John Boehner’s laughably weak leadership as House Majority Leader surely must be seen as being partly to blame for the sequester — the Tea Party caucus in Congress clearly has a tight leash on the Speaker.
But at least Boehner tried for a “Grand Bargain” with President Obama in 2011, only to be reined in by Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan, according to a recent interview Cantor conducted with The New Yorker‘s Washington correspondent, Ryan Lizza. Cantor admitted that there was a final meeting with Boehner, Ryan and himself where Boehner wanted to accept the president’s $1.2 trillion offer, but was talked out of it by Cantor and Ryan.
“The reason why we said no in that meeting, ‘don’t do this deal,’ was because what that deal was, was basically going along with this sense that you had to increase taxes, you had to give on the question of middle-class tax cuts prior to the election,” said Cantor. “And you knew that they had said they weren’t giving in on health care.”
So basically, this was about the 2012 election. Cantor and Ryan wanted to let the voters decide on taxes and health care instead of preempting it with the Obama-Boehner Grand Bargain. Then in November, the American public overwhelmingly voted for President Obama and his balanced approach to deficit reduction and growing the economy through a mix of spending cuts, tax revenues and closing corporate loopholes — a result that has been confirmed in repeated polls. The American people also doubled down on Obamacare by re-electing the president.
Cantor concluded the interview with Lizza with this telling remark: “That’s why we said, ‘Let’s just get what we can now, abide by our commitment of dollar-for-dollar, and we’ll have it out, as the president said, on these two issues in the election”.
The failure of the Grand Bargain resulted in the Budget Control Act of 2011, which included the automatic budget sequestration.
So it is now clear that Cantor and Ryan killed the Grand Bargain, leading to the sequester and the onset of European-style austerity and possibly another recession, and their basis for that was their supreme confidence that they would win the election. What is unclear is why, after their ideas were thoroughly rejected, they are defying the will of the American people and a popular president by refusing to compromise.
Could it be that they wanted this all along? Here is what Ryan said after the law putting the sequester in place was passed in August, 2011:
“What conservatives like me have been fighting for, for years, are statutory caps on spending, legal caps in law that says government agencies cannot spend over a set amount of money. And if they breach that amount across the board, sequester comes in to cut that spending, and you can’t turn that off without a supermajority vote. We got that in law. That is here.”
By: Josh Marks, March 1, 2013, The National Memo
I don’t agree with my colleague Bob Woodward, who says the Obama administration is “moving the goalposts” when they insist on a sequester replacement that includes revenues. I remember talking to both members of the Obama administration and the Republican leadership in 2011, and everyone was perfectly clear that Democrats were going to pursue tax increases in any sequester replacement, and Republicans were going to oppose tax increases in any sequester replacement. What no one knew was who would win.
“Moving the goal posts” isn’t a concept that actually makes any sense in the context of replacing the sequester. The whole point of the policy was to buy time until someone, somehow, moved the goalposts such that the sequester could be replaced.
Think back to July 2011. The problem was simple. Republicans wouldn’t agree to raise the debt ceiling without trillions of dollars in deficit reduction. Democrats wouldn’t agree to trillions of dollars in deficit reduction if it didn’t include significant tax increases. Republicans wouldn’t agree to significant tax increases. The political system was at an impasse, and in a few short days, that impasse would create a global financial crisis.
The sequester was a punt. The point was to give both sides a face-saving way to raise the debt ceiling even though the tax issue was stopping them from agreeing to a deficit deal. The hope was that sometime between the day the sequester was signed into law (Aug. 2, 2011) and the day it was set to go into effect (Jan. 1, 2013), something would change.
There were two candidates to drive that change. The first and least likely was the supercommittee. If they came to a deal that both sides accepted, they could replace the sequester. They failed.
The second was the 2012 election. If Republicans won, then that would pretty much settle it: No tax increases. If President Obama won, then that, too, would pretty much settle it: The American people would’ve voted for the guy who wants to cut the deficit by increasing taxes.
The American people voted for the guy who wants to cut the deficit by increasing taxes.
