Suppose they threw a class war and nobody came?
The Republican Party is up in arms this week in response to President Obama’s proposal to help close the deficit by requiring the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share of taxes. Specifically, the president has proposed the “Buffett Rule,” named for billionaire Warren Buffett, which would ensure that millionaires pay as fair a share in income tax as do all working Americans. In response, GOP budget guru Rep. Paul Ryan resurrected one of his party’s favorite talking points, calling the proposal “class warfare.” Others have been following his rhetorical lead. In last night’s GOP debate in Florida, Mitt Romney asserted that “the president’s party wants to take from some people and give to others” and Newt Gingrich insisted that people on unemployment insurance are getting paid “for doing nothing.” Republican leaders seem to be preparing for an all-out assault from low-and-middle income Americans whom they bizarrely believe are intent on stealing their cash.
The Republicans’ “class warfare” accusation is both ironic and cynical.
It’s ironic because, in the midst of the current economic and jobs crisis, where a huge number of Americans are desperately hurting — with homes underwater, with unemployment insurance running out and health insurance gone, with kids in over-crowded classrooms in buildings that are decaying — the rich are getting richer and large corporations are sitting on record profits. Income inequality in the U.S. is at its highest since the precarious days of the late 1920s. One third of Americans who were raised in middle class households can fall out of the middle class as adults. A political elite beholden to the wealthiest CEOs has pursued policies that take money out of the pockets of the neediest to create ever-larger tax breaks for the wealthy. The richest one percent of Americans now earn almost a quarter of the country’s income and control 40 percent of its wealth — a level of inequality not seen since the days before Social Security and Medicare and the social safety net as we know it. If there is “warfare” going on between the “haves” and the “have nots” it’s pretty clear who is waging war on whom.
Even more, this claim of “class warfare” that Republicans are touting is something quite dangerous. It’s an expression of a deeply cynical vision of our country, in which everyone is out for themselves, the suffering of the least fortunate is of no consequence to the most fortunate, and the American dream is off-limits to those who have lost their footing in a devastating economy. Fortunately, this is a vision that most people wholeheartedly reject. The task of our elected officials is to stop assuming the worst about their constituents’ insensitivity to the plight of their fellow Americans, to stop trying to pit us against each other and to start working toward an economic policy that works for everyone. Struggling Americans don’t want to take the American dream away from those who have achieved it and successful Americans don’t want to see their fellow citizens slip into permanent poverty.
The “class warfare” Republicans decry is all in the heads — and the destructive policies — of a small number of political leaders. While all but a few Republicans in Congress have signed a pledge to never raise taxes on corporations or the wealthy, the majority of Americans are much more pragmatic. According to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, a whopping 71 percent of Americans — including 86 percent of moderates and 74 percent of independents — think that any plan to reduce the deficit should include both spending cuts and tax increases. 56 percent, including large majorities of moderates and independents said that wealthier Americans should pitch in and pay higher taxes to help reduce the deficit. A Gallup poll this week found that 53 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaners support the president’s plan to eliminate corporate tax loopholes (a major element of the alleged “class warfare”), and majorities of GOP respondents supported spending that extra revenue on hiring public employees, funding public works projects and cutting payroll taxes on small businesses.
The Republicans’ invocation of “class warfare” is a political ploy that the vast majority of Americans want no part of. Warren Buffett is not alone.
By: Michael B. Keegan, Huffington Post, September 23, 2011
Whatever their differences, the leading Republican candidates all swear that they love states’ rights. If elected president, Rick Perry vows to “try to make Washington as inconsequential as I can.” Mitt Romney declares his faith in the Constitution, which, he says, declares that the government “that would deal primarily with citizens at the local level would be local and state government, not the federal government.” Michele Bachmann “respect[s] the rights of states to come up with their own answers and their own solutions to compete with one another.” With lots of help from the Tea Party, the Tenth Amendment which, not so long ago was familiar mainly to constitutional lawyers and scholars, may now be as popular as the First or the Second. But, what this resurgence of federalism overlooks is not just the historical consolidation of federal power but also the inanity of attempts to reverse it.
