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“Washington Weasel-Wording”: After The Trump-Ryan ‘Summit’, Both Sides Can Pretend The Other Is Surrendering

As political theater, the “summit” between Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan was first-rate. By that I don’t refer to the street circus of protesters and counter-protesters and a thousand cameras. The “joint statement” the two men issued after a meeting in the presence of RNC chairman Reince Priebus was a quick espresso shot of nothingness topped with pious hopes for “unity.” It left everyone free to interpret it as they wish.

Like a truce between Roman generals and a barbarian chieftain in late antiquity, the “summit” will probably be regarded by each side as representing the first stage in the other’s surrender. For Trump, the very ritual of meetings with the RNC chairman, the House Speaker, the House leadership team, and (later today) the Senate leadership team connotes the conferral of respectability on a figure each and every one of these potentates has almost certainly disparaged in private as a buffoon, an overgrown juvenile delinquent, or a proto-fascist. And for said potentates, Trump’s day on Capitol Hill represents his coming domestication. This dance could go on for quite some time before any push comes to shove in a public disagreement. And by then Donald J. Trump and the Republican Party will be stuck with each other for the duration.

On Wednesday, Trump’s little-known top policy adviser, the former Iowa politician Sam Clovis, offered a good example of how easy it might be for Trump and Paul Ryan to blur their differences on even the most inflammatory issues. Pressed about whether “entitlement reform” was indeed off the table, as Trump himself seems to have said in debates and on the campaign trail, Clovis allowed as how a Trump administration might actually mosey over in that direction if fiscal circumstances so indicated. I’m sure Paul Ryan was pleased to hear that, and perhaps he was exactly the intended audience for that small but significant shift. Having spent much of the 2012 general election pretending to love Medicare more than life itself after issuing budget after budget proposing to gut it, Ryan knows how to blur his positions as well.

As Greg Sargent shrewdly observed, a lot of the distance between Trump and Beltway Republicans can be bridged by Washington weasel-wording. They’re off to a good start today.


By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 12, 2016

May 13, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee | , , , , , | 3 Comments

“A New Election-Year Blueprint”: Lieberman Mistakenly Believes He Has It All Figured Out

Though this may come as a bit of a surprise, the No Labels organization continues to exist, despite the fact that it doesn’t appear to have had any influence on anyone at any time on any level. A couple of years ago, Yahoo News reported that the outfit “spends a disproportionate part of its budget maintaining and promoting its own organization, trying to keep its profile high while ensuring a steady flow of fundraising dollars” from undisclosed donors.

The revelations did not, however, do any real lasting damage to No Labels, and as Slate’s Jim Newell explained the other day, the group and its leader even have a new election-year blueprint it wants the political world to take seriously.

Former Sen. Joe Lieberman, co-chairman of the nonpartisan “problem-solving” advocacy group No Labels, has a novel theory of what we’re seeing this campaign. “Take a look at the two most interesting, surprising candidacies of the presidential year,” he said Thursday at an event celebrating the release of No Labels’ “policy playbook” for the 2016 election. “They want people to do something different. The best politics may be unconventional politics.”

Lieberman, unconventionally, was explaining why he believes the moment is ripe for entitlement reform.

Ah, yes, there’s the Joe Lieberman we all know. The aggressively centrist former senator sees Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders generating some excitement on the right and left, respectively, and Lieberman naturally assumes their success reflects an opportunity for a policy agenda neither Trump nor Sanders want any part of.

“The best politics may be unconventional politics”? Maybe so. But consider the gap between the message and the messenger: a senator-turned-lobbyist appeared in a D.C. ballroom at a luxury hotel to pitch a centrist platform that no doubt delighted other D.C. centrists. It’s hard to even imagine a more “conventional” scenario. To think this relates in any way to the excitement surrounding Sanders and Trump is to miss the point of recent political developments in a rather spectacular way.

Or as the Slate piece put it, “For today’s discontented voters, the sort of ballroom-luncheon centrism practiced for so long by the likes of Lieberman is more the target than the solution.”

In fairness, on some issues, No Labels probably means well, and on a theoretical level, I can vaguely appreciate the appeal of non-partisan, technocratic policymaking.

But much of the No Labels blueprint for 2016 – called the National Strategic Agenda for reasons I don’t understand – include vague ideas that sound nice if one doesn’t look too closely and some credible ideas that Lieberman falsely assumed could receive Republican support.

Newell’s article noted that No Labels commissions polling that proves how popular its ideas are, and included this gem: “No Labels’ theory is that polling support will make risk-averse politicians feel safe enough to stake out what otherwise might be considered treacherous political territory. ‘I think the public would really honor and reward a leader who took the risks,’ Lieberman said.”

Yes, of course. And this explains why members of Congress took note of public attitudes and raised the minimum wage while approving universal background checks.

Oh wait, that didn’t actually happen.

In 2004, Lieberman launched a humiliating presidential campaign. In 2006, he lost a Senate primary in a state he’d represented for decades. In 2008, he was certain John McCain would be elected president. In 2015, he led an organization created to derail the international nuclear agreement with Iran.

Why anyone would take Lieberman’s political instincts seriously is a bit of a mystery.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 25, 2016

April 26, 2016 Posted by | General Election 2016, Joe Lieberman, No Labels | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“House Freedom Caucus Demands”: Granting The Insurgents Continuing Power To Be Disruptive

It is looking likely that Rep. Paul Ryan will be elected Speaker of the House next week. Who knows what has transpired behind closed doors, but the word is that he and the Freedom Caucus reached a deal that won enough of them over for him to be elected.

What we also know is that the Freedom Caucus designed a questionnaire for speaker candidates. Kevin Quealy and Carl Hulse have done us all a service by translating those demands from Congressional legalese into plain English.

In looking at the list of 21 items, a lot of the things they are pushing for would simply undo the reforms instituted by Newt Gingrich that put power in the hands of the House Leadership – specifically the Speaker. In that way, they grant the insurgents continuing power to be disruptive.

But there are a few things that would mean pretty immediate chaos. For example, item 13 asks: are you willing to hold the debt limit hostage until we prevail on other issues? Specifically, the Freedom Caucus wants “structural entitlement reforms” in the 2016 budget and the Default Prevention Act (which President Obama has promised to veto) included in any legislation that raises the debt ceiling.

Given that the Treasury has informed Congress that the debt limit will be reached November 3rd – exactly one week after the House votes for a new Speaker – that doesn’t give Paul Ryan a lot of time to work this one out.

Making that job even harder is item 7 which seeks to institutionalize the so-called “Hastert Rule.” It would require that Republicans consider only legislation that has the support of the majority of their party. That would eliminate the possibility for Ryan to develop a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats to raise the debt ceiling.

If all that weren’t bad enough, item 15 demands that the new Speaker refuse to pass a budget that contains funding for Planned Parenthood, “unconditional amnesty,” the Iran deal and Obamacare. In other words…”We demand a government shutdown!”

There are several other interesting items, like a demand to impeach the IRS Commissioner, turn the highway program over to states, stick to the spending caps in sequestration, etc. But in a deliciously hypocritical move, item 6 demands that Republicans who signed the discharge petition to fund the Ex-Im Bank be punished, while items 4 & 5 demand that members who oppose rule changes and/or vote their conscience not be punished.

If Rep. Ryan has in any way agreed to these demands, things are going to blow up in the House very quickly. If he and the Freedom Caucus simply put off dealing with them, things are going to blow up in the House very quickly. Get my drift?


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, October 24, 2015

October 25, 2015 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, House Freedom Caucus, Paul Ryan, Speaker of The House of Representatives | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Entitlements For Me And Mine”: The GOP Wants To Cut The Social Safety Net — But Only For Young And Poor People

Newly minted 2016 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is selling himself to older Republicans as the guy who will keep Washington’s grasping hands off their government-provided Medicare and Social Security. In his recent announcement speech, the former Fox News host and ex-governor of Arkansas attacked rivals who “propose that to save the safety nets like Medicare and Social Security, we ought to chop off the payments for the people who have faithfully had their paychecks and pockets picked by the politicians.” For that and similar statements, Huckabee’s candidacy is being portrayed as some radical departure from GOP economic orthodoxy and, as The New York Times put it, is supposedly “exposing growing fault lines in the party over an issue that has long been considered a political third rail.”

Not so much, actually. Huckabee’s do-(almost)-nothing stance on entitlement reform reflects the GOP consensus. He’s just more explicit about it than most. It’s really only potential 2016er Chris Christie — with his call for cutting retirement pay for wealthier seniors — who seems to be the odd man out.

There was a time, of course, when Republicans were pushing hard to fix the fiscal problems of Medicare and Social Security. Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2010 “Roadmap for America’s Future” probably marked Peak Reform. That budget blueprint called for allowing pre-retirement workers to divert part of their payroll taxes into private retirement accounts and to receive vouchers to buy private health insurance when they finally called it quits. Such sweeping changes were needed, Ryan and other Republicans argued, to prevent these programs from “bankrupting” America.

But by the 2012 presidential election, Republicans were backtracking from those big ideas. In his convention speech, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney attacked President Obama for wanting to cut future Medicare spending. Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan explained how important Medicare was for his grandmother with Alzheimer’s. Social Security wasn’t mentioned by name at all. Likewise, the Ryan budgets stopped calling for specific Social Security reforms.

