The big bad event of last week was, of course, the Supreme Court hearing on health reform. In the course of that hearing it became clear that several of the justices, and possibly a majority, are political creatures pure and simple, willing to embrace any argument, no matter how absurd, that serves the interests of Team Republican.
But we should not allow events in the court to completely overshadow another, almost equally disturbing spectacle. For on Thursday Republicans in the House of Representatives passed what was surely the most fraudulent budget in American history.
And when I say fraudulent, I mean just that. The trouble with the budget devised by Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, isn’t just its almost inconceivably cruel priorities, the way it slashes taxes for corporations and the rich while drastically cutting food and medical aid to the needy. Even aside from all that, the Ryan budget purports to reduce the deficit — but the alleged deficit reduction depends on the completely unsupported assertion that trillions of dollars in revenue can be found by closing tax loopholes.
And we’re talking about a lot of loophole-closing. As Howard Gleckman of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center points out, to make his numbers work Mr. Ryan would, by 2022, have to close enough loopholes to yield an extra $700 billion in revenue every year. That’s a lot of money, even in an economy as big as ours. So which specific loopholes has Mr. Ryan, who issued a 98-page manifesto on behalf of his budget, said he would close?
None. Not one. He has, however, categorically ruled out any move to close the major loophole that benefits the rich, namely the ultra-low tax rates on income from capital. (That’s the loophole that lets Mitt Romney pay only 14 percent of his income in taxes, a lower tax rate than that faced by many middle-class families.)
So what are we to make of this proposal? Mr. Gleckman calls it a “mystery meat budget,” but he’s being unfair to mystery meat. The truth is that the filler modern food manufacturers add to their products may be disgusting — think pink slime — but it nonetheless has nutritional value. Mr. Ryan’s empty promises don’t. You should think of those promises, instead, as a kind of throwback to the 19th century, when unregulated corporations bulked out their bread with plaster of paris and flavored their beer with sulfuric acid.
Come to think of it, that’s precisely the policy era Mr. Ryan and his colleagues are trying to bring back.
So the Ryan budget is a fraud; Mr. Ryan talks loudly about the evils of debt and deficits, but his plan would actually make the deficit bigger even as it inflicted huge pain in the name of deficit reduction. But is his budget really the most fraudulent in American history? Yes, it is.
To be sure, we’ve had irresponsible and/or deceptive budgets in the past. Ronald Reagan’s budgets relied on voodoo, on the claim that cutting taxes on the rich would somehow lead to an explosion of economic growth. George W. Bush’s budget officials liked to play bait and switch, low-balling the cost of tax cuts by pretending that they were only temporary, then demanding that they be made permanent. But has any major political figure ever premised his entire fiscal platform not just on totally implausible spending projections but on claims that he has a secret plan to raise trillions of dollars in revenue, a plan that he refuses to share with the public?
What’s going on here? The answer, presumably, is that this is what happens when extremists gain complete control of a party’s discourse: all the rules get thrown out the window. Indeed, the hard right’s grip on the G.O.P. is now so strong that the party is sticking with Mr. Ryan even though it’s paying a significant political price for his assault on Medicare.
Now, the House Republican budget isn’t about to become law as long as President Obama is sitting in the White House. But it has been endorsed by Mr. Romney. And even if Mr. Obama is reelected, the fraudulence of this budget has important implications for future political negotiations.
Bear in mind that the Obama administration spent much of 2011 trying to negotiate a so-called Grand Bargain with Republicans, a bipartisan plan for deficit reduction over the long term. Those negotiations ended up breaking down, and a minor journalistic industry has emerged as reporters try to figure out how the breakdown occurred and who was responsible.
But what we learn from the latest Republican budget is that the whole pursuit of a Grand Bargain was a waste of time and political capital. For a lasting budget deal can only work if both parties can be counted on to be both responsible and honest — and House Republicans have just demonstrated, as clearly as anyone could wish, that they are neither.
By: Paul Krugman, Op Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 1, 2012
“Now later he decided to run for governor of Michigan, and so you can imagine that having closed the factory and moved all the production to Wisconsin was a very sensitive issue to him, for his campaign,” explained Romney, who described a subsequent campaign parade in which the school band marching with his father knew how to play Wisconsin’s fight song, but not Michigan’s.“Every time they would start playing ‘On Wisconsin, On Wisconsin,’ my dad’s political people would jump up and down and try to get them to stop, because they didn’t want people in Michigan to be reminded that my dad had moved production to Wisconsin,” said Romney, laughing.
