted Cruz didn’t exist, Mitch McConnell would have to invent him. Why? Because Cruz has done what I didn’t think it was possible to do: make McConnell look good in comparison.

Mitch McConnell is as shrewd as he is slimy. And anyone, even a Ted Cruz, who can make the greasy craftiness of the Republican Senate Minority Leader look like adult reasonableness is now an asset to a Republican Party that is in desperate need of a public relations makeover. And the extreme behavior of Ted Cruz, Jim DeMint, and that strange gaggle of goofy zealots in the House of Representatives have allowed the establishment extremists, people like McConnell and Orrin Hatch and others, to come off sounding like voices of reason.

This development, my friends, should trouble Democrats.

McConnell, who has been a part of the Republican wrecking crew, has now assured the country there will be no more government shutdowns. Ahh. Ain’t that nice? Hatch, who is about as conservative a man as one would ever want to meet, called out DeMint’s groupthink tank, the Heritage Foundation. How great was that? Other Republicans, right-wingers all, have denounced the tactics of torpedo-toting teapartiers and are getting credit for doing so from the Beltway press corps.

One might be tempted to think that such behavior is a good thing, particularly a good thing for the country. But in this case it’s not, unless we all want to live in a society governed by ultra-conservative, if not ultra-nutty, policymakers. The reason that what we see happening on the right may spell trouble for Democrats and ultimately for the country is pretty simple. It’s all tied to the concept of triangulation. Let me borrow an image from Wikipedia’s entry on it:

What we will soon see, as 2014 gets here or before, are Republicans like McConnell (who is up for reelection next year and who is hoping to become Majority Leader if his party can win six extra Senate seats) trying to put themselves firmly, if falsely, on that “middle ground.” They will first confess that shutting down the government to defund ObamaCare was extreme behavior. Then they will concede that threatening the full faith and credit of the country was also out of line. They will then pivot to and run on two issues: anxiety over ObamaCare and anxiety over the national debt. They will say that there has been extreme behavior on both sides, but now the real threat to the country is with Democrats, who want to impose on the public a monster bureaucracy—an imposition that is now off to a horrendous start—and who want to raise more taxes and spend more money despite the $17 trillion debt we face.

While all this triangulating is going on next year, the anti-establishment extremists like Ted Cruz and the reactionary, recalcitrant radicals in the House will continue to do what it is they do. But increasingly more “adult” Republicans will speak out against them, posing as moderates who just want to tame the bureaucracy and get a handle on our debt. In reality, though, they share the goals, including many of the same social issue goals, of the anti-establishment radicals. They differ mainly in the strategy and tactics necessary to achieve them. And as time passes and the campaigns begin, money from business interests will flow into the coffers of non-Tea Party Republicans, money that once poured into the campaigns of those anti-establishment right-wingers who have caused much of the dysfunction we see today.

Now, I’m not suggesting that all this will be easy for Republicans to accomplish, particularly because Democrats have a lot of ammunition with which to fight back, mainly the ability to tie McConnell and other Republicans to Tea Party radicalism. But the triangulation strategy represents the best way Republicans have for winning the Senate and for keeping the House in Republican hands, especially if the press continues to present McConnell and other establishment extremists as the adults in the room.

As for 2016, such triangulation is how Chris Christie will, I predict, eventually win the Republican nomination for president. (He has already begun to use a version of the strategy and right-wing donors are anxious to dump truckloads of cash on him.)  Some people believe that the governor of New Jersey, who dared put his arm around Hussein Obama during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, is too disliked by primary-dominating conservatives to get the nomination. But how soon we forget that John McCain and Mitt Romney were also hated by those same conservatives. All it takes to get these people on board, albeit reluctantly, is the idea that Republicans can actually win a national election and achieve the power necessary to undo the damage that the Kenyan socialist has done to the country. It will also become obvious that most of the money men on the right, unfettered by campaign finance laws, are betting on Christie.

And should Chris Christie win not only the GOP primary but the national election, and should Republicans also win control of both houses of Congress, look out. A President Christie would be, in terms of the things Democrats hold dear, a very radical president indeed. Whether it is cutting rich people’s taxes, cutting government services and social programs, deregulating the economy, decimating unions, rolling back reproductive and gay rights, or any number of things on the reactionaries’ wish list, Christie and a Christie-friendly Congress could change the country in ways Ted Cruz only dreams of.

And, alas, all of it could happen thanks to him.

We Now Know How Many Dangerous Radicals There Are In Congress

Here is the sad reality facing the country:

The final vote in Congress to temporarily open the government and to temporarily preserve the full faith and credit of the United States:

House of Representatives: 285 in favor (198 Democrats and 87 Republicans) and 144 against (all Republicans).

Senate: 81 in favor (52 Democrats, 27 Republicans, 2 Independents) and 18 against (all Republicans).

Thus: We now know there are at least 144 Tea Party radicals in the House (62% of all Republicans) and at least 18 Tea Party radicals in the Senate (40% of all Republicans). That’s about 58% of all congressional Republicans. Think about that: 58% of all congressional Republicans are nutty enough to wreck the economy in the name of Tea Party radicalism.

Let me repeat: Nearly 6 in 10 of the current complement of Republicans in Congress are radical enough to not only shutdown the government and keep it closed, but radical enough to severely damage the credit worthiness of the our centuries-old Republic and blow a hole in the economy.

God bless America.

Odds and ends:

♦ Democrats, once again, saved the country from utter chaos and ignominy.

♦ My own congressman, Ozark Billy Long, voted with the radicals. He obviously doesn’t give a damn about the viability of government or the full faith and credit of the United States. But the local paper and local television news outlets will never question him about his irresponsible vote or hold him accountable for it.

♦ Every single Missouri Republican in the House voted with the zealots. Yes, every one of them.

♦ A strange woman, apparently an official House stenographer, began yelling on the floor of the House during last night’s vote, saying something about our Freemason Constitution and that God will not be mocked. Poor lady. God is mocked every day in that Republican-controlled chamber and obviously since God has thus far failed to stop the mockery, she thought she’d give him a hand.

♦ After the Republican surrender, Rush Limbaugh now says the Republican Party is “irrelevant” and “made a decision not to exist.” God, for once I hope he’s right.

♦ The quack masquerading as a doctor on Fox “News,” Keith Ablow, said that President Obama’s language about the GOP “holding the whole country hostage” is simply the President “going back to when his dad abandoned him, when his mother left him with his grandparents.” Obama is, said the quack, extending his victimization “to this country.” Just part of another day of fair and balanced broadcasting on the Republican News Channel.

♦ Georgia congressman Jack Kingston told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes last night that the estimated $24 or 25 billion or so that the government shutdown and debt default scare cost the American people was worth it because it allowed Republicans to send a message to the public that they don’t like ObamaCare. I don’t think such stupidity needs any additional commentary from me.

♦ Club for Growth and Heritage Action and Freedom Works all put out an alert on the vote, warning legislators they would be using it to score their loyalty to Tea Party conservatism. We know it worked because of the 62% of House Republicans who followed the zealous lobbying groups and the 40% of Senate Republicans who did so. If that doesn’t scare you, you are unscareable. Right wing lobbyists are slowly ruining the country.

♦ We now know that Tea Party Conservatism doesn’t believe in personal responsibility—they oppose the individual mandate in ObamaCare that the Heritage Foundation originally championed—or in national responsibility—they voted to say to hell with paying the country’s bills. What kind of conservatism is that? If Edmund Burke were alive, he would fall over dead.

♦ How petty are these extremists? Look at this:
russert tweet

Obama’s “victory speech” was, of course, not a victory speech. He could have rubbed it in the faces of these extremists, but he didn’t. Why? Because unlike his political enemies, he has class.

♦ I want to mention one particular senator who gets much credit for being a reasonable Republican. He ain’t. His name is Tom Coburn and he’s a right-wing freak. He has been a cheerleader for not raising the debt ceiling. As Huff Po reported:

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) voted with Cruz, but nevertheless said he thought the fiasco had been entirely predictable because it was obvious Democrats and the president would never end Obamacare, and they control two of the three relevant parts of government. He had a tart piece of advice for Cruz and others: “Have a coordinated strategy that’s based on reality rather than one that’s not.”

Coburn voted with Cruz and then advised him to have a strategy based on reality? Thank God Coburn is getting the hell out of the Senate. He has lost his mind.

♦ Finally, for the record, here are all the Republicans who voted against the shutdown-debt ceiling deal. May their names live on in utter infamy:

HOUSE:

Robert B. Aderholt (AL) Justin Amash (MI) Mark Amode (NV) Michele Bachmann (MN) Andy Barr (KY) Joe L. Barton (TX) Kerry Bentivolio (MI) Rob Bishop (UT) Diane Black (TN) Marsha Blackburn (TN) Kevin Brady (TX) Jim Bridenstine (OK) Mo Brooks (AL) Paul Broun (GA) Larry Bucshon (IN) Michael C. Burgess (TX) John Campbell (CA) John Carter (TX) Bill Cassidy (LA) Steven J. Chabot (OH) Jason Chaffetz (UT) Chris Collins (NY) Doug Collins (GA). Michael Conaway (TX) John Culberson (TX) Ron DeSantis (FL) Jeffrey Denham (CA) Scott DesJarlais (TN) Sean Duffy (WI) Jeffrey Duncan (SC) John J. Duncan Jr.(TN) Renee Ellmers (NC) Blake Farenthold (TX) Stephen Fincher (TN) Chuck Fleischmann (TN) John Fleming (LA) Bill Flores (TX) Randy Forbes (VA) Virginia Foxx (NC) Trent Franks (AZ) Scott Garrett (NJ) Bob Gibbs (OH) Phil Gingrey (GA) Louie Gohmert (TX) Robert W. Goodlatte (VA) Paul Gosar (AZ) Trey Gowdy (SC) Kay Granger (TX) Sam Graves (MO) Tom Graves (GA) Morgan Griffith (VA) Ralph M. Hall (TX) Andy Harris (MD) Vicky Hartzler (MO) Jeb Hensarling (TX) George Holding (NC) Richard Hudson (NC) Tim Huelskamp (KS) Bill Huizenga (MI) Randy Hultgren (IL) Duncan D. Hunter (CA) Robert Hurt (VA) Bill Johnson (OH) Sam Johnson (TX) Walter B. Jones (NC) Jim Jordan (OH) Steve King (IA) Jack Kingston (GA) Doug LaMalfa (CA) Raul Labrador (ID) Doug Lamborn (CO) James Lankford (OK) Robert E. Latta (OH) Billy Long (MO) Frank D. Lucas (OK) Blaine Luetkemeyer (MO) Cynthia M. Lummis (WY) Kenny Marchant (TX) Tom Marino (PA) Thomas Massie (KY) Michael McCaul (TX) Tom McClintock (CA) Mark Meadows (NC) Luke Messer (IN) John L. Mica (FL) Candice S. Miller (MI) Jeff Miller (FL) Markwayne Mullin (OK) Mick Mulvaney (RC) Randy Neugebauer (TX) Kristi Noem (SD) Richard Nugent (FL) Alan Nunnelee (MS) Pete Olson (TX) Steven Palazzo (MS) Steve Pearce (NM) Scott Perry (PA) Tom Petri (WI) Joe Pitts (PA) Ted Poe (TX) Mike Pompeo (KS) Bill Posey (FL) Tom Price (GA) Trey Radel (FL) Tom Reed (NY) Jim Renacci (OH) Tom Rice (SC) Martha Roby (AL) Phil Roe (TN) Mike D. Rogers (AL) Dana Rohrabacher (CA) Todd Rokita (IN) Tom Rooney (FL) Dennis Ross (FL) Keith Rothfus (PA) Ed Royce (CA) Paul D. Ryan (WI) Matt Salmon (AZ) Mark Sanford (SC) Steve Scalise (LA) David Schweikert (AZ) Austin Scott (GA)  James Sensenbrenner (WI) Pete Sessions (TX) Jason Smith (MO) Lamar Smith (TX) Steve Southerland (FL) Chris Stewart (UT) Steve Stockman (TX) Marlin Stutzman (IN) William M. Thornberry (TX) Michael R. Turner (OH) Ann Wagner (MO) Tim Walberg (MI) Greg Walden (OR) Jackie Walorski (IN) Randy Weber (TX) Brad Wenstrup (OH) Lynn Westmoreland (GA) Roger Williams (TX) Joe Wilson (SC) Rob Woodall (GA) Kevin Yoder (KS) Ted Yoho (FL)

SENATE:

Tom Coburn (Okla.), John Cornyn (Texas), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Dean Heller (Nev.), Ron Johnson (Wis.), Mike Lee (Utah), Rand Paul (Ky.), Pat Roberts (Kansas), Jim Risch (Idaho), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Tim Scott (S.C.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Richard Shelby (Ala.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), David Vitter (La.).

If you ever hear any of these people raging against wasteful government spending (as Tom Coburn does every time he opens his mouth) or droning on about the national debt, you can tell them to go straight to hell, as they voted to waste billions of dollars, break the legs of the economy, and thereby significantly increase the national debt.

“By Keeping Republicans Together,” John Boehner Did “The Country A Favor,” So Says Mark Halperin and Andrea Mitchell

I thought I was hallucinating. But I played it back on my DVR and it was all too real.

Wanna know why Republicans believe they can take the country to the brink of catastrophe and not pay a price for doing so? Because Beltway journalists like Mark Halperin and Andrea Mitchell will, without laughing, have this exchange on national television, on “liberal” MSNBC:

HALPERIN: The second guessing about Republicans, not just strategy but tactics throughout the last several weeks, are really gonna be extraordinary. There’s gonna be a lot of questioning about how to go forward. It’s gonna be interesting. I think Speaker Boehner has handled this in a way where he can put this on the floor, get a lot of Democratic votes. My hunch is that there are a lot of Republican votes in the Senate, which we expect. We could get a lot of Republican votes in the House and questions about his speakership, questions about his own leadership, I think may be put off.

And I think this agreement is not bad in the sense that it gives both sides a chance to try to deal with some of these bigger entitlement issues and tax issues over the next few weeks and averts the crisis. And John Boehner may have done himself and the country a favor by keeping Republicans together long enough to say, we tried a lot of different things; we made some mistakes. This is the best we can get at this point to avoid what he has said all along and believed all along was essential, which was to avoid a default by the federal government.

