Yesterday, I did an online debate with Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights, for New York magazine. We went through a wide range of topics, but one thing we stuck on—for a while—was the issue of Mitt Romney’s political commitments. Bissinger refused to believe that Romney is the conservative he’s campaigned as for the last 18 months, and he insisted Romney would be more moderate than he’s appeared if elected president. Here’s the nut of his argument:
[T]ake a look at Romney’s record as Mass governor. He was not some crazoid conservative. He crossed party lines. He provided the template for Obamacare, for God’s sake.
Romney has at least shown some ability to cross lines, however weak. Obama has not. He is not politically adept. He is not good at crossing the aisle. I can only go on what I have read, but he does not like politics and all the gab and bullshit. Politics is gab and bullshit. So I think Romney has a much better chance of appealing to Dems than Obama will ever have appealing to Rs.
One thing I’ve noticed in defenses of Romney is this idea that we should trust that he’s lying to his conservative supporters, and will be more moderate once in office. This view was recently pushed by Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal, who wrote an entire column asserting that Romney has no intention of following through on any of his promises.
Since Romney is a chameleon—and happy to switch positions for electoral gain—I can see why some would look at him and assume that he doesn’t plan to carry out his stated plans if elected president. But there are two things worth remembering: First, that presidents almost always attempt to fulfill their campaign promises. Americans like to believe otherwise, but the truth is that the first-term agenda of most presidents mirrors their rhetoric during the campaign. Barack Obama promised middle-class tax cuts and health-care reform, and he delivered. Tax cuts and education reform formed the basis for George W. Bush’s campaign in 2000, and were the first items on his agenda in 2001. Mitt Romney has promised large, across-the-board tax cuts, increased military spending, and cuts to social services. Most likely, that’s what he’ll do.
One last thing: All of this is to say nothing of congressional Republicans, who are committed to following through on the right-wing budgets they passed last year. If Romney wins the White House, one of their own—Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan—will be second-in-command, and it’s absurd to think that they won’t want him to make a push for implementing the Ryan budget. Indeed, as long as they control the Senate, Republicans will be able to pass the Ryan budget without a single Democratic vote. And if they don’t? As Bush demonstrated in his first term, it’s not hard to find a few vulnerable Democrats who will support your priorities for the sake of electoral safety.
By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, October 18, 2012
You are probably going to start hearing a hot new lie from Republicans soon: The government spends more money on welfare than on anything else, even the military!
This is apparently the conclusion of a new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (the same organization that recently said that Obama’s supposed “welfare reform gutting” was totally legal!), though in fact it is a claim made by Senate Republicans who are abusing the nonpartisan research of the CRS. Here’s the story in the Weekly Standard, complete with charts from the Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee. Here’s the story in the Daily Caller, which is more upfront about all the material coming from Senate Republicans and not from the CRS. And here’s a Weekly Standard follow-up with some new charts.
They claim that “welfare spending” is the “largest budget item” for the federal government, with the fed spending $745.84 billion, more than is spent on Social Security, Medicare and “non-war defense.” (Hah.) Plus: “In all, the U.S. government, including federal and state governments, spends in excess of $1 trillion on welfare.”
That is a lot of welfare spending! Those poor people must be rolling in dough, right?
In the context of political discussions, “welfare” traditionally (as in pretty much always) refers specifically to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, the federal program that was created in 1996 to replace the Aid to Families With Dependent Children program — also known as “welfare” — that had existed since the New Deal. This is what people refer to when they say “welfare caseloads” and “welfare rolls,” and when conservatives accuse Obama of gutting “welfare reform” they are referring to TANF. The federal government spends $16.5 billion a year on TANF and, combined, the states spend another $10 billion.
Most of the federal budget is “defense” and war spending and Medicare, which should be common knowledge but that fact is regularly obscured by right-wingers who claim to be deficit hawks but refuse to cut defense spending and are scared of proposing real reductions to our programs for old people. This is how you get poll results where people think most of what the federal government spends money on is “foreign aid” and public broadcasting. So this is obviously just an attempt to rebrand “everything else” as “welfare.”
(On a state level, the majority of money goes, unsurprisingly, to healthcare and education. Less is spent on actual “public assistance” than is spent on prisons.)
