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GOP DeathWish?: Republicans Pushing To Revamp Medicare Could Find Themselves Voted Out Of Office In The Next Election

One of the biggest and most frequent mistakes in politics is for a party to misread its mandate. When it happens, independent and swing voters get angry and punish a candidate or a party on Election Day. Because American politics is a zero-sum game, punishing one party means rewarding the other party—even when the latter is not necessarily deserving of support. Frequently, the party that benefits from the spanking mistakenly interprets it to mean that the public is embracing every aspect of its agenda. Republicans shouldn’t forget that their party had dismal favorable/unfavorable poll ratings last fall. They won because they weren’t Democrats.

There is no question that the Republican base, conservatives, and supporters of the tea party want to take a meat ax to government spending. When Republican congressional members return home and meet with their constituents, they are encouraged to vote against continuing resolutions and for deep spending cuts. These supporters have intensity, and they adamantly oppose any compromise with Democrats.

It would be a blunder, however, to think that such views drove the election. Republicans, conservatives, and tea partiers did not throw Republicans out of their House and Senate majorities in 2006, and they did not vote to increase the size of the Democratic majorities and elect Barack Obama president in 2008.

Independent voters were the ones who cast their ballots for Democrats by an 18-point margin in 2006 because they were mad at President Bush and upset about the war in Iraq, not to mention Republican scandals and the general performance of the GOP Congress. Two years later, these same voters were still angry at the president, were afraid of the financial crisis, and didn’t care for GOP presidential nominee John McCain.

In 2010, these independent voters were unimpressed by the economic-stimulus package, didn’t like cap-and-trade environmental regulation, and really didn’t like the Democratic health care package. Those over or approaching 65 years of age also feared that health care reform would erode Medicare benefits. Even those unaffected by the reforms rallied to defend Medicare.

Polling is very clear. Most voters want to see the federal budget balanced and spending cut. However, they don’t want Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid touched, and, oh yes, they don’t want taxes increased. Now, anyone with an IQ over room temperature knows that all of this is impossible. Spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, along with interest on the national debt, amounts to approximately half the federal budget.

There is no doubt that significant budget cutting is necessary and that Medicare and Medicaid must be reformed. No one can doubt the courage or sincerity of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. But it’s little short of suicidal to drop a Medicare reform package—even a voucher plan that would be optional for those currently older than 55—into tough budget negotiations stymied over Republican demands for deep spending cuts. Democrats have some experience with older voters going ballistic, even with changes that wouldn’t affect them.

For many seniors, doing anything to Medicare that can’t be portrayed as an increase is essentially a cut, and they will fight it to their last breath. From a political standpoint, Medicare reform is very dangerous territory. House Republicans are not just pushing the envelope—they are soaking it with lighter fluid and waving a match at it.

One can understand why Republicans are pushing so hard. Their base is demanding that they do so. And if congressional Republicans resist, many of them can look forward to primary opposition next year. But it seems that GOP members of Congress have become so consumed with pleasing their base that they are ignoring general-election voters and the independents who drive the wild gyrations in American politics.

Congressional Republicans would be well advised to pay attention to the results of the latest Pew Research Center poll (conducted March 30 to April 3 among 1,057 adults) that asked Americans whether they would prefer that their lawmakers stand by their principles even if it meant that the government would shut down, or whether they would rather have their lawmakers compromise on a budget even if they didn’t agree with it. Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who agree with the tea party movement, 68 percent said they would rather have a lawmaker who stands by his or her principles. But among all Republicans, only 50 percent said stand by their principles, while 43 percent said compromise. Among all adults, 55 percent said compromise; among independents, 53 percent said compromise, with 36 percent siding with the principles option.

The bottom line: GOP primary voters are very different from general-election voters. It would be a very shortsighted strategy for Republican members—especially those in swing districts—to focus too much on primary voters. A lot of Democrats did the same thing in 2009 and 2010. Many are now former members of Congress.

