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“When Republicans Were Problem-Solvers”: The Idea Of Politics As All-Ideology, All-The-Time Is A Relatively Recent GOP Invention

We interrupt this highly partisan and ideological moment with some contrarian news: President Obama is not the only politician who thinks that expanding access to pre-kindergarten is a good investment.

In Alabama, Republican Gov. Robert Bentley urged a 60 percent increase in preschool funding in his state, with the goal of having a universal preschool system in place within 10 years. “I truly believe by allowing greater access to a voluntary pre-K education,” Bentley declared this month in his State of the State message, “we will change the lives of children in Alabama.” The state Bentley leads is not a notoriously liberal place.

In Michigan, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder just proposed a large increase in preschool funding — from $109 million this fiscal year to $174 million in 2014 and $239 million in 2015.

Nobody should pretend that the president has found in pre-K education the key that will unlock bipartisanship. Right out of the box, Andrew J. Coulson of the libertarian Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom told the New York Times that Obama’s plan “just doesn’t make any sense” while Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), who chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee, sounded a skeptical note in saying the president “needs to explain how this program will be different.”

But by today’s partisan standards, Kline’s comment was remarkably restrained. So it’s worth pausing to wonder if we might be slowly opening an era when Republicans will be feeling a little less pressure to mouth tea-party attacks on government and more incentive to say that they, too, want to solve problems that concern the vast majority of Americans.

In pushing universal pre-K, Obama made a shrewd choice in both political and policy terms. There are enough studies to show that early childhood education programs make a real difference, which is why Republicans such as Snyder and Bentley embrace them. And Obama is structuring his initiative to work with the states to build on what many of them are already doing or would like to do.

This beachhead of cooperation might also serve as a reminder to Republicans that the idea of politics as all-ideology, all-the-time is a relatively recent invention. Education reform was a thoroughly bipartisan cause in the 1980s. Governors such as Democrats Bill Clinton in Arkansas and Richard Riley in South Carolina and Republican Lamar Alexander in Tennessee teamed up to push for higher standards. Alexander, who is now in the Senate, was willing to raise taxes to finance his education initiatives.

There is also the tale of Tommy Thompson, who as governor of Wisconsin in the 1990s tried to broaden health insurance coverage with his “BadgerCare” program. Early in the debate over Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Thompson called it “another important step” toward achieving reform.

Thompson had to eat those words when he sought the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate last year in the face of tea party opposition. The rebuke of Thompson from Chris Chocola, president of the conservative Club for Growth, was representative. “The world has changed since he was elected to office,” said Chocola, who had endorsed one of Thompson’s primary opponents. “Now we’re talking about how much less we’ll spend rather than how much more we’ll spend.” That was right-wing ideology speaking.

Thompson survived the primary but was then defeated by Democrat Tammy Baldwin. While liberals cheered Baldwin’s victory, there was something poignant in Thompson’s losing, in part because he traded in his problem-solving past for a new anti-government disposition that didn’t really fit him.

Despite the abuse of the rules on Chuck Hagel’s confirmation, you sense that Republicans such as Thompson and Alexander (there are many others) are exasperated with the view that the only point of seeking public office is to shrink government. But it will take considerable courage for such Republicans to move their party back to a time when conservatives and progressives did not have to disagree on everything — when causes such as helping 4-year-olds to learn and thrive could encourage politicians to lay down their arms at least momentarily.

There are other issues that ought to be like this: training and education programs to restore mobility and ease inequalities; immigration reform; and at least parts of Obama’s agenda to curb gun violence. But progress will require conservatives to give up certain recent habits and remember when they, too, believed that government could successfully remedy some of the nation’s ills.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 17, 2013

February 18, 2013 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Seniors Take Note”: Republicans Effectively Confessed To Having Mislead Conservative Members Who Now Must Be Mollified

I’m not sure House Republicans realized how large an error they made by kidnapping and then releasing the debt limit earlier this year. By admitting their bluff, they effectively confessed to having misled conservative members, and those members needed to be mollified.

That created a new problem: How could they appease conservatives while lacking the power to satisfy any of their substantive demands? So they offered up grandiose symbolism: A raincheck on the brinksmanship (the current fight over the sequester) and a promise to pass a budget that would wipe out the deficit in 10 years if enacted.

