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“Reaching Out, Finding Nothing”: Remind Me Again Of How All The President Has To Do Is “Lead” & Offer Good-Faith Compromises

It’s hard to blame President Obama for at least making an effort. For four years, he took a variety of steps — some social, some formal, some professional — to establish relationships with congressional Republicans. The outreach didn’t amount to much.

But it appears the president, either out of necessity or stubbornness, will continue his newly revamped charm offensive, including a trip to Capitol Hill for another round of budget talks. It’s clearly intended as a major gesture on Obama’s part — presidents usually summon lawmakers to the White House, not head to Capitol Hill for meetings on lawmakers’ turf.

Time will tell, obviously, whether the efforts pay dividends, but the New York Times has an interesting report today on the ineffectiveness of recent outreach, including a great anecdote I hadn’t heard before.

For all the attention to President Obama’s new campaign of outreach to Republicans, it was four months ago — on the eve of bipartisan budget talks — that he secretly invited five of them to the White House for a movie screening with the stars of “Lincoln,” the film about that president’s courtship of Congress to pass a significant measure.

None accepted.

For all the pundits who complain bitterly that Obama hasn’t done enough to schmooze with lawmakers, doesn’t an anecdote like this suggest the problem is not entirely the president’s fault? Are we to believe that all five — invited in secret so they wouldn’t have to take heat from Fox or the GOP base — were all washing their hair that night?

On a more substantive note, the piece also included this key piece of information:

What spurred Mr. Obama to reach out to rank-and-file Republicans with a flurry of phone calls, meals and now Capitol visits were the recent announcements by their leaders — Speaker John A. Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — that they will no longer negotiate with Mr. Obama on budget policy as long as he keeps demanding more tax revenues as the condition for Democrats’ support of reduced spending on Medicare and other entitlement programs.

This is important. Congressional Republican leaders are now saying they won’t even talk to the president unless Obama agrees — before any meetings even take place — to give them what they want. In other words, when the White House announces that all efforts at deficit reduction in the coming years will include literally nothing but 100% spending cuts, then GOP leaders will be prepared to negotiate with the president.

Please, Beltway pundits, remind me again how all the president has to do to resolve political paralysis is “lead” and offer good-faith compromises.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 12, 2013

March 13, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Love You To Death”: Republicans Saving Souls Through The Destruction Of The Body

You, liberal reader, probably think of Ted Cruz as this vicious neo-McCarthyite crank who is raging around Washington threatening not so much Democrats as the imaginary RINOs who control his political party.

But the image he’s projecting to his fellow-conservatives, and that he’d like the GOP to project nationally, is very different: he’s a sweet huggy-bear who thinks Republicans lose elections because–I know this is hard to believe, but it’s true–people perceive that they don’t care about less-fortunate people. That’s gotta change, Cruz recently explained in Miami at the Cuban-Democracy PAC luncheon, via the Florida conservative blog The Shark Tank:

I think why Republicans did so poorly in the Hispanic community this last election was not primarily immigration, I think it was two words- 47 percent. And by that I don’t mean that unfortunate comment… What I mean is the narrative of the last election. The 47% percent who are dependent on government- we don’t have to worry about them. I can’t think of an idea that is more antithetical to what we believe as conservatives and Americans than that idea.

“Republicans did a poor job last time around…is making the case to the single mom, making the case to the young African American, the young Hispanic coming out of school looking for his first job that the party of opportunity is a party that allows and encourages small businesses to thrive and encourages economic growth.”

You hear this a lot from conservatives. The I’m-with-the-rich-because-I-love-the-poor rap is a hardy perennial that was bequeathed to the Right by the late Jack Kemp, who probably actually believed it. One of Kemp’s proteges, a guy named Paul Ryan, spoke at the Jack Kemp Foundation dinner in December, and justified his screw-the-poor budget policies as a deeper form of agape love for those who had been failed by the welfare state. Here’s a taste from the deep well of his compassion:

Not every problem disappears through the workings of the free market alone. Americans are a compassionate people. And there’s a consensus in this country about our obligations to the most vulnerable. Those obligations are beyond dispute. The real debate is how best we can meet them. It’s whether they are better met by private groups or by government – by voluntary action or by government action.