For most of U.S. history, the primacy of federalism was taken for granted. Except during major wars, states exerted far more power over the daily lives of their residents than did any of the three branches of a national government located in a swampy river city on the Mid-Atlantic seaboard that most Americans had never visited. In the nineteenth century, as the historian Gary Gerstle explains, states funded canals, highways, and railroads. They decided which groups could vote and which could not. Some tried to regulate working hours. Others outlawed a variety of private acts—interracial marriage, drinking, and theater-going. In 1837, Illinois even forbade “playing at ball or flying of kites” as public nuisances.
All these policies fell under the legal sanction of “the police power,” which one influential Massachusetts judge in 1851 defined broadly as insuring the “good and welfare of the Commonwealth.” For its part, the Supreme Court, until after World War I, rather consistently ruled that the celebrated protections of the Bill of Rights—from the freedom of speech and the press to the right to a speedy trial—applied only to acts by the federal government and not to those of the states.
But, by the middle of the twentieth century, this arrangement no longer served the needs or desires of most Americans. During the Great Depression, state revenues, based mainly on property taxes, plummeted. The federal government stepped in to provide relief, and citizens everywhere began to count on Washington to keep the economy afloat and their Social Security checks arriving promptly. Then World War II and the cold war bound Americans to a national-security state that financed education for veterans and interstate highways as well as aircraft carriers and nuclear weapons. In the 1960s and ’70s, Congress passed laws to safeguard the civil and voting rights of every citizen, regardless of where he or she might live. Policies to protect the environment and regulate hazards at the workplace further diminished the sway of state governments. The Supreme Court, even with a conservative majority, has done little to reverse these changes.
Yet, states’ rights never lost its appeal to that minority of Americans who are ideologically committed to lambasting the federal state as both overweening and ineffective. (It should come as no surprise that these conservatives were so alarmed at the emergency measures taken by the Bush and Obama administrations to address the financial meltdown of 2008: the formation and rapid growth of the Tea Party was the predictable result.) However, any Republican elected to the White House in 2012 will find it impossible to lead a headlong charge back to the past, and not just because of the difficulty of undoing a half-century of tradition and Supreme Court precedent.
Voters unhappy with the inability of the federal government to restore prosperity may like the sound of “states’ rights.” But how many would trust their governors and state legislators to pay their Medicare and Social Security checks on time and at current or higher levels? How many really want 50 separate immigration policies or 50 different standards for what constitutes clean air and clean water? Or the possibility that state, seeking to lure business away from its neighbors, could cut the minimum wage in half and not requiring employers to pay for overtime?
When you look more broadly at their promises, the GOP hopefuls reveal the emptiness of their own rhetoric. Bachmann, never a paragon of consistency, supports a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, as well as the right of individual states to legalize it. In 2007, before Romney got in trouble for his Massachusetts health care law, he predicted, “that all these states … who follow the path that we pursued will find it’s the best path, and we’ll end up with a nation that’s taken a mandate approach.” Rick Perry favors federal action to stop gay marriage and restrict abortion—and, last month, asked President Obama to speed up aid to stop wildfires from burning up whole sections of his vast state. Like a lot of other Americans, these ambitious conservatives like to rail against Washington in the abstract but cannot imagine how the nation would operate without a strong central government. And the specifics of their smaller hypocrisies are underscored by one giant irony: They’re all running for president.
The U.S. has long ceased to be a country in which most people look to their state instead of to the national government to address and solve their most vital problems. State pride is pretty rare these days, except for residents and alumni who dress in the old-school colors and root hard for a college football or basketball team from a major public university.
