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“Mitch McConnell’s 47 Percent Moment”: There For Millionaires And Billionaires, They Know They Can Count On Mitch

A year ago, President Obama convulsed the White House Correspondents Dinner when he responded to complaints that he wasn’t meeting enough with the Republican leaders in the Congress: “Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?’ they ask. Really?” Obama asked the audience incredulously. “Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?”

The Kentucky senator, continuously partisan and mean spirited in public, earned the jab by leading a record number of filibusters as Senate minority leader during Obama’s tenure, forcing more than a quarter of all cloture votes in the history of the Senate since the beginning of the Republic.

Now, many political bookies, however prematurely, have made Republicans favorites to win the Senate majority. What will McConnell do if he must go from opposition to governing? Last week, the Nation Magazine, which I edit, along with Lauren Windsor of the Undercurrent, released an audiotape of McConnell’s revealing remarks to a private June strategy session of deep-pocket Republican billionaire donors, convened by the Koch brothers.

Introduced by the general counsel of Koch Industries, McConnell begins by paying tribute to his patrons, thanking the Koch brothers personally “for the important work you’re doing. I don’t know where we’d be without you . . . rallying, uh, to the cause.”

So what is the cause? Putting Americans to work? Rebuilding the middle class? Unleashing free market answers to catastrophic climate change?

No, McConnell can’t seem to get himself to address a positive agenda. He envisions only more obstruction. If he is majority leader, he promises, “we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage . . . extending unemployment . . . the student loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse.”

With Republican majorities, McConnell tells the fat cats, “We own the budget. So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. And . . . we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or do that”

So what parts of government would McConnell starve of funds? Although many Republicans are campaigning as faux populists against crony capitalism, McConnell doesn’t suggest that he’ll cut subsidies to Big Oil or the lard-filled budgets of the Pentagon. No, McConnell pledges to his millionaire funders “We’re going to go after them on health care, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board [inaudible].”

For all his posturing about Obama’s dictatorial usurpations, McConnell reassures the millionaires that “we now have, I think, the most free and open system we’ve had in modern times.” Why? Because in the Citizens United decision, the conservatives on the Supreme Court overturned established precedents to give corporations the right to spend unlimited funds in elections. This is a victory for “open discourse,” McConnell argues, making clear just how he expects the corporations to make their opinions known:

“The Supreme Court allowed all of you to participate in the process in a variety of different ways. You can give to the candidate of your choice. You can give to Americans for Prosperity, or something else, a variety of different ways to push back against the party of government.” (Americans for Prosperity is the right-wing Koch funded political vehicle that has been called the “third-largest political party in the United States.”)

For McConnell, the court’s decision to unleash corporate contributions helped heal the pain from what he described as the “worst day of my political life.” Not the 9/11 terrorist bombings or the disastrous vote to invade Iraq. No, according to McConnell, the worst day of his political life was when a Republican congress passed and George W. Bush signed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms, that put some limits of big money in our politics.

Mitch McConnell is surely a man for these times. Big money dominates our politics and corrupts our politicians (including, most recently, McConnell’s campaign manager, who resigned because of his possible involvement in bribing an Iowa state legislator to change his support from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul in the 2012 Iowa Republican presidential primary). Legislators like McConnell openly serve “the private sector,” currying their donations while serving their interests.

As Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said while campaigning for Alison Lundergan Grimes, McConnell’s underdog challenger: “Mitch McConnell is there for millionaires and billionaires. He is not there for people who are working hard playing by the rules and trying to build a future for themselves.”

Voters aren’t stupid. Given his views and his record, it is not surprising that McConnell is one of the most vulnerable of Republican incumbents, with Grimes running only a few points behind him. Nor is it surprising that more than $100 million may end up being spent on the race, making it one the most expensive contests in Senate history. Millionaires know they can count on McConnell.

McConnell ended his talk by repeating the Republican mantra against taxes and regulation, arguing, “If we want to get the country going again, we need to quit doing what we’ve been doing. Was it Einstein that [sic] said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result?” Let’s hope the voters of Kentucky come to the same conclusion about reelecting a senator who represents donors far better than voters.

 

By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 3, 2014

September 5, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Mitch Mc Connell, Plutocrats | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Evolution Of Rand Paul”: Pandering To GOP Mega Donors

A week ago today, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal condemning “interventionists,” who are quick to use military force abroad “with little thought to the consequences.” Over the course of his 900-word piece, the Republican senator was dismissive of the “hawkish members of my own party.”

