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“Willfull Ignorance”: Short-term Memory Loss Grips Republicans In Washington

ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos devoted a good chuck of “This Week” to discussed automatic sequestration cuts yesterday, and asked Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) for his prediction. The Republican congressman said President Obama came up with the sequester — a claim that simply isn’t true — before saying his caucus is “prepared to negotiate on redistributing the cuts.”

It led to this exchange:

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you’re saying all cuts. Republicans are accepting absolutely no revenues?

COLE: No. Look, absolutely none. The president’s accepted no spending cuts back in the fiscal cliff deal 45 days ago, so you get all — no spending cuts back then. Then you’re going to get no revenue now.

Around the same time, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who appears to spend more time on Sunday shows than in the Senate, said he’s open to some revenues as a way to replace the sequester, but added, “[W]e have raised taxes. Why do we have to raise taxes again?”

Of course, by that logic, there’s no reason not to ask, “We have cut spending. Why do we have to cut spending again?”

It’s troubling that Republican policymakers have such short memories, and seem to have no idea what policies they voted for as recently as 2011. It’s one of the more breathtaking examples of willful ignorance in recent memory.

But if we assume that lawmakers like Cole and McCain are sincere, and they literally can’t remember the basics of recent budget policy, then it’s probably worthwhile to set the record straight.

In 2011, Democrats and Republicans agreed to between $1.2 trillion and $1.5 trillion in spending cuts, depending on how one tallies the numbers. The cuts included no new revenue.

In 2012, Democrats and Republicans agreed to a deal that raised revenue by about $650 billion. The new revenue included no new cuts.

In 2013, Republicans are saying they remember what happened in 2012, but the 2011 policy has been blocked from memory.

This is crazy. Folks like Cole and McCain keep saying the 2012 deal didn’t include spending cuts, so the sequester has to be 100% in the GOP’s favor now, without exception. Why? Because Republicans haven’t gotten spending cuts.

Except they already did get spending cuts. Indeed, the cuts from 2011 were twice as big as the revenue from 2012.

Even if the parties agreed to an entirely balanced agreement this month to replace the sequester — roughly $600 billion in revenue and $600 billion in cuts — Republicans would still be getting the much better end of the deal. The total for the entire package, negotiated in parts over the course of two years, would be over $4 trillion in debt reduction — with a cuts-to-revenue ration of about six to one.

For that matter, Obama isn’t calling for “tax increases”; he’s calling for new revenue through closed tax loopholes and ending certain tax deductions. As recently as last month, Republican leaders said such a policy doesn’t count as a “tax increase,” though it’s suddenly become outrageous now that the president agrees.

This really isn’t that complicated. Either Republicans have a child’s understanding of fiscal policy, the memory capacity of a goldfish, or they think Americans are fools. At this point, I’m no longer sure which, though I’m open to suggestion.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 11, 2013

February 11, 2013 Posted by | Budget | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Straightforward Factual Description”: Only One Party Is Willing To Compromise And It Isn’t The GOP

The difference between the Republican and Democratic positions on the sequester is simple: Democrats believe reaching a compromise is preferable to letting the sequester happen, since it could devastate the military and scuttle the recovery. Republicans believe letting the sequester happen is preferable to reaching a compromise, even though it could devastate the military and scuttle the recovery.

This is not a partisan observation. It is a straightforward factual description of the two sides’ positions and public statements. The Democratic position is that we must avert the sequester with a mix of new revenues and spending cuts — which is to say, a mix of what both sides want. The Republican position is that we must avert the deal only with spending cuts — which is to say, only with what Republicans want. Some Republicans are openly declaring that they will sooner allow the sequester to kick in than accept a compromise that includes revenue hikes. In other words, the sequester is preferable to any compromise that includes a mix of concessions by both sides. That’s their explicit position.

Indeed, Politico details this morning that many Republicans are holding to this position because they believe that they can blame Obama for the sequester. Roll Call adds that Mitch McConnell is urging Republicans to draw a hard line on the issue.

