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“The New Peter King”: New House Homeland Security Chair May Not Be A Whole Lot Better.

Good news for people who are uneasy with New York Republican Rep. Peter King’s leadership of the House Homeland Security Committee: He’s stepping down thanks to term limits. But there’s some potential bad news: His replacement may not be a whole lot better.

Texas Republican Rep. Mike McCaul edged out Michigan Rep. Candice Miller — who was the GOP’s best hope of getting a female major committee head — and Mike Rodgers in a close private vote this week. King’s tenure as chairman drew controversy for the series of hearings he held on the radicalization of Muslims in America. Critics didn’t discount the threat of homegrown terror but said King should have expanded the hearings to include all kinds of violent radicalism, including right-wing extremism.

But McCaul has been a big booster of those hearings. “I want to thank you for demonstrating the political courage to hold these hearings,” he said to King during one last year. “I must say, I am mystified by the controversy that has followed from this. It was said by one of the members that we are investigating Muslims. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We are investigating the radicalization of Muslim youth in the United States.”

McCaul is a former federal prosecutor who headed the counterterrorism division of the U.S. attorney’s office in Texas, so his resume lends him credibility on the subject. His rhetoric is generally more mild than King’s, but some advocates in the Muslim-American community are concerned.

“In the past two years, there have been 27 terror plots, and each of them involved extreme radicalization of the Muslim faith,” he said at radicalization hearing this year. What counts as a “terror plot” is obviously subject to semantic debate, but right-wing extremists account for a good portion, if not most, of domestic terrorism under most definitions of the term.

In another hearing, he defended himself when a witness criticized him for connecting Islam and terror. “I would argue that we have to look at the obvious – that there is a religious component to this,” he said. Though he’s always careful to add that terror “doesn’t reflect the vast majority of Muslims.”

McCaul’s district is just south of Fort Hood, and he joined other Republicans in their insistence in labeling as a terrorist Maj. Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 people on the base in 2009. Hasan had corresponded with Anwar Al-Awlaki and shouted “Allahu Akbar” before opening fire, which is enough to convince McCaul that it was a “planned terror attack.” He also introduced a bill to designate victims of the attack as combatants in a combat zone.

McCaul appeared once on the radio show hosted by Frank Gaffney, the controversial activist behind Rep. Michele Bachmann’s Muslim witch hunts. Gaffney said of the congressman: “He is, in a number of capacities, a go-to guy for the sorts of things we’re interested in here at Secure Freedom Radio.” On the show, McCaul discussed one of his hobby horses, the apparent threat of Hezbollah teaming up with Mexican drug cartels to infiltrate the U.S. via the southern border. McCaul has authored two reports on the subject, both titled, “A Line in the Sand: Countering Crime, Violence, and Terror at the Southwest Border.”

He has also sent a number of “dear colleague” letters to other members of Congress asking them to support his bills to crack down on foreign terror networks. One sent in September called attention to a news article alleging the Iran’s elite Quds Force was operating in Syria and asked colleagues to support a bill to designate the unit as a terrorist organization. Others would cut off aid to Egypt and Pakistan.

None of this is particularly unusual for a conservative Republican today, but it doesn’t bode well for those who hoped that King’s departure would turn a new leaf at the Homeland Security Committee.

By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, December 1, 2012

December 2, 2012 Posted by | Homeland Security | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Gun Frenzy”: Nothing Warms The Heart For The Holidays Like Cold Steel

President Obama’s election and recent re-election have apparently fueled a gun-buying craze in this country unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times.

USA Today reported this week:

“For the second consecutive year, prospective gun buyers joined Black Friday shoppers in record numbers as firearms dealers swamped the F.B.I. with required buyer background check requests. The F.B.I. fielded 154,873 calls, a roughly 20 percent increase from last year’s previous one-day record of 129,166, according to bureau records. The requests came in such volume throughout the day that F.B.I. call centers experienced two brief outages — one of 18 minutes and one for 14 minutes — during the busy day, bureau spokesman Stephen Fischer said Monday.”

As the report made clear:

“The F.B.I. does not track actual gun sales. But the number of firearms sold Friday is likely higher because multiple firearms can be included in one transaction by a single buyer.”

