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“Why Republicans Love Taxing The Poor”: This Hurts Us More Than It Hurts You

The reformist wing of the Republican Party, which has a new book of policy essays out today, is a coterie of right-leaning intellectuals engaged in the Lord’s work of reimagining a non-plutocratic agenda for the party. The eternal problem with the reformists, however, is that they’re all playing an inside game, vying for influence within the party and seeking the ear of its leading figures. The need to maintain the good graces of the powers-that-be causes them to couch their advice with a delicacy that routinely veers into outright fantasy.

Ramesh Ponnuru, one of the contributors to the new volume, provides a case in point. In his Bloomberg View column, Ponnuru argues that Republicans should counter the Democrats’ campaign to lift the minimum wage by proposing instead to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit, which “would give Republicans a way to show that they want to help the poor — and that their stated objections to raising the minimum wage are sincere.”

One problem with this plan to get Republicans to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit is that, as Ezra Klein points out, they’re currently fighting extremely hard to cut the Earned Income Tax Credit. Ponnuru’s column doesn’t mention this highly relevant detail.

What’s more, one of the main reasons the Earned Income Tax Credit exists is to cushion the impact of state taxes, which often force workers on the bottom half of the income spectrum to pay higher rates than the rich. And why are state taxes so regressive? Well, a main reason is that Republicans want it this way. The states that raise the highest proportion of their taxes from the poor are Republican states. The EITC is in large part a way of using the federal tax code to cancel out Republican-led policies of taking money from poor people, so naturally Republicans at the national level oppose it, too.

Should Republicans start endorsing plans to give poor people more money? Well, sure, that would be great. It would also be great if Boko Haram came up with some new policies to help educate girls. In the meantime, a more realistic goal might be to just stop hurting the poor.

Obviously, Ponnuru’s policy goal here is admirable. It would be lovely to have a Republican Party that was not monomaniacally focused on redistributing income upward. (How such a reform could be pulled off without upsetting the basic parameters of the party — no new taxes, high military spending, no cuts for current retirees — is a problem none of the reformists have answered and that probably has no answer.)

I can see why Ponnuru needs to present his idea, which is a 180-degree reversal of the Republican agenda, as “a way to show that they want to help the poor.” The trouble is they don’t want to help the poor, if you define “help” as “letting them have more money,” as opposed to “giving them the kick in the ass they need to stop being lazy moochers.”

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 22, 2014

May 23, 2014 Posted by | Poor and Low Income, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Decimating Every Legal Justification For Reform”: Can Reformers Save Our Election System From The Supreme Court?

Over the past few years, given the bad news that just keeps coming their way, America’s campaign-finance reformers have started to look like eternal optimists. They’ve pretty much had to be.

Take the one-two wallop they suffered early this spring. First, Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York state legislators killed reformers’ best chance of a breakthrough in 2014—a public-financing program in which small-dollar donations would be matched or multiplied by public funds. (New York City already runs its own “matching” program.) The idea was to give less-wealthy donors a bigger voice in legislative and gubernatorial races while decreasing the clout of those with deep pockets. Instead, reformers ended up with a microscopic pilot program for the state comptroller’s race. A few days later came much worse news: In McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court threw out the limit that Congress had put on the total amount wealthy donors can give to campaigns and political parties. While there are still caps on how much donors can give to a specific candidate, now anyone can give to as many campaigns as he or she pleases.

As they reeled from their latest setbacks, clean-election advocates tried to find a reason to be hopeful. Ian Vandewalker, counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, which advocated for the New York proposal, told me that in the wake of McCutcheon, “public financing is the most promising thing that’s left.” But McCutcheon illustrated just what makes the Roberts Court so pernicious when it comes to money and elections; slowly but steadily, decision by decision, the justices are decimating every legal justification for reform.

Underpinning the Court’s infamous 2010 Citizens United ruling was the belief that giving less-wealthy donors more of a voice in elections is not a good enough reason for Congress to regulate political money. A year later, in Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett, the Court struck down a public-financing program that tried to decrease the power of wealthy “self-funded” candidates.

The Arizona law offered grants to those who agreed to spend only $500 of their own money on their campaigns and agreed to debate their opponents. The funding increased as opponents and independent groups spent more; the idea was to prevent less-affluent candidates from being disadvantaged. The Arizona decision threw similar state programs into legal limbo. The Court decided the program was unfair to candidates who chose not to participate; in other words, candidates with more money to spend have a constitutional right to overwhelm their competition.

“Some people might call that chutzpah,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her dissent.

Even so, the Arizona decision left room for reformers to argue for a different kind of public financing system in the interest of quelling political corruption. McCutcheon put an end to that. The Court ruled that Congress and the states cannot justify limits on campaign donations because of concerns about corruption. In other words, if there isn’t a guy with a suitcase full of cash trading it for a lawmaker’s vote, it’s none of lawmakers’ concern.