“A more realistic foreign policy would recognize that there are evil people and tyrannical regimes in this world, but also that America cannot police or solve every problem across the globe,” Paul wrote. “Only after recognizing the practical limits of our foreign policy can we pursue policies that are in the best interest of the U.S.”

But a few days later, the Republican senator attended the annual summit of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers’ main political operation, where Rand Paul took a very different line.

Speaking to a ballroom later, some of the loudest applause for Paul came when he quipped: “If the president has no strategy, maybe it’s time for a new president.”

In an emailed comment, however, Paul elaborated by saying: “If I were President, I would call a joint session of Congress. I would lay out the reasoning of why ISIS is a threat to our national security and seek congressional authorization to destroy ISIS militarily.”

Wait, what?

On Wednesday, Paul said he had no use for “interventionists” and the “hawkish members” of his own party who are calling for using force in the Middle East. But just 48 hours later, Paul supports U.S. military intervention abroad to destroy ISIS?

Also keep in mind, less than a month ago, Paul was asked about U.S. airstrikes targeting ISIS targets in Iraq. The senator said he had “mixed feelings” about the offensive. Apparently, those feelings are no longer mixed and Paul is now eager to “destroy ISIS militarily” – says the senator who complained last week about Hillary Clinton being a “war hawk.”

At what point do Rand Paul’s loyal followers start to reconsider whether Rand Paul actually agrees with them?

Sarah Smith recently noted that the Kentucky senator has changed his mind about federal aid to Israel, use of domestic drones, immigration, elements of the Civil Rights Act, Guantanamo Bay, and even accepting donations from lawmakers who voted for TARP.

Now, even the basic elements of his approach to using military force are up for grabs.

I suppose a Paul defender might take heart by assuming the senator doesn’t actually believe these new policy positions; he’s just saying these things to bolster support from centers of power within the Republican Party in advance of a presidential campaign. His genuine beliefs, the argument goes, are the ones he espoused before he started pandering to GOP mega donors.

But if that is the argument, it’s cold comfort. For one thing, once a politician replaces his fundamental beliefs with a more palatable worldview, it’s hard to know which version is the “real” one. For another, the “don’t worry, he’s lying” defense just never seems to resonate with a broad spectrum of voters.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 3, 2014

September 4, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Middle East, Rand Paul | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Promise Of So Much Money”: For 2016 GOP Candidates, Does Courting The Kochs Bring More Risk Than Reward?

While most Americans were settling in for a long weekend, many of the potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates — Rick Perry, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Mike Pence — went to Dallas for a convention of Americans for Prosperity, the group through which Charles and David Koch channel much of their political money. If any of the politicians were wary about how it looks to have so many people who want to be the leader of the free world kissing the Kochs’ rings, you couldn’t tell. They’re making a strategic calculation that whatever PR risks are inherent in getting too close to the Kochs, they’re outweighed by the money the brothers bring to the GOP’s table. And if the Kochs plan to intervene in the 2016 primaries — something no one seems sure they’ll do — then every Republican candidate wants to be the one on the receiving end of that fire hose of cash.

At the moment, Republicans couldn’t be happier about the Kochs’ support, because the sums they mobilize are staggering. The Koch network (which includes other like-minded benefactors) spent at least $400 million in 2012 and are expect to drop another $300 million in this year’s midterms. The law of ever-increasing campaign spending suggests that in 2016 they’ll spend even more. It would be a surprise if the total didn’t top a half billion dollars.

So far, the Democrats’ efforts to make voters see the Kochs as a pair of villains have met with only limited success. One poll taken in March found 37 percent of people with an opinion about the Kochs (25 percent negative, 12 percent positive). On the other hand, it might be enough if many voters had only the vaguest sense of who the Kochs are and what they stand for. If people hear the name and say, “Aren’t they those billionaire Republican guys? I don’t quite remember,” then that would make Democrats happy. As Greg has explained before, while Democrats certainly want voters to think of their opponents as heartless robber barons, the strategy is more complex than that; it’s also about establishing a context for attacks on Republican positions on economic issues. When you go after Republicans for not supporting an increase in the minimum wage, an association with billionaire oil magnates tells voters why Republicans believe what they do and why their interests are opposed to those of ordinary people.

