"Do or Do not. There is no try."

Insuring The Elderly, Insuring The Poor

Democrats, Republicans and Independents all believe the government is responsible for providing health care to the elderly. Democrats and independents, but not Republicans, believe the government should also provide health care to the poor:

All groups are more likely to favor guaranteed health care for the elderly than for the poor. But the dropoff between the two policies is very different. Democrats by a plus 77% margin favor covering the elderly, but only favor covering the poor by a 52% margin. That’s a 25 percentage point gap between covering the elderly and covering the poor. For independents, the falloff is a very similar 28 percentage points. For Republicans, the falloff is 61 percentage points, from a +15 point margin for covering the elderly to a -46 point margin for covering the poor.

The best way to understand this is by grasping the link between ethnocentrism and support for universal entitlements and both opposition to means-tested entitlements. Ethnocentric attitudes among whites, controlling for all other beliefs, correlate with support for universal programs and with opposition to programs for the poor. White racial conservatives favor programs that benefit people like them — and hey, everybody gets old — and oppose programs for people unlike them — the poor being disproportionately non-white, and even more proportionately so in the white imagination.

April 23, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Conservatives, Equal Rights, GOP, Government, Health Care, Ideology, Income Gap, Independents, Medicaid, Medicare, Middle Class, Politics, Public Opinion, Republicans, Right Wing, Seniors, Under Insured, Uninsured, Voters | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Yes, Paul Ryan Does Cut Taxes For The Rich

A number of conservatives have asserted that, contrary to what I’ve written, the House Republican budget written by Paul Ryan does not cut taxes for high earners. (See John McCormack, Ramesh Ponnuru, Charles Krauthammer, and McCormack again quoting Ryan.) Here’s the argument. Ryan keeps overall tax levels the same as they are right now by making the tax cuts permanent. He would then reduce the corporate tax rate and the top income tax rate by ten percentage points, from 35% to 25%. But he would make up for that additional revenue loss by closing “loopholes and deductions,” many of which benefit the rich. Therefore, his plan doesn’t really cut taxes on the rich.

There are four problems with this claim, each of them fatal.

First, the argument simply reflects a legitimate difference in baselines. Under current law, the Bush tax cuts are in full effect, but expire at the end of 2012. Keep Bush-era tax levels in place is not a tax cut compared with the tax code now, but it is a tax cut compared with the tax code in 2013. Which is the true baseline? I think both sides have a point, and Congressional scorekeepers have taken to using both baselines.

When President Obama accuses Ryan of cutting taxes for the rich, he’s using the post-2012 baseline. I consider that the best point of reference because the most important force in our political system is inertia. Given our multiple veto points, it takes great effort to enact a policy change that the parties disagree upon. Ryan proposes to make that change. Therefore, I think it’s fair to describe him as “cutting taxes,” even if revenues did remain at present levels (which I dispute, but more on that later.) I do think there’s merit in both baselines. The argument that Obama is lying about Ryan — that calling him a tax-cutter is, in Krauthammer’s characteristically understated phrasing, “scurrilous” — rests upon the assumption that the current-policy baseline is not only more preferable but the only remotely honest point of reference. That seems like a huge stretch.

Second, even if we accept Ryan’s preferred baseline, his description of his plan is hard to accept at face value. Tax reform is a trade where you take away deductions (that’s hard) and use the money to reduce rates (that’s easy.) The rate reductions are specified. The reduced deductions aren’t. Another way to put this is that Ryan has proposed a specific tax cut that would benefit the affluent, accompanied by utterly vague promises to find offsets. At the very least, the rate-lowering portion ought to carry more weight than the deduction-closing portion.

Third, even if we accept both Ryan’s baseline and assume he will match every dollar in lost revenue from the rate cuts with another dollar in reduced deductions, he will almost certainly wind up cutting taxes for the rich relative even to the post-Bush tax code. Ryan implies that his plan would leave the rich paying the same effective tax rates as they do now because he’s “getting rid of loopholes and deductions, which by the way are enjoyed by the top [tax] rate filers, the people in the top two brackets.” But he hasn’t put out any details. In 1995, House Republicans loudly promised to promote shared sacrifice by rooting out corporate welfare in the tax code. The actual savings they produced turned out to consist of proposals that hurt the poor (by cutting the Earned Income Tax Credit), benefited business (by letting them swipe funds from employee pensions, keeping the money as profit and thus increasing corporate tax revenue), or other reverse-Robin Hood measures.

