President Obama may have had troubles with the Healthcare.gov rollout, but he’s rolling out a replacement for departing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius nicely. Appointing Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who was confirmed last year to head the Office of Management and Budget 96-0, virtually insures he’ll get someone into Sebelius’ seat before midterm politics heat up.
That doesn’t mean the right won’t try to throw garbage at the centrist and well-respected Burwell. On PJ Tatler today they’re calling her “the person who shut down the veterans’ memorials,” because as OMB chief, she signed the memo telling agencies “to execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations” when Sen. Ted Cruz and the GOP shut down the government last year.
You’ll recall that Cruz and the right had the audacity to blame Obama and the Democrats for the shutdown, which backfired on them spectacularly. But not before Cruz, Sarah Palin and a Confederate-flag-waving moron challenged the closure of the World War II veterans’ memorial with a protest that moved to the White House, where Larry Klayman told President Obama “to put the Quran down … and come out figuratively with your hands up.” Good times.
So yeah, they’re going to try that whole thing again, but it’s not going to work. (An aside: this NBC News story calls Burwell “the woman who ordered the government shutdown,” which at the time probably seemed like a feature writer’s flourish to pull people into a dull story about the OMB director, but in hindsight didn’t accurately describe the way the mess unfolded.) Sen. John McCain immediately tweeted, “Sylvia Burwell is an excellent choice to be the next #HHS Secretary.” While righties are hoping that red state Democrats will turn on the woman who supposedly ordered the shutdown of veterans’ memorials, Sen. Joe Manchin praised Burwell’s appointment, too. (It probably helps that she’s from West Virginia.)
On the larger question of Sebelius’ legacy, we can only say that millions of people got health insurance, and millions more still need it. Ezra Klein trolled the right by declaring that it means “Obamacare has won,” which is pretty funny given that he helped lead the national freak-out over Healthcare.gov’s troubles back in October. Jonathan Cohn has a more balanced take in the New Republic. He acknowledges Sebelius’ management mistake in letting the federal exchange website’s troubles mount without letting the president know – there’s evidence she herself didn’t know – but he appropriately notes she’ll be remembered for the millions newly insured, particularly because she worked hard with Republican governors who bucked conservative constituencies to expand Medicaid.
Of course, confirming Burwell won’t mean the GOP stops trying to sabotage the Affordable Care Act. They had mostly stopped blaming Sebelius, because the new talking points say nobody could have made the law work, because by definition it can’t work. Having done everything in their power to insure it can’t work, which is literally costing American lives, they blame Obama for its shortcomings. However brilliant an HHS pick she may be, Sylvia Burwell can’t change that.
By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, April 11, 2014
Woo hoo, even.
It was a nick-of-time rescue, like when Polly Pureheart is whisked off the railroad tracks right before the train comes barreling through, or the correct wire is snipped and the bomb timer stops counting down with just seconds left.
Last week, hours before a historic default, Congress finally stopped playing chicken with the world’s largest economy and ended the government shutdown.
So . . . hurray, right?
Crisis averted, lessons learned, common sense restored. Everything’s good, is it not?
Well, no. Not even close.
Pardon the pooping of the party, but it’s hard to cheer the aversion of a crisis that:
A) Was entirely manufactured.
B) Will in all likelihood recur very soon.
This is what it has come to in Tea Party America: government of the crisis, by the crisis, for the crisis, government that lurches from emergency to emergency, accomplishing little, resolving less and generally behaving with all the thoughtful reflection of a toddler holding her breath until she gets her way.
Let no one claim this is no big deal because we’ve had shutdowns before. Let no one chirp that this is how things are supposed to work — checks and balances and all. Let none of us act as if it’s anything but bizarre to see a militant faction in one chamber of the legislature bring government to a halt because it doesn’t like a law.
Most of all, let us finally stop pretending this is only about that law, the Affordable Care Act, and the delusional claim that it will usher in socialism, communism and slavery, resurrect Vladimir Lenin and send Nazis marching down Pennsylvania Avenue.
No, this is about Obamascare, the terror of what some still regard as alien and their consequent refusal, even five years in, to accept the legitimacy of a president twice elected with nary a hanging chad in sight.
The only good news out of this 16-day debacle is that his refusal to kowtow to these bullyboy tactics suggests that the president does, indeed, have a spine, rumors to the contrary notwithstanding.
Repeat: That’s the only good news. Anyone expecting the even-better news that this closes the book on the Tea Party, given its abject failure to achieve its stated goal of defunding the Affordable Care Act, will be bitterly disappointed. These are true believers. True believers thrive on rejection.
Note that, even as other Republicans were sounding appropriately chastened, Tea Party activists were assailing the party for “surrender” and were disavowing regret. As the shutdown was going down in flames, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a Tea Party stalwart, told CNN, “Unfortunately, once again, it appears the Washington establishment is refusing to listen to the American people.”
This, as polls show the American people’s esteem for the GOP and the Tea Party at record lows and 62 percent of respondents were telling Gallup they wanted their representatives to compromise so the government could reopen. Gallup also tells us Americans now identify government dysfunction as this country’s biggest problem.
The disconnect between what Cruz says the people are saying and what they are actually saying should surprise no one. The defining characteristic of the Tea People has always been their ability to convince themselves reality is whatever they need it to be.
Reality, after all, is not the point. Ideological purity is.
So we will likely return to this crossroads, or one very much like it. Any hope of avoiding that rests with the dwindling population of adults in the GOP and their ability to make their party realize what should have long ago been obvious.
They can have purity or they can have power. They cannot have both.
By: Leonard Pitts, J., Featured Post, The National Memo, October 21, 2013
“The Vote To Free The Hostages”: Unreasonable Conservatism Remains A Majority Proposition In The House Republican Conference
It was a foregone conclusion that the bill to end the manufactured fiscal crisis would sail through Congress once Ted Cruz foreswore a filibuster and John Boehner abandoned the “Hastert Rule.” The actual votes were anticlimactic, but still interesting.
The eighteen Senate Republicans who voted against the bill were far short of what it would have taken to sustain a filibuster, obviously. But still, the “nays” included all three senators thought to be mulling a 2016 presidential campaign (Cruz, Paul and Rubio), plus one previously mainstream senator facing a right-bent primary challenge (Enzi).
The 285-144 House vote showed why abandonment of the Hastert Rule was necessary. Actually, the 87 Republican votes cast for the bill (as against 144 GOP “nays”) was higher than most people anticipated. But it showed that unreasonable conservatism remains a majority proposition in the House Republican Conference.
The only “yea” vote that surprised me was that of Rep. Tom Cotton of Arkansas. But I’m guessing he really, really wanted to get money fully flowing to the Pentagon. More predictably, all three House members from Georgia running for the Senate voted “nay,” as did the putative GOP Senate candidate from Louisiana, Bill Cassidy. Shelley Moore Capito, the likely GOP Senate nominee from WV, voted for the bill.
At TNR Nate Cohn has some interesting insta-analysis of the GOP vote patterns in the House, noting that it was a lot like the “fiscal cliff” vote in January.
The underlying divisions are similar to the fiscal cliff vote, as well. Last January, commentators marveled at the outlines of a GOP civil war, between north and south, tea party and establishment. Tonight, red state and Southern representatives voted overwhelmingly against the Senate compromise: 27-91 in the red states, 25-88 among Southern representatives. Republicans from the Northeast and Pacific voted “yes” by 30-16 margin; the blue states voted “yes,” 32-17.
Cohn also notes that House GOPers with distinctly less ideologically conservative voting records and those from very marginal districts voted overwhelmingly for the deal. But any way you slice it, the majority of the Conference voted to continue a government shutdown and a debt limit threat that were not working very well for the GOP or for the country.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 17, 2013
“No Country For Old Tea Partiers”: Conservatives Who Caused The Shutdown Must Make Peace With Themselves And Modern America
Fareed Zakaria has a very sharp op-ed in the Washington Post this week dissecting conservatism’s longtime “diet of despair” and how conservatism’s traditional rhetoric of “decay, despair and decline” has created an anti-American mentality among the set that very self-consciously claims to love the country more than everyone else.
But one section in particular crystalized something that has been nagging me over the last few weeks, especially when tea party conservatives denounce compromise and deal-making as if they are bad things, when the smug Ted Cruz goes on about waging a “multi-stage, extended battle” to change Washington or, as Zakaria notes, John Boehner utters with exasperation that “the federal government has spent more than what it has brought in in 55 of the last 60 years!”
Zakaria’s reply is spot on:
But what has been the result over these past 60 years? The United States has grown mightily, destroyed the Soviet Union, spread capitalism across the globe and lifted its citizens to astonishingly high standards of living and income. Over the past 60 years, America has built highways and universities, funded science and space research, and – along the way – ushered in the rise of the most productive and powerful private sector the world has ever known.
I asked half-kiddingly the other day why conservatives are trying to convince markets not to invest in the United States (“the markets should be terrified of a country that is trillions and trillions and trillions of dollars in debt,” according to Heritage Action’s Michael Needham, for example), but there’s as much truth as humor to the question.
As Zakaria puts it, the conservatives who spurred the recent government shutdown (and, let’s remember, voted against both reopening it and against the U.S. paying its bills) must make peace with modern America:
They are misty-eyed in their devotion to a distant republic of myth and memory yet passionate in their dislike of the messy, multiracial, quasi-capitalist democracy that has been around for half a century – a fifth of our country’s history. At some point, will they come to recognize that you cannot love America in theory and hate it in fact?
They may, but it won’t be soon. This is why less than a year after getting beaten soundly in last November’s elections, the conservative fringe shut down the government and threatened to force a national default as part of a quixotic, suicide-run quest to roll back a law it couldn’t stop using the ordinary legislative process. And it had the gall to claim the mantel of “the American people” as they did it.
