The instant the Ebola crisis hit American shores, the inevitable happened. The GOP blamed President Obama for it. First, it was the lame brained borderline racist charge that Obama either deliberately or through sheer incompetence did nothing to seal the borders to keep the virus at bay. The only slightly more intelligible attack was that Obama did nothing to command the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to take panic measures to insure no incidence of the disease would turn up in the country. Then the GOP campaign strategists stepped in and had some of its top candidates suddenly parroting the kooky line that Obama was to blame for a supposedly porous and negligent CDC and border security lapse. Obama’s appointment of an “Ebola Czar” provided even more grist for the GOP hit mill on Obama. It was variously blown off as too little, too late or ridiculed as a desperate appointment of a supposedly medically unqualified political crony.
This is political gamesmanship of the lowest order, playing on media and public fears over a legitimate and terrifying health crisis, to again belittle Obama. And with the stakes sky high in the 2014 midterm elections, the dirty political pool by the GOP was totally predictable.
But the twist in the Ebola saga is that the dirty hit job has backfired. The attack opened the GOP wide open to media and public scrutiny of the galling fact that the GOP has systematically whittled away vital funding for dozens of health programs since 2010. The CDC, much the whipping agency for the supposed Obama health dereliction, was stripped of nearly $600 million; millions that could have gone to ramp up monitoring, screening, and education programs, as well as research on vaccines to deal with infectious and communicable diseases. The names of the more than two dozen Republicans who poleaxed the CDC budget have been published. And to no surprise the bulk of them are either directly affiliated with or have been in part bankrolled by tea party factions. In September, there were initial reports that House Republicans would cut almost half of the nearly $100 million that the White House wanted earmarked to fight Ebola. It didn’t happen not because of any sudden epiphany by the GOP House members to provide all the funding that the White House asked for the program, but because word had quickly leaked out about the defunding possibility, and that would have been a PR nightmare that even the most rabid anti-Obama House Republicans knew was fraught with deep peril.
GOP leaders have hit back hard on the charge that they are somehow to blame for any laxity in the fight against Ebola by claiming that Obama and the Democrats have also made cuts in the NIH budget and that those cuts are the reason for any shortfall in the CDC’s funding for programs. That’s true as far as it goes. But what the GOP conveniently omits is that the cuts to the NIH budget and indeed all other health and education and domestic spending program cuts were agreed to by Obama with the GOP jamming a virtual political gun to his head demanding he sign off on cuts as the draconian price for ending gridlock over the deficit war.
Now in the backdrop of a potential catastrophic health nightmare, the cuts have suddenly become as big a political campaign tug of war as the blame game about Ebola. But it’s one that the GOP can’t win. Because it, not Obama and the Democrats, have been firmly identified in the public eye as the ones that have consistently sledge hammered the Obama administration and Congress to cut, cut, and cut some more spending. No matter how much the right wing gnashes its teeth, shouts and moans and attempts to turn the table and finger-point Obama for the funding fall off in the Ebola fight, it won’t change that naked reality. The hit ads that Democrats took out lambasting the GOP for the funding cuts are believable not because of any numbers accuracy or inaccuracy but in part because of public belief that when it comes to pound saving, the GOP will go to any length to save a dollar at the expense of vital programs.
The ads are believable in greater part because the GOP has left no stone unturned in its ruthless and relentless drive to use any and every crisis real or manufactured to paint Obama as a weak, ineffectual and failed president and presidency. It has banked on, and stoked, the frozen political divide in the country knowing that a wide segment of the public has open, unabashed contempt for his policies and his administration. The GOP banks that it can swivel this divisiveness into sustained opposition to those policies, and that it can further boost its numbers in the House and especially the Senate in the 2014 midterm elections. The ultimate aim is to translate the incessant hit attacks on Obama into a White House win in 2016.
The Ebola scare gave the GOP another seemingly readymade opportunity to blame Obama for yet another crisis. But this time the signs are good that the ploy has backfired.
