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“Battle Lines Drawn On Retirement Age”: There Will Be Some Big Political Arguments About Social Security

If New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) hoped to start a broader discussion on entitlements, it worked. The Republican governor delivered a speech a week ago announcing his support for major “reforms” to social-insurance programs, including a call to raise the retirement age to 69.

Within a few days, many of his national GOP rivals were on board with roughly the same idea: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are all now on record in support of raising the retirement age.

But in an interesting twist, some Republicans have been equally eager to take the opposite side. Take former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), for example:

“I don’t know why Republicans want to insult Americans by pretending they don’t understand what their Social Security program and Medicare program is,” Huckabee said in response to a question about Christie’s proposal to gradually raise the retirement age and implement a means test.

Huckabee said his response to such proposals is “not just no, it’s you-know-what no.”

Even Donald Trump, who’s apparently flirting with the possibility of a campaign, rejected the idea during a Fox News interview yesterday. “They’re attacking Social Security – the Republicans – they’re attacking Medicare and Medicaid, but they’re not saying how to make the country rich again,” the television personality said. He added, in reference to GOP plans, “Even Tea Party people don’t like it.”

And then, of course, there’s the likely Democratic nominee these Republicans hope to take on next year.

Alex Seitz-Wald reported yesterday on Hillary Clinton’s campaign swing through New Hampshire, where she gladly chided Republicans over Social Security.

She chastised Republicans – though not by name – as “just wrong” for wanting to change the retirement program. “What do we do to make sure it is there? We don’t mess with it, and we do not pretend that it is a luxury – because it is not a luxury. It is a necessity for the majority of people who draw from Social Security,” she said. […]

“[M]y only question to everybody who thinks we can privatize Social Security or undermine it in some way – and what is going to happen to all these people, like you, who worked 27 years at this other company? What’s going to happen? It’s just wrong.”

Clinton has not yet said whether she’s prepared to expand Social Security benefits – a key progressive priority – but it’s nevertheless clear that when it comes to seniors’ social-insurance programs, the battle lines are taking shape.

“I think there will be some big political arguments about Social Security,” Clinton said yesterday. I think she’s right.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 21, 2015

April 22, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates, Social Security | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Corrupting Influence On Politics”: Will Influence Of Big Money Be A Big Issue In 2016?

For many years, Democrats have wanted more restrictive campaign finance rules, while Republicans have wanted to loosen restrictions. But it’s likely that the 2016 campaign will feature more outside money than ever before, as millionaires and billionaires take advantage of an almost-anything-goes environment to buy themselves candidates and shift the race in their favored direction. The Koch brothers alone plan to spend nearly a billion dollars (with the help of some friends) on the election.

Nevertheless, the consensus on the campaign finance issue has long been that while voters are generally in favor of reform, it isn’t a motivating issue for many of them. They care more about the economy or health care or foreign policy, and while they might shake their head at the influence of money in politics, in the end the issue won’t make much of a difference in the campaign’s outcome.

But is it possible that 2016 will be the year it finally does? Matea Gold has a piece in today’s paper arguing that it might:

At almost the same time last week that a Florida mailman was landing a gyrocopter in front of the U.S. Capitol to protest the influence of the wealthy on politics, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was getting pressed about the same topic at a town hall meeting in Londonderry, N.H.

“I think what is corrupting in this potentially is we don’t know where the money is coming from,” Christie (R) told Valerie Roman of Windham, N.H.

The two moments, occurring 466 miles apart, crystallized how money in politics is unexpectedly a rising issue in the 2016 campaign.

Hillary Rodham Clinton announced last week that one of the top planks of her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination will be reforming a “dysfunctional” campaign finance system. And several of her GOP rivals — quizzed by voters in town hall meetings — have begun lodging their own criticisms of how big-money interests dominate politics.

It’s the last part that’s really a surprise. Republicans have usually put the emphasis on maximal liberty, arguing that restrictions on contributions and outside spending infringe upon the First Amendment. Democrats counter that a liberty that’s available only to the super-wealthy isn’t much of a liberty at all, and all this money, particularly when it’s so hard to know where it comes from, inevitably has a corrupting influence on politics. But now even Republicans seem to be saying things have gone too far.

Of course, it’s easy to just shake your head and say, “Yeah, it’s gotten really bad,” before you head off to your next fundraiser or meeting with Sheldon Adelson. And that’s how lots of candidates have handled the issue in the past: some general words of agreement or a vaguely worded position that doesn’t lock them in to doing much of anything about the problem.

