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“Both Sides Are Not To Be Blamed”: John Boehner Will Accept Only A 100%-0% “Compromise” Deal

President Obama met with congressional leaders from both parties and both chambers at the White House this morning about the latest in a series of self-inflicted, easily-avoided wounds. There were no realistic hopes that the policymakers would somehow reach an agreement to replace the sequestration cuts, and expectations were met: the group spoke for about an hour and then quit, resolving nothing.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) left the meeting and spoke for about a minute to reporters without taking questions. For those who can’t watch clips online, he argued:

“Let’s make it clear, the president got his tax hike on January 1st. The discussion about revenue, in my view, is over. It’s about taking on the spending problem here in Washington.”

I’m trying to think of a way to explain this in a way Boehner will understand. As the Speaker sees it, the very idea of a balanced compromise is ridiculous — a compromise would necessarily include revenue, Democrats already got new revenue, so it’s outrageous for anyone to even raise the possibility.

Let’s put this as plainly as possible: in the summer of 2011, both sides accepted a debt-reduction deal that cut spending by over $1.2 trillion without any additional revenue — a win for Republicans. In late 2012, both sides accepted another deal that raised about $600 billion in revenue without any additional cuts — a win for Democrats.

Now it’s time to add another piece to the puzzle, and the Speaker of the House only remembers part of the very recent past.

This sentence…

“Let’s make it clear, the president got his tax hike on January 1st. The discussion about revenue, in my view, is over.”

…makes exactly as much sense as this sentence:

“Let’s make it clear, Republicans got their spending cuts in 2011. The discussion about spending cuts, in my view, is over.”

Substantively, there is no difference between the two arguments. Both represent extremes. Except right now, Republicans think the first sentence makes perfect sense and no one is even bothering with the second sentence.

Indeed, if Boehner were to accept Obama’s compromise, Boehner would still come out on top since the spending-cut totals would still easily outweigh the revenue totals. The president’s offer, at face value, is already a win for the GOP.

But Republicans won’t accept a win; they’ll accept a rout. According to Boehner, the only available solution to a problem he helped create is one in which his side gets 100% of what it wants, predicated on the assumption that the massive spending cuts agreed to in 2011 have escaped Republicans’ memories altogether.

At this point, most Americans want a compromise. Most Democrats want and have already proposed a compromise. But Boehner wants everyone to know there will be no compromise, and there’s nothing the president can say or do to change his mind.

I’ll now look forward to pundits everywhere telling me how “both sides” are to blame.

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 1, 2013

March 3, 2013 Posted by | Sequester | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“100 Years Of Women’s Rights”: Today’s War On Women Carries Profound Implications For The Future

Sunday, March 3 will mark the 100-year anniversary of the Woman Suffrage March on Washington by brave women demanding the right to vote. The fight for women’s rights didn’t begin in 1913; in fact, the movement had over 50 years of history prior to this momentous event led by the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

Two prominent women in American history—Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton—were introduced by abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and George Thompson in 1851 during an anti-slavery gathering in Seneca Falls, and from there they began their friendship and partnership. At the Seneca Falls Conference in 1848, Stanton wrote in The Declaration of Sentiments, “The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world. He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise. He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice…”

In letters between Stanton and Anthony, Stanton described the challenges she faced in her personal life. Women’s suffrage weighed on these women; the political issue affected their everyday lives, and family and friends began opposing the movement. Nothing would stop them from moving ahead two decades to the founding of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, aimed at promoting amendments to the Constitution that would ultimately give women the right to vote.

On March 3, 1913, led by American suffragist activists Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, men and women from across the country met in Washington, D.C. to march down Pennsylvania Avenue in support of women’s rights. Taking place the day before President Wilson’s inauguration, this historic march and subsequent demonstrations across the country succeeded in bringing national publicity to the issue through protests and speeches, proving that women deserved an equal place in politics. But they faced angry opposition from a faction of Americans – mostly but not all male — who resisted social progress for women. What came of this opposition was an all-out war on feminism.

Women marching in the Washington parade were physically assaulted, spit on, hit, and heckled by spectators. Accounts detailed police ignoring edicts from Major Richard Sylvester, D.C.’s Chief of Police, who gave orders to protect those marching. Men who supported the movement were targeted as well. A report from Major General Anson Mills, who marched with some of his men, said in a New York Times article, “Crowds of hoodlums sneered at my division in the parade and made insulting remarks. The police made no effort to rebuke them. They were ruffians whom I had never seen before and who seemed to be strangers. I think they were Baltimore hoodlums. They charged us with being henpecked. They indicated their determination to send us home by breaking up the parade. The crowd was lolous [sic] and made vicious attempts to break up the ranks of the marchers, with practically no interference from the police.”

