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“Letting The Debt Ceiling Cave In On Seniors”: Republican Actions Could Well Spell Disaster For Them In The Mid-Term Elections

Democrats used to be able to count on the senior citizen vote.  After all, it was FDR who created Social Security and Lyndon Johnson who created Medicare. But, hello, that was about 75 years ago and 50 years ago, respectively! Times do change.

As I like to scream at my Democratic friends, the post-65 generation were Ronald Reagan voters and had zip to do with FDR and LBJ.

As most now know, the only age group to support John McCain was the 65+ crowd and Romney beat Obama handily among seniors in 2012. Romney got 56 percent of the senior vote and McCain go 53 percent to Obama’s 45 percent in 2008.

The 45-64 group was very close in 2008 and Romney narrowly won it in 2012. And this was when Obama was the first Democrat since Carter in 1976 to receive more than 50 percent of the vote.

So what is my point?

Republicans have taken serious hits for their efforts to shut down the government and their possible refusal to raise the debt limit. In my blog post last week, I quoted Ronald Reagan on the debt limit. He got the message; he never drank the Kool Aid on that one.

But here is a very serious problem for the Republicans. If they really go through with their draconian plan, sure it hurts everyone, hurts the economy big time. But who does it especially freak out? You got it, senior citizens.

Why? The retired and those who live on fixed incomes and who have to draw on their retirement accounts get hammered. The last time the Republicans even threatened to hold the debt limit hostage in 2011, the stock market went down 17 percent.

Let me repeat that: After the debacle of 2008 and the economic meltdown, the stock market took a 17 percent hit for one reason and one reason only  – Republicans doing what Reagan had warned against. Plus, the U.S. credit was downgraded, which was unprecedented.

Seniors can’t afford to have that happen again and they know it – their 401(k)’s can not become 201(k)’s. The crash in 2008 and the double digit hit in 2011, if repeated, will affect those who are retired and those planning on retirement, and that is about 50 percent of the voters. If Republicans lose substantial numbers of those who are over 50 years old, it won’t just impact their chances of winning the presidency, with the changing demographics of race and ethnicity, but it could well spell disaster for them in the mid-term elections as well. Republicans could lose the House and not make the gains they want in the Senate.

Republicans may think they are going strong with their base of tea party radicals bashing the Affordable Care Act, but nothing impacts voters as much as watching their monthly savings and retirement statements tank.

Seniors and upcoming retirees watch their stocks and bonds and IRAs and 401(k)’s like a hawk and if Republicans get the blame for big losses, trust me, they will feel it big time at the polls next November and for many Novembers to come.

Shutting down the government and defaulting on our obligations are not just bad policy, but they are really bad politics for the Republicans. They simply cannot afford to watch their advantage with the 50+ age group evaporate.

The real question is will the Republicans come to their senses?  It is not a sure bet.


By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, September 23, 2013

September 24, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Seniors | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Free To Be Hungry”: Conservatives Believe That Freedom Is Just Another Word For “Not Enough To Eat”

The word “freedom” looms large in modern conservative rhetoric. Lobbying groups are given names like FreedomWorks; health reform is denounced not just for its cost but as an assault on, yes, freedom. Oh, and remember when we were supposed to refer to pommes frites as “freedom fries”?

The right’s definition of freedom, however, isn’t one that, say, F.D.R. would recognize. In particular, the third of his famous Four Freedoms — freedom from want — seems to have been turned on its head. Conservatives seem, in particular, to believe that freedom’s just another word for not enough to eat.

Hence the war on food stamps, which House Republicans have just voted to cut sharply even while voting to increase farm subsidies.

In a way, you can see why the food stamp program — or, to use its proper name, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) — has become a target. Conservatives are deeply committed to the view that the size of government has exploded under President Obama but face the awkward fact that public employment is down sharply, while overall spending has been falling fast as a share of G.D.P. SNAP, however, really has grown a lot, with enrollment rising from 26 million Americans in 2007 to almost 48 million now.

Conservatives look at this and see what, to their great disappointment, they can’t find elsewhere in the data: runaway, explosive growth in a government program. The rest of us, however, see a safety-net program doing exactly what it’s supposed to do: help more people in a time of widespread economic distress.

The recent growth of SNAP has indeed been unusual, but then so have the times, in the worst possible way. The Great Recession of 2007-9 was the worst slump since the Great Depression, and the recovery that followed has been very weak. Multiple careful economic studies have shown that the economic downturn explains the great bulk of the increase in food stamp use. And while the economic news has been generally bad, one piece of good news is that food stamps have at least mitigated the hardship, keeping millions of Americans out of poverty.

Nor is that the program’s only benefit. The evidence is now overwhelming that spending cuts in a depressed economy deepen the slump, yet government spending has been falling anyway. SNAP, however, is one program that has been expanding, and as such it has indirectly helped save hundreds of thousands of jobs.

But, say the usual suspects, the recession ended in 2009. Why hasn’t recovery brought the SNAP rolls down? The answer is, while the recession did indeed officially end in 2009, what we’ve had since then is a recovery of, by and for a small number of people at the top of the income distribution, with none of the gains trickling down to the less fortunate. Adjusted for inflation, the income of the top 1 percent rose 31 percent from 2009 to 2012, but the real income of the bottom 40 percent actually fell 6 percent. Why should food stamp usage have gone down?

Still, is SNAP in general a good idea? Or is it, as Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, puts it, an example of turning the safety net into “a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.”

One answer is, some hammock: last year, average food stamp benefits were $4.45 a day. Also, about those “able-bodied people”: almost two-thirds of SNAP beneficiaries are children, the elderly or the disabled, and most of the rest are adults with children.

Beyond that, however, you might think that ensuring adequate nutrition for children, which is a large part of what SNAP does, actually makes it less, not more likely that those children will be poor and need public assistance when they grow up. And that’s what the evidence shows. The economists Hilary Hoynes and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach have studied the impact of the food stamp program in the 1960s and 1970s, when it was gradually rolled out across the country. They found that children who received early assistance grew up, on average, to be healthier and more productive adults than those who didn’t — and they were also, it turns out, less likely to turn to the safety net for help.

SNAP, in short, is public policy at its best. It not only helps those in need; it helps them help themselves. And it has done yeoman work in the economic crisis, mitigating suffering and protecting jobs at a time when all too many policy makers seem determined to do the opposite. So it tells you something that conservatives have singled out this of all programs for special ire.

Even some conservative pundits worry that the war on food stamps, especially combined with the vote to increase farm subsidies, is bad for the G.O.P., because it makes Republicans look like meanspirited class warriors. Indeed it does. And that’s because they are.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, September 22, 2013

September 24, 2013 Posted by | Poverty, Public Policy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Wildly Misleading Pernicious Ads”: Sabotaging Health Care, One Lie At A Time

A Koch-brothers funded conservative group, Generation Opportunity, is out with a wildly misleading, pernicious set of ads aimed at sabotaging the Affordable Care Act by discouraging young people from signing up for health insurance exchanges.

One’s aimed at young men, the other at young women. In the “for him” version, an actor tells his doctor that he saw an ad for the Affordable Care Act and “figured, why not?” The doctor tells him to take his pants off, “hop up here, lay down and bend your knees to your chest.” He leaves the room. Then a man wearing an Uncle Sam mask snaps on a blue glove. As if the message weren’t perfectly clear, the ad states: “Don’t let government play doctor.”

The “for her” version is much the same, except in that case Uncle Sam’s performing a gynecological exam.

The ads are as offensive as they are derivative.

During the 2012 campaign, the reproductive rights site Lady Parts Justice released a web video attacking laws requiring women to undergo medically unnecessary ultrasounds before receiving abortions. In that spot, a woman with her feet in stirrups explains that she wants an abortion because she’s “just not emotionally or financially ready to have kids right now.” The doctor, sitting between her legs, responds, “OK, well, just so you know, the law says that before I can do that, I need to do some things to you that you need to pay extra for. You know, just some things that will help you better understand what it is you really want.” These “things” include inserting a camera into her vagina and looking at pictures of what’s inside her uterus.

But that video made sense—states actually did pass laws interfering with the doctor-patient relationship—whereas the Generation Opportunity ads perpetuate outright lies. Young people who sign up for exchanges won’t be getting access to government-run healthcare (if only they were!), but to privately run insurance. Nor does the A.C.A. force doctors to ask patients about their sex lives or perform unwanted exams—as Politifact explained recently. Under the A.C.A., government doesn’t “play doctor,” it merely enables access to doctors who then decide, using their professional judgment, the best course of action.

Signing up for an exchange isn’t an act of political (or sexual) submission. It’s just a way to get insurance if you don’t have a job or your employer doesn’t provide it. The Generation Opportunity crowd surely knows that and obviously doesn’t care because its priority now, as ever, is bringing down President Obama’s signature domestic accomplishment. The group also doesn’t care about the possibility that some number of young people, scared by its ads, will forego access to affordable care, get sick, and go bankrupt paying their medical bills.


By: Julie Lapidos, Opinion Pages Editor’s Blog, The New York Times, September 23, 2013

September 24, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Diary Of A Legislative Terrorist”: Ted Cruz Goes Nuclear Against His Own Party To Save His Own Skin

After months of attempting to tie the continued funding of the government to his demand that the Affordable Care Act be demolished, Texas Senator Ted Cruz is now coming face to face with what happens to demagogues who write political checks they can never hope to cash—and it isn’t pretty.

With a strategy that is now crumbling beneath his feet, it is all too clear that Ted Cruz made one heck of a miscalculation—one that promises to put an end to a budding political career that many believed would lead all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

So, how did it happen?

It began with Mr. Cruz placing a populist bet that he could use the August town hall season to change the math on Capitol Hill while enlisting millions to his ultimate cause—his candidacy to become President of the United States in 2016.

As the Texas Senator likely saw it, he could swoop in on the gatherings of like-minded, adoring members of his base and, by using the media to spread his message, convince watching independents that the Affordable Care act was so detrimental to the nation’s future that there was no legislative action—no matter how radical or extreme—that should be avoided in the quest to rid the country of the scourge of healthcare reform.

If Cruz’s efforts somehow succeeded beyond what most would have viewed as a rational expectation and the Senator was able to force enough Republican votes—and maybe even a few Democratic votes—to his way of thinking, Cruz would be portrayed as a great and heroic warrior.

This would be true even if there were, ultimately, insufficient votes for Cruz to win the battle.

And if his fellow Republicans in the Senate chose not to go along with his tactics, the Senator would, at the least, depart the town hall circuit with pockets full of publicity and legions of adoring minions who would henceforth view him as a great leader willing to fall on his own sword while appearing to bravely ignore his own political future if that is what it took to save his country from the evils of Obamacare.

It wasn’t a completely insane gambit.

The problem, however, was that Cruz’s entire strategy was dependent upon his expectation that the majority of Americans who continue to dislike the Affordable Care Act (and they do) would be willing to support a government shutdown brought about by Cruz’s effort to tie the destruction of Obamacare to the continuing operations of government.

That is where it all began to fall apart.

It turns out that, while the majority of Americans may continue to view Obamacare with a jaundiced eye, they are not at all prepared to accept Cruz’s radical, ‘take no prisoners’ approach as a solution.

With right-leaning publications like “Hot Air” screaming headlines like  “Republican poll: Public opposed to a government shutdown to defund ObamaCare, including Republicans”, it began to dawn on the Texas Senator that he had made a serious miscalculation and that being credited with causing a shutdown was not going to be the political bonus he had anticipated.

Cruz reacted as might be expected—he began looking for a way to squirm out of his predicament. Immediately, he turned to boldly stating that any government shutdown would not be his fault—but rather the fault of the President.

Why? Because while he had initially perceived getting the credit for a shutdown to be a good thing, the data revealed he had badly judged the intent of the public. Therefore, he had to find a way to continue his plan while pushing the blame of shutdown to the other side—a tall order leaving Cruz to employ a deeply flawed logic that could only appeal to the lowest of low-information voters when attempting to sell us on the idea that this would all be Obama’s fault.

But having discovered the great flaw in his grand design, Cruz really had nowhere else to go.

If you, somehow, remain unclear as to the absurdity of Cruz’s attempt to argue that a shutdown would fall on the shoulders of the White House, consider that this logic would be akin to someone pointing a gun to the head of your puppy before turning to you and demanding that, if you want to save your hapless pooch, you must hand over to him your child’s entire college fund which you have been contributing to for some twenty years.

When you, understandably, refuse to make the trade—despite the fact that you could give the perpetrator the entire fund and deny your child her dreams for the future in order to save the pup—the perpetrator follows through on his terrible deed and then blames you for the death of the poor little puppy. Why? Because he gave you the chance to save the dog’s life and it was within your power to do so, no matter how repugnant. Never mind that the perpetrator had no right to put your dog’s life into the balance in the first place.

Thus, by Cruz’s logic, because the President will not destroy his own law, duly passed by Congress, signed into law by that President and adjudicated legal by the United States Supreme Court, and all because a first term Senator and a few of his friends demand he do so, the fault for the resulting threatened punishment is on the President —not on Cruz himself.

There were additional flaws in Ted Cruz’s grand plan.

Faced with a public that does not favor closing up government in order to extract the end of the President’s signature legislation, the likelihood of persuading Cruz’s fellow Republicans in the Senate to go along with his strategy drops to near zero. While it was always a pipedream to imagine that there would ever have been enough votes in the Senate to make Cruz’s dreams of Obamacare defunding come true—even if a majority of voters supported the notion—without a public hunger for extreme measures, any hope Cruz might have harbored for Senate support were—and are–doomed.

And if, by some miracle, Cruz could use public sentiment to turn enough Democrats and Republicans in the Senate to his way of thinking, hell would freeze over before the President of the United States would go along with any continuing resolution that includes the destruction of his own, signature legislation.

As Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK) put it, “It’s awfully hard to repeal Obamacare when a guy named Obama is President.”

While Senator Cruz certainly would have relished an ultimate victory that included defunding Obamacare, he surely knew this was an unlikely result to his campaign. But his true objective, despite his falsely courageous protestations otherwise, was never to actually pull off the death of Obamacare—rather, his objective was to portray himself as a committed leader who was willing and able to single-handedly shut down the government in a greater cause. Cruz was placing this bet in the belief that were he to earn the credit for a government shutdown over the Obamacare issue, he would become a true hero in the hearts and minds not only of the Republican base—but the millions of independent Americans who both object to Obamacare and would not be personally affected by a shuttering of the government.

Who knew the public would show such disdain for Cruz’s tactics?

Realizing that Cruz had put his penchant for demagoguery ahead of the fortunes of his own party, key Republican leaders, both inside and outside of government, began to speak up and to do so loudly.

Karl Rove published an op-ed taking Cruz—and other Republicans who would favor a shutdown—to task for being willing to inflict the serious political damage such an action would cause the Republican Party. As for the elected ‘insiders’, we’ve learned that Fox Fox News Sunday talk show host Chris Wallace was flooded with reams of opposition research aimed at Cruz as Wallace prepared for yesterday’s show—all of which was provided by Republicans!

Ted Cruz’s response to his massive failure?

Speaking during his appearance on the Fox Sunday show, Cruz said—

“Any vote for cloture, any vote to allow Harry Reid to add funding to Obamacare with just a 51-vote threshold, a vote for cloture is a vote for Obamacare. And I think Senate Republicans are going to stand side-by-side with Speaker [John] Boehner and House Republicans, listening to the people and stopping this train wreck that is Obamacare.”

What that means is that Ted Cruz now plans on taking his party down with him by using a procedural tactic in the Senate that would brand any Republican voting for cloture—thereby agreeing to send the House bill to a vote of the Senate where it will surely be defeated—as a ‘supporter’ of Obamacare.

And if the Senate Republicans were to buckle to Cruz and refuse to vote in favor of cloture, the House Bill will remain stalled in the Senate and the government will shut down with the Republicans clearly taking all the blame.

Either way, Cruz has now created a lose-lose scenario for his Republican colleagues in the Senate that either brings an unwanted government shutdown or invites a never-ending flurry of primary challenges to his GOP cohorts…and all to save whatever credibility Ted Cruz might still be hanging onto with a narrow slice of the GOP base.

All of this brings us to one, inescapable conclusion…Ted Cruz is desperate.

How bad is it?

As one House GOP aide put it, “Nancy Pelosi is more well-liked around here.”



By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, September 23, 2013

September 24, 2013 Posted by | Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Principles Of Hostage Taking 101”: The Debt Ceiling Is A Hostage John Boehner Absolutely Can’t Afford To Shoot

Speaker of the House John Boehner’s never-ending quest to placate the tea party resulted in the GOP approving a bill on Friday that would fund the government through mid-December, while “defunding” Obamacare. (Never mind that, as U.S. News’ Carrie Wofford has pointed out, “defunding” Obamacare in this manner doesn’t actually work.) If, as expected, the Senate strips the defund provision and kicks the bill back to the House, Boehner will have to find yet another way of keeping his radicals at bay.

The next hostage, then, is likely the debt ceiling. Technically, the U.S. has already reached its statutory borrowing limit, but the Treasury Department has been using extraordinary measures to delay the reckoning, a tactic that will no longer work come mid-October. And already, the GOP has drawn up a wish-list of policy concessions it hopes to extract in return for raising the debt ceiling, running the gamut from changes to the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and means-testing of Medicare to approval of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline. If defunding Obamacare doesn’t happen now, expect that to be added to the list.

But President Obama, it seems, has learned his lesson from previous debt ceiling standoffs, and this time is refusing to play ball. He even called Boehner on Friday night to reiterate that he does not plan to negotiate over whether the U.S. government will actually pay its bills (which remember, is all raising the debt ceiling ensures).

Why is Obama right to offer the GOP nothing when it comes to raising the debt ceiling? Well, the debt ceiling is a hostage which the GOP is simply not willing to shoot. As former GOP Sen. Judd Gregg, N.H., explained in an op-ed in The Hill today:

You cannot in politics take a hostage you cannot shoot. That is what the debt ceiling is. At some point, the debt ceiling will have to be increased not because it is a good idea but because it is the only idea.

Defaulting on the nation’s obligations, which is the alternative to not increasing the debt ceiling, is not an option either substantively or politically.

A default would lead to some level of chaos in the debt markets, which would lead to a significant contraction in economic activity, which would lead to job losses, which would lead to higher spending by the federal government and lower tax revenues, which would lead to more debt.

Two years ago, when the very same debate over raising the debt ceiling was occurring, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. – who would go on to be his party’s vice-presidential nominee in 2012 – confirmed that taking the debt ceiling hostage is impossible. “You can’t not raise the debt ceiling. Default is the unworkable solution,” he said. He then attempted to justify the GOP’s move anyway, but the word salad that resulted shows just how untenable their plan really is.

The economic damage that would result from actually allowing the country to default on its financial obligations – be they payments to foreign debtors, Social Security recipients or government vendors – would be catastrophic, not to mention the mess that would occur in markets around the world when the absolute certainty that is U.S. payment of its debt disappears overnight. According to the Government Accountability Office, the last debt ceiling debacle, which didn’t result in a default, cost taxpayers $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2011 alone. That would seem like chump change compared to the costs of an actual default.

Now, it may be that the GOP leadership lets the tea party get its way by shutting down the government over Obamacare, rather than risking a debt default. But Republicans who remember the Clinton-era shutdowns are not ready for a sequel. So Boehner is left in the unenviable position of making his wild faction a promise on which he can’t possibly deliver. It remains to be seen how he’ll get out of it, but Obama is certainly under no obligation to help.


By: Pat Garofola, U. S. News and World Report, September 23, 2013

September 24, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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