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.

“As Christianity Fades, The Birth Rate Falls And Third World Immigration Surges”

The White establishment is now the minorityThe demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore.”

—Bill O’Reilly, November 6, 2012

y now we’ve all noticed that some of the adults in the Republican Party are talking about the party doing some soul-searching, making it more appealing to women, Latinos, young people, and, yes, even African-Americans.

These Republican grownups, folks like political gurus Steve Schmidt and Mike Murphy, realize the electorate is changing before their eyes and know that Republicans have to change too.

Ain’t gonna happen.

Not only are the extremists in control of the Republican Party not going to change—can anyone imagine Rush Limbaugh embracing immigration reform, for God’s sake?—it makes no sense for them to change, given what it is that really animates most of them.

There are two major forces that serve to energize the base of the Republican Party today. One is fundamentalist or quasi-fundamentalist religion, which is waging war against Constitution-blessed secularism. The other is an increasingly acute cultural anxiety over the browning of America.

Those two forces meet and merge in the mind of Pat Buchanan, who wrote three years ago:

In what sense are we one nation and one people anymore? For what is a nation if not a people of a common ancestry, faith, culture and language, who worship the same God, revere the same heroes, cherish the same history, celebrate the same holidays, and share the same music, poetry, art and literature?

…The European-Christian core of the country that once defined us is shrinking, as Christianity fades, the birth rate falls and Third World immigration surges.

You see, to people like Pat Buchanan—I give him credit for honesty—a diverse nation is not a nation at all. True Americans must all have European blood and belief. All others represent an existential threat to the country.

About one-half of all American children under five have Buchanan skin, a fact that makes Buchanan’s thin cultural skin crawl. And there is evidence that Americans are slowly embracing the secular nation that our Constitution establishes.

Thus it is that those in the Republican Party who care deeply and disturbingly about the threat to the “European-Christian core of the country” —those misguided but earnest folks who nominated Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, for instance—are not going to tolerate any talk of moderating the party’s positions on the social issues.

The Republican Party platform in 2016 will look much like it did this year, a document that reeks of uncompromising extremism, such as the party’s stance on reproductive rights and the status of homosexuals. The party primary process will continue to produce extremist true-believers who honor that extremist document.

Because people who are moved by faith and fear, folks who are on a mission from God or who are defending their waning cultural dominance, will not be deterred by an unfavorable election outcome. They will not be coaxed or coerced into compromise by people in their party who don’t share their enthusiasm for lost-cause crusades.

So it is that we will continue to see Tea Party-types dominate the Republican Party until such time that there is nothing much left to dominate, at least on the national scene. Republicans will always have a voice at the local and state level, even a voice in the Congress, but with uncompromising crusading conservatives in charge of its national prospects, it will one day become irrelevant as a governing national party.

When that happens, when the browning of America forces Republicans into waging only regional and state and local battles, then perhaps the adults can take the party back.

And America would be all the better for it.

Afraid: The GOP War On Voting

I heard a conservative say on Sunday how “admirable” it was for folks to be willing to stand in line for six or seven hours to vote in Florida.

This morning I heard someone on the IQ-crippling morning show on Fox say essentially the same thing. How “dedicated” must those voters be.

All of us with a brain not poisoned by Fox “News” understand that what is going on in Florida and Ohio and elsewhere, in terms of how Republicans have intentionally made it more difficult for people, mostly Democratic people, to vote, would be a famous Fox-fueled scandal if it were reversed.

If Democrats were deliberately limiting or suppressing the voting opportunities of, say, white evangelicals, Fox hosts and guests—including Mitt Romney—would not be disingenuously fawning over those “dedicated” conservative Christians and their willingness to commit half a day—or night—to exercising their right to vote.

No, every minute of Fox broadcast time would be spent on how unpatriotic Democrats are to treat the voting process so shabbily, so self-servingly. “Our brave troops fought and died for that right!” they would sanctimoniously shout. They would demand the Justice Department put a stop to it. Hell, they would beseech GOP Jesus to send down a holy bolt of lightning to fry the oppressors.

The Joplin Globe, on Sunday, editorialized about voting, and offered quotes from famous Americans, including this one from John Kennedy:

A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.

In an editorial about the importance of voting, the Joplin Globe had nothing to say about how “afraid” Republicans are of letting “people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market.” Nothing to say.

♦ Nothing to say about Republicans in Ohio, particularly the secretary of state, who has done everything he can to make it more difficult to vote than it was four years ago, including his latest move, which may even be illegal, to give local election officials the power to invalidate ballots. (There will be a court fight on Monday, if nothing is resolved.)

♦ Nothing to say about onerous voter ID laws, which, as a Pennsylvania Republican stupidly but fortunately admitted, were designed to deliver the election to the Republican presidential candidate.

♦ Nothing to say about right-wing groups like True the Vote—founded just after Mr. Obama took office—whose real goal is to intimidate or delegitimize minority and young voters. Read this article by The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer and cringe at the inquisition-like tactics being used by Republicans—lily white Republicans—against people of color who have voted all their adult lives. (Local inquisitors like Republican honcho John Putnam are using True the Vote tactics here in Southwest Missouri, for God’s sake, a place where Democrats usually poll about 35%.)

♦ Nothing to say about what has been happening in Florida, the lines, the chaos and confusion, the suppression. Republicans there deliberately cut back early voting days, including the Sunday before election day, typically a strong day of voting by African-American voters. And the former Republican governor of that state, Charlie Christ, criticized the current Republican governor for refusing to extend early voting hours, as folks waited a ridiculously long time to vote:

The only thing that makes any sense as to why this is happening and being done is voter suppression. That’s unconscionable. I think it’s just the wrong thing to do. And the right thing to do would be to sign an executive order to make sure this doesn’t happen and you expand the hours.

As one voter there, who waited in line for almost two hours, said:

This is America, not a third-world country.

She forgot, I guess, that since 2010, Florida has been living under Tea Party governance, third-world or otherwise.

All of the disgusting Republican tactics are ostensibly designed to address voter fraud, a problem that doesn’t exist in the form that things like voter ID laws and registration inquisitions would help fix. The New Yorker article quoted a public-policy professor at Rutgers, who said,

It makes no sense for individual voters to impersonate someone. It’s like committing a felony at the police station, with virtually no chance of affecting the election outcome.

Thus, it makes no legal sense that Republicans would spend so much time and effort to attack a problem that is not a problem, but it does make political sense. Again, as John Kennedy would certainly say today, if he were around to witness what Fox “News” and the Joplin Globe and even much of the national press refuse to witness, is that Republicans, who have embraced extremism wholesale, truly are “afraid” to allow people to “judge the truth and falsehood in an open market.

Because when it comes down to it, the conservative spirit, which animates Republican politics today, is and always has been afraid of We the People.

 

Lazy Journalism

Nothing angers me more than lazy journalists, like the kind I heard on MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning discussing the state of our national politics.

The easiest thing in the world is to say about what is happening what Mike Barnicle said this morning:

There’s no certainty in this country as to what’s gonna happen to my children. We are now living in a country, where—because of the way this campaign is being waged on both sides—where too many people no longer can afford to dream, and that’s a huge hole in the American fabric. A huge hole.

The huge hole, of course, is in Barnicle’s careless, almost comatose, analysis. If he built his journalistic career on such sloppy, inattentive thinking he has been one lucky guy.

The uncertainty in the country belongs squarely on the Republican Party, whose leaders from the beginning of Obama’s term decided that the best political course for them to follow was to create as much uncertainty and cultural angst as possible. There is simply no disputing that.

And the Romney presidential campaign is following that myopic political script written after the 2008 election by trying to capitalize on the almost complete Republican obstruction of the Democrat’s attempt to fix the massive economic problems left to them by years of governance according to Republican Party principles.

On that note, today’s Joplin Globe editorial played the same kind of game that Mike Barnicle was playing on television this morning. Oh, the piece, titled, “Stop pointing fingers,” started out just fine:

In 2001, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that the federal government would collect surplus funds in the amount of $5.6 trillion during the period 2002 through 2011.

Instead, we incurred a deficit of $6.1 trillion resulting in a gross loss in federal revenues during that period of time in the amount of $11.7 trillion. The question, of course, is why such a miscalculation occurred.