The blow from McCutcheon has dire implications for American democracy. But it should not mark the end of the reform movement. While continuing to pursue reforms that haven’t yet been quashed, activists and legal scholars now must step back and cook up new laws, and new justifications for those laws, that could pass muster with the Court. Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig has been on a mission to fight originalism with originalism. The conservative justices base their decisions on a reading of the Founding Fathers’ original intent in writing the Constitution, so Lessig has been combing through the records of the framers, citing every use of the term “corruption” and showing how the Founders used the term to mean much more than “quid pro quo” bribery. Lessig writes that “corruption” encompassed “improper dependence” on the powerful as well. Trying to persuade the justices to change their minds may be an uphill struggle, but Lessig’s work may prove useful when new campaign-finance laws are defended in court.

Reformers’ fondest hope now lies with disclosure laws—a form of regulation the Supreme Court majority endorsed in Citizens United. Laws to make tax-exempt “social welfare” groups, which spend billions on elections, disclose their donors are percolating in the states. And in a demonstration of how un-killable the idea of reforming elections can be, some activists have come up with a new twist: If some groups are allowed to keep their donors’ names secret, why shouldn’t their political ads be required to say so? The idea is that when voters hear the words “This advertisement is sponsored by a group that does not disclose its donors,” it would make shadowy political groups look, well, shadowy.

 

By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, May 21, 2014

May 23, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Democracy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Issa’s Latest Benghazi Stunt Backfires”: The New Story Is The Same As The Old Story

There’s a usual pattern to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) media game: he’ll quietly leak misleading information to a news outlet; the outlet will run with the exclusive; then the story will be entirely discredited, leaving everyone involved looking rather foolish. It’s happened more than a few times.

Today, Issa tried to play a similar game, but it backfired much quicker than usual.

The California Republican appears to have sought out a reporter he hoped would be sympathetic – in this case, ABC News’ Jon Karl – with Issa’s new Benghazi scoop.

A still-classified State Department e-mail says that one of the first responses from the White House to the Benghazi attack was to contact YouTube to warn of the “ramifications” of allowing the posting of an anti-Islamic video, according to Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Issa, in a perpetual state of high dudgeon, issued a statement describing the White House’s message to YouTube as evidence of … something nefarious. It’s not entirely clear what.

But the trouble, as Karl, to his credit, was quick to note in his report, is that Issa’s revelation actually undermines Issa’s preferred narrative.

The memo suggests that even as the attack was still underway – and before the CIA began the process of compiling talking points on its analysis of what happened – the White House believed it was in retaliation for a controversial video. […]

Asked about the document, a senior White House official told ABC News it demonstrates that the White House genuinely believed the video sparked the attack all along, a belief that turned out to be incorrect.

“We actually think this proves what we’ve said. We were concerned about the video, given all the protests in region,” the official said. And the intelligence community “was also concerned about the video.”

In other words, Issa has uncovered a document, intended to discredit the White House’s argument, which actually bolsters the White House’s argument.

So, here’s the larger question to consider: did Issa just not understand his own story, or, as Eddie Vale suggested, did he release this to undercut the select committee Issa is so opposed to?

Either way, when coming to terms with House Speaker John Boehner’s 180-degree turn on creating the new committee, keep today’s story in mind – GOP leaders long ago lost confidence in Issa’s ability to deal with the investigation competently.

Update: Hannah Groch-Begley discovered that today’s “new” story from Issa to ABC is practically identical to news we already learned – from, among others, ABC – in 2012.

 

By: Steve Benen, the Maddow Blog, May 22, 2014

May 23, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, Darrell Issa | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP Won’t Be Happy”: Preparing For The Great Republican Freak-Out Over Obama’s Environmental Regulations

On June 2, President Obama is expected to announce his new EPA rules on extant coal-fired power plants. As Jonathan Chait points out in an excellent background piece on the legal issues, this will be the centerpiece of his second-term agenda. How strong these rules are, and whether or not his administration manages to guide them successfully through the bureaucratic gauntlet, may well outstrip ObamaCare in historical importance.

In another good piece, Chait outlines why the political blowback from these rules is likely to be very bad:

Republicans are likely to have the better of the debate politically. Support for regulating carbon emissions may be broad, but it’s tissue-thin — Americans rank climate change near or at the bottom of their priorities. A 2011 survey found the amount an average American would pay in higher electricity costs for the sake of clean energy to be a pitiably low $162 a year. The absence of an extended, ObamaCare-style legislative slog will help Obama’s case, but years of lengthy court battles won’t. Opponents may manage to sustain state-level challenges and overwhelming red-state resistance. [New York]

It’s an all too convincing argument. However, I think the political forecast is not quite so dire as he makes out, for two reasons: El Niño, and the fact that the weakened coal industry is already teetering. Knowing Republicans, there is probably nothing that will forestall an enraged GOP backlash, but these two facts might take some of the wind out of their turbines.

First: El Niño. It’s a deeply complex and still not fully understood phenomenon (Brad Plumer has a nice explanation here), but the bumper sticker idea is that the surface of the tropical Pacific gets much warmer than usual. Scientists are now giving it about a 75 percent chance that El Niño will develop over the next few months. This matters for the politics, because it means it will get hot.

El Niño is strongly correlated with high surface temperatures — both 2010 and 1998, the first- and second-hottest years ever measured, respectively, were El Niño years. Last month tied for the hottest April of all time, and this summer could be even hotter. (And down the road, 2015 will almost certainly break the record for hottest year ever recorded, possibly by a lot.)

As Nate Cohn explains, extreme heat tends to shift belief in climate change, especially when combined with El Niño’s typical bouts of extreme weather. This is a bit silly, scientifically speaking (a cold winter doesn’t disprove global warming), but it does seem to have a robust political effect.

Second is the weak position of the coal industry. Though it has made a small comeback in the last year or so, its long-term decline is almost certainly unstoppable. For most of the Obama era, it has been hammered by cheap natural gas and regulations on heavy metals, resulting in dozens of plant closures.

Solar is now so cheap that it is becoming a legitimate threat. Almost one-third of all new electricity generation was solar last year. The carbon barons are fighting a desperate rearguard action to legislate solar out of the market, but if prices continue to fall (as they are predicted to do) these kinds of actions will be ever more unjustifiable. Increasingly, coal is simply an antiquated and crummy way to generate electricity.

Of course, these trends don’t guarantee that the EPA regulations will come out unscathed. But they will shift the political terrain. Just like it’s hard to argue in favor of deregulation during a financial crisis, it will be harder to argue against climate regulations during record-smashing heat waves. And while Republicans would dearly love to burn every single gram of coal on the planet, they’ll have a harder time time doing it if Big Coal is simply losing in the market.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, National Correspondent, The Week, May 22, 2014

May 23, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Coal Industry, Environmental Protection Agency | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Magnolia Melee”: This One Could Be A Mystery Right Down To June 3

There will be eight states holding primaries on June 3, the largest number of the year. But there are only two holding one of the competitive GOP Senate primaries that are the talk of the cycle. And with Joni Ernst increasingly looking like a sure winner (either in the primary or in a subsequent state convention) in Iowa, the big contest is the one where for some time now handicappers have figured the Tea Party folk have the best chance of beating a Republican incumbent, in Mississippi.

Insults from activists notwithstanding, it’s hard to call Thad Cochran a RINO with a straight face. He has a lifetime rating of 79% (over six terms in the Senate) from the American Conservative Union, and a 72% lifetime rating from the Koch-aligned Americans for Prosperity. He’s been endorsed by the National Right to Life Committee, as well as by such mainline conservative groups as the U.S. Chamber.

But he’s not one to indulge much in conservative fire-breathing, and he belongs to an older generation of conservatives who saw no problem with getting as much out of the federal budget for a very poor state like Mississippi as possible. As a senior appropriator (and ranking GOP member of the Ag Committee, still important to big growers in Mississippi), he’s done his job. He’s also 76 years old, and has been in Congress since 1972.

So like Richard Luger in 2012, Cochran was an obvious target for an ideological purge, and the biggest of the right-wing outside groups, the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund, have heavily invested in Chris McDaniel, a state legislator and former nationally syndicated conservative radio talk show host. Citizens United is about to join the crusade with some late ads.

There’s been relatively little polling on the race, but there is evidence McDaniel has been gaining on or even moving ahead of Cochran, who has the support of the very conservative State GOP leadership, including Gov. Phil Bryant and former Gov. Haley Barbour. Nobody quite knows how or whether to factor in the bizarre incident that’s been unfolding since Easter, when a “constitutional conservative” blogger close to the McDaniel campaign took pictures of Cochran’s disabled wife in a nursing facility as part of an effort to suggest he’s having an affair with a staff member. Nobody’s proved the McDaniel campaign had any involvement beyond telling the blogger to take down the offensive post when it briefly appeared. And normally in cases like this you’d think the underlying smear would get out there and do some damage even it purveyor was discredited. On the other hand, nobody’s going to much believe that Cochran, insofar as he is not Strom Thurmond, is some sort of septuagenarian lothario.

Barring some reliable late polling, this one could be a mystery right down to June 3. Since Cochran isn’t likely to have a personality transplant and start shrieking about The Welfare or Common Core like the Chamber’s candidates in North Carolina and Georgia, this could be a true and interesting test of whether a state whose Republican voters are both atavistically conservative and heavily dependent on Uncle Sugar will vote their furies or their needs.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 22, 2014

May 23, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Tea Party | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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