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“In A Saner Era”: After Sept. 11 And Two Wars, There’s No Way For GOP To Defend Tax Cuts

Among the many ways the United States went berserk after the September 11 attacks, the least remarked upon, but most morally revealing, is what happened to Republican thinking about taxes during wartime.

Since that awful morning eleven years ago, the United States has been continually at war. But never before in our history has a political party made it a national priority to cut taxes for wealthy Americans at a time of war.

The obvious pattern has been the opposite — we’ve raised taxes to fund the extraordinary expenses war requires, as well as to make sure more fortunate Americans shoulder some of the burden as young soldiers, drawn mostly from middle and low income families, do the actual fighting.

But something snapped in the Republican mind after 9/11.  We’ve now put a trillion dollars of war on our kids’ credit card, with Republicans leading the charge for tax cuts for the top the entire time.

In a saner era, the big 2001 Bush tax cutsenacted a few months before September 11 would have been immediately revisited, because we were now a nation at war.

In a saner era, it would have been unthinkable for a president to push for further tax cuts for the top in 2003, because by then we were a nation waging two wars. Instead, just two months after we invaded Iraq, Republicans, in a party line vote, enacted fresh tax cuts mostly benefiting high earners.

In a saner era, Republicans would never have held the debt limit hostage last year in order to get a deal that kept taxes low for the wealthiest Americans when we were still at war.

And in a saner era, a Republican presidential candidate worth $250 million who paid taxes at the rate of 13.9 percent on $20 million in income would never makefurther tax cuts for the top the centerpiece of his agenda when we still have nearly 80,000 troops in Afghanistan.

He’d see it as unseemly.

I’ve talked to friends who are military officers about this pattern and they find it grotesque. They live by a code of honor and an ethos of shared sacrifice that makes such choices seem obscene.

What were Republicans thinking? What is Mitt Romney thinking now? Only they know for sure, but what’s clear is that Republican leaders see no moral disconnect between the sacrifices borne by the tiny fraction of Americans who serve in the military (and their families), and repeated tax windfalls showered on a relative handful of well-to-do families at the same time.

Seen in this context, Romney’s failure to mention Afghanistan in his convention speech is even more troubling than we thought. It’s the supreme symbol of Republican compartmentalization. Instead of “Believe In America, ” the de facto GOP motto has become: “Let other people’s children fight our wars, funded by debt other people’s children can pay off later.”

Can anyone really defend this position? This isn’t what Republicans have stood for in the past. It’s the ultimate proof the GOP has gone off the rails.

The amazing thing is that Democrats almost never make the tax argument this way.

When I’ve done so on cable TV over the years, Republican guests react as if I’m from another planet. It’s so outside the well-worn grooves of the debate that they’re speechless for a moment. And then uncomfortable.

“Wait a minute,” I can hear them thinking, “he’s supposed to cry ‘fairness,’ and then I shout back ‘class warfare.’ What’s with this ‘nation at war’ business?”

Yet if the debate were framed around these realities, I think most Americans would react as my military friends do. They’d say it’s wrong. That we’ve lost our senses. That this isn’t how Americans behave. (Note to David Axelrod: This is a testable proposition).

That’s why President Obama should make this case forcefully during the debates. “We’ve been at war for over a decade, Mitt,” the president can say. “We’ve still got 80,000 troops in Afghanistan. Why have you and your party repeatedly made tax cuts for people like us your top priority at a time of war? We’ve never done that before in our history.  Most Americans find it shameful.”

No answer that amounts to an evasion — “Well, even during a war, we need to grow the economy and give job creators incentives to expand” — will pass swing voters’ smell test.

Yet what other answer is there? Hammering this point could create the kind of eureka moment on which elections turn.

 

By: Matt Miller, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 10, 2012

 

September 12, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“He Who Has No Name”: At News Conference, Republicans Made No Reference To Party Standard-Bearer Mitt Romney

Republican leaders had all kinds of things to talk about in their first day back on Capitol Hill from their month-long recess.

They spoke about jobs and the economy, about military spending and automatic budget cuts, about the national debt and the need for energy legislation.

But there was one thing House Republican leaders did not mention in their statements to the cameras after Tuesday morning’s caucus: Mitt Romney.

They uttered 1,350 words in their opening remarks at the news conference but made no reference to the party standard-bearer who would be at the top of their ticket in just 56 days.

NBC’s Luke Russert tried to help the lawmakers address this omission. “Governor Romney said that it was a bad decision for Republicans to agree to the bipartisan debt deal,” he pointed out. “What’s your response to him?”

House Speaker John Boehner, who negotiated the deal, looked unwell.

“I don’t think there’s anybody that worked harder than Eric and I to try to work with the president to come to an agreement,” he said, with Majority Leader Eric Cantor standing just behind him. Boehner tried to pin the agreement’s automatic cuts in defense spending on President Obama, but he ultimately defended the package: “Somehow, we have to deal with our spending problem.”

That Romney would go on “Meet the Press” and say that last year’s bipartisan spending deal was a “mistake”— never mind thatRomney had applauded Boehner for negotiating the deal at the time — made clear that the GOP nominee does not wish to run on the record of congressional Republicans.

