Speaking at a closed-press fundraiser in Palm Beach, Florida, on Sunday night, Mitt Romney offered more details than he ever has to date on what he might do about federal spending and taxes. Luckily, some reporters standing outside overheard him. NBC reports:
“I’m going to take a lot of departments in Washington, and agencies, and combine them. Some eliminate, but I’m probably not going to lay out just exactly which ones are going to go,” Romney said. “Things like Housing and Urban Development, which my dad was head of, that might not be around later. But I’m not going to actually go through these one by one. What I can tell you is, we’ve got far too many bureaucrats. I will send a lot of what happens in Washington back to the states.”
Asked about the fate of the Department of Education in a potential Romney administration, the former governor suggested it would also face a dramatic restructuring.
“The Department of Education: I will either consolidate with another agency, or perhaps make it a heck of a lot smaller. I’m not going to get rid of it entirely,” Romney said, explaining that part of his reasoning behind preserving the agency was to maintain a federal role in pushing back against teachers’ unions. Romney added that he learned in his 1994 campaign for Senate that proposing to eliminate the agency was politically volatile.
Romney expounded on that lesson—that he shouldn’t publicly admit to his plans to leave society’s most vulnerable citizens without any federal support—in a March interview with told The Weekly Standard. “One of the things I found in a short campaign against Ted Kennedy was that when I said, for instance, that I wanted to eliminate the Department of Education, that was used to suggest I don’t care about education,” said Romney. “So will there be some that get eliminated or combined? The answer is yes, but I’m not going to give you a list right now.” In other words, Romney believes that if he tells the public what he might actually do in office they will dislike his plans and reject them. This is just as revealing as Romney’s infamous recollection that he told his gardener not to use illegal immigrants on his property because “I’m running for office for Pete’s sake.” Romney doesn’t want to wage an honest contest between his ideas and his opponent’s. His self-described preference is to try to win by telling the American they can have tax cuts without painful sacrifices on spending.
Publicly, Romney has proposed to make the Bush tax cuts permanent and to then cut taxes further. He also wants to increase defense spending. In total he would reduce federal tax revenues by $5 billion over the next ten years. The Committee for a Responsible Budget estimated that Romney would add $2.6 trillion to the deficit. He has promised to cut spending as well, but he has avoided mentioning credible specifics.
That’s bad enough. But what is even worse is that what he offers in private doesn’t add up either. It would be one thing if Romney had a secret plan to balance the budget with drastic spending cuts to major federal programs. While it would be dishonorable of him to refuse to discuss that plan while running for president, at least you would know he has a plausible—if totally heartless—plan for governing once elected.
But he doesn’t. Instead the new details he offered were that he might eliminate the mortgage interest deduction on second homes and abolish the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The former idea is a good one, although I’ll believe that President Romney and Congress have the will to stand up to powerful lobbies such as the real estate and construction industries when I see it happen. It would not, however, generate nearly enough revenue to make up for Romney’s massive tax cuts. Perhaps because Romney himself owns three homes he thinks owning a second home is a fairly common middle class practice. In fact, only 6 percent of Americans have a second home. Eliminating the entire mortgage tax deduction would save about $215 billion by 2021, according to the Congressional Budget Office, so eliminating it only on second homes would save just a fraction of that. If you want to be generous and assume that a lot of the owners of second homes also have third and fourth homes, and that they take out mortgages to buy those homes, you could guess that Romney’s proposal might save something like 10 percent of that total, or a whopping $21.5 billion in total between now and 2021. By contrast, letting the Bush tax cuts expire only on families making more than $250,000 per year would have saved $40 billion in 2011 alone.
While HUD makes for an appealing target for destruction among rich Republicans because it is the only cabinet department dedicated to addressing poverty, it is not actually a very large agency compared to, say, the Pentagon. Its entire budget for fiscal year 2012 is $47.2 billion dollars. (The Department of Defense budget this year is $645.7 billion.) The vast majority of HUD spending falls into one of two appropriation streams: construction of public housing ($19.2 billion) and Section 8 housing vouchers ($17.2 billion). Romney did not specify whether he would eliminate those programs, or just abolish the department that houses them and redistribute their responsibilities. Assuming Romney doesn’t, or can’t, actually get rid of the federal government’s two main programs to prevent homelessness, he won’t get very much savings by closing HUD and its important, but smaller, programs such as Community Development Block Grants. As I report in a forthcoming feature for Next American City, under President Obama HUD has been dramatically helpful to cities with very small amounts of money through programs such as the Sustainable Communities Initiative. I’ve asked the Romney campaign to clarify whether Romney wants to eliminate all federal housing subsidies and, if so, whether he has any plan to combat the dramatic rise in homelessness and severe poverty that would surely result. Having not received a response, my guess is that his honest answer would be that he has no idea what exactly he proposes to cut. And he certainly hasn’t bothered to come up with an alternative affordable housing agenda.
