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“Swapping Old Folks For Poor Folks”: Lamar Alexander’s Senior Moment

I can’t read the whole thing yet, since it’s hiding behind the Wall Street Journal’s paywall, and I’m not about to subscribe. But from the headline and lede, it seems Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has taken a long stroll down memory lane by resurrecting the one-fashionable idea of a “swap” whereby currently shared federal-state governing responsibilities would be divided. In particular, he proposes that Medicaid be taken over by the feds in exchange for total assumption of responsibility for education by the states, and mentions he tried to sell the idea to Ronald Reagan back in the early 1980s.

I don’t know exactly which meetings Alexander is talking about, but as it happens, I was working for the then-chairman of the National Governors’ Association, the late Georgia Democratic Gov. George Busbee, when he was leading “federalism” discussions with the Reagan folk in 1981. Most governors at the time, regardless of party, were interested in what was called a “sorting out” agenda that would federalize some programs and devolve others; this was a favorite topic in particular for Arizona’s Democratic Gov. Bruce Babbitt, who like to talk about “states’ rights for liberals.” Babbitt wanted a “grand swap” in which Washington would become responsible for all health care and “welfare” programs in exchange for state assumption of transportation, education and criminal justice, areas in which they were already the major funders and policymakers. My own boss had a similar approach, but was mainly concerned to head off the kind of one-way abandonment of federal responsibility that most conservatives had in mind when they talked about “federalism.”

Whatever they told Alexander, that was pretty much the tendency of the Reaganites of the day. Reagan’s famous OMB director, David Stockman was interested in a “swap” that would have devolved cash income support, food stamps, and health care for the poor in exchange for the feds taking responsibility for the health care needs of seniors who were “dual-enrolled” in Medicaid or obtaining long-term care subsidies. It was basically a “swap” of old folks for poor folks. The governors weren’t buying it, and in any event, the Reagan administration was simultaneously pursuing a budget that would “cap” federal Medicaid payments, basically intitiating the kind of gradual shift in responsibility for the program to the states that Paul Ryan is pursuing in a more comprehensive way with his proposal to turn Medicaid into a “block grant.” As it happened, the Medicaid “cap” was one of the few budget proposals Reagan lost on in 1981.

Best as I can recall, this was the high-water mark of national Republican interest in taking over Medicaid, and it obviously was lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut. It’s only gotten worse sice then. It is striking that ol’ Lamar is talking about a federal takeover of Medicaid even as he joins other Republicans in violently opposing ObamaCare, since one major feature of ObamaCare is a significant increase in federal responsibility for Medicaid (via higher match rates for new enrolees), and for the health care needs of low-income families generally.

The bottom line is that Alexander is really living in the distant past if he thinks his party will support federalization of Medicaid (unless they get the idea they can starve or abolish it). The prevailing sentiment in the GOP, as reflected in the Ryan budget, is to move towards devolution of all current federal-state programs to the states, via rapid funding cuts to non-defense discretionary programs and by turning Medicaid and food stamps into block grants (along with big funding cuts). Matter of fact, Alexander voted for the Ryan budget himself. Maybe he explained that little contradiction in the portion of his op-ed still behind the paywall. Or maybe he’s just having a senior moment.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 16, 2012

May 17, 2012 Posted by | Federalism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“And The Dream Will Never Live”: The Romney-Boehner Ticket Dies

It didn’t get reported, so we all missed this important news until the full text of Speaker John Boehner’s remarks yesterday at the Peter G. Peterson 2012 Fiscal Summit (the best fiscal summit money can buy, BTW, as Digby has noted) was published. Here’s the crucial passage, elegant in the simplicity with which Boehner delivered this shocking statement:

But if we have leaders who will lead … if we have leaders with the courage to make tough choices and the vision to pursue a future paved with growth, then we can heal our economy and again be the example for all to follow.

I’m ready, and I’ve been ready. I’m not angling for higher office. This is the last position in government I will hold. I haven’t come this far to walk away.

And with those words, John Boehner dashed the hopes of those who prayed Mitt Romney would look to him to join the ticket, carry Ohio and save the Republic. Worse yet, Boehner is foreswearing a run for the presidency in 2016 if Romney loses.

His self-sacrifice is typical of the man; I would imagine that tears fell on his handsome, permatanned visage at the pain of it. But it’s a reflection of how deeply he feels about the fiscal health of the nation that he would also sacrifice the opportunity to boost his party’s electoral prospects in order to stay at his lonely post, determined to wreck the government’s creditworthiness and perhaps the economy itself before flinching from his clear duty.

Like Luther, his motto shall be: “Here I stand; no other can I do!”


BY: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 16, 2012

May 17, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Lesson Never Learned”: A Hostage Takeover By Any Other Name Is Still A Hostage Takeover

It was, to my mind, the worst thing an American major party has done, at least in domestic politics, since the Civil War. Last summer, congressional Republicans held the full faith and credit of the United States hostage, threatening to impose a catastrophe on all of us, on purpose, to achieve a specific (and unnecessary) policy goal.

It was a move without parallel. The entirety of a party threatened to deliberately hurt the country unless their rivals paid a hefty ransom — in this case, debt reduction. It didn’t matter that Republicans were largely responsible for the debt in the first place, and it didn’t matter that Republicans routinely raised the debt ceiling dozens of times over the last several decades.

This wasn’t just another partisan dispute; it was a scandal for the ages. This one radical scheme helped lead to the first-ever downgrade of U.S. debt; it riled financial markets and generated widespread uncertainty about the stability of the American system; and it severely undermined American credibility on the global stage. Indeed, in many parts of the world, observers didn’t just lose respect for us, they were actually laughing at us.

It’s the kind of thing that should have scarred the Republican Party for a generation. Not only did that never happen, the Republican hostage takers are already vowing to create this identical crisis all over again, on purpose.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will threaten Tuesday that Congress will not raise the debt limit next year without spending cuts greater than the size of the debt ceiling increase.

According to excerpts of the remarks Boehner will deliver to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation fiscal summit on Tuesday afternoon, the Ohio lawmaker will “insist on my simple principle of cuts and reforms greater than the debt limit increase.” […]

He will also tell the audience: “We shouldn’t dread the debt limit. We should welcome it. It’s an action-forcing event in a town that has become infamous for inaction.”

It’s not hyperbolic to characterize this as madness. Boehner is, in no uncertain terms, announcing that he and his party will deliberately hurt the country — and he’s calling his hostage-taking strategy an “action-forcing event.”

At a certain level, it’s true that holding a gun to someone’s head forces “action,” but it’s also true that such aggression tears at the fabric of the body politic.

I should emphasize that Boehner’s comments don’t come as a surprise. After the crisis was resolved last summer, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities President Robert Greenstein explained, “Those who have engaged in hostage-taking — threatening the economy and the full faith and credit of the U.S. Treasury to get their way — will conclude that their strategy worked. They will feel emboldened to pursue it again every time that we have to raise the debt limit in the future.”

And that’s exactly what has happened. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Fox News that the GOP-created crisis “set the template for the future.” He vowed, “We’ll be doing it all over” in 2013.

In case anyone’s forgotten, over the last 72 years — before 2011 — Congress raised the debt ceiling 89 times. Lawmakers from both parties, working with presidents from both parties, treated this as routine housekeeping. Preconditions have never been applied to this process, and neither party has ever used the law to hold the nation’s full faith and credit hostage. Clean debt-ceiling votes weren’t always popular, but they’ve been a standard American norm for generations.

Last year, radicalized Republicans changed the game, and they apparently have no intention of going back. This wasn’t a one-time hostage strategy, threatening the nation’s wellbeing in a fit of partisan rage; this was the creation of a new norm, to be repeated forever more. Why? Because the dangerous scheme worked — when radicalism is rewarded, the result is more radicalism.

Update: Incidentally, it’s also worth realizing that Boehner is demanding another debt-ceiling deal less than a year after breaking the terms of the agreement he reached last summer. President Obama is well positioned to ask a simple question: “If you won’t keep your word and honor your own agreements, why should I negotiate with you?”


By: Steve Beneb, The Maddow Blog, May 15, 2012

May 17, 2012 Posted by | Debt Ceiling | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Flirting With Catastrope”: Nebraska GOP Senate Candidate, “Destroy The Constitution Or I’ll Destroy The Economy”

Yesterday, Nebraska GOP primary voters nominated dark horse candidate and state Sen. Deb Fischer as their candidate for an open U.S. Senate race this November. In choosing Fischer, the Nebraska GOP aligns itself with a candidate who recently called for a very high stakes game of chicken — flirting with economic catastrophe in order to force Congress to permanently enshrine Tea Party fiscal policy into the Constitution.

During last year’s debt ceiling crisis, which Speaker John Boehner has threatened to repeat next year, House and Senate Republicans threatened to force the United States to default on its debt — an outcome that would have caused “a bigger GDP drop than that experienced during the Great Recession of 2008″ — unless President Obama agreed to an increasingly escalating series of demands for austerity. Even after this campaign of extortion forced the White House to make significant concessions, Fischer indicated that she would have simply let the economy blow up because Congress didn’t also agree to a constitutional amendment:

Nebraska’s 2012 Republican Senate candidates turned thumbs down Monday on the compromise debt reduction plan agreed to by the White House and congressional leaders.

I would vote no on this specific bill because Congress needs to pass a balanced budget (constitutional) amendment first,” said state Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine.

It’s not clear which version of the balanced budget amendment Fischer is referring to here, but even the mildest forms of such an amendment are terrible ideas because they prevent the United States from responding to economic downturns or unexpected disasters, while simultaneously turning control of the nation’s budget over to unelected judges who are ill-equipped to handle it.

Moreover, at the time that Fischer endorsed blowing up the economy unless Congress votes to change the Constitution, the leading Republican proposal for such an amendment imposed such draconian spending cuts that it would “throw about 15 million more people out of work, double the unemployment rate from 9 percent to approximately 18 percent, and cause the economy to shrink by about 17 percent instead of growing by an expected 2 percent.” The lead sponsor of this plan to trigger a new Great Depression, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), also called for forcing a debt default unless Congress gives him everything he wants.

In other words, while little is known about the obscure state lawmaker who wants to join the United States Senate, her willingness to play chicken with America’s prosperity strongly suggests that she would line up with the most hardline members of the Republican caucus.


By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, May 16, 2012

May 17, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Leaving Bush Behind Elevator Doors”: Mitt Romney Throws “Air Kiss To Bill Clinton”

Mitt Romney was against Bill Clinton before he was for him.

There was Romney, campaigning Tuesday in Iowa, praising the nation’s previous Democratic president and casting him as far superior to the current incumbent.

“Almost a generation ago, Bill Clinton announced that the era of big government was over,” Romney declared. “Clinton was signaling to his own party that Democrats should no longer try to govern by proposing a new program for every problem.” President Obama, he said, “tucked away the Clinton doctrine in his large drawer of discarded ideas.”

So you might assume that Romney likes Clinton. But that would be wrong. Scrambling during the GOP primaries this year to explain why he had voted in the 1992 Massachusetts Democratic presidential primary for the late Sen. Paul Tsongas, Romney invoked that old GOP standby: Clinton hatred.

“In my state of Massachusetts, you could register as an independent and go vote in [whichever] primary happens to be very interesting,” Romney averred. “And any chance I got to vote against Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy, I took.”

Now, strictly speaking, I suppose that Romney can praise Clinton now while once having voted against him. Or he can claim that, while he prefers Clinton to Obama, he preferred Tsongas to Clinton. That so much of what Romney says requires such careful parsing suggests how little he feels bound by anything he has said in the past. For Romney, every day is a blank slate. Consistency, he seems to think, is the hobgoblin of losing campaigns.

There is more here than casual flip-flopping. Romney says he likes Clinton’s view of government better than Obama’s. And it’s true that government’s share of the economy grew under Obama because he inherited a downturn and baby boomers got older.

But what about taxes? According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, government receipts as a share of gross domestic product rose from 17.5 percent in 1992, the year Clinton was elected, to 20.6 percent in 2000, his last full year in office. By contrast, government receipts as a share of GDP were just 15.4 percent in 2011. Which numbers make Romney happier?

The top income tax rate under Clinton, for incomes over $250,000, was 39.6 percent. Obama wants to go back to the Clinton rate. Romney wants to cut the top rate from its current 35 percent to 28 percent. Who is Clinton’s real heir?

And Obama would not restore all of the Clinton tax rates. He wants to raise only the top one. In principle, Obama favors lower taxes on middle-income Americans than Clinton did. By this measure, Obama is less “pro-government” than Clinton.

You can make the same case on health care. The law that Obama signed in 2010 is less adventurous and less government-oriented than the health plan Clinton proposed in the early 1990s. Obama’s law is based on many Republican ideas, including the individual mandate that Romney supported as governor of Massachusetts. Clinton, to the consternation of conservatives, was for a mandate on businesses.

It’s revealing that Romney made his pro-Clinton comments the same day that — speaking to reporters as elevator doors were closing on him — former president George W. Bush announced, “I’m for Mitt Romney.” Funny that Romney made a bigger deal about Clinton than about that Bush endorsement. Yet Republicans, including Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), categorically reject the lessons that Clinton taught.

When Clinton raised the top tax rate, without a single Republican vote, supply-side conservatives howled that asking a little more from the wealthy would tank the economy. It did nothing of the sort. After Clinton’s tax increase, the economy roared, deficits turned into surpluses and the empathetic guy from Arkansas, despite certain well-known difficulties, earned the long-term affection of the American people. On the other hand, polls show that Bush, who pursued policies Republicans are proposing more of now, is remembered less fondly. Romney would prefer to leave Bush behind the elevator doors.

For the rest of this campaign, count on Republicans to tout Clinton as more pro-business than Obama and to do all they can to separate our current president from the best parts of Clinton’s legacy. Yes, many business folks who initially resented Clinton’s tax increases came to appreciate the economic boom that followed. But whose approach to government, budgets and taxes more closely resembles Clinton’s? Here’s a hint: It’s not the guy who went out of his way to vote against Clinton in 1992.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr. Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 16, 2012

May 17, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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