The Wall Street Journal had an interesting report the other day on the congressional fight over extending the payroll tax cut through 2012. Democrats were quoted as saying they feel like they have the advantage in this debate — they’re the ones fighting for a middle-class tax break — but one Republican said something in response that stood out for me.
Terry Holt, a former House GOP aide who is close to Mr. Boehner, said any perceived political advantage is superficial, compared to the way Democrats have lost ground on spending issues over the past year.
“Democrats are trying to put the best face on a very bad year for them,” Mr. Holt said. “This year belongs to the Republicans.” [emphasis added]
Holt apparently looks back at the nearly-completed year and believes it’s been a good one.
He’s not alone. National Journal published the results of its latest Congressional Insiders Poll yesterday, and one of this week’s questions was, “What grade (A+ through F) would you give the first year of the 112th Congress?” Republicans were fairly impressed — a 39% plurality gave this Congress so far a B, and 28% gave it a C. While 66% of Democrats gave it an F, only 6% of Republicans felt the same way.
To my mind, this Congress is proving to be one of the worst — most destructive, most negligent, most dysfunctional — in the history of the country, but for Republicans, there’s a sense that 2011 wasn’t that bad. Indeed, a month ago, none other than House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) defended his institution, saying it’s his job to make Congress work, “and it is working.”
I wonder what the weather is like in the GOP’s reality.
Look, some of the questions are subjective, but if Republicans can look back at the last calendar year and feel a sense of pride, the obvious question is what exactly they hoped to get out of 2011.
The year has been so miserable, it’s tough to imagine what the GOP finds satisfying. Republicans’ approval rating dropped to levels unseen since Watergate; Congress’ approval rating dropped to a level unseen since the dawn of modern polling. Republicans held the full faith and credit of the United States hostage, on purpose, and caused the first-ever downgrade of the nation’s debt. Neither party has been able to pass any of its major legislative priorities, and thanks to Republican intransigence, compromise between the parties has become a laughable pipedream.
At the same time, the Republican presidential nominating race has become farcical, with random cranks, clowns, and charlatans taking turns as ostensible frontrunners, hoping to serve as the main primary challenger to a core-free, flip-flopping coward who lies with discomforting ease. The more Americans see of the GOP field, the more they recoil.
This isn’t to say that the year has been awful for everyone. The domestic economy and job creation have steadily improved; the United States has scored some major counter-terrorism and foreign policy victories; the American auto industry is starting to flourish after nearly collapsing in 2009; and we saw the formal end of misguided policies like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
But the year’s best news invariably resulted from developments that Congress couldn’t screw up and Republicans had nothing to do with.
“This year belongs to the Republicans”? Unless nihilism was the goal — and perhaps it was — I hope the GOP kept the receipt.
By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 10, 2011
It seems Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) isn’t even trying to make sense any more:
Fiscal shenanigans such as permanent tax increases to pay for one-year temporary measures are precisely the problem that drove our nation into a $15 trillion debt crisis.
Huh? Passing a permanent tax increase to pay for a temporary measure would, logically, decrease debt, not increase it.
And, indeed, if we look back over history, we don’t see “permanent tax increases” as drivers of debt. Tax cuts, on the other hand — like those signed by Ronald Reagan and supported by Olympia Snowe and those signed by George W. Bush and supported by Olympia Snowe — have contributed to increasing deficits and debt. Meanwhile, tax increases — like those signed by Bill Clinton and opposed by Olympia Snowe in 1993 —reduced deficits.
Given Snowe’s ongoing embrace of Tea Party Economics and shunning of basic economic concepts —not to mention her record of supporting measures that increased the deficit and opposing things that cut it — it isn’t surprising that she’d adopt the up-is-down, black-is-white economic fantasy that tax increases cause deficits and tax cuts increase revenue. But it should help put to rest the notion that she’s some kind of “moderate” or “sensible” Republican.
By: Jamison Foser, Media Matters Political Corrections, December 7, 2011
Newt Gingrich is no stranger to hypocrisies. It’s just that his own self-righteousness often gets in the way of admitting to them: “There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate,” the family-values candidate once famously said about his multiple extra-marital affairs. So in the service of airing out other yawning gaps between Newt’s words and deeds that may have emerged when the candidate was too busy loving America, TNR has compiled the following index:
On Christian moralizing: Gingrich’s litany of infidelities has been widely reported, as has his habit of leaving wives for mistresses. Of the affair that he carried on with a volunteer during his first campaign in 1974, one of his aides said, “We’d have won in 1974 if we could have kept him out of the office, screwing her on the desk.” But that hasn’t stopped him from claiming positions of moral loftiness, decrying the impending downfall of our society, and penning books arguing, “There is no attack on American culture more deadly and more historically dishonest than the secular effort to drive God out of America’s public life.” His second wife, in a 2010 interview with Esquire, claimed, “He believes that what he says in public and how he lives don’t have to be connected. … If you believe that, then yeah, you can run for president.”
On shady book deals: In the late 1980s, Gingrich launched a vicious attack on Democratic Speaker Jim Wright, arguing that bulk sales of his book had been crafted to avoid laws limiting outside income for members of Congress. By the mid-90s, however, Gingrich found himself in a strikingly similar position, as it came to light that he had received a $4.5 million advance from HarperCollins in a two-book deal. Then, in the spirit of one doing one better, it later came out that one of Gingrich’s charities had bought the books en masse.
On Obamacare and death panels: In July 2009, Newt Gingrich was director of a health care think tank and a staunch advocate of so-called “death panels,” writing, “If [end-of-life-counseling] was used to care for the approximately 4.5 million Medicare beneficiaries who die every year, Medicare could save more than $33 billion a year.” But a year later, as he weighed his presidential aspirations, Gingrich took a different tack on Obama’s plan to reimburse doctors for such consultations: “You’re asking us to trust turning power over to the government, when there clearly are people in America who believe in establishing euthanasia.”
On the housing crisis: In the Bloomberg-Washington Post debate, Newt called, with a straight face, for the jailing of Chris Dodd and Barney Frank: “In Barney Frank’s case,” he advised, “go back and look at the lobbyists he was close to at—at Freddie Mac. … Everybody in the media who wants to go after the business community ought to start by going after the politicians who have been at the heart of the sickness which is weakening this country.” All that rage at lobbyists for the housing agencies … from a man whom Freddie Mac paid between $1.6 and $1.8 million for his “advice as a historian.” Which definitely isn’t lobbying, and would never qualify as the sort of relationship that he just suggested was worthy of being jailed for.
On drug policy: As a good child of the ’60s, Newt smoked pot, and as a young congressman in 1981, he authored a bill to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. But Gingrich’s more recent stated methods for dealing with drug offenders might have placed his younger self in a tight spot. Just last week, he argued that when it comes to dealing with illegal drugs, “Places like Singapore have been the most successful at doing that,” ostensibly endorsing the idea that anyone caught with 18 ounces of cannabis face mandatory death by hanging.
On corruption: Newt led Republicans to power in 1994 in part by blasting Democrats as being hopelessly corrupt. But soon after, Gingrich engaged in his own congressional corruption, getting slammed by the House Ethics Committee on a multitude of charges: of laundering donations through charities, of using a charity called “Learning for Earning” to pay the salary of a staffer writing a Newt Gingrich biography, and of lying to the ethics committee. Gingrich eventually had to pay a $300,000 fine for his transgressions.
On the Clinton impeachment: While leading impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton for lying about an extra-marital affair, Newt was … having an extra-marital affair. When he was later asked whether he considered himself to be inhabiting a “glass house” during the proceedings, he reluctantly agreed, but defended himself by saying, “I think you have to look at whether or not people have to be perfect in order to be leaders. I don’t think I’m perfect. I admitted I had problems. I admitted that I sought forgiveness.”
By: Thomas Stackpole, Darius Tahir and Jarad Vary, The New Republic, December 5, 2011
1. The Long-Term Unemployed Are in Dire Financial Shape.
Eliminating unemployment insurance will make matters much worse for those who are already experiencing a financial disaster. In 2009, the Heldrich Center conducted a national survey of workers who lost a job during the recession. When we re-contacted them in August 2011, we found that 4 in 10 were still unemployed or working part time and looking for full-time jobs. Among that group, three quarters had been out of work for more than six months. Fully half had been jobless for more than two years. Their financial condition is dire. They have not only reduced spending on things they would like to have, like vacations and clothing, but also on things they need, such as food, transportation, and healthcare. Sixty percent have sold possessions and borrowed money from family or friends.
