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“More Republican Denial”: This Time, The People Are On To The GOP

Whose “idea” was the sequester, and why should it matter? My Twitter feed these last couple of weeks has been overflowing with people going beyond the usual “communist” and “idiot” name-calling that I get every day and throwing the occasional “liar” in there because I “withhold” the information that the sequester was the Obama administration’s idea. Very well, consider that nugget hereby unwithheld. Let’s grant that this is true. But it’s true only because the Republicans were holding a gun to the administration’s head—and besides, the Republicans immediately voted for it. In any case the important thing now is that outside of Fox News land, it’s an unimportant fact whose “idea” it was. The Republicans are partial owners of this idea, and as the party that now wants the cuts to kick in, they deserve to—and will—bear more responsibility for the negative impacts.

A trip back through the full context of this saga tells the story. The idea of having these deep budget cuts called “sequestration” goes back to the summer of 2011 and the debt-ceiling negotiations. You’ll recall readily enough that it was first time in history that an opposition party had attempted to attach any conditions to increasing the debt limit. You’ll also recall that the Republicans made this intention quite clear from the beginning of 2011; indeed, from campaign time the year before. Remember Obama’s quotes from late 2010 in which he said he felt sure the Republicans would behave more reasonably once the responsibility to govern was partly theirs?

Instead, they almost crashed the economy. And they were also clearly the side pushing for drastic spending cuts. Let’s go back quickly over a partial 2011 timeline. In April, Obama spokesman Jay Carney said it was the president’s position that raising the debt limit “shouldn’t be held hostage to any other action.” On May 11, Austan Goolsbee, then Obama’s chief economic adviser, said that tying a debt-limit increase to spending cuts was “quite insane.”

On May 16, the United States went into technical default, but the Treasury Department was able to string things along a few more weeks. Tim Geithner made it clear that the real problem would hit August 1. A key moment, as Scott Lilly of the Center for American Progress wrote in The Huffington Post, came on May 31. That’s when the GOP-run House voted on Obama’s request for a “clean” debt-limit increase. It failed, and all 236 Republicans voted no.

All this time, and right on up to August 1, Republicans were screaming for deep budget cuts, and the administration was saying no. But the Republicans had the leverage because it actually seemed plausible they were crazy enough to push the country into default. And so at that point, at least according to Bob Woodward in his new book, Jack Lew, then the budget director and now Obama’s nominee for Treasury secretary, originally came up with the notion of sequestered cuts. Or maybe it was Gene Sperling. The White House’s idea was based on language from the 1985 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit-reduction act. It was also the White House’s notion that if the “trigger” was hit, what would kick in would be not only automatic budget cuts but also automatic revenue increases (an idea Republicans refused to go along with).

So fine, the White House proposed it. It did so only after months of Republicans publicly demanding huge spending cuts and refusing to consider any revenues and acting as if they were prepared to send the nation into default over spending. In other words, this was the administration’s idea in much the way that it’s a parent’s “idea” to pay ransom to a person who has taken his child hostage. There was a gun to the White House’s head, which was the possibility of the country going into default.

And then, when it was all put into legislation, it was the Republicans who passed the Budget Control Act of 2011 in the House, with 218 of them voting yes. So even if administration officials proposed it, it would have remained just a proposal if those 218 Republicans hadn’t supported it (no House Democrats backed it). Most Republicans agreed at the time that the sequestration trigger was a good thing—that it would force everyone to get together and agree to a path forward and a long-term budget deal.

Let’s say that I’m having a dispute with a neighbor I don’t really like or trust about some invasive weeds infesting both of our properties. We consider a range of options and then finally he proposes a solution that isn’t very appetizing to either of us—it’s expensive, might kill a lot of grass, say, or a couple trees. It’s not exactly desirable to either of us, but I endorse his suggestion and share the costs of implementation of his plan. If it ends up killing grass or trees, am I really then on firm moral ground in pointing my finger and saying, “Hey, it was your idea, bub”?