Thus ended an anecdote Mitt Romney shared with supporters in Wisconsin via a campaign conference call in an attempt to demonstrate that he had some sort of connection with their state. Now, this was far from the first time that the former governor of Massachusetts has said things that reinforce the idea that he is an absurdly wealthy hedge fund tycoon who has no compassion whatsoever for any social set lower than his NASCAR- and major league franchise-owning friends. He has previously let us know, for instance, that corporations are people, that he likes to fire people who provide services to him, and that his passion for sports seems to depend entirely on how the owners he knows will be affected. Romney’s other gaffes show a certain level of cluelessness about the average voter, or at the very least a total inability to relate to them in a way that they can understand. But this quote, as well as the values that underlie it, are far more dangerous, and emblematic of the conservative movement as a whole.
Without a doubt, not even Mitt Romney could be considered gauche enough to have shared this anecdote were he still competing for the primary votes of Republicans in Michigan, but with that win and those delegates safely in the bag, he had absolutely no trouble laughing about how his family eliminated the jobs of perhaps those same voters he was courting not too long ago. But not only does Romney have no shame about sharing this story in public, he did so gleefully in an attempt to show some sort of relationship to the state he is currently campaigning for. In Romney’s mind, after all, the voters of Wisconsin should be happy because they got a factory and jobs, regardless of whether it came at the expense of destroyed hopes and dreams on the other side of Lake Michigan.
Unlike his other gaffes, it’s not just that Romney was too tone-deaf to understand how his comments could sound off-putting to voters. Instead, he actively expected this anecdote to appeal positively to Republican primary voters in Wisconsin. The unfortunate part is, he may be right.
In the same way that Wisconsin’s gain was Michigan’s loss regarding the American Motors factory owned by George Romney, the conservative mentality regarding most aspects of politics, economics and civil rights is by default antagonistic and competitive, and uses the logic of a zero-sum game whereby any party’s gain must necessarily be another party’s loss. If the government provides economic support such as jobless benefits or stimulus, it must necessarily have hurt the economic prospects of those who were still on their feet, irrespective of the benefits of reintroducing that money back into the economy. If the LGBT community gains the fundamental civil right of marriage, it must, by necessity and definition, have impinged on the civil rights of heterosexuals, even if nobody can precisely articulate exactly why. If women are granted access to the medications they need to lead a happy and healthy existence, it can only have come at the expense of the the right of religious freedom, which has now been deemed by conservatives to include the right to impose one’s religious values on one’s employees. If millions of people are successfully added to the insurance rolls, then that must, by logical default, have resulted in death panels or denial of care to other, more deserving people. In the conservative mind, after all, there is only so much of any one thing to go around: consequently, someone must win, and someone must lose.
Mitt Romney is inhumane, and cannot be allowed to assume the presidency. He is not inhumane because he sees no problem with strapping his dog to the roof of his car, or because he is comically inept at small talk. He is not inhumane because he likes to talk about his friendships with sports team owners, or even because he hired a lobbyist in an effort to secure the permitting process for a car elevator in his dream mansion in San Diego. He isn’t even inhumane because he used his position at Bain Capital to destroy jobs, hopes and dreams for his own economic benefit. Most of all, Mitt Romney is inhumane because he, like the conservative movement that surrounds him, does not believe that all Americans can enjoy increased freedoms and economic prosperity, to say nothing of understanding the conditions and policies that would achieve this end.
Ultimately, this is why Barack Obama will be re-elected, and conservatism will fail. Conservative Teen Magazine notwithstanding, younger generations tend to take a more cooperative, collaborative view of the world, and will turn out to the candidates and political parties that embrace this vision. As the conservative movement continues to embrace the doctrinaire plutocracy embodied by Mitt Romney, it will ultimately wither away in all but the reddest areas—right alongside the elderly white Fox News demographic to which it appeals.
By:Dante Atkins, Daily Kos, April 1, 2012
Right before our eyes, American conservatism is becoming something very different from what it once was. Yet this transformation is happening by stealth because moderates are too afraid to acknowledge what all their senses tell them.
Last week’s Supreme Court oral arguments on health care were the most dramatic example of how radical tea partyism has displaced mainstream conservative thinking. It’s not just that the law’s individual mandate was, until very recently, a conservative idea. Even conservative legal analysts were insisting it was impossible to imagine the court declaring the health-care mandate unconstitutional, given its past decisions.
So imagine the shock when conservative justices repeatedly spouted views closely resembling the tweets and talking points issued by organizations of the sort funded by the Koch brothers. Don’t take it from me. Charles Fried, solicitor general for Ronald Reagan, told The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein that it was absurd for conservatives to pretend that the mandate created a market in health care. “The whole thing is just a canard that’s been invented by the tea party . . .,” Fried said, “and I was astonished to hear it coming out of the mouths of the people on that bench.” Staunchly conservative circuit judges Jeffrey Sutton and Laurence Silberman must have been equally astonished, since both argued that overturning the law would amount to judicial overreach. Yet moderate opinion bends over backward to act as if this is an intellectually close question.
