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

“It’s Worth Taking Seriously”: Washington Is Ignoring Obama’s Budget. You Shouldn’t

Mere hours after the White House released President Obama’s budget, Washington had reached a consensus about it: It’s “irrelevant.”

As this argument goes, the House and Senate have already agreed on a fiscal policy plan—the agreement from House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray that Congress passed in the fall. Ryan-Murray lays out the basic parameters of what the government will take in and spend, not just for 2014 but also for 2015. Neither party wants to revisit that pact. And to the extent Obama is proposing new ideas for the long term, like pouring money into early childhood education, the Republicans simply aren’t interested in passing them. That would seem to render Obama’s new budget an exercise in pure political symbolism, and maybe empty symbolism at that.

I take a different view—and not simply because I’m nerdy enough to think of reading 200-plus pages of figures and charts as an opportunity, rather than a burden. For one thing, some of Obama’s budget proposals could still become legislation—not as sweeping initiatives, for sure, but as scaled-down pilots or add-ons to other pieces of legislation. It’s already happened once, in the Ryan-Murray spending agreement. Mostly that pact was about restoring some of the funding that various federal agencies had lost, because of budget sequestration. But the Administration and its Capitol Hill allies managed to squeeze out a little extra funding for early childhood programs. One reason: Obama’s call for a massive, $75 billion investment in the previous year’s budget put the issue onto the agenda.

The Administration may have another chance to scrounge up new funding for early childhood this year, now that leaders in both parties have expressed interest in reauthorizing and improving the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which is the federal government’s biggest program for financing day care. And that’s not the only pending legislation that could give the Administration and its allies a chance to fight for funds. Congress could take up a major highway bill, since the existing federal law expires in September. That’s an opportunity to drum up support for infrastructure projects, which include ports that need dredging as well as roads that need building.

“We can’t simply throw up our hands and not pass a highway bill,” one senior administration official said on Tuesday. And while this particular Congress has shown an unusual proclivity for doing nothing, thanks mostly to Republican intransigence, the two parties seem to have some of the same topics on their minds. Both Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio has expressed interest in expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, so that childless adults can get benefits closer to the ones that families already receive. Obama’s budget calls for the same thing. House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp has talked about closing corporate tax loopholes, bolstering tax breaks for the working poor, and even throwing a little funding at infrastructure. Obama’s budget includes versions of all of these.

The parties are still far apart—very, very far apart—on the specifics. Republicans and Democrats have fundamental disagreements about how to fund highway creation and maintenance, with one side supporting new taxes and the other favoring tax cuts. (You can guess who wants what.) The Republican EITC proposals would give more money to childless adults by giving less money to families; Obama’s proposal would increase funding across the board. But particularly when it comes to some of the provisions of Camp’s tax plan, a senior administration official said on Tuesday, “there’s basis for a serious conversation.”

Of course, Camp isn’t the problem. It’s the House Republican leaders, who are in no rush to put his plan—or anybody else’s plan—on the agenda if they can avoid it. That’s partly because an election is coming up. Republicans figure they will pick up seats in the midterms, giving them more leverage over any fiscal negotiations taking place. But a budget unlikely to generate legislation can still have meaning, as a statement of priorities. In this case, the Obama budget is a preview of the agenda Democrats will adopt whenever full-scale fiscal negotiations start up again—which, as Bob Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, is likely to happen sometime in 2015:

2014 likely won’t be a year of significant budgetary action beyond the appropriations bills. But 2015 may well be. Policymakers likely will seek to negotiate another budget deal to ease the scheduled sequestration budget cuts for 2016 and beyond and also may consider tax reform and other measures.  Both the new Obama budget and the budget proposal that House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan will unveil in a few weeks will offer dueling frameworks for a year-long debate on where fiscal and program policy should go, in advance of larger decisions next year.

That’s precisely the sort of information voters should have in November, when they decide which parties control the two houses of Congress.

The stakes in the fall may not be nearly as big as they were in 2008, when Obama was promising to reform health care and stop climate change—or in 2010, when Republicans were vowing to roll back Obama’s accomplishments and, then, roll back parts of the Great Society and New Deal. But those were unusually grandiose times. The difference between Democratic and Republican visions of government are still large—and in 2015, when the current spending agreement runs out, lawmakers will have to reconcile them. Obama’s budget is one vision for how to do that, which makes it worth taking seriously.


By: Jonathan Cohn, The New Republic, March 4, 2014

March 6, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Federal Budget, Fiscal Policy | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Right vs Far-Right In Texas Primaries”: ‘GOP Establishment’ Has Co-opted The Tea Party With Its Own Savage Rhetoric And Policies

Yesterday was arguably the first big Election Day of the 2014 cycle, with Texas holding Republican and Democratic primaries statewide. And with Gov. Rick Perry (R) stepping down after 13 years as the state’s chief executive, voters saw competitive contests up and down the ballot, creating frenzied races Texans hadn’t seen in a while.

