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On Debt Impasse, GOP Full Of Contradictions

Sen. Mitch McConnell has a clever plan to resolve the federal debt impasse. Congressional Republicans would invite President Barack Obama to raise the debt ceiling on his own, and then they would excoriate him for doing so.

Hmm. Just a bit contradictory?

Meanwhile, the impasse arose because congressional Republicans thunder against government red ink, yet refuse to raise revenue by ending tax breaks that help Warren Buffett pay a lower tax rate than his receptionist (which he agrees is preposterous). Another contradiction? Of course.

McConnell’s plan – a pragmatic way to avert a catastrophic default – may be torpedoed by more extremist House Republicans, such as Michele Bachmann. They seem to fear that ending tax loopholes for billionaire fund managers would damage a fragile economy. Yet they seem to think that this invalid of an economy would be unperturbed by the risk of a default on our debts.

A contra- . . . yes, you got it!

What about this one? Republicans have historically been more focused on national security threats than Democrats. Yet what would do more damage to America’s national security than a default that might halt paychecks for American military families?

This game of “spot the contradiction” is just too easy with extremist Republicans; it’s like spotting snowflakes in a blizzard. Congressional Republicans have taken a sensible and important concern – alarm about long-term debt levels, a genuine problem – and turned it into a brittle and urgent ideology.

Politicians in both parties have historically been irresponsible with money, but President Bill Clinton changed that. He imposed a stunning fiscal discipline and set the United States on a course of budget surpluses, job growth and diminishing federal debt – until the Republicans took over in 2001.

In the Bush years, Republicans proved themselves reckless both on the spending side (unfunded wars and a prescription drug benefit) and on the revenue side (the Bush tax cuts). Their view then was, as former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill quoted Vice President Dick Cheney as saying, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.”

It may seem odd that Republicans were so blithe about debt in the Bush years, yet now insist on addressing the problem in the middle of a downturn – even though basic economics dictates that a downturn is the one time when red ink is advisable. Well, just another of those contradictions.

Then there’s the rise of health care costs, a huge burden on our economy. It’s pretty clear what doesn’t work: the existing, dysfunctional system. A forthcoming book on health care by Paul Starr, “Remedy and Reaction,” notes that in 1970 the United States spent a smaller fraction of income on health care than Denmark and the same share as Canada.

Today, in dollar terms, we spend 21