Republicans will tell you that it’s foolhardy of Democrats to try to make an issue out of the Kochs’ sway over the GOP, mostly because voters don’t particularly care about the influence of money in politics. But even if the attacks had some effect, it would have to be clear and unambiguous before Republican contenders started shying away from the Kochs and all that money.

I’d be extremely surprised if the Kochs actually chose to back a single candidate in the 2016 primary; not only does that risk alienating whoever wins if it’s not the one they picked, it could also turn them into just one faction in a factional conflict. Even if the brothers aren’t toeing the GOP line on some issues (such as immigration or foreign interventionism), they benefit from having everyone on the right view them as a friend to all Republicans. At the same time, it’s in the Kochs’ interest to have all the candidates believe they might back a primary candidate. That way, those candidates will continue to cater to their concerns and maybe even make some promises about actions that could be taken once a Republican is in the White House.

But the closer we get to the 2016 general election, the more problematic it will be for the eventual nominee to be seen as too close to the Kochs. Democrats aren’t going to stop going after them, and if the Republican candidate himself isn’t a plutocrat (none of the contenders this time around approach Mitt Romney’s level of wealth), the next best thing is to say that he’s in a plutocrat’s pocket. So there will be many more Democratic ads with the brothers’ pictures, and many more Democratic speeches tying that eventual nominee to the oil barons from Kansas.

The longer that goes on, the higher the chances that being seen as too close to the Kochs poses a political risk for Republican presidential candidates. But for the moment, they don’t seem too concerned, especially when gaining the Kochs’ favor comes with the promise of so much money.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, September 1, 2014

September 2, 2014 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Koch Brothers | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Tea Party Is Abandoning Paul Ryan”: It’s No Longer A Matter Of ‘If’ The Full Movement Will Turn On Him, It’s When

When Mitt Romney chose Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate in the 2012 presidential election, the tea party was ecstatic. “It’s a big step toward what the tea party has been trying to accomplish,” Matt Kibbe, the president and CEO of FreedomWorks, said at the time. “It gives people a reason to be more enthusiastic about the Republican ticket.” But just two years later, Kibbe and his fellow tea party activists are singing a different tune: Ryan has betrayed the movement.

The first significant break between Ryan and the tea party came at the beginning of this year, when he collaborated with Senator Patty Murray, the Democratic chair of the Senate Budget Committee, on a budget that avoided another government shutdown. That deal replaced $65 billion of the sequester over the next two years by requiring federal workers to contribute more to their pensions, implementing new fees on airline tickets, and cutting spending a decade from now. While the deal actually reduced the deficit by $20 billion in total, the far right was furious. “It is disappointing to see Chairman Ryan forget lessons learned this past spring, when House Republicans united to win reasonable spending limits in the face of President Obama’s hysterical predictions that even modest cuts would harm our nation,” said Tim Phillips, the president of American for Prosperity. Erik Erickson, of Red State, wrote “Bend over America, here it comes.”

If Ryan hoped to recover any good will with his famous budgetthe one he releases each year as head of the House Budget Committeethose hopes were quickly dashed. Sarah Palin called it “a joke” and other tea party leaders criticized it for insufficiently cutting spending. Those comments are tough to square with the previous praise tea party leaders have heaped on Ryan. The “Path to Prosperity” is one of the main reasons that they were thrilled with Romney’s selection of Ryan as his running mate, and the 2014 Ryan Budget is just as conservative as in the past. (Only in this version and the FY 2014 one was Ryan able to balance the budget in ten years.)

Things have only grown worse since then. In July, Ryan confirmed their suspicions when he announced a new deficit-neutral antipoverty program. In doing so, he effectively disowned his budget, which proposes huge cuts to programs for low-income Americans. Tea party groups have yet to weigh in on Ryan’s proposal, but it’s hard to see how they’d approve. If the spending cuts in Ryan’s 2015 budget were too small, then his antipoverty agenda, which doesn’t cut welfare spending at all, won’t be acceptable.

This past week, Ryan has hit the media circuit to publicize his new memoir, The Way Forward, in which he puts more distance between himself and the tea party. He has eschewed the phrase “makers and takers” and even rejected his previous analogy of the social safety net as a “hammock” that “lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.” Ryan’s repudiation of these phrases will be seen as yet another dismissal of the tea party worldview.

