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What Paul Ryan’s Constituents Think And Why It Matters

Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R) Wisconsin district isn’t competitive. Over the last decade, his most competitive race was the one he won by “only” 26 points. Last year, the margin was 38 points.

But when the Associated Press checked in with some of the far-right congressman’s constituents, they were aware of their representative’s plan to eliminate Medicare, and they weren’t exactly on board with the plan.

Brian Krutsch has been long one of many automatic votes here for Rep. Paul Ryan…. But this week, admiration has been tinged with apprehension as one of Ryan’s signature ideas — ending Medicare’s status as a full, guaranteed benefit for senior citizens — suddenly took a step toward reality.

“I think that’s one of the things they should probably leave alone — you know — unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Krutsch said as he took a break from reviewing job openings at the Rock County Job Center. “Old people need help with medical bills. There’s too many people under-insured right now — especially people like myself right now who don’t have insurance.”

Howard Gage, a 74-year-old Medicare recipient who owns a three-person video-production company, said he has voted for Ryan in all seven races, still supports the congressman and likes him as a person. But, he added, it’s hard to accept that fixing the budget should mean that his family wouldn’t receive the same Medicare benefits that he relies on.

“It bothers me that my kids or grandchildren might be affected by whatever has to be done” to curb spending, he said.

At face value, it’s interesting that those who elected Ryan aren’t at all sold on Ryan’s vision. If they’re not on board, it stands to reason more vulnerable Republican lawmakers from more competitive districts have reason to be concerned, and may very well balk at embracing such a radical move that won’t pass anyway.

But there’s more to it than that. As Greg Sargent explained, “These folks are worried about doing away with Medicare as we know it, but they are grappling with whether or not this will be necessary to put the nation on firmer fiscal footing.”

Right. Reading the piece, it seems these folks want to do the right thing. They’re uncomfortable with an extreme overhaul of Medicare, but they’re willing to listen to what’s “absolutely necessary.”

But the point is, the privatization of Medicare isn’t “necessary” at all. It won’t even lower health care costs. Paul Ryan’s plan is ostensibly about debt reduction, but even that’s a charade — he’s going after entitlements and other domestic priorities while slashing tax rates for the rich.

Or as Greg added, these voters “are proceeding from the premise that Ryan’s Medicare proposal is about fixing our fiscal situation in a way that would spread the pain around evenly — and not aware that it would shift the burden for fixing our fiscal situation downward, in keeping with conservative tax-cutting ideology.”

Guess what message Democrats should be pushing right now? Or put another way, what do you suppose those folks in Southeastern Wisconsin would say if they knew going after Medicare wouldn’t be at all necessary if Ryan weren’t so desperate to give millionaires another massive tax break?

By: Steve Benen, Washington Monthly-Political Animal, April 11, 2011

April 12, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Deficits, Democrats, Economy, GOP, Health Care Costs, Ideologues, Income Gap, Medicare, Middle Class, Politics, Rep Paul Ryan, Republicans, Right Wing, Uninsured, Voters, Wealthy, Wisconsin | , , , , | Leave a comment

Budget Compromise Shows Conservative Big Government Hypocrisy

They hate big government, those conservative Republicans—especially a big federal government, trying to meddle in Americans’ lives on everything from healthcare to light bulbs.

Except, of course, when it comes to the District of Columbia, which the GOP-controlled House seems to view as its own little political petri dish. As part of its pending agreement to cut $38 billion from the federal budget, negotiators decided to cave in to the GOP’s demand to bar the District from using its own money to subsidize abortions for poor women.

A lot of people don’t like abortion, think it should be illegal, and don’t think government should pay for it. That’s a simple equation: if you don’t like abortion, don’t have one. If you think it should be illegal, take it up with the courts, or push for a constitutional amendment banning it. Barring government money from being spent on a legal women’s health service—however controversial—is not defensible. We all have to pay for activities we don’t want, through our taxes or health insurance premiums. Some taxpayers would prefer that their contributions to the federal treasury not be used to pay for wars; some who pay health insurance premiums don’t want the pool of money to be used to pay for someone’s Viagra. But group funds don’t allow for individual micro-management.