That House Republicans would not so much as breathe Romney’s name makes clear the sentiment is mutual.

The seven leaders at the microphone didn’t mention Romney even when asked about him — as though he is some sort of political Voldemort. Instead, they kept contrasting House Republicans’ record on jobs bills with those of Senate Democrats and the White House while leaving Romney out of it.

For good measure, the Republican lawmakers also praised a bill that would remove trade restrictions on Russia, a country Romney has called “our number one geopolitical foe”; Romney opposes the trade measure unless Russia is also punished over human rights.

The estrangement seen in the past few days is part of a broader dynamic in which the Republican Party seems to be readying itself to cut and run from its nominee. At the convention in Tampa, a gaggle of younger Republicans — Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Nikki Haley, Rand Paul — delivered speeches light on mentions of Romney and heavy on self-promotion. Overall, Romney was mentioned far less at his convention than Obama was at the Democratic convention.

This tepidity furthers the impression that Romney is a placeholder for the next generation of Republicans, tempered by partisan squabbles and disciplined by conservative activists, and unwilling to negotiate or compromise. Romney himself, though a businessman by temperament, had to affect the younger Republicans’ mannerisms to win the nomination. He further ingratiated himself with the young conservatives by tapping as his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan — one of a trio of self-styled “young guns” in the House, with Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy.

In the House GOP caucus meeting Tuesday, Boehner told his members privately that the choice of Ryan “validated all the work House Republicans have done over the past 19 months.” Boehner is correct about that. The Ryan choice was a bow to where the power is in the party, where it’s going and who its future leaders are. If Romney wins, congressional conservatives would drive his agenda from Capitol Hill. If Romney loses, congressional conservatives would immediately inherit the party in preparation for 2014 and 2016.

Either way, it promises to be a cacophony. At the news conference that followed the caucus gathering, a campaign-style backdrop proclaimed “Focused on American Jobs” and repeated the phrase “American Jobs” 30 times. But it was also Sept. 11, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) argued that the hijackers “didn’t attack us as a Republican or a Democrat; they attacked us as Americans, and we would do well to remember that.”

The leaders had difficulty sticking to either theme in their zeal to campaign against the president: “There’s a lack of leadership in this administration. . . . Can’t find a job in the Obama economy. . . . The president has done nothing.” Boehner said he was “not confident at all” about avoiding downgrades of U.S. debt, accusing Obama of being “absent without leave.”

Actually, Obama has been present; Republicans just find his presence objectionable. The notable absence from congressional Republicans’ calculations is Romney.

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 11, 2012

September 12, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“He Kept Us Safe” Festival Of Falsehoods: Bush Ignored Repeated Warnings Of Terrorist Attack

During the festival of falsehood held by Republicans in Tampa two weeks ago, perhaps the very biggest lie emanated from the mouth of Jeb Bush, the Florida politician, entrepreneur, and potential heir to the GOP presidential dynasty.

“My brother, well” began Jeb, referring to former president George W. Bush, “I love my brother” — and then went on to add, more arguably: ” He is a man of integrity, courage and honor. And during incredibly challenging times, he kept us safe.”

That those words – “he kept us safe” – could be uttered in public about that leader is a testament to our national affliction of historical amnesia. The harsher truth, long known but now reiterated in a startling report on the New York Times op-ed page, is that the Bush administration’s “negligence” left us undefended against the disaster whose anniversary we will mark again today.

New documents uncovered by investigative journalist Kurt Eichenwald show that despite repeated, urgent warnings from intelligence officials about an impending Al Qaeda attack, Bush did nothing because his neoconservative advisers told him that the threats were merely a “ruse” and a distraction.

Recalling the evidence compiled by the 9/11 Commission – which Bush, his vice president Dick Cheney, his national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, and numerous other officials sought to stymie and mislead – it has been clear for years that they ignored many warnings about Al Qaeda.

Specifically, as Eichenwald points out in his op-ed report, CIA officials sought to warn Bush with a glaring headline in the famous August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Brief, or PDB: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” That memorandum represented the culmination of many months of attempts to awaken a somnolent White House to the impending threat of a terrorist attack.

None of that is news, although Republicans like Jeb Bush continue to behave as if the facts uncovered by the 9/11 Commission had never emerged.

But according to Eichenwald, he has seen still-classified documents that place the August 6 PDB in a new context – namely, the briefing papers preceding that date, which remain locked away:

While those documents are still not public, I have read excerpts from many of them, along with other recently declassified records, and come to an inescapable conclusion: the administration’s reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been disclosed. In other words, the Aug. 6 document, for all of the controversy it provoked, is not nearly as shocking as the briefs that came before it.

On May 1, 2001, the CIA relayed a report to the White House about “a group presently in the United States” that was planning a terrorist attack. On June 22, the agency told Bush that the Al Qaeda strikes might be “imminent.”

A week later, the CIA answered neoconservative officials in the Bush administration who claimed that Osama bin Laden’s threats were a ruse to distract the United States from the real threat posed by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. “The United States is not the target of a disinformation campaign” by bin Laden, wrote agency officials, citing evidence compiled by its analysts that the Al Qaeda threats were real.