Republicans are not terribly interested in making serious domestic policy proposals or even dealing with social issues at all. For example, House Republicans have decided that their zeal to keep taxes low on millionaires and even billionaires must be paid for by squeezing food stamp recipients. As Politico’s David Rogers reports, “An average family of four faces an 11 percent cut in monthly benefits after Sept. 1, and even more important is the tighter enforcement of rules demanding that households exhaust most of their savings before qualifying for help.” If they succeed, it will save $3 billion per year.
Republicans, including Romney, are fond of saying that they idolize Ronald Reagan and wish to govern as he did. And they would, with lower taxes, higher deficits, greater inequality and less help for the most needy.
By: Ben Adler, The Nation, April16, 2012
The Virginia Foxx Bill: “Protecting The Freedom Of For-Profit Schools To Suck Off The Government Teat Without Any Accountability Whatsoever Act”
Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass a bill with the impressive, everybody-can-get-behind-this title “Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act.” Sponsored by the ultra-conservative North Carolina Republican Virginia Foxx, the bill ostensibly took aim at an issue close to small-government-loving hearts: intrusive federal regulation of for-profit colleges — fast growing, highly profitable outfits like DeVry University or the online-only University of Phoenix.
Like so many of the bills passed by the House since Republicans gained the majority in the 2010 midterm elections, the bill was designed to repeal specific actions taken by the Obama administration. In this case, the issue at hand was the Obama administration’s efforts to ensure greater “program integrity” in the for-profit educational sector. Specifically, a new federal definition of what constitutes a legitimate academic “credit hour” and a new requirement that all online providers of post-secondary education be accredited in each and every state in which they do business.
Foxx’s bill repealed both measures. (The Senate has yet to address the measure.) According to Foxx, the new federal regulations threatened “innovation” in the educational sector. As reported by InsideHigherEducation, Foxx is on record as declaring that for-profit colleges do a “a better job of being mindful about efficiency and effectiveness than their nonprofit peers.” By, for example, flexibly providing online education when and where low-income working Americans want it, the for-profit free market delivers the kind of quality higher education that Americans so desperately need. The government should just stay out of their business.
I stumbled upon this story while researching the student loan crisis and at first I was perplexed. I didn’t understand why Republicans were opposed to higher academic standards for the for-profit sector, and I didn’t get the connection to student loans. But it didn’t take much research to discover what was really going on: an example of blatant hypocrisy sufficient to outrage even the most jaded observer of American politics.
The for-profit educational sector is an industry almost entirely subsidized by the federal government. Around 70-80 percent of for-profit revenues are generated by federal student loans. At the same time, judging by sky-high dropout rates, the for-profit schools do a terrible job of educating students. The Obama administration’s efforts to define a credit hour and require state accreditation were motivated by a very understandable desire: to ensure that taxpayers are getting their money’s worth when federal cash pays for a student’s education. In contrast, Foxx’s legislation is designed to remove that taxpayer protection. So here’s a more accurate title for her bill: “The Protecting the Freedom of For-Profit Schools to Suck off the Government Teat Without Any Accountability Whatsoever Act.”
The for-profit educational sector has been growing extraordinarily rapidly for the past decade: 12 percent of all post-secondary students are now enrolled in for-profit schools, up from 3 percent 10 years ago. But the main beneficiaries of the growth appear to be the shareholders and executives of the largest publicly traded for-profit schools, not the students.
- In 2008, for-profit schools registered a a graduation rate of 22 percent. (Public and private non-profits registered 55 percent and 65 percent respectively.)
- 54 percent of the students who enrolled in 2008-2009 in 14 publicly traded for-profit schools had withdrawn without a degree by 2010.
- The biggest player in the for-profit sector, the University of Phoenix, graduated only 9 percent of its B.A. candidates within six years.
The pathetic performance of the for-profit sector in delivering actual degrees becomes all the more alarming when you realize that most of the students who are dropping out paid for their educations with student loans that have to be paid back: According to a report released in the summer of 2010 by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, “Emerging Risk?: An Overview of Growth, Spending, Student Debt and Unanswered Questions in For-Profit Higher Education,” in 2009, the five largest for-profit schools reported that government grants and loans accounted for 77.4 percent of their revenue.
