The politics of paranoia can lead policymakers into some unfortunate directions. On everything from homeland security to education to guns, paranoid politicians invariably end up pushing some truly bizarre proposals for no good reason.
In the latest example, some far-right congressional Republicans have decided to wage a war on census data because they have paranoid ideas about “big government.”
A group of Republicans are cooking up legislation that could give President Barack Obama an unintentional assist with disagreeable unemployment numbers — by eliminating the key economic statistic altogether.
The bill, introduced last week by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), would bar the U.S. Census Bureau from conducting nearly all surveys except for a decennial population count. Such a step that would end the government’s ability to provide reliable estimates of the employment rate. Indeed, the government would not be able to produce any of the major economic indices that move markets every month, said multiple statistics experts, who were aghast at the proposal.
“They simply wouldn’t exist. We won’t have an unemployment rate,” said Ken Prewitt, the former director of the U.S. Census who is now a professor of public affairs at Columbia University.
The core issue is something called the American Community Survey, which the Census Bureau uses as a supplemental to the decennial reports, providing information on commuting, income, family structure, educational attainment, housing, and finance. The results are used extensively by businesses, researchers, academics, and government agencies, and have been an invaluable tool for decades.
Right-wing lawmakers, however, have come to believe nefarious government officials are collecting the information as part of a larger scheme — it’s never been entirely clear to me what they see as the point of the plot — that must be stopped. Sen. Rand Paul (K-Ky.), who revels in strange conspiracy theories, proposed legislation in March to make elements of the American Community Survey optional, apparently because he didn’t realize that they were already optional.
But it’s not just the American Community Survey that congressional Republicans are eager to crush.
Indeed, Rep. Jeff Duncan’s (R-S.C.) bizarre proposal, which has 10 co-sponsors, would also explicitly eliminate the agricultural census, economic census, government census, and mid-decade census.
As a consequence, Duncan’s bill would eliminate the existence of the unemployment rate and the measurement of the nation’s GDP, among other thing.
Maurine Haver, founder of business research firm Haver Analytics and a past president of the National Association for Business Economics, told the Huffington Post‘s Michael McAuliff, “Do they understand that these data that the Census Bureau collects are fundamental to everything else that’s done? They think the country doesn’t need to know how many people are unemployed, either?”
The answers to these questions are unclear — Duncan and other supporters of this proposal have not explained why they oppose the data, why they see the need to eliminate the data, or even if they understand what it is they’re doing.
Duncan, incidentally, is the same deeply confused congressman who spewed bizarre conspiracy theories about the Boston Marathon bombing, going so far that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano felt the need to say Duncan’s ignorant inquiries were “full of misstatements and misapprehensions,” and “not worthy of an answer.”
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 2, 2013
Say what you will about Politico, but aside from the many bits of useful phenomenological data its vast minions gather each day, it serves as a sort of public utility in instantly and thoroughly expressing the shifting perspectives of the MSM. Today, having misinterpreted and buried the Tea Party Movement a thousand times, Politico (in this piece by Tarini Parti) now takes judicial notice of its return on Capitol Hill:
The Tea Party Caucus is back in action with a new strategy and a growing membership.
Roughly 20 House Republicans attended a closed-door meeting Thursday evening in the Rayburn House Office Building, along with staffers from nearly 40 congressional offices, including those of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and fellow Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul.
It comes as conservatives continue to flex their muscle, making life difficult for GOP leaders in the House on issues like Obamacare, and as the debate on immigration legislation heats up.
Conservative mainstays such as Reps. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Tom Price (R-Ga.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Steve King (R-Iowa) were among those at the meeting. A source said the entire GOP House delegation from South Carolina was there as well.
Mike Shields, chief of staff to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, spoke at the meeting – an indication that the GOP establishment is making an effort to work with the tea party lawmakers.
Also in attendance: Conservative radio talk show host Rusty Humphries and representatives from organizations including the Tea Party Express and U.S. Chamber of Commerce. TheTeaParty.net organized the meeting, which was closed to press.
The possibility that high attendance at the caucus meeting might reflect a continuing presence rather than a sudden resurgence was indirectly addressed by this quote from Louie Gohmert:
“I thought it was the energy we had when we first started things,” Gohmert told POLITICO after the meeting. “The Tea Party beliefs and movement never really went away. It was just that the caucus wasn’t really having meetings.”
True dat. You could make the case, in fact, that the relative quiescence of the Tea Party Caucus was attributable to its consolidation of power within the Republican “Establishment.” Now that strategic disagreements within the congressional GOP are re-emerging, it’s time to get loud and proud again. But the whole phenomenon shows how shallow all the talk about the GOP “rebranding” and “adjusting to new circumstances” really was–much less the fatuous chatter about “bipartisan breezes wafting through Congress.”
