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“It’s Time For Republicans To Get Serious”: Spending Cuts In President Obama’s Budget Put Onus On Paul Ryan

When it comes to deficit reduction, President Barack Obama may have correctly taken the measure of Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles and U.S. corporate leaders; that’s a reason why any deficit deal is more remote than ever.

Two and a half years ago, when the president refused to embrace the recommendations of his own deficit-reduction panel, he was criticized by the authors, Bowles, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, and Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming, as well as by business leaders.

The plan proposed a balance of spending reductions and tax increases of about $4 trillion over almost a decade; that would bring the long-term debt to a sustainable level, according to proponents, who said the president was abdicating leadership.

Privately, Obama saw the proposal as a trap. If he embraced it, Republicans would say, “let’s focus on areas where we agree — spending, including entitlement cuts — and return later to raising revenue.” Then, he feared, Simpson, Bowles and those worried executives would provide aid and comfort for that position, handing a devastating defeat to Democrats.

In these recurring budget battles, Obama deserves his share of blame. At the turn of the year, he was unwilling to hang tough for an entitlements-revenue deal as tax increases loomed for all Americans. He blinked and accepted a smaller tax increase on the wealthy. The White House then miscalculated that the mindless across-the-board spending cuts under sequestration were so bad that an alternative would emerge.

Yet, a month ago, Obama took a risk and proposed a budget containing cuts to entitlements cherished by his party. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, and his cohorts were unmoved; they wouldn’t give an inch on new revenue.

Simpson and Bowles gave Obama a pat on the back and largely refrained from criticizing Ryan or House Speaker John Boehner, while corporate leaders ducked.

Moreover, Simpson and Bowles have revised their plan and moved to the right, proposing proportionately more spending cuts and less in new revenue. Obama is playing ball, Ryan isn’t, and the two deficit hawks, and their CEO supporters, are rewarding the guy who is stiffing them.

Simpson and Bowles have been admirably persistent, open to some modifications and correctly insistent on the need to curb long-term health-care costs. A spokesman offered this explanation for their latest move to the right: Republicans now control the House. Sorry, Republicans had just won a huge victory, taking control of the House, and were on a high when Bowles-Simpson was first offered in December 2010.

What’s really going on is that their fervent hope for a deal rests on a naïve assumption that the able Ryan will strike a responsible compromise, even though he has made clear that he won’t.

The Republican position is that taxes went up as part of the deal on the so-called fiscal cliff, and there will be no more increases. In reality, all the tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush were slated to expire anyway, and Republican congressional leaders, their backs against the wall, had to accept some higher levies on the wealthy.

Moreover, that $600 billion, over a decade, is only a little more than half of what Bowles-Simpson proposed. In addition, the new revenue is dwarfed by spending cuts, which have been more than twice as large.

Obama, for all his earlier timidity, showed political guts with his budget last month. He would lower cost-of-living adjustments for most Social Security recipients, means-test Medicare benefits for wealthier senior citizens and enact other reforms to entitlements that would amount to about as much as the deficit commission recommended.

This has infuriated the Democratic base, some of whom, unreasonably, oppose any cuts to Social Security or Medicare. Others warned that, whatever the merits, there was a political risk to a unilateral gesture, which would be rejected by the Republicans and rob the Democrats of a good issue.

So far, that’s proven to be the case.

Other Republican criticisms are equally dubious. The charge that Obama doesn’t deal with long-term health-care spending would be more credible if a stronger alternative were on the table. Obama’s Medicare cutbacks, over 20 years, are larger than Ryan’s. The sequestration cuts, now accepted by many Republicans, as the White House notes, provide no permanent entitlement changes. None.

There’s also sniping that the entitlement changes would be phased in only gradually. Well, that’s the only way to make entitlement changes politically viable. Consider the much-praised 1983 commission led by future Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan that made Social Security more solvent with spending cuts and higher taxes. It takes full effect in 2022, almost 40 years after it was enacted.

Corporate executives say they’re pessimistic about any long-term deficit changes and thus it’s better not to rock the boat. Who’s abdicating now?

Senate Democrats, after legitimate criticism for failing to pass a budget for years, did so this year. Now, it’s Ryan and the House Republicans who refuse to go to a conference to try to reconcile differences.

In Washington, there’s a propensity to find bipartisan fault in most conflicts. Often, that is on the mark.

Now, however, if Simpson and Bowles and the CEOs who warned about the dire need to get America’s fiscal house in order are serious, they have a clear target: Paul Ryan.

 

By: Albert R. Hunt, The National Memo, May 16, 2013

May 19, 2013 Posted by | Budget, Deficits | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Republican Wrongdoing’s”: There Were Meaningful Benghazi Lies After All

Whether or not an issue is a “scandal” tends to be a subjective question — one voter’s world-changing controversy may be another voter’s meaningless distraction. Indeed, the Beltway has spent a week telling the nation that the White House is engulfed in three ongoing scandals, though many of us suspect this analysis is deeply flawed.

But if we’re going to talk about real political scandals, can we at least have a conversation about Republicans lying to reporters about Benghazi?

For those who can’t watch clips online, CBS’s Major Garrett told viewers last night something news consumers don’t usually see or hear: House Republicans gave journalists bogus information, apparently on purpose, in the hopes of advancing the right’s version of the Benghazi story.

As Josh Marshall explained, “Generally, once partisan, tendentious sources leak information that turns out to be wrong, nothing’s ever done about it. That’s for many reasons, some good or somewhat understandable, mostly bad. But on CBS Evening News tonight, Major Garrett did something I don’t feel like I’ve seen in a really long time or maybe ever on a network news cast. He basically said straight out: Republicans told us these were the quotes; that wasn’t true.”

Given what we now know, congressional Republicans saw all of these materials in March, couldn’t find anything controversial, and moved on. But last week, desperate to manufacture a scandal, unnamed Republicans on Capitol Hill started giving “quotes” from the materials to reporters, making it seem as if the White House made politically motivated edits of Benghazi talking points.

As Major Garrett reported last night, the “quotes” Republicans passed along to the media were bogus. The GOP seems to have made them up. ABC’s Jonathan Karl didn’t know that, and presented them as fact, touching off a media firestorm.

Why would Republicans do this, knowing that there was evidence that would prove them wrong?

Probably because Republicans assumed the White House wouldn’t disclose all of the internal deliberations that went into writing the Benghazi talking points. When the White House did the opposite on Wednesday, giving news organizations everything, the GOP had been caught in its lie.

And yesterday, Major Garrett was willing to say so.

Maybe this was just an innocent mistake, rather than a deliberate attempt at deception? Nope: “On Monday, Mother Jones noted that the Republicans’ interim report included the correct version of the emails, signaling that more malice and less incompetence may have been at play with the alleged alterations.”

So, it appears there’s a Benghazi scandal after all. It’s not the wrongdoing Republicans alleged; it’s the wrongdoing Republicans committed.

The question for Darrell Issa is pretty straightforward: when does the investigation begin as to which Republicans lied to journalists and when?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 17, 2013

May 19, 2013 Posted by | Benghazi, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Worsening Jobs Crisis”: America’s Middle Class Is Burning To The Ground, While Washington Fiddles With Scandal Nonsense

At last, some excellent economic news for folks long-mired in the stagnant labor market!

At least, those were the headlines recently trumpeted across the country. “Jobs Spring Back,” exclaimed a typical headline or report that companies added a better than expected 165,000 private-sector jobs in April. Wow — the thunderous, three-year boom of prosperity that has rained riches on Wall Street is finally beginning to shower on our streets, right?

Well, as dry-land farmers can tell you, thunder ain’t rain. Read beneath the joyful headlines hailing April’s uptick in job numbers, and you’ll see the parched truth.

For example, more than a third of working-age Americans are either out of work or have given up on finding a job. Also, last month’s hiring increase was almost entirely for receptionists, waiters, clerks, temp workers, car-rental agents and other low-wage positions with no benefits or upwardly mobile possibilities. On the other hand, manufacturing — generally the source of good, middle-class jobs — did not add workers in April and has cut some 10,000 jobs in the last year.

Especially problematic was the continued rise in underemployment — people wanting full-time work, but having to take part-time and temporary jobs. Underemployment is also pounding college graduates. While they’ve been more successful than non-grads at landing jobs, they’re not getting jobs that fit their career goals or even require the degrees they spent money and time to obtain. Indeed, many of those rental agents and restaurant employees you encounter hold four-year degrees, forcing everyone else to scramble for the few, even lower-paid jobs further down the skill ladder.

Meanwhile, the next graduating class is already beginning to flood into the labor market from colleges and high schools with nowhere to go.

In May, another headline shouted: “Stock Market Soars.” It expressed delight that the Dow Jones Average topped 15,000 for the first time in its history.

Yet this index of Wall Street wealth gives a totally false picture of our nation’s true economic health. Yes, the privileged few are doing extremely well. But the workaday many are struggling — and falling further and further behind as the jobs market sinks steadily from mere recession down into depression.

The monthly unemployment reports don’t tell the depths of misery that’s out here in the real world, beyond the view of Wall Street and Washington elites. For example, President Obama hailed the news that unemployment dipped to 7.5 percent in April. Unstated, though, was the stark reality that this good-news dip was not due to a jump in job offerings, but to a bad-news labor market so weak and discouraging that more and more Americans are dropping out of it or never entering it.

More than a third of our working-age population is no longer even in the job market, and only 58.6 percent of us are employed. Put the opposite way, 41 percent of the potential workforce is not working — about 102 million people. One more statistic, and it’s a chiller: More than one out of five American families report that, last year, not a single family member had a job.

Our people are trapped in a jobs crisis that is sucking the economic vitality out of our nation, but our leaders refuse even to acknowledge it, much less cope with it. In fact, corporate chieftains are deliberately exacerbating the crisis by hoarding trillions of dollars that ought to be rushed into job-creating expansions, and politicians keep adding to the casualties by gleefully eliminating the middle-class jobs of hundreds of thousands of teachers, firefighters, police and other valuable public employees.

America’s middle class is burning to the ground, while Washington fiddles with nonsense and Wall Street feathers its own nest. It’s disgraceful.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, May 15, 2013

May 19, 2013 Posted by | Jobs, Middle Class | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The IRS And The Real Scandal”: Enabling America’s Financial Elite To Further Entrench Their Wealth And Power

“This systematic abuse cannot be fixed with just one resignation, or two,” said David Camp, the Republican chairman of the House tax-writing committee, at an oversight hearing Friday morning dealing with the IRS. “This is not a personnel problem. This is a problem of the IRS being too large, too intrusive, too abusive.”

David Camp has it wrong. There has been a “systematic” abuse of power, but it’s not what Camp has in mind. The real scandal is that:

The IRS has interpreted our tax laws to allow big corporations and wealthy individuals to make unlimited secret campaign donations through sham political fronts called “social welfare organizations,” like Karl Rove’s “Crossroads,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and “Priorites USA.”

This campaign money has been used to bribe Congress to keep in place tax loopholes like the “carried interest” rule that allows the managers of hedge funds and private equity funds to treat their income as capital gains, subject only to low capital gains taxes rather than ordinary income taxes, and other loopholes that allow CEOs to get special tax treatment on giant compensation packages that now average $10 million a year.

Despite a growing number of billionaires and multi-millionaires using every tax dodge imaginable – laundering their money through phantom corporations and tax havens — the IRS’s budget has been cut by 17 percent since 2002, adjusted for inflation. To manage the $594.5 million in additional cuts required by the sequester, the agency will furlough each of its more than 89,000 employees for at least five days this year.

Finally, all of this, coming at a time when the Supreme Court has deemed corporations “people” under the First Amendment and when income and wealth are more concentrated at the top than they’ve been in over a hundred years, has enabled America’s financial elite to further entrench their wealth and power and thereby take over much of American democracy.

This is the real scandal and the real abuse, Congressman Camp. Your indignation over the IRS’s alleged “targeting” of conservative groups is a distraction from the main event.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, May 17, 2013

May 19, 2013 Posted by | Corporations, Internal Revenue Service | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why Scandal Politics Don’t Work”: Perhaps Republicans Should Focus On A More Effective Use Of Their Time

A president’s critics can’t help themselves when the whiff of scandal is in the air. Yet more often than not, the obsessive pursuit of scandal fails to lift the political prospects of the opposition party.

Republicans might want to pause and ask themselves: Is flogging Benghazi, the IRS, and the Associated Press really the best way to get the majority back?

Every party on the outside of the White House envisions replicating Watergate — forcing a president out of office and riding the aftermath to an Election Day triumph. But the post-Watergate scandal-mongering record falls far short of that holy political grail.

The Iran-Contra affair may be a blot on the Reagan record, but it didn’t propel Democratic Gov. Michael Dukakis into the White House. During his convention speech, he tried to tar then-Vice-President George H. W. Bush for “sit[ting] silently by when somebody at the National Security Council comes up with the cockamamie idea that we should trade arms to the Ayatollah for hostages.” A few days later, Dukakis also tried to make hay with a less-remembered scandal involving fraudulent procurement in the Pentagon. “A fish rots from the head first,” said Dukakis, in some of his harshest words of the campaign. His emphasis on ethics were soon drowned out with a barrage of attacks regarding his views on national security and crime.

Ten years later, with Bill Clinton in the Oval Office, Republicans took scandal-mongering to new heights. Charging the president with perjury and obstruction of justice to cover up his extramarital affair, the House Judiciary Committee advanced articles of impeachment one month before the 1998 congressional midterm elections. The opposition party historically gains seats at the “six-year itch” point of a president’s tenure. But the backlash from the impeachment obsession allowed Democrats to pick up five House seats. Speaker Newt Gingrich was compelled to quit Congress. House Republicans barreled ahead and formally impeached Clinton anyway. Clinton’s approval rating then spiked above 70 percent.

During George W. Bush’s first term, Democrats sought to drive outrage surrounding the Abu Gharib torture scandal and, to a lesser extent, the outing of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame. Michael Moore sought to spark a scandal with his documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, which characterized Bush’s foreign policy and energy policy as flowing from a scandalous relationship with Saudi Arabia. John Kerry’s acceptance speech, delivered one month after the movie was released, called for “an America that relies on its ingenuity and innovation, not the Saudi royal family.” A well-financed independent group, The Media Fund, aired a series of ads criticizing Bush’s Saudi ties. Bush ended up winning the popular vote (unlike 2000).

As for President Obama — the conservative cries of “Solyndra” and “Fast and Furious” failed to interrupt his march to a second term.

Why do scandal politics usually fail? Of course, some scandals fizzle out because the charges lack merit or import. But as you see above, even more significant scandals can lack political punch. Perhaps that is because by attempting to quickly topple the president and short-cut a path the White House, the attackers end up distracting themselves from their own primary mission: discrediting the president’s ideology and substantive agenda in the eyes of the public, and elevating their own.

A more plausible objective, short of impeachment or electoral gains, would be to consume a White House with scandal management and distract the administration from executing the president’s agenda. But for today’s Republicans, that objective doesn’t make much sense. Obama’s main legislative goal this year is shared by leading Republicans: immigration reform.

In fact, pro-immigration Republicans may be stoking the fires about Benghazi, the IRS and the AP not to distract the president, but to distract fellow conservatives who otherwise would rally the Tea Party base to pressure Congress and undermine the bipartisan Senate bill. As the Daily Caller’s Mickey Kaus told BuzzFeed: “I think these distracting scandals actually help its chances of passing. Every time [the bill] is at center stage, its chances of passing go down.”

And note that some of Obama’s chief antagonists on Benghazi — Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham — are also Obama’s key shepherds of immigration reform.

For those conservatives more deeply opposed to President Obama’s agenda, they should ask themselves: Do we really think any of these “scandals” seriously threaten President Obama’s hold on the Oval Office? And if they don’t, might there be a better use of our time?

 

By: Bill Scher, The Week, May 16, 2013

May 19, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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