But even if most voters don’t put campaign finance at the top of their priority list, there’s an opening for a candidate who can connect disgust over the political situation in Washington (which has become almost universal) with displeasure over the funding of campaigns to devise a broad reform agenda.

There are already ideas out there. For instance, Rep. John Sarbanes has a bill that would provide refundable tax credits for political contributions and give significant matching funds for small-dollar contributions in an attempt to amplify the voices of ordinary people who can only give a limited amount. That might not put the billionaires out of the politics business, but a candidate could use that idea or something like it to demonstrate his or her commitment to specific policy change, as opposed to just saying they wish the system were cleaner.

Clinton could be that candidate — though she hasn’t yet said anything specific about what she would change. But a Republican could as well. For the last couple of decades, presidential candidates have been saying they’ll change Washington by bringing Democrats and Republicans together to transcend partisanship, something no one believes anymore. But if (nearly) everyone thinks there’s too much money in the system and too much of it is unaccountable, there’s a political opportunity here. Will any candidate seize it?

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, April 20, 2015

April 21, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP’s Weird Social Security Gambit”: If That’s Christie’s Lead Issue, It Doesn’t Say A Lot For His Political Instincts

Now I know we don’t really care about Chris Christie and he’s less popular in New Jersey these days than air pollution in Elizabeth, but he actually said something interesting in his little “Hey, I’m still here” media blitz. He went after Social Security for no apparent reason.

Bizarre is the only word I can come up with for Christie’s proposal to means-test Social Security while also raising the retirement age to 69. It’s bizarre first because most experts think means-testing, which for Christie would start at $80,000, would be the death of the system. As the standard line goes, it would turn Social Security from an entitlement program to a welfare program, and welfare programs aren’t popular, so support for it would plunge, and it would end.

Of course, some people want that, so there is support for the idea among conservative policymakers. But here’s the thing, which is reason No. 2 the idea is bizarre: Who exactly was clamoring for this? Nobody! It’s been years since we’ve heard anyone making a big fuss about means-testing. Conservatives know it’s totally unrealistic, so they just don’t bring it up much. It’s akin to liberals and marginal tax rate north of 50 percent on dollars earned above some really huge amount. We’re for it in theory, sure, but we know it’s not in the cards, so there’s no point in even bringing it up. If that’s Christie’s lead issue, it doesn’t say a lot for his political instincts. You don’t even get truth-teller cred for this one, except from Pete Peterson and maybe The Washington Post editorial board (which hasn’t weighed in on Christie that I’ve seen but which generally backs “reining in” entitlements).

In New Hampshire over the weekend, many of the other leading Republicans, most notably Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, agreed with Christie on the retirement-age question. I don’t think this is crazy talk. We’re living longer, and while people who perform hard physical labor if anything should have their retirement ages lowered, more of us do the kind of work that we can keep doing after 65. The retirement age is 67 in Norway, and other European countries are debating an increase to 67. The age at which an American will be eligible to receive full benefits will rise from 65 to 67 by 2027, so an increase is already on the books.

But while I may not think the idea is crazy talk, my fellow Americans are decidedly cool to it, disagreeing with such a proposal by nearly 2-to-1 in most polls you see. And of course any talk about changing Social Security scares old people, who have increasingly been voting Republican.

So why are Republicans talking about it? It’s kind of mystifying. I suppose business broadly supports it. But I think it’s mostly become just an anti-government thing. The real position is to oppose Social Security entirely, because it’s socialism and so forth. But of course they can’t say that, so they back things like means-testing and raising the retirement age. That is a benefits cut, which I suppose they think in the back of their minds will help whittle away at the whole thing over time. Any time you hear a Republican talk about “saving” Social Security or Medicare, they mean “save” in the sense of “destroy.” Or at least “disfigure.”

On the other side, Democrats are suddenly talking about increasing benefits. In the Senate in late March, Elizabeth Warren introduced a mostly symbolic resolution calling for an increase in benefits (it didn’t say exactly how) and it got the support of 42 of 44 voting Democratic senators. Joe Manchin, even! (The nays were Delaware’s Tom Carper, a longtime deficit hawk, and Heidi Heitkamp, who represents deep-red North Dakota.)