It’s entirely possible, not soon but in the foreseeable future, that the Republican Party and even the conservative movement can genuinely move beyond the “Spirit of 2010″ and begin to act like a political party rather than a wrecking crew. But anyone who has paid genuine attention to the Tea Party Movement must understand that these are people who violently oppose the idea of “moving on” or “adjusting to circumstances.” The whole point of “constitutional conservatism” is the belief in an eternal, perhaps even divinely ordained, governing model that never, ever, goes out of season. Maybe they’ll lose influence in the GOP and the country as a whole, but they aren’t going away or changing. Their periodic rediscovery by the MSM when once again fantasies of a “pragmatic” GOP prove illusory is one of the maddening but abiding aspects of contemporary political journalism.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 26, 2013
Whoever thinks there’s no such thing as a free lunch has not been to the Heritage Foundation.
After Sen. Mike Lee’s speech to the conservative think tank Monday, his listeners didn’t rush to the front of the room, where the Utah Republican was greeting well-wishers, but to the back to get in line for sandwiches, cookies and soft drinks provided gratis to the hungry young conservatives who sat through the hour.
Such an inducement may have been necessary to fill the room for Lee, who is not exactly an electrifying speaker. His colleague Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a fellow first-term senator with tea party backing, packed a much larger auditorium at Heritage in February. But Lee is no bomb-thrower; he is amiable and cerebral and uses phrases such as “We can start ensuring policy sustainability” and “The true and proper end of political subsidiarity is social solidarity.” Even Lee’s former Senate colleague Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who took over as Heritage’s president this month, apparently had more pressing business elsewhere.
This lack of appetite for Lee helps explain why the vision he outlined for conservatives, though worthy, is unlikely to receive serious GOP consideration. He essentially wants a return to “compassionate conservatism,” but there are a few big problems: George W. Bush tarnished the notion (by giving it lip service but little else), Paul’s libertarian wing is ascendant in the party, and Lee has little to propose other than vague notions of federalism.
Lee, a young man with a round face and thinning hair, diagnosed the conservatives’ condition fairly well. “The left has created this false narrative that liberals are for things and conservatives are against things,” he said. “A liberal proposes an idea, we explain why it won’t work and we think we’ve won the debate.”
Lee sounded much like Bush when he campaigned in 1999 against the “Leave us alone” conservatives. “Freedom doesn’t mean you’re on your own,” the senator said. “It means we’re all in this together.” He even echoed Bush’s “No child left behind” phrase as he argued for a “voluntary civil society that strengthens our communities, protects the vulnerable and minds the gaps to make sure no one gets left behind.”
Lee criticized Bush for misapplying the philosophy, referring to “one politician’s occasional conflation of ‘compassion’ and ‘bigger government.’ ” He also criticized past conservatives for overusing federal power and for being intolerant (“The price of allowing conservative states to be conservative is allowing liberal states to be liberal”). His criticism of Paul’s libertarian wing was particularly colorful: “This vision of America conservatives seek is not an Ayn Rand novel. It’s a Norman Rockwell painting, or a Frank Capra movie.”
But as a practical matter, Lee wasn’t offering anything much different from the Rand acolytes. He spoke of an end to “corporate welfare” — an admirable goal, but his targets were the same old villains such as Planned Parenthood and public broadcasting. He employed the usual straw-man characterization of liberals: “They attack free enterprise. . . . Elite progressives in Washington . . . believe in community organizers, self-anointed strangers, preferably ones with Ivy League degrees.” (This from a man who is the son of Ronald Reagan’s solicitor general, grew up in McLean and went on to clerk for Samuel Alito.)
Lee’s grand solution is one that conservatives have wanted for decades: the devolution of power to state and local governments. “We must make this fundamental principle of pluralistic diversity a pillar of our agenda,” he said, in a typically airy phrase.
But how? A questioner asked the senator how to “translate what you’re saying to benefit the 40 percent at the bottom” rather than “protecting the 1 percent.”
Lee’s answer provided nothing specific. “When you take government out of the equation,” he replied, “it doesn’t have to be a zero sum game between this top percentage and that bottom percentage.”
Another questioner asked whether the government should support the “social entrepreneurs” who Lee said are crucial to strengthening society. Again, he had no specifics. He said the government should “establish a neutral set of rules” for all. To do more, he said, would be “destructive.”
A third questioner asked bluntly: “Which policies . . . help promote these vibrant communities which we as conservatives want to foster?”
Lee replied: “The single most important policy would be federalism,” which means making “as many decisions at the most local level as possible.”
That’s a philosophy, not a policy. If Lee wants conservatives to rediscover compassion, he’ll have to provide something more substantial for them to chew on.
