"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“A Losing Gambit”: Ted Cruz Is A Wacko Bird Of His Party’s Own Making

For his 21-hour floor speech decrying Obamacare, Ted Cruz is catching heat from a lot of his fellow Republicans. In the Senate, they disdain his not-quite-filibuster as grandstanding. “This is not a situation where you dig your heels in and Obamacare gets defunded,” said Senator Ron Johnson. “[The tea party] just want anybody who offers them a path, whether it’s realistic or not.” Said Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, “To be told we’re not listening by somebody who does not listen is disconcerting.” The Wall Street Journal editorial page, usually on board for any assault on Obamacare, blasted Cruz’s maneuver as baldly ineffective.

The sum of all these reactions is yet more widespread Republican exasperation with Cruz. But while the GOP usually has good reason to treat Cruz like a wacko bird, this time, the GOP broadly has plainly laid the groundwork for his gimmicky Obamacare opposition. The Ted Cruz who completed that 21-hour Senate floor marathon is a wacko bird of the party’s own making.

Many of the same conservatives who are now denouncing Cruz’s tactics have strong claims to paternity over the GOP’s destructive obsession with Obamacare. They may see the specific tactic of shutting down the federal government in order to undo the Affordable Care Act for what it is: a losing gambit. And they may recognize that Cruz’s grandiloquent speechifying isn’t going to change minds in the Senate, where lawmakers planned to stripped a provision to defund Obamacare from the House budget as soon as Cruz stopped pleading on behalf of the bill. But odds are they will continue to relentlessly endorse defunding Obamacare, just as they have before.

This, even though the party’s obsession with defeating the president’s signature achievement is laying waste to the GOP’s long-term prospects. As my colleague Noam Scheiber argued in June, the Republican fixation with the Affordable Care Act harms their standing with Latino voters at a historical moment when they need to expand their favorability, and fast. It detracts from their ability to build an economic platform that aims for something besides massive spending and welfare cuts. And despite the GOP’s intentions to make defunding their banner 2014 issue, despite dozens of votes to defund the law and their broad failure to leverage the law in the last election cycle, Obamacare is really, seriously unlikely to go away.

So for someone like Senator Lamar Alexander to imply that Cruz’s grandstanding feeds impressions of the GOP as a do-nothing party is pretty rich. The Tennessee lawmaker has cast 23 purely symbolic votes against Obamacare that now comprise a major plank of his reelection campaign. For the Wall Street Journal editorial board to scoff at Cruz is even more absurd. Their columns have never missed an opportunity to promulgate even the most absurd and fact-free arguments for dismantling Obamacare—a moniker that the board on Monday took credit for inventing. Johnson has called Obamacare “the greatest assault on freedom in our lifetime.”

With all that hyperbole fueling the modern-day GOP, it’s no wonder Cruz calculated that a day-long verbal assault on Obamacare would be a homerun with his base, and worth the headache that it would cause Republican leaders. Their troubles, after all, began long before Cruz showed up, when they bet their future on their ability to defund Obamacare, no matter the cost.

By: Molly Redden, The New Republic, September 26, 2013

September 27, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Elections Don’t Have Consequences”: In His Warped Mind, Jim DeMint Is Essentially Declaring A Mistrial

Remember the 2012 elections? The one in which Republicans ran on a platform of repealing the Affordable Care Act, and then lost?

If you’re Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint, helping lead the anti-healthcare crusade, the apparent answer is no.

DeMint thinks the election results don’t accurately reflect national sentiment and therefore can’t be used to argue against his desire to move the party to the right. True conservatism never got a hearing — particularly not in regard to Obamacare, which was, after all, modeled after a Massachusetts law signed by Romney. “Because of Romney and Romneycare, we did not litigate the Obamacare issue,” he says. Essentially, DeMint is declaring a mistrial.

So while John McCain and I — there’s a pairing I didn’t expect to write about — agree that elections have consequences, we nevertheless have Jim DeMint sticking up for the “these elections don’t really count” contingent.

And they don’t count, he argues, because that darned Republican presidential candidate just didn’t push the health care issue. Sure, if you have the memory of a fruit fly, you might not recall Romney promising in every speech for a year and a half to repeal the health care law, the ads promising to destroy the law on Romney’s first day in office, or the central role the anti-Obamacare message played in the Republican pitch in 2012.

But for the rest of us, it’s getting increasingly difficult not to just laugh out loud when Jim DeMint starts talking.

In fact, the closer one looks at this, the more hilarious DeMint appears.

I suspect he’d prefer that we forget, but in 2007, DeMint, then a U.S. senator, endorsed Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy, citing — you guessed it — Romney’s successful health care reform law in Massachusetts.

And yet, at this point, DeMint no longer remembers his affinity for Romney, his support for Romney’s health care plan, or Romney’s platform from last year’s campaign.

This guy’s the head of a once-relevant think tank?

On a related note, Molly Ball has a great new piece in The Atlantic on Heritage’s dwindling credibility under DeMint’s leadership.

[T]here is more at stake in Heritage’s transformation from august policy shop to political hit squad than the reputation of a D.C. think tank or even the careers of a few squishy GOP politicians. It is the intellectual project of the conservative movement itself. Without Heritage, the GOP’s intellectual backbone is severely weakened, and the party’s chance to retake its place as a substantive voice in American policy is in jeopardy.

As the right embraces a post-policy role in American politics, Republicans can thank DeMint for helping lead the way.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 26, 2013

September 27, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Clarifying Moment”: No Negotiations On Debt Limit Means Exactly What It Says

The good thing about the fiscal madness that’s gripped the GOP is that it creates a good, clarifying moment for progressives. The president and congressional Democratic leaders have repeatedly announced a policy of refusing to negotiate over a debt limit extension, on grounds that (a) the economic stakes involved in messing around with this are just too high, dwarfing in importance anything either side could “win,” and (b) the debt limit accommodates existing debt from previous spending, and thus is not an appropriate vehicle for changing spending or taxes. (It would have been nice had the president taken this position back in 2011, but better late than never).

It is of great importance that Obama, Pelosi and Reed not flinch from this position, no matter what. This is a point on which all progressives, regardless of how they feel about specific fiscal issues, ought to be able to agree. Indeed, this is of particular importance to Democratic “centrists” who might be tempted to agree with this or that detail of the debt limit bill Boehner is putting together–say, approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which is insanely popular in certain parts of the midwest, or greater means-testing in Medicare. Once Democrats head down the road of discussing any of these concessions in exchange for allowing the economy to continue to function, the hostage-takers in the GOP will have won, perhaps for good.

Matt Yglesias argues that negotiating over the debt limit this time would represent a vast abandonment of responsibility by the president:

Republicans are essentially asking for an end to constitutional government in the United States and its replacement by a wholly novel system….

Things like this do happen. The British system of government used to feature a ruling monarch who was checked in limited ways by two houses of parliament. Over time, those houses of parliament leveraged their control over tax hikes into overall control of the government. On a somewhat slower time frame, the elected House of Commons nudged the House of Lords out of almost all of its de facto political power. And that’s the House’s proposal here. The president should become an elected figurehead (not dissimilar to the elected presidents of Germany, Israel, or Italy) whose role is simply to assent to the policy preferences of the legislative majority.

That’s the logic of bargaining over the debt ceiling, because this isn’t really a bargain at all. A bargain is when Obama wants something the GOP doesn’t want (universal preschool, say) and then the GOP says “look we’ll do it, but only if you do X, Y, and Z for us.” Increasing the debt ceiling isn’t like that. It isn’t a pet policy priority of Obama’s and it isn’t something House Republicans oppose. It’s something both sides agree is necessary to avert a legal and financial disaster.

Matt goes on to point out that today’s demands are attributable to Obama’s failure to take the same position in 2011. Then, at least, one could make the argument that both parties were very interested in taking steps to reduce long-term deficits and debt. Now it’s reasonably clear the Republican agenda is to permanently shrink government, to overturn the duly enacted Affordable Care Act and nullify the Supreme Court decision and the presidential election that kept it in place, and to prove once and for all that most intransigent brand of “constitutional conservatism” can work politically. To the extent that both parties claim to care about the economy, there is no one, not even debt default enthusiasts, who think wrangling over the debt limit is going to be good for the economy.

So the answer to this vicious “opening bid” from Boehner needs to be “no,” not “maybe” or “maybe something else.” If no negotiations occur, then there is a reasonably high probability that the GOP’s corporate allies will make Boehner walk the plank and cooperate with House Democrats to pass a “clean” debt limit increase. That’s actually the only sane way out of the dark place Boehner is leading the country towards right now.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 26, 2013

September 27, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Boom Times For The NRA”: The United Nations Is Coming After Your Guns, Send Us Money!

There’s a lot happening at the moment—government shutdown, war in Syria, Iranian president sort of maybe not denying the Holocaust—so there was very little attention given to the fact that yesterday, the United States government signed the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), commonly known as the small-arms treaty. It’s meant to prevent the arming of human-rights abusers—potential perpetrators of genocide, and the like—by obligating states not to sell conventional weapons, from small arms up to tanks and helicopters, to foreign governments or entities that are going to use them to commit war crimes and massacre civilians. When it was voted on by the UN, the only countries that voted against it were Syria, Iran, and North Korea.

And today, the National Rifle Association is celebrating. That might strike you as odd, but the ATT is political gold for them. It’s the international equivalent of a failed gun control effort in Congress, which is far, far better than no gun control effort at all. It gives them the opportunity to scream, “They’re coming for your guns!”, raise money, keep their congressional allies asking “How high?” when they say jump, acquire new members, and reinvigorate their existing members. And it all happens without even the tiniest threat to anyone’s actual gun rights. Who could ask for anything more?

The last year has been just fantastic for the NRA. You might have thought that the Newtown massacre and all the other mass shootings we had would have been a threat to the organization and its insane views. Au contraire. Yes, there may be more Americans who’ve now been exposed to what those views are, and who now think less highly of the NRA. But on just about every other measure you could come up with, nothing’s better for them than having a bunch of kids get mowed down, or having the United States sign a treaty that touches on the international arms trade.

Why? Because what the NRA needs to keep its internal momentum going is a threat. Not a real threat, mind you, but a threat that sounds just plausible enough to gun owners (when presented with the NRA’s particular zealous interpretation) to sound like it might someday impinge on their ability to buy all the killing machines they want, yet in reality poses no threat at all.

Throughout Barack Obama’s first term, the NRA was constantly crying, “Obama and Pelosi are coming for your guns!” But after a while, it wasn’t all that persuasive. For a gun-grabber, Obama was remarkably passive. In his whole first term, he signed only two laws dealing with guns, both of which expanded gun rights (you’re now allowed to take your guns to national parks and on Amtrak trains, so congrats on that). But then Newtown happened, and Obama finally proposed some gun control legislation. It didn’t matter that the legislation was almost absurdly modest; what mattered was that the NRA could say, “See! See! We told you he was coming for your guns! Send us more money!” The NRA got its boost in membership and fundraising, and the congressional effort came to nothing. They won on both ends.

And the same thing will happen with the Arms Trade Treaty. Ever since it was proposed, the NRA has been saying that if we signed on, blue-helmeted UN troops would be coming to your door to confiscate your guns. That this is false and ridiculous never mattered. All that mattered was that there is, in fact, a UN treaty, and it says something about small arms. And that’s enough. None of their members are going to bother to read it (here it is, if you’re so inclined). When they hear what it does and doesn’t do, they’ll assume that’s just liberal lies. And so the treaty gives the NRA another chance to say “They’re coming for your guns! Send us money!”

For the sake of accuracy, we should note that just about every single thing the NRA says about the ATT is false. The NRA claims the treaty “covers firearms owned by law-abiding citizens,” meaning the UN might try to take your guns. That’s false. In reality, the treaty covers only cross-border trade; it explicitly states that it has nothing to do with the domestic policies of any country. What it says is that nations agree not to sell arms to other nations when they know they’re going to be used in war crimes. So for instance, if we sold a bunch of rocket launchers to the Syrian government right now, knowing that the launchers would be used to target civilians, we’d be in violation of the treaty. The NRA claims the treaty mandates a “registry of law-abiding firearms owners.” That’s false. In reality, the treaty requires record-keeping of transnational arms sales, something the United States already does.

Which brings us to perhaps the most important thing to understand about this treaty: the United States already has export controls that do exactly the same thing for our own arms sales. It doesn’t impose any new obligations on us. By joining the treaty, we’re trying to get other countries to hold to the same standards we do. But because of the opposition of Republicans, the treaty will never pass the Senate.

Speaking of which, those Republican politicians use the nonexistent threat of gun confiscation for the same purposes as the NRA does. A few months back, Rand Paul sent out a fundraising letter saying this: “Will you join me by taking a public stand against the UN “Small Arms Treaty” and sign the Official Firearms Sovereignty Survey right away? Ultimately, UN bureaucrats will stop at nothing to register, ban and CONFISCATE firearms owned by private citizens like YOU.” And how can you prevent such a terrible thing? By sending Rand Paul money, of course. For the gun-rights gang, these are the best of times.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 26, 2013

September 27, 2013 Posted by | Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Devil’s Christmas Tree”: It’s Still A Long Ride On The Crazy Train

Expect to hear a great deal of cheerleading for a government shutdown from unusual quarters today. That’s because House Speaker John Boehner is now beginning to implement his earlier and much-puzzling-to-rational-people strategy of shifting Republican hostage-taking from efforts to keep the federal government operating to a debt limit bill due at the very latest by October 17.

Why is he doing this? You have to assume that Boehner is mesmerized by polling showing a debt default is more popular than a government shutdown–polling that is, of course, based on broad public incomprehension of the implications of a debt default.

Because (a) the president’s position after the dispiriting debt limit impasse of 2011 is that he will not negotiate over the debt limit, and because (b) congressional Democrats support that position, often with implicit or explicit “Hell No!” amendment, Boehner needs a debt limit bill that can pass the House with Republican votes only. And so his bill, as it is developing, is a right-wing Devil’s Christmas Tree, or to use a more secular metaphor, an evil child’s wish list for Santa. The generally very calm and very articulate Ezra Klein is almost at a loss for words in describing it:

The House GOP’s debt limit bill — obtained by the National Review — isn’t a serious governing document. It’s not even a plausible opening bid. It’s a cry for help.

In return for a one-year suspension of the debt ceiling, House Republicans are demanding a yearlong delay of Obamacare, Rep. Paul Ryan’s tax reform plan, the Keystone XL pipeline, more offshore oil drilling, more drilling on federally protected lands, rewriting of ash coal regulations, a suspension of the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to regulate carbon emissions, more power over the regulatory process in general, reform of the federal employee retirement program, an overhaul of the Dodd-Frank financial regulations, more power over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s budget, repeal of the Social Services Block Grant, more means-testing in Medicare, repeal of the Public Health trust fund, and more.

[T]his is really the [Republican] conference teaching Boehner a lesson. He had so little support to raise the debt ceiling at all — and so little trust from his members that he had a strategy to maximize their leverage — that this is the bill he had to present. At this point, Boehner either can’t stop them, or he’s too exhausted to try.

I suppose the other interpretation is that Boehner intends to eventually patch together something less psychotropic that can be passed with mostly Democratic votes (he has, after all, publicly and repeatedly said he won’t let the country default on its debts), and/or that business community pressure will be brought in like a deus ex machina to pull Republicans back from the brink. In that case, I suppose, there’s no reason to say no to any House Republican demand (though the leadership did, it is being reported, turn down including a late-term abortion ban similar to the one the House passed earlier this year).

It’s also possible, theoretically, that Boehner and company wanted to shock Democrats and the MSM with the consequences of his party’s impending defeat on appropriations in order to force some sort of compromise on measures designed to avoid a shutdown. But at this point, Republicans will find it increasingly difficult to accept any deal that doesn’t disable Obamacare, now that Boehner has embraced the idea that a one-year implementation delay is a “reasonable” alternative to “defunding” it. And that’s a non-starter for Democrats, even if they do prove willing to directly or indirectly violate constant pledges not to consider a debt limit bill with conditions.

So that gets back to why a lot of folk will soon be begging John Boehner to put aside his little do-it-yourself atomic bomb assembly kit and go back to threatening the conventional warfare of a government shutdown. TNR’s Noam Scheiber is already there:

[O]ne of two things is probably going to happen if we avoid a shutdown: Either John Boehner is going to turn around and appease irate conservatives by insisting on delaying Obamacare in exchange for raising the debt limit, thereby sending the government into default (since Obama isn’t negotiating). Or he’s going to back down and allow the debt ceiling to be raised with a minority of House Republicans and a majority of House Democrats, thereby further infuriating conservatives and almost certainly costing himself his job. (Recall that conservatives got more than halfway to the number of defections they needed to oust Boehner back in January, after he’d merely allowed a vote on a small tax increase when a much bigger one was kicking in automatically.) That is, either Boehner gets it or the global economy gets it, both of which Boehner would like to avoid even more than he’d like to avoid a shutdown.

If Boehner resigns himself to a shutdown, on the other hand, suddenly the future looks manageable. After a few days of punishing political abuse, Boehner will be able to appear before his caucus, shrug his shoulders in his distinctive Boehnerian way, and bleat that he executed the strategy conservatives demanded, but that the country is overwhelmingly opposed to it, as are most Senate Republicans and almost every semi-legitimate right-wing pundit and media outlet

That’s just great. I suppose begging John Boehner to be somewhat less destructive is a preferable alternative to caving to his demands. But it still involves a long ride on the crazy train in order to reach the engineer with a request to please turn around.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 26, 2013

September 27, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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