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:

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.

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.

Eric Cantor: “I quit.” John Boehner: “Who, me?”

House Republican majority leader Eric Cantor is quitting half way through the infamous debt ceiling negotiations at the White House.

Cantor, in the spirit of the former half-governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, stayed around long enough to do only the fun stuff: cutting what he claims is trillions from the federal budget.  The rest of the job—negotiations over revenue increases—will fall on the shoulders of Cantor’s boss, Speaker John Boehner.

Cantor said,

I believe that we have identified trillions in spending cuts, and to date, we have established a blueprint that could institute the fiscal reforms needed to start getting our fiscal house in order. 

That said, each side came into these talks with certain orders, and as it stands the Democrats continue to insist that any deal must include tax increases. There is not support in the House for a tax increase, and I don’t believe now is the time to raise taxes in light of our current economic situation. Regardless of the progress that has been made, the tax issue must be resolved before discussions can continue.

The good news in Cantor’s statement is that it appears that Democrats are hanging tough on the issue of taxes, something many of us didn’t think possible.  The bad news is that no one knows what “trillions in spending cuts” means at this point.

Cantor claims—falsely—that, “there is not support in the House for a tax increase.”  John Boehner made the same false claim on Thursday.  What they mean is that there is not support on the Republican side of the House for a tax increase.  But most people forget that there are 192 Democrats wandering around the House side of the capitol, most of whom would certainly be open to revenue increases.

That means that Boehner cannot claim there is not support in the House for a tax increase, unless he admits that there is no way he could get a handful of Republicans to join Democrats to do the right and rational thing and vote for some kind of revenue increase. 

Right now there are 432 occupied seats in the House, meaning 217 is the magic majority number.  Assuming some very small number of Democrats behave like conservative tea partiers, Boehner would only have to come up with somewhere around 30 votes on his side of the aisle to get a deal passed that included tax increases.

Now, think about that.  We are talking about the debt ceiling and the full faith and credit of the United States.  We are talking about default and a potential economic catastrophe.  We are talking about geezers not getting their Social Security checks.  We are talking about international embarrassment.

Yet, John Boehner can’t come up with 25 or 30 Republican votes to save the day? Huh?

What kind of leader is he? What kind of party has the GOP become?

And that’s just the House side.

Over in the Senate, it is far from certain that rational behavior on the Republican side is any more reliable than in the tea party-dominated House.  Mitch McConnell is placing the burden all on President Obama:

Where in the world has the president been for the last month? What does he propose? What is he willing to do to reduce the debt and to avoid this crisis that is building on his watch? He’s the one in charge.

Forget the fact that Mr. Obama established the debt-ceiling talks in the first place and that Democrats, according to Cantor, have been agreeable to “trillions” in spending cuts.  We just aren’t dealing with serious people here. 

Once upon a time, the dynamics of these kinds of negotiations would always feature a lot of grandstanding, but in the end, we could count on there being enough serious and rational people who would do the right thing for the country.

One wonders these days if there are any serious and rational people left in the Republican Party.

The bottom line is that Democrats need to stand their ground and continue demanding a more balanced approach to addressing our debt problems. And if the Republican Party wants to risk an unprecedented economic meltdown—and have the blame for such a disaster follow them for a generation—then there is little Democrats can do to stop them, short of surrendering.

And for now it looks like Democrats have no plans to surrender.

I said, “for now.”  We are, after all, talking about Democrats.

It Doesn’t “Almost Make Me Wonder”

I opened my Joplin Globe today and I found this headline on page 4B:

Poll: Economy weakens support for Obama

The AP story opened this way:

WASHINGTON   — Mired in economic worry, Americans are growing gloomier about where the country is headed and how President Barack Obama is leading it. Opinions of the economy are at the lowest of the year as high gas prices, anemic hiring and financial turmoil abroad shake a nation’s confidence.

Now, that story dovetailed nicely with what the top Democrats in the Senate did on Wednesday, which essentially was accuse Republicans of sabotaging the economic recovery in the name of politics.

Majority Whip Dick Durbin said:

Our Republican colleagues in the House and Senate are driven by putting one man out of work: President Obama.

Senator Chuck Schumer said:

It almost makes you wonder if they aren’t trying to slow down the economic recovery for political gain.

Almost makes you wonder?

What the Dems are talking about is the failure of Republicans to support economic stimulus incentives that Republicans once enthusiastically supported, like, just as one example, the payroll tax cut for both employees and employers, tailor-made to jibe with Republican economic philosophy.  But Schumer says:

John Boehner called it a gimmick, Paul Ryan called it sugar high. Lamar Alexander and Jeb Hensarling both criticized it as short-term stimulus — apparently that’s a bad thing. Would Republicans really oppose a tax cut for business that created jobs? This is sort of beyond the pale. So if they’d oppose even something so suited to their tastes ideologically, it shows that they’re just opposing anything that would help create jobs.

You might think it is in bad taste for one party to accuse the other of such sabotage, so I will present to you one party accusing itself of, well, a kind of sabotage.  Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a fleeting moment of honesty, explained that recent Republican opposition to Obama’s Libya policy—remember, these are Republicans who have rarely, if ever, met a war they didn’t like, if not actually want to personally fight—is at least partly based on partisan considerations.

Via the Huffington Post, here is what McConnell said at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor:

I’m not sure that these kinds of differences might not have been there in a more latent form when you had a Republican president, but I do think there is more of a tendency to pull together when the guy in the White House is on your side. 

So I think some of these views were probably held by some of my members even in the previous administration, but party loyalty tended to kind of mute them. … I think a lot of our members, not having a Republican in the White House, feel more free to kind of express their reservations, which might have been somewhat muted during the previous administration.

So, McConnell is saying that Republicans, whose first loyalty is apparently to their party, will tend to support their own president on war matters—even if they have “reservations”— but they feel free to thwart President Obama because he is of the other party.

Hmm.

Let’s go back to Chuck Schumer’s comment about Republicans one more time:

It almost makes you wonder if they aren’t trying to slow down the economic recovery for political gain.

Nope. It doesn’t almost make me wonder at all. 

_______________________

Here is the press conference on job creation by Senate Democrats in which some of them wonder out loud about Republican motives:

 

Here is McConnell’s statement:

Republican Economist: “It’s Not About The Debt Limit”

On ABC’s This Week with Christiane Amanpour, an “Economic Outlook” roundtable segment featured a discussion on, of course, the debt ceiling.

One of the panelists was a local gal, Sheila Bair.  Ms. Bair is from Independence, Kansas, about a rock’s throw from Joplin.  (Okay, okay. About 75 miles.)  In any case, Sheila Bair is the current—soon to be former—Chairman of the FDIC, put there by George Bush in 2006.  A couple of years ago, Forbes named her the second most powerful woman in the Solar System, or something like that.

You get the idea.  She’s a powerful chick.

She’s so powerful that she could hurl hormonal insults at a couple of the other panelists, namely the Nobel-winning and liberal Paul Krugman, my favorite economist, and the non-Nobel winning and conservative Doug Holtz-Eakin, John McCain’s favorite economist.