The con is pretty easy to see when you read the actual CRS report. Senate Republicans are counting 83 separate (and wildly different) programs as “welfare” in order to make the case that the government is spending more on poor people than old people. The majority of this money is Medicaid and CHIP, which are healthcare spending, which is increasing for the same reason that Medicare spending is increasing, which is that healthcare costs are increasing. (And Medicaid is much less generous than Medicare, because it is a program for poor people, not old people.) But so many other things now also count as welfare, including Pell Grants, public works spending, Head Start, child support enforcement, the Child Tax Credit, Foster Care assistance, housing for old people, and much more. They’re also counting the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is, traditionally, the form of “welfare” that conservative Republicans actually support. Basically, all social spending (though specifically not spending on rich old people or on healthcare for veterans with service-related disabilities, which Republicans requested be excluded from the CRS report) now counts as “welfare.”
So we’ve learned that when you count everything — especially Medicaid and CHIP — as “welfare,” it is easy to make it look like “welfare” is very expensive, because healthcare is very expensive. This dumb lie will live forever, and you will hear until the end of your days that “the government spends more on welfare than it does on defense.”
By: Alex Pareene, Salon, October 18, 2012
Asked about the gender wage gap last night, Mitt Romney changed the subject. “What we can do to help young women and women of all ages is to have a strong economy, so strong that employers are looking to find good employees and bringing them into their workforce and adapting to a — a flexible work schedule that gives women the opportunities that — that they would otherwise not be able to — to afford,” he said. Sensing that he was going to be forced to actually answer the question, Romney added, “I’m going to help women in America get — get good work by getting a stronger economy and by supporting women in the workforce.”
There are so many half-formed assumptions and pseudo-promises here that it’s hard to know where to start, but let’s go to the basic premise: That the wage gap narrows when the economy is strong. That premise, so far as we can see from the data, is wrong.
“In good economic times, bonus payments, overtime hours and merit pay increase,” says Ariane Hegewisch, a study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “Women are under-represented in the top echelons,” where compensation has soared in good times. “Women are less likely to work overtime,” she adds, and “research suggests that merit and performance-related pay still is a key area for gender discrimination.” There’s also research suggesting that “salary increases related to promotions might differ by gender.”
In fact, the recent economic woes actually narrowed the wage gap, because while both men and women suffered, men lost more ground, according to a 2011 IWPR analysis: “Real earnings for both men and women have fallen since 2010, by 0.9 percent for women and 2.1 percent for men.” That’s likely because male-dominated sectors like construction were hard hit in the recession. Since then, the majority of job gains in the recovery have gone to men, suggesting that (skewed) equilibrium will likely be restored.
By: Irin Carmon, Salon, October 17, 2012
During Tuesday’s debate, Mitt Romney did a sneaky little pivot on the issue of contraception coverage that surely went over the head of most of the people watching. What Romney supports is a Republican bill, the Blunt amendment, that would allow any employer to refuse to include coverage for contraception in employees’ health insurance. For many women, that would mean they would be shut out of getting contraception through the plans that, we should note, they paid for themselves (insurance coverage isn’t a favor your employer does for you, it’s part of your compensation that you get in return for your labor, which means you paid for it). But when it came up in the debate, Romney said this:
“I don’t believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not. And I don’t believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care of not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives. And—and the—and the president’s statement of my policy is completely and totally wrong.”
See what he did there? Instead of answering the actual question of whether your boss should be able to take your coverage for contraception away, he answered a question nobody ever asked, which is whether the government should ban contraception, or whether your boss should be able to literally come to your doctor’s office during your appointment and grab the prescription for birth control pills out of your hand. In other words, Romney thinks your boss should be able to cancel your coverage for contraception, but he generously acknowledges that your boss shouldn’t actually tell you whether you can use contraception or not. You’re welcome, ladies.
Romney is doing something similar on abortion. On the one hand, he has said multiple times that he wants to see Roe v. Wade overturned and wants to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood; on the other he’s been claiming that he really has no abortion agenda at all; nothing to see here, everything will stay as it is (here’s an ad pitched at women, making the case for Mitt the Moderate on both issues). As Michelle Goldberg tells us, social conservatives haven’t said a peep about Romney’s new abortion moderation. Why? Because they know it’s just for show, and they know what really matters.