By: Earl Ofari Hutchinson, The Huffington Post Blog, October 18, 2014
This election season, there are really only a handful of House Republican incumbents who are in real trouble. Freshman Rep. Steve Southerland (R), who narrowly won in his North Florida district in 2012, is one of them.
In a district in which registered Democrats outnumber Republicans, it seems Southerland would be smart to play it safe and try to avoid alienating key constituencies. And yet, the GOP congressman seems to have a knack for pushing women voters away.
For example, Southerland was recently caught misleading voters about his vote on the Violence Against Women Act. Making matters worse, voters recently learned the conservative lawmaker hosted a men-only fundraising event a few months ago. The invitation, obtained by BuzzFeed, encouraged attendees to “tell the misses not to wait up” because “the after dinner whiskey and cigars will be smooth & the issues to discuss are many.”
Southerland’s opponent, school administrator Gwen Graham (D), criticized the fundraiser, prompting the congressman to make matters just a little worse.
Asked to respond to the Democrats’ criticism that he’s anti-women, Southerland laughed and said: “I live with five women. That’s all I’m saying. I live with five women. Listen: Has Gwen Graham ever been to a lingerie shower? Ask her. And how many men were there?”
He didn’t appear to be kidding. In Southerland’s mind, a sitting congressman hosting a policy discussion with donors is comparable to women hosting a “lingerie shower.”
Just as an aside, I’ll confess to having the exact same reaction to this as the Miami Herald’s Marc Caputo: “What’s a ‘lingerie shower?’ Most people know what baby showers are. And a few are probably familiar with lingerie shows. To combine the two is kinda creepy.” When a reader noted that “lingerie showers” are usually held for brides to be, Caputo added, “And that makes Southerland’s comment even less helpful to his cause.”
MSNBC’s Anna Brand talked to Gwen Graham’s campaign manager about Southerland’s comments.
Graham’s campaign manager Julia Gill Woodward responded to the comparison to msnbc, saying “This isn’t just stuff Steve Southerland says; given his pattern of troubling actions and disturbing comments, it is obviously what Steve Southerland believes. Southerland says these things out of a fundamental disrespect for women.”
“Only if Southerland disrespects women could he hold an official, Men-Only Southerland campaign fundraiser and laugh it off after the fact,” Woodward continued. “Only if Southerland disrespects women could he air TV ads claiming to have voted for The Violence Against Women Act while he actually voted against it in Congress. Only if Southerland disrespects women could he make this insulting ‘lingerie party’ comment about a woman like Gwen Graham.”
The DCCC’s interest in this race was strong before. I have a hunch it just got stronger.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 15, 2014
Five years into our so-called recovery, hunger in America remains stuck at a depressingly high level. The number of families who struggle to put food on the table has barely inched downward, even though employment is up. And while a majority of those struggling families are already receiving food stamps, one of the biggest ways we assist families in need, it’s just not enough, making hunger in America a very real and serious concern.
You would think a generous, wealthy country like the United States would have no problem bolstering an initiative designed to help the working poor in such dire times. Surely, you might think, there is bipartisan support for one of the most successful anti-poverty programs in the country. But in fact there has been bipartisan support for decreasing both the amount of food stamp money families receive and the number of families who receive them.
In any given month, roughly 46 to 47 million people receive food stamps. It’s highly likely that even more families are eligible to receive them, but don’t seek the help because they don’t believe they qualify, are reluctant to go through the hassle of applying, or are subtly or overtly discouraged from doing so by the caseworker they meet.
Food stamps help reduce hunger, but they don’t eliminate it. Estimates released by the United States Department of Agriculture last week show that 17.5 million families struggle to put food on the table, and 62 percent of them were already receiving food stamps. About 6.8 million of those families have so little money for food they skip meals or eat less than they should. Those numbers are about the same they were in the previous year.
The costs of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as food stamps are officially known, went up to about $78 billion a year during the recession, mostly because more people were using them. The increase in use tracks pretty well with the rise in unemployment and poverty during the downturn. More people lost jobs or income, and so more people needed help feeding their children.