But given that polls show the public is already convinced Republicans are not doing enough to compromise with Obama, this position is not without risk to their side. So Republicans have tried to obscure the true nature of their stance in two ways.

One is to pretend they are the party that has made all the concessions to deficit reduction thus far. For instance, Charles Krauthammer argues today that Republicans should not give an inch on new revenues, because they already agreed to tax hikes as part of the fiscal cliff deal. Krauthammer doesn’t mention that Democrats agreed to $1.5 trillion in spending cuts — significantly more than the $700 billion in revenues Republicans agreed to — in 2011. Indeed, even if the parties agreed to a roughly one-to-one split between revenues and cuts to avert the sequester, the overall ledger would still be tilted towards Republicans.

The second way Republicans try to obscure the true nature of their position is by pretending Democrats aren’t willing to cut spending. But there’s that aforementioned $1.5 trillion that must not ever be discussed. What’s more, there is simply no question that if Republicans agreed to new revenues, Democrats would give Republicans at least as much, and likely more, in spending cuts. Yes, some liberals want Dems to refuse to offer any cuts. But the position of Democratic leaders, and even the President himself, is that spending cuts must be part of any deal. By contrast, the position held by the Tea Party wing of the GOP — no new revenues no matter what — is the position held by GOP leaders.

The problem for Republicans remains that they are on record saying that the sequester would devastate our military and are even on record saying it would scuttle the recovery. And so the current political situation is this: One side is willing to reach a compromise to avert disaster for the country; the other is not only unwilling to reach a compromise to avert disaster, it views the impending disaster as an opportunity to get what it wants and even sees it as preferable to compromise. This is an objectively true description of the two sides’ positions. If Republicans believe this is a political winner for them, then hey, go for it.


By: Greg Sargent, The Washington Post The Plum Line, February 8, 2013

February 11, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Don’t Believe The Hype”: The Rubio Phenomenon Is An Advertisement For Republican Denial

Let’s just say it: Marco Rubio is the Wes Clark of 2013. Only with many fewer accomplishments.

It pains me to say this because I’m an admirer of Gen. Wesley Clark. I think he would have made a good president. He was an extremely accomplished career military officer. He was also a West Point valedictorian and Rhodes Scholar, so you might say a Democrat’s vision of what a warrior-scholar should be.

But there’s a difference between a person’s innate qualities and accomplishments and the reason they become the person of the moment or get seized upon for some special role by a political party. And there’s no question Democrats seized on Clark in 2003/2004 because his credentials as a retired 4 star general and a combat vet promised to serve as a heat shield to protect them from charges of weakness in an era in which an aggressive national security posture was the sine qua non of national elections.

Nor was Clark the only example. Finding the retired General or combat vet to carry the Democratic banner was a thing for a couple decades — and for obvious reasons: the public consistently rated Republicans better on national security issues.

But nominating a general doesn’t solve the political problem. Ask President Kerry. And neither will nominating Marco Rubio or putting him at the party’s helm.

We hear today that not only is he young and ‘on social media’, he also “knows who Tupac is.” And of course this week he will deliver the Republican response to the President’s State of the Union address.

Supporters can note that if Rubio ran for president in 2016 his time on the national stage would be precisely the same as Barack Obama’s was in 2008. And they’d be right. But Rubio isn’t a rising political star. The mechanics are different. It’s more like the party’s lack of traction with youth and minority voters is creating a vast zone of negative pressure, sucking him up to the heights of the party structure in Washington.

The Rubio phenomenon is more than anything an advertisement for Republican denial. Saying he’s happening because he can identify a rapper who’s been dead for going on 20 years just brings it to the level of self-parody.

So is Rubio the new face of the GOP? Doubtful. He’s for immigration reform. But the only Republicans currently holding power in Washington say they’re against it. So his big sell immediately puts him at odds with the heart of his party.

This doesn’t mean Rubio will crash and burn or fall short of his party’s high hopes for him. As I noted a few days ago, sometimes a politician can be hoisted to the heights for reasons that have little to do with who they really are but end up having a level of innate political skill that they can grab that opportunity and ride it to the top. So it’s possible. But very doubtful. The Wes Clark boomlet is a much better predictor.


By: Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo, February 10, 2013

February 11, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Kick That Can”: Fiscal Austerity Should Wait Until The Economy Has Recovered

John Boehner, the speaker of the House, claims to be exasperated. “At some point, Washington has to deal with its spending problem,” he said Wednesday. “I’ve watched them kick this can down the road for 22 years since I’ve been here. I’ve had enough of it. It’s time to act.”

Actually, Mr. Boehner needs to refresh his memory. During the first decade of his time in Congress, the U.S. government was doing just fine on the fiscal front. In particular, the ratio of federal debt to G.D.P. was a third lower when Bill Clinton left office than it was when he came in. It was only when George W. Bush arrived and squandered the Clinton surplus on tax cuts and unfunded wars that the budget outlook began deteriorating again.

But that’s a secondary issue. The key point is this: While it’s true that we will eventually need some combination of revenue increases and spending cuts to rein in the growth of U.S. government debt, now is very much not the time to act. Given the state we’re in, it would be irresponsible and destructive not to kick that can down the road.

Start with a basic point: Slashing government spending destroys jobs and causes the economy to shrink.

This really isn’t a debatable proposition at this point. The contractionary effects of fiscal austerity have been demonstrated by study after study and overwhelmingly confirmed by recent experience — for example, by the severe and continuing slump in Ireland, which was for a while touted as a shining example of responsible policy, or by the way the Cameron government’s turn to austerity derailed recovery in Britain.

Even Republicans admit, albeit selectively, that spending cuts hurt employment. Thus John McCain warned earlier this week that the defense cuts scheduled to happen under the budget sequester would cause the loss of a million jobs. It’s true that Republicans often seem to believe in “weaponized Keynesianism,” a doctrine under which military spending, and only military spending, creates jobs. But that is, of course, nonsense. By talking about job losses from defense cuts, the G.O.P. has already conceded the principle of the thing.

Still, won’t spending cuts (or tax increases) cost jobs whenever they take place, so we might as well bite the bullet now? The answer is no — given the state of our economy, this is a uniquely bad time for austerity.

One way to see this is to compare today’s economic situation with the environment prevailing during an earlier round of defense cuts: the big winding down of military spending in the late 1980s and early 1990s, following the end of the cold war. Those spending cuts destroyed jobs, too, with especially severe consequences in places like southern California that relied heavily on defense contracts. At the national level, however, the effects were softened by monetary policy: the Federal Reserve cut interest rates more or less in tandem with the spending cuts, helping to boost private spending and minimize the overall adverse effect.

Today, by contrast, we’re still living in the aftermath of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and the Fed, in its effort to fight the slump, has already cut interest rates as far as it can — basically to zero. So the Fed can’t blunt the job-destroying effects of spending cuts, which would hit with full force.

The point, again, is that now is very much not the time to act; fiscal austerity should wait until the economy has recovered, and the Fed can once again cushion the impact.

But aren’t we facing a fiscal crisis? No, not at all. The federal government can borrow more cheaply than at almost any point in history, and medium-term forecasts, like the 10-year projections released Tuesday by the Congressional Budget Office, are distinctly not alarming. Yes, there’s a long-term fiscal problem, but it’s not urgent that we resolve that long-term problem right now. The alleged fiscal crisis exists only in the minds of Beltway insiders.

Still, even if we should put off spending cuts for now, wouldn’t it be a good thing if our politicians could simultaneously agree on a long-term fiscal plan? Indeed, it would. It would also be a good thing if we had peace on earth and universal marital fidelity. In the real world, Republican senators are saying that the situation is desperate — but not desperate enough to justify even a penny in additional taxes. Do these sound like men ready and willing to reach a grand fiscal bargain?

Realistically, we’re not going to resolve our long-run fiscal issues any time soon, which is O.K. — not ideal, but nothing terrible will happen if we don’t fix everything this year. Meanwhile, we face the imminent threat of severe economic damage from short-term spending cuts.

