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Just Plain Sinful: GOP Hostage Taking Now Extends To Disaster Relief

Hurricane Irene made landfall this morning, hitting North Carolina with sustained winds of 90 miles per hour. Irene was downgraded overnight to a Category 1 hurricane, but it remains a powerful storm capable of doing serious harm.

Obviously, we can all hope the severity of the damage is limited. Regrettably, though, the line on federal disaster aid from congressional Republicans has not changed.

This week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the GOP approach would break from how U.S. policymakers have operated. Whereas Congress used to provide emergency funds after a disaster, without regard for budget caps or offsets, Republicans have said they will no longer accept such an approach — if Democrats want emergency assistance in the wake of a natural disaster, Republicans will insist on attaching some strings to the relief funds.

In this case, the strings are cuts elsewhere in the budget. Or as Cantor’s spokesperson put it, GOP leaders expect “additional funds for federal disaster relief” to be “offset with spending cuts.”

The Republican position is already drawing fire.

“It is sinful to require us to cut somewhere … in order to provide emergency disaster assistance for American citizens,” Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) told The Huffington Post on Friday.

The Louisiana Democrat pointed out that this weekend is the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated his district and cost the federal government more than $100 billion. That recovery effort would have been delayed “by years” if Congress had required the same kind of spending cuts to offset aid, he said.

“I have been one who has been preparing for the hurricane, trying to give people some comfort. One thing they need to know is the federal government can come to their aid,” Richmond said. “I don’t think we’re in a position, given the rules set up by the majority, that we’re going to be able to come to their aid quickly.”

Perhaps realizing the potential for a political nightmare — Republicans are already unpopular; just wait until they hold hostage relief funds for communities hit by a hurricane — GOP leaders weren’t eager to talk about their position yesterday.

But they didn’t disavow it, either. Cantor’s office rejected questions about “hypothetical federal aid caused by hypothetical damage,” despite the fact that the Majority Leader and his spokesperson were more than willing to discuss the position 24 hours earlier.

House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office was also cagey, saying policymakers will “discuss costs when and if they occur.”

Neither Republican leader offered the correct response, which is, “Of course we’ll do whatever it takes to help the affected communities.”

With any luck, this will be a moot point. If the damage isn’t severe, Congress won’t have to approve emergency relief. At this point, we just don’t know.

But in the event of extensive damage, there’s a real possibility that the first question from congressional Republicans won’t be, “How can we help?” but rather, “What will Democrats give us in exchange for disaster aid?”

 

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

August 27, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Democrats, Disasters, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Government, Homeland Security, Human Rights, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Middle East, National Security, Politics, Public, Public Health, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brazen: Eric Cantor’s Chutzpah

Eric Cantor’s op-ed laying out the Republican agenda is filled with the kind
of distortions you’d expect, but this passage deserves special commendation.
After decrying a National Labor Relations Board Ruling, he continues:

Such behavior, coupled with the president’s insistence on raising the top tax rate paid by individuals and small businesses, has resulted in a lag in growth that has added to the debt crisis, contributing to our nation’s credit downgrade.

So Cantor is arguing that S&P downgraded U.S. debt because of President
Obama’s future plans to increase the top tax rate. That’s such a mind-boggling
claim that even Cantor cannot bring himself to put it in quite these terms. So
instead he breaks it into a series of steps.

First, he claims that the future promise of upper-bracket tax hikes “has
resulted” in a lag in growth. (Question: if the mere possibility of future tax
hikes is enough to depress growth, why don’t we go ahead and just raise taxes?
If we’re going to get the slower growth anyway, might as well get the revenue,
right?)

Second, the lag in growth “caused” by hypothetical future tax hikes added to
the debt crisis.

Third, the debt crisis contributed to the downgrading of the debt.

It’s a fairly brilliant bit of rhetoric. After all, S&P specifically cited the Republican threat to fail to lift the debt ceiling and Republican refusal
to consider any tax increases
as the cause of the downgrade. cantor has
found a way to present Obama’s support for higher taxes as the cause of the
downgrade. That’s so brazen I almost have to admire it.

By: Jonathan Chait, The New Republic, August 22, 2011

August 23, 2011 Posted by | Businesses, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Corporations, Debt Ceiling, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Ideologues, Ideology, Income Gap, Labor, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Teaparty, Wealthy | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Republican House Bills: A Glimpse Into The Tea Party’s Vision For America

If the House ran America, what would America look like?

It would no longer have a far-reaching health-care law. The House voted to repeal that legislation in January.

It would no longer have federal limits on greenhouse gases. The House voted to ax them in April.

And it would not have three government programs for homeowners who are in trouble on their mortgages. The House voted to end them all.

These and many other changes are included in an ambitious slate of more than 80 bills that have passed since Republicans took control of the chamber this year.

Most of these measures will die in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Still, they are a revealing kind of vision statement — the first evidence of how a tea-party-influenced GOP would like to reshape the country.

That vision is aimed at dismantling some Democratic priorities. The GOP’s philosophy holds that paring back an expensive and heavy-handed government bureaucracy would help restore the country’s financial footing and give private businesses the freedom to grow and create jobs.

After seven months, it is still only half a vision.

On major issues such as health care, climate change and bad mortgages, the House has affirmed that fixes are needed — if it can ever manage to repeal the old ones.

It hasn’t said exactly what those changes should be.

“The Republican Party is sort of united in terms of what they’re against. But there’s not a great deal of consensus right now in terms of what they’re for,” said Michael D. Tanner, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute and an expert on health-care reform and recent GOP history.

This month, a divided Congress finally staggered into its summer recess. Its business has been split between the terrifyingly urgent — including standoffs that threatened a government shutdown and a national debt default — and the purely theoretical.

The theoretical part has come because neither the House nor the Senate is likely to approve big ideas dreamed up by the other. The Democrat-held Senate has reacted to this by withdrawing into legislative hibernation.

House Republicans have instead been passing bills that tell a story — about the country they want but can’t quite get.

“The new House Republican majority was voted into office to change the way Washington does business and make the government accountable to the American people once again. Our agenda has reflected these goals,” said Laena Fallon, a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.).

But even within the Republican ranks, there is a desire for more details about the party’s vision for replacing Democratic policies.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (S.C.) said the GOP must put forward its own solutions on issues such as health care, job creation and mortgage assistance. He said he is not convinced that there is a need to take on climate change in the same way.

“Being the party of ‘no’ . . . is an appropriate response” in some cases, Gowdy said. “It’s not appropriate when you’ve been extensively critical of someone else’s ideas” and have none to replace them, he said.

“For substance reasons, and for credibility reasons, we also need to have a comprehensive . . . alternative that goes beyond saying, ‘Your plan is bad,’ ” Gowdy said.

The best-known part of the House’s vision has to do with spending. The chamber passed a budget that calls for a Medicare overhaul that would force new recipients to buy private insurance after 2022. It also passed, with five Democratic backers, a bill that demanded a balanced budget amendment: essentially, a spending limit written into the Constitution.

But the House’s measures have gone far beyond the budget.

It has passed legislation to forbid new energy-efficiency standards for light bulbs and to punish shining a laser pointer at an airplane in flight. It voted to take away federal funding for National Public Radio and for public financing of presidential campaigns.

The House also took a stand against President Obama on the military campaign in Libya, rejecting a motion to approve U.S. involvement. And it voted to rein in Environmental Protection Agency efforts against “mountaintop-removal coal mines” by requiring the EPA to defer to decisions by state regulators.

On three major issues, the House seemed to acknowledge that simply repealing a Democratic idea might not be enough — and that it did not have its own solutions.

On Jan. 19, for instance, 242 Republicans and three Democrats voted to repeal the landmark health-care law.

In place of the legislation, Republicans had said they would craft their own solutions for problems involving high costs and the denial of coverage for preexisting conditions. Their slogan, outlined in last fall’s Pledge to America, was “Repeal and Replace.”

No replacement has occurred.

A bill that would limit liability in malpractice lawsuits has passed in committee. Other ideas are being developed, aides said.

On climate change, the EPA is requiring larger power plants and industrial facilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to obtain new permits.

But many in Congress worried that the effort would drive up energy prices and kill jobs. So in April, 236 House Republicans and 19 Democrats voted to make the EPA stop in its tracks.

In place of regulations, they approved only a vaguely worded “sense of the Congress” about climate change.

“There is established scientific concern over warming of the climate system,” the bill says. It adds that Congress should attack the problem “by developing policies that do not adversely affect the American economy, energy supplies, and employment.”

But how? When? The measure doesn’t say.

And it doesn’t need to, said Tim Phillips, president of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity. He said his group thinks that simply repealing this legislation — and the health-care law — is enough for now.

“The big-government assault [has been] so damaging to the economy and the government. They’re doing the right thing by just trying to stop and reverse,” Phillips said.

Environmental groups have said that the House’s bill would leave the nation powerless to fight an escalating global problem.

“They clearly aren’t going to pass any legislation themselves that would address that pollution,” said Dan Lashof of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The House also has voted to eliminate three federal programs meant to aid homeowners in danger of foreclosure. Two help modify loans to create lower payments. The third gives no-interest loans to borrowers who are in trouble. All have been criticized for moving too slowly and helping too few.

In March, the House decided to do away with them. The Congressional Budget Office said that doing so could save taxpayers $2.4 billion.

“None of the programs . . . have been successful,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), wrote in a statement.

By: David Fahrenthold, The Washington Post, August 17, 2011

August 18, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Budget, Climate Change, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, Energy, Environment, Foreclosures, Global Warming, GOP, Government, Greenhouse Gases, Health Reform, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Lawmakers, Medicare, Politics, Regulations, Republicans, Right Wing, Taxes, Teaparty, Unemployed, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An American Hijacking: Eric Cantor Acknowledges S&P’s Warnings But Urges Colleagues To Ignore Them

Standard & Poor’s decision to downgrade the United States’ credit rating Friday night came with clear shots at congressional Republicans who had refused to consider tax increases in the deal to raise the debt ceiling. S&P criticized Congress for allowing new revenues to drop from the “menu of policy options,” criticizing “the majority of Republicans in Congress [who] continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues.” The National Journal proclaimed it “hard to read the S&P analysis as anything other than a blast at Republicans.”

Unlike his party’s presidential candidates and several of his congressional colleagues, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) seems to have heard that blast, as he sent a memo to congressional Republicans today acknowledging S&P’s calls for tax increases. Despite hearing those calls, however, Cantor is urging his colleagues to ignore them:

Over the next several months, there will be tremendous pressure on Congress to prove that S&P’s analysis of the inability of the political parties to bridge our differences is wrong. In short, there will be pressure to compromise on tax increases. We will be told that there is no other way forward. I respectfully disagree.

As we have said from the beginning of the year, the new Republican Majority was elected to change the way Washington does business. We were not elected to raise taxes or take more money out of the pockets of hard working families and business people. People understand Washington can’t keep spending money that it doesn’t have. They want to see less government – not more taxes.

Not only has Cantor chosen to ignore S&P, he has his facts wrong about the American people. Polling conducted by the New York Times and CBS News found last week that half of Americans did, in fact, support the inclusion of new revenues in the debt deal, and numerous polls have shown wide support for ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, a proposal that would reduce the federal deficit by $830 billion over the next decade. S&P today called the full expiration of the Bush tax cuts, which would save $4 trillion in the next decade, one of the major steps in restoring the nation’s AAA credit rating.

Given that S&P downgraded the U.S. in part because of political instability brought on by the GOP taking the economy hostage, Cantor urging his colleagues to ignore the agency’s warning likely won’t help the government’s attempts to avoid yet another downgrade in the future.

By: Travis Waldron, Think Progress, August 8, 2011

August 9, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Consumer Credit, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Democracy, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Standard and Poor's, Tax Increases, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Teaparty, Terrorism, Voters | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Cantor, Hedge Funds And Private Equity Firms Have Voice At Debt Ceiling Negotiations

As the debt-ceiling talks tick down to the Aug. 2 deadline, leading the opposition to any deal that includes higher taxes is the new tribune of rank-and-file House Republicans: Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.

Cantor’s pivotal role marks a rapid rise for the 48-year-old from the Richmond suburbs. It also represents a major coup for sectors of the investment community that Cantor has been striving to assist for years — on the same tax issues that have been at stake this month. And so far, he has prevailed on those issues.

Among the White House’s top demands for new revenue are changes in the tax code affecting hedge funds, private equity firms and real estate partnerships, which would raise an estimated $20 billion over 10 years.

For the past four years, Cantor has taken the lead in the House on fighting the same changes. He also has been one of the top recipients of contributions from those industries — last year, his two fundraising committees took in nearly $2 million from securities and investment firms and real estate companies, more than double the figure for Boehner (R-Ohio).

The hedge fund and private equity proposals were at the center of Cantor’s decision to exit talks with Vice President Biden this month. Since then, the prospect for any immediate tax increases has declined, with the focus turning to spending cuts and broader tax reform postponed.

This dismays Democrats, in part because Cantor has cast his defense of the investment tax treatment as part of the broader tea party-fueled anti-tax orthodoxy. To Democrats, Cantor embodies the convergence of tea party and business interests, which is often obscured by the movement’s anti-Wall Street rhetoric.

“This [anti-tax stance] isn’t all coming up from the grass roots,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). “This goes to some longtime cozy relationships between House Republicans and hedge fund managers in the financial sector.”

A spokesman for Cantor noted that he always has opposed raising the investment taxes in question but declined to comment further.

Cantor has said repeatedly that Obama and other Democrats are exaggerating the value of closing tax loopholes for financiers. Although Cantor opposes closing them to raise revenue, he says he is open to doing so as part of broader tax reform that lowers overall rates.

“So I know it makes for good politics to throw the shiny ball out there . . . that somehow Republicans are wed to that kind of policy to sustain these preferences, when all along, in our budget and in our plan, we have said we’re for tax reform, we have said we’re for bringing down rates on everybody,” he said on the House floor last week.

Jennifer Thompson, a political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and former Republican campaign operative, said Cantor’s longtime opposition to the investment tax provisions is a sincere reflection of his conservatively inclined district.

“Eric Cantor is a Virginian and you can’t separate too much from that fact,” she said. “His constituents are very much aligned with the no taxes and being back in the black and that’s what Eric Cantor represents.”

Lawmakers from both parties have cultivated the investment community, but Cantor, whose wife is a former Goldman Sachs vice president, has had particularly strong connections. In 2006, his campaign committee and his leadership PAC, established to support other Republicans, collected $682,500 from securities and investment and real estate firms, far more than any other Republican on the Ways and Means Committee and nearly double the take of then-Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.).

Cantor sprang into action in 2007, when Democrats proposed the two major tax code changes that have been at the center of the debt talks. He formed the Coalition for the Freedom of American Investors and Retirees and invited several dozen industry groups to the opening meeting.

One of the changes revolves around “carried interest” — the pay managers receive for gains they produce for investors — which is taxed at the long-term capital gains rate of 15 percent. Many tax experts argue that it should be taxed at the 35 percent rate for ordinary income because it is the managers’ compensation for services performed, not the result of their own capital investment.

Another proposal would tax profits from the sale of hedge funds as ordinary income.

Since 2007, Cantor has railed against the proposals, saying that the carried interest proposal would “raise taxes on innovation and opportunity in America” and harm “mom and pop” businesses.

Democrats dismiss that argument. “There is virtually no evidence that having these people pay ordinary income would inhibit business development,” said Rep. Sander M. Levin (Mich.).

The proposals passed the House, which was then under Democratic control, but fell short of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate last year.

Cantor’s support from the industries soared. Contributions to his two campaign committees from the real estate and securities and investment sectors jumped to $916,307 in 2008 and doubled to $1.85 million in 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The top 10 contributors to Cantor’s two committees in 2010 included three investment firms: employees at SAC Capitol Advisers, the hedge fund founded by Steven Cohen, gave $64,964; those at the private equity firm KKR gave $52,600; and those at Elliott Management, the hedge fund founded by Paul Singer, gave $44,198. The Blackstone Group, the hedge fund run by Steve Schwarzman, and its employees gave $26,100.

The main private equity and hedge fund trade groups have ramped up their lobbying amid the debt talks, spending $4.2 million this year.

By: Alec MacGillis, The Washington Post, July 25, 2011

July 27, 2011 Posted by | Businesses, Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Financial Institutions, GOP, Ideologues, Ideology, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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