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Why GOP Collapse On The Payroll Tax Could Be A Turning Point

In recent American politics, every major shift in political momentum has resulted from an iconic battle.

In 1995 the tide of the 1994 “Republican Revolution” was reversed when Speaker Newt Gingrich and his new Republican House majority shut down the government in a battle over their attempts to cut Medicare to give tax breaks to the rich (sound familiar?).  The shutdown ended with — what pundits universally scored — as a victory for President Clinton.   That legislative victory began Clinton’s march to overwhelming re-election victory in 1996.

In 2010, Democrats passed President Obama’s landmark health care reform.  But they lost the battle for public opinion — and base motivation.  That turned the political tide that had propelled President Obama to victory in 2008 and ultimately led to the drubbing Democrats took in the 2010 midterms.

The Republican leadership’s collapse in the battle over extending the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits could also be a turning point moment that shifts the political momentum just as we enter the pivotal 2012 election year.

Here’s why:

1) Since the president launched his campaign for the American Jobs Act, he has driven Congressional Republicans into a political box canyon with very few avenues of escape.  The jobs campaign has made it clearer and clearer to the voters that the “do nothing Republican Congress” bears responsibility for preventing the President from taking steps that would create jobs.

Until the payroll tax/unemployment victory, the president had failed to persuade the Republican dominated Congress to pass any provision of the bill — save one aimed at helping veterans.  But the polling shows that the public has become more and more disgusted by Congressional intransigence.  Since 64% of Americans believe that Congress is run entirely by the Republicans (and from the stand point of stopping legislation it is managed entirely by Republicans), the overall unhappiness with Congress has translated into distain for the “do nothing Republican Congress.”

Congress now has lower approval ratings (11% in the latest poll) than at any time in modern history.   Senator Michael Bennett presented data on the Senate floor that showed that Congress is less popular than BP during the gulf oil spill.  It is way less popular than Nixon during Watergate.  About the same number of Americans have a positive view of Congress as support America becoming a Communist nation.  That makes it the worst time imaginable for House Republicans to throw a political tantrum that threatened to increase the tax burden of everyday Americans by $40 per paycheck — $1,000 next year — right after Christmas.

Last weekend, the Senate Republican Leader thought he had blazed a path for Republicans that led out of that political box canyon — at least in so far as the extension of the payroll tax holiday and unemployment.  The bipartisan agreement to temporarily extend the payroll tax holiday and unemployment insurance seemed to give Republicans a face saving option that — at least temporarily — took them off the political hook. But Tea Party stalwarts in the House threatened to mutiny if Boehner went along — and all week — there the House Republicans sat, at the bottom of that canyon with no escape.

House Republicans bet that the president and Democrats were desperate enough to extend the payroll tax and unemployment that they could hold those provisions hostage the way they had held hostage the debt ceiling in August.  In an act of unfathomable political ineptitude, they failed to appreciate that this time, Democrats occupied vastly higher political ground.

Failure to continue the payroll tax holiday would have immediately decreased the take home pay of 160 million Americans.  By refusing to agree to the compromise that had passed the Senate with an overwhelming bipartisan majority, House Republicans made it certain that they would have been held responsible.

They might as well have hung out a huge flashing sign in Times Square that said: “Republicans are responsible for cutting your take home pay and eliminating your unemployment benefits.”

Even the conservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal called on them to throw in the towel.

Democrats had every incentive to hang tough.  In the end by refusing to take the escape hatch opened for them by McConnell, the nation watched House Republicans dragged kicking and screaming to support the president’s popular payroll and unemployment extensions.

The outcome of the battle was unambiguous.  No one could doubt who stood up for the economic interests of the middle class and who did not.  And no one could doubt who won and who lost.

National Journal reported that, “House Republicans on Thursday crumpled under the weight of White House and public pressure and have agreed to pass a two-month extension of the two percent payroll-tax cut, Republican and Democratic sources told National Journal.”

In the end, Republican intransigence transformed a moment that would have been a modest win for President Obama into an iconic victory.

2) Strength and victory are enormous political assets.  Going into the New Year, they now belong to the president and the Democrats.

