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“Republican Reformers”: Absolutist’s Advocating For No Tax Hikes Of Any Kind For The Rich

It’s been a good week for the intellectual cause of reforming the Republican Party. Ramesh Ponnuru has a sharp op-ed in the New York Times today arguing that Ronald Reagan’s economic program was well tailored to the conditions of 1980, but does not meet the needs of the present day. (Ponnuru could have noted that Reagan himself altered his own program in response to the massive structural deficits it created — the conservative liturgy defines the Reagan gospel as the pure 1981 version.) Bush administration veterans Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner have a longer piece in Commentary arguing along similar lines.

These are smart arguments and I devoutly hope for their success. Yet they contain the same flaws that seem to recur in all the efforts to reform the GOP from within: an unwillingness to identify or confront the forces within the party that prevent these reforms from succeeding.

Yesterday, for instance, Paul Ryan appeared on This Week to argue once again for why Republicans would not accept any new revenue as part of a deficit reduction plan:

But taking tax loophole, what we’ve always advocated is necessary for tax reform, means you’re going to close loopholes to fuel more spending not to reform the tax code. …

So if you take tax loopholes to fuel more spending, which is what they’re proposing, then you are preventing tax reform, which we think is necessary, to end crony capitalism and to grow the economy.

This is pure Republican orthodoxy. What’s remarkable about the ability of anti-tax zealots like Ryan to sustain their position is that it places them in direct opposition to conservative goals on both defense and spending. After all, Obama is offering to cut spending on retirement programs and to cancel out cuts to defense — two things large chunks of the GOP would like — in return for more revenue. He’s not even demanding higher rates. He’s merely asking to reduce tax deductions.

Ryan insists he won’t take the deal, because if he uses the revenue from reducing tax deductions to close the deficit, it won’t be available to reduce tax rates. Every other fiscal priority must give way for the overriding goal of reducing marginal tax rates.

But where are the Republicans speaking in opposition to Ryan and his allies? I haven’t seen a single one. Instead, they ignore the existing configurations altogether. Wehner had a blog post yesterday railing against “the refusal by Democrats to reform entitlement programs in general.” But Obama has been offering to reduce spending on Social Security and Medicare for two years now, in return for Republican agreement to spread the burden of the fiscal adjustment. They won’t take the deal.

Now, maybe Obama’s deal isn’t exactly what Ponnuru, Gerson, and Wehner would like. But if Republicans want to reform their party’s identity and make it into something other than absolutist advocacy of low taxes for the rich, they need to come up with some negotiating position on fiscal issues other than “no tax hikes for the rich of any kind no matter what we get in return.”


By: Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine, February 18, 2013

February 25, 2013 Posted by | Revolution, Sequester | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

From Wisconsin To Wall Street, An Economic Reckoning

The comparisons were inevitable. As Occupy Wall Street gathers momentum and new allies, progressives have quickly connected it with the other headline-grabbing uprising this year: The mass protests in Wisconsin against Gov. Scott Walker’s attack on labor unions. A statement from leaders of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union, which endorsed Occupy Wall Street this week, was typical: “Just as a message was sent to politicians in Wisconsin, a clear message is now being sent to Wall Street: Priority number one should be rebuilding Main Street, not fueling the power of corporate CEOs and their marionette politicians.”

The essential theme connecting events in Madison and New York City is unmistakable. Both represent an economic reckoning at a time of grim unemployment rates and stagnant wages for middle-class Americans. “Both the defense of unions [in Wisconsin] and Occupy Wall Street, which is broader in its definition of the problem, are responding to two or three decades of increasing economic inequality and, until fairly recently, the inability of progressives to address those things,” says Georgetown University historian Michael Kazin, author of American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation.

But the Wisconsin-Occupy Wall Street comparison is a more complicated  one in its specifics. The two don’t fit neatly side by side and, in  some ways, bear no resemblance at all. Here is a look at how two of the  biggest populist protests of the year stack up:

The Organizers

As I reported from Madison in March, labor unions and community activist groups were, from the very beginning, the driving force in the Wisconsin protests. On November 3, 2010, the day after Republicans reclaimed the state Legislature and the governor’s mansion, union leaders began plotting how to respond to the looming assault on organized labor. And when Gov. Scott Walker unveiled his anti-union budget repair bill, and later threatened to sic the National Guard on those protesting his bill, unions marshaled their resources and called every member in their ranks. From their command center in Madison’s only unionized hotel, labor turned out more than a 100,000 supporters in a span of weeks.

Occupy Wall Street is not union-made. It was the anti-capitalist Adbusters magazine that put out the initial call for protesters to flood downtown Manhattan on September 17. Since then the protests have grown almost entirely without institutional support, an organic groundswell without leaders or executive boards or much structure at all. In recent days, unions have endorsed Occupy Wall Street, marched with them, and provided food, drinks, clothing, and more. But the protests remain a loosely organized, essentially leaderless effort.

Goals of the Movement

“Kill the bill! Kill the bill!” Wading among the crowd in Madison in February, you couldn’t go more than 10 minutes without that chant breaking out. It captured exactly what the protesters wanted: the death of Scott Walker’s anti-union bill. (They didn’t get it.) Later, those demands broadened to include fewer cuts to funding for education and social services by Walker and Wisconsin Republicans, but for much of the protests, it was perfectly clear what the angry cheeseheads wanted.

Occupy Wall Street so far has had no clear set of demands—and intentionally so, it seems. A post at demanded that supporters stop listing demands for fear of making protesters “look like extremist nut jobs.” The post went on, “You don’t speak for everyone in this.” The vague intentions have raised eyebrows, but they also have had the effect of welcoming a diverse group of supporters without alienating them. “The protesters have been eloquent in rejecting the idea that they produce ‘one demand’ and also in articulating in broad terms what they want,” says Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.

Spreading the Word

Like the protesters in Iran’s “Green Revolution” and Egypt’s Tahrir Square uprising, Wisconsin and Occupy Wall Street have made savvy use of social media for everything from rallying supporters and organizing marches to asking for food. Take Twitter: Both uprisings have built lively, if contentious, forums for debate with the hash tags #wiunion and #occupywallstreet. So many tweets poured in during Wednesday’s Occupy Wall Street march that it was impossible to keep up.

Other forms of online organizing have been pivotal. There are more than 230 Facebook pages promoting Occupy events from Tacoma, Washington, to Marfa, Texas, to Milwaukee, just as Facebook helped energize protesters in Wisconsin. And for those who couldn’t make it in person, livestreaming has brought supporters from around the country and the world closer to the action on the ground.

Laying Down the Law

Scott Walker’s bill exempted police officers from the most draconian crackdowns on workers’ rights. That put cops in a tight spot, because it was the job of the police to contain and, when necessary, crack down on the crowds of public workers who occupied the state Capitol rotunda and protested in the surrounding streets. But throughout the months-long protests, police arrested very few, allowed the occupiers to remain inside the Capitol for weeks, and generally treated angry demonstrators as best as could be hoped. Off-duty cops from around the state even joined the protesters in Madison.

Actions by law enforcement in Manhattan against Occupy Wall Street have at some turns been a very different story, with police crackdowns stealing the spotlight. This video of an NYPD deputy inspector using pepper spray on a handful of female protesters sparked outrage, added a streak of sensationalism to the story, and was picked up by mainstream news outlets. The arrest of more than 700 people who marched on the Brooklyn Bridge last weekend similarly made national headlines, leading to heaps of criticism and a class-action lawsuit against the NYPD.

Pizza for Protesters

Supporters called in pizza orders from around the world for the hearty crew of Capitol occupiers in Wisconsin. The same is happening for those camped out in Zuccotti Park, blocks from Wall Street. Pizza: It’s the nosh of choice for American uprisings in 2011.

By: Andy Kroll, Mother Jones, October 6, 2011

October 7, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Democracy, Equal Rights, Freedom, Government, Ideologues, Liberty, Media, Middle Class, Politics, Populism, Revolution, Unemployment | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why The Republicans Want To Raise Your Taxes

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s recent assertion that any disaster relief for Hurricane Irene would have to be offset with spending cuts elsewhere sparked a great deal of outrage, especially in the progressive sectors of the blogosphere.

On one level Cantor’s position is no surprise. Paying for emergency disaster relief used to be standard operating procedure in Washington, because it would be inconceivable that the federal government would force the states and individuals to shoulder the burden alone. But with the new GOP House majority, Washington has new rules. Now when there’s a policy objective that enjoys bipartisan support—avoiding a government shutdown or default, for example, or providing disaster relief—the GOP will use it as a hostage to extract their partisan policy objectives.

More broadly, people look askance at Cantor and the GOP for previously supporting (but not paying for) disaster relief, a pair of foreign wars, an expansion of Medicare, and the Bush tax cuts, and then finding their inner fiscal hawks when a Democrat entered the White House. (Robert’s 10th Rule of Politics: A party’s dedication to fiscal responsibility is inversely proportional to its political power.)

Of course the GOP still wants to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, at a cost of $4 trillion over 10 years. If pushing budget-busting tax cuts while carrying the banner of fiscal austerity on issues like disaster relief seems like cognitive dissonance, it is. But that’s today’s GOP.

Take taxes. Last month’s Iowa GOP presidential debate provided a defining moment for the party. The assembled would-be nominees were asked if they would accept tax increases if there were $10 in spending cuts for every dollar of new revenues. To a person, they refused. This came days after the conclusion of the debt ceiling crisis, which had been deliberately manufactured by House Republicans, and which had turned on their flat refusal to accept any tax increase. And it came after months of pious declarations that one never, ever, ever raises taxes on a soft economy (the experiences of Presidents Reagan in 1982 and Clinton in 1993 apparently notwithstanding).

And yet the GOP now wants to raise taxes, both in the immediate term and as a broader matter of principle.

They oppose, for example, President Obama’s call to prolong the payroll tax cut enacted last year when the (temporary) Bush tax cuts were extended. Ordinarily, American workers pay 6.2 percent of their wages in a tax that funds Social Security, with their employers matching the amount. For 2011, that rate was cut to 4.2 percent. The logic is simple: The poor and working class are most likely to pump extra disposable income back into the economy, making the tax cut a more efficient stimulant than, say, rate cuts for the wealthy. It’s as broad-based a tax cut as can be imagined, as it benefits virtually everyone who works, even those who don’t earn enough to pay income taxes. So of course Republicans oppose its extension, preferring to allow a broad-based tax hike to go into effect in the new year. “Not all tax relief is created equal,” Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the House’s fourth-ranking Republican, told the Associated Press, while others cited fiscal concerns. Extending the tax holiday, which cost $67.2 billion this year and a total of $111.7 billion over 10 years, would be fiscally irresponsible while extending the Bush tax cuts is sound policy? Not all tax cuts are created equal indeed.

And this isn’t an isolated instance of the GOP breaking from its usual anti-tax orthodoxy. The truth is that many leading Republicans yearn to raise taxes on working-class and poor Americans.

“We’re dismayed at the injustice that nearly half of all Americans don’t even pay any income tax,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry intoned last month when announcing for president. What to do? Here’s Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann: “We need to broaden the base so that everybody pays something, even if it’s a dollar.” More recently, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman approvingly cited Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as saying we don’t have enough people paying taxes in this country. The GOP as stalwart fighters against taxes? No more. That more Americans should pay taxes is, according to the Wall Street Journal, “the new Republican orthodoxy.”

And who is it Republicans would like to raise taxes upon? According to the Tax Policy Center, 46 percent of U.S. households won’t pay income taxes this year. The elderly (who are mostly retired, have a larger deduction, and often don’t have their Social Security benefits taxed) make up a plurality of 44 percent of the nonpayers, while people whose income tax liability is wiped out by the child tax credit, child and dependent care tax credit, and the earned income tax credit—all of which were enacted with Republican support—make up an additional 30 percent of the group. (The rest of the nonpayers get a handful of smaller tax credits, including education credits, itemized deductions, and even capital gains benefits.)

Keep in mind that these people not having any income tax liability does not mean that they don’t pay taxes (as is often implied in GOP talking points). They pay state and local taxes, not to mention federal payroll taxes, which of course the GOP wants to see rise.

So Republicans worry about the wealthy paying too much in taxes while fretting about freeloading lower classes. They talk a big deficit game but are more concerned about cutting government spending, specifically on programs that benefit the nonrich. Perhaps this isn’t cognitive dissonance but the logical evolution of the modern GOP into an Ayn Rand-ian coalition explicitly focused on freeing a wealthy elite from the parasitical depredations of everyone else.

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, September 7, 2011


September 9, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Disasters, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Politics, Public, Republicans, Revolution, Right Wing, Social Security, States, Taxes, Teaparty, Wealthy | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Whoops, No One Told The Right That Their Libya Talking Point Doesn’t Work Anymore

It’s obviously premature to celebrate “victory” in Libya when no one knows what will happen next, or how difficult and bloody the process of state-building will be. (And Gadhafi is not yet actually gone.) But the news is good, and Obama’s strategic approach to the conflict — allowing France and NATO to take the lead to minimize the chance that America was seen as leading another Iraq-style war of aggression — seems to have been the right one. (Strategically. Not necessarily legally.) As Steve Kornacki wrote this morning, this should be the end of the “Obama is too weak to lead” talking point from the right. It should be, but … it isn’t.

Today’s Wall Street Journal editorial page takes a break from excusing the criminality of the executives in charge of its parent company to deliver an official house reaction to the developments in Tripoli that starts off cautious and then just descends right back into the exact same lame arguments it’s been using for the last six months:

Having helped to midwife the rebel advances with air power, intelligence and weapons, NATO will have some influence with the rebels in the days ahead. The shame is how much faster Gadhafi might have been defeated, how many fewer people might have been killed, and how much more influence the U.S. might now have, if America had led more forcefully from the beginning.

Planning for this moment is precisely why we and many others had urged the State Department to engage with the rebels from the earliest days of the revolt, but the U.S. was slow to do so and only formally recognized the opposition Transitional National Council in mid-July. The hesitation gave Gadhafi hope that he could hold out and force a stalemate.

Libyans will determine their own future, but the U.S. has a stake in showing the world that NATO’s intervention, however belated and ill-executed, succeeded in its goals of removing a dictator, saving lives, and promoting a new Libyan government that respects its people and doesn’t sponsor global terrorism.

I’m not sure how long the editors of the Wall Street Journal think your average revolution lasts, but assuming Gadhafi’s hold on power is as weak as it appears today, I would argue — as a layman, of course — that NATO’s intervention seems neither “belated” nor “ill-executed.” (I mean, it seems well-executed, in the sense that it seems to have accomplished its goal?)

But it’s the line about America leading “more forcefully from the beginning” that the neocons and GOP hawks will continue to cling to no matter what actually happens in Libya. It’s the same argument BFF Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham used in their joint response to this weekend’s developments: “Americans can be proud of the role our country has played in helping to defeat Qaddafi, but we regret that this success was so long in coming due to the failure of the United States to employ the full weight of our airpower.”

All-out war! From day one! With the full force of American airpower! One definite way to make a civil war faster and less bloody is for a foreign country to enter it fully, right? (It tends to unite the populace, for one thing!) And conflicts are always less bloody when America drops more American bombs. That’s how we won Vietnam!

There’s no point in countering McCain and the Journal’s arguments with reason, of course, because these are not actually fact-based responses to news, they’re just rote recitations of Republican dogma: Obama weak! (Except domestically, where he is an autocrat.)

And this is the “respectable” Republican talking point. The line from the real nuts — I’m guessing something along the lines of “radical Obama allows Muslim Brotherhood to seize control in Libya” — will begin bubbling up from the sewers to talk radio and Fox News and Michele Bachmann’s campaign soon enough.


By: Alex Pareene, Salon War Room, August 22, 2011

August 23, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Democrats, Foreign Policy, Gadhafi, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Libya, National Security, Neo-Cons, No Fly Zones, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Revolution, Right Wing | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Circular Firing Squad: Boehner Bill Is Showdown Between House Republican Purists And Realists

The run-up to the vote expected Thursday on House Speaker John A. Boehner’s proposal to provide a short-term increase in the national debt limit is quickly turning into a time of clarity for the chamber’s Republicans.

If GOP leaders are unable to muster enough support to get the plan out of the House, the only measure left would be a Democratic proposal by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), and voting with Reid is not a concession many House Republicans are willing to make.

“There’s only three choices,” said Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), a close Boehner ally. “One is to vote for Senator Reid’s plan. One is to default. And one choice is the Boehner bill. It should be pretty self-evident what the best choice is to someone who’s a Republican.”

Increasingly, the vote on Boehner’s proposal is shaping up not as a test of wills between moderates and conservatives, but as a face-off between political purists who scorn the bill and realists who prefer it to the alternative.

“We came here to reduce the size of government and reduce spending, and this bill, I think, begins to accomplish that goal,” said Rep. Sean P. Duffy (R-Wis.), who decided Wednesday that he will vote for the measure. “It’s by no means perfect. But it’s the best bill we have.”

At a closed-door meeting for House Republicans on Wednesday, where leaders tried to rally support for the measure, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) read from a blog post by conservative commentator Bill Kristol. “To vote against Boehner is to choose to support Barack Obama,” Kristol wrote.

But it is not an easy sale for a party that won back control of the House last year on promises to vote without regard to political consequences.

Boehner’s bill would postpone major entitlement reform and other deep cuts by passing such decisions to a new committee that would report its recommendations by year’s end. The proposal also would not require Congress to pass a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, but only that it vote on one.

Some Republicans have vowed that they will not raise the debt ceiling under any circumstances.

Others preferred a conservative bill dubbed “cut, cap and balance” that passed the House this month but was killed in the Senate. It would have required Congress to vote to send the amendment to the states for ratification.

“The credit rating agencies have been clear that no matter what happens with the debt limit, the U.S. will lose its AAA credit rating unless we produce a credible plan to reduce the debt by trillions of dollars,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), chairman of the Republican Study Committee. The group comprises more than 170 House conservatives. “Cut, cap and balance is the only plan on the table that meets this standard,” he said.

House leaders expressed cautious optimism Wednesday that they were convincing members that the plan advanced by Boehner (R-Ohio) is the best that Republicans can hope to get.

It would avert a government default, take a bite out of the deficit and require Congress to adopt $1.8 trillion in additional cuts before the debt ceiling could be raised again next year.

Freshman Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), whose district in Staten Island and Brooklyn is home to many Wall Street professionals, said he decided Wednesday that he will vote for the bill after he was convinced that its failure would hand Democrats control of the debate.

“I don’t think it’s perfect. I don’t think it’s close to perfect. I don’t think it’s in the realm of what I expected to get,” he said.

But, Grimm said, it would require deep spending reductions over the coming years. “That’s historic. And that’s a step in the right direction.”

The public infighting has served to rally some Republicans. Behind closed doors, members erupted Wednesday over an e-mail that a staff member of Jordan’s Republican Study Committee sent to outside conservative groups. It listed undecided members who could be pressured to vote against the Boehner plan.

“I think it’s offensive when a group that you’re a part of uses your bullets to shoot you,” said Rep. Bill Flores (Tex.). “So I have a problem with it.”

Those entreaties did not quiet conservatives who are urging that the plan be abandoned: On Wednesday, the head of the group Tea Party Nation accused Boehner of surrendering to Washington’s status quo and called for him to be replaced.

The House proposal was panned at a small rally held at the Capitol by the Tea Party Express and the American Grassroots Coalition. The GOP that rode tea party energy and activism is hoping that some of it members can look past that relationship.

“Some people are new here and this is part of the learning curve,” LaTourette said. “At times you have to say ‘no’ to people you represent who are yelling at you, if you’ve reached the conclusion that it’s in the best interests of the country.”

By: Rosalind Helderman and Felicia Sonmez with Contribution by David Fahrenthold, The Washington Post Politics, July 27, 2011

July 28, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government Shut Down, Ideology, Lawmakers, Politics, Republicans, Revolution, Right Wing, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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