Of course, state governments still perform a vital role in education and economic development and can still be “laboratories of democracy,” sites for testing out new policies that aren’t yet ready for national consumption. Progressives who cheered when New York legalized gay marriage and look forward to the day when Vermont begins operating the single-payer health care system it passed this spring can hardly object, at least in principle, when red states pass laws they abhor. But, as an alternative philosophy of governance in a modern nation, states’ rights is very wrong. In fact, it’s ridiculous.
By: Michael Kazin, The New Republic, September 20, 2011
We heard plenty of contradictions, distortions and untruths at the Republican candidates’ Tea Party debate, but we heard shockingly little compassion — and almost no acknowledgement that political and economic policy choices have a moral dimension.
The lowest point of the evening — and perhaps of the political season — came when moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul a hypothetical question about a young man who elects not to purchase health insurance. The man has a medical crisis, goes into a coma and needs expensive care. “Who pays?” Blitzer asked.
“That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks,” Paul answered. “This whole idea that you have to prepare and take care of everybody. . . .”
Blitzer interrupted: “But Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?”
There were enthusiastic shouts of “Yeah!” from the crowd. You’d think one of the other candidates might jump in with a word about Christian kindness. Not a peep.
Paul, a physician, went on to say that, no, the hypothetical comatose man should not be allowed to die. But in Paul’s vision of America, “our neighbors, our friends, our churches” would choose to assume the man’s care — with government bearing no responsibility and playing no role.
Blitzer turned to Michele Bachmann, whose popularity with evangelical Christian voters stems, at least in part, from her own professed born-again faith. Asked what she would do about the man in the coma, Bachmann ignored the question and launched into a canned explanation of why she wants to repeal President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told the Pharisees that God commands us to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” There is no asterisk making this obligation null and void if circumstances require its fulfillment via government.
Bachmann knows a lot about compassion. She makes much of the fact that she and her husband took in 23 foster children over the years. But what of the orphaned or troubled children who are not lucky enough to find a wealthy family to take them in? What of the boys and girls who have stable homes but do not regularly see a doctor because their parents lack health insurance?
Government can reach them. But according to today’s Republican dogma, it must not.
Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Bachmann, Paul and the others onstage in Tampa all had the same prescription for the economy: Cut spending, cut taxes and let the wealth that results trickle down to the less fortunate.
They betrayed no empathy for, or even curiosity about, the Americans who depend on the spending that would be cut. They had no kind words — in fact, no words at all — for teachers, firefighters and police officers who will lose their jobs unless cash-strapped state and local government receive federal aid. Public servants, the GOP candidates imply, don’t hold “real” jobs. I wonder: Do Republicans even consider them “real” people?
Government is more than a machine for collecting and spending money, more than an instrument of war, a book of laws or a shield to guarantee and protect individual rights. Government is also an expression of our collective values and aspirations. There’s a reason the Constitution begins “We the people . . .” rather than “We the unconnected individuals who couldn’t care less about one another . . . .”
I believe the Republican candidates’ pinched, crabby view of government’s nature and role is immoral. I believe the fact that poverty has risen sharply over the past decade — as shown by new census data — while the richest Americans have seen their incomes soar is unacceptable. I believe that writing off whole classes of citizens — the long-term unemployed whose skills are becoming out of date, thousands of former offenders who have paid their debt to society, millions of low-income youth ill-served by inadequate schools — is unconscionable.
Perry, who is leading in the polls, wants to make the federal government “inconsequential.” He thinks Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme” and a “monstrous lie.” He doesn’t much like Medicare, either.
But there was a fascinating moment in the debate when Perry defended Texas legislation that allows children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state universities. “We were clearly sending a message to young people, regardless of what the sound of their last name is, that we believe in you,” Perry said.
The other candidates bashed him with anti-immigrant rhetoric until the evening’s only glimmer of moral responsibility was snuffed out.
By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 15, 2011
The Republican presidential debate in Tampa, Fla., co-hosted by CNN and the Tea Party Express, was feisty and provocative, with many of the candidates relying once again on bogus “facts” that we have previously identified as faulty or misleading.
