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The Incredible Shrinking Speaker: The Inmates Have Taken Over The Asylum

On Thursday, President Obama asked the top eight officials in Congress — four from each party — and Vice President Biden to express a preference about a debt-reduction target. Should the negotiations focus on a more modest series of cuts ($2 trillion), a larger package in line with the Biden-led talks ($3 trillion to $3.5 trillion), or a more ambitious approach (roughly $4 trillion)?

Of the 10 people in the room, eight, including all the Democrats, said they want to go big. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was one of them, “enthusiastically” endorsing the notion of a grand bargain, telling Republican lawmakers that bold action is necessary, and that this is why he wanted to be Speaker in the first place.

Two of the 10 balked. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said there’s no point in trying to strike a grand bargain because rank-and-file Republicans will never accept a compromise on revenue.

As of yesterday, Boehner abandoned his plan and came around to Cantor’s and Kyl’s way of thinking. The Speaker discovered his caucus just wasn’t willing to follow him.

The sweeping deal Obama and Boehner had been discussing would have required both parties to take a bold leap into the political abyss. […]

[Some] Republicans said Boehner had finally realized that he could not sell the tax framework within his party. Many House Republicans, particularly the influential 87-member freshman class, won elections vowing to never raise taxes. At a Thursday meeting at the White House, Cantor said the tax package could not pass the House. And at a Friday morning news conference, every member of Boehner’s leadership team denounced the idea of including tax increases in the debt legislation.

As a substantive matter, the anti-tax extremism that dominates Republican politics is well past the point of being farcical. Given a chance to cut the debt by $4 trillion, GOP leaders who claim to be frantic about a non-existent debt crisis have been exposed as frauds.

But the political issue that stands out for me is realizing just how weak a Speaker Boehner really is.

He started this debt-limit process saying, “We’re going to have to deal with it as adults. Whether we like it or not, the federal government has obligations and we have obligations on our part.” Republicans proceeded to ignore him. This week, Boehner believed he had the power and influence to convince at least most of his caucus to rise to the occasion. Republicans proceeded to ignore this, too. Even the Speaker’s own leadership team didn’t want to follow him, and in the end, it looks like Cantor understood the extremist attitudes of the caucus far better than the Speaker did.

The Speaker of the House is arguably one of the most powerful offices in the government, at least in theory. It’s supposed to be within Boehner’s power to simply tell his caucus what they have a responsibility to do, and demand their fealty.

But a leader with no followers is, by definition, weak. Boehner may be the Speaker, but as he’s quickly realizing, he’s taking the orders, not giving them.

In the asylum known as the House of Representatives, is there any doubt as to the inmates’ power?


By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Political Animal-Washington Monthly, July 10, 2011

July 10, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Taxes, Wealthy | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Speaker Boehner Abandons His Own Debt-Reduction Goal

President Obama and congressional Democrats were prepared to move forward on an ambitious Grand Bargain, which would have achieved more than $4 trillion in debt reduction over the next decade. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) embraced the White House’s goal and believed he was a strong enough leader to deliver on the agreement.

Yesterday, Boehner realized he’s not nearly as strong a Speaker as he’d hoped.

House Speaker John A. Boehner abandoned efforts Saturday night to cut a far-reaching debt-reduction deal, telling President Obama that a more modest package offers the only politically realistic path to avoiding a default on the mounting national debt.

On the eve of a critical White House summit on the debt issue, Boehner (R-Ohio) told Obama that their plan to “go big,” in the speaker’s words, and forge a compromise that would save more than $4 trillion over the next decade, was crumbling under Obama’s insistence on significant new tax revenue. […]

Obama, at least, was willing to make that leap and had put significant reductions to entitlement programs on the table. But on Saturday, Boehner blinked….

The conventional wisdom suggests Republicans, who falsely believe we’re in the midst of some sort of debt crisis, are desperate to slash the deficit and bring the budget closer to balance. The conventional wisdom is, and has been, entirely wrong — Republicans care about keeping taxes on the wealthy low. Every other priority is a distant second.

Obama was willing to go big, even at the risk of infuriating his own base. In the process, the GOP was presented with a test: when faced with a historic opportunity on an issue they claim to care about, are Republicans willing to accept some sensible, popular concessions in order to cut the debt by more than $4 trillion? Is the GOP ready to rise to the occasion?

Yesterday, Republican leaders replied, “No, we’re not.”

Of course, this appears to take one possible solution to the debt-ceiling standoff off the table, but it doesn’t change the fact that a solution is still a necessity.

As talks at the White House reconvene today, focus will shift towards a $2.4 trillion package, more in line with the plan produced by the Biden-led talks. This should, in theory, be easier to achieve, though you’ll recall that GOP leaders abandoned those negotiation two weeks ago, when Democrats said the agreement couldn’t be 100% to 0% in Republicans’ favor.


