“It’s Not Him, Republicans, It’s You”: Mitt Romney Isn’t Running, But His Specter Still Haunts The GOP
I’ll have to admit that I’m a bit surprised Mitt Romney decided not to run for president, given the man’s almost superhuman optimism and persistence. But according to various reports, the torrent of criticism Romney received when he made it clear he was considering a run had a real impact on his final decision, even though in his statement he talked about his faith in “one of our next generation of Republican leaders” (take that, Jeb!) to win back the White House.
The Republican consensus was obviously that Romney represented failure, and they need something different if they are to win in 2016. But maybe Mitt Romney isn’t the problem. It’s not him, Republicans. It’s you.
Nobody would ever claim Romney was anything like a perfect candidate. His background as a private equity titan was particularly fertile ground for Democratic attacks painting him as the representative of the economic elite, and he had a colorful way of reinforcing that impression again and again, particularly with the “47 percent” remark.
But I actually think that if he had decided to run, he would have had a better chance than anyone of getting the Republican nomination. Every GOP primary campaign for the last half-century has begun with an obvious front-runner, and every one of those early front-runners got the nomination. Romney would have been that front-runner, as reluctant as many in the party were about his candidacy. In recent GOP races, the winner hasn’t been the one who defeated his opponents, just the one who outlasted them, as one chucklehead after another became the flavor of the month and then self-immolated (remember when Herman Cain led the primary polls in 2012?). Romney could certainly have stuck around until the end.
But now the 2016 race is truly a free-for-all, with no obvious leader. And if the only lesson Republicans take from 2012 is not to nominate a CEO (sorry, Carly Fiorina), they’ll make the same mistakes all over again.
Consider that “47 percent” remark. It made for a vivid illustration of arguments Democrats were already making, but Mitt Romney was hardly the first Republican to say it. The basic idea underlying it had been repeated endlessly on conservative talk radio and by other Republican politicians for years. If it hadn’t been caught on tape, the attacks from Democrats would have been the same, and the outcome would have been the same. Another example: when Republicans exploded with joy after Barack Obama’s “you didn’t build that” remark, Romney didn’t have to convince them to make it a huge issue; they all thought it would be a silver bullet that would take the president down, and they were all flummoxed when it didn’t. They couldn’t imagine that voters wouldn’t punish Obama for an (alleged) criticism of business owners, because they forgot that most Americans work for somebody else.
The prevailing attitude in GOP circles is that Romney failed because he was the wrong messenger. Yet almost every contender is preparing to offer voters the same policy agenda that Romney did. They may be saying now that they’ll talk about wage stagnation and inequality, but when you ask them what they’re going to do about it, their answer is the same as it has always been: cut taxes and cut regulation. It’s going to be awfully hard to convince voters that they’ve had a real change of heart. And anyone who deviates from Republican orthodoxy is already finding themselves on the defensive (as Jeb Bush is for his less-than-total enthusiasm for deportations).
It isn’t surprising that the party’s diagnosis of what went wrong in the last couple of elections won’t extend to the policies they’re offering the public; those positions are rooted in sincere ideological beliefs, and changing them would be hard. But even without Mitt Romney in the race, it looks like Republicans are going to offer a program of Romneyism. They could find themselves facing voters at a time when the economy is doing well overall, and they’re particularly ill-suited to address the structural problems that keep people anxious — two strikes against them. A fresh face is unlikely to solve that problem.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, January 30, 2015
“He’ll Have Some Explaining To Do”: Another Republican Governor Has Accepted The Medicaid Expansion—And He Might Run For President
Indiana Governor Mike Pence announced Tuesday morning that the Obama administration had approved the state’s plan for accepting the Medicaid expansion. Starting February 1, 350,000 low-income Indianans will be enrolled in Healthy Indiana, the state’s Medicaid program. With the 2016 presidential cycle now underway, political analysts immediately are judging how Pence’s move affects his presidential odds.
The early consensus is that, if indeed Pence decides to run, this decision would cause him trouble in the GOP primary. But the issue poses a dilemma for the Republican Party more broadly, especially its hopes of recapturing the White House. As we saw during the midterms, the Medicaid expansion pits moderate Republicans versus conservatives, governors versus state legislators—and potentially undermines the party’s newfound interest in helping the poor and reducing inequality.
It’s up to governors to decide whether their state accepts the Medicaid expansion, and it’s hard to pass up. The federal government is offering states money to expand Medicaid so that people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line are eligible for the program. The federal government covers all of the costs from 2014 through 2016 and then that coverage amount phases down slowly to 90 percent by 2022. Governors also face aggressive lobbying from the hospital industry, which is eager to accept the billions of dollars that the federal government transfers to states that expand Medicaid. As a result, 10 states with Republican governors have accepted the expansion over the past few years, and two more, in Tennessee and Wyoming, are considering it.