I guess maybe conservatives think that way, but of course I don’t. I assented to the plan. I share responsibility for the consequences. Where my little analogy collapses is that in my hypothetical, my neighbor and I are more or less equally affected by the negative outcome. The Republicans’ ace card is that they know, or they hope they know, they are not equally affected. Austere cuts will harm the economy, and the blame will fall on the president.

Normally yes. But the majority of the people are onto them. And it sure isn’t going to be looking very responsible to people, as the March 1 sequestration deadline approaches, for Republicans to be going before the cameras and saying that the cuts are unfortunate but necessary medicine, or whatever formulation they come up with. They’ve wanted these spending reductions for two years. It hardly matters much who invented the mechanism for the cuts. What matters, as the Republicans will find out, is that the people don’t want them.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 19, 2013

February 20, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Sequester | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Radical Feminist Idea?”: Stopping Domestic Violence

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, accompanied by fellow House Democrats, discusses the reintroduction of the Violence Against Women Act.

Of all the strange choices made by the GOP in recent years, the sudden opposition to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is among the most confusing. The act had long counted on bipartisan support for its reauthorization—George W. Bush signed it without incident in 2005—but now Republicans in the House seem intent on killing it. Republicans haven’t suddenly morphed into evil comic-book villains who openly support rape and wife-beating, so what gives?

Obviously, Republicans don’t want voters to think they have it in for victims of gender-based violence. But the objections being offered by VAWA opponents are inconsistent or nonsensical. Some say the law represents an unconstitutional overreach and takes away state and local jurisdiction over domestic violence; in fact, the act provides federal support to local law enforcement, but leaves prosecuting these crimes to local authorities. Others take issue with small provisions in the new bill extending coverage to LGBT victims, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has been holding the bill up in the House because he objects to a provision that would allow Native American tribal authorities to use their own justice system to prosecute non-Native men who rape or beat Native women on tribal lands.

To get at what’s really going on, one has to look past the empty rhetoric of politicians to the various groups lobbying Republicans to kill the bill. These groups don’t care about jurisdiction or even the issue of LGBT victims. Rather, the right-wing Christian groups leading the charge against VAWA believe it is a piece of radical feminist legislation aimed at undermining patriarchal authority in the home.

As she did in the fight against the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the 1970s, Phyllis Schlafly, an activist of the Christian right who rose to prominence as an anti-feminist leader in the 1970s, is leading the charge to kill VAWA. She claims the law is not about stopping violence so much as “promoting divorce, breakup of marriage and hatred of men.” She employs the same strategy as she did in the fight against the ERA—lying—to support her arguments, claiming that under VAWA, men can be jailed without trial. She also said that men can be jailed merely for yelling at a woman and that the bill doesn’t offer help to male victims of violence—both outright lies. She also objects to laws that make it easier for prosecutors to proceed in cases where victims retract, even though research shows that guilty men persuade victims to retract in a substantial number of domestic-violence claims.

Other conservative lobbying groups have picked up the charge. As reported at Talking Points Memo, FreedomWorks, the super PAC led by Republican and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey until recently, echoed Schlafly’s claims adding that “supporters of the VAWA portray women as helpless victims—this is the kind of attitude that is setting women back.” The implication: Simply refusing to call raped or battered people “victims” makes the whole problem go away.

Meanwhile, the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) denies that abusers’ desire to control and dominate their partners is the cause of domestic violence, instead blaming “substance abuse, emotional and psychological disorders and marital instability.” Concerned Women for America (CWA) concurs, claiming domestic violence is caused by “problems in relationships, psychological or social maladjustment, anger, alcoholism, and substance abuse.” The group claims, defensively, that only Islam’s teachings of male dominance contribute to violence, while Christianity’s similar teachings do not.

The IWF and CWA’s comments hint at the thinking among these groups about domestic violence. VAWA focuses almost exclusively on a specific strategy of preventing domestic violence: separating the victim from her abuser. Improving arrest and prosecution rates, establishing shelters and abuse hotlines, pushing for state provisions against stalking, and creating protections for immigrants all have the goal of getting victims out of abusive relationships and into safe situations. Separation-based policy is based on decades of law-enforcement and victim experience about what it takes to prevent future violent incidents.