But it’s not clear that they counted their votes, or considered the budget math when they made that promise.

“We are saying a 10-year balance — that’s tougher than the last [Paul] Ryan budget,” Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), a former Budget Committee member told Politico.

“There could be a significant number of Republicans that say, ‘I’m not going there because it would be too dramatic.’ I have said to my constituents, nobody is talking about changing Social Security and Medicare if you’re 55 years or over.’ I’ve been selling it for three or four years that way. So have many other members. Well, to balance in 10, that 55 years is going to move up to 58, 59, 60. It makes us look like we’re going back on what we were telling people when we were trying to sell this.

We haven’t seen Ryan’s latest budget, so we don’t know what precise ratio of funny math and concessions to reality he’ll use to make the numbers work. And until he’s written it he won’t offer many hints.

But we do know a couple things. First, given Republicans’ famous preference for never increasing taxes or cutting defense spending, we know that it’s probably impossible for them to draft a budget that balances in 10 years without eating into entitlement benefits for people older than 55. Second, per above, we know that GOP leaders promised conservatives a budget that balances over 10 years to win their support for increasing the debt limit. So either Ryan will produce a budget that relies on sleight of hand more than his previous budgets did, or he’ll have to admit that the GOP’s pledge to leave retirement programs untouched for people over 55 was neither sincere nor sustainable.

As Simpson’s quote suggests, that’ll make it harder for Republicans to pass a budget at all; and if they do, it’ll come at a potentially enormous cost with their voting base.


By: Brian Beutler, Talking Points Memo, TPM Editor’s Blog, February 15, 2013

February 18, 2013 Posted by | Medicare, Social Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ill Omen”: The Country Has A Confidence Problem And It’s Congress’s Fault

The country has a confidence problem, and Congress bears much of the responsibility for it.

That conclusion, drawn by Republican pollster Bill McInturff, carries ill omens as lawmakers seem all but certain to let more than $1 trillion in automatic spending cuts go into effect at the end of the month and with fights over keeping the government funded and raising the debt ceiling looming.

“It is clear we have entered a new phase where the dysfunction and paralysis in Washington is having a significant and deleterious impact on how consumers feel about the overall state of the economy and their personal financial situations,” writes McInturff in an analysis entitled “The Washington Economy.”

As evidence of his assertion, McInturff cites the Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index in the months leading up to the “fiscal cliff” fight last winter. From October to December, consumer confidence dipped from 82.6 to 72.9. (The Michigan Index is based on a 100-point scale.) McInturff notes that the index typically moves only a point or two a month, and that such large-scale moves within such a short time typically require a “signal event” like Hurricane Katrina (a 19.6-point drop in two months), Iraq invading Kuwait (15.4-point drop) or the Lehman Brothers collapse (15-point drop).

The “fiscal cliff” debate (a 9.7 point drop) and the 2011 debt ceiling showdown (15.8) fit neatly into that category of signal events, a remarkable reflection of how what happens — or, more accurately, doesn’t happen — in Washington reverberates around the country. (One remarkable factoid: The drop in consumer confidence during the “fiscal cliff” debate was larger than the one that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.)

The Michigan Index is not alone in showing the drastic impact on confidence that the seemingly endless fiscal fights in Washington are causing. In the summer of 2011 — at the heart of the debt ceiling debate — Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index showed a score of -54. (The lowest possible number is -100, the highest is 100.) At the end of 2012, confidence dipped again in the Gallup measurement — down to -22.

Now, it’s not all doom and gloom. Of late, the Michigan Index has been showing increased public confidence, hitting a three-month high of 76.3 this month. And, the Gallup number reached as high as -8 earlier this month —a five-year high— before dipping back down to -13 last week.

But, a look at the longer trend suggests that the country is in the grips of a broader crisis of confidence that Washington is making worse. Looking all the way back to 2008 when Gallup began testing economic confidence, the organization has never — repeat, never — turned out a positive confidence score in its daily tracking polling. And, as McInturff notes, the country is now in the midst of a historically long run of low confidence. It has been 59 months since the Michigan Index dropped below 65 and it has never been back above 85. That’s the longest recovery period of any time since World War II; in 1974, amid the Watergate scandal, the Michigan Index dropped below 65, but 30 months later it was over 85 again.