In fact, they went even further than that. They also voted for a Senate that would cut the deficit by increasing taxes. And then they voted for a House that would cut the deficit by increasing taxes, though due to the quirks of congressional districts, they didn’t get one.
Here in DC, we can get a bit buried in Beltway minutia. The ongoing blame game over who concocted the sequester is an excellent example. But it’s worth remembering that the goalposts in American politics aren’t set in backroom deals between politicians. They’re set in elections. And in the 2012 election, the American people were very clear on where they wanted the goalposts moved to.
By: Ezra Klein, The Washington Post, February 23, 2013
“A Beginning, Not A Conclusion”: Showing Resolve, President Obama Pushes Republicans Toward Surrender
Watching his Republican adversaries in the House of Representatives tiptoe gingerly away from another destructive confrontation over the debt ceiling just before his second inaugural celebration, President Obama must feel a measure of satisfaction. Yet this is a beginning, not a conclusion. The hopes of the nation that re-elected him depend on whether he understands why he is winning – and how he can continue to prevail.
The formula for success was simple enough: He wouldn’t relinquish fundamental positions on taxes and spending. He stopped pretending that the old bipartisanship is currently possible on Capitol Hill. He refused to negotiate under threat from the Republicans. And he called their bluff on the fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling.
Adopting those firm positions, he persevered despite the usual deluge of complaint from commentators, politicians, editorial boards, and other Beltway sages, who predictably roasted him for behaving as if he meant what he said during last year’s campaign. Not surprisingly, however, the popular majority admires him and ignores his critics.
Of course, there is nothing new here: Americans prefer a political leader who displays a touch of grit, even if they don’t fully agree with that leader’s views or actions. Establishing a determined and principled persona is vital; compromise can come later.
Certainly Obama’s power has been enhanced by his election victory — a victory achieved by stiff resistance to the Republican agenda and willingness to fight back. Except for the second debate, when he reverted to old habits of vacillation and diffidence, the president showed steel during the campaign. And since Election Day, he has remained consistently decisive.
The rewards of steadfastness can be seen in the polls. Gallup shows a 7-point climb in his approval rating since last August, from 46 percent then to more than 53 percent last week. Rasmussen shows a climb of roughly 10 points during the same period, with a corresponding decline in disapproval. In the CNN/Time surveys, the president’s margin of approval has risen from 3 points last August to 12 points today. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll finds that 61 percent regard him as a “strong leader,” 58 percent agreed with his view of the debt ceiling – and 67 percent say that congressional Republicans haven’t done enough to compromise with him on important issues. In all these polls and others, the public voices an exceptionally low opinion of Congress — and especially of congressional Republicans.
The Republicans still mutter threats about the budget, but their slow-motion surrender resulted directly from a growing perception of Obama’s resolve. He should continue to stare them down, unblinking, unless and until they abandon the Tea Party tactics of obstruction and blackmail.
By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, January 19, 2013
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) didn’t seem especially thrilled with the bipartisan fiscal agreement negotiated by Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, but like nearly all of his colleagues, the South Carolina Republican grudgingly voted for it.
But once the fight was over, Graham quickly shifted his attention to the next looming crisis his party is eager to create, on everything from the debt ceiling to sequestration to funding the government itself.
[I]n early March would come another deadline: the $110 billion cut in spending, half from the Pentagon, delayed as part of this deal.
A month or so later — on March 27 — a short-term measure that funds government agencies will lapse. Without a renewal, the government will shut down, setting up another possible showdown.
“Round two’s coming,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). “And we’re going to have one hell of a contest about the direction and the vision of this country.”
I feel like I hear this from GOP lawmakers fairly regularly: they keep creating crises, on purpose, because they’re eager for an epic fight over “the direction and the vision of this country.” At a certain level, that’s understandable — in a democracy, these fights over the future can be healthy and necessary.
But what Graham and too many of his allies seem to forget is that we already had “one hell of a contest about the direction and the vision of this country.”
It was a little something called “the 2012 election cycle,” and though Graham may not have liked the results, his side lost.