In response to the rising need, Congress bumped up the amount of money families got on their benefit cards when they passed the stimulus act in 2009. The reasons were multifold: more money would help struggling families buy more food, but it also meant they spent more at their grocery stores, keeping their local economies pumping. Each dollar spent by the government in food stamps generates about $1.70 in economic activity.
Then, in a rare show of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans teamed up to gut the program. As David Dayen reported in The American Prospect, the Democrats were the first to raid this piggy bank when they decided to use food-stamp funds to help pay for a state aid bill in 2010. The stimulus food-stamp boost was supposed to last until about 2016, but the changes the Democrats made meant the extra funding would end earlier, in 2014.
The food stamp program then lost $2.2 billion to help pay for a $4.5 billion increase in the school lunch bill in 2010. Blanche Lincoln, the former Democratic senator from Arkansas who was then chair of the Senate agriculture committee, designed this Robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul move. It drew opposition from anti-hunger groups but the bill passed anyway, partly because it was a centerpiece of Michelle Obama’s newly launched Let’s Move campaign to fight childhood obesity.
After Democrats laid that foundation, the Republicans came in and began attacking the program. First, they let the stimulus boost expire, which that meant an average family of three receiving benefits lost $29 per month. The cuts went into effect November 2013, right before the holidays.
Next, the House Republicans in charge attacked the base funding itself. Food stamps are the biggest and most expensive component of the farm bill—an arcane piece of legislation that sets farm policy. Because of the 70 percent increase in food stamp spending since the last farm bill had passed, in 2008, House Republicans refused to pass this one when it first went up for a vote last year. It was the first time in history a farm bill failed, and it later passed without the food-stamp component. After the House finally did address nutrition spending and work with the Senate, the program emerged in February with $8.6 billion cut over the next 10 years, so it’s no wonder families are still going hungry.
To be fair, Democrats fought these final cuts to the program: House Republicans originally wanted to cut $40 billion and the Democrats brought that number down. Indeed, a few Democrats—like Jim McGovern of Massachusetts in the House and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York in the Senate—want to rescind cuts and provide even more food stamp funding. But even if they succeed, that money might be too tempting for their fellow party members to pass up the next time they want to spend cash on something else.
By: Monica Potts, The Daily Beast, September 8, 2014
Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but yesterday, as part of his 180 degree turn on the topic, Sen. Marco Rubio was said to be “hinting” that Republicans might just, oh, shut down the government or something if Barack Obama took major executive action to expand (or even maintain) DACA. Today Rubio’s new ally on immigration policy, Steve King of Iowa, was more explicit, per a report from the Des Moines Register‘s Kathie Obradovich:
Congressman Steve King said today the threat of another government shutdown could be Republicans’ leverage to pass border security and immigration legislation this fall.
Congress must act before the end of September to either approve a budget or continue spending at current levels to avoid a government shutdown. House Speaker John Boehner has said he expects action on a short-term continuing resolution next month.
King, R-Kiron, said “all bets are off” on a continuing resolution if President Barack Obama follows through with reported plans to deal with immigration issues without Congress.
“If the president wields his pen and commits that unconstitutional act to legalize millions, I think that becomes something that is nearly political nuclear …,” King said. “I think the public would be mobilized and galvanized and that changes the dynamic of any continuing resolution and how we might deal with that….”
Even if Obama does not act unilaterally on immigration reform, King says he believes the continuing resolution is still a bargaining chip for GOP priorities. “When we hear some of our leaders say there will be no government shutdown, that’s the political equivalent of saying there will be no boots on the ground,” he said.
Now the congressional leadership probably won’t like this kind of talk. But like Rubio himself, they’ve pretty much delegated immigration policy to Steve King. So they can’t really complain if Captain Ahab thinks every conceivable issue in Washington is subordinate to bringing down the white whale.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 27, 2014