The Harkin reports comes to a stark conclusion:
The Federal government and taxpayers are making a large and rapidly growing investment in financial aid to for-profit schools, with few tools in place to gauge how well that money is being spent. Available data show that very few students enroll in for-profit schools without taking on debt, while a staggering number of students are leaving the schools, presumably many without completing a degree or certificate.
It is precisely this situation that the Obama administration’s efforts to ensure “program integrity” were designed to address. Student loans are tied to credit hours: By requiring a more rigorous definition of credit hour, the administration was attempting to make sure that government money was paying for actual education. Similarly, the requirement that all for-profit schools must be accredited by the individual states in which they do business was a measure designed to keep fly-by-night online schools operating out of states with weak accreditation requirements from enrolling out-of-state students and ripping them off. The issue is not “innovation.” The issue is basic consumer protection.
One would imagine that Republicans, who theoretically oppose government involvement in the private sector, and are always looking for ways to cut government spending, would approve of efforts to seek greater accountability for taxpayer funds. Virginia Foxx, after all, was notorious for being one of only 11 members of Congress to vote against a federal relief package for victims of Hurricane Katrina, citing the “high potential for the waste, fraud and abuse of federal tax dollars.”
But as it turns out, Foxx herself is benefiting from the waste and abuse of federal tax dollars. Among the top 20 financial contributors to Foxx in the 2011-2012 cycle are the Association of Private Sector Colleges/Universities, the Apollo Group (owner of the University of Phoenix), and Corinthian Colleges. Since federal student loans comprise the vast majority of the revenues of those for-profit schools, it follows that their campaign contributions to Foxx are also made possible by U.S. taxpayers.
By: Andrew Leonard, Salon, April 16, 2012
To nobody’s surprise, the Senate has blocked the Buffett Rule that would have required those earning more than $1 million a year to pay a minimum tax of 30 percent.
The 51-46 vote—short of the 60 votes in support needed to bring the measure to the floor—went along party lines with only GOP Senator Susan Collins crossing the aisle to vote with the Democrats while Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas sided with the Republicans.
While passage of the measure is estimated to bring in only $47 billion in additional revenue, the proposed law, which has been actively pushed by the Obama Administration, is viewed by supporters as fairness issue while opponents claim that the rich already pay a disproportionate share of the nation’s tax revenue.
Failure of the bill to advance is also likely to give the President a popular issue for his re-election campaign, given the strong support for the law among the general public. According to a CNN/ORC poll out today, 72 percent of the nation’s registered voters support the measure.
Expressing disappointment with the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said,
The wealthiest one percent takes home the highest share of the nation’s income since the early ’20s, the roaring ’20s. Times are tough for many middle class American families. Millionaires and billionaires aren’t sharing the pain or the sacrifice, not one bit. Last year there were 7,000 millionaires who didn’t pay a single penny in federal income taxes.
But Republicans aren’t buying it, arguing that the proposal is nothing more than a ‘political gimmick’—or so says GOP Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell:
The problem is, we’ve got a president who seems more interested in pitting people against each other than he is in actually doing what it takes to face these challenges head on. By wasting so much time on this political gimmick that even Democrats admit won’t solve our larger problems, it’s shown the president is more interested in misleading people than he is in leading.
Last week, ThinkProgress posted a video of President Ronald Reagan giving a speech indicating that he too objected to the notion of a secretary paying a higher rate of tax than her employer, the circumstance that gave rise to Warren Buffett’s proposal that resulted in his name going on this piece of legislation.
By: Rick Ungar, Contributor, The Policy Page, Forbes, April 16, 2012
And they say Mitt Romney can’t be trusted! Why, the man is as consistent as the sun coming up in the morning.
Mitt Romney can always be counted upon—for intellectual dishonesty.
In the latest example of his egregious lack of intellectual integrity, Romney—desperate to reverse the GOP’s catastrophic loss of popularity among women voters—invented a fictitious Obama administration “war on women” and then claimed as proof the disproportionate job losses suffered by women during the second wave of the recession.
Romney’s misrepresentation of labor-force trends was hardly surprising; we’ve come to expect misleading and untruthful statements from a candidate infamous for denying he ever said things he did say and insisting he didn’t do things he did do.
“The real war on women has been waged by the policies of the Obama administration,” Romney claimed on This Week. “Did you know that of all the jobs lost during the Obama years, 92.3 percent of them are women?”
It’s enough to make you wish that Ronald Reagan were still around to shake his head sorrowfully and say, “There he goes again.”