MITCHELL: Fair points all.

Anyone who has watched this debacle knows one thing for certain. John Boehner hasn’t handled this in any way that deserves one jot or tittle of praise. That he gets it from two Beltway reporters tells us so much about why right-wing zealots believe in their bones that they can hold the country hostage and get away with it.

Bring The Weapons Inspectors To Washington

Okay. It appears the hostages are about to be released. The kidnappers didn’t quite have the nerve to shoot the hostages in the head, although they did rough them up pretty good.

No one knows exactly how much the Republican-engineered crisis will ultimately cost the country, although Bloomberg has estimated that the 16-day government shutdown has been “draining an average of $160 million each workday,” and that’s not counting the costs associated with investors dumping short-term Treasury bills, the safest investment in the world—at least they used to be.

And how do you figure in the cost of disintegrating morale among federal employees, many of whom were labeled as “non-essential,” many of whom have worked without a raise for three years and have had to take sequestration-related furloughs even before the latest shutdown?

And how do you figure in the cost of the damage inflicted on our national prestige? How do you calculate the damage done to our sense of stability? How do you account for the damage done to our confidence in self-governance, in democracy?

And what was it all for? What was accomplished by Tea Party Republicans and the non-Tea Party Republicans who aided and abetted them? Nothing. Not a damn thing. And to make things worse, we will quite likely be back here again at the beginning of next year. Yippee.

Warren Buffett said this morning about flirting with not raising the debt ceiling:

There are certain weapons that are just improper to use against humanity, and to use this against the American public, it is a political weapon of mass destruction and both sides should say we’re not going to touch it, just like poison gas…

Perhaps, after they are finished in Syria, we could get the recent Nobel Peace Prize winners, those amazing inspectors who make up the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, to come to America and dismantle the crazy law that prevents the Treasury Department from paying the country’s bills unless Congress raises the debt ceiling.

Yes, that’s it. Once the inspectors are done in Syria, where a desperate leader used poison gas on his own citizens, maybe they can come here and do their humanitarian work.

poison gas

Don’t Bomb The Hospital

As I have been watching the embarrassing and dangerous spectacle going on in Washington, several things have come to mind.

First, it has taken since 2009 to get our economy out of a very deep ditch into which ideological zealots—believers in supply-side economics and anti-regulatory policies—helped drive it. And the economy got out of the ditch without much help from conservative Republicans, who instead have done a lot to get in the way of those who, like President Obama and congressional Democrats, have been trying to fix what the zealots helped break.

Second, as everyone knows it was the unfortunate election year of 2010 that allowed Tea Party types to take over the House of Representatives—and cause much mischief in the Senate—and make a mockery out of governance. What isn’t well known, though, is the significant damage the hostage-taking strategy employed by teapartiers has done to the economy. Look at this graphic I saw on MSNBC this morning:

900 000 jobs lost

That’s nearly a million Americans who could be working but aren’t because of the fiscal madness that right-wingers have engineered since the Tea Party came to power. The source of that statistic is from an independent forecasting firm called Macroeconomic Advisers that did a study for the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which is, as HuffPo described it, “one of the tireless deficit scolds encouraging Republican behavior.” 

In other words, a group of folks who have aided and abetted the scare-the-bejesus-out-of-the-public tactics of deficit-obsessed right-wingers have now figured out that the zealots really do mean to take down the economy, if Democrats don’t meet their demands. That says something important about what is going on.

Joel Prakken, who prepared the report for the Peterson Foundation, wrote:

Partisan divided government has failed to address our long-term fiscal challenges sensibly, instead encouraging policy that is short-sighted, arbitrary, and driven by calendar-based crises. Based on this report’s findings, we can assert confidently that the crisis-driven fiscal policies of the last several years have damaged our still-struggling economy. One can only hope that our policymakers will implement more sensible policy in the future.

Hope? Is that all we’re left with? We hope the zealots won’t blow up the place? Think about that for a minute. Isn’t it enough that their obsession with our long-term debt—not to mention ObamaCare—has ignored the short-term problems we face and made things worse than they should be?

As HuffPo notes:

Macro Advisers estimates that the austerity of recent years has cut GDP growth by 0.7 percent and cost 1.2 million jobs already.

Isn’t that enough? On top of that misery and on top of the previous job-killing manufactured crises, do they now have to bomb the economy with a default on our obligations and cause even more, and more profound, pain?

Thus it is that we have austerity instead of stimulus and we have dysfunction instead of cooperation. All of which leads me to something simple I have observed that is related to what is going on in our nation’s capital.

For more than a year now, a very large hospital has been under construction near my house. This hospital—825,000 square feet and costing $335 million—is a replacement for St. John’s Regional Medical Center, which was destroyed in the 2011 tornado here in Joplin.

I have driven by the construction site countless times and I am always amazed at the complexity of such an undertaking. From the complicated funding of the project to the meticulous design to the massive excavation to the magic-like construction going on right now, all are products of the human mind and will.

Someday, all that painstaking planning, all that astonishing ingenuity and craftsmanship on display, will result in a state-of-the-art facility that will, in most cases, help sick people get well. And in doing so it will provide many jobs for doctors and nurses and accountants and janitors and other support staff. An awesome thing, when you think about it.

But it occurred to me that years from now, when the hospital is operating and its employees are doing their best to help the sick, some zealot with a bomb and a grievance can destroy in seconds what took years to build.

And that leads me back to what is going on in Washington, where, I suppose, we all must continue to hope that the zealots will put away their bombs and settle their grievances with government—an institution designed to “promote the general welfare”—another way.

[hospital photo: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette]

How Democrats May Be Encouraging Hostage-Taking Politics

Over the weekend, a Tea Party posse took down barricades at the World War II Memorial and marched to the White’s House and dumped them, all the while appearing as if they were ready to jump the fence and lynch the Scary Negro who happens to live there. The reason these folks, some proudly waving Confederate flags, were so angry at the Scary Negro is a) because he is scary, b) because he is a Negro, or c) both.

Post image for Palin And Confederate Flag Rally Tea Party Vandals Piling ‘Barrycades’ At White HouseIf logic ruled the minds of these teapartiers, their anger would be directed at Republicans, who have shut down the government, including the World War II Memorial, and are threatening, really threatening, to sabotage the full faith and credit of the United States. But logic does not rule and lots of Americans are embarrassing themselves and the country.

The Tea Party posse, eventually clashing with Capitol police, were encouraged by both Sarah Palin and the comes-with-a-penis version of her, Ted Cruz. Palin told the crowd of veterans she was using as a political prop:

This is the people’s memorial. Our veterans should be above politics.

The penis version of Palin, who has been playing a dangerous game with the debt ceiling, told the folks:

Our veterans should be above politics. Enough games.

Besides Palin and Cruz, one of the speakers at the triggering event, misnamed the “Million Vet March on the Memorials” because a million vets didn’t show up, was a man named Larry Klayman, founder of reactionary groups Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch. He said to an approving crowd:

We are now ruled, quote, unquote, by a president who bows down to Allah. This president is not a president of “we the people.” He’s the president of his people. I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up.

Klayman, who obviously has lost his mind, is one of those right-wing ideologues who tends to hate the Washington establishment, no matter who the establishment happens to be at the time, but the Scary Negro particularly drives him and his fellow travelers nuts. And they will really go off when, finally, a deal is cut to reopen the government and preserve the nation’s credit integrity, all without doing any damage to ObamaCare.

As things stand right now, the establishment faction of the hostage takers is still demanding that Democrats bless their austerity mania, expressed now through the economy-damaging sequester. And these Repubicans are saying that since they have pretty much given up on destroying ObamaCare, that Democrats should let them have their way on the budget.

As I write, Democrats, who pledged not to negotiate with the hostage takers, are in fact negotiating with the hostage takers. That is a mistake, at least right now. Once Democrats made it clear several days ago they were willing to negotiate over opening the government and raising the debt ceiling, the pressure then shifted to them to make a deal. Thus, if no deal happens, Democrats will get a lot of the blame, which will tempt Democrats to make a bad deal.

And that pressure on Democrats to make a deal, bad or otherwise, is being manifested via a new narrative going around. This new narrative was first created by Republicans, but has been picked up by reporters and pundits. It goes like this: Democrats are trying to take advantage of the unpopularity of the Republican shutdown and are now “overreaching” by refusing to agree to a deal. MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell today was pushing the idea that Democrats may be overplaying their hand and that “the president is not blameless, as far as the American people are concerned.”

In an earlier show on MSNBC, I saw Dee Dee Myers, who worked for Bill Clinton, and Robert Gibbs, who worked for President Obama, also talk about how Democrats might be in some political danger, if they don’t give Republicans an honorable way out of the mess they have made. Myers suggested that Democrats may “over-read” and “over-interpret” recent polls that show Republicans are losing the PR battle.

Well, the problem is that Democrats have already given too much. Republicans in the Senate are essentially demanding that the ridiculous sequester cuts, which exist because of the last hostage crisis created by Republicans, become the norm. To try to prevent the latest hostage crisis, Democrats previously agreed to the sequester budget numbers, which are hurting the economy and many people in it, for a short period of time. But that wasn’t good enough. Republicans wanted more. And they will keep on wanting more as long as Democrats are willing to give it to them because, alas, the hostage taking is working on some basic level: Republicans are slowly starving the government and quickly destroying people’s faith in it.

I understand the dynamics of what is going on here. I understand that in order to avoid the catastrophic effects of a failure to raise the debt ceiling, Democrats may have to allow Republicans to claim they got something for their trouble. But as I learn the contours of the deal now being brokered in the U.S. Senate—which still may not be acceptable to the Boehner Nuts in the House—I am at a loss to explain just how the deal is ultimately good for the country, which, last time I checked, is why we send politicians to work in Washington in the first place.

The problem is this: Republicans have shown no sign of compromising on budget issues, particularly when it comes to raising revenues sufficient to fund a government that won’t fit into Grover Norquist’s bathtub. Thus, we will be right back here again at some point in the future. Democrats will be forced once again to make a decision about negotiating with the hostage takers or letting Republicans shoot them, or, as in the present case, cut off a couple of fingers.

I can’t help believing that if Democrats had simply stuck to their original narrative—that they will be glad to talk with Republicans after they open the government and pay the nation’s bills—that the country, in the long term, would be better off. Why? Because in the end I can’t imagine the leaders of the Republican Party, no matter how feckless and irresponsible they are, allowing the country to default on its obligations and then suffering the perhaps permanent ignominy that would accompany such an action.

All of which would have meant that we would have been done, once and for all, with hostage-taking politics. As it is, if a deal is made that Boehner will put on the House floor, it looks like the political extortion will continue.

[photo credit: Whitney Waters]

President Obama Channels James Madison On The Debt Ceiling

Our political system seems sick. Or, it seems to be broken beyond repair. However one looks at it, our constitutional architecture seems unable to save us from the ravages of a political party gone wild, from politicians with fire in their eyes and torches in their hands.

Yet, this morning I heard a very learned man tell Americans that our system of government was designed to produce—and then fix—what we are seeing today. Jon Meacham, who is among other things a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, said on MSNBC that what Tea Party Republicans are doing is not unprecedented—he cited the old “Southern Democratic caucus” that held up civil rights legislation in the U.S. Senate for part of the twentieth century—and in fact what these Republicans are doing has the posthumous blessings of, uh, James Madison, who would say if you don’t like ‘em, “vote ‘em out.”

Yikes. If James Madison meant to design a system in which a crazed minority of lawmakers on one side of the Capitol could severely damage the economic well-being of the entire country by forcing the government to default on its obligations, then James Madison was a bit crazed himself.

But no matter what one’s view of Madison or the other Founders is, no matter what one thinks of the design of our system of governance, as the National Journal’s Kristin Roberts points out, we fortunately have a very clear instruction in the Constitution, as it was thankfully amended in 1868, about what to do regarding raising the debt ceiling. Section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment reads:

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.

Roberts writes:

Have Republicans forgotten that they too must abide by the Constitution?

The document is explicit in its instruction to America’s federally elected officials – make good on the country’s debts. “The validity of the public debt of the United States,” the 14th Amendment states, “shall not be questioned.”

This is not some arcane biblical reference that needs to be translated from scraps of parchment. In fact, its purpose and intent are fairly well documented.

The amendment is the product of a post-Civil War Congress that wanted to be sure the country would not be saddled with Confederate debt, and that the debts of United States would be honored. Then, as now, this promise written into the Constitution offered creditors confidence that lending to America – indeed, investing in America – would be safe.

“Every man who has property in the public funds will feel safer when he sees that the national debt is withdrawn from the power of a Congress to repudiate it and placed under the guardianship of the Constitution than he would feel if it were left at loose ends and subject to the varying majorities which may arise in Congress,” argued Sen. Benjamin Wade, a Republican supporter of the amendment.

Indeed.

Some conservatives these days claim that there’s nothing to this debt ceiling business, that Democrats are just trying to scare everyone (never mind that Ronald Reagan tried to scare everyone too). Some, like a very strange senator named Tom Coburn, pull stunts like tearing up a symbolic credit card on the floor of the Senate, saying, “I think it’s time we quit borrowing money,” as if that’s all there is to it. As if not raising the debt ceiling is like taking the credit card from an irresponsible teenager.

Such ignorance, such dangerous ignorance, should not have a home in the brain of a sitting U.S. senator or any public official. But it does. And such ignorance has infected the American people, who, as a new poll demonstrates, are as confused about the debt ceiling as Tom Coburn is. Get this:

More than twice as many Americans believe lifting the limit means authorizing more borrowing “for future expenditures” than believe it means “paying off the debts [the federal government] has already accumulated”—62 percent to 28 percent, respectively.

The reality is that lifting the debt limit allows the Treasury Department to borrow money to pay for bills that Congress has already rung up.

When one looks at the composition of that 62% of Americans who don’t understand how the debt ceiling works, one finds that Republicans are more ignorant than Democrats:

Nearly three in four Republicans, 73 percent, said the debt limit was for “future expenditures,” but a majority of Democrats, 53 percent, also agreed. Independents, at 62 percent, fell in between the two major parties.

republicans and defaultThink about that. Three out of every four Republicans you meet on the street don’t have the slightest idea what is going on right now. And half the Democrats don’t either. Scarier than all that, though, is that 54% of Republicans polled think the debt ceiling deadline “can pass without major economic consequences.”

