"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Ideas That Work For Whom?”: A Not So Subtle Regressive Message From The GOP

Every Saturday morning, President Obama releases a weekly address, issued over the air and on radio, followed by an official Republican response. Ordinarily, they’re intended to reinforce the parties’ message of the week, or push some new initiative, and they’re not especially newsworthy.

But this week’s GOP address, delivered by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R), struck me as more interesting than most.

National party leaders selected Brownback so that he could tout Kansas’ new tax policies, which Republicans apparently now consider a model for the nation. The governor specifically called his tax agenda an example of “ideas that work.”

“They involve a more focused government that costs less. A taxing structure that encourages growth. An education system that produces measurable results. And a renewed focus on the incredible dignity of each and every person, no matter who they are.”

The next question, of course, is, “Ideas that work for whom?”

Brownback’s initial approach to tax reform was ludicrously regressive — sharply reducing tax rates for the wealthy, while punishing the poor. For his next phase of “tax reform,” the Kansas governor, with the help of a Kansas GOP legislature that’s been purged of moderates, intends to eliminate the state income tax altogether, while making matters even worse for families that are already struggling by raising sales taxes, eliminating the mortgage interest deduction, and scrapping tax credits for things like food and child care.

Did I mention that Brownback brought on Arthur Laffer, of all people, as a tax policy adviser? Well, he did.

Remember to keep the larger context in mind: Brownback’s agenda is awful for Kansas, but Republican Party officials at the national level chose the governor to deliver their weekly address, not just because they heartily endorse his tax policies, but because they want to see them implemented elsewhere. Indeed, with a debate over tax reform on the horizon, GOP leaders in Washington are sending a not-so-subtle signal: Brownback’s regressive vision is the kind of plan they have in mind.


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

April 9, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Tax Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Insurance And Freedom”: How Many Americans Will Be Denied Essential Health Care In The Name Of Freedom?

President Obama will soon release a new budget, and the commentary is already flowing fast and furious. Progressives are angry (with good reason) over proposed cuts to Social Security; conservatives are denouncing the call for more revenues. But it’s all Kabuki. Since House Republicans will block anything Mr. Obama proposes, his budget is best seen not as policy but as positioning, an attempt to gain praise from “centrist” pundits.

No, the real policy action at this point is in the states, where the question is, How many Americans will be denied essential health care in the name of freedom?

I’m referring, of course, to the question of how many Republican governors will reject the Medicaid expansion that is a key part of Obamacare. What does that have to do with freedom? In reality, nothing. But when it comes to politics, it’s a different story.

It goes without saying that Republicans oppose any expansion of programs that help the less fortunate — along with tax cuts for the wealthy, such opposition is pretty much what defines modern conservatism. But they seem to be having more trouble than in the past defending their opposition without simply coming across as big meanies.

Specifically, the time-honored practice of attacking beneficiaries of government programs as undeserving malingerers doesn’t play the way it used to. When Ronald Reagan spoke about welfare queens driving Cadillacs, it resonated with many voters. When Mitt Romney was caught on tape sneering at the 47 percent, not so much.

There is, however, an alternative. From the enthusiastic reception American conservatives gave Friedrich Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom,” to Reagan, to the governors now standing in the way of Medicaid expansion, the U.S. right has sought to portray its position not as a matter of comforting the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted, but as a courageous defense of freedom.

Conservatives love, for example, to quote from a stirring speech Reagan gave in 1961, in which he warned of a grim future unless patriots took a stand. (Liz Cheney used it in a Wall Street Journal op-ed article just a few days ago.) “If you and I don’t do this,” Reagan declared, “then you and I may well spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.” What you might not guess from the lofty language is that “this” — the heroic act Reagan was calling on his listeners to perform — was a concerted effort to block the enactment of Medicare.

These days, conservatives make very similar arguments against Obamacare. For example, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has called it the “greatest assault on freedom in our lifetime.” And this kind of rhetoric matters, because when it comes to the main obstacle now remaining to more or less universal health coverage — the reluctance of Republican governors to allow the Medicaid expansion that is a key part of reform — it’s pretty much all the right has.

As I’ve already suggested, the old trick of blaming the needy for their need doesn’t seem to play the way it used to, and especially not on health care: perhaps because the experience of losing insurance is so common, Medicaid enjoys remarkably strong public support. And now that health reform is the law of the land, the economic and fiscal case for individual states to accept Medicaid expansion is overwhelming. That’s why business interests strongly support expansion just about everywhere — even in Texas. But such practical concerns can be set aside if you can successfully argue that insurance is slavery.

Of course, it isn’t. In fact, it’s hard to think of a proposition that has been more thoroughly refuted by history than the notion that social insurance undermines a free society. Almost 70 years have passed since Friedrich Hayek predicted (or at any rate was understood by his admirers to predict) that Britain’s welfare state would put the nation on the slippery slope to Stalinism; 46 years have passed since Medicare went into effect; as far as most of us can tell, freedom hasn’t died on either side of the Atlantic.

In fact, the real, lived experience of Obamacare is likely to be one of significantly increased individual freedom. For all our talk of being the land of liberty, those holding one of the dwindling number of jobs that carry decent health benefits often feel anything but free, knowing that if they leave or lose their job, for whatever reason, they may not be able to regain the coverage they need. Over time, as people come to realize that affordable coverage is now guaranteed, it will have a powerful liberating effect.

But what we still don’t know is how many Americans will be denied that kind of liberation — a denial all the crueler because it will be imposed in the name of freedom.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 7, 2013

April 9, 2013 Posted by | Freedom, Health Care | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Undemocratic Body Becoming Even More Undemocratic”: Gun Debate Highlights Everything Awful About The U.S. Senate

The Washington Post reported yesterday evening that “senators might be on the cusp of a breakthrough” on gun legislation, after weeks of “stalled negotiations” leading to many observers pronouncing gun control doomed. (Though as Dave Weigel points out, the “all gun legislation is in deep trouble” idea arose mostly because Congress hasn’t been in session and hence no work has been done on any legislation.) The savior: Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey, who is now negotiating with Democrat Joe Manchin, after it was determined that Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn was not worth wasting any additional time on. Toomey, you see, needs to win reelection in Pennsylvania, so he is going to be more reasonable than someone who won’t have to work very hard at all to win reelection in Oklahoma.

This is basically the way eminent Washington political elites like to pretend that the Senate is supposed to work, and the way they imagine it worked in the idealized past: A very conservative Democrat (from a tiny state) finding common ground with a Republican colleague. The fact that these careful negotiations are required when there are almost certainly already 51 votes for comprehensive background checks isn’t considered particularly distressing or embarrassing. (Negotiations previously seemed on the verge of collapse because no agreement could be brokered between Chuck Schumer, a senator representing 19.5 million people, and Tom Coburn, a senator representing 3.8 million people.) A supermajority must be courted if the senators representing the will of the regular majority of Americans hope to get their way.

There is a villain in the easy narrative, too: Extremists! Specifically, Rand Paul and a band of conservatives, who have promised to filibuster. Oddly, despite most senators — especially Republican senators — agreeing that filibusters are a Cherished Senate Tradition, this promise has received a bit of criticism.

John McCain said yesterday that he doesn’t understand a threat to filibuster any gun control legislation that comes up for a vote. While many of us don’t understand why John McCain, a senator with no leadership position or major national following, is constantly on Sunday news chat shows, we can perhaps help him to figure out what this filibuster thing is about.

Here’s what McCain said on CBS’ “Face the Nation”:

“I don’t understand it. The purpose of the United States Senate is to debate and to vote and to let the people know where we stand.”

Well. That’s certainly one way of looking at the purpose of the United States Senate, though it’s not a very popular interpretation among senators themselves.

McCain is one of the few senators who can boast of having defeated attempts to kill the filibuster twice, once when he was a member of the 2005 “Gang of 14″ that preserved the filibuster while also allowing for the confirmation of a number of Bush judges, and once at the beginning of this year, when the effectively meaningless “filibuster reform” proposal he crafted with Carl Levin became the apparent blueprint of the “compromise” Harry Reid agreed to in January. The compromise preserved — strengthened, probably — the 60 vote threshold that now subjects all senate business to the approval of the minority party and, often, the whims of the biggest cranks in that party. McCain then joined the filibuster of Caitlin Halligan, whom President Obama had nominated to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Her nomination was withdrawn, and the court remains free of Democratic appointees. Before this, McCain filibustered Obama’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Goodwin Liu. McCain also filibustered Chuck Hagel, a filibuster done primarily to set the precedent that Republicans can filibuster even Defense Secretary nominees, and he filibustered Richard Cordray, Obama’s choice to head an agency Republicans are hoping to filibuster into nonexistence or irrelevance. Those aren’t the showy, talky sorts of filibusters, though, so they do not offend McCain’s sense of decency, like Rand Paul does when he speaks to the chamber instead of quietly voting “no” on cloture motions.

But if the purpose of the senate is to debate and to vote, and filibusters interfere with that purpose, McCain has a bit of explaining to do. (Maybe he will explain next Sunday on one of those awful shows. If someone bothers to ask him about it.)

Still, it is easy to figure out why Rand Paul and Ted Cruz and various nonentities who wish to be associated with Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have preemptively promised to filibuster any gun control legislation: Because people like John McCain have worked quite hard to protect their rights to halt any legislation they please whenever they want for any reason. People like John McCain have done everything they could to make an already undemocratic body even more undemocratic, because doing so helps people like John McCain pretend they are power-brokers and statesmen instead of members of organized political parties representing various interests, elected by people who assume that the party label next to the name is a reliable indicator of how that person will vote once in office.

Senators aren’t the only people committed to the ideal of a Senate full of independent, moderate mavericks. Bad pundits basically eat that shit up. And on the subject of What is Wrong With the Senate, bad pundit Chris Cillizza has written the most inane political column in the history of political columns. It is utterly ahistorical, full of lazy banalities, wholly devoid of insight and it could’ve been written at any point in the last twenty years. If IBM told the development team behind Watson to build an AI capable of writing centrist political analysis columns, that machine would almost certainly write a more interesting and informative column than this one.

This is the dullest imitation Broderism — things used to be better, when grand old moderate men who respected other grand old moderate men ran everything, before the damned liberals and conservatives showed up — I can recall reading in some time. So, the Senate sucks now, because it is more like the House, apparently. (The House of Representatives is America’s more democratic legislative body — though it still grants more power to rural than urban areas — and Beltway elite types hate it because it is loud and full of idiots, like America.)

Things were better before!

The Senate was once regarded as the home of the great political orators of the time — not to mention the body where true dealmaking actually took place. Its members prided themselves on their cool approach to legislating, in contrast with the more brawling nature of the House. Senators, generally, liked one another — no matter their party — and weren’t afraid to show it, either personally or politically.

For years, the Senate was also known as where civil rights and anti-lynching bills go to die, because some of those great political orators devoted their oratory to protecting white supremacy, backed up by violence, at any cost. Many of those racists were much-liked by their fellow senators, of course.

Then we get to the examples, to prove that things are bad now. First, there is now too much “partisanship,” which means party discipline. This happened in part because Republicans became much more disciplined, but also because after the Civil Rights Era conservatives became Republicans and liberals (and moderates) became Democrats, leaving fewer — and then no — random outlier liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats to grant meaningless “bipartisan” approval to liberal and conservative measures.

Second, the filibuster, sort of:

Then, the blockading. As The Post’s Juliet Eilperin noted in a Fix post last week, there are currently 15 judges nominated by President Obama awaiting votes by the full Senate. Thirteen of the 15 — or roughly 87 percent — of those nominees were approved unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee. And even those who get votes often have to wait forever for them. On March 11, for example, the Senate confirmed Richard Taranto for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit by a vote of 91 to 0, 484 days after the president nominated him — and he’s far from the only example of that trend.

Did you notice that Cillizza forgot to say “filibuster” in that paragraph?

Finally, the only point Cillizza actually cares about, “the nastiness.” Cillizza says the problem is that so many senators now come from the House, though he is forced to acknowledge that the nastiest new senators — Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Mike Lee — did not come from the House.

Look, here are a bunch of charts about polarization that Cillizza could’ve checked out before he wrote this column in ten minutes. He might’ve learned some stuff! Like that the moderation of the post-war period was actually a weird anomaly. American politics have been otherwise highly polarized since the early days of the Republic. Cillizza also could’ve read this big Adam Liptak piece in the New York Times about the antidemocratic effect of the Senate’s inherent small-state bias and how the normalization of the filibuster has only made the problem worse. He could’ve checked out this editorial in his own newspaper, by Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein, pointing out that the “polarization” problem is primarily a problem of Republicans getting much, much more conservative.

These are all points that anyone who has been reading blogs and articles by any number of prominent historians and political scientists (and random smart bloggers!) over the last few years is already familiar with. Cillizza, obviously, has not been reading any political scientists or historians. He has maybe never read anything by any political scientists or historians? He has maybe only been watching Chuck Todd on MSNBC?

If gun control ends up failing, I guarantee that people like Cillizza will continue to long for the days of Civility and Moderation, and the role “moderates” play in enabling extremists will likely only be mentioned by left-wing blogger cranks whom no one takes seriously.


By: Alex Pareene, Salon, April 8, 2013

April 9, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Government That Can’t Govern”: What Happens When One Party Is Perfectly Happy To Stay In The Minority

Over the weekend, our friend Jonathan Bernstein wrote an interesting post discussing the point, not uncommon on the left but nonetheless true, that the problem with our politics today isn’t “polarization” or “Washington” but the Republican Party. His argument is basically that the GOP is caught in a series of overlapping vicious cycles that not only make governing impossible for everyone, but become extraordinarily difficult to break out of. As the base grows more extreme, it demands more ideological purity from primary candidates, leading to more ideological officeholders for whom obstruction of governance is an end in itself, marginalizing moderates and leaving no one with clout in the party to argue for a more sensible course, and in each subsequent election those demanding more and more purity become the loudest voices, and on and on. John Hunstman would probably tell you that he would have had a better chance of beating Barack Obama than Mitt Romney (who spent so much time pandering to the right) did, but nobody in the GOP cares what John Huntsman thinks.

There’s one point Bernstein makes that shows just how serious this situation is: “Perhaps the biggest cause is the perverse incentives created by the conservative marketplace. Simply put, a large portion of the party, including the GOP-aligned partisan press and even many politicians, profit from having Democrats in office. Typically, democracies ‘work’ in part because political parties have strong incentives to hold office, which causes them once they win to try hard to enact public policy that keeps people satisfied with their government. That appears to be undermined for today’s Republicans.” It’s often noted that some people on each side benefit when the other side is in power. For instance, magazines like this one. When there’s a Republican in the White House, liberal magazines tend to get more subscribers, as liberals get angry at the President and become more interested in reading about everything he’s doing wrong. The same is true of conservative magazines when there’s a Democratic president. The boosting of certain people’s fortunes when the other side is in power stretches through ideological media to some political figures. For instance, Dennis Kucinich became a national figure not long after September 11 when he started giving speeches criticizing the War on Terror, tapping into the frustration many people on the left felt.

So George W. Bush was very good for Dennis Kucinich, and you’ll notice that once Barack Obama was elected, Kucinich faded from view. But Kucinich never had the ability to push the Democratic party along a particular path. The people on the right who benefit from being out of power, on the other hand, are much more influential within the party. And today, there are many people within the GOP who like the current situation pretty well. It isn’t that they have no governing agenda that they’d implement if given the chance, but just obstructing the Democratic agenda is going quite well for them. Rush Limbaugh and Rand Paul and even Mitch McConnell are perfectly happy with how things are going for them right now. The basic urge to get power runs up against all the incentives now built into the GOP that make getting power more difficult. Officeholders could change their tune a bit and make the Republican party more popular, but they’re not going to do it if it means they’re more likely to get booted in a primary.

So we could find ourselves endlessly trapped in the situation we’re in now. Democrats keep winning presidential elections because the Republican Party is repellent to a majority of Americans. The geographic distribution of the American population nevertheless makes it possible for Republicans to hold on to the House, and at least control enough of the Senate to grind things to a halt by filibustering everything (and Democrats are too frightened to change the filibuster rules). With the exception of the occasional bill here and there that Republicans get intimidated into letting go through, governing pretty much ceases, with the exception of whatever the President can accomplish via regulation and executive agency actions (those agencies that the Republicans don’t manage to hamstring, that is). And there you have it: a government that can’t govern.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April 8, 2013

April 9, 2013 Posted by | Government, Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Gone Rogue”: Americans Hate Congress Because Congress Doesn’t Care About Americans

Is it any wonder that Americans dislike Congress so much? It shouldn’t be a surprise because our representatives in Washington ignore public opinion. Gun control is the perfect example. A clear majority of people favors a ban on assault weapons (57 percent favor and 41 percent oppose, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll). But members of Congress can’t even agree on universal background checks which just about every living and breathing American favors. (91 percent according to ABC News/Washington Post.)

On economic issues, Washington is completely out of sync with public opinion. Seven in ten (or more precisely 71 percent, according to Gallup) Americans favor raising the minimum wage to $9.00 per hour but Republicans won’t even let the increase come to a vote on the House floor. House Republicans won’t even consider raising taxes on rich people even though a majority of Americans favor an increase in the capital gains tax to reduce the deficit (that would be 52 percent in favor and 36 percent opposed, according to survey conducted for CBS News). On the other hand, only one in six (18 percent, again according to CBS News) Americans want to cut Medicare but the president and Congress want to cut the spending for a program which is the only thing that keeps millions of seniors financially afloat.

The debate over the federal budget is just another example of congressional indifference to public opinion. For years, the debate over the federal budget has mainly been about the federal budget deficit to the exclusion of any meaningful discussion about job creation. When President Obama formally introduces his budget for the 2014 fiscal year on Wednesday, it will be business as usual. We’ll have a lot of talk about deficits but little debate about jobs.

Everyone in Washington talks about the deficit but Americans outside our nation’s capital worry about jobs. Not that anyone in Washington cares but the public disagrees with the tone of the budget discussion in D.C. A new Marist College poll shows that Americans want Congress to focus on creating jobs (62 percent of them anyway) more than they want deficit reduction (only 35 percent want that). If that doesn’t work for you, the national Election Day exit poll showed that a lot more voters were worried about jobs (59 percent) than they were the deficit (15 percent).

A focus on jobs instead of the deficit is good politics for Democrats but also good policy. Government programs create jobs and put money into the pockets of middle class families. People with jobs pay taxes and buy things, which in turn creates more jobs, and higher tax revenues. The title of Representative Paul Ryan’s budget “Path to Prosperity” should be the “Path to Austerity” which in turn is the path to poverty. The economy had been creating a lot of jobs for the last few months until the sequester kicked in last month. But spending cuts sucked money out of the economy and the wind out of job growth.

Congress has gone rogue and working families are paying the price.

In his new book, “Who Stole the American Dream?” Hedrick Smith writes that the big business lobby has become so powerful in Washington that it can get Congress to do its bidding. Unions used to counteract the corporate lobby but pro business policies at the state and federal level have weakened labor. In 2010, businesses shelled out $972 million in soft money contributions to party committees compared to $10 million for labor. Business PACs contributed $333 million to only $69 million for labor committees.

Members of Congress can safely ignore public opinion because most of them represent districts where there is little or no competition. And if a member does have a tough race, he or she can always count on big business political action committees to bail them out with large campaign contributions or independent expenditure efforts.

That’s why we are cutting funding for education and moving to limit spending on Social Security and Medicare while Republicans hold spending on oil company companies ($4 billion a year) and tax breaks on corporate jets ($3 billion annually) sacrosanct.

Education is a lot more important to America’s economic future than subsidizing oil barons and corporate jet setters but you would never know it if you follow the economic debate in Washington. The sequester means that 70,000 fewer kids will be able to enter Head Start this fall. That’s 70,000 children who won’t get a much-needed head start in the new world of cutthroat global economic competition.

Let’s talk about basic American values like opportunity and democracy. America should be the land of opportunity but it is getting harder for Americans who grow up in low-income households to reach the middle class than it has ever been before. America should be the bastion of democracy but Congress no longer considers the views of the public it should represent.


By: Brad Bannon, U. S. News and World Report, April 8, 2013

April 9, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Public Opinion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: