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“Not So Fast”: No, Ted Cruz Is Not an ‘Economic Populist’

There are few words in the political lexicon more frequently misused and abused than populist, particularly in times of strong public hostility toward elites, like the present. Still, Time magazine has truly jumped the shark in publishing an interview with Ted Cruz in which he is encouraged without contradiction to call himself an “economic populist.” If Cruz is an “economic populist,” then the term has truly lost all meaning beyond the pixie dust of rhetorical enchantment.

We are supposed to believe Cruz is a populist because he opposes a few relatively small but symbolically rich corporate-subsidy programs like the Export-Import Bank and regulatory thumbs-on-the-scale for the use of ethanol — both objects of ridicule among libertarians for decades. In the Time interview, he leaps effortlessly from the argument that sometimes government helps corporations to the idea that government should not help anybody.

[B]oth parties, career politicians in both parties get in bed with the lobbyist and special interest. And the fix is in. Where Washington’s policies benefit big business, benefit the rich and the powerful at the expense of the working men and women.

Now the point that I often make, and just a couple of days ago in Wisconsin I was visiting with a young woman who said she was a Bernie Sanders supporter. And I mentioned to her that I agreed with Bernie on the problem.

But I said if you think the problem is Washington is corrupt, why would you want Washington to have more power? I think the answer to that problem is for Washington to have less power, for government to have less power over our lives.

Is there any K Street or Wall Street lobbyist who would not instantly trade whatever preferments they’ve been able to wring from Washington in exchange for a radically smaller government that lets corporations do whatever they want? I don’t think so.

Yet it’s hard to find a politician more inclined to get government off the backs of the very rich and the very powerful. My colleague Jonathan Chait summed it up nicely this very day in discussing Cruz’s Goldwater-ish extremism:

In addition to the de rigueur ginormous tax cut for rich people, Cruz proposes a massive shift of the tax burden away from income taxes to sales taxes. So, not only would Cruz’s plan give nearly half of its benefit to the highest-earning one percent of taxpayers (who would save, on average, nearly half a million dollars a year in taxes per household), but it would actually raise taxes on the lowest-earning fifth …

He advocates for … deregulation of Wall Street, and would eliminate the Clean Power Plan and take away health insurance from some 20 million people who’ve gained it through Obamacare. He has defined himself as more militant and uncompromising than any other Republican in Congress, and many of his fellow Republican officeholders have depicted him as a madman.

Cruz would have you believe his unsavory reputation among Beltway Republicans flows from his identification with the working class as opposed to the special interests. As a matter of fact, he’s considered a madman (or a charlatan) for insisting Republicans ought to shut down the federal government rather than compromise or abandon their anti-working-class policies (and their reactionary social policies as well).

Aside from the policies Chait mentions, Cruz also favors (in contrast to Donald Trump) that populist perennial, “entitlement reform,” including the kind of Social Security benefit cuts and retirement-age delays promoted by George W. Bush back in 2005.

And for dessert, in a position that would certainly make William Jennings Bryan roll in his grave, Cruz is on record favoring tight money policies to combat the phantom menace of inflation, along with a commission to consider a return to the gold standard.

One might argue the description of Cruz as an “economic populist” is a small journalistic excess justified by the heat of the GOP nominating contest. But in a general-election matchup between Cruz and Hillary Clinton, we could find ourselves hearing misleading contrasts of Cruz as a “populist” to Hillary Clinton, the “Establishment” pol. Let’s head that one off at a distance, people. Whatever you think of her set side by side with Bernie Sanders, compared to Cruz she’s a wild leveler and class-warfare zealot, favoring minimum-wage increases, more progressive taxes, large new mandates on businesses, continuation and expansion of Obamacare, action on global climate change, a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, and (of course) opposition to the many reactionary policies Ted Cruz holds dear.

Get a grip, gabbers and scribblers: Call Ted Cruz a “constitutional conservative,” as he would have it, or the reincarnation of Barry Goldwater, as many of us regard him. But he’s no economic populist.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, April 7, 2016

April 10, 2016 Posted by | Economic Populists, Monetary Policy, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“How Conservatives Lost 2015”: Talked A Big Game But Ended Up Losing Almost Every Big Legislative Battle

Establishment Republicans had a miserable year on the campaign trail. But on Capitol Hill—far from Make America Great Again hats—they cleaned up.

Conservatives on the Hill, emboldened by Republican gains in the midterm elections, followed the battle cry of the Heritage Foundation’s powerful lobbying arm against their Establishment overlords. But over the past year, they’ve faced defeat after biting defeat.

Most of these wins were on wonky, unsexy issues—like funding for infrastructure construction and rules about how the president can negotiate trade agreements. Not exactly the most scintillating stuff.

But while these individual debates may not have galvanized national attention, they were hugely important to Tea Party-friendly conservative groups. And the cumulative losses these groups face suggest that their clout may have flatlined or they overplayed their hands.

Heritage Action, the lobbying wing of the powerful Heritage Foundation think tank, got a major shellacking in March during the fight over “Doc Fix” legislation, which overhauled how doctors who treat Medicare patients get reimbursed. Heritage Action key-voted against the bill, citing concerns that it would grow the national debt by half a trillion dollars over twenty years. Despite the group’s protestations, though, the Doc Fix passed the House with just 37 no votes (only 4 of whom were Democrats). In the Senate, just 8 members voted against it.

It was a tough loss for Heritage Action. And many more followed. Trade legislation drew significant opposition from the group in June, as members fought over whether Congress would give the president extra authority to negotiate trade deals, allocate funds to support Americans who lose jobs due to said deals. While issues like Trade Adjustment Assistance and Trade Promotion Authority may not roll off the tongue of your average Tea Partier (or, well, your average human being), Heritage Action’s key-voting against trade provisions helped energize grassroots conservative opposition. That, combined with Breitbart News and the Drudge Report’s liberal (and frantic) use of the “Obamatrade” moniker stoked opposition on the right.

And all those guys lost.

Congress gave the president additional authority to negotiate trade deals and allocated more funds to help Americans who lose jobs to overseas competition, and the president announced he plans to have the U.S. sign on to the new Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal.

“Is Anyone Still Scared of Heritage Action?” wondered National Journal. It was a good question.

And it was a question that arose again in July, when legislation came up to change funding for the National Institutes of Health and the FDA. The bill was called the 21st Century Cures Act, and, well, was complicated. Heritage Action opposed it adamantly, for comparably complicated reasons. If NIH funding mechanisms get your juices flowing, check out Heritage Action’s release explaining its stance. If not, just rest assured that it was a big deal for the group, and the group lost. Seventy-seven House members voted against the bill, seventy of whom were Republicans.

And, of course, there’s perhaps the unsexiest issue of all: the highway bill! Next time you’re trying to get out of an unpleasant conversation, just bring up infrastructure funding and see what happens. The highway bill allowed more than $300 billion for transportation spending, and it reauthorized the Export-Import Bank—a program that gives loans to U.S. businesses that have overseas commerce, and that conservatives have long criticized as corporate welfare. Heritage Action’s denunciation of the bill said the highway projects were funded with “almost exclusively with embarrassing budget gimmicks.”

The Ex-Im bank’s funding expired this summer, and Congress couldn’t get it reauthorized—due in large part to conservative opposition—until the Highway Bill came up.

“Ending this bank was a major blow to the culture of crony capitalism festering in Washington,” said Heritage Action’s statement, “and reviving it now damages the conservative movement and the credibility of efforts to rid the federal government of favoritism for special interests.”

The president signed the bill early in December.

But there was one last loss to be felt: the year-end omnibus spending bill—a legislative package full of the kind of spending projects that make conservatives want to scratch their eyeballs out, including funding for Planned Parenthood. Heritage Action, naturally, key-voted against it. And the House, as was natural in 2015, passed it anyway.

It wasn’t always this way. During the 2013 government shutdown, Heritage Action exerted enormous influence to pressure members of Congress against supporting any funding for the Affordable Care Act. And members shivered at the prospect of facing primary challengers who would attack them over low marks on the group’s vote scorecard. But now, much of that fear seems to have abated.

“When Heritage key-votes against a bill now, it is almost guaranteed to get less conservative, and guaranteed to pass both chambers and become law,” said one former Republican House leadership staffer. “They have reverse Midas touch.”

Heritage Action didn’t respond to a request for comment on this story.

 

By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, January 2, 2016

January 4, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Establishment Republicans, Heritage Foundation | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Brief Respite From Madness”: Two Problems With The Boehner Atonement Theory

So even as laurels continue to be thrown towards John Boehner on the theory that he’s sacrificed his career to prevent a government shutdown–and hey! maybe save Eximbank and the Highway Bill!–a more serious look at what’s likely to happen next is far less inspiring. The premier budget wizard, Stan Collender, issued this judgment at Politico:

House Speaker John Boehner’s resignation last Friday steeply reduced the likelihood there will be a government shutdown this week but precipitously increased the possibility of a shutdown in December.

And the idea that some sort of Era of Good Feelings Sayanora Tour for Boehner will enable the enactment of long-stalled agenda items of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce isn’t necessarily all that viable either, because the House isn’t the only problem:

[E]ven if the rumors are true about Boehner being willing to work with Democrats to deal with a wide variety of legislative issues (Export-Import Bank, highway trust fund, full-year CR, tax extenders) before he leaves at the end of October, it’s not clear that McConnell will have the political freedom or votes to move these bills. It’s not hard to imagine Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) setting up the equivalent of a campaign office on the Senate floor and, along with other hard-line conservatives, attempting to prevent anything from passing.

And once Boehner really is gone, there’s no reason to assume the atmosphere in the House will get any less poisonous, particularly if conservatives secure an Enforce the Hastert Rule Pledge from the new leadership team:

[D]on’t expect the next speaker to be any more successful at taming the GOP’s tea party wing when the short-term CR expires in December. The new speaker and the rest of the leadership team will just be learning their jobs as they face the toughest issues in the most difficult political environment of the year. It’s possible—and maybe even likely—that they’ll fare worse than Boehner.

So the John Boehner Atonement Theory I’ve been mocking every chance I get is wrong in two respects. First, the man hasn’t sacrificed a damn thing; he gets to spend a year at his Florida golf resort condo before becoming one of the richest lobbyists ever. Second, he didn’t buy his party much of anything other than a brief respite from madness.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 29, 2015

September 30, 2015 Posted by | House Republicans, John Boehner, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Don’t Cry For John Boehner”: An Old King Who Couldn’t Keep Up With The Palace Intrigue

Don’t cry for John Boehner, Washington.

Oh, no, the Ohioan doesn’t want to stay another day in the Capitol. The House speaker, who announced his resignation on Friday, had brought Pope Francis to address Congress. The soaring visit, a beautiful intermission for the city, represented the zenith of his career. His time as speaker has been a world of hurt – for President Barack Obama, too, who made a serious mistake in trying to work with Boehner early on.

Boehner clearly felt he could give no more. Besides, he’s 65, retirement age. Golf courses are out there. He’s always been more about politics than policy. Now he is like an old king who can’t keep up with palace intrigue. In a way, the pope, whom Boehner wept over, gave him spiritual permission to leave the fray.

For nearly five years, he was a strange bird flying through the halls, the House speaker who could not speak for his House Republican caucus. A rambunctious bunch, the right-wing element openly defied Boehner. He got no respect and as a result, accomplished next to nothing.

Not that Boehner’s a progressive – far from it – but he tried to keep order. The “conservative” rebels, a few degrees away on the ideological spectrum, were not having any sense or sensibility from their leader. In their latest great idea, they are flirting with shutting down the government of the United States over Planned Parenthood funding.

Look how well their government shutdown worked in 2013. The sequester, too, was a painful episode

The right-wing brigade also nurses fond hopes of getting rid of the Export-Import Bank, a perfectly good institution that more than pulls its weight.

The truth is, Boehner is a creature of the politics he practiced since the harsh days of Newt Gingrich’s speakership. He was an acolyte in that Republican Revolution of 1994, and this is what it’s come to: a houseful of angry white men in charge. More disarray is surely on the way.

Boehner, a jaundiced fellow, never took Obama’s outstretched hand. In the old school, when someone is elected president of the United States, it’s sporting to cut the guy some slack. No such luck. Over Obama’s presidency, Boehner refused to give ground on ending the Bush tax cuts, for starters. That set a hostile tone for other fiscal and budget issues.

Obama’s downfall with Boehner was believing he could charm him. That was never going to happen. Their was never any jovial Irish jokes between them, as there was between Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill.

Just yesterday, the speaker started speaking some truth; on the CBS News show “Face the Nation,” Boehner called the destructive right-wing faction “false prophets.” His tongue set free, he got religion. Perhaps he’s darkly hinting, “Be careful what you wish for.” If so, he might be right.

At last, a few words about “the barkeep’s son.” Boehner is too often summed up that way. What’s so great about that? Boehner himself says he’s just a regular guy – this is true. We in the press should not romanticize him. Let’s also remember he has cultural streaks of a Southern good ole boy, coming from the cusp of Ohio that borders the South.

Don’t cry for me, John Boehner, and I won’t cry for you.

 

By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. Newsa and World Report, September 28, 2015

September 30, 2015 Posted by | House Republican Caucus, John Boehner, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Preparing To Engage In Political Hand-To-Hand Combat”: Chamber Of Commerce Will Go After Incumbent Republicans

One of the things a lot of people have been watching is what the business community – which has typically been pretty conservative – does in response to the Republican dissent into extremism. A lot of the shenanigans pushed by the tea partiers (i.e., debt ceiling crisis) are terribly destabilizing and that is not good for business. We also watched as the business community weighed in on cultural issues when they brought a halt to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana recently.

According to Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman, the Chamber of Commerce has about had enough with the nonsense. It’s interesting to note what finally pushed them to that point. It wasn’t the total obstruction employed by Republicans from the beginning of Obama’s presidency – or even the constant hostage crises they created. It’s something that has come more recently.

The early discussions by top-level Chamber operatives like Rob Engstrom and Scott Reed reflect a broad consensus among companies with business before Congress that the political dynamic needs to change on Capitol Hill.

The theory is simple: The Chamber spent some $70 million in 2014, mostly to help Senate Republicans build their majority. But many of their legislative priorities — immigration reform, the renewal of the Export-Import Bank and a long-term highway bill — have been held up by a clutch of conservative lawmakers in the House.

Apparently these business people thought that by giving control of Congress to Republicans – gridlock would end and some things would actually get done. They put the blame for that not happening on the kind of Republicans who joined the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus and have made Speaker Boehner’s life miserable. And so the Chamber is in the midst of developing a political strategy to challenge them in their re-election.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is gearing up to challenge some House Republicans in primary elections, frustrated after much of its agenda has been stymied by a small pocket of conservative GOP lawmakers.

The influential and well-heeled business group is already eyeing several races, but the plans are still in their infancy and the targets have not yet been decided upon, according to more than a half dozen Republican sources on K Street and Capitol Hill.

The group’s apparent new willingness to engage in hand-to-hand political combat to take out sitting Republicans would represent a major shift for the business community, which has largely shied away from targeting sitting lawmakers.

This will be an interesting story to keep an eye on over the next few months. It speaks to the growing divide in the Republican Party in its march towards extremism. What various entities with traditional ties to the Party do in response will likely tell us whether the GOP can survive and morph into something new or goes the way of the Whigs.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, The Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 1, 2015

August 3, 2015 Posted by | Business Comunity, House Republicans, John Boehner | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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