I confess that I have often picked on, made fun of, and generally disparaged Speaker of the House John Boehner only to now find myself feeling a measure of remorse for having done so.
It turns out that Speaker Boehner may be the only semi-reasonable man left in the Republican Party.
Yes, I know that Boehner has himself to blame for the role he played in opening the doors of Congress to the unyielding and unreasonable Members swept into office by the Tea Party rebellion in 2010. Yes, Boehner has spent far too many years cozying up to Wall Street and protecting the interests of big business at the expense of the middle class.
And just in case you’re wondering, I have not forgotten that John Boehner has long been quick to condemn the White House for the jobs crisis while doing absolutely nothing to assist in creating policy that would help solve the problem. Boehner has been a continuing impediment to growing American jobs by working with Obama on infrastructure legislation or any other valuable stimulus that could make a big difference for the many who are suffering from extended unemployment.
Still, you have to admit that it sucks to be John Boehner.
Imagine if you had to make decisions regarding the successful operation of your own home and your three year old, five year old and two year old each had a full vote in the decisions that are ultimately taken.
Say it’s time to buy the new family car. The two eldest of the three kids decide that the only sensible vehicle to purchase would be an ice cream truck filled to the top with Good Humor ice cream bars and, as an added option, comes with the happy song that streams from the scratchy PA system perched on the roof.
From the point of view of children of such an age, this choice makes total sense.
Yet, when the grown-ups must point out that such a purchase would neither be practical nor in the best interest of the family and cast their votes for a new, American made family minivan, it is left to the two year old to break the tie.
That can’t be good.
Welcome to John Boehner’s world – a world where he is the leader of a cadre of children who have yet to mature to the point where they warrant election to the post of school hall monitor let alone the halls of Congress.
As David Brooks wrote in his New York Times column earlier this week complaining about the GOP’s inability to just say yes to a good deal on the deficit-
That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.
The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no.
The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit. But the members of this movement refuse to believe it.” Via New York Times
I don’t know about your experience, but what Brooks describes sounds an awful lot like my own kids before they were old enough to reason and make adult decisions.
If these immature Members of Congress were not enough of a problem for an old school deal maker like Boehner, the Speaker has to contend with a scheming GOP Majority Leader in Eric Cantor who waits behind every door with a dagger aimed squarely at his boss’s heart.
I wouldn’t bet against Cantor’s ultimate success in playing Brutus to Boehner’s Caesar as the Speaker remains caught between a Ba-rack and a Tea Party with nowhere to turn to get out of the mess.
Speaker Boehner knows the debt ceiling must be raised and has been willing to publicly say so as recently as this morning. He also knows that Congress must take great care to do nothing to further stifle the struggling economy just as he realizes all too well that he will need Democratic votes to get whatever deal he cuts with the President through the House as he won’t be able to count on his own Members.
This leaves Boehner to walk an impossible line between doing what he believes is necessary for the nation he is charged with governing and those who would ride the country into the ground in order to protect wealthy industries from losing a few unnecessary tax subsidies or, even worse, support keeping the economy mired in quicksand in order to better evict Barack Obama from the White House.
E.J. Dionne summed it up this way –
I’d actually feel bad for Boehner — an old-fashioned sort who’d normally reach for a deal — if he and his party had not shamelessly stoked the Tea Party to win power. The GOP is now reaping the whirlwind, and Boehner may be forced to choose between his country and his job. Via Washington Post
Unlike Dionne, I actually do feel badly for Boehner as he tries to make a deal and still hold onto his job. And I will feel more than badly for the entire nation should we find ourselves with Eric Cantor sitting in the seat of the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Whether you sympathize with the man or, like Dionne, believes he is just getting what’s coming to him, you have to to agree on one thing -
It truly does suck to be John Boehner.
By: Rick Ungar, The Policy Page, Forbes, July 8, 2011
Once upon a time the Republican Party included a few widely-respected leaders who valued reason and flexibility — names like Eisenhower, Javitz, Weicker and a few others come to mind. Hell, Nixon was a paragon of sanity compared to some of the loons running the GOP asylum now. if this sounds overstated, read Richard Cohen’s Sunday WaPo column “A Grand Old Cult,” in which he explains:
To become a Republican, one has to take a pledge. It is not enough to support the party or mouth banalities about Ronald Reagan; one has to promise not to give the government another nickel. This is called the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” issued by Americans for Tax Reform, an organization headed by the chirpy Grover Norquist. He once labeled the argument that an estate tax would affect only the very rich “the morality of the Holocaust.” Anyone can see how singling out the filthy rich and the immensely powerful and asking them to ante up is pretty much the same as Auschwitz and that sort of thing….Almost all the GOP’s presidential candidates have taken this oath, swearing before God and Grover Norquist to cease thinking on their own, never to exercise independent judgment and, if necessary, to destroy the credit of the United States, raise the cost of borrowing and put the government deeper into the hole.
Cohen notes the role of revisionist history and denial in the Republicans’ increasingly unhinged worldview:
…The hallmark of a cult is to replace reason with feverish belief. This the GOP has done when it comes to the government’s ability to stimulate the economy. History proves this works — it’s how the Great Depression ended — but Republicans will not acknowledge it.The Depression in fact deepened in 1937 when Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to balance the budget and was ended entirely by World War II, which, besides being a noble cause, was also a huge stimulus program. Here, though, is Sen. Richard Shelby mouthing GOP dogma: Stimulus programs “did not bring us out of the Depression,” he recently told ABC’s Christiane Amanpour, but “the war did.” In other words, a really huge stimulus program hugely worked. Might not a more modest one succeed modestly? Shelby ought to follow his own logic.
‘Logic’ may not be the best word to describe GOP thinking in the second decade of the 21st century. Cohen notes a similar pattern of denial with respect to Republican policies on abortion and global warning, and adds,
…Independent thinkers, stop right here! If you believe in global warming, revenue enhancement, stimulus programs, the occasional need for abortion or even the fabulist theories of the late Charles Darwin, then either stay home — or lie.This intellectual rigidity has produced a GOP presidential field that’s a virtual political Jonestown. The Grand Old Party, so named when it really did evoke America, has so narrowed its base that it has become a political cult. It is a redoubt of certainty over reason and in itself significantly responsible for the government deficit that matters most: leadership. That we can’t borrow from China.
The problem for Democrats is that, when Republicans become irrational proponents of discredited ideas and failed polices, there is not much incentive for Dems to up their game. Dems are not being challenged to respond to good arguments so much as tantrums by intellectually-constipated ideologues. The public gets cheated out of an enlightening debate and everybody loses.
What puzzles is why all of the Republicans have guzzled the Koolaid. Why hasn’t it dawned on the party’s brighter bulbs, perhaps Senator Lugar or, maybe Scott Brown or Huntsman that “Hmm, I could really separate myself from the pack of idjits by taking things to a more rational level”? All indications are that the public would like to see a little more flexibility from Republicans.
There may well come a point when the Republicans’ impressive party discipline starts to look like pointless obstructionism to swing voters. The public can see that, so far only one party is compromising. If sanity prevails, the Republicans’ unspoken meme that “we’re 100 percent right, and they’re 100 percent wrong, so we won’t give an inch” can’t play much longer without diminishing returns.
By: J. P. Green, The Democratic Strategist, July 5, 2011
The House speaker, John Boehner, suggests that the Republican threat of letting the United States default on its debts is driven by concern for jobs for ordinary Americans.
“We cannot miss this opportunity,” he told Fox News. “If we want jobs to come to America, we’ve got to give American businesspeople the confidence to invest in our economy.”
So take a look at one of the tax loopholes that Congressional Republicans are refusing to close — even if the cost is that America’s credit rating blows up. This loophole has nothing to do with creating jobs and everything to do with protecting some of America’s wealthiest financiers.
If there were an award for Most Unconscionable Tax Loophole, this one would win grand prize.
Wait, wake up! I know that “tax policy” makes one’s eyes glaze over, but that’s how financiers have gotten away with paying a lower tax rate than their chauffeurs or personal trainers. Tycoons have bet for years that the public is too stupid or distracted to note that in many cases they’re paying just a 15 percent tax rate.
What’s at stake is the “carried interest” loophole, and President Obama is pushing to close it. The White House estimates that this would raise $20 billion over a decade. But Congressional Republicans walked out of budget talks rather than discuss raising revenues from measures such as this one.
The biggest threat to the United States this summer probably doesn’t come from Iran or Libya but from the home-grown risk that the nation will default on its debts. We don’t know the economic consequences for America or the world, and some of the hand-wringing may be overblown — or maybe not — but it’s reckless of Republicans even to toy with such a threat.
This carried interest loophole benefits managers of financial partnerships such as hedge funds, private equity funds, venture capital funds and real estate funds — who are among the highest-paid people in the world. John Paulson, a hedge fund manager in New York City, made $4.9 billion last year, top of the chart for hedge fund managers, according to AR Magazine, which follows hedge funds. That’s equivalent to the average per capita income of 184,000 Americans, according to my back-of-envelope calculations based on Census Bureau figures.
Mr. Paulson declined to comment on this tax break, but here’s how it works. These fund managers are compensated mostly with a performance bonus of 20 percent or more of the profits they make. Under this carried interest loophole, that 20 percent is eligible to be taxed at the long-term capital gains rate (if the fund’s underlying assets are held long enough) of just 15 percent rather than the regular personal income rate of 35 percent.
This tax loophole is also intellectually vacuous. The performance fee is a return on the manager’s labor, not his or her capital, so there’s no reason to give it preferential capital gains treatment.
“The carried interest loophole represents everyone’s worst fear about the tax system — that the rich and powerful get away with murder,” says Victor Fleischer, a law professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who has written about the issue. “Closing the loophole won’t fix the budget by itself, but it gets us one step closer to justice.”
At a time when the richest 1 percent of Americans have a greater collective net worth than the entire bottom 90 percent, there are other ways we could raise money while also making tax policy more equitable. The White House is backing some of them in its negotiations with Congress, but others aren’t even in play.
One important proposal has to do with founder’s stock, the shares people own in companies they found. Professor Fleischer has written an interesting paper persuasively arguing that founder’s stock is hugely undertaxed. It, too, is essentially a return on labor, not capital, and shouldn’t benefit from the low capital gains rate.
Likewise, Europe is moving toward a financial transactions tax on trades made in financial markets. That is something long championed by some economists — especially James Tobin, who won a Nobel Prize for his work — and it would also raise tens of billions of dollars at a time when it is desperately needed. It makes sense.
The larger question is this: Do we try to balance budget deficits just by cutting antipoverty initiatives, college scholarships and other investments in young people and our future? Or do we also seek tax increases from those best able to afford them?
And when Congressional Republicans claim that the reason for their recalcitrance in budget negotiations is concern for the welfare of ordinary Americans, look more closely. Do we really want to close down the American government and risk another global financial crisis to protect the tax bills of billionaires?
By: Nicholas Kristoff, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 6, 2011