By: Charlie Cook, National Journal, April 7, 2011

April 7, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Democrats, Elections, Federal Budget, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Independents, Lawmakers, Medicaid, Medicare, Politics, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Swing Voters, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Would John Boehner And The Republicans Shut Down The Government Over Planned Parenthood?

The good news is, Democrats and Republicans have reportedly reached a general agreement on the size of the cuts for the rest of the fiscal year. As of this morning, the package is up to $34.5 billion, from $33 billion, and now reportedly includes some additional reductions in military spending.

The bad news, Republicans still want to use the budget to wage a culture war, and tomorrow night, will shut down the government to advance this agenda.

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the top Democrat in the Senate, said Thursday morning that he is “not nearly as optimistic” about avoiding a shutdown as he was after a Wednesday night Oval Office meeting and said “it looks like it’s headed in that direction.”

Mr. Reid said that Republicans have “drawn a line in the sand” on issues of abortion funding and changes to the clean air act, and he said those issues could not be resolved in the hours left before a government shutdown.

“The numbers are basically there. But I am not as nearly as optimistic, and that’s an understatement, as I was eleven hours ago,” Mr. Reid said on the floor of the Senate. “The only thing holding up an agreement is ideology.”

In case this isn’t already clear, we’re dealing with obvious madness. Republicans want to cut off Planned Parenthood and gut the Clean Air Act, but instead of pursuing legislation to achieve their goals, they’re insisting that this be part of the budget. Democrats can’t go along with this nonsense, and John Boehner is too weak a Speaker to tell his caucus to act like grown-ups, so the entire process is unraveling.

This has led to talk about the GOP shutting down the government over abortion, but even that’s not quite right — Planned Parenthood is already prohibited from using public funds to terminate pregnancies, and has been for many years. What we’re talking about here is Republicans shutting down the government over access to contraception and family planning services.

This is the basis for the GOP hostage strategy.

President Obama will host his third budget talks in as many days in two hours, summoning Boehner and Reid to the Oval Office. Stay tuned.

By: Steve Benen, Political Animal, Washington Monthly, April 7, 2011

April 7, 2011 Posted by | Abortion, Federal Budget, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Lawmakers, Planned Parenthood, Politics, President Obama, Public, Right Wing, Teaparty, Women's Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Looming Government Shutdown Reminds Us That Congress Is Not A Business

It’s become common to bash large public institutions with the phrase, “if I ran my business the way they run [government/public schools/whatever], I’d be bankrupt.”

Maybe so. But Congress and law making are not businesses (the high-cost business of campaigning and lobbying aside). And public schools are not businesses, either.

Still there’s a tendency to think that putting corporate executives or small business owners in leadership positions at public institutions will somehow make those entities profitable or successful. That accounts for the election of some businesspeople to Congress, and the appointment of former magazine magnate Cathie Black as New York City schools chancellor.

Just a few months after her appointment by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Black is out. It was hardly a surprise, her approval rating among city residents had been an anemic 17 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released last month. She had made some foolish comments, such as suggesting that birth control was the solution to schools overcrowding, and she upset some parents with her proposal to install an “elite” new high school inside an existing Park Slope high school.

Black had no education experience, which might have contributed to her troubles. She may be great at bottom-line decisions, but such calculations are nearly impossible in a public school. You can’t fire your students to improve your graduation rate. You can call a school “failing” for not reaching certain testing standards, but the school can’t do anything about the challenges–such as poverty, substance abuse in the home, or language barriers–that make certain student populations more difficult to teach.

And ironically, the business model on Wall Street doesn’t follow the market approach being imposed on schools. Financial big-wigs who helped run the economy into the ground got big bonuses, despite their poor performance. Their businesses weren’t closed for incompetence; they were given government bailouts. There is indeed an argument to be made that letting those businesses fail would have done tremendous damage to innocent parties, such as people whose IRAs are dependent on the performance of stocks over which they have no control. So why are schools not given the same “business” courtesy?