I like that. Not every economic or social problem can be ignored because the Market Knows Best. Some people may need help in the form of “voluntary action!” Let’s hear it for charity!

What’s never been clear to me is whether this Empowerment Conservative rhetoric is ultimately designed to appeal to poor and minority folk (if so, it’s failed dismally over the decades), to the news media, or to the tender consciences of conservatives themselves. Some media folk seem to find it a revelation whenever Republicans don’t look and sound like Daddy Warbucks, which is why Kemp always got such good press, and probably why the people surrounding George W. Bush thought “compassionate conservatism” was such a great marketing slogan.

What’s interesting about the version of this pseudo-ideology being embraced by Ryan and Cruz is that there is not one ounce of the old moderate-Republican noblesse oblige in it, with its compromises with the welfare state on behalf of the little people. No, for these new Empowerers love for the poor isn’t genuine unless it involves the full, ruthless destruction of the public support that has enslaved everyone dependent on it. They kind of remind me of the medieval priests who viewed the killing of heretics as the supreme act of charity, saving souls through the destruction of the body.

So it’s probably more a salve to their own (and their supporters’) consciences than a marketing tactic for people like Ryan and Cruz to promote their policy views as pretty much what Jesus would support if he were a Member of Congress. If it becomes necessary to love the poor to death, they’re up to the task.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 12, 2013

March 13, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why Mess With Success?”: The Smart Strategy Behind Paul Ryan’s Stupid Budget

Unlike most unsuccessful VP candidates, Ryan’s path to continued influence meant going right back to what he was doing before.

For an ambitious politician, a spot on your party’s presidential ticket is fraught with danger. On one hand, you immediately become a national figure, and if you win, you’re vice president and you’ve got a good chance to become president. On the other hand, if you lose, you may wind up the target of contempt from forces within your own party and quickly fade away. Look at the list of recent VP losers: Sarah Palin, John Edwards, Joe Lieberman, Jack Kemp. None of them had any political future after their loss.

And then there’s Paul Ryan. You have to give him credit for one thing. Unlike, say, Palin, he didn’t let his time on the national stage give him delusions of grandeur. Instead of proclaiming himself the leader of a movement, he went right back to what he was doing before: using the budgeting process to push an extraordinarily radical agenda, all couched in enough numbers and figures to convince naive reporters that he’s a Very Serious Fellow, despite the fact that his numbers and figures are about as serious as an episode of The Benny Hill Show. But this act is what got him where he is, and he seems to have concluded, probably wisely, that his best move is to get back on that same track, which might eventually lead him to the White House.

During an appearance on Fox News Sunday last weekend, Chris Wallace asked Ryan whether he’d like to be speaker of the House one day, and Ryan responded, “If I wanted to be in elected leadership like speaker, I would have run for these jobs years ago. I’ve always believed the better place for me is in policy leadership, like being a chairman.” And he’s absolutely right. These days, being a Republican Speaker is nothing but a hassle. For Ryan, the budget is both the vehicle of his (continued, he hopes) political rise and the means of radical ideological transformation. As Ezra Klein explains well, Ryan’s budget, the latest iteration of which comes out today, is a blueprint for that ideological transformation, presented as nothing but a sober-minded effort to make “tough choices” and solve practical problems. It turns Medicare into a voucher plan, slashes spending on Medicaid and food stamps, repeals Obamacare, and cuts taxes for the wealthy. But it balances the budget! How? Well, partly by accepting the tax increases in the fiscal cliff deal (which Ryan opposed), and repealing only the benefits of Obamacare, like providing coverage to people, but keeping Obamacare’s tax increases and Medicare savings (which, you’ll remember, Ryan attacked relentlessly during last year’s campaign as an unconscionable assault on our seniors). It brings to mind the old joke about an economist stuck in a pit who says he can get out of it easily. How? “Assume a ladder.” Ryan’s budget assumes that Republicans won the White House and both houses of Congress in 2012.