One of the reasons why the debt ceiling battle inflicted political damage on President Obama is that it made him appear ineffectual — a powerful figure who had been ensnared and held hostage by the Lilliputian pettiness of hundreds of swarming Tea Party ideological zealots.

In the last few months — as he campaigned for the American Jobs Act — he has shaken free of those bonds.  Now voters have just watched James Bond or Indiana Jones escape and turn the tables on his adversary.

Great stories are about a protagonist who meets and overcomes a challenge and is victorious.   The capitulation of the House Tea Party Republicans is so important because it feels like the beginning of that kind of heroic narrative.

Even today most Americans believe that George Bush and the big Wall Street banks — not by President Obama — caused the economic crisis.  Swing voters have never lost their fondness for the President and don’t doubt his sincerity.  But they had begun to doubt his effectiveness.  They have had increasing doubts that Obama was up to the challenge of leading them back to economic prosperity.

The narrative set in motion by the events of the last several weeks could be a turning point in voter perception.  It could well begin to convince skeptical voters that Obama is precisely the kind of leader they thought he was back in 2008 — a guy with the ability to lead them out of adversity — a leader with the strength, patience, skill, will and resoluteness to lead them to victory.

That now contrasts with the sheer political incompetence of the House Republican leadership that allowed themselves to be cornered and now find themselves in political disarray.  And it certainly contrasts with the political circus we have been watching in the Republican Presidential primary campaign.

3) This victory will inspire the dispirited Democratic base.
Inspiration is the feeling of empowerment — the feeling that you are part of something larger than yourself and can personally play a significant role in achieving that goal.  It comes from feeling that together you can overcome challenges and win.

Nothing will do more to inspire committed Democrats than the sight of their leader — President Obama — out-maneuvering the House Republicans and forcing them into complete capitulation.

The events of the last several weeks will send a jolt of electricity through the progressive community.

The right is counting on progressives to be demoralized and dispirited in the coming election.  The president’s victory on the payroll tax and unemployment will make it ever more likely that they will be wrong.

4) When you have them on the run, that’s the time to chase them.

The most important thing about the outcome of the battle over the payroll tax and unemployment is that it shifts the political momentum at a critical time.  Momentum is an independent variable in any competitive activity — including politics.

In a football or basketball game you can feel the momentum shift. The tide of battle is all about momentum.  The same is true in politics.  And in politics it is even more important because the “spectators” are also the players — the voters.

People follow — and vote — for winners.  The bandwagon effect is enormously important in political decision-making.  Human beings like to travel in packs.   They like to be at the center of the mainstream.  Momentum shifts affect their perceptions of the mainstream.

For the last two years, the right wing has been on the offensive. Its Tea Party shock troops took the battle to Democratic members of Congress.  In the mid-terms Democrats were routed in district after district.

Now the tide has turned. And when the tide turns — when you have them on the run — that’s the time to chase them.

We won’t know for sure until next November whether this moment will take on the same iconic importance as Clinton’s battle with Gingrich in 1995. But there is no doubt that the political wind has shifted.  It’s up to progressives to make the most of it.


By: Robert Creamer, The Huffington Post, December 23, 2011

December 24, 2011 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP, Payroll Tax Cuts | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another GOP Official Commits Election Fraud

It hasn’t been a good month for the GOP and election fraud. Two weeks ago, a Maryland jury convicted a Republican official who oversaw illegal voter-suppression tactics in the 2010 election. This week, a state judge found that Indiana’s Secretary of State, Republican Charlie White, not only committed voter fraud in 2010, but wasn’t even eligible to seek the office to which he was elected.

Charlie White is ineligible to serve as Secretary of State and should be replaced by his election opponent, Democrat Vop Osili, a Marion County judge ruled today.

White is facing seven felony charges, including allegations of voter fraud. Osili was the second-highest vote-getter in the November 2010 election.

Kay at Balloon Juice added, “Besides the obvious embarrassment of the state official who is in charge of elections being indicted on charges of voter registration fraud, it’s just perfect that this happened in Indiana, because Indiana paved the way for the voter suppression laws we’re seeing all over the country…. Indiana has one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country, and that didn’t stop their top elections official from registering and voting in the wrong place. That’s because voter ID laws target the imaginary problem of voter impersonation fraud, while doing next to nothing to address the fraud that actually occurs.”

