“A Warped Prism”: Sequestration And How The “Liberal Media” Keeps Blaming Obama For Republican Behavior
Reading what has now become a cavalcade of Beltway pundits, led by New York Times writers, denouncing President Obama for failing to avoid the drastic budget sequestration, and berating him for not “leading” by getting Republicans to abandon their chronic intransigence, I keep thinking back to the earliest days of Obama’s presidency when the press concocted new rules regarding bipartisanship.
Specifically, I recall a question NBC’s Chuck Todd asked at a February 2009 press briefing as the president’s emergency stimulus bill was being crafted in Congress. With the country still reeling from the 2008 financial collapse, and the economy in desperate need of an immediate stimulus shot in the arm, Todd asked if Obama would consider vetoing his own party’s stimulus bill if it passed Congress without Republican support.
Todd wanted to know if Obama would hold off implementing urgent stimulus spending in order to a pass different piece of legislation, one that more Republicans liked and would vote for, because that way it would be considered more bipartisan.
I mention that curious Todd query because only when you understand the warped prism through which so much of the Washington, D.C. press corps now views the issue of bipartisanship does the current blame-Obama punditry regarding sequestration begins to make sense, even remotely.
Here’s what the prism looks like, and here’s what it’s looked like for the last four years: Blame Obama for Republican obstinacy. (Or, as a backup: Both sides are to blame!)
And remember, most of the pundits currently taking misguided aim at Obama on sequestration are part of the supposedly “liberal media” cabal, the one that conservatives insist protect Obama at any cost.
As key observers have noted in recent days, the facts on sequestration are not in dispute: Obama has made repeated offers to meet Republicans in the middle with a proposed deficit reduction plan built around a mix of spending cuts, reform to entitlement programs, and revenue increases. Republicans have countered by saying they will not agree to any deal that includes revenue increases. In terms of “leading,” Obama has done everything in his power to try to fashion a deal with Republicans. In response, the absolutist GOP has refused to move off its starting point; it’s refused to move at all. (Hint: They wanted sequestration to occur.)
So, because Obama, who just won an electoral landslide re-election, wasn’t willing to concede to Republicans everything they wanted, the sequester impasse was reached and $85 billion worth of across-the-board spending cuts went into effect. From those facts, too many pundits have rushed in to blame Obama. Why him? Because he hasn’t been able to change Republican behavior. He wasn’t able to get them to agree to a bipartisan solution.
Question: If you’re an obstructionist Republican and the press blames Obama for your actions, why would you ever change your obstructionist ways? Answer: You wouldn’t. And they haven’t.
Remember, the recently concluded confirmation battle over Chuck Hagel becoming Secretary of Defense wasn’t just about the Republicans’ unprecedented opposition to the cabinet choice. It was also about the press’ ongoing refusal to acknowledge the GOP’s radical obstructionism. A refusal that simply encourages more of the same destructive behavior.
Not surprisingly that theme now runs through the sequestration coverage, as pundits and commentators do their best to downplay those obstructionist tactics in order to clear a way at their real rhetorical target: Obama. (Notable exceptions are appreciated.)
My sense of déjà vu on the sequester media mess is especially intense. I noticed this same trend 49 months ago:
If Republicans simply do not want to cooperate in any meaningful way with Democrats, is there anything Obama can do to change that? No, not really. But according to the press, Obama — and Obama alone — is supposed to change that mindset.
For four years this nonsensical narrative about how it’s up to Obama to change the GOP’s conduct has been promoted and celebrated inside Beltway newsrooms. And now all the savvy pundits agree: Republicans’ obstinate ways created the sequestration showdown, so that means it’s Obama’s fault. By failing to lead, by failing to change Republican behavior, Obama must shoulder the blame.
As noted though, the agreed-upon sequester facts are not in dispute. So in order to blame Obama for Republican obstructionism, pundits have been inserting boulder-sized caveats to their illogical writing that ultimately points the finger at the president [emphasis added]:
“And, of course, it is true that much of the responsibility for our perpetual crisis can be laid at the feet of a pigheaded Republican Party, cowed by its angry, antispending, antitaxing, anti-Obama base.” (Bill Keller, New York Times)
“We have a political system that is the equivalent of a drunk driver. The primary culprits are the House Republicans.” (David Ignatius, Washington Post)
“The great debt-ceiling crisis of 2011 was initiated entirely by the Republicans refusing to do anything.” (Howard Kurtz, The Daily Beast)
“Most Republicans in Congress have been utterly irresponsible in this debate.” (Washington Post editorial).