Now, Ryan was not around then. But we can get a measure of his intentions from the more specific tax plan laid out in his “Roadmap” from 2010. That plan constituted a massive tax cut for the rich, combined with a tax hike on the middle class.

The Tax Policy Center examined various proposals to reduce tax deductions while using the revenue to lower rates across the board. All the plans decreased the tax burden for the top-earning 1%. The problem is that tax deductions are just not worth as much to very rich people as low tax rates.

It’s true that the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction plan includes proposals that would lower rates to around 25% while increasing the effective tax rate paid by the very rich. To do that, you have to do things like raise the estate tax rate and completely eliminate the preferential treatment of capital gains. But Ryan’s budget promises instead — and this is the only specific policy commitment in its tax section, other than lowering rates — to expand the preferential treatment of income from wealth:

Raising taxes on capital is another idea that purports to affect the wealthy but actually hurts all participants in the economy. Mainstream economics, not to mention common sense, teaches that raising taxes on any activity generally results in less of it. Economics and common sense also teach that the size of a nation’s capital stock – the pool of saved money available for investment and job creation – has an effect on employment, productivity, and wages. Tax reform should promote savings and investment because more savings and more investment mean a larger stock of capital available for job creation. That means more jobs, more productivity, and higher wages for all American workers.

Fourth — almost there! — even if you reject everything I’ve written to this point, Ryan’s plan includes the repeal of all the taxes in the Affordable Care Act, including the taxes on the affluent. Here’s the Path to Prosperity’s description of health care taxes he proposes to undo:

The new law imposes a 0.9 percent surtax on wages and a 3.8 percent surtax on interest, dividends, and capital gains. Both taxes only apply to filers in the top two income brackets, but as discussed elsewhere in this section, those filers include small businesses employing millions of Americans, and the new taxes on capital will reduce the pool of capital available for investment and job creation.

There. Per Paul Ryan, these are upper-bracket taxes he proposes to lower. He could keep those taxes in effect, and cover a few of the uninsured people he throws off their coverage, or make the progressively-more-inadequate health care vouchers he uses to replace Medicare slightly less inadequate. But he chooses not to do that, because he believes it’s more important to tax capital at lower rates. It’s fine for him to believe that. But he and his defenders have to stop insisting that he doesn’t propose tax cuts for the rich. He indisputably does so.

By: Jonathan Chait, The New Republic, April 20, 2011

April 23, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Budget, Businesses, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Deficits, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Health Care, Health Reform, Jobs, Politics, President Obama, Rep Paul Ryan, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Uninsured, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

GOP: Playing “Dangerous Games” With The Debt Limit

The debt limit is supposed to make Congress think twice before passing tax cuts or spending increases that add to the national debt. Instead, lawmakers routinely support policies without paying for them — like the Bush-era tax cuts and two wars — and then posture and protest when their decisions require raising the debt limit.

So it will be once Congress returns from its spring recess. The debt limit — $14.3 trillion — will be hit as early as mid-May. If it is not raised in time, the government will have to use increasingly unorthodox tactics to meet its obligations, which would disrupt the financial markets and the economic recovery.

Default is theoretically possible, though public outrage over the mess would likely compel Congress to raise the debt limit before then. The best approach, the most sensible and mature, would be to pass a clean and timely increase.

However, nothing sensible or mature is on the horizon. Republicans have vowed to extract more heedless spending cuts in exchange for their votes to raise the debt limit. To that end, they seem likely to demand changes to the budget process, like a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, or spending caps.

Such reforms have a glib appeal — who can oppose something as prudent-sounding as balanced budgets? In fact, they are a dodge, because they cut spending broadly without lawmakers having to defend specific cuts. They are also often wired to block tax increases, without which deficit reduction efforts are not only unfair, but also will not succeed.

Take, for example, the balanced budget amendment to the Constitution that Senate Republicans recently endorsed. By rigidly requiring a balanced budget each year, it would deepen recessions by forcing tax increases or spending cuts in a weak economy.

Worse, the amendment would hold annual spending to 18 percent of the previous year’s gross domestic product, a formula that works out to about 16.7 percent in the proposal’s early years, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That is a level last seen in 1956 — a time before Medicare, before the interstate highways, when many baby boomers were not yet born, never mind aging into retirement.

Sharply lower spending would, in turn, allow for big tax cuts. Those tax cuts would be virtually irreversible, since the amendment calls for a two-thirds vote of both houses to raise taxes.

Another bad idea is the spending cap proposed by two senators, Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, and Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri. It would cap spending at around 21 percent of G.D.P., compared with about 24 percent now — which would require deep cuts like those in the House Republican budget plan. With its emphasis on spending cuts, the cap also seems intended to reduce the deficit without tax increases.

