Claire McCaskill: “This Fight Has Not Been About Nothing”

Missouri’s Senator Claire McCaskill, nobody’s liberal Democrat, appeared on Meet the Press this morning with South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune and she said this about the debt-ceiling brawl:

Here’s the bottom line: This fight has not been about nothing. This hasn’t just been political theater. There’s a philosophical difference here on the hill between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, and it’s pretty simple: They have voted to keep giving taxpayer checks to big oil while they voted to convert the Medicare system to vouchers. Now, that doesn’t compute for us. How can you be more willing to push money—public money—to the most profitable corporations in the history of the world at the same time you’re willing to have smaller Medicare?

So, that’s really the fight here.

Yes, that’s the fight, as both sides acknowledge, including Senator Thune, a right-winger who represents 814,180 folks or 1/379 of the U.S. population. He has the power of, say, New York’s Charles Schumer, who represents more than 19 million folks or 1/16  of the population. (Missouri’s population is 1/51 of the total, so Claire McCaskill represents more than seven times the people as John Thune, but has no larger voice in our political system.)

Senator Thune was asked this question by David Gregory this morning:

GREGORY: Senator Thune, as  a Republican here, somebody who’s reportedly in play, what has to be in this agreement to get you to “yes”?

THUNE: Well, I think a couple of things, David. First, no taxes.

No taxes.”  No taxes first, and really, no taxes second, third, and on to infinity.  

Republican irresponsibility, as the debt-ceiling debacle demonstrates, knows no bounds.

Teapartiers Passed Their Last Gas

The House of Representatives has just passed the Save John Boehner’s Ass Act, 218-210.* The passing of this extremist debt-ceiling plan, which for now keeps John Boehner in power, accomplished one important job: it made the Tea Party zealots completely irrelevant as we move forward in an attempt to settle this GOP-created crisis.

Teapartiers have finally passed their last gas on this issue and no one need pay them any more attention. Now, the quasi-grown-ups in the GOP have to either come to an agreement with too-generous Democrats, or things blow up.

That is, unless President Obama decides to take the country through the Fourteenth Amendment escape hatch.


* Using conservative reasoning, the “legislation” passed with bipartisan opposition, since 22 Republicans, most of them believing that even more damage could have been done to the country, voted against it.

This Is Not Your Daddy’s Poker Game Anymore

Normally, watching politics unfold is like watching a movie in which you know that before the last credits are run there will be some kind of acceptable denouement and the fun is watching the characters get there, watching the plot develop. 

But this fight over the debt ceiling is turning out to be something else.

Anyone who loves high-level politics, as I do, in a sense loves what’s been going on in Washington the past few weeks.  It’s intriguing, entertaining, even compelling. Politics is part art, part science, and part poker.

Mike Viqueira of NBC News reported today that someone from Chicago playfully said to President Obama after an event this morning that he had met him before and that the President owed him a poker game. Obama replied:

I’ve got a high-stakes game of poker going on right now.

Well, not exactly.  It’s sort of gone beyond poker.  In a poker game, in the end everyone gets up from the table, some as winners, some as losers, or all winning some and losing some and getting the most out of the opportunity. But they all get up.

We need new metaphors now.

Steven Rattner, financier and economic analyst—and the man who helped President Obama rescue the auto industry—was a guest this morning on Morning Joe. He had his own metaphor. He said the following in response to Joe Scarborough’s question as to how the current stalemate can get broken:

I wish I knew. You know, the problem with this is it’s like a form of economic terrorism. I imagine these tea party guys are like strapped with dynamite standing in the middle of times square at rush hour and saying, “You do it my way or we’re going to blow you up, ourselves up, and the whole country up with us.”

So, you tell me how those kinds of standoffs end.

Economic terrorism?  Hmm.  That can’t end well, can it?



Although he tried to minimize the damage by cozying up to Sean Hannity on Wednesday night, John McCain, who ruined his reputation by, among other things, unleashing Sarah Palin on an unsuspecting world, did manage to slam the Tea Party on the floor of the U.S. Senate:

What is really amazing is that some members are believing that we can pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution in this body with its present representation – and that is foolish. That is worse than foolish. That is deceiving many of our constituents.

To hold out and say we won’t agree to raising the debt limit until we pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, it’s unfair, it’s bizarro.

Bizarro. I like that. McCain also dismissed any idea of rearranging payments after a default:

Today we are six days away from a possible default which could plunge this country into a serious crisis. There are those that argue somehow in a bizarre fashion that somehow we could prioritize our payments to the most urgent requirements, such as our veterans, such as Social Security.

Bizarro. Bizarre. Okay. But McCain also said the following, which is bizarrely bizarro in its own right:

This is the same kind of crack political thinking that turned Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell into GOP nominees.

What?  He’s dissing Sharron Angle?  Now, that is bizarrely bizarro because of this news story from October of last year:

LAS VEGAS – In her quest to topple U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Republican challenger Sharron Angle introduced U.S. Sen. John McCain (Arizona-R) to a crowd of Las Vegas supporters at the Orleans Friday night. McCain took the stage and delivered a ringing endorsement for Angle.

“I look forward to standing side by side with Sharron Angle,” Sen. McCain said. “I look forward to fighting with her against this out of control spending, this mortgaging of our children’s futures, this generational theft that has taken place.”


