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“Divided And Uneasy”: There Must Be Some Kind Of Way Out Of Here, Said The Joker To The Thief

In the middle of this last night, the intrepid inside chronicler of the Republican Party’s hostage crisis, National Review‘s Robert Costa, allowed as how GOPers are “divided and uneasy:”

Late Sunday, Republican staffers from both chambers were scrambling to reconcile the competing Republican strategies in the House and Senate, but communication has been sporadic. Senate GOP insiders are unsure of whether Senate Democrats will even negotiate unless Republicans cave on sequestration, and House insiders are unsure of whether Speaker John Boehner can keep his fragile conference united.

If things fall apart, Senator Lindsey Graham tells me he’s going to “object” to any deal that doesn’t include a vote on whether congressional employees should continue to receive federal contributions to their health-care plans. For Graham, the effort would be a final attempt to make Democrats endure an uncomfortable vote, should Republicans stumble.

Meanwhile, GOP enthusiasm for the showdown, from both conservatives and grandees, is waning. Members are spending considerable time calling one another to lament, and they’re worried about fading public support. “We can’t get lower in the polls. We’re down to blood relatives and paid staffers now,” said Senator John McCain on CBS’s Face the Nation. “But we’ve got to turn this around, and the Democrats had better help.”

In case your attention has drifted during this manufactured crisis, House Republicans forced a government shutdown and threatened a debt default in pursuance of a series of demands that changed almost hourly but never failed to smell to high heaven of hubris. Accompanying this attempted stick-up was an equally audacious fallback: a p.r. campaign to convince the public (and many more-than-willing journalists) Democrats were at least equally to blame for the crisis because of their refusal to make immediate concessions. Now that this half-a-loaf strategy seems to have failed, too, GOPers are demanding at least a few concessions so that they don’t have to admit failure to a puzzled and angry “base” that had been told a crushing victory over the evil president and his satanic health care law was in clear sight. And I’m sure we are just hours from a batch of op-eds urging said evil president and his party to show their “wisdom” by throwing John Boehner and Mitch McConnell life-lines to a face-saving “compromise” that will probably include both overall funding concessions plus some Obamacare nicks, and quite likely a fresh opportunity to go through the same extortion effort not too far down the road.

I’m not responsible for the health of the U.S. economic system, and I can only imagine the pressure the White House is feeling as it watches the minutes tick down to the opening of the New York Stock Exchange this morning after the high expectations on Friday of a quick deal faded over the weekend. You can even make an argument that Democrats need to proactively prevent the humiliation of Boehner and McConnell because their successors would be so much worse. But it remains outrageous that those who resisted this whole unnecessary nightmare have an obligation to reward its chief perpetrators, who will then try to preen and strut before the “base” about how they tricked the godless liberals into surrender.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 14, 2013

October 15, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Debt Ceiling, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Winning Hand”: Democrats Up The Ante And Push Back Against GOP Tea Party Bullies

A crazy thing is happening in shuttered, dysfunctional Washington: Democrats are pushing back.

This phenomenon is so novel and disorienting that many Republicans in Congress, especially the tea party bullies, seem unable to grasp what’s going on. They keep expecting President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to fold like a cheap suit because, well, such a thing has happened before. I guess it’s understandable that the GOP might have forgotten the difference between bluffing and actually holding a winning hand.

Late last week, Reid began demanding that Republicans not only reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling, but that they also make concessions on the draconian, irrational-by-design budget cuts known as sequestration. In political terms, he is demanding that the GOP pay a price for putting the country through all this needless drama.

Suddenly, Republicans who thought it was fine to hold the government and the economy hostage in order to nullify a duly enacted law — the Affordable Care Act — are shocked that Democrats would even suggest tampering with another duly enacted law: the Budget Control Act of 2011, which established the “sequester” cuts.

Was Reid moving the goal posts? Of course he was. That’s what negotiators do when they have the upper hand.