In the successful deficit reduction efforts of 1990 and 1993, budget process reforms were helpful. The key, however, was to first enact credible deficit-reduction packages — with spending cuts and tax increases — and then impose rules, like pay-as-you-go, to prevent backsliding. Process reforms alone avoid the hard work. Still, they can exert powerful political pull.

The White House and Congressional Democrats must not allow themselves to be taken hostage again.

By: The New York Times, Editorial, April 22, 2011

April 23, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Ideology, Medicare, Politics, Public, Republicans, Taxes | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How The Right Brought The Trump Birther Madness On Itself

GOP primary voters should reward substance, rather than pols who masterfully exploit hot button issues. So why are so many Republicans embracing Donald Trump? They’ve been trained to elevate politicians based on the “tough” rhetoric they use rather than the record they’ve amassed. And to rally around anyone seen as being disrespected by the dread mainstream media.

The talk radio right bears much of the blame for these pathologies. Caught up in the Tea Party excitement, guys like Mark Levin used their platforms to act as apologists for Republicans like Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell. Didn’t they fire up the base? Weren’t they unafraid to zing President Obama? As Donald Trump rises in the polls, however, Levin is having second thoughts. The right is suddenly foolish to embrace demagogues with thin resumes and incoherent political philosophies. For all their differences, folks like Ross Douthat, David Frum, Reihan Salam, David Brooks, Daniel Larison, and many others have long been urging the GOP to pick its champions based on substance. You’ll never hear any of them urge that Donald Trump be taken seriously.

Meanwhile, Sarah Palin is defending Trump. Will Levin call out the woman whose political judgment he has frequently touted? Rush Limbaugh is inviting Trump on his show for softball interviews, and telling callers to his program that the celebrity billionaire ought to be taken “half-seriously.” Having announced that taking Trump at all seriously is idiocy of the highest order, will Levin openly criticize his fellow talk radio host? Or does this bully lack the courage to go after anyone with a bigger audience than his? Remember that the next time he tries to tell you that the reformers embody what’s wrong with the right. Like all bullies, his targets aren’t chosen based on desert.

In failing to call out the people most responsible for the right’s pathologies, Mark Levin is not alone. As Adam Serwer notes:

Trump’s candidacy is largely a problem of the GOP’s own making. It’s a symptom of circumstances Republicans have spent the last two years tacitly cultivating as an asset. Republican leaders have at best refused to tamp down the most outlandish right-wing conspiracy-mongering about the president and at worst have actively enabled it. The result: A substantial portion of their base believes a complete myth about the president’s birth certificate, and Republicans are stuck with a candidate shameless enough to exploit the issue without resorting to the usual euphemisms more respectable Republicans tend to employ when hinting at the president’s supposed cultural otherness. I don’t know how you solve a problem like Donald Trump, but I know it’s a problem the Republican Party brought on itself.

Indeed, half of the Iowa GOP are birthers. It’s so much of a problem that Ann Coulter and Karl Rove are out there assuring everyone that President Obama was in fact born in the United States. In doing so, they frame Birtherism as a trap liberals are setting. They’re implicitly criticizing all the mainstream voices on the right who’ve flirted with Birtherism, but are uninclined to name names, or to come right out and state that what those conservatives did has come back to bite the right. 

Some of us have long insisted that the conservative movement was going to pay for its embrace of demagoguery, anti-intellectualism, bombast in place of substance, and shameless pandering. For our trouble, we’ve been dismissed by talk radio hosts and conservative bloggers, who took an ends-justify-the-means approach to the 2010 primaries and opposition to President Obama generally. Lo and behold, the conservative movement is now paying a price, exactly as predicted. The GOP has a weak field for 2012, and although Donald Trump isn’t going to win the nomination, his early status as a front-runner is an unwelcome distraction and may end up pulling other candidates toward the sort of absurd populism that will hurt them in a general election.

Even Mark Levin, Ann Coulter and Karl Rove now see these pathologies on the right, and the dangers they pose. So are they going to criticize the most prominent conservatives who brought these conditions about? Nope. There is never direct intra-movement criticism of Rush Limbaugh or Roger Ailes. There is never any appreciation of the pathologies encouraged by everyone who supported Sarah Palin. Instead we get self-righteous criticism that is too little, too late, and a cowardly refusal to confront the culpable parties in a way that would prevent this sort of thing from happening again. 