[Photograph: Ethan Miller/Getty Images]

Ozark Billy Long Makes The Big Time!

I have to admit that although I knew Ozark Billy would embarrass us here in Southwest Missouri, I had no idea he would be this big:

Watch the segment, after the commercial:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

And in case you missed it, here is Colonel Ozark Billy’s first appearance on Worst Persons, although the Colonel only won the silver medal:

The Middle Of The Road Or The End Of The Road

“Ignore the extremists and meet in the middle of the road.”

—Harry Reid’s advice to John Boehner, July 27, 2011, 10:51am

Harry Reid’s statement is an American statement, a recognition that this large country should not be governed by factions, by extremists. We work as a country because we have to work together as a country.

And regarding the debt-ceiling crisis, Democrats have already moved over to the Republicans’ lane on this road, and if Republicans say no to Reid’s offer of a generous compromise—no new tax revenues are included—there are only two alternatives for Democrats:

1) Let the Republicans quickly drive the country into the Tea Party ditch, or,

2) Get in the car with them and slowly drive it into the Tea Party ditch.

The Boehner Two-Step Is In Trouble—With Republicans

Jim Jordan is the chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, a driving force behind the nuttery going on regarding the debt ceiling.  Our local representatives are members, naturally.

Of John Boehner’s latest two-step debt-ceiling proposal, Jordan said that he was “confident as of this morning that there were not 218 Republicans in support of this plan.” Why?

Because it doesn’t cut enough and it creates a pesky 12-member bipartisan committee that would be responsible for cutting the deficit as much as $1.8 trillion more than the initial $1.2 trillion Boehner proposes. The committee’s finding would go immediately to both floors for an up or down vote, without amendment.

And that’s the problem.

Jordan said that if six Democrats and one Republican on the committee decide to raise taxes as part of the mix to reduce the deficit, “you can’t keep that off the floor.”

And keeping any bill that would increase revenue off the floor—where it might actually pass—is more important than anything to House Tea Party Republicans, who, apparently, find perverse moral satisfaction in shielding the wealthy from tax fairness.

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?


How Dim Is Billy Long?

Whatever you may have thought of the late Amy Winehouse or her music, surely we can all agree that Congressman Ozark Billy’s willingness to use the English singer’s sad death to make a stupid political point is going too far, even for a Tea Party Republican:


Here is how London’s Daily Mail reported this embarrassing episode:

A Republican congressman has faced a furious backlash after he compared the U.S. debt ceiling crisis to the tragic demise of soul singer Amy Winehouse.

Just two days after the Back to Black singer was found dead at her home in Camden, North London, Missouri congressman Billy Long chose to express his views about the state of American politics through the crudest of metaphors.

Referring to suggestions that Miss Winehouse died because of drug and drink abuse, he wrote on Twitter: ‘No one could reach #AmyWinehouse before it was too late. Can anyone reach Washington before it’s too late? Both addicted – same fate???’

Winehouse, who has not yet been buried, had for years battled depression as well as addiction to drink and hard drugs before she passed away, aged just 27, on Saturday.

Today’s tweet by Mr Long, which he posted using his @auctnr1 account, was seen by many critics as written in the poorest taste.
The congressman’s online followers immediately responded, slamming him for his choice of analogy.

Adam David Givens wrote: ‘Oh I’m sry @auctnr1 did the autopsy rprt show #amywinehouse died b/c of addiction? It’s not out yet so don’t use some1 tragedy for ur gain.’

William Lynch wrote: ‘I want to hear from the people that elected Billy Long. How many of you would take it back?’

William Lynch, by the way, is a former Joplin resident.

“Bipartisan” Opposition to Cut, Cap, and Kill Doesn’t Faze Boehner

Possibly just to demonstrate how unserious he is, John Boehner issued this tweet today:

Bipartisan plan? I heard Kevin McCarthy, House GOP Majority Whip, say essentially the same thing this morning to NBC’s Chuck Todd, and I’ve heard many Republicans refer to the legislation as “bipartisan.”  Since I’ve already written negatively about the the budget-slashing, New Deal-killing bill known here as Cut, Cap and Kill, let’s look at the claim that the bill that passed the House was bipartisan.

H.R. 2560, The Cut, Cap, and Balance Act of 2011, passed the House on July 19 by a vote of 234 to 190, with a not-so-staggering 5 Democrats voting with the Ayes.  And I must point out that one of those Democrats—David Boren of neighboring Oklahoma—is no more a Democrat than Ozark Billy Long, with whom he shares a similar voting record in the House. But I’ll be generous and throw in Boren as a Democrat, which means that 98% of the Ayes were official Republicans.

Now, there are 193 Democrats in the House and the five who voted with the GOP represents 2.5% of the caucus.  That means that 97.5% of Democrats voted against the constitutional monstrosity.

But I want to make a larger point about this bipartisan nonsense.  Using the standards of John Boehner and the House Republicans, the opposition to the Cut, Cap, and Balance bill was decidedly more bipartisan than the support for it.  There were nine—count ’em—nine Republicans (3.7% of their caucus) who voted against the bill.

So, we can say that the bipartisan opposition to Cut, Cap, and Kill was nearly twice as strong as the so-called bipartisan support for it.

Tweet that, Mr. Boehner.

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.

Obama, Lincolnesque

It’s hard to know what it happening behind the scenes regarding negotiations over the debt ceiling, but we know that folks on the outside looking in—liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans—are worried about negotiators on their side giving up basic principles in order to make a deal.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  There is no moral equivalency here.  Liberal Democrats are worried that “the big three,” Social Security, Medicare, and Medicare, are under attack, and they don’t much appreciate that President Obama seems willing to at least consider unpleasant cuts to those social programs. 

But that can’t be compared morally with Republicans worrying about keeping taxes low on the wealthy, whether individuals or corporations, or their willingness to risk incapacitating the economy in order to get their tried-and-failed way.  They are a disgusting group, this hard-headed, ideologically-centric band of know-nothings.

How this debt-ceiling thing turns out in the end is unpredictable at this time.  And I know liberals are starting to squirm, and some are starting to squawk, about President Obama’s deal-making skills, and his commitment to hard-bargaining with non-compromising negotiators in the House. 

I feel their pain.

But President Obama’s nature is not to gamble irresponsibly with such things as the full faith and credit of the United States, even if his political opponents are.  His nature is not to risk an economic calamity, that would harm most the very people that liberals want to protect, even if Tea Party Republicans don’t give a flying puck about that economic calamity.  In short, he is seeking the best compromise possible in order to save our economic system from the reckless, ideology-crazed conservatives in Congress.

His discussion this morning at a Town Hall event in Maryland included talk of Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation.  He has used Lincoln’s willingness to compromise on the issue of slavery before, so it’s a good bet he has Lincoln’s example at the top of his head, as he seeks to avert economic catastrophe.   He pointed out that Lincoln was willing to settle for only outlawing slavery in rebel states as a means of preserving the union and finishing the fight,  a fight which eventually ended with not only the preservation of the Union, but slavery completely abolished.

I think Obama sees this fight much the same way:  Advance things by compromising, even to the point of making some supporters—like me—angry, in order to keep fighting—fighting that will continue through the 2012 campaign—because he believes he can ultimately win the fight for the Democratic vision of the country.

We shall see about that. Much of it will depend on how far he goes to appease unappeasable opponents.

Some things we are not willing to sacrifice,” Obama said today, but “In the mean time, we have a responsibility to do our job.”  Like Lincoln who gave the South every chance to avoid the Civil War, Mr. Obama is giving Republicans every chance to avoid the catastrophe that what would follow a loss of confidence in America’s fiscal sanity.

It’s easy, and understandable, for liberals in the Democratic Party to voice their concerns over what is happening.  After all, most of this fight is taking place on conservative ground.  But what would they—we—have Obama do?  A majority of the American people—including those who didn’t vote—put radical conservatives in charge of the House and gave them filibuster power in the Senate.  The American people.

This is a delicate situation, both economically and politically.  If Obama sent the signal that he was completely dug in on his side, the markets would react negatively and the economy would already start sinking.  He has to be the grownup. He has to be the pea-eater.

In the end, though, there has to be a line he won’t cross.  Lincoln had his, and the South called what turned out to be not his bluff.  Let’s hope that, as Obama said two weeks ago, Republicans won’t call his bluff.

All liberals can do is hope he is not bluffing, and that he will not surrender.

Allen West, Tough Guy

By now nearly everyone has heard about the freakish Republican Congressman Allen West’s comments toward chair of the DNC, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz.  Both lawmakers are from Florida and West actually lives in her district.

On Tuesday, West, a real tough guy in case you don’t know, wrote in an email to Wasserman Shultz:

Look, Debbie, I understand that after I departed the House floor you directed your floor speech comments directly towards me. Let me make myself perfectly clear, you want a personal fight, I am happy to oblige. You are the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the US House of Representatives. If you have something to say to me, stop being a coward and say it to my face, otherwise, shut the heck up…

…understand that I shall defend myself forthright against your heinous characterless behavior…

You have proven repeatedly that you are not a Lady, therefore, shall not be afforded due respect from me!

The offense that triggered this faux-macho stupidity was a statement Wasserman Shultz made on the House floor about the Tea Party Republicans phony Cut, Cap, and Balance plan to deal with the debt:

The gentleman from Florida. who represents thousands of Medicare beneficiaries, as do I, is supportive of this plan that would increase costs for Medicare beneficiaries, unbelievable from a Member from South Florida,” Wasserman Schultz said, saying the legislation “slashes Medicaid and critical investments essential to winning the future in favor of protecting tax breaks for Big Oil, millionaires, and companies who ship American jobs overseas.”

In other words, she told the truth about people like Allen West.  By the way, did I mention how tough he is?  He’s so tough that rather than face the threat of being court-martialed for abusing an Iraqi prisoner, he resigned.

In any case, by today, West had been asked about his email several times and his latest response indicated he had no regrets about the language he used and an apology was not coming. He said this:

There are certain ways we speak in the military and I guess I have not learned the D.C. insider talk that these people are used to. Don’t poke me in the chest. That’s the bottom line to that exchange.

Wow. You can see Allen West is one tough guy. I bet he could take Wasserman Shultz with one arm tied behind his back.  All that military training has really paid off big time.  Or maybe it was his Spartan upbringing.  Earlier this year, he told a gathering of female religious zealots this:

…when you understood what made the Spartan men strong, it was the Spartan women. Because the Spartan women at the age of nine gave up their male sons. And their male sons went into a training that was called the Agoge and they stayed in that training for the next eleven to twelve years. And when they were finally qualified, when they were finally ready to join the ranks for the Spartan army, it was not their father who gave them their cloak and shield. It was their mother who gave them their shield. And when the Spartan mother gave that young Spartan warrior his shield, she gave him this basic commandment: “Spartan, here is your shield. Come back bearing this shield or being borne upon it!”

