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“That’s Not What ‘Ransom’ Means”: Demanding Something In Exchange For Nothing Is A Deeply Unserious Argument

During the most recent Republican debt-ceiling crisis, the White House used a provocative word grounded in fact: the GOP was demanding a “ransom” before they’d allow the federal government to pay its bills. In an odd twist, now it’s Republicans trying to flip the script.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sat down with National Review’s Robert Costa last week, and condemned Democratic demands as part of a “grand bargain.” In recent years, the Obama White House has told Republicans that he’d consider entitlement “reforms” if they’d consider new tax revenue as part of a broader compromise. McConnell told Costa, “[W]e don’t think we should have to pay a ransom to do what the country needs.”

Yesterday, McConnell used the same line.

President Barack Obama was holding up a bipartisan fiscal deal by demanding a “ransom” of $1 trillion in new tax revenues, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell charged on Sunday.

“Unfortunately, every discussion we’ve had about this in the past has had what I would call a ransom attached to it: $1 trillion in new tax revenues,” the Kentucky Republican said on CBS’s “Face The Nation.”

This reinforces fears that Republican leaders quite literally don’t understand what a compromise is.

If I go to my favorite sandwich shop for lunch, and then try to take the sandwich without paying, the guy behind the counter wouldn’t be too happy. “Let’s complete our transaction,” he’d say. “I’ll give you your lunch and you give me $5.” It’d be kind of odd if I replied, “Why are you demanding a ransom for my sandwich?”

But that’s effectively McConnell’s argument. Obama is prepared to complete the transaction: Democrats will make a concession on entitlements if Republicans make a comparable concession on revenue. The Senate Minority Leader’s argument is that the president is being unreasonable – to insist on a compromise is to insist on a “ransom.”

What is McConnell prepared to trade in exchange for entitlement cuts? By all appearances, nothing, since he’s under the impression that entitlement cuts are necessary anyway.

For one thing, they’re not necessary, at least not right now. For another, demanding something in exchange for nothing usually isn’t a recipe for bipartisan cooperation.

That said, McConnell’s argument seems to be winning some folks over. The editorial board of the Washington Post this morning compares Democrats’ reluctance to cut social-insurance programs to Republicans’ reluctance to raise the debt ceiling.

That’s a deeply unserious argument, but it’s music to McConnell’s ears.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 21, 2013

October 23, 2013 Posted by | Budget, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Growing Opposition”: More GOP Lawmakers Balk At Chained CPI

At least officially, the White House’s offer for some kind of grand debt-reduction deal is still on the table. To the chagrin of the left, President Obama is prepared to accept the “reforms” Republicans asked for in social-insurance programs, in exchange for concessions on tax revenue.

GOP lawmakers, true to form, continue to reject the idea of compromise, and to date, have not pointed to any concessions they’re willing to even entertain. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) acknowledged yesterday what everyone already knew — there will be no deal.

But of particular interest is the growing Republican opposition to the one thing they said they really wanted as part of a possible compromise.

Two House Republicans have told constituents they oppose proposed cuts to Social Security and veterans benefits by reducing the cost of living adjustment, according to letters they sent to constituents. President Barack Obama included the plan, known as chained CPI, in his annual budget, but specified that he was only offering it as a concession to entice Republicans into a compromise. For Reps. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) and Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), however, the concession is itself objectionable.

Note, we’re not just talking about two random House Republicans. Immediately after Obama said he’s willing to give GOP lawmakers what they asked for, when Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee who’ll oversee his party’s 2014 midterm efforts, accused President Obama of waging “a shocking attack on seniors.”

Then Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) said he’s “not a fan” of the policy. Rep. James Lankford (Okla.), the chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, called chained CPI “draconian.” Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) said of the policy, “It’s not my plan… This is the president’s plan.” Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), a House Ways and Means Committee member, added, “I’m very sensitive to the fact that you’re impacting current seniors in particular. It’s something I’m very hesitant to jump up and down and support.”

Let’s be clear about the chain of events:

1. Congressional Republicans demand that the White House put chained CPI on the table as part of budget talks.

2. President Obama reluctantly agrees to put chained CPI on the table as part of budget talks.

3. Congressional Republicans criticize the chained CPI policy they said they wanted.

To reiterate a point from a month ago, it’s only fair to mention that plenty of congressional Republicans, including members of the GOP leadership, have welcomed Obama’s offer — while refusing to point to any comparable concessions they’d accept, of course — so this isn’t a party-wide phenomenon.

But we’re well past the point of Greg Walden acting as a solo hack, condemning a policy he supports because he thinks it might boost the GOP in the 2014 midterms. There’s a sizable contingent of congressional Republicans who have publicly criticized the exact same policy congressional Republicans said they wanted Obama to accept.