According to the F.B.I.’s data, the number of requests for background checks normally peaks toward the end of the year. Nothing warms the heart for the holidays like cold steel.

The F.B.I. has conducted nearly 156 million background checks for gun purchases from November 1998 to October 2012 (the last month for which they have published data) and a full 40 percent of those checks occurred in just the four years since President Obama was first elected.

This week the popular conservative Web site World Net Daily quoted the National Rifle Association spokeswoman Jacqueline Otto as saying that the N.R.A. is not surprised by the surging gun sales because gun owners “are very informed voters and they have known that President Obama has opposed our Second Amendment rights his entire political career.”

Then they quoted her as follows:

“Gun sales are undoubtedly going up because gun owners know that at best President Obama wants to make guns and ammunition more expensive through increased taxes and regulation, and at worst he wants to make them totally illegal.”

That’s the N.R.A. line. Here is the reality. The president has done almost nothing in his first term to restrict gun ownership. As The Washington Post’s blog The Fix reported in July:

“The president signed bills allowing guns in national parks and on Amtrak. He has not pushed for the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban — and Attorney General Eric Holder was reportedly chastised for suggesting he would. Nor has he moved towards closing the gun-show loophole.”

That loophole allows guns to be bought from private dealers at gun shows without a background check.

During the second presidential debate with Mitt Romney, however, Obama said:

“But I also share your belief that weapons that were designed for soldiers in war theaters don’t belong on our streets. And so what I’m trying to do is to get a broader conversation about how do we reduce the violence generally. Part of it is seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced, but part of it is also looking at other sources of the violence, because frankly, in my hometown of Chicago, there’s an awful lot of violence, and they’re not using AK-47s, they’re using cheap handguns.”

That’s sounds mild and logical to me, but the N.R.A. took it as a shot across the bow. They started running ads in swing states that said, “Defend freedom, defeat Obama.”

In fact, it should be noted that, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, gun lobbyists contributed more than $3 million in the 2012 election cycle, and 96 percent of those contributions went to Republicans. That was the highest percentage going to Republicans since the center began providing comparable data.

The World Net Daily article also pointed out that “gun owners also are worried because just hours after Obama’s re-election, the U.S. signaled its support for a U.N. committee’s call to renew debate over a draft international treaty to regulate the $70 billion global conventional arms trade.”

But as Reuters pointed out this month: “U.S. officials have acknowledged privately that the treaty under discussion would have no effect on domestic gun sales and ownership because it would apply only to exports.”

And it’s not like we need more guns, anyway. The United States has more guns per capita than any country on the planet.

All the while, stocks of gun makers are going through the roof. Smith & Wesson’s stock is up 280 percent since last year. Sturm, Ruger and Company’s stock is up 96 percent from last year.

Welcome to the Great American Arming.

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, November 29, 2012

December 2, 2012 Posted by | Guns | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The GOP And Its Urge To Purge”: Don’t Get Caught Reading Marx In The Republican Cloakroom

It seems the Republicans have run out of squishy moderates to purge. Now they’re starting to run conservatives out of town for being insufficiently doctrinaire.

Exhibit A: The defenestration of Tom Cole.

Cole, a deeply conservative congressman from deeply Republican Oklahoma, is not to be confused with a RINO: Republican in name only. But when the lawmaker, who has been part of House GOP leadership, floated a perfectly sensible notion this week — that Republicans should accept President Obama’s offer to extend tax cuts for the 98 percent of Americans who earn less than $250,000 a year — he was treated as if he had been caught reading Marx in the Republican cloakroom.

“I think he’s wrong, and I think most of the conference thinks that he’s wrong,” declared rookie Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho). Cole, he said, is “a man who has voted for a lot of the increased spending in Washington, D.C., and that’s the problem. We have a lot of Republicans who are, you know, catching their hair on fire right now, but they’re the ones who were here for 10 or 20 years causing all the problems that we’re now facing.”

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) called Cole’s position “absurd.” House Speaker John Boehner went before the cameras to deliver Cole a rare public rebuke.

Cole, who enjoys a lifetime rating of 92 percent from the American Conservative Union as he enters his sixth term, isn’t worried about a putsch. “I think I’m going to be hard to sell as a dangerous liberal,” he told me with a chuckle. The outrage, he said, “surprised me a little bit, because I think the politics of this are blindingly clear.”