He also told the women gathered:

We need you to come in and lock shields, and strengthen up the men who are going to the fight for you. To let these other women know on the other side — these planned Parenthood women, the Code Pink women, and all of these women that have been neutering American men and bringing us to the point of this incredible weakness — to let them know that we are not going to have our men become subservient. That’s what we need you to do. Because if you don’t, then the debt will continue to grow…deficits will continue to grow.

There. It’s all about the debt. Get it?  Women should raise tough-guy Spartans like Allen West who will either come back home bearing his budget-cutting shield or come back stretched out on it, after a petite female Democratic leader hands him his ass.

Joplin Recovery: The Way It’s Suppose To Work

If you live or work in Joplin, The Tornado hasn’t really gone away.  To date, 159 folks lost their lives.

For those interested in a very good summary of the damage done to Joplin, as well as good words for the federal effort—none dare call it socialistic—to help the business community in the storm’s aftermath, the following is an edited version of the written testimony of Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, as he appeared before the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery and Intergovernmental Affairs:

The fourteen mile long tornado cut a swath nearly eight miles long, and at times almost one mile wide, from the far west side of Joplin through the city, into Duquesne, then back into Joplin. For more than half of the path, through the most densely developed residential and business part of Joplin, the tornado was an EF 5, with sustained winds of more than 200 miles per hour. On the original Fujita scale, used until 2007, an F-5 tornado had winds of 260 to more than 300 miles per hour. It has been determined a good portion of the tornado in Joplin had wind speeds of approx. 300 miles per hour. In creating the EF scale, it was determined that winds greater than 200 miles per hour resulted in total destruction, so the EF 5 designation is anything over 200 miles per hour. If the new scale, like the old, recognized winds in excess of 260 miles per hour, Joplin would have the distinction of reaching EF 6 or EF 7 status.

Nearly 8,000 housing units, about 1,000 of them in apartment complexes, were impacted by the tornado.  4,250 of those units were destroyed or severely damaged. The storm did not discriminate, destroying some of the highest priced homes in Joplin as well as those in low and moderate income neighborhoods.  Unfortunately, those lower income neighborhoods are also some of Joplin’s oldest with small houses on small lots, 14 to 16 homes in a block.  These are very densely developed and populated areas. The tornado devastated those neighborhoods. In all around 18,000 people, 35% of the population in our communities were immediately displaced. Around 9,000 were displaced for the long-term. Of those, 1500 are still on the list for FEMA housing.

Also in the direct path of the storm were nearly 500 place of employment, from the news media’s icon of the storm, St. John’s Regional Medical Center with more than 2,000 employees, to scores of mom and pop operations. Overall, nearly 5,000 job positions were impacted directly. Hundreds of other businesses in our area have also been touched by the storm, from being physically damaged, to being without power for days, to being completely unharmed, yet losing a good portion of their customer base.

Mr. O’Brian proudly and justifiably praised the efforts of his local chamber and those who came in to help from outside of Joplin to assist devastated businesses beginning on the day following the Sunday storm, and he also praised the efforts of the federal government—the SBA and FEMA—and its willingness to essentially partner with the chamber to meet the needs of the business community.

On Monday afternoon we had our first contact with the SBA Business Recovery team,” O’Brian wrote.  Imagine that. Less than 24 hours after the disaster the feds were here to not only help fellow citizens—another story altogether—but to help businesses. He continued:

We were greatly aided in our initial and continued recovery efforts by the personnel from the Small Business Administration Business Recovery Team. By the third day after the tornado, we were introduced to FEMA’s private-sector recovery team.  The FEMA private-sector support is a relatively new approach…the FEMA team has been a good conduit in keeping us and, consequently, the business community aware of the larger recovery efforts.  All of the people representing these organizations are professionals that have a sincere desire to help our businesses and our community.  All of these people do an excellent job of representing their organizations.

O’Brian does thoughtfully point out some improvements that could be made in the process, at least part of the problem due to the reluctance of the SBA and FEMA to be seen as dominating the scene:

The SBA and FEMA teams have experience with large scale disasters, which most communities do not. We understand that the FEMA team members want to ensure they respond to our needs and not be, in reality or perception, running over us.  However, FEMA personnel have the experience and resources to share with those of us without disaster experience.  As part of that process, we consider ourselves experienced and professional enough to evaluate the FEMA input and resources and make a determination of what works for our communities.

He finished with this:

I want to stress that our experience with the teams from SBA and FEMA have been professional and beneficial to our businesses…

…the FEMA Long-Term Recovery team has been of great help in organizing our city, chamber, schools and the broader community to begin the recovery process…

…We believe the Federal effort in the recovery of our community and, in particular, the business sector, have and continue to be of great benefit. While there are always areas for improvement in any organization, the speed and focus of the recovery in Joplin and Duquesne would not be possible without this assistance.

I have to say that Mr. O’Brian, as well as other local community leaders, in government and out, state government officials, especially Governor Nixon, thousands of volunteers from all over the country, and, of course, the federal government, have done excellent work and have all worked well together. They have made the best out of a bad situation, a situation that will require all of those entities to continue working together for years to come.

