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“Another Self-Inflicted Wound”: For Republicans, Unemployed Americans Are Lazy And Lack The Proper Motivation

As expected, federal emergency unemployment benefits expired over the weekend for 1.3 million jobless Americans. By the summer, another 1.9 million will be affected by the lapsed assistance. For Republicans, who celebrate the expiration, this will encourage the unemployed to work that much harder to find work – because the safety net that helped them keep their heads above water has now been removed.

Matt Yglesias, who called the situation “morally scandalous,” responds to the GOP argument by pointing to real-world evidence.

People who’ve been out of work for a long time obviously really need some money to get by, and they’re going to lose their money. And they’re not going to make up for it by getting jobs.

One way we know they won’t is from the experience of North Carolina, which for reasons of state politics did a UI cutoff for the long-term unemployed this year. Evan Soltas summarized the results and you can read Reihan Salam on the same thing if you want more right-wing street cred, but suffice it to say there was no “jobs boom” where lazy bums suddenly got off their asses and found readily available work. It turns out that being unemployed is really humiliating and depressing, and people who’ve been unemployed for a long time are people who genuinely can’t find any jobs. Cut them off from their benefits, and they end up scrounging at soup kitchens – they just can’t get work.

It speaks to the assumptions that undergird the political positions. For Republicans, unemployed Americans are lazy and lack the proper motivation. The government could help the jobless get by with meager, temporary support, but that only creates a “dependency.” It’s better, the argument goes, to cut these people off, encourage them to fend for themselves, and push them back into the workforce by leaving them with nothing.

Indeed, that’s precisely what Republican policymakers said in North Carolina back in July, when it became the only state in the nation to cut off access to federal emergency unemployment compensation after state benefits have been exhausted.

Did the far-right theory prove true? Of course not – the jobless, unable to find work, effectively abandoned the workforce altogether.

So, if cutting these struggling Americans off doesn’t help, what would? As we discussed last week, a more concerted effort to get these folks jobs.

As for Washington, congressional Democrats are eager to renew this fight when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill next week. For his part, President Obama called Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) late last week to offer his support for their plan for a three-month extension.

Gene Sperling, the director of the National Economic Council, added that allowing UI benefits to expire, as they did on Saturday, “defies economic sense, precedent and our values.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 30, 2013

January 2, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Unemployment Benefits | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Washington Political Reporting”: Ignoring The Sequester’s Inconvenient Truths

Republican strategy during the sequestration fight depends upon two political givens: widespread public ignorance, and the extreme reluctance of the traditional Washington news media to exhibit “liberal bias” by stressing inconvenient facts. After all, aren’t “both sides” equally responsible for the current budgetary impasse? And shouldn’t President Obama lead by making the GOP the proverbial offer it can’t refuse?

Exactly what such an offer might consist of remains vague. Mostly, it’s coulda, shoulda, woulda stuff from celebrity pundits like Bob Woodward, the Washington Post editor who spent much of last week on national TV demonstrating that he can’t distinguish a warning from an apology.

“You do not ever have to apologize to me,” Woodward had responded to an allegedly intimidating email from longtime White House source, Gene Sperling. “I also welcome your personal advice. I am listening.”

Wow, that must have been scary! Faced with incredulity after the inoffensive email became public, Woodward alibied that he’d never exactly called it threatening.

Which begs the question of why he was talking about it on TV. Look, people frequently wander into newspaper offices describing government plots against them—often spelled out in all caps, with lots of red-ink underlining and rows of exclamation points. Most often they’re gently shown the door.

But I digress. Sperling’s point was that Woodward was completely off base in saying President Obama had “moved the goalposts” by seeking to close tax loopholes enabling guys like Mitt Romney to pay lower income tax rates than his wife’s horse trainers.

Could there be anybody in America who didn’t know that?

Certainly not Bill Keller. To the former New York Times editor, Obama’s big sin was building “a re-election campaign that was long on making the wealthiest pay more in taxes, short on spending discipline, and firmly hands-off on the problem of entitlements.”