I’m sure there are more than a few voters who listen to Romney and say, “Well, he doesn’t seem like one of those radical pro-lifers, so I guess I’m OK with him.” But this is a helpful reminder that what’s in the president’s heart is of only minimal importance. The question “Is Mitt Romney really pro-life?” is all but meaningless, not only because it’s Mitt Romney we’re talking about, and when it comes to policy he has no “real” beliefs that exist outside of the pressures and incentives he has at a given moment. More importantly, when we elect a president we effectively elect an entire party, and the party Mitt Romney represents is the GOP circa 2012, a party more conservative than it has ever been before. There are 3,000 appointed positions in the federal government. Who’s going to fill these positions? Why, Republicans, of course. Who’s going to be running the Department of Health and Human Services? People who are committed to undermining the Affordable Care Act, because that’s what Republicans who work on health care policy believe. Who’s going to be running the Department of Labor? Representatives of business who are committed to destroying unions and reducing protections for workers, because that’s what Republicans who work on labor issues believe. Who’s going to be running the EPA? People who are committed to undermining environmental protections and making it easier for industry to pollute, because that’s what Republicans who work on environmental issues believe.
And if Stephen Breyer or Ruth Bader Ginsburg decides to retire in two years, would President Romney say, “Just find me the best candidate; I don’t really care if they may vote to uphold Roe v. Wade“? Hell no. He’ll do exactly what everyone on both sides expects, which is to locate the next Samuel Alito, someone who went to the best schools of course and has an admirable elite pedigree, but who also was nurtured within the conservative movement, someone who will make the right wing weep with joy. During his confirmation hearings this prospective justice will say solemnly that he shouldn’t comment on issues that might come before the Court, so he really can’t comment specifically on Roe, but rest assured that he’ll faithfully apply the Constitution and just call those balls and strikes, as John Roberts so memorably put it in his own hearings. Democrats will complain, most will vote against the nominee, but he’ll be confirmed. And within weeks, a dozen lawsuits will be filed with the intention of forcing the Court to revisit Roe. Those cases will fly up the judicial ladder with all deliberate speed, and the four conservatives on the Court and their new colleague will finally get the opportunity they’ve been waiting for. And that will be that.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, October 18, 2012
Mitt Romney’s entire presidential campaign is premised on the idea that—as a former businessman—he is best qualified to fix the economy. It went unnoticed, but while talking tax reform, President Obama pushed against that with an effective attack on the shaky numbers behind Romney’s tax plan:
Now, Governor Romney was a very successful investor. If somebody came to you, Governor, with a plan that said, here, I want to spend $7 or $8 trillion, and then we’re going to pay for it, but we can’t tell you until maybe after the election how we’re going to do it, you wouldn’t take such a sketchy deal and neither should you, the American people, because the math doesn’t add up.
Since then, “sketchy deal” has become something of a catchphrase for the president; to wit, in an Iowa speech yesterday, he used it to contrast Romney’s plan with “deals” of the past:
Romney still benefits from a presumption of competence, and Obama would be well-served by hammering on the essential vapidness of Romney’s economic plan. It’s not just that his tax promises don’t add up—even with a $25,000 limit on deductions, there’s not enough revenue raised to pay for an across-the-board cut and cuts to taxes on capital gains and investment income—but that his five point plan to create 12 million jobs does nothing of the sort.
The definitive debunking was done by The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, who found that Romney’s numbers just don’t add up. On his website, Romney’s economic advisors say that “History shows that a recovery rooted in policies contained in the Romney plan will create about 12 million jobs in the first term of a Romney presidency.” Team Romney even goes as far as to cite exact job-creation numbers for each plank of the plan: 3 million from Romney’s energy policies, 7 million from his tax policies, and 2 million from cracking down on China.
But as Kessler shows, the Romney campaign has little evidence for any of its claims. There’s no study showing that the Romney energy plan would create 3 million jobs—at most, there’s a Citigroup report that predicts that rate of job growth over the next eight years as a result of policies already adopted (and opposed by Romney). The 7 million jobs number? It comes from a ten-year estimate of what might happen with Romney’s policies. And the 2 million jobs claim comes from a 2011 International Trade Commission report which estimates gains if China stopped infringing on American intellectual property. The problem is that the study was highly contingent on last year’s job market, which was far worse than the current one.
Perhaps the most damning indictment of Romney’s claim is the simple fact that “12 million jobs” is the current projection for job growth over the next four years under the current policies. In essence, Romney’s promise is to take credit for the results of Obama’s policies if he’s elected president.
“Sketchy deal” is the right way to describe Romney’s offer to the American public. Rather than put forth a plan to deal with our short-term economic problems, he’s offered a grab bag of right-wing proposals that are indistinguishable from the disasterous policies of the Bush administration. He’s betting that better packaging is all it takes to sell the public the same bill of goods. And judging from the close polls, he might be right.
By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect,October 18, 2012