There was an exchange yesterday between Fox News’ Chris Wallace and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that was hard to watch, but nevertheless illustrative of a larger point.
WALLACE: You know that if we go into the sequester the president is going to hammer Republicans. The White House has already put out a list of all the things, terrible things that will happen if a sequester kicks in: 70,000 children losing Head Start, 2,100 fewer food inspectors, small business will lose $900 million in loan guarantees. And, you know, Senator, the president is going to say your party is forcing this to protect tax cuts for the wealthy.
GRAHAM: Well, all I can say is the Commander-In-Chief thought — came up with the idea of sequestration, destroying the military and putting a lot of good programs at risk. Here’s my belief: let’s take “Obamacare” and put it on the table…. If you want to look at ways to find $1.2 trillion in savings over the next decade, let’s look at “Obamacare”. Let’s don’t destroy the military and just cut blindly across the board.
Now, the first point is obviously ridiculous. Republicans are heavily invested in the idea that automatic sequestration cuts were something President Obama “came up with,” but reality shows otherwise. It’s trivia anyway — what matters is resolving the threat, not imagining who created it — but what Graham chooses to overlook is every relevant detail: the sequester was part of the ransom paid to the Republican Party when it took the nation’s full faith and credit hostage for the first time in American history. GOP leaders, at time, bragged that this policy was their idea, not Obama’s.
If Graham doesn’t like the sequester — and he clearly seems to agree that it’s a serious problem — he can support scrapping the policy or coming up with a bipartisan alternative. For now, he’s opposed to both of those options, making his whining yesterday rather unpersuasive.
But Graham turning his focus to the Affordable Care Act serves as a reminder of just how unserious he is about public policy.
Let’s be clear about what the South Carolinian is saying here. About $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts are set to kick in, doing real harm to the economy, the military, and the country overall. Lawmakers could cancel or delay the policy, though Republicans aren’t interested in either of these options, or they can come up with a bipartisan alternative that replaces the sequester with something else.
With 11 days to go, Lindsey Graham’s contribution to the discussion, in effect, is, “I know! Let’s take health care benefits away from millions of Americans!”
It’s worth noting that even the most reflexive partisans should realize their anti-”Obamacare” preoccupation is quickly becoming laughable. Republican governors are implementing the law; House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) recently conceded the Affordable Care Act is “the law of the land“; public support for repeal is evaporating; and when folks like Orrin Hatch and Michele Bachmann unveil repeal bills, even most GOP lawmakers ignore them.
Graham, in other words, really needs to get over it.
But more important from a substantive perspective is that the South Carolina Republican still doesn’t understand the basics of the fiscal debate. The point of looking for a sequester alternative is to find a new policy on debt-reduction. If policymakers scrapped the Affordable Care Act, it would make the debt worse, not better.
In other words, Graham thinks Washington can produce smaller deficits by producing larger deficits. That doesn’t make any sense.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 18, 2013
“The Ignorance Caucus”: Republicans Are Unable To Apply Critical Thinking And Evidence To Policy Questions
Last week Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, gave what his office told us would be a major policy speech. And we should be grateful for the heads-up about the speech’s majorness. Otherwise, a read of the speech might have suggested that he was offering nothing more than a meager, warmed-over selection of stale ideas.
To be sure, Mr. Cantor tried to sound interested in serious policy discussion. But he didn’t succeed — and that was no accident. For these days his party dislikes the whole idea of applying critical thinking and evidence to policy questions. And no, that’s not a caricature: Last year the Texas G.O.P. explicitly condemned efforts to teach “critical thinking skills,” because, it said, such efforts “have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”
And such is the influence of what we might call the ignorance caucus that even when giving a speech intended to demonstrate his openness to new ideas, Mr. Cantor felt obliged to give that caucus a shout-out, calling for a complete end to federal funding of social science research. Because it’s surely a waste of money seeking to understand the society we’re trying to change.