The way things have worked here in Joplin—not always perfectly, to be sure— since the May 22 tornado is the way things are suppose to work in a civilized society, as public and private resources pull together to rebuild a devastated but not despondent community.

The Republican War On Women

While Americans still wait on the jobs promised by Tea Party Republicans, they can take comfort that those Tea Party Republicans haven’t exactly been doing nothing:


It’s important to note that the 2005 number was itself a record. The only question is: Where are the women willing to fight back?  Where are the marches on Washington and the nation-wide protests?

Confirmed: Jesus Is A Republican!

First Michele Bachmann hears from God and runs for the presidency.

Then Herman Cain, another Republican presidential candidate, presumably hears from God and says Christian folks in Tennessee have the right to strip Muslims of their constitutional rights regarding the building of an Islamic Center.

Then we have Rick Perry, governor of Texas and also A Republican Who Hears From God, apparently getting the divine thumbs up for a presidential run, despite God previously giving the thumbs up to Michele Bachmann.

It’s all really quite confusing, if you’re trying to discern the will of the Almighty in these complicated matters. 

But then I saw this headline and things cleared up:

Couple finds Jesus on receipt

And, to boot, it was a Walmart receipt, praise God!  Jesus loves the giant retailer! He really is a Republican!

I’m still a little puzzled, though, as to why Jesus looks like a Picasso-esque Wolfman, but in any case it’s good to know that whatever he looks like, he has moved on from appearing on Cheetos and toast and grilled cheese sandwiches to the big time of supercenter advertisements.

Here’s the story from CNN, if you can bear to watch it:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

“Let The Date Come And Go,” Says Billy Long

Colonel Ozark Billy Long has spoken and there is no need to worry about any darn debt default.

An article in the Springfield News-Leader quoted Southwest Missouri’s Tea Party Republican representative as saying,

“We are not going to raise the debt limit and they need to know that now instead of August 2nd,” Long said, accusing Geithner of picking that date “out of the clouds.”

Out of the clouds.  Geithner just picked that date out of the clouds.  Except that the story reported this:

Long and others have suggested that picking a date right before the recess was a political move.

Well, that doesn’t sound like it was picked out of the clouds, does it?  Sounds like Geithner picked it off the congressional calendar. 

In any case, facts are unwelcome guests in Ozark Billy’s world because it isn’t just Tim Geithner who believes the threat of default is real.  Wall Street bankers and investors and the Chamber of Commerce and even Karl Rove admits there is trouble coming, if nothing is done.

But Long doesn’t care.  He doesn’t care that interest rates will rise, costing our country uncountable billions in debt service. He doesn’t care that significant parts of the government would have to shut down in order to keep paying Social Security and Medicare benefits for the month, as well as interest to bondholders.

Nope. He doesn’t care:

“Let the date come and go,” Long said, brushing off the threat of a default and comments President Obama made earlier this week about the nation being unable to pay its bills, including Social Security checks to seniors.

“That’s going to be on the president,” Long said. “There is money there. He can pay what he wants to pay, and if he doesn’t pay, that’s his bluff.”

Bluff?  You see it’s just another poker game to Ozark Billy, who has a special place in his heart for gambling. It’s easy to play games with the lives of others, if you have nothing personal at stake.  If Social Security checks don’t go out to residents of Southwest Missouri, the Colonel won’t feel a thing. Or, more likely, if other essential agencies of the federal government shut down, what is that to Ozark Billy?

And certainly if interest rates rise—not just for the country but for individual borrowers—what does it matter to an independently wealthy congressman from a blood red district whose voters hate the government anyway?

Well, God would that we could test Long’s theory of indifference to a debt default.  God would that Obama, if there is no deal on the debt limit, would have the unthinkable audacity to stop payment of Social Security and Medicare benefits to registered Republicans in Southwest Missouri.  Wouldn’t that be fun, Tea Party fans?

Long’s glittering ignorance was captured by the article:

“When I went home last weekend, everyone came up to me and said, ‘Don’t raise taxes. Don’t raise the debt ceiling. Don’t raise taxes. Don’t raise the debt ceiling,'” Long said. “All the congressmen are hearing the same thing in their districts. We’ve spent too much money that we don’t have and there has to be a comeuppance.”

Raising the debt ceiling, however, doesn’t authorize future spending; it allows the government to pay existing obligations. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and a host of economists have warned that if the U.S. were to default on its loans, the result could be catastrophic.

Long said 51 percent of all calls, emails, and letters coming into his office are opposed to raising the debt ceiling under any circumstance,” the article reports.  I suppose if a majority of calls coming in were in favor of, say, stifling free speech, then Ozark Billy would be on board the Repeal the First Amendment bandwagon. 

Anyway, if you want to make your voice heard on this matter, whether or not the Colonel will listen, you can contact him via his website here, or here:

Washington Office
1541 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-6536
Fax: (202) 225-5604
Mo-Fri 8AM-5PM CT

Springfield Office
3232 E. Ridgeview St.
Springfield, MO 65804
Phone: (417) 889-1800
Fax: (417) 889-4915
Mo-Fri 8AM-5PM CT

Joplin Office
2727 E. 32nd St. Ste. 2
Joplin, MO 64804
Phone: (417) 781-1041
Fax: (417) 781-2832
Mo-Fri 8AM-5PM CT

You can also contact Senator Roy Blunt, who also isn’t that worried about the debt ceiling, here or here:

Washington, D.C. Office
260 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-5721
Fax: (202) 224-8149

Springfield Office                                                                                                                     2740 B East Sunshine
Springfield, MO 65804
Phone: (417) 877-7814

Or, there is another way: You can go to ProgressMissouri and follow the directions, and while there possibly contribute.