Quite right. Republicans nationwide, as part of the “war on voting,” keep putting new hurdles between voters and the ballot box, ostensibly because they fear the scourge of fraud.

The irony is, the deceit Republicans are worried about is imaginary, while the real-world fraud is coming from their side of the political divide.

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 23, 2011

December 24, 2011 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What To Make Of Ron Paul’s Racist Newsletter

With übertenther Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) emerging as the latest frontrunner in the Iowa GOP primary, Ta-Nehisi Coates chronicles many of the most offensive highlights from a series of racist newsletters Paul published in the late 1980s and early 1990s:

Needlin’: Paul’s December 1989 newsletter claims that roving bands of African-Americans are trying to give white people HIV. According to the newsletter, “at least 39 white women have been stuck with used hypodermic needles-perhaps infected with AIDS-by gangs of black girls between the ages of 12 and 14. . . . Who can doubt that if the situation had been reversed, if white girls had done this to black women, we would have been subjected to months-long nation-wide propaganda campaign on the evils of white America? The double standard strikes again.”

Fantasies of Anti-White Bias: The same newsletter imagined a fantasy world where anti-white racist dominates DC’s culture. “To be white in Washington, however, is to experience a culture that is anti-white and proud of it. Radio stations urge listeners not to shop in white (or Asian) owned stores. Ministers lead anti-white and anti-Asian boycotts. Professors teach that whites are committing genocide against blacks and invented crack and AIDS as part of The Plan.”

Instructions on Murdering Black Youth: A 1992 newsletter provided fairly detailed instructions on the best way to shoot and kill an African-American and get away with it. “If you live in a major city, you’ve probably already heard about the newest threat to your life and limb, and your family: carjacking. It is the hip-hop thing to do among the urban youth who play unsuspecting whites like pianos. . . . An ex-cop I know advises that if you have to use a gun on a youth, you should leave the scene immediately, disposing of the wiped off gun as soon as possible. Such a gun cannot, of course, be registered to you, but one bought privately (through the classifieds, for example). I frankly don’t know what to make of such advice, but even in my little town of Lake Jackson, Texas, I’ve urged everyone in my family to know how to use a gun in self defense. For the animals are coming.”

Beware the “Malicious Gay”: African-Americans are not the only target of the newsletters’ ire. Ron Paul’s publications also feature unusually bad medical advice punctuated with anti-gay fantasies. “Those who don’t commit sodomy, who don’t get a blood transfusion, and who don’t swap needles, are virtually assured of not getting AIDS unless they are deliberately infected by a malicious gay, as was Kimberly Bergalis.”

In a partial defense of Paul, David Weigel offers a perfectly plausible explanation of how these bigoted rants against science and reality came to appear under the name of a medical doctor who now argues that the War on Drugs should end because it is inherently racist. As Weigel explains in a piece he co-authored with Julian Sanchez, the likely author of Paul’s racist rants wasn’t Ron Paul, it was a repulsive libertarian activist named Lew Rockwell.

Rockwell, who now runs a far right think tank that publishes articles with titles like “How to Eliminate Social Security and Medicare,” believed in the 1980s and 1990s that libertarians had become a “party of the stoned” that needed to be “de-loused.” His solution, according to Weigel and Sanchez, was to try to expand the libertarian tent to include overt racists who could be attracted to libertarians’ opposition to “State-enforced integration.” It was likely Rockwell, and not the libertarian Congressman Ron Paul, who drafted the racist rants published in Paul’s name.

This explanation for Paul’s behavior hardly excuses it, however. The simplest conclusion that can be drawn when someone publishes a racist rant in their own name is that they truly believe that one race is superior to another. Weigel and Sanchez’ reporting, however, leads to only two possible explanations. Either Paul is so oblivious to what was being done in his name that this obliviousness alone disqualifies him for a job like the presidency — or he knew very well that horrific arguments were being published his name and he lent his name to a cynical racist strategy anyway.