Then consider that the sequester seems all but certain to kick in on March 1, the potential for a government shutdown on March 31, and the debt ceiling debate returning later this summer and it seems clear that the current bump in confidence is likely to be short-lived. Put another way: We may well be in the eye of an economic confidence hurricane.

What’s clear from all the data is that a federal government that lurches from financial crisis to financial crisis as its normal course of business is doing a great disservice to a country badly looking to finds its footing again.

“It is important leaders in both parties begin to recognize how the tenor, tone and the outcome of the policy debates in Washington are actually retarding economic confidence in a way that makes building a sustained recovery more difficult,” concludes McInturff.

The warnings, from the debt ceiling fight through the “fiscal cliff” crisis, are clear. But, political Washington has shown a remarkable inability to heed them in the past few years. If that doesn’t change in the next three months, the impact on the nation’s economy could be drastic.


By: Chris Cillizza, The Washington Post, The Fix, February 17, 2013

February 18, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Weather Vane Man”: Tracking Paul Ryan’s 5 Different Positions On The Sequester

House Republicans are attempting to blame Democrats and President Obama for “sequestration,” the automatic budget cuts that will begin taking effect on March 1 if Congress fails to avert them. But even as they cast that blame and ignore their own role in creation of the sequester, which wouldn’t exist had Republicans not refused to raise the debt ceiling in August 2011, Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) is expected to count the sequester’s automatic cuts in the next version of his budget, BuzzFeed reports:

According to two senior GOP aides familiar with Ryan’s thinking on the budget, the Wisconsin Republican and former vice presidential candidate will use the so-called sequester as part of the baseline level of spending for his budget.

Ryan’s position on the sequester has changed multiple times:

1. Helped make the sequester happen. Ryan was among the Republicans leading demands for spending cuts to offset a debt ceiling increase in the summer of 2011, and was among the leaders who refused to consider new revenues in those negotiations. Had Republicans not refused to raise the debt ceiling in the first place, the sequester wouldn’t exist.

2. Voted for plan to create the sequester, then bragged about it. Ryan took credit for the sequester in August 2011, bragging to Fox News that it guaranteed the massive budget cuts Republicans were seeking. “We got that in law,” he boasted. On the House floor, he said the Budget Control Act’s spending cuts were “a victory for those committed to controlling government spending.”

3. Called the sequester “devastating” during the presidential election. Ryan blasted Obama for wanting the sequester’s “devastating defense cuts” to take place during the presidential election, when he was the GOP’s vice presidential candidate.

4. Blamed the likelihood of the sequester occurring on Obama. The sequester “will probably occur” because “the president has not a proposal yet on the table,” Ryan told CBS News last week. “Don’t forget it’s the president who first proposed the sequester. It’s the president who designed the sequester as it is now designed,” he added.

5. Will include sequester cuts in his latest budget.

This is hardly a new strategy for Ryan, who crisscrossed the country blasting Obama for cutting Medicare spending even as he included the cuts in his last budget proposal and made even bigger changes to the program.


By: Travis Waldron, Think Progress, February 15, 2013

February 18, 2013 Posted by | Budget | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Grand Old Jurassic Party”: From The Advocacy Of Freedom To Retribution Against The Weak

The Republican Party is a presidential election away from extinction. If it can’t win the 2016 contest, and unless it has bolstered its congressional presence beyond the benefits of gerrymandered redistricting—which is to say not only retaking the Senate but polling more votes than the opposition nationally—the party will die. It will die not for reasons of “branding” or marketing or electoral cosmetics but because the party is at odds with the inevitable American trajectory in the direction of liberty, and with its own nature; paradoxically the party of Abraham Lincoln, which once saved the Union and which gives such passionate lip service to constitutionality, has come to embody the values of the Confederacy in its hostility to constitutional federalism and the civil bonds that the founding document codifies. The Republican Party will vanish not because of what its says but because of what it believes, not because of how it presents itself but because of who it is when it thinks no one is looking.

The contention by some that the GOP has an identity crisis is nonsense. It’s hard to remember any political organization in the last half century that had a clearer idea of itself. The party’s problem isn’t what it doesn’t know but what everyone else does know, which is that—as displayed in Congress on Tuesday night at the president’s State of the Union address, when Republicans could barely muster perfunctory support for the most benign positions favoring fair pay and opposing domestic violence—the party apparently despises women, gays, Latinos, African Americans, the poor, and the old. The more indelible this impression becomes, the more impossible it will be for even an estimable candidate, be it Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, or the now famously desiccated Marco Rubio, to transcend the party that nominates him. This isn’t to say that the argument for limited government will die with the party. It has been part of the American conversation since James Madison and Alexander Hamilton squared off over the Constitution in 1789, with Thomas Jefferson and John Adams each in their corners holding the coats of their respective protégés. The intent of the argument, however, has changed from an essential advocacy of freedom to retribution against the weak.

The Republican Party was born of the most righteous of purposes, which was the containment and eventual elimination of slavery. Trumping the party’s love of the free market was the insistence that a human being should not be one of that market’s commodities: FREE LABOR, FREE LAND, FREE MEN was the party’s manifesto in the 1850s. Four decades after Lincoln, the party under Theodore Roosevelt believed that the captains, colonels, and generals of industry who most profited from the market had become the market’s biggest threat and needed to be constrained for the market’s sake. In the 1960s the candidacy of Barry Goldwater represented not the birth of modern corporate conservatism as later embodied by President Ronald Reagan and then Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, and Eric Cantor, but a libertarianism more practical and less unhinged than the present-day version. Sometime in the last 30 years, however, the party became a flack to corporate culture at the expense of either freedom or individualism, and as the country grows more economically oligarchic, the Republican Party that best reflects that oligarchy loses political credibility with the public.

What the current party shares in its collective psychosis with the party of the ’60s is its yearning for martyrdom. If it’s true that what hold on power the GOP still has lies in congressional districts more and more resembling outliers—a power that will die off as figuratively as the constituents of those districts die off literally—it’s also true that many in the party are gripped by the death wish that thrills all martyrs and leaves them moist for self-annihilation. These Republicans have a different notion from other modern political parties of what a party is supposed to be. They don’t see a party as a coalition of disparate interests having just enough in common that together everyone gets what they need, if not what they want. Republicans believe that, definitionally, a party signifies principles so unyielding that any compromise of anything at all renders the party meaningless. Nothing better indicates the theocratic personality of the party than that the very notion of coalition is corrupt, even debased, like a congregation that allows infidels in its ranks. In the last couple of weeks a national poll reported that by three to two, Democrats are willing to compromise on certain things in order to achieve other, larger things. Among Republicans, the numbers are exactly the reverse. It’s not unreasonable that true believers conclude Karl Rove—as responsible as any single person for what the party has become—is now a hack, given that he is one and always has been, and given what for true believers is the rather belated revelation that Rove loves power for its own sake which, whatever else may be so, can’t be said of the party’s zealots.

Self cannibalization is the instinct of such movements. The more desperate the Republican Party becomes, the more voraciously it devours its Robespierres, Dantons, Héberts, if such comparisons don’t unduly flatter the romantic delusions of self-styled Republican Jacobins. Thus Senator Rubio’s superstardom is already on the descent, so blemished by his flirtations with reality not to mention with compassion on the matter of immigration reform that not only did he back away from the issue in his response to the president on Tuesday but it was necessary for Kentucky Senator Rand Paul to offer another, purer response to Rubio’s tainted one. Thus the face of Hispanic Republicanism, however far beyond the oxymoronic such a concept lurches, isn’t Rubio on Tuesday night but Tuesday afternoon’s new hotshot Ted Cruz, senator from Texas for 43 days and attacking the character of Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel so ruthlessly and without any facts that even fellow Hagel opponent John McCain objected. Thus the scowling response of congressional Republicans Tuesday night to the president’s clarion call on behalf of voting rights, which was last regarded as controversial 50 years ago by Southern segregationists and might have been considered in 2013 something of a gimme as far as applause lines go. Thus on further review the videotape reveals Speaker John Boehner—who initially stood with the rest of the country to applaud the victims of gun violence during the State of the Union’s concluding litany—looking out nervously at his seething and largely unmoved caucus (which leads him far more than he leads them) and, realizing the error of his heart, taking his seat again halfway through the honor roll of the dead, by the time the president got to Tucson.


By: Steve Erickson, The American Prospect, February 14, 2013

February 18, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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