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“Republicans Can Kiss Medicare Privatization Goodbye”: GOP Has A Vice Grip On The House, A Much More Tenuous Grasp Of The Senate

For the last four years Republicans have used their small power perch in the House of Representatives to prime members for the day when they’d control the whole government. During each of those years, House Republicans passed a budget calling for vast, contentious reforms to Medicare, Medicaid, and other support programs. Republicans proposed crushing domestic spending to pay for regressive tax cuts and higher military spending, and then went further by laying out specific structural reforms to popular government spending programs.

Today they control the Senate as well, which represents significant progress toward their goal of complete control over the government. But as Republicans inch toward that goal they’re also growing less committed to their ideas.

Senate Republicans will not include detailed plans to overhaul entitlement programs when they unveil their first budget in nearly a decade this week, according to GOP sources… The GOP budget would balance in 10 years, according to GOP lawmakers familiar with the document, but it will only propose savings to be achieved in Medicare and Medicaid, without spelling out specific reforms as Ryan and House Republicans did in recent budgets.

House Republicans can proceed as they have in years past and pass a controversial budget of their own, but based on this report, it looks like the Senate isn’t inclined to reciprocate. The simplest explanation for the commitment gap is that the GOP has a vice grip on the House, but a much more tenuous grasp of the Senate. Leaving Medicare privatization out of the budget is a simple way to make life easier for embattled GOP incumbents in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and elsewhere.

But that basic political calculation speaks to a much bigger structural impediment facing the kinds of policies conservative activists want to see. The farther and farther you zoom out from the gerrymandered districts most House Republicans represent, the more difficult it becomes to build political support for the House Republican budget. At the swing state level it’s very hard. At a national level it’s probably impossible.

Back in 2012, Republicans hoped to skip directly from controlling the House alone to controlling everything. If Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan had won, the party would’ve been well prepared to implement the kinds of policies Ryan had trained his foot soldiers in Congress to vote for. Instead, the slower process of expanding majorities has exposed basic weaknesses in their position.

In 2012, Grover Norquist could, with some authority, declare: “We are not auditioning for fearless leader. We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go. We want the Ryan budget…. We just need a president to sign this stuff.”

That line of thinking doesn’t hold up anymore. Can Republican presidential candidates run on privatizing Medicare if Senate candidates down the ballot can’t be seen supporting those kinds of reforms? Could they successfully spring a big entitlement devolution on the public in 2017 if they don’t campaign on it aggressively in 2016? George W. Bush tried that in 2005 and it blew up in his face. There’s no reason to think it wouldn’t play out the same way again.

 

By; Brian Beutler, The New Republic, March 16, 2015

March 18, 2015 Posted by | Federal Budget, House Republicans, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Policies That Are Simply Repugnant”: Beneath The Republican Wave, Voters Still Reject Right-Wing Ideology

In the wake of a “wave election” like the 2014 midterm, Americans will soon find out whether they actually want what they have wrought. The polls tell us that too many voters are weary of President Obama, including a significant number who actually voted for him two years ago. Polls likewise suggest that most voters today repose more trust in Republicans on such fundamental issues as economic growth, national security, and budget discipline. But do they want what Republicans in control will do now?

If they are faithful to their beliefs, the Republican leadership in Washington will now seek to advance a set of policies that are simply repugnant to the public – most notably in the Ryan budget that they have signed up to promote (except for the caucus of ultra-right Republicans who consider that wild plan too “moderate”).

House Speaker John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, the new Senate Majority Leader, will have to try to repeal Obamacare — but they will likely be pushed further than that. Proposals to reduce Medicare to vouchers, privatize Social Security, and gut the Federal agencies that protect the health and safety of ordinary citizens and the preservation of clean water and air will soon emerge. They will continue to let the nation’s infrastructure crumble. And they will attempt to shift the burden of taxation from the wealthy to the middle class, working families, and even the poor.

Attention to all these basic questions has been deflected, for the moment, by demagogic campaigns blaring the Ebola virus and Islamist militants at the border, as well as disaffection with the president. But that level of distraction will not last, once the Republicans begin to bring forward the kind of extremist legislation that their Tea Party base (and the billionaire lobby surrounding the Koch brothers) will demand.