Yep, no big deal. A default here, a default there, and pretty soon the economy will get used to all the chaos and Republicans can go back to the echo chamber and tell themselves how brave they were for calling the bluff of Democrats—and economists.

Geeze.

Kristin Roberts notes the obvious that should President Obama unilaterally raise the debt ceiling without congressional authority, Republicans in the House will impeach him. But she makes another point about impeachment that the President should at least abstractly consider:

…others argue that if the House does nothing, and Obama refuses to step in, impeachment would then indeed be appropriate.

“Obama should be impeached if the Congress allows a default and he does nothing,” said Sean Willenz, a Princeton University history professor who has argued the merits of 14th Amendment action. “The president has taken a solemn oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. If he does not act in response to a blatant violation of the Constitution, then he will have violated his oath, and deserve to be impeached.”

Mr. Obama has said more than once that the Fourteen Amendment option that so many liberals and others are urging him to use is not a viable one as far as he is concerned. And because people should know what the President’s mindset is on this serious matter, I will here post his entire response to a question asked of him on Tuesday during his press conference:

QUESTION: Do you think you might have emergency powers that you could use after any default situation?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: 

We have used a lot of our emergency powers. Jack Lew has used extraordinary measures to keep paying our bills over the last several months. But at a certain point, those emergency powers run out, and the clock is ticking. And I do worry that Republicans, but also some Democrats, may think that we’ve got a bunch of other rabbits in our hat. There comes a point in which, if the Treasury cannot hold auctions to sell Treasury bills, we do not have enough money coming in to pay all our bills on time. It’s very straightforward.

And I know there’s been some discussion, for example, about my powers under the 14th Amendment to go ahead and ignore the debt ceiling law. Setting aside the legal analysis, what matters is, is that if you start having a situation in which there’s legal controversy about the U.S. Treasury’s authority to issue debt, the damage will have been done even if that were constitutional, because people wouldn’t be sure. It would be tied up in litigation for a long time. That’s going to make people nervous.

So a lot of the strategies that people have talked about — well, the President can roll out a big coin, or he can resort to some other constitutional measure — what people ignore is that, ultimately, what matters is what do the people who are buying Treasury bills think?

And, again, I’ll just boil it down in very personal terms. If you’re buying a house and you’re not sure whether the seller has title to the house, you’re going to be pretty nervous about buying it. And at minimum, you’d want a much cheaper price to buy that house because you wouldn’t be sure whether or not you’re going to own it at the end. Most of us would just walk away, because no matter how much we like the house, we’d say to ourselves, the last thing I want is to find out after I’ve bought it that I don’t actually own it.

Well, the same thing is true if I’m buying Treasury bills from the U.S. government. And here I am sitting here — what if there’s a Supreme Court case deciding that these aren’t valid, that these aren’t valid legal instruments obligating the U.S. government to pay me? I’m going to be stressed — which means I may not purchase them. And if I do purchase them, I’m going to ask for a big premium.

So there are no magic bullets here. There’s one simple way of doing it, and that is Congress going ahead and voting. And the fact that right now there are votes, I believe, to go ahead and take this drama off the table should at least be tested. Speaker Boehner keeps on saying he doesn’t have the votes for it, and what I’ve said is, put it on the floor, see what happens, and at minimum, let every member of Congress be on record. Let them vote to keep the government open or not, and they can determine where they stand, and defend that vote to their constituencies. And let them vote on whether or not America should pay its bills or not.

And if, in fact, some of these folks really believe that it’s not that big of a deal, they can vote no, and that will be useful information for voters to have. And if it fails, and we do end up defaulting, I think voters should know exactly who voted not to pay our bills so that they can be responsible for the consequences that come with it.

There. You now know for sure what the President thinks about using extraordinary means to do what the Constitution for sure requires Congress to do, if not the President acting alone.

And, I must say, he is being quite Madisonian about it.

Two Reasons Why Boehner Is The Problem

Before too many events intervene and before we get to the end of the shutdown-default mess—if there is an end to it—two flaws in John Boehner’s character, or at least defects in his ability to lead the House of Representatives, must be examined and remembered:

1. Boehner’s Word Isn’t His Bond

Last week Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid revealed that Boehner had reneged on a private deal the two had previously made over the Continuing Resolution, the stopgap fund-the-government bill that didn’t get passed and led to the government shutdown. As The Hill reported:

Reid said Boehner never wanted to wage a protracted battle over ObamaCare as part of the negotiations to keep the government running.

“I know that that’s not the path he preferred,” Reid said. “I know that because we met the first week we came back in September and he told me that what he wanted was a clean CR and the $988 [billion] number. 

“We didn’t like the 988 number. We didn’t like it but we negotiated. That was our compromise,” Reid added. “The exact bill that he now refuses to let the House vote on. That was our negotiation.”

Moreover:

Reid said he didn’t have to twist Boehner’s arm to get a preliminary deal on a clean stopgap.

“He twisted mine a little bit to get that number,” Reid said.

“Now he refused to let his own party vote because he’s afraid to stand up to something he originally agreed to,” he added.

So, clearly Boehner’s word is no good and if a man’s word is no good how can anyone bargain with him? (The Speaker has had a pattern of such untrustworthy behavior. See here and here, for instance.)

2. Boehner’s Dishonesty Is Breathtaking

Before he shamefully began to demagogue the issue of the “exemption” from ObamaCare for Congress and its staff—which is not an exemption at all—Boehner personally and secretly asked Democrats for help in protecting the employer contribution for health insurance premiums (misleadingly called “subsidies”) for congressional lawmakers and staff (the staff members definitely in need of the employer contribution, even if some lawmakers, those with lots of money, aren’t).

First a little background on this ridiculous issue from USA Today:

During the 2010 debate over the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, proposed an amendment requiring members of Congress and their staffs to purchase health insurance though state exchanges. Democrats, viewing the amendment as a political stunt, co-opted the idea as their own and inserted it into the bill.

But the provision was silent about who would pay for that insurance, or how those payments would be treated. The exchanges were intended for uninsured people who couldn’t get health insurance through their employer or qualify for Medicaid. Those who had access to health benefits meeting minimum coverage levels could still purchase insurance on the exchanges — but without a subsidy and using after-tax income.

Holding members of Congress and their staffs to that standard would have the effect of stripping them of the employer-paid health coverage they currently get, which is the same as any other federal employee. So the Office of Personnel Management issued a proposed rule in August making clear that the government would continue to pay the employer contribution for congressional health benefits at the same rate as if members were still on the federal plan.

Grassley now says that was his intent all along. “My goal, regardless of how the amendment was worded … was that we need to go into the exchange so that we would have to go through the same red tape as every other citizen,” he told Roll Call Thursday. But because of what Grassley called a “drafting error,” the amendment left out language that would have explicitly given lawmakers the same before-tax employer contribution as any other federal employee gets.

Some of Grassley’s Republican colleagues have a different interpretation. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., introduced an unsuccessful amendment to the spending bill that would have required members of Congress to pay the full cost of their health care.

What ultimately caused this demagogue-friendly problem is that Democrats foolishly allowed Grassley’s ill-conceived and poorly-written amendment to become part of the law and when it became clear how confused and confusing the amendment was, members of both parties sought to get relief from its potential impact. But the demagogues, like David Vitter and others, saw a political advantage in exploiting the confusion. Enter John Boehner. Politico reported:

With the federal government nearing shutdown, House Speaker John Boehner stood on the House floor Monday and called on his colleagues to vote for a bill banning a “so-called exemption” that lawmakers and staffers receive for their health insurance.

“Why don’t we make sure that every American is treated just like we are?” Boehner asked, seeking to prohibit members of Congress and Capitol Hill aides from getting thousands of dollars in subsidies for their health insurance as they join Obamacare-mandated insurance exchanges.

Yet behind-the-scenes, Boehner and his aides worked for months with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and others, to save these very same, long-standing subsidies, according to documents and e-mails provided to POLITICO. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was also aware of these discussions, the documents show.

So, we have the Speaker privately doing one thing and publicly doing another, cynically using hard-working congressional staff members as pawns in the game he is playing on behalf of Tea Party crazies.

Given these two stunning examples of a lack of integrity and a lack of honesty on the part of the Speaker of the House, Democrats should have little sympathy for him and should continue to let him twist in the wind of condemnation that is blowing into the Republican House. We can only hope that the Speaker will, in the end, have enough patriotism in his bones not to let the country default on its obligations, even if he has defaulted on his.

Barack Obama: Republican Savior?

“We’re not going to pass a clean debt limit increase.”

—John Boehner, October 6, 2013

Clearly, as MSNBC’s Chuck Todd and others suggested this morning, Republicans have poll-tested the word “conversation,” as applied to the sad impasse in Washington. John Boehner used that word around twenty times during his squirmy 14-minute appearance on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. I took the time to string together his use of the word in order to demonstrate how desperate the Speaker now is:

…we asked to sit down with the Senate and have a conversation…that the leaders will sit down and have a conversation…We’re interested in having a conversation…it begins with a simple conversation…It’s about having a conversation…It’s time for us to sit down and have a conversation…Let’s sit down and have a conversation…It’s not their fault that the leaders in Washington won’t sit down and have a conversation…The president is saying, I won’t negotiate. I won’t have a conversation…Even though President George Herbert Walker Bush had a conversation about raising the debt limit…The nation’s credit is at risk because of the administration’s refusal to sit down and have a conversation…And the president is risking default by not having a conversation with us…And the president is putting the nation at risk by his refusal to sit down and have a conversation…My goal here is not to have the United States default on their debt. My goal here is to have a serious conversation about those things that are driving the deficit and driving the debt up. And the president’s refusal to sit down and have a conversation about this is putting our nation at risk of default…The president canceled his trip to Asia. I assumed — well, maybe he wants to have a conversation…I’m willing to sit down and have a conversation with the President…I’m not going to raise the debt limit without a serious conversation…I’ve been willing to sit down with the president and have this conversation...George, I’m ready for the phone call. I’m ready for a conversation...

That’s about one and a half per minute! How embarrassing was that appearance? How weak is this Speaker? How dumb is he? Or, rather, how dumb does he think we are?

Republicans in the House started all this madness with a weird jihadist desire to defund and destroy ObamaCare, then they said they would settle for delaying it, and now they say all they want to do is talk to Democrats, or to put it in the revealingly passive construction favored by Boehner, “have a conversation.”

Yikes. John Boehner is a pitifully puny leader whose desperation is apparent to all, except maybe himself. And what he is really asking President Obama to do is to bail him and his Tea Party friends out of a jam, a dangerous jam that threatens to wound the country for a generation or more.

How ironic it is that establishment extremists in the Republican Party need the Scary Negro in the White’s House to make some kind—any kind—of “deal” to get them off the hook and save them from Ted Cruz and the other anti-establishment extremists in the GOP.

How delicious it is that Barack Hussein Obama holds in his socialist, Kenya-birthed hands the fate of the Grand Old Party, which would surely suffer incalculable damage from the economic disorder and chaos its members say they are about to bring upon Americans.

Speaker Boehner confirmed—yes, he confirmed—Stephanopoulos’ characterization of a Treasury Department report saying that failing to raise the debt ceiling would be “unprecedented and catastrophic,” that “credit markets could freeze,” that “the value of the dollar could plummet,” that “U.S. interest rates could skyrocket,” that “the negative spillovers could reverberate around the world,” and that “there might be a financial crisis and recession that could echo the events of 2008 or worse.”

Stephanopolous asked Boehner, “Do you agree with that assessment?” And the Speaker replied: “I do. And the President is putting the nation at risk by his refusal to sit down and have a conversation.”

Yes, it’s all in the President’s hands. If he would only sit down and talk it would all be over. It’s that simple, said Boehner. Except, of course, it isn’t.

We all know that establishment Republicans are hoping that the President, at the last minute or before, will swoop in with some concession and save them from themselves, from their cowardice, from their failure to stand up in force to the Tea Party nuts they have so willingly used to endlessly attack the President since his election in 2008.

Political pundits are fond of talking about the extremism of a “small” group of Tea Party Republicans in the House. But these pundits rarely make the point that it is Republicans like Mitch McConnell and Roy Blunt and other establishment players that make possible the antics of teapartiers. Establishment Republicans are deathly frightened of what Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity will say about them if they dare to loudly and publicly call out the extremism and stupidity of the anti-establishment zealots that are leading their party, and possibly the country, to ruin. So, they need Barack Obama’s help.

And the President should not help them. I repeat: he should not help them.

Establishment Republicans should do the dirty but necessary work themselves or else risk sullying their party’s name and reputation for years, and elections, to come. A Democratic President should not be the savior of an out-of-control Republican Party, many members of which don’t give a damn about the welfare of the country if it means abandoning their ideological Allah.

The American people finally, if painfully, need to find out what has happened to a once-proud political party, the party, for God’s sake, of Abraham Lincoln. And Americans, many of whom are still suffering from the foolishness of Republican economic philosophy, need to know just how far this very non-Lincolnesque party is willing to go in service to a very strange and destructive god.

A Debt Ceiling Tale

Once upon a time, a tugboat captain, let’s call him Captain Cruz, had a plan to pull a very large and disabled ship, let’s call it the U.S.S. Government, toward Niagara Falls. The plan was to get an admiral aboard the large ship, let’s call him Admiral Obama, to pay the tugboat crew a ransom or else the large ship would go over the falls and crash into the rocks below.

The captain’s plan, bewildering to people on the large ship, nevertheless sounded good to the tugboat’s small crew, and the captain presented it with such confidence and swagger that the whole crew went along with it, even though some of them had their doubts about how the plan might work and some of them had suspicions about the captain’s motives.

The odd thing about Captain Cruz was that he really wasn’t the captain of the tugboat at all. He sort of took over for the real captain, who was a poor leader and wasn’t highly respected by the crew. But the real captain, let’s call him Captain Boehner, didn’t want to completely lose face with his crew, so he pretended he had wanted to pull the U.S.S. Government toward Niagara Falls all along and pretended that he was still in command of the tugboat.