Things went even further in the 2014 midterms, when GOP groups ran ads against some Democratic candidates accusing them of wanting to cut Social Security benefits and raise the retirement age. And today, the new Republican House-Senate budget drops the “premium support” Medicare reform that had been a staple of the Ryan budgets, although it does include some $400 billion in unspecified, 10-year Medicare savings also requested by Obama.

So what happened? The long-term federal financial picture hasn’t miraculously turned around since 2010. The Congressional Budget Office projects that federal spending on Medicare and Social Security over the next 25 years will rise by roughly three percentage points of GDP, from 8 percent to 11 percent. The debt deluge that prompted calls for radical reform is still on its way. What has changed is that Republicans are wising up to just how much they depend on older voters. Those 65 and over gave 56 percent of their votes to Romney in 2012 and were critical to congressional victories in 2010 and 2012.

Another big change since 2010: ObamaCare. The passage of the the president’s Affordable Care Act — opposed by older, tea party Republicans — has affected how GOP politicians view and talk about the safety net. They now clearly differentiate between “earned” entitlement benefits such as Medicare and Social Security and “unearned” welfare benefits such as ObamaCare subsidies, Medicaid, and food stamps. As Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins accurately predicted back in 2013, “The new ‘conservative’ position will be to defend Social Security and Medicare, those middle-class rewards for a life of hard work and tax-paying, against Mr. Obama’s vast expansion of the means-tested welfare state for working-age Americans.” Republican voters get the “good” entitlements, Democratic voters the “bad,” dependency-creating ones.

Huckabee clearly intends seniors to be the rock upon which he builds his candidacy. In the “Seniors” section of his campaign website, he promises to fight for the “earned benefits” of Social Security and Medicare — perhaps forgetting that a typical middle-class, one-earner couple retiring in 2030 will receive $1.3 million in lifetime Medicare and Social Security benefits, having paid in just under $500,000. Huckabee then attacks ObamaCare as a welfare program that diverts $700 billion from Medicare and fosters “government dependency.” Entitlements for me and mine but not for thee and thine.

The politics of this strategy are debatable. (Though it surely doesn’t help attract younger voters!) But regardless, it makes for simply awful public policy. Future safety net spending increases on older Americans need to be reduced. Republicans should continue the earlier work of Ryan in building the case for those changes. Moreover, more of what is spent will need to shift to lower-income Americans. At the same time, some kinds of safety net spending for the poor will need to be increased, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit. And turning Medicaid into a program that uses tax credits to buy private insurance, as some on the right want to do, would also likely cost more money.

If today’s GOP-leaning seniors want their grandkids to grow up in an America that can better take care of the truly needy — young and old — and pay its bills, they’ll reject Huckabee’s selfish populism.


By: James Pethokoulis, The Week, May 8, 2015

May 11, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Mike Huckabee, Social Safety Net | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Huck Starts Sawing Off Social Security Plank”: Casting A Harsh Light On Christie And Bush On Entitlement Reform

In the past I’ve often criticized Mike Huckabee for claiming a “populism” that seemed content-free, and not at all in any conflict with your typical plutocratic conservative economic gospel. But I dunno about now. Last month he blasted “globalism” and past trade agreements with China and also signaled opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that most congressional Republicans are lining up to support in a rare accommodation of Barack Obama. And now, on the very day that Jeb Bush seems to have climbed off onto the same limb–or perhaps it’s a plank over shark-infested waters–as Chris Christie on entitlement reform, ol’ Huck is preparing to saw it off (per a report from the Weekly Standard’s John McCormick):

As he gears up for another presidential campaign, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is making a big break with the Republican party on the issue of entitlement reform. Meeting with reporters at a hotel in Washington, D.C. this morning, Huckabee strongly criticized New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s proposal to reform Social Security and said he would not sign Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform into law if he were president.

“I don’t know why Republicans want to insult Americans by pretending they don’t understand what their Social Security program and Medicare program is,” Huckabee said in response to a question about Christie’s proposal to gradually raise the retirement age and implement a means test.

Huckabee said his response to such proposals is “not just no, it’s you-know-what no.”

McCormick is quick to quote Huckabee as having said positive things about Paul Ryan’s Medicare voucher proposal in 2012. But I suspect what matters more about this isn’t any affection it gains Huck but the harsh light it casts on Christie and Bush and anybody else that goes back down the entitlement reform highway to political hell.

Huckabee said Republican proposals to reform entitlements are “disastrous, not only politically but I think they may be disastrous in terms of further breaking the trust between the government and its people.”

This probably will not improve Huck’s relationship with the “Club for Greed,” will it? But it will give him something to say on the campaign trail when he or his audience gets tired of whining about being persecuted along with that poor Duck Dynasty man.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 17, 2015

April 20, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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