Keller thinks that had President Obama campaigned on Simpson-Bowles-style austerity so beloved of “centrist” pundits whose own finances are secure, “he could now claim a mandate from voters to do something big and bold.” Instead, a weakened president now sounds “helpless, if not acquiescent.”

True, Keller does concede that “much of the responsibility for our perpetual crisis can be laid at the feet of a pigheaded Republican Party, cowed by its angry, antispending, antitaxing, anti-Obama base.”

But nowhere in all this sonorous muck will you find a factual account of exactly what the White House proposes to resolve the sequester that congressional Republicans find so abhorrent.

To do so would endanger the whole centrist enterprise enabling Washington wise men like Woodward and Keller to masquerade as non-partisan and above the battle.

Which brings us back to Ezra Klein, boy pundit.

When last we encountered the 28 year-old Washington Post blogger, he’d done the unthinkable: phoned David Brooks and informed him that his column lampooning the Obama White House for proposing no plan was bollocks. He directed Brooks to the White House website, where a detailed deficit reduction proposal based upon spending cuts, entitlement reforms and revenue increases has been posted for months.

Also unthinkable, and much to his credit, Brooks admitted the error in the lede of his next column. Evidently, he’d been taken in by Speaker John Boehner, who’s been doing TV interviews for weeks now urging Obama and the Democrats to get off their collective asses.

So was it really possible, Klein wondered, that Republicans didn’t actually know about President Obama’s offer? He got himself invited to a GOP background briefing “with one of the most respected Republicans in Congress.” As a policy wonk, Klein was astonished to learn that Republicans in attendance had no idea that the Obama administration had put “chained CPI,” for example, on the table.

That’s a way of restraining the growth in Social Security payments by reconfiguring inflation. Most liberals bitterly oppose it.

Indeed, Klein found that on a whole range of issues, “top Republicans simply don’t know the compromises the White House is willing to make on Medicare and Social Security.”

So it’s all a big misunderstanding? Or was Klein simply being naïve?

The latter, chided friendly rival Jonathan Chait at New York magazine. “If Obama could get hold of Klein’s mystery legislator and inform him of his budget offer,” he predicted, “it almost certainly wouldn’t make a difference. He would come up with something—the cuts aren’t real, or the taxes are awful, or they can’t trust Obama to carry them out, or something.”

That’s precisely what happened. Klein posted a series of Twitter posts from influential GOP consultant Mike Murphy, downgrading “chained CPI” from an essential reform to a meaningless “gimmick” within hours of learning that the White House proposed it.

It’s all quite funny, from a cynical perspective, but perfectly illustrative of today’s GOP.

Meanwhile, Klein and Chait’s brand of irreverent, fact-driven journalism is a refreshing change in the clubby world of Washington political reporting.


By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, March 6, 2013

March 7, 2013 Posted by | Journalism, Media | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“At The Urinals In The Bathroom”: Falling Into Bob Woodward’s Den Of Iniquity

When I got to my computer this morning and saw how many people were blathering about Bob Woodward, a wave of despair washed over me. First, because this is the kind of stupid argument from which we thought we could get something of a reprieve once the campaign ended, and second, because Bob Woodward himself, and the deference with which he is treated, just make me depressed.

It’s not that Woodward isn’t a good reporter, of a sort. But Watergate was pretty much the last time his reporting enhanced public understanding in a meaningful way. Woodward’s modus operandi since then has been to approach powerful people and convince them to tell their side of major events through him. Knowing that if they don’t, someone else will and they might come out looking bad, many of them give him their spin in great detail, which his books then pass on to a wide readership. They aren’t so much a record of events as a record of events as the people who talked to Bob Woodward would like us to see them. Nobody has done more than Woodward to elevate insiderism, the belief among many journalists that what matters isn’t the effect government has on people’s lives, but who said what to whom when, that if you can get the Secretary of State to tell you what he said to the National Security Advisor while they were at the urinals in the bathroom down the hall from the Oval Office, then you’re a hero of democracy.

I’m not saying there’s no value in that kind of reporting—we do want to know what policy makers are thinking, how they interact with each other, and so on. The mistake is to think it’s the only thing that matters. And I think that explains why Woodward is now finding himself at odds with the White House.

This whole thing started because Woodward had previously reported that the idea for the sequester originally came from the White House, in his last book. When the book was published it seemed like just one detail among many, but as we approached the sequester, Republicans decided that it was hugely important, making “Don’t blame us, it was all his idea!” their primary talking point, and citing Woodward again and again. Now the truth is that the question of who thought of it first is completely irrelevant; Republicans agreed to it and voted for it, so they can’t absolve themselves of responsibility for it, not to mention the fact that this all came about because of their hostage-taking, and we’re only in the position we are now because they refuse to compromise with Democrats. But now that important people in Washington were talking about a piece of information that came out of his reporting, Bob Woodward rushed to tell everyone that this piece of information is the most important thing to understand about this debate. After all, it was his scoop! And he got it by getting powerful people to tell him about their conversations with other powerful people. So that must be what matters.

When asked, he might have said, “Sure, I reported that the idea first came from the White House, but at this point, who cares?” Instead, he decided to wade in like he was auditioning for a job at the Daily Caller. He went on television to talk about this fantastic scoop of his. Then he wrote an op-ed charging that because the sequester itself doesn’t have tax increases in it, Obama is “moving the goalposts” by demanding that a deal to replace the sequester have at least some revenue in it, which is kind of like arguing that if yesterday we said we were going to have pizza for lunch today, but it turned out nobody wants pizza, you’re being unfair by suggesting sandwiches, because yesterday you had agreed to pizza. Then he poured contempt on Obama for not just breaking the law and having government do everything it was otherwise doing, regardless of the sequester (this is a variant of the most bizarre delusion currently gripping centrist Washington, that any problem could be solved if Obama would just “lead,” or maybe make a “firm presidential statement”).

Then after White House Budget Nebbish Gene Sperling yelled at Woodward about that op-ed, he gave an interview to Politico claiming Sperling had threatened him in an email. In fact, in the email Sperling apologized for yelling at Woodward, and the “threat” was this: “But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying that Potus asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim. The idea that the sequester was to force both sides to go back to try at a big or grand bargain with a mix of entitlements and revenues (even if there were serious disagreements on composition) was part of the DNA of the thing from the start…” That’s some terrifying threatening, which is probably why Woodward replied, “You do not ever have to apologize to me. You get wound up because you are making your points and you believe them. This is all part of a serious discussion. I for one welcome a little heat; there should be more given the importance.” You can just smell his fear, can’t you?

Anyhow, Bob Woodward is very good at getting powerful people to tell him their side of a given story, when they might ignore similar requests from other reporters. The mistake is to assume that once you’ve gotten that, there isn’t much more to know. I’ll leave you with this, from Jonathan Chait, who argues persuasively that Woodward’s problem is that whatever his abilities as a reporter, he’s a terrible analyst:

To reconcile Woodward’s journalistic reputation with the weird pettiness of his current role, one has to grasp the distinction between his abilities as a reporter and his abilities as an analyst. Woodward was, and remains, an elite gatherer of facts. But anybody who has seen him commit acts of political commentary on television has witnessed a painful spectacle. As an analyst, Woodward is a particular kind of awful — a Georgetown Wise Man reliably and almost invariably mouthing the conventional wisdom of the Washington Establishment.

His more recent books often compile interesting facts, but how Woodward chooses to package those facts has come to represent a barometric measure of a figure’s standing within the establishment. His 1994 account of Bill Clinton’s major budget bill, which in retrospect was a major success, told a story of chaos and indecision. He wrote a fulsome love letter to Alan Greenspan, “Maestro,” at the peak of the Fed chairman’s almost comic prestige. In 2003, when George W. Bush was still a decisive and indispensable war leader, Woodward wrote a heroic treatment of the Iraq War. After Bush’s reputation had collapsed, Woodward packaged essentially the same facts into a devastating indictment. Woodward’s book on the 2011 debt negotiations was notable for arguing that Obama scotched a potential deficit deal. The central argument has since been debunked by no less a figure than Eric Cantor, who admitted to Ryan Lizza that he killed the deal.