Memories can be short in DC, but for at least a year, voters were told the 2012 election would be the most spectacularly important, history-changing, life-setting election any of us have ever seen. It was quite common for Republicans to argue publicly that the 2012 cycle would be the most critical for the United States since 1860 — the election before the Civil War.
Election Day 2012, in other words, was for all the marbles. It was the big one. The whole enchilada was on the line. The results would set the direction of the country for a generation, so it was time to pull out all the stops and fight like there’s no tomorrow — because for the losers, there probably wouldn’t be one.
And then President Obama won fairly easily, Senate Democrats defied expectations and expanded their majority, and House Democrats gained seats.
Two months later, we’re told what the nation really needs is “one hell of a contest about the direction and the vision of this country.”
Not to put too fine a point on this, Lindsey Graham seems to be missing the point of the democratic process. In this country, we have elections in which candidates present their ideas about the direction and the vision of this country, and the American people express a preference. Then, once that’s over, there’s an expectation that the fight over the direction and the vision of this country would end and governing would begin.
Graham, I’m afraid, is confused.
But wait, Republicans say, didn’t the electorate also elect a right-wing House majority? To a certain extent, yes, but in raw vote totals, Americans cast 1.362 million more votes for Democratic House candidates than GOP House candidates, which hardly points to a powerful Republican mandate.
We had an epic fight, and one side won. To pretend the election didn’t happen, and then say it’s time for another epic fight that disregards the will of American voters, is bad for the country — and for democracy.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 3, 2013
Did you know in medical circles there’s talk the NFL will only last another 15 years or so?
The medical evidence linking professional football’s furious, jarring hits to the head and brain injury is that strong and overwhelming. Later in life, it all catches up to a guy, who succumbs to being a shell of himself. For wives, it’s incredibly painful to witness their strong and mighty men become lost and weak, day by day, weeks giving way to months and years, relentlessly. Like a slow death march.
The NFL is so rich and powerful it’s hard to imagine that happening, isn’t it? With all the stadiums they made cities build for them, their dominance over network television schedules, their carefully cultivated rivalries, their gleaming Super Bowl half-time shows, their spiffy uniforms and grumpy coaches—how do we go on without all that? The NFL has so much control over American lives, aspirations, and social mixing that it is practically a shadow government.
The NFL has faced litigation over brain injuries and is bracing for many more lawsuits as its first generation of former players reach old age.
But some say a tipping point will emerge, a consensus that an entire swath of football players—past and present—will almost certainly deal with brain damage. And all the NFL’s lavish compensations will not be enough lucre to prod players to keep playing the game as it is now played: brutally. The whole sport is a gaming of war, after all. Organized violence is what we collectively come to see.
These experts think the NFL will be suddenly forced to switch to a game like soccer. I’d love to see that, but I can’t fathom the NFL buckling to sweet reason so soon. Football is so much part of the Americana male archetype. Soccer is so lightweight, literally.
Well, guess what. Political observers are saying the same thing about the walking-wounded Republican Party. They say the game it’s playing is moribund. The party Lincoln joined when it was young is foundering, according to the Washington pundits, not all of them Democratic observers. The 2012 election showed that the party has white men squarely on its side, but the electorate is not all white men anymore.
Meanwhile, the party lost the Latino vote, the black vote, and of course, the women’s vote after its visceral attack on reproductive rights. Who did they think would vote for their ticket other than well-off white men? The quintessentially privileged candidate, Mitt Romney, could not connect across class and lines of life experience. And he really was the best the party had. Think of how Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum—anyone else in the primary—would have been an international disgrace. They need new fresh faces.
The Republicans seem to be at a loss for new ideas as well. Cutting Medicare is as popular as a skunk about a garden party. They should have more garden parties and fewer skunks—do I need to name them? They are all there on camera every day, looking dour and angry that the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans are going to see their Bush-era tax cuts expire. Too bad!
The NFL and the GOP: what a plight. I feel so sorry for them. But let’s say it clear here. They deserve to have their game and party sink into the mud if they can’t freshen up.
By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, December 4, 2012