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“Republicans Are Out Of Excuses”: President Obama’s Budget And The Put-Up-Or-Shut-Up Challenge

As promised, President Obama sent Congress his budget for the 2014 fiscal year this morning, and there’s just enough in it to make everyone unhappy from a variety of directions.

Republicans won’t like everything about this plan that makes it progressive: it expands Medicaid, undoes sequestration cuts while ignoring Paul Ryan’s demands to slash public investments, pursues a universal-preschool initiative though new tobacco taxes, expands the Earned Income Tax Credit, invests another $50 billion in job-creating infrastructure, gives a big boost to federal R&D, and takes away breaks for Big Oil.

Democrats won’t like everything about this plan that makes it conservative: it includes additional Medicare reforms, it adopts chained-CPI to lower Social Security benefits, and it focuses more on the spending side of the ledger than the revenue side. On a fundamental level, Obama’s budget starts in the middle, rather than the left, making negotiations that much more difficult.

But whichever side you fall on, there’s an underlying strategy here. Ezra Klein’s summary sounds right to me:

Today’s budget is the White House’s effort to reach the bedrock of the fiscal debate. Half of its purpose is showing what they’re willing to do. They want a budget compromise, and this budget proves it. There are now liberals protesting on the White House lawn. But the other half is revealing what the GOP is — or, more to the point, isn’t — willing to do. Republicans don’t want a budget compromise, and this budget is likely to prove that, too.

As the White House sees it, there are two possible outcomes to this budget. One is that it actually leads to a grand bargain, either now or in a couple of months. Another is that it proves to the press and the public that Republican intransigence is what’s standing in the way of a grand bargain.

So, which of these two outcomes is more likely?

I think the smart money is on the latter. The president has called every GOP bluff and put his cards on the table — Republicans said Obama wouldn’t have the guts to go after entitlements and isn’t tough enough to risk the ire of his base. And now we know these assumptions were wrong — the president has presented a White House budget that includes the very entitlement “reforms” GOP leaders asked for, and liberals are furious.

It is, in other words, “put up or shut up” time. Republicans, out of excuses, can either meet Obama half-way or they’ll be exposed as craven. And if the last several years are any indication, GOP lawmakers will chose the latter without a moment’s thought.

Indeed, as Greg Sargent noted, congressional Republican leaders have already spent the afternoon arguing that Obama should simply give the GOP what it wants, and abandon the Democratic priorities, reinforcing the perception that Republicans still do not yet understand the difference between an offer and a gift.

In fact, I should mention that I received an email the other day from a long-time reader asking why I don’t seem more worked up about chained-CPI. The reader asked whether I support it (I don’t) and whether I’ve been relatively quiet about it out of some ideological or partisan predisposition.

I’ll tell you what I told him: I’m not worked up about it because I don’t see the scenario in which Republicans get chained-CPI by giving Obama hundreds of billions of new revenue. It’s easy to remain detached about a bad idea that seems highly unlikely to go anywhere. As Kevin Drum added today, “I don’t doubt that Obama’s offer is sincere, but it doesn’t matter. Republicans aren’t going to take it. Obama will get his proof that Republicans simply aren’t willing to negotiate seriously, and who knows? Maybe it will do him some good. But that’s all he’ll get.”

For me, the more interesting question is how the political world will process these developments when they occur. The Beltway said Obama needed to reach out to Republicans, so he reached out to Republicans. The Beltway said Obama needed to schmooze Republicans in a more personal way, so he did that, too. The Beltway said Obama needed to be willing to alienate his own supporters, and the president’s base has been duly outraged. The Beltway said Obama needed to put Medicare and Social Security on the table, and they’re on the table.

Will pundits who continue to blame “both sides” for partisan gridlock look ridiculous in the coming months? I sure as hell hope so.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 10, 2013

April 11, 2013 Posted by | Budget | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Cheney And Deep Doo Doo”: It Was Dick Cheney That Let North Korea Get Nuclear Weapons In The First Place

Guess who’s offering congressional Republicans guidance on foreign policy?

Former Vice President Dick Cheney discussed tensions on the Korean peninsula with Republican leaders in Congress in a closed-door meeting Tuesday, warning them that the United States was in danger.

“We’re in deep doo doo,” Cheney told lawmakers, according to CNN, which first reported the talk.

Rep. Steve Southerland (Fla.) who attended the 10-minute meeting with GOP leaders said Cheney called North Korean leader Kim Jong Un unpredictable and, citing his own experience dealing with former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, said “you never know what they’re thinking.”

How reassuring. Cheney thinks he’s qualified to speak about U.S. policy towards North Korea because of his “experience” with Saddam Hussein — as if Cheney’s role in shaping U.S. policy in Iraq has value and applicability now.

Incidentally, why, pray tell, was Cheney helping lead a closed-door with congressional Republicans? Because Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the #3 person in the House GOP leadership, invited the former vice president to speak.

I mention this because it’s not as if Cheney cornered these guys and Republican lawmakers were forced into listening to the failed former V.P. They wanted to hear from him and thought they’d benefit from his guidance.

Indeed, they seemed delighted to have been offered words of wisdom from Cheney. That his entire foreign policy worldview has been thoroughly discredited, his credibility on foreign policy and national security has been exposed as a pathetic joke, and the damage he’s done to the United States will take generations to heal, apparently didn’t dissuade House Republicans from taking the guy seriously.

But before we move on, let’s pause briefly to reflect on how it is we ended up in “deep doo doo.” After all, it was Dick Cheney that let North Korea get nuclear weapons in the first place.

As we discussed last week, the Clinton administration negotiated an Agreed Framework with North Korea in 1994, which was successful in “bottling up North Korea’s nuclear program for eight years,” and which eased the crisis on the peninsula. In March 2001, Colin Powell said Bush/Cheney would pick up where Clinton/Gore had left off.

The Bush/Cheney White House then immediately rebuked Powell, forced him to walk back his position, and rejected the Agreed Framework. Kim Jong-il hoped for a new round of negotiations, but the Republican administration refused. As Cheney himself put it, “We don’t negotiate with evil — we defeat it.” The Republican president instead added North Korea to an “axis of evil.”

By 2002, North Korea unlocked its fuel rods, kicked out international weapons inspectors, and became more aggressive in pursuing a nuclear weapons program. In response, “Bush didn’t take military action, he didn’t call for sanctions, nor did he try diplomacy” — instead focusing his energies on selling the United States on the need for a disastrous war in Iraq.

Indeed, Bush and Cheney argued at the time that the U.S. had to hurry up and invade Iraq before it could acquire nuclear weapons, effectively telling North Korea that the way to avoid an invasion was to advance its nuclear program as quickly as possible — which it did.

As a result, North Korea became a nuclear state on Bush/Cheney’s watch, and paid no price for its actions. The world is left with an isolated dictatorship, craving attention, and playing with the most dangerous weapons the world has ever known.

Thanks, Dick, for the fascinating insights on “doo doo.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 10, 2013

April 11, 2013 Posted by | Foreign Policy, National Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Corruption Is Complete”: Where’s The Cop On The Wall Street Beat?

Bankers gone wild! Let’s tally some of their crimes:

JPMorgan Chase engaged in massive, systematic fraud to foreclose without cause or due process on innocent homeowners, tossing thousands of families into the streets.

Goldman Sachs profited by marketing an investment package that was designed to fail, collecting fat fees on each sale to unsuspecting investors who lost millions, while the bank also collected millions more from a side bet it made that, sure enough, its package would be a loser.

For years, HSBC has been butt-deep in a swamp of despicable, illegal money-laundering schemes, willingly processing billions of dirty dollars for vicious drug cartels and peddlers of arms to terrorist forces at war with America.

Many more examples abound. These are not poor saps desperately robbing a bank branch for a few hundred dollars, but criminal enterprises run by multimillionaire Wall Streeters who run in the finest social circles, are celebrated by the media and hobnob with the nation’s political elite.

Their corruption is complete; their crimes are documented. Yet, unlike sad-sack bank robbers, none of these Robbing Bankers have even been prosecuted, much less jailed. In fact, as revealed on PBS’s Frontline program earlier this year, frustrated prosecutors who served in the Justice Department’s criminal division two years ago report that “when it came to Wall Street, there were no investigations going on. There were no subpoenas, no document reviews, no wiretaps.”

Why is that? Where are the cops on the Wall Street beat?

Up in the suites, coddling the culprits, whom they know on a first-name basis. That’s because Attorney General Eric Holder and the chief of his criminal division, Lanny Breuer, have previously enjoyed lucrative careers as lawyers defending the very barons they’re now supposed to be prosecuting. Holder and Breuer both hail from the same Washington law firm, Covington & Burling, that specializes in representing corporate clients with legal issues at the Justice Department.

The moral here is clear: When engaged in high crimes, it literally pays to have friends in the highest places.

To transport them there, a secret cosmic door connects the parallel universes of Washington and Wall Street. It’s not the proverbial revolving door, but a wide-open passageway for easy flow back and forth — reserved for those in the know.

Lanny Breuer is one definitely in the know, passing with impunity from the job of defending Wall Street wrongdoers in cases before the Justice Department to being the department’s chief prosecutor of Wall Street wrongdoing.

Four years ago, he left Covington & Burling, where he represented Wall Street clients, to head the criminal division of Justice. Dismissing criticism that his long service to Wall Street banksters created an inherent conflict of interest with his new duty to the public, Breuer insisted that he’d be a better prosecutor “because of my deep experience in the private sector.”

That claim would’ve proven more convincing had he brought even a single case against the Wall Street executives who’ve been publicly exposed as self-enriching perpetrators of widespread fraud and other destructive financial crimes. But, no, not one.

Why? Call me cynical, but perhaps because he was using his four years at Justice to pad his résumé and enhance his value to Wall Street. Protecting bankers from prosecution could be a good career move.

No surprise, then, that Breuer headed back through that cosmic door, rejoining Covington in a specially created position to expand its role in defending corporate clients charged with foreign bribery, money laundering, securities fraud and such. “I’m a zealous advocate,” said the guy who studiously refrained from being a zealous prosecutor. “I look forward to being a zealous advocate for our clients again,” he added.

Sheesh, couldn’t he at least pretend to have some ethics? Instead, Lanny was relieved to be back on Wall Street’s side: “It’s my professional home,” he confessed.” Oh, did I mention that his starting salary at Covington will be $4 million a year?

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, April 10, 2013

April 11, 2013 Posted by | Big Banks, Wall Street | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Patently Clear”: It’s Easy To Understand, Background Checks Save Lives

On October 21, 2012, Radcliffe Haughton killed three women, including his wife, Zina Haughton, and wounded four others at a Wisconsin day spa before turning his gun on himself. He purchased the handgun used in the shooting without a background check from a private seller he met through the website Armslist.com.

Two days earlier, Houghton had become the subject of a domestic violence restraining order that prohibited him from purchasing or possessing firearms. With the restraining order in place, he could not have purchased the weapon from a licensed dealer. Such dealers are required by law to conduct background checks on gun buyers.

It is patently clear that background checks save lives. Background checks conducted by federally licensed firearms dealers (FFLs) have prevented more than two million prohibited purchasers—convicted felons, wife beaters, and other dangerous individuals—from buying guns. Additionally, studies show that in the 14 states that currently require background checks for handgun sales, there are 49 percent fewer gun suicides, 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by an intimate partner and the firearms trafficking rate is 48 percent lower.

That’s why more than 90 percent of Americans—and 74 percent of NRA members—support universal background checks.

Faced with the reality of that polling data, the NRA has concocted a boogeyman about universal background checks leading to a national registry of gun buyers and then forcible confiscation of privately-held firearms.

The problem is this claim is hogwash. New York Senator Chuck Schumer’s Fix Gun Checks Act of 2013 would utilize a record-keeping system that’s already been in place for 45 years (without any harm to gun buyers). Private sellers would conduct background checks through FFLs, who would then maintain paper records of these sales.

The federal government completely purges the information it receives from the dealer to run the background check after just 24 hours and the United States Code expressly prohibits the federal government from maintaining a national registry of gun owners. Moreover, the Supreme Court recently affirmed that there is a constitutional right to have a firearm in the home.

The NRA’s conspiracy theory about “confiscation” deserves to be put in the same category as FEMA camps and black helicopters: Pure unadulterated fantasy. In the wake of the horrific tragedy at Newtown, Americans deserve a real debate on universal background checks, and an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.

 

By: Joshua Horwitz, Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, U. S. News and World Report, April 10, 2013

April 11, 2013 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Control | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Corporate Tax Subsidies Are Out of Control”: Want Jobs Back, Axe Business Tax Subsidies

It’s no secret that state and local government employment has nosedived during the current economic crisis. According to the St. Louis Fed, total local government employment has declined from 14,481,000 when the recession began in December 2007 to 14,033,000 in March. State government employment has fallen from 5,139,000 to 5,050,000 over the same period, for a total loss of 537,000 state and local government jobs.

This starkly illustrates the opportunity cost of out-of-control use of subsidies to business at the state and local level. In my academic work, I estimated these to be $48.8 billion a year in 1996, of which $26.4 billion was for investment attraction, and almost $70 billion in 2005, of which $46.8 billion was aimed specifically at investment attraction.

Many critics of investment incentives, such as Alan Peters and Peter Fisher, argue that the money would generally be better spent on education and infrastructure, policies that benefit businesses generally as well as the entire population. My cost estimates show just how true this is.

Total business subsidies could be used to hire 1.4 million government workers at $50,000 per year in salary and benefits. Instead, what we have seen in state after state is that there have been sharp cuts to these very areas, even extending to such economic development crown jewels as the state university systems in California and North Carolina, among others.

This is doubly short-sighted: It weakens the very factors that make a state or locality attractive to investment in the first place, and the state/local economic development subsidies largely cancel each other out with little net effect on the overall location of investment in the country. From the point of view of the country as a whole, then, most of these subsidies are a waste of money. But changing the way the economic development game is played will require tremendous effort at the local, state, and federal government level.

 

By: Kenneth Thomas, U. S. News and World Report, April 10, 2013

April 11, 2013 Posted by | Corporations, Public Employees | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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