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Bandits, Blowhards And Showhorses: The GOP’s Road Not Taken

Over the past months, Republicans enjoyed enormous advantages. Opinion polls showed that voters are eager to reduce the federal debt, and they want to do it mostly but not entirely through spending cuts.

There was a Democratic president eager to move to the center. He floated certain ideas that would be normally unheard of from a Democrat. According to widespread reports, White House officials talked about raising the Medicare eligibility age, cutting Social Security by changing the inflation index, freezing domestic discretionary spending and offering to pre-empt the end of the Bush tax cuts in exchange for a broad tax-reform process.

The Democratic offers were slippery, and President Barack Obama didn’t put them in writing. But John Boehner, the House speaker, thought they were serious. The liberal activists thought they were alarmingly serious. I can tell you from my reporting that White House officials took them seriously.

The combined effect would have been to reduce the size of government by $3 trillion over a decade. That’s a number roughly three times larger than the cost of the Obama health care law. It also would have brutally fractured the Democratic Party.

But the Republican Party decided not to pursue this deal or even seriously consider it. Instead, what happened was this: Conservatives told themselves how steadfast they were being for a few weeks. Then morale crumbled.

This week, Republicans probably will pass a balanced budget constitutional amendment that has zero chance of becoming law. Then they may end up clinging to a no mas Senate compromise. This proposal would pocket cuts that have already been agreed on, and it would eliminate leverage for future cuts and make them less likely.

It could be that this has been a glorious moment in Republican history. It could be that having convinced independents that they are a prudent party, Republicans will sweep the next election. Controlling the White House and Congress, perhaps they will have the guts to cut Medicare unilaterally, reform the welfare state and herald in an era of conservative greatness.

But it’s much more likely that Republicans will come to regret this missed opportunity. So let us pause to identify the people who decided not to seize the chance to usher in the largest cut in the size of government in U.S. history. They fall into a few categories:

The Beltway Bandits

American conservatism now has a rich network of Washington interest groups adept at arousing elderly donors and attracting rich lobbying contracts. For example, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform has been instrumental in every recent GOP setback. He was a Newt Gingrich strategist in the 1990s, a major Jack Abramoff companion in the 2000s and he enforced the no-compromise orthodoxy that binds the party today.

Norquist is the Zelig of Republican catastrophe. His method is always the same. He enforces rigid ultimatums that make governance, or even thinking, impossible.

The Big Government Blowhards

The talk-radio jocks are not in the business of promoting conservative governance. They are in the business of building an audience by stroking the pleasure centers of their listeners.

They mostly give pseudo Crispin’s Day speeches to battalions of the like-minded from the safety of the conservative ghetto. To keep audience share, they need to portray politics as a cataclysmic, Manichaean struggle. A series of compromises that steadily advance conservative aims would muddy their story lines and be death to their ratings.

The Show Horses

Republicans now have a group of political celebrities who are marvelously uninterested in actually producing results. Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann produce tweets, not laws. They have created a climate in which purity is prized over practicality.

The Permanent Campaigners

For many legislators, the purpose of being in Congress is not to pass laws. It’s to create clear contrasts you can take into the next election campaign. It’s not to take responsibility for the state of the country and make it better. It’s to pass responsibility onto the other party and force them to take as many difficult votes as possible.

All of these groups share the same mentality. They do not see politics as the art of the possible. They do not believe in seizing opportunities to make steady, messy progress toward conservative goals. They believe that politics is a cataclysmic struggle. They believe that if they can remain pure in their faith then someday their party will win a total and permanent victory over its foes. They believe they are Gods of the New Dawn.

Fortunately, there are still practical conservatives in the GOP, who believe in results, who believe in intelligent compromise. If people someday decide the events of the past weeks have been a debacle, then practical conservatives may regain control.


By: David Brooks, Columnist, The New York Times, July 19, 2011

July 19, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Media, Medicare, Politics, President Obama, Press, Pundits, Republicans, Right Wing, Senate, Social Security, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Voters | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Danger Of Default: Three Bad Right-Wing Arguments

President Obama went to St. John’s Church on Lafayette Square on Sunday for the first time since Easter. No doubt to seek divine intervention. The way things are going, that’s what it might take to conclude a deal by the end of this week that will not only raise the debt ceiling but also will not freak out the markets. The problem is that there is a sizable faction within the Republican Party that doesn’t think all the hair-on-fire warnings from the Obama administration are real.

Some argue that the nation’s credit card needs to be ripped up or that Washington cannot be given another blank check to spend, spend, spend. So a national default is what’s needed to snap some fiscal discipline into the federal government. Some argue that a short-term default wouldn’t be so bad, that there’s plenty of money for the nation to meet its obligations to bondholders and as long as they are taken care of everything would be okay. Some argue that there’s no way they go along with an increase in the debt limit without a balanced-budget amendment. And some are making all three arguments in one form or another.

Folks, all three arguments are a recipe for disaster. You better pray something gets worked out.

The debt ceiling. Raising the debt ceiling is not — I repeat, IS NOT — like giving Washington a blank check or adding more to the national credit card. Increasing the legal limit the federal government can borrow allows it to pay for things it has already bought. In short, the money’s been spent. For the United States to not meet its obligations for the first time in its history would destroy the full faith and credit of this nation and could irreparably damage our economy and financial standing in the world.

Prioritization. A default by the United States would force the Treasury to rob Peter to pay Paul. And it’ll be ugly. Meeting obligations to holders of U.S. treasuries is one thing. It’s paying all the other bills that will come due in August that will send the American people into apoplexy.

The federal government will have $306 billion in bills (including $29 billion in interest on Treasury securities) in August and only $172 billion in its wallet to pay them. The remaining $134 billion will have to come by denying checks to seniors, active-duty military, federal workers, etc. Such prioritization has been called unworkable by the Obama administration. And the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that a Standard & Poor’s official told Senate Democrats that failure of the United States to pay any of its bills on time could lead to a loss of the nation’s precious AAA bond rating. This comes despite an intense lobbying by the Obama administration to persuade the bond rating agencies not to issue threats against the nation’s creditworthiness.

Balanced-budget amendment. This week the House will vote on the Cut, Cap, Balance Act.Cutting and capping budgets is a matter of political debate. But given that there are two weeks before the nation runs out of cash to pay all of its bills, requiring passage of a contentious balanced-budget amendment before raising the national debt limit is lunacy. A Post editorial on Thursday made the rational argument for why this perennial “solution” for fiscal promiscuity is a bad idea.

The constitutional cure, while superficially tempting, would be worse than the underlying disease. A balanced-budget amendment would deprive policymakers of the flexibility they need to address national security and economic emergencies. It would revise the Constitution in a way that would give dangerous power to a congressional minority.

This bad policy prescription won’t pass the Senate. But many Tea Partiers in the House won’t vote for a debt-ceiling increase without it. Combine them with the Tea Partiers who signed pledges not to raise the debt ceiling under any circumstances, and you have the makings of a willful fiscal train wreck.

The full faith and credit of the United States, a precious asset that took more than two centuries to build, is seriously at risk. To whatever prayer Obama might have said at St. John’s related to the wrangling over a debt-ceiling deal, may I add, “Lord, hear his prayer.”

By: Jonathan Capehart, The Washington Post, July 17, 2011

July 19, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Consumers, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Middle East, Politics, President Obama, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Senate, Seniors, Tea Party | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Missing Word: News “Corp” vs It’s Critics

Today’s Wall Street Journal editorial has the title “News and its Critics”—obviously, it’s missing a word. The piece’s real title should be “News Corp and its Critics,” or even better, “News Corp vs. its Critics.” It’s a piece by News Corp, for News Corp. The problem is, the ugly 1044-word attack on the company’s “competitor-critics” alternates between catty defensiveness, a drunk beat poet, and utter incomprehensibility. One can only stand in awe of a conglomerate that would mass print an “aw-shucks” apology across one country while sending the Journal to do its dirty work in another. Some of the editorial’s phrases are almost self-parodying:

The overnight turn toward righteous independence recalls an eternal truth: Never trust a politician.

The Schadenfreude is so thick you can’t cut it with a chainsaw.

Especially redolent are lectures about journalistic standards from publications that give Julian Assange and WikiLeaks their moral imprimatur.

But, beyond redolence, imprimaturs, chainsaws, and Schadenfreude, the editorial’s argument—insofar as one is discernible—is so dishonest that it has the opposite of its intended effect. You come out of the piece trusting News Corp and the Journal far less than you might have before.

The first “point”:

Phone-hacking is illegal, and it is up to British authorities to enforce their laws. If Scotland Yard failed to do so adequately when the hacking was first uncovered several years ago, then that is more troubling than the hacking itself.

Of course, when “the hacking was first uncovered several years ago,” News Corp did a more than adequate job of bribing British authorities to keep them at bay. As David Carr pointed out yesterday, the company’s fondness of drowning legal problems in hush money has been pervasive, far from the domain of a single tabloid. “We didn’t get caught” is about as bad an excuse as they come, especially with the tactful omission of “…because we bribed the police.”

The second point is a dicey defense of resigned Journal publisher Les Hinton, which fails to mention the reason for his resignation: ostensibly, the two times he stood before the Houses of Parliament and said that only one News International journalist had ever hacked a phone.

The piece then moves inexplicably into self-defense mode, claiming that, well, even if News Corp is a bit unsavory, the company has improved the Wall Street Journal. Of course, a revitalized Journal must be of great consolation to hacking victims, who must also “shudder to think what the Journal would look like” under the dreary Bancrofts. And so we breeze right along to find the paper arguing for the legality of paying sources for information. But “the Wall Street Journal doesn’t pay sources for information.” So who does? Other News Corp outlets?

Again, we move on too fast to find out, and close with the same shoddy reasoning that Murdoch himself has already aired out in the Journal’s pages. Namely, that News of the World’s behavior constituted nothing more than journalistic overreach, and that cracking down on News Corp means inhibiting freedom of the press:

Do our media brethren really want to invite Congress and prosecutors to regulate how journalists gather the news?

News Corp outlets broke the law. And yet, the word “crime” is not mentioned once in the editorial. The Journal goes for a brazen euphemism, instead claiming that the tabloid’s “excesses” do not damage the reputation of its sister outlets:

The News of the World’s offense—fatal, as it turned out—was to violate the trust of its readers by not coming about its news honestly. We realize how precious that reader trust is, and our obligation is to re-earn it every day.

The News of the World’s “offense” was to commit crimes, then lie and bribe to cover them up. “Trust” is a convenient, slippery term for the Journal to use. But surely, a paper of such clout must realize that its readers know the difference between breaking trust and breaking the law. At any rate, it’s likely that News Corp is soon to find out for itself.

By: Alex Klein, Guest Columnist, The New Republic, July 18, 2011

July 19, 2011 Posted by | Corporations, Journalists, Media, Press, Public | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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