But some Republican governors have toed the party line, including two likely 2016 candidates: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Texas Governor Rick Perry both rejected the expansion. Medicaid, after all, is part of Obamacare, which must be “repealed and replaced.” That’s one reason why most potential Republican candidates—especially those in Congress, like senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio—are opposed to the expansion.
This makes for an interesting rift in the Republican primary.
If Pence runs for president, he’ll have some explaining to do. He would likely argue that he pushed Medicaid in a much more conservative direction through a waiver from the federal government that allows Indiana to require enrollees to contribute a monthly premium to a health savings account, a typical conservative health care idea. He would also likely appeal to his evangelical base by saying that Medicaid expansion is the compassionate thing to do. But he wouldn’t be alone in defending his decision: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie accepted the expansion, too. Not known to sidestep an issue or stay on the defensive, Christie could attack the other governors for not taking advantage of the program and hurting their poor constituents, and he might accuse Cruz et al of not understanding how governing works.
The general election is a different story altogether, which brings us to the GOP’s desire to appeal to lower-class voters.
Over the past few weeks, Republicans have begun emphasizing income inequality and stagnant wages. These are important issues, but the GOP’s economic platform still consists largely of deregulation, spending cuts, and lower taxes. That won’t appeal to the poor, particularly compared to the Democratic proposals of free community college and middle-class tax breaks.
That’s where the Medicaid expansion comes in. Denouncing it as Obamacare may work with the Republican primary electorate, but it won’t work in the general election. We saw as much in the midterms, when new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell twisted himself into knots balancing his commitment to repealing Obamacare and promising not to alter the state’s health care exchange and expanded Medicaid program (both of which, of course, were the result of Obamacare). Granted, McConnell won reelection easily, but it does show how the expansion can be a political liability for Republican candidates.
If Christie or Pence emerge from the crowded field, it won’t be a problem. They can tout the expansion as evidence of their committment to fighting inequality. But the opposite is true for the rest of the field. For them, the expansion will be an even bigger liability if income inequality isn’t just Republicans’ flavor of the month, but a major part of their 2016 platform.
By: Danny Vinik, The New Republic, January 27, 2015
American politics are dominated by those with money. As such, America’s tax debate is dominated by voices that insist the rich are unduly persecuted by high taxes and that low-income folks are living the high life. Indeed, a new survey by the Pew Research Center recently found that the most financially secure Americans believe “poor people today have it easy.”
The rich are certainly entitled to their own opinions — but, as the old saying goes, nobody is entitled to their own facts. With that in mind, here’s a set of tax facts that’s worth considering: Middle- and low-income Americans are facing far higher state and local tax rates than the wealthy. In all, a comprehensive analysis by the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy finds that the poorest 20 percent of households pay on average more than twice the effective state and local tax rate (10.9 percent) as the richest 1 percent of taxpayers (5.4 percent).
ITEP researchers say the incongruity derives from state and local governments’ reliance on sales, excise and property taxes rather than on more progressively structured income taxes that increase rates on higher earnings. They argue that the tax disconnect is helping create the largest wealth gap between the rich and middle class in American history.
“In recent years, multiple studies have revealed the growing chasm between the wealthy and everyone else,” Matt Gardner, executive director of ITEP, said. “Upside-down state tax systems didn’t cause the growing income divide, but they certainly exacerbate the problem. State policymakers shouldn’t wring their hands or ignore the problem. They should thoroughly explore and enact tax reform policies that will make their tax systems fairer.”
The 10 states with the largest gap between tax rates on the rich and poor are a politically and geographically diverse group — from traditional Republican bastions such as Texas and Arizona to Democratic strongholds such as Illinois and Washington.
The latter state, reports ITEP, is the most regressive of all. Four years after billionaire moguls such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer funded a campaign to defeat an income tax ballot measure, Washington now makes low-income families pay seven times the effective tax rate that the rich pay. That’s right, those in the poorest 20 percent of Washington households pay on average 16.8 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while Washington’s 1-percenters pay just 2.4 percent of their income. Like many of the other regressive tax states, Washington imposes no personal income tax all.
“The problem with our state tax systems is that we are asking far more of those who can afford the least,” concludes ITEM’s state director Wiehe.
By contrast, the states identified as having the smallest gap in effective tax rates are California, Delaware, Minnesota, Oregon and Vermont — all Democratic strongholds and all relying more heavily on progressively structured income taxes. Montana is the only Republican-leaning state ITEP researchers identify among the states with the least regressive tax rates.