By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Political Animal-Washington Monthly, July 10, 2011

July 10, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Taxes, Wealthy | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Republican Preachers: Believing What You Know Ain’t True

In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain makes a stinging observation on the overtly religious. “Faith is when you believe something you know ain’t true.” This is a perfect description of the religious asylum that is now the Republican Party and the tortured gospel they are spreading all over the country. Virtually the entire barnyard of their presidential candidates are preaching a mix of born again religious revivalism and brutal 19th century industrial capitalism, that they “know ain’t even remotely true.”

By and large these are not genetically stupid people. But the political trash talking they feel obligated to serve up to the Tea Party Gods–Rush Limbaugh and the inquisitors at Fox–has degenerated into a competition of who can do the best impression of an absolute lunatic. Rick Perry is preaching virtual secession from the union, while holding prayer vigils for God to solve our problems. By what twisted logic does contempt for the federal government and even secession equate to patriotism? Someone please show me where the founding fathers advocated prayer as the vehicle for solving a national debt crisis?

Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty have flip flopped on virtually every position they ever espoused so that their insanity titers can match Michelle Bachmann’s. I’ve met with Jon Huntsman on more than one occasion regarding environmental issues in Utah. He was a reasonable moderate Republican as my state’s governor and appeared on TV ads three years ago exhorting the entire country to act on the climate crisis. He did that because he respected the warnings of our climate scientists. Now he says we can’t deal with global warming in a depressed economy. He knows perfectly well that those same scientists are warning that if we don’t act on it right now, we condemn our children to a brutal, dangerous and likely unlivable world. Newt Gingrich? He appeared on national TV ads with Nancy Pelosi saying that he agreed on the urgency to deal with the climate crisis. Now he looks like a Keystone Cop, tripping over his own feet in full speed reverse.

Sarah Palin? Oh, never mind. Rick Santorum? According to him the world’s scientists are all in on a conspiracy with Al Gore. Really Rick? That conspiracy would have to have started in 1824 when the greenhouse gas phenomenon was first described by the French scientist Joseph Fourier. It would have to have involved scores of scientists in the 1800s like John Tyndall of the Royal Institute of Great Britain, George Marsh, the founder of the Smithsonian Institute, and hundreds of scientists in the 1900s like 1903 Nobel Prize winner Svante Arrhenius. The conspiracy would now have to involve virtually the entire world’s scientific community. That makes sense to you, Rick? Really?

Almost as irritating is the chorus sung over and over by Eric Cantor, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and 99% of Republican Congressmen proudly declaring their Huckleberry Finn type faith that an unfettered free market is the only way to create to millions of new jobs. “Stop choking businesses with excessive regulations!” they chant. All businesses, all regulations. Really, Mitch? Never mind that it was precisely the elimination of, inadequacy of, or lack of enforcement of federal regulation that allowed Wall St. to drag the economy to the edge of the apocalypse and the very reason why there are no jobs. Never mind that it was poor regulation and free market cost cutting that brought us the Deep Water Horizon, Kalamazoo River, and now Yellowstone River oil spills. 1,800 oil spills have occurred in this country in the last five years totaling 16 million gallons of oil contaminating our land and water. And Mitt, you want regulators to get off the backs of the oil companies? Really?

Never mind that it was inadequate federal oversight and greedy, unfettered capitalism on steroids that allowed Massey Energy to commit manslaughter on 29 coal miners last year. Hey, Eric just what jobs are created by paring down our already bare bones federal food inspection? Will even more outbreaks of e-coli and salmonella in peanut butter, spinach, eggs, cantaloupe, sprouts and hamburger be counted as just collateral blessings from unleashing the free market? We certainly don’t want to pay for inspection of imported sea food from Japan because a little radioactivity in your tuna fish and scallops would probably just make it taste a little more crunchy.

Hey Newt, what jobs will be created by eviscerating the EPA and their enforcement of the Clean Air Act besides morticians and health care providers? Michelle, so you’re comfortable with eliminating money for bridge inspectors from the National Transportation Safety Board because the one that collapsed in your home state in 2007 only killed 13 people, and that’s a small price to pay for that warm, orgasmic tingle only the free market can give?

Lets certainly get regulators off the backs of the pharmaceutical industry because other than the millions of people who have been killed or injured by Phen-Fen, Vioxx, Avandia, Bextra, Cylert, Baycol, Palladone, Trasylol, Tylenol, Darvocet, Heparin and all the drugs now made with ingredients from China without any real standards or controls–i.e. most of them–there’s no reason to think an unregulated free market won’t work out just fine. Really, Sarah? So if defective and tainted drugs weed out the weak among us, that’s just the beauty of the Ayn Rand/Milton Friedman world view?