The boys were arguing about what to do regarding the Republican threat to blow up the economy over the debt ceiling:

AMANPOUR:  How is President Obama to respond to the call for “trillions” not “billions” of dollars in cuts?

KRUGMAN: If he gives in on this he’s setting himself up for repeated blackmail. He’s basically saying that, “I care about the economy more than the Republicans do, and therefore every time they threaten to blow it up, even though it will hurt all of us, I’m gonna give in.”  So, I think Obama’s got very, very little wiggle room, even though it’s a terrible thing.

AMANPOUR: Most of the economists are saying the Republicans are playing with fire. That hitting the debt limit, exceeding it, is not like shutting down the government;  it could cause a real cascading economic crisis.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: I don’t think there’s any great desire to hit the debt limit. The key is to recognize the limit is a symptom and that the fundamental problem is the underlying condition of the U.S. budget. What you’re seeing now are calls for, both from Speaker Boehner and from the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, for real solutions to the real problems.  It’s not about the debt limit. It’s making sure that in the short-term we get cuts, in the medium term we have an enforceable path, and that you take care of something in the long-term. Entitlements have to be on the table.

Get that? “It’s not about the debt limit.”  It’s about cutting the size of government, the economy be damned.

Enter Sheila Bair.  She told Amanpour this:

I do think that both sides have a point. Last November I published an op-ed in The Washington Post where I said if we didn’t get these deficits under control I thought it would precipitate the next financial crisis.  I also agree with the administration, though, that it is irresponsible to even entertain an idea of a so-called “technical” default on the public debt. 

So, I think both sides have a point and I hope they come together and,  gentlemen, if you’ll excuse me,  I think there’ s maybe a little too much testosterone in this debate.  It’s too much about winning and losing and not enough “both sides are right, let’s come together and have a solution.”

Never mind the sexist statement about testosterone.*  What about the idea that “both sides are right,” when one side is clearly prepared—judging by its rhetoric—to go to the brink and beyond and risk financial disaster? 

How can “both sides are right” be anyone’s position in this debate?  Clearly, if Democrats were in charge, there would be no flirting with not raising the debt ceiling and thus no flirting with economic calamity.  The only reason there’s a possibility of defaulting on our debt—past obligations approved by Democrats and Republicans—is because Republicans are holding hostage the full faith and credit of the United States to further their ideological goals.  There’s no “both sides” to it.

Near the end of the discussion, Bair, after explaining what would be the dire consequences of defaulting on Treasury debt,  said this:

I’m sorry, but it truly frightens me. I don’t think we should be talking about it.

To which Krugman replied that he, too, was “terrified by it.”  Then he said:

But I’m also terrified by a blackmail political system.

Testosterone or not, why isn’t everyone?

________________________________

* It is inconceivable that one of the gentlemen in the segment would have said to Ms. Bair:

Now, honey, your estrogen is getting in the way of understanding what’s going on here.

Two Visions Of America

Not long before President Obama’s address to the nation today on the budget, I heard John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor speak. 

Actually, I didn’t have to hear them speak.  I could read their lips: NO NEW TAXES!

Boehner gave Paul Ryan’s dead-on-conception budget plan a big bear hug.  Eric Cantor said Obama’s only deficit-reduction plan was to raise taxes.  And Mitch McConnell suggested that there are “doubts out there” as to whether America is declining or rising.

Thanks, Mitch.

That gloomy GOP view—expressed routinely now by nearly all Republicans—is not characteristically an American one, and Obama’s speech made that point clear.

How different from McConnell’s sour statement was President Obama’s tenor this afternoon.  In fact, the President, in offering blazing criticism of the newest Republican budget plan, said the plan—and the vision it supports—offered a “deeply pessimistic” view of America’s future.

Indeed.

He said that the Paul Ryan budget plan, “championed by Republicans in the House of Representatives and embraced by several of their party’s presidential candidates,”

would lead to a fundamentally different America than the one we’ve known throughout most of our history. 

The Republican-embraced vision, Obama said, is one which “says that the United States of America—the greatest nation on earth—can’t afford” to fix our roads and bridges or send poor bright kids to college or invest in infrastructure or care for our seniors or insure that the most vulnerable among us have health insurance.

Worst of all,” the President continued,

this is a vision that says even though America can’t afford to invest in education or clean energy; even though we can’t afford to care for seniors and poor children, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy. 

Think about it.  In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90% of all working Americans actually declined.  The top 1% saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each.  And that’s who needs to pay less taxes?  They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut that’s paid for by asking thirty-three seniors to each pay six thousand dollars more in health costs?  

That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.

Obama made plain Republican intentions, when he said,

The fact is, their vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America. 

As Ronald Reagan’s own budget director said, there’s nothing “serious” or “courageous” about this plan.  There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.  There’s nothing courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill. 

And this is not a vision of the America I know.  

The America Obama knows is “generous and compassionate,” and “a land of opportunity and optimism,” and he said,

We take responsibility for ourselves and each other; for the country we want and the future we share.  We are the nation that built a railroad across a continent and brought light to communities shrouded in darkness.  We sent a generation to college on the GI bill and saved millions of seniors from poverty with Social Security and Medicare.  We have led the world in scientific research and technological breakthroughs that have transformed millions of lives. 

This is who we are.  This is the America I know.  We don’t have to choose between a future of spiraling debt and one where we forfeit investments in our people and our country.  To meet our fiscal challenge, we will need to make reforms.  We will all need to make sacrifices.  But we do not have to sacrifice the America we believe in. 

And as long as I’m President, we won’t.

Obama’s upbeat view is that America is the greatest country on earth and we can still afford to remain a country in which we can prosper financially, preserve our individual freedoms, and keep our commitment to each other, our fellow citizens:

This sense of responsibility – to each other and to our country – this isn’t a partisan feeling.  It isn’t a Democratic or Republican idea.  It’s patriotism.

Finally, Obama outlined four steps designed to achieve $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 12 years, which you can see here for yourself.  While I found two of them wanting (Steps 1 and 3), he did lay out a way to navigate the future that in comparison to the alternative makes some sense.  His plan is not hysterically austere and irritatingly negative, although only $1 trillion in savings comes from raising revenues.  I suppose that is political reality, given the last election.

And he made clear that he would “refuse to renew” the “tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.”  That’s progress.

But more than his vision of America or his panic-free outline for dealing with deficit spending, President Obama demonstrated why those hard-core liberals out there, who have entertained ideas of sitting out the 2012 election in protest of Obama’s failure to properly execute liberal strategy, couldn’t be more wrong.

He addressed his base supporters today:

Indeed, to those in my own party, I say that if we truly believe in a progressive vision of our society, we have the obligation to prove that we can afford our commitments.  If we believe that government can make a difference in people’s lives, we have the obligation to prove that it works – by making government smarter, leaner and more effective. 

That’s something to think about. And no matter what any of us think of Obama’s negotiating strategy or his seeming lack of passion for some of our pet causes, imagine where we would be these days, if there were no Democrat in the White House.  Especially one who bothers to address those of us with a “progressive vision.”

Really, it’s unimaginable.

Medicare: The End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, by the way, Ryan loved him back.