A separate article featured in the Times from March 4, 1913 details, “At times fighting its way, the suffrage procession passed through a narrow channel with walls of spectators on either side. They effect of the parade was spoiled, the marchers were greatly inconvenienced, and at times were subjected to insult and indignity. Many persons were injured. The leaders of the suffragists are very indignant, and their sentiments are shared by many members of Congress. Many men here who do not believe in the suffrage cause say that the treatment given to those who marched yesterday was an insult to American womanhood and a disgrace to the Capital City of the Nation.”

From groups who resisted the movement came unrelenting assaults on women’s femininity—painting them as either lesbians or unattractive, lonely women incapable of finding husbands. Such misogynist propaganda infiltrated the news, portraying suffragists completely unfairly. Opponents claimed that women should remain out of politics and find a man to speak for them, since allowing women into the political process would be detrimental to the state.

Despite the fear-mongering, proponents of woman’s suffrage were able to draw the attention of members of Congress, and with the support of President Wilson gained momentum. Susan B. Anthony would never see the result of her efforts, but the Nineteenth Amendment, drafted by her and Stanton, was finally ratified in 1920.

From Seneca Falls to the first National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, MA, to the founding of the National American Woman Suffrage Association by Anthony and Stanton, women’s rights have come a long way. Yet today women’s issues are still hotly debated—abortion, access to birth control, the Violence Against Women Act (which finally passed in the House on Thursday)—with profound implications for the future of women in the United States.


By: Allison Brito, The National Memo, February 28, 2013

March 3, 2013 Posted by | War On Women, Womens Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Co-Opted By The Extremists”: John Boehner And The GOP Choose The Tea Party Over The Middle Class

The Republicans, now led from behind by House Speaker John Boehner, are painting themselves into a tiny corner. Boehner may have secured his job as speaker but he has categorically rejected any hope of a grand bargain, thereby leading his party in a rejection of America’s middle class. Unless he can be persuaded by Republican senators and a few dozen of his House colleagues to accept a balanced deal with the president and the Democrats he will severely harm his party by appealing only to the Tea Party.

Leaving the White House after the meeting with the president, Speaker Boehner dug in his heels against the closing of any tax loopholes or raising any revenue. Hasn’t he learned anything since the election?

Look at what has happened to the Republicans. Democrats have a 22 point advantage (according to the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll) on who would look out for the middle class, the largest margin in 20 years. The same poll found that 36 percent of the public viewed the Republicans favorably in October of 2012, only 29 percent view them favorably today—a remarkable drop in just four months.

And there are very good reasons why House Republicans, who really are the current face of the party, are tanking. They are completely out of touch with the American people on the critical issues. Putting aside votes on the Violence Against Women Act or relief for Hurricane Sandy or averting the “fiscal cliff” or even gay rights, choice, and immigration, they are digging a huge hole for themselves on economic issues.

Right now, 76 percent of Americans want a balanced approach to cutting the deficit, only 19 percent support the Republican position of “cuts only.” By over 2 to 1, voters think the sequester is a bad idea. If the House Republicans and John Boehner continue down their radical path of refusing to negotiate, threatening government shutdowns, and not raising the debt limit, their public standing will continue to erode.

According to a National Journal survey, four-fifths of Americans want to completely exempt Social Security and Medicare from any deficit reduction.

With entitlements making up two-thirds of the budget and growing, it doesn’t take Willie Sutton to figure out that’s where the money is! In order to get Democrats to take on entitlements and the political heat that would bring, the Republicans need to acknowledge that the wealthy must pay their fair share, that hedge fund managers and corporate jet owners shouldn’t be getting more tax breaks. Real tax reform means that we have a fairer and more equitable system. That really is only common sense.

But right now, if Boehner continues to march in lock step with his right flank, there will be no grand bargain, there will be no tax reform, there will be no stabilizing of future budgets. Boehner caved during the last grand bargain negotiations in 2011, according to this week’s New Yorker, because Eric Cantor and the Tea Party forced him to pull out of the deal.