The entire middle class is struggling with unemployment, under employment, mounting debt, lost pensions, mortgages foreclosed or underwater, and you want to undo even the pathetic protections of the 2010 Consumer Protection Act and put Elizabeth Warren’s head on a platter? Really, Speaker Boehner? That’s the job elixir the middle class so desperately need?

As with most religions the Church of Unfettered Capitalism doesn’t have to make sense in order to thrive. But it does need preachers at the pulpit exhorting us to “believe in things that we know ain’t true” and the Republican Party can’t get enough of them. Huckleberry Finn would be so proud.

By: Brian Moench,, July 9, 2011

July 10, 2011 Posted by | Big Pharma, Capitalism, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Debt Ceiling, Democracy, Economy, Energy, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Tea Party, Unemployed, Wall Street, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sen Orrin Hatch’s Desire To Raise Middle-Class Taxes

I think the pressure is starting to get to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). He saw what happened to his former colleague, Bob Bennett, in a GOP primary in 2010, and Hatch is starting to panic that he’ll meet the same fate.

But when the heat is on, some rise to the occasion, showing poise and grace. Some, like Hatch, just fall apart.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) voted against beginning debate on a measure that would have the Senate declare the rich should share the pain of debt reduction Thursday, a day after arguing that it’s the poor and middle class who need to do more.

“I hear how they’re so caring for the poor and so forth,” Hatch said in remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday, in reference to Democrats. “The poor need jobs! And they also need to share some of the responsibility.”

Hatch went on to say he finds it outrageous that so many millions of Americans don’t pay income taxes, adding, “And that’s going up by the way because of our friend down in the White House and his allies.”

Just so we’re clear, Hatch is incensed because President Obama and his allies aren’t taxing the middle class enough.

This comes up from time to time, and I continue to find it fascinating. Specifically, when conservatives complain about too many Americans not paying federal income taxes, they tend to overlook relevant details — such as the fact that these same Americans still pay sales taxes, state taxes, local taxes, Social Security taxes, Medicare/Medicaid taxes, and in many instances, property taxes.

It’s not as if these folks are getting away with something — the existing tax structure leaves them out of the income tax system because they don’t make enough money to qualify.

Moreover, the GOP has a natural revulsion to any tax system, but there’s an eerie comfort with a regressive agenda that showers additional wealth on the rich while asking for more from lower-income workers.

While we’re at it, let’s also not forget that Hatch is the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, and would be in a position to serve as chairman if he wins reelection and Republicans take the Senate next year. At that point, he could use his power to punish working people more directly.

Hatch has always been a conservative Republican, but he’d developed a reputation over the years for idiosyncratic positions. Despite being firmly on the right — at least as “the right” was defined in, say, the ’90s — Hatch supported stem-cell research, co-sponsored the DREAM Act, and partnered with Ted Kennedy to pass the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, bringing health coverage to low-income kids. Centrist Democrats hoping to craft a major bipartisan deal would immediately reach out to Hatch.

Needless to say, those days are over.

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly-Political Animal, July 9, 2011

July 10, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Unemployed, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Those Bush Tax Cuts Will Work Wonders Eventually

Soon after the awful new job numbers were released, Dave Weigel had a good line, at least in a sardonic sort of way:

“Me? I’m just glad we kept the Bush tax rates so the economy could start surging.”

I had the same thought. Indeed, when thinking about who has credibility on economic projections and governmental policy, the right’s uninterrupted track record of failure remains fascinating. In 1982, conservative Republicans said Reagan’s tax increases would cause a disaster (they didn’t). In 1993, conservative Republicans said Clinton’s tax increases would invariably fail (they didn’t). In 2009, conservative Republicans said Obama’s stimulus would make the economy worse (it didn’t).

And in 2001, conservative Republicans said Bush’s tax cuts would cause a remarkable economic boom (they didn’t). In 2003, these same conservative Republicans said more Bush tax cuts would do the trick (they didn’t). In 2010, these same conservative Republicans said if we could just keep those Bush tax cuts around a little more, we’d be amazed at the economic turnaround in 2011.

Here we are. I don’t think anyone’s amazed.

The response from the right is that we should just stick with the tax cuts indefinitely, because they’re bound to work eventually. Indeed, to hear some conservatives tell is, it’s other factors that deserve the blame — Democrats have let spending get out of control (they haven’t) and allowed the debt to become a drag on the economy (it isn’t).

Ezra Klein noted the other day that the Republican approach to tax policy “is no longer based on any recognizable economic theory.” Of course not. Who needs economic models, egghead academics, and evidence when the GOP has a religious-like certainty in a policy based solely on ideology?

One wonders, though, when the political world might pause to question whether these folks have any credibility left at all.

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly-Political Animal, July 9, 2011

July 10, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Taxes | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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