No word on all this yet from You Know Who. But what Hillary Clinton does on Social Security will be a real indicator of how drunk on Populism Kool-Aid she’s willing to allow herself to get. Will she, for example, support raising the payroll tax cap? Right now, earnings up to $118,500 are subject to the Social Security and Medicare tax. (That figure rises every year with inflation.) For many liberals—though by no means all, since a lot of them dislike the payroll tax in the first place—doubling, tripling, quadrupling that cap is kind of an obvious step. It even polls well.

The last time she was a presidential candidate, Clinton seems to have tried to have it both ways on this one. It was Barack Obama who pretty consistently supported raising the cap, even if he didn’t talk about it much. According to this interesting report from the left-ish economics journal Dollars and Sense, Clinton’s campaign distributed a flier in Nevada lighting into Obama for wanting to raise the cap so he could “send more of Nevada families’ hard-earned dollars to Washington.”

Yet apparently an AP reporter heard Clinton tell an Iowa voter that she’d support a so-called doughnut-hole approach that would keep the cap where it is and then re-impose a payroll tax at a higher income level (at the time she is supposed to have suggested $200,000). That would spare the vast majority of upper-middle-class earners—voters with lots of political muscle, that is—from a tax increase.

I would bet Clinton goes this route if she does anything, although four years on, the re-imposition number will likely be higher than $200,000. But even just putting it into the conversation will be important. The entire Social Security debate is about how to cut it, not how to expand it. And yes, a tax is a tax, and it’s always risky to talk about one, but as taxes go, this one is probably less risky than most. People like Social Security and seem to grasp that what they pay in, they get back, which is still true for the vast majority of retirees, who get somewhat more back in benefits than they put in.

So let the Republicans talk about how to cut. Clinton ought to do the opposite. She should do it in her responsible, Wellesley-girl way. She’s not Warren and shouldn’t try to be. But she can still leave the Republicans looking stingy and small.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 20, 2015

April 21, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates, Social Security | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“When The President Was White And Male”: Will Someone Tell Wayne LaPierre ‘Normal’ Is Gone For Good?

Maybe conservatives are done with dog-whistle politics.

After all, NRA chief Wayne LaPierre traded his dog whistle for an air horn at a recent gathering of the gun faithful in Washington, D.C. “I have to tell you,” he said, “eight years of one demographically symbolic president is enough.”

Subtle, it was not.

Still, as insults go, it was a rather neatly crafted twofer. On one hand, it demeaned the nation’s first African-American president and welcomed the day the White House is, well… de-Negro-fied. On the other hand, it also demeaned the candidate seeking to become the nation’s first female-American president and promised to save the White House from, well… woman-ification. Evidently, LaPierre wants America to get back to normal; “normal” being defined as “the president is white and male.”

So out come the air horns, blatting Woman! Woman! Woman! seeking to reduce a former senator and Secretary of State to the sum of her chromosomes. Now the race is apparently on to see who will be first to tag the former law professor, senator, and Secretary of State with which crude, sexist epithet. Oh, the suspense.

The blazing irony is that conservatives have at least two “demographically symbolic” candidates vying for their favor: Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American senator from Florida and Ted Cruz (does no one else see Joe McCarthy staring back when they look at this guy?), a senator from Texas whose father was born in Cuba.

So the “normal” LaPierre seeks is threatened, regardless.

Not that he is the only one tripped up by Clinton’s woman-ness. Consider, a recent piece from Time magazine which argued that Clinton is “the perfect age to be president” because, at 67, she is “postmenopausal.” Granted, the essay, by a doctor named Julie Holland, flatters Clinton and women of her age, assuring us that, having been freed from the “cyclical forces” that “dominated” the first half of her life, she emerges with the “experience and self-assurance” to be president.

Still, could you not have happily gone the rest of your days without contemplating Hillary Clinton’s “cyclical forces”? More to the point, can you imagine such an essay being written about a male candidate? Marco Rubio is 43, which means he’s probably already had his first digital prostate exam. Will anyone analyze how that factors into his readiness for the presidency? Rick Perry is 65. If he jumps in, will anyone speculate on how possible issues of erectile dysfunction might inform his foreign policy?

