We’re just under eight months away from Election Day now, which means that the GOP is starting to run out of time to think up new ways to ruin the economy so that Barack Obama doesn’t get reelected. The Republicans have to do this delicately, of course; they can’t be open about it lest it become too obvious that harming the economy is their goal. But they have to be aggressive enough about it for their efforts to bear some actual (rotten) fruit. There are three fronts—gas prices, jobs, and the budget—on which we should keep our eyes open for signs that the Republicans are trying to achieve Mitch McConnell’s No. 1 goal for America.
Let’s take them in order. The Republicans received joyous news Monday in the form of the Washington Post poll that showed Obama’s numbers sinking in inverse proportion to rising gas prices. The gas situation is perfect for the GOP for two reasons. First, there’s very little a president can actually do about gas prices. Second, even though those prices don’t really tell us much about the more general economy, most people have the impression that they do, so for the out-party, it’s just a free whack.
No one can blame Republicans for using Obama as a piñata on the issue. But here’s what they can be blamed for. What is causing these high prices? Not low supply and high demand, which is what they teach you in school. In fact, supply is high—domestic oil production is at its highest point in years, higher under this allegedly business-hating president than under oilmen Bush and Cheney. And demand has been low because of the economy, although it’s now picking up.
No, experts blame a lot of the increase on fervid speculation in the oil markets, and a chief reason for a lot of that speculation is anxiety in those markets about a possible war with Iran. Said anxiety, in turn, is heightened every time a politician blusters about how we have no choice now but to go start that war. So this kind of rhetoric is a nice little two-fer for Republicans, who get to sound like tough guys and can also take comfort in knowing that the more they talk up attacking Iran, the more they’re doing their small part to keep prices high.
Now let’s look to jobs. As you may know, while we’ve been getting these hopeful job reports these last few months, there is one sector that’s been lagging notably: the public sector. In fact, during 2011 the public sector across the country—state and local governments, in addition to the feds—laid off massive numbers of people. Public-sector job losses averaged 22,000 a month in 2011. State and municipal governments are laying people off mainly for two reasons: the economy, which means they’re bringing in less revenue, and the drastic cuts in federal aid, which have forced the layoffs and firings of nearly half a million public-sector workers in the last two years.
True, Republicans want smaller budgets on ideological grounds. But they also know very well that the more domestic discretionary spending cuts they can force, and the more public employees they can make states and cities shave off their payrolls, the greater the negative effect on the overall employment picture. If those nearly half-million people were still working, what would the unemployment rate be? Maybe down to a flat 8 percent.
Lately, though, things are starting to look worrisome on that front for Republicans. In February, the public sector cut just 6,000 workers, well down from last year’s average. This indicates that the party might not be able to count for long on the public-sector numbers dragging down the private-sector ones. Hmmm. What to do about that?
Interestingly and conveniently, exactly what the Republicans on Capitol Hill are doing right now! They have been signaling lately that the budget numbers they agreed to with Democrats last year in the debt deal need to be revisited, and the cuts must be even deeper. Speaker John Boehner is open about the possibility of reneging. He has sent some mixed signals—he’s also talked about trying to get the House to accept a transportation bill that the Senate has already passed by the eye-poppingly bipartisan margin of 85–11. New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer says the bill can create 3 million jobs. The House returns to Washington next Monday. Where would you put the odds that this House of Representatives will vote, less than eight months before the election, to support a bill that Chuck Schumer boasts can produce 3 million jobs?
Every out-party does a little discreet cheering for the economy to be weak. But the GOP has put itself in a unique position. By opposing everything Obama wanted with such ferocity; by saying all those thousands of times that he had no clue about the economy; by sending out a parade of presidential candidates, from the semi-serious to the clown posse, all of whose central criticism of Obama is that he killed the economy—in all of these ways the party has more invested in economic failure than any out-party I can remember in my lifetime. Its best hope for now is gas prices, but even they eventually get lower, usually by late summer. Beyond that, all the GOP has to rely on is Mitt Romney’s unstoppable charisma.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 13, 2012
“A Window Into The Future”: Mitt Romney Won’t Enroll In Medicare And Doesn’t Want Anybody Else To Either
Mitt Romney hasn’t explained his announcement yesterday that he won’t be enrolling in Medicare despite turning 65, but as Jonathan Cohn points out, Romney is at least practicing what he preaches. Romney supports Paul Ryan’s plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program, a plan that would effectively end Medicare as we know it, and Romney is putting his money where his mouth is by deciding against enrolling.
