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“We Don’t Want Nothing Out Of This Debt Limit”: Paul Ryan Says He Isn’t Done Holding The Economy Hostage

In the spectacular Republican burnout at the end of the October government shutdown, it was easy to miss that America came within just hours of a full economic meltdown.

The brinksmanship over the demand to defund Obamacare or at least completely maim it lasted for 16 days and cost an estimated $24 billion. But if the standoff had gone on just another day longer, the debt ceiling would have been breached, causing economic chaos.

It’s difficult to predict what kind of damage the economy might have suffered, because no Congress had ever been stupid enough to default on our debts on purpose. The debt limit crisis of 2011 cost the stock market thousands of points and stunted job creation for months. There wasn’t a similar effect in 2013 because Wall Street assumed the GOP was crying wolf, and they were right.

But one mistake, one procedural error, one coup against a congressional leader could have sparked the beginning of a default. And many economists believe the results would have resembled the 2008 financial crisis — but worse.

As she’s sold the budget deal she negotiated with House Republicans that doesn’t extend the debt limit, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) has said, “We have brought certainty and stability.”

And the economy does seem to be more stable since the GOP capitulated in October. “The volatility of the U.S. dollar in the last 90 days fell to 4.93 percent on Dec. 13 from a yearly high of 7.34 percent in September as a shutdown and debt ceiling crisis loomed, according to the Bloomberg U.S. Dollar Index that represents 10 major currencies weighted by liquidity and trade flows,” Bloomberg‘s Derek Wallbank and Kathleen Hunter noted.

But Murray’s partner, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), seems intent on disrupting that stability.

“We don’t want nothing out of this debt limit,” he told Fox News Sunday.

In other words, House Republican demands are forthcoming. The last time they put together a list of such demands, it was an insane laundry list of right-wing wishes cribbed from the Koch Brothers’ letter to Santa. Somehow being the party held responsible for the greatest financial crisis in a half-century has given Republicans the freedom to boldly threaten a return to such a crisis again and again, without fear of destroying their party.

The president offered, in return, nothing. Obviously regretting setting the precedent that the economy could be held hostage, President Obama has vowed never to negotiate over the debt limit again.

With Republican factions warring with themselves and everyone in Washington seeing their approval ratings shrink, would they dare play chicken with the economy as the midterm elections rapidly approach?

Paul Ryan knows he can’t afford not to at least seem as if he’s willing to do so without losing the Tea Party support that makes him such an asset to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). And the president knows he can’t afford to give in.

The result is that another crisis has been averted, but a far worse one looms.

 

By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, December 16, 2013

December 17, 2013 Posted by | Budget, Debt Ceiling, Paul Ryan | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Affluenza”: The Latest Criminal Defense For The Spoiled Rich

There’s a tired and persistent canard that criminals end up going without punishment for their violations because they convince lawyers and judges that they were so victimized as children by poverty or abuse that they can’t possibly be held accountable for their own behavior. This is hardly the case; in fact, the opposite is true. Indigent defendants have little recourse if they are assigned substandard public representation, and juries hardly identify with a poor kid or a black kid thought to be up to no good. That was represented pretty clearly in the acquittal of George Zimmerman (“George,” one juror referred to the defendant after that trial, as though he were a pal and neighbor). Zimmerman had shot and killed an unarmed African-American teenager, but the jury appeared to identify with the shooter more.

And one look at the appalling result of mandatory-minimum laws shows that drug offenders, in particular, are being subject to absurdly long prison sentences. A first-time offender found with 5 grams of crack can be subject to a minimum five-year sentence; add on some trumped up “conspiracy” as part of the continuum of drug sales, and the incarceration could jump to a mandatory minimum of 20 years. Jack Carpenter sold medical marijuana to dispensaries in California (where it is legal), but was still sentenced to 10 years behind bars by a federal judge.

Forget about avoiding prison because you had it tough as a kid. And don’t even try the “Twinkie defense,” the contention that you were so amped up on sugar you couldn’t control yourself. A Texas teen has taken miscarriage of justice one further, avoiding punishment for killing four people because of what his lawyer called “affluenza.” In other words, the 16-year-old Ethan Couch is such a spoiled brat because his rich parents never bothered to put any limits on him. Therefore, it was argued, even though his blood alcohol was three times the legal limit when he drove his truck 70 mph in a 40-mph zone – killing four people and seriously injuring two more – how could we possibly expect him to have done otherwise? He was never properly parented by his wealthy family, and so how could he be expected to know right from wrong?

The argument sounds like something out of a TV legal drama, added in to display the occasional absurdities of the legal system, especially in cases where the defense attorney is desperate and has absolutely nothing else to argue. But horrifyingly, in this case, it worked.

Couch was sentenced to probation. So much for a 24-year old woman whose car had broken down on the side of the road, along with the mother and daughter who came to help. And so much, too, for the pastor who also stopped to help the stranded motorist. They’re all dead. And two of Couch’s passengers are seriously injured; one of them, also a teen, is now paralyzed. Couch earlier this month pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury.

Before sentencing, a defense-provided psychologist, G. Dick Miller, said Couch would not benefit from jail, but rather from therapy. “This kid has been in a system that’s sick. If he goes to jail, that’s just another sick system.”

There’s a sickness to the system here. And it won’t be solved by the $450,000-a-year rehab center Couch will be attending, courtesy of his parents. And he’s learned his lesson anyway – that the rich don’t live like you and me. They aren’t held to the same standards of personal accountability, either.

 

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, December 16, 2013

December 17, 2013 Posted by | Criminal Justice System | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Bleeding-Heart Liberal”: Why Conservatives Should Hate Santa Claus

The war over the War on Christmas has flared up again. Slate’s Aisha Harris fired the latest salvo with her piece last week, “Santa Claus Should Not Be a White Man Anymore,” prompting a famously confused response from Fox News host Megyn Kelly that “Santa Claus just is white” and “Jesus was a white man, too. He was a historical figure, I mean, that’s verifiable fact—as is Santa.” Every single living being on the Internet weighed in. Kelly later defended herself in the usual manner of someone who regrets having said something: “Humor is a part of what we try to bring to this show, but sometimes that is lost on the humorless.”

She was not joking, of course. To conservatives—of which she is one—the War on Christmas is a very real and serious thing, and the holiday’s two most revered figures, Jesus and Santa, must be defended at all costs from liberals who would dare make the holiday more inclusive. What’s even weirder than the insistence that Santa is white, though, is that conservatives dare to defend him in the first place. He’s a conservative’s worst nightmare, actually.

Consider the lyrics to “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town”:

He’s making a list / Checking it twice / Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice / Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you’re sleeping / He knows when you’re awake / He knows if you’ve been bad or good / So be good for goodness sake

That he’s “making a list” sounds more than vaguely McCarthyistic, I’ll admit, but this is 2013, not 1954. You know who makes lists these days? The National Security Agency—for the express purpose of finding out who has been, or may one day be, naughty. By monitoring your emails and cell phone metadata, the NSA also has a pretty good idea of when you’re sleeping or awake. (Another agency that likes lists: the Internal Revenue Service.)

Santa invades our privacy in more literal ways, too. He breaks into everyone’s homes in the middle of the night—a crime that no one of any political persuasion, except perhaps anarchists, should endorse—and once inside, what does he do? He leaves presents totaling hundreds or thousands of dollars under your tree. You know who else gives Americans free stuff simply for being alive, rather than making recipients work for it? The bloated federal government and its social safety net. Every day, millions of Americans open unearned gifts in the form of Medicaid, unemployment insurance, TANF, and food stamps.

Santa’s home address further complicates matters. Eventually the North Pole will become the equivalent of a Caribbean beach, converting Santa into the world’s most famous and influential climate-change activist—at which point the only coal being mined in America will end up in presents beneath conservatives’ Christmas trees.

And as longtime Santa actor Jonathan Meath points out, “Santa is really the only cultural icon we have who’s male, doesn’t carry a gun, and is all about peace, joy, giving, and caring for other people.” Sure sounds like a bleeding-heart liberal to me.

Note: Humor is a part of what we try to bring to this website, but sometimes that is lost on the humorless.

 

By: Ryan Kearney, The New Republic, December 16, 2013

December 17, 2013 Posted by | Conservatives | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pushing Bad Politics And Bad Economics”: Washington ‘Centrists’ Don’t Want President Obama To Target Inequality

Last week, President Obama delivered an impassioned address about growing income inequality and declining mobility, correctly identifying the trend as both a problem long in the making and the seminal economic challenge of our time. Inequality in the U.S. has not just meant a growing divide between the rich and the poor, but a weakening middle class, with median wages declining to $51,404 a year, down from $56,000 a year in 2000, all while productivity increased. As President Obama put it, “We know from our history that our economy grows best from the middle out, when growth is more widely shared.” But this belief that a strong and growing middle class is key to economic growth and that inequality actually harms the economy is not an argument Obama pulled out of thin air. Rather it is a theory at the core of the Democratic Party, adhered to by both recent and long past Presidents. Indeed, Bill Clinton who titled his campaign book “Putting People First,” made the same argument when he accepted his party’s nomination for the middle class, stating he was doing so “in the name of all those who do the work, pay the taxes, raise the kids and play by the rules.” And of course, FDR was the father of middle-out economics, adopting demand-side Keynesian economics in the face of the Great Depression.

That’s why it was so surprising that the day before Obama’s speech hosted by the Center for American Progress, Third Way’s Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler declared economic populism “a dead end for Democrats.” They argue that messages about income inequality are overly idealistic and claim that the progressive economic agenda doesn’t excite voters outside of midnight blue districts. Of course, they ignore that it was a populist message about reducing inequality that won Obama reelection just over a year ago.

However, the push from leading progressives for Democrats to embrace a policy agenda that says the promise of America should be for all wasn’t born from a political playbook, but from the economic reality of the last decade. Wages have been unacceptably stagnant: in 2000 the median American worker earned $768 per week, in 2012 that worker still makes $768 per week even as productivity increased over the same time period by 23 percent. Inequality is on the rise. Between 2009 and 2012, 95% of the country’s income gains went to the top 1% of earners. An overwhelming majority of Americans—85 percent—feel that it’s more difficult for middle-class families to maintain their standard of living now than a decade ago. It is in response to this economic hardship and widening income inequality that Americans have embraced a policy vision that rejects failed austerity measures in favor of smart investments in the middle class.

This vision is far from “fantasy-based blue-state populism.” In fact, it’s budget-hawks whose arguments for austerity find support in fictional evidence. The deficit is falling fast—in 2013 it decreased by 37 percent. Where in 2010, the Congressional Budget Office projected deficits would exceed 8 percent of gross domestic product by 2023, today deficits are projected to average around 3 percent of GDP; the unemployment rate, on the other hand is higher today, averaging 7.5% this year, than the CBO predicted it would be by this year , 6.7%. But unemployment isn’t following the same trend. While debt projections are no longer threatening to spiral out of control, budget hawks continue their relentless focus on deficit reduction. And Washington’s obsession with fiscal “solutions” that are in search of a problem has made it harder, not easier, to create good jobs, to increase wages, and to boost overall economic growth.

This is the reality not only in true-blue districts and states, but across the country. That’s why a focus on inequality and requiring the wealthy to pay their fair share has not just been a successful political strategy for Bill de Blasio and Elizabeth Warren, but for leaders in Ohio, California, Maryland, and across the country.

In Ronald Reagan’s home state of California, Gov. Jerry Brown fought for a proposition to raise taxes on those making $250,000 or more a year and to increase the state’s sales tax by a quarter-cent directly to Californians in 2012. The establishment of a “millionaire tax” didn’t drive away innovators, but allowed the state’s leaders to say no to painful budget cuts and turned California into a global model for how to make an economy that works for everybody. Brown turned a $27 billion deficit into a surplus, brought down California’s unemployment rate, and improved the state’s credit rating. As Brown’s progressive, middle-out economic agenda paid dividends, his approval ratings soared.

Kessler and Cowan disingenuously term the serious policy ideas put forward by progressives as a “‘we can have it all’ fantasy.” But what’s lofty about a proposal to enable every child the opportunity to attend preschool when the plan would dramatically expand opportunity by boosting children’s lifetime earnings, reducing teen pregnancy rates, and lowering the chances of future arrest and incarceration? Making smart investments in early childhood education could not only generate more than $7 of economic benefits over a child’s lifetime for every dollar spent up front, but would also benefit our economy in the immediate term by providing parents with increased workplace flexibility. In pursuit of pragmatic, big ideas like universal pre-k, progressives are more than willing to talk about entitlement reforms that don’t hurt beneficiaries. In fact, the  idea that every child should have access to high quality pre-k in return for enormous economic dividends is simply smart economics, not fantasy.

The most confounding piece of Kessler and Cowan’s argument is that they don’t distinguish between tax increases that affect everyone and tax increases that impact the wealthy. They argue that Democrats should learn a lesson from Colorado’s recent decision to turn down an across the board tax. While raising taxes on the wealthy has proven to be both good policy and good politics, there’s no doubt that raising taxes on everyone, as Colorado attempted, may be difficult to do—especially when wages are down. But, Bill de Blasio and Elizabeth Warren aren’t arguing that everyone should pay more in taxes, but only that the wealthy should pay their fair share. President Obama is advocating for the idea that when the top 10 percent of earners take home 50 percent of the country’s wealth, it’s reasonable to ask that the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share to ensure that all Americans have a shot at economic success. There’s another politician who raised taxes on the wealthy by raising the top marginal rate who was handily reelected President: Bill Clinton.

 

By: Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress; The New Republic, December 15, 2013

December 17, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Middle Class | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Ending Medicare As We Know It”: Here’s Why There Won’t Be A Republican Alternative To Obamacare

Republicans are sick of people saying they don’t have an alternative to Obamacare.

They have plenty!

And not just, “Don’t get sick! And if you do get sick, die quickly,” as Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) said in 2009.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives just hasn’t voted on even one Obamacare alternative because it’s hard to fit stuff in when you only work 28 hours a week and have to squeeze in all those Obamacare repeals.

But they’re going to fix that problem in 2014, says Rep. Tom Price (R-GA).

The congressman has introduced his Obamacare alternative — the Empowering Patients First Act — three times since 2009. Price’s bill has never been given a vote, even though it has 50 co-sponsors, including the eminent Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN).

Price told Fox News that after the first of the year, Republican leaders are going to bring forth a bill that will “unite Republicans around health care issues” because “you can’t beat something with nothing.”

This logic runs contrary to Town Hall‘s Conn Carroll, who believes the House GOP won’t coalesce around one plan or, as he calls it, “a villain to run against.”

This has been the GOP strategy since 2010, and don’t expect it to change, despite the assurances the leadership has given to Rep. Price.

Price’s bill has never been scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). But a former Republican head of the CBO scored it independently and found that it saves trillions of dollars over 10 years and will reduce the uninsured population by 29 percent by 2016.

If this is true, why haven’t Republicans even put it up for a vote?

A quick look at H.R. 2300, the current version of Price’s bill, shows you why the GOP likely won’t propose an alternative to Obamacare — ever.

The bill starts off with Republicans’ favorite health care distractions — tort reform and selling across state lines.

If you eliminated every malpractice claim in America, that would only reduce the costs of our health care system by 1 to 1.5 percent – far less than implementing a public option.

Selling insurance over state lines would just give insurers the chance to sell plans from the state with the fewest regulations. The Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein looked at a CBO report on a bill from 2005 that would have made national sales of state insurance plans possible and found “the legislation would not change the number of insured Americans or save much money, but it would make insurance more expensive for the sick and cheaper for the healthy, and lead to more healthy people with insurance and fewer sick people with insurance.”

The real goal of Price’s bill and just about every Republican reform of the health care system is to end the employer-provided health insurance dynamic that most Americans rely upon. Employers get a generous tax break for providing health coverage that Price would then extend to individuals. The 2009 version of his bill did this in a way that would actually have resulted in a huge tax increase.

But the bigger problem with Price’s plan to sever the employer-employee health insurance relationship and create plans that stay with an individual for life is that it would end up in cancelations of current plans — tens of millions of cancelations.

Republicans could argue that these new plans would be better than the existing plans for various reasons — but that’s an argument they know doesn’t work, because they crushed it when Democrats used it to defend the cancelations that happened after the implementation Obamacare.

Price says his plan would cover people with pre-existing conditions, though it doesn’t include an individual mandate or any incentive to prevent insurers from cherry-picking the healthiest consumers.

“In other words, this looks much like the reforms that collapsed in Texas, and in California,” Klein noted. ”Price isn’t learning from past policy mistakes, and so he means to repeat them.”

The biggest problem with Price’s bill is how it reforms existing public health care programs.

If H.R. 2300 became law, anyone could opt out of Medicare or Medicaid and receive a voucher to purchase private insurance.

We have no idea how many people would opt out of Medicare given the fact that few private insurers see people over 65 as the path to prosperity for their business. But when the growth of Medicare costs is far below that of private insurers, all that voucher would end up being is a ticket to pay far more for health care at the time of your life when it will cost you the most.

And if too many beneficiaries opted out, the entire system of dictating costs to providers in exchange for volume could collapse with devastating effects to our deficit and debt.

The worst part for Republicans is the facet of the law that allows Democrats to make a pretty simple case against the GOP’s Obamacare alternative: It ends Medicare as we know it. The GOP could rebut that assertion by saying that Medicare will still exist for those who want it, but a party that has been shedding senior support all year doesn’t want to have that argument.

Any alternative the GOP proposes to replace Obamacare is going to spark negative headlines — even if the GOP manages to evade the tax increases, cancelations and potential problems for Medicare that exist in Price’s bill.

If the Republican leadership makes the mistake of offering an alternative, they’ll dull the sting of their attacks on Obamacare by having to defend some version of a plan they were wise enough to sit on for years.

 

By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, December 16, 2013

December 17, 2013 Posted by | Health Reform, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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