Does President Obama “Own The Debt-Ceiling Fiasco”? Nope.

A commenter wrote in to ask my opinion of Karl Rove’s article in The Wall Street Journal the other day, titled Obama Owns the Debt-Ceiling Fiasco.  The commenter, Randy, wrote that the article,

Seems spot on to me, but I am open to other perspectives.

Okay. Here is another perspective:


I’m afraid I have to concur with HLG who said that,

Karl Rove is an amoral bald-faced-liar that even when he appears to be telling the truth (which he does so rarely), he still can’t be trusted.

Let me tell you what the Rove piece was designed to do: Tell Republicans to look like they’re fighting hard for a deal, go ahead and cave in at the last minute in some fashion, and the GOP and GOP outside support groups, flush with cash from anonymous donors, will see to it that the 2012 campaign is all about how Obama doesn’t care about the deficit because he is an “incompetent liberal,” à la Jimmy Carter.

Rove begins his piece, filled with little untruths, with this truth:

President Barack Obama and Congress face a mess if the federal government hits the debt ceiling Aug. 2.

In terms of truth-telling, it’s all downhill from there. He says that,

This would be a disaster with no political winners.

Oh, yes, there would be political winners, depending on what the House of Representatives does.  Mr. Obama, whatever you or Rove think of his sincerity, has made it clear to that small segment of the American people paying attention, that he has tried to reason with unreasonable Republicans. If this ship goes down, the culprits will be easily found, tried, and convicted.

You see, Randy, there will always be this fact left over, after all the smoke has blown away from any potential crisis: Republicans refused to take a $4 trillion debt-ceiling deal, filled mostly with budget cuts, in order not to raise taxes slightly on the wealthy of this country

That’s it, Randy. That is how Democrats will sell this thing next year, one way or the other.  If a crisis ensues, the sell job will be easy because most people already know that Republicans today exist to protect the moneyed class. 

Indeed, the moneyed class has finally bought itself a political party, and Karl Rove is one of their spokesmen.  Which leads me to reveal the real reason Republicans like Rove and Mitch McConnell don’t want to take the generous offer Obama made them: It would instantly make President Obama look like he’s doing something big on the national debt, the GOP’s big wedge issue in 2012.

And for folks like Rove and McConnell, this is all about defeating Obama and gaining political power, not what is best for the country.


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.

The Debt Crisis And Global Warming: A Good Analogy

Another Joplin Globe blogger, Anson Burlingame, posed what I considered to be “an important question” the other day (“Divided Loyalties“) relative to our deficit and debt problems. It was:

WILL ECONOMIC FORCES, (forces uncontrolled by politicians in the long run) GIVE US THE TIME TO FIX THE “MESS THAT WE ARE IN”. [sic]

Anson’s answer to his own question was as follows:

I strongly believe the answer is a resounding NO. Economic “laws”, forces, etc will bring the whole house of cards down around our ears much sooner than “years and years and years”.

The reference was to a statement I made in a previous comment:

A balanced budget, under anyone’s scenario, is not achievable for years and years and years.

My point was that it’s just not wise nor politically possible to drastically cut the budget or substantially increase taxes sufficiently to tackle the debt problem in the near-term.  And I later addressed Anson’s question on whether “economic forces” will “give us the time” to fix things by citing the fact that professional investors are not shying away from long-term investments in U.S. Treasuries and thus must believe we do have the time—and the ability—to fix things.

I quoted a Wall Street Journal article from July 14:

A streak of successful Treasury auctions ended Thursday with a strong 30-year-bond sale, showing that investors believe in U.S. debt as safe-haven investments and are not concerned about the debt ceiling.

And Anson’s point in response continued to be—a common position on his conservative side of things—that despite the evidence of long-term investors’ willingness to keep buying our debt, we still don’t have much time:

We spend too much money… and have to borrow forever to do so…I firmly believe there are severe consequences for ANYONE that tries to sustain such a way of life and when that “well” dries up people will DIE, miserably.

My position and Anson’s we-are-soon-going-over-the-cliff position essentially mirrors the larger national fight over the federal budget.

But Anson also injected an analogy into our discussion that I believe makes an important point, although not in the way he likely envisioned it.  He wrote:

…if we only spend from the “well” (over time) the amount of rain that falls, that is OK with me. And if we keep enough in the “well” as a reserve for a drought, then we are even better.

That analogy, by the way, sounds like the Global Warming challenge (which is real someday, I just don’t yet know when). If we keep putting “stuff” in the atmosphere at a rate that is greater than the “natural” way for the atmosphere to “clean it up” ….. People will die when that happens also.

Ah, I thought. The issue of global warming is a pretty good analogy to our long-term debt problem, however Anson might have meant to use it.

Problems with climate change, like problems with long-term debt, cannot be solved immediately, cannot be fixed overnight.  We do have to find a way to reduce greenhouse gases, but the solutions need not be so draconian as to shut down every coal-burning power plant or to junk every fossil fuel-burning car on the planet. 