But many conservative Christians believe that the priority should be reconciling couples in abusive relationships. The Christian right privileges keeping marriages together—even above protecting the women in them. Because of this, the belief that victims should try to reconcile with their abusers is common among conservative Christians. While they do not approve of domestic violence, many do believe that if women embrace wifely submission, they will “win” their husbands over and make them the kind of men who don’t hit women. Rick Warren’s teaching pastor Tom Holladay recently articulated this by characterizing divorce due to battering as “a short-term solution that’s going to involve long-term pain.”

Unfortunately for the right, the facts simply aren’t on their side. Domestic-violence activists have instituted over 2,500 batterer intervention programs with hopes that batterers did have mental-health issues that could be fixed. Disappointingly, activists found very little reason to think these programs work, though some groups have continued the hunt for effective batterer interventions. Futures Without Violence reports that what success has been had in reforming abusers comes from taking an approach diametrically opposed to the one offered by conservative organizations: “[B]attering does not arise from mental illness, anger, dysfunctional upbringings, or substance abuse. Rather, battering is viewed as learned behavior that is primarily motivated by a desire, whether conscious or unconscious, by the abuser to control the victim.”

The question about the sudden opposition to VAWA is: Why now? It’s likely for the same reasons the Republicans have doubled down generally on the war on women, turning up the volume on attacks on abortion, contraception, and equal-pay legislation: A combination of the influx of hard right politicians in recents elections tipping the party further to the right and over-the-top outrage at the very existence of Obama that encourages mindless obstructionism of any Democratic legislation. The conservative base has grown more vocal in its demands that Republicans demonstrate fealty to the hard right cause, and voting against VAWA has, sadly, become an excellent way for politicians to demonstrate their conservative bona fides.


By: Amanda Marcotte, The American Prospect, February 19, 2013

February 20, 2013 Posted by | Domestic Violence, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Staying Stupid”: Why The ‘Hip’ Young Republicans Can’t Change Their Party Or Themselves

Savvy Republicans know that something is deeply wrong with the GOP – frequently mocked these days by Republicans themselves as “the stupid party” — which has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. Some have noticed as well that their congressional majority is so widely despised – its main achievement being historically low public approval ratings — as to be sustainable only by gerrymandering. During the last election cycle, those fearsome Republican SuperPACs, funded by the overlords of Wall Street and Las Vegas, spent hundreds of millions of dollars – with no discernible impact on an alienated electorate.

The result is a burgeoning self-improvement movement on the right, generating introspective articles and interviews in which Republicans ask: “What is wrong with us? How can we change? What must we do to avoid partisan extinction?”

But like many troubled people grappling with serious life issues, they aren’t truly ready for change. They want to maintain the status quo while giving lip service to reform – and changing as little as possible beyond the superficial. They would do anything to project a fresher image, more attractive and effective, without confronting their deeper problems.

The deceptions involved in this process are perfectly exposed in Robert Draper’s fascinating excursion among the urbane young Republicans whose frustration he skillfully reported in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. His account is well worth reading, if only to observe these self-consciously “hip” conservatives confronting the reality of last November – and failing utterly to comprehend its meaning. Early in Draper’s article, a GOP technology consultant notes that the youth vote for President Obama grew by 1.25 million in 2012 over 2008 (precisely the opposite of what most pundits and pollsters predicted). But he doesn’t seem to realize that the youth gap cannot be remedied by stronger social media or updated voter files.

The young Republicans bitterly mock the Romney campaign’s technological ineptitude, and complain more broadly about the party’s repellent reputation among young voters, minorities, gays, immigrants, women, and everyone sympathetic to them. They largely seem to believe that if the Republican National Committee would hire people like them – and if Rush Limbaugh and Todd Akin would simply shut the eff up – then the party could expand beyond its narrow, aging, white, and religiously conservative base.

As they hasten to assure Draper, these dissidents would adopt a friendlier attitude toward those who are different, and are even eager to engineer a few minor platform alterations to accommodate immigrants or gays.