Now, it came to pass that Admiral Obama was in no mood to pay a ransom to the tugboat crew. After all, he recognized that if he did so, if he gave the tugboat crew what it wanted, they would come back time after time, like Somali pirates, until the entire U.S.S. Government was looted of its treasure. Admiral Obama stood firm and told Captain Cruz, Captain Boehner, and the entire tugboat crew that he would not give into their demands. Ever.gop tugboat

It soon became clear to the tugboat crew that the plan that Captain Cruz had devised wasn’t working very well. In fact, some of the crew realized that the closer the tugboat pulled the U.S.S. Government to the falls, the harder it would be to push it back, since the waters leading to the falls were very turbulent. Besides that, some among the crew began to realize that if they were pulling the U.S.S. Government toward the falls, that would mean they and their tugboat would go over first! One among the crew, getting anxious, said after lunch one day,

It was very evident to everyone in the room that Cruz doesn’t have a strategy – he never had a strategy, and could never answer a question about what the end-game was.

Ahh. The crew was beginning to understand just how foolish the plan was and some were looking for a way out of the trouble they had created. They wanted Admiral Obama to offer them something they could call a victory so they could turn the ship around and get back to calmer waters. One among the crew, a devilishly proud sailor, was overheard saying,

We’re not going to be disrespected. We’ve got to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.

And here is where the telling of this tale must now stop. Because the ending has yet to be written.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

huffpo on shutdown

Cruzosaurus Tex: Sarah Palin With A Penis And A Princeton Pedigree

Every now and then some people will claim they have seen the Loch Ness Monster. Once in a while there will come forth folks who claim they have seen Bigfoot. And now, on the verge of a government shutdown and with the threat of economic doomsday hanging over the country, there are cryptozoologists in Washington who claim they have seen wandering around the capital an elusive creature called Republicanus moderatus.

All weekend I heard people claim they have seen this mythical being, one who is “reasonable” and wants to “govern” the country. But when more sober-minded people look around for evidence of such a being, it soon becomes clear that once upon a time there were Moderate Republicans roaming the streets of Washington, but they are now extinct. They’re all gone. What few there are left in the country at large are hiding out, trying to live off the land until civilization returns to the Republican Party.

Oh, I know that there are some people who want to keep the legend alive, who don’t want to admit that the disappearance from Washington of such a proud species of reasonable Republicans signals that American governance is in trouble, that our tradition of democratic rule is in danger of being lost. But the truth is that a new species, Republicanus extremus, is thundering around Washington like giant ideological lizards, with sweeping tails that awkwardly swipe at things like ObamaCare, which was created by democratically elected legislators and signed into law by a now twice-elected President of the United States.

These giant ideological lizards, with their survival-of-the-fittest mentality, have either stomped on or chased away from Washington any sign of Moderate Republican. And wishful thinking won’t soon bring that endangered species back to the capital to govern. It will take more than that.

cruzosaurus texThe most ideological lizard of them all is Ted Cruz, who is Sarah Palin with a penis and a Princeton pedigree. His day job is in the U.S. Senate, but he is also moonlighting as the de facto Speaker of the House, since the official Speaker has proven incapable of leading the reptilian rabble. Cruz is commanding a very noisy and destructive pack of giant lizard legislators on a quest to destroy democratic governance and tear down American civilization one law at a time, starting with the new law meant to bring tens of millions of Americans into the health insurance system.

The only hope we have, the only way orderly American governance will continue, the only way we can preserve the long-term well-being of the country, is if Democrats in Washington finally and fiercely stand up and fight Ted Cruz and those who have gone to Washington in order to turn the place into Jurassic Park.

Will they? Will Democrats stand and fight? Will they ignore the ridiculous questions from journalists who want to know if Democrats will “compromise” with Republicans, when in truth Democrats have already compromised to the point of near-surrender?

We shall see.

More “Both Sides Are Guilty” Journalism From ABC News

President Obama went to Largo, Maryland, on Thursday and gave a speech about the Affordable Care Act, about how important it is that, In the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one should go broke just because they get sick,” about how significant it is that,

on October 1st, millions of Americans who don’t have health insurance because they’ve been priced out of the market or because they’ve been denied access because of a preexisting condition, they will finally be able to buy quality, affordable health insurance.

He talked about many of the virtues of the law, like the free preventive care, like the young folks under 26 who “gained coverage by staying on their parents’ plan,” like the “hundreds of dollars” that older Americans have saved on their medicine, like the money insurance companies were forced to return to families because those medical insurance companies didn’t spend enough on, uh, medical care.

The President mentioned that there are no longer any lifetime limits on coverage, that there is no longer any discrimination allowed for preexisting conditions, nor are companies allowed “to charge women more for their insurance just because they’re women.”

The man who was instrumental in making access to health insurance a “right” for the first time in American history, also talked a lot about how the whole thing will work, beginning next Tuesday, and what folks who need insurance should do to sign up. He talked about the various choices, the costs, and how it is that the “marketplaces” and the “competition, choice, and transparency” that comes with those marketplaces, “are keeping costs down.”

The President, though, also had to talk about the “misinformation” and “confusion” surrounding the law. He noted both the silly and the dangerous efforts by Republicans to repeal it, about all the dumb and hysterical things that they have said about the law, and a quick acknowledgement of the role Fox “News” has played in the campaign against it. (By the way, IQ-slaughtering “Fox and Friends” Friday morning had a segment attacking the President for invoking “slavery” and daring to “divide” the nation!)

Unfortunately, it was mostly the President’s remarks about Republicans that made it onto television and radio news, mainly because many broadcast journalists these days have pretty much given up on educating the public when it comes to politics. Not much of the substance, of the practical advice the President offered to potential beneficiaries of the ACA, was disseminated by broadcast news outlets.

I did, though, see or hear a hundred times the President’s funny allusion to the stupidity of Michele Bachmann, and his oblique reference to the Koch brothers, who are funding a “cynical ad campaign” designed to get young people to not participate in the insurance marketplaces and therefore not have “any health care.”

But of all the journalism I witnessed regarding Thursdays coverage of the President’s speech and the ongoing shutdown and default talk in Washington, the worst was what I saw on ABC’s World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer.jonathan karl

The fight over shutting down the government and the dangerous debt ceiling nonsense was the second story on Thursday night’s broadcast. ABC’s Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl had two minutes and he proceeded to make a joke of the entire thing. From beginning to end, it was a piece designed to be more cute than informative, more clever than enlightening.

First, Sawyer introduced the piece by saying,

And now we head to Washington and the growing frustration in the country over another round of name-calling and threats to bring the government to a standstill.

Uh-oh. You can sense that this is going to be another one of those “both sides are guilty” pieces, which enables Republicans to do all the dirty work and only get half the blame. She continued:

We begin with…Jonathan Karl, who tells us what the opposing sides are saying about each other tonight.

Ah, there it is in full-bloom. “The opposing sides” are saying things about each other, and that, of course, is the story. And it got worse. Karl began his piece with a comedic speed-up of video footage of the President making his way to the podium in Maryland, sort of like an old Charlie Chaplin movie. Then Karl said this:

Here we go again: We’ve got a serious president calling his opponents “crazy.”

Huh? Is that any way to start a report on the dangerous game being played by Republicans? Geeze.

Obviously, the President didn’t call anyone crazy, but he did say this:

All this would be funny if it wasn’t so crazy.  And a lot of it is just hot air.  A lot of it is just politics.  I understand that.  But now the tea party Republicans have taken it to a whole new level because they’re threatening either to shut down the government, or shut down the entire economy by refusing to let America pay its bills for the first time in history — unless I agree to gut a law that will help millions of people.

If Jonathan Karl had included that soundbite in his report, the public would have learned something important. But he didn’t, so they didn’t. What they learned was that the President called his opponents crazy, which he clearly didn’t do.

In any case, Karl pivoted to the Republican Party, who, he said, were “willing to go to the brink,” by making a lot of policy demands in exchange for a deal. He also used Jon Stewart to take a jab at Ted Cruz.

Then Karl accurately reported that the White House, sensibly, said it will not negotiate over the debt ceiling, but the reporter put his own ridiculous Beltway spin on it:

Over at the White House, they’ve decided the best way to strike a deal is not to try…Instead of negotiating, they are name-calling. Today one of the President’s top aides said of Republicans, quote, “What we’re not for is negotiating with people with a bomb strapped to their chest,” while Senator Ted Cruz compared those willing to fund ObamaCare with those who appeased the Nazis in the 1940s. That’s where we are, Dianne.

And there you have it. Both sides are equally unreasonable. Both sides are crass name-callers. Karl thinks, and wants his viewers to think, that both sides are engaging in “absurdities”—his word—and therefore both sides are guilty, should the government shut down or should we suffer an economic calamity related to not raising the debt ceiling.

That, my friends, is why Republicans in the House and Senate feel free to play dangerous games with the economy and the stability of the American financial system. That is why they are not afraid to fanatically embrace both their ignorance and ideology and use them to cause chaos in the capital. They understand that, when things turn sour, the Jonathan Karls of journalism will do their best to spread the blame around.

In the meantime, President Obama said on Thursday that as long as he is president,

The Affordable Care Act is here to stay. 

All we are really waiting on now, as Senator Patty Murray said today, is which hostage the Republicans are going to take in order to get their way: the government or the economy, or both. And if one or both of the hostages get shot, count on Beltway journalists to tell the public that the hostage-takers and the hostage-rescuers are both guilty of the crime.

What Would Ronaldus Magnus Do?

The segment below from Saint Rachel Maddow pretty much says it all about the irresponsibility of not raising the debt ceiling and how none other than Ronald Reagan dealt with the half-nuts in his own party who thought about using the threat of default as a political instrument in the 1980s. Democrats should talk about this, leftish bloggers should post this, liberal columnists should write about this, until we are safely, if we can get safely, past this artificial, ideologically-inspired crisis.

And by the way, Democrats should dope-slap the next dumb-ass journalist who says John Boehner an Mitch McConnell have “tough jobs.” They don’t. People who shovel asphalt for a living without health insurance have tough jobs. There ain’t a damn thing tough about keeping the country from defaulting, from stopping the ideological terrorists from blowing up the economy.

All Boehner has to do is allow a clean debt-ceiling bill to come to a vote in the House—it will pass with Democratic votes and a handful of sane Republicans—and all McConnell has to do is tell his Tea Party colleagues to STFU and let the bill pass, all the while encouraging yet another handful of sane Republicans to vote with Democrats to overcome a filibuster.

After all, the worst that can happen to either of them—loss of their jobs—is nothing compared to what will happen to the country if the suicide bombers get close enough to the full faith and credit of the United States to blow it up.

And if the two Republican leaders aren’t patriotic enough to risk their government jobs for the well-being of the country, may they be forever cursed with listening to never-ending audio loops of IQ-killing Sarah Palin and Ivy League-deflating Ted Cruz defending Jesus-loving Rush Limbaugh’sgreat time in the Dominican Republic,” compliments of a secret supply of Satan-sanctioned, sausage-swelling, slut-seducing Viagra. Amen.

Watch:

Roy Blunt And Republicans About To Exploit Public Ignorance

MSNBC’s star right-winger Joe Scarborough was all excited this morning about the fact that the chaos and confusion Republicans have been causing in Washington has finally started to pay dividends in the form of low approval ratings for the President:

obama job approval sept 2013

“Things are actually breaking our way for the first time in a couple of years,” Scarborough said of conservatives. Except things are not breaking their way. Bloomberg News, reporting on its own poll a few days ago, said the numbers for both Obama and the Republicans “are the worst ever for both.” So Scarborough was simply out of his mind.

But speaking of delusional thinking, perhaps the weirdest, most disconcerting moment on Morning Joe this morning was when Scarborough highlighted this frightening Bloomberg poll result:

debt ceiling result bloomberg

What was weird and disconcerting about the presentation of this particular poll result on Morning Joe was that no one seemed to be frightened by it. And if this poll result doesn’t frighten you, doesn’t scare the Cruz out of you, then you don’t understand what fooling around with not raising the debt ceiling will mean. (Go here to find out and then get really scared, and pissed, about the dangerous ignorance reflected in that Bloomberg poll.)

This dangerous ignorance on the part of the American people—which is partly the result of journalistic malpractice—would be harmless if it weren’t for the fact that it will undoubtedly encourage unhinged Republicans to exploit such ignorance and really push the United States into default, if they don’t get what they want. Just today Politico reported:

A large number of Senate and House Republicans are raising the threat of a debt default to curtail, delay or defund President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement. It’s a major gamble — risking the prospect of a first-ever default on U.S. debt — but it’s one seriously being considered by the same Republicans who have refused to join Cruz’s filibuster attempt of the stopgap spending bill to keep the government running.

Not only that, Politico noted that Speaker Boehner “has compiled a debt hike bill with a bunch of goodies that they think House Republicans will vote for, and red state Senate Democrats won’t want to avoid.”

People may think Ted Cruz is a wild-eyed extremist—and he is—but the only thing that distinguishes him from the rest of the Republican Party in Congress is that he and a few others are wild-eyed anti-establishment extremists. The rest of them are wild-eyed establishment extremists who are willing to risk the full faith and credit of the United States to achieve what they could not achieve in the last election: ideological victory.

After not supporting the weird attempt by Ted Cruz to defund ObamaCare via a continuing resolution on the budget, Missouri’s Roy Blunt told Politico:

The debt ceiling provides more of an opportunity to get something than the [continuing resolution] does.

Got it? Using the threat of debt-default, using the threat of economic chaos here and around the world, dynamiting the full faith and credit of the United States, is an “opportunity to get something” says Roy Blunt.

This is dangerous territory. This is alarming stuff. This is Republican politics.

Three Things Democrats Should Say To The Ideological Terrorists Among Us

It appears Democrats are ready to fight and not back down this time.

First Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called them “anarchists.” Then House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called them “legislative arsonists.” And on Saturday night President Obama, visibly energized to do battle with Republicans in Congress, said the following at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Phoenix Awards Dinner:

You look at it right now — the other day, House Republicans voted to cut $40 billion in nutritional aid for struggling families at the same time as some of the same folks who took that vote are receiving subsidies themselves. So farm subsidies for folks at the top are okay; help feeding your child is somehow not.