Cole is correct, for two reasons. On a practical level, his plan calls Obama’s bluff: Because raising taxes on the top 2 percent of earners won’t bring in nearly enough tax revenue to fix the budget problem, Obama would likely be forced to come up with some serious entitlement-program cuts as part of a larger tax-and-spending deal.

But Cole is right for a larger reason: The Republicans’ negotiating position is morally indefensible. They are holding 98 percent of Americans hostage by refusing to spare them a tax hike unless the wealthiest 2 percent are included.

“Some people seem to think this is leverage. I think that’s wrong,” Cole said. “You don’t consider people’s lives as leverage. I live in a blue-collar neighborhood. I’ve got a retired master sergeant as my next-door neighbor, police officer across the street. These are working folks, they’re great people, and the idea that I would ever use them as leverage is just wrong.”

In defying the party purists, Cole is taking a novel approach: doing what his constituents want him to do. His staff reports that calls and e-mails to his Washington office are running 70 percent favorable, and calls to his south-central Oklahoma offices are 90 percent positive.

No surprise: Median income in his district is under $47,000, below the national average of $52,000. Only 1.8 percent of households there have income of $200,000 or more.

“They’re pro-business, they’re pro-free enterprise,” Cole said of his constituents, who are farm and ranch workers, oil employees and the like. “But they’re going to want to know that we’re not going to raise taxes on them because they make $43,000 a year, and $1,000 to $2,000 is a lot of money when you’re trying to raise a family.”

Cole, who worked as a political consultant and as chief of staff at the Republican National Committee before coming to Congress, understands this reality better than many of his peers. In their obsession with protecting the wealthiest, Republicans often work against their own constituents, because red states tend to be poorer and more reliant on government spending.

Cole’s stand is a refreshing reminder that being conservative doesn’t mean you have to be unreasonable. “Both sides, I think, need to be a lot more clear-eyed,” he told me. “We’re going to be living in this house together for four years in all likelihood. Let’s get some things done that we can agree on.”

Thankfully, Cole, who won reelection with 68 percent of the vote, isn’t intimidated. Of his intraparty critics, Cole asks: “Where’s your political courage? It’s pretty easy to vote ‘no’ around here. But we’ve got a divided government. The American people ratified that in this election. They’ve basically told us to work together. Here’s something we both agree on that would be in their interest. Why don’t we do this?”


By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 30, 2012

December 2, 2012 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Solid Template”: President Obama’s Opening Bid To Avert The Fiscal Cliff Is Familiar And Sound

President Obama’s opening bid for negotiations resolving the “fiscal cliff” has surfaced, and the contours are both familiar and sound. The Washington Postand an unofficial outline drafted by Republican aides both suggest that the administration has essentially proposed its budget request for fiscal 2013. And the president’s latest budget offers a solid framework for navigating the fiscal obstacle course, as it would substantially moderate the pace of deficit reduction while making a responsible down payment on longer-term deficit reduction. Relative to current policy, the contours are shaping up roughly as follows:

  • Allow the upper-income Bush tax cuts to expire (+$850 billion)
  • Restore the estate and gift taxes to 2009 parameters (+$120 billion)
  • Curb tax expenditures (+600 billion)
  • Stimulus spending (-$50 billion)
  • Extend emergency unemployment benefits (-$30 billion)
  • Extend or replace the payroll tax cut (-$110 billion)
  • Continue AMT patch, “doc fix,” and tax extenders (-$240 billion)
  • Defer sequestration (?)

Most critically, the Obama framework includes a variation of his American Jobs Act, proposing increased near-term government spending on infrastructure and state fiscal relief while maintaining the ad hoc stimulus set to expire at year’s end—the emergency unemployment compensation (EUC) program, the payroll tax cut, and recent expansion of refundable tax credits—which is the single largest economic headwind threatening recovery among the major components of the scheduled fiscal restraint. (See our à la carte deconstruction of these major components’ budgetary versus economic impacts) The Republican aides’ draft suggests the administration would dedicate $50 billion for infrastructure and stimulus spending, $30 billion for EUC, and $110 billion for an extension of the payroll tax cut or a targeted tax credit, all relative to current policy. And if the administration is looking for a replacement for the payroll tax cut, they could adopt our proposed targeted refundable tax rebate, which would provide a bigger and better economic boost.