Similarly, House passage of Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, with its steep cuts in the tax rates on the wealthy and sweeping reductions in programs for the poor, is an enormous step rightward from the budget policies of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Faced with growing deficits, Reagan and Bush both supported substantial tax increases.
A small hint of how this push to the right moves moderates away from moderation came in an effort last week to use an amendment on the House floor to force a vote on the deficit-reduction proposals offered by the commission headed by former Sen. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, former chief of staff to Bill Clinton.
You learned only in paragraphs buried deep in the news stories that the House was not even asked to consider the actual commission plan. To cobble together bipartisan support, sponsors of the ersatz Simpson-Bowles amendment kept all of the commission’s spending cuts but slashed the amount it prescribed for tax increases in half. See how relentless pressure from the right turns self-styled moderates into conservatives? If there’s a cave-in, it’s always to starboard.
Note how many deficit hawks regularly trash President Obama for not endorsing Simpson-Bowles while they continue to praise Ryan — even though Ryan voted to kill the initiative when he was a member of the commission. Here again is the double standard that benefits conservatives, proving that, contrary to establishment opinion, Obama was absolutely right not to embrace the Simpson-Bowles framework. If he had, a moderately conservative proposal would suddenly have defined the “left wing” of the debate, just because Obama endorsed it.
This is nuts. Yet mainstream journalism and mainstream moderates play right along.
A brief look at history suggests how far to the right both the Republican Party and contemporary conservatism have moved. Today’s conservatives almost never invoke one of our most successful Republican presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who gave us, among other things, federally guaranteed student loans and championed the interstate highway system.
Even more revealing is what Robert A. Taft, the leader of the conservative forces who opposed Eisenhower’s nomination in 1952, had to say about government’s role in American life. “If the free enterprise system does not do its best to prevent hardship and poverty,” the Ohio Republican senator said in a 1945 speech, “it will find itself superseded by a less progressive system which does.” He urged Congress to “undertake to put a floor under essential things, to give all a minimum standard of decent living, and to all children a fair opportunity to get a start in life.”
Who can doubt that today’s right would declare his day’s Mr. Republican and Mr. Conservative a socialist redistributionist?
If our nation’s voters want to move government policy far to the right, they are entirely free to do so. But those who regard themselves as centrist have a moral obligation to make clear what the stakes are in the current debate. If supposed moderates refuse to call out the new conservatism for the radical creed it has become, their timidity will make them complicit in an intellectual coup they could have prevented.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 1, 2012
When John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman join forces, you can be sure of one thing: It will involve state-sponsored violence. Today, they want us to arm Syrian rebels. Though, you know, what they really wanted to call for was actually bombing the hell out of Syria, until there is freedom. They’re just taking it slow.
The Senate’s three most predictable and least credible warmongering “moderates” frequently join forces to publish joint Op-Eds or hold press conferences and the one thing they always, invariably want is for the United States to have just a little bit more war than it currently has, somewhere far away. Sure, we could draw down in Iraq … or we could listen to McCain, Lieberman and Graham and draw back up. We could draw down in Afghanistan … or we could stay the course and keep sending troops there until we win! Americans may be tired of endless war with no coherent goal, but on the other hand, “only decisive force can prevail in [whatever country John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman are talking about now].”
As the Hill recently explained in a story on how John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman were pushing for a resolution basically promising to make war with Iran, “Graham, Lieberman and McCain are considered some of the top foreign policy experts in the upper chamber,” because they always, invariably support military intervention everywhere for any reason, and that is invariably considered a sign of “seriousness” in Washington. If you don’t like waging wars everywhere, forever, you are a weird kooky hippie, and everyone laughs at you. If you believe that bombs and troops have the power to magically solve all problems, you are invited on all the Sunday shows every week to offer your sober analysis of the foreign situation.
You just never know which country these three will decide needs bombing next! One time the three amigos also took a trip to Tripoli to hang out with Moammar Gadhafi. (They invited Susan Collins along, though usually their sleepover parties are strictly “no girls allowed.”) Sadly, by April of last year, they were no longer friends with Gadhafi, and the three had decided that the United States should assassinate him. (That is not really legal but, you know, “war on terror” and “serious, muscular foreign policy” or something.)
One time Lieberman and Graham tried to hang out with a different senator and they all came up with an idea that didn’t involve bombing anyone but that made McCain mad and he yelled at them. Don’t hang out with John Kerry and try to solve climate change! Hang out with me and let’s try to convince everyone to bomb Russia or something!
Sadly, Joe Lieberman will be leaving the U.S. Senate soon, which means John McCain and Lindsey Graham will need to find a new fake-Democrat best friend to add a patina of “bipartisanship” to their endless demands for explosions and shooting and death.
By: Alex Pareene, Salon, March 29, 2012
Indulging “Moderate Republicans”: Olympia Snowe Gives President An “F” For Not Paying Enough Attention To Her
Retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe has finished grading the president’s report card. President Obama gets an “F” in bipartisanship, where “bipartisanship” is defined as “constantly stroking the fragile egos of self-important Senate moderates.”
Snowe is not seeking reelection because the Republican Party wholly merged with the conservative movement and then began enforcing much stricter party discipline than it had in the past, and she would likely lose a primary election to a more right-wing candidate. But in her high-minded version of what happened, she is leaving because of “partisanship,” an evil spell cast on the formerly fraternal and cooperative United States Senate by comity-hating wizards.
This is how bad things have gotten: President Obama hasn’t called her in almost two years!
If there were ever a Republican for President Obama to work with, it was Maine Senator Olympia Snowe. She was one of just three Republicans in the entire Congress to vote for his economic stimulus plan in 2009 and even tried to work with him on health care, but in an interview with ABC’s senior political correspondent Jonathan Karl, Snowe makes a remarkable revelation: She hasn’t spoken to President Obama in nearly two years.
Snowe said that if she had to grade the President on his willingness to work with Republicans, he would “be close to failing on that point.” In fact, Snowe, who was first elected to Congress in 1976, claims that her meetings with President Obama have been less frequent than with any other president.
That’s so weird, that President Obama stopped talking to her around two years ago. I wonder what happened? That wizard probably got him, and now he hates bipartisanship. That is the only explanation I can think of for why Olympia Snowe — a Republican the president could definitely try to work with! — hasn’t heard from Obama for around two years.
I mean, Snowe “even tried to work with him on health care.” Hey, that was around two years ago, actually! How hard did she try, again? If I recall correctly, she intentionally delayed the process for months before finally voting against a plan she’d previously voted for, never making a single substantive criticism of the policy of the bill in the fear that her criticism would then be addressed by Democrats and she’d be forced to come up with a new reason to oppose the bill, because it turns out she didn’t actually want to vote for healthcare reform, and she would not have supported any plan to expand coverage to all Americans, no matter how it worked.
So this is the problem. In the popular imagination, and in Barack Obama’s naive pre-2010 fantasies, “bipartisanship” means “working together to accomplish things.” In reality, in the Senate, it means “indulging moderates, forever.” For Olympia Snowe, the act of calling Olympia Snowe is more important than the act of … passing legislation to solve problems.
Snowe is now endorsing Scott Brown, saying Massachusetts residents should vote for him because he is another true believer in independent, party line-crossing bipartisanship. He even supports the Violence Against Women Act! (Why should Massachusetts residents vote for a Republican who is willing to cross party lines sometimes to vote for bills that every Democrat supports, instead of just voting for a Democrat whose support you won’t have to just sort of guess at until he comes out and says it? Because “bipartisanship,” that’s why.) (And the fact that Brown supported allowing employers to deny contraception coverage — a measure Snowe opposed — while his opponents shared Snowe’s position on the issue also doesn’t matter, because being a Republican who sometimes bucks the party line to do the right thing is more Honorable than being a Democrat whose party line is already the right thing.)
Would Olympia Snowe have voted for cap-and-trade if the president had called her more often? Or would she have done exactly what she did during the healthcare reform process, and strung Democrats along for months before voting against it for nakedly political reasons? (She was beginning to play the exact same game as she had before, saying she would maybe bring herself to support a “scaled-back” version of the legislation as long as other Republicans also promised to do so.)
Would Olympia Snowe have supported the “scaled-back,” less ambitious alternative to comprehensive immigration reform that was the DREAM Act, which would have allowed people who came to the U.S. as children and served in the military or went to college to seek citizenship legally? No, she would not have, because if the act had passed, “millions of illegal immigrants could attempt to become legal residents….”
So instead of cap-and-trade, we got nothing. Instead of the DREAM Act, we got nothing. If healthcare reform had failed, we’d have nothing. If Snowe’s stated goal was to maintain the status quo, because she doesn’t care about immigration and doesn’t believe in climate change, then she’d be totally doing a very good job. But she claims to care about climate change and want to do something about immigration, which leads me to believe that she’s horrible at being a senator. It is the incompetent political maneuvering of “moderates” like Snowe, and not “partisanship,” that leads directly to Senate inaction. If what she needed, in order to be swayed to the side of passing legislation to address problems, was for the president to make a much bigger public show of courting her, then she’s a bizarre and repulsive specimen. Being against everything because people aren’t paying you enough attention is so much worse than being against everything on principle.
By: Alex Pareene, Salon, March 27, 2012