The debate marked a remarkable shift in tone by Texas Gov. Rick Perry on the issue of Social Security, barely five days after he labeled the venerable old-age program “a Ponzi scheme” doomed to fail. This week, he said it was a “slam dunk guaranteed” for people already on it.
Last week, we explained why the Ponzi scheme label was not true — and also provided readers with a primer on Social Security for those who want to learn more. In Monday night’s debate, Perry and former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney tangled over the issue again, and Romney had better command of the facts, as far as the two men’s books were concerned.
“The real issue is that in writing his book Governor Perry pointed out that, in his view, that Social Security is unconstitutional, that this is not something the federal government ought to be involved in, that instead it should be given back to the states … . Governor Perry, you’ve got to quote me correctly. You said ‘it’s criminal.’ What I said was Congress taking money out of the Social Security Trust Fund is like criminal, and that is, and it’s wrong.”
— Mitt Romney
Romney gets points for correctly quoting both Perry’s book, “Fed Up,” and his own book, “No Apology.” On page 58, Perry labels Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and even unemployment insurance as “unnecessary, unconstitutional programs.” While promoting his book last year on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Perry went further, suggesting Social Security should be dismantled and simply become a state responsibility.
“Get it back to the states. Why is the federal government even in the pension program or the health-care delivery program?” Perry said on Nov. 5, 2010. He said that ending the federal government’s role in Social Security would be “one of the ways this federal government can get out of our business.”
(Perry also added: “I wouldn’t have written that book if I wanted to run for presidency of the United States. … I have no interest in going to Washington.”)
Romney’s book, by contrast, contains mostly a sober description of various ways to fix the long-term funding problems of Social Security, with the exception of the suggestion that members of Congress are doing something criminal with Social Security funding (page 158). People can differ, but we think comparing Social Security (a government retirement and disability insurance program) to a trust fund managed by a bank is an inappropriate analogy.
“We know that President Obama stole over $500 billion out of Medicare to switch it over to Obamacare.”
— Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.)
“He cut Medicare by $500 billion. This, the Democrat president, the liberal, so to speak, cut Medicare — not Republicans, the Democrat.”
Bachmann in particular loves to make this claim, but we have repeatedly explained why it just isn’t correct.
Under Obama’s health-care law, Medicare spending continues to go up year after year. The law tries to identify ways to save money, and so the $500 billion figure comes from the difference over 10 years between anticipated Medicare spending (what is known as “the baseline”) and the changes the law makes to reduce spending.
The savings actually are wrung from health-care providers, not Medicare beneficiaries. These spending reductions presumably would be a good thing, since virtually everyone agrees that Medicare spending is out of control.
In fact, in the House Republican budget this year, lawmakers repealed the Obama health-care law but retained all but $10 billion of the nearly $500 billion in Medicare savings, suggesting the actual policies enacted to achieve these spending reductions were not that objectionable to GOP lawmakers. So it is misleading for Romney to say that Republicans did not make these cuts.
For a more detailed explanation, please see our longer examination of this subject in June, when we gave Bachmann two Pinocchios for making this claim at the first GOP debate.
“Let me say I helped balance the budget for four straight years, so this is not a theory”
— Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.)
Gingrich at least indicates there was a president — Bill Clinton — when the nation briefly began to run budget surpluses. And certainly the Republican Congress led by Gingrich prodded Clinton to move to the right and embrace such conservative notions as a balanced budget.
But the budget was balanced in part because of a gusher of tax revenues from Clinton’s 1993 deficit-reduction package, which raised taxes on the wealthy and which Gingrich vehemently opposed. The budget was also balanced because the Democratic White House and Republican Congress were in absolute legislative stalemate, so neither side could implement grand plans to increase spending or cut taxes.
Gingrich is wrong to suggest there were four years of balanced budgets when he was speaker. He left in January 1999; the budget ran a surplus in the fiscal years 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001. So he can at best claim two years.
