The State Of The Union, In Three Speeches

As always, I recommend actually reading President Obama’s speech from Tuesday night.

There was simply too much in it to absorb fully with the eyes and ears. HuffPo did a pretty good job of summarizing it:

huffpo sotu

Overlooked in all the post-speech coverage I saw was the brilliant opening:

Fifty-one years ago, John F. Kennedy declared to this chamber that “the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress.”   “It is my task,” he said, “to report the State of the Union — to improve it is the task of us all.”  

Progress and improvement. That was what President Obama’s speech was all about. And he called upon Congress to help, but the reason Congress won’t help much is because of what we saw and heard in the second, then the third, speech of the night, given by Marco Rubio and Ron Paul, both of whom on the day they gave their speeches voted against the Violence Against Women Act, for God’s sake.

Like his political philosophy, Rubio’s palate was dry, causing an embarrassing dip for a drink worthy of any amateur on YouTube making his first video. His speech, really an audition for 2016 GOP primary voters, was mostly warmed-over Ryanism, with an ethnic twist.

The straw man Rubio vanguished last night is one Republicans have murdered many times:

This idea – that our problems were caused by a government that was too small – it’s just not true. In fact, a major cause of our recent downturn was a housing crisis created by reckless government policies.

That Rubio believes such a thing I don’t doubt. That he expects a majority of Americans, many of them victims of genuinely reckless behavior in the financial industry, to believe it, I do doubt. Most of the true-believing government-shrinkers in the country have now given up on selling the nonsense that do-gooders in government caused the Great Recession.

Rubio plodded on, though, confident that his target audience—both softcore and hardcore teapartiers—would find his argument convincing, even though they are already convinced:

More government isn’t going to help you get ahead. It’s going to hold you back.

More government isn’t going to create more opportunities. It’s going to limit them.

And more government isn’t going to inspire new ideas, new businesses and new private sector jobs. It’s going to create uncertainty. Because more government breeds complicated rules and laws that a small business can’t afford to follow.

The real uncertainty, of course, has been created by Republicans in Congress. And that uncertainty hasn’t been created by “more government,” but by dysfunctional government: That government is best that governs chaotically.

And speaking of chaos, we have the mind of Rand Paul. He argued in his speech for “a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution!” (yep, that exclamation mark is in the original text). He said he “will propose a five-year balanced budget.” But later added:

We must stand firm. We must say NO to any MORE tax hikes!

Those caps and punctuation are, once again, in the original. This guy even SHOUTS when he WRITES!

The muddled and immature philosophy he gets so excited about is this:

Only through lower taxes, less regulation and more freedom will the economy begin to grow again.

An opthmalmologist by training, Paul has taken to practicing short-sighted voodoo economics. He’s sticking pins in America, hoping this time the voodoo ritual will work. But he’s confused. About the GOP he says,

Our party is the party of growth, jobs and prosperity, and we will boldly lead on these issues.

Huh? Earlier in his speech he informed us that,

Both parties have been guilty of spending too much, of protecting their sacred cows, of backroom deals in which everyone up here wins, but every taxpayer loses…I will work with anyone on either side of the aisle who wants to cut spending. But in recent years, there has been no one to work with.

No one. Just him. Just him and his voodoo.

Bizarro!

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.”

Whoops!

[Photograph: Ethan Miller/Getty Images]

“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.

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.

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.

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