Here’s the thing about “demographically symbolic” presidents and candidates: They tend to function like Rorschach inkblots. Meaning that what we see in them reveals more about us than them. Where Barack Obama is concerned, the right-wing panic over birth certificates and fist bumps and the left-wing tendency to idealize and canonize his every exhalation revealed the rank bigotry and messy irresolution beneath our “post-racial” happy talk. Where Clinton is concerned, these very early indications suggest her woman-ness will likewise be a minefield for friend, foe and media — even more, perhaps, than in 2008.

And that’s not to mention Cruz and Rubio. Who do you think will be the first to wear a sombrero to a Cruz rally in misguided solidarity, or to tell the Miami-born Rubio to go back where he came from?

Point being that in America, markers of identity — gender, race, ethnicity — have a way of becoming identity itself, of blinding us to the singular, individual one in front of us. And campaigns tend to magnify that failing. To put that another way: Strap in. It’s going to be a very long 19 months until the 2016 election. Even so, one thing is already clear, and it should please the rest of us, if not Wayne LaPierre.

“Normal” is gone for good.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, April 20,2015

April 21, 2015 Posted by | Misogyny, Racism, Wayne LaPierre | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Field Starting To Get Pretty Crowded”: Everyone’s Hopping On The Populist Bandwagon; Will It Lead To Actual Policy Change?

There’s no shortage of groups and people who want the 2016 presidential race to be about their issue of choice, hoping that all the candidates will be forced to answer their questions and maybe even support their preferred policy solutions. But if you call yourself an economic populist — even if the word “populism” wasn’t so central to how you talked about the economy a year or two ago — you may have a better shot than most at seeing the 2016 debate move to your ground.

The populism bandwagon is starting to get pretty crowded. As Matea Gold reported yesterday, the Democratic millionaires and billionaires of the Democracy Alliance were heartened at their recent gathering by Hillary Clinton’s argument that “the deck is stacked in favor of those already at the top,” and “the organization is urging donors to contribute to an expanded suite of advocacy groups and think tanks devoted to economic inequality.” As one participant said, “The election will be won or lost on this.”

This morning I got on a conference call with a group of liberal organizations holding a conference in Washington this weekend called “Populism2015,” the primary goal of which seems to be political organizing aimed specifically at pushing issues of economic equality into the presidential campaign.

Groups with a general ideological perspective like the ones involved in this effort (including the Campaign for America’s Future and USAction) often shift their focus as the political debate changes. When we’re debating health care, they make a push on health care; when we’re debating trade, they do the same with trade; and so on. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of political opportunism, since it’s often how movements make progress, by adapting their message and demands to the environment of the moment. And if their goal is to get Hillary Clinton (and whatever other Democrats run) to talk about inequality, then they’ve already succeeded.

But the devil is really in the details.

The Populism2015 folks have an agenda that includes increased public investment to create jobs, higher taxes on the wealthy, a $15 minimum wage, breaking up the big banks, increasing Social Security benefits, and opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal President Obama is currently trying to get through Congress. It’s likely that Clinton will embrace some of these items, but not others. The question is whether grassroots activism can generate the pressure that will not only bring her over, but ultimately translate into policy change.

That’s where it gets daunting. For instance, one of the items the liberal groups listed was getting big money out of politics. When I asked how they were going to accomplish that given a string of Supreme Court decisions making it easier for just the opposite to occur, they said that the first step was to organize to change state and local laws, and that would ultimately translate to a national effort. Which is great, but they didn’t seem to want to talk about how it’s all but impossible to imagine how a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United could be accomplished (and for the record, Clinton says she’s got a campaign finance reform plan, but hasn’t yet revealed what it is).

Campaign finance reform could well be one of those issues that lots of people pay lip service to, but little definable progress ends up being seen on in the near term. On some of the other items on the populist agenda, on the other hand, it’s easier to envision policy change relatively soon. One state after another is passing increases in the minimum wage, and the push for a $15 minimum could make the $10.10 rate President Obama has advocated seem like a moderate compromise.

As Roger Hickey of the Campaign for America’s Future said on the call: “We’re in a populist moment here in America, and even conservative Republicans tell us that.” It’s true that the GOP candidates are starting to frame their arguments in populist terms, as weird as it is for a Republican advocating something like eliminating the capital gains tax to say he just wants to help the little guy fight against entrenched power.

When the other side is adopting your language and claiming to share your goals, you may be halfway to victory. It’s the other half that’s the hard part.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plume Line, The Washington Post, April 16, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 20, 2015 Posted by | Democrats, Economic Inequality, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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