In fact, the mitigation of climate change includes the reality that fossil fuels are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.  Yet despite that reality, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said,

There is high confidence that there are viable adaptation options that can be implemented in some sectors at low cost, and/or with high benefit-cost ratios. [emphasis in the original]

That high confidence is also present regarding our long-term debt crisis, reflected in professional investors’ current enthusiasm for 30-year Treasury bonds.  Why would anyone invest in long-term American securities, if they didn’t have confidence that the full-faith-and-credit America we know today will still be here in 30 years?

The truth is that just like the solutions for addressing climate change, the solutions to our debt problems need not be so dramatic as to choke off government spending to the point of killing our economic recovery or to cut large holes in our social safety net that will bring real hurt to people.  Both climate change and our long-term debt troubles require solutions that first involve finding ways to reduce the things we are doing right now that are contributing to the problems over time.

To be sure, a crisis on both fronts awaits us, if we do nothing. And to be sure, the longer we wait to address them, the more drastic the measures that will be needed.  Right now, though, in this moment, the solutions can still be characterized as, to use Obama’s words on Friday,

modest adjustments to get our house in order.


[click on for better view of chart, from ]

A Radically Simple Solution

If you missed today’s Obama presser, here is all you really need to know about what he said: 

We’re not Greece; we’re not Portugal…It turns out we don’t have to do anything radical to solve this problem.

We don’t need to “gut” social programs or stop investing in our country’s future, Obama said, what we need is,

modest adjustments to get our house in order.

Those modest adjustments, of course, must be put in place soon and must stay in place over time, but Obama—seemingly the only non-radical in Washington—calmly and rationally told the American people that, “We don’t need a Constitutional Amendment to do our jobs,” but only a commitment to do what Obama says “80% of the American people” want done: fix the debt problem with a balanced approach—a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases.

In a weird sort of way, it really is that easy.  The truth is that we don’t need to do anything radical because the solution is radically simple: cut spending and raise taxes.

If only the radicals would shut up and govern.

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.

Claire McCaskill Slams Mitch McConnell

“I think Mitch McConnell frankly has lost his mind.”

—Sen. Claire McCaskill

Claire McCaskill, facing a tough election next year to remain our senator from Missouri, appeared on Morning Joe this morning and put Mitch McConnell’s latest gambit on the debt ceiling in proper perspective.

If politics were professional wrestling—and it so often is—then she executed a perfect flying forearm smash on the scheming Republican Minority Leader:

Mitch, honestly, with a straight face, you do a press conference and say, “Here’s the solution to the problem: Let’s let the Democrats do it, and we want them to do it three times before the next election, and it’ll be okay with us if they do it as long as we don’t have to touch it.”

And people aren’t ridiculing that?

I mean, this is when we’re supposed to come together and show the country that we are capable of governing, not when we’re supposed to be figuring out what is the best strategy for “me” to become Majority Floor Leader. 

This is all about trying to take out me and a few others who are in tough states, so that Mitch can become the Majority Floor Leader…

Good for Claire, who has never had much trouble telling it like it is.

Is This Crisis Going To Waste?

Jim Wheeler, Globe blogger and frequent commenter here, wrote a piece (Into The Abyss) in which he severely criticized Republicans and mildly rebuked Democrats for their failure to use “a threatened national default” as motivation to tackle entitlement reform.

In other words, Mr. Wheeler doesn’t want this crisis to go to waste.

Here is my reply:


I’m glad you singled out the President as the only “adult” in this mess.

Mr. Obama said on Monday,

Now is the time to do it.  If not now, when? 

He also made to liberals what I consider to be a powerful argument in favor of entitlement reform:

…if you’re a progressive who cares about the integrity of Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, and believes that it is part of what makes our country great that we look after our seniors and we look after the most vulnerable, then we have an obligation to make sure that we make those changes that are required to make it sustainable over the long term.

So the argument I’m making to my party is…if you care about those things, then you’ve got to be interested in figuring out how do we pay for that in a responsible way.

The problem with all that is that those on our side who respect Obama and Obama’s argument, don’t believe he is dealing with honest brokers on the other side.

Mitch McConnell has expressed several times his real priority, which is to oust Obama from office. John Boehner is too weak to make a deal, and Eric Cantor is after Boehner’s job and thus is motivated to thwart any genuine efforts on Boehner’s part to do the right thing.

That is why Obama’s position is a hard sell to liberals. We can’t fathom getting a “balanced” deal from the other side. We think Obama will have to cut way too deep and otherwise give away too much of what we value just to get Republicans to raise the debt limit. It’s last year’s hostage situation all over again, with more at stake this time.

And that is why I resent the use of defaulting on our debts as leverage to make a deal of this magnitude.  It’s not honest, as McConnell’s recent move revealed. Obama has made an unbelievably large offer that would cause him great difficulty among those who trust and support him, if Republicans chose to accept it.  But because Obama made the offer, because it came from his tainted lips, it is unacceptable. Republicans essentially want the cuts without giving anything in return.

Finally, if we believe in democracy, then we ought to let the people decide such large matters through elections. As I have argued before, both parties should cast the 2012 elections as a referendum on what kind of country voters want to live in.