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

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

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

Remarks And Asides

Mitch McConnell, who at one time resisted the Tea Party temptation, has now succumbed and is apparently willing to drink a sweat Slurpee straight from Jim DeMint’s booty crack—with a short straw, mind you.

McConnell attacked Chuck Schumer today for accurately describing non-compromising Republicans as “extremists.”  McConnell said that Democrats are the real extremists.  Okay. I agree. Given the state of the budget discussions, congressional Democrats are extremely poor negotiators.  One might even say that if throwing in the towel were an Olympic sport, Democrats would be the Michael Phelps of surrender.

So far, they have managed to give Republicans more than half their budget cuts and have received next to nothing in return.  There must have been some sort of special election I missed.  When did the GOP grab control of the entire government again?

__________________________

Donald Trump, God’s gift to atheists everywhere, says that the reason President Obama won’t produce yet another valid birth certificate is that he may be hiding his Muslimism.

I am embracing this issue,” he told MSNBC, “I’m proud of the issue…somebody has to embrace it.” 

Thank you, Jesus.

Trump, by the way, has finally produced a valid birth certificate of his own, which proves once and for all he was not a creation of the Democratic National Committee’s Avatar Division. Let’s face it, that division has its hands full, what with creating and animating Michele Bachmann.

And technicians are still fine-tuning the latest version of Newt Gingrich, a project began long go.  The investment in the Gingrich-bot has paid off handsomely over the years and Democratic programmers are promising even more useful Gingrich quotes as time goes by.

___________________________

Speaking of Gingrich, I missed it last week when he criticized House Republicans for not being aggressive enough in the budget negotiations. On blabbing Hugh Hewitt’s talk show, he said Congressional Republicans should demand that President Obama give up his health reform law in exchange for Republicans agreeing to raise the debt ceiling.

I hate to admit it, but given the Democrats’ skill at negotiating, that might not be a bad strategy. If the GOP lawmakers try something like that, expect Democrats to counter-offer with a proposal to repeal those parts of the law already in effect and delay implementation of the rest until 3014.

___________________________

An Indiana Republican state legislator said the following in a debate over a jobs highly restrictive abortion bill he introduced, to which an amendment was proposed to make an exception for victims of rape or incest:

…someone who is desirous of an abortion could simply say that they’ve been raped or there’s incest…

To that outrageous pap, Democrat Rep. Linda Lawson, a former sex crimes investigator for the Indiana police, replied:

Women don’t make this up! My Goodness! This is the state of Indiana!

Yes, unfortunately, Ms. Lawson, it is.

Mitch McConnell: No New Taxes, Take It Or Leave It

It’s clear from the election last year, we will not be raising taxes,” Republican leader Senator Mitch McConnell said this morning on Morning Joe. He was responding to a question about the budget.

That unequivocal statement is why, my friends, the battle will go on.  Until the GOP leadership moves off that position, nothing of substance will happen.  I hope.  Democrats, especially President Obama, haven’t exactly shown themselves to be competent negotiators.

McConnell also said, when asked why the Republican Party doesn’t take the lead with regard to entitlement reform, that it was because “I’m not the President.”  He said he has told President Obama both publicly and privately that divided government is the time to get something done and, “We’re ready to go.”

Ready to go? Hardly. Oh, they’re ready to go on spending cuts. If Democrats let them, radical Tea Party Republicans will suck the marrow out of the budget. But responsibly raising taxes to pay for the government people say they want? Not a chance, McConnell said.  That’s some compromise offer.  If Democrats agree in any way to this bargain, they deserve permanent exile.

McConnell used the example of the Reagan-O’Neill compromises in the 1980s and, most egregiously, the Clinton and congressional Republican compromises in the 1990s that led to budget surpluses as examples of how things can get done during times of divided government.

Except, naturally, McConnell ignored one teeny, tiny, tittle of a fact.  What he doesn’t mention, and Democrats shouldn’t let him ignore, is that in 1993, Clinton and the Democrats raised taxes responsibly to pay for government. Imagine that. Asking the American people to pay for the government they have voted for over the years. How novel that sounds today.

That law, known widely as the Deficit Reduction Act of 1993, received exactly ZERO Republican votes. ZERO. And what followed that responsible legislation was years of prosperity and job growth.

The GOP confirmed its fiscal irresponsibility via the infamous cuts in 2001 and 2003 that essentially repealed the 1993 law and set us back on the road to massive deficit spending.  And if Democrats let the Tea Party have its way, the home-bound chickens from that malgovernance will roost in a much smaller and less effective government hen house.

As I said, if Democrats yield to the my-way-or-no-way Republicans, led by anti-government teapartiers, then the Democratic Party deserves the dissolution it most surely will suffer.

Egypt: The View From The Paranoid Right

Since nearly every sensible thing that can be said has been said this weekend regarding the upheaval in Egypt, I thought I would look in on what the right-wing is saying.

John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are so far playing it safe, essentially approving of the Obama administration’s cautious response to the crisis. But it’s only Monday.

Unfortunately, Egypt is not observable from Wasilla, so Sarah Palin hasn’t yet tweeted her foreign policy advice to the world.  But it’s only Monday. I’m sure after she catches up on her weekend reading, she will offer up some profound analysis.

Bill Kristol, a Fox “News” neocon who agitated for war against Iraq as early as 1998 and who has urged the U.S. to launch a military strike against Iran, has not yet called for invading Egypt and ousting Mubarak.  That’s always a good thing, but it’s only Monday.  

Kristol, who always knows what we should do in every tricky situation, did say the Administration was “a little slow in reacting to events and said a couple foolish things.”  Apparently, patience and deliberation is not a virtue in the Kristol family.

Speaking of a lack of patience and deliberation: The Glenn Beck News Service, The Blaze, featured this headline:

The story, written by Jonathon Seidl and complete with a Goldline ad, is one of those “connecting the dots” specials, which are the forte of the paranoid Right. It seems that the American Left, some of whom rallied this weekend in support of the Egyptian people, is encouraging the uprising because,

the power vacuum that would result from a government collapse would make the country a prime target for a socialist takeover.

Even though the protests in Egypt have been decidedly unrelated to Western politics, that’s not the way it is seen through the eyes of fearful right-wingers, at least when it comes to the motives of those Americans who support Egyptian freedom:

Is it really about democracy, then, as some of the signs suggest?

Not really. The reality seems to be closer to something like this: when a revolution opposes a leftist dictator, leftists and socialists ignore it. When a revolution opposes an American ally (particularly an ally as pivotal to U.S. security as the Egyptian alliance is) leftists and socialists support it. Succinctly put, the groups have a vested interest in the current American system being defeated (a goal shared by leftist dictators). That’s why they can support Chavez, Ahmadinejad, and even Hussein, but rally against someone such as Mubarak.

In the same vein, Red State, a popular right-wing site operated by Erick Erickson, now a CNN commentator, featured this headline:

The story takes the Beckian view one step further and involves the Obama administration in the plot to make Egypt and the Middle East a socialist paradise:

For all the lack of clarity on where the Obama administration stands, one thing is becoming more and more clear: Signs are beginning to point more toward the likelihood that President Obama’s State Department, unions, as well as Left-leaning media corporations are more directly involved in helping to ignite the Mid-East turmoil than they are publicly admitting.