The warnings continued and multiplied into July 2001, with counter-terrorism officials becoming increasingly alarmed – or as Eichenwald puts it, “apoplectic.” Still, Bush, Cheney, Rice and their coterie failed to act.

Familiar with Eichenwald’s career, I’m confident that he is reporting what he has seen with complete accuracy and due caution. A two-time winner of the George Polk Award and a Pulitzer finalist, he concludes carefully that we will never know whether a more alert administration could have mobilized to prevent 9/11. What we know for certain –that they didn’t bother  – is an eternal indictment.

But Eichenwald’s report has relevance that is more than historical. Advising Mitt Romney, foreign policy neophyte, arethe same neoconservatives whose arrogance and incompetence steered Bush away from Al Qaeda and toward the quagmire in Iraq. Returning them to power would be exceptionally dangerous to the security of the United States and the world.

By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, September 11, 2012

September 12, 2012 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Devil Is In The Details”: The Paradoxes Of Romney’s “Specificity Problem”

Every candidate confronts the question of how detailed they should be in their policy plans, and the basic calculation goes as follows: I want to seem substantive and serious, so it’s good to have detailed plans, but I don’t want the plans to be so detailed that they give my opponent something to use against me and allow voters to find things they don’t like. So usually they find some middling level of specificity, and tolerate whatever criticism they get from one end for not being detailed enough, and from the other end for specific ideas people don’t like. But rarely does the question of how specific you’re being become a story in and of itself.

Mitt Romney has arrived at that moment, when his unwillingness to reveal exactly what he wants to do in a variety of policy areas is becoming a story in its own right. Here’s Steve Kornacki writing about it in SalonHere’s The Wall Street Journal editorial page criticizing him for not being specific. Here’s aTPM report on other conservatives scolding Romney for his vagueness. Here’san L.A. Times editorial asking for specifics on Romney’s tax plan (which we’ll get to in a moment. Here’s an NPR story about the specificity question. And President Obama is picking up the issue and using it as an attack, which helps propel the story forward.

It’s one thing to be vague because you think getting bogged down in a discussion of details will distract from your broader message, but it’s another thing to be vague because a discussion of details will reveal that you’re promising things you can’t possibly deliver. And Romney’s real problem, as Matt Yglesias pointed out, isn’t that he’s being completely vague but that he’s been specific in some parts of what he’s proposed but vague in others. He says he wants to cut all income tax rates 20 percent (specific!) and that when he does it, not only will wealthy people not pay any less (specific!) but that the whole thing will be revenue-neutral (specific!). If he had just said “I want to cut income tax rates, and we’ll look for deductions to eliminate and try to do it in a way that won’t increase the deficit,” I doubt this would be an issue. But because he offered some specifics but refuses to say how he’ll make his proposals add up—by explaining which deductions and loopholes he wants to eliminate to pay for the rate cuts, or even suggesting a single deduction or loophole he’d eliminate—he has backed himself into a corner.

And once he starts getting asked questions about it, he sounds incredibly squirrelly. When David Gregory pressed Romney for the specifics of his tax plan, Romney said, “Well, the—the specifics are these which is those principles I described are the heart of my policy.” That’s right, the principles are the specifics. Which is like you saying, “Here’s a chicken salad sandwich,” and when I say, “No, this is just two pieces of bread,” you reply, “Well, the bread isthe chicken salad.”

It’s important to remember that Mitt’s lack of specificity isn’t anything new, and it isn’t just about taxes. Months ago, I was complaining that though he had built his entire campaign on the idea that his private sector experience gave him a unique understanding of the economy that would enable him to create millions of jobs (“I understand how the economy works!” he says a dozen times every day), not only had he not offered a single policy proposal that was any different from what every Republican has been proposing for decades, he wasn’t even capable of saying what exactly he learned in the private sector. (When pressed, he did manage to explain that businesses have to pay for energy, so if energy were cheaper, they’d make more money. Truly revelatory.)

This is one of the paradoxes of Mitt Romney. He’s famously detail-oriented, thinking in PowerPoint presentations and capable of saying, “Here are twelve things we can do” and rattling off every one. His running mate is supposedly the wonkiest wonk in the GOP. Yet he’s put himself in a position where not only does he not want to get into the details of what he would do as president, he can’t. What is he supposed to do now that he finds himself in this position? On the loophole question he could come up with a piddling loophole or two that he’d eliminate, then face questions about how inadequate it is. Or he could say, “I’ll get rid of the mortgage interest deduction” and make everyone freak out. So my guess is he’ll hunker down and hope that in a couple of days this all goes away, just like the question of his tax returns did.

That was really the same problem in a different form: he wanted to look open and transparent, but he didn’t actually want people to see the tax forms. So he stood firm, and eventually the controversy ran its course and now nobody asks him about it anymore. Going through that process, however, reinforced the image of him as a plutocrat hiding something from the voters. This specificity question will eventually go away too, but by the time that happens he may have sustained real damage.

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 11, 2012

September 12, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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