During the surplus years, moreover, the gross debt (including bonds issued to Social Security and Medicare) rose by $400 billion. Gross debt is the figure that conservatives tend to use. During Gingrich’s time as speaker, the public debt was essentially flat and the gross debt rose $700 billion.
Obama “had $800 billion worth of stimulus in the first round of stimulus. It created zero jobs.”
Perry is wrong. The surplus created jobs; it also saved jobs. But there has not been a net gain in jobs because so many jobs were lost early in Obama’s presidency. Since the stimulus bill was signed, the number of overall jobs in the United has declined by about 1.9 million.
Economists differ on the effectiveness of the stimulus, but most say it has at least some effect (ie, created at least some jobs.) A recent review of nine different studies on the stimulus bill found that six studies concluded the stimulus had “a significant, positive effect on employment and growth,” and three said the effect was “either quite small or impossible to detect.”
“I was one of the only people in Washington that said: Do not raise the debt ceiling. Don’t give the president of the United States another $2.4 trillion blank check. You’ve got to draw the line in the sand somewhere and say: No more out-of-control spending.”
Ever hear of a “blank check” with a number attached to it? In any case, Congress has already committed to spend much of this money, under budgets passed in previous years. Lifting the debt ceiling merely means that the Treasury now has the authority to make good on bills that are coming due.
“We have cut taxes by $14 billion, 65 different pieces of legislation.”
That’s one side of the ledger. We are not sure if Perry’s figure is correct but as Politifact Texas has documented, he has also raised taxes repeatedly, including on cigarettes, to make up revenue for cuts in local property taxes.
“What we saw with all of the $700 billion bailout is that the Federal Reserve opened its discount window and was making loans to private American businesses, and not only that, they were making loans to foreign governments. This cannot be.”
Bachmann is significantly overstating the case. Bloomberg News, which filed the Freedom of Information Act request that resulted in the disclosure of the Fed loans to foreign banks (some of which had had some government ownership), noted: “The Monetary Control Act of 1980 says that a U.S. branch or agency of a foreign bank that maintains reserves at a Fed bank may receive discount-window credit.” All of the loans were paid back, according to Fed officials.
“And I happen to think that what we were trying to do was to clearly send the message that we’re going to give moms and dads the opportunity to make that decision with parental opt-out. Parental rights are very important in the state of Texas. We do it on a long list of vaccines that are made.”
Perry skated close to the edge of the truth here as he tried to defend his controversial order to require the vaccine that is said to prevent cervical cancer. As Politifact Texas reported in 2010, Perry “ordered the Department of State Health Services to allow parents dissenting for philosophical or religious reasons from all immunizations — not just this one — to request a conscientious objection affidavit form.”
Just 0.28 percent of students filed such forms, which must be updated every two years to remain viable — and not all private schools accept the form. So as many as 15 percent of girls did not have the possibility of opting out of the requirement to receive the vaccine if they wanted to continue in their schools.
While Romney denied Bachmann’s charge that there was a connection between his order and a $5,000 campaign donation, Texas media reported that Perry’s chief of staff held a meeting on the vaccine plan on the same day the donation was received. Perry’s aides said the timing was a coincidence.
“This is the election that’s going to decide if we have socialized medicine in this country or not. This is it. Why? I just have to say this. It’s because President Obama embedded $105,464,000,000 in Obamacare in postdated checks to implement this bill.”
It’s wrong to say the health-care law — which builds on the existing private system — will result in socialized medicine, but apparently some people will never be convinced.
But Bachmann’s assertion of $105 billion “embedded” in the health-care law is another bogus claim for which she has previously earned four Pinocchios. We looked closely at her assertion in March and concluded that her charge that this money was “hidden” does not have credibility. The money for these programs was clearly described and analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office before the legislation was voted into law. And since then, the Obama administration has issued a new release every time it spent some of the funds.
By: Glenn Kessler, The Fact Checker, The Washington Post, September 13, 2011