When Americans look at real issues – even in this era of dissatisfaction and distraction – they display little interest in Republican-style solutions. The most obvious examples in this election are the referendum ballots on the minimum wage, which passed by two-to-one margins both in deep-red states such as Arkansas and in suddenly purplish places like Illinois, which elected a Republican governor. In Alaska, South Dakota, and Nebraska, where Republican candidates romped at every level,  voters passed state minimum wage increases by wide margins.

While GOP candidates in this year’s election set aside their “free-market” principles in the face of voter sentiment for higher wages – including Tom Cotton, who won a Senate seat in Arkansas – the Republican platform declared plainly in 2012 that the minimum wage “has seriously restricted progress in the private sector.” They aren’t simply against federal minimum wage increases, which they consistently oppose in Congress. They are against the very idea of a legal minimum wage, period.

In the president’s home state, where the election of a Republican governor is regarded as a political bellwether, the simultaneous rejection of right-wing ideology went beyond the minimum wage. Voters in Illinois overwhelmingly approved a “millionaire’s tax” – a special 3 percent state income tax surcharge on every resident earning more than a million dollars annually. Increasing taxes on the wealthy is, of course, anathema to the Republican right.

Even worse, from the Republican perspective, is that revenues from the millionaires tax will be dedicated to public education – another element of American democracy that the GOP constantly seeks to undermine.

Finally, the Illinois electorate approved a law mandating insurance coverage of prescription birth control, directly repudiating the Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court’s right-wing majority. Like the minimum wage and the millionaires tax, this referendum was advisory and not legally binding. Republicans mocked all three as obvious attempts to draw Democratic voters to the polls. And as a political ploy, if that is what those ballot questions represented, they did not succeed.

But taken with the minimum wage referenda in other, more conservative states, they appear to represent prevailing sentiment among the American people.

Today, Republicans have every reason to celebrate a smashing victory that had very little to do with ideas and policies – and everything to do with an unpopular president’s streak of bad luck. What will happen when the right begins to implement its extremist ideology remains to be seen.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, November 5, 2014

November 7, 2014 Posted by | Midterm Elections, Minimum Wage, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Can Dems Be Losing To These Idiots?”: The Most Anti-Idea Party In The History Of Parties

Back in February, I wrote a column arguing that the Democrats would need a strong, base-motivating message this year. By which I did not mean happy talk about jobs or the minimum wage. I meant the age-old motivator, fear—stoking fear in their base of what a Republican Senate would look like.

Well, here we are eight months later and less than a week out from the voting, and they haven’t done it. They’ve done a little of it. They push the “war on women” button, and a couple of others, like Social Security, which I discussed yesterday. But it just amazes me. They are running against a party that is as intellectually dishonest and bankrupt and just plain old willfully stupid as a political party can possibly be, and they have developed no language for communicating that to voters.

I mean it is truly admirable, in its perverse way, how anti-idea this party is. It has no economic plans. Did you see this Times article last week called “Economists See Limited Gains in G.O.P. Plan”? I trust that you understand the world of newspaper euphemism enough to know that “limited gains” basically means “jack shit.” It’s all tax cuts and fracking and the wildly overhyped (in jobs terms (PDF)) Keystone pipeline.

Republicans know the truth about these proposals deep down, or I think most do (I suppose some actually are that dumb). But they keep peddling them like a costermonger selling rotten fruit. Why? At least in part because they also know deep down that things like an infrastructure bank are what will really create jobs. I mean, it’s the very definition of creating jobs. But they can’t be for that, because it would be a vote for Obama, and Party Chairman Limbaugh would call them mean names.

Not a single constructive idea. Oh, they put out these things they call “ideas,” so they can sound like they have ideas, but they’re not meant for actual implementation. They’re just meant to exist so candidates can campaign saying, “See? I have ideas!”

And then, of course, there are a few actual ideas they do have, like the Ryan Budget, but those are deep-sixed at campaign time, because the Republicans know that it would indeed force seniors to pay more out-of-pocket for their Medicare—I mean, as far as Paul Ryan is concerned, that’s the point!—and they’d much sooner not have to answer such questions at election time.

So they’ve got nothing. Not on the economy. Not on immigration reform. Not on health care—ah, health care. Think back with me now. In the first half of this year, there were a lot of news stories that got pumped out through Speaker John Boehner’s office about the Republicans working on a plan to replace Obamacare. Oh, it’s coming along, he said in summer. And the media scribbled down stories: Lookout, Obama! Republicans coming with alternative proposal!

Well, try Googling it now. You won’t find a word. They have no intention of “replacing” Obamacare with anything, and they never did. It was just something they knew they had to say for a while to sound responsible in Beltway land. Oh and by the way, that celebrated House lawsuit against Obamacare—remember that one, announced back in June? It turns out they haven’t even filed it! How empty can you get? Even their smoke and mirrors is smoke and mirrors.

On foreign policy, which is to say on the question of a world that is clearly in a deep crisis that the United States must perforce play a central solve in trying to solve, Republicans again have nothing meaningful to say. And please, don’t tell me “but Rand Paul!” His speech laid out some decent notions as far as they went, but how can a person support the war against ISIS while opposing the arming of the Syrian rebels? That’s like supporting a crackdown on bank robbery while advocating that banks keep the safes unlocked. And Paul, probably, is the closest thing the party has to a responsible voice on foreign policy.

I could go on, but you follow me. The GOP has absolutely nothing of substance to say to the American people, on any topic. The Republicans’ great triumph of this election season is their gains among women, which have happened because (mirabile dictu!) they’ve managed to make it through the campaign (so far) without any of their candidates asserting that rape is the will of God. All these extremists who may be about to win Senate seats are winning them basically by saying opponent, opponent, opponent, Obama, Obama, Obama.

And the Democrats can’t beat these guys? This should not be hard. But it is hard. Why? There’s the “who votes” question. There’s money, especially the outside dark money I wrote about last week. And there’s the GOP skill at pushing the right fear buttons. And there’s the fact that the president happens to be, well, you know.

But the underlying reason is this: The Democrats don’t have the right words for attacking the Republicans’ core essence and putting Republican candidates on the defensive. When Republicans attack Democrats, the attacks quite often go right to the heart of Democratic essence, and philosophy. “My opponent is a big-government, big-spending, high-taxing” etc. That gets it all in there in a few short words. Every Republican says it, and the fact is that it’s typically at least sort of true, because Democrats do believe in government and spending and taxes.

As a result, in almost every American election, the Democrat is instantly put on the defensive, while the Republican is playing offense. Of course that’s going to be truer in a sixth-year election of an incumbent Democratic president. But it’s usually more true than not. The Democrat, who is for things, who wants to do things besides cut budgets and taxes, carries the burden of explaining why those things will be good.

In fairness to the Democrats, they’re a little boxed in, because they can’t respond to the above attack by saying, “Well, my opponent is a small-government, low-spending, low-taxing” etc., which wouldn’t sound like much of an attack to most people.

So what they have to do instead is find a way to talk about this policy bankruptcy and duplicity of the GOP that I describe above, the party’s essential anti-idea-ness, because it’s through that bankruptcy and duplicity that the Republican Party manages to conceal from voters its actual agenda, which is to slash regulations and taxes and let energy companies and megabanks and multinational corporations do whatever it is they wish to do. Most Americans may be for limited government and lower taxes, but they sure aren’t for that.

In my experience, Democrats seem kind of afraid to do this. Partly afraid of the Republicans, and partly afraid of the conglomerates (they seek campaign contributions from Citibank too). And maybe my suggested way isn’t the only way to do it.

But high-ranking Democrats collectively need to perform the following exercise. Sit down together in a room. Distribute index cards. Let each of them write down five adjectives they associate with the GOP, adjectives they not only believe themselves but hear from constituents. Because the crowd has wisdom that the individual does not, take those that get the most mentions and turn them into attack on the GOP’s essence that will put Republican candidates on the defensive. Maybe that’s when our campaigns will change.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 29, 2014

October 29, 2014 Posted by | Democrats, Midterm Elections, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Big Problem With Paul Ryan’s New Poverty Plan”: Accountability Is Only Required Of Poor People

Today, Rep. Paul Ryan is unveiling his latest idea to change the federal government’s poverty programs. For someone who is constantly saying how concerned he is about poverty, Ryan’s previous budgets have relied an awful lot on slashing benefits to poor people. But this time, he promises that his proposal doesn’t cut benefits, but merely reorganizes them. Some parts of the proposal might be worthwhile. But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that it’s still driven by the longstanding conservative desire to limit the help we give to the poor.

The centerpiece of the proposal is a consolidation of multiple separate programs into a single block grant that would be given to states; they could decide how to dispense the money, and the federal government’s job would essentially be reduced to oversight. States would choose whether or not to participate.

This sounds reasonable until you start to think about how it would play out. In practice, it’s likely that the states most eager to sign on would be precisely those that aren’t too happy about the ways the federal government provides benefits now. The devil would be in the details; what if a state decided to take its entire block grant and devote it to giving lectures to poor people on why they should get married? There could be a lot of needs going unmet while states implement their ideologically-driven visions of how poverty ought to be addressed.

Ryan’s plan assumes that the same Republican states that rejected the federal government’s offer to insure poor citizens through the expansion of Medicaid — in other words, who would rather see poor people go uninsured than get coverage from the government — are now going to be spectacularly committed and creative in working to help those same poor citizens through their time of need. Color me skeptical.

Ryan insists his plan would hold funding for these programs constant, not cut them. But it’s more complicated than that. Conservatives have long advocated block-granting of poverty programs, always with the justification that states will better deliver assistance to poor Americans if they aren’t hamstrung by requirements from Washington. But there’s little evidence that block granting accomplishes anything other than making it easier for these programs to be cut in future years or simply whittled away by inflation. As Jared Bernstein points out, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, which we used to call “welfare,” was block-granted in 1996 and has since then seen its value slashed by 30 percent in inflation-adjusted terms.

One of the real dangers of Ryan’s approach is that it would render the programs unable to deal with economic downturns unless Congress stepped in and supplied more money, which would be unlikely as long as Republicans control at least one house. So for instance, right now the food stamp program is an entitlement; if you meet eligibility standards you’re entitled to food stamps. The program can never run out of money in a given year. When the Great Recession hit, millions of Americans found themselves newly out of work and thus eligible for food stamps.

But under Ryan’s program, food stamps would be part of a block grant whose total amount is fixed. If and when another recession hit, states would be flooded with people who needed assistance, but they’d have the same limited sum of money they got at the beginning of the year. So they’d either have to turn people away or find a way to rob Peter to pay Paul, taking money out of other poverty programs to meet the increased need for food.

(There’s a brief discussion of inserting a provision into the plan to account for this kind of eventuality, but it seems neither particularly well thought-out nor nearly adequate to address what could be a major need.)

Ryan’s plan would also require “accountability” from those receiving assistance, in the form of time-limited benefits and work requirements (how you satisfy those requirements when people can’t find work is its own sad story). This too is a hallmark of the Republican approach to poverty programs, in which poor people have to jump through hoops to demonstrate their moral worth to get benefits. “Accountability” is something that is required of poor people, and only poor people. Farmers who get government subsidies don’t have to be “accountable.” Nor do government contractors who waste huge amounts of taxpayer money. Only the poor are forced to pee in a cup or account for their time or endure a hundred other petty humiliations, so we can be sure that if they get any government assistance they have proven themselves to be morally upstanding enough to deserve help.

That isn’t to say there’s nothing worthwhile in Ryan’s proposal. As he writes in a USA Today op-ed, “Right now, you have to go to a bunch of different offices to enroll in a bunch of different programs, often with different paperwork requirements and eligibility standards. Under the Opportunity Grant, you could go to one office and work with one person.” As anyone who has tried to apply for assistance knows, the paperwork requirements seem designed to hold down enrollment by making it as difficult as possible to apply. Streamlining that process would be terrific.

While this plan isn’t going to become law (at least not any time soon), it does serve a political purpose of showing that Republicans are thinking about poverty, and Ryan isn’t the only one in his party trying to revive “compassionate conservatism.” We can give him credit for addressing the issue. If only there was more reason to believe his ideas would do much to help Americans who are struggling.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; Published at The Plum Line, The Washington Post, July 24, 2014

July 27, 2014 Posted by | Paul Ryan, Poor and Low Income, Poverty | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Soft Bigotry Of Low Expectations”: The Right’s Pathetically Low Curve; How It Got A Pass On Race And Poverty

Rep. Paul Ryan, budget-slasher, releases a paternalistic poverty plan that has one good idea. Sen. Rand Paul, Civil Rights Act skeptic, speaks to the African-American National Urban League. The Koch brothers, backers of voter suppression efforts and union busting, give $25 million to the United Negro College Fund.

And each winds up hailed, even by some liberals, as taking a big step for the Republican Party when it comes to questions of race and poverty. Why do people settle for so little when it comes to the right trying to signal a change in its damaging approach to both?

Ryan’s one good idea is expanding the earned income tax credit, originally a Republican policy that Republicans turned against because Democrats embraced it too. The EITC is one big reason for the “47 percent” of people who pay no taxes that Ryan’s running mate railed against. Now Ryan says he wants to expand it, and some other programs – which doesn’t square with his infamous budget proposals of recent years.

So MSNBC’s Chuck Todd politely asked Ryan to reconcile his poverty plan with his budget plan – which cuts $5 trillion over 10 years, and takes 69 percent of the cuts from low- and moderate-income families – and he couldn’t do it.

“Does this mean you would change your budget proposal to reflect your new poverty plan?” Todd asked.

“No,” Ryan answered. “I didn’t want to get into a debate over the funding levels of the status quo. I want to talk about how to reform the status quo.”

Todd tried again. “So we should ignore your budget proposal for these programs?”

“No, Chuck, what I’m trying to tell you is, let’s not focus on dollars and cents for these programs,” Ryan replied, a little peevishly. “Let’s focus on reforming these programs so they work more effectively.”

Paul Ryan: a profile in equivocation.

Then there’s Rand Paul, continuing his “outreach” to African-Americans with his visit to the Urban League annual convention. Paul actually deserves credit for trying to tackle issues of criminal justice reform with Sen. Cory Booker. But in his Friday speech he also seemed to decry voter suppression laws, insisting his goal is to “help more people vote,” in the words of the Louisville Courier-Journal.

“We have to be together to defend the rights of all minorities,” Paul said.

But Paul flip-flops on this issue every chance he gets. “I don’t think there is objective evidence that we’re precluding African-Americans from voting any longer,” he said last year, after the Supreme Court curtailed the Voting Rights Act. But a few months later, he seemed to have second thoughts.

“Everybody’s gone completely crazy on this voter-ID thing,” Paul the New York Times. “I think it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people.”

That was big news. But then, confronted by his friends at Fox, he lurched into reverse. Paul assured Sean Hannity he was fully on board with the Republican voter ID strategy. “No, I agree there’s nothing wrong with it. To see Eric Holder you’ve got to show your driver’s license to get in the building. So I don’t really object to having some rules for how we vote. I show my driver’s license every time I vote in Kentucky … and I don’t feel like it is a great burden. So it’s funny that it got reported that way.”

“It’s funny it got reported that way,” when that’s what Paul said. Maybe that’s where Paul Ryan learned how to equivocate.

Then there are the Koch brothers. I said everything I needed to in this story. I’m sympathetic to the UNCF wanting more scholarship funding. But “Koch scholars”? A no-strings gift would be one thing, but scholarships Koch foundation appointees help award, based on a student’s affinity for “entrepreneurship” and the free market is something else entirely.

Liberals who applaud UNCF taking the money, and decry AFSCME’s parting ways with the group, insist it’s possible to separate the principle of education for black children from the Kochs’ funding of efforts to break unions in the public sector – which disproportionately employ their parents – and suppress their voting rights.

But it’s true that all of these moves are preferable to outright race baiting and demonizing black people and the poor, so liberals give them extra credit. Applauding minimal GOP gestures toward decency reflects the soft bigotry of low expectations once again.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, July 25, 2014

July 26, 2014 Posted by | Koch Brothers, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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