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“When Conservatives Cry Wolf”: It’s More Like A Howl For Attention And A Public Relations Campaign

There were two important developments in the Republican Party last week. Let’s take stock.

First, after years of saying that yes, they would develop and introduce an alternative to Obamacare, three GOP senators finally presented one: Orrin Hatch, Tom Coburn, and Richard Burr unveiled what they call their PCARE plan (yes, it’s another one of those syrupy, dopey Washington acronyms that have become such a pestilential constant in our city). Conservatives exulted; “See? We can be serious about policy!” But as Jonathan Chait wrote, the thing was awfully general and sketchy, and as soon as people started asking serious questions about how this or that would work, “things began to fall apart.” As of now, the plan has evanesced into something that no one really takes seriously and everyone recognizes for what it is—a mere talking point, a general outline that exists solely so Republicans can go on teevee and say they have a plan.

The second development occurred several days ago when John Boehner promised big movement on the immigration front. We’ll do a bill this year, he said. No citizenship, no “amnesty,” but a process toward legal status. The Republicans were ready to cut a deal. Boehner posted his guidelines for reform on his web site Monday. By Friday, 4,500 comments had been posted, roughly 95 percent (or more!) of them negative (“Please tell the Jews that we don’t want their One World Order. If they like immigrants send them to Israel[sic],” wrote user “Barbara Cornett”). At the end of the week, Boehner suggested that immigration reform might not, after all, be on the docket this year. (Update: I softened this language from the original, at the suggestion of Greg Sargent, and he’s right about Boehner’s words, although I remain a hard-shell skeptic.)

Remember when we had a “budget deal” in December, and the government didn’t shut down again, and negotiations didn’t go until the eleventh-and-a-half hour? At that point, we actually had some people talking about the dawn of a new day in Washington. Maybe the Republicans really were changing their stripes.

When an alcoholic is destroying a family, it’s his drinking, self-denial and lies that are creating the problem. But a lot of the time, the family contributes, too. It’s in, perhaps, its own state of denial. “Oh it’s not so bad, really. Oh he’s under lots of pressure. I think he can stop, I really do. Maybe not just yet. As soon as he gets through this (intense time at work/family illness/etc.).”

This is what the larger Washington establishment has become: The enabling spouse of the drunk. “They’ll change. I just know it. This time, I really don’t see how they can’t. I mean, supporting immigration reform is so clearly in their own self-interest!” And certainly, it is. But laying off the sauce is certainly in the alcoholic’s self-interest, too. In that case, we all understand why the alkie doesn’t stop. It has nothing to do with self-interest. He knows his own self-interest. But he can’t change until his shame and disgust with himself is such that he’s ready to try.

With the GOP, it’s more complicated, because this isn’t just one person’s conscience. It’s an entire machinery of ideology-fueled delusion and rage. In fact, now that I think about it, our two examples above are perfect, because each describes the two huge problems with the GOP extremely well. They also explain why they’re not going to be putting down the bottle anytime soon.

The healthcare vignette provides us a textbook example of how the GOP has retreated into policy fantasyland. The specific policy point on which the plan began to unravel was as follows: Our GOP trio proposed, of course, a way to cover more Americans, because that’s pretty much the point, right? Right. Okay. Well, to cover more people, you have to spend money, which means you have to come up with a way to finance it.

Obviously, that’s a pretty thorny dilemma for Republicans. But the trio decided to finance their healthcare expansion by placing a cap on untaxed health benefits. That is, healthcare benefits are untaxed right now. So Hatch, Burr, and Coburn would have taxed benefits starting at about 65 percent of the average cost of a plan.

In other words—yes, a tax increase! An expert from the Kaiser Family Foundation told Talking Points Memo: “This would be a meaningful hit on people. It’s a big radical change. This is not an incremental thing, and it affects most people under 65.” So, they quietly changed it, raising the cap, which obviously means less revenue and less coverage.

You can imagine what those three would have said if Obama had put forward something like this. (He proposed a tax on “Cadillac plans,” but they affect only a small percentage of health consumers.) So why would they do the same? Because they live in policy fantasyland. This plan wasn’t intended as anything serious. It was created for public relation purposes only.

Immigration showcases the other malignant GOP tumor: The rage of the base. The base won’t permit immigration reform. It’s pretty much that simple. Boehner, of course, could stand up to that base, and he’d pass a bill, with mostly Democrats. But he just told us he’s not going there.

And so it goes. People often ask me, Tomasky, when do you think they’re going to change? The answer, of course, is it depends. If they somehow capture the White House in 2016, then there’s no incentive to change, and the future is pretty bleak. But if they lose to Hillary Clinton, and she wins reelection, then I do think that by 2024 it will finally be a different party. Is that supposed to be reassuring? That’s a decade away!

In the meantime, they will keep doing what they do. I really wish Washington would stop enabling them, but people are nervous about their nonprofit status, their funders and board members, and are simply devoted to the idea that both parties are responsible. They’re helping the drunk stay drunk. As my friend Bill B. says, from their comments and actions on healthcare and immigration, to contraception and most everything else, the Republicans keep telling us who they are. When are people going to believe them?


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 10, 2014

February 11, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Health Reform, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Height Of Absurdity”: What Republican Political Regression Looks Like

In July, when several far-right lawmakers started pushing a government-shutdown scheme in earnest, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who isn’t exactly a moderate, had the good sense to reject the idea as silly.

“I think it’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard of,” Burr said at the time. “Listen, as long as Barack Obama is president, the Affordable Care Act is going to be law.”

I mention this, of course, because the North Carolina Republicans’ reasoned, sensible approach to extortion politics has apparently disappeared over the last two months.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who dubbed Cruz’s threat to shut down the government over Obamacare the “dumbest idea” he’d ever heard, said Congress shouldn’t give Obama a debt ceiling increase without attaching strings, and the president “is going to pay some price for it, which is a benefit for the American people.”

“I hope [an Obamacare] delay is either part of the next [continuing resolution] or I hope it’s part of the debt ceiling,” Burr said.

There are a couple of important angles to this. First, if anyone was inclined to give Burr points for being an adult in July, now is the time to kick yourself. What he’s describing is a dangerous extortion scheme in which radicalized lawmakers threaten to hurt the country on purpose unless Americans start losing health care benefits.

The fact that Burr didn’t want to threaten a government shutdown was nice, but the fact that he does want to threaten the full faith and credit of the United States is madness — the severity of a sovereign debt crisis is vastly more serious than a shutdown.

Second, Politico mentioned in passing that the issue here is Congress “giving Obama a debt ceiling increase.” It’s time for the political world to stop thinking this way — raising the statutory debt limit isn’t “giving” the president anything.

Indeed, the political establishment’s understanding of this issue has become more than a little twisted. To see Republicans voting for a debt ceiling increase as some kind of concession is the height of absurdity. For those who rationalize threatening deliberate harm to the nation, and for much of the media, the idea is that we’re witnessing some sort of trade — Democrats get a debt-ceiling increase, Republicans get a laundry list of goodies they can’t pass through the legislative process.

The problem with this is that it’s not sane.

The legislative branch has the power of the purse, and appropriates government spending. When that spending is outpaced by federal receipts, it’s up to the executive branch to borrow the difference. Under a ridiculous quirk in the U.S. system, the executive is only allowed to borrow the difference after Congress, which spent more than it took in, gives its authority to do so.

This is called the debt ceiling. The Obama administration needs to borrow the funds to pay the bills for the stuff Congress already bought. There’s no real reason for the system to work this way — most modern democracies have no use for a statutory debt limit — but for now, this is the messy process we’ve created for ourselves.

The point, of course, is that when Congress raises the debt ceiling, as it must, it’s not doing the White House a favor. It’s not some kind of concession or gesture of goodwill. It’s not increasing the debt or giving Obama a blank check or spending any money. It’s just extending a legal authority to pay the bills lawmakers already racked up. Period. Full stop.

So when it comes to “negotiations,” for Congress to ask the White House, “What do we get for raising the debt limit” is insane because on a substantive level, the question is gibberish.


By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, September 26, 2013

September 29, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Government Shut Down, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Let’s Defund America”: The Tea Party’s Silliest Push Yet

Washington will be visited today by tea party members rallying to urge Congress to “Defund Obamacare.” Here’s the most interesting (and ironic) thing about the #DefundObamacare effort: Even if they convince congressional Republicans to hold hostage America’s budget, it won’t defund Obamacare – but by stopping funding to critical programs, it would defund America.

That’s right. A government shutdown would not shut down Obamacare. That’s what the Congressional Research Service reported when asked by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.  How is that possible, you ask? Because much of Obamacare is funded by multiyear and mandatory funding. Such funding is unaffected by the annual appropriations that the tea party wants House Speaker John Boehner to shut down. The state marketplaces (known more commonly as “exchanges”), the subsidies for low-income people to buy insurance, the individual mandate and all the new rules prohibiting insurance company discriminations and abuses (remember the days of pre-existing conditions)? They’ll all go forward even if the tea party succeeds in disrupting this year’s federal budget. That’s why Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., called the defund plan “the dumbest idea” he ever heard, and why Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called it “Shenanigans.”