Now, he refuses to negotiate, to work across the aisle, to even work with Senate Republicans. This is not the mark of a leader but someone who has been co-opted by the extremists in his party.


By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, March 1, 2013

March 3, 2013 Posted by | Sequester | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Vulnerability Of The Vote”: Insurance Against Racial Suppression Should Not Be On A Backwards Slide

An odd scene unfolded in Washington on Wednesday: as the president and leaders of Congress were dedicating a statue to Rosa Parks, the lifelong activist whose defiance on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus helped spark the Civil Rights Movement, across the street the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on one of the signature piece of civil rights legislation, the Voting Rights Act.

Specifically, the court heard the case of Shelby County v. Holder, in which that Alabama county seeks to overturn Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which was passed in 1965. That section requires states — and some municipalities — to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department or the District of Columbia federal court before making any changes to voting laws.

The fundamental question is whether states that have a history of voter suppression should forever have to live with the legacy of that past.

The problem with the law, in my mind, is that it should be expanded rather than struck down.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University maintains that “Section 5 is an essential and proven tool.” According to the center:

“Although progress has been made since the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, voting discrimination still persists. Between 1982 and 2006 (when Congress overwhelmingly renewed the law), the Voting Rights Act blocked more than 1,000 proposed discriminatory voting changes. Without Section 5’s protection, these changes would have gone into effect and harmed minority voters.”

The center calls the passage of the Voting Rights Act “a reflection of the promise of our Constitution that all Americans would truly have the right to vote without facing discrimination, poll taxes, and other abuses,” and I wholeheartedly agree with that point of view.

The problem that the law may run into is that it’s too narrow.

In a 2009 ruling questioning the constitutionality of Section 5, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote:

“The evil that Section 5 is meant to address may no longer be concentrated in the jurisdictions singled out for preclearance. The statute’s coverage formula is based on data that is now more than 35 years old, and there is considerable evidence that it fails to account for current political conditions. For example, the racial gap in voter registration and turnout is lower in the States originally covered by Section 5 than it is nationwide.”

If the Voting Rights Act covered all states and not just some, Justice Roberts’s argument would be null. In fact, there is growing evidence that such a national requirement would be prudent. Many of the states that sought to install voter suppression laws leading up to last year’s election were in fact not covered by Section 5.

Roberts hammered this point home Wednesday during oral arguments, asking, “Is it the government’s submission that the citizens in the South are more racist than the citizens in the North?”

Seven of the nine states covered by Section 5 are in the south (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia). The other two states are Arizona and Alaska. Some counties and townships are covered in other states.

The Southern states that Section 5 applies to span the Black Belt of the south, a region with the most glaring electoral abuses in the 1960s.

A November Pew Research Center report points out the obvious: blacks were the largest minority group in 1960, but that is no longer the case.

According to the report, blacks were 11 percent of the population, while Hispanics were 3.5 percent and Asians were .6 percent. Since then, the demographics of the country have changed dramatically. According to Pew, in 2011 blacks were 12 percent of the population, while Hispanics were 17 percent and Asians were 5 percent. And the numbers are projected to change even more. By 2050 Pew estimates that blacks will be only 13 percent of the population, while Hispanics will be 29 percent and Asians 9 percent.

To boot, Hispanics and Asians geographically dispersed differently than blacks.

We not only need to keep Section 5 in place, we also need to consider expanding it so that every voter has fair and equal access to the ballot. There are hurdles to achieving this goal, of course. The court might also find that it’s unconstitutional to broaden that section of the law, deeming it too onerous and an infringement on states’ rights — particularly those states that don’t have a demonstrable, endemic, systematic history of discrimination.

Still, it’s worth some thought.

During oral arguments, Justice Antonin Scalia went so far as to call Section 5 the “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” (That guy…) It’s not a racial entitlement, sir, but insurance against racial suppression.

In the president’s remarks at the statue dedication, he rightfully hedged his words. Instead of saying that because of people like Parks our children grow up in a land that is free and fair and true to its founding creed, he said that because of them it is “more free and more fair; a land truer to its founding creed.” (Emphasis mine.)

We’ve come a long way, but we’re not there yet, and the last thing we want or need now is to slide backward.


By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 27, 2013

March 3, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Insurance Against Need, Guaranteed Return”: Why Democrats Must Get Smart On “Entitlements”

In a season of depressing budget news, the worst may have been that a majority of U.S. House Democrats signed a letter urging President Barack Obama to oppose any benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlements. That’s the last thing we need.

To hold the line on harmful cuts to discretionary spending, Obama and the Democrats must educate the public about the necessity of entitlement reform. Otherwise, the poor and needy — largely spared by the automatic reductions under sequestration — will get hit much harder down the road.

Liberals are right to reject Republican proposals that would slash social-welfare programs even as they refuse to consider closing tax loopholes for the wealthy. And I agree that the sequestration will cut into the bone of important government functions and investments in the future.

That makes two more reasons to start talking seriously about how we will pay for the insanely expensive retirement of the baby boomers.

How expensive? Anyone reaching retirement age in the next 20 years (including me) will take more than three times as much out of Medicare as he or she contributed in taxes. By 2030, the U.S. will have twice as many retirees as in 1995, and Social Security and Medicare alone will consume half of the federal budget, with the other half going almost entirely to defense and interest on the national debt. It’s unsustainable.

If Democrats don’t want to talk about these programs, they can say goodbye to every other pet program. We can preserve Medicare in amber only at the expense of investments in pre-kindergarten programs or cancer research.

To reform entitlements, we should assess what these programs were meant to do in the first place.

For starters, Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson didn’t call them entitlements. Jimmy Carter’s administration borrowed the term from Anarchy, State and Utopia, a 1974 book by Robert Nozick, a political philosopher. “Entitlement” sounds selfish and at odds with the dignity and peace of mind that Social Security and Medicare are meant to provide.

It distorts the animating idea behind these programs, which is social insurance.

FDR didn’t have strong feelings about benefit levels, retirement ages or eligibility standards. He focused on what he called guaranteed return. By that he meant that having paid into the system through a kind of insurance premium (though in fact it was merely a payroll tax), Americans should rest easy that some money would be there for them if they lived long enough to need it. The whole point was “insurance against need.”

“Guaranteed return” and “insurance against need” should continue to be the two guiding principles of social-insurance reform.

“Guaranteed return” means no privatization or voucher system for these programs. FDR would have strongly opposed President George W. Bush’s plan to allow Social Security contributions to be invested in the stock market. He thought subjecting retirement income to what he called “the winds of fortune” was a breach of the social contract. Imagine what would happen to someone who retired in 1929 or 2008? No guaranteed return.

“Insurance against need” suggests keeping the focus on poor and middle-class recipients who depend on the money most. That means means-testing, giving wealthier retirees less. FDR, who favored high levels of taxation on the rich, would have been fine with taxing their benefits, too, as long as they were guaranteed to get at least something back.

Liberals generally oppose means-testing social-insurance programs. For decades they’ve argued that if the wealthy don’t get a heaping portion of Social Security and Medicare, it will undermine the political support of the programs and turn them into a form of welfare. Once that happens, the theory goes, the programs will be ended.

Like the word “entitlements,” this hoary idea should be retired. Social Security and Medicare are now so deeply in the marrow of the American middle class that they will never be seen as welfare. The question is not whether to reform them, but how.

Roosevelt structured Social Security as an insurance program with “contributions” through the tax code “so no damn politician can ever take it away.” He didn’t specify anything about the level of taxation or cost-of-living increases, which weren’t an issue in the 1930s but would become one shortly after World War II.

Today, only the first $110,000 in income is subject to the 7.65 percent tax that pays for Social Security and Medicare. Lifting the cap to higher income levels (say $250,000 or $400,000) could eventually generate hundreds of billions of dollars.

Republicans consider this a tax increase. That’s only true outside the context of these programs. The change could be structured so that no one paid in more than actuarial tables say they would take out. That would still raise billions and be consistent with the idea of paying for your own retirement if you can afford it.

For lifting the cap to have any chance, it would have to be matched by reforms such as adopting the chained consumer-price index, a new way to measure cost-of-living adjustments that Obama apparently favors. Liberals oppose chained CPI because it would theoretically result in lower benefits. But less frequent cost-of-living increases aren’t the same as cuts, especially if the current system is, as many experts believe, based on an inaccurate assessment of inflation.

Maybe there are better ideas for reforming social insurance. The point is, we better start talking about them. Otherwise, grandpa and grandma and their fellow Grateful Dead fans are going to eat all the food on the table.


By: Jonathan Alter, The National Memo, March 1, 2013

March 3, 2013 Posted by | Medicare, Social Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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