Want other examples of the ignorance caucus at work? Start with health care, an area in which Mr. Cantor tried not to sound anti-intellectual; he lavished praise on medical research just before attacking federal support for social science. (By the way, how much money are we talking about? Well, the entire National Science Foundation budget for social and economic sciences amounts to a whopping 0.01 percent of the budget deficit.)
But Mr. Cantor’s support for medical research is curiously limited. He’s all for developing new treatments, but he and his colleagues have adamantly opposed “comparative effectiveness research,” which seeks to determine how well such treatments work.
What they fear, of course, is that the people running Medicare and other government programs might use the results of such research to determine what they’re willing to pay for. Instead, they want to turn Medicare into a voucher system and let individuals make decisions about treatment. But even if you think that’s a good idea (it isn’t), how are individuals supposed to make good medical choices if we ensure that they have no idea what health benefits, if any, to expect from their choices?
Still, the desire to perpetuate ignorance on matters medical is nothing compared with the desire to kill climate research, where Mr. Cantor’s colleagues — particularly, as it happens, in his home state of Virginia — have engaged in furious witch hunts against scientists who find evidence they don’t like. True, the state has finally agreed to study the growing risk of coastal flooding; Norfolk is among the American cities most vulnerable to climate change. But Republicans in the State Legislature have specifically prohibited the use of the words “sea-level rise.”
And there are many other examples, like the way House Republicans tried to suppress a Congressional Research Service report casting doubt on claims about the magical growth effects of tax cuts for the wealthy.
Do actions like this have important effects? Well, consider the agonized discussions of gun policy that followed the Newtown massacre. It would be helpful to these discussions if we had a good grasp of the facts about firearms and violence. But we don’t, because back in the 1990s conservative politicians, acting on behalf of the National Rifle Association, bullied federal agencies into ceasing just about all research into the issue. Willful ignorance matters.
O.K., at this point the conventions of punditry call for saying something to demonstrate my evenhandedness, something along the lines of “Democrats do it too.” But while Democrats, being human, often read evidence selectively and choose to believe things that make them comfortable, there really isn’t anything equivalent to Republicans’ active hostility to collecting evidence in the first place.
The truth is that America’s partisan divide runs much deeper than even pessimists are usually willing to admit; the parties aren’t just divided on values and policy views, they’re divided over epistemology. One side believes, at least in principle, in letting its policy views be shaped by facts; the other believes in suppressing the facts if they contradict its fixed beliefs.
In her parting shot on leaving the State Department, Hillary Clinton said of her Republican critics, “They just will not live in an evidence-based world.” She was referring specifically to the Benghazi controversy, but her point applies much more generally. And for all the talk of reforming and reinventing the G.O.P., the ignorance caucus retains a firm grip on the party’s heart and mind.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 10, 2013
There’s a lot of chatter this morning about the forceful speech Governor Bobby Jindal has delivered to the Republican National Committee on the future of the GOP — partly because he’s a possible contender for 2016, and partly because the GOP’s “soul searching” about the way forward continues.
The speech was directed towards conservatives (the Washington Examiner called it “dynamic”), assuring listeners that Jindal won’t compromise conservative values: “I am not one of those who believe we should moderate, equivocate, or otherwise abandon our principles.”
It also positioned Jindal as a reform-minded outsider: “Washington has spent a generation trying to bribe our citizens and extort our states,” Jindal said. “As Republicans, it’s time to quit arguing around the edges of that corrupt system.”
But there’s just little in the way of “reform” here — after all, he has no interest in actually moderating the party’s conservatism. This highlights a larger problem: There aren’t any real “reformers” in the GOP.
Jindal himself embodies the same right-wing policies that sank Mitt Romney and damaged the GOP’s appeal to middle and working-class Americans. Under Jindal, for instance, Louisiana has made deep cuts to public services, slashing millions in spending from education and health care. Jindal has proposed a tax regime that goes far beyond the Ryan plan in its regressiveness. The Louisiana governor wants to abolish corporate and income taxes in his state, providing a huge windfall for wealthy, entrenched interests — corporate and income taxes account for more than half of Louisiana’s annual revenue.
The only other way to make up for this lost revenue is to raise sales taxes, which fall hardest on poor and working-class Americans, who consume a larger share of their income than their higher-income counterparts. For Louisiana to close the revenue hole, explains the Tax Policy Center, it will have to more than double its sales taxes, from the current joint (state and local) rate of 8.86 percent to a far higher 17.72 percent. And if the state wants to maintain its sales tax exemptions on groceries and other necessities, it will have to raise that number even higher. “For households that don’t pay income taxes and save little or no income,” writes the Tax Policy Center, “this amounts to close to a 4 percentage point drop in after-tax income.”
The fact of the matter is there are no real reformers among the leadership class of the Republican Party. Not Bobby Jindal. Not Marco Rubio (who, despite his feints in the direction of immigration reform, is hewing to the NRA line on guns). And not Paul Ryan (who will soon be submitting a budget that supposedly wipes away the deficit in 10 years, with no new revenues, which would require savage and deep cuts to government programs that help the poor and elderly). At most, these leaders offer a whitewash: Underneath all the new rhetoric of change and inclusiveness lurk the same unpopular policies and priorities skewed in favor of the rich and against the middle class and poor.
By: Jamelle Bouie, The Washington Post Plum Line, January 25, 2013
If President Obama honestly wants to negotiate an agreement with Republicans before the year-end fiscal deadline, he must be deeply frustrated. And if he doesn’t really want to negotiate with them, then he should be delighted, for the same reason: Their latest “offer” laid before him by House Speaker John Boehner demonstrates again their refusal to reveal their true intentions — and their inability to do simple arithmetic.
Consider their treatment of Medicare, the popular social insurance program for seniors that Republicans have always despised. They have just emerged from a long national campaign in which they repeatedly and falsely claimed to “protect” Medicare from the president — whom they accused of wanting to slash $716 billion from the program — but now they complain that he won’t cut it enough. The Obama cuts were mythical, but the Boehner budget proposal includes at least $600 billion in Medicare and Medicaid reductions.
Worse still, the Republicans propose to perform this crude surgery on Medicare without the slightest explanation of where they would cut. Washington rumors suggest that they would achieve some of those cuts over the next 10 years by raising the eligibility age by two years to 67 and by increasing premiums for more affluent beneficiaries.
As Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities pointed out on Tuesday, however, those changes would not begin to achieve the savings required by the Boehner proposal.
The same problem undermines the other aspects of Boehner’s proposal, which includes $600 billion in additional unspecified cuts. Either their arithmetic doesn’t work — or, as Greenstein worries, they mean to inflict severe cuts in health and other services that would harm elderly and poor Americans, but want to conceal those consequences from the public.
Yet there is an even deeper problem with Boehner’s arithmetic. The Republicans are fighting to extend all the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest two percent along with everyone else — but their alternative proposals are utterly inadequate to compensate for the $1.3 trillion in revenues lost by continuing those cuts for the rich. To “offer” $800 billion in new “revenues” obtained by eliminating deductions rather than raising rates simply doesn’t work, as a matter of basic math. It isn’t nearly enough money.
If Republican leaders cannot do the arithmetic, then it is impossible to negotiate with them. If they can do the arithmetic but insist on falsifying the answers, then it is both unwise and impossible to negotiate with them.
Unless and until the Republicans start talking about real numbers that can actually add up, there is nothing to be gained from pretending to negotiate. Nor should the president start negotiating with himself, as he has sometimes done in the past. Instead, he ought to make sure that the opposition understands what will happen when they fail to act responsibly. After January 1, he will bring them an offer they cannot refuse, to restore cuts for the 98 percent — and they will be held accountable for any consequences caused in the meantime by their stalling.
By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, December 5, 2012