Well, that is certainly one question. But another one would be, who was responsible for the reversal from surpluses to deficits? Huh?

On the way to answering its question, the Globe cited some studies by the CBO, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Government, and the Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative, all of which came up “with the same answers”:

 • The overall weakened economy was the primary cause. Growth for the entire period was predicted to be 3 percent. But from 2002 through 2007, growth was only 2.6 percent. Then during the period 2008 through 2011, growth was only an average of 0.2 percent. This overall lower-than-expected growth caused a 27 percent drop in federal revenue expectations during those years.

• The second highest cause was a 13 percent drop in federal revenues caused by enactment and continuation of all the Bush-era tax cuts, amounting to a 13 percent drop in federal revenues. Other smaller contributors were the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, increases in discretionary spending, defense spending increases not related to wars, the Obama stimulus, and the 2010 tax cuts.

Now, a fair-minded person, upon discovering that the Republican Party was in charge of both houses of Congress and the White House during most of the time the country’s economy was in decline and collapsing and when the path toward massive deficits was first being cleared of surplus brush, would naturally blame the Republicans for most of the mess. Right?

Except that the Joplin Globe editorialist, shielding Republicans from the blame they deserve, had a better idea:

It seems rather naive to be arguing about which party alone caused today’s American economic problems. Again, they both did so big time by cutting federal revenues as shown above, yet continuing to spend at historically high levels.

“Both sides” are apparently equally responsible, it turns out, despite the facts cited in the piece and despite what is plainly clear to anyone paying attention.

All of this, from Mike Barnicle’s dumb statements this morning to the Joplin Globe’s dumb editorial conclusion, serves the right-wing reactionary Republican Party very well, as it requires very little thought to simply assert that both parties are equally guilty, that both parties are equally to blame for the mess we’re in, and therefore the economic philosophy that brought us to our knees can be tried again.

Disturbed And Disturbing Democrats

There is always some correlation between what pollsters call “engagement” with an upcoming election and the eventual electoral turnout on election day. Just how well prior engagement and turnout correlate is a matter of debate, but the news from the latest in-depth Pew Research survey is not good news for Democrats in terms of a voter interest gap in the November election.

While it is true that more Democrats are juiced about their candidate than Republicans are juiced about Etch-A-Romney, this bothers me a lot:

Republicans hold the edge on several turnout measures, in contrast to 2008 when Democrats had leads – some quite substantial – on nearly every indicator. More Republican voters than Democratic voters are giving quite a lot of thought to the election (73% of Republicans vs. 66% of Democrats) and paying very close attention to election news (45% vs. 37%). In 2008, Democrats held leads on both interest measures, the first time that had occurred in campaigns dating to 1992.

Moreover, GOP voters are more likely than Democrats to say it really matters who wins the 2012 election (72% vs. 65%). Four years ago, Democrats were more likely than Republicans to say it really mattered who prevailed.

How can it be that only about two-thirds of the Democrats polled believe it “really matters” who wins? What narcotic, legal or illegal, is being ingested by the one-third of Democrats who don’t think it really matters? Whatever it is, Democratic leaders had better figure out how to pound reality into the heads of these disturbed and disturbing Democrats in the next four months or all of us will need narcotics to endure the reality of a Romney administration.

Jo Ann Emerson Asks For Forgiveness?

In the run-up to the 2010 elections, many Missouri bloggers tried to remind folks about Roy Blunt’s connection to Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay, both convicted felons, as well as Blunt’s other rather extensive ties to lobbyists. 

He trounced Robin Carnahan by a 54-41 margin.

Many also tried to point out his crucial role in the last-minute passing of the Medicare Part D entitlement—unfunded—which he acted out by helping the House Republican leadership cajole and caress as many reluctant Republicans as they could in order to get their votes, sometimes getting them to switch their votes. (FiredUp!Missouri has a nice summary of the sordid tale here.)

After all, as The Washington Post put it, the House leadership made sure their members knew the prescription drug benefit issue was important “to the party and the president.”

Yeah.  And to the drug companies.

The pharmaceutical industry benefits from the legislation because most of the cost is picked up by taxpayers and the Medicare program is not allowed to negotiate prices with the drug companies. Not allowed by law.  By a law that was pushed by Tom DeLay and Roy Blunt and enacted in 2003 by a majority of Republicans, including by Representative Jo Ann Emerson, a legislative neighbor of Blunt’s here in Missouri at the time.

As former Reagan domestic policy adviser and Bush I treasury official Bruce Bartlett said, “the Medicare drug benefit was a pure giveaway,” and it, “had no dedicated financing, no offsets and no revenue-raisers; 100% of the cost simply added to the federal budget deficit.”  He added:

…anyone who voted for the drug benefit, especially someone who switched his vote to make its enactment possible, has zero credibility. People like Franks ought to have the decency to keep their mouths shut forever when it comes to blaming anyone else for increasing the national debt.

He finished with this:

It astonishes me that a party enacting anything like the drug benefit would have the chutzpah to view itself as fiscally responsible in any sense of the term. As far as I am concerned, any Republican who voted for the Medicare drug benefit has no right to criticize anything the Democrats have done in terms of adding to the national debt.

Well, Jo Ann Emerson, who represents the south central and southeast part of our state, was one of those Republicans who voted for the prescription drug bill to keep it alive in the House.  And she was one of those who changed her vote, at the behest of Roy Blunt.  And then she voted against it on final passage.

Go figure.

In any case, I’m not at this time going to knock Emerson for that vote-and-switch. That’s not the point I want to make.

I want to offer her some praise.

Perhaps out of some kind of legislative penance, she is trying to make amends.  According to Vermont Public Radio Emerson is co-sponsoring a bill with Vermont Democrat Peter Welch that would,

allow the federal government to negotiate prices for prescription drugs that are bought under the Medicare Part D program.

Congressman Welch has essentially called Medicare Part D a “corrupt bargain,” and claims that his and Emerson’s bill would save taxpayers $156 billion over the next ten years by giving the government the power to negotiate a bulk discount for drugs.

The idea has failed before but Welch is optimistic about the bill’s chances this time:

I think we’ve got a pretty good shot at passing it this year because there is such a focus on the budget. The total focus on the new Republican majority is on cutting spending. This is tailor-made to help them achieve that goal. It’s $160 billion in savings. I think it’s a very compelling argument and it will allow those who claim they want to taxpayer money a chance to do so.

I’m not exactly sure how proud Rep. Emerson is of her co-sponsorship of this bill, since I could find nothing about it on her website, but here’s hoping she will enthusiastically work out her penance for her past legislative sins, at least one of them at the urging of Roy Blunt.

And perhaps this proposal will serve as a test for those Republicans in Congress who talk big about the debt and deficit but often shrink in the presence of traditional Republican constituents like the drug companies.

A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far, Far Away, Radicals Didn’t Control The GOP

Once upon a time, even Republicans thought it was “nutty to fool around with the Social Security system.” 

Those words were uttered in 1988 by George H.W. Bush during the Republican presidential primary, in which Republican candidate Pierre Samuel du Pont IV proposed partially privatizing Social Security, an idea that fell flat even with the GOP electorate.

But Bush II campaigned in 2000 on the issue of personal Social Security accounts and by the time he was reelected in 2004, he thought it was time to advance the idea beyond campaign rhetoric.  In his 2005 State of the Union address he said:

As we fix Social Security, we also have the responsibility to make the system a better deal for younger workers. And the best way to reach that goal is through voluntary personal retirement accounts.

Thankfully, given what happened in 2008, we didn’t “fix” Social Security in the way that Bush II and other conservative Republicans wanted to.  Bush’s first major failure—in 2010 the former President said it was his greatest failure—of his second term was handed to him not just by Democrats and the public, who wisely didn’t warm up to the idea, but also by legislators in his own party, legislators who controlled both houses of Congress at the time.

Well, the failures in the past haven’t deterred today’s radical Republicans from attempting to enact their privatization scheme.  Paul Ryan’s original budget proposal, the so-called “Roadmap for the Future,” essentially reiterated Bush II’s 2005 idea. 

And less than two weeks ago, with not nearly enough media attention, House Republicans introduced more privatize-Social Security legislation, this version with an immediate partial opt-out of Social Security and an eventual full opt-out of the system.