Okay, so the entire goal of the tea party’s rally isn’t even possible.

But guess what?  Even the rationale for the tea party’s rally is mixed up. They claim the reason to “exempt America” from the Affordable Care Act is that Congress is already exempted from it and because large employers are as well. But, here’s the problem:  Neither point is factually true. Facts are stubborn things, as John Adams famously said.

First, the federal Office of Personnel Management ruled a few weeks ago that members of Congress and their staffs will, indeed, receive their insurance through the state Marketplaces. But, heck, tea party leaders apparently figure, people are already on their way to the rally and haven’t heard the OPM news, so let’s just leave them in the dark.  No need to actually correct the record. Why let facts get in the way of a good rally on the Mall?

And large employers? Ninety-six percent of large employers already offer health insurance because that’s what the market demands. Only 4 percent of large employers aren’t yet covered. But they didn’t get an “exemption” as the tea party contends; they simply got a temporary delay in having to provide insurance. Obama simply said he didn’t need to fight with a tiny handful of businesses if they honestly needed a few more months to get organized to offer insurance. So neither Congress nor big business is “exempt” from Obamacare.

In short, what are we looking at? The tea party’s rationale isn’t valid, and its goal isn’t even doable.

Nevertheless, whether or not Boehner will cave to the tea party remains very much in question. Boehner may indeed try to defund America. After all, his speakership rests in part on his ability to keep the extremists in his caucus supporting him – not always easy with Eric Cantor breathing down his neck.

What would happen if the tea party won and shut the government down? What impact would they have? Here are some examples of who would get hurt if Republicans defund America:

Recent veterans returning from Afghanistan who try to file new claims with the Veterans Administration. Although VA hospitals would presumably remain open in a shutdown, the staff who normally handle new claims wouldn’t be at their desks.

Parents sending their kids back to school, who want to know that federal food inspectors will be on the job making sure peanut butter and hamburgers are not contaminated.

College students who have questions about federal student loans, including vets using the GI Bill (which is often late or incorrect in its disbursement) – but who will find no staff at the Department of Education or VA desks to answer their questions.

Grandparents who are finally old enough for Social Security and want to file a new claim will find that there aren’t Social Security staff around to get them started. (But Americans should rest assured that existing Social Security will continue to be sent out on time – that is, unless the tea party also succeeds in convincing the GOP to push America into a default crisis at the beginning of October, when the credit card payments come due that Congress has racked up; then nobody knows what will happen.)

Americans of all ages who get hit by the flu season or an outbreak of whooping cough, because there won’t be Centers for Disease Control and Prevention staff at their desks to track and warn us about the flu or any other disease.

One tea party leader recently wrote in USA Today that she is “undeterred by the consequences.” Really?

No wonder only seven percent of Americans agree with the tea party’s idea of shutting down the government over Obamacare. Nobody wants to Defund America. Americans need a federal budget that creates jobs and grows the economy. But to whom are Speaker Boehner and his caucus listening? Americans might consider speaking up to counter the tea party’s megaphone. Business leaders who want a stable economy and predictable federal budget should remind Speaker Boehner that America’s budget is not the place for political stunts.


By: Carrie Woffard U. S. News and World Report, September 10, 2013

September 11, 2013 Posted by | Government Shut Down, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Scheduling Conflicts”: Senators Who Voted To Kill Background Checks Dodge Meetings With Gun Victims

Senators who voted against a bipartisan amendment expanding background checks for firearm purchased at gun shows and online refused this week to meet with families impacted by gun violence, citing scheduling conflicts or ignoring requests altogether.

The push, part of an effort organized by the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, comes as lawmakers who opposed the popular measure are facing pointed questions from angry constituents at town halls and seeing their approval ratings plummet. As a result, some are simply dodging the tough questions, particularly from families who have been most affected by gun violence:

– SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R-NH): Anne Lyczak — who lost her husband Richard in January 1994, when he was killed in a drive-by shooting in Portsmouth, N.H — “wrote a letter to Ayotte, inviting her to dinner at her house to talk about ways to prevent gun violence…. Ayotte’s office, however, turned down Lyczak’s request, saying the senator would keep it under consideration for the future. Ayotte’s office cited scheduling constraints” [Huffington Post, 5/3/2013]

– SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R-AZ): “Caren Teves, whose son was killed last summer in a mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., said she invited Flake to dinner to sit in her son’s empty chair. He replied with a hand-written note affirming his support for expanded gun control measures. “I am confused and would like an answer,” Teves said. “I would like Sen. Flake to look me in the eye and tell me why he ignored me.” Teves said Flake has ignored many emails and phone calls from her and her husband, but she remains determined. [KTAR, 5/2/2013]

– SEN. MARK PRYOR (D-AR): Neil Heslin — whose son was murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School — “said he invited Senator Pryor to a private dinner to speak about how legislation he wants to eliminate gun loopholes. However, Heslin told us he never heard back from Pryor, but plans to speak with him at a public event in Lonoke County Thursday.” [KATV, 5/2/2013]

– SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC): “Fran Lynch of North Carolina’s Religious Coalition for a Non-Violent Durham sent a letter to Burr, asking that he join her and her friends for a discussion on gun control… Burr’s scheduler replied that the senator was unavailable “due to previously scheduled events already on his schedule.” [Huffington Post, 5/2/2013]

– SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R-OH): “[A] Springfield, Ohio woman whose 27-year-old son was killed in last year’s Colorado movie theater rampage tried to arrange a dinner with Portman so she could express her frustration with his vote….A Portman aide told The Plain Dealer the senator’s schedule did not permit him to meet with Jackson this week, but he would consider it in the future.” [Plain Dealer, 5/2/2013]

– SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): Parents of a woman who was killed in the Colorado theatre shooting “said they initially invited both Cruz and Senator John Cornyn to their home for dinner…. Though Cornyn has not accepted their invitation, Cruz, who was in town on Wednesday for a North Side Chamber of Commerce event, met briefly with the couple at a local restaurant.” [KSAT, 5/1/2013]

The National Rifle Association has begun running radio ads thanking Ayotte for voting down background checks and the senator continues to justify her opposition to the amendment by falsely claiming that additional screenings would lead to the creation of a gun registry. The claim, widely debunked, has been advanced by the NRA.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the sponsor of the bipartisan measure, has pledged to slightly modify his amendment and bring it back for a vote in the Senate. Gun advocates remain hopeful that the growing public pressure could convince more than 60 senators to support the bill, forcing House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to put it up for a vote in House of Representatives. The House version of the Manchin compromise has more than 120 co-sponsors, including three Republicans.


By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, May 4, 2013

May 6, 2013 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Out Of Their Minds”: Senate Republicans Kill Veterans’ Jobs Bill

With a major national election just seven weeks away, senators would have to be out of their minds to reject a jobs bill for U.S. military veterans, right?

Apparently not.

Veterans won’t be getting a new, billion-dollar jobs program, not from this Senate. Republicans on Wednesday afternoon blocked a vote on the Veterans Job Corps Bill after Jeff Sessions of Alabama raised a point of order — he said the bill violated a cap on spending agreed to by Congress last year.

The bill’s sponsor, Patty Murray of Washington, said that shouldn’t matter, since the bill’s cost was fully offset by new revenues. She said Mr. Sessions and his party colleagues had been furiously generating excuses to oppose the bill, and were now exploiting a technicality to deny thousands of veterans a shot at getting hired as police officers, firefighters and parks workers, among other things.

The bill needed 60 votes to advance. The final tally was 58 to 40, and all 40 opponents of the proposal were Republicans.

As proposals go, this should have been a no-brainer. The Veterans Job Corps Act of 2012, sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), sought to lower unemployment among military veterans, giving grants to federal, state, and local agencies, which in turn would hire veterans — giving priority to those who served on or after 9/11 — to work as first-responders and in conservation jobs at national parks.

The bill was fully paid for, and entirely bipartisan — Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) had his own set of ideas for the bill, and Murray incorporated all of them into her legislation.

And yet, all but five Senate Republicans voted to kill it anyway, 48 days before a national election. Even Burr sided with his party to defeat the bill, and it was filled with his provisions.

A New York Times editorial added the other day, “It makes sense for the 99 percent of Americans to find new ways to pay their debt to the 1 percent who serve in uniform. To most people, Senator Murray’s bill would seem like one decent way to do that. But not if you’re one of those Republicans in Washington who thinks it’s more important in an election year to deny Democrats a success or accomplishment of any kind.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 19, 2012

September 20, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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