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

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

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

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

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

MITCHELL: Fair points all.

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

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Don’t Bomb The Hospital

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

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

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

900 000 jobs lost

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

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

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

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

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

As HuffPo notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[hospital photo: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette]

Two Reasons Why Boehner Is The Problem

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

1. Boehner’s Word Isn’t His Bond

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

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

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

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

Moreover:

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

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

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

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

2. Boehner’s Dishonesty Is Breathtaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Would Ronaldus Magnus Do?

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

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

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

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

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

Watch:

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Roy Blunt And Republicans About To Exploit Public Ignorance

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

obama job approval sept 2013

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

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

debt ceiling result bloomberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:

Jim,

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.

Sabotaging The Economy: Cynicism Or Reality?

The opening segment of last night’s The Rachel Maddow Show was over sixteen minutes long.  It was one of those rare moments in cable television in which a lot was said that needed to be said and it was said by two very smart liberal commentators, St. Rachel and Chris Hayes, Washington editor of The Nation magazine.

The segment chronicled only some of the outrageous Republican hypocrisy evident since the Age of Obama.  We’re talking about policies that Republicans supported until they discovered that President Obama supported them too, including:

Pay-Go legislation, the bi-partisan deficit commission, cap and trade, the individual mandate for health insurance, trying terrorists in federal courts, raising the debt ceiling (done seven times under Bush with substantial Republican votes), a payroll tax holiday for businesses and workers, and the DREAM Act.

Toward the end of the segment, St. Rachel offered two competing explanations for such blatant and shameful duplicity: 

The nice interpretation of Republican hypocrisy:  Republicans are merely opposing things they use to support because President Obama supports them too.

The less nice interpretation of Republican hypocrisy: Republicans are opposing things they use to support because they believe those things will actually work and will improve the economy and thus improve Obama’s chances of reelection.  Therefore, they are sabotaging the economic recovery.

Chris Hayes pointed out that Republicans have,

starved the beast…they have cut taxes; now they’ve got everybody in the deficit-debt panic, and now the welfare state is in their sights…and they understand they’re gonna get one shot at it, and they also understand the only way to kill it is to get a Democratic president to do it.

Bush could not gut Social Security, couldn’t privatize Social Security…Barack Obama can. The only way to go after the big game they are hunting—which is Medicaid and Medicare—that’s the fundamental part of social insurance—is  to get a Democrat to do it.

Hayes also offered “an even more cynical interpretation” than Maddow’s suggestion that Republicans want to “take money out of the economy” at a time when the economy needs it:

HAYES: The one thing that refutes the deficit hysteria—which so benefits the Republicans in their mission to go after Medicare and Medicaid—is the fact that interest rates are at historic lows. So, you can say, “Oh, no one’s gonna lend us money,” and look out there and everyone’s lending us money at historically low rates.

What is the one thing that could screw that up?

MADDOW: Debt ceiling.

HAYES:  Exactly. A partial default, a delay in payments…all of a sudden if you had that you could point and say, “Look, the markets are panicked, the interest rates are up; we really have a debt and deficit problem.” The most cynical, the absolute most cynical interpretation of this is that they want some sort of crisis because that produces in the markets exactly the uncertainty they’ve been claiming was already there but has not manifested until now.

There you have it. A perfectly rational explanation of Republican behavior, particularly regarding the debate over the debt ceiling.

And the one thing that Republicans can do to prove wrong Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow—and top Democrats in the U.S. Senate, who have essentially suggested the same thing—is stop protecting the oil companies and the wealthiest Americans and agree to raise the debt ceiling before all economic hell breaks loose, if the Obama administration is forced to default on our debt payments.*

Here is the complete opening segment from last night’s show:

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*There is another possible out, a brief explanation of which can be found here and elsewhere. It involves invoking Section 4 of the 14th Amendment and it would be a very gutsy move by President Obama. In part it reads:

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law…shall not be questioned.

It’s just possible that Obama can ignore the fact that Congress refuses to authorize an increase in the debt ceiling and continue to pay the nation’s bills and its other obligations under the authority of this provision.  Let the fun begin!

Roy Blunt And The Republicans’ “One Chance”

Roy Blunt, obviously following the Senate Republican playbook, appeared on MSNBC’s Jansing & Co. a short time ago and was, among other things, asked about the impending crisis related to the debt ceiling:

JANSING: …Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner…says to Republicans, “You’re gonna own  the responsibility for the first default in U.S. history, if a deal isn’t worked out.”  Are you willing to take that risk?

BLUNT: Well, I think the guy who is the one leader we have is the President of the United States, and he’s the one who needs to figure out what it takes to get the votes to extend the debt limit…l think at the end of the day that’s gonna be his responsibility, and the American people are gonna see it this—that—way.

This is the one chance we have to change current behavior.

Extending the debt limit without any policy changes or any structural changes only means we continue to do things that aren’t working and are gonna create, and are already creating, really bad results.  It’s up to the President. If he can get the votes for a clean debt limit extension, uh, he should do that.  If he can’t, he’s gonna have to talk to people like me, who say we’re only willing to do this if we change our behavior and have guarantees that that behavior is gonna be changed.

Here is the logic of Mr. Blunt and the Senate Republicans:

1. President Obama is free to get a “clean” extension of the debt limit.

2. It takes 60 votes in the Senate to get anything done and Democrats don’t have 60 votes.

3. The House is controlled by Republicans.

4. Therefore, President Obama cannot get a clean bill and has to deal with Republicans to get the debt limit increased.

A clearer case of blackmail could not be presented.

And despite Blunt’s attempt to put the blame on President Obama for any failure to get the limit raised, Blunt’s too-clever-by-half answer reveals the real truth: It is Republicans who can stop any agreement to raise the debt ceiling and therefore it is Republicans who will be held responsible, as Tim Geithner suggested, for the first default in the history of the United States.

Thanks for making that clear to us, Senator Blunt.

And thanks for making it clear how you and the Republican Party view this fight. You said,

This is the one chance we have to change current behavior.

And everyone knows that if a political party believes it has only “one chance,” that party will stop at nothing to get its way, including, apparently, sabotaging the economy.

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