The attack on the District of Columbia adds even more insult to the unforgivable injury Washingtonians already endure as the nation’s only legally disenfranchised voters. It’s bad enough that U.S. citizens in Washington—people who pay local and federal taxes, volunteer, serve in wars and on jury duty—don’t have a full voting representative in the House and have no U.S. senators. It’s the height of arrogance for members of the U.S. Congress from other parts of the country to presume to tell the District how to spend tax dollars it collected from its own citizens. Aside from the abortion restrictions, the pending budget agreement also reinstates and expands a private school voucher program for the District.

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, who was arrested at the Capitol this week in protest over the meddling, sounded just like a genuine political conservative as he described his objections: “I’m tired of being a pawn in a political game. All we want is to be able to spend our own money.”

How unfortunate that congressional Republicans, who demanded the control over the District—and Democrats, who caved into their bullying—can’t see their way to apply true conservative principles when it comes to the city where they work. Other jurisdictions have imposed a “commuter tax” on people who live in one state and work in another. Members of Congress pay taxes in their home districts and states, but not here. If they want a say in how District funds are used, maybe it’s time they started to pay up.

By: Susan Milligan, U.S. News and World Report, April 12, 2011

April 12, 2011 Posted by | Abortion, Big Government, Congress, Conservatives, Democracy, Democrats, Federal Budget, GOP, Health Care, Human Rights, Ideologues, Middle East, Politics, Republicans, Women, Women's Health, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wisconsin Supreme Court Election Needs Fraud Investigation

Partisans on both sides were ready to scream “fraud at polls” as the balloting wound down in Wisconsin in the recent state Supreme Court election.

Normally, the race would have been a snoozer. Incumbent Justice David Prosser, a former GOP state assembly speaker and failed congressional candidate, won 55 percent of the vote in the first round of balloting. His opponent, an ultra-liberal named Jo Anne Kloppenburg, ran a distant second. But that was before Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker proposed and won enactment of a series of reforms that change the rules for state government workers in a way that limited their collective bargaining power.

After that, the election was presented as a referendum on Walker’s reforms, one the unions opposed strongly, going so far as to occupy the state capitol building in an effort to block the legislature from doing its business.

Since the court will inevitably rule on the legality of Walker’s reforms, a victory by Kloppenburg would have been a major setback for the new governor since it would have shifted the 4-3 majority on the seven-member Supreme Court from 4-3 conservative to 4-3 liberal.

The morning after the election, the Associated Press was reporting Kloppenburg ahead by just over 200 votes, enough for her to declare victory, even though the margin was close enough to trigger an automatic recount. The GOP was concerned because the heavy presence of pro-union activists in the state from around the country may have been able to take advantage of weaknesses in the state’s election code to unfairly, perhaps even illegally, influence the election.

The GOP was ready to question the validity of the outcome when a reporting error in heavily-GOP Waukesha County was discovered that gave Prosser a lead of more than 7,000 votes.

Now it was the Democrats‘ turn to cry, “Foul!” and to raise the specter of vote fraud.

Both parties are right to be concerned. Elections in Wisconsin are a messy business, particularly because the state allows same-day registration on Election Day, and because of something known as “vouching,” in which voters who can prove who they are can attest to the identity of others seeking to vote.

Something needs to be done. It’s time for a bipartisan effort to look at the entire election. As the Wall Street Journal‘s John Fund wrote recently, “An independent investigation is called for, if for no other reason than to clear the air and to recommend procedures to ensure such errors don’t happen again. Just as many Wisconsin officials have ignored or downplayed evidence of vote fraud (see the Milwaukee Police Department’s 2008 detailed investigation) so too have sloppy election procedures been allowed to fester in some counties.”