Meanwhile, Dick Morris, another Foxinating right-winger who sees an Islamic terrorist hiding behind every crisis tree, is urging the U.S. to “send a signal to the military that it will be supportive of its efforts to keep Egypt out of the hands of the Islamic fundamentalists.He wrote:

The Obama Administration, in failing to throw its weight against an Islamic takeover, is guilty of the same mistake that led President Carter to fail to support the Shah, opening the door for the Ayatollah Khomeini to take over Iran…

Now is the time for Republicans and conservatives to start asking the question: Who is losing Egypt? We need to debunk the starry eyed idealistic yearning for reform and the fantasy that a liberal democracy will come from these demonstrations. It won’t. Iranian domination will.

It appears that some on the Right, who night and day lie and stoke fear about Obama’s imaginary disregard for the freedoms of Americans, don’t mind if he helps squash the yearnings of Egyptians who want liberty—and jobs—in their own land.

We really run the risk of some Iranian style regime emerging in the end here,” foreign policy expert Sean Hannity said on Friday.

And even though the real experts discount that possibility (the Muslim Brotherhood reportedly represents around 20% of the population), it doesn’t matter. What matters is that however the situation in Egypt ends, Obama will have either done too much or too little.  He will either have sided with the Egyptian dictator or sided with the Muslim Brotherhood or engineered a socialist revolution.  

And to think it’s only Monday.

 

Remarks And Asides

Here’s what wrong with Washington:  Harry Reid was told by nine Republicans that they would support his efforts to get the omnibus budget bill—which would have funded the government through next September—to the floor for debate, which meant it would have eventually passed the Senate. 

But because of a fear of the Tea Party—in the person of Jim DeMint, who demanded the 1900-page bill be read by the Senate clerk, a 50-hour endeavor—Republicans who gave their word to Harry Reid stabbed him squarely in the back at the last minute Thursday night, while he was on the floor.  He was forced to pull the bill and make yet another deal with Mitch McConnell over a continuing resolution.

Now, backstabbing Republicans are a problem, no doubt.  But why can’t the guys on our side at least name names when deceit like this happens?  Reid said on the floor that he would not call out the names of those senators—liars, all—who pulled back their support.  He said they knew who they were.  Yes, they do.  But the rest of us don’t. 

UPDATE: At noon today, I heard Andrea Mitchell, on her show on the “liberal” network MSNBC, say that Reid was “outfoxed.”  Outfoxed? The definition of that word is, “to surpass in guile or cunning.”  In other words, both sides were using guile and Reid simply got out-guiled by a better guiler.  That’s what happens when Democrats refuse to name names and put a face on the deception of the other side. 

At least Missouri’s own Claire McCaskill, who was going to vote against the omnibus bill anyway, did call them out. She specifically mentioned that the Republican Minority Leader had his own earmarks in the bill and fiercely criticized Republicans for their hypocrisy. 

_____________________________ 

Last night, the headline on CNN was: House passes Obama tax plan.  Get that?  It’s Obama‘s tax plan.

On CNN’s Anderson Cooper last night, I watched the first ten-minute segment, which was about all the “game playing” in the Congress.  Except, that if one were just a casual observer of American politics and didn’t know the truth, the impression left by Cooper and cast was that “both sides” were engaging in the game playing. 

This is Anderson Cooper and CNN at their split-the-difference best.  In order to solidify their self-described standing as the anti-Fox and anti-MSNBC network, they distort the truth to make it appear they are being neutral.  That’s not journalism, people.  Both sides are not equally guilty as regards the mess that is Washington, D.C.

______________________________

A new poll found what we all know:  Republicans believe certain facts about the world that are not in fact facts.  But so do Democrats.  The study also found that “those who had greater levels of exposure to news sources had lower levels of misinformation.”  Of course, that makes sense. 

But then there’s this:

There were, however, a number of cases where greater exposure to a particular news source increased misinformation on some issues.

Those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it to believe that most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses (12 points more likely), most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit (31 points), the economy is getting worse (26 points), most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring (30 points), the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts (14 points), their own income taxes have gone up (14 points), the auto bailout only occurred under Obama (13 points), when TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it (12 points) and that it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States (31 points). The effect was also not simply a function of partisan bias, as people who voted Democratic and watched Fox News were also more likely to have such misinformation than those who did not watch it–though by a lesser margin than those who voted Republican.

Surprise!

To be fair, there was one case in which MSNBC and NPR were allegedly the guilty party:

Daily consumers of MSNBC and public broadcasting (NPR and PBS) were higher (34 points and 25 points respectively) in believing that it was proven that the US Chamber of Commerce was spending money raised from foreign sources to support Republican candidates.

Given the fact that the Chamber of Commerce won’t—and doesn’t legally have to—release donor lists or reveal just how it keeps foreign money separate in its accounting, it’s understandable how folks could jump to that conclusion.  But, again, to be fair, it is conclusion jumping, since apparently there isn’t a way to prove it.

So, in the Misinformation Olympics, Fox “News” has nine gold medals, and MSNBC and NPR have one bronze.  In other words, Fox is the East German swim team of propaganda.  Congratulations!

Republicans Say They Will Kill The Hostages

Head hostage taker, Mitch McConnell, warned any would-be rescuers that if they tried any funny business, he would kill the hostages with tax hikes:

From Roll Call:

The Kentucky Republican’s comments came in a statement shortly after the Senate agreed to move toward final passage of the tax measure, which would extend Bush-era tax cuts for two years and unemployment benefits for 13 months. McConnell struck the deal with the White House last week.

“We now urge the House leadership to bring this bipartisan agreement to a vote without political games or partisan changes designed only to block this bill’s passage in the House. If the House Democratic Leadership decides to make partisan changes, they will ensure that every American taxpayer will see a job-killing tax hike on January 1st,” McConnell said in the statement.

Nothing—absolutely nothing—could be clearer:  The Republicans are ruthless bastards, when it comes to protecting their moneyed constituents.

 And they don’t give a damn about anyone else.

Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell has a special message for 99% of the American people.  See if you can guess what it is:

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This Just In: Mr. Obama Is No Harry Truman

In Day Two of Republicans Hold America Hostage, we examine President Obama’s response to kidnapper Mitch McConnell’s pledge to continue doing nothing on anything until wealthy Americans are assured of getting an average of $100,000 in tax cuts.

Before we begin, let’s remember two things.

The bipartisan Slurpeefest two days ago was originally scheduled for November 18.  Obama, ever the gracious one, invited Republicans over to his place to sort of reset their relationship, after Republicans kicked some serious booty via the midterms.  It was supposed to be a working session followed by “dinner in the Obama’s private residence.”

Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, soon let it be known that they were just “too busy” to meet on November 18.  Now, this was widely seen as disrespectful, as it is common practice for legislators to rearrange their schedule, when the President of the United States invites them in for discussions.

But these aren’t ordinary times and these aren’t ordinary Republicans.  Disrespecting President Obama has become something of an art form among Tea Party-drunk politicians, who believe they can do anything they want to Mr. Obama with impunity.

And, of course, they get that idea because it happens to be true.

The President accepted the Republicans excuse that they just didn’t have time and quickly reset the meeting for November 30.  There, that’ll show ‘em!

So, what was Mitch McConnell doing on November 18, instead of meeting with—did I mention this?—the President of the Bleeping United States?  I’ll let Amanda Terkel tell you:

WASHINGTON — On the day that Republican leaders were supposed to have a bipartisan meeting and an intimate dinner with President Obama, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) spent several hours schmoozing with the conservative Federalist Society — including attending their annual dinner.

The “annual dinner” featured a speech by conservative activist Justice Antonin Scalia, who, along with his conservative colleagues, has done the Republican Party’s dirty work by completely turning the country over to the wealthy, via the incarnation of corporations.

Okay.  So, all that was clearly a  POTUS-slap.

What did our above-the-fray POTUS do? 

Nothing.  He’s above the fray.

On we go to November 30.  After the meeting with Republicans, here’s what Obama said:

…the truth is there’s always going to be a political incentive against working together, particularly in the current hyperpartisan climate.  There are always those who argue that the best strategy is simply to try to defeat your opposition instead of working with them…

But I think there was recognition today that that’s a game that we can’t afford.  Not in these times.  And in a private meeting that I had without staff — without betraying any confidences — I was pleased to see several of my friends in the room say, let’s try not to duplicate that.  Let’s not try to work the Washington spin cycle to suggest that somehow the other side is not being cooperative.  I think that there was a sincere effort on the part of everybody involved to actually commit to work together to try to deal with these problems.

The Obama who spoke these words is a genuinely nice person. He truly believes this stuff.  He wants it to be true.  He is not an “eye for an eye” guy. Machiavelli is not on his bookshelf. He has risen above the shouts from Republicans of “You lie!” and “Obama is a socialist!” and “Obama is a Marxist-Kenyan anti-colonialist” and other such indignities.

He has turned the other cheek, given up his cloak and his tunic, gone the extra mile. 

Yet, the next morning after the November 30 bipartisan, “commit to work together” meeting—yesterday—Mitch McConnell announced that he has herded all 42 Republicans in the Senate and they will, indeed, hold that body hostage—and by extension America—unless the Democrats pay their ransom: tax cuts for the rich.

Now, most ordinary folks would see this stratagem as the grossest of offenses, both personal and institutional.  Most ordinary folks would, to put it delicately, get pissed.

But Mr. Obama is not ordinary folk.  When asked if “what McConnell did” broke the “spirit” of the November 30 meeting, here is what the President said:

…there’s going to be some lingering politics that have to work themselves out in all the caucuses, Democrat and Republican.  But at the end of the day, I think that people of good will can come together and recognize that given where the economy is at right now, given the struggles that a lot of families are still going through right now, that we’re going to be able to solve this problem.  And I think we got off to a good start yesterday.  There are going to be ups and downs to this process, but I’m confident that we’re going to be able to get it done.  All right?

Well, no.  It’s not all right.

Essentially, Mr. Obama equated what Republicans are doing in their caucuses with what Democrats are doing in theirs, calling it all “lingering politics.” That response, while typical of the Kumbaya Obama we have all, unfortunately, grown used to, is unacceptable.

Instead of taking a shot at Republicans for playing him as a fool, the President blames it all on politics on both sides

It’s no wonder that Democrats in Congress, with a few notable exceptions, are afraid to stand up and shout down Republican bullies. They’re not afraid of the Republicans as much as they are afraid that Obama will not have their backs in the fight, nevermind fight them himself. 

In an effort to appease the “independent voters,” who have lately abandoned him because of the sluggish economy, Mr. Obama ignores the obvious fact that Republicans are playing him for a sucker.  Who thinks that Democrats, with their large majorities in Congress and with the White House, are in charge?  Nobody.

And most of the blame for that reality lies with President Obama.

All of this is not easy to write, since there hasn’t been a bigger Obama supporter in the entire country than yours truly. I admire his calm demeanor and rational approach, which works well for confronting the problems of actual governance.  But it’s a terrible approach to politics.  It’s a liability.  When your political enemies are lobbing grenades in your direction, you don’t invite them over to roast marshmallows.

And you certainly don’t tell the country that “both sides” are lobbing grenades, when one side is tossing them on your behalf and on behalf of working and middle class Americans.

The Democratic Party needs a strong leader in these times of trouble, both for the sake of the country and for the sake of the party. Since the trouncing on November 2—and some say long before—Obama has demonstrated that he is not the leader we all thought he could and would be.  Harry Truman he is not.

But here’s hoping against audacious hope that there is still time for him to come to his senses, time for him to get out of his foxhole and take back the ground he has surrendered to Republicans.

More important, there is still time for him to free the unemployed and the middle class, who are being held hostage by Republicans, without paying the ransom of tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.

Someone’s Laughing, Lord, Kumbaya

President Obama and the Kumbaya Democrats will either learn someday how Republicans play politics, or they will have their heads handed to them again in 2012.

We found out today that Senate Republicans have all—every single one of them—signed a letter to Harry Reid, essentially explaining to him that they will filibuster any and all legislation that comes up, if Democrats don’t give millionaires and billionaires—a mostly Republican constituency—a whopping tax cut.

This comes just one day after Republicans agreed to a meeting with Democrats seeking a compromise on the tax cut issue. As the Bee Gees might sing, “the Democrats started a joke…but didn’t see that the joke was on them. Oh, no.”

Here’s what Harry Reid said about the Republicans:

With this letter they have simply put in writing the political strategy the Republicans have pursued this entire congress: Mainly, obstruct and delay, obstruct and delay action on critical matters, and then blame the Democrats for not addressing the needs of the American people. Very cynical but very obvious and very transparent.

Okay.  He got the diagnosis right, now what will be the Democratic treatment for Republican bastardization of the political process?

How about another Slurpee summit?  Or a bipartisan weenie roast at Camp David? 

Democrats will supply the weenies.

 

 

Republicans Say Jump, Democrats Say How High?

Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots?
Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.

—Jeremiah 13:23

It was all grins and giggles today, after President Obama met at the White House with leaders of both parties.  While the atmospherics may have improved—even Mitch McConnell said, “there’s no reason we can’t find areas of agreement“—there is in fact no reason to believe that Republicans have suddenly changed their focus from defeating Obama to enabling him.

The problem with the nicey-nice rhetoric coming from the Democratic side—meaning Mr. Obama—is that it comes at a bad time, at least for efforts by Congressional Democrats to actually do what President Obama says he wants done: to pass a middle class tax cut extension that doesn’t include the rich.

“Top-ranking aides in the Senate” have told HuffPo’s Sam Stein that,

Senate Democrats have come to the fragile conclusion that they should and will hold a solitary vote to extend rates for the middle class while letting those for the wealthy expire.

In the House, Lucia Graves reported today that Democrats “intend to put forward a bill that fulfills the platform the president campaigned on,” which would include,

a permanent extension of tax cuts for married couples earning up to $250,000 and for single people making up to $200,000. It would also make the president’s childcare tax credit and the earned-income tax credit permanent.

However, even as some Congressional Democrats seem to be hardening their spine, Mr. Obama appears to be in Kumbaya mode.  He truly believes that the American people deserve a working government, and he is set to make it work, even if it means compromising before negotiations begin, which essentially is what he said today. 

Mr. Obama also suggested—and Republicans agreed to—a meeting on the tax cut issue, with one member from each caucus in both chambers, along with Tim Geithner and OMB head Jacob Lew. The purpose of the group will be to find a compromise position on the Bush-era tax cuts.  The presence of Tim Geithner doesn’t give much hope to liberals, I’m afraid.

That, in all likelihood, is the end of the line for those Democrats who want to take and hold the better moral and fiscal ground on the issue.  Now, it’s likely just a matter of how high Republicans will ask Democrats to jump.

[NBC News photo]

Bush Rats Out A Rat

Not enough has been made of what George Bush revealed about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Bush’s new book.  Here is the passage that confirms McConnell’s hyper-partisanship and his tendency to politicize every issue under the American sun:

In September 2006, with the midterm elections approaching, my friend Mitch McConnell came to the Oval Office. The senior senator from Kentucky and Republican whip had asked to see me alone. Mitch has a sharp political nose, and he smelled trouble. 

“Mr. President,” he said, “your unpopularity is going to cost us control of the Congress.” 

Mitch had a point. Many Americans were tired of my presidency. But that wasn’t the only reason our party was in trouble. I flashed back to the Republican congressmen sent to jail for taking bribes, disgraced by sex scandals, or implicated in lobbying investigations. Then there was the wasteful spending, the earmarks for pork-barrel projects, and our failure to reform Social Security despite majorities in both houses of Congress.

“Well, Mitch,” I asked, “what do you want me to do about it?” “Mr. President,” he said, “bring some troops home from Iraq.”

To date, Mitch McConnell has not denied that this episode took place. And it’s not possible for him to deny what he was saying publicly about Democratic efforts to get Mr. Bush to change course, at the same time McConnell was urging Mr. Bush to withdraw “some troops” for political reasons:

“The Democrat leadership finally agrees on something — unfortunately it’s retreat. Whether they call it ‘redeployment’ or ‘phased withdrawal,’ the effect is the same: We would leave Americans more vulnerable and Iraqis at the mercy of al-Qaeda, a terrorist group whose aim — toward Iraqis and Americans — is clear,” said McConnell, the Republican whip.

Now, it is fair to ask how a man can retain his credibility after publicly accusing Democrats of advocating policies that “would leave Americans more vulnerable,” while he was privately urging President Bush to basically follow those same policies, just to make sure Republicans didn’t lose “control of the Congress.” 

Yet, as I said, very little has been made of this stunning revelation.  Of course, it’s just possible that the revelation is just not that stunning, when it comes to Mitch McConnell.

Mitch McConnell’s Message: Throw Obama From The Train

“To hell with job creation, we want us some Obama!”

Although he didn’t exactly say it that way, the Republican leader in the Senate—still the minority leader—said as much today, reiterating his top priority for the next two years: Put a Republican in the White House and make me Majority Leader!

Mitch McConnell said this to the Church of Conservatism, the Heritage Foundation:

Over the past week, some have said it was indelicate of me to suggest that our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term in office. But the fact is, if our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill; to end the bailouts; cut spending; and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all these things it is to put someone in the White House who won’t veto any of these things.

Now, President Obama can either allow Republican blowhards like McConnell to control the message— McConnell is talking tough because his party does not control the Senate and thus is not responsible for governing—or the President can defend himself and the principles of his party—not to mention their joint accomplishments. 

Right now, it appears President Obama is allowing giddy Republicans to control the message, and his signal yesterday that he will compromise on tax cuts for the rich—despite the fact that it won’t help the economy much and polls show it is a winning issue for Democrats—is not a good sign.  

If one thinks it prudent to compromise for the good of the country, one offers the compromise at the end of the negotiations, not at the beginning.  Apparently, the White House didn’t learn much from the protracted and nasty health insurance reform debate, in which Obama sacrificed the public option at the beginning in order to entice un-enticeable Republicans.

The reality is that outside Republican groups, many of them formed after the Citizens United decision, spent $245 million this campaign season.  Many of the donors to those groups were wildly wealthy and staunchly stealthy.  Does any Democrat think these groups are going to go easy on them in 2012, after a few bipartisan weenie roasts? 

No.  In fact, some of these groups aren’t going to wait until 2012. They’re sticking around to make life miserable for Democrats:

Officials with the two conservative groups, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS — which are on track to spend well over $50 million combined this year, a sizable part of it from undisclosed donors — said they would continue advertising against Democrats as Congress returns, when decisions loom on the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts and immigration.

Republicans think the election was about the size of government. They are trying to convince Democrats that people are willing to tolerate a severe restructuring—possibly leading to a dismantling—of social programs, the legacy of the Democratic Party.

But Democrats have to understand that the election was largely about the economy.  Yes, there is some agitation out there for a smaller government footprint, but Democrats must keep making the case for government’s limited but crucial role in the economy and be willing to defend their party principles in the face of the loud-mouthed, corporately-funded Republican advocacy groups who want to see government decrease so their donors’ profits can increase.

While compromise is part of the political process, it takes two sides to give the exercise its name. Republicans, before the election and after, have indicated that compromise is not in their vocabulary.  And Democrats can’t walk all the way across the aisle and pretend they are meeting Republicans halfway.

If Democrats won’t fight to defend themselves and their ideas, it’s hard to see how they motivate anyone to vote for them in 2012. Obama must be the country’s leader, not follow behind the Republican parade with a poop scoop.

And I have confidence he will be a leader.

Crass Ass Conservatism: The Real Republican Pledge to America

Paul Krugman wrote yesterday in the New York Times about the failure of the Obama administration to propose a large enough stimulus plan to combat the financial crisis the administration underestimated.

While admitting that the Recovery Act made things better than they would have been—he estimated unemployment would be near 12% without it—Krugman called the stimulus a “political catastrophe.”  “Voters respond to facts,” he said, “not counterfactuals, and the perception is that the administration’s policies have failed.”

He also said this:

The tragedy here is that if voters do turn on Democrats, they will in effect be voting to make things even worse.

The resurgent Republicans have learned nothing from the economic crisis, except that doing everything they can to undermine Mr. Obama is a winning political strategy.

It appears that we won’t have to wait until next January to find out if Krugman is right.  This morning on Morning Joe, I heard Major Garrett point out that Republican Mitch McConnell admitted to National Journal magazine the following:

MCCONNELL: We need to be honest with the public. This election is about them, not us. And we need to treat this election as the first step in retaking the government. We need to say to everyone on Election Day, “Those of you who helped make this a good day, you need to go out and help us finish the job.”

NATIONAL JOURNAL: What’s the job?

MCCONNELL: The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.

“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

We have seen the de facto head of the Republican Party and conservative movement, Rush Limbaugh, in orgasmic anticipation, wish for the President of the United States to fail.

We have seen the de facto head of the Tea Party movement, Jim DeMint, say, with militaristic glee, that, “If we’re able to stop Obama…it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.”