As the dust settles, it appears most of the establishment candidates prevailed. This New York Times piece helped summarize the conventional wisdom about the larger implications.

Establishment Republican leaders on Tuesday defeated challenges from the right in a statewide primary election as conservatives inspired by Senator Ted Cruz largely failed to topple mainstream incumbents, and a race for lieutenant governor headed for a runoff.

Similarly, the headline from The Hill reads, “Top Texas Tea Party challengers flame out.”

With candidates like Sen. John Cornyn (R), Rep. Pete Sessions (R), and gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott (R) easily dispatching rivals from the fringe, the notion that the GOP establishment reasserted itself certainly makes sense.

But it’s best not to push these assumptions too far. Ed Kilgore had an item on Monday – the day before the primary – about the likely results, which rings true two days later: “If no Tea Party insurgents … score a major victory, you will hear some observers declare the movement dead or dying, right there in Ted Cruz’s backyard. Others (myself included) will note that thanks to Cruz and following Rick Perry’s earlier lead, the ‘Republican Establishment’ in Texas has largely coopted the Tea Party movement with its own savage rhetoric and policies.”

If the top-line takeaway is that the GOP Establishment won and the Tea Party faltered, some might get the impression that more moderate conservatives prevailed over voices of extremism. That impression would be mistaken. Federal lawmakers like Cornyn and Sessions became some of the most conservative members of Congress in recent years as Republican politics in Texas became more radicalized.

In other words, yesterday pitted very conservative Republicans against hyper-conservative Republicans. That the former scored victories isn’t exactly a win for the American mainstream.

Looking ahead, Abbott, Texas’ attorney general, will face state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) in a high-profile match-up that’s likely to be a very expensive contest.

Also keep an eye on Rep. Ralph Hall (R), a long-time incumbent who was pushed yesterday into a May 27 runoff primary.

And perhaps most interesting of all will be the Republican runoff in the race for lieutenant governor.

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) has been forced into a primary runoff and trails his challenger, sports broadcaster Dan Patrick (R).

Patrick leads Dewhurst by 43 percent to 28 percent with 24 percent of precincts reporting. The Associated Press has called that the race will head to a runoff.

In 2012, Dewhurst was the early frontrunner in the open U.S. Senate race, before he got crushed by Ted Cruz. As yesterday’s primary results helped make clear, his career hasn’t recovered well.

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 4, 2014

March 6, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Tea Party, Texas | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Flashback, 2008”: When A Russian Invasion Made Fox News Shrug

Fox News commentators have been rushing in to blame President Obama for the Russian military’s excursion into Ukraine. It’s because of Obama’s “weakness” that Vladamir Putin has seized the military initiative, announced Sarah Palin.

The crisis proves Obama’s guilty of misunderstanding the Russians and not being “interested in American national security affairs,” according to John Bolton. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told Fox viewers Obama “left a vacuum that Putin is filling,” and Steve Doocy complained the president hasn’t done “much” to solve the situation.

Also, Obama needs to get a “backbone” and he’s “lost moral authority.” All this while Fox has marveled over Putin’s prowess as a true “leader,” and swooned his supposed physical superiority over Obama.

Please note that in August 2008, during President Bush’s final months in office, a strikingly similar scenario played out when Russian forces invaded the former Soviet state of Georgia. At the time, the Bush White House sounded an awful lot like today’s Obama White House. From Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino, now a Fox host:

“The United States supports Georgia’s territorial integrity. We call for an immediate ceasefire. We urge all parties Georgians, south Ossetians, Russians to deescalate the tensions and to avoid conflict. We are working on mediation efforts and to secure a ceasefire, and we are urging the parties to restart their dialogue.”

Yet unlike today, the Putin-led excursion in 2008 completely failed to spark the panicked rhetoric that’s become Fox News’ trademark since Russian troops crossed over into Ukraine last week. Notably absent from the 2008 Georgia coverage was relentless finger pointing and blaming the White House for the extreme actions of a foreign leader thousands of miles away. There was also none of the Putin cheerleading that we hear on Fox News today.

In fact, some of the Fox commentators currently stoking the flames of “crisis” were rather non-judgmental when Russian tanks moved into Georgia. “I don’t think the Russians are reckless,” Charles Krauthammer announced on August 8, 2008, as Russian fleets advanced into the Black Sea and Russian jets launched raids targeting government buildings in Georgia. “What they are doing here is reasserting control of this province. And when it’s done, which will probably happen in a couple days, the firing will crease.”

Three days later, Krauthammer insisted there was nothing for the United States to do as the crisis escalated: “Well, obviously it’s beyond our control. The Russians are advancing. There is nothing that will stop them. We are not going to go to war over Georgia.” Krauthammer’s Fox colleague Jeff Birnbaum, agreed: “Because Georgia is not part of NATO, there’s really no danger the United States or Europe will get involved in what is really a civil war almost between–within this small part of Georgia.”

Fox News’ message to America then? Just relax. There’s nothing the U.S. can do about Russia invading its sovereign neighbor and it will all be over soon.

Bill O’Reilly agreed with the laissez-faire analysis. “Even if President Bush wanted to help Georgia we simply don’t have the ground forces to do it,” said O’Reilly on August 11.
“And confronting the Russians in the air would lead to major hostilities that the USA cannot afford right now.”

Even Fox’s usually bellicose, right-wing think tank commentators demurred. “There’s no easy answer; there’s only tough choices,” said the Heritage Foundation’s Peter Brookes on August 12, 2008. “Russia is a tough nut to crack.”


Recall that early in his presidency Bush famously announced he had peered into Putin’s soul and spotted goodness in the Russian leader. The Georgia invasion belayed Bush’s gut instincts, but few Fox commentators mocked the president for his misreading of Putin. (Nor was there discussion that Bush’s failed war with Iraq had created an opportunity for Russia’s military expansion.)

“I don’t think that Putin spit in the eye of the president,” insisted Karl Rove in 2008. And John Bolton, who this week accused Obama of not “paying attention” to Ukraine? Back in 2008, he gave Bush a pass when Russian troops poured into Georgia. “I think a lot of people missed it, not just the administration.” Bolton said on Fox.

Whereas the current Ukraine conflict is all about Obama on Fox News (i.e. Putin: leader; Obama: weak), Bush was portrayed as a minor figure when Russia waged war in Georgia six years ago.


By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters For America, March 4, 2014

March 6, 2014 Posted by | Fox News, Russia, Ukraine | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Testing Treason’s Perimeter”: Why Neocons Love The Strongman

Say this for Rudy Giuliani: He gave away the game with his now-infamous admiring comments on Fox News two days ago about Vladimir Putin. “He makes a decision and he executes it, quickly,” the former mayor said. “Then everybody reacts. That’s what you call a leader. President Obama, he’s got to think about it. He’s got to go over it again. He’s got to talk to more people about it.”

Giuliani, once a genuinely moderate Republican (go look up his mayoral immigration record) and a man whom aides used to describe a long time ago as the one figure capable of pulling the national GOP back toward the center (I swear, I had those conversations), has served for some time now as little more than a right-wing standup comic—and a staggeringly hypocritical one at that. I’ll never forget his St. Paul convention speech, when he defended Sarah Palin by mocking Barack Obama and the Democrats for not thinking her hometown was “cosmopolitan enough.” This from a man who, while ostensibly campaigning against Hillary Clinton in 1999 and 2000 to represent all of New York state in the U.S. Senate, I think literally never spent a single night upstate. Zoom—as soon as the event in Albany or Schenectady was over, it was on the plane and right back to the emotional safety of the Upper East Side.

A standup comic often serves as his audience’s id, and so it is in this case. The neocons, on some emotional level, prefer Putin to Obama. He’s rugged. He goes shirtless. He knows his way around a Kalashnikov. He “wrestles bears and drills for oil,” as Palin put it Monday night, also on Fox. Palin, of course, is a pretty id-dy figure in her own right. She and Giuliani can say what some others who live and operate in Washington may feel constrained from saying. But every time John Bolton and Charles Krauthammer and Lindsey Graham and others carry on about Obama’s weakness, they’re also implying that he’s not half the man Putin is. And in neocon world, it always comes down to who’s the manlier man (although this makes Osama bin Laden a manlier man than Bush or Cheney, and Obama a manlier man than all of them, but never mind).

Now of course these people can’t openly cheer for Putin, because that would constitute outright treason, but they can test treason’s perimeter fence and probe it for weaknesses. I don’t quite think they want war with Russia; Russia ain’t Iraq. And obviously I don’t believe that if it came to that they’d be against their own country.

But that said, they are certainly undermining the commander in chief at a pivotal moment—not merely protesting his policies, but denouncing his character.

And don’t we suspect that they’re doing this because there’s a little part of them that wants a full-blown crisis? Of course there is. A crisis would vindicate them. A crisis would make the neocons—at risk of being flushed down history’s toilet by Rand Paul, who’s suddenly being called “front runner” by more and more people—relevant inside the Republican Party again.

What good would a settlement do them? Putin keeping the Crimea and stopping there, and that being the end of it? Why, they’d be reduced to carrying on about the Crimea as if it mattered to the United States one way or the other who ran it. Settlements are so kiss-your-sister. Settlements are for… community organizers.

No, they thirst for crisis. They can attribute it to Obama’s “weakness.” They can work in some shots at Hillary Clinton and try to hang it around her neck, since the Benghazi noose has shown an infuriating habit of slipping loose. And they can say to America, “See? You need us.”

The reality is that America needs their advice like it needs John Travolta’s pronunciation guide. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that if President Romney were in the Oval Office and John Bolton at Foggy Bottom and all the Doug Feiths and Randy Scheunemanns and ex-deputies to Rumsfeld and Wolfie filling all the key positions, the situation would be far worse than it is. Romney would have spent the last year goading Putin. We’d already have been at a boiling point over Syria—whereas under Obama, at least Russia agreed on paper that Bashar al-Assad should turn over his stock of chemical weapons. A NATO membership card for Georgia would have been in the works, if not already chiseled, and an expanded and souped-up missile-defense shield in Eastern Europe would have been announced. Basically, everything the United States could do to play right into every one of Putin’s lurid, paranoid fantasies about America’s true aims in the world (i.e., crush Russia), the Romney administration would have done, almost undoubtedly leading him to have behaved more obstreperously than he already has, and at an earlier point.

I’m not doing any dances over how the Obama administration has handled this situation (and why just $1 billion in aid? We should be matching Putin’s $15 billion). The European Union’s posture, it’s worth noting, has been far more abysmal than the administration’s, and it’s mattered far more too, since the Europe vs. Asia tension is at the heart of Putin’s concerns about Ukraine (read this excellent and concise rundown of the EU’s five huge errors in its recent dealings with the country). There’s blame to go around.

But most of the blame rests on the manly shoulders of the megalomaniac who is most responsible for creating this situation (and let’s remember to save some for Viktor Yanukovych, and even a little for Ukraine’s current government). For the neocons to blame Obama for the actions of a madman, incessantly using adjectives that are meant to communicate to the world that the president of the United States can be steamrolled, and possibly should be for his own good, is close to anti-American. But they can’t blame Putin. He’s their doppelganger, psychologically. He is them, and they are him. Woe betide the world if they ever do face each other.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 5, 2014

March 6, 2014 Posted by | Neo-Cons, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“50th Time Is The Charm”: For House Republicans, The Affordable Care Act Is Not About Policy And Governing Isn’t Their Goal

Last week, after House Republicans announced an upcoming vote on undermining the Affordable Care Act, President Obama took some time to mock GOP lawmakers for their pointless hobby. “You know what they say: 50th time is the charm,” he joked at a DNC event. “Maybe when you hit your 50th repeal vote, you will win a prize. Maybe if you buy 50 repeal votes, you get one free. We get it. We understand. We get you don’t like it. I got it.”

But by all appearances, Republicans aren’t concerned about mockery. They’re proceeding today with their plan to go after the ACA’s individual mandate – again. By most counts, it will be the 50th time House Republicans have voted to gut some or all of the health care law since 2011, even though they fully realize their bill has no chance of being signed into law.

The House is set to vote Wednesday on a bill by Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) to effectively delay the individual mandate for one year by reducing the penalty in 2014 for not buying insurance from $95 to $0.

The Republican-led chamber passed a similar bill last July, capturing 22 Democratic votes. Now that it’s an election year, it’s plausible that a significant number of Democrats will defect, given the unpopularity of the individual mandate and the likelihood that Senate Democrats will throw the bill in the garbage once it arrives.

House Republicans are under no illusions about the legislation’s prospects, but governing isn’t the goal. This is about an election-year stunt intended to help GOP lawmakers feel better, maybe motivate the base a bit, and create the basis for some new attack ads against Democrats.

Whether or not one approves of this waste of time, it remains a ridiculous display.

For one thing, the effort itself would be a substantive disaster if the bill actually became law. Clearly the GOP is in its post-policy phase, so real-world implications are no longer considered before bills receive votes, but the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published an analysis yesterday and found that the House’s proposal would increase the number of Americans without insurance and lead to higher health care premiums in the individual market. How do Republican leaders respond to revelations like these? They don’t – this isn’t about policy, so the implications are deemed irrelevant.

For another, this is quite a bit of effort over a policy Republicans supported up until a few years ago – the mandate used to be a key feature of GOP health care plans.

House Republicans could be using their time wisely right now. Maybe they could work on real legislation; maybe they could present their “Obamacare” alternative they’ve been promising for years.

But that just doesn’t seem to interest them. Americans are instead stuck watching their House of Representatives spin its wheels, picking up self-satisfying “message” bills.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 5, 2014

March 6, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

%d bloggers like this: