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If Only GOP Lawmakers Were More Like GOP Voters

I imagine everyone has seen the bumper sticker that says, “Lord, protect us from your followers.” I have an idea for a related sticker that reads, “Republicans, protect us from your elected officials.”

In the existing political landscape, the real problem is not with GOP voters; it’s with GOP policymakers. This isn’t to let the party’s supporters off the hook entirely — they’re the ones who supported and elected the officeholders — but it’s hard to overstate how much more constructive the political process would be if Republican lawmakers in any way reflected the priorities of their own supporters.

Last week, a national poll found that Republican voters broadly support the Democratic jobs agenda — a payroll tax cut, jobs for teachers/first responders, infrastructure investments, and increased taxes on millionaires and billionaires — in some cases by wide margins. This week, Tim Noah noticed this observation can be applied even further.

I’m liking rank-and-file Republicans better and better. Earlier this month we learned that they favor Obama’s plan to tax the rich. Now we learn that a 55 percent majority of them think Wall Street bankers and brokers are “dishonest,” 69 percent think they’re “overpaid,” and 72 percent think they’re “greedy.” Fewer than half (47 percent) have an unfavorable view of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Thirty-three percent either favor them or have no opinion, and 20 percent haven’t heard of them. Also, a majority favor getting rid of the Electoral College and replacing it with a popular vote. After the 2000 election only 41 percent did. Now 53 percent do. How cool is that?

Every one of these positions puts the GOP rank-and-file at odds with their congressional leadership and field of presidential candidates.

I don’t want to exaggerate this too much. The fact remains that the Republican Party is dominated by conservative voters, especially those who participate in primaries and caucuses. I’m not suggesting for a moment that the party’s rank-and-file members are moving to the left.

But the recent poll results are also hard to miss — many if not most GOP voters are perfectly comfortable with plenty of progressive ideas, including tax increases on millionaires and billionaires. It’s starting to look like the party’s rank and file is made up of mainstream conservatives who want their party to help move the country forward.

And yet, when we look to Republican officials in Washington, how many GOP members of Congress are willing to endorse any of these popular measures? Zero. Literally, not even one Republican lawmaker has offered even tacit support for ideas that most GOP voters actually like. In the Senate, a united Republican caucus won’t even allow a vote — won’t even allow a debate — on popular job-creation ideas during a jobs crisis.

If the actions of GOP lawmakers in any way resembled the wishes of GOP voters, our political system wouldn’t be nearly as dysfunctional as it is now.

Congratulations, congressional Republicans. You’re far more extreme than your own supporters.

By: Steve Benen, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 25, 2011

October 27, 2011 Posted by | Banks, Class Warfare, Congress, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, Financial Institutions, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Income Gap, Jobs, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Right Wing, Taxes, Teaparty, Voters, Wall Street | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Olympia “Snowe” Keeps Falling

Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) published a joint op-ed in the Wall Street Journal the other day, calling for new measures to make the legislative process more difficult. No, seriously, that’s what they said.

For two years in a row, the Democratic-led Senate has failed to adopt a budget as required by law. Meanwhile, our gross national debt has climbed to almost $15 trillion — as large as our entire economy. Our bill puts in place a 60-vote threshold before any appropriation bill can be moved through Congress — unless both houses have adopted a binding budget resolution.

We can certainly have a conversation about the breakdown in the budget-writing process, but let’s think about what Snowe and Sessions are proposing here: they want to make it harder for Congress to approve appropriations bills, regardless of the consequences.

Jamison Foser explained, “Republicans, including Sessions and Snowe, have filibustered even the most uncontroversial of measures — and that knee-jerk opposition to just about anything the Senate majority wants to do is a significant part of the reason why the Senate hasn’t adopted a budget. Now Sessions and Snowe cynically use that failure to justify structural changes that would make it harder for the Senate to pass any appropriations bills.”

Snowe and Sessions went on to call for additional “reforms” that would make it far more difficult for Congress to approve “emergency” spending without mandatory supermajorities, too, because they’re horrified by efforts to “spend money we don’t have,” which might “bankrupt the country.”

Of course, Snowe and Sessions see no need for mandatory supermajorities when it comes to tax cuts, alleged “bankruptcy” fears notwithstanding.

But in the larger picture, have you noticed just how far Olympia Snowe has fallen lately? Last week she demanded the administration act with “urgency” to address the jobs crisis, only to filibuster a popular jobs bill just one day later. A week earlier, Snowe prioritized tax cuts for millionaires over job creation. Just a couple of weeks earlier, Snowe tried to argue that government spending is “clearly … the problem” when it comes to the nation’s finances, which is a popular line among conservatives, despite being wrong.

It’s tempting to think the fear of a primary challenge is pushing Snowe to the far-right, but the truth is, the senator’s GOP opponents next year are barely even trying. She may fear a replay of the Castle-O’Donnell fight that played out in Delaware, but all indications are that Snowe really doesn’t have anything to worry about.

And yet, she’s become a shell of her former self, leading to this op-ed — written with a right-wing Alabama senator, no less — demanding that the dysfunctional Senate adopt new ideas that make it more difficult to pass necessary legislation.

There is some prime real estate in the political landscape for genuine GOP moderates who could have a significant impact. Instead, Congress has Olympia Snowe, who now bears no resemblance to the centrist she used to be.

If I had to guess, I’d say most mainstream voters in Maine have no idea of the extent to which Snowe has moved to the right, which is a shame. I wonder how those who supported her in the past would even recognize her anymore.

By: Steve Benen, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 25, 2011

October 27, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Deficits, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Ideologues, Income Gap, Independents, Jobs, Middle Class, Right Wing, Swing Voters, Taxes, Unemployed | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Soaring Inequality: “It’s Time To Take The Crony Out Of Capitalism”

Whenever I write about Occupy Wall Street, some readers ask me if the protesters really are half-naked Communists aiming to bring down the American economic system when they’re not doing drugs or having sex in public.

The answer is no. That alarmist view of the movement is a credit to the (prurient) imagination of its critics, and voyeurs of Occupy Wall Street will be disappointed. More important, while alarmists seem to think that the movement is a “mob” trying to overthrow capitalism, one can make a case that, on the contrary, it highlights the need to restore basic capitalist principles like accountability.

To put it another way, this is a chance to save capitalism from crony capitalists.

I’m as passionate a believer in capitalism as anyone. My Krzysztofowicz cousins (who didn’t shorten the family name) lived in Poland, and their experience with Communism taught me that the way to raise living standards is capitalism.

But, in recent years, some financiers have chosen to live in a government-backed featherbed. Their platform seems to be socialism for tycoons and capitalism for the rest of us. They’re not evil at all. But when the system allows you more than your fair share, it’s human to grab. That’s what explains featherbedding by both unions and tycoons, and both are impediments to a well-functioning market economy.

When I lived in Asia and covered the financial crisis there in the late 1990s, American government officials spoke scathingly about “crony capitalism” in the region. As Lawrence Summers, then a deputy Treasury secretary, put it in a speech in August 1998: “In Asia, the problems related to ‘crony capitalism’ are at the heart of this crisis, and that is why structural reforms must be a major part” of the International Monetary Fund’s solution.

The American critique of the Asian crisis was correct. The countries involved were nominally capitalist but needed major reforms to create accountability and competitive markets.

Something similar is true today of the United States.

So I’d like to invite the finance ministers of Thailand, South Korea and Indonesia — whom I and other Americans deemed emblems of crony capitalism in the 1990s — to stand up and denounce American crony capitalism today.

Capitalism is so successful an economic system partly because of an internal discipline that allows for loss and even bankruptcy. It’s the possibility of failure that creates the opportunity for triumph. Yet many of America’s major banks are too big to fail, so they can privatize profits while socializing risk.

The upshot is that financial institutions boost leverage in search of supersize profits and bonuses. Banks pretend that risk is eliminated because it’s securitized. Rating agencies accept money to issue an imprimatur that turns out to be meaningless. The system teeters, and then the taxpayer rushes in to bail bankers out. Where’s the accountability?

It’s not just rabble-rousers at Occupy Wall Street who are seeking to put America’s capitalists on a more capitalist footing. “Structural change is necessary,” Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, said in an important speech last month that discussed many of these themes. He called for more curbs on big banks, possibly including trimming their size, and he warned that otherwise we’re on a path of “increasingly frequent, complex and dangerous financial breakdowns.”

Likewise, Mohamed El-Erian, another pillar of the financial world who is the chief executive of Pimco, one of the world’s largest money managers, is sympathetic to aspects of the Occupy movement. He told me that the economic system needs to move toward “inclusive capitalism” and embrace broad-based job creation while curbing excessive inequality.

“You cannot be a good house in a rapidly deteriorating neighborhood,” he told me. “The credibility and the fair functioning of the neighborhood matter a great deal. Without that, the integrity of the capitalist system will weaken further.”

Lawrence Katz, a Harvard economist, adds that some inequality is necessary to create incentives in a capitalist economy but that “too much inequality can harm the efficient operation of the economy.” In particular, he says, excessive inequality can have two perverse consequences: first, the very wealthy lobby for favors, contracts and bailouts that distort markets; and, second, growing inequality undermines the ability of the poorest to invest in their own education.

“These factors mean that high inequality can generate further high inequality and eventually poor economic growth,” Professor Katz said.

Does that ring a bell?

So, yes, we face a threat to our capitalist system. But it’s not coming from half-naked anarchists manning the barricades at Occupy Wall Street protests. Rather, it comes from pinstriped apologists for a financial system that glides along without enough of the discipline of failure and that produces soaring inequality, socialist bank bailouts and unaccountable executives.

It’s time to take the crony out of capitalism, right here at home.

By: Nicholas D. Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 26, 2011

October 27, 2011 Posted by | Banks, Class Warfare, Conservatives, Consumers, Corporations, Economic Recovery, Financial Reform, GOP, GOP Presidential Candidates, Government, Income Gap, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Mortgages, Republicans, Unions | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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