By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, December 21, 2011

December 24, 2011 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates, Iowa Caucuses | , , , , | 2 Comments

The GOP’s Slip Is Showing

Finally. After a year of artful camouflage and concealment, Republicans let us glimpse the rift between establishment pragmatists and Tea Party ideologues. There may be hope for the republic after all.

Forty Republican senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), joined Democrats in voting for compromise legislation providing a two-month extension of unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut. The bill passed 89 to 10, the kind of margin usually reserved for ceremonial resolutions in favor of motherhood. Senators clearly were confident that House approval would quickly follow.

But it didn’t, because Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) couldn’t get his Tea Party freshmen to go along. The result was a kind of intramural sniping among Republicans that we ­haven’t seen in years.

“It angers me that House Republicans would rather continue playing politics than find solutions,” said Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts.

The stalemate “is harming the Republican Party,” said Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

“Are Republicans getting killed now in public opinion? There’s no question,” said Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who urged House Republicans to just “get it over with.”

But Boehner hung tough, not out of principle but because he had no palatable choice. He didn’t dare bring the Senate bill to the floor for a vote, fearing that non-Tea Party members of the GOP caucus might defect. So he did nothing for four long days — and let the Republican Party be portrayed as so out-to-lunch that it would blithely raise taxes on 160 million Americans. The week before Christmas. As we roll into an election year.

The thing is, this portrayal is quite accurate, at least as it pertains to the Tea Party faction. More sensible Republicans have been so eager to take advantage of the Tea Party’s energy and emotion that they have essentially allowed the inmates to run the asylum. You will recall that it was the GOP, led by the Tea Party types, that threatened to send the Treasury into default last summer rather than approve a routine and necessary increase in the debt ceiling.

In the current imbroglio, nothing resembling a principle was involved. Boehner said that House Republicans wanted to extend the payroll tax cut for an entire year, rather than just two months. But even if you accept his claim at face value, it ignores the fact that the two-month deal was approved by the Senate for one reason only: to allow time for negotiation of a one-year extension.

In other words, the measure that House Republicans were so reluctant to pass, or even vote on, was crafted as a step toward the specific outcome that House Republicans claimed was their goal.

Boehner’s calls for compromise were absurd. The Senate bill was itself a bipartisan compromise, reached after tough bargaining and many concessions. Democrats abandoned their proposal for an income tax surcharge on those earning more than $1 million a year. President Obama accepted a rider forcing him to make a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project before the November election. Republicans had already won the negotiation — until zealots in the House threatened to scuttle the whole thing.

McConnell maintained a steely silence until Thursday, then built a ladder for Boehner to climb down. He proposed that the House promptly enact a “short-term” extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance while working on a one-year measure. Within hours, the House caved.

This glimpse of honest debate among Republicans won’t last long, I predict. They’ll try their best to resume the practice of absolute anti-Obama unity, which has worked quite well for them. But no one can erase what voters have seen this week, and it wasn’t pretty.

There are only two possible reasons for House Republicans to behave the way they did. Maybe they are so blinded by ideology that they no longer care about the impact their actions might have on struggling American families. Or maybe their only guiding principle is that anything Obama supports, they oppose.

The week’s events offer a lesson for Obama, too. One reason for all the Republican angst was that public opinion has become more sensitive to issues of economic justice. This may be partly due to the Occupy protests. But I’m convinced that Obama’s fiery barnstorming in favor of his American Jobs Act has played a big role. People are hearing his message.

The president has been on the offensive. It’s no coincidence that, for the first time in quite a while, Republicans are backing up.

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post,December 22, 2011

December 24, 2011 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The House Republican Payroll Tax Cut Train Wreck

I recently brought my two-year-old son to see the National Christmas Tree, which resides on the Ellipse, just south of the White House. At 26 feet and 4 inches, it’s big but honestly somewhat underwhelming, having replaced a 42 foot spruce first planted during the Carter administration which was toppled by high winds in February (conservative metaphor alert!).

Fortunately my son didn’t pay any mind to the tree’s size, as he was held rapt by the model train sets arrayed around its base. He wasn’t even especially concerned that one of the trains had gone off its rails and lay on its side in the grass.

Liberal metaphor alert: Before the National Christmas Tree lay the National Train Wreck. Is there a more apt analogy for the Tea Party Congress?

Take the drama this week focused on extending the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance. You know the contours: With overwhelming bipartisan support, the Senate passed a two-month extension in order to buy time to work out a longer-term agreement. House Speaker John Boehner reportedly called the bill a “good deal” and a “victory.” But by the next day, Boehner’s Tea Party-dominated caucus had yanked him back onto the reservation. The new party line was that a two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday was simply insufficient, that only a full-year extension, a version of which the House had already passed, would be acceptable. (This despite the fact that as recently as 2009 more than 50 House Republicans were saying the way to “effectively stimulate” the economy was a payroll tax holiday of … two months.)

Keep in mind that Republicans don’t actually favor a full-year extension. For example, Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, who chairs the House GOP’s campaign committee, told the Los Angeles Times in September that it is a “horrible idea,” adding that Republican House candidates would have no problem making the case for letting the tax cut expire altogether. It turns out they really do have a problem making that case, so last week they pivoted by passing their year-long extension, which had poison pill riders attached to it (drug testing for unemployment recipients, for example, because in this economy if you’re jobless it must be because you’re high). They apparently finally ran up the white flag yesterday, more or less accepting the Senate bill.

If this scenario seems familiar—House Republicans playing, as Florida GOP Rep. Thomas Rooney put it, “high stakes poker” in an effort to push their extremist agenda, with the stakes being the economy and people’s livelihood—it is. We’ve seen this scenario play out again (see the near-government shutdown in April) and again (recall the unnecessary debt ceiling crisis in August). The big difference is that even Senate Republicans are fed up with their wild-eyed, Tea Partying House brethren. “It angers me that House Republicans would rather keep playing politics than find solutions,” Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown said after the House voted Tuesday to reject the Senate’s bipartisan bill. “Their actions will hurt American families and be detrimental to the fragile economy.” Nevada GOP Sen. Dean Heller said the House maneuvering “is about political leverage.”

Brown and Heller are the two Republican senators facing the toughest re-elections next year and so by necessity have a keen sense of what independent voters want. That they are taking such strong stances distancing themselves from the House reflects the fact that swing voters have had it with the Tea Party House lurching from one manufactured crisis to the next. The fact that House Republicans finally surrendered to political reality is almost irrelevant—just the fact of contriving another fight reinforces the public’s near-unanimous disapproval of Congress, its GOP members especially.

Only 11 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, according to a poll released this week by Gallup. That’s lower than any such figure since Gallup started tracking congressional approval in 1974. For the year, Congress has an average approval rating of 17 percent, also a historic low. A Pew Research Center poll also released this week showed that 50 percent of voters (another record) believe that this Congress has accomplished less than other recent Congresses.

And this isn’t a case of a pox on both parties. While Democrats are not liked, voters have a special distaste for the GOP, according to Pew. By almost two-to-one (40 percent to 23 percent) more voters blame Republican leaders than Democratic leaders for Congress’s lack of accomplishment. Voters also see the GOP as being more extreme (53 to 33 percent), while they say Democrats are more willing to work with the other side (51 to 25 percent) and are “more honest and ethical” (45 to 28 percent).

The big beneficiary of the Tea Party Congress’s tone deaf overreach, and specifically its incoherent approach to the payroll tax cut, has been President Obama. His job approval wallowed in the low 40s for the last few months, but polls released this week by ABC and CNN showed his rating ticking back up to 49 percent. “President Barack Obama’s approval rating appears to be fueled by dramatic gains among middle-income Americans,” CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said. “The data suggest that the debate over the payroll tax is helping Obama’s efforts to portray himself as the defender of the middle class.”

Defending the middle class is the kind of political sweet spot which wins elections. To the extent House Republicans are not only ceding that ground but practically inviting Obama to occupy it, they are victims of a train wreck of their own devising.

And the wreck in front of the National Christmas Tree? As I looked on, another pair of visitors climbed the fence and set the train back on the tracks. I like to think voters will do the same next November.


By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, December 23, 2011

December 24, 2011 Posted by | Congress, GOP, Teaparty | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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