But why would they make such concessions to decency? Not out of any sense of justice or shame. They are not interested in social justice and they only feel ashamed of losing. Rather than honestly confronting the harm done by pandering to bigotry and division, they’d prefer to paper it over with a smiley face and move on.

By proclaiming that their defeats are due mainly to technological inferiority or bad messaging, the young Republicans ignore the underlying source of popular disdain for their party. It is true that their technology was feeble, their candidate and consultants were incompetent, and their messaging was often repellent. But the self-styled hipsters of the right are in fact not much different from the Tea Party octogenarians in their hostility to government investment, social insurance, health care, education, and industry – and both are in conflict with the evolving attitudes of young Americans across all demographic lines.

The disgruntled figures who spoke with Draper represent almost nobody in the GOP, compared with the legions commanded by Limbaugh and the religious right. But if their fantasy could be made real, what shape would it take: A tech-savvy, gay-friendly, 21st-century Calvin Coolidge? A composite of Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, and Rand Paul?

Good luck with that.


By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, February 19, 2013

February 20, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Demented Hummingbirds”: Marco Rubio And The GOP’s Thirst For Leadership

Secret Valentine’s Day memo to Sen. Marco Rubio from the Strategy Office of the Republican National Committee:

Dear Marco,

One simple word sums up your unorthodox rebuttal to the President’s State of the Union Address: Genius.

Pausing in the midst of a speech that nobody would otherwise remember, lunging off-camera for a bottle of water and then slurping it like a demented hummingbird? …

Time magazine was right. You are the savior of the Republican Party.

Was the whole country laughing at you? Possibly. OK, yeah.

But was it the most unpresidential thing you could have done? No! You could have walked out with your fly unzipped (whoa, don’t get any ideas!).

Truth be told, all of us here at the RNC started freaking out when we saw you stop and take that sip.

What’s that goofball doing? we wondered. Does he think it’s a rehearsal? Doesn’t he know he’s on live TV in front of, like, 50 million voters?

But once we stopped throwing our coffee cups and kicking our garbage cans, we calmed down and thought about what you’d done.

And we finally got it, Marco — the sheer brilliance.

The water grab wasn’t really a spontaneous and awkward moment, was it? You’d planned the whole darn thing, right down to your deer-in-the-headlights stare at the camera.

Of course you did, because that’s what saviors do. They see the big picture.

The script we gave you to read the other night was incredibly lame. In fact, it was basically Mitt Romney’s stump speech for the last three years. Didn’t work for him and, let’s face it, it wasn’t going to work for you, either.

Truth is, we don’t have any new ideas in the Republican Party. Our plan was to retread all our stale old ideas through a sharp, young Hispanic dude — you! — and hope people would think they’re hearing something fresh.

Obviously, you read through the script ahead of time and realized it was a turkey. So you improvised a visual distraction, something so ditzy that all of America would instantly stop paying attention to what you were saying.

In retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened to our party. Thanks to you, Marco, nobody’s talking about that moldy little speech. They’re talking about you jonesing for that water bottle.

The video clip has gone totally viral. On YouTube you’re getting more hits than that adorable piano-playing hamster!

Here at RNC headquarters we’re receiving thousands of emails and tweets, including some from GOP donors who haven’t yet grasped the subtle cleverness of your “message.” Which is:

Yes, Sen. Rubio is really thirsty. The whole country is really thirsty!

Thirsty for a new direction, a new vision for the future.

We’re still ironing out some wrinkles, but you get the idea. You’ve struck gold, Marco, and we’re on it.


By: Carl Hiaasan, The National Memo, February 19, 2013

February 20, 2013 Posted by | GOP, State of the Union | , , , | Leave a comment

“A Mitch That Needs Scratching”: Mitch McConnell, The Least Popular Senator In America

One of the most powerful men in Washington, it turns out, is also the most unpopular senator in the nation.

This is probably not a coincidence.

Facing reelection in 2014, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) finds himself in a tougher battle than many anticipated. According to a recent poll, just 17 percent of Kentucky voters are committed to voting for him. Given how out of touch he is with their needs, it’s no wonder.

