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“VIP Donors And Partners”: Deep Pockets Back Organizer Of CPAC

The three-day Conservative Political Action Conference that began Thursday at National Harbor in Maryland showcases a wealth of conservative spending power from more than 200 right-leaning donors, foundations, universities, think tanks and activists who have collectively doled out more than $1 million to help underwrite the event.

The American Conservative Union, which is hosting the conference for the 40th consecutive year, offers underwriters a sliding scale of benefits at rates ranging from $3,000 for exhibitors to $50,000 for event “partners.” The ACU also lists some 100 “VIP donors” on its website, without indicating how much each gave.

Nine “partners” collectively paid $450,000 to enjoy benefits such as hospitality room access, color ads in CPAC publications, exhibit space and invitations to private meetings, dinners and receptions, according to the website.

The partners include Judicial Watch, the National Rifle Association and the Tea Party Patriots.

The event’s 21 “sponsors” — who shelled out $19,000 apiece for a total of $399,000 — include the Washington Examiner and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which according to tax records spent and gave out $40 million in 2011.

CPAC“co-sponsors” paying $8,000 apiece include the Susan B. Anthony List, which opposes abortion; the conservative grass-roots group Let Freedom Ring; and the Liberty University School of Law.

The ACU has long derived less influence from its budget than from its widely referenced scorecards and the CPAC gathering, which this year has drawn thousands of conservative activists and dozens of prominent elected officials and organizers.

But that is starting to change: The organization’s budget has quadrupled, from about $1.2 million in 2009 to $4.2 million last year, according to its tax filings.

Because the ACU is a 501(c)(4) social- welfare group, it is not required to report the names of its donors. But the group’s board includes the top executives of deep-pocketed players such as the NRA, which, according to tax records, had a $231 million budget in 2011; The Heritage Foundation, which had $80 million in expenses that same year; and Microsoft Corp.

The ACU’s political action committee raised and spent only about $120,000 in the 2012 election cycle, Federal Election Commission records show. But the ACU launched a super PAC in 2011 that raised and spent another $10,000 or so.

And the ACU itself made a $30,549 independent campaign expenditure on behalf of Republican Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee, according to the Sunlight Foundation, suggesting that the conservative group may be gearing up to raise its campaign trail profile.


By: Eliza Newlin Carney, Roll Call, March 14, 2013

March 17, 2013 Posted by | CPAC, Crony Capitalism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pernicious GOP Nonsense”: Spending Isn’t The Problem, Austerity Is

Don’t buy the budget hype. Sure it’s fun to ding Paul Ryan for his unrepentant (Election? What election?) budget plan and his Obamacare contortions. (He wants to repeal it, except for its Medicare savings and tax increases, which he was against, then for, then against, and now for again). But here’s the thing about budget resolutions: They’re not laws. They’re not binding. They are, for all intents and purposes glorified, congressionally sanctioned, party platforms.

The great budget debate, in other words, is a philosophical one. And while such arguments are important we shouldn’t let them distract from the real-world policy fights ongoing about how money is actually spent or not spent.

If you’ve paid any attention, for example, you know the GOP’s mantra, that the nation’s problem is spending, which is “out of control.” This is the basis for their entire policy agenda. It’s also pernicious, economically destructive nonsense.

Consider some data points:

Federal spending grew by 0.6 percent from 2009 to 2012, according to Bloomberg. That’s the slowest rate since the Eisenhower years. That’s a novel definition of “out of control.”

Austerity has been the single biggest drag on job growth, according to the Wall Street Journal. The paper notes that federal, state, and local governments have cut nearly 750,000 jobs since June 2009. “No other sector comes close to those job losses over the same period,” the Journal reported last week. “Construction is in second worst place, but its 225,000 cuts are less than a third of the government reductions.” The same article figured that without the public-sector job losses, the unemployment rate would be 7.1 percent instead of 7.7 percent. Remember that the next time Republicans react to improving job numbers with statements of yes, but it should be better.

And what good is all this austerity? “Here’s a pretty important fact that virtually everyone in Washington seems oblivious to: The federal deficit has never fallen as fast as it’s falling now without a coincident recession,” Investor’s Business Daily reported last month. Assuming sequestration stays in place, the deficit is expected to shrink by 3.4 percent of the economy between fiscal year 2011 and 2013, and the only other times the budget deficit shrank that quickly—the start of Franklin Roosevelt’s second term, the post-World War II demobilization, 1960-61, and 1969-70—recessions quickly followed.