And now we see the Republican Minority Leader in the United States Senate, Mitch McConnell, admit to the world, with uncharacteristic honesty, that the “most important thing” on his plate for the next two years is to make sure Republicans gain power.

What more evidence does anyone need that it is not only dumb to put Republicans back in charge of the government, it is dangerous?

This is Republican patriotism, my friends. Crass ass conservatism.

[Krugman photo: Jessica Kourkounis—The New York Times]

Republicans Kill Good Government For Power

Sam Stein at HuffPo wrote today about the GOP hypocrisy on the issue of transparency in campaign financing.

Pointing out that even Republicans used to favor full disclosure of campaign contributions—they essentially used full disclosure as a shield against much stronger campaign finance laws—Stein quoted a familiar player:

House Minority Leader John Boehner, in an appearance on “Meet the Press” in February 2007, said that the political process “ought to have full disclosure, full disclosure of all of the money that we raise and how it is spent. And I think that sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

Apparently, these days Boehner and other Republicans prefer the infectious darkness, having abandoned any pretense they are interested in good government or interested in restoring integrity to our electoral system.

Republicans are only interested, for now at least, in gaining back political power.

The DISCLOSE Act, which passed the House, failed by one filibuster-busting vote in the Senate.  The proposed campaign-finance legislation would have, in Stein’s words,

required groups that spend on the political process to disclose their donors and put their names on the ads they run. It also went a bit further, forbidding 501(c)(4) organizations from using corporate money on their ads. And in an effort to disarm the gun lobby’s opposition, the law was amended to exempt large national organizations like the NRA from disclosure requirements.

Republicans, of course, found reasons to oppose the measure, including the two provisions above, but here is the real reason:

“We went from 48 out of 54 Republican Senators to zero,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21. “There are other provisions in the Disclose Act which people have hung their hat on as a reason for opposing it. But it is my view that Senator McConnell’s main internal argument against this was the absence of disclosure will benefit us politically in the 2010 elections and no one should do anything to disturb our chances… I think the opposition here flowed from hard partisan politics. There is no other rationale.”

Democrats have long argued for a publicly financed campaign system, a system that would help restore public confidence in the process, and certainly would free up legislators from having to raise tons of money and from the temptation of exchanging votes for cash. 

But after the Citizens United decision, which opened the door for unlimited corporate giving, the hope of truly reforming the system is all but gone.  The DISCLOSE Act probably represented the best that could be done, given the Supreme Court’s democracy-debilitating decision rendered by an activist conservative majority.

And today Republicans are enjoying the fruits of their years of labor to put activist conservative justices on the high court, those fruits coming in the form of campaign donations from unknown millionaires and billionaires, whose desire to support Republicans has nothing to do with our national well-being but everything to do with their own.

Former Reaganite Calls Republican Economics “Vulgar Keynesianism”

I first wrote about David Stockman after the release of his tell-all book, The Triumph of Politics: Why The Reagan Revolution Failed, in 1986.  As a conservative back then, I took issue with Ronald Reagan’s youthful OMB director for his “betrayal” of Reagan and the conservative movement by exposing some of the Republican family secrets.

Stockman, responsible for Reagan’s budgets, had earlier revealed to William Greider in the famous 1981 Atlantic article, “The Education of David Stockman,” that,

None of us really understands what’s going on with all these numbers.

Disturbing stuff back in 1981, when the so-called Reagan Revolution was taking root.

Stockman entered Congress in 1977 as an enthusiastic small-government Republican. In the words of Greider,

Stockman had made himself a leading conservative gadfly, attacking Democratic budgets and proposing leaner alternatives.

Later embracing supply-side economics, Stockman saw that philosophy as the answer to the question that plagued Reagan during the 1980 campaign: How can Reagan cut taxes, dramatically increase defense spending, and keep the budget in balance all at the same time?

Well, as Stockman found out by the time he left the administration in 1985, Reagan couldn’t do all those things and didn’t really have the stomach for the fight.  And for some Republicans, two out of three wasn’t bad anyway. Deficits smeficits.

But for Stockman, the mounting deficits resulting from the fiscal policies of both Reagan and the Congressional Republicans were intolerable.  He advocated raising taxes to keep deficits down. Republicans, Stockman said back then, simply weren’t willing to make the kind of cuts that would counter the loss in government revenues and keep the budget in balance.  They simply didn’t have the courage of their convictions in those days.

Or these days.

On Saturday, the New York Times ran an Op-Ed by none other than David Stockman, “Four Deformations of the Apocalypse.”

It began in a fury:

IF there were such a thing as Chapter 11 for politicians, the Republican push to extend the unaffordable Bush tax cuts would amount to a bankruptcy filing. The nation’s public debt — if honestly reckoned to include municipal bonds and the $7 trillion of new deficits baked into the cake through 2015 — will soon reach $18 trillion. That’s a Greece-scale 120 percent of gross domestic product, and fairly screams out for austerity and sacrifice. It is therefore unseemly for the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, to insist that the nation’s wealthiest taxpayers be spared even a three-percentage-point rate increase.

More fundamentally, Mr. McConnell’s stand puts the lie to the Republican pretense that its new monetarist and supply-side doctrines are rooted in its traditional financial philosophy. Republicans used to believe that prosperity depended upon the regular balancing of accounts — in government, in international trade, on the ledgers of central banks and in the financial affairs of private households and businesses, too. But the new catechism, as practiced by Republican policymakers for decades now, has amounted to little more than money printing and deficit finance — vulgar Keynesianism robed in the ideological vestments of the prosperous classes.

You have to like that “vulgar Keynesianism” charge, coming not from a blogger for the Joplin Globe but from a Republican who was down in the trenches when the first shots were fired in the mythical Reagan Revolution.

But there’s more.  When discussing the exponential increase in the national debt, he said:

This debt explosion has resulted not from big spending by the Democrats, but instead the Republican Party’s embrace, about three decades ago, of the insidious doctrine that deficits don’t matter if they result from tax cuts.

Stockman says that the “primordial forces” that drive the “federal spending machine” are “the welfare state and the warfare state“:

…the neocons were pushing the military budget skyward. And the Republicans on Capitol Hill who were supposed to cut spending exempted from the knife most of the domestic budget — entitlements, farm subsidies, education, water projects. But in the end it was a new cadre of ideological tax-cutters who killed the Republicans’ fiscal religion.

Claiming that it was not “supply-side strategy” but Fed chairman Paul Volcker’s crushing of inflation in the 1980s that enabled the famous economic recovery conservatives endlessly champion up to this day, Stockman said Republicans became,

hooked…on the delusion that the economy will outgrow the deficit if plied with enough tax cuts.

And listen to this:

By fiscal year 2009, the tax-cutters had reduced federal revenues to 15 percent of gross domestic product, lower than they had been since the 1940s.

Now, given that fact, if supply-side economics really worked, we would be awash in jobs and prosperity, the Bush years instead bringing us high unemployment and near-depression.

There is much more to Stockman’s piece in the Times, and anyone interested in the traditional Republican view of how we got to where we are today would do well to read it all.