But never mind all that. It’s Obama’s fault that Republicans are the “pigheaded” “culprits” who “initiated entirely” the “utterly irresponsible” debate over sequestration.
By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, May 5, 2013
No wonder he looks surprised so often.
There’s something that’s been bugging me for a while about House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), but I haven’t been able to put my finger on it. Until now, that is.
The congressman talked to Bloomberg TV this morning, and reporter Peter Cook raised the prospect of some kind of compromise with Democrats, in light of Sen. Patty Murray’s (D-Wash.) Senate Democratic budget. Take a look at Ryan’s response:
“Well, I would say to the Patty Murray school of thought to the President Obama school of thought, they’ve got their tax increases. They got $1.6 trillion in tax increases that are just now starting to hit the economy. But we have yet to get the spending cuts.”
Now, right off the bat, it’s important to note that Democrats didn’t get $1.6 trillion in tax increases. Earlier this year, they got about $600 billion in new revenue — Ryan is only off by $1,000,000,000,000 — which Republicans on the House Budget Committee found so offensive, they included the money in their own budget plan. Maybe Ryan forgot about this?
But even if we put that aside, there’s the matter of Ryan’s assertion that Republicans haven’t already successfully received spending cuts. The problem, of course, is that Ryan seems to have forgotten 2011, when Democrats accepted nearly $1.5 trillion in spending cuts, with no accompanying revenue, as part of the GOP’s debt-ceiling hostage strategy.
At the time, Ryan boasted about all the spending cuts he and his party had won by threatening to hurt Americans on purpose. Less than two years later, the far-right Wisconsinite appears to have forgotten about the policy altogether. How is that possible?
It’s not just today, either. Ryan keeps reinforcing suspicions that his memory is alarmingly bad.
Ryan doesn’t remember that he used to refer to his own plan to end Medicare as “vouchers.”
Ryan doesn’t remember taking credit for the sequestration policy he later condemned.
Ryan doesn’t remember learning about Democratic alternatives to the sequester.
Ryan doesn’t remember what happened with the 2011 “super committee.”
Ryan doesn’t remember Bill Clinton’s tax increases.
Ryan doesn’t remember the times he condemned social-insurance programs as “taker” programs.
Ryan doesn’t remember all of the times he appealed to the Obama administration for stimulus funds for his congressional district.
Ryan doesn’t remember his marathon times.
Ryan doesn’t remember how much he was inspired by Ayn Rand.
Ryan doesn’t remember his own speeches.
Everyone can be forgetful once in a while, but the Republican Budget Committee chairman seems to forget rather important details and developments so often, it’s rather unsettling.
The alternative, of course, is that Ryan’s memory is fine and he shamelessly lies when it suits his purposes, but why be uncharitable? Let’s instead just assume that the poor congressman suffers from a terrible memory.
Maybe it’s some weird political version of Changnesia?
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 19, 2013
It’s really amazing to see political reporters dutifully passing along Republican complaints that President Obama’s opening offer in the fiscal cliff talks is just a recycled version of his old plan, when those same reporters spent the last year dutifully passing along Republican complaints that Obama had no plan. It’s even more amazing to see them pass along Republican outrage that Obama isn’t cutting Medicare enough, in the same matter-of-fact tone they used during the campaign to pass along Republican outrage that Obama was cutting Medicare.
This isn’t just cognitive dissonance. It’s irresponsible reporting. Mainstream media outlets don’t want to look partisan, so they ignore the BS hidden in plain sight, the hypocrisy and dishonesty that defines the modern Republican Party. I’m old enough to remember when Republicans insisted that anyone who said they wanted to cut Medicare was a demagogue, because I’m more than three weeks old.
I’ve written a lot about the GOP’s defiance of reality–its denial of climate science, its simultaneous denunciations of Medicare cuts and government health care, its insistence that debt-exploding tax cuts will somehow reduce the debt—so I often get accused of partisanship. But it’s simply a fact that Republicans controlled Washington during the fiscally irresponsible era when President Clinton’s budget surpluses were transformed into the trillion-dollar deficit that President Bush bequeathed to President Obama. (The deficit is now shrinking.) It’s simply a fact that the fiscal cliff was created in response to GOP threats to force the U.S. government to default on its obligations. The press can’t figure out how to weave those facts into the current narrative without sounding like it’s taking sides, so it simply pretends that yesterday never happened.
The next fight is likely to involve the $200 billion worth of stimulus that Obama included in his recycled fiscal cliff plan that somehow didn’t exist before Election Day. I’ve taken a rather keen interest in the topic of stimulus, so I’ll be interested to see how this is covered. Keynesian stimulus used to be uncontroversial in Washington; every 2008 presidential candidate had a stimulus plan, and Mitt Romney’s was the largest. But in early 2009, when Obama began pushing his $787 billion stimulus plan, the GOP began describing stimulus as an assault on free enterprise—even though House Republicans (including Paul Ryan) voted for a $715 billion stimulus alternative that was virtually indistinguishable from Obama’s socialist version. The current Republican position seems to be that the fiscal cliff’s instant austerity would destroy the economy, which is odd after four years of Republican clamoring for austerity, and that the cliff’s military spending cuts in particular would kill jobs, which is even odder after four years of Republican insistence that government spending can’t create jobs.
I guess it’s finally true that we all are Keynesians now. Republicans don’t even seem to be arguing that more stimulus wouldn’t boost the economy; they’ve suggested that Obama needs to give up “goodies” like extending unemployment insurance (which benefits laid-off workers) and payroll tax cuts (which benefit everyone) to show that he’s negotiating in good faith. At the same time, though, they also want Obama to propose bigger Medicare cuts, even though they spent the last campaign slamming Obama’s Medicare cuts and denying their interest in Medicare cuts. I live in Florida, so I had the pleasure of hearing a radio ad from Allen West, hero of the Tea Party, vowing to protect Medicare.
Whatever. I realize that the GOP’s up-is-downism puts news reporters in an awkward position. It would seem tendentious to point out Republican hypocrisy on deficits and Medicare and stimulus every time it comes up, because these days it comes up almost every time a Republican leader opens his mouth. But we’re not supposed to be stenographers. As long as the media let an entire political party invent a new reality every day, it will keep on doing it. Every day.
By: Michael Grunwald, Time Swampland, November 30, @012
The lively October 11 debate between Vice President Joe Biden and the GOP Vice-Presidential candidate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, has been widely analyzed and fact-checked. But from the Wisconsin perspective, a few statements made by our fellow cheesehead brought to mind some idioms used widely in his home state.
If You Live In a Glass House, Don’t Throw Stones
“Joe and I are from similar towns. He’s from Scranton, Pennsylvania. I’m from Janesville, Wisconsin.” Ryan then cited Scranton’s ten percent unemployment rate, incorrectly suggesting it was indicative of national trends. “You know what it was the day [Obama and Biden] came in? 8.5 percent. That is happening all around America.”
When Ryan first became a U.S. Representative in 1999, unemployment in Janesville was at 3.8 percent. It is now at 9.2 percent. But nationally and in America’s major cities, unemployment is going down, albeit slowly. Unemployment in Ryan’s hometown is still too high, but the rate has dropped from a peak of 15.6 percent a few months after Obama and Biden took office. The peak was largely attributable to the Janesville General Motors plant closing in 2008 under President George W. Bush.
Fool Me Once, Shame on You; Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me
Ryan pledged during the debate that the Romney-Ryan ticket has a plan for “getting the economy growing at 4 percent, creating 12 million jobs over the next four years.”
The 12 million jobs pledge is one that Romney has been repeating on the campaign trail, with the campaign airing ads in Ryan’s home state promising to create 240,000 jobs in Wisconsin (12 million divided by 50 states). But folks in Wisconsin have reason to doubt these sorts of jobs pledges.
Wisconsin’s current Governor Scott Walker was elected in 2010 with a nearly identical jobs pledge — a promise to create 250,000 jobs by the end of his term in 2014 — and repeated the pledge in May of 2012 during his recall election. But even Walker admits this promise is already broken. Wisconsin’s job growth rates continues to rank among the worst in the nation, behind other states in the region and nationally.
Biden, for his part, did not make a specific promise about jobs numbers, but he did say “we can and we will” get unemployment below 6 percent, a plan that the White House has not backed up with any specifics.
As CMD asked in September, do these folks really think Wisconsinites will fall for it again?
Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth
In the debate, Rep. Ryan railed against the Obama administration’s stimulus plan and characterized it as a failure. Biden quickly pointed out that Ryan himself had sought stimulus funds for companies in his district.
“I love that, I love that,” Biden responded, laughing. “This is such a bad program and he writes me a letter saying — writes the Department of Energy a letter saying — the reason we need this stimulus, it will create growth and jobs. His words. And now he’s sitting here looking at me.”
Ryan sought $20 million in “green stimulus” for the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation and hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Energy Center of Wisconsin, both of which were granted by the Department of Energy. Ryan defended the letters in the debate by saying “We advocated for constituents who were applying for grants. It’s what we do.”
In one of the letters, Ryan wrote: “I was pleased that the primary objectives of their project will allow residents and businesess in the partner cities to reduce their energy costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and stimulate the local economy by creating new jobs.”
Other businesses in Ryan’s district have also benefitted from stimulus spending. Ruud Lighting in Racine, for example, manufactures LED lights and has expanded and added jobs by winning contracts to supply LED lights to municipalities across the United States, many of which are making the purchases using federal stimulus dollars from the Department of Energy.
Don’t Kill a Goose That Lays Golden Eggs
In his closing statements, Ryan repeated the widely discredited claim that Obamacare is a “government takeover of health care,” a right-wing talking point that CMD’s Senior Fellow on Healthcare Wendell Potter has demonstrated was developed by the private health care industry. “Obamacare,” after all, was developed largely to protect and defend the private insurance industry against those who preferred a government-run health care system, such as those found in Canada and much of Europe.
Romney and Ryan have pledged to repeal “Obamacare” without putting forward a plan to replace it. But in 2010, Rep. Ryan sought Obamacare funding for a community health center in his district.
“The proposed new facility, the Belle City Neighborhood Health Center, will serve both the preventative and comprehensive primary healthcare needs of thousands of new patients of all ages who are currently without healthcare,” Ryan wrote.
Community health centers like this one provide a variety of vital health services to low-income communities, and “Obamacare” provides funding to significantly expand those services, including $9.5 billion in operating costs for existing community health centers and $1.5 billion for constructing new facilities.
Wisconsinites will be talking about these facts and others as they gather around the bubbler this weekend.
By: Brendan Fischer, Center for Media and Democracy, October 12, 2012
Richard Milhous Nixon said in 1968 that the war in Vietnam was the critical concern of that year’s presidential contest, the one issue that had to be addressed by the candidates. And he addressed it with a “secret plan” to end the war. No details during the campaign, the Republican nominee for president explained; voters just needed to trust him and he would cut the right deals once elected.
Paul Ryan says in 2012 that budgeting to cut taxes for the rich while at the same time doing away with deficits is the critical issue of the presidential contest, the one that has to be addressed by the candidates. And he addresses the issue with a secret plan to cut taxes and balance budgets. No details during the campaign, the Republican nominee for vice president explains; voters just need to trust him and he will cut the right deals once elected.
In the most remarkable exchange of the only vice presidential debate of 2012 came when moderator Martha Raddatz said to Ryan: “You have refused…to offer specifics on how you pay for that 20 percent across-the-board tax cut. Do you actually have the specifics? Or are you still working on it, and that’s why you won’t tell voters?
That’s where Ryan borrowed a political page from “Tricky Dick”:
RYAN: Different than this administration, we actually want to have big bipartisan agreements. You see, I understand the…
RADDATZ: Do you have the specifics? Do you have the… Do you know exactly what you’re doing?
RYAN: Look—look at what Mitt Romney—look at what Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill did. They worked together out of a framework to lower tax rates and broaden the base, and they worked together to fix that.
What we’re saying is, here’s our framework. Lower tax rates 20 percent. We raised about $1.2 trillion through income taxes. We forego about $1.1 trillion in loopholes and deductions. And so what we’re saying is, deny those loopholes and deductions to higher-income taxpayers so that more of their income is taxed, which has a broader base of taxation so we can lower tax rates across the board. Now, here’s why I’m saying this. What we’re saying is, here’s the framework…
We want to work with Congress—we want to work with the Congress on how best to achieve this. That means successful. Look…
RADDATZ: No specifics, again.
RYAN: Mitt—what we’re saying is, lower tax rates 20 percent, start with the wealthy, work with Congress to do it…
RADDATZ: And you guarantee this math will add up?
That was it. No specifics. No plan. Just a plea for voters to trust Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to “fill in the details.”
Vice President Biden, who was already well aware that he was winning the debate he had to win after last week’s presidential debate debacle, pounced. Displaying the skills that would lead 50 percent of undecided voters to tell pollsters that Biden won the debate, while only 31 percent picked Ryan, the experienced vice president hit the inept pretender with the obligatory “I was there when Ronald Reagan tax breaks—he gave specifics” line.
Then the vice president explained why Ryan was avoiding specifics. Under even the most basic outlines of the Romney-Ryan plan “ taxes go up on the middle class, the only way you can find $5 trillion in loopholes is cut the mortgage deduction for middle-class people, cut the healthcare deduction, middle-class people, take away their ability to get a tax break to send their kids to college. That’s why they arrive at it.”
Easily the most substantive “zing” of the night. But not the most amusing “zing.” That came after Ryan condemned the 2009 stimulus bill as “Crony capitalism and corporate welfare.”
BIDEN: I love my friend here. I—I’m not allowed to show letters but go on our website, he sent me two letters saying, ‘By the way, can you send me some stimulus money for companies here in the state of Wisconsin?” We sent millions of dollars…
RADDATZ: You did ask for stimulus money, correct?
RYAN: On two occasions we—we—we advocated for constituents who were applying for grants. That’s what we do. We do that for all constituents who are…
BIDEN: I love that. I love that. This was such a bad program and he writes me a letter saying—writes the Department of Energy a letter saying, ‘The reason we need this stimulus, it will create growth and jobs.’ His words.”
Ryan’s Nixonian turns gave Biden the upper hand on a night when Democrats needed a win.
By the time the debate turned to the issues on which Biden was always going to have the upper hand: defending Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, all the vice president really had to say was: “Who you believe, the AMA, me, a guy who’s fought his whole life for this, or somebody who would actually put in motion a plan that knowingly cut—added $6,400 a year more to the cost of Medicare?”
All he had to say with regard to wild claims about how Obamacare threatens seniors was: “You know, I heard that death panel argument from Sarah Palin. It seems every vice presidential debate I hear this kind of stuff about panels.”
And all he really had to say, after Ryan took the most radical anti-choice stance ever uttered on a debate stage by a major-party nominee, was that, while he respects the teachings of his Catholic religion: “I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that, women, that they can’t control their body.… I’m not going to interfere with that.”
It may not be entirely fair to compare Ryan with Nixon. In truth, the former president would never have bumbled Thursday night’s Afghanistan questions as badly as did this year’s Republican vice presidential nominee—who was reduced to repeated the seasons of the year “winter, spring, summer fall” in an attempt to cover for his misstatement of details of the current fight.
But Ryan played Nixon Thursday night.
On issue after issue, the Republican vice presidential candidate danced around the details.
But unlike last week when Barack Obama allowed Mitt Romney to repurpose himself as a credible contender, Joe Biden was having none of it.
Hubert Humphtey never got a chance to call Richard Nixon out on a debate stage in 1968.
If he had, that very close election might have finished differently.
But in the end, it was not Biden who made Ryan the Nixon of the night.
It was Ryan.
On what he says is the most important issue of the campaign, the “fiscal cliff” issue that brought him to national attention and a place on the GOP ticket, Ryan had no details, no specifics, just a “secret plan.”
By: John Nichols, The Nation, October 12, 2012