The same goes for the federal budget. Sure, one couldn’t run a business budget in the same way. But then, the government can’t fire Social Security recipients. It can’t–not without planning and consensus–decide to shutter “underperforming” enterprises such as the Afghan war. The government is meant to take care of everyone, to some degree, and unlike a business, the government can’t pick and choose which customers to target.

As stubbornness in Congress threatens a government shutdown, lawmakers tethered to a business model approach should remember their roles. A CEO or small business owner can dictate; a House member is one of 435 and must accept the needs and perspectives of the rest of the chamber. Businesses can price items high enough to cut out low-income consumers. Government has an obligation–though to what degree is a valid discussion–to protect the neediest. Having former businesspeople in Congress provides a valuable perspective in a diverse institution. But Congress is not a business.

By: Susan Milligan, U.S. News and World Report, April 7, 2011

April 7, 2011 Posted by | Businesses, Congress, Consumers, Corporations, Elections, Federal Budget, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Lawmakers, Politics, Voters | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No More Fence Straddling: Even Moderates Should Condemn Paul Ryan’s Budget

Political moderates and on-the-fencers have had it easy up to now on budget issues. They could condemn “both sides” and insist on the need for “courage” in tackling the deficit.

Thanks to Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget and the Republicans’ maximalist stance in negotiations to avert a government shutdown, the days of straddling are over.

Ryan’s truly outrageous proposal, built on heaping sacrifice onto the poor, slashing scholarship aid to college students and bestowing benefits on the rich, ought to force middle-of-the-roaders to take sides. No one who is even remotely moderate can possibly support what Ryan has in mind.

And please, let’s dispense with the idea that Ryan is courageous in offering his design. There is nothing courageous about asking for give-backs from the least advantaged and least powerful in our society. It takes no guts to demand a lot from groups that have little to give and tend to vote against your party anyway.

And there is nothing daring about a conservative Republican delivering yet more benefits to the wealthiest people in our society, the sort who privately finance the big ad campaigns to elect conservatives to Congress.

Ryan gives the game away by including the repeal of financial reform in his “budget” plan. What does this have to do with fiscal balance? Welcome to the Wall Street Protection Act of 2011.

Oh, yes, and this budget has nothing to do with deficit reduction. Ryan would hack away at expenditures for the poor. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates he gets about two-thirds of his $4.3 trillion in actual cuts from programs for low- income Americans. Note that this $4.3 trillion almost exactly matches the $4.2 trillion he proposes in tax cuts over a decade. Welcome to the Bah Humbug Act of 2011.

But you’d expect a progressive to feel this way. What’s striking is that Ryan is pushing moderates to stand up for a government that will have enough money to perform the functions now seen as basic in the 21st century. These notably include helping those who can’t afford health insurance to get decent medical care, a goal Ryan would have the government abandon, slowly but surely.

Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the co-chairs of the deficit commission and the heroes of the budget-cutting center, put out a statement saying some nice things about the idea of the Ryan budget. They called it “serious, honest, straightforward,” even though there is much about its accounting that is none of those.

But then they got to the real point, declaring themselves “concerned that it falls short of the balanced, comprehensive approach” needed for bipartisan accord because it “largely exempts defense spending from reductions and would not apply any of the savings from eliminating or reducing tax expenditures as part of tax reform to deficit reduction.”

Ryan, they argued, “relies on much larger reductions in domestic discretionary spending than does the commission proposal, while also calling for savings in some safety-net programs — cuts which would place a disproportionately adverse effect on certain disadvantaged populations.”

This is much like what I said, with an added layer of diplomacy. When even deficit hawks begin choking, however politely, on a proposal whose main motivation is ideological, you know there is an opening for a coalition between moderates and progressives on behalf of sane, decent government.