Romney’s decision is a window into the future that he promises to deliver. Instead of a Medicare program that directly provides coverage, Romney wants seniors to obtain coverage from private insurers. Depending on their income and personal wealth, a portion of that coverage would be subsidized, but the guaranteed coverage of Medicare would be eliminated.
The fact that Romney was able to forego the Medicare system without penalty or punishment puts the lie to the notion that government health care programs are tyrannical. That’s an important fact to point out, because even though any senior who doesn’t want Medicare coverage could walk away from the system, just like Mitt Romney did, the overwhelming majority of them don’t—and that’s a testament to the effectiveness of Medicare.
But even though Medicare works, Mitt Romney wants to end the program as we know it. He wants Medicare to be transformed into a voucher provider, subsidizing private insurance plans instead of directly covering medical care. For 99 percent of Americans, it would be a radical overhaul, raising costs and making it difficult if not impossible to find insurance. Given his means, Romney would do fine in such a system. That’s basically the system he’s living in now, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize most people can’t afford what he can afford. And if Medicare were privatized as he proposes, that’s exactly what he would force every American senior to do.
If you’re only concerned about personal benefit, Medicare might not turn out to be the best deal in the world for someone like Mitt Romney, who is fabulously wealthy and doesn’t need the coverage. But even the Mitt Romneys of the world are better off living in a society where senior citizens have the security of health care coverage that Medicare provides. If we were to adopt Mitt Romney’s proposal to turn it into a voucher system, Medicare would no longer provide it’s greatest benefit of all: the peace of mind that comes with knowing that every single senior citizen has the health care coverage they need.
By: Jed Lewison, Daily Kos, March 13, 2012
A Dane County judge has declared Wisconsin’s American Legislative Exchange Council-inspired voter ID law unconstitutional, making him the second judge in one week to block the law’s unnecessary burdens on the right to vote.
“The people’s fundamental right of suffrage preceded and gave birth to our Constitution,” wrote Dane County District Judge Richard Niess, “not the other way around.”
The judge rebuffed assertions by Governor Scott Walker and legislative Republicans that they possessed the authority to impose new burdens on voting. “[D]efendants’ argument that the fundamental right to vote must yield to legislative fiat turns our constitutional scheme of democratic government squarely on its head,” he wrote.
“A government that undermines the very foundation of its existence – the people’s inherent, pre-constitutional right to vote – imperils its legitimacy as a government by the people, for the people, and especially of the people. It sows the seeds for its own demise as a democratic institution.”
The case was brought by the League of Women Voters and tried by the law firm Cullen, Weston, Pines & Bach.
Judge Niess’ decision comes less than a week after a Wisconsin State Court judge temporarily enjoined the same voter ID law — Act 23 — on grounds it likely violated the state constitution, but only until that court could hear a full trial. Niess’ decision, also decided under the Wisconsin Constitution, permanently invalidates the law. Governor Walker’s Department of Justice says they will quickly appeal the decision.
Voting Protected by Wisconsin Constitution
Article III, Section 1 of the Wisconsin Constitution provides that all state residents who are U.S. citizens and over age 18 may vote, and Section 2, according to the decision, “authorizes the government to exclude from voting those otherwise-eligible electors (1) who have been convicted of a felony and whose civil rights have not been restored, or (2) those adjudged by a court to be incompetent or partially incompetent, unless the judgment contains certain specifications.”
According to Judge Niess, Section 1 and 2 provide the exclusive basis for creating laws that implement the constitutional requirements for voting. “The government may not disqualify an elector who possesses those qualifications on the grounds that the voter does not satisfy additional statutorily created qualifications not contained in Article III, such as a photo ID,” he wrote.
“By enacting Act 23’s photo ID requirements as a precondition to voting, the legislature and governor have exceeded their constitutional authority.”
Wisconsin passed Act 23 in May on a contentious, party-line vote. Four lawsuits challenging the law have since been filed. Wisconsin Republicans assert that the law should be upheld because the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2008 that Indiana’s relatively similar voter ID law did not violate the U.S. Constitution. However, two of the four lawsuits are challenging Act 23 under the Wisconsin Constitution, which unlike the U.S. Constitution expressly protects the right to vote. Wisconsin’s voter ID law is also more strict than Indiana’s, and evidence indicates it will place more burdens on a greater number of people.
Voter ID’s ALEC Roots
Wisconsin’s voter ID law bears many elements of the ALEC model Voter ID Act. ALEC began to focus on voter ID shortly after the highest general election turnout in nearly 60 years swept America’s first black president into office with strong support from college students and African-Americans. Soon after the 2008 elections, “Preventing Election Fraud” was the cover story on the Inside ALEC magazine, and ALEC corporations and politicians voted in 2009 for “model” voter ID legislation.