By: Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, April 21, 2011

April 23, 2011 Posted by | Birthers, Conservatives, Elections, GOP, Ideologues, Ideology, Iowa Caucuses, Journalists, Media, Politics, Press, Pundits, Republicans, Right Wing, Tea Party, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

GOP Presidential Contenders Compete To Win Over “The Political Army Of The Lord”

Workers remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building after Superior Court Justice Roy Moore refused to take it down in 2003

So you can add another car to the crazy train that is the 2012 Republican presidential nominating contest. No, I’m not talking about last week’s sensation, Donald Trump. He’s a pretty conventional figure compared to the latest would-be president, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who is currently barnstorming through Iowa after announcing an exploratory committee.

You may remember Judge Moore as the man who was forced from his judicial post after refusing to remove a gigantic monument to the Ten Commandments from his courthouse. He was also known for abrasive comments from the bench about homosexuality as contrary to God’s will, which in Moore’s opinion was dispositive. A martyr for theocrats everywhere, Moore spent some time hauling his monument around Alabama before launching two notably unsuccessful gubernatorial races — coming in a bad second in 2006’s Republican primary and a bad fourth in 2010 — and becoming a minor fixture at tea party events.

Moore was undoubtedly drawn to Iowa by that state’s furor over same-sex marriage, decreed legal by a 2009 state Supreme Court ruling. Iowa’s powerful Christian Right movement has made overturning that decision Job One, beginning with a successful effort in 2010 to remove three of the seven jurists responsible for it. It’s one of the few places left where Republicans don’t try to ignore the whole issue of gay rights as a divisive loser of an issue (which is why presidential wannabees like Tim Pawlenty have anachronistically come out against the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell). For Moore, it must have felt more like “home” than home.

Before writing off Moore as a kook trying to horn in on the spotlight of a presidential race, consider the company he’s keeping on his tour of the first-in-the-nation-caucuses state: former state legislator Danny Carroll. Carroll was co-chairman (with three-time gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats) of Mike Huckabee’s successful 2008 Caucus campaign, and more recently, signed on as a lobbyist for Vander Plaats’ new Christian Right umbrella group, The Family Leader. He’s a reasonably big deal in Iowa GOP circles, and by no means someone who howls at the moon.

For all I know, Carroll sees something in the crusty Alabama judge that others haven’t seen. Or maybe Judge Moore is a convenient stalking horse for Huckabee, designed to keep The Faithful loose and out of anyone else’s camp, in case Huck ultimately decides to run.

Regardless of Carroll’s (or Moore’s) personal motives, it’s likely the national Republican chattering class will dismiss the Judge’s campaign as a joke even worse than Trump’s. Or, it may be said, there is now such a crowd on the far right that opportunities are opening up for more moderate possibilities like Romney, T-Paw or an establishment-backed candidate-yet-to-be-named.

But I’d like to suggest another theory: the Christian/tea party right in Iowa is big enough, powerful enough, and politically sophisticated enough to hold its own caucus-within-a-caucus (well, caucuses, to be technical about it), an intramural contest to determine which candidate will actually represent the cause when Iowa Republicans make their final commitments before Caucus Night. Proven zealots like Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and now Moore, will joust with more suspect supplicants like T-Paw, Newt Gingrich — and maybe even Donald Trump! — over the next few months, with someone emerging as the designated favorite of the political army of the Lord. That is arguably what happened in Iowa in 2008, when Huckabee and Sen. Sam Brownback fought to become the Christian Right alternative to Mitt Romney, with Huckabee becoming The Man only after he out-organized Brownback at the State Party Straw Poll in Ames during the summer.

Moore’s candidacy may not ultimately have any direct influence on what happens next winter in Iowa, when conservative evangelicals and conservative Catholics get together to shape the 2012 Republican nominating process.

But he could indeed intensify the competition for Christian Right voters. And just as importantly, he could definitely serve as a symbol of the ideological and psychological gap between rigorous conservative activists and the mainstream political commentariat. Most of the latter think Moore is a crazy person. But most of the Iowa audiences before which Moore speaks will consider him an authentic if polarizing voice expressing the Word of God. That’s a pretty big gulf in perception, but also a pretty good reflection of the real differences Americans experience in how they view their leaders.

By: Ed Kilgore, Managing Editor of The Democratic Strategist and Senior Editor, Progressive Policy Institute. Article published in The Atlantic, April 20, 2011: Photo by Tami Chappell (Reuters)

April 23, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Elections, Exploratory Presidential Committees, GOP, Ideology, Iowa Caucuses, Politics, Religion, Republicans, Right Wing, Tea Party, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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