This isn’t an error; it’s a deliberate policy of austerity monomania, consequences be damned. Remember what John Boehner said weeks after he became speaker: “In the last two years, under President Obama, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs,” Boehner said. “If some of those jobs are lost, so be it.” If anything is out of control, it’s the push for spending cuts, which, let’s not forget, is ongoing. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that sequestration—the arbitrary, across-the-board spending cuts which started going into effect two weeks ago—will cost the economy another 750,000 jobs this year if left untouched.

The first couple of weeks of sequestration have produced a strange kind of euphoria on the right as lawmakers and activists alike preen over the cuts (“This was a necessary win for Republicans,” one anonymous GOP aide told National Review Online) while most of the inside-the-beltway attention has focused on whether President Obama oversold the effects of the cuts and criticism over White House tours having been canceled. Republicans run the risk, however, of becoming the proverbial frog in boiling water. At some point the real-world effects of the cuts, slowly building though they may be, will punch through their ideological bubble.

A week into sequestration, the Huffington Post surveyed how local television news reports have covered the cuts. Local stations “did tend to dig more deeply into the ramifications of the cuts, looking at how people around the country … will be affected in their daily lives,” the website reported. Those ramifications included Bell Helicopter in Fort Worth, Texas, trying to induce retirements in order to avoid having to fire people, while nearly two dozen county employees around Salt Lake City have been fired. It’s not hard to find other grim sequestration stories: Air Force civilian employee furloughs will cost Ohio $111.1 million in lost wages, according to the Dayton Daily News; Customs and Border Protection will start furloughing 60,000 employees in April; the Army, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard have suspended tuition assistance programs; control towers in more than 200 general aviation airports nationally are expected to be closed; dairy exports could fall by $500 million, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The list goes on—I know because Democrats have sent out regular roundups of such local news stories to demonstrate that the sequester has teeth. That’s also why Obama’s Organizing for Action grassroots group is collecting citizens’ sequestration stories.

And voters are taking notice, despite what much of Washington seems to think. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Wednesday found 53 percent of Americans disapprove of sequestration while an amazing 72 percent disapprove of Republicans in Congress. And by a margin of 47-33, Americans hold that same congressional GOP responsible for the much-maligned spending cuts.

The question now is how long will it take for these feelings to gain discernible political traction. Specifically, will Republicans feel (dangerously) emboldened in August when the next debt ceiling showdown is expected, or will reality have chastened them?

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, March 15, 2013

March 17, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Sequestration | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Foreigners Are Coming”: Wayne LaPierre’s “Red Dawn” Moment

What’s the problem with universal background checks? If you listened to National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre at the Conservative Political Action Committee you learned that not only is it a tool for the U.S. government to come take your guns—you probably knew that already—but for the Chinese and Mexican governments to as well. I guess maybe he’s watched “Red Dawn” one time too many?

LaPierre went into what has become his usual line against universal background checks—that it’s just a ruse for a nefarious agenda. “In the end there are only two reasons for government to create that federal registry of gun owners—to tax them or to take them,” he said at one point. (It’s worth noting that the NRA is somewhat schizophrenic on background checks, sometimes supporting them and sometimes seeing them as the next step toward fascism.)

I’d heard the anti-U.S. government paranoia before. But I hadn’t heard this bit before:

What’s the point of registering lawful gun owners anyway? So newspapers can print those names and addresses for criminals and gangs to access? So that list can be hacked by foreign entities like the Chinese, who recently hacked Pentagon computers? So that list can be handed over to the Mexican government that, oh by the way, has already requested it.

Umm. Why would the Chinese care about who in the United States owns guns? Or the Mexicans for that matter? Are the Chinese and/or the Mexicans coming to invade? He didn’t elaborate but it’s certainly the implication of the comment. Why else would they want to know which U.S. citizens are armed?

Like I said, maybe before he came on stage he watched the classic 1984 film “Red Dawn” to psych himself up? If you’ve seen the movie you’ll recall that at one point one of the invading Cuban officers (when did Mexico pass Cuba on the threat-meter?) instructs one of his subordinates to go to the local sporting goods store and retrieve “form 4473” which, he says, has “descriptions of weapons and lists of private owners.” (Another shot opens with the camera on a bumper sticker promising, “They can have my gun when they pry it from my cold dead fingers;” the camera then pans down to an American corpse clutching a handgun—and then a Communist jack-boot slams down on the arm and an invader pries the weapon away.)

On a serious note, however, this is just classic of LaPierre, and of a piece with his fantasy that after Hurricane Sandy, Brooklyn became some sort of “Mad Max”-esque wasteland where only the armed survived: It’s fear mongering—you’d better be armed because the urban folk and the foreigners are coming to get you.


By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, March 15, 2013

March 17, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Reality Check”: Hey Republicans, There Was An Election And You Lost

On Thursday, the top Democrat in the House made what amounted to a major concession, pronouncing herself open to the idea of reducing Social Security benefits. This moved Nancy Pelosi closer to the position that President Barack Obama, who has already put out a plan that includes chained-CPI, has staked out in pursuit of a deficit reduction “grand bargain” with Republicans. This could make it easier for Obama to convince Senate Republicans, whom he’s begun courting in recent weeks, that he can deliver on a deal that includes real sacrifices on Democratic priorities.

And how does the top Republican in the House fit into this mix? Well, he doesn’t.

In a Thursday interview with the New York Times, Speaker John Boehner said he’s not currently engaged in budget conversations with the White House and suggested the onus is on Obama to move closer to the blueprint that Paul Ryan staked out this week — a 10-year balanced budget plan that the GOP-controlled House will probably adopt in the next week. That Ryan budget offers absolutely nothing in the way of concessions. But for a few cynical accounting tricks, it’s the same plan Ryan presented in 2012 and 2011, one that would turn Medicare into a voucher program, slash taxes on corporations and the wealthy, gut the Affordable Care Act and turn federal programs targeted for the poor into block grants for states to manage. It was this radical rethinking of the size and scope of the federal safety net that played a major role in last year’s election, with Democrats warning voters that the Ryan plan would be implemented if Republicans gained control of the executive and legislative branches.

In other words, House Republicans — and their leader — haven’t budged at all on fiscal issues since the election, even though the results were humbling for their party. Sure, they provided a scattering of votes for the New Year’s Eve fiscal cliff deal that raised income tax rates on high-end earners, but a) that was because they were up against a Jan. 1 deadline that would have triggered across-the-board tax hikes for all earners if no deal was reached; and b) the majority of House Republicans still voted against that package. And since that deal was enacted, the determination of House Republicans to stop any further revenue increases — even those involving loopholes and deductions, not income tax rates — has only intensified. The president already got his tax hikes, the GOP talking point goes, and now he wants more?

The reason Obama wants more, of course, is that he and most of his party (and, truth be told, a number of Republicans) would like to turn off the sequester, which went into effect on March 1 when the two parties failed to reach agreement on a replacement plan. The stumbling block was simple: Republicans were adamant in opposing a “balanced” deal with a revenue component. Many of them also claimed that Obama wasn’t serious about cutting entitlement spending, even though the president produced the above-referenced plan, which included Social Security benefits cuts. It’s clear that, for the time being anyway, House Republicans are completely uninterested in striking a fiscal deal with Obama, unless the deal is that he goes along with everything they want.

What’s so striking — and, some might say, galling — about this is that Republicans lost pretty badly in the most recent election. No, it wasn’t en epic LBJ ’64-style wipeout, but the party spent 2011 and 2012 convinced that the rotten economy would compel voters to fire Obama, restore Republican control of the Senate and boost the GOP’s House majority. But none of that happened. As I wrote last week, it can sometimes feel like Republicans actually won the election. The problem is mainly centered in the House, although the Senate has more than its share of problems, and can be explained by two main factors:

1. Geography

The average House Republican represents a district that is older, whiter and more Republican-friendly than the country as a whole. Gerrymandering is typically cited as the reason for this, but it’s a red herring. The real problem is that the core Democratic vote — a rising majority of nonwhites, millennials, single women and college-educated professionals — is tightly bunched in metropolitan areas. They account for massive majorities in a relatively small number of congressional districts. Suburban, exurban and rural areas, by contrast, tend to be populated by more Republican-friendly voters, who are more widely dispersed. Thus, it’s not uncommon in big states for Democrats to enjoy clear majorities in statewide elections even as Republicans gobble up the majority of House seats. Barring the kind of anti-Republican wave elections we saw in 2006 and 2008, this dynamic should persist through the next decade, ensuring Republican control of the House. The Republicans in these districts are mostly immune to the cultural and demographic changes that hurt their party at the national level in 2012; thus, the same reflexively anti-tax/anti-government/anti-Obama hysteria that sold in these areas before November 2012 still sells today — making it likely that these districts will send to Washington either a) true believer Tea Party-type congressmen and -women, who win their seats simply by running far to the right in the GOP primary; or b) secretly pragmatic Republicans who adopt the rhetoric and voting habits of the Tea Party crowd for the sake of their own political survival.

2. The powerless speaker

A case can be made that Boehner’s skills as a House leader are underappreciated. There’s something to this, but it’s an argument that amounts to a backhanded compliment — that Boehner, by routinely looking the other way as his party worsens its public image and subjecting himself to the occasional high-profile indignity, is able to build just enough clout to steer the House GOP away from complete catastrophe when he absolutely has to. There’s an art to this, all right, and I guess you could say Boehner is good at it. But that’s really the limit of his power as speaker. The problem is that the conservative movement has never trusted him and has been looking for the moment he sells them out from the second he claimed the speaker’s gavel in 2011. This has imposed some humiliating limits on him — forcing Boehner, for instance, to walk away at the 11th hour from grand bargain negotiations with Obama in the summer of ’11 and compelling him to promise Republicans a few months ago that he wouldn’t attempt any more one-on-one negotiations with the president.

So when it comes to Obama’s current quest for a grand bargain, there’s really nothing for Boehner to do but repeat the right’s familiar attacks on Obama for always wanting to raise taxes and never wanting to cut spending. Never mind, of course, that Obama has already signed off on $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction and is seeking $1.2 trillion more with his grand bargain crusade, and that most of that money is from spending cuts. Acknowledging that would destroy whatever credibility Boehner now has with the conservative base, and make it impossible for him to push any kind of deal through the House without being dethroned. So he bashes away, pretends the problem is Obama’s inflexible liberalism and waits. What the endgame is is unclear. It may just be that Boehner is hoping to keep the GOP conference from pursuing a debt ceiling showdown in May. Or maybe he’s hoping that after a few more months of bashing Obama, he just might have clearance to put a Senate-passed grand bargain on the House floor and to allow it to pass mainly with Democratic votes. Or he may think none of this is possible — and may mainly be interested in patching up the damage the fiscal cliff deal did to his standing with the right.

The key here is that Boehner oversees a Republican conference whose members do not, generally speaking, feel any personal pressure to respond to the Democrats’ big national victory last November. In the America where they leave, Obama and the national Democratic Party are as reviled now as they were before Election Day.


By: Steve Kornacki, Salon, March 15, 2013

March 17, 2013 Posted by | Election 2012, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Total Howler”: Paul Ryan’s Budget, His Own Facts And Obamacare

Hello, I am back. We will discuss aspects of my vacation in due course, but first, our friend Mr. Ryan.

He’s facing lots of derision for assuming the repeal of Obamacare in his new budget. First of all, credit where it’s due–it was apparently Chris Wallace of Fox News who brought this information to light in questioning Ryan, so good for him.

And second of all, yes, this is a total howler. Repeal of Obamacare? Not going to happen. Could theoretically happen in 2017, one supposes, but by that time, even if there is a Republican president and Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, including the super-majority of 60 in the Senate that would presumably be needed to enact full repeal, states will be getting billions in federal funding to put working poor people on the rolls of their new exchanges. It seems pretty unlikely that broad support for undoing that would exist.

So Ryan’s assumption doesn’t pass any known laugh test. So why does he do it? Well, because of the old saying “that’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.” Which is to say…

The Republicans have spent the years since the passage of the Affordable Care Act insisting that it’s a deficit-buster. You heard Mitt Romney say this a thousand times. It wasn’t true, and it isn’t true. In June 2012, Politifact gave Romney a flat-out “false” when he made the claim, writing:

…for claims about deficits, we consider the Congressional Budget Office, often called the CBO, to be the standard by which we fact-check claims.

The CBO said this about the health care law back in 2010: It lowers the deficit, by about $124 billion over 10 years.

And in 2011, when Republicans offered a bill to repeal the health care law, the CBO said that increased the deficit, by about $210 billion over 10 years.

Now, is the CBO infallible? Certainly not. And good questions have been raised about some of the CBO’s methods in accounting for the health care law’s effects. We reported on some of those concerns in great detail in a fact-check of statements from U.S. Rep Paul Ryan, R-Wisc. He said the law was “accelerating our country toward bankruptcy.” We rated that Mostly False.

So Ryan has been telling this lie for a while, as have all Republicans. The month after this Politifact assessment, the CBO issued a second report running some new numbers and finding the same result. And this year, The New York Times reported in mid-February that the deficit was decreasing (and it is, and rapidly; see Krugman today on this) largely because of lower health-care costs, by no means all but some of which could be traced to the ACA.

In other words, in reality land, Obamacare contributes to deficit reduction. By how much, we certainly don’t yet know. But all the signs we have–the experts’ projections and the early evidence–suggest that this is the case.

But in Republican land, it’s an article of faith that the ACA increases the deficit. This being the case, or “the case” as it were, then how in the world could Ryan introduce a new budget to eliminate the deficit in 10 years (the full thing is being unveiled Wednesday) that includes Obamacare? He’d be destroyed by the agitprop machine of the right if his budget did that, both because they just detest the thing and because it “increases” the deficit. They’ve agreed on this! Anyone who says otherwise is guilty of apostasy.

So again, this is our “new” GOP. Making up realities according to how the howling half of the base would respond. That sounds kind of like the old GOP to me.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 11, 2013

March 17, 2013 Posted by | Ryan Budget Plan | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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