It seemed clear from the beginning that House Republicans had overreached by shutting down the government in an attempt to block the health-insurance reforms popularly known as Obamacare. For one thing, many of the Affordable Care Act’s provisions were already in force. For another, any residual questions about the law had been thoroughly litigated in last year’s election.

Indeed, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday pronounced a devastating verdict: Fifty-three percent of those surveyed blamed Republicans for the shutdown, as opposed to 31 percent who blamed Obama — a worse pounding for the GOP than the party suffered when Newt Gingrich shut down the government during the Clinton administration. A separate Gallup survey showed the Republican Party with an approval rating of just 28 percent, the lowest the firm has ever measured for either party.

Such stunning numbers not only threaten to dash the GOP’s hopes of winning control of the Senate next year but also challenge the party’s ability to hold its majority in the House.

So there’s no question who’s winning and who’s losing. Still, it’s refreshing to see Democrats act accordingly.

The standard pattern since Republicans captured the House in 2010 goes something like this: House Speaker John Boehner makes outrageous demands. Obama negotiates a “compromise” package heavily weighted toward Republican priorities, but Boehner can’t deliver his caucus. Fearful that tea party vandals might burn down the house, Democrats end up agreeing to a short-term deal that gives the GOP much of what it wants.

It is understandable that the activist Republican base might think victory through blackmail is the natural order of things. It’s not. It’s a distortion of American democracy that weakens the nation, and it has to end.

The fact that the GOP controls the House means that its views cannot be ignored. But the fact that Democrats control the Senate and the White House means that Republicans have no right to expect that they will always get their way. This concept of basic fairness is the sort of thing most of us learned in second grade. Apparently, Sen. Ted Cruz was not paying attention.

Before the tea party tantrum that caused the shutdown, Democrats had already agreed to sequester-level government funding of $986 billion — the number that Republicans had insisted on. Because of sequestration, funding will suffer a further $21 billion cut in January. Last week, as the Senate struggled to clean up the mess that the House majority had made, Reid said hold on a minute.

Senate Democrats now want only a brief extension at the sequester level, along with further negotiations that could raise government funding closer to $1.058 trillion, the number they originally sought.

Republicans reacted with shock and horror, most of it feigned. This is the way politics is supposed to work. Obama and Reid are now in a position to win gracefully by compromising on their new spending demands. Republicans could then portray the outcome as something other than a rout — and hope the focus on spending makes the hyper-caffeinated GOP base forget about that whole Obamacare-is-the-devil thing.

This should be a lesson: When you negotiate from strength, you’re not only helping yourself. You’re helping your adversary, too.


BY: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 14, 2013

October 15, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Government Shut Down, Sequester | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Lessons Learned”: Why Giving Republican Bullies A Bloody Nose Isn’t Enough

Now is the time to lance the boil of Republican extremism once and for all.

Since Barack Obama became president, the extremists who have taken over the Republican Party have escalated their demands every time he’s caved, using the entire government of the United States as their bargaining chit.

In 2010 he agreed to extend all of the Bush tax cuts through the end of 2012. Were they satisfied? Of course not.

In the summer of 2011, goaded by an influx of Tea Partiers, they demanded huge spending cuts in return for raising the debt ceiling. In response, the President offered an overly-generous $4 trillion “Grand Bargain,” including cuts in Social Security and Medicare and whopping cuts in domestic spending (bringing it to its lowest level as a share of gross domestic product in over half a century).

Were Republicans content? No. When they demanded more, Obama agreed to a Super Committee to find bigger cuts, and if the Super Committee failed, a “sequester” that would automatically and indiscriminately slice everything in the federal budget except Social Security and Medicare.

Not even Obama’s re-election put a damper on their increasing demands. By the end of 2012, they insisted that the Bush tax cuts be permanently extended or the nation would go over the “fiscal cliff.” Once again, Obama caved, agreeing to permanently extend the Bush tax cuts for incomes up to $400,000.

Early this year, after the sequester went into effect, Republicans demanded even bigger spending cuts. Obama offered more cuts in Medicare and a “chained CPI” to reduce Social Security payments, in exchange for Republican concessions on taxes.

Refusing the offer, and seemingly delirious with their power to hold the nation hostage, they demanded that the Affordable Care Act be repealed as a condition for funding the government and again raising the debt ceiling.

This time, though, Obama didn’t cave — at least, not yet.

The government is shuttered and the nation is on the verge of defaulting on its debts. But public opinion has turned sharply against the Republican Party. And the GOP’s corporate and Wall Street backers are threatening to de-fund it.

Suddenly the Republicans are acting like the school-yard bully who terrorized the playground but finally got punched in the face. They’re in shock. They’re humiliated. They’re trying to come up with ways of saving face.

With bloodied nose, House Republicans are running home. They’ve abruptly turned negotiations over to their Senate colleagues.

And just as suddenly, their demand to repeal or delay the Affordable Care Act has vanished. (An email from the group Tea Party Express says: “Are you like us wondering where the fight against Obamacare went?”) At a lunch meeting in the Capitol, Senator John McCain asked a roomful of Republican senators if they still believed it was possible to reverse parts of the program. According to someone briefed on the meeting, no one raised a hand — not even Ted Cruz.

It appears that negotiations over the federal budget deficit are about to begin once again, and presumably Senate Republicans will insist that Obama and the Democrats give way on taxes and spending in exchange for reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling for at least another year.

But keeping the government running and paying the nation’s bills should never have been bargaining chits in the first place, and the President and Democrats shouldn’t begin to negotiate over future budgets until they’re taken off the table.

The question is how thoroughly President Obama has learned that extortionist demands escalate if you give in to them.


By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, October 12, 2013

October 15, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Monster They Created”: Can Corporate America Break The Republican Radical Right?

Back in the early 1970s, corporate America got together and developed a plan of action to combat the takeover of America by what they saw as an unremittingly radical left. If we don’t act and get politically engaged, these corporate titans said, this country is going down the chute.

Forty years later, corporate America beholds the monster it created. And now, these same institutions need to step up and rein in an unremittingly radical right. Only they can stop this nonsense, and it will take an effort as concerted and well-organized as the one they undertook in the 70s.

Here’s what happened then. In the 1960s and early 70s, a good chunk of America’s corporate elite really did feel that the free-enterprise system was under threat. In 1971, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce asked Lewis Powell, then a corporate lawyer in Richmond who would soon be nominated to the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon, to tell them how to save America. The result was the famous Powell memo, which urged the Chamber to start fighting back to protect the system before it was too late in the following arenas: on college campuses; in the media; in the courts; at stockholder and shareholder meetings; and in the political realm.

There’s been a lot of interesting debate over the years about how important the Powell memo really was. But whatever centrality one accords it, the fact is that it was right around then that conservatism really started to organize itself politically. The major think tanks got off the ground (Heritage in 1973), or, in other cases like the American Enterprise Institute, were transformed into something much more overtly political. Several media-monitoring outfits were started (Google the name Reed Irvine, if you weren’t around in those days). Groups were created to train young conservatives and fund right-wing campus newspapers. By 1980, they helped elect a president, feed him appointees and judicial nominees (the Federalist Society started in 1982), and create much of his policy agenda. Today, this organized right-wing infrastructure spends more than $300 million a year on politics.

But now, as we’re seeing, the corporatists’ biggest problem isn’t the left. It’s the right—the nativist and ideological right that no longer wants to listen to them. It was encouraging last week to see officials from the Chamber, the National Retail Federation, and other organizations vent their frustrations to the New York Times and vow that they are going to get involved in Republican primaries to try to defeat some crazies.

And it’s great to hear Tom Donohue, the head of the chamber, say things like these remarks, which he recently made on C-SPAN: “You’ve got to go into the primaries not just to affect this race or that but to send a message on who we are and what we believe. We want to get a better result for the American people and get people there who give the arguments a fair shake.” His ultimate goal, said Donohue, is a “more governable Republican Party.”

Hallelujah to that. But the Chamber and the others are going to have to put lots of money behind this. And they’re going to have to dig in for lengthy trench warfare. Can they reach, and energize, the half of the GOP electorate that isn’t driven by resentment? The half that’s conservative, which is fine, but not boiling over with rage? The half that would accept and embrace an immigration-reform bill and investments in infrastructure, as the Chamber does, even though Barack Obama wants them, too?

This is the biggest political issue of our time. Others are close—the corrupt hold of money on our system is admittedly a pretty close second. But this is the biggest one, because a reasonable GOP would make the country governable again. A critical mass of conservative compromisers, with maybe a few genuinely moderate Republicans thrown in, would end this dysfunction more quickly than anything else.

And the only way for that to happen is for Republican officeholders to fear that segment of the GOP electorate more than they fear the radical segment. That’s going to take a long time and lot of money and organization. But we do know from polls that those Republican voters exist. They’re just intimidated right now.

But to lead this fight, the Chamber needs to see it in just the historical terms I’ve laid out. It’s 1971 all over again. Who is the Lewis Powell who will save corporate America from the rage machine it helped create?


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 14, 2013

October 15, 2013 Posted by | Big Business, Corporations, U.S. Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Ransom By Any Other Name”: The Larger Concern Is That Republican Tactics Are Too Dangerous And Destructive

Words have power and meaning, especially in politics, which is why the parties and their pollsters invest so much energy in choosing the most effective phrases possible. Fox News didn’t push “slimdown” as an ideologically pleasing alternative to “shutdown” for entertainment’s sake — it’s about winning an argument by defining the parameters of the debate.

Professional news organizations are often careful on this front because they don’t want to advance one set of talking points over another, and this in turn sometimes leads to interesting media pushback.

Last week, for example, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney used a variety of metaphors during a press briefing to describe congressional Republicans extortion strategies, but as Scott Wilson noted, one in particular was not well received.

[I]t was “ransom” — a word Obama has used repeatedly to describe Republican negotiating tactics — that struck the last press corps nerve. The usual briefing room decorum, such as it is, broke down entirely when Carney said finally that Obama would sign a debt-ceiling extension but not if it meant “paying a ransom” to Republicans.

“The president will not pay ransom for … ” Carney began.

“You see it as a ransom, but it’s a metaphor that doesn’t serve our purposes … ” NPR correspondent Ari Shapiro shouted back with broad support from other confused reporters.

There’s an official transcript online if you want to see the complete context, but it appears that “ransom” was a bridge too far for some of the journalists covering the White House.

I’m not unsympathetic to reporters’ concerns — “ransom” is not exactly a neutral term. Republicans have acknowledged publicly that they’ve held the debt ceiling “hostage,” but they have not gone so far as to accept “ransom” as a broadly agreed upon term.

But under the circumstances, I’m also not sure which word would satisfy the political establishment as less shrill.

Congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown unless their demands were met, then they threatened a debt-ceiling crisis, too. GOP officials not only embraced the word “hostage” and threatened to do deliberate harm to the country unless they were satisfied by Democratic offers, but they also said they expected Democrats to make concessions in exchange for nothing — except the release of their metaphorical hostages.

If “ransom” is excessive, what’s the alternative that’s both temperate and accurate? Payoff? Is that better or worse?

It’s challenging to apply terms to circumstances like these, in large part because the conditions are so unusual. We’re just not accustomed to seeing major political parties threaten the nation with deliberate harm in order to get their way, and these radical tactics force us to use descriptions that would probably be overly harsh during more traditional political times.

Sometimes, though, a word may be provocative, and may even carry a politically charged meaning, but it may also be right. In the case of the latest Republican hostage crisis, I’d argue the larger concern isn’t whether “ransom” is too mean but whether the tactics are too dangerous.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 14, 2013

October 15, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Government Shut Down, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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