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“Giving Your Opponents A Choice”: Underscoring The Fact That Sequester Impasse Caused Primarily By House Republicans

There’s a lot of confusion (and in certain Republican and Democratic quarters, consternation) over the president’s dinner with Republican senators last night, touted by all involved as focused on reviving prospects for a “grand bargain” on the budget. But the more fundamental purpose, which couldn’t have been clearer had the participants put up a big marquee sign outside the Jefferson Hotel advertising the theme, was to exclude House Republicans from such convivial discussions as the irresponsible wreckers they undoubtedly are.

So for the president, the strategic value of such gestures is pretty clear, whether or not they materially improve the prospects of an acceptable budget deal. E.J. Dionne lays it out:

From Obama’s point of view, engaging with Senate Republicans now to reach a broad settlement makes both practical sense, because there is a plausible chance for a deal, and political sense, because he will demonstrate how far he has been willing to go in offering cuts that Republicans say they support. In the process, he would underscore that the current impasse has been caused primarily by the refusal of House Republicans to accept new revenues.

While it’s the GOP that has been using serial, self-created crises to gain political leverage, many in the party are no less worn out by them than the Democrats. “Even we are tired of lurching from one cliff to another,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)told the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. “I think that’s lending some pressure towards trying to come up with some kind of a grand bargain.”

Such gambits drive some Democrats crazy, partly because they don’t see their utility and partly because they fear Obama will triangulate them and make a deal involving “entitlement reforms” they oppose. But if Obama is simply giving Senate Republicans and the public at large a chance to think about what life would be like if one of our two major parties had not been conquered by ideologues, the price he’s paying may be no higher than the dinner tab.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 7, 2013

March 9, 2013 Posted by | Sequester | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“About Those Real Problems”:The Odd Republican Preoccupation With White House Tours

Someone’s going to have to explain this one to me.

Fox News Host Eric Bolling on Thursday offered to pay for one week’s worth of White House tours after the administration temporarily suspended them due to cutbacks under sequestration. “If I can get the White House doors open, I will pick up the tab,” Bolling said on the Fox show “The Five.”

Soon after, Fox News’ Sean Hannity offered to also “pay for a week” of White House tours out of his own pocket.

If this seems familiar, it’s because the offers come on the heels of Republican outrage over the decision to scrap White House tours as a consequence of sequestration budget cuts. Apparently, the president and his team had a choice: cancel the tours or start Secret Service furloughs. They chose the former.

And the right apparently can’t stop talking about it, to the point that Fox personalities want to open their wallets to keep the tours going. By some accounts, Fox News has been more than a little preoccupied with the issue.

There may be some deeper symbolic meeting that eludes me — if there is, I’m all ears — or perhaps conservatives are vastly more attached to White House tours than I ever realized. Either way, I can’t help but wonder about the right’s priorities.

Jed Lewison noted today, for example, that the Army was forced to suspend a tuition-assistance program as a result of the sequester, but Bolling and Hannity aren’t offering to pick up the tab on this one.

Of all things for Republicans to be going nuts about, losing the White House tours is the last one. Sequestration is causing real harm to real people, whether it’s unemployed workers, children and mothers who need Head Start, or soldiers looking to enroll in the Army’s tuition assistance program.

They could make all these problems go away — including the loss of their precious tours — with the blink of an eye. All they have to do is repeal sequestration. If they just repealed the damn thing, they wouldn’t even have to raise taxes.

And if they want an equivalent amount of deficit reduction, they can get that too by replacing sequester with a combination of revenue and spending cuts. As President Obama has said more times than anybody cares to remember, his offer is still on the table. Republicans are the ones saying no, and even if White House tours are the only thing that pisses them off, they still have the option of doing something about it.

I have to admit, watching news events unfold, it’s sometimes easy to find myself saying, “Well, I bet Fox will have a field day with this one.”

But White House tours? When sequestration is causing real hardship on real people? I’m at a bit of a loss on this one.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 8, 2013

March 9, 2013 Posted by | Sequestration | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Polarization And Voting Rights”: A Temptation To Voter Suppression That Republicans Just Can’t Resist

The 48th anniversary of the bloody beginning of the Selma March at the Edmund Pettis Bridge is as good a time as any to talk about the possibly imminent evisceration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by the U.S. Supreme Court (or at least five members of that Court).

At Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Emory University’s Alan Abramowitz answers Justice Roberts’ recent question during oral arguments about the need for the “discriminatory” application of Section 5 by looking at recent evidence of racial polarization in voting in the states covered by that law. The abysmal performance of Republicans among nonwhite voters everywhere is so notable that it’s sometimes difficult to see the South as more polarized racially and politically than the rest of the country. But still, in as of 2008 (the last time we had national exit polls in a presidential election), nonwhite voters made up 62% of the Democratic coalition in the Section 5 states and only 35% in the rest of the country. And historically, there’s no question racial polarization has played a huge part in the Republican takeover of the Deep South, beginning with the hyper-racialized states of Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina and then spreading to the rest of the region.

Speaking of the Republican takeover, however, Abramowitz makes a key point about the particularly poor timing of any judicially imposed abandonment of Section 5:

All nine covered states currently have Republican governors and Republican majorities in both chambers of their legislatures. This means that political leaders in these states have a powerful incentive to suppress or dilute the votes of African Americans and other minorities because these groups make up the large majority of the Democratic electoral base in their states. Moreover, as the majority party, they also have the ability to enact laws and regulations to accomplish these goals.

And they can do so, of course, without significant negative impact on their own voters. Even if you think the evidence of especially persistent racism in the Deep South is mixed, this is a temptation to voter suppression that no honest person can expect Southern Republicans to resist.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 7, 2013

March 9, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Paul The Younger”: Standing In The Quicksand Of Rand Paul’s Broader Ideology

You have to hand it to Rand Paul. With an investment of 13 hours of his time earlier this week, the junior Senator from Kentucky (a) became the national hero of the conservative movement; (b) helped detoxify his position on national security and civil liberties issues, his (and his father’s) weak point with more conventional Republicans; (c) intimidated most other GOPers, including the senior senator from Kentucky, the ostensible leader of all Senate Republicans, into following his lead; and (d) made a strong initial bid to emulate John McCain’s old ability to stimulate admiration from people on the other side of the partisan and ideological spectrum. That McCain was largely isolated, along with his amiguito Lindsey Graham, in criticizing Paul made the whole thing even sweeter for the guy who came to the Senate bearing the family reputation for incorrigible crankiness.

By the end of his filibuster, Paul had the RNC chairman and McConnell himself (see this interesting backstory on that phenomenon from National Journal‘s Shane Goldmacher and Beth Reindard) eating out of his hand. And lefty admiration of Paul became so robust that Adele Stan felt compelled to remind progressives of everything horrific about the man and his motives.

On top of everything else, as I fretted yesterday, Paul had rekindled the Romance of the Filibuster, precisely at the time we needed to get rid of it. Not a bad day’s work for a guy so fresh from the fever swamps that you could probably smell the sulphur on him right there on the Senate floor.

David Frum, for whom Paul’s sudden hyper-respectability is very bad news, summed up the Rand-o-Fest pretty well:

Paul’s filibuster ostensibly dealt only with a very remote hypothetical contingency: targeted killings on American soil of Americans who present no imminent threat to national security. Paul insisted that all the harder questions be taken off the table. He had (he said) no issue with a targeted killing on American soil of an American who did present an imminent threat. He avoided the issue of the targeted killings of Americans outside the United States – i.e., the actual real-world problem at hand.

Instead, Paul invoked a nightmare out of a dystopian future: an evil future president shooting a missile at an American having coffee in a neighborhood cafe, merely on suspicion, without any due process of law….

Paul emerges from a milieu in which far-fetched scenarios don’t seem far-fetched at all. Paul specifically mentioned the possibility of a democratically elected Adolph Hitler like figure coming to power in the United States. Looming federal tyranny – against which the only protection is an armed citizenry – is a staple item in the Rand Paul inventory of urgent concerns.

Most Republican senators don’t share this nightmarish vision of their country, thank goodness. But they do answer to an activist base that shares a nightmarish vision of President Obama. Rand Paul stipulated that he did not intend his remarks about a Hitler-like president to apply to the present president. But he must have a pretty fair idea of what his core constituency hears when he talks about looming tyranny – and so of course must the Republican senators who joined him at the rostrum.

They saw Rand Paul’s Twitter following jump. Perhaps they sensed a great fundraising bonanza at hand. Where Rand Paul led, other Republicans followed: some out of conviction, some out of opportunism, and some out of fear.

And thus conservatives followed Paul the Younger onto the quicksand of his broader ideology, which for the most part is in the mainstream of the John Birch Society. This is not what the GOP needs right now.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 8, 2013

March 9, 2013 Posted by | Libertarians, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obama’s Outreach Isn’t New”: When Dealing With Obstructionist’s, The Larger Dynamic Won’t Budge

After President Obama treated 12 Republican senators to dinner, and had a nice lunch with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the Beltway’s reaction can be summarized in one word: Finally.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who attended Wednesday’s dinner, said, “This is the first step that the president has made to really reach out and do like other presidents in the past — develop relationships and build trust.” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) added, “After being in office four years, he’s actually going to sit down and talk to members.”

And while plenty of pundits are echoing the sentiments, John Dickerson notes that those who insist this is a first for Obama are mistaken.

The aloof president is reaching out. That was the media’s first gloss on the president’s new robust effort at networking. He had finally embraced a Truth of Washington: You must engage your opponents and work with them. Finally he’s showing leadership. Hooray! […]

But this isn’t the first time the president has tried…. Early in his first term, during negotiations over the stimulus package, he reached out to Sens. Grassley, Snowe, Collins, and Specter…. Obama may not be very good at trying to work Congress; he may only have done it in fits and starts, but you can’t say he hasn’t tried.

On the Recovery Act, Obama reached out to Republican lawmakers. On health care, the president not only reached out, he spent about as much time talking to Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins as he did talking to his own staff. In May 2011, Obama invited a bipartisan group to the White House, not for a meeting or policy negotiations, but as part of “a get-to-know-you effort in the spirit of bipartisanship and collegiality.” In one of my very favorite moments of Obama’s presidency to date, he even attended a House Republican retreat, engaging in a spirited Q&A.

But, my DC pundit friends will tell me, these outreach efforts don’t count because they were in professional settings. What Obama needs to do is try personal outreach in informal ways and friendly settings. Except, the president has tried this, too, inviting members to the White House for Super Bowl and March Madness parties, and even golfing with Boehner.

Those who keep asking why Obama hasn’t reached out before this week don’t seem to be paying close enough attention.

So, why haven’t the efforts paid dividends? Dickerson has some worthwhile ideas on the subject, but for what it’s worth, I’ll add some speculation of my own.

For one thing, the parties sharply disagree with one another — there is no modern precedent for partisan polarization as intense as today’s status quo — and presidential outreach won’t change that. Congressional Republicans tend to fundamentally reject just about everything the White House wants, believes, and perceives as true. Presidential face-time changes nothing.

For another, outreach may help set the stage for constructive negotiations, but compromise has been rendered all but impossible, not just because Republicans reflexively oppose everything Obama supports — including, at times, their own ideas — but also because the parties can’t horse-trade when one side doesn’t have much of a wish list.

Jonathan Bernstein had a very smart post on this yesterday.

In a world of divided government with two sensible parties, the logical compromise is that Republicans would trade the minimum wage hike — a popular policy Democrats care more about than Republicans anyway — for something which Republicans care about more than Democrats. That’s what happened last time, when Republicans were able to extract tax cuts for business in exchange for supporting the increase, with the whole thing going into a larger bill that had plenty of things for both parties.

And this gets at a larger problem that explains a lot about dysfunction in Washington right now: Republicans have largely given up on developing specific policy goals while becoming more and more dedicated to opposing compromise on everything as some sort of fundamental principle.

Think about it: what is the Republican agenda item the party could trade for a minimum wage increase? What’s the GOP policy request on health care, other than the dream of repealing the Affordable Care Act? What’s their policy request on climate? Energy? Education? I mostly have no idea.

And neither do I. Sure, it’s obvious Republicans have some vague policy preferences — energy = drilling; education = vouchers — and certainly stick to broad principles on tax cuts, but the traditional give-and-take process falls apart when transactional policymaking isn’t a possibility.

Obama could host luncheons and dinners every day, but this larger dynamic won’t budge.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 8, 2013

March 9, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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