I know the CBC, led by outstanding Chairwoman Marcia Fudge, fought hard to protect those programs that keep so many children from going hungry. And now we’re seeing an extreme faction of these folks convincing their leadership to threaten to shut down the government if we don’t shut down the Affordable Care Act. Some of them are actually willing to see the United States default on its obligations and plunge this country back into a painful recession if they can’t deny the basic security of health care to millions of Americans.

Now, I think — this is an interesting thing to ponder, that your top agenda is making sure 20 million people don’t have health insurance. And you’d be willing to shut down the government and potentially default for the first time in United States history because it bothers you so much that we’re actually going to make sure that everybody has affordable health care.

Let me say as clearly as I can: It is not going to happen. We have come too far. We’ve overcome far darker threats than those. We will not negotiate over whether or not America should keep its word and meet its obligations. We’re not going to allow anyone to inflict economic pain on millions of our own people just to make an ideological point. And those folks are going to get some health care in this country — we’ve been waiting 50 years for it.

Democrats in Washington should repeat President Obama’s three lines every time they are asked about the issue:

“It is not going to happen.”

“We will not negotiate over whether or not America should keep its word and meet its obligations.”

“We’re not going to allow anyone to inflict economic pain on millions of our own people just to make an ideological point.”

We’re about a week away from the end of the fiscal year, which is the first if-Democrats-don’t-give-them-what-they-want-Republicans-will-kill-the-hostage deadline. Soon after will come the debt ceiling deadline. We shall see whether Democrats do in fact negotiate with the hostage-takers in the Republican Party or finally decide to say enough is enough. I don’t believe Republican leadership is stupid enough to ultimately do what they are threatening to do, but I do believe they can move the debate much further to the right, and thus move the end result much further to the right, than Democrats should accept.

Don’t fall for it, Democrats. Don’t allow ideological terrorists—what else do you call people who, as President Obama said, want “to inflict economic pain on millions of our own people just to make an ideological point”?—to win even the smallest battle in the war they started in 2011. Just keep repeating:

“It is not going to happen.”

“We will not negotiate over whether or not America should keep its word and meet its obligations.”

“We’re not going to allow anyone to inflict economic pain on millions of our own people just to make an ideological point.”

The Adult Republican Argument?

Nicolle Wallace was a senior adviser to John McCain’s campaign in 2008. She tried hard to sell Sarah Palin to non-gullible Americans and to put Palin’s muddled mind one McCain-heartbeat away from the presidency. That alone ought to keep her off TV for at least a decade. But Wallace is becoming something of a regular on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. She gets credit, these days, for not being one of those crazy Republicans we are used to seeing on TV, like, uh, Sarah Palin.

nicole wallace on msnbcWallace represents what some in the media are fond of calling the “adults” in the Republican Party. This morning she was explaining how politically dumb it is for Republicans like Ted Cruz to insist on going all-in on defunding ObamaCare. Pay close attention to her reasoning here because it constitutes the adult thinking in the GOP:

I have a two-year-old and sometimes when he’s on his scooter he wants to cross the street even when the light is red…it is your job as the parent to hold the child and the scooter from running into traffic ’cause he would get squished. It is the job of the adults in the Republican Party to tell—there is grass roots support in this country, among Republicans, among conservatives, among Tea Party members, to do this…Obama’s health care is incredibly unpopular, so Ted Cruz is responding to what is a genuine sentiment out there. However, when Republicans run into the street, despite the fact that there’s a flashing red light, they’re gonna get hit by the cars and killed. So this is stupid politically, this is stupid at a policy level because as the great Charles Krauthammer said, it has no chance of succeeding. This is Obama’s health care law, this is Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement, so they’re going to fail. 

So, we are at a moment…most of the country is pretty disillusioned with President Obama’s leadership on the world stage, a majority of Americans do not like his signature domestic achievement, which is the health care law. We’re actually at a moment, as Republicans, where even Bernie Sanders has described our party as “on the offense,” and now we’re going to let our party to run into moving traffic against a red light. It’s idiotic.

That pretty much represents what you hear from Republicans who don’t like what Cruz and other maniacs are trying to get their party to do regarding the defunding of the Affordable Care Act.

For clarification and enlightenment, let me summarize the adult Republican argument this way:

We Republicans are playing a good offensive game right now. We’ve helped make Obama look bad “on the world stage” by aggressively criticizing every move he makes, no matter what it is; we’ve exploited people’s ignorance about ObamaCare to the point where lots of Americans now don’t like the law, even though they admit they don’t know what’s in the law. That’s how brilliant we have been on this thing. A majority of Americans don’t understand the Affordable Care Act, but know they don’t like it, some even hate it, because we have aggressively attacked it night and day. So, why muck up all that good work we’ve done? We Republicans have Obama on the ropes, he’s going down on the canvas anyway, why risk pissing off the crowd now?

If you think that is a misleading characterization of the argument that Wallace and other Republicans are making, you haven’t been paying attention the last five years. Republicans have done all they can to destroy Obama’s presidency domestically, and now they take great delight in thinking that they have weakened him around the world. This is all, and I mean all, about politics, particularly crass and cynically opportunistic politics.

Nicolle Wallace didn’t breathe a word about what the shutdown of the federal government would mean to Americans, including those who work for the government and those—all of us—who depend on it for services. She never bothered to mention how damaging it would be for us to once again flirt with not paying our bills, including our creditors. She never discussed how a default would, in the words of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, be an “extremely dangerous and likely recovery-ending event.” She never noted how domestic interest rates would go up, making it hard for businesses seeking credit to expand, as well as making it difficult for consumers seeking credit to purchase cars and homes. She failed to explain how our national credit worthiness would take yet another hit at the hands of Republicans, resulting in higher financing costs for our nearly $17 trillion debt, which will then eat up more of the budget and cause Tea Party Republicans to demand even more draconian cuts in government spending—the ultimate goal of these ideological freaks.

No, all she essentially explained was that her party is doing okay right now with all the demonization of the President, all the dysfunction in Congress, and all the distrust in government these tactics have created among the American people. At such a shining moment for the GOP, she argues, Republicans shouldn’t push their luck.

That’s some adult argument.

Anarchy, The Republicans’ “War On Everyone,” And The Folly Of Beltway Journalists

I watched this morning as John Boehner, not content with leading a GOP war against women, minorities, and LGBT citizens, announced a War on Everyone! House Republicans will, by God, defund ObamaCare or shut down the government or blow up the economy or both! Yippee! say TV and print journalists and pundits everywhere, who love the “gamesmanship” and “brinkmanship” angle of these stories, as opposed to accurately and frequently reporting on exactly who has the dynamite in their hands.

Boehner said:

We’re going to continue to do everything we can to repeal the president’s failed health care law.

Since I have a habit of taking extremists at their word, I believe “everything” means, well, “everything.”

I also had the great pleasure of watching C-SPAN this morning as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid more than once referred to House members as “anarchists,” and also said about “forty percent” of Senate Republicans were anarchists, too. He also said this:

We’re now waiting to see what the House of Representatives is going to do, how absurd it’s going to be, what they’re going to send us. We know it’s going to be something really strange and weird because the speaker has to do everything he can to mold a piece of legislation that will meet the needs of the tea party — the anarchists — and I say that without any equivocation. They do not want government to work on any level.

Finally someone in the Democratic Party leadership has described in one word, one wonderful word, what Tea Party Republicanism is all about.

For his part, although it was lost in all the wall-to-wall (and mostly inaccurate) coverage of the Navy Yard tragedy, President Obama had something to say on Monday about the dangerous strategy that John Boehner today confirmed Republicans would pursue:

Congress’s most fundamental job is passing a budget.  And Congress needs to get it done without triggering another crisis, without shutting down our government, or worse — threatening not to pay this country’s bills.  After all the progress that we’ve made over these last four and a half years, the idea of reversing that progress because of an unwillingness to compromise or because of some ideological agenda is the height of irresponsibility.  It’s not what the American people need right now…

I cannot remember a time when one faction of one party promises economic chaos if it can’t get 100 percent of what it wants.  That’s never happened before.  But that’s what’s happening right now. 

You have some Republicans in the House of Representatives who are promising to shut down the government at the end of this month if they can’t shut down the Affordable Care Act.  And if that scheme doesn’t work, some have suggested they won’t pay the very bills that Congress has already run up, which would cause America to default on its debt for the first time in our history and would create massive economic turmoil.  Interest rates on ordinary people would shoot up.  Those kinds of actions are the kinds of actions that we don’t need…

But in case there’s any confusion, I will not negotiate over whether or not America keeps its word and meets its obligations. I will not negotiate over the full faith and credit of the United States.  This country has worked too hard for too long to dig out of a crisis just to see their elected representatives here in Washington purposely cause another crisis. 

Let’s stop the threats.  Let’s stop the political posturing. Let’s keep our government open.  Let’s pay our bills on time.  Let’s pass a budget.  Let’s work together to do what the American people sent us here to do:  create jobs, grow our economy, expand opportunity.  That’s what we need to do.

Meanwhile, even as Speaker Boehner ignored Obama’s unequivocal, “I will not negotiate over the full faith and credit if the United States,” as well as his plea to “stop the threats,” and with the threat of sabotaging the entire economy hanging over our heads, I have heard and read several political journalists attack the President. Yes, attack the President.

These political journalists, from New York to D.C. and beyond, are strange folks who are fascinated not by policy matters—which affect everyday people in the country—but by process matters—which don’t affect anyone but do provide something for the chattering class to chatter about. They have relentlessly criticized the President for his “messaging problem,” for not winning enough PR victories, for “dithering” and looking “indecisive” over Syria, among other things.

From Andrea Mitchell to Chuck Todd to Mark Halperin to John Heilemann to Ruth Marcus to Maureen Dowd, the columnist other journalists and TV personalities love to quote, I have heard the equivalent of Dowd’s recent claim, which she has repeated frequently, that the President’s style is not up to the job, that he “cannot seem to connect anymore.”

This morning, after Dowd’s ridiculous column was cited on MSNBC several times, I heard the new managing editor of Time magazine, Nancy Gibbs, say that the President seems “off his game.” Huh? This is a game? All this stuff is just a PR sport for Beltway insiders, including journalists and politicians, to opine on, when the Great Black Communicator is perceived as not getting the message just right by Washington, D.C.’s, or Marureen Dowd’s, standards? Oh, Allah.

And we wonder why it is that Republicans feel emboldened, and if you listen to right-wing radio, they now feel giddy and emboldened, to carry out a plot to dynamite the economy in order to destroy Obama and ObamaCare.

Finally, I heard CNN’s John King say today that Boehner has one of the toughest jobs in Washington. Are you kidding? You mean it is tough to decide between blowing up the country and not blowing up the country? Is that tough? Is that a close call?

Apparently it is in the mind of journalists like John King.

Republican Mission: “Destroy The Place”

I have recently heard liberals refer to the current covey of conservatives in Congress, especially in the House of Representatives, as a “do nothing” group, ruling over the Party of No, whose members are not interested in getting anything done.

Nothing could be further from the truth. What we are seeing, day after day, and month after month, and now year after year, is a group of fanatics carrying out their mission, in many cases their “God-given” mission, to destroy the notion of a “federal” government, one that can serve to unify this otherwise disparate land by looking out for the well-being of all Americans. In the news now is talk of another battle over the debt ceiling and yet another threat of a government shutdown by these fanatics. The mission is ongoing.

Let me quote something to you a long-time Republican, John Dean, said about what is going on:

Conservative antigovernment philosophy works best when conservatives are in the minority, for they then have no responsibility to accomplish anything. In that position they are very good at obstructionism and using their minority status to make the Democrats look bad. This, in fact, is how they won control of Congress in 1994…Republicans achieved that victory by doing their best over the course of a number of years to destroy the place and then put the blame for it on the Democrats. Because the tactic worked so successfully, they are again reverting to this mode of behavior.

Now, John Dean didn’t write that yesterday. He didn’t write that in response to the latest debt-ceiling threats by extremist Republicans. He wrote that way back in 2007, before the term “Tea Party” was on the lips of anyone, before radicals in the Republican Party took over control of the House of Representatives and began the process of subverting good governance, the kind that benefits all the people, not just the wealthy few.

“We should not be judged on how many new laws we create,” said John Boehner, leader of the House fanatics, “We ought to be judged by how many laws we repeal.” That was on Sunday. Today we learn that Congress’ approval is at an all time low—83% disapprove of the “job” they are doing—and that the public is also losing confidence in President Obama—his job-approval number fell to its lowest mark in two years. That last datum is no accident. It is an accomplishment. It is something the “do nothing” Republicans are doing very well: bringing down Obama, as they destroy people’s faith in the possibility of good governance.

Today The New York Times reports:

Congressional Republicans are moving to gut many of President Obama’s top priorities with the sharpest spending cuts in a generation and a new push to hold government financing hostage unless the president’s signature health care law is stripped of money this fall.

In the Senate, as approvingly reported by none other than Glenn Beck, Mike Lee, a fanatic from Utah, is hard at work destroying ObamaCare—and with it good governance—by recruiting his fellow fanatics to help him:

Fifteen Republican senators, including Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Ted Cruz (Texas), John Cornyn (Texas), Rand Paul (Ky.), James Inhofe (Okla.), David Vitter (La.), Roger Wicker (Miss.), John Thune (S.D.), and Chuck Grassley (Iowa), plan to block a continuing resolution to keep the government funded beyond Sept. 30 if it includes funding for Obamacare.

How do you deal with such fanatics? If you were President Obama what approach would you take?

This morning on two different cable networks, MSNBC and CNN, I heard the same outrageous suggestion from Joe Scarborough and Chris Cuomo, respectively: why isn’t the President providing leadership? Why doesn’t he do something about the gridlock? Why doesn’t he make a deal with Republicans?

The ridiculous implication, of course, is that there is something he can do, some magic wand he could wave that would make fanatics in the House and Senate stop waging jihad against him and the federal government. The Founders settled that matter a long time ago when they wrote the potential for gridlock—the separation of powers—into the Constitution.

So, there is little the President can do until the American people come to their senses and stop electing anti-government fanatics. In the latest polling, there is a tiny bit of good news, as reported by NBC:

…there are signs that Republicans are shouldering more of the blame for the situation in the nation’s capital: just 22 percent say they believe the GOP is interested in unifying the country in a bipartisan way, versus 45 percent who say the same about Obama.

It is up to Democrats, since the mainstream press is unwilling to point out the obvious, to keep explaining to the public just how radical are Republicans in Congress, just how they are attempting to undermine faith in Washington, how they are, in old-school Republican John Dean’s words, trying “to destroy the place.”

And speaking of Dean, he ended his great book, Broken Government, with a quote from “an old friend from the Nixon White House,” a “lifelong Republican” who “voted for Bush and Cheney twice,” who would only speak off the record:

Just tell your readers that you have a source who knows a lot about the Republican Party from long experience, that he knows all the key movers and shakers, and he has a bit of advice: People should not vote for any Republican, because they’re dangerous, dishonest, and self-serving. While I once believed that Governor George Wallace had it right, that there was not a dime’s worth of difference in the parties, that is no longer true. I have come to realize the Democrats really do care about people who most need help from government; Republicans care most about those who will only get richer because of government help…

Again, that was in, uh, 2007. Yikes.

Old Iconic Journalists Never Die, They Just Exaggerate

On CNN yesterday, Bob Woodward, an icon of American journalism, clearly suggested that he was threatened by someone, someone quite high up, in the White House for a column he wrote accusing President Obama—falsely, it turns out—of “moving the goal posts” in his dealings with Republicans over sequestration.

Today, we know that Bob Woodward, an icon of American journalism, has lost a lot of his, well, iconishness.

Woodward has told anyone who will listen, or read, that the sequester nonsense was the White House’s idea, personally approved by President Obama. Republicans and their supporters in right-wing media have, for once, loved Woodward’s reporting.

But what Woodward the iconic reporter doesn’t tell folks, at least very clearly, is that the sequester nonsense was sort of a last ditch effort to stop Republicans from destroying the country’s credit worthiness and wrecking the economy in August of 2011.

Lest we forget, the idea behind the sequester was to avoid for a time the debt ceiling issue and to present something so stunningly stupid that both sides would bend their wills to avoid it and a compromise could be reached. If Obama made a mistake, it was in underestimating the Republican leadership’s fondness for stupidity.

In any case, Woodward’s column last week included this falsehood:

So when the president asks that a substitute for the sequester include not just spending cuts but also new revenue, he is moving the goal posts.

Woodward claims that when Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell reached that now infamous deal in 2011, it “included an agreement that there would be no tax increases…” We know this is false for at least three reasons:

1) President Obama has always, since the fight with Republicans began, talked about the need to raise revenues, as part of a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction.

2) The law resulting from the deal (the Budget Control Act) contradicts Woodward’s claim, for reasons you can clearly see here.

3) Woodward’s own book on the subject, The Price of Politics, contradicts the Woodward talking and writing today, as Dave Weigel (“How Bob Woodward’s Book Debunks His Big Washington Post Op-Ed”) and others have pointed out.

All of which brings us to Woodward’s suggestion to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that some high Obama administration official threatened him, which CNN reported this way:

Bob Woodward says he was threatened by White House

Veteran journalist Bob Woodward said Wednesday he was threatened by a senior Obama administration official following his reporting on the White House’s handling of the forced federal spending cuts set to take effect on Friday.

Woodward would not reveal to Blitzer who the offender in the White House was that sent him this supposed threat in an email, but he did reveal the email he received to Politico, which reported it this way:

Digging into one of his famous folders, Woodward said the tirade was followed by a page-long email from the aide, one of the four or five administration officials most closely involved in the fiscal negotiations with the Hill. “I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today,” the official typed. “You’re focusing on a few specific trees that give a very wrong impression of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here. … I think you will regret staking out that claim.”

Woodward repeated the last sentence, making clear he saw it as a veiled threat. “ ‘You’ll regret.’ Come on,” he said. “I think if Obama himself saw the way they’re dealing with some of this, he would say, ‘Whoa, we don’t tell any reporter ‘you’re going to regret challenging us.’”

Today, of course, the alleged offender in the White House fought back. Again, from Politico this morning:

POLITICO’s “Behind the Curtain” column last night quoted Bob Woodward as saying that a senior White House official has told him in an email he would “regret” questioning White House statements on the origins of sequestration. The official in question is Gene Sperling, economic adviser to the president. The White House has since pushed back, saying the exchange was far more innocuous than Woodward claims.

Innocuous? Well, yes. Very innocuous as you will see when you read the email below (as well as Woodward’s response to it). But I want to first say that I have watched Bob Woodward’s appearances on MSNBC’s Morning Joe for a couple of years now, and the more I have heard him talk, the more I have noticed that he seems to enjoy being “the story” more than the storyteller, and this sad episode appears to confirm that.

Here is the email, via Politico, from Gene Sperling, Director of the National Economic Council for President Obama, followed by Woodward’s response:

February 22, 2013

Bob:

I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today. My bad. I do understand your problems with a couple of our statements in the fall — but feel on the other hand that you focus on a few specific trees that gives a very wrong perception of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here.

But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying that Potus asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim. The idea that the sequester was to force both sides to go back to try at a big or grand barain with a mix of entitlements and revenues (even if there were serious disagreements on composition) was part of the DNA of the thing from the start. It was an accepted part of the understanding — from the start. Really. It was assumed by the Rs on the Supercommittee that came right after: it was assumed in the November-December 2012 negotiations. There may have been big disagreements over rates and ratios — but that it was supposed to be replaced by entitlements and revenues of some form is not controversial. (Indeed, the discretionary savings amount from the Boehner-Obama negotiations were locked in in BCA: the sequester was just designed to force all back to table on entitlements and revenues.)

I agree there are more than one side to our first disagreement, but again think this latter issue is diffferent. Not out to argue and argue on this latter point. Just my sincere advice. Your call obviously.

My apologies again for raising my voice on the call with you. Feel bad about that and truly apologize.

Gene

From Woodward to Sperling on February 23, 2013:

Gene: You do not ever have to apologize to me. You get wound up because you are making your points and you believe them. This is all part of a serious discussion. I for one welcome a little heat; there should more given the importance. I also welcome your personal advice. I am listening. I know you lived all this. My partial advantage is that I talked extensively with all involved. I am traveling and will try to reach you after 3 pm today. Best, Bob

 

A Very Stupid Game

Via his press conference on Monday, President Obama has now at least tried to educate the people (journalists don’t help much, though) as to just how damaging a failure to raise the debt ceiling would be (“the consequences of us not paying our bills…would be disastrous“).

He has also tried to educate the people (again, with little help from journalists) as to what the debt ceiling actually is: paying for spending already authorized (“These are bills that have already been racked up and we need to pay them“).

The President also laid out the two choices that Republicans are offering him, neither of which he says he will accept:

And so what we’re not going to do is put ourselves in a position where in order to pay for spending that we’ve already incurred, that our two options are we’re either going to profoundly hurt the economy and hurt middle-class families and hurt seniors and hurt kids who are trying to go to college, or, alternatively, we’re going to blow up the economy.  We’re not going to do that.

Ain’t gonna happen, he said. Rather than those two damaging options, President Obama spells out the two options Republicans really have:

So we’ve got to pay our bills.  And Republicans in Congress have two choices here:  They can act responsibly, and pay America’s bills; or they can act irresponsibly, and put America through another economic crisis.  But they will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy.  The financial well-being of the American people is not leverage to be used.  The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip. 

And they better choose quickly, because time is running short. 

There you have it. They can act responsibly or irresponsibly. It’s their choice.  And the President says he will not be a party to their recklessness, should they choose that route.

Which is exactly why Republican leadership, despite their rhetoric now, will find a way to pivot away from this disastrous debt-ceiling talk and on to a fight over the upcoming budget resolution.

They realize that the President is willing to give them the rope to electorally hang themselves, and most of them don’t even want to feel the noose around their necks, let alone hang up there for all to see, their political bodies swinging in the wind of public disgust.

Finally, if you read the transcript of that press conference, you will see that President Obama didn’t exactly rule out any unilateral executive action to raise the debt ceiling, should Republicans refuse to do so. He was pressed on this issue and, while it sounded like he wouldn’t go down that road, he left himself enough room to do so to avoid what he called “disastrous consequences” or, as he quoted John Boehner, “a financial disaster, not only for us, but for the worldwide economy.”

And really, given such stakes, what else could he do?

Here are a few clues from his presser as to why he just might take action on his own (emphasis mine):

So to even entertain the idea of this happening — of the United States of America not paying its bills — is irresponsible.  It’s absurd.

__________________

…there are no magic tricks here.  There are no loopholes. There are no easy outs.  This is a matter of Congress authorizes spending.  They order me to spend…They lay all this out for me because they have the spending power.  And so I am required by law to go ahead and pay these bills. 

Separately, they also have to authorize the raising of the debt ceiling in order to make sure that those bills are paid.  And so, what Congress can’t do is tell me to spend X, and then say, but we’re not going to give you the authority to go ahead and pay the bills. 

__________________

You do not go out to dinner and then eat all you want, and then leave without paying the check. And if you do, you are breaking the law.

__________________

And the notion that Republicans in the House, or maybe some Republicans in the Senate, would suggest that “in order for us to get our way on our spending priorities, that we would risk the full faith and credit of the United States” — that I think is not what the Founders intended.  That’s not how I think most Americans think our democracy should work. 

__________________

What I will not do is to have that negotiation with a gun at the head of the American people — the threat that “unless we get our way, unless you gut Medicare or Medicaid, or otherwise slash things that the American people don’t believe should be slashed, that we’re going to threaten to wreck the entire economy.”  That is not how historically this has been doneThat’s not how we’re going to do it this time.

Obviously, President Obama cannot come out and say directly that he will not, as America’s chief executive, let the country default on its obligations. If he did so, it would empower Republicans to not raise the debt ceiling and then blame him for the unilateral action (some on the right have already suggested impeachment, should he do so).

So he has to play this part of this very stupid game with his cards close to his chest.

 

The Magic Penny

Love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.

It’s just like a magic penny,
Hold it tight and you won’t have any.
Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many
They’ll roll all over the floor.

—”Magic Penny,” words and music by Malvina Reynolds

Okay. Now it’s getting serious. Paul Krugman has blogged about it.

The “it” is what I will call, as a tribute to the great Malvina Reynolds, the Magic Penny, but what those in the know are calling Platinum Coin Seigniorage. It has to do with the Treasury Department ordering the U.S. Mint to issue, say, a $1 trillion platinum coin and then depositing it in the government’s account and using the “seigniorage profits” (the difference between the face value of the coin and the cost to produce it) to do things like, oh, pay bills.

It’s one way to get around the GOP’s willingness to wreck the economy by threatening not to meet all of our nation’s obligations.

Now, you can go read about it and make up your own mind, but here is why, if Mr. Obama is going to do something extraordinary to avoid Republican threats not to raise the debt ceiling, I prefer the option involving the Fourteenth Amendment, which I have mentioned before (and which the President obviously is reluctant, very reluctant, to use).

Here is my reason for that preference: Using Section 4 of that amendment will throw Republicans into such a tizzy that it will make their birtherism seem sane. They will thus spend all of their free time figuring out how to, first, impeach the President, then, second, how to convict him if they do. It will tie them up for months and months and bring out the crazies for all, and by “all” I mean the non-Fox-watching public, to see.

In the mean time, President Obama has absolutely nothing to fear from getting convicted in the Senate, and, as the impeachment of and failure to convict Bill Clinton demonstrates, Obama will be more popular than ever when it is all done!

It’s a real win-win!

Senator Rand Paul’s Blueprint For Debt-Ceiling Turmoil

Yesterday morning I wrote a depressing post largely about the upcoming fight over the debt ceiling. I said,

I believe that there is a contingent of Republicans in both the House and Senate who believe the thing to do to fix the country is to ruin it first.

Oh, I know some of you thought that was a bit of hyperbole, a little overstatement for effect. Oh, yeah? Last night, on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox, I watched this exchange between a very strange Sean Hannity and a very strange but also dangerously strange, Senator Rand Paul:

HANNITY: Where do we go with the debt ceiling? Are Republicans gonna take the stand, that I don’t see any Democrats taking, are they gonna be willing to shut the government down, really take a stand and demand that Washington be responsible?

PAUL: There is a way to do it without scaring the markets, and we tried to do this last time and we’re gonna try again. And what we do is we need to pass legislation that says, “the tax revenue that comes in will go to pay for the interest on the debt, pay for Social Security, pay for the soldiers’ salaries,” but it won’t fund all of government. So we will continue to pay our bills, but we may be able to extend that deadline then, the longer we extend it the more pressure we would put on the President to say he would come to the table with us and help us fix entitlements.

But the only way he’ll ever do it is if we actually go through the deadline but give him instructions that he takes tax receipts and he doesn’t default on the debt. Then we wouldn’t scare the markets, and I think then we would increase our leverage with every day we went beyond the deadline.

If that kind of ejaculatory talk doesn’t scare people—talk that comes through the lips of a United States Senator for God’s sake—if it doesn’t scare “the markets,” then the country is in a very bad way.

But besides trying to get your head around the fact that a sitting U.S. Senator would be willing to play such games with the fiscal fate of the country, think about how delusional is the Republican senator from Kentucky. His plan to force the president—excuse me, “give him instructions” was the language Paul used—involves an act of Congress. Paul said, “what we do is we need to pass legislation,” and presumably, unless Paul has yet another plan to suspend the Constitution, any legislation passed (forget that the scheme would not get through the Democrat-controlled Senate) must be signed by the President to become law.

Now, surely even Sean Hannity is sharp enough to figure out that the President, even if the 55 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus were hypnotized and voted for Rand’s plan, would not sign such a bill, right? Surely, Hannity was ready to challenge Senator Paul on his ridiculous scheme, right?

Come on, you know better than that. Hannity was himself ready to ejaculate at the prospect of such a thing:

HANNITY: But for that to happen, Senator, that means every Republican in the House and every Republican senator is going to need to be united—and I would argue to save the country…so, will the Republicans go through with it?

PAUL: Well, there are going to be repercussions if we don’t do anything, and I hope we will wake up and come to our senses and do something. I for one will stand firm. I will not vote to raise the debt ceiling unless we get a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution because so far I’ve seen no objective evidence to trust these people. They blow through all of their caps; they set spending limits, but they go beyond them. They are not trustworthy with money or very good with it, so we shouldn’t give ‘em more money. We should cut spending and make government smaller.

