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Grover Norquist’s Pledge Is A Colossal Failure

In 1986, Grover Norquist and his organization, Americans for Tax Reform, created the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” which he describes as “a simple, written commitment by a candidate or elected official that he or she will oppose, and vote against, tax increases.” It has recently come under repeated fire: it became a tool for ethanol subsidy apologists, for example, and most recently, it emerged as a needless obstacle in negotiations over raising the debt ceiling.

Responding to his critics, Norquist has taken to the op-ed page of the New York Timesthis morning to defend his legacy:

Contrary to the hopes of some that I am somehow softening the pledge, it is stronger and more important than ever: it has made it easier for  members of Congress to credibly commit to voters that they will refuse  to increase taxes and instead focus on reducing the cost of government.

In fact, it is more important than ever to be rid of The Pledge, because it has been a colossal failure.  Does anyone think that fiscal conservatives should be happier with the state of our nation’s finances now than they were when the pledge began 25 years ago? Does anyone still harbor the illusion that “starve the beast” is an effective method of shrinking the federal government?

Here is why The Pledge has failed. Time and again, it has contributed to the GOP tendency to make taxes their top priority, deficits be damned. As Kevin Williamson puts it at National Review, “Republicans led by naïve supply-siders are preparing, for the third time in my life, to sell their souls on spending cuts in exchange for  tax-rate reductions that are small, ineffective, and sure to be  temporary. Ronald Reagan got his tax cuts, but he went to his grave  waiting for those spending cuts. George W. Bush got his tax cuts, and  ended his presidency with spending soaring and his entitlement-reform  program in the garbage. And now certain Republicans are starting to  slobber over the Gang of Six plan.”

What Norquist doesn’t understand or won’t admit is that deficit spending is worse than a tax increase, because you’ve got to pay for it eventually anyway, with interest. Meanwhile, you’ve created in the public mind the illusion that the level of government services they’re consuming is cheaper and less burdensome than is in fact the case. If you hold the line on taxes but not the deficit, you’re making big government more palatable.

Back in 1986, if taxes had been raised every time federal spending had increased, and voters knew that taxes would go up again every time new federal programs or spending was passed, the backlash against big government that we’re seeing now would’ve started a lot sooner, and been much more broad-based. Had that been the policy, it’s doubtful that George W. Bush would’ve passed Medicare Part D. Instead, the Baby Boomers have borrowed a bunch of money that my generation and my children’s generation is going to have to pay back. But their taxes didn’t go up. Thanks for that, Mr. Norquist. I’m not sure what to call it, but fiscal conservatism isn’t it.

As the conservative movement laments our fiscal straits, and the dire situation the nation finds itself in, perhaps it is too much to ask that they assign Norquist a little bit of the blame. But surely they can at least recognize that the solution he’s been pushing since the Reagan Administration hasn’t worked.

 

By: Conor Friedersdorf, Associate Editor, The Atlantic, July 22, 2011

July 23, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Medicare, Middle Class, Politics, Public, Public Opinion, Right Wing, Tax Increases, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Teaparty, Voters, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Memo To Rep Eric Cantor: Blame Is A Tricky Thing

In April, House Democrats “celebrated” the 100th day of the new Republican rule in the chamber. Most notably, Dems emphasized the fact that the GOP, despite a year of campaign promises, haven’t even considered any jobs bills, with Republicans instead preferring to waste time on pointless gamesmanship and culture war crusades.

As if to say, “Oh yeah?” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) turned to Twitter to respond to the Democratic argument:

And here we are six weeks later.

Cantor said that “everything seems to be going in the wrong direction,” but denied that Republicans deserve a share of the blame for the stagnant economic recovery.

Well, Eric, blame is a tricky thing, isn’t it?

Even in April, Cantor’s argument was foolish. Indeed, by Cantor’s reasoning, job growth should be impossible. How can all of these jobs be created in the midst of Obama-induced uncertainty? And with crushing tax rates so high? And a massive debt? And with pesky regulations stifling the engines of ingenuity?

We were apparently supposed to believe that Republicans’ mere presence in the House of Representatives is enough to overcome these burdensome hurdles.

That is, until the jobs picture deteriorates, at which point, Republicans bear no responsibility whatsoever.

Heads Cantor wins; tails Dems lose.

 

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly-Political Animal, June 6, 2011

June 7, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Deficits, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Middle Class, Politics, Regulations, Republicans, Right Wing, Taxes | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bad News For Americans Who Eat Food

In December, Americans who eat food received some very good news. A sweeping overhaul of the nation’s food-safety system, approved by both chambers with large, bipartisan majorities, cleared Congress, and was quickly signed into law by President Obama.

The long-overdue law expands the FDA’s ability to recall tainted foods, increases inspections, demands accountability from food companies, and oversees farming — all in the hopes of cracking down on unsafe food before consumers get sick. This was the first time Congress has approved an overhaul of food-safety laws in more than 70 years.

That’s the good news. The bad news is, the Republican-led House is fighting to gut the law.

Budget cuts proposed by House Republicans to the Food and Drug Administration would undermine the agency’s ability to carry out a historic food-safety law passed by Congress just five months ago, food safety advocates say. […]

To carry out the new law, President Obama is seeking $955 million for food safety at the FDA in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

Last week, the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the FDA pared back that amount to $750 million, which is $87 million less than the figure the agency is currently receiving for food safety.

“This subcommittee has begun making some of the tough choices necessary to right the ship,” said Chairman Jack Kingston, (R-Ga.).The full committee was scheduled to vote on the proposed cuts Tuesday, and the budget proposal was expected to pass.

Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee approved the cuts yesterday, which are severe enough to prevent the FDA from implementing the new law. Erik Olson, director of food and consumer product safety programs at the Pew Health Group, part of a coalition of public health advocates and food makers, said this week, “These cuts could seriously harm our ability to protect the food supply.”

Boy, those midterm elections really set the country on the right path, didn’t they?

It’s also worth appreciating the fact that these cuts to food safety were made in the name of fiscal responsibility, but it’s a classic example of being penny wise and pound foolish. Indeed, cutting funding on food safety is likely to cost us more money, not less.

I realize this may seem counter-intuitive. I can even imagine some Fox News personality telling viewers, “Those wacky liberals think it costs money to cut spending! What fools!”

But this just requires a little bit of thought. When we cut spending on food safety, we save a little money on inspection, but end up paying a lot of money on health care costs when consumers get sick.

The GOP approach is misguided as a matter of public health, public safety, and budgeting.

 

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly, June 1, 2011

June 2, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, GOP, Government, Health Care, Ideology, Lawmakers, Politics, President Obama, Public, Public Health, Regulations, Republicans | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Joplin And Natural Disasters: They’re Called “Emergencies” For A Reason

I’ve been writing a lot this week about congressional Republicans’ new approach to disaster relief funds in large part because I find it rather amazing, even for a contemporary GOP that no longer seems capable of surprising.

For all of our differences over party, ideology, and creed, we know that when disaster strikes and our neighbors face a genuine emergency, America responds. We don’t ask what’s in it for us; we don’t weigh the political considerations; we don’t pause to ponder the larger ideological implications.

We act. It’s who we are; it’s what we do.

The problem isn’t that conservative Republicans necessarily disagree with this principle. Rather, the problem is, they place other principles above this one when prioritizing how and whether to act.

While much of Joplin, Mo., is still under rubble from a devastating tornado, conservatives in Congress are starting to argue for a tougher approach to disaster aid, demanding that any funding be offset by cutting federal money elsewhere.

Disasters will no longer be considered “emergencies” if conservatives win this battle to redefine the way Congress funds aid packages for states and cities stricken by natural and man-made catastrophes. […]

Traditionally, the government has responded to disasters — hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and acts of terrorism — by using its power of the purse to aid the affected areas with “emergency” dollars that add to the debt because they don’t count against annual spending caps.

When hurricanes Katrina and Rita slammed into Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005, a vocal minority in the House called for offsetting tens of billions of dollars of spending with cuts to other programs. At the time, House Republican leaders shut them down. But now, as much of the Southern and Midwestern parts of the country have been hit by a series of catastrophic acts of nature, that vocal minority has become a controlling majority — at least in the House.

It was House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) who presented the new way of looking at disaster relief. He was willing to approve a $1 billion emergency package for Southwest Missouri, but on a condition — he wanted to cut money from a clean-energy program to pay for it. His party agreed.

The callousness becomes even clearer in the larger context. If the oil industry wants taxpayer subsidies, conservative Republicans don’t blink, and certainly don’t wonder how we’ll pay for the incentives. When Wall Street needed a bailout, the entire Republican leadership was on board with writing a very large check, without much thought to fiscal responsibility.

But when working-class communities get slammed by a natural disaster, through no fault of their own, suddenly the GOP grows miserly. Republicans’ first thought isn’t, “How can we help these struggling Americans get back on their feet?” Instead, it’s, “How will we block disaster relief aid unless we get corresponding spending cuts?”

 

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly-Political Animal, May 27, 2011

May 27, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Democracy, Disasters, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Politics, Public Health, Republicans, Right Wing, States | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Republicans Ignored Warnings On Paul Ryan Plan

It might be a political time bomb — that’s what GOP pollsters warned as House  Republicans prepared for the April 15 vote on Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposed budget, with its plan to dramatically remake Medicare.

No matter how favorably pollsters with the Tarrance Group or other firms spun  the bill in their pitch — casting it as the only path to saving the beloved  health entitlement for seniors — the Ryan budget’s approval rating barely budged above the  high 30s or its disapproval below 50 percent, according to a Republican  operative familiar with the presentation.

The poll numbers on the plan were so toxic — nearly as bad as  those of President Barack Obama’s health reform bill at the nadir of its  unpopularity — that staffers with the National Republican Congressional  Committee warned leadership, “You might not want to go there” in a series of  tense pre-vote meetings.

But go there Republicans did, en masse and with rhetorical gusto — transforming the political landscape for 2012, giving Democrats a new shot at  life and forcing the GOP to suddenly shift from offense to defense.

It’s been more than a month since Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his  lieutenant, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va) boldly positioned their party as  a beacon of fiscal responsibility — a move many have praised as principled, if  risky. In the process, however, they raced through political red lights to pass  Ryan’s controversial measure in a deceptively unified 235-193 vote, with only  four GOP dissenters.

The story of how it passed so quickly — with a minimum of public  hand-wringing and a frenzy of backroom machinations — is a tale of colliding  principles and power politics set against the backdrop of a fickle and anxious  electorate.

The outward unity projected by House Republicans masked weeks of fierce  debate, even infighting, and doubt over a measure that stands virtually no  chance of becoming law. In a series of heated closed-door exchanges, dissenters,  led by Ryan’s main internal rival — House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave  Camp (R-Mich.) — argued for a less radical, more bipartisan approach, GOP  staffers say.

At a fundraiser shortly after the vote, a frustrated Camp groused, “We  shouldn’t have done it” and that he was “overridden,” according to a person in  attendance.

A few days earlier, as most Republicans remained mute during a GOP conference  meeting on the Ryan plan, Camp rose and drily asserted, “People in my district like Medicare,” one lawmaker, who is now having his own  doubts about voting yes, told POLITICO.

At the same time, GOP pollsters, political consultants and House and NRCC  staffers vividly reminded leadership that their members were being forced to  walk the plank for a piece of quixotic legislation. They described for  leadership the horrors that might be visited on the party during the next  campaign, comparing it time and again with former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s  decision to ram through a cap-and-trade bill despite the risks it posed to  Democratic incumbents.

“The tea party itch has definitely not been scratched, so the voices who were  saying, ‘Let’s do this in a way that’s politically survivable,’ got drowned out  by a kind of panic,” a top GOP consultant involved in the debate said, on  condition of anonymity.

“The feeling among leadership was, we have to be true to the people who put  us here. We don’t know what to do, but it has to be bold.”

Another GOP insider involved to the process was more morbid: “Jumping off a  bridge is bold, too.”

Time will tell whether the Medicare vote, the most politically  significant legislative act of the 112th Congress thus far, will be viewed by  2012 voters as a courageous act of fiscal responsibility — or as an unforced  error that puts dozens of marginal GOP seats and the party’s presidential  candidates at serious risk. That question might be answered, in part, this week  during a special election in New York’s 26th Congressional District, in which  Republican Jane Corwin appears to be losing ground to Democrat Kathy Hochul.

The GOP message team is already scrambling to redefine the issue as a  Republican attempt to “save” Medicare, not kill it.

But the party’s stars remain stubbornly misaligned. Presidential hopeful Newt  Gingrich candidly described the Medicare plan as “right-wing social engineering”  — only to pull it back when Ryan and others griped. And Priorities USA Action,  an independent group started by two West Wing veterans of the Obama  administration, was out Friday with its first ad, a TV spot in South Carolina  using Gingrich’s words to savage Mitt Romney for saying he was on the “same  page” as Ryan.

“The impact of what the House Republicans have done is just enormous. It will  be a litmus test in the GOP [presidential] primary,” said former White House  deputy press secretary Bill Burton, one of the group’s founders.

“I couldn’t believe these idiots — I don’t know what else to call them — they’re idiots. … They actually made their members vote on it. It was  completely stunning to me,” said former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat  who worked hard to win over the western part of his state, which has among the  highest concentration of elderly voters in the country.

It was also the site of some of the Democrats’ worst losses in 2010 — three  swing House seats Democrats hope to recapture next year, largely on the strength  of the Medicare argument.

“Look at [freshman House members in the Pittsburgh-Scranton area], they make  them vote on this when they’re representing one of the oldest districts in the  country?” Rendell asked.

“We have a message challenge, a big one, and that’s what the polling is  showing,” conceded Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), a former Karl Rove protégé who  enthusiastically backed the Ryan plan. “There’s no way you attack the deficit in  my lifetime without dealing with the growth of Medicare. Do we get a political  benefit from proposing a legitimate solution to a major policy problem? That’s  an open question.”

The House Republican leadership had hinted at an emerging plan to tackle  entitlement reform on Feb. 14 — the day Obama released his budget without  reforms to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Cantor caught Hill reporters by surprise when he said, nonchalantly, that the  Republican budget would be a “serious document that will reflect the type of  path we feel we should be taking to address the fiscal situation, including  addressing entitlement reforms.”

But there were also internal motivations in the decision to go big on  Medicare, rooted in Boehner’s still tenuous grasp of the leadership reins,  according to a dozen party operatives and Hill staffers interviewed by  POLITICO.

Republican sources said Boehner, who has struggled to control his  rambunctious new majority, needed to send a message to conservative upstarts  that he was serious about bold fiscal reform — especially after some of the 63  freshmen rebelled against his 2011 budget deal that averted a government  shutdown.

Then there’s the ever-present friction between Boehner and Cantor, who, along  with Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), has positioned himself as the next  generation of GOP leadership and champion of the conservative freshman class.

Boehner’s camp said the speaker has always supported the Ryan  approach — which would offer vouchers to future Medicare recipients currently  younger than 55 in lieu of direct federal subsidies — and proved his support by  voting for a similar measure in 2009.

“Boehner has said for years, including leading up to the 2010 election, that  we would honestly deal with the big challenges facing our country,” said his  spokesman, Michael Steel. “With 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring every day, it is  clear to everyone that Medicare will not be there for future generations unless  it is reformed. The status quo means bankruptcy and deep benefit cuts for  seniors. It’s clear who the real grown-ups in the room are. We’ve told the truth  and led, while the Democrats who run Washington have cravenly scrambled and lied  for partisan gain.”

But that message hasn’t always been quite that clear. On several occasions,  Boehner has seemed squishy on the Ryan budget. In talking to ABC News, Boehner  said he was “not wedded” to the plan and that it was “worthy of consideration.”

Still, even if Boehner had opposed the plan — and his top aide, Barry  Jackson, expressed concerns about the political fallout to other staffers — he  probably couldn’t have stopped the Ryan Express anyway, so great was the push  from freshmen and conservatives.

That’s not to say some of the speaker’s allies from the Midwest didn’t try.  Camp and Ryan hashed out their differences in a series of private meetings that,  on occasion, turned testy, according to several GOP aides. Camp argued that the  Ryan plan, which he backed in principle — and eventually voted for — was a  nonstarter that would only make it harder to reach a bipartisan framework on  real entitlement reform.

A few weeks later, Camp told a health care conference that, from a pragmatic  legislative perspective, he considered the Ryan budget history. “Frankly, I’m  not interested in talking about whether the House is going to pass a bill that  the Senate shows no interest in. I’m not interested in laying down more  markers,” he said.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) also made  the case for a more moderate approach — but his principal concern was the  Medicaid portion of Ryan’s plan, an approach he believed wouldn’t do enough to  reduce burdens of indigent care on states.

But even as Democrats high-five over the possibility of Medicare-fueled  political gains, Republicans are trying to muster a unified defense. Cantor, for  his part, stumbled by suggesting to a Washington Post reporter that the Ryan  Medicare provisions might be ditched during bipartisan debt negotiations being  led by Vice President Joe Biden.

Cantor later clarified his remarks and claimed he still backed the Ryan  principles, but no GOP staffer interviewed for this article believed the  Medicare overhaul has any realistic chance of passage.

By: Glenn Thrush and Jake Sherman, Politico, May 23, 2011

May 23, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Deficits, GOP, Government, Health Reform, Ideology, Individual Mandate, Journalists, Lawmakers, Media, Politics, Rep Paul Ryan, Republicans, Right Wing, Seniors, Tea Party | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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