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“Worse Than Useless”: Emergencies Causing Problems For The Do-Nothing Speaker

At the New Republic David Dayen has an appropriately scathing appraisal of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s accomplishments this year. He famously cannot get a budget resolution passed. He’s done nothing on the list of priorities he announced when he took up the gavel. But beyond those failures, he can’t even deal with emergencies, including the Puerto Rico debt crisis, the Zika crisis, the Flint water-poisoning disaster, and the opioid epidemic.

To Dayen, that makes Ryan worse than useless, because “[t]he basic test of governance is the ability to respond to rapidly changing events.” This may be true in theory, but the entire premise of Ryan’s accession to the Speakership is that he’d place “governance” on hold until November, despite a Potemkin village semblance of “regular order” and other legislative activity. Here’s how I put it back in December:

What Boehner, McConnell, and Ryan in turn appear to have accomplished is to convince conservative activist groups and the members of Congress who listen to them to become satisfied with an apocalypse later rather than an apocalypse now. Ryan will get the lion’s share of praise as some sort of party-unifying genius, but it’s the promise of a postelection conservative ideological feeding frenzy that’s really done the trick. If Republicans pull off the POTUS/House/Senate trifecta next year, then the kind of policies now considered “divisive” when pushed against the resistance of Senate filibusters or presidential vetoes will then be noncontroversial.

And so, all the controversial stuff was dumped out of a continuing appropriation and tax extender package (the so-called “taxibus”) that ensured the federal government would continue to function until the end of the fiscal year (conveniently near Election Day), with the gamble being that divisions over what to do with a Democratic president might soon be moot.

But this do-nothing plan didn’t take emergencies into account, and thus emergencies are hanging fire for Ryan.

He will presumably muddle his way through, but the steadily darkening prospects for any sort of Republican mega-win in November is making all the signatories to this implicit deal uneasy. And if things go south on Election Day, so will Ryan’s reputation:

If, on the other hand, the GOP loses the presidency and/or the Senate, then the party could be back to where it was when Boehner was Speaker, and Paul Ryan won’t necessarily be any better at dealing with frustrated right-wingers.

The difference is that Ryan may be exposed as a fraud, which is not what he had in mind when he agreed to take the gavel.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, April 22, 2016

April 24, 2016 Posted by | Emergency Resolutions, Federal Budget, Governing, Paul Ryan | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“On Invincible Ignorance”: The G.O.P.’s Intellectual Leader Is Still Making The Same Old Claims

Remember Paul Ryan? The speaker of the House used to be a media darling, lionized as the epitome of the Serious, Honest Conservative — never mind those of us who actually looked at the numbers in his budgets and concluded that he was a con man. These days, of course, he is overshadowed by the looming Trumpocalypse.

But while Donald Trump could win the White House — or lose so badly that even our rotten-borough system of congressional districts, which heavily favors the G.O.P., delivers the House to the Democrats — the odds are that come January, Hillary Clinton will be president, and Mr. Ryan still speaker. So I was interested to read what Mr. Ryan said in a recent interview with John Harwood. What has he learned from recent events?

And the answer is, nothing.

Like just about everyone in the Republican establishment, Mr. Ryan is in denial about the roots of Trumpism, about the extent to which the party deliberately cultivated anger and racial backlash, only to lose control of the monster it created. But what I found especially striking were his comments on tax policy. I know, boring — but indulge me here. There’s a larger moral.

You might think that Republican thought leaders would be engaged in some soul-searching about their party’s obsession with cutting taxes on the wealthy. Why do candidates who inveigh against the evils of budget deficits and federal debt feel obliged to propose huge high-end tax cuts — much bigger than those of George W. Bush — that would eliminate trillions in revenue?

And economics aside, why such a commitment to a policy that has never had much support even from the party’s own base, and appears even more politically suspect in the face of a populist uprising?

But here’s what Mr. Ryan said about all those tax cuts for the top 1 percent: “I do not like the idea of buying into these distributional tables. What you’re talking about is what we call static distribution. It’s a ridiculous notion.”

Aha. The income mobility zombie strikes again.

Ever since income inequality began its sharp rise in the 1980s, one favorite conservative excuse has been that it doesn’t mean anything, because economic positions change all the time. People who are rich this year might not be rich next year, so the gap between the rich and the rest doesn’t matter, right?

Well, it’s true that people move up and down the economic ladder, and apologists for inequality love to cite statistics showing that many people who are in the top 1 percent in any given year are out of that category the next year.

But a closer look at the data shows that there is less to this observation than it seems. These days, it takes an income of around $400,000 a year to put you in the top 1 percent, and most of the fluctuation in incomes we see involves people going from, say, $350,000 to $450,000 or vice versa. As one comprehensive survey put it, “The majority of economic mobility occurs over fairly small spans of the distribution.” Average incomes over multiple years are almost as unequally distributed as incomes in any given year, which means that tax cuts that mainly benefit the rich are indeed targeted at a small group of people, not the public at large.

And here’s the thing: This isn’t a new observation. As it happens, I personally took on the very same argument Mr. Ryan is making — and showed that it was wrong — almost 25 years ago. Yet the man widely considered the G.O.P.’s intellectual leader is still making the same old claims.

O.K., maybe I’m just indulging a pet peeve by focusing on this particular subject. Yet the persistence of the income mobility zombie, like the tax-cuts-mean-growth zombie (which should have been killed, once and for all, by the debacles in Kansas and Louisiana), is part of a pattern.

Appalled Republicans may rail against Donald Trump’s arrogant ignorance. But how different, really, are the party’s mainstream leaders? Their blinkered view of the world has the veneer of respectability, may go along with an appearance of thoughtfulness, but in reality it’s just as impervious to evidence — maybe even more so, because it has the power of groupthink behind it.

This is why you shouldn’t grieve over Marco Rubio’s epic political failure. Had Mr. Rubio succeeded, he would simply have encouraged his party to believe that all it needs is a cosmetic makeover — a fresher, younger face to sell the same old defunct orthodoxy. Oh, and a last-minute turn to someone like John Kasich would, in its own way, have similar implications.

What we’re getting instead is at least the possibility of a cleansing shock — of a period in the political wilderness that will finally force the Republican establishment to rethink its premises. That’s a good thing — or it would be, if it didn’t also come with the risk of President Trump.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 21, 2016

March 22, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Federal Budget, Paul Ryan | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“How Could Paul Ryan Have Known?”: Super-Wonk, Budget Wizard And Speaker-Designate Ryan Didn’t Know What His Staff Was Up To?

One of the more ridiculous and cynical features of this whole surprise budget deal is Paul Ryan’s expressions of horror and anger. Aside from the fact that the Republican House leadership is not about to blindside their hand-picked Speaker on something this big, there’s the little issue that Ryan’s staff helped draft a big chunk of it. HuffPost’s Arthur Delaney has the story:

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday morning that he hadn’t seen the new bipartisan budget deal and that the secretive process used to craft it “stinks,” but there’s stuff in the bill that should smell good and familiar to him.

One of its most important provisions makes changes to the Social Security Disability Insurance program, and some of those changes came from the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees Social Security and which Ryan chairs.

“Paul Ryan’s staff was involved in crafting the provision for weeks,” a Democratic aide told HuffPost. “His staff signed off on the provision, his staff also signed off on other key provisions” related to tax compliance and Medicare.

Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck denied that Ryan’s committee staff crafted the disability provision within the context of the legislation, which was negotiated by the White House with party leaders in the House and Senate. The committee had been working on changes to disability benefits earlier this year; Buck acknowledged that Ways and Means staff were aware the disability provision would be included.

At 52 pages, the disability insurance provision comprises a significant portion of the 144 page bill. It would prevent a 20 percent benefit cut scheduled to kick in next year for SSDI’s 11 million beneficiaries by diverting revenue from Social Security’s better-known retirement insurance program — a strategy some Republicans previously said amounted to “raiding” that program’s coffers.

The bill is also supposed to save $4 or $5 billion by tightening eligibility requirements for disability benefits, partly by requiring the Social Security Administration to make sure all initial applications include a medical screening.

But we’re supposed to believe super-wonk, budget wizard and Speaker-designate Ryan didn’t know what his staff was up to or how it related to an overall budget deal. Give me a break.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, October 27, 2015

October 29, 2015 Posted by | Federal Budget, Paul Ryan, Social Security | , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Budget Blitz”: Boehner And McConnell Get A Move On To Approve A Deal Before Conservatives Can Counter-Mobilize

Well, you have to credit John Boehner and Mitch McConnell with some chutzpah. On the very eve of Paul Ryan’s planned accession to the House Speakership via a deal with House conservatives to treat their views with more respect and avoid deals with Democrats, the GOP leadership is unveiling the largest bipartisan budget deal since 2011, a measure that would preempt any debt default or government shutdown threat until well after the 2016 elections. Moreover, even as Ryan pledges renewed fealty to the Hastert Rule and promises not to behave imperiously towards other Republicans, this deal was negotiated semi-secretly and will be sprung on Congress for a quick vote, perhaps as early as tomorrow, and is projected to get through both chambers via a minority of Republicans voting with most Democrats. It would indeed make it easier for Ryan to keep his promises because it would take the most contentious issues right off the table.

A lot of the details of the deal are unknown or hazy at this point, but it’s clear the main objective was to set aside sequestration and give Democrats some domestic spending increases and Republicans more defense spending. In that and other respects it resembles the budget deal Ryan himself cut with Patty Murray in December of 2013, not long after the last government shutdown, which constitutes one of the grievances conservatives harbor against the Wisconsin Ayn Rand acolyte.

I suspect the air today will be filled with squawking about this deal, and it could also prove to be a big fat target for the GOP presidential candidates who are debating economic and fiscal policy in Colorado tomorrow night. So yeah, Boehner and McConnell had best get a move on to get the deal approved before conservatives can counter-mobilize, and Paul Ryan should probably remember some pressing appointments back home in his district.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, October 27, 2015

October 27, 2015 Posted by | Federal Budget, John Boehner, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Enemy Of Wasteful Government”: The Tea Partier Who Loves Wasting Billions On Cold War Weapons

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio’s 4th Congressional District hates federal spending, except when it’s for his own constituents. If his own district stands to benefit, the five-term Republican congressman and leader of the Tea Party-aligned House Freedom Caucus not only loves government pork—he’ll fight for it even if it hurts U.S. national security by redirecting funding away from vital programs.

Case in point: Jordan has pushed the government to shovel hundreds of millions of dollars into a factory in his district that makes tanks for the U.S. Army. These are tanks that, until this year, the Army did not want.

To be fair, Jordan is just maintaing a long tradition of pork-barrel politics. The tank factory in Lima has been “a favorite program for Ohio delegation earmarks, against the needs of the Army,” Mandy Smithberger, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the nonproft Project on Government Oversight watchdog group in Washington, D.C., told The Daily Beast.

The plant “has been one of the poster children for Congress adding funding for programs the military neither wants nor needs, for parochial reasons,” Smithberger added.

But Jordan has consistently portrayed himself as the enemy of wasteful government. “Federal government spending is out of control, and it is the responsibility of Congress to fix the problem,” Jordan claims on his official Website.

Jordan opposes federal funding for Planned Parenthood. He called the Export-Import Bank, which finances foreign purchases of American goods, a “waste of money.” Jordan is co-sponsoring a bill to cut federal food stamps, saying it will help to “move our country away from a culture of dependency and back toward a culture of work and upward mobility.”

Jordan championed the 2011 Budget Control Act that mandated across-the-board federal spending cuts. But Jordan was also instrumental in redirecting nearly $1 billion of the Army’s increasingly stressed budget toward building unnecessary tanks.

“We have long advocated for policies that put our fiscal house in order, and reducing our massive national debt should be one of our nation’s highest priorities,” Jordan and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, wrote in a January op-ed. “But we shouldn’t do so by putting our national defense at risk.”

“This year’s appropriation of $120 million in additional funding for the Abrams tank program will go a long way towards doing that,” Jordan and Portman wrote, referring to the Army’s 2015 budget.

But the money Jordan helped funnel into unnecessaary tanks wasn’t really “additional” money. The Budget Control Act—which Jordan defended even when other Republicans soured to it—capped Army spending. The money Jordan and other lawmakers appropriated for vehicles the Army didn’t want came from other initiatives the ground combat branch did want, in particular training and realistic war games, which the branch had to scale back owing to a lack of funds.

“We are still having to procure systems we don’t need,” Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, told Congress in January. “Excess tanks is an example in the Army, hundreds of millions of dollars spent on tanks that we simply don’t have the structure for anymore.”

(Jordan’s office declined to comment for this story.)

The sprawling Joint Systems Manufacturing Center—aka, the Lima Tank Plant—was built during World War II to churn out armored vehicles for the Allies. Today the government-owned plant assembles and upgrades M-1 Abrams tanks, the Army’s most fearsome fighting vehicles.

Thing is, Lima’s been building and upgrading M-1s for decades, ultimately producing thousands of them. So many that, in 2011, the Army announced it had enough of the 70-ton vehicles and proposed to stop buying them for a few years.

The Pentagon explained that the Lima Tank Plant would probably have stayed open, anyway, since it also builds M-1s and other vehicles for export. But the Army’s 2011 proposal, part of the budget process for 2012, would have reduced the plant’s income by a couple hundred million dollars annually and could have forced it to lay off some of its roughly 1,000 workers.

That’s when Jordan and other lawmakers stepped in, pressuring their colleagues to shuffle around $255 million to buy another 42 M-1s in 2012. Lawmakers also added tank money in 2013, 2014, and 2015. The result—hundreds of surplus tanks and a billion dollars in diverted spending.

But Jordan has defended his tank welfare as being vital to national security. “No other facility in America possesses the unique capabilities of the Lima plant,” he wrote. “It is the only plant in our country capable of producing and upgrading the Abrams main battle tank, and the industrial base and skilled workforce that supports that effort is irreplaceable.”

The facility “is not like a light switch that can be flipped on and off,” Jordan added. “Recreating this industrial base would have been more costly to the government than sustaining minimum production.”

We’ll never know if that is true. For the 2016 budget, the Army is once again asking for more M-1s, just like it always said it eventually would. This time, Jordan won’t have to force the Army to build tanks it doesn’t want just to keep his constituents in Lima happy. “I will continue seeking to instill fiscal sanity in government,” Jordan proclaimed on his website, apparently without irony.

 

By: David Axe, The Daily Beast, October 15, 2015

October 16, 2015 Posted by | Budget Control Act, Federal Budget, Jim Jordan, Tea Party | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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