By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 22, 2013
As travelers across the country began feeling the consequences of sequester cuts at airports this week, legislators were busy determining who to blame for the increase in disrupted travel. From the beginning Democrats have been consistent in their message—”the sequester will hurt Americans, instead we need a combination of responsible cuts and significant revenue.”
The Republican response to the sequester, on the other hand, has been divided and unclear. Before the cuts materialized, some Republicans were charging Democrats with being “dramatic,” some even welcoming the cuts. Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) said, “It is going to happen. It is 2.4 percent of the budget, and it is not the end of the world. We want the savings. We want to bank those savings, and we want to move on.” Representative Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) echoed those same sentiments: “We had a grand total of three phone calls concerned about it. They don’t buy the scare tactics. Most Americans are going to wake up Friday morning and yawn.”
Meanwhile, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) blamed President Obama for the effects of the sequester, admitted the president never wanted the sequester to happen, and then half-embraced the imminent cuts. Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel said, “We support replacing the indiscriminate cuts in the sequester with smarter cuts and reforms (of an equal amount).”
Others like Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) didn’t find the cuts to be deep enough. “Not only should the sequester stand, many pundits say the sequester really needs to be at least $4 trillion to avoid another downgrade of America’s credit rating. Both parties will have to agree to cut, or we will never fix our fiscal mess,” Paul said in his Tea Party response to the State of the Union.
Now that the cuts have taken place and public outrage over delayed and canceled air travel has increased, Republicans have adopted a new argument—”why didn’t anyone tell us the cuts would be this bad?” In a House Committee on Appropriations hearing, Representative Harold Rogers (R-KY) blamed Federal Aviation Administration Chief Michael Huerta: “You didn’t forewarn us that this was coming; you didn’t ask advice about how we should handle it.”
Republicans have evolved full circle on this issue—from criticizing President Obama, to claiming victory for the cuts, to now indicating they had no idea the cuts would be so severe. White House spokesman Jay Carney responded to these claims on Monday. “We made it clear that there would be these kinds of negative effects if Congress failed to take reasonable action to avert the sequester,” he said. “Policy that everyone who was involved in writing it knew at the time and has made clear ever since was never designed to be implemented. It was designed to be bad policy and, therefore, to be avoided.”
By: Allison Brito, The National Memo, April 25, 2013
Histrionics broke out at a Senate immigration hearing this morning when Senator Patrick Leahy called on Republicans not to use the Boston bombings as a weapon in the immigration debate. “Last week, opponents began to exploit the Boston Marathon bombing,” Leahy said. “I urge restraint in that regard.”
Perhaps the most prominent Republican official to have drawn a link between the bombings and the immigration reform proposal is Senator Chuck Grassley. And so, at today’s hearing, Grassley offered some curious pushback to Leahy that tells us a lot about how some conservatives are approaching both debates. Yes, Grassley actually said this:
“When you proposed gun legislation, we did not accuse you of using the Newtown killings as an excuse,” Grassley said. “I think we’re taking advantage of an opportunity when once in 25 years we deal with immigration to make sure every base is covered.”
Really? Here’s what Grassley himself said back on January 30th, over a month after the shootings:
Although Newtown and Tucson are terrible tragedies, the deaths in Newtown should not be used to put forward every gun control measure that has been floating around for years.
What’s more, Senator Rand Paul and other Republicans have accused the Obama administration of using the families as “props” in the push for gun control.
To be clear, if conservatives want to seize on the Boston bombings to make a political argument about immigration reform, that’s not necessarily something we should automatically condemn, as some Dems are doing. As Jonathan Bernstein notes, we should respond to events with politics. Politics are everywhere and they are inescapable. If major, consequential, nationally riveting events aren’t supposed to trigger debate over how we should organize ourselves and solve our problems, what should trigger it?
For the reasons I outlined this morning, I don’t believe the Boston bombings tell us anything all that relevant about how we should approach immigration reform policy. But pointing that out isn’t the same as claiming there’s anything inherently wrong or inappropriate about trying to apply an event such as the Boston bombings to the current policy debate. Substantively rebutting the argument that the bombings tell us something about how we should approach the argument over the path to citizenship is not the same as condemning the act of making that argument.
Now, it’s true that in pointing to major events to justify a political argument, one can cross the line from legit policy argument into demagoguery. For the record, I don’t think Grassley has done that yet. He merely said the bombings should be part of the discussion as we seek to determine what’s wrong with our current immigration system. That’s not the same as claiming, as others have, that the Boston bombings show that we should end the immigration reform debate entirely.
Similarly, Obama and Democrats said the Newtown shootings should be part of a broader discussion over how to respond to, and reduce, gun violence.
Grassley, however, only seems to believe this is appropriate in the case where he thinks it will help his cause.
By: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, April 22, 2013