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“At War With Reality”: The Grand Old Party Needs A Reboot

The political party of Abraham Lincoln is in trouble, threatened with irrelevance, even extinction. Its weaknesses are legion.

Its congressional leaders are quite unpopular, polls show. So are the party’s positions. Its beliefs — animosity to same-sex marriage, hostility toward saner gun laws, rejection of higher taxes for the wealthy, suspicion of popular entitlement programs — are not shared by the majority of Americans.

It is bereft of ideas, committed to formulas that don’t work (cut taxes, no matter the economic conditions) and to a rejection of reasoned analysis (climate change is a hoax). It has alienated the nation’s voters of color, who represent growing blocs of influence.

As if those deficiencies were not enough, the party is falling into a civil war, its internal feuds increasingly loud and obstreperous. The only thing that still unites all parts of the Republican Party is an irrational hatred of President Barack Obama.

That’s not good for the country. To meet the challenges of the 21st century, the United States needs at least two competitive political parties dedicated to solving problems. Their solutions will differ, of course, but each should offer them. At the moment, the Republicans have no solutions — to anything.

It wasn’t so long ago, a couple of decades back, that the GOP prided itself on being the party of ideas. Its wealthy funders had created a network of research institutions to funnel their policies into Congress and state legislatures. There’s little doubt that those wealthy donors were looking to protect their own interests by emphasizing low taxes and less government regulation.

But it’s also true that GOP thinkers came up with some good ideas. The Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act, widely known as Obamacare, was one of them. The earned income tax credit, which reduces the federal income tax burden of lower-earning families to zero or less, was also born of conservative thinking. Unfortunately, the current GOP has either renounced or distanced itself from both of those programs.

Some of the party’s more practical members have begun to plead with their fellow partisans to change course. Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, has openly fretted about the GOP’s future. Maine senator Susan Collins has expressed frustration with her party.

And last week Bob Dole, well-respected former senator and onetime presidential nominee, gave GOP leaders a bit of advice: “I think they ought to put a sign on the national committee doors that says ‘closed for repairs’ until New Year’s Day next year and spend that time going over ideas and positive agendas.”

Here’s hoping Republican strategists do as Dole suggested — figuratively, anyway. The GOP needs to reinvent itself as a party dedicated to policies that offer solutions to current problems. That’s what Democratic leaders did back in the mid-1980s, when they finally came to terms with their growing obsolescence.

The Democratic Party was in a similar slough then. It was riven with competing factions, saddled with unpopular positions and tainted by the perception that it coddled criminals and deadbeats. It was only when the Democratic Leadership Council assiduously reinvented the party, with Bill Clinton as its standard-bearer, that it emerged from the political wilderness. And it emerged with ideas, such as a new fiscal responsibility, that gave it gravitas.

At the moment, Republicans are still at war with ideas — at least those that grow from a rational grasp of facts. There is no way, for example, to cut the deficit without raising taxes, but GOP congressional leaders insist on a voodoo math that defies that. They are obsessed with their belief that Obama has “covered up” his responsibility in the deaths of four Americans at a diplomatic post in Benghazi, though countless hearings have found no evidence of any such cover-up. They insist that Obamacare will kill jobs, though they present no evidence.

In a larger sense, the GOP is at war with reality — a reality of fewer white voters, myriad family structures and challenges that demand scientific solutions. Until it makes peace with reality, it cannot recreate itself as a winning party.


By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, June 1, 2013

June 1, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Trouble In 2014”: All Signs Point To A Difficult Fight For Mitch McConnell In The Coming Election Year

According to a new Public Policy Polling poll released Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will face a very difficult re-election battle in 2014.

The poll finds that McConnell and Kentucky’s Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes, would be tied at 45 percent in a hypothetical 2014 Senate race. Grimes has not yet said whether or not she plans to enter the race.

The PPP poll, which was conducted on behalf of Senate Majority PAC, suggests that McConnell’s greatest opponent may be himself. Kentucky’s senior senator holds a mere 44 percent approval rating in his home state, with 47 percent disapproval. While Grimes’ favorability is just 34 percent, 42 percent of Kentuckians are still unsure of their opinion of her.

McConnell’s standing has been deteriorating over time; two previous PPP polls had McConnell leading Grimes by margins of 7 points in December and 4 points in April.

McConnell supporters immediately lashed out against the survey. National Republican Senatorial Committee strategist Brad Dayspring, for example, argued via Twitter that questions such as “Mitch McConnell has voted to cut taxes for millionaires like himself, while supporting cuts to Social Security and Medicare for hard-working Kentucky seniors. Does this make you more or less likely to vote for him, or does it not make a difference?” are indicative of a push poll. Notably, PPP does have an extremely accurate record.

McConnell’s campaign has long prepared itself to run against Grimes. In April, a secretly recorded tape obtained by Mother Jones exposed McConnell and his aides discussing ways to discredit Grimes, along with actress and activist Ashley Judd, who was considered a likely challenger at the time. On the tape, Team McConnell considered hitting Grimes for ”blatantly endorsing the 2008 Democratic national platform” and suggesting that she “definitely has a very sort of self-centered, sort of egotistical aspect,” due to her tendency to refer to herself in the third person.

The SuperPAC Kentuckians for Strong Leadership has also attacked Grimes, in a series of online ads. The ads equate her to Democratic leaders such as President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), saying “When Grimes promises ‘new leadership,’ it means she doesn’t agree that Kentuckians like McConnell should stand strong against: Obamacare, Higher Taxes, Wasteful Stimulus, Cap and Trade, EPA’s War on Coal, and Gun Control.”

Even if Republicans like Dayspring dismiss the poll’s results, all signs point to a difficult fight for McConnell in the coming election year. The combination of McConnell’s deadlock with Grimes — despite her low name recognition — and his even lower approval rating make it clear that Democrats will have a strong opportunity to take down their number-one political target in 2014.


By: Allison Brito, The National Memo, May 28, 2013

June 1, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Privatizing Education: The GOP Sees School Vouchers As A Political Panacea

A few months ago, following a lengthy “autopsy,” the Republican National Committee unveiled a lengthy blueprint for the party’s recovery, and though there wasn’t much in the way of policy prescriptions, there was one issue the document mentioned three times: “school choice.”

“School choice,” a poll-test euphemism for private school vouchers, is generally characterized by GOP leaders as a way for Republicans to reach out to minority communities, position themselves as caring about domestic policy, and weaken labor unions, all at the same time. According to the Washington Times, the party is apparently taking the idea quite seriously.

A Republican Party still reeling from the November elections is hoping that advocating for school choice can help the GOP recapture moderate voters, arguing that the issue provides a natural link between their limited-government philosophy and the average voter’s desire for good local schools.

Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican speaking to grass-roots activists in Concord last week, said the party can bolster its national image by making school choice — giving parents the ability and the funds to choose between competing public and private schools for their children — a more prominent part of its message.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal hit a similar note two weeks earlier, saying at a fundraiser in Manchester that the issue is a political winner because it saves money and produces better results.

The policy is also being touted by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), among others.

I can appreciate the appeal among Republican policymakers, who generally don’t have much of a policy agenda to speak of. By pushing vouchers, GOP officials and candidates get to pander to social conservatives and satisfy the party’s libertarian wing, all while infuriating teachers’ unions. That the idea ostensibly gives Republicans a “compassionate conservative” veneer is gravy.

So why haven’t we heard more about this lately? Largely because vouchers aren’t the political panacea the GOP has been waiting for.

For one thing, there are serious constitutional concerns, as Jindal was recently reminded when his state Supreme Court scrapped his in-state voucher scheme.

Indeed, as we discussed last year, all problems that have plagued vouchers for years haven’t gone away — if you’re familiar with the larger debate, you’ll recall serious concerns over public funding of religion; leaving behind students in sub-par schools; and giving tax dollars to unaccountable private operations, many of which have little to no standards for quality education.

What’s more, there’s very little evidence that vouchers actually help students in any measurable way, despite many years of research.

And while we’re at it, let’s also note that Republicans are convinced this is a political winner for them, but there’s no evidence to support that, either — vouchers have polled poorly for many years; they’ve failed repeatedly when put on statewide ballots; and though Mitt Romney endorsed vouchers last year, he was generally afraid to talk about his position, probably because he didn’t want to deal with the political opposition.

The fact remains that conservatives have talked about vouchers and privatizing education for several decades now, and it’s never been a political winner for the right. There’s no reason to believe this new push will be any more successful than the previous ones.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 30, 2013

June 1, 2013 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Chuck Grassley’s Pretext”: Why The GOP Is So Obsessed With Three Little Judges

It’s beginning to feel a bit like 1937 in Washington this week as the White House and Senate Republicans hurl allegations of “court-packing” up and down Pennsylvania Avenue at one another. The what — Republican obstruction of Obama’s nominees to fill three vacant seats on the powerful D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals — has been widely and well covered elsewhere. What bears further explanation is the why. It goes without saying that the GOP has an interest in blocking Obama’s nominees in general; the fewer judges the president appoints, the less liberal the courts overall. But why do they care so much about these three particular nominees — who haven’t even been named yet — that they’re willing to risk triggering a “nuclear war” on filibuster reform while also trying to change the basic makeup of the court.

First, there’s the numbers. Right now, Republican appointees have an effective 9-5 majority on the D.C. Court. There are only 11 “active” seats, but another six judges serve as a sort of auxiliary corps in a semi-retirement status where they participate in cases as needed. With three vacancies on the active bench, these “senior” judges are needed often. Of all the judges, three were appointed by George W. Bush, two by George H.W. Bush, and four by Ronald Reagan, compared to just three by Bill Clinton, and one by Jimmy Carter. Until last week, when the Senate finally confirmed Sri Srinivasan, Obama had made zero successful appointments in over four years, despite the vacancies, thanks to GOP obstruction.

“That’s what this is about. It’s that the court is already packed in favor of Republican judges,” Judith Schaeffer, the vice president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, told Salon.

Second, the stakes couldn’t be higher. With near-exclusive purview over federal government action, the D.C. Circuit will be a critical battleground in legal challenges against everything from the Affordable Care Act to new EPA regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions, not to mention labor policy, gun safety regulations, Wall Street reform, national security issues, campaign finance, voting rights, and much more. With Congress deadlocked, executive action has become an increasingly important tool for the Obama White House, and the D.C. Circuit is where people trying to stop those reforms will mount their fights. Already, the Republican majority on the court has rolled back a major EPA air pollution rule, curbed Obama’s recess appointment powers and hamstrung the National Labor Relations Board.

Outside of the House of Representatives, the court is one of  the most important roadblocks to Obama’s agenda. Obviously, Republicans would like to keep it that way.

But now, the White House is reportedly planning to push through three nominations simultaneously in an effort to overcome GOP filibusters. Republicans have filibustered plenty of nominees, but they pounced on this plan with unusual vigor and a unified message. Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, called this scheme “court packing.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the White House is trying “to pack the D.C. Circuit with appointees.” Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a constitutional lawyer hailed by conservatives for his legal smarts, also invoked the term.

It’s a little disturbing to think that three of the Senate’s top Republicans on judicial matters have no idea what court packing is, but that’s what we’re lead to believe if we assume they’re being honest in their charges. FDR tried to “pack” the Supreme Court in 1937 by dramatically expanding its size, so he could appoint more justices who agreed with him. Court packing involves trying to change the rules of the game in your favor. Obama is following the rules set forth by the Constitution and Congress by aiming to fill three already vacant seats. To accuse Obama of court packing is plainly ridiculous.

Now, wouldn’t it be ironic if Grassley and his colleagues were in fact the ones who wanted to change the rules of the game? As it turns out, they do. Grassley wants to eliminate the three vacant seats from the court entirely, thus cementing the current Republican majority indefinitely. This is the plan that has led the White House to turn the “court packing” allegation back on Republicans, as White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer did in a blog post today. “[O]n the merits, Senator Grassley’s ‘court unpacking proposal’ fails to make any sense,” the Obama aide wrote.

Grassley’s argument — or pretext, depending on where you sit on the political spectrum — is that the D.C. Circuit is underworked, because it sees fewer cases per judge than other appellate courts. Eliminating each judgeship would save $1 million per judge per year. Million with an “m” — a pretty puny amount of money when it comes to government.

Critics, meanwhile, see Grassley’s plan as little more “pure partisan hypocrisy,” as Schaeffer said, predicated on an erroneous assumption about the court’s workload. Currently, the D.C. Circuit has 120 pending cases per authorized judgeship, which Grassley says is too few. But under George W. Bush, Grassley voted to confirm two judges when the court had just 109 cases per judge.

And everyone agrees the cases the D.C. Circuit deals with are far more complicated than those seen on other circuits, so you can’t really compare the numbers. “There is cause for extreme concern that Congress is systematically denying the court the human resources it needs to carry out its weighty mandates,” wrote Pat Wald, who was the chief judge on the D.C. Court of Appeals, in the Washington Post.

You don’t have to be a federal courts scholar to see the stakes here, or the politics at play, but they’re probably hoping only scholars will pay attention.


By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, May 30, 2013

June 1, 2013 Posted by | Federal Courts, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When All Else Fails”: Marco Rubio’s Solution To The IRS Controversy Is To Repeal Obamacare

The old joke went that the Republican solution to any problem from bad jobs report to a cloudy Monday was “cut taxes!”

It was funny because it was true. Days after the 9/11 attacks, White House officials were reportedly on the phone with Capitol Hill saying that the stunned economy necessitated huge capital gains and dividend tax cuts, even though they knew a war was probably coming.

Marco Rubio (R-FL) has perfected the GOP’s new version of this old trope: using every problem as a justification to repeal Obamacare.

The U.S. senator picks a letter a week to answer on YouTube. This week, “Larry” from Florida repeated the “IRS will be in charge of your health care” backwash that has been circulating in the right-wing media from the Drudge Report to AM radio.

Repealing President Obama’s signature achievement is as popular now as cutting taxes, probably because the Affordable Care act raises taxes on the richest 2 percent to help working families afford health care.

But the connections between health care reform and the IRS are dubious, says the Washington Post‘s Fact-checker Glenn Kessler:

Clearly, Republicans would like to raise doubts about the health-care law by associating it with the stench of the IRS scandal. But it’s a bit much to suggest that the IRS would now be running health care in the United States, especially since the law leaves the employer-based system largely intact. After all, as Republicans frequently note, the Department of Health and Human Services has been charged with writing the thousands of pages of regulations that will govern benefit packages, the running of health-care exchanges and the like.

The IRS, by contrast, is mostly the bill collector. It will validate whether people have insurance, but as we noted last week, it will have no access to private health-care data. As McClatchy News put it — in an article cited by [National Republican Congressional Committee communications director Andrea] Bozek — “The Internal Revenue Service is an important cog in the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.” A “cog” does not mean it is in charge of people’s health care.

Rubio has alienated many conservatives by embracing immigration reform with a path to citizenship that will not be held up by constant demands to secure a border that’s more secure than it has been in decades. So even though Rubio knows there’s no hope of repealing Obamacare until 2021 — or more likely, no hope of repealing it ever – he’ll keep repeating this empty talking point until he finds one that works better.


By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, May 29, 2013

June 1, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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