You, Too, Can Phone Wobbly Republicans And Tell Them To Say No To Beggars Wages In Missouri

“So-called “Right to Work” laws are an attempt by CEOs and multinational corporations to eliminate unions and stack the deck even more in their favor. It’s a power grab by the same people who ship our jobs overseas and offshore their profits—and it would hurt all working people in Missouri.”

Missouri AFL-CIO

First it was Grover Norquist sticking his icky head in Missouri politics. Now comes FreedomWorks, the reactionary Tea Party group first funded by a Koch Bro, brazenly attempting to alter lives here in the Show-Me State. Extremists Going 'All In' to Make Missouri the Most Anti-Worker State in the U.S. We Can Change That

In Missouri FreedomWorks is targeting those it considers to be wobbly Republican House members, those few right-wingers in our Republican-dominated state house who may not yet be ready to decimate labor unions by voting for Right-to-Beg legislation.

“Right-to-Work protects Missouri workers from oppressive union tactics and cuts off funding to Big Government politicians,” says a post on FreedomWorks’ website. “It’s simple. No one should be forced to pay dues to a union.” No, it’s simple: People who lie should be ashamed of themselves.

Right-to-Beg laws actually don’t do anything except undermine the one thing that serves to protect workers, which is a union-negotiated and union-enforced contract. By allowing workers to get union benefits without paying for union representation, such laws threaten the very existence of the union and—the real point of such laws—do away with the voice of the worker in the workplace. That is why the efforts to pass such laws here in Missouri and elsewhere are supported by business interests, who enjoy the fact that they can pay their employees thousands of dollars a year less in Right-to-Beg states.

freedomworksWhen FreedomWorks or any other right-winging group or individual says that “No one should be forced to pay dues to a union,” they are purposely ignoring the fact that employees covered by a union contract aren’t forced, cannot in fact be forced, to join the union and pay union dues. What they can be required to pay is their share of the union’s cost of representing employees in that bargaining unit, including those employees who don’t want to join the union. Federal law mandates that unions represent all bargaining unit employees whether they pay union dues or not, and it is simply common sense that says if you get something from the union you should have to pay for it. If you don’t want to be represented by a union then you don’t have to go to work at a place where workers are represented by a union. But if you do take such work, then you should have to pay your fair share of the costs of providing you with and policing an employment contract.

In any case, the Republican targets of the FreedomWorks campaign in the Missouri House are listed below. If you want, you can counter the right-wing attempt to destroy unions and lower wages in Missouri by phoning them and urging them to oppose HB 1770:

Rep. Wanda Brown…Office Phone: (573) 751-3971

Rep. Sue Entlicher…Office Phone: (573) 751-1347

Rep. Chuck Gatchenberger…Office Phone: (573) 751-3572

Rep. Ron Hicks…Office Phone: (573) 751-1470

Rep. Bart Korman…Office Phone: (573) 751-2689

Rep. Jim Neely…Office Phone: (573) 751-0246

Rep. Donna Pfautsch…Office Phone: (573) 751-9766

Rep. Bryan Spencer…Office Phone (573) 751-1460

Rep. Kathy Swan…Office Phone (573) 751-1443

Celebrate The Income Tax By Buying 2.41 Big Macs

Over the weekend, USA Today marked the anniversary of the income tax by publishing an article by Al Neuharth (“How income tax has changed in 100 years”), which was followed by a “Feedback” section. Since apparently no media organization can discuss taxes without interjecting the reactionary opinion of Grover Norquist, here is what the paper included with Neuharth’s story:

“All consumed income should be taxed once at one low, flat, internationally competitive rate. High marginal tax rates and redundant taxes on savings retard economic growth and make us poorer.”

– Grover Norquist, President Americans for Tax Reform

What Norquist means by “consumed income” is that part of one’s income that will be spent on goods and services and not saved. For many working class folks, this means almost all of their income, since these days they have to spend most or all of it just to get by.

Many conservatives believe that such a wealthy-friendly, “low, flat” tax rate as Norquist proposes would make us more “internationally competitive.” What does that mean?

Perhaps we can get a glimpse into what conservatives mean by saying that America needs to become more globally competitive by looking at what happened on Bill O’Reilly’s Reactionary Review on Friday night.

Laura Ingraham, subbing for O’Reilly, took a swipe at unions, when it was suggested by Demos think-tanker David Callahan that unions would help mitigate the enormous transfer of America’s wealth into the hands of the 1 percent:

INGRAHAM: Stronger labor unions? How do we compete with China, Vietnam, South Korea, India, when we are going to have stronger labor unions that insure that we have more work place regulations, more ways that business has to pay more money to make ends meet? The two things don’t add up.

Ahh. That’s what they mean by making us more internationally competitive: competing with low-wage economies like China, Vietnam, and India. I get it now. Even if it doesn’t add up for Ingraham, it’s starting to add up for me:

1. Conservatives believe that we need to keep taxes low on the wealthy in order to make us more internationally competitive.

2. And they believe we have to keep wages low for workers to make us, uh, more internationally competitive.

Now we can add it all up: The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, all in a race to the bottom for most Americans.

Speaking of competing with low-wage countries, Princeton professor of economics, Orley Ashenfelter, published a study last year famously using a “Big Mac Index,” which was an attempt to compare wages across the world by measuring “the number of minutes it takes for a McDonald’s worker to earn enough money to buy a Big Mac sandwich.”

Let’s look at what the professor found (red highlight mine):

Big mac index

Laura Ingraham asked, “How do we compete with China, Vietnam, South Korea, India“? How, indeed. In the U.S. the “McWage” is $7.33 an hour and will buy almost two and a half Big Macs. In China the McWage is 81 cents an hour and will barely buy half a sandwich. In India the McWage is even lower (45 cents) and will buy one-third of a Big Mac.

So, in order for us to “compete” with such countries we will definitely need to lose our affinity for Big Macs and then win the race to the bottom that people like Norquist and Ingraham and other conservatives would have us run.

Finally, I do want to include another quote from the Feedback section of that USA Today tax article, this one from someone who gets it:

“Our tax system’s evolution has produced a middle-class nation that takes care of our elderly, educates our children, protects our environment, etc., etc. These blessings are well worth the price.”

– Robert S. McIntyre, Director Citizens for Tax Justice

The Critical Few

I describe budgets as a tapestry: When it’s woven together, the picture amounts to our hopes and dreams of a nation.”

—Jack Lew, Obama’s chief of staff and reportedly his choice to be Treasury secretary

If Jack Lew becomes the next Secretary of the Treasury, he will have to deal directly with a Republican Party that, by all appearances, seems ready to do nasty things to the country.

But I have some doubts as to whether there is unanimity among Republicans in Congress to threaten the fiscal health of the country with a protracted battle over the budget. And it would take near-unanimity to pull off the caper of ruining the economy.

Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but if one thinks about it, there are now 55 members of the Democratic Conference in the Senate and only five Republicans would have to join them to stop any history-making attempt to wreck the country. Are there five GOP senators who care more about today’s America than tomorrow’s Grover Norquist?

Geeze, I hope so.

In the House, Democrats hold 201 seats. Only a handful of Republicans (and there are 15 of them who were elected in a district also won by President Obama in November) would be needed to stop the insanity. Are there seventeen or so Republican House members politically sane enough to vote with Democrats should it come to that? God only knows. And God only knows if Speaker Boehner would even let such a vote happen.

But these numbers indicate to me that Democrats can stand strong and not compromise away a jot or tittle of the integrity of what Ed Schultz calls “the big three,” Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

And besides hoping that there are a handful of Republicans who will refuse to become economic saboteurs, I am also hoping that Jack Lew—a veteran Democrat who first learned the ways of Washington under the sainted Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill—will be the kind of man that former Republican Senator and Budget Committee chairman Judd Gregg says he is:

He’s like a labor-union negotiator. He’s not going to give you an inch if he doesn’t have to. He’s a true believer in the causes. 

It may take a Democratic true believer to convince true-believing Republicans that he will let them, if they insist on fiscal chaos, go down the road to lasting infamy. And we can only hope that such a prospect will send chills down at least a critical few right-wing spines.

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.

Keep The Creep?

Okay, we all know Grover Norquist is a creep. We all know that. But dammit, this is ridiculous:

Obama will be on a very short leash, fiscally speaking, over the next four years. He’s not going to have any fun at all, he may just have to go blow up small countries he can’t pronounce because it won’t be any fun to be here, because he won’t be able to spend the kind of cash he was hoping to.

That quote was from his appearance on C-SPAN, and Politico reported further:

Norquist outlined tactics at the GOP’s disposal for challenging Obama and the Democrats.cspan norquist

“Republicans have three tools,” he said. “One: the sequester. The Democrats fear sequester more than Republicans because it actually reins in spending.”

Next, he said, is the upcoming debt ceiling vote.

“It will have to come up every month or so as Obama keeps hitting that ceiling,” Norquist said of the nation’s borrowing limit. “Republicans can raise it a little or a lot, or for a month or for six months. That gives them discipline as it did in 2011 to require spending restraint.”

Norquist cited other budget fights from earlier in this legislative session, as examples of how Republicans have fended off spending increases — the third tool the GOP can use.

“Because the Senate doesn’t do its job, because Harry Reid plays politics instead of governing, they haven’t got a budget,” he said. ‘They do a continuing resolution … they still have to vote to allow that money to be spent, which means the House of Representatives has to agree to continue the budget. What they did in 2011, for about a month or two, they said, ‘We’ll extend the continuing resolution for a few weeks if you save four billion dollars.’

“We’ve got lots of things Obama claims to be for and we will make — we, the Republicans in the House and Senate — will make him actually make those spending restraints in order to get the continuing resolution out a week, two weeks, a month,” Norquist added.

So, the Republican strategy going forward is the same strategy it used to lose seats in the House and Senate in November, as well as the presidency: obstruction. If they keep this up, in a couple of more elections they’ll all be gone!

So, come to think of it, I guess we need to wish the creepy Grover Norquist well.

“Four Cents On The Dollar”

Missouri’s Claire McCaskill said on Meet the Press on Sunday:

I feel almost sorry for John Boehner. There is incredible pressure on him from a base of his party that is unreasonable about this. And he’s got to decide, is his speakership more important or is the country more important? And in some ways, he has got to deal with this base of the Republican Party, who Grover Norquist represents. And, you know, everybody’s elevated Grover—I mean, I met him for the first time this morning—nice to meet him—but, you know, who is he? Why is he this guy that is—has—has captured so much attention in this?

Indeed, wherefore Grover Norquist? Who is he?

In a reasonable world, in a world not dominated by corporate media’s need to keep a controversy blazing, Grover Norquist would be enjoying retirement today, perhaps rubbing bronzing lotion on Mitt Romney’s money, somewhere in a tropical paradise, instead of appearing on NBC’s Meet The Press.

Republicans, you see, particularly Republicans spouting Tea Party nonsense, got the left foot of fellowship from the American people on November 6, and it was partly—though not completely—a 2010 gerrymandering bonanza that kept several right-wing House zealots in their seats, Democrats having received a majority of all House election votes.

And the one issue that clearly separated Democrats from Republicans was the issue of tax increases on the wealthiest two percent of Americans. The voters, as we all know but are starting to forget, chose the Democratic view.

As it is, though, even if Grover Norquist wanted to go to a beach far, far away, he can’t. Journalists keep pretending that he is relevant to the conversation about the fiscal cliff, which is quickly turning into a conversation about how much austerity will be foisted on the American economy in the shortest time possible without hurting rich people.

And nobody speaks for the rich like Grover Norquist:

Tea Party II is going to dwarf Tea Party I,  if Obama pushes us off the cliff. Let’s not pretend who’s pushing us over the cliff.

No, let’s not pretend. Let’s not pretend that, if there is a cliff for us to go over in the short-term, it will be because Norquist and his friends in Congress are willing to push the country that way in service to their wealthy constituents. In fact, Claire McCaskill said so on Sunday:

There has to be a realization that if we do nothing, the Republicans are going to have to live with the fact that they were willing to stop a deal all over a tax rate for the top two percent of this country.

Yes, Republicans—and Republicans only—will have to live with that realization. Nothing—absolutely nothing—could be clearer, despite Norquist’s bluster, which is really a last-ditch effort to save his relevance as a Washington insider.

Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen, the ranking member of the House Budget Committee and one of the smartest Democrats around these days, was also on with Grover Norquist:

Well, what’s happened now is that the president has put forward a plan. It’s transparent. It’s on the internet…Let’s be really clear on what the President has said. He wants to extend tax relief for hundred percent of American families and small businesses on their first 250 thousand dollars of income.

And what Republicans are saying is, nobody gets that tax relief unless folks over 250 thousand get the extra four cents on the dollar that they were getting compared to the Clinton tax rates. And I just don’t believe that the American people are going to accept the Republican position when we need to extend middle class tax cuts and get serious about our long-term deficit reduction.

Four cents on the dollar. That’s what most of this argument is about, my friends. Four cents on the dollar for folks who are doing quite well, thank you.

And thanks to mainstream journalism, thanks to the producers of shows like Meet the Press, we still have a whiny titmouse of a man named Grover Norquist on television doing his best to make sure, even if it fiscally imperils the country, those folks don’t have to pay that extra four cents on the dollar for every dollar they make over $250,000.

If Democrats can’t win this argument, either with Republicans or ultimately with the American people, then the country is going to hell anyway, fiscal cliff or not.

Word To Democrats: Be Careful On Entitlement Reform

A few Republicans are publicly divorcing themselves from Grover Norquist, which is a good sign. But not enough Republicans are yet ready to absorb fully the meaning of the GOP’s defeat on November 6.

As President Obama has said several times now, if the last election had one clear message, it was that the wealthiest Americans, those who have been doing pretty well despite a sluggish economic recovery, need to “pay a little more” in taxes and thus get things started in terms of fixing our long-term fiscal problems.

On Sunday, John McCain’s lap dog, Sen. Lindsey Graham, clearly abandoned Grover Norquist and his infernal tax pledge. I have heard replayed numerous times the following excerpt from Graham’s appearance on ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos:

I will violate the pledge, long story short, for the good of the country, only if Democrats will do entitlement reform.

In context, though, Graham was not endorsing an increase in marginal tax rates (“I agree with Grover, we shouldn’t raise rates,” he said), but only an increase in revenues by other means, like capping deductions for wealthy families (“If you cap deductions around the $30,000, $40,000 range, you can raise $1 trillion in revenue,” he claimed). But, so be it. In whatever form, it is clear that some Republicans, feeling the heat of November 6, are starting to warm up to an increase in federal revenues and it seems likely that more, perhaps enough to get a deal done, will follow.

Now comes the “if Democrats will do entitlement reform” part.

Appearing with Lindsey Graham on ABC’s This Week was Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat who signed onto the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan.

He said a couple of things that illustrate the problems for President Obama and the Democrats, in terms of getting a deal that Democrats like me can support. First, Durbin suggested that Social Security shouldn’t be part of a larger budget deal since it is funded separately and “does not add one penny to our debt.” It’s pretty clear that most Democrats feel the same way. They believe that the relatively simple fixes for Social Security don’t belong in the discussion going on now. So, leave that program out of it.

Then we have this:

DURBIN: Medicare is another story. Only 12 years of solvency lie ahead if we do nothing. So those who say, “Don’t touch it, don’t change it,” are ignoring the obvious. We want Medicare to be there for today’s seniors and tomorrow’s, as well. We don’t want to go the Paul Ryan route of voucherizing it, privatizing it, but we can make meaningful reforms in Medicare and Medicaid without compromising the integrity of the program, making sure that the beneficiaries are not paying the price for it, except perhaps the high-income beneficiaries. That to me is a reasonable approach…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Does that include raising the age for Medicare eligibility?

DURBIN: Here’s my concern about that, George. What happens to the early retiree who needs health insurance before that person’s eligible for Medicare? I had it happen in my family, and I’ll bet a lot of your viewers did, as well. We’ve got to make sure that there is seamless coverage of affordable health insurance for every American. My concern about raising that Medicare retirement age is there will be gaps in coverage or coverage that’s way too expensive for seniors to purchase.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is that a fair point, Senator Graham?

GRAHAM: Not really. I don’t think you can look at entitlement reform without adjusting the age for retirement, like Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan did. It goes to 66, 67 here pretty soon for Social Security. Let it float up another year or so over the next 30 years, adjust Medicare from 65 to 67 over the next 30 years, means test benefits for people in our income level. I don’t expect the Democrats to go for premium support or a voucher plan, but I do expect them to adjust these entitlement programs before they bankrupt the country and run out of money themselves. So age adjustment and means testing for both Social Security, Medicare I think is eminently reasonable. And all those who’ve looked at this problem have done that over time.

Democrats would, of course, agree to means-testing entitlements. No doubt about that. But raising the eligibility age for retirement and old-age health care? Not so fast.

Paul Krugman, a leftish economist, is definitely opposed to the idea, as he indicates in this short post, his generalized objection based primarily on the differences in life expectancy between economic classes (folks with lower earnings don’t tend to live as long as those with higher earnings, thus raising the eligibility age would have a disproportionately harmful effect on lower wage earners).

There have been more specific objections to raising the age, including these:

  • folks with physically demanding jobs would likely be forced to hang on another few years to keep their insurance;
  • cost-shifting to retirees who won’t have adequate income to absorb the increase;
  • an increase in the number of uninsured Americans (especially among low-income groups, including African-Americans and Hispanics);
  • the obvious increase in the cost to those employers who offer health care benefits to retirees (the employer plan would become the primary payer), which would, among other things, discourage employers from offering such retirement plans.

Now, an astute reader might suggest that some of these objections could be answered by provisions already in place in the Affordable Care Act. In fact, I heard a commentator this weekend suggest that raising the eligibility age for Medicare was no big deal since ObamaCare will provide coverage for those seniors who can’t afford it.

Well, that turns out to be partially true, at least according to a study done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which looked at raising the age in the context of the Affordable Care Act (it assumed an increase in the Medicare eligibility age to 67 that would go into effect in 2014, just for simplicity). I suggest all those interested in this topic read that study, but its conclusion was as follows (highlights mine):

Previous studies conducted prior to the enactment of the 2010 health reform law concluded that raising the age of Medicare eligibility would produce significant federal savings, but would also increase the number of uninsured older adults and shift risk and additional cost onto retirees who lack health insurance and onto employers that offer retiree health plans. Our analysis, which takes into account the coverage expansions and subsidies in the ACA, finds that net federal savings to the federal government would be considerably lower than previously estimated because the federal government would incur new costs associated with expanded coverage for 65- and 66-year olds under Medicaid and premium tax credits and cost-sharing assistance for lower-income individuals in the new health insurance Exchange.

We estimate that nearly one-third of the 65- and 66-year-old adult population who would be affected by an increase in the age of Medicare eligibility [about 5 million people]—those with low incomes who would qualify for Medicaid or generous premium tax credits and cost-sharing assistance through the Exchange—would face lower out-of-pocket costs than they would have paid under Medicare in 2014 as a result of this policy change –generally those with incomes below 300 percent of the FPL [federal poverty level]. However, two-thirds would face higher out of-pocket costs, on average, due to higher premium contributions for employer-sponsored coverage and for coverage in the Exchange. The shift of adults ages 65 and 66 from Medicare to the Exchange is also projected to increase premiums that would be paid by adults younger than age 65 in the Exchange, as older adults enter the Exchange risk pool. In addition, Part B premiums paid by the elderly (ages 67 and over) and by disabled Medicare beneficiaries would be expected to increase, as the healthiest and lowest-cost segment of the Medicare population is removed from the Part B risk pool and shifted to the Exchange or to employer-sponsored plans. States and employers are also expected to see increased costs.

The study warns:

Given the magnitude of the changes that we estimate would occur by raising the Medicare eligibility age, this analysis underscores the importance of carefully assessing the distributional effects of various Medicare reforms and savings proposals to understand the likely impact on beneficiaries and other stakeholders.

It’s just not as simple as Republicans, like Lindsey Graham above, make it. And Democrats need to be careful about getting giddy over a possible Republican retreat on raising revenues and under the influence of such giddiness make a bad agreement on entitlements.

In short, Democrats need to remember who their constituents are.

“Very Good” Report, But It Takes A While To Clean Up After Republicans

I was watching CNN this morning when the new—and “very good“— jobs numbers (as Mark Zandi characterized them later on MSNBC) came out. Guess who CNN, the network that tries hard at times to be a watered down version of Fox “News,” had on to comment on the numbers? No, come on, guess.

Oh, I knew you couldn’t guess. It was, uh, Grover Norquist. I’ll spare you what Grover had to say (that is something you could guess), but the point is there was no one on the panel of guests to counter the nonsense he spouted. I guess all the good guys were busy congratulating those conspirators at the Bureau of Labor Statistics for another job well done making Obama look good.

In any case, the numbers for October signal a continuing improvement. There were 184,000 private sector jobs added—32 months of consecutive growth—which represents the largest gain in eight months (government jobs continue to decline, as 13,000 more were lost, split fairly evenly between federal and state).  Because of the increased number of folks entering the job market (always a good sign), the unemployment rate rose to 7.9, from last month’s 7.8 (which, of course, the right-wing labeled a conspiracy).

What often gets lost in the Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly report are the revised numbers for the last two months:

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for August was revised from +142,000 to +192,000, and the change for September was revised from +114,000 to +148,000.

That revision represents 84,000 more jobs added over the previous two months than previously reported.

So, although there is still a lot of Republican economics to fix, things are, indisputably, getting better and better.

Before I go, let’s play the guessing game again. What would you guess Fox “News” was doing after these “very good” numbers came out at around 7:30 C.S.T.?

Oh, I know, this one was easy, given what Fox has been doing for the past three weeks:

You gotta hand it to those guys. They are not ashamed of what they do.

By the way, in case you can’t quite figure out what that graphic in the right hand corner says, here is a better look:

Obama is one bad cat. One cover up isn’t good enough for him, he has to have two, or, who knows, possibly more. Perhaps next week’s Fox graphic will be a trifecta of intrigue: “Cover-up of the Cover-up of the Cover-up.”

The GOP’s Preteen Philosophy: “Cut Taxes, Regardless Of The Question”

Suppose a man published a very popular and profitable how-to book on the best way to manage a company. And suppose that man and his ideas were actually used to manage a real company. Then suppose that the company the man and his ideas were responsible for managing ended up going bankrupt and had to be bailed out.

Now suppose that same man who ran the company into bankruptcy published another, second book on how to manage a company. A weary reader would rightly be skeptical of such a man and his new book. After all, he failed the first time, why should anyone listen to him now? Why would anyone buy his book?

It may be that a weary reader could be persuaded to purchase the latest book on the possibility and hope that the man’s second offering was chock-full of wisdom from his first experience, that he had learned what he did wrong and where his philosophy went off track.  Perhaps, one might trust, the author had a new and improved strategy to run a company.

But what if the man’s second book was a reprint of the first book! What if the new book had no new insights, no new strategies? Nothing but the same old ideas that failed when put into practice the first time.  A publisher would be foolish to publish such a man’s book and a reader would be foolish to purchase it or to follow its advice, right?

But we all know such a man and such a publisher. The only question is, what will the weary reader do?

It’s no surprise that the man in this scenario, Grover Norquist, still sits on the de facto board of directors of the publisher, the Republican Party. But it is one of the marvels of modern American life that Norquist—who like a jealous spouse monitors the no-tax pledges that almost all Republican federal (and a disturbing number of state) office holders have made—still  manages to command respect for his discredited ideas, ideas that have failed and failed miserably.

On Sunday I saw Norquist on C-SPAN promoting his latest book (co-authored with John R. Lott, Jr.) titled, Debacle: Obama’s War on Jobs and Growth and What We Can Do Now To Regain Our Future.  This program was shown more than once on the network.

Norquist’s arguments against Obama amounted to the same old stuff, as did his prescription to solve our troubles. Want to guess what a couple components of his “regain our future” program was? Yep. Tax cuts and less regulation.  You know, the same flapdoodle that George W. Bush pushed as a candidate in 2000 and made reality as President Bush.

Obama and, more important, the country are still living with the unfortunate legacy of tax cuts and turn-your-head regulation that Grover Norquist and others championed during the 80s, 90s, and 00s. And they are still trying to sell the same ideas today. In fact, Mitt Romney is the newest member of Norquist’s sales department.

I did a search for Norquist on C-SPAN. Guess what? He has appeared there at least 132 times since 1992 (not counting repeats), including 14 times last year and 4 times so far this year (again, not counting repeat broadcasts).

When I was listening to a younger Grover Norquist talk his creepy tax talk on C-SPAN, I heard him say creepy things like this (from July of 2001):

All tax cuts are good tax cuts. Even bad tax cuts are good tax cuts…

A year ago the Bush campaign said, “The economy’s doing very well, it’s time to cut taxes.” Then the economy slowed last year. They said, “The economy’s slowing, it’s time to cut taxes.” Which is sort of a Jeopardy game where the answers are always the same: Cut taxes, regardless of the question.

That kind of fanaticism, akin to religious devotion, has been in the brain of Norquist for a long time. As Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes put it in a piece:

Norquist claims he got the idea to brand the Republican Party as the party that would never raise your taxes, when he was just 12 years old and volunteering for the Nixon campaign. He says it came to him one day while he was riding home on the school bus.

Twelve years old? On a school bus?

For all the rhetoric we have heard and will hear this election year, the election comes down to this: Should we once again turn the country over to a party that is essentially controlled by an anti-government zealot whose preteen fantasies serve as its guiding economic and political philosophy?

That I even have to ask that question—after all the evidence of tax-cutting and non-regulating failure—is itself a sad commentary on the state of the American electorate.

“Both Sides” Are Not To Blame

The worst thing about the failure of the supercommittee to reach an agreement is not their failure to reach an agreement but the failure of the media to emphasize just why the effort failed: Republican intransigence on the tax issue, particularly their refusal to raise taxes even a teensy-weensy bit on America’s wealthy elite.

The kind of misleadingly even-handed reporting associated with this issue will simply lead to more gridlock and dysfunction. (Let’s forget about Fox “News,” which for the most part blames Democrats for the failure.)

Oh, I know you think you have heard the truth about Republicans’ intransigence reported in the mainstream press, but it is almost always accompanied by something like this: Democrats have refused to budge on entitlements. That sort of negates the first point, doesn’t it? It’s the media’s reflexive “both sides are guilty” reporting. It’s the failure of generic “Washington” or the failure of a bipartisan “Congress” to come to an agreement, not the failure of the GOP to break its pledge to Grover Norquist.

I heard on Morning Joe this morning a man disguised as a Democrat—former congressman Harold Ford, Jr.—say this, as the opening shot on the segment discussing the failure:

This is two times since August, since summer, that Congress was presented with a chance to do its job and it failed—both parties.

“Both parties.” That’s the media mantra.

Here, read this paragraph from a CNN story on the failure:

Democrats have blasted Republicans for not being more receptive to higher taxes on the wealthy, while Republicans insist Democrats are unwilling to make necessary spending cuts to popular domestic programs.

That’s pretty much the way the thing has been reported, even though President Obama and the Democrats did offer significant entitlement cuts in the ambitious “grand bargain” the President was negotiating with Speaker John Boehner this summer.  Republicans just wouldn’t budge on tax increases for the super-rich. But the mess gets reported as a they-said, they-said story. 

Television news, especially cable news, is particularly eager to report on the propaganda wars between spinners in the two parties. It’s the easiest and cheapest kind of journalism to do: get a couple reps from each party and let them do their thing on camera.

What makes this kind of journalism so worrisome is that reporting on the propaganda wars between the two sides rather than putting out the facts that led to the failure will lead to even more of the same kind of failure after next election. People who don’t pay all that much attention need to be informed, or they will continue to vote blindly.

On Saturday, as the supercommittee failure was eminent, Dana Milbank was on MSNBC saying things like this:

The public is gonna blame everybody.

To the extent that’s true, it’s because Beltway commentators like Dana Milbank don’t make it absolutely clear every time they move their lips in front of a television camera that it is not “everybody’s” fault.  Milbank said on Saturday something I have heard much too often on cable news:

Hopefully, somebody at some point will grow up around here.

Except that it’s been clear to those of us paying close attention just who the grownups have been in this process. But instead of placing the blame where it belongs, we are treated to things like this:

Here’s a message to Washington politicians: duck.

Your failure is now complete. You were faced with a generational challenge to save Americans from the type of collapse European countries are now facing and you blinked. Actually, you did worse…

Watching them all trot their tired lines out on the Sunday talk shows made me sick. Democrats were blabbing on about hiking taxes and Republicans were prattling on about slashing spending. Both were accusing the other side of intransigence while standing in a block of ideological cement.

That was an excerpt from an op-ed piece in Politico written by MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and read on Morning Joe this morning. And that sentiment pretty much represents the disgust many people feel.  But think about it for a minute: even if Democrats were “standing in a block of ideological cement” in protecting the working class and the poor from severe budget austerity, is that on a moral par with Republicans’ ideological devotion to keeping taxes low on the wealthiest Americans, who have been thriving for the past thirty years? Huh?

Do Democrats, even in the worst case scenario, deserve to be painted with the same moral brush as no-tax-increase ideologues in the Republican Party?

Yet Scarborough, a conservative Republican working inside that fortress of liberalism, MSNBC, wrote:

Our leaders are unworthy of our trust. They have no moral authority to lead. The President is weak and not up to the task of running the White House. Congress is even worse, with an approval rating mired in single digits. If the cavalry is coming, it better ride in from the west quick. We’re in a hell of a mess and thanks to Washington’s bumbling, I fear it is all going to get much worse.

Neither side, in Scarborough’s estimation, has the moral authority to lead. You see? That’s how it works these days in the “news” business. Both sides are to blame, both sides are equally guilty, both sides deserve our condemnation.

Scarborough is right about one thing. With that kind of sentiment permeating the airwaves, things will get much worse because too many ignorant people will keep voting for conservative Republicans.

Billy Long: A Profile In Courage?

Yesterday I mentioned that Colonel Ozark Billy Long, my congressman, attached his name to a letter addressed to the cut-the-deficit supercommittee, a letter that was signed by 40 House Republicans—37 of whom have at one time signed the Grover Norquist pledge not to ever, ever, ever raise taxes—and 60 House Democrats suggesting that,

To succeed, all options for mandatory and discretionary spending and revenues must be on the table.

That word “revenues” has impregnated many folks with hope that Republicans, at least some of them in the House, have come to their senses about the need to increase government revenues. (Jim DeMint has attempted to abort that hope with a list of 33 Senators who pledge to keep having political intercourse with Grover Norquist, however.)

One of my favorite pundits, Lawrence O’Donnell, even had a segment last night in which he posted the mugs of the 40 House Republicans under an approving header:

You may have noticed that red circle around the mug of Ozark Billy, which I put there to indicate that I don’t agree with the suggestion that Long’s including himself in the letter to the supercommittee constitutes some kind of profile in courage.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I thought about it. It is something like progress that 40 Republicans were willing to step out of the Norquistian shadows and see reality perhaps for the first time in their lives.

And I wanted to write a nice piece praising my congressman for his courage, for his political valor, for his willingness to give the finger to Grover Norquist.

But then I started thinking.

If someone who had been holding a hostage suddenly decided to let him go, would we be obliged to reward the hostage taker by giving him or her a medal of honor?  Republicans, including most of the signers of the letter, have been serial economic hostage takers. The fact that a few of them may have put the gun down and decided to try another way does not merit uncritical admiration.

Then, I noticed that the letter did not include any specific proposals or any definition of what “revenues” meant, in terms of raising them.  I’m sure most of the Republicans had in mind some kind of tax reform that would lower rates and eliminate deductions, thus possibly—and I say, only “possibly”—resulting in a net increase in government revenue.

And then I started thinking about what Billy Long has said this year.

During the debt-ceiling debate in July, he was quoted in the Springfield News-Leader as saying,

We are not going to raise the debt limit and they need to know that now instead of August 2nd.

The debt-ceiling fiasco nearly everyone now recognizes as one of the low points in American history. On the floor of the house, as the debt-ceiling nonsense raged, he said on July 19, “The people have spoken. The business community has spoken. When will the President and the Democrats listen?” and then he finished with this:

I would like to close with one of the hundreds of letters from one of my constituents:

 “Dear Congressman Long, do not budge. We put you in office to stop these big spenders. Go ahead and call his bluff. I am in tornado-ravaged Joplin and rebuilding my house. I’m glad you are covering my wallet in Washington.”

Call his bluff,” Billy!

As for jobs, in late summer he was quoted in the Joplin Globe as saying that the nation “doesn’t need a jobs project” and,

Now, we over-regulate, overtax-ate and over-litigate.

Overtax-ate“?  In two months has he suddenly changed his mind about the amount of taxes the government collects?  Huh?

On September 22, 2011 on the floor of the House he said,

We don’t do much right up here, and trying to run businesses is not something we should be doing. We should be reducing taxes, reducing spending, reducing regulation.

So, six weeks ago he was saying we should be “reducing taxes” and now he has come to Jesus on the need to raise revenues? Huh?

Then, this Wednesday, the same day the letter to the supercommittee was released, he said (my emphasis):

Mr. Speaker, I came to Congress as a small business owner. And as any small business owner will tell you, the government can’t create jobs, only the private sector can

…the reality is that government spending trades productive private sector jobs for usually wasteful public sector jobs….

As part of the House GOP Plan for America’s Job Creators, we’ve opposed the President whenever he wants to create new taxes or more regulations…

Since President Obama has been the champion of tax cuts, and since he has also been on board with reforming the tax code—as Long himself has said is necessary—it’s hard to say what Ozark Billy means by Obama wanting to create “new taxes,” except new taxes—which really aren’t “new”—on the wealthiest Americans.

Is the Colonel now, by virtue of his letter to the supercommittee, suddenly supporting increased taxes on the wealthy? It’s hard to believe that.

Thus, it’s also hard to give him any credit for courage for putting his name on a letter to the supercommittee that quite generically mentions “revenue” as being on the table.  I do hope, however, that it is a sign of a new phase of reasonableness in the political life of our congressman from Springfield, but I’m not ready to pin a medal on his chest just yet.

The Best They’ve Got

Once upon a time, Jon Huntsman, GOP presidential hopeful, worked for Barack Obama, Democratic presidential hopeful redux.

Mr. Huntsman, obviously seeking what’s left of the reality-based vote in the Republican Party, said this on ABC’s This Week, hosted by Jake Tapper on Sunday:

HUNTSMAN: I think there’s a serious problem. The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party — the anti-science party, we have a huge problem. We lose a whole lot of people that would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012.

When we take a position that isn’t willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Sciences has said about what is causing climate change and man’s contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science and, therefore, in a losing position.

Huntsman was also asked about Rick Perry slapping some Texas-ugly on a treasonous Ben Bernanke:

HUNTSMAN: Well, I don’t know if that’s pre-secession Texas or post-secession Texas, but in any event, I’m not sure that the average voter out there is going to hear that treasonous remark and say that sounds like a presidential candidate, that sounds like someone who is serious on the issues.

But it gets to a broader of, you know, the fact that, you know, we’ve had so much hope and hype in politics the last little while. We’ve found ourselves at the extreme ends of the political spectrum. And people are crying out for us to get back to some level of sensibility…

TAPPER: So do you think that Governor Perry is unelectable? Were he to get the Republican nomination, he would lose to President Obama?

HUNTSMAN: I think when you find yourself at an extreme end of the Republican Party, you make yourself unelectable.

And Mr. Huntsman was asked about Michele Bachmann’s “crash-and-burn approach” to the debt ceiling issue:

HUNTSMAN: Well, I wouldn’t necessarily trust any of my opponents right now who were on a recent debate stage with me, when every single one of them would have allowed this country to default…

Wow.  Here’s one Republican who gets it, no?

Well, not exactly.

He was asked about that unfortunate but revealing moment during the Fox “News” debate in which every single Republican–including Jon Huntsman–used his or her raised hand to signal surrender and future obedience to Grover Norquist and his drown-the-government-in-the-bathtup pledge. 

TAPPER: When S&P devalued the U.S. from AAA to AA-plus, one of the reasons, they said, was the dysfunction in Washington. They didn’t have confidence in either side to come together to make a compromise to get the country on the right fiscal path.

But you, along with all of your Republican competitors, raised your hand and said that you would be unwilling to accept a deal of 10-to-1 spending cuts for tax increases. That would be if you just eliminated the Bush tax cuts for those who make more than $1 million a year, by one computation — that would be $6 trillion in spending cuts. Aren’t you buying into the same brinksmanship that you’re criticizing?

HUNTSMAN: Jake, it was a nonsense question. And the fact that you can even ask a question that is that important with such profound implications for the United States, to answer by show of a raised hand, I mean, come on. What have — you know, what have debates gotten to, in terms of how we discuss the truly important issues of the day? I don’t think tax increases are good for this country right now. In fact, I think it’d be the worst thing that we can do.

TAPPER: So are you sorry you raised your hand for the, quote, “nonsense question”?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I’m just sorry that the debate resorted to a raising of hand as opposed to some discussion about where this country needs to go in terms of overall tax policy.

Clearly Huntsman regrets getting caught up in that tribute-to-Grover-Norquist moment, especially since Huntsman has refused to sign Norquist’s tongue-tying pledge.  But the fact remains that he did get caught up in it, and it wasn’t because the question was a “nonsense question.” 

No, the question, like the one on evolution and global warming, revealed something important about the candidates who answered. And Jon Huntsman, however much he wants to be the Republican From Reality, had his moment of truth, a moment when he could have simply kept his hand at his side and thereby demonstrated that he is not a promoter of the collective delusion—shared by all of his GOP colleagues—that our country’s long-term fiscal problems can be solved by spending cuts alone.

He had his chance that night to really prove that he has more than one foot planted in this world, but he failed.  That failure, however, wasn’t exactly the first time.

As we see Libya today on the brink of permanent separation from its long-time dictator, we should remember that not long ago Jon Huntsman, a loud critic of Mr. Obama’s Libya policy (“we just can’t afford it“), had this exchange with a New Hampshire voter:

VOTER: “You mentioned Libya, and you mentioned the Constitution a couple of times. The president has decided to make Congress irrelevant, go around Congress, not — not go to Congress and ask for whether permission to go to war for — with, with Libya. He takes, what he thought, a UN resolution as his mandate to be able to go to war in Libya, do you think that’s unconstitutional in what he’s doing in Libya right now?”

HUNTSMAN: “Well, last I looked the UN was not our Constitution. We ought to recognize who’s responsible for declaring war and giving the approval for these kinds of things, and get back to the basics of who should be driving these decisions.”

VOTER: “What should Congress be doing in the fact that he went around Congress and he’s, he’s not abiding to the War Powers Act?”

HUNTSMAN: “I think, I think Congress is, is in a mild uproar about it.”

VOTER:
“It’s very mild.”

HUNTSMAN: “I have a fundamental problem, generally, I mean beyond this decision, just with the decision that has been made to get involved, in Libya, in a tribal country, when we have no definable interest at stake, we have no exit strategy. Look in Afghanistan, you want to get involved in tribal government? How hard it is to extricate yourself once you’ve gotten involved? Let history be your guide. Thank you.”

VOTER: “Do you think it’s impeachable?”

HUNTSMAN: “I’ll let Congress make that decision.”

Another moment in which a man who worked for and wants to be the President of the United States could have firmly grounded himself in the reality of this world, but instead chose to fly with the unbalanced butterflies in his party as they flit from one fanatical flower to another.

What is profoundly sad about all of this is that Jon Huntsman is the best candidate the Republican Party has to offer the country. But that judgment is obviously based on a relative comparison.  As he tries hard now to separate himself from the silliness of the other candidates, we know that somewhere inside of Jon Huntsman is a vexing vein flowing with the same kind of silliness, the same kind of Tea Party tackiness.

Obama’s Choice

“This is no way to run the greatest country on Earth.  It’s a dangerous game that we’ve never played before, and we can’t afford to play it now.  Not when the jobs and livelihoods of so many families are at stake.  We can’t allow the American people to become collateral damage to Washington’s political warfare.”

—Barack Obama, July 25, 2011

 

Mr. Obama is frustratingly rational.

What frustrates is his ongoing assumption that he is dealing with people who will respond to reasonable arguments like, say, when he quoted Jefferson last night:

“Every man cannot have his way in all things — without this mutual disposition, we are disjointed individuals, but not a society.”

Thomas Jefferson never met Grover Norquist.

Or John Boehner.

Last night, during this moment of national import, the Speaker of the House took the opportunity to trash the President and tell monstrous lies, beginning with this one:

Millions are looking for work, have been for some time, and the spending binge going on in Washington is a big part of the reason why.

Who would write such a shockingly dishonest sentence, let alone stand before America as a leader of a once-great political party and utter it?

John Boehner.

He has now officially become the leader of the extremists in the GOP, those unreasonable souls whom George Will, Tea Party intellectual, praised this way in today’s Joplin Globe:

Their inflexibility astonishes and scandalizes Washington because it reflects the rarity of serene fidelity to campaign promises.

Leaving aside the false suggestion that the debt ceiling formed any part of the campaign in 2010, consider the fact that Will is praising inflexibility when the only way our country can be governed is by flexibility, by compromise. There is no other way to govern 300 million people.

Mr. Will can extol teapartiers’ “serene fidelity”—I’m sure all extremists possess it—but many of us see people who not only won’t bend in the slightest to the will of the other side, they won’t even bend to the will of the country, whose people want—by a substantial majority—a compromise that includes revenue increases.

Tea Party zealots, as President Obama surely realizes by now, are giddy over the idea that they have a rather dear hostage tied up in their ideological basement: The economic health of the United States and by extension the working class and the most vulnerable of Americans.

And what all of us need to remember is that these zealots, far from any known region of rationality, are willing to shoot that hostage right between the eyes and proudly and defiantly walk into the 2012 elections with blood spatters on their hands.

Boehner fibbed too when he said about the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act that it was passed “with bipartisan support,” knowing that only five Democrats supported it. As I have previously suggested, it is nearly twice as accurate to characterize it as having bipartisan opposition, since nine Republicans sensibly voted against it.  But such dishonesty is trivial compared to the deceit involved in the conservative insistence that the budget can be balanced without additional revenues.

The Speaker also said this:

I want you to know I made a sincere effort to work with the president to identify a path forward that would implement the principles of Cut, Cap, & Balance in a manner that could secure bipartisan support and be signed into law. I gave it my all.

His all?  No one, including the Speaker himself, believed that that extremist piece of legislation—its radical “principles” dreamed up just a few months ago by inflexible ideologues—ever had a chance to get through the Senate, let alone get to the President, since it would have ripped gaping holes in America’s social safety net.

And dubious is Mr. Boehner’s suggestion that the latest scheme he and Eric Cantor have dreamed up—the two-step approach designed as a political instrument to bludgeon the President in six months with the same kind of foamy-mouth zealotry we have seen the last six months—”can and will pass the Senate.”

Hell, he’s not even sure he can get most of the foamy-mouth zealots in his own caucus to vote for it. 

In any case, President Obama’s address last night was obviously a way of urging the people most affected by a debt default—the hostages—to get involved in the process and try to talk the hostage-takers into releasing them.

Unfortunately, that won’t happen.

The hammer is cocked.  In their zealotry, the perpetrators of this crime believe that pulling the trigger may be the only way of getting the larger job done: a revolutionary retreat into pre-New Deal America, where the moneyed class will enjoy the bounty while the rest of us eat their scraps.

As for President Obama, he will have to decide whether he will play it safe and pay the ransom to political fanatics in Congress or be the champion of the following point of view, which he described last night:

Most Americans, regardless of political party, don’t understand how we can ask a senior citizen to pay more for her Medicare before we ask a corporate jet owner or the oil companies to give up tax breaks that other companies don’t get.  How can we ask a student to pay more for college before we ask hedge fund managers to stop paying taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries?  How can we slash funding for education and clean energy before we ask people like me to give up tax breaks we don’t need and didn’t ask for?  

That’s not right.  It’s not fair. 

No, it’s not right and it’s not fair, Mr. Obama. So how can you put your name on it?

 

Remarks And Asides, Debt Ceiling Edition

Obama still insists on a debt ceiling deal that goes beyond the 2012 election and Speaker John Boehner has newly offered a deal to, what else, raise the debt ceiling for only six months, so as to embarrass the President and gain political advantage later on during the 2012 election cycle. 

Now, that’s responsible governing.

And Tea Party spokesman Eric Cantor is in favor of the short-term proposal, apparently saying to the GOP House caucus that Obama’s insistence on a long-term deal is “purely political and indefensible, ” according to The Wall Street Journal.

Problem is, as Think Progress points out,  Eric Cantor opposed such a short-term deal just a short term ago, saying, “Putting off tough decisions is not what people want in this town.”

The Keystone Kops were more competent than this bunch of GOP “leaders.”  By the way, it has now been more than 200 days since the House Republicans took over, promising jobs, jobs, jobs.  They haven’t even offered a jobs bill, let alone produced a single job outside of Grover Norquist’s TV-booking secretary.

______________________________

Meanwhile, feeling left out, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi)—who agree that Boehner’s short-term offering is a “non-starter“—offered yet another proposal:

In an effort to reach a bipartisan compromise, we are putting together a $2.7 trillion deficit reduction package that meets Republicans’ two major criteria: it will include enough spending cuts to meet or exceed the amount of a debt ceiling raise through the end of 2012, and it will not include revenues. We hope Speaker Boehner will abandon his ‘my way or the highway’ approach, and join us in forging a bipartisan compromise along these lines.”

There you have it. In order to protect Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries from ravenous Republicans, as well as preserve the turtlish economic recovery, if not the economy itself, Democrats are willing to concede game, set, and match to the Republicans.

Except that the game, set, and match in which Republicans in the House appear to be interested involves the very social programs that Democrats vow to protect—with support from large majorities of the American people.

_______________________________

Related to all this is Teresa Tritch’s post on Saturday in The New York Times, which featured these two graphs, a study of which will reveal “How the Deficit Got This Big,” the title of Tritch’s piece:

__________________________________________________________

 ________________________________

Finally, as the world turns, foreign markets were down as the U.S. appears to be ungovernable, gold—the currency of uncertainty—hits  a record high, and the so-called safe haven paper currency of choice is decidedly not the U.S dollar, at least today, for obvious reasons.  

Once upon at time, before the advent of the Tea Party, the following was true:

When the world is in turmoil, investors have usually had one automatic response: Put money into dollars, viewed as the global safe harbor.

What does the world do when the turmoil is in the home of the ultimate safe haven for investors?

Well, no one is panicking yet, but the clock is ticking.  Either today, after trading in the U.S. begins, or sometimes this week, Wall Street will send a message to the GOP: Stop the madness.

Cut, Cap, and Kill

“The Cut, Cap and Balance plan that the House will vote on next week is a solid plan for moving forward. Let’s get through that vote, and then we’ll make decisions about what will come after.”

— John Boehner, July 15, 2011

“Next week” is here. 

Tomorrow, Republicans in the House of Representatives will vote on and pass HR 2560, The Cut, Cap, and Balance Act of 2011, the latest gimmick the GOP has concocted to keep its attack on the New Deal and the Great Society alive and well.

Now, no one seriously believes this bill will come within a Limbaugh butt cheek of passing. After all, the bill,

Requires the passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment before raising the nation’s debt limit.

As they say out here in the hinterlands, that aint gonna happen.

So, while the country is begging for something to be done about jobs, the House is taking up valuable legislating time with this nonsense.  Why?  

The conventional wisdom has it that the futile vote is designed  to give hard-headed teapartiers in the House a political reach-around, to eventually soften them up so GOP leadership can push through the Mitch McConnell compromise on the debt ceiling increase.  Republican leadership is hearing from the business community and Wall Street about the calamitous effects of defaulting, and they are listening.

But I believe there is more going on here than giving the Ozark Billy Long’s in the House a feel-good day in D.C.  It is also about selling this dangerous elixir to the public in 2012.

The Cut, Cap, and Balance Act is barely dry behind the legislation ears. It was dreamed up in June of this year by the Republican Study Committee, which its website describes as:

…a group of over 175 House Republicans organized for the purpose of advancing a conservative social and economic agenda in the House of Representatives. The Republican Study Committee is dedicated to a limited and Constitutional role for the federal government, a strong national defense, the protection of individual and property rights, and the preservation of traditional family values.

In other words, the RSC is the voice of the Tea Party extremists in the House.  Area members include, of course, Missouri Representatives Billy Long and Vicki Hartzler, as well as Kansas Rep. Lynn Jenkins and Arkansas Rep. Steve Womack.

The basis for the RSC’s adoption of the draconian Cut, Cap, and Balance Act seems to be the conviction that the public supports the idea. I extracted the following from a summary of the bill I found on the RSC’s website:

In an On Message, Inc. survey of 1,000 likely voters nationwide, large majorities support: 

Cutting next year’s deficit in half through spending cuts. (Favored 69%-20%) 

Capping federal spending to no more than 18% of GDP. (Favored 66%-17%) 

A Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. (Favored 81%-13%) 

The survey also found that Americans support a supermajority requirement to raise taxes (Favored 60%-30%).

Thus, the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act was designed to and would essentially do all those things, were it to become law.  

Now, the “survey” conducted by On Message, Inc –a campaign consultant firm that specializes in electing Tea Party Republicans—is what it is, whatever it is. But there can be no doubt that there is considerable angst among the hoi polloi regarding our debt situation. That’s understandable, given all that Republicans, using consultants like On Message, have done to scare the public.

And having sufficiently scared the public, conservative Republicans sense it is time to mount their final assault on Big Government, using, oddly enough, the public to justify and support its dirty work, a public that benefits in so many ways from the size of our government, as a lot of folks in Joplin have discovered recently.

It is true that the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act technically exempts Social Security and Medicare (but not Medicaid) from budget cuts—which is how the bill is being sold—but as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out,

The legislation would inexorably subject Social Security and Medicare to deep reductions.

The reason it would is that the massive cuts in other parts of the budget necessary to meet mandatory spending caps would cripple “key government functions.” Thus, politicians would have to make cuts to Medicare and Social Security to keep those other key government functions alive.

But more important for those most vulnerable in our society is this, from CBPP:

Adding to the extreme nature of the measure, the legislation also reverses a feature of every law of the past quarter-century that has contained a fiscal target or standard enforced by across-the-board cuts.  Since the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law of 1985, all such laws have exempted the core basic assistance programs for the poorest Americans from such across-the-board cuts.  “Cut, Cap, and Balance,” by contrast, specifically subjects all such programs to across-the-board cuts if its spending caps would be exceeded.

It is an ingenious scheme, the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act. It uses the considerable debt-angst Republicans have ginned up to accomplish something that conservatives have yearned for since November of 1980, when the radical Ronald Reagan was first elected. 

The Act’s mandatory caps and the supermajority provision to prevent tax increases, especially on the wealthy, would essentially shrink government to a size small enough that Grover Norquist could indeed drown it, and the poor and the working class, in his bathtub.

And despite the fact the Act is doomed to fail this year, Republicans intend on using it as a bludgeon to pummel Democrats next year, as the GOP attempts once again to convince anxious Americans to vote against their own economic interests and elect representatives of the moneyed class.

More than anything, that’s what the vote tomorrow is about.

Divided Loyalties

Ninety-seven percent of House Republicans and all but seven Republicans in the Senate have essentially taken two oaths, which I present below in both chronological order of execution and in order of primacy:

1.  To support and defend Grover Norquist in his effort to reduce government sufficiently so that he can “drown it in the bathtub.”

2.  To “support and defend the Constitution,” which includes the pledge to “faithfully discharge the duties of the office” on which they enter.

It is increasingly clear that Republicans, at least in the House, are not willing to discharge the duties of their office, faithfully or otherwise, but are willing to flush the country down the toilet in a spasm of misplaced loyalty to a life-long, wealthy right-wing activist, who stupidly said in 2009:

When I became 21, I decided that nobody learned anything about politics after the age of 21.

That’s the mental state of a man who is the most powerful Republican in the country.

Norquist’s ongoing claim to fame is his Americans for Tax Reform, which self-claims that it “was founded in 1985…at the request of President Reagan,” and which is responsible for the worst American domestic mischief of the past 30 years, outside of the 9/11 attacks.*

Here is the mission statement of this quasi-religious group:

Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) opposes all tax increases as a matter of principle.

We believe in a system in which taxes are simpler, flatter, more visible, and lower than they are today.  The government’s power to control one’s life derives from its power to tax.  We believe that power should be minimized.

Now the sentiments expressed in that mission statement are supposedly the same sentiments that voters held as they swept into power the Norquistas in the Tea Party movement who now control the Republican Party.

Or are they the same sentiments?

Nate Silver, now with The New York Times, analyzed just-released Gallup poll data and came up with the following, in terms of people’s preferences for the proper mix of taxes and budget cuts as part of the deal to reduce the deficit: 

Silver also noted, incredibly, that “there is a larger ideological gap between House Republicans and Republican voters than there is between Republican voters and Democratic ones.”  He illustrated that ideological gap this way:

As you can see, House Republicans, with their anti-tax oath, have positioned themselves on the extreme, right where Grover Norquist, himself an extremist, wants them.

Unfortunately for Democrats, as Silver points out,

the mix of spending cuts and tax increases that Mr. Obama is offering is quite close to, or perhaps even a little to the right of, what the average Republican voter wants, let alone the average American.

And still that’s not good enough.

Mr. Obama has reportedly offered, under one ($2 trillion) scenario, a mix of 83% spending cuts to 17% tax increases.  The other scenario ($4 trillion)involves somewhere between 75 and 80% spending cuts.

Hopefully, this exceedingly generous and base-vexing offer is far as Obama will go.  But it appears fairly obvious that unless he is prepared to meet Republicans on the extreme, nothing he offers will cause House Republicans to get up off their collective knees, bent in loyalty to an anti-government fanatic, and fulfil their oath to do the right thing for their country.

_______________________________

* Interestingly, Norquist, who is married to a Muslim, has been viciously attacked by conservatives like Frank Gaffney and Pamela Geller and David Horowitz for his supposed connection to unseemly Muslim leaders, possibly including the Muslim Brotherhood. Don’t you just love these crazy folks?  Never mind that Norquist was in fact associated with a true criminal, former lobbyist and convicted felon Jack Abramoff, something that doesn’t seem to bother right-wingers.

Democrats Have A Choice

I have heard liberals and Democrats I respect very much get it all wrong regarding the nature of the upcoming battle over raising the federal debt ceiling.

One analysis has it that Speaker Boehner is hamstrung by the Tea Party in the House and he can use that as leverage during upcoming negotiations with Obama and Reid. 

The gist of it is that Boehner can say to Democrats that he wants to do the right thing but those crazy teapartiers won’t let him.  He will argue that he needs something big—substantial cuts, say—to take back to the ravenous nuts in order to keep them in line. Otherwise, he will claim, those crazy extremist Republicans would be willing to tank the economy.

But that analysis is wanting.  Boehner can’t credibly make the argument that there’s no way to raise the debt ceiling without giving irresponsible House Republicans want they want.  Somehow, people forget that there are 193 Democrats in the House.  Only a handful of responsible Republicans—if there are any left in the House—are needed to get the debt ceiling raised and fend off a potential crisis.

If Boehner can’t find a handful of Republicans who care more about the country than they do their conservative ideology, then Democrats should stand back and watch Republicans destroy themselves, as the ideologues put the financial industry—and likely the entire economy—in the proverbial ditch again.  Not to mention that those around the world who buy U.S. Treasury bonds would have good reason to believe that America is no longer a stable place in which to invest.

Yes, Democrats must have the guts to call Boehner’s and the Tea Party’s bluffs.  If the GOP sabotages Wall Street (very unlikely since they have recently kissed and made up) and by extension Main Street, then that once-noble party will seal its fate for a generation.  The likely scenario, though, is that enough Republicans will join Democrats and raise the debt ceiling, thus averting potential disaster. 

Democrats, therefore, shouldn’t give an inch on the debt ceiling debate.

The other analysis I have heard involves the fact that 235 House Republicans have made love to tax-hater Grover Norquist and pledged their undying fealty to the concept that the government already taxes too much.  In post-orgasmic promise mode, they promise Grover never to raise taxes.

Never mind that revenues, as part of the overall economy, are lower now than any time since 1950. Never mind that the top marginal rates are lower than they’ve been since 1931.  Never mind that we are running huge deficits and piling up unfathomable debt, substantially due to a lack of federal income.

This analysis, much like the other one, seems to put Democrats in a box.  Republicans will not compromise on the revenue issue, so Democrats have to compromise on budget austerity.  In fact, under this analysis, Democrats have to essentially rubber-stamp the severe austerity advocated by the most extremist Republicans in history or watch the economy crumble. 

Again, Boehner, unless he meant it when he said there is no daylight between him and the Tea Party, can rely on sensible Democrats to pull his party’s chestnuts out of the debt-ceiling fire.  He can make a deal that will satisfy Democrats and save the economy and simultaneously allow his extremist colleagues to vote against the debt ceiling increase.  Or, he can risk our economic recovery—and risk the full faith and credit of the United States—and possibly send us into a recession greater than the one we just witnessed—or worse.

In short, Democrats can force some in the Republican Party to be responsible stewards of the nation’s business.  Or they can join in with Republicans and kill our nation’s well-being cut by cut by cut by cut.

Democrats, who control two-thirds of the relevant government in this case, have that obvious choice. It’s time Democrats—and the rest of America—find out if Republicans are willing to throw America’s economic fortunes to the wind out of a fanatical and dangerously misplaced loyalty to a discredited political ideology.

[top photo: AP; bottom: LA Progressive]
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 586 other followers

%d bloggers like this: