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“He’d Do Well To Stay There”: Bernie Sanders Should Stick To The High Road

Bernie Sanders started his campaign stumping for his ideals without savaging the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. That was an attractive combination.

Now that he’s done a lot better than anticipated (though way down in delegates), his people are wondering whether he has made a mistake by not lunging for Clinton’s throat.

The answer is no. He’d be even further down, because virtuous politicking has been the source of his charm.

Sanders has never been much of a team player. He is an independent, not a Democrat, but Team Democrat has respected his candidacy. And it has given him a platform he’d never have gotten on his own.

But the welcome mat shows holes. The impressive sums Sanders raises go to his campaign only. Clinton raises money for her campaign and for other Democrats down the ticket. Adding to an unpleasantness, the Sanders camp lashes out at Clinton’s fundraising as somehow sordid.

Exactly how are you going to get your liberal priorities passed without a friendlier House and Senate?

Not Sanders’ problem. Never has been. And that accounts for his modest accomplishments in Washington.

The Sanders campaign prides itself in speaking “the truth,” so here’s some:

Sanders did not fight alone for single-payer health care. He failed to attract a single co-sponsor for his recent single-payer bill, his fans explain, because the health care industry intimidated lesser liberals in the Senate.

But John Conyers proposed single-payer in the House and gathered more than 90 co-sponsors. (Conyers endorsed Clinton in the Michigan primary.)

Sanders recently accused Clinton of taking “significant money from the fossil fuel industry” — a claim for which The Washington Post awarded him three “Pinocchios.”

Oil and gas doesn’t even make the list of the top 20 industries contributing to the Clinton campaign. Fossil fuel money accounts for only 0.15 percent of her campaign and outside PAC sum. But Sanders gooses the numbers by dishonestly labeling donations from lobbyists who also work for other industries as fossil fuel money.

Sanders portrays himself as a one-man army fighting Wall Street abuses in the Senate. Actually, the one-man army has been one woman, named Elizabeth Warren.

Before joining the Senate, Warren championed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — detested by predatory lenders for shielding the little guys. Clinton was among the bureau’s most enthusiastic boosters and pushed other Democrats to sign on.

Sanders would have certainly won the financial industry’s enmity if it took him seriously. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page virtually ignores him, turning its wrath on the far more dangerous Warren.

Now, Clinton’s $225,000-per-speech fees from Goldman Sachs are fair game for the political opposition. But then the opposition has to show what Wall Street got in return other than her insights and her company.

A quid pro quo is hard to pin down. For example, the head of the D.E. Shaw group has given more than $800,000 to the Clinton effort. His company holds much distressed Puerto Rican debt and opposes letting the island file for bankruptcy. Clinton is for it.

Do note that the financial services industry is among New York state’s largest employers and is No. 1 for payroll. Clinton represented the state, and senators do confer with large hometown employers.

Speaking of which, Sanders waves his fist against wasteful military spending but voted to fund the $1.2 trillion F-35 fighter — one of the most expensive, most cost-overrun and most plagued weapons systems in U.S. history. Seems the maker, Lockheed Martin, employs a bunch of Vermonters.

Sanders looks best when he conducts politics from the high road. He’d do well to stay there for the sake of his legacy.


By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, April 5, 2016

April 6, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Marco Rubio Has An Arithmetic Problem”: Anyone With Access To A Calculator Should Recognize Just What A Joke This Scheme Is

At first blush, it’s tempting to see Marco Rubio’s economic plan as a dog-bites-man story: Republican presidential campaign proposes massive tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, even while saying the opposite. The Florida senator isn’t alone on this front, and it all seems sadly predictable.

But in this case, there’s more to it. Even if you’re unmoved by Rubio’s odd inability to handle his own personal finances in a responsible way, the way he intends to deal with the nation’s finances as president is arguably a national disqualifier.

The trouble started in earnest at the last debate for Republicans presidential candidates – the one pundits decided was a triumph for Rubio – when CNBC’s John Harwood pressed the Florida senator on his tax-cut plan.

HARWOOD: The Tax Foundation, which was alluded to earlier, scored your tax plan and concluded that you give nearly twice as much of a gain in after-tax income to the top 1 percent as to people in the middle of the income scale. Since you’re the champion of Americans living paycheck-to- paycheck, don’t you have that backward?

 RUBIO: No, that’s – you’re wrong.

It turns out, analysis from both the left and right scrutinized Rubio’s plan and found that he was completely wrong. I can’t say whether he was deliberately trying to deceive viewers or simply unaware of the details of his own policy, but in either case, the senator’s claims were false.

In the days that followed, scrutiny of Rubio’s plan intensified. Vox’s Dylan Matthews talked directly to Rubio staffers and discovered that the senator’s plan includes even more generous tax breaks for the top 1% than Jeb Bush’s and Donald Trump’s plans. An analysis for Citizens for Tax Justice also found that the bulk of the benefits in the Rubio plan would go to the very, very wealthy.

Indeed, New York’s Jon Chait added, “Rubio’s proposal deliberately provides some benefits to Americans of modest income, which means that its enormous tax cuts for the very rich come alongside some pretty decent-size tax cuts for the rest of us. All told, Rubio’s plan would reduce federal revenue by $11.8 trillion over the next decade. The entire Bush tax cuts cost about $3.4 trillion over a decade, making the Rubio tax cuts more than three times as costly.”

It’s against this backdrop that Rubio has also proposed a vast expansion of the U.S. military, while leaving Social Security and Medicare benefits for current retirees untouched.

In any version of reality in which arithmetic exists, Rubio’s plan is simply indefensible. Massive tax breaks for the rich, coupled with significant increases in military spending, leads to ballooning budget deficits. It’s not theoretical – we tried this in the Bush/Cheney era and it led to predictable results that we’re still trying to address.

The difference is, Rubio wants tax cuts that are triple the size of the ones created by George W. Bush and Dick “Deficits Don’t Matter” Cheney.

As this relates to the 2016 race, the central problem relates to policy: Rubio’s numbers don’t, and can’t, add up. Anyone with access to a calculator should recognize just what a joke this scheme is.

But the other problem is what we’re learning about Rubio as a candidate. There is, like it or not, a character aspect to presidential hopefuls’ platforms – because they offer Americans an opportunity to learn about candidates’ honesty, priorities, values, and candor. The Florida senator who talks about his ability to appeal to maids and bartenders has gone to almost comical lengths to craft a plan that benefits CEOs and hedge-fund managers, all while pretending to be an expert on fiscal responsibility.

Marco Rubio’s economic plan tells us something important about his candidacy, and it’s not flattering.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 9, 2015

November 10, 2015 Posted by | Economic Policy, Marco Rubio, Tax Policy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“When Used For The Right Purpose”: Was Cheney Right That “Deficits Don’t Matter”?

After the Republicans gained control of the US Senate in the 2002 election, giving them across-the-board dominance of the legislative and executive branches of the federal government, the key players in the administration of President George W. Bush gathered to discuss fiscal policy.

Vice President Dick Cheney wanted to cut taxes for the rich.

Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill was skeptical. According to his recounting of the incident in Ron Suskind’s brilliant book, The Price of Loyalty, O’Neill expressed concern that a trillion dollars worth of tax cuts had already been enacted. O’Neill was no liberal. He liked tax cuts. But with the country rebuilding from the economic slowdown after the 9/11 attacks, and with a war being fought in Afghanistan and another on the horizon in Iraq, O’Neill noted that the budget deficit was increasing. And he argued against Cheney’s position, suggesting that another tax cut was unnecessary and unwise.

“You know, Paul, Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter,” said the vice president. “We won the mid-term elections, this is our due.”

O’Neill was, according to Suskind, left speechless.

But Cheney wasn’t done. He and the Bush-Cheney administration that he served as CEO piled up deficits and debts. Indeed, as The New York Times has well noted, “Under Mr. Bush, tax cuts and war spending were the biggest policy drivers of the swing from projected surpluses to deficits from 2002 to 2009. Budget estimates that didn’t foresee the recessions in 2001 and in 2008 and 2009 also contributed to deficits. Mr. Obama’s policies, taken out to 2017, add to deficits, but not by nearly as much.”

Now, a decade later, Cheney’s party is arguing that deficits matter. A lot. House Republicans are so fretful that they are willing to steer the country toward chaos by refusing the compromises that would avert across-the-board sequester cuts. Other Republicans uncomfortable with sequestration are pushing an austerity agenda that’s better organized than the sequester, but potentially even more painful.

So was Cheney right in 2002? Or is he right, now, when he cheers on Republican attacks on Obama’s spending and says, “I worship the ground Paul Ryan walks on”?

The fact is that deficits are relevant.

So are debts.

Nations must treat them seriously.

But nations do not have to fear deficits, any more than Dick Cheney did on that day in the fall of 2002. And in that sense Cheney was right: deficits don’t matter if they are employed for a purpose. Cheney’s purpose—cutting taxes for the rich—was dubious. But stimulating the economy, expanding access to healthcare, funding state and local governments and protecting seniors on Social Security… these are good, and necessary, purposes.

Spending has value, especially when it is needed. As Bob Borosage of the Campaign for America’s Future reminds us: “The U.S. has witnessed slow growth since coming out of the Great Recession in 2009. The result has been a deficit that has come down from over 10 percent of gross domestic product to a projected 5.3 percent of GDP this year (slightly higher if Congress is sensible enough to repeal the sequester) and a projected 2.4 percent in 2015 (if congressional austerity bombs don’t blow up the weak recovery).”

For Cheney’s political heirs to claim now that the United States is in crisis, or at a “tipping point,” is absurd. For them to refuse to govern until they get their way, throwing one tantrum after another, is irresponsible. For them to see value in sequester cuts that impose real pain on real people is not just crude, it’s economically senseless—and dangerous to the long-term prospects for economic renewal and growth.

President Obama needs to push back against the deficit fabulists. He does not have to echo Cheney’s glib “deficits don’t matter” talk. But he should explain, as economist Dean Baker does, that the ranting and raving about deficits and debts by groups such as Pete Peterson’s Fix the Debt campaign and its co-chairs, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, is “the great distraction.”

America should be focused on the economic challenges that have slowed our economy, and that have caused our government to run up deficits and debts. We need to be focused on putting people to work and growing the economy, not playing sequester games that result in real job losses and create an equally real threat of recession.

When the Fix the Debt crew gather, as Baker has noted, “many of the people most responsible for the current downturn come together to tell us why we should be worried about the deficit at a time when 25 million people are unemployed, underemployed or have given up looking for work altogether and millions face the prospect of losing their homes.”

Our concern as a country should be with shaping the policies and making the investments that find work for the jobless and create the robust economic growth that creates surpluses. That’s far more vital than the focus on fiscal issues and the deficits that Dick Cheney explained—back when he was in power—“don’t matter.”


By: John Nichols, The Nation, March 1, 2013

March 4, 2013 Posted by | Deficits | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Don’t Worry, He’s Lying”: The Basic Gist Of The Case For Mitt Romney

Yesterday, I did an online debate with Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights, for New York magazine. We went through a wide range of topics, but one thing we stuck on—for a while—was the issue of Mitt Romney’s political commitments. Bissinger refused to believe that Romney is the conservative he’s campaigned as for the last 18 months, and he insisted Romney would be more moderate than he’s appeared if elected president. Here’s the nut of his argument:

[T]ake a look at Romney’s record as Mass governor. He was not some crazoid conservative. He crossed party lines. He provided the template for Obamacare, for God’s sake.

Romney has at least shown some ability to cross lines, however weak. Obama has not. He is not politically adept. He is not good at crossing the aisle. I can only go on what I have read, but he does not like politics and all the gab and bullshit. Politics is gab and bullshit. So I think Romney has a much better chance of appealing to Dems than Obama will ever have appealing to Rs.

One thing I’ve noticed in defenses of Romney is this idea that we should trust that he’s lying to his conservative supporters, and will be more moderate once in office. This view was recently pushed by Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal, who wrote an entire column asserting that Romney has no intention of following through on any of his promises.

Since Romney is a chameleon—and happy to switch positions for electoral gain—I can see why some would look at him and assume that he doesn’t plan to carry out his stated plans if elected president. But there are two things worth remembering: First, that presidents almost always attempt to fulfill their campaign promises. Americans like to believe otherwise, but the truth is that the first-term agenda of most presidents mirrors their rhetoric during the campaign. Barack Obama promised middle-class tax cuts and health-care reform, and he delivered. Tax cuts and education reform formed the basis for George W. Bush’s campaign in 2000, and were the first items on his agenda in 2001. Mitt Romney has promised large, across-the-board tax cuts, increased military spending, and cuts to social services. Most likely, that’s what he’ll do.

One last thing: All of this is to say nothing of congressional Republicans, who are committed to following through on the right-wing budgets they passed last year. If Romney wins the White House, one of their own—Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan—will be second-in-command, and it’s absurd to think that they won’t want him to make a push for implementing the Ryan budget. Indeed, as long as they control the Senate, Republicans will be able to pass the Ryan budget without a single Democratic vote. And if they don’t? As Bush demonstrated in his first term, it’s not hard to find a few vulnerable Democrats who will support your priorities for the sake of electoral safety.


By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, October 18, 2012

October 19, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Campaigning In Fiction”: Mitt Romney’s Campaign Pledges Raise Questions For Conservatives

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is making campaign promises that could produce an economic miracle – or a more predictable list of broken vows.

Romney says he wants to put the nation on a path to a balanced budget while also cutting an array of taxes, building up the Navy and Air Force and adding 100,000 active-duty military personnel. He says he would slash domestic spending and reduce tax loopholes but has offered few details.

His comments raise eyebrows in Congress, long accustomed to easier-said-than-done promises. And even some conservatives have their doubts.

Christopher A. Preble, a vice president for the libertarian Cato Institute, says Romney’s promise to push military spending to 4 percent of the national economy would require dramatic increases that would raise, not lower, the federal deficit.

Citing “the absurdity of Romney’s plan,” Preble wrote recently that the candidate “hasn’t said what other spending he will cut, or what taxes he would increase.”

“Until he does,” Preble wrote, “it is logical to conclude that he plans to pile on more debt.”

Romney says he will avoid that problem by making courageous cuts to federal programs if elected.

“I have three major ways that we can get ourselves to a balanced budget,” he told voters this month in Warwick, R.I. “Number one is to eliminate some programs. Stop, eliminate them. Not just slow down their rate of growth. But look at programs and say, `Too many, too big, too expensive, too ineffective, get rid of it.’ Some programs you’re going to like. I’m going to ask for sacrifice. But the sacrifice will not be taking more from your wallet…. I’m not going to give anybody any free stuff.”

Other Romney proposals would make states responsible for programs such as Medicaid, and reduce the federal workforce by 10 percent “through attrition.”

It’s not uncommon for candidates to promise unspecified spending cuts. Often, however, they find it extremely difficult to fulfill the pledges once elected. That’s one reason the nation’s debt has soared under Republican and Democratic presidents and congresses alike.

Romney has shown little willingness to cut popular programs so far. He joined President Barack Obama, and bucked some House Republicans, by backing an extension of low college loan rates for middle-income students, a $6 billion government cost.

Voters may understand that candidates can’t or won’t keep all their promises.

“You campaign in fiction, and govern in fact,” said Tom Davis, a former congressman who headed the Republicans’ House campaign committee from 1998 to 2002.

He noted that Obama quickly backed off his campaign promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison. Obama also pledged to tamp down Washington’s partisan tone and to overhaul immigration laws, neither of which has happened.

Davis said it’s the general thrust of Romney’s proposals that matters most, not every specific item.

“What he’s trying to do is sketch a different vision,” Davis said. Details of how Romney’s proposals will pan out, if he’s elected, “will be determined by Congress and events,” he said.

Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, said Romney’s proposals “are aspirations” more than firm promises. If elected, Romney may have to revisit his current rejection of tax increases and his vow to leave Social Security and Medicare unchanged for current and soon-to-be recipients, LaTourette said.

Romney and Obama “have to come to the realization that a big deal,” which includes tax increases, spending cuts and changes to Social Security and Medicare, “is the only way” to address the nation’s deficit dilemma, LaTourette said.

Romney calls for a host of tax cuts. But independent analysts say they will worsen the deficit unless offset by deep and politically unpopular spending cuts.

Romney would keep the Bush-era tax cuts, and further reduce all marginal income tax rates by 20 percent. He says he would lower the corporate tax rate, eliminate the estate tax, push a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and make $500 billion in unspecified domestic discretionary spending cuts in 2016.

He wants wider exploration for energy, including oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR.

Such promises draw loud cheers at GOP rallies. But for decades, Republican-run and Democratic-run congresses alike have rejected ANWR drilling, a balanced budget amendment, deep spending cuts and other mainstays of Romney’s campaign.

Whether these campaign ideas are called proposals, aspirations or promises, they are easier to talk about than to achieve.

By: Charles Babington, The Huffington Post, April 27, 2012

April 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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