Last week I called Sen. Rand Paul the most interesting man in Republican politics, and I still think that’s true. I also expressed some anxiety about the threat he could pose to the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016. That’s subsiding. In the last week Paul’s been caught in some big fibs, degrading struggling workers while defending the Koch brothers. That’s an interesting guide to his values.
Like all the GOP contenders, Paul is now talking piously about the problem of poverty, which modern Republicans have discovered because Barack Obama hasn’t made it go away. You can almost hear the briefing from a Frank Luntz type: “He’s the first black president, and he hasn’t ended poverty! Not even black poverty!” It also lets them slyly play on the notion of Obama as a privileged, uppity Ivy Leaguer – a “snob,” in Rick Santorum’s parlance — who doesn’t care about the poor or working class.
Whatever you say, Mitt Romney.
I still give Rand Paul some credit for identifying the criminal justice system as a source of black disadvantage. And if he ever figures out something meaningful to do about it, I promise to revise my thinking about him as mostly an opportunist. But when it comes to policies that might ease either poverty or the suffering of the working and middle classes, Paul learned at his father’s knee that government is the bad guy – and that slackers and moochers are playing the system and exploiting the rest of us.
That’s why he shamefully claimed that most recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance are faking it. “Over half of the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts,” he told New Hampshire voters. The Washington Post fact checker showed the “back pain” disability category he cited included everything from muscle strain to amputations, while the “anxiety” number included conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. He got three Pinocchios for that one.
A few days later, asked whether he supports a time-honored GOP alternative to welfare, the Earned Income Tax credit for the working poor, he insisted the program is fraud-ridden – which it is not. Speaking to the Koch Brothers’ Freedom Network Chamber of Commerce event Sunday, Paul claimed the EITC has a “fraud rate” of 25 percent that costs taxpayers “$20 billion to $30 billion a year.” He cited a report from the Government Accountability Office, but Factcheck.org found “that’s not what the report said.”
The program did have an “improper payment rate” of 24 percent, but that includes worker filing errors and IRS paperwork problems that are largely attributable to the complexity of the tax law itself. Such payments cost $14.5 billion, less than half of Paul’s high end estimate.
Of course those slackers and moochers stand in sharp contrast with those hardworking and honest Americans, Charles and David Koch (who just revealed they’ll spend $900 million on the 2016 races). Paul took up their cause a couple of days later on Fox Business Network, defending them from “liberal haters” and claiming their advocacy “has nothing to do with government.” Paul went on:
I defy any of the liberal haters that are out there to find one instance when they have ever asked for a subsidy or a special government break. I have never heard of any and what they’re wanting is to be left alone, like most businesses in our country.
The folks at American Bridge took up the challenge, and found dozens of ways the Kochs have “asked for a subsidy or a special government break.” Last year in particular Koch Industries ramped up its lobbying efforts, according to OpenSecrets.org, spending $4 million in the third quarter of 2014 alone, largely on issues of “the environment, oil and financial policy.” An energy and environment trade publication found “that amount of lobbying money makes Koch Industries one of Washington, D.C.’s biggest influence spenders so far this year, outranking energy competitors such as Exxon Mobil Corp.”
But it didn’t start in 2014. A 2011 report by the Center for Public Integrity found that Koch Industries “spends tens of millions of dollars to influence every facet of government that could affect its global empire,” working through trade organizations whose names – the National Environmental Development Association, for instance — obscure their goals. They’ve lobbied heavily against carbon control and the use of lower-carbon fuels, and against federal regulation of toxic chemicals. They also pushed unsuccessfully to protect the expiring Bush tax cuts.
It’s good to know that Paul will trounce sick and struggling working people and come to the aid of gazillionaires. That doesn’t make him “the most interesting man in politics;” it makes him a standard issue Republican. Ralph Nader has told the left it should support Paul in 2016 because of his anti-war rumbling (though lately he’s criticized his wobbling on the issue), but anyone who takes Nader’s advice after 2000 probably isn’t serious about issues of war or justice anyway.
By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, January 29, 2015
“Against Putin, Obama Gets The Last Laugh”: Where Did All The Republicans Go Who Heralded Putin As A Strategic Mastermind?
In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama didn’t name names, but he reminded some of his critics in the Republican Party that their praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin was sadly mistaken.
“Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, as we were reinforcing our presence with frontline states, Mr. Putin’s aggression it was suggested was ‘a masterful display’ of ‘strategy and strength.’ That’s what I heard from some folks,” Obama said. “Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated with its economy in tatters. That’s how America leads – not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.”
Obama had reason to feel good – and take a not-so-subtle dig at Putin’s GOP fans. Not only is the American recovery gaining strength, but as Matt O’Brien explained yesterday, Russia’s credit rating was downgraded this week to “junk” status.
[I]f Russia is rated junk, then its companies will be too – which will increase the borrowing costs on their existing debt. It could also trigger earlier bond repayments, which, together with the higher interest rates, could, according to one official, cost them as much as $20 to $30 billion.
And that’s $20 to $30 billion it really can’t afford. Russia, as I’ve said before, doesn’t have an economy so much as an oil-exporting business that subsidizes everything else. But it can’t subsidize much when prices are only $50-a-barrel.
The confluence of economic events unfolding in Russia is amazing: cheap gas, banks in need of a bailout, crashing currency, high interest rates, and an inability to repay debts, all against the backdrop of additional sanctions.
There’s no reason conditions are going to improve in Russia anytime soon and Putin doesn’t know what to do next.
With these developments in mind, I’m curious: where did all the Republicans go who heralded Putin as a strategic mastermind? Where are the Fox News personalities who liked the idea of Putin leading the United States?
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 28, 2015
They seem to have fallen quietly lately. Maybe someone should ask them whether they stand by their previous gushing over the Russian autocrat.
“He’ll Have Some Explaining To Do”: Another Republican Governor Has Accepted The Medicaid Expansion—And He Might Run For President
Indiana Governor Mike Pence announced Tuesday morning that the Obama administration had approved the state’s plan for accepting the Medicaid expansion. Starting February 1, 350,000 low-income Indianans will be enrolled in Healthy Indiana, the state’s Medicaid program. With the 2016 presidential cycle now underway, political analysts immediately are judging how Pence’s move affects his presidential odds.
The early consensus is that, if indeed Pence decides to run, this decision would cause him trouble in the GOP primary. But the issue poses a dilemma for the Republican Party more broadly, especially its hopes of recapturing the White House. As we saw during the midterms, the Medicaid expansion pits moderate Republicans versus conservatives, governors versus state legislators—and potentially undermines the party’s newfound interest in helping the poor and reducing inequality.
It’s up to governors to decide whether their state accepts the Medicaid expansion, and it’s hard to pass up. The federal government is offering states money to expand Medicaid so that people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line are eligible for the program. The federal government covers all of the costs from 2014 through 2016 and then that coverage amount phases down slowly to 90 percent by 2022. Governors also face aggressive lobbying from the hospital industry, which is eager to accept the billions of dollars that the federal government transfers to states that expand Medicaid. As a result, 10 states with Republican governors have accepted the expansion over the past few years, and two more, in Tennessee and Wyoming, are considering it.
But some Republican governors have toed the party line, including two likely 2016 candidates: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Texas Governor Rick Perry both rejected the expansion. Medicaid, after all, is part of Obamacare, which must be “repealed and replaced.” That’s one reason why most potential Republican candidates—especially those in Congress, like senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio—are opposed to the expansion.
This makes for an interesting rift in the Republican primary.
If Pence runs for president, he’ll have some explaining to do. He would likely argue that he pushed Medicaid in a much more conservative direction through a waiver from the federal government that allows Indiana to require enrollees to contribute a monthly premium to a health savings account, a typical conservative health care idea. He would also likely appeal to his evangelical base by saying that Medicaid expansion is the compassionate thing to do. But he wouldn’t be alone in defending his decision: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie accepted the expansion, too. Not known to sidestep an issue or stay on the defensive, Christie could attack the other governors for not taking advantage of the program and hurting their poor constituents, and he might accuse Cruz et al of not understanding how governing works.
The general election is a different story altogether, which brings us to the GOP’s desire to appeal to lower-class voters.
Over the past few weeks, Republicans have begun emphasizing income inequality and stagnant wages. These are important issues, but the GOP’s economic platform still consists largely of deregulation, spending cuts, and lower taxes. That won’t appeal to the poor, particularly compared to the Democratic proposals of free community college and middle-class tax breaks.
That’s where the Medicaid expansion comes in. Denouncing it as Obamacare may work with the Republican primary electorate, but it won’t work in the general election. We saw as much in the midterms, when new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell twisted himself into knots balancing his commitment to repealing Obamacare and promising not to alter the state’s health care exchange and expanded Medicaid program (both of which, of course, were the result of Obamacare). Granted, McConnell won reelection easily, but it does show how the expansion can be a political liability for Republican candidates.
If Christie or Pence emerge from the crowded field, it won’t be a problem. They can tout the expansion as evidence of their committment to fighting inequality. But the opposite is true for the rest of the field. For them, the expansion will be an even bigger liability if income inequality isn’t just Republicans’ flavor of the month, but a major part of their 2016 platform.
By: Danny Vinik, The New Republic, January 27, 2015
Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney face big trouble in Iowa — influential conservatives have had enough of them.
Disdain for the party’s center-right powerhouses, who are both considering seeking the 2016 Republican presidential nominations, could have implications well beyond the nation’s first caucus state.
Iowa conservatives mirror the views of like-minded activists nationwide, and having the party’s vocal right wing blasting away could stagger either candidate throughout 2016. And it’s uncertain that conservatives would actively work in a general election for Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, or Bush, the former Florida governor.
“This could be a big problem,” said Craig Robinson, editor-in-chief of theIowaRepublican.com, a partisan web site.
With its town-hall-like precinct caucuses the first test of the nomination next winter, Iowa usually winnows the field of a party’s nomination contest and previews campaign styles and weaknesses. Just ask the Romneys and Bushes. The families have had a candidate in five competitive caucuses since 1980, and in all but one instance, the outcome foreshadowed the future.
George H. W. Bush was a barely-known former CIA director in 1980 when he stunned the political world by topping Ronald Reagan. Though Reagan would win the nomination, Bush showed enough strength to become Reagan’s running mate.
Bush faltered in Iowa in 1988 when he ran for the nomination a second time, this time as the sitting vice president, finishing third behind Kansas neighbor Bob Dole and evangelist Pat Robertson. The caucus prodded Bush to run a tougher campaign, and he went on to win the nomination and the White House.
In 2000, his son cemented his standing as the candidate to beat with a big victory over magazine editor Steve Forbes.
Romney finished second in 2008 and 2012, both times losing to Christian right favorites. It was a signal that that bloc was leery of Romney’s record.
Today, memories of Romney’s previous efforts dog him. “He’s a proven loser,” said John Eggen, a Des Moines air conditioning and heating contractor.
Another campaign, he said, would mean more debate over the 2006 Massachusetts health care law that Romney approved when governor. It’s considered the model for the 2010 federal health care law that Republicans hate.
Bush is also yesterday’s candidate, said Sabrina Graves, a stay-at-home mother from Blue Grass. Bush’s support for Common Core educational standards, which many conservatives view as big government reaching too far into local education, also gets slammed.
“I don’t know what is worse, nominating someone merely because he’s been nominated twice before or nominating a liberal supporter of Common Core because he has a familiar name,” said former New Hampshire House Speaker Bill O’Brien, who spoke at a daylong conservative forum in Iowa Saturday featuring a long list of potential presidential candidates.
Romney and Bush did not attend. Bush, who last week spoke at length with the Iowa Republican chairman and hinted at a White House bid, cited a scheduling conflict. A spokesman for Romney did not respond to a request for comment.
Some of Saturday’s loudest cheers came when businessman Donald Trump fired away. “It can’t be Mitt because Mitt ran and failed,” Trump said, adding “the last thing we need is another Bush.”
The audience was largely hardcore conservatives, the crowd that boosted former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, also a Baptist preacher, in 2008 and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a hero of the Christian right, four years later. Both won the Iowa caucus.
They watched Romney market himself as a fierce conservative in 2012, but never quite bought it. Saturday, they saw New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another moderate favorite, argue that he’s a true conservative.
“If the values I’m fighting for every day in New Jersey and all across this country are not consistent with your values, then why would I keep coming back? I wouldn’t,” he said. Reaction was spotty.
The conservatives say they’ve had enough of nominees with appeal to independent and more moderate voters.
“We are tired of being told who our candidates should be,” said Donna Robinson, a Marengo saleswoman. “They say they’re conservative, then they run to the middle.”
The right wants new faces and new ideas. They were particularly impressed Saturday with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, 47, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, 44.
“He has a proven record and he’s young,” Eggen said of Walker.
They also like people without lengthy political resumes. That’s why retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former business executive Carly Fiorina got warm receptions.
“People who have been in and around government and politics for their entire lives may no longer be able to see the truth: our government must be fundamentally reformed,” Fiorina said.
The conservatives loved it. Romney and Bush? “They’re all cronies,” Graves said. “I want someone this time who’s not a politician.”
By: David Lightman, The National Memo, January 26, 2015