Think about the animating faction of the GOP in the Obama era – a group conservative in the literal sense of being angry with and afraid of change. These are the people who would show up at Tea Party rallies toting signs about the need to “Take Back America.” For four years they were assured by the conservative entertainment complex that restoring the America they grew up in was a real possibility. The vertiginous changes remaking the land could be ascribed to Barack Obama, an illegitimate fluke of a president who won only because of a one-off surge of young and minority voters powered by excitement about his historic nature and vapid “hopey–changey” rhetoric. He was “Barack the Magic Negro,” in Rush Limbaugh’s formulation. He was, simultaneously, helpless without his teleprompter but also a radical instituting a nefarious plan to sap America of its God-given freedoms.
He was the problem; real America was the solution.
The 2012 elections shattered that illusion. Obama was only a symptom of changes in the country, not the cause. Inexorable demographics have relegated the Tea Party’s America to memory. So ask yourself, how are those voters likely to react? A warm embrace of the new America? Or, faced with an unacceptable reality, will they retrench in their fantasy and double down on crazy and angry?
We’ve seen an initial double-down. Its failure won’t stop more of the same – the question is whether the rest of the GOP will keep indulging the hardliners.
By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, October 18, 2013
The government is reopening, and we didn’t default on our debt. Happy days are here again, right?
Well, no. For one thing, Congress has only voted in a temporary fix, and we could find ourselves going through it all over again in a few months. You may say that Republicans would be crazy to provoke another confrontation. But they were crazy to provoke this one, so why assume that they’ve learned their lesson?
Beyond that, however, it’s important to recognize that the economic damage from obstruction and extortion didn’t start when the G.O.P. shut down the government. On the contrary, it has been an ongoing process, dating back to the Republican takeover of the House in 2010. And the damage is large: Unemployment in America would be far lower than it is if the House majority hadn’t done so much to undermine recovery.
A useful starting point for assessing the damage done is a widely cited report by the consulting firm Macroeconomic Advisers, which estimated that “crisis driven” fiscal policy — which has been the norm since 2010 — has subtracted about 1 percent off the U.S. growth rate for the past three years. This implies cumulative economic losses — the value of goods and services that America could and should have produced, but didn’t — of around $700 billion. The firm also estimated that unemployment is 1.4 percentage points higher than it would have been in the absence of political confrontation, enough to imply that the unemployment rate right now would be below 6 percent instead of above 7.
You don’t have to take these estimates as gospel. In fact, I have doubts about the report’s attempt to assess the effects of policy uncertainty, which relies on research that hasn’t held up very well under scrutiny.
Yet it would be a mistake to conclude that Macroeconomic Advisers overstated the case. The main driver of their estimates is the sharp fall since 2010 in discretionary spending as a share of G.D.P. — that is, in spending that, unlike spending on programs like Social Security and Medicare, must be approved by Congress each year. Since the biggest problem the U.S. economy faces is still inadequate overall demand, this fall in spending has depressed both growth and employment.
What’s more, the report doesn’t take into account the effect of other bad policies that are a more or less direct result of the Republican takeover in 2010. Two big bads stand out: letting payroll taxes rise, and sharply reducing aid to the unemployed even though there are still three times as many people looking for work as there are job openings. Both actions have reduced the purchasing power of American workers, weakening consumer demand and further reducing growth.
Putting it all together, it’s a good guess that those estimates of damage from political hostage-taking understate the true harm done. Elections have consequences, and one consequence of Republican victories in the 2010 midterms has been a still-weak economy when we could and should have been well on the way to full recovery.
But why have Republican demands so consistently had a depressing effect on the economy?
Part of the answer is that the party remains determined to wage top-down class warfare in an economy where such warfare is particularly destructive. Slashing benefits to the unemployed because you think they have it too easy is cruel even in normal times, but it has the side effect of destroying jobs when the economy is already depressed. Defending tax cuts for the wealthy while happily scrapping tax cuts for ordinary workers means redistributing money from people likely to spend it to people who are likely to sit on it.
We should also acknowledge the power of bad ideas. Back in 2011, triumphant Republicans eagerly adopted the concept, already popular in Europe, of “expansionary austerity” — the notion that cutting spending would actually boost the economy by increasing confidence. Experience since then has thoroughly refuted this concept: Across the advanced world, big spending cuts have been associated with deeper slumps. In fact, the International Monetary Fund eventually issued what amounted to a mea culpa, admitting that it greatly underestimated the harm that spending cuts inflict. As you may have noticed, however, today’s Republicans aren’t big on revising their views in the face of contrary evidence.
Are all the economy’s problems the G.O.P.’s fault? Of course not. President Obama didn’t take a strong enough stand against spending cuts, and the Federal Reserve could have done more to support growth. But most of the blame for the wrong turn we took on economic policy, nonetheless, rests with the extremists and extortionists controlling the House.
Things could have been even worse. This week, we managed to avoid driving off a cliff. But we’re still on the road to nowhere.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 17, 2013