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“Buckle Your Seatbelt”: Obama Reminds Congress About Looming Showdowns

Much of the political world’s attention has focused on the presidential campaign trail of late, and for good reason. Congress takes August off; President Obama has been on vacation; and his would-be successors have put on quite a show.

But as August nears its end, the White House remains quite cognizant of the challenges facing federal policymakers. Just yesterday, the president published a message on Twitter, explaining, “Amidst global volatility, Congress should protect the momentum of our growing economy (not kill it).” Obama added that the United States “must avoid” a government shutdown and austerity measures.

The message didn’t come out of the blue. Current funding for the federal government expires at the end of September, and though Republican leaders intended to make progress with talks over their summer break, there’s no indication that officials are any closer to a solution than they were in July. On the contrary, as was the case in 2013, some far-right members seem eager for a fight that would result in a shutdown.

And then, of course, there’s the debt ceiling. On the one hand, we received some good news on this front from the Congressional Budget Office this week. The Washington Post reported:

Congressional leaders may have more time to work out a deal this fall to increase the federal borrowing limit, after new projections from Congress’ scorekeeper showed tax revenues have been greater than expected this year. […]

In July, the Treasury Department estimated the government would hit its $18.1 trillion borrowing limit at the end of October. CBO, however, now projects the debt ceiling will not need to be increased until mid-November or early December, while noting there is a level of uncertainty when determining the exact date.

On the other hand, the delayed deadline won’t necessarily help. The Huffington Post reported:

[The debt-ceiling] deadline is nearing. And the mixture of an ongoing presidential campaign – which encourages lawmakers to play to their base – and the itching for more spending cuts from conservative groups suggests it won’t pass without drama. […]

 Asked if he expected debt-ceiling fireworks, longtime GOP consultant Craig Shirley replied: “Without a doubt.”

In fairness, it’s important to note that GOP leaders want no part of this – House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell haven’t expressed any interest whatsoever in a replay of the 2011 hostage fight in which Republicans threatened to crash the economy on purpose unless President Obama met the GOP’s demands.

But as we’ve seen many times, party leaders often feel as if they have no choice but to follow. And in this case, amid economic uncertainty and market volatility, far-right Republicans see conditions that give them a twisted sense of leverage.

The broader timing doesn’t help, either. The race for the GOP presidential nomination will be pretty intense by the time December rolls around, and it’s likely we’ll see most, if not all, of the Republican field pushing the party to be as radical as possible – each candidate will try to prove to right-wing activists that they’re “tougher” than their rivals.

Buckle your seatbelt.


By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, August 28, 2015

August 29, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Debt Crisis, Federal Budget, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Hillary Doubters Are Wrong”: Yes, She’s Vulnerable, But She’s Still The Heavy Favorite

When it comes to Hillary Clinton and her place in the presidential primary, the political media needs to start being able to hold two ideas in mind at once. The first, and most familiar to anyone who has followed this campaign, is that Clinton is vulnerable.

Her email—and use of a private server—has grown from a scandal to a fiasco. The FBI has stepped in with an investigation to see if Clinton’s system was compromised by foreign hackers, and to see if she knowingly passed classified information—including “top secret” intelligence—through her server. Clinton is also due to face a House select committee for a public hearing on the 2012 attack on an American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Maybe she’ll perform well and avoid missteps. But she might stumble, exposing herself and her campaign to more attacks and scrutiny.

There have also been challenges on key policy questions. To the most vocal progressive activists, Clinton still needs to account for her role in the Bill Clinton White House on issues like mass incarceration, police militarization, and the drug war. As first lady, for example, she pushed the “three strikes” provision of the 1994 crime bill and supported greater prison time for offenders. “There is something wrong when a crime bill takes six years to work its way through Congress and the average criminal serves only four,” she said at the time. The same is true for her positions in the Senate, where she voted in favor of federal police funding that flowed to SWAT teams and other vectors for militarization. There’s also her economic record: As a senator from New York, she backed a 2001 bill that would become the much loathed (among liberals) 2005 bankruptcy law. And she still hasn’t acknowledged or apologized for the racially tinged rhetoric used by her campaign in the most heated moments of her 2008 race against Barack Obama.

But, again, this isn’t the whole story. There’s still that other idea about Clinton to keep in mind, even as we consider her problems and weaknesses: Clinton is winning the Democratic presidential primary, and it’s not even close.

Despite the reporting around it—which has treated her as a losing candidate—the latest Quinnipiac poll shows Clinton with a wide lead over her opponents. She wins 45 percent of the Democratic Party, to 22 percent for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and 18 percent for Vice President Joe Biden. Aggregate polls show a similar picture; in the Huffington Post Pollster average, Clinton holds 48.9 percent of the primary vote, compared with 22.5 percent for Sanders and 12.5 percent for Biden. There’s no contest.

There’s an easy and obvious rejoinder: What about 2008? Wasn’t Clinton winning at this point in that primary; wasn’t she “inevitable”? And look what happened: She lost to a popular upstart with the public behind him.

This sounds persuasive, but it doesn’t fit the facts. As writer Harry Enten notes for FiveThirtyEight, Clinton was much weaker in the previous primary than she is now. “Back in 2008,” he writes, “she was trailing in early Iowa polls. She earned only a third of the vote in early New Hampshire polls and was below 40 percent nationally.” Now, by contrast, she’s well ahead in national polls, well ahead in Iowa, and only somewhat behind in New Hampshire.

Moreover, because primaries aren’t popularity contests, the most important measure of success is party support. Barack Obama wasn’t an upstart; behind his run was the party machinery, or at least the part that didn’t want Clinton. Today, where do Democratic fundraisers stand? What do Democratic interests groups think? How will Democratic lawmakers act?

On each score, Clinton isn’t just winning—she dominates. Most fundraisers are in her corner; it’s why Biden will have a hard time raising money if he decides to run. Interest groups are still quiet, but Democratic lawmakers are overwhelmingly pro-Hillary. Clinton has more than 100 endorsements from sitting Democrats, including seven governors and 29 senators. Biden, who doesn’t appear to have decided whether to run yet, has two. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has one. Bernie Sanders has none. This is unprecedented. Not only is Clinton ahead of her previous endorsement total, according to analysis by FiveThirtyEight, but she’s racked up more endorsements of significance at this stage of the race than any nonincumbent Democratic presidential candidate, ever. At this point in 1999, for instance, Al Gore had two-thirds as many endorsement points (a measure that weights senators and governors more than House representatives) as Clinton does now; at this point in 2003, John Kerry had less than one-tenth Clinton’s current support; at this point in 2007, Obama had less than one-sixth. The closest analogue to Clinton isn’t anyone in the Democratic Party—it’s George W. Bush, who had much greater endorsement support than Clinton at this stage of the 2000 Republican presidential primary and ultimately won easily, despite an early challenge from John McCain.

Of course, life is arbitrary, and Hillary’s campaign could still fall apart. It’s not hard to imagine how it might happen: The FBI investigation could lead to indictments, ending Clinton’s campaign with a court appearance. Or, she could refuse to answer any questions on her previous positions and open space for a challenger.

Then again, neither email nor crime is an impossible albatross; other candidates have had worse. George H.W. Bush had to deal with fallout from Iran-Contra, while Al Gore had Bill Clinton’s impeachment in the background. Both won their respective nominations with little difficulty. Sure, Clinton could lose. But it’s hardly a live possibility.


By: Jamelle Bouie, Slate, August 27, 2015

August 29, 2015 Posted by | Clinton Emails, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Republicans Still Pandering To Voters’ Worst Instincts”: Appealing To The Most Nativist Elements Of The Republican Base

Not so long ago, leaders of a chastened Republican Party issued a report urging a new way forward for a GOP spurned by voters of color. Following Mitt Romney’s unfortunate language about “self-deportation,” which likely contributed to his defeat, party strategists were especially concerned that the GOP find a way to reach out to Latinos, the fastest-growing voting bloc.

The report of the Growth and Opportunity Project urged the GOP not only to embrace comprehensive immigration reform but also to adopt a very different rhetoric in addressing Latinos, including those without documents. “If Hispanic Americans hear that the GOP doesn’t want them in the United States, they won’t pay attention to our next sentence,” the report said.

Let’s just say the report’s recommendations haven’t been widely embraced by the 2016 Republican presidential field. Led by the odious Donald Trump, several candidates have raced to appeal to the most nativist elements of the Republican base.

That’s a train wreck for the Republican Party — a strategy that will not only make it difficult for the party to regain the White House in 2016, but which will also weaken it for decades to come. Latinos coming of age now are unlikely to forget the hostility shown by a GOP that can no longer be called the party of Abraham Lincoln.

Trump’s immigration policy — if it can be called that — doesn’t back away from his inflammatory rhetoric. He would build a wall, which he insists Mexico could be forced to pay for, and he’d deport the estimated 11 million immigrants who crossed the border illegally. But the proposal that has blasted through the primary field is this: He would end automatic citizenship for babies born to mothers without papers.

Not to be outdone, several of his rivals clambered aboard. Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal and Ben Carson all echoed some degree of support. Ted Cruz elbowed in with the claim that it’s “a view I have long held.” Together with the candidates who have previously expressed their opposition to birthright citizenship, which is bestowed by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, about half the field of 17 GOP presidential candidates agrees with Trump, according to Politico.

This is a minefield for a Republican Party already struggling to reach beyond its overwhelmingly white base. The 14th Amendment has deep historic resonance because it’s a post-Civil War amendment, intended to rectify the injustice of a constitutional system that did not extend citizenship to black people. It grants citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.” And while it’s unlikely that any president could garner enough support to repeal that, the willingness of so many Republicans to bandy about the proposition can only remind more moderate voters that the party is a small and homogeneous tent.

“It’s a terrible idea,” Peter Wehner, a former official in the administration of George W. Bush, told Politico. “It’s a politically insane idea. It can’t be done. It’s impossible to achieve. So what’s the point? It’s symbolism, and it’s exactly the wrong kind of symbolism. If Republicans want to make this their symbol … they’ll pay a high price for it.”

As much as the Republican establishment has wished that Donald Trump would disappear, it ought to be quite clear to them by now that the problem isn’t The Donald. It’s the Trump phenomenon. And that’s a problem for which the establishment has only itself to blame.

For decades, otherwise clearheaded Republicans have stood by as their rising stars pandered to the worst instincts of the most conservative voters, especially those troubled by the social and cultural transformation wrought by the civil rights movement.

That Southern strategy has been modernized, refurbished and refreshed, but it has never been retired. Since the election of President Barack Obama, it has taken the form of skepticism about his citizenship, assaults on voting rights, and a braying and insulting nativism.

Trump simply came along to harvest the fruits of that destructive strategy. And what a harvest it is.


By: Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, August 22, 2015

August 29, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Team Jeb Adds Trump’s Sister To The Mix”: Jeb Bush And His Operation Are Sweating, And Everyone Can See It

At an event last month, former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton acknowledged their personal interest in the 2016 race, but sounded optimistic about the kind of campaign Americans could expect.

“I know Jeb and I’m confident Secretary Hillary will elevate the discourse,” Bush said of his brother.

It sounded like a worthy goal, and at the time, the Republican had reason to be optimistic – the event was in early July, when Jeb Bush was still at or near the top of national GOP polling. A campaign that elevates the discourse is easier when it’s winning.

It’s quite a bit tougher, though, when a campaign hits a rough patch. The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel reports today, for example, on Team Jeb tackling a story about, of all things, Donald Trump’s sister.

It started with a Bloomberg Politics interview in which Mark Halperin asked about the Supreme Court and brought up the fact that Trump’s sister is an appeals-court judge. The candidate sang his sister’s praises, but said he’d rule her out for a high court nomination. Weigel picks it up from there:

[Trump’s] quote ran on Aug. 26. One day later, National Review columnist Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out that Maryanne Trump Barry was reliably pro-choice, and once rejected a lawsuit to stop partial birth abortions for “semantic machinations” about when life began. Just 20 minutes after that article went up, Bush’s spokesman and campaign manager tweeted it out, sexing it up a bit to say that Trump actually wanted to put his sister on the bench.

Jeb’s campaign manager actually pushed the story twice, “paging all pro-lifers.”

Can’t you just feel the discourse being elevated?

There’s a legitimate question about whether Team Jeb, and in fact all campaigns, would be better off leaving candidates’ family members out of the debate altogether. Sure, Trump said nice things about his sister, and apparently conservatives have reason to disagree with her, but unless there’s a substantive reason to connect the judge’s views with the candidate’s, it’s a questionable line of attack.

(Bush has no such luxury with his brother, since he’s already surrounded himself with the Bush/Cheney team and identified George W. Bush as one of his top advisers on the Middle East.)

But even if we put this aside, the fact that Team Jeb wants to talk about Trump’s sister at all is evidence of a campaign that has decided sticking to an above-the-fray posture is no longer sustainable. For quite a while, Bush and other establishment Republicans simply accepted as a given that the Trump Bubble would burst; the summer fling would end; and the race would return to some degree of normalcy.

But that confidence has obviously disappeared. The Bush campaign has taken a detour from the high road, not because it wanted to, but apparently because it feels it has to.

Weigel’s report added, “On April 20, Right to Rise chief strategist Mike Murphy told The Washington Post that the super PAC would not ‘uncork’ money to beat Trump. ‘Trump is, frankly, other people’s problem,’ he said. One day later, Right to Rise paid for a plane to buzz around Trump’s rally in Mobile, Alabama, telling onlookers that he supported ‘higher taxes.’”

You’ve heard the phrase, “Never let ‘em see you sweat”? Jeb Bush and his operation are sweating, and everyone can see it.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 28, 2015

August 29, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Jeb Bush | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“After Six Full Years Of Being Wrong About Everything”: Crash-Test Dummies As Republican Candidates For President

Will China’s stock crash trigger another global financial crisis? Probably not. Still, the big market swings of the past week have been a reminder that the next president may well have to deal with some of the same problems that faced George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Financial instability abides.

So this is a test: How would the men and women who would be president respond if crisis struck on their watch?

And the answer, on the Republican side at least, seems to be: with bluster and China-bashing. Nowhere is there a hint that any of the G.O.P. candidates understand the problem, or the steps that might be needed if the world economy hits another pothole.

Take, for example, Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin. Mr. Walker was supposed to be a formidable contender, part of his party’s “deep bench” of current or former governors who know how to get things done. So what was his suggestion to President Obama? Why, cancel the planned visit to America by Xi Jinping, China’s leader. That would fix things!

Then there’s Donald Trump, who likes to take an occasional break from his anti-immigrant diatribes to complain that China is taking advantage of America’s weak leadership. You might think that a swooning Chinese economy would fit awkwardly into that worldview. But no, he simply declared that U.S. markets seem troubled because Mr. Obama has let China “dictate the agenda.” What does that mean? I haven’t a clue — but neither does he.

By the way, five years ago there were real reasons to complain about China’s undervalued currency. But Chinese inflation and the rise of new competitors have largely eliminated that problem.

Back to the deep bench: Chris Christie, another governor who not long ago was touted as the next big thing, was more comprehensible. According to Mr. Christie, the reason U.S. markets were roiled by events in China was U.S. budget deficits, which he claims have put us in debt to the Chinese and hence made us vulnerable to their troubles. That almost rises to the level of a coherent economic story.

Did the U.S. market plunge because Chinese investors were cutting off credit? Well, no. If our debt to China were the problem, we would have seen U.S. interest rates spiking as China crashed. Instead, interest rates fell.

But there’s a slight excuse for Mr. Christie’s embrace of this particular fantasy: scare stories involving Chinese ownership of U.S. debt have been a Republican staple for years. They were, in particular, a favorite of Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012.

And you can see why. “Obama is endangering America by borrowing from China” is a perfect political line, playing into deficit fetishism, xenophobia and the perennial claim that Democrats don’t stand up for America! America! America! It’s also complete nonsense, but that doesn’t seem to matter.

In fact, talking nonsense about economic crises is essentially a job requirement for anyone hoping to get the Republican presidential nomination.

To understand why, you need to go back to the politics of 2009, when the new Obama administration was trying to cope with the most terrifying crisis since the 1930s. The outgoing Bush administration had already engineered a bank bailout, but the Obama team reinforced this effort with a temporary program of deficit spending, while the Federal Reserve sought to bolster the economy by buying lots of assets.

And Republicans, across the board, predicted disaster. Deficit spending, they insisted, would cause soaring interest rates and bankruptcy; the Fed’s efforts would “debase the dollar” and produce runaway inflation.

None of it happened. Interest rates stayed very low, as did inflation. But the G.O.P. never acknowledged, after six full years of being wrong about everything, that the bad things it predicted failed to take place, or showed any willingness to rethink the doctrines that led to those bad predictions. Instead, the party’s leading figures kept talking, year after year, as if the disasters they had predicted were actually happening.

Now we’ve had a reminder that something like that last crisis could happen again — which means that we might need a repeat of the policies that helped limit the damage last time. But no Republican dares suggest such a thing.

Instead, even the supposedly sensible candidates call for destructive policies. Thus John Kasich is being portrayed as a different kind of Republican because as governor he approved Medicaid expansion in Ohio, but his signature initiative is a call for a balanced-budget amendment, which would cripple policy in a crisis.

The point is that one side of the political aisle has been utterly determined to learn nothing from the economic experiences of recent years. If one of these candidates ends up in the hot seat the next time crisis strikes, we should be very, very afraid.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 28, 2015

August 29, 2015 Posted by | China, Financial Crisis, Global Economy | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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