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“The 35-Year GOP Budget Dilemma”: Deficits Take Care Of Themselves, As Long As They Are The Ones Running Them Up

One of the more important consequences of the Republican takeover of both chambers of Congress has been the GOP’s inability to paper over internal differences of opinion–or more to the point, to blame the inability to get stuff done on Harry Reid. We may be about to see this dynamic playing out in spectacular fashion when Congress takes up a FY 2016 budget resolution, which Republicans pretty much have to attempt after years of attacking Reid for Democratic Senate refusals to pass budget resolutions (a largely symbolic exercise absent enforcement mechanisms, and unnecessary for a while given the Obama-GOP spending agreements adopted outside “regular order”). As the New York Times‘ Jonathan Weisman describes the state of play right now, there’s a “chasm” between Republicans whose prime objective is to eliminate the sequestration system that has capped defense spending, and Republicans who are still spouting 2009-10 rhetoric about debt and deficits.

“This is a war within the Republican Party,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who has vowed to oppose a final budget that does not ensure more military spending. “You can shade it any way you want, but this is war.”

The divisions will be laid bare Tuesday when congressional leaders unveil blueprints that hew to spending limits imposed by the budget battles of 2011.

Unlike legislation, the spending plan Republicans will be creating this week requires only a majority vote in both the House and Senate, cannot be blocked by a filibuster and is not subject to presidential approval or veto.

The intra-party tension this year has been ratcheted up by three external factors, of course: the general war-lust of Republicans, which is currently reaching early-2000s levels; shrinking short-term federal budget deficits; and an impending presidential election that makes the most likely way out of the GOP’s budget dilemma–Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid cuts–rather perilous.

But it’s important not to think of this problem too narrowly as a current phenomenon. In reality, Republicans have been struggling with this same dynamic for 35 years, since the first Reagan Budget. Given four ideological goals in budgeting–lowering top-end tax rates; boosting defense spending; going after New Deal/Great Society spending; and reducing budget deficits–the one that always gets the short end of the straw is deficit reduction, even if supply-side magic asterisks allow GOPers to pretend, temporarily, that deficits will take care of themselves, as long as they are the ones running them up. And speaking of magic asterisks:

Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, and Mr. Enzi are pressing for a place holder in the budget — a “deficit-neutral reserve fund” — that they say would allow Congress to come back in the coming months with legislation to lift the spending caps.

The idea is to pass a budget this month that sticks to the spending caps, but then negotiate a budget law this summer that ends sequestration. The $540 billion in cuts still to come under the Budget Control Act would be replaced by savings from entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security as well as new revenue from closing some tax loopholes.

To translate, this means an unenforceable promise to come back later and pay for a defense spending boost via “entitlement reform,” which Democrats and the White House have no intention of allowing. By summer, I guess, Republicans will come up with some way to delay the inevitable, and/or to disguise an implicit deal with Democrats to suspend sequestration long enough to give both the Pentagon and domestic programs a fresh drink of water.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 16, 2015


March 18, 2015 Posted by | Defense Spending, Deficits, Federal Budget | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Of All The Ridiculous Arguments”: Republicans Remain Terrified That President Obama Will Close Gitmo

Ever since President Obama took office in 2009, Republicans have done everything in their power to stop him from closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Given his recent successes at repatriating detainees and the looming assistance Pope Francis has offered, they are upping those efforts.

Key Senate Republicans on Tuesday unveiled legislation that would effectively block President Barack Obama from fulfilling his pledge to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before he leaves office in two years.

The legislation from Sens. Kelly Ayotte, John McCain, Richard Burr and Lindsey Graham would prohibit for two years the transfer to the United States of detainees designated medium- or high-risk. It would also ban transfers to Yemen, where dozens of the 127 remaining Guantánamo detainees are from.

Of all the ridiculous arguments they’ve made over the years for keeping the prison open, this one takes the cake.

At a news conference on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Ayotte argued the administration’s increased clip of transfers was dangerous because it could allow detainees to re-enter the terrorism fight, citing the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.

Given that none of those who have been reported to have been involved in the Paris attack had ever even spent a night at Gitmo, this is nothing but absurd fear-mongering.

Besides, here are the facts about the recidivism of Gitmo detainees who have been released from a report issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

According to the report, the percentage of freed detainees “reengaging” during the Bush administration was 19 percent, while another 14.3 percent were “suspected of reengaging.” Since Obama took office, however, just 6.8 percent of detainees are confirmed as reengaging, while just 1.1 percent are suspected of returning to the battlefield.

“Nearly half of the former detainees confirmed of reengaging are either dead or in custody, and more than one-third of the former detainees suspected of re-engaging are either dead or in custody,” the official said.

I have no idea what has Senators Ayotte, McCain, Burr and Graham so terrified. But it looks to me like it mostly has to do with witnessing President Obama succeed on a campaign promise while he protects our national security.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 18, 2015

January 20, 2015 Posted by | Congress, GITMO, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What A Disappointment!”: Ahmed Abu Khattala Arrest Spoils GOP’s Benghazi Party

Oh, I do so enjoy reading the conservative websites and watching Republicans on cable on the days the Obama administration does something they can’t find fault with. The arrest of Ahmed Abu Khattala for leading the attack on the Benghazi consulate in 2011 has them turning the expected rhetorical cartwheels, their displeasure evident across their surly visages at the huge hole blown in their argument that President Obama is objectively pro-terrorist.

California Rep. Darrell Issa, the GOP’s leading rhetorical gymnast on all things Benghazi, called the arrest “long overdue,” implicitly imputing to the administration a dilatoriness that is just about the Republicans’ only line of offense. New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who holds the Joe Lieberman chair in John McCain Studies in the U.S. Senate, expressed her pleasure that Khattala is “finally” in custody and huffed: “Rather than rushing to read him his Miranda rights and telling him he has the right to remain silent, I hope the administration will focus on collecting the intelligence necessary to prevent future attacks and to find other terrorists responsible for the Benghazi attacks.”

Poor folks. The House Republicans are gearing up for the unveiling of their big select committee to keep Benghazi in the news, and lo and behold, it turns out that Benghazi is going to be in the news anyway, with the (or an) alleged ringleader facing the bar of American justice. Not exactly the backdrop they had in mind. “Why hasn’t anyone been brought to justice?” has been, admittedly, the second-order question Republicans have been asking, the first-order questions relating of course to whether there was some kind of cover-up. But even so, the question was sure to feature strongly in the GOP hearings. It’s not hard to imagine that a full week might have been slated to be devoted to that question, a week of great merriment and ribaldry over at The Daily Caller and the Free Beacon that will not, alas, come to pass.

The best they can do now is echo the Ayotte line about Miranda rights. The very phrase is guaranteed to spike the blood pressure of right-wingers. But the facts are plain and worth repeating quickly, even though they’re well known: Our track record of convicting terrorists in civilian courts is far superior to the track record of military tribunals.

Up through 2011, according to the NYU Law School Center for Law and Security, the Bush and Obama administrations had commenced the prosecution of more than 300 cases in civilian courts; 204 cases were resolved, with 177 convictions, for an 87 percent conviction rate (PDF). By contrast, we convicted via military tribunal up through 2011 a grand total of seven defendants.

No one that I can find on deadline has been keeping those numbers quite so assiduously since then, but all we have to do is engage the old memory banks for a few moments to know that the more recent years have held to pattern. Why, it was only a month ago that federal prosecutors in Manhattan won the conviction, on all counts, of Mostafa Kemal Mostafa, the British imam who orchestrated the violent kidnappings of American, British, and Australian tourists in Yemen. It took six weeks, and Mostafa himself spent several days on the stand. But he’s headed to the hoosegow, and the jury foreman, a guy from Westchester County who works for Xerox, said there was “no doubt in my mind” that Mostafa got a fair trial.

I don’t know about you, but I rather like the idea of a guy who works for Xerox, otherwise known as a citizen of the United States, passing judgment on someone like Mostafa. That is what we do. Well, that is what we do at our best, when we’re lucky, when a bunch of war-mad demagogues don’t succeed in scaring Americans into thinking that we have to abandon our best principles to keep the country safe.

It does take some gall. Here we sit with Iraq unraveling in precisely the way some of the war’s opponents predicted. Joe Biden’s old suggestion about making three countries out of Iraq may or may not be the best solution here, but it sure doesn’t look crazy now, even though he was sneeringly pooh-poohed by the people who swore that the war would lead to a garden of multiplying democracies. And who’s the guy who said it was a “dumb war”? Oh, right, Obama. And yet he is left to try to fix the world-historic tragedy they created.

We have been led by these lizards into some of the darkest moral dead-ends in our entire history as a people. Did the Benghazi attack, in the larger scheme of things, happen because of a video or because there wasn’t enough consular security? Neither. It happened because the United States went into the Arab world and spent a decade making gratuitous violence. There was justified violence—going after al Qaeda—and then there was gratuitous violence. As we’ve seen, we can decapitate al Qaeda with drones and special-ops raids. No big war needed. But by God, we had to have that war. And when you make war, other people make it back.

If Khattala was one of those people, a civilian jury is perfectly capable of making that determination. I trust one a lot more than I trust the select committee to keep deflecting responsibility for our current low moral standing in the world from where it really belongs.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 18, 2014

June 19, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, GOP | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Attack First, Get The Facts Never”: Republicans Couldn’t Wait To Go On The Attack After Bowe Bergdahl’s Release

Bowe Bergdahl. How long is this going to continue?

Cable chatter, talking heads with little to talk about, Republican orchestrated guests with (surprise!) more Obama attacks, facts be damned.

It reminds me of the disappearance of former congressional intern Chandra Levy, where the cable guys couldn’t get enough but didn’t know enough, or the recent 24/7 coverage of a lost airliner where all the reporting was that there was nothing to report.

Republicans called for action to get Bergdahl released and criticized Obama for not doing enough, then, when he was released, condemned the release. Here are some examples:

Sarah Palin before: “Todd and I are praying for Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl, his family, and all of his fellow soldiers who are putting their lives on the line to defend our freedom and protect democracy abroad,”

Sarah Palin after the release: “No, Mr. President, a soldier expressing horrid anti-American beliefs – even boldly putting them in writing and unabashedly firing off his messages while in uniform, just three days before he left his unit on foot – is not ‘honorable service.’ Unless that is your standard.”

Former Rep. Alan West, R-Fla., before: “Then there is Army SGT Bowe Bergdahl still held by the Islamic terrorist Haqqani network, probably in Pakistan, in the same place where Osama Bin Laden was hiding. This past POW/MIA national day of recognition, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reiterated a pledge to secure the young Army NCO being held captive, but have there been any actions? Any time, attention, or even mention from the Commander-in-Chief? Nah, no camera highlights in it for him.”

Alan West after the release: “Ladies and gentlemen, I submit that Barack Hussein Obama’s unilateral negotiations with terrorists and the ensuing release of their key leadership without consult — mandated by law — with the U.S. Congress represents high crimes and misdemeanors, an impeachable offense.”

There are plenty more examples of the before/after effect from Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and James Inhofe, R-Okla., to name a few.

Some Republicans put up tweets of praise, then withdrew them, but Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., takes the cake with this statement which was later deleted from his website:

“A grateful nation welcomes the news of the return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. I have the pleasure of regularly speaking with our nation’s active duty military and veterans and I know that there is nothing more solemn than the pledge to never leave one of their own behind on the field of battle.

“Sgt. Bergdahl is a national hero. It’s my hope that once he ultimately retires from active duty service, implementation of reforms to our nation’s VA hospitals are made so that he will have access to the long-term care he has rightfully earned from the horrors he endured.”

OK, fine, this is politics. This is gladiator cable TV. This is a “hot” story.

But, maybe, just maybe, we ought to let the military examine what we know, what we don’t know, what are rumors and what are facts. Maybe we ought to hear from Sgt. Bergdahl before attacking his family, his friends, anyone who ever knew him. Maybe we should not be so quick to judge and cast aspersions on all involved before we know more.

But that is not how the emotional vice that is our politics works – you sense an opening, go for the jugular, any jugular, even if there is collateral damage.


By: Peter Fenn, U. S.News and World Report, June 5, 2014

June 8, 2014 Posted by | Bowe Bergdahl, Politics, POW's | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bleed Until Bankruptcy”: Top Senate Republicans Want To Keep Playing Into Al Qaeda’s Strategy

Back in 2004, in a video addressed to the American people, Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden described his “bleed until bankruptcy” strategy. “All that we have to do is to send two Mujahedin to the farthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaeda in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human economic and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits to their private companies,” bin Laden taunted. “So we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.”

The twin goals of this strategy were to drain the U.S. of resources by baiting it into expensive, open-ended military interventions like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the resulting anger over those interventions causing more people to join Al Qaeda’s cause.

I was reminded of that by these specific remarks from President Obama’s speech on counterterrorism yesterday:

The AUMF is now nearly twelve years old. The Afghan War is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking and our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states. So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.

There was a lot to chew on in the president’s speech, and obviously we’ll have to wait and see how much weight the president actually puts behind some of the reforms he suggested, but I think this core passage represents another important shift away from the rhetorical construct of a “Global War on Terror.”

Meanwhile, on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, four of the Senate’s leading hawks — Republican Senators John McCain (AZ), Lindsey Graham (SC), Saxby Chambliss (GA) and Kelly Ayotte (NH) — responded as you might expect to the prospect of the loss of that rhetorical construct, which has proven extremely politically beneficial to hawks over the last decade.

“I believe we are still in a long, drawn-out conflict with Al Qaeda. To somehow argue that Al Qaeda is ‘on the run’ comes from a degree of unreality that, to me, is really incredible,” said McCain, adding: “Al Qaeda’s ‘on the run’ is expanding all over the Middle East from Mali to Yemen and all places in between and to somehow think that we can bring the authorization of the use of military force to a complete closure contradicts the reality of the facts on the ground. Al Qaeda will be with us for a long time.”

“The President’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory,” Chambliss declared.

Graham took the chance to ding the president on Iraq: “Iraq is a country that went through hell, was inside the 10-yard line, the surge did work and it’s falling apart because the president chose not to leave any American soldiers behind when 10,000 or 12,000 would have made a difference.”

Leaving aside why Graham thinks 10,000 or 12,000 U.S. troops would have made a difference in Iraq when over 100,000 couldn’t stop it from descending into civil war in 2006 (not to mention the tension between claiming to support democracy in Iraq while bashing the president for not working harder to circumvent democracy in Iraq in order to keep U.S. troops there), it’s remarkable that these Congressional leaders essentially want America to keep playing into Al Qaeda’s “bleed until bankruptcy” strategy.


By: Matt Duss, Think Progress, May 24, 2013

May 27, 2013 Posted by | Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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