The final straw may have been his description of the government shutdown. In The Way Forward, Ryan calls that political strategy a “suicide mission.” As Sam Stein and Arthur Delaney write in the Huffington Post, Ryan’s account whitewashes his actual role in the shutdown. He was more supportive of it than he admits. But the message is clear: The tea party’s strategy hurt the Republican Party and should not be repeated. This has not gone over well on the right. In Politico Magazine, Scottie Nell Hughes, the news director of the Tea Party News Network, writes, “[W]e of the grassroots GOP are in no mood to hear that our push for defunding Obamacare and using the debt ceiling to force President Obama to curb reckless spending had all the wisdom of a Japanese kamikaze.”

“If Paul Ryan does not have enough tact to forgo insulting the conservatives within his own party,” she added, “then I have serious doubts he has the wisdom and judgment needed to lead the GOP to victory in 2016.”

Ryan’s fall from grace on the right is emblematic of his transition from ideologue to practical policymaker. In the process, Ryan has received a better reception on the left. At The Week, writer Ryan Cooper called it a “marked improvement from his previous efforts.” But this transformation is not without its costs: Ryan is no longer the tea party golden boy.

“I’m very disappointed in Paul Ryan,” Judson Phillips, the founder of the Tea Party Nation, writes in an email. “He has a raging case of Potomac Fever and his only goal now seems to be embracing John Boehner’s freshly laundered white flag of surrender.”

Ryan has not yet alienated his more conservative colleagues in Congress. And many activists, particularly those less attentive to the daily happenings in Washington, may not have even noticed his betrayal. But repeatedly this year, Ryan’s actions have made it clear that he is distancing himself from the tea party. It’s no longer a matter of if the full movement will turn on him. It’s a matter of when.

 

By: Danny Vinik, The New Republic, August 21, 2014

August 24, 2014 Posted by | Paul Ryan, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Far From The First Time”: Karl Rove Still Can’t Find An Actual Obamacare Victim

Politics is a constantly changing business, but there are still a few things you can count on in every election cycle: like Karl Rove’s dark money group, Crossroads GPS, blowing its donors’ money on misleading, ineffective attack ads.

Since President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010, its opponents have spent over $400 million on television ads attacking it, with Crossroads leading the way. But despite Republicans’ repeated assertions that Obamacare would be the issue that causes Americans to rise up against Democrats and throw them out of office, the torrent of attack ads has actually done little to sway public opinion against the law. In fact, according to a Brookings Institution study, anti-Obamacare ads may have actually increased ACA enrollments by raising awareness about the law and its benefits.

But still, conservative outside spenders are determined to take their anti-health care message directly to the voters. The latest example is a new ad from Crossroads GPS, in which a Colorado woman named Richelle McKim laments that Senator “Mark Udall’s vote for Obamacare has hurt families in Colorado.”

McKim recounts her husband’s decision to start a new business, saying “We knew we needed to find health care. Because we were a single-income family, we couldn’t afford our plan.” Text then flashes across the screen, letting viewers know that “Richelle had to go back to work.”

It seems like a perfect case to make to the suburban women who are likely to decide Senator Udall’s tight re-election battle against Republican congressman Cory Gardner.

It also happens to be totally false.

As Denver television station KDVR reports, McKim has worked constantly over the past six years; from July 2008 through May 2010, she worked from home as the office manager for her husband’s company (which, evidently, wasn’t founded as a response to Obamacare). Since then, she has worked for Anadarko Petroleum and Noble Energy — which have donated $57,550 and $36,000 to Gardner’s campaign, respectively.

By McKim’s own admission, Obamacare didn’t actually drive her back into the workforce, as the ad claims.

“It wasn’t the Affordable Care Act,” she told KDVR. “It was just a financial burden, having a single income for so long.”

And, for good measure, McKim’s husband used to forgo health insurance because he suffers from high blood pressure — a pre-existing condition that made his insurance more expensive until the ACA became law.

This is far from the first time that Obamacare opponents have been forced to stretch the truth, flatly lie, or just give up and use paid actors to tell a scare story. Indeed, it begs the question: If the Affordable Care Act is really such a disastrous boondoggle, why couldn’t Crossroads — or the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity, or even House Republican Conference chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers — find an actual victim?

In this case, the fact that Obamacare has helped cut Colorado’s uninsured rate by 6 percent might have something to do with it.

 

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, August 8, 2014

August 9, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Karl Rove, Obamacare | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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