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“They Never Really Cared In The First Place”: Why Republicans Don’t Want To Acknowledge The Falling Deficit

An important budget memo was issued this week celebrating just how far the deficit had fallen over the last five years. But in one of the incongruities that define the political moment, the memo was issued by a Democrat, Senator Patty Murray of Washington, chairwoman of the Budget Committee, not a Republican.

The steep decline of the deficit is not something Republicans really want to talk about, even though their austerity policies were largely responsible for it. If the public really understood how much the deficit has fallen, it would undermine the party’s excuse for opposing every single spending program, exposing the “cost to future generations” as a hyped-up hoax. In fact, it would lead to exactly the conclusion that Ms. Murray reached in her memo to Senate Democrats: that the country can now afford to spend money to boost employment, stay competitive with the rest of the globe in education and research, and finally deal with the long-deferred repairs to public works.

In 2009, the deficit was more than $1.4 trillion, which was nearly 10 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. This year, the deficit will be a little more than a third that size: $520 billion, or 3 percent of G.D.P. The Treasury Department said on Thursday that the deficit fell more sharply in the last fiscal year than in any year since the end of World War II.

Some of the deficit reduction — about 23 percent — is due to tax revenue increases, mostly from the deal to raise income tax rates to Clinton-era levels on households making $450,000 or more. And some is due to lower interest costs, and the slowing growth of health care costs, which is partly attributable to the health care reform law.

But about half of the reduction, the biggest part, is the result of $1.6 trillion in cuts over several years to discretionary spending demanded by Republicans in several rounds of budget negotiations. As a recent Times editorial noted, this has become the tragedy of the Obama administration, undoing the positive effects of the 2009 stimulus, keeping the economic recovery sluggish, and hurting millions of vulnerable people who depended on that spending for shelter, food and education.

Having prevailed over all of those liberal programs, why can’t Republicans acknowledge that the deficit has been vanquished? Just yesterday, they blocked a bill to provide expanded medical and education benefits for veterans, citing the looming deficit. “This bill would spend more than we agreed to spend,” said Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama. “The ink is hardly dry and here we have another bill to raise that spending again.”

The answer, of course, is that Republicans never really cared about the deficit, having raised it to enormous proportions during the administration of George W. Bush. Their real goals were to stop government spending at any cost, and to deny President Obama even a hint of political victory or economic success.

And so Republicans will resist any attempt to use their budget triumphs for Democratic purposes. As Ms. Murray writes, that will create different kinds of deficits: a deficit of people working, of students studying, of roads and bridges and research projects that can lead to prosperity instead of the gloom of austerity.

By: David Firestone, Editor’s Blog, The New York Times, February 28, 2014

March 2, 2014 Posted by | Deficits, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Right’s Ugly Food-Stamp Obsession Is Back!”: Why Lying Dog-Whistle Politics Returned

“Welcome to Obama’s America,” Fox’s Eric Bolling told his audience Tuesday – a dystopia where people now use food stamps to patronize “strip clubs, liquor stores, pot dispensaries.” Following up on its rubbishy August 2013 faux-exposé “The Great Food Stamp Binge,” Fox again profiled “surfing freeloader” Jason Greenslate, who is allegedly “livin’ large” in San Diego, thanks to the SNAP program, commonly known as food stamps. After Bill O’Reilly’s errand boy Jesse Watters caught up with Greenslate again Monday night, “The Five” used the lazy surfer as “the representative of literally millions of Americans,” in Bolling’s words. It was epic.

“He’s playing the system, he’s stretching the rules to their limits,” Bolling told Fox’s angry, fearful, mostly elderly viewers. “But what would you expect with a $105 billion program that’s almost tripled under Obamanomics? That’s what you would expect, right there, take a look at it. But what’s next? Strip clubs, liquor stores, pot dispensaries? Oh, that’s already going on, folks. Welcome to Obama’s America.”

Bolling’s rant came a day after Dick Cheney visited Fox and attacked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s military cuts, telling Sean Hannity, bizarrely, that Obama “would much rather spend the money on food stamps than he would on a strong military or support for our troops.”

The right just can’t leave that old dog-whistle alone. It’s 2012 all over again – Newt Gingrich will be reviving his claim that Obama’s “the food stamp president” any minute now. In “Obama’s America,” the right is determined to make the president the tribune of a moocher-rewarding, ever-expanding welfare state, even if they have to lie to do so.

Of course in Obama’s America (and everyone else’s) SNAP regulations prohibit buying alcohol or tobacco with food stamps, let alone drugs, and they can’t be used at restaurants or bars, let alone strip clubs. But Bolling wants Fox viewers in a perpetual state of moral panic, and the notion that slackers like Greenslate are “livin’ large” – Fox’s term — on the public dime just works, the facts be damned.

Cheney’s rant was in some ways more offensive. Charging that the cuts proposed by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are “really devastating,” Cheney went on: “It does enormous long-term damage to our military. They act as though it is like highway spending and you can turn it on and off. The fact of the matter is he is having a huge impact on the ability of future presidents to deal with future crises that are bound to arise.”

Of course, as Think Progress noted back when Cheney began lobbying against defense cuts in 2012, the former vice president himself presided over a 25 percent cut to the defense budget back when he was defense secretary under George H.W. Bush. The fighting force was reduced by 500,000 active-duty soldiers, a move that was blessed by Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Colin Powell.

That was then. These cuts are the work of Obama’s team. So not only must they be attacked as dangerous, they’ve got to be framed as something the corrupt Chicago “gangster” is doing to reward his coalition of slackers, moochers and lazy white surfers.

Now, maybe it’s progress that Fox is making a white surfer the poster boy for food stamp abuse – but it’s the link to “Obama’s America” that updates Reagan’s old imagery about Cadillac-driving welfare queens and “young bucks” using food stamps to buy “T-bone steaks.”

In fact only 1 percent of SNAP funds are wasted in fraud. Three-quarters of SNAP households include an elderly or disabled person or a child, and fully 42 percent of adult recipients are also working, but making too little to feed themselves and their families. Among the nation’s food stamp recipients are almost a million military veterans, who were slurred by Cheney, and thousands of active duty military too. Military families spent $100 million in food stamp funds at military grocery stores in 2013.

Fox and Cheney don’t want you to think about the veteran or the soldier or the single mother or the disabled senior on food stamps. They don’t want Fox viewers to ask why 42 percent of recipients make such low wages that they qualify for food assistance, or why so many veterans and even active-duty soldiers need help. To distract from an economy that’s increasingly hoarding rewards at the top, they point to a cartoonish moocher and blame Obama.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, February 26, 2014

 

March 2, 2014 Posted by | Fox News, SNAP | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“GOP Like The Dog That Chases A Car”: Republican’s Can’t Do Better Than ObamaCare No Matter What They Would Like You To Believe

We are all familiar with the spectacle of a dog frantically chasing a car, which strikes us as stupid because, after all, what on Earth would the dog do with the car if it actually caught it?

That’s basically what we’re witnessing with the Republicans’ monomaniacal war on the Affordable Care Act:

The GOP’s message may well evolve between now and November, but the most tangible early indicator — advertising spending by conservative groups against Democratic candidates — shows how intensely it is focusing on the health-care law.

“It has been the predominant focus of both our grass roots and our advertising efforts,” said Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, the primary political operation of a donor network backed by billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch.

Of the roughly $30 million the group has spent on ads since August, Phillips said, at least 95 percent has gone toward spots about the health-care law.

Democrats have been tracking that spending to help gauge what their candidates will be facing.

In Senate races, where control of the chamber is on the line, all but $240,000 of the $21.2 million that super PACs are spending on television advertising has gone into attacks centered on the health-care law, said Matt Canter, deputy executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The exceptions were ad buys in three states that criticized Democratic senators for supporting President Obama’s judicial nominees.

There is a lot of polling data about ObamaCare, and you can pick and choose which numbers you want to focus on. I like the fact that 57% of self-proclaimed independents think we should either keep the law as it is or make improvements to it, versus 33% who think it should be scrapped. I don’t like that 29% of voters say that they have been negatively impacted by the law versus 17% who say that they have benefitted.

Overall, you could fairly say that the law is slowly becoming less unpopular. This is a victory in itself, considering how much money the Republicans have spent on trashing the law, and how little money the Democrats have spent defending it. If the law were to become popular, the Republicans’ entire midterm strategy would collapse.

As I’ve noted in recent days, the Republicans are so focused on using ObamaCare as a weapon in the midterms that they don’t want to take on tax or immigration reform because either issue would divide their caucus and take the country’s focus off their war on health coverage.

But, I think the public is going to notice that they are like the dog that chases the car. If you elect them to dismantle ObamaCare, they will have no solutions. They can’t do better than ObamaCare no matter what they would like you to believe. Their proposed reforms would cost more money, insure less people, and take away plans from people who like their plans. Everything they claim not to like about the law, they would make worse.

So, while I am nervous about the differential in firepower and resources being dedicated to arguing about ObamaCare, I think the Republicans are putting all their eggs in one basket full of lies and distortion and that we ought to be able to outflank such a clumsy, plodding, charge.

 

By: Martin Longman, Ten Miles Square, Washington Monthly, February 27, 2014

March 2, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Breed Apart”: So This Is What “Individual Liberty” Looks Like

I was minding my own business channel surfing when I stumbled upon a disturbing scene carried on (where else?) Fox News. More than 1,500 students from all over the world were gathered in Washington to attend what was billed as the Students for Liberty Conference, whose advertised aim was to “celebrate freedom.”

The part I saw had Fox Business host John Stossel, author of No They Can’t: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed, moderating a panel in which he asked students this bit of political trivia: How often is the word “democracy” used in the Constitution, or the Declaration of Independence for that matter?

What came next was chilling. When students were given the correct answer – none – they cheered.

Stossel later explained why. These students, like the Founding Fathers, “understood that democracy may bring mob rule – tyranny of a majority. So the Constitution focuses on restricting government – to secure individual liberty.”

Thanks go to Chris Hayes of MSNBC for showing what this so called “individual liberty” sometimes looks like in real life.

Hayes profiled ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson. As the head of the largest natural gas producer in the US, Tillerson is a vocal proponent of a controversial process known as hydraulic fracking.

It is so controversial, in fact, that many municipalities have begun passing local ordinances to place a moratorium on the practice until more is known about its long-term consequences. Exxon, for its part, has been just as active suing these cities and towns to have the ordinances overturned.

Then along comes another gas company with plans to construct one of these water towers needed for fracking — but this one near Exxon Rex’s 83-acre, $5 million horse ranch near Bartonville, Texas. Tillerson, of course, welcomes the new gas company to the neighborhood with open arms. Right?

Not on your life. Instead, Tillerson and his super-wealthy neighbors file a lawsuit which states that the fracking tower must be stopped since it might “devalue their properties and adversely impact the rural lifestyle they sought to enjoy.”

Further, as the Wall Street Journal disapprovingly reports, Tillerson and his neighbors filed suit, claiming that what the gas company wanted to do was illegal since it would create “a noise nuisance and traffic hazards” due to the heavy trucks hauling and pumping the massive amounts of water needed to unlock oil and gas from dense rock.

As Hayes succinctly put it: “Rex Tillerson is leading the fracking revolution — just not in his backyard.”

Adds Rich Unger writing in Forbes: “Sometimes, the hypocrisy expressed in real life is so sublimely rich that one could never hope to construct a similar scenario out of pure imagination.”

Being a vocal advocate for fracking is “a key and critical function” of Mr. Tillerson’s day job, says Unger. It is all he can do when he wakes up in the morning to “protect and nurture the process of hydraulic fracturing so that his company can continue to rack in billions via the production and sale of natural gas.”

So committed is Rex to the process of fracking, says Unger, “that he has loudly lashed out at those who criticize and seek to regulate hydraulic fracturing, suggesting that such efforts are a very bad idea, indeed.”

Except when the fracking is in Tillerson’s backyard.

The odium directed at Tillerson practically writes itself. But critics are wrong to call him a hypocrite. A hypocrite is someone who subscribes to the notion that people are basically equal, who agrees that rules should apply equally to everyone, but who nonetheless insists on special privileges or exemptions for themselves.

Tillerson, and those of his kind throughout history, do not subscribe to such egalitarian — dare we say democratic — ideals as justice or fairness. They really do believe their wealth makes them a breed apart. And they really do think that rules which apply to everyone else do not apply to them, though they rarely admit that in public.

To Tillerson and his caste, double standards are the only ones worth having. Consequently, it is perfectly legitimate, in their view, to make billions of dollars supporting a fracking process they say is a danger to no one — except people who  own multi-million horse ranches in rural Texas.

I wonder if Stossel’s Students for Liberty cheered just as loudly once they learned the Constitution does not use the world oligarchy either?

 

By: Ted Frier, Open Salon Blog, February 27, 2014

March 2, 2014 Posted by | Fracking, Oil Industry | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Texas Strikes Again”: Whatever Happens In Texas Has A Way Of Coming Back And Biting The Rest Of The Nation In The Butt

Election season in Texas! They’re voting right now in the primaries. And I know you are interested because whatever happens in Texas has a way of coming back and biting the rest of the nation.

For instance, Gov. Rick Perry is retiring and threatening to run for president. (He’s been to Israel!) So is Senator Ted Cruz. And now, in answer to the great national outcry for more candidates named George Bush, Texas Republicans appear ready to nominate George Prescott Bush for land commissioner.

“My friends and family call me George P, so feel free to call me P,” the 37-year-old energy consultant and son of Jeb told CNN. This was one of his more expansive interviews during a campaign that has mainly involved driving around the state in a bus while keeping as far away from reporters as humanly possible. P’s genius for avoiding the media is so profound that, in a primal moan of despair, The Austin American-Statesman endorsed his primary opponent, a businessman who advocates barring children of illegal immigrants from public schools.

Texans really love elections. Well, not the voting part — turnout is generally abysmal. But they have a ton of elective offices — land commissioner, agriculture commissioner, state school board. (There are a couple of conservative-versus-crazy Republican school board primaries, and the results may influence a pending war over requiring social studies students to learn how Moses impacted the founding fathers.)

Also, it’s really easy to get on the ballot. There are 12 Republicans running to replace Representative Steve Stockman, who is in a field of seven Republicans running against Senator John Cornyn. You may remember that Stockman is the one whose campaign office was condemned by the fire marshal. We suspect Cornyn will survive. In an editorial endorsing the incumbent, The Dallas Morning News wearily listed the other alternatives, including a businessman who “told this editorial board that ranchers should be allowed to shoot on sight anyone illegally crossing the border on to their land, referred to such people as ‘wetbacks,’ and called the president a ‘socialist son of a bitch.’ ”

Well, it’s not boring. And on the positive front, experts in Texas say there’s absolutely no chance that the guy who legally changed his name to SECEDE is going to win a nomination for governor.

The primary voting culminates on March 4, after which there will be run-offs in May for the races in which no candidate got more than 50 percent of the vote. Conventional wisdom holds that by March 5 the world will know that the race to succeed Rick Perry will pit Democrat Wendy Davis against Republican Greg Abbott.

Abbott, the current attorney general, recently made national headlines when he appeared at a rally with Ted Nugent, the right-wing rocker who once referred to President Obama as a “subhuman mongrel.” Nugent, whose last hit record is older than Beyoncé, has recreated himself as a celebrity ranter. Mostly, he rants about gun rights, which is as difficult in Texas as taking a strong stand in favor of oxygen. But his vow to be either “dead or in jail” if Obama was re-elected earned him a visit from the Secret Service. One of his more printable references to Hillary Clinton was “two-bit whore for Fidel Castro.”

Abbott told The Houston Chronicle that he was unaware of what Nugent “may have said or done in his background.” Since Nugent is as impossible to ignore in Texas politics as the heat, this may have been a fib. Otherwise, Abbott is an attorney general with an astonishing lack of interest in the world around him.

What we are seeing here is a microcosm of the national political scene. Texas Republicans are terrified of two things — the angry white, mostly male Republican far right and the state’s huge population of young Hispanics. Nugent is a sop to the first. George P. Bush, whose mother is Mexican-American, is a Hail Mary pass thrown in the general direction of the second.

Although Texans as a group are not particularly crazy when it comes to the immigration issue, the Tea Party folk have been pushing it hard. Dan Patrick, a state senator who’s currently one of the leading candidates for lieutenant governor, has been campaigning against the “illegal invasion,” which he once claimed was threatening Texas with “Third World diseases” like “tuberculosis, malaria, polio and leprosy.” (Patrick, an equal opportunity offender, also once boycotted the opening prayer in the Senate because it was being delivered by a Texas cleric who happened to be a Muslim.)

Immigrant-bashing is a shortcut to a runoff in a Republican primary. Meanwhile, it’s a continuing offense to the voter base of the 2020s. What do you do?

P! We have seen the future, and it’s running for land commissioner.

 

By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 21, 2014

March 2, 2014 Posted by | Politics, Texas | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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