But here is the last paragraph:

The day of national reckoning has arrived. We will not have a conventional business recovery now, but rather a long hangover of debt liquidation and downsizing — as suggested by last week’s news that the national economy grew at an anemic annual rate of 2.4 percent in the second quarter. Under these circumstances, it’s a pity that the modern Republican Party offers the American people an irrelevant platform of recycled Keynesianism when the old approach — balanced budgets, sound money and financial discipline — is needed more than ever.

Vulgar Keynesianism,” indeed.

Republican Adventures In Wonderland

It’s Official: Republicans Lied

The Frank Luntz-inspired “bailout” mantra, applied to the Democrats’ financial reform proposal by Republicans like Mitch McConnell, can now officially be called a “lie.”

PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter has rated as FALSE McConnell’s (and by extension Luntz’s and all Republicans’) comments that “new financial regulations under consideration in the Senate” “will lead to endless taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street banks.

…we base our ruling primarily on the legislation. It clearly states that the intention is to liquidate failing companies, not bail them out.

Mr. Luntz, no doubt, will generate other ways to sabotage the efforts to reform Wall Street, but let’s hope the Democrats will not bend on this one.

 Aloha To Your Campaign Donations

Another example of how in-touch Republicans are with reality, not to mention with “regular folks,” the GOP filed FEC reports indicating that its semi-annual meeting, held in January in Waikiki, cost Republican donors a mere $340,000. According to the National Journal‘s Hotline On Call:

The $340K documented in FEC filings does not include airfare for each staffer, which could amount to tens of thousands more.

I wonder how far 340 grand would go here in Republican Southwest Missouri?  Heck, with that kind of money invested in local Republican politics, the party would never have to worry about competition from Democrats.  Oh, wait—there’s no competition from the Democrats now around these parts, so Aloha! to all you Republican donors!

 Let Me See Your Papers, Comrade!

Arizona Republicans have finally figured out a way to deal with illegal immigration: make racial profiling a state lawAccording to CNN:

Under the bill, police would be required to question anyone they suspect of being undocumented.

You have to love the way Tea Party Republicans interpret our Constitution, which they claim Obama is trashing.

Sadly, John McCain, who once championed sensible immigration reform, seems to have lost not only his soul, but his sense.  Here is an exchange he had with Bill-O:

O’REILLY: Now, next week, the governor is going to sign, we believe, a very stringent state law that gives the police in Arizona very, very broad authority to question people. And a lot of people say it’s going to be racial profiling. You’re going to look for Hispanics, question them, to see if they’re here legally or not. And it’s just not fair. And you say why?
MCCAIN: I say that the federal responsibilities have not been fulfilled. Therefore, the states are acting — the state of Arizona is acting and doing what they feel they need to do in light of the fact that the federal government is not fulfilling its fundamental responsibility to secure our borders. Our borders must be secure.
O’REILLY: But what about the racial profiling? You know that’s going to happen has to happen.
MCCAIN: I hope — I would be very sorry that if some of that happens. And I regret it, but I also regret the — really, it’s not just the murder of Robert Krantz. It’s the people whose homes and property are being violated. It’s the drive-by that — the drivers of cars with illegals in it that are intentionally causing accidents on the freeway. Look, our border is not secured. Our citizens are not safe.

Don’t ask me, I don’t know where you go to get both your integrity and your sanity back.

 Go Ahead, Make My Day And Say You’re Gay!

Finally, at a South Carolina Tea Party (where else?), we have a Republican struggling with decorum, but finally giving in to bigotry.  From HuffPo:

William Gheen, head of the conservative, anti-”amnesty,” anti-illegal immigration group Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC), spoke at a Greenville, S.C. Tea Party rally this weekend and called for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to “come out of that log cabin closet.”

Mr. Gheen said he “thought long and hard” about bringing up the rumors about Sen. Graham’s alleged homosexuality, but finally he just couldn’t help but call him on it. 

You see, because Lindsey Graham doesn’t want to act like Arizona Republicans on the immigration issue (he favors a more sensible approach, something like the old John McCain’s), he must be motivated by something else.  Mr. Gheen said:

Sometimes I wonder what it would take to sell their own country out like that, and there’s one thing it could be that I’m gonna put out in the open here today… Senator Graham, you need to come forward and tell people about your alternative lifestyle and your homosexuality.

When they say this about fellow Republicans, no wonder they don’t blink at calling President Obama a Marxist.

Ready For Your Breakfast, Goldman Sachs?

Admittedly, some of the stuff surrounding the near-collapse of the financial industry and the current reform efforts to prevent another disaster are a little hard to understand sometimes, but Wednesday Barney Frank offered some clarity. 

He said that the Republican’s opposition to the Democratic financial reform bill in the Senate was based either on ignorance or dishonesty. It’s not that Republicans are in bed with Wall Street bankers, he said, it’s that Wall Street bankers are in bed and Republicans are serving them breakfast in bed.

Now, that I can understand.

All day Wednesday I listened to the on-the-half-hour news updates on right-wing radio, I listened to NPR, and I watched the network news Wednesday evening,  and I heard pretty much the same thing: Republicans oppose the financial reform bill proposed by the Democrats because, in the words of Mitch McConnell, the chief of Republican obstructionists in the U.S. Senate, it “guarantees future bailouts of Wall Street banks” and “endless taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street banks.

The only problem with what McConnell said is that it happens to be a lie, and it is a lie that all national reporters know is a lie, but for some reason neglected to point out. 

In fact, it is a lie constructed by the Republican propagandist and lie-maker, Dr. Frank Luntz, as Sam Stein pointed out a few months ago:

…Republican message guru Frank Luntz has put together a playbook to help derail financial regulatory reform… Luntz urged opponents of reform to frame the final product as filled with bank bailouts, lobbyist loopholes, and additional layers of complicated government bureaucracy.

Stein obtained a 17-page memo titled, “The Language of Financial Reform,” and you have to hand it to the Republicans: they know how to stick to a game plan. 

Unfortunately for the American people, that game plan is designed to offer lies to voters in order to exploit their dislike of Wall Street, all the while Republicans are whispering to the nervous bankers/gamblers that they will do everything they can to protect their racket, particularly their gambling in the mystical world of derivatives.

Most galling of all, though, is Luntz’s view on the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which as proposed would put the interests of consumers ahead of the often predatory lenders who caused so much damage to the economy. Luntz wrote:

Ordinarily, calling for a new government program “to protect consumers” would be extraordinary popular. But these are not ordinary times.  The American people are not just saying “no.”  They are saying “hell no” to more government agencies, more bureaucrats, and more legislation crafted by special interests.

Why would the American people reject an agency designed to protect their interests?  Because the Republicans were so bad at regulating the financial industry (deliberately or not), the public does not trust the government to do so in the future. In other words, because of either Republican malfeasance—failure to adequate do the job of ensuring that things were not spinning out of control—or because of an ideological willingness to let bankers have their way—all government efforts are tainted. 

Here are a couple of graphs Luntz uses to show the lack of confidence among the public:

I can’t think of anything more cynical than to use your own failures as a way to both screw the public and get yourself elected, but then we are talking about the Republican Party. 

Are you ready for your breakfast, Goldman Sachs?  Need your pillow fluffed up?  How about a….

That’ll have to wait until Republicans are in power again.

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