Of course, if you aren’t poor, you may be reading this and thinking that these trends have no real-world impact on your life. But think again: In September, Standard & Poor’s released a study showing that increasing economic inequality hurts economic growth and subsequently reduces public revenue. As important, the report found that the correlation between high inequality and low economic growth was highest in states that relied most heavily on regressive levies such as sales taxes.
In other words, regressive state and local tax policies don’t just harm the poor — they end up harming entire economies. So if altruism doesn’t prompt you to care about unfair tax rates and economic inequality, then it seems self-interest should.
By: David Sirota, Senior Writer at The International Business Times; The National Meno, January 23, 2015
“GOP Response; The Breadbags Of Empathy”: From Tiny Booties Made From Hostess Twinkie Wrappers To Bidding For Plutocrats
Imagine going to the doctor and saying, “My back is killing me. I can barely move. What can you do to help me? Should we do an X-ray? Physical therapy? Medication?” And the doctor responds, “Yeah, I hurt my back once. It was awful. So I know exactly what you’re feeling. Anyway, thanks for coming in—just see the receptionist on the way out to pay your bill.”
That’s not too far off from what we heard from Senator Joni Ernst in the GOP response to the State of the Union address last night. I’m particularly interested in this part:
As a young girl, I plowed the fields of our family farm. I worked construction with my dad. To save for college, I worked the morning biscuit line at Hardees.
We were raised to live simply, not to waste. It was a lesson my mother taught me every rainy morning.
You see, growing up, I had only one good pair of shoes. So on rainy school days, my mom would slip plastic bread bags over them to keep them dry.
But I was never embarrassed. Because the school bus would be filled with rows and rows of young Iowans with bread bags slipped over their feet.
Our parents may not have had much, but they worked hard for what they did have.
These days though, many families feel like they’re working harder and harder, with less and less to show for it.
Because America is still the home of the world’s most creative and inspiring strivers, within minutes people were not only posting pictures of themselves with bread bags on their feet to Twitter, some even crafted shoes out of bread to photograph. But what, precisely, is the point of the bread bag story supposed to be?
The point is affinity, saying to ordinary people, in Christine O’Donnell’s immortal words, “I’m you.” I understand your struggles and fears, because I’ve experienced them. I don’t need to walk a mile in your shoes to feel your pain, because I’ve already done it, though mine were covered in bread bags. At a time like this, Ernst’s ability to tell stories about her hardscrabble roots is no doubt one of the big reasons Republican leaders chose her to deliver their response.
There’s a second part of this message that no Republican is going to lay out too explicitly, and Ernst certainly doesn’t, which is that because I’m just like you, when it comes time to make decisions about the policies that will affect you, I will have your interests at heart.
But there’s a problem with that, because despite the years she spent trudging through the snow in her bread bag feet, Joni Ernst’s beliefs about economics are no different from Mitt Romney’s, Jeb Bush’s, or those of any other Republican whose childhood feet were shod in loafers hand crafted from the finest Siberian tiger leather. There’s almost perfect unanimity within the GOP on economic issues, an agreement that the minimum wage should not be raised, that taxes on the wealthy are onerous and oppressive and should be reduced, that regulations on corporations should be loosened, and that government programs designed to help those of modest means only serve to make them indolent and slothful, their hands so atrophied that bootstrap-pulling becomes all but impossible.
But now that both parties agree that they must address economic inequality and stagnant wages, you really need to follow up the tale of long-ago hard times with some specifics about what you want to do now. And this is where things break down. When Ernst got to laying out the GOP economic agenda, here’s what she offered: First, the Keystone XL pipeline, which as an economic stimulus is a joke. For whatever combination of reasons—the fact that environmentalists hate it is the most important—Republicans have locked themselves into arguing that a project that will create at most a few thousand temporary jobs is the most important thing we can do to boost the American economy. Second, Ernst said, “Let’s tear down trade barriers in places like Europe and the Pacific.” Kind of vague there, but nobody likes trade barriers. She didn’t elaborate, however. And finally, “Let’s simplify America’s outdated and loophole-ridden tax code.” Which, again, nobody disagrees with in the abstract, but I doubt there are too many struggling families saying that their biggest problem is that the tax code is riddled with loopholes.
So that isn’t much of a program. But she did close by saying that America is “the greatest nation the world has ever known.” And it’s inspiring that someone like Joni Ernst can start life in the most modest of circumstances, fitted as a baby with tiny booties made from Hostess Twinkie wrappers, then graduate to bread bags as she learned to castrate hogs (they do help keep the blood off your one good pair of shoes), and eventually grow up to do the bidding of the nation’s noblest plutocrats. It shows what’s possible in this great country of ours.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, January 21, 2015