He’s right. Too many people choose to look the other way when the issue of voter fraud is raised, especially if their party is the one that benefits. Elections are too important to not take these allegations seriously. Wisconsin has the reputation for being a “good government state.” If they want to keep it, Governor Walker should appoint an independent panel to review the election and use it as the basis for a set of electoral reforms that could be a model for the nation.

By: Peter Roff, U.S. News and World Report, April 11, 2011

April 12, 2011 Posted by | Democracy, Elections, Gov Scott Walker, Government, Governors, Politics, Public Employees, Republicans, Union Busting, Unions, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Speaker Boehner In The Temple Of Tea Party Doom

Speaker of the House John Boehner looked as tanned and dashing as Indiana Jones escaping the Temple of Doom last week. He came out alive. He captured some treasure in the form of budget cuts. His friends shake their heads in amazement.

But the worried look on our hero’s face is a sly clue that he knows this is not the end of the movie. It is the start. And the worst is yet to come.

When the Speaker told ABC last week that there is no “daylight” between him and the Tea Party Caucus it was because they are wrapped around his neck like an albatross.

The Tea Party’s tremendous success in the mid-term elections elevated him to the speaker’s chair. But the Tea Party freshmen are all about talk radio rhetoric, campaign slogans and reveling in the widespread discontent with American politics. They have yet to display any capacity to govern.

By forcing the nation to wait on a last-minute deal, the Speaker was able to go back to his Tea Party freshmen and claim he got the best deal possible from the Democratic majority in the Senate and the President. But what he demonstrated to moderate and independent voters, as well as Republicans not entranced by the Tea Party, is that the least experienced, most extreme elements of the party are now defining the Republican brand with hysterical stunt governing.

The Speaker has been around long enough to know Republicans got blamed in the last government shutdown and he told his caucus they likely faced the same fate if there was a shutdown this time. But with widespread doubts among the freshmen as to whether Boehner is sufficiently conservative because he is willing to negotiate with Democrats the Speaker had to pretend he was not compromising. After his long, steady climb to power in Congress it is incredible and sad Boehner now finds himself unable to present himself as a trustworthy, responsible steward of the American government.

That is not the image the Tea Party freshmen want from the Speaker. They want him pulling stunts. They want to hear him attacking the President and calling out the Democrats in Congress as big spenders. And the Tea Party had veto power over the deal.

It is no wonder the Speaker reportedly complained to the Tea Party Caucus early last week that he felt they “abandoned” him when 54 of them voted against him on a continuing resolution.

This is the Tea Party that delighted in the theatrics surrounding a possible shutdown even after Democrats met the GOP’s original demand for more than $30 billion in budget cuts.

And that was before Tea Party freshmen made the Speaker and their own party look shallow and hysterical by turning a serious fight over cutting the deficit into a sideshow on abortion when spending federal money on abortion is already banned.

The polls that once showed Democrats and Republicans sharing blame over a shutdown began to shift against the Republicans. Self-identified Tea Party members made up the lone group open to a shutdown. And in a key shift brought on by the Republican hard-line, the independents who voted with Republicans last fall and said government was too intrusive now tell pollsters they want government to do more.

In a column for the National Journal last week, ace political handicapper Charlie Cook wrote: “Among the worries the party now has is that a government shutdown could get blamed on the GOP.” Looking ahead to debates about major cuts to entitlement spending, such as Medicare, in the 2012 budget, the Republicans now seem to have squandered credibility. Cook concluded that “these party insiders believe that taking on entitlements, specifically Medicare, could jeopardize the party’s hold on the House, its strong chances of taking the Senate and the stronghold that the party has established with older, white voters — not coincidentally, Medicare recipients.”  

 But the Speaker apparently felt he had no choice but to dance to the tune set by the Tea Party freshmen because he is leery of the ambitious young guns on his leadership team, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). They are developing their own lines of loyalty among the Tea Party freshmen.

Boehner has seen this movie before. He was a freshman in 1997 when a member of Speaker Newt Gingrich’s team, Rep. Bill Paxon of New York, launched a coup against Gingrich. In addition, elements of the Tea Party are already looking for a candidate to run against Boehner on the charge he is too willing to compromise with Democrats.

Democrats are happy with a weakened Boehner because every public stumble gives middle-of-the road swing voters more faith in President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). With more budget battles coming soon, the Democrats are looking like steady hands, sensible statesmen as opposed to the reckless and political Republicans.

That leaves Boehner with little running room as the next series of battles over the debt ceiling and next year’s budget comes. At the last hour he survived last week’s fight. But the future does not look good for our hero.

By: Juan Williams, Opinion Writer, The Hill, April 11, 2011

April 12, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democrats, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Independents, Lawmakers, Medicare, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Swing Voters, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gut Punch To Seniors: Republicans Are Done Pretending

“Should Congress have cut Medicare half a trillion dollars to pay for ObamaCare?” asked a 2010 ad for Republican newcomer Renee Ellmers in North Carolina’s 2nd congressional district. 

That theme — “Obama’s coming for your Medicare!” — helped Ellmers and GOP candidates across the nation consolidate the senior vote, winning that crucial voting bloc by a 59-38 margin. In 2008, Democrats won seniors by 49-48. The dramatic shift was a massive component of the GOP wave.

It was a dishonest attack, of course. The Democratic healthcare law cut $126 billion from Medicare Advantage over 10 years, not half a trillion. And Medicare Advantage, which allowed seniors to get healthcare via private insurers, was an inefficient and wasteful experiment to see whether private companies could deliver health services more efficiently than the government. It failed. In fact, Medicare Advantage cost 11 percent more to run than standard Medicare for identical services.

Yet “fiscally responsible” Republicans successfully demagogued the issue all the way to a majority, winning precious senior support with promises to “protect Medicare.” Those promises are now officially history. Republicans are now rewarding seniors for their vote by punching them in the gut.

GOP Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) has fired the first shot in a new war to destroy the benefit structure that seniors paid for throughout their working lives. Under his plan, seniors will no longer enroll in Medicare, but rather receive vouchers to try and secure care through private insurers. Ryan’s plan delays implementation for 10 years to ward off the wrath of current seniors, but the end result is the same — the elimination of a program Republicans pretended to protect.

After all, if the plan is so great for seniors, why wait until 2021 to implement it? 

Ryan’s plan would cap the growth of vouchers to a hair over the rate of inflation. However, the cost of medical services has far outpaced inflation. So what happens when the vouchers aren’t enough to cover the cost of expensive life-saving medical procedures? If Republicans won’t bargain with drug companies or limit reimbursements to doctors (and they won’t), the only thing left would be real-world death panels.

In other words, seniors would die, needlessly and prematurely.

It is no coincidence that Republicans are using this moment to try and discredit the AARP, which will undoubtedly push back against this irresponsible plan. The House Ways and Means Committee has launched an investigation into the organization’s finances, arguing that its support for last year’s healthcare reform measure should invalidate its tax-exempt status. “Republicans are desperate to try to break the trust that America’s seniors have in AARP,” said Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) during the committee hearings. “They need to do so before they announce their budget that will devastate Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.”

If Republicans were serious about containing healthcare costs, they would take a fresh look at a public option, allowing Americans to choose government-run insurance that would compete against private insurers. But Republicans don’t really care about providing quality care at reasonable prices — they care about enriching their insurance lobbyist friends. 

Seniors allowed themselves to be taken in by the GOP in 2010. But their choice now is obvious. Republicans are done pretending.

By: Markos Moulitsas, The Hill, April 5, 2011

April 12, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Democrats, Elections, GOP, Health Care, Health Reform, Insurance Companies, Lobbyists, Medicaid, Medicare, Pharmaceutical Companies, Politics, Public Option, Republicans, Right Wing, Social Security, Voters | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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