So we should avoid that damage by kicking the can down the road. It’s the responsible thing to do.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 7, 2013

February 11, 2013 Posted by | Deficits | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Suicide Conservatives”: The GOP, A Party That Can’t Rally Around A Unified Vision Of What It Wants To Be When It Grows Up

There used to be a political truism: Democrats fall in love, while Republicans fall in line.

That’s no longer true. Not in this moment. Democrats have learned to fall in love and fall in line. Republicans are just falling apart.

Last week, the opening salvos were launched in a very public and very nasty civil war between establishment Republicans and Tea Party supporters when it was reported that Karl Rove was backing a new group, the Conservative Victory Project, to counter the Tea Party’s selection of loopy congressional candidates who lose in general elections.

The Tea Party was having none of it. It sees Rove’s group as a brazen attack on the Tea Party movement, which it is. Rove sees winning as a practical matter. The Tea Party counts victory in layers of philosophical purity.

Politico reported this week that an unnamed “senior Republican operative” said that one of the party’s biggest problems was “ ‘suicide conservatives, who would rather lose elections than win seats with moderates.’ ”

Democrats could be the ultimate beneficiaries of this tiff. Of the 33 Senate seats up for election in 2014, 20 are held by Democrats. Seven of those 20 are in states that President Obama lost in the last presidential election. Republicans would have to pick up only a handful of seats to take control of the chamber.

But some in the Tea Party are threatening that if their candidate is defeated in the primaries by a candidate backed by Rove’s group, they might still run the Tea Party candidate in the general election. That would virtually guarantee a Democratic victory.

Sal Russo, a Tea Party strategist, told Politico: “We discourage our people from supporting third-party candidates by saying ‘that’s a big mistake. We shouldn’t do that.’ ” He added: “But if the position [Rove’s allies] take is rule or ruin — well, two can play that game. And if we get pushed, we’re not going to be able to keep the lid on that.”

The skirmish speaks to a broader problem: a party that has lost its way and can’t rally around a unified, coherent vision of what it wants to be when it grows up.

The traditional Republican message doesn’t work. Rhetorically, the G.O.P. is the party of calamity. The sky is always falling. Everything is broken. Freedoms are eroding. Tomorrow is dimmer than today.

In Republicans’ world, we must tighten our belts until we crush our spines. We must take a road to prosperity that runs through the desert of austerity. We must cut to grow. Republicans are the last guardians against bad governance.

But how can they sell this message to a public that has rejected it in the last two presidential elections?

Some say keep the terms but soften the tone.

A raft of Republicans, many of them possible contenders in 2016, have been trying this approach.

Louisiana’s governor, Bobby Jindal, speaking at a Republican National Committee meeting last month, chastised his party for being “the stupid party” that’s “in love with zeros,” even as he insisted, “I am not one of those who believe we should moderate, equivocate, or otherwise abandon our principles.”

Jindal’s plan, like that of many other Republicans, boils down to two words: talk differently.

Other Republicans, like Marco Rubio, seem to want to go further. They understand that the party must behave differently. He is among a group of senators who recently put forward a comprehensive immigration proposal that would offer a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants in this country.

This is a position Democrats have advocated, and it’s a position that Republicans have to accept if they want Hispanic support — and a chance of winning a presidential election.

The Tea Party crowd did not seem pleased with that plan. Glenn Beck, the self-described “rodeo clown” of the right, said:

“You’ve got John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and now Marco Rubio joining them because Marco Rubio just has to win elections. I’m done. I’m done. Learn the Constitution. Somebody has to keep a remnant of the Constitution alive.”

For Beck’s wing of the party, moderation is surrender, and surrender is death. It seems to want to go further out on a limb that’s getting ever more narrow. For that crowd, being a Tea Party supporter is more a religion than a political philosophy. They believe so deeply and fervently in it that they see no need for either message massage or actual compromise.

While most Democrats and Independents want politicians to compromise, Republicans don’t, according to a January report by the Pew Research Center. The zealots have a chokehold on that party, and they’re sucking the life — and common sense — out of it.

For this brand of Republican, there is victory in self-righteous defeat.

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 8, 2013

February 11, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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