2. UI Benefit Support Makes Re-employment More Likely, Not Less.
Eliminating UI will lead to less job seeking, not more. Our surveys found that–compared to people without UI support–those receiving UI spent more time each week going to job interviews and job fairs, networking with friends and colleagues, and scouring the Internet and newspapers for job openings. Enrollment in UI programs keeps workers in the labor market. They get more advice, encouragement, and training. And, job seekers on UI are required to regularly report to state employment agencies about their job search activities.
3. Cutting UI Benefits will drive up the cost of other government programs.
Without UI payments, more unemployed workers will drop out of the labor market and fall into other government safety-net programs. Seven in 10 of the long-term unemployed workers in our study described their financial condition as flat-out “poor.” Yet, the average UI benefit of $1,200 per month–less than the $1,400 average monthly cost of housing in America–is often the vital source of income that enables them to pay their mortgage and feed their family. Withdrawing UI will not solve the job crisis in America, but it will drive up spending in other federal programs, such as food stamps, disability insurance, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Unemployed workers–who would much rather get a job than get a check from the government–will be driven to these programs as a last resort.
By: Carl E. Van Horn, U. S. News and World Report, December 9, 2011
As our economy struggles to regain its footing after the worst recession in the lifetime of most Americans, some Republicans in Congress seem determined to erect barriers to economic recovery. They threatened the full faith and credit of the United States. They brought our government to the brink of a shutdown. They have consistently failed to offer meaningful legislation to encourage job creation. And most recently, they refused to ask our nation’s wealthiest individuals and corporations to pay their fair share toward our national security and other vital public services.
Now, in the midst of the holiday season, many unemployed Americans and their families are left wondering if Republicans will once again undercut consumer demand and business confidence. At the end of December, the federal unemployment insurance programs will begin to shut down, despite the fact that there are still roughly 6.5 million fewer jobs in the economy today than when the Great Recession started in December of 2007. As a result, over 6 million will have their benefits terminated by the end of 2012.
My legislation, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act, would ensure that this does not happen.
Termination of extended federal unemployment coverage would deal a devastating blow to Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and who depend on this lifeline until they can again make ends meet. And make no mistake—allowing these families to fall through the safety net would also hurt our economy. Depriving jobless Americans of the money they need to put food on the table, shoes on their children, and keep a roof over their head will cut consumer demand for thousands of local businesses and increase the number of home foreclosures. According to the Economic Policy Institute, cutting off unemployment benefits would cost over 500,000 jobs.
Nonetheless, some Republicans suggest we cannot afford to maintain assistance for the unemployed. That’s right, the same crowd that continues to promote big tax breaks for the wealthiest few, while preserving multinational corporate tax loopholes, argues that helping the unemployed is just too high a mountain for our country to climb.
These are the same Republicans who blame unemployment on the unemployed. Never mind that unemployment insurance replaces less than half of a worker’s former wages and the average unemployment check fails to get a family of four above 70 percent of the poverty level. There are over four unemployed workers for every job opening, meaning that even if every single available job was taken by an unemployed worker there would still be over 10 million of our fellow citizens without work.
As Congress debates my bill, I hope representatives don’t recall just the numbers, but the real people behind them, people like Lynnette, an unemployed worker: “I’m fifty now. It’s the first time I’ve drawn unemployment in my life. I’m tired, I’m demoralized. It was extremely hard for me to get where I was. I strived and fought and suffered. I paid more than my share of dues. I did everything I was supposed to do…Please extend the benefits. Please be aware that this country didn’t suddenly become filled with lazy folks who don’t want to work.”
Americans don’t turn their backs on Americans in need. The time to extend this critical program that serves as a lifeline for so many families is now.
By: U. S. Rep Lloyd Doggett, 25th District of Texas, U. S. News and World Report, December 9, 2011