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“The GOP Roadblock To Repairs”: With Limited Time And Opportunity, Republican Infrastructure Intransigence Strikes Again

In 2005, the World Economic Forum ranked America’s infrastructure Number 1 in the world for “economic competitiveness.” Only eight short years later, the U.S. occupies 14th place. Instead of leading our global competitors in planning, staying current and building a transportation system for the 21st century, we have continued to invest at the same rate (in real inflation-adjusted dollars) as we did in 1968.

By way of example, Canada spends 4 percent of its GDP on transportation, investment and maintenance, with China spending 9 percent. The U.S. spends only 1.7 percent.

More than 69,000 of America’s bridges are deemed structurally deficient, more than 11 percent of all the bridges in our country. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the U.S. would need to invest $3.6 trillion between now and 2020 just to keep its infrastructure in “good” repair.

As a nation, our cities have become more congested, our commutes more delayed and our companies less productive.  According to UPS, five minutes of daily delay for its trucks adds up to $100 million lost annually.

President Obama has long understood that investments made to our nation’s infrastructure will create jobs here in America that can’t be outsourced or replaced overseas. Interestingly, this is the same dynamic that has united two bitter enemies, the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, around their mutual quest to see Congress appropriate more funding for infrastructure projects.

Even Republicans seem to understand the need, or at least they have indicated so at times. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said, “Everybody knows we have a crumbling infrastructure.  Infrastructure spending is popular on both sides. The question is how much are we going to spend.” Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., once claimed, “If you’re a Republican and you want to create jobs, then you need to invest in infrastructure that will allow us to create jobs.”

This week, President Obama proposed to cut corporate taxes and to invest in infrastructure projects to boost American jobs, all while being “revenue neutral.”   These are concepts that have been championed by Republicans in the past, but generally ignored in recent times.

Unfortunately, true to form, the GOP backlash was immediate, claiming Obama’s plan offered them no concessions at all. McConnell said on the floor, “The plan, which I just learned about last night, lacks meaningful bipartisan input,” and thus he will oppose it. As the president suggested in a recent interview with the New York Times, “there’s almost a kneejerk habit right now that if I’m for it, then they’ve [Republicans in congress] got to be against it.”

So, once again, Congress is at a standstill while it admires our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Seemingly, Republican leadership would rather put up roadblocks than work with the  president to build and restore some of our nation’s fundamental structural needs to remain economically competitive – operative roads, bridges, dams, levees and rails. There are only 61 days left before the next government shutdown and nine legislative working days on the calendar in September. This limited time and opportunity will require leaders from both sides to step forward and work efficiently to pass the necessary legislation to get this country back on track.

Perhaps, while members of Congress are away in August, they will actually remember what they were for before they were against it.

 

By: Penny Lee, U. S. News and World Report, July 31, 2013

August 1, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Big Money Begets Massive Influence”: How The Koch Brothers Are Buying Silence Without Spending A Dime

Between buying elections, billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch shop for big pieces of American media and culture. And, hey, why not?

We already knew of the Kochs’ efforts to buy Tribune Company, the parent of the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, among other major newspapers. Then, last week, The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer took a thoughtful, in-depth look at the machinations that led New York’s PBS station, WNET, to pull from the air a documentary critical of David Koch, one of the station’s biggest funders. The story raises plenty of questions about the extent to which the public owns public media and the role of money in the arts and culture (see anything at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater lately?). But it also provides a rare intimate look at what happens when big money begets massive influence, often without a dime changing hands.

Mayer describes the fate of two documentary films. One took on income disparities in America by profiling the inhabitants of one tony Park Avenue building — including David Koch. Under pressure, WNET aired the film but, in a highly unusual concession, offered Koch airtime to rebut it after it aired. The second film, “Citizen Koch,” made by the very talented, Academy Award nominated team of Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, explored the influence that Koch and others like him have on our elections in the post-Citizens United world. But in the face of Koch’s wrath, the film’s distributor, a public television player with a history of gutsy moves, uncharacteristically lost its stomach for the fight and dumped the film entirely. Regardless, Koch decided to not give a hoped-for gift after the first film aired. Without lifting a finger or even taking out his checkbook, Koch cast a pall over the documentary film world.

The process that led to “Citizen Koch” being pulled from the airwaves illustrates exactly the point that Lessin and Deal’s film makes: Money can not only buy action in our democracy, it can also buy silence. As former Republican presidential candidate Buddy Roemer points out in the film, “Sometimes it’s a check. Sometimes it’s the threat of a check. It’s like having a weapon. You can shoot the gun or just show it. It works both ways.”

Koch and his brother Charles, both billionaire industrialists, pledged to spend a whopping $400 million on the 2012 elections, the overwhelming majority of it on behalf of Republican candidates. But that doesn’t just mean that Republicans are jumping to please the brothers — it means that many of those in positions of influence, regardless of their political leanings, need to take into account whether or not it’s worth the trouble of unnecessarily antagonizing the Kochs. Just as the public is unlikely to hear about the film PBS didn’t run, it’s almost impossible to know about the principled progressive stands that our allies in government decided not to take.

Koch’s billions are a formidable political weapon, even without owning any influential newspapers. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, it’s a more powerful weapon than ever, and we know it’s having an impact even when they don’t choose to deploy them. The result is a distorted government that responds to the whims of billionaires more easily than the needs of ordinary Americans.

As activists work to undo the damage being done by Citizens United, one of our main challenges is reminding voters of the dangerous, invisible effects that decision has on the country. It’s a remarkable irony that by trying to hide a film about the danger of money in politics, the Kochs may have made it clearer than ever before.

 

By: Michael B. Keegan, The Huffington Post, July 31, 2013

August 1, 2013 Posted by | Democracy, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Fever Isn’t Breaking”: Those Most Adamant For Change In The GOP Will Mainly Want A More Feverous Party

After ignoring a couple of useless polls about GOP rank-and-file interest in nonspecific “change,” I was happy to dig into a new Pew survey that shows the rightward pressure on Republican leaders that’s now been part of the landscape since at least 2008.

Now it’s important to note two things about the survey right off the bat. First, it includes Republican “leaners,” who probably boost the number of self-identified “moderates” in the survey, and also the number of those who don’t regularly participate in Republican primaries. And second, when it asks Republicans what direction they want the party to take, it’s not always clear how they perceive the party’s current direction.

If, like me, you think the GOP has been on a fairly steady ideological bender from the moment John McCain started getting heckled on the 2008 campaign trail for not being vicious enough, then the fact that a 54/40 majority of the rank-and-file want their party to “move in a more conservative direction” is more than a little alarming. Similarly, the finding that 35% of Republicans believe party leaders have “compromised too much” with Democrats while another 32% think they have “handled it about right” takes on an entirely different complexion if you feel, as I do, that GOPers in Washington are achieving historic levels of mindless obstructionism. On specific issues, the assumption that current Republicans positions are already pretty extreme means 60% of Republicans want to stay that way or get more extreme on abortion; 75% feel that way about immigration; 87% on government spending; and 79% on guns. But I am sure some pundits will look at the same numbers and say that with the exception of “government spending” and perhaps immigration, roughly equal numbers want the party to move left or right. It’s all about how you view the status quo. On immigration, there is a legitimate reason to wonder which “party leaders” poll respondents have in mind in urging them to become more conservative. Even in the Senate, we sometimes forget, Republicans voted against the Gang of Eight bill by a 32-14 margin.

In any event, there’s not much comfort in this poll for those who are looking for signs that the “fever is breaking.” Yes, there’s less rank-and-file identification with the Tea Party than there was in 2010, but since there is very little actual disagreement (only 11% of Republicans in this poll) with the Tea Folk, that may simply reflect the belief of some that the Tea Party is the Republican Party. Since some observers are already looking at Chris Christie as a potential fever-breaker, it’s notable that in this poll his standing is a lot iffier than that of other named potential ’16ers (a favorable/unfavorable ratio of 47/30, which, as TNR’s Nate Cohn points out, is worse than Mitt Romney ever performed in a similar poll during his high-wire run to the GOP nomination). If, as we have every reason to expect based on turnout patterns and the ’14 landscape, Republicans have a non-disastrous midterm cycle, there’s no reason to believe Republicans are going to demand massive changes in messaging or strategy, and every reason to suspect those most adamant for change will mainly want a more feverous party.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July 31, 2013

August 1, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Unreasoned Republican Roulette”: The GOP Tries To Move Beyond Cantaloupes On Immigration

Last week Rep. Steve King of Iowa made headlines when Right Wing Watch reported that he had smeared the vast majority of undocumented immigrants as drug runners with “calves the size of cantaloupes” from “hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” After well-deserved criticism from both his own party’s leadership and the White House, King defiantly stood by his remarks, claiming that he is the one being unfairly attacked. On the House floor, King cried, “I challenge this civilization to be reasonable!”

Good idea, Representative King. Let’s be reasonable.

And what exactly does a “reasonable” stance on immigration look like? One place we might look for clues is in the views of the majority of our country. There’s no question that fixing our broken immigration system is the right thing to do, but it is also the politically popular thing to do. A Gallup poll released this month found that 88 percent of Americans support creating a roadmap to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, including 83 percent of conservatives. A large majority (71 percent) say it is either “very” or “extremely” important that Congress pass new laws to reform our immigration system. Americans of all political stripes are on board with creating common-sense immigration laws.

Even prominent Republican donors are urging House GOP members to act on immigration. A letter sent Tuesday to Republican members of Congress, signed by the likes of Karl Rove and former vice president Dan Quayle, notes, “Standing in the way of reform ensures that we perpetuate a broken system that stifles our economy… and risk a long-lasting perception that Republicans would rather see nothing done than pass needed reform.”

A long-lasting perception, indeed — one that isn’t helped by the incendiary remarks of far-right GOP leaders like Rep. King, who, in addition to his most recent comments, has also compared immigrants to dogs. And King’s comments are only some examples from a whole wing of the GOP dead set against needed reform and downright offensive in their rhetoric. Just last week remarks surfaced of Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli comparing immigration policy to rat extermination. And Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has campaigned hard against immigration reform, calling it “a crock.”

But that’s not the only path possible for the party. Big name Republicans and everyday Americans alike are giving GOP House members a choice: Stand with common sense, majority opinion, and justice by supporting urgently-needed immigration reform, or give in to the voices of extremism who think immigrants are rodents and cantaloupe-calved drug runners.

 

By: Michael B. Keegan, The Huffington Post, July 31, 2013

August 1, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Immigrants | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Tea Party Radiation Fallout”: Damned If He Does, Damned If He Doesn’t, Mitch McConnell Has An Obamacare Problem

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has a major dilemma on his hands.

Throughout the past week, members of the Senate’s right wing — led by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Rand Paul (R-KY) — have been publicly lobbying their Republican colleagues to block the passage of any continuing resolution funding the federal government, unless it defunds the Affordable Care Act. The plan is functionally dead in the water — several reliable Obamacare opponents in the Senate have already derided the plan’s obvious flaws (first and foremost among them, that shutting down the government wouldn’t actually halt the Affordable Care Act’s implementation) — but it remains a politically potent symbol in Republican politics.

“There is a powerful, defeatist approach among Republicans in Washington,” Senator Cruz pointedly said on Tuesday. “I think they’re beaten down and they’re convinced that we can’t give a fight, and they’re terrified.”

The remarks were a thinly veiled shot at McConnell, who has thus far refused to take a position on the government shutdown plan.

“We’ve had a lot of internal discussions about the way forward this fall in both the continuing resolution and, ultimately, the debt ceiling, and those discussions continue,” McConnell said on Tuesday. “There’s no particular announcement at this point.”

McConnell may have to make a decision sooner rather than later, however. Matt Bevin, the Tea Party-backed businessman who is challenging McConnell for the Republican nomination in Kentucky’s 2014 Senate election, is seizing on McConnell’s reticence in an effort to outflank the four-term incumbent from the right.

“Mitch McConnell’s rhetoric on defeating Obamacare is nothing but empty promises,” Bevin said in a statement released Wednesday. “Obamacare is a disaster and if we can’t repeal it, we have a responsibility to the American people to defund it.”

“I challenge Mitch McConnell to join me in signing the pledge to defund Obamacare,” he continued. “Instead of playing political games, it’s time to stand up for the people of Kentucky.”

McConnell currently holds a massive lead over the largely-undefined Bevin, but if Bevin continues to attract right-wing support, the race could tighten significantly. If McConnell decides that the risk of shutting down the government for no tangible gain outweighs the risk of prolonged public attack from Tea Party favorites such as Cruz and Lee, then he could find himself very vulnerable in a Republican primary. Although Bevin remains an extreme long shot to steal the nomination from McConnell, a closely-contested primary could do serious damage to McConnell’s chances in the general election.

If McConnell does sign on to the Lee plan, however, it could cause him an even bigger headache. His likely Democratic opponent in 2014 — Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes — is already tailoring her campaign to paint McConnell as a “guardian of gridlock” who exemplifies the dysfunction in Washington, D.C. If McConnell agrees to attempt to shut down the government in a futile effort to repeal Obamacare, that image will be magnified — giving Grimes, who currently polls within striking distance of McConnell — a great political opportunity. Furthermore, due to McConnell’s status as the leader of the Senate Republicans, taking the extremist position could impact all the Republican senators on the ballot in 2014.

Whatever McConnell decides, it will not have a serious impact on the future of the Affordable Care Act. But it will have major ramifications in McConnell’s re-election battle — and could even decide which party ends up in control of the Senate.

 

By: Henry Decker, U. S. News and World Report, July 31, 2013

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

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