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 28, 2013

March 1, 2013 Posted by | Journalists, Sequester | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Long Game In The Budget Battles: Advantage Obama

Late last year, when President Obama overhauled his economic team, some people complained that the departure of Larry Summers and Christina Romer left the White House short of first-rate economists. That may have been true, but what the White House lost in intellectual sparkle it more than made up for in Washington know-how. With Gene Sperling as head of the National Economic Council and Jack Lew as budget director, it boasts two veterans of the Clinton-era budget war—two men who know how to outmaneuver right-wing Republicans.

In the past few months, Sperling and Lew have been playing from the nineteen-nineties playbook. Initially, they produced a budget for 2012 that didn’t do very much at all about long-term deficits, and was instantly proclaimed dead on arrival. Budget hawks cried foul. But the White House was playing a long game, and its budget proposal was merely an opening gambit. Then came Congressman Paul Ryan with his radical “roadmap” to budget balance over the next ten years, which featured slashing reductions in domestic spending, more big tax cuts for the rich, and the conversion of Medicare to a voucher program. I irked some readers by saying that Ryan deserved credit for at least making a specific proposal, but I still believe liberals everywhere should be grateful. By spelling out what the Republicans would do to Medicare and Medicaid, he may well have deprived his party of the White House for the foreseeable future.

If you want to know why Ryan’s “budget-cutting” plan makes no financial sense, the Financial Times’ Martin Wolf spells it out very clearly in his latest column, which is based on an analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office analysis. If you want to know why Ryan’s plan is political poison, look at Ezra Klein’s blog, where he cites a recent opinion poll showing that a plurality of Republicans—yes Republicans—think the best option for Medicare is to not cut it at all. To say the very least, Ryan presented President Obama with a big opportunity to occupy the center ground. And despite the jibes about him being a covert socialist, this is clearly the ground on which the President feels most comfortable.

And so to today’s budget speech, in which Obama presented his own eminently centrist plan to reduce the deficit without privatizing Medicare, without slashing domestic spending to the point where many government programs won’t be able to operate, and without introducing any big tax increases. I wouldn’t sweat the individual numbers that Obama presented, such as his claim that his proposals would cut the budget deficit by four trillion dollars over twelve years. Forecasting the budget deficit next year is a challenge. Forecasting the deficit three years out is extremely difficult. Ten-year budget projections are largely meaningless.

What is important is the big picture. Where Ryan proposes radical changes to taxes and spending that would alter the social contract between government and governed, President Obama is arguing that we can trim our way to fiscal sustainability. Some cuts here, some tax breaks eliminated there, and, lo and behold, the deficit will be down to two per cent of G.D.P.

To be fair, the President isn’t saying it will be easy. If by 2014 Congress can’t come up with enough cuts to stabilize the debt-to-G.D.P. ratio, he is calling for a “debt failsafe” trigger that would involve spending reductions in all programs except Social Security, Medicaid, and low-income programs. To slow the growth of entitlement spending, he is proposing to beef up the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which the health-care reform act created, and setting it at a target of keeping Medicare growth to the rate of G.D.P. growth plus half a per cent. Even the Pentagon, which has been largely exempted from budget pressures since 9/11, would have to find some (overly modest) cuts. But compared to what Ryan is proposing, these are all relatively minor changes.

Is the plan credible? Without seeing the details, it is hard to say. In the fact-sheet it circulated today, the White House avoided saying which tax loopholes it is in favor of eliminating—the mortgage interest deduction?—and it also failed to provide any projections about, say, the level of federal spending and debt as a percentage of G.D.P. in 2020. That vagueness was certainly deliberate. At this juncture, the White House still doesn’t want to reveal all of its hand. Rather than placating the budget hawks with a definitive and fully worked out set of proposals, the Administration is betting that the bond market will give it more time—time in which the American people can learn more about the specifics of Ryan’s proposals, and get even less enthusiastic about them.

This game still has a long way to run. But if I were a betting man, and occasionally I am, I would wager on Sperling and Lew coming out on top rather than the congressman from Wisconsin.

By: John Cassidy, The New Yorker, April 13, 2011

April 14, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Democrats, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Ideology, Lawmakers, Medicaid, Medicare, Politics, President Obama, Rep Paul Ryan, Republicans, Right Wing, Social Security | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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