Shouldn’t that affect the larger discussion rather dramatically?

Remember, the White House doesn’t actually like chained-CPI. Obama freely admits he doesn’t want this policy, and only offered it because Republicans are such enthusiastic supporters of the idea. From the president’s perspective, he and his team are going to have to tolerate some measures they don’t like if there’s going to be a bipartisan compromise in which both sides accept concessions they would otherwise reject.

But that was before GOP lawmakers called this policy — the one Republicans demanded — a “shocking attack on seniors” and a “draconian” policy.

So, given all of this, can someone remind me what’s stopping the president from simply walking away from the idea he doesn’t like anyway? At this point, Obama could hardly be blamed for declaring, “I thought Republicans wanted this policy, but if they consider this a draconian attack on seniors that they cannot support, I’ll gladly drop the idea and we discuss something else.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 8, 2013

May 9, 2013 Posted by | Politics, Social Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Entirely Symbolic”: The President’s Budget, Less Than Meets The Eye

On Twitter this morning I observed the irony that after an anemic jobs report the chattering classes would spend the rest of the day talking about whether the president’s budget (a summary of which was leaked today; the actual document is due to be released next Wednesday) offered enough spending cuts to be taken seriously.

The big news, if you want to call it that, is that the budget will formally propose what Obama has offered hypothetically as part of a “grand bargain” in exchange for significant new revenues: a shift to a “chained CPI” for Social Security COLAs (and other federal pensions and benefit programs, it seems), and some additional means-testing of Medicare benefits.

Whether or not chained CPI (which assumes consumers will switch to lower-price alternatives in purchases as overall prices rise) is a more accurate estimate of inflation, there’s no doubt utilizing it would operate as an across-the-board benefit cut–albeit one that occurs very slowly over time–something Obama and virtually all Democrats have opposed as a matter of principle in the past. There will be howls of outrage from Democratic members of Congress and progressive advocacy groups about this fresh Obama endorsement of the idea, some based on categorical rejection of Social Security benefit cuts, some based on the argument that Obama is offering a crown jewel and getting very little if anything in exchange from Republicans.

What may temper this reaction is the knowledge that this budget is entirely symbolic, and that it is certain to be rejected and denounced by House Republicans immediately for its inclusion of new revenues and its failure to project an actual balanced budget. It appears the White House is again trying to show a willingness to compromise for purposes of strengthening his hand in future fiscal battles, though some think it’s related to Obama’s effort to kick-start “grand bargain” negotiations with those Senate Republicans who are willing to consider some new revenues in exchange for “entitlement reform.”

For the record, there is actually some new spending in Obama’s budget: a pre-K initiative and this week’s “brain research” proposal, both paid for by a tobacco tax increase and a cap on the size of Individual Retirement Accounts. But there’s little in the way of “stimulus.” While the budget would cancel the appropriations sequester, it would in other ways achieve even lower defense and non-defense discretionary spending. Aside from the “offsets” just mentioned, new revenues in the budget–the usual reductions in “loopholes” theoretically supported by some Republicans–come in at $580 billion, a pretty low figure.

How you view this budget depends almost entirely on how you view Obama’s overall fiscal strategy. Is he maintaining the “high ground” on the budget, or making unilateral concessions to an opposition that is just going to pocket them without making any of their own? And is this budget connected to the forced fiscal negotiations that might occur in May or June if House Republicans decide to make a play on a new debt limit increase, despite warnings from the business community not to do so?

In any event, there’s zero that is self-executing about this budget, so it will mostly just represent another maneuver in a budgetary chess game that now seems increasingly disconnected from the economy.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 5, 2013

April 7, 2013 Posted by | Budget | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Giving Your Opponents A Choice”: Underscoring The Fact That Sequester Impasse Caused Primarily By House Republicans

There’s a lot of confusion (and in certain Republican and Democratic quarters, consternation) over the president’s dinner with Republican senators last night, touted by all involved as focused on reviving prospects for a “grand bargain” on the budget. But the more fundamental purpose, which couldn’t have been clearer had the participants put up a big marquee sign outside the Jefferson Hotel advertising the theme, was to exclude House Republicans from such convivial discussions as the irresponsible wreckers they undoubtedly are.

So for the president, the strategic value of such gestures is pretty clear, whether or not they materially improve the prospects of an acceptable budget deal. E.J. Dionne lays it out:

From Obama’s point of view, engaging with Senate Republicans now to reach a broad settlement makes both practical sense, because there is a plausible chance for a deal, and political sense, because he will demonstrate how far he has been willing to go in offering cuts that Republicans say they support. In the process, he would underscore that the current impasse has been caused primarily by the refusal of House Republicans to accept new revenues.

While it’s the GOP that has been using serial, self-created crises to gain political leverage, many in the party are no less worn out by them than the Democrats. “Even we are tired of lurching from one cliff to another,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)told the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. “I think that’s lending some pressure towards trying to come up with some kind of a grand bargain.”

Such gambits drive some Democrats crazy, partly because they don’t see their utility and partly because they fear Obama will triangulate them and make a deal involving “entitlement reforms” they oppose. But if Obama is simply giving Senate Republicans and the public at large a chance to think about what life would be like if one of our two major parties had not been conquered by ideologues, the price he’s paying may be no higher than the dinner tab.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 7, 2013

March 9, 2013 Posted by | Sequester | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Blackmail Caucus”: Republican “Vote For Romney Or Else” Protection Racket Politics

If President Obama is re-elected, health care coverage will expand dramatically, taxes on the wealthy will go up and Wall Street will face tougher regulation. If Mitt Romney wins instead, health coverage will shrink substantially, taxes on the wealthy will fall to levels not seen in 80 years and financial regulation will be rolled back.

Given the starkness of this difference, you might have expected to see people from both sides of the political divide urging voters to cast their ballots based on the issues. Lately, however, I’ve seen a growing number of Romney supporters making a quite different argument. Vote for Mr. Romney, they say, because if he loses, Republicans will destroy the economy.

O.K., they don’t quite put it that way. The argument is phrased in terms of “partisan gridlock,” as if both parties were equally extreme. But they aren’t. This is, in reality, all about appeasing the hard men of the Republican Party.

If you want an example of what I’m talking about, consider the remarkable — in a bad way — editorial in which The Des Moines Register endorsed Mr. Romney. The paper acknowledged that Mr. Obama’s signature economic policy, the 2009 stimulus, was the right thing to do. It also acknowledged that Mr. Obama tried hard to reach out across the partisan divide, but was rebuffed.

Yet it endorsed his opponent anyway, offering some half-hearted support for Romneynomics, but mainly asserting that Mr. Romney would be able to work with Democrats in a way that Mr. Obama has not been able to work with Republicans. Why? Well, the paper claims — as many of those making this argument do — that, in office, Mr. Romney would be far more centrist than anything he has said in the campaign would indicate. (And the notion that he has been lying all along is supposed to be a point in his favor?) But mostly it just takes it for granted that Democrats would be more reasonable.

Is this a good argument?

The starting point for many “vote for Romney or else” statements is the notion that a re-elected President Obama wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything in his second term. What this misses is the fact that he has already accomplished a great deal, in the form of health reform and financial reform — reforms that will go into effect if, and only if, he is re-elected.

But would Mr. Obama be able to negotiate a Grand Bargain on the budget? Probably not — but so what? America isn’t facing any kind of short-run fiscal crisis, except in the fevered imagination of a few Beltway insiders. If you’re worried about the long-run imbalance between spending and revenue, well, that’s an issue that will have to be resolved eventually, but not right away. Furthermore, I’d argue that any alleged Grand Bargain would be worthless as long as the G.O.P. remained as extreme as it is, because the next Republican president, following the lead of George W. Bush, would just squander the gains on tax cuts and unfunded wars.

So we shouldn’t worry about the ability of a re-elected Obama to get things done. On the other hand, it’s reasonable to worry that Republicans will do their best to make America ungovernable during a second Obama term. After all, they have been doing that ever since Mr. Obama took office.

During the first two years of Mr. Obama’s presidency, when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, Republicans offered scorched-earth opposition to anything and everything he proposed. Among other things, they engaged in an unprecedented number of filibusters, turning the Senate — for the first time — into a chamber in which nothing can pass without 60 votes.

And, when Republicans took control of the House, they became even more extreme. The 2011 debt ceiling standoff was a first in American history: An opposition party declared itself willing to undermine the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, with incalculable economic effects, unless it got its way. And the looming fight over the “fiscal cliff” is more of the same. Once again, the G.O.P. is threatening to inflict large damage on the economy unless Mr. Obama gives it something — an extension of tax cuts for the wealthy — that it lacks the votes to pass through normal constitutional processes.

Would a Democratic Senate offer equally extreme opposition to a President Romney? No, it wouldn’t. So, yes, there is a case that “partisan gridlock” would be less damaging if Mr. Romney won.

But are we ready to become a country in which “Nice country you got here. Shame if something were to happen to it” becomes a winning political argument? I hope not. By all means, vote for Mr. Romney if you think he offers the better policies. But arguing for Mr. Romney on the grounds that he could get things done veers dangerously close to accepting protection-racket politics, which have no place in American life.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, November 1, 2012

November 4, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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