Here are the choices on the domestic spending side:

Smaller government and lower taxes: Which means reduced Social Security and Medicare benefits and a rather severe reduction in Medicaid, reduced funding for education and infrastructure, etc.  Paul Ryan’s dissolution of the Medicare program for those under 55 is just one example of what the country would look like, if people choose this option.

Larger government with higher taxes: Which means making investments in education and infrastructure, etc., and tweaking Medicaid and Social Security to ensure their solvency. That leaves the real driver of long-term deficits and debt: Medicare. How do we fix it under this choice?  Well, more on that later, but suffice it for now to say this: Cost shifting of the kind Paul Ryan outlined is unacceptable; so, too, is perpetual tax increases, which could not keep up with the escalating costs.  Democrats will have to propose a fix along the lines of what Kevin Drum outlined:

We need something…that genuinely has an effect on healthcare costs. Something that reduces the amount we pay doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies. Something that provides incentives for difficult end-of-life decisions. Something that makes credible tradeoffs between the cost of new treatments and the likely benefits. And something that gives taxpayers and patients alike a reason to care about all this. 

I’m in tune with your desire to do something about entitlements, Jim, but I’m skeptical of using the threat to ruin our credit (which would increase our debt problems through the increased cost of borrowing) and reversing our barely-discernible economic recovery as the way a democratic nation solves its problems.

Surrender, Thankfully

“I hoped to do good; but I refuse to do harm.”

—Sen. Mitch McConnell, defending his new plan to raise the debt ceiling


Now, we see who appears to be serious about cutting the deficit.

I have followed the politics over the debt ceiling issue fairly closely on this blog, including posting yesterday what I thought was a fairly fanciful take on President Obama’s negotiating strategy authored by Lawrence O’Donnell.

It appears that O’Donnell, who claimed Obama’s “go big” budget-cutting strategy was  meant to make Republicans blink, was at least partly right, what with Mitch McConnell’s and John Boehner’s cave-in yesterday—a surrender obviously meant to send a signal (which McConnell acknowledged) to Wall Street types that Republicans are not seriously considering wrecking the economy by refusing to agree to an increase in the debt ceiling.

That surrender was summarized in one sentence by Sam Stein:

Congress would give up its power to raise the debt ceiling and effectively transfer that authority to the White House for the remainder of Obama’s current term.

Whether McConnell’s plan, which was indirectly endorsed by John Boehner—”I think Mitch has done good work”—ever becomes reality, it will serve to stabilize the markets as things move forward.

Essentially and thankfully, the Republican surrender means there will be no debt default.

And that surrender was caused, purposely or serendipitously, by the fact that Barack Obama, contrary to O’Donnell’s theory, appears to be damned serious about cutting the budget and the national debt, even if his Republican colleagues are not, a fact that even a casual observer of politics—including the independents Obama needs for reelection—can now see.

Obama, as he said in his press conference the other day, is willing to take the heat from his own party for tackling entitlements, inexplicably even including Social Security, if—and this is the crucial part of his strategy, whether it is a bluff or real—Republicans will come to their senses about taxes.

They won’t.

It’s obvious now that keeping taxes historically low on the wealthy and yielding to Tea Party ignorance means more to the GOP leadership than taking Obama’s unbelievably generous offer to actually address our mid- to long-term budget problems. 

Sam Stein’s reporting on Tuesday’s debt talks between Democrats and Republicans reveals that Democrats now believe the debt ceiling crisis has abated and reveals just how serious Obama is regarding the long-term debt crisis:

For all its talk of the importance of averting a debt default, the White House is signaling that major deficit reduction has become more than just a bargaining chip to bring Republicans aboard a debt deal.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner opened Tuesday’s meeting not by focusing on the perils of debt default, but instead with a “vivid” presentation on “what happens if you don’t cut the deficit,” according to a Democratic source familiar with the talks.

Geithner warned the group that ratings agencies are actively watching both the debt ceiling debate and the ability of Congress to turn around the nation’s growing deficit and debt. He pointed to the economic unrest in Europe as evidence of what could happen in the United States if the White House and Congress don’t tackle the deficit in a serious way.

As Stein reports, and as Obama himself told the country the other day, the President wants to go “big” on cutting the deficit, so big that it is scaring the base of the Democratic Party, a fact that seems to be lost on knuckleheaded conservatives—who have universally and hysterically condemned McConnell—who don’t seem to know that Obama is essentially offering them most of what they claim they wanted in terms of cutting the budget.

Instead of urging their leaders in Congress to take the deal Obama is offering, conservatives insist on ideological purity, even if it means getting nothing.

And nothing is pretty much what they will get, if they stick to their religious doctrine of no tax increases.

Let’s summarize:

(1) Both sides agree that default is not an option.

(2) Both sides agree that budget cuts are necessary in the future, and there appears to be some agreement on the nature of those cuts.

(3) Republicans refuse to budge on taxes and Democrats cannot sell budget cuts, especially entitlement cuts, without getting Republicans to budge on taxes.

Therefore, the only thing possible is (1).  The debt ceiling will get raised and the rest will apparently be left to the American people in 2012, as it should be.

Finally, all of this depends, of course, on whether Obama means it when he says that he will not even consider significant entitlement reform without Republicans agreeing to some revenue increases, which Obama mistakenly calls a “balanced” package.

I believe him, even though his balanced package is really quite an unbalanced one.

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