And why, you might ask, is this treated with any more seriousness than a press release put out by some numbskull backbench congressman? Because Paul Ryan is a wonk, making tough choices! If Ryan weren’t so skilled at charming Washington reporters, and so shameless about the hypocrisy embedded in his plans, this kind of thing would be regarded not as some possibly questionable budget math, but as outright buffoonery, just a step or two above the Republicans who rush to the cameras whenever it snows to make lame jokes about how Al Gore is a stupid-head. But it isn’t treated that way. It’s treated the same way it was before Ryan became Mitt Romney’s running mate, as more evidence of what an intellectual leader of the GOP Ryan is. Why mess with success?

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, March 12, 2013

March 13, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Dubya Albatross”: Why Republicans Can Never Distance Themselves From George W. Bush

When he was performing his Full Jeb of Sunday show interviews over the weekend, Jeb Bush got asked everywhere whether he’s running for president, and each time he gave the same practiced answer (not thinking about it yet). He also got asked whether his brother’s disastrous presidency, and the fact that Dubya left office with abysmal approval ratings (Gallup had him in the 20s for much of 2008) would be a drag on him. Jeb gave the answer you’d expect: history will be kind to my brother, I’m very proud of him, and so on. Of course it’s true that Jeb, what with his last name and all, would have to “grapple” with his brother’s legacy more than other candidates. But when we think about it in those terms, I think we overlook something important about how the Bush legacy will continue to operate on Republicans, not just Jeb but all of them.

I thought of this when reading Peter Beinart’s take on Jeb, wherein he says something I think misses the mark:

That’s why Jeb Bush will never seriously challenge for the presidency—because to seriously challenge for the presidency, a Republican will have to pointedly distance himself from Jeb’s older brother. No Republican will enjoy credibility as a deficit hawk unless he or she acknowledges that George W. Bush squandered the budget surplus he inherited. No Republican will be able to promise foreign-policy competence unless he or she acknowledges the Bush administration’s disastrous mismanagement in Afghanistan and Iraq. It won’t be enough for a candidate merely to keep his or her distance from W. John McCain and Mitt Romney tried that, and they failed because the Obama campaign hung Bush around their neck every chance it got. To seriously compete, the next Republican candidate for president will have to preempt that Democratic line of attack by repudiating key aspects of Bush’s legacy. Jeb Bush would find that excruciatingly hard even if he wanted to. And as his interviews Sunday make clear, he doesn’t even want to try.

The focus on ideas like credibility and pre-empting attacks makes it seem as though this is really an issue of rhetoric and positioning, but it’s more than that. Let’s go through point by point. Does a Republican need to establish credibility as a deficit hawk? No, because the definition of deficit hawkery is endlessly malleable; Republicans who want to give huge tax cuts to the rich and increase military spending pretend to be deficit hawks just by saying “We need to rein in entitlements,” and people in the press believe them. Nobody voted for Barack Obama because they didn’t think Mitt Romney was enough of a legitimate deficit hawk. Does the next Republican candidate need to promise foreign-policy competence? Ask Michael Dukakis how important establishing your competence is to winning the White House. And did McCain and Romney lose because they didn’t create enough distance between themselves and Bush by not repudiating parts of his legacy?

Ah, here’s where it gets tricky. What, exactly, should they have repudiated, or should future Republican presidential contenders repudiate? Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy that helped explode the deficit? His military adventurism? Appointing right-wing judges? Undermining environmental and workplace protections? The trouble is that those things are central to conservative ideology as it exists today. During much of the Bush years, Republicans controlled all three branches of government, and got pretty much everything they had ever wanted. You can tweak Bush’s legacy around the edges, but if you don’t believe in nearly everything he did, you aren’t really a Republican.

This reminds me of a terrific piece this magazine ran about the Iraq War in the fall of 2005 by Sam Rosenfeld and Matthew Yglesias called “The Competence Dodge.” Their argument was that while the Bush administration was most certainly screwing up the war, even if they had been more competent, it would only have made a small difference. The problem wasn’t the details of the execution; the problem was that invading Iraq was a terrible idea. The same is true of the Bush administration more broadly. Yes, they screwed some things up. But on the whole, the problems sprang from their goals. The people who run for the Republican nomination in 2016 are going to share those goals, and the Democrats will once again say “You just want to take us back to the Bush years.” That will be true whether any of them are named Bush or not.

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, March 12, 2013

March 13, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ryan The Redistributionist”: More Income And Wealth For The Already Well Off

“Who is going to end up making all the money in the end if Obamacare continues to be in place?” Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus growled Monday on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show. “It’s going to be the big corporations, right? And who gets screwed? The middle class.”

The Republican Party makeover is breathtaking. Now, suddenly, instead of accusing Democrats of being “redistributionists,” the GOP is posing as defender of the middle class against corporate America — and it’s doing so by proposing to do away with the most progressive piece of legislation in well over a decade.

Paul Ryan’s new budget purportedly gets about 40 percent of its $4.6 trillion in spending cuts over ten years by repealing Obamacare, but Ryan’s budget document doesn’t mention that such a repeal would also lower taxes on corporations and the wealthy that foot Obamacare’s bill.

According to an analysis by the non-partisan Tax Foundation, Obamacare redistributes income from the wealthy to the middle class. This is mainly because it hikes Medicare taxes on the top 2 percent (singles earning more than $200,000 and couples earning more than $250,000, including their investment income).

This year, for example, families in the top 1 percent will be paying about $52,000 more in Medicare taxes, on average, than they paid in 2012.

And where will the money go? Not to pay for the healthcare of poor families; most of them already receive Medicaid. The rich will be helping middle and lower-middle class Americans.

Obamacare also imposes some taxes and fees on insurance companies, drug makers, and manufacturers of medical devices. Here again, most of this will be borne by affluent Americans, who own most shares of stock (assuming the taxes and fees come out of corporate profits). And, again, beneficiaries are in the middle and lower-middle class.

In other words, Mr. Priebus has it exactly backwards. If Obamacare were repealed, who would end up making all the money? Big corporations and the wealthy. Who would get screwed? The middle class.

The rest of Ryan’s budget plan also runs counter to the new Republican thematic. Not only does it turn Medicare into vouchers (“premium support” in Republican-speak) whose value can’t possibly keep up with rising healthcare costs but it also dramatically reduces spending on education, infrastructure, and much else the middle class depends on.

Meanwhile, it redistributes upward, cutting the top tax rate for individuals down to 25 percent — a bigger tax cut for the top than even Mitt Romney proposed — and the corporate tax rate down to 25 percent, from 35 percent today.

Ryan would pay for these tax cuts by “closing tax loopholes,” but — where did we hear this before? — his budget doesn’t say which loopholes, or even hint at what it would do with rates on capital gains and dividends. Like Romney’s plan, it leaves all the heavy lifting to Congress.

The reality, of course, is that the only possible way Ryan could pay for his proposed tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations would be to raise taxes on the middle class.

Don’t expect the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, or other Republicans reading from the same talking points, to admit any of this.

But if you look at what they’re proposing rather than what they’re saying, the GOP isn’t really interested in balancing the budget at all. It’s out to redistribute income and wealth — to the best-off Americans, from everyone else.

If any party is into redistribution, it’s the Republicans. And Paul Ryan is leading the charge.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, March 12, 2013

March 13, 2013 Posted by | Ryan Budget Plan | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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