The bill, H.R. 2109, was introduced by the head of the House Republican campaign committee, Pete Sessions (TX).  Get that? The head of the House Republican campaign committee introduced a bill that would effectively kill Social Security.  How bold is that?

All of this demonstrates what Luke Fuszard at Business Insider (“How Republicans Win, Even When They Lose”) describes as the GOP’s, “remarkable capability for patience in advancing its agenda.” Extremists in the party have done this by continually offering radical ideas and hoping each time that those ideas will get more mainstream support, thus moving the debate in their direction.

It’s all really beautiful, in a macabre sort of way.

Fuszard uses as his prime example of this phenomenon the once-kooky Republican ideas on tax policy and the federal budget, ideas we know today as supply-side economics.  Again, once upon a time, both parties, Republicans and Democrats, agreed that tax rates and tax revenues ought to be such that the federal government could pay its bills.

How novel a notion.

But with the rise of Ronald Reagan and the Laffers, what were once fringe ideas became mainstream ideas.  Fuszard summarizes them:

Drawing on Austrian thinking, supply-side economists advocated large reductions in marginal income and capital gains tax rates. The resulting federal deficits would be temporary, they argued, as lowering tax rates would raise the needed revenue by causing faster economic growth.

He notes that with the Reagan victory,

Liberated conservatives decoupled tax rates from balanced budgets and no longer had to insist on fiscal responsibility. The theory was political genius that was easily sold to the American public – all the growth with none of the sacrifice. Republicans were transformed from a balanced-budget party to a tax-cutting party. In 1981, Reagan slashed the marginal rates for the top tax bracket from 70% to 50%. Later he further reduced the rate to 28%.

The rest, as they say, is budget history.  We are still living with the results of this fiscal foolishness, and Republicans, including current Republican presidential candidates, are still selling it as mainstream economic thinking.

Fuszard uses Tim Pawlenty’s “Better Deal” economic plan as an example:

According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, half of Pawlenty’s $7.6 trillion in tax cuts over the next ten years would accrue to people who earn $500,000 per year or more.

There’s nothing new, unfortunately, about Republicans proposing more tax cuts for rich folks or, God help us, proposing to privatize Social Security and Medicare.

What’s new is that they can be so bold as to broadcast their intentions to the public, seemingly without much hesitation or fear.

That’s how successful their long-term strategy has been.

Obama And The Economy: Going The Way Of The Timid

The President should advance ideas that work, and go to battle for them. 

—Robert Reich

Today’s Joplin Globe featured a column by Robert Reich in which the former Clinton cabinet member scolds President Obama for not being bold enough in “spurring growth of jobs and wages.”

Saying that Obama is embracing ideas that appeal to Republicans, including “a corporate tax cut, accompanied by the closing of some corporate tax loopholes,” Reich makes the point that all economists this side of Sean Hannity are making:

Can we get real for a moment? Businesses don’t need more financial incentives. They’re already sitting on a vast cash hoard estimated to be upwards of $1.9 trillion… The problem isn’t on the supply side. It’s on the demand side. Businesses are reluctant to spend more and create more jobs because there aren’t enough consumers out there able and willing to buy what businesses have to sell… The reason consumers aren’t buying is consumers’ paychecks are dropping, adjusted for inflation.

Now, that’s a pretty standard analysis of the situation. Yet, mainly because of the fact that Republicans control the House and essentially control the Senate—the filibuster now gives the minority party veto power over everything—Obama can’t successfully act boldly to do what needs to be done.

Reich offers some ideas on how to solve the problem of the “continuing crisis on the demand side,” which includes:

♦ Exempt the first $20,000 of income from payroll taxes for a year.

♦ Create a WPA for the long-term unemployed.

♦ Allow distressed homeowners to declare bankruptcy on their primary residence, thereby giving them more clout with lenders to reorganize their mortgage loans.

♦ Lend federal money to (rather than bail out) states and cities that are now firing platoons of teachers, fire fighters, and other workers because state and local coffers are empty.

Of course, there is about the same chance of Newt Gingrich becoming president as there is of seeing the kinds of things Reich proposes getting passed through Congress.  And part of the reason why is demonstrated by today’s editorial from the Joplin Globe, which—back to its usual conservative line—spurted the following falsehood:

Voters have rejected the liberal approach to spend our way back to prosperity. That approach has not worked as the economy teeters on the edge and unemployment seems to be unsolvable, at least in the short term.

The stimulus bill passed in 2009 was a relatively moderate approach to the problem of a severely damaged economy and, thus, it had rather moderate results.  But it did have results.  Now that the money from the stimulus has mostly made its way through the economy, what we have is an obvious need for more short-term stimulus to keep the recovery going. 

As was proved in 1937 here in America and in Japan in 1997 and as is being proved in the United Kingdom and Ireland and Greece and elsewhere in Europe today, cutting back government spending and emphasizing debt reduction in times like these is a recipe for stagnation, or worse.

Unfortunately, as Paul Krugman and others have pointed out, the Obama administration has bought into the idea that worry over deficits is more important than worry over jobs and wages. David Dayen notes that,

Republicans theorize that a deficit deal would increase confidence in the business sector and financial markets, spurring economic growth all by itself.

You hear that all the time from Republicans.  Business hates uncertainty.  Business needs confidence.   

Sadly, Mike Konczal, of the Roosevelt Institute, relays this:

Someone noted that with Goolsbee leaving all of the big names surrounding economic policy are no longer economists but lawyers and people associated with Wall Street. And it is also telling that, with the Larry Summers editorial from the weekend, all of the economists you’d recognize who have left the administration are calling for more stimulus, while it is those there now calling for confidence.

Confidence it is, I suppose. A Democratic administration, in the face of a turtle-like economic recovery, with a game-changing election on the horizon, appears to be going the way of the timid, embracing the tried-and-failed economic theories of the Republican Party.

Perhaps the administration and fanatical Republicans in Congress can come up with a way for challenged consumers to spend that magical business confidence at the grocery store or at the appliance store or at the car dealership.

Friends May Go

Friends may come and friends may go,
Friends may peter out we know;
We’ve been friends through thick and thin,
Peter out…or peter in.

—old toast

Anthony Weiner, famous now for acting like an unsupervised teenager, was one of my favorite liberals.  He took on the bad guys on Fox “News”; he took on the hard-right Republican rabble in the House; he articulated the kind of liberalism in which I strongly believe.

Which, of course, is why he has to go, has to sort of peter out.

It doesn’t matter to me that he broadcast his photogenic weenie all over creation, or that he had sex talk with consenting adults, or that he rubbed himself raw while doing either one of the above.

But it does matter that he could walk in front of his constituents, via the camera he loves so much, and tell a self-serving lie.  He should have either shut up or confessed or resigned.  Democrats believe in the authenticity of government, in the basic credibility of the political class.  Lying so blatantly, even about one’s weenie, undermines that credibility and undermines the Democrats’ argument for good government.

If Mr. Weiner really believes in the politics he’s been preaching, he will leave the scene.  He certainly realizes that the other side will use his continued presence to delegitimize not so much him, but his brand of politics and his political party, home to his kind of politics.

He owes it to the Democratic Party, to his fellow Democrats, and to his fellow liberals, to go home, peter out or peter in.

Freedom Works’ Crib Notes

While the national media foolishly and sadly follow Sarah Palin around the country, serious Tea Party people—Palin is not seriously thinking about running for president—are focusing on the battle ahead.

Dick Armey, former House Majority Leader and now Pooh-Bah of Freedom Works, has graciously supplied freshman House Republicans with a few simple points to make about the party’s plan to hold the debt ceiling hostage in exchange for some ideological candy and about the party’s plot to murder Medicare in its sleep.

Debt Ceiling:Key point: the world does not end if the debt ceiling is not raised. Treasury Secretary Geitner [sic] is not likely to default on our loans. Spending cuts will become a priority before default.”

Translation: We don’t have to worry about any fallout from our irresponsible behavior.  Geithner will either have to do our bidding or we will blame him for any trouble!  It’s that simple fellow Republicans!

Medicare Caper:Get out there and talk to people. Hold town halls at senior centers and other areas where the population is especially concerned about their benefits being cut. Take the lessons of ’94 and ’95 and get out there and explain to people that their immediate benefits will not be affected.”