Beyond these job creation measures, the president’s proposal for dealing with the economic challenge at hand of overly rapid deficit reduction would largely adhere to current policy—the alternative minimum tax would be indexed for inflation, scheduled Medicare physician reimbursement cuts would be prevented (i.e., the “doc fix” would be continued), expiring business tax provisions would be continued, the sequester would not be implemented in 2013, and the Bush-era tax cuts would be extended for all but upper-income households (those earning more than $250,000 a year). Again, this is all consistent with the president’s budget, with the exception that the budget repealed the sequester instead of deferring it to an unspecified date.

Overall, this proposal would substantially moderate the pace of deficit reduction relative to the current policy, which is critical because this baseline includes sizable fiscal contraction (the payroll tax cut and emergency unemployment benefits are assumed to expire and discretionary spending caps ratchet down). Indeed, the entire challenge posed by the fiscal obstacle course is that budget deficits closing too quickly will push the economy into an austerity-induced recession, and the president’s opening bid actually addresses this very real economic challenge, prioritizing job creation and economic recovery over the (not imminent) problem of longer-term deficit reduction.

But the proposal would make substantial long-run deficit reduction as well. It would allow the upper-income Bush tax cuts to expire, raise roughly another $600 billion from upper-income households and business (presumably by capping the value of tax expenditures), return the estate and gift tax to 2009 parameters, reduce Medicare and Medicaid spending by nearly $400 billion (largely without cost-shifting to states or households, with most savings from providers and pharmaceutical companies). Again, these are all proposals from the president’s budget request. As I calculated a few months back, the president’s budget—as scored by the Congressional Budget Office and adjusted for subsequent baseline revisions—would reduce public debt by $3.0 trillion relative to current policy, lowering the debt-to-GDP ratio to a sustainable 73.4 percent. (Add in the nearly $1 trillion from ending the war in Afghanistan, already built into current policy, and you hit the $4 trillion mark that has become the arbitrary but symbolic threshold for fiscal seriousness.)

A back of the envelope calculation suggests that the combination of continuing EUC, continuing the payroll tax cut, increased infrastructure spending, and expiration of the upper-income tax cuts would boost real GDP growth by 1.5 percentage points and increase nonfarm payroll employment by 1.8 million jobs by the end of 2013, relative to current policy. Details on timing of other deficit reduction are lacking, and would likely somewhat reduce the net economic boost, but the proposal nevertheless offers substantial net fiscal support for our depressed economy. My colleague Josh Bivens and I estimated in another recent paper that the president’s 2013 budget would boost employment by about 1.1 million jobs in 2013, largely because of AJA spending and targeted tax cuts (which we delayed one year from the now-ended 2012 fiscal year to allow for feasible implementation).

This framework also closely resembles the proposals in our recent EPI and Century Foundation report Navigating the fiscal obstacle course: Supporting job creation with savings from ending the upper-income Bush-era tax cuts. We proposed diverting half of the savings from ending the upper-income Bush tax cuts and recent estate tax cuts—roughly $600 billion—to job creation measures heavily weighted toward the next three years, which would boost real GDP growth by 1.7 percentage points and increase employment by 2.0 million jobs in 2013. The upper-income Bush tax cuts are the least economically supportive component of the fiscal obstacle course and have a huge opportunity cost; as far as down payments on deficit reduction go, this is the most sound starting point—as the president has proposed in all four budget requests.

The one major departure from the president’s budget is the new and excellent proposal to eliminate the statutory debt ceiling. The statutory debt ceiling has proved an unacceptable economic liability, particularly since Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) irresponsibly pledged in May that he would again hijack the nation’s debt ceiling to be used as a bargaining chip. This duplicative, ill-conceived law should be repealed, or at the very least ruled inoperative.

The president’s budget offered a sound template for moderating the pace of deficit reduction, coupled with a down payment on longer-term deficit reduction that would impose little near-term economic drag—substantially less than the economic boost from the AJA. By adding repeal of the debt ceiling to this balanced package, the president’s opening bid makes for an even more responsible economic and budgetary policy.


By: Andrew Fieldhouse, Economic Policy Institute, November 30, 2012



December 2, 2012 Posted by | Budget | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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