Around 34 voter ID bills modeled after the ALEC template were introduced in 2011. Those bills have been coming under increasing scrutiny in recent months.
Judge Niess’ decision came on the same day that the U.S. Department of Justice blocked Texas’ ALEC-inspired voter ID law on grounds it would suppress the Latino vote. Last December, the D.O.J. blocked South Carolina’s voter ID bill as discriminatory against people of color. Texas and South Carolina are two of several states with a history of discrimination requiring federal pre-clearance for changes to voting laws or procedures under the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Wisconsin is not subject to pre-clearance.
“The right to vote belongs to all Wisconsin citizens”
While last week’s state court decision by Judge David Flanagan focused on how the voter ID law “is addressed to a problem which is very limited” and “fails to account for the difficulty its demands impose upon indigent, elderly and disabled citizens,” Judge Niess issued his decision based solely on the legislature’s constitutional authority to regulate voting. “It is not necessary to consider the human cost of photo ID requirements in order to expose their constitutional deficiencies,” he wrote. “They are unconstitutional on their face.
But, Judge Niess wrote, “there is no harm in pausing to reflect on the insurmountable burdens facing many of our fellow constitutionally qualified electors should Act 23 hold sway.”
“Mostly they would consist of those struggling souls who, unlike the vast majority of Wisconsin voters, for whatever reason will lack the financial, physical, mental, or emotional resources to comply with Act 23, but are otherwise constitutionally entitled to vote.”
While noting that “where it exists, voter fraud corrupts elections and undermines our form of government,” Niess stated that “voter fraud is no more poisonous to our democracy than voter suppression. Indeed, they are two heads on the same monster.”
“Where does the Wisconsin Constitution say that the government we, the people, created can simply cast aside the inherent suffrage rights of any qualified elector on the wish and promise – even the guarantee – that doing so serves to prevent some unqualified individuals from voting?
It doesn’t. In fact, it unequivocally says the opposite. The right to vote belongs to all Wisconsin citizens who are qualified electors, not just the fortunate majority for whom Act 23 poses little obstacle at the polls.”
By: Brendan Fischer, Center for Media and Democracy, March 13, 2012
By: Jill Lawrence, The National Journal, March 12, 2012
The economy had already lost 4.5 million jobs before President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, with job losses that month alone surging to 818,000. Economic contraction had also accelerated, reaching a staggering 8.9 percent annualized decline in the fourth quarter of 2008—the worst in 60 years. From this downward spiral, Obama’s economic policies proved instrumental in generating and sustaining a recovery.
In February 2009, Obama enacted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the pace of economic contraction and job loss immediately decelerated. As the stimulus ramped up, sustained economic growth took hold in mid-2009, and job growth resumed early in 2010—with 3.5 million jobs added since February 2010. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that without the Recovery Act, unemployment would have averaged roughly 10.7 percent in 2010, instead of 9.6 percent.
The Recovery Act was intended to jump-start the economy and avert a depression, not to restore full employment. The $831 billion price tag, spread over more than four years, was dwarfed by the staggering loss in economic activity caused by the bursting of the $7 trillion housing bubble. After economic growth resumed, mass unemployment and underemployment compelled more fiscal support. However, passing additional economic support through Congress proved a Herculean task.
In December 2010, the administration negotiated a payroll tax cut, continuation of emergency unemployment benefits, and targeted tax credits to sustain the delicate recovery as the stimulus began winding down. Without this boost, the economy would actually have slipped back into contraction in the first quarter of 2011.
It should be noted that the Federal Reserve also deserves credit for extraordinary measures taken to resuscitate the financial sector and facilitate recovery. But the Fed had already maxed out its key policy lever, the federal funds rate, when Obama entered office; monetary policy could not have single-handedly revived the economy.
While the economy has improved greatly under Obama’s stewardship, creating jobs for the millions of unemployed Americans who want to work remains imperative. In September 2011, Obama proposed the American Jobs Act, which would boost employment by roughly another 2 million jobs, according to numerous outside economists, including Mark Zandi.
Unfortunately, Obama’s substantive jobs agenda continues to be undermined by congressional partisanship. While more must be done to restore full employment, it is unquestionable that President Obama’s economic policies have been instrumental in ending the worst downturn since the Great Depression.
By: Andrew Fieldhouse, Economic Policy Institute, Published in U. S. News and World Report, March 13, 2012