Translation: Go tell the old folks who love their Medicare, and who vote in droves, that they have nothing to fear.  We’re not going to murder their Medicare, only their children’s and grandchildren’s Medicare. What old-timer wouldn’t buy into that plan?  No harm, no foul. The geezers get to keep (most) of their current bennies, while the younger folks will both pay for those bennies and cough up more scrilla for cost increases in their own health care coverage resulting from our stingy “new” plan.  Let’s hope the voters don’t figure out the unfairness of that part of our electoral scheme.

The Myth Of Doing Nothing: “We need to dispel the myth that if we leave Medicare alone it will stay the same. It won’t…Democrats do not have a plan of their own. Hold up a blank piece of paper as a powerful image of their do-nothing approach. Stick to your message.”

Translation: As long as Democrats are just trying to keep us from killing Medicare, we can win the message battle by simply saying our plan to kill it is the only one out there.

Forbes: Congressman Billy Long is “Caught In An Ideological Buzz-Saw”

Clay Bowler of Bungalow Bill’s Conservative Wisdom pointed me to a story on Forbes about the “perverse GOP ideology” related to the controversy brewing in Congress over emergency aid to Joplin.

Not only does the writer, Rick Ungar, point out Eric Cantor’s “rather heartless engagement with this heartbreaking situation,” he mentions our own congressman:

…it turns out that Joplin is represented in Congress by a Tea Party backed Republican named Billy Long – one of the angry freshmen elected to Congress on a platform of being ‘fed up’ with career politicians and who ran on the motto that he was “Tea Party before Tea Party was cool.”

So, what is a Tea Party Congressman – dedicated to smaller government and individual responsibility – to do when the very people who are hurt and in serious need of federal assistance are the same people who sent him to Congress in support of his uber-conservative beliefs?

In Long’s case, the answer -so far- has been to do nothing as he weighs his ideological commitment against the dramatic needs of his constituents and the political damage that might follow whatever decision he makes.

Ungar ends his rather long piece with this:

Check in next November on the status of Billy Long’s Congressional career.

I have a feeling that this Tea Partier from a Tea Party district will be looking for new work as his inability to side with the folks who count on him – simply because he was caught in an ideological buzz-saw – will be more than enough to make him a one-term Congressman.

Where have you heard that before?

Tea Party Chickens

How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown?            

Bob Dylan

 

The following excerpt from a Jonathan Allen story on Politico is for anyone out there who thought my question for Congressman Billy Long—about the GOP’s expressed reluctance to provide Joplin with federal aid—was irrelevant or a joke:

While much of Joplin, Mo., is still under rubble from a devastating tornado, conservatives in Congress are starting to argue for a tougher approach to disaster aid, demanding that any funding be offset by cutting federal money elsewhere.

Disasters will no longer be considered “emergencies” if conservatives win this battle to redefine the way Congress funds aid packages for states and cities stricken by natural and man-made catastrophes.

Get that? Republicans are “demanding” that what once was considered by all parties to be emergency funding will now be subject to a political fight, if the GOP has its way.  Surely, now everyone can see that asking our congressional representative Billy Long where he stands on that issue might be of some relevance?

Southeast Missouri Republican Jo Ann Emerson had no trouble making herself clear.  She told Politico:

“I do not believe in offsetting emergency funds, period,” Missouri Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, a senior GOP member of the spending panel, said.*

As Politico points out, “more than $1 trillion” was added to the deficit “by designating most spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as ‘emergency’ funding.”  Yet, we have the prospect of House Republicans, and who knows about the Senate, of putting Joplin’s aid right in the middle of a protracted political fight. 

Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill said on the Senate floor:

There is no question that we have to be careful about the way we spend federal money. But with all due respect to Congressman Cantor, I have a hard time believing that if this were in his congressional district, he would be talking about how additional disaster relief would not be available unless we found some other program to take it from…We must be there for them. We all must stand with Joplin; all of America must stand with Joplin, and we will.”

Exactly.

On Morning Joe this morning, Politico‘s chief White House correspondent, Mike Allen, called the House GOP stance a “radical idea“:

This is a basic change in the way Congress does business. This is part of House Republicans effort to say “We’re gonna do things completely differently.”  In the past, when floods, terrorism, hurricanes, tornadoes, came up, and they’re in need of aid, that was considered an emergency and Congress just spent money that it didn’t have, spent money regardless of spending caps that they set for itself.

House Republicans are taking a pretty radical idea and saying if we’re going to spend on these emergencies, we’re gonna take that money from someone else…

It’s coming up with Joplin because there’s gonna be a big, big tab there and Republicans are saying, “We’re not just gonna write Missouri a check. We’re gonna take that money out of somewhere else, and President Obama, if you want to request money for Missouri, we’re gonna find cuts elsewhere.”  This is brand new, in the past it was just spent as free money. That if somebody needed aid, that it was just put out on top of whatever else Congress was doing.

For all my Joplin Tea Party friends, for all the Tea Party folks here in Southwest Missouri, this is a test of your radical Tea Party ideas. I have been to three Tea Party rallies here in Joplin and I have heard the same thing each time: Government is the problem and we need to cut, cut, cut. People are taxed too much and Obama is a socialist.

Well, that socialist will soon request emergency funds from Congress** to send to Joplin and apparently a majority of Republicans in the House are willing to play chicken with him, just as they have done on the budget and the debt ceiling increase.

So, what we are witnessing with this Tea Party-radical move by Republicans in Congress to change the rules for emergency spending—after they have spent $1 trillion on “emergency” funding for Iraq and Afghanistan and after they have approved of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans—is Tea Party chickens coming home to roost right here in the middle of Tea Party Nation, here in our beloved city.

How does it feel?

________________________________

* The Huffington Post reported this

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), a member of the Appropriations Committee, showed The Huffington Post photos of her district under 12 feet of water as a result of flooding from the storms. She said an emergency aid package shouldn’t need to be paid for with spending cuts but said she has “no doubt” that some of her colleagues on the committee will push for offsets. She guessed that none of them will come from disaster-prone areas.

“It makes me sad” that some Republicans are insisting on offsets for natural disaster of this scale, Emerson said. And in the case of Cantor, “I was disappointed. I need to take him to my district.”

Still, she said she is hopeful that some committee Republicans will side with her in not pushing for offsets, particularly some of the newer members who hail from districts hurt by the storms. People have a change of heart on spending “all of a sudden when it becomes personal,” she said. “My own constituents would be horrified if I didn’t do everything I could” to get aid.

________________________________

** In case you missed it, here is how the President ended his remarks on Tuesday about the storms across the midwest:

I know that a lot of people are wondering how they’ll get through the coming days or months or even years, but I want everybody in Joplin, everybody in Missouri, everybody in Minnesota, everybody across the Midwest to know that we are here for you.  The American people are by your side.  We’re going to stay there until every home is repaired, until every neighborhood is rebuilt, until every business is back on its feet.  That’s my commitment, and that’s the American people’s commitment.

 [Updated Claire McKaskill's comments at 12:30pm]

Remarks And Asides

Senator Roy Blunt is now on record as favoring the death of Medicare. Perhaps voters won’t remember that vote by the time 2016 comes around.  I know I’ll do my part to help voters forget.

_______________________

I watched MSNBC’s Ed Schultz humbly and unequivocally apologize last night for calling the insufferable Laura Ingraham a “right-wing slut” on his radio show the previous day.  He directly apologized to Ms. Ingraham, as well as MSNBC and others affected. Schultz took himself off the air, unpaid.

Can anyone imagine Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity or Glenn Beck—people Schultz is often compared to—making such an apology?

________________________

As a sure sign he wants to be a Republican presidential candidate someday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is pulling his state out of a 10-state regional greenhouse gas reduction program by the end of this year. He can now check that one off his “Get Right With GOP Jesus Checklist.” Let me see: Anti-choice? Check. Anti-gay marriage? Check. Anti-union? Check. Anti-gun laws? Uh-oh. More work to do on that one.

________________________

Speaking of GOP Jesus, there seems to be some confusion as to just who is occupying that role at the moment. Dick Cheney told the Houston Chronicle,

I worship the ground the [sic] Paul Ryan walks on.

I suppose it’s only right that Cheney has booted Jesus out of the leadership, since it’s Ryan who is now hanging on the cross of Republican politics.