The Republican approach to shutdown talks should reinforce this possibility. Democrats have nearly given away the store to avoid a crackup, yet Republican leaders, under pressure from their right wing, have continued to ask for more and more and more. My word, even President Obama has finally gotten impatient.

However the shutdown saga ends, the negotiating styles of the two sides ought to tell moderates that they can no longer pretend that the two ends of our politics are equally “extreme.” No, conservatives are the ones who’ve been radicalized. The Ryan budget is definitive evidence of this.

It is conservatives who would transform our government from a very modestly compassionate instrument into a machine dedicated to expanding existing privileges while doing as little as possible for the marginalized and the aspiring — those who, with a little help from government, might find it a bit easier to reach for better lives.

Moderation involves a balance between government and the private sector, between risk and security, between our respect for incentives and our desire for greater fairness. The war against moderation has begun. Will moderates join the battle?

By: E. J. Dionne, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 6, 2011

April 7, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Deficits, Government Shut Down, Health Care, Ideology, Politics, Rep Paul Ryan | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No, Rep Paul Ryan’s Budget Proposal Is Not Brave

Prominent opinion writers have spent the last few days fawning over Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which would essentially abolish Medicare and Medicaid while lowering taxes on top earners, and many of them have deployed a litany of superlatives usually reserved for costumed superheroes. Commentators like David Brooks and Jacob Weisberg have described Ryan’s plan as “brave,” and “bold,” and the word “courageous” has been ubiquitous.

But the closer people look at Ryan’s plan, the clearer it becomes that the plan isn’t all that brave. Let’s take stock of all the recent revelations about it.

Ryan’s plan included a laughably implausible unemployment analysis from Heritage predicting it would bring unemployment down to 4 percent by 2015 and 2.8 percent by 2012 — an analysis Heritage then quitely retracted by attempting to disappear it from the internet. Ryan’s plan claims to save money while repealing the Affordable Care Act, even though the CBO has said repealing the ACA will increase the deficit. Ryan implied that his plan was supported by President Bill Clinton’s former OMB Director Alice Rivlin, even though it isn’t. It cuts taxes on top earners, when the easiest way to reduce the deficit is to let the Bush tax cuts expire.

Ryan’s misleading claims aren’t the only thing that isn’t particularly brave about his plan. After accusing Democrats of “raiding” Medicare with the Affordable Care Act, Ryan spares the elderly voters who supported Republicans in 2010 by making sure only he guts medical care for future seniors (he still calls it “saving Medicare,” however). And as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities noted, 2.9 trillion in Ryan’s budget comes from cuts in programs focused on low-income Americans. It doesn’t touch defense spending.

In other words, it focuses on cuts to programs that benefit those most likely to vote Democratic, while preserving programs that serve those more likely to vote Republican.Rewarding your constituencies while punishing the other side’s is how partisan politics usually works, but there’s nothing particularly brave about it.

Ryan himself said during the rollout that his plan isn’t so much a budget as a “cause.” As Steve Benen wrote yesterday, the cause here is destroying the modern welfare state so that rich people have to pay less in taxes. The only reason so many people think Ryan’s plan is “brave” is because they agree with this cause.

When we call a person brave, what we usually mean is that his or her “bravery” is being employed towards an end we agree with. In this case, those who are hailing Ryan’s proposal as brave are doing so because they agree with its goal, which — no matter how many times people insist otherwise — is not deficit reduction. It’s destroying the social safety net. It just so happens that’s a cause a lot of wealthy people with a disproportionate influence on our political discourse happen to believe in. So they think it’s brave, even if the numbers are phony and even if it disproportionately punishes the poor. But there’s nothing at all brave about it.

By: Adam Serwer, The Washington Post, April 7, 2011

April 7, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Congress, Economy, Federal Budget, Ideologues, Journalists, Media, Medicaid, Medicare, Politics, Pundits, Rep Paul Ryan | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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