HANNITY: Alright. Well, Senator, I’m with you. Hold strong. If we’re gonna save America, save this country, and stop robbing from our kids, that’s the only way to do it, so, we’re gonna need people that our leaders like yourself, so keep up the good work.

PAUL: Absolutely.

Ejaculations complete. In order to save America, we have to ruin it first.

What Rand Paul did was reveal the thoughtlessness and recklessness behind the Republican’s debt-ceiling threat, not to mention the utter disregard for the nation’s well-being behind their threat to shut down the government.

Paul also revealed how dishonest a man he is. He first said the exercise of shutting down parts of the government were meant to put “pressure” on President Obama so that,

 he would come to the table with us and help us fix entitlements.

Isn’t that nice? These caring Republicans just want to “fix” Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, that’s all. They care about these things deeply, as their vote two years ago on Paul Ryan’s kill-Medicare-as-we-know-it-and-cut-the-hell-out-of-Medicaid budget demonstrated. To the extent this whole thing is even about these so-called entitlements, what Republicans want, of course, is for Democrats to get in bed with them and undertake a bipartisan screwing of the beneficiaries of these programs.

But fixing entitlements is not what this is really about for people like Rand Paul. And he said so himself, not only by revealing that he would not vote to raise the debt limit without a balanced budget amendment—which he knows is not going to happen—but also by revealing, perhaps in a spasm of passion as he reached his climax with Hannity, his real purpose:

We should cut spending and make government smaller.

That’s it, you see. Making government smaller, a lot smaller, is the real goal here. That’s what all the fuss is about. That’s what Rand Paul’s and other Republicans’ call for a balanced budget amendment really means. They would simply slash government spending in order to balance it with the pint-sized revenues that Republicans are willing to accept.

Rand Paul knows that any real reform of Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid would not make “government smaller.” Genuine reforms would only slow the growth of the programs. They and government would still, of necessity, get bigger, as the boomer population ages and as ObamaCare insures more poor Americans.

What Senator Paul and Sean Hannity together demonstrated was just how unhinged right-wingers are, as they stroke each other on television for their own pleasure and for the pleasure of other radicals who have become the heart and soul of the Republican Party.

The Trinity Of Turmoil And The End Of The Republican Party

tur·moila state of great commotion, confusion, or disturbance

by now everyone who cares has heard several prominent Republicans absorb their fiscal cliff “defeat” by telling themselves, and the public, that the real fight is yet to come:

♦ over the debt ceiling ($16.394 trillion), which we technically exceeded earlier this week;

♦ over the sequester, those automatic cuts in spending that “would have a devastating impact on important defense and nondefense programs,” according to the White House and others who know what’s at stake;

♦ and over what is known as a continuing budget resolution, which is a short-term, ad hoc way of funding the things government does (the current one is good until March 27).

Let’s call these things the Trinity of Turmoil.

Now, let me give you just one example of Republican rhetoric related to this unholiest of trinities. This one is from Sen. Lindsey Graham, talking a few weeks ago on a Sunday show on Fox and responding to President Obama’s statement that he will not play the debt-ceiling game:

GRAHAM: In February or March you have to raise the debt ceiling. And I can tell you this, there is a hardening on the Republican side. We’re not going to raise the debt ceiling. We’re not going to let Obama borrow any more money or any American Congress borrow any more money until we fix this country from becoming Greece. That requires significant entitlement reform to save Social Security from bankruptcy and Medicare from bankruptcy. Social Security is going bankrupt in about 20, 25 years. Medicare is going bankrupt in 15 or 20 years. [...]

Yes, we will play that game, Mr. President, because it’s not a game. The game you’re playing is small ball. You’re talking about raising rates on the top 2% that would run the government for 11 days. You just got reelected. How about doing something big that is not liberal? How about doing something big that really is bipartisan? Every big idea he has is a liberal idea that drowns us in debt. How about manning up here, Mr. President and use your mandate to bring this country together to stop us from becoming Greece.

Forget that nonsense about “we will play the game…because it’s not a game.” (What the hell does that mean anyway?) But that Greece motif has become quite popular among Republicans. I hear them use it all the time. It sounds really scary. And it’s supposed to sound that way, since what Republicans are proposing to do to the country is much, much scarier and they want to camouflage as much of it as possible.

Let’s think really hard about what it is that Lindsey Graham said:

We’re not going to raise the debt ceiling.

He said that. He said that Republicans are not going to pay the nation’s bills, most of them being bills that Republicans have racked up over the years. He actually said that.

I watched Senator Pat Toomey on Morning Joe yesterday morning say this:

Our opportunity here is on the debt ceiling. The president’s made it very clear, he doesn’t even want to have a discussion about it because he knows this is where we have leverage.

Leverage? Ultimately the leverage he is talking about is the well-being of the economy, ours and perhaps the world. That’s his leverage. He is really saying that he will threaten at least the well-being of the nation, of you and me.

Toomey goes on:

We Republicans need to be willing to tolerate a temporary, partial government shutdown, which is what that could mean. And get off the road to Greece because that’s a road that we’re on right now. We can only solve this problem by getting spending under control and restructuring the entitlement programs. This president doesn’t want to go there. We’re going to have to force it, and we’re going to have to force it over the debt ceiling.

Ah, there’s that Greece thing again. As I said, Greece is meant to scare folks, what with all that Grecian rioting and turmoil we see once in awhile on our TVs. But what should really scare people is that Lindsey Graham and Pat Toomey and the other extremist Republicans who are talking this way really mean it. They aren’t kidding.

Toomey made it clear:

We absolutely have to have this fight over the debt limit.

I believe him. I believe that there is a contingent of Republicans in both the House and Senate who believe the thing to do to fix the country is to ruin it first.

I believe they will do it, if nothing else because they have to save face in front of their nutty electoral base, many of whom are pushing them to follow up the tough talk with action. Let me relate to you what one of those very influential wing-nut guys, Erick Erickson, wrote:

Have Republicans Boxed Themselves Into a Government Shutdown? First of all, I hope so…there are a number of Republicans who can expect primary challenges and need to show they have spines and will fight…Pat Toomey is already puffing his chest out in damage control to say the GOP must now be willing to shoot the hostage . . . er . . . shut it down for spending cuts…about the only thing the GOP can do to save face and look like they are serious is to be willing to shut it all down when Barack Obama refuses to negotiate.

See? “Save face.” I told ya. Nice stuff, no? But Erickson does say something important at the end:

The McConnell Tax Hike of 2013 has boxed the GOP in for the debt ceiling fight. If they can’t find a way to get real cuts without shutting the government down, there will be hell to pay if they cave without a shut down.

What’s important about that is this: In a weird way, Republicans agreeing to the deal on taxes to avoid the fiscal cliff has boxed them in for a fight over the debt ceiling. They don’t really have a choice, given what it is they currently stand for.

They claim, as Grover Norquist did yesterday, that they are all through with the revenue side of things. That only cutting remains. I heard Oklahoma Republican congressman Tom Cole say this morning that Democrats have had their dessert, now it’s time for the spinach.

But President Obama and the Democrats claim that the revenue side is still very much in play. That any deficit reduction will include additional revenues. So, unless Democrats are willing to slice the budget and entitlements without getting additional revenues, there is no place for Republicans to go but a shutdown of government and another downgrading of our credit rating and, well, fiscal chaos.

It’s important to understand what the Republican negotiating position is here. They are saying that in order for the country to avoid the Trinity of Turmoil, they have to get everything they want. Everything. And they are not going to give up anything to get it. Nothing. Democrats, they insist (as I heard Sen. Bob Corker insist this morning) must be willing to put on the table specific spending cuts, and spending cuts only. That’s it. That’s all they will listen to.

Thus, we all should prepare for the worst. And Democrats should be prepared, if it comes to it, to let Republicans self-destruct by trying to disrupt our economy and scare the bejesus out of people. As Erick Erickson suggested, this is a hostage situation, to be sure. Republicans are prepared, yet again, to hold the country’s well-being hostage and to shoot it if they have to. That’s what they mean by “leverage.” It can mean nothing else.

But this is a unique hostage situation. The hostage in this case cannot be killed, but only weakened. We will survive whatever it is that hostage-taking Republicans are prepared to do to us.

And through it all, we can be sure of one thing: we know the fate of every hostage taker in the end.

A Short-Term Win For Democrats, A Long-Term Loss For Democrats?

We’re making permanent tax policies Republicans originally crafted.”

—Dave Camp, the Republican chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives

Republicans, at least those not completely ravaged by ideological stupidity, have finally been willing to embrace their substantial victory over Democrats, a victory represented by the last-minute deal to make the once-infamous Bush tax cuts permanent.

Early on New Year’s Day, Senate Republicans saw the light and accepted a Biden-engineered but Obama-blessed “compromise,” and later on New Year’s Day House Republicans—those 85 or so who for one reason or another realized they have won the tax debate—did the same.

All the while, most Senate and House Democrats couldn’t wait to get in line to vote to accept the deal (only 3 voted “no” in the Senate and only 16 voted “no” in the House), which, among other things, makes the Bush tax cuts, I’ll say it again, permanent.

Perhaps we should stop here and get Merriam-Webster‘s definition of the word permanent:

continuing or enduring without fundamental or marked change.

That’s a lot of what happened on New Year’s Day.

I watched Grover Norquist, yes, Grover Bleeping Norquist, right in front of CNN, GOP Jesus, and everyone, bless his fellow Republicans as they were about to vote to do what conservatives a decade ago only dreamed of doing: making the Bush tax rate cuts permanent for 99.3% of taxpayers.*

Did you get that? Conservatives in 2001 and 2003 couldn’t even pull that off. When right-wingers passed the original Bush tax cuts, they were only for ten years. Obama extended them for two years just before they were due to expire at the end of 2010—under Republican threats to ruin the economic recovery—and now they have been made a part of the Democratic Party canon. Bragging rights for tax cuts now belong to Democrats, which they may eventually regret.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to extending the tax cuts for most Americans. We can’t afford to jeopardize the fragile economic recovery by removing almost $200 billion a year—that’s roughly the cost of extending the cuts for the 99.3%—from the mix.

But we also can’t afford to extend the full rate cuts for that entire 99.3% permanently—at a cost of $1.9 trillion over 10 years—as doing so will serve to support the “starve the beast” tactic that radical conservatives like Grover Norquist have employed as part of their strategy to turn the country into a 19th-century small-government, rich-man’s paradise.

As I see it, Democrats may have inadvertently aided the Norquistas in their quest to some day drown government, at least part of it, in Grover’s bathtub.

There are, of course, many good things in the package passed, including a five-year extension of the 2009 stimulus expansion of tax credits for the working poor and other tax credits for the needy, including families trying to get their kids in college.

Those on long-term unemployment will get an extension for another year; doctors who accept Medicare won’t get screwed in the next year; tax breaks for wind energy and corporate research are continuing for at least another year; the Alternative Minimum Tax will be permanently indexed to inflation; the Republican-stalled farm bill will get unstalled for nine months—enjoy your cheaper milk.

Most of what Democrats got they got without having to offer significant spending cuts, which would have hurt the economic recovery. All good.

But besides the permanence of the Bush tax cuts, there are other bad things in the deal. The estate tax, which beginning on January 1 returned to Clinton-era rates (estates valued at $1 million were exempted and estate transfers over that amount were taxed at 55%), is now permanently Republican-friendly: a $5 million ($10 million for a couple) estate exemption (indexed to inflation) and a top tax rate of 40%, which, as Chris Van Hollen (D-Md) said, is a “sweetheart giveaway to the wealthiest 7,200 estates in the country.”

Capital gains taxes, which enabled the Mitt Romneys of the world to enjoy millions of dollars in income and pay only 15% in taxes on it, will rise to a mere 20% (23.8% if Obamacare taxes are figured in) for those couples making more than $450,000 ($400,000 for individuals). So, if you are Mitt Romney, you will have to find a way to live without that extra dough. Somehow I think he’ll cope.

But he may not even have to worry about coping. Bloomberg Businessweek reported the following about the increased capital gains tax in the new bill:

Many households with incomes above $500,000 won’t face the higher rates at all, because deductions are subtracted from gross income before the rates are assessed.

Finally, the deal Joe Biden brokered with Mitch McConnell does nothing but delay a fight over the sequester and over the dreaded and fast-approaching fight over the debt ceiling that Republicans have pledged to use as a tool to force Democrats to cut entitlements. We are guaranteed to go through all this nonsense again, though this time it would threaten an economic crisis that would dwarf the one we just averted.

President Obama, in his statement after the House vote on Tuesday night, said this:

Now, one last point I want to make — while I will negotiate over many things, I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they’ve already racked up through the laws that they passed. Let me repeat: We can’t not pay bills that we’ve already incurred. If Congress refuses to give the United States government the ability to pay these bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy would be catastrophic — far worse than the impact of a fiscal cliff.

Even though the President went to some trouble to explain that he will not negotiate with Congress over yet another stalemate over the debt ceiling, it is hard to see how he can avoid it, especially since Obama’s press secretary took the “constitution option” off the table recently:

This administration does not believe that the 14th Amendment gives the president the power to ignore the debt ceiling — period.

Section 4 of that amendment says,

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payments of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.

Now, it is true that the President himself has not actually ruled out such a thing, saying this summer only that,

I have talked to my lawyers. They are not persuaded that that is a winning argument.

That statement, obviously, assumes court involvement. But any judiciary action—and some smart people believe the courts would not even get involved in this political matter—would require time. And Mr. Obama may conclude that by educating the public on the dire consequences of a failure to raise the debt ceiling, and given the extreme unpopularity of Republicans in Congress, that he will have plenty of latitude to do what needs to be do.

Additionally—and this may be the saving grace of this deal for Democrats—Obama said on Monday:

…if Republicans think that I will finish the job of deficit reduction through spending cuts alone — and you hear that sometimes coming from them, that sort of after today we’re just going to try to shove…spending cuts at us that will hurt seniors, or hurt students, or hurt middle-class families, without asking also equivalent sacrifice from millionaires or companies with a lot of lobbyists, et cetera — if they think that’s going to be the formula for how we solve this thing, then they’ve got another thing coming.  That’s not how it’s going to work.  We’ve got to do this in a balanced and responsible way.

