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“Hatred And Zealotry”: Total Obstructionism Not A Guaranteed Winning Strategy For Republicans

When Lyndon Johnson took power as Minority Leader in the Senate in 1953, he reasoned that the way back to the majority was to accumulate a good record of accomplishment to run on. He made the Senate work at an unprecedented level of efficiency, and supported President Eisenhower to such an extent that he and his allies often accused Senate Republicans of insufficient support of the president. This worked well enough that the Democrats took the Senate majority in the 1954 midterms. Mitch McConnell, on the other hand, is famous for this clip publicly announcing to become perhaps the overtly partisan Senate party leader in modern history: http://youtu.be/2gM-1HbK4qU

Thus the recently smashed historical record for the number of filibusters. McConnell and company decided the percentage was in scorched-earth, nihilistic opposition; to filibuster absolutely everything President Obama proposed, and to further gum up with works wherever possible. The reasoning seemed to be that if nothing happened, ignorant voters would blame the president, and Republicans would win power by default.

That paid off in 2010, apparently, but that kind of extremist absolutism seems on the verge of backfiring. Even though Romney is barely ahead at the moment, Obama is still a slight favorite. If you look at the Senate, which should have been an easy Republican pickup, with Democrats defending way more tough races, the Dems have a probably better-than-even shot to keep control. For example, Claire McCaskill, who should have been doomed, is ahead in the polls due to running against a buffoonish crackpot.

In other words, Mitch McConnell and his brethren may have thrown a wrench into the gears of government for no benefit whatsoever even to their own narrow self-interest.

Johnson’s brand of bipartisan strategy is often cited as an example of a bygone era of cooperation driven by historically idiosyncratic circumstances, something which would be utterly unrealistic these days. But it’s not clear to me that it would actually fail in narrow electoral terms. People seem more than anything desperate for Congress to be efficient and responsive, rather than gridlocked and incapable of action.

I conclude then that Republican strategy is driven by rational calcuation, yes, but also by hatred and zealotry, and these two are increasingly at odds. The Republican party gets much of its power from an extremist base, easily whipped into a frenzy, that is increasingly out of contact with reality. It gives them an organizing edge, but is also driving them to total absolutism (can’t negotiate with socialism!) which at the least isn’t a guaranteed route to electoral victory.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 20, 2012

October 22, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Compro-What?”: The Republican Definition Of “Compromise”

What is compromise? Getting more of what you want, according to House Republican Policy Committee Chairman Tom Price of Georgia.

Appearing this morning at a policy briefing hosted by National Journal and United Technologies, Price was asked by National Journal’s John Aloysius Farrell (a former U.S. News contributing editor) whether a term in office would make the Tea Party freshmen more likely to compromise.

His response was classic: “Compromising is one thing as long as you’re compromising and moving in the direction of your principles. If you’re compromising and moving away from the direction of your principles, I’m not sure it’s a compromise.”

Of course by definition, compromising means, um, compromising your principles. Here in fact is the dictionary definition of the word: “an adjustment of opposing principles … by modifying some aspects of each.”

One of the enduring themes from the Obama-Tea Party years here in Washington has been on compromise—whether and when it’s a good thing and how one defines it. Polls have consistently shown that liberals and independents want compromise, but conservatives prefer their leaders to stick to their guns. Democrats have exploited this public opinion gap by portraying Republicans, accurately in my view, as being a party of hardliners unwilling to make the kind of compromises necessary to solve the nation’s problems, especially in a time of divided government. See, for example, their unwillingness to seriously consider the revenue side of the deficit problem.
But since “compromise” is a concept popular with swing voters, they feel the need to radically redefine it in a way they can embrace. (It’s kind of like their Medicare plans.)

California Rep. Xavier Becerra, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus was interviewed at the event after Price and was asked what a bipartisan solution to the deficit problem would look like. Here’s his answer: “Bipartisan means that at the end, everyone will hate it, and people will all complain that it hit them to some degree. No one should be left out, as I said, all hands on deck.”

Kudos to Becerra for supplying a reality-based answer and apparently understanding the oldspeak definition of “compromise.”

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, April 26. 2012

April 27, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Speaker Boehner’s Folly Leads To Standard And Poor’s Downgrade Of US Debt

I’m no expert, but I don’t think S&P downgrading its rating of US debt will, as such, have any really big practical implications other than becoming the next political football. If you look at S&P’s definition of the AA rating, after all, it says:

“An obligation rated ‘AA’ differs from the highest-rated obligations only to a small degree. The obligor’s capacity to meet its financial commitment on the obligation is very strong.”

Scared yet? Me neither.

The issue today continues to be what it was a week ago. For years now, if you look at a projection from CBO or OMB it shows a spending curve that steadily accelerates. It accelerates because the government currently pays for health care for old people and for poor people, and because the cost of health care services has been accelerating.

Consequently, for a long time now it’s been clear that in the future either the US has to stop paying for old people’s health care, or else raise more revenue in taxes, or else reduce the growth in the price of health care services. And for a long time now it’s been unclear what combination of those strategies will be adopted. But people have generally had confidence that some combination of them would be adopted.

Once upon a time earlier in the Obama administration, I asked a senior official how he thought this would ever get resolved. A deal, everyone agreed, had to be bipartisan. But to be bipartisan, it would have to include tax increases. But Republicans wouldn’t vote for tax increases. He told me that of course that made sense, but at some point pressure from bond markets would be unbearable and Republicans would come to the table.

Broadly speaking, that’s the thing that most people generally believed would happen. What we saw with the debt ceiling was a mini-test of that theory, and the theory failed. “No new revenues” wasn’t just a GOP bargaining position, it turned out to be something they were really committed to even in the face of an imminent financial crisis. You can see why that would dent confidence in the long-term fiscal trajectory of the country.

The person who looks bad here, in my view, is John Boehner. President Obama wanted to do a “grand bargain.” The Gang of Six Senators wanted to do a “grand bargain.” And it looked for a moment like Speaker Boehner was going to be part of a grand bargain. But ultimately he decided that he didn’t want to sign a deal that would fracture his caucus, so the grand bargain talks fell apart. And yet the little bargain that did eventually pass the House ultimately couldn’t pass with Republican votes alone. So what did Boehner really achieve? If he was ultimately destined to strike a deal with the White House that needed Democratic votes to pass the House, why not go for the grand bargain? According to Boehner “When you look at this final agreement that we came to with the white House, I got 98 percent of what I wanted. I’m pretty happy.”

How happy is he now?

 

By: Matthew Yglesias, Think Progress, August 5, 2011

August 6, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Consumer Credit, Consumers, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Health Care, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Boehner’s New Proposal Could Produce Greatest Increase In Poverty And Hardship Of Any Law In Modern U.S. History

House Speaker John Boehner’s new budget proposal would require deep cuts in the years immediately ahead in Social Security and Medicare benefits for current retirees, the repeal of health reform’s coverage expansions, or wholesale evisceration of basic assistance programs for vulnerable Americans.

The plan is, thus, tantamount to a form of “class warfare.” If enacted, it could well produce the greatest increase in poverty and hardship produced by any law in modern U.S. history.

This may sound hyperbolic, but it is not. The mathematics are inexorable.

The Boehner plan calls for large cuts in discretionary programs of $1.2 trillion over the next ten years, and it then requires additional cuts that are large enough to produce another $1.8 trillion in savings to be enacted by the end of the year as a condition for raising the debt ceiling again at that time.

The Boehner plan contains no tax increases. The entire $1.8 trillion would come from budget cuts.

Because the first round of cuts will hit discretionary programs hard — through austere discretionary caps that Congress will struggle to meet — discretionary cuts will largely or entirely be off the table when it comes to achieving the further $1.8 trillion in budget reductions.

As a result, virtually all of that $1.8 trillion would come from entitlement programs. They would have to be cut more than $1.5 trillion in order to produce sufficient interest savings to achieve $1.8 trillion in total savings.

To secure $1.5 trillion in entitlement savings over the next ten years would require draconian policy changes. Policymakers would essentially have three choices: 1) cut Social Security and Medicare benefits heavily for current retirees, something that all budget plans from both parties (including House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan) have ruled out; 2) repeal the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansions while retaining its measures that cut Medicare payments and raise tax revenues, even though Republicans seek to repeal many of those measures as well; or 3) eviscerate the safety net for low-income children, parents, senior citizens, and people with disabilities. There is no other plausible way to get $1.5 trillion in entitlement cuts in the next ten years.

The evidence for this conclusion is abundant.

The “Gang of Six” plan, with its very tough and controversial entitlement cuts, contains total entitlement reductions of $640 to $760 billion over the next ten years not counting Social Security, and $755 billion to $875 billion including Social Security. (That’s before netting out $300 billion in entitlement costs that the plan includes for a permanent fix to the scheduled cuts in Medicare physician payments that Congress regularly cancels; with these costs netted out, the Gang of Six entitlement savings come to $455 to $575 billion.)

The budget deal between President Obama and Speaker Boehner that fell apart last Friday, which included cuts in Social Security cost-of-living adjustments and Medicare benefits as well as an increase in the Medicare eligibility age, contained total entitlement cuts of $650 billion (under the last Obama offer) to $700 billion (under the last Boehner offer).

The Ryan budget that the House passed in April contained no savings in Social Security over the next ten years and $279 billion in Medicare cuts.

To be sure, the House-passed Ryan budget included much larger overall entitlement cuts over the next 10 years. But that was largely because it eviscerated the safety net and repealed health reform’s coverage expansions. The Ryan plan included cuts in Medicaid and health reform of a remarkable $2.2 trillion, from severely slashing Medicaid and killing health reform’s coverage expansions. The Ryan plan also included stunning cuts of $127 billion in the SNAP program (formerly known as food stamps) and $126 billion in Pell Grants and other student financial assistance.

That House Republicans would likely seek to reach the Boehner budget’s $1.8 trillion target in substantial part by cutting programs for the poorest and most vulnerable Americans is given strong credence by the “Cut, Cap, and Balance” bill that the House recently approved. That bill would establish global spending caps and enforce them with across-the-board budget cuts —exempting Medicare and Social Security from the across-the-board cuts while subjecting programs for the poor to the across-the-board axe.

This would turn a quarter century of bipartisan budget legislation on its head; starting with the 1985 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law, all federal laws of the last 26 years that have set budget targets enforced by across-the-board cuts have exempted the core assistance programs for the poor from those cuts while including Medicare among programs subject to the cuts. This component of the “Cut, Cap, and Balance” bill strongly suggests that, especially in the face of an approaching election, House Republicans looking for entitlement cuts would heavily target means-tested programs for people of lesser means (and less political power).

In short, the Boehner plan would force policymakers to choose among cutting the incomes and health benefits of ordinary retirees, repealing the guts of health reform and leaving an estimated 34 million more Americans uninsured, and savaging the safety net for the poor. It would do so even as it shielded all tax breaks, including the many lucrative tax breaks for the wealthiest and most powerful individuals and corporations.

President Obama has said that, while we must reduce looming deficits, we must take a balanced approach. The Boehner proposal badly fails this test of basic decency. The President should veto the bill if it reaches his desk. Congress should find a fairer, more decent way to avoid a default.

By: Robert Greenstein, President, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, July 25, 2011

July 25, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Budget, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government Shut Down, Governors, Health Care, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Medicaid, Medicare, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Teaparty, Uninsured, Voters, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Conspicuous Pattern: The GOP Is Really Not Interested In Governing

At his press conference the other day, President Obama noted the recommendations of the bipartisan deficit-reduction commission (which, by the way, failed to reach an agreement). He mentioned in passing that his White House set up the structure for the commission: “As you will recall, this was originally bipartisan legislation that some of the Republican supporters of decided to vote against when I said I supported it — that seems to be a pattern that I’m still puzzled by.”

It is, to be sure, quite a pattern. For two-and-a-half years, Obama has run into congressional Republicans who not only refuse to take “yes” for an answer, but routinely oppose their own ideas when the president is willing to accept them.

This seems especially relevant in the context of the current debt-reduction talks. At a certain level, it’s almost comical — here we have a Democratic president agreeing with a conservative Republican House Speaker on a massive deal that would lower the debt by over $4 trillion over the next decade. It would tilt heavily in the GOP’s direction, and address the problem Republicans pretend to care about most. Obama is even willing to consider significant entitlement “reforms,” which should be music to the ears of the right.

And yet, in the latest example that “puzzles” the president, Republicans aren’t interested.

Now, part of this is obviously the result of Republicans adopting a faith-based approach to revenue, which happens to be wildly disconnected to reality. But that’s not the only angle that matters. Matt Yglesias had a good item the other day that raised a point that’s often lost in the shuffle.

[H]ere we get to the problem that’s recurred throughout Obama’s time in office. If members of Congress think like partisans who want to capture the White House, then the smart strategy for them is to refuse to do whatever it is the president wants. The content of the president’s desire is irrelevant. But the more ambitious his desire is, the more important it is to turn him down.

After all, if the President wants a big bipartisan deal on the deficit, then a big bipartisan deal on the deficit is “a win for President Obama,” which means a loss for the anti-Obama side. When Obama didn’t want to embrace Bowles-Simpson, then failure to embrace Bowles-Simpson was a valid critique of him. But had Obama embraced Bowles-Simpson, then it would have been necessary for his opponents to reject it.

For weeks, many have marveled at the priorities of the Republican policy wish-list — given a choice between the larger debt-reduction plan in American history and preserving some tax breaks for the wealthy, GOP officials at nearly every level strongly prefer the latter. Indeed, for nearly all Republicans, it’s such a no-brainer, this question is almost silly.

But there’s a separate challenge — Republicans have a choice between advancing policies they ostensibly agree with and Obama scoring a legislative victory. And as it turns out, that’s a no-brainer, too, since GOP lawmakers don’t really care about governing so much as they care about denying the president political victories. It might make them appear ridiculous — why would anyone reject their own ideas? — but looking foolish isn’t a major concern for congressional Republicans.

Obviously, this makes compromise literally impossible, and all but guarantees the least productive legislative session in many years. But it also suggests the president needs to adapt to an awkward set of circumstances: given Republican beliefs, Obama must realize his support for a legislative idea necessarily means it’s less likely to happen.

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, Washington Monthly, July 17, 2011

July 18, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Medicare, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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