As minority leader, McConnell has been the architect of an unprecedented level of legislative obstruction in the upper chamber. Indeed, he was the mastermind behind the strategy of intransigence that the GOP adopted immediately after President Obama took office in 2009. He and his merry band of GOP brothers have blocked every effort to reduce the economic pain felt by average Americans and the good people of his home state.

His exploitation of the filibuster to require a supermajority for almost every vote flies in the face of the Founders’ intention. In the Federalist No. 58, James Madison warned that granting such power to the minority would undo the fundamental principle of free government, allowing the minority “to extort unreasonable indulgences.”

Senate Republicans, on McConnell’s orders, have done just that, manufacturing crises like the debt ceiling, fiscal cliff and sequester in order to demand cuts to the social safety net.

Yet there’s an even more unseemly aspect to McConnell’s obstruction. He, quite simply, employs the filibuster to benefit his wealthy donors.

As the Public Campaign Action Fund has noted, he has delayed or killed bills that would repeal subsidies for Big Oil, incentivize job creation, strengthen worker rights and close tax loopholes for companies with overseas operations. Opponents of such bills have found a champion in McConnell, who is more than willing to cripple the legislative process in exchange for campaign donations.

Since arriving in Washington, he has raised more than a quarter-billion dollars for himself and his allies while fighting every attempt to rein in our out-of-control campaign finance system.

When Congress was grappling over the fiscal cliff, McConnell seized on the opportunity to broker a deal that would avert the crisis in the eleventh hour. The final bill included a provision that granted Amgen, a pharmaceutical company, a $500 million windfall. Just weeks ahead of the deal, an Amgen lobbyist gave McConnell $3,000 and the company’s PAC hosted a fundraiser for him. Though McConnell denied any quid pro quo, the implication of the timing is hard to ignore.

When Americans suffering the effects of Hurricane Sandy needed federal assistance, McConnell was content to sit on his hands, instead of helping to pass an aid package through the Senate — that is, until a New York City billionaire offered to raise money for him. Even then, he voted no on the bill.

President Obama urged Congress to bring his legislative proposals on gun violence to a vote during his State of the Union address. The victims of such senseless tragedies across the country deserve at least a vote, Obama asserted.

Yet given the McConnell-induced dysfunction in Congress, asking for a simple vote is asking for the moon — and McConnell has already vowed to deprive them of even that.

Eighty-two percent of Kentuckians support criminal background checks for gun purchases. The number of gun deaths in Kentucky is higher than the national average. But none of this matters when the gun lobby spent $198,615 to get McConnell elected. He will, apparently, vote based on what will keep him on office, rather than what is best for his constituents or the country.

McConnell, tacitly acknowledging his vulnerability, has already kicked off campaign efforts, raising money and opening a campaign headquarters before any challengers have even officially entered the race.

He’s smart to do so — opponents smell blood in the water. Groups like the Progressive Change Campaign, which released a scathing ad lambasting McConnell’s record on guns, are already generating momentum for a fight. There’s increasing talk of potential challengers such as Ashley Judd, and Kentucky’s liberal and tea party groups — unlikely bedfellows, to be sure — are mulling the possibility of teaming up in an effort to bring McConnell down.

While McConnell’s war chest is daunting, it is stuffed almost entirely by out-of-state and corporate PAC money. His grass-roots base is anemic, and individuals contributing $200 or less make up a sliver of the pie. A strong organizing effort could capitalize on that weakness, using his unpopularity and questionable votes to unseat him — something the Progressive Change Campaign Committee hopes to do.

Time and again, McConnell has ignored the needs of the people while staunchly defending the pay-to-play electoral system that shields him from legitimate challengers. And Kentuckians just might be fed up.

McConnell’s seat was once occupied by Henry Clay, who was dubbed “The Great Pacificator.” Admired by Abraham Lincoln, he is widely considered one of the greatest senators in American history. Clay once said, “Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees; and both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people.”

Kentucky voters deserve a senator who understands the wisdom of those words.


By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 19, 2013

February 20, 2013 Posted by | Senate | , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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