In the absence of Reagan and his famous line, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner dutifully made the rounds yesterday, trying to explain what was wrong with Romney’s charge. “It’s a ridiculous argument,” Geithner said, noting that the first round of job losses affected mostly men, particularly in construction and manufacturing, while subsequent budget cuts by state and local governments eliminated many jobs held primarily by women, many of them teachers.
The Obama administration was far from alone in rejecting Romney’s claims; virtually every independent analysis dismissed them as “mostly false,” as the nonpartisan fact-check site Politifact put it.
But Romney’s accusations were worse than false; they were the political equivalent of that old joke about the guy who begs the judge for mercy, saying he shouldn’t be convicted of murder because he’s an orphan—while neglecting to mention that he’s an orphan because he killed his parents.
As any debater knows, making your case is about the facts you include, but it’s also about the facts you leave out. And when it comes to the nation’s economic woes, the facts that Romney leaves out include the culpability of Republican policies and office holders for the dismal state of the labor market—particularly when it comes to women.
First of all, most of the catastrophic job losses affecting men actually occurred while President Bush was still in office. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, men lost 5,355,000 jobs between December 2007 and June 2009, whereas women lost less than half that number—“only” 2,124,000 jobs.
But after that devastating first hit, men’s job losses slowed, whereas women’s accelerated. Between January 2009 and March 2012, men lost 57,000 jobs, but women lost 683,000 jobs. Of those 683,000 jobs, 64 percent were in government, and 36 percent were in the private sector.
And it was Republican office holders at the state and local level, not Democrats at the federal level, who were responsible for a disproportionate share of those losses. According to a study by the Roosevelt Institute, 11 states that went Republican in 2010 accounted for more than 40 percent of all state- and local-government job losses.
But Romney’s claim that President Obama has destroyed women’s jobs leaves out that part, just as it omits any acknowledgment of the terrifying fiscal mess that Obama inherited from a disastrous Republican administration when he came into office.
Although Romney’s specious statistics were designed to scare women into thinking that the Obama administration has somehow vaporized huge numbers of women’s jobs while leaving men virtually unscathed, that’s hardly the reality. Of all the jobs lost since 2007, only 39.7 percent were held by women; more than 60 percent were held by men. The recession has been terrible for everyone, and it hit women’s jobs somewhat later than it hit men’s jobs, but it’s not as if anyone escaped unscathed.
Mitt Romney surely knows this—and yet his attack on Obama might just as easily have been leveled by someone who was completely clueless about labor-force trends, the structural reasons that explain how they happen, and what they mean.
No one who’s followed the presidential campaign, let alone Romney’s political career, could possibly be surprised that he distorted the facts; he’s an old hand at that stuff. But what’s really startling is how stupid his analysis was.
Romney keeps telling voters they should elect him because Obama broke the nation’s economy and he’s such a smart businessman he knows how to fix it.
But if his latest salvo is any indication of how well Romney understands the economy, Harvard Business School should demand that he give back his M.B.A.
By: Leslie Bennetts, The Daily Beast, April 16, 2012
Heritage Foundation-Fox News Purity Police: “It’s As If Hillary Clinton Was Auditioning For “The Jersey Shore”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is having quite a month. After a photo of her spawned its own internet sensation, new images from a nightlife hotspot in Colombia that show Clinton sipping on a beer and dancing have ignited a fresh wave of gossipy commentary.
The New York Post ran one photo on its front page under the banner headline “Swillary,” apparently upset that she imbibes the same liquid as much of the rest of humanity.
But perhaps the best reaction to the shocking news that Hillary Clinton can have a good time goes to Nile Gardiner from the Heritage Foundation, who appeared on the Fox News show Your World with Neil Cavuto to attack Clinton for “embarrassing” herself:
Hillary Clinton is a public servant, she’s out to serve the American people, to advance US interests. And I think that conducting herself in this way, as a senior US official on the world stage, doesn’t advance American interests in any way. In fact its downright embarrassing. It’s as though she’s auditioning for the sixth series of Jersey Shore rather than representing America on the world stage as the Secretary of State.
Watch it: http://youtu.be/NUC9lo7gOx4
Gardiner’s remarks stunned even guest host Stuart Varney, who was filling in for Cavuto. Varney asked Gardiner if he would support a rule stating that no senior public official must ever be seen in a bar with a drink and/or dancing, to which Gardiner responded that he thought it was “a pretty good idea.”
Fortunately, Varney promised to give his viewers “both sides” of Hillary Clinton drinking a beer, so he invited on GOP strategist Dee Dee Benkie. To her credit, she defended Clinton, saying that “she deserves a few beers.”
By: Adam Peck, Think Progress, April 16, 2012