That rather strong statement suggests that Obama has a definite strategy in mind for dealing with Republican threats to wreck the economy in order to get what they want.  If he does, and if his strategy is successful, the bad things in the fiscal cliff deal will not look so bad.

And let us hope that what Democrats have done—setting in stone tax cuts that have partly contributed to our fiscal problems—will not someday hinder them as they attempt to protect vital government programs from those who mean to drag the country back into the 18th century.

_____________________________

*For those couples earning between $250,000 and $450,000, less generous Clinton-era tax exemptions and deductions will return, which will increase their tax liability and likely satisfy President Obama’s insistence of tax increases for the “top 2 percent”; but the tax rate cuts themselves are permanent for those couples making under $450,000, which is less than 1% of taxpayers.

Why Republicans Get Away With It

Oddly, I will start this rather long and depressing critique of Sunday’s Meet the Press, hosted by Washington establishment journalist David Gregory, with something from another Sunday program, ABC’s This Week, which was hosted this morning by reporter Jonathan Karl.

At the every end of the program, Karl introduced the viewer-participation segment:

KARL: And finally, your voice this week. Today’s question comes from Christy Miller Johnson on Facebook, who says, “My 16-year-old has a Twitter account with 34,000-plus followers. Where do you see journalism heading in 15 years? What advice to the next generation of journalists would you give?”

Well, thank you for that question, Christy. I would say that regardless of what form Americans will get their news in 15 years or 20 years, my advice to the next generation of journalists is to remember the basics: Know your history, try to get your facts straight, always strive to be fair, and don’t be afraid to admit when you’ve made a mistake.

That’s pretty good advice for anyone, especially journalists. But let’s look a little closer at that “always strive to be fair” admonition, as it applies to reporters reporting the news.

Is it fair to report “both sides” of the flat-earth controversy? Of the moon-landing controversy? Of the age-of-the-earth controversy? Of the Barack Obama birth-certificate controversy?

How about of the fiscal-cliff controversy? Or the upcoming Round Two of the debt-ceiling controversy?

Keep that in mind as we plod through a few excerpts from Meet the Press. First up was an interview with President Obama, who, naturally, was asked about the fiscal cliff. Part of the President’s response included this:

OBAMA: …so far, at least, Congress has not been able to get this stuff done. Not because Democrats in Congress don’t want to go ahead and cooperate, but because I think it’s been very hard for Speaker Boehner and Republican Leader McConnell to accept the fact that taxes on the wealthiest Americans should go up a little bit, as part of an overall deficit reduction package.

Now, by all objective accounts, that is a fair assessment of the situation. The Democrats, much to the chagrin of folks like me, have been willing to give far too much at this stage just to get a “deal.” But David Gregory, because he subscribes to an embarrassingly false form of fairness, followed up with this unbelievably dumb question:

DAVID GREGORY: Well, you talk about dysfunction in Washington. You signed this legislation setting up the fiscal cliff 17 months ago. How accountable are you for the fact that Washington can’t get anything done and that we are at this deadline again?

That question is the equivalent of asking Mr. Obama how “accountable” he is for Donald Trump’s refusal to believe the President was born in Hawaii. It is an infuriating question because it ignores the reality that it was Republicans who held the country hostage in 2011, threatening to bring the whole economic house down over a phony debt ceiling “crisis,” if President Obama didn’t give them entitlement cuts.

At this point, because I’m afraid I’ll start using profane words, I’ll let the conversation continue with the President’s response:

OBAMA: Well, I have to tell you, David, if you look at my track record over the last two years, I cut spending by over a trillion dollars in 2011. I campaigned on the promise of being willing to reduce the deficit in a serious way, in a balanced approach of spending cuts and tax increases on the wealthy while keeping middle class taxes low.

I put forward a very specific proposal to do that. I negotiated with Speaker Boehner in good faith and moved more than halfway in order to achieve a grand bargain. I offered over a trillion dollars in additional spending cuts so that we would have $2 of spending cuts for every $1 of increased revenue. I think anybody objectively who’s looked at this would say that we have put forward not only a sensible deal but one that has the support of the majority of the American people, including close to half of Republicans.

GREGORY: But when they say–

OBAMA: And it’s–

GREGORY: –leadership falls on you, Mr. President, you don’t have a role here in–

OBAMA: Well–

GREGORY: –breaking this impasse? You’ve had a tough go with Congress.

OBAMA: David, at a certain point if folks can’t say yes to good offers, then I also have an obligation to the American people to make sure that the entire burden of deficit reduction doesn’t fall on seniors who are relying on Medicare. I also have an obligation to make sure that families who rely on Medicaid to take care of a disabled child aren’t carrying this burden entirely. I also have an obligation to middle class families to make sure that they’re not paying higher taxes when millionaires and billionaires are not having to pay higher taxes.

There is a basic fairness that is at stake in this whole thing that the American people understand and they listened to an entire year’s debate about it. They made a clear decision about the approach they prefer, which is a balanced, responsible package.

They rejected the notion that the economy grows best from the top down. They believe that the economy grows best from the middle class out. And at a certain point it is very important for Republicans in Congress to be willing to say, “We understand we’re not going to get 100%. We are willing to compromise in a serious way in order to solve problems,” as opposed to be worrying about the next election.

GREGORY: You said that Republicans have a hard time saying yes. Particularly to you.

OBAMA: Yeah.

GREGORY: What is it about you, Mr. President, that you think is so hard to say yes to?

I will interject here and point out how such a question muddles reality—not to mention demeans Mr. Obama—by placing the blame for reckless Republican rigidity on the President and not on recklessly rigid Republicans, which is how the recklessly rigid Republicans are able to get away with their recklessness.

It’s as if, in the birther context, Gregory had asked, “What is it about you, Mr. President, that you think makes some of your critics believe you’re not an American?”  It’s the kind of question that helps us understand what is wrong with high-profile journalists like David Gregory.

Here’s how the President responded:

OBAMA: That’s something you’re probably going to have to ask them, because David, you follow this stuff pretty carefully. The offers that I’ve made to them have been so fair that a lot of Democrats get mad at me. I mean I offered to make some significant changes to our entitlement programs in order to reduce the deficit.

I offered not only a trillion dollars in — over a trillion dollars in spending cuts over the next 10 years, but these changes would result in even more savings in the next 10 years. And would solve our deficit problem for a decade. They say that their biggest priority is making sure that we deal with the deficit in a serious way, but the way they’re behaving is that their only priority is making sure that tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are protected. That seems to be their only overriding, unifying theme.

And at some point I think what’s going to be important is that they listen to the American people.

Next, Gregory moved on to cover for Republicans in Congress on the issue of entitlements. As we all know, the GOP is hell-bent on cutting Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid benefits, but they want Democrats to do it for them, in some kind of “deal” that will shield the Republican Party from the electoral fallout.  Our Meet the Press host bravely ran offense for Republicans:

GREGORY: If this fight comes back– and I want to ask you specifically about entitlements. Medicare and Social Security. Are you prepared in the first year of your second term to significantly reform those two programs? To go beyond the cuts you’ve suggested to benefits in Medicare, which your own debt commission suggested you’d have to do if you were really going to shore up Medicare at least. Are you prepared to do that in your first year of the second term?

OBAMA: What I’ve said is I am prepared to do everything I can to make sure that Medicare and Social Security are there, not just for this generation but for future generations.

DAVID GREGORY: You’ve got to talk tough to seniors–

OBAMA: But–

GREGORY: –don’t you about this? And say, something’s got to give?

OBAMA: –but I already have, David, as you know, one of the proposals we made was something called chained CPI, which sounds real technical but basically makes an adjustment in terms of how inflation is calculated on Social Security. Highly unpopular among Democrats. Not something supported by AARP. But in pursuit of strengthening Social Security for the long-term I’m willing to make those decisions.

What I’m not willing to do is to have the entire burden of deficit reduction rest on the shoulders of seniors, making students pay higher student loan rates, ruining our capacity to invest in things like basic research that help our economy grow. Those are the things that I’m not willing to do. And so–

GREGORY: Would you commit to that first year of your second term getting significant reform done? Telling Congress, “We’ve got to do it in–“

OBAMA: No, no, no–

GREGORY: –“the first year?”

OBAMA: –but, David, I want to be very clear. You are not only going to cut your way to prosperity. One of the fallacies I think that has been promoted is this notion that deficit reduction is only a matter of cutting programs that are really important to seniors, students and so forth.

That has to be part of the mix, but what I ran on and what the American people elected me to do was to put forward a balanced approach. To make sure that there’s shared sacrifice. That everybody is doing a little bit more. And it is very difficult for me to say to a senior citizen or a student or a mom with a disabled kid, “You are going to have to do with less but we’re not going to ask millionaires and billionaires to do more.” That’s not something that we’re–

GREGORY: Can I ask you about–

OBAMA: That’s not an approach that the American people think is right. And, by the way, historically that’s not how we grow an economy. We grow an economy when folks in the middle, folks who are striving to get in the middle class, when they do well.

Forget for a moment all that disappointing stuff the President said, like the reference to a chain-weighted CPI, a concession that sounds completely unwarranted to my ears, and notice Gregory’s aggressive questioning based on Republican talking points, especially this:

GREGORY: You’ve got to talk tough to seniors, don’t you, about this? And say, something’s got to give?

What? It should be the President who has to “talk tough to seniors“? The President should tell seniors that “something’s got to give“? It seems to be that since a majority of seniors voted for Republican candidates in the last election (Romney won those over 65 by a 56-44 margin), it ought to fall upon the Republicans to talk tough to them and tell them something’s got to give.

But, no. In the mind of a wealthy, corporate-sponsored journalist like David Gregory, it should be the President and the Democrats who have to tell seniors, and other folks benefiting from social insurance and government programs, that they will have to cough up more so that Republicans can keep tax rates low on the wealthy.

Before I end this depressing critique, I want to note that the panelists on Meet the Press charged with talking head duties on this Sunday included no outspoken liberals. None. No one on the show was there to speak on behalf of progressive solutions to these problems. Not a single one.

Thus, I will end with a few excerpts from the roundtable discussion among the panelists, which included conservative columnist David Brooks, NBC News’ Chuck Todd and Tom Brokaw, and presidential historians Jon Meacham and Doris Kearns Goodwin.

David Gregory, unbelievably, made yet another ridiculous suggestion to the panel, based on his Obama interview:

GREGORY: My big take away, the president is setting a tone here with Republicans, putting them on notice that yes, taxes are going to go up, and that he’s going to drive a pretty hard bargain on a lot of different issues rather than try to bring them into the fold. He doesn’t feel like compromise is going to work at this point.

The President is “going to drive a pretty hard bargain“? Huh? Did Gregory even listen to Mr. Obama’s answers? Did he hear the words, “chained CP” ? Or, “I offered to make some significant changes to our entitlement programs in order to reduce the deficit” ?

And Gregory said Obama “doesn’t feel like compromise is going to work at this point.” Can you see how the context of Gregory’s suggestion places Obama in the position of the obstinate one? Wow.

To his credit, and only to his partial credit because he went on to say something equally as ridiculous as Gregory’s suggestion, David Brooks included in his response the following:

BROOKS: Now I think most of the blame still has to go to the Republicans. They’ve had a brain freeze since the election. They have no strategy. They don’t know what they want. And they haven’t decided what they want.

We can applaud Brooks for at least speaking a partial truth here. But then he goes on to utter the following nonsense that plays off Gregory’s blame-Obama theme:

BROOKS: But if I had to fault President Obama, I would say that sometimes he’s– governs like a– a visitor from a morally superior civilization. He comes in here and he will not– he– he’ll talk with Boehner, he won’t talk with the other Republicans. He hasn’t built the trust. Boehner actually made a pretty serious concession, 800 billion dollars in tax revenues, probably willing to go up on rates. But the trust wasn’t there to get that done. And if the president wants to get stuff done over the next four years, it’s got to be a lot more than making the intellectual concessions. It’s got– got to get to the place where Republicans say, okay, we’ll take a risk. This guy won’t screw us.

GREGORY: Mm-Hm.

Mm-Hm. Mm-bleeping-Hm. You get it? It’s not enough for this president to make “intellectual concessions.” Oh, no. That’s not enough. He’s got to somehow get this extremist group of Republicans to trust him! He’s got to have them over for lunch or, well, I’ll just let the wealthy journalist Tom Brokaw tell you:

BROKAW: To David’s point, I do really believe that the president doesn’t work hard enough at bringing everybody into the White House and rolling up his sleeves, having them in the living quarters, getting them around the table and saying how do we get this deal done. He didn’t talk downstream about tax reform, for example.

And I think it would have been helpful to him this morning to have said, look, we get this tax deal done, I’m here to help on Medicare and Social Security reforms. We’ve got to address those, instead of just saying I’m going to protect the seniors who are there and the Medicare and Medicaid recipients. Give a little something. Show good faith about what needs to be done on deficit reduction and the entitlement programs.

Can you believe this stuff? Tom Brokaw actually said that President Obama should tell Republicans he is “here to help” them cut Social Security and Medicare. “Give a little something,” the renowned establishment journalist insisted. “Show good faith about what needs to be done on deficit reduction and entitlement programs.” Are you kidding me? This is so outrageous it’s hard to write about it.

Again, the theme is that Obama is at fault. If he would only coddle this group of Republicans, give them the warm-and-fuzzy treatment, somehow a little Socratic deficit-reduction baby would be born, with most of the labor pains assigned to those who have born so much Bush-recession pain already.

This is what passes for “fairness” in much of the mainstream press. As I said, not an outspoken liberal in the bunch on Meet the Press this day. No one took the other side. The entire program, except for President Obama’s answers to Gregory’s questions, was designed around Republican themes and presented in Republican language.

It was an infuriating, and depressing, hour. Because on the horizon, as Senator Lindsey Graham said this morning on Fox, looms another fight over the debt ceiling, a fight Graham said will be where Republicans will have real leverage—meaning they will threaten the country again with default and economic ruin—and I fear that unless President Obama and the Democrats get extremely aggressive very soon, we will see the David Gregorys frame the issue as a failure of the President to stop them from wrecking the country.

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