________________________

There is hope for Southwest Missouri now that the race in NY-26 is over.  Like in this neck of the Ozark woods, the 26th district in New York is incorrigibly red and has put few Democrats in that seat over the last century—it was Jack Kemp’s seat for God’s sake.  But times are changing, and it’s just possible to put up a real Southwest Missouri Democrat in 2012—someone who will fight to protect our social safety net—and have at least a fighting chance against a candidate—Colonel Billy Long—who in every way supports the radical Republican agenda.

___________________________

A judge in Wisconsin has struck down the anti-collective bargaining scheme passed shamelessly by Republicans in that state, who, the judge ruled, violated that state’s open meeting law.  Expecting, though, that Republicans will simply pass the law again, a spokesman for We Are Wisconsin, a pro-union group, said that Republicans,

have one last chance to abandon Walker’s rapidly-sinking ship or be held to account in the upcoming elections.

Well, they won’t abandon the ship.  It’s clear that around the country Republicans believe this is do-or-die for reactionary conservatism, and Democrats had better be up to the challenge.  A lot is at stake.

___________________________

I heard Newt Gingrich address the flap over his gigantic Tiffany & Co. charge account by saying that he and his wife are “very frugal.”  Look, I believe him.  Who has extra money to spend on high-dollar jewelry with so many buffets out there waiting to be conquered?

___________________________

Speaking of Georgia congressmen, a freshman Republican congressman from Georgia lectured one of his constituents on personal responsibility—”You want the government to take care of you“—and then proceeded to say that the reason he accepted his government-subsidized health care is “because it’s free.”

Look, the way Republicans are opening themselves up politically by saying and doing dumb stuff like this, one would think they have a guilt complex and want to lose in 2012, as a sort of penance for their wrong-doing. 

I, for one, pledge to help them all get right with God.

Republican Math, You Know

I know much has been made about Bill Clinton’s “I hope Democrats don’t use it as an excuse to do nothing” backstage comment to Paul Ryan, about the dazzling win by a pro-Medicare Democrat in blood-red NY-26.

But let’s look at Ryan’s comment to Clinton:

My guess is it’s gonna sink into paralysis, is what’s gonna happen. And you know the math. I mean, It’s just — we knew we were putting ourselves out there. But you gotta start this. You gotta get out there. You gotta get this thing moving.

Despite Ryan’s sounding like a wounded pup looking for some comfort from his master, I will give him and the Republicans credit for putting themselves “out there.” They are out there, that’s for sure. But I’m more interested in this part of Ryan’s comment:

You know the math.

Ah. The math. As columnist Gene Lyons has said, Republicans have been waging a war on arithmetic for years. Now, it turns out that Ryan knows “the math.” And he knows others “know the math.” Which doesn’t explain why, if the math is so crystal clear, why his budget plan—now the plan of the entire Republican Party—fails so miserably in its arithmetic.

Let’s forget for the moment the eventual and drastic reductions in Medicaid; let’s forget for a moment the destruction of the Medicare system, replacing it with something worth much less; let’s forget about the cuts in domestic programs like food stamps—which money goes directly in the coffers of local retailers like Wal-Mart and Target and other grocers—and instead, let’s just focus for a minute on the Republican vision for taxes—which any realistic budget mathematician has to consider—and see what we find.

We find tax cuts.

That’s right. The man and the party so concerned about “the math” propose to cut taxes even more, cutting the top individual rate from the current 35% down to 25%, which represents the lowest rate since 1931. You remember 1931, right? That was before Social Security. Before Medicare. Before Medicaid. Before Democrats stepped in to rescue America from that era’s Republican Tea Party dominance.

With a federal budget already starving from insufficient revenues, a budget that is as much a victim of Republican arithmetic as an aging population, we have Republicans in Congress—both chambers, now—proposing to cut taxes even more, suggesting, as they always do, that doing so will result in—voilà!—a thriving, prosperous, job-creating economy. You know, like the one George W. Bush left us!

Paul Ryan said to Bill Clinton, “You know the math.” Yes, we know the math, the Republican math.

And a lot of us know it doesn’t add up, not now, not ten years ago, or twenty years into the future.

Billy Long Refuses To Answer Question About Eric Cantor’s Warnings On Federal Help For Joplin

Okay. I tried to keep politics out of the disaster in Joplin.  Now, I’m pissed.

From Mediaite:

Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is eager to keep a lid on government spending, but in the aftermath of deadly tornados [sic] ripping through Missouri, the need for disaster relief funds will likely grow. The budget-conscious Cantor isn’t prepared to hold back granting such funds, but is warning that it will have to be offset with spending cuts elsewhere.

Cantor stated “if there is support for a supplemental, it would be accompanied by support for having pay-fors to that supplemental.” The term “pay-fors” means either tax increases or spending cuts, and given the fact that the Republican leadership has repeatedly stated they will not support raising taxes, that leaves only the cutting option. And since President Obama has already pledged whatever federal resources are necessary to help the victims in Missouri, it seems another budget battle might be looming sooner than expected.

While I was standing and watching Diane Sawyer live on ABC News’ evening broadcast from Joplin, I got a call from my brother, who informed me of Cantor’s comments.  I confess I haven’t been following closely the national news, focusing rather on what has been happening in Joplin related to the tornado.  So, I didn’t hear that Cantor had actually said what he said.

Across the street from St. John’s Medical Center, where ABC News was set up, was the site of a just-concluded press conference by the FEMA folks and local politicians—including our U.S. Congressman, Billy Long—updating progress on the post-tornado efforts.  Naturally, I moved across the street and tried to find Mr. Long to ask him about Cantor’s ridiculous comments.

I found him.

Immediately—I could see it in his eyes—he recognized me as, I suppose, his local tormentor.  I shook his hand and ask “Mr. Long” about Cantor’s comments, about what he thought about them, about whether we could expect federal money. 

And instead of answering me, instead of telling me what he thought, he ignored me.  He turned and walked away.  My congressman, the man elected to represent me, simply walked away without a peep.  Without a single bleeping word.  Without answering whether the victims of this disaster in Joplin could expect federal help or whether they—meaning, really, President Obama and the Democrats—would have to fight the goddamn Republican leadership for it.

I’m pissed.

Long’s “handler,’ or whoever the aide was trailing him, rudely told me they would “look into it.”  Damn right they had better look into it.

I found Wally Kennedy, the Joplin Globe news reporter who I had seen interviewing Long as I was making my way across the street, and I asked him if he had asked Long about Cantor’s comments. Kennedy, obviously and understandably preoccupied with local events, hadn’t heard about them and therefore hadn’t ask Long about what Cantor said.

Thus, Long wasn’t challenged, as far as I know.

Fifteen or twenty minutes later I saw Billy Long on CNN being interviewed by John King.  Nothing about Cantor’s comments that I saw.  Nothing about whether Billy Long will fight for federal funds to help rebuild this devastated city.  Nothing.

And that had better change.

Roy Blunt Weighs In On Kill-Medicare Budget Plan

I want to mention Missouri Senator Roy Blunt’s comment on the Paul Ryan/Republican Party throw-Medicare-from-the-train budget proposal, as well as his comment on Newt Gingrich’s assessment of the “radical” GOP budget plan.

Here’s what Blunt said to ABC News on Tuesday:

I don’t think it’s an extreme proposal at all….It’s not a radical idea. It’s one of many ideas we ought to be looking at…

Newt is an ideas guy…I didn’t understand the radical, right-wing social engineering comment and I suspect he wishes he hadn’t described it that way.  It would be a change but not a dramatic change. It’s just a different way of looking at how we provide choices for health care for people—you get competition and you get transparency as part of the process and when you have choice and transparency you wind up with better price and better quality and that’s one of the things we need to look at…

First, Blunt is lying through his Baptist teeth when he says he doesn’t understand Newt’s “radical, right-wing engineering comment.”  Of course he understands it; that’s why he suggests Newt should change it.

Second, that stuff about “choice and transparency” leading to “better price and better quality” has been contradicted by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, which estimated that the Ryan-Republican plan would cost those who reach 65 in ten years much more money, upwards of $12,500, or 61% of the cost of the average private plan.

Two more things from the ABC interview: Blunt irresponsibly threatened to not vote for an increase in the debt ceiling (the President, Blunt said, is “clearly gonna have to make some structural change decisions“) and he indicated he would vote against an effort in the Senate to cut off some of the subsidies oil companies are getting from taxpayers.  Wow. What a shocker.

For the record, last year Blunt was, according to OpenSecrets, in “the all-time top 10” for BP oil money in the House and was a major recipient of oil and gas money last year. 

(H/T, FiredUp!Missouri.)

__________________________


Senator Ayn Rand

I found the following clip via Jonathan Chait at The New Republic.  It demonstrates, as Chait points out, just how philosophically deranged devotees of Ayn Rand are:

Get it?  If you believe people have a right to health care, then you believe in slavery.  It’s just that simple in a Randian mind.  And that is the dominant mind of the Republican Party these days.

Democrats need to make the 2012 election a referendum on this Randian philosophy.  They need to make it clear that a vote for a Republican is a vote for a party that has unmistakably embraced a dark and disturbing selfishness, which in the world of Ayn Rand and her followers, is a virtue.

Newt’s Romney Problem

Sam Stein reports that Buffet King and GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has recently characterized the Affordable Care Act as,

madness” and “indefensible,” pressing for it be repealed and defunded and praising the efforts of several state attorneys general who are challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate.

Except that Stein also reports the following, which, I suppose, does prove in a weird sort of way that Newt is a man of ideas:

In a June 2007 op-ed in the Des Moines Register, Gingrich wrote, “Personal responsibility extends to the purchase of health insurance. Citizens should not be able to cheat their neighbors by not buying insurance, particularly when they can afford it, and expect others to pay for their care when they need it.” An “individual mandate,” he added, should be applied “when the larger health-care system has been fundamentally changed.”

In 2008’s “Real Change,” he wrote, “Finally, we should insist that everyone above a certain level buy coverage (or, if they are opposed to insurance, post a bond). Meanwhile, we should provide tax credits or subsidize private insurance for the poor.”

In 2005’s “Winning the Future,” he expanded on the idea in more detail: “You have the right to be part of the lowest-cost insurance pool and you have a responsibility to buy insurance. … We need some significant changes to ensure that every American is insured, but we should make it clear that a 21st Century Intelligent System requires everyone to participate in the insurance system.”

If that’s not enough for you Gingrich fans, there’s more:

It wasn’t just insurance coverage mandates that Gingrich supported. According to a July, 21 2005 Gannett News Service article, the Georgia Republican also said that he would have Congress mandate physical education five days a week for all elementary and high school pupils as a way of combating obesity and diabetes. Such a vision of health care reform seems drawn from the same philosophical threads as the plan that President Obama signed last spring — as well as from the first lady’s campaign to improve children’s health.

Good luck in the GOP primaries, Newt!  And remember, when it comes time to explain this stuff, let Romney go first.

A Geezerhood Of Lack

On ABC’s This Week on Sunday I watched a segment featuring GOP budget mogul Paul Ryan and the Republican plan to murder Medicare in its sleep.

Part of the segment was taped at one of Ryan’s town hall meetings, in which the older folks tend to turn out in force.  One couldn’t help but notice that most of the people were 55 or over, since Ryan cleverly asked those who were 55 or over to identify themselves with a show of hands. He told those folks they had nothing to worry about because, “this budget does not affect your Medicare benefits.”

Essentially, he was implying that the people who should be worried are those younger folks who will not only get stuck with the bill for those who raised their hands in that room, but will also get stuck with a new system designed to relegate them to a geezerhood of lack.

Part of the pain Republicans want to inflict to “solve” our debt problems falls on those whom Republicans hope won’t be all that worried about a future that is so many years away.  And everyone knows it is pure politics to tell all those geezers, who proudly raise their hands at town hall meetings, that they could comfortably vote for Republican candidates who want to end Medicare because they will be unaffected. 

Not to worry, says the GOP.

Except, how can the geezers be so sure?  Just how long can they count on the younger folks to keep paying for wheelchairs and medicine and transplants—you know, all the good stuff that comes with aging—after those younger folks figure out that while they are paying for those generous Medicare benefits, their own golden years will in reality be their tin-can years.

As in, “Brother, can you spare several thousand bucks so I can get insurance?

Ryan was asked what he thought of Speaker John Boehner’s crawdadding comment about the budget plan, including the Speaker saying that he wasn’t necessarily “wedded to one single idea.”

Ryan said,

I’ve talked to John about this. It’s an institutional statement reflecting budget resolutions. And what a budget resolution — which is what we’ve passed — it’s the architecture of a budget.

While the architect of the GOP budget doesn’t seem to have any doubts whatsoever about his design plan, it seems that the leader of the Republican Party in the House does. 

And let’s hope that the people who will ultimately have to live within the Republican architecture will get a good look at the engineering that went into the plan and realize that, for those under 55 at least, it is a house of cards.

Michele Bachmann Wants To Raise Taxes, But Not On The Wealthy

Michele Bachmann, billed as a “Tea Party star,” appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America this morning and said some amazing things.  But before I get to those amazing things, I want to show how George Stephanopoulos set up the interview. 

It began with these revealing graphics created from the newest ABC News/Washington Post poll:

Let’s talk about these poll numbers,” Stephanopoulos began, “that seems to be very strong support for President Obama’s position in this budget fight and a rebuke of the House Republican position.” 

Bachmann responded:

I think if you look at those numbers that would be accurate, but I don’t think that totally reflects where the American people are coming from.  First of all, if we tax 100% of what everyone made who make $250,000 or more—everything they made—that would get us about 6 months worth of revenue—

STEPHANOPOULOS: Every bit helps, doesn’t it?

BACHMANN: Well, but it wouldn’t be enough.  I think that’s what’s shocking. We could take 100% of all the profits of every Fortune 500 company and that would give us 40 days worth of revenue. We could also take 100% of everything that the billionaires in this country own and that wouldn’t be enough to solve the problem.  So it’s really a matter of having everyone involved. Part of the problem, George, is that 47% of all Americans pay virtually no federal income tax.  So, we need to broaden the base.

Let’s stop here and analyze what she has said so far:

♦ The ABC/Post poll numbers aren’t accurate because they don’t fit her view of what the American people believe.

♦ She dodges the issue of the wealthy paying more taxes by turning the conversation to an absurd idea of confiscating all profits and all wealth (no matter how accurate her numbers), a typical Rush Limbaugh trick.

♦ She argues for a tax increase on all Americans.  Yes, she did, my teapartying friends.  She just sat there in front of God and George Stephanopolous and said,

“We need to broaden the base.”

What base?  The income tax base.  Those deadbeat Americans who aren’t paying any federal income tax need to cough it up.  How else do you “broaden” the income tax base without making people who aren’t paying income taxes pay them? 

Let’s be clear: In response to a question about widespread support among Americans for raising taxes on the wealthy, a popular Tea Party Republican (potential) candidate for president insisted that instead of the wealthy, the non-wealthy ought to pay more taxes!

Nevermind that most of those who don’t pay federal income taxes are among those with low or moderate incomes, who nevertheless pay Social Security and Medicare and sales and property taxes.

But she wasn’t done:

STEPHANOPOULOS: You say that everyone has to be involved and I think that’s reflected also in those numbers. A lot of Americans look at those numbers and say it’s wrong for seniors who rely on Medicare to get cuts when wealthy people get tax cuts extended.

BACHMANN: Well, and I think that again President Obama was the one who was behind the tax cut extension bill in December. That was his position.  And I would agree with senior citizens. We’re very concerned.  And I think that’s why a better name maybe for the Paul Ryan budget would be the “55 and under plan.”  Because no one 55 years of age or older will see any change whatsoever to Medicare. That’s an extremely crucial piece of information.

So, we don’t want any senior citizen to feel, or near senior citizen—I’m 55 years old, and so it wouldn’t apply to me either—and so there are no changes to people who are 55 years or older…

Besides the disgusting chutzpah of blaming Obama for the tax cut extension for the wealthy—when Bachmann and her Republican friends were holding hostage the unemployed and the economy last December—here we see, as Bachmann laid it out, the strategy for attacking Obama during the 2012 campaign season and defending the Republican “kill-Medicare and maim-Medicaid” budget plan:

♦ Claim Obama agrees that cutting taxes for the wealthy helps the economy since he signed off on those tax cuts.

♦ Claim that the Republican Party is really the party looking out for seniors since the GOP plan would leave a relatively generous Medicare benefit package in place until those seniors die, no matter how much hurt it places on those under 55.  Thus, Bachmann labels this “an extremely crucial piece of information.” 

It’s “crucial” because those 55 and older show up and vote in droves both in mid-term elections (around 60%) and presidential elections (around 70%).  And those who show up tend to vote for Republicans (in 2010, 59% of them). In fact, in 2010, even though voters 65 and older make up only 13% of the population at large, they accounted for a staggering 21% of the 2010 electorate. 

And the wealthy, of course, are part of the mix, too. A Project Vote study reported that in 2010:

The number of ballots cast by Americans from households making over $200,000 a year increased by 68 percent compared to 2006.

It’s not hard to understand how Republicans are planning their path to victory in 2012.

But despite Bachmann’s extremely crucial piece of information, Democrats have their own, which they need to broadcast night and day:

Republicans will stop at nothing to defend their rich constituents and they want to solve all of our budget problems on the backs of the poor, the disabled, and the working class.

Just think about this: The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that those unfortunate folks under 55 today, if the GOP has its way with its budget plan, would be expected to fork over more than two-thirds of the cost for their health care by the year 2030, even while paying current Medicare benefits for those currently 55 and over.

If that crucial piece of information doesn’t get the young and non-wealthy out to vote next year, then nothing will.

Monkey Business Is Business As Usual For Some

Since I have sometimes mentioned the racially-tinged and racist elements that make up some of the hysterical resistance to Barack Obama (D-Kenya), I suppose I ought to mention the Orange County Republican bigwig, Marilyn Davenport, who has now become a part of the “it has nothing to do with his race” racist Right. 

Ms. Davenport has issued not an apology but a defense of her forwarding a racist email depicting the first African-American President of the United States as a child-monkey:  

I’m sorry if my email offended anyone. I simply found it amusing regarding the character of Obama and all the questions surrounding his origin of birth. In no way did I even consider the fact he’s half black when I sent out the email. In fact, the thought never entered my mind until one or two other people tried to make this about race.

This episode reminded me a little bit of our own Congressman-now-Senator Roy Blunt and his infamous “monkey joke,” which he told before Focus on the Family’s so-called Values Voter Summit in 2009. In Blunt’s case, and I suppose in his defense, at least he never directly tied his joke to Obama or featured an Obama-monkey photo so the folks would clearly get the message.

Marilyn Davenport, who said she would “NOT resign” her “central committee position,” wanted to make sure the recipients of her email did not miss the point: 

Class. Pure Class.

“Happy Days” Is Here Again

In many ways, Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House Republican Conference, is the prototypical contemporary conservative Republican: anti-choice, anti-stem cell research, anti-gay marriage, and so on. For my money, Hensarling, a rising star in the GOP, is the favorite to replace retiring Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2012. 

Congressman Hensarling was mentored in politics by none other than ex-Senator Phil Gramm, responsible for much economic mischief during the Reagan years. Gramm was also co-chair of John McCain’s failed 2008 presidential campaign, and just before the economy collapsed that year, he famously said:

Thank God the economy is not as bad as you read in the newspaper every day.

Apparently God wasn’t tuned into Republican prayers at the time, thus the Great Recession.

In any case, Jeb Hensarling’s mentor said that America had become “a nation of whiners” and that we were merely in a “mental recession,” not a real one.  As Phil Gramm’s state director in the late 1980s, this is where Jeb Hensarling learned to talk Republican nonsense.

Which leads me to what Hensarling said on Morning Joe this morning:

Let’s remember, again, that the main drivers of this national debt are three large entitlement programs, programs that have been of great comfort and assistance to my parents and grandparents, but are morphing into cruel Ponzi schemes for my nine-year-old daughter and my seven-year-old son.

You see how this works, right?  When Hensarling’s grandparents and parents were enjoying the benefits of our social safety net, entitlement programs weren’t Ponzi schemes, but sources of “comfort and assistance.” 

Today, though, those same entitlement programs are turning into “fraudulent investment operations“—the definition of a Ponzi scheme—because the Hensarling family—beneficiaries of years of socialistic welfare programs—receive their comfort and assistance at considerable cost to current taxpayers.  So, logic would dictate that the Hensarlings give up a little of that comfort and assistance, right?

Wrong.

Paul Ryan’s cynical budget plan—which Jeb Hensarling enthusiastically supports—doesn’t ask much of those 55 and over but asks a lot of younger folks.  Grandfathering in grandfathers and grandmothers is really a case of Republicans protecting those who are now comfortable, thanks to Social Security and Medicare, and who tend to vote for Republicans because they are so comfortable.

Hensarling suggests that his children will not get a good deal under the current system.  But the truth is that under the Ryan-Republican budget plan, the kiddies will really get the shaft. 

Those younger than 55 will be asked to continue to subsidize the older, more comfortable Hensarlings of the world—whose trillions of dollars worth of medical benefits will continue throughout their ever increasing life spans—while the youngsters will be lucky to get enough money under Ryan’s plan to pay for band-aids and aspirin, should they make it to a likely-increasing retirement age. 

That’s a pretty good deal for older Hensarlings, but not a good deal for the younger ones.  And since older folks vote in bigger numbers than younger ones, Republicans are hoping their own scheme—call it a “Fonzie” scheme—will work.

In case you are not an aficionado of the old 1970s Happy Days show, in a three-part episode, Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli, clad in trunks and leather jacket, jumped over a shark to prove how brave he was. The idiom “jump the shark” originated with this less-than-sterling example of 70s television. 

Wikipedia explains the connection to today’s Republican politics:

The usage of “jump the shark” has subsequently broadened beyond television, indicating the moment in its evolution, characterized by absurdity, when a brand, design, or creative effort moves beyond the essential qualities that initially defined its success, beyond relevance or recovery.

If that doesn’t define the Republican Party today, nothing does.

It might be helpful here to mention that the sensible, wholesome Richie Cunningham tried to tell the Fonz that jumping over the shark was stupid, to which the Fonz replied:

Stupid, yes. Also dumb. But it is something I’ve gotta do.

Exactamundo, GOP!

Democrats, Abortion, And Cavemen

As it has become clear that the fight over this year’s budget is really a fight over Planned Parenthood and Roe v. Wade, now 38 years old, it has also become clear that the Democrats are worse negotiators than even I imagined.

I heard Steny Hoyer, the Democrats’ Number Two in the House, say

I think we’re very close. I think we’ve come 70 percent of the way in terms of dollars. That’s a long way to go in trying to reach compromise.

You think?  Giving the other side 70% is not compromise, it’s surrender. The Democrats have given 70% and what have Republicans given in return?  Hoyer:

…you can’t negotiate on the basis that one side gives 100% and the other side gives zero.

Oh, yes you can, Steny.  That’s what Democrats have been doing. The Republicans are counting on it to continue.  Democrats have given them no reason to think otherwise.

I heard NBC’s David Gregory, who should be ashamed of his journalistic self, say to Steny Hoyer, “It takes two sides to shut down the government. Aren’t you embarrassed?”  Now, Gregory knows what the dynamics of these “negotiations” have been.  He knows that Democrats have nearly surrendered.  But Gregory, like many journalists these days who are sensitive to the “liberal media” charge, asks the wrong guy the wrong question in a silly attempt to appear evenhanded, unbiased, objective.

In this case, Gregory is actually putting his thumb on the scale in favor of Republicans. He’s equating Republican obstinacy with Democratic flexibility.

What he should be reporting is what is happening: Democrats have given the Republicans a majority of the budget cuts they demanded, and Republicans, sensing a possible rout, have demanded even more, including the destruction of a long-time thorn in their moralistic side, Planned Parenthood.

What Gregory should have asked Hoyer was this: “Why has your side given so much and ask for so little in return?  Don’t Democrats owe their constituents a better fight than that?

You see, it’s very true that in order to negotiate it takes two sides who are willing to compromise, if by compromise one means each side giving something to get to a deal. But it also takes two sides who are not willing to compromise in order to get to a deal.

Each side has to know that the other has principles it will not discard, positions from which it will not retreat.  Otherwise, there is no incentive for the one principled party to abandon any of its demands.  That party knows that if it just holds out long enough, the other side will cave.

That’s where we are today.  Democrats are cavemen. 

But having said that, at last it appears that Republicans—who have stuck to their principles and got most of what they could have ever hoped for—may be finally pushing Democrats too far.  Perhaps it’s because Democrats have figured out that in order to reach a deal, they will simply have to sign off on HR 1, or perhaps it is that they now see that Republicans have overplayed their hand on the abortion issue.

Most folks can see that the abortion debate has nothing to do with the budget debate, and Democrats seem to understand that they can tie Republican inflexibility on the budget to ideological purity on a divisive cultural issue, which Democrats can use to woo independent voters.

I said, “Democrats seem to understand.” My fingers are crossed, as Democrats appear to be coming out of the cave.

[Reid-Boehner photo: Reuters]

Prediction: The Good Guys Will Blink

Even as the results of the Wisconsin Supreme Court race demonstrate that if Democrats will fight, they can win, we have the specter of President Obama trying to—politely—broker a deal on the budget in order to avoid a quasi-closing of the government.

Obama is so politely characterizing the current fight—essentially he keeps saying that “both sides” need to give a little, as if Democrats haven’t quite given enough—that it’s sometimes hard to tell which side he is on in this squabble.  He, as always in these kinds of things, plays the role of president of all the people and not some partisan out to slam the other side.

He is not, as Sean Hannity said last night, “gutless” or unwilling to fight. It’s just that he takes his job as president seriously. He has a genuine regard for the well-being of the country at large, not some parochial interest in his own ideological purity.

And while that is normally a good thing, in this case, it works against what he says he’s trying to do.

On Wednesday night, after he met with the principals, John Boehner and Harry Reid, Obama’s remarks included a mention of a Kentucky man named J. T. Henderson, who, the President said, needs his tax “rebate” to help his family, a rebate that might be jeopardized by a government shutdown.  Near the end of his statement, Obama ended with this:

There’s no reason why we should not be able to complete a deal.  There’s no reason why we should have a government shutdown — unless we’ve made a decision that politics is more important than folks like J.T. Henderson. 

Notice that “we” in there?  “Unless we’ve made a decision that politics is more important than folks like J. T. Henderson.”  Does Obama really think that Democrats and Republicans are equally indifferent to people like Mr. Henderson?  Huh?

Wouldn’t it help Mr. Henderson more by actually reminding the American people that it is in fact Republicans who won’t take yes for an answer and accept what Democrats are offering? Essentially, our side has given Boehner everything his leadership team originally proposed a few months ago.  That’s some savvy negotiation strategy on our part, isn’t it?  And that strategy only breeds more demands from the other side because they smell blood. 

Mr. Henderson’s blood.

For the record, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the two sides will reach a deal.  They will reach a deal because our side will give Tea Party Republicans—who apparently know how to play poker—even more of what they want.  I’m guessing the number will be around $35-38 billion, along with a watered down version of the EPA rider, which would delay implementation of any greenhouse gas regulations until a future date.  The Planned Parenthood rider would be dropped for now.

That’s what I think because I don’t have much confidence in our side’s brinkmanship.  John Boehner, who has been playing his hand like a good poker bluff, has fooled most of the cable talking heads. Boehner is torn, they say.  He is a trained dealmaker who wants to make a deal, they lament, but the Tea Party won’t let him. Even many of the Democrats talk this way.

But it’s all nonsense. 

Sure, Boehner isn’t exactly a spaced-out Michele Bachmann.  And sure, he is getting pressure from the extremists on his side.  And while he isn’t necessarily a radical, he nevertheless senses weakness in the Democratic position. The more he plays the agonized leader who is being held hostage by his hard-core members, the more Democrats keep giving him. He plays this beautifully.  And the media accentuate his theatrical agony.

In the end, he will emerge with a little more than the $33 billion Democrats have offered, and he can tell the Tea Party that he did the best he could and it’s time to move on.  If some rebel, he can still count on Democratic votes to pass the compromise and in two days, all will be forgotten, as the spotlight turns on Paul Ryan’s crazy budget plan and the looming fight over the debt ceiling.

There you have it. A prediction.

In this case, I hope I’m wrong about our side.  I hope they surprise me.  No, I hope they shock me.

Medicare: The End

“Don’t get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly.”

— former Rep. Alan Grayson, commenting on the “Republican health care plan,” September, 2009

Alan Grayson was roundly condemned for his highly critical remarks during the health care reform debate, which now seems like a decade ago.  But thanks to Paul Ryan we can see that Grayson’s sin was not that he inaccurately pegged Republican philosophy, but that he was simply a little premature in doing so.

Make no mistake about it: Paul Ryan, and by extension Republicans in the House—remember that Ryan was given extraordinary power to speak for them on budget issues—are now on record as lobbying for the destruction of Medicare and Medicaid as we know them.  And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has tiptoed in and called it a “credible proposal.”

Therefore, it’s now clear just what the Republican health care philosophy is, in terms of the non-wealthy elderly, the poor, and the disabled.  But don’t take my or Alan Grayson’s word for it. Listen to Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, co-chairs of Obama’s Fiscal Responsibility Commission. 

They released a letter that criticized House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan’s plan for largely exempting defense spending—imagine that!—and for its lack of tax increases, a necessity, they said, for “broad bipartisan agreement.”  They continued:

As a result, the Chairman’s plan relies on much larger reductions in domestic discretionary spending than does the Commission proposal, while also calling for savings in some safety net programs — cuts which would place a disproportionately adverse effect on certain disadvantaged populations.

Those “certain disadvantaged populations” don’t put much jingle in the GOP collection plate, so why should they give a damn about them?

Even though we know that Paul Ryan’s plan will not become law—at least for the next two years—we do know the details of what Tea Party-drunk Republicans plan to implement if they ever do get the power they crave:

Medicare, the only thing that stands between some older folks and suffering or death, would become a voucher program, one that would leave those without adequate wealth coverage without adequate health coverage. 

Essentially, Ryan’s plan would require future senior citizens to navigate the private insurance market in search of a plan they could afford on the vouchers they are given.  If the coverage they need exceeds the voucher amount—a certainty, thanks to the way the plan is structured—tough shit. 

Of course, the wealthy need not worry.  They get the voucher and, partly thanks to Ryan’s generous tax policy for the wealthy—a reduction of the top rate to 25%—they will have plenty of dough to make up the difference between the voucher and the cost of the insurance. 

Medicaid becomes a block grant program in which states would essentially get to determine how they spend the money the federal government gives them. As Newt Gingrich admitted, this would inevitably mean that some states would short-change the poor, the elderly, and the disabled on Medicaid by making it harder to obtain benefits and by reducing those benefits.  There isn’t any doubt about that.  Just look at what Republicans in the various states are doing now in times of economic stress, times in which benefits are needed most.

Look, I don’t completely blame Ryan and other Republicans for proposing tax cuts for the wealthy while ending health care entitlements for everyone else.  That would be like blaming great white sharks for leg-munching in bloody water.  It’s what they do. 

About the Tea Party Republicans, Ryan told a reporter on Tuesday:

…you look at these people, these new people who just got here. None of them came here for a political career. They came here for a cause. This is not a budget, this is a cause.

A cause.”  Spoken like a bona fide devotee of Ayn Rand.  Rep. Ryan requires his staffers to read Atlas Shrugged, according to New York magazine, which explains a lot about his budget proposal.  Years ago, he told a group gathered to honor Rand,

The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.

To be a real Randian, as Jonathan Chait put it, one has to believe that,

the central struggle of politics is to free the successful from having the fruits of their superiority redistributed by looters and moochers.

That’s the Tea Party Republican definition of those “certain disadvantaged populations” that Bowles and Simpson mentioned.  They’re “looters and moochers.”

With the advent of the Tea Party and its hostile takeover of the Republican Party, Randian nonsense is now the dominant economic philosophy controlling the actions of GOP congressional leadership. And I suppose the final seal of approval was given to Ryan on Tuesday, when Glenn Beck said he loved Ryan. 

And, by the way, Ryan loved him back.

So, while I don’t put all the blame on Republican sharks for their unseemly ravenous carnivorism, I will blame Democrats if they don’t put the rope Ryan has given them around the necks of every single Republican in the country who won’t denounce the plan to kill Medicare and Medicaid. 

Alan Grayson may have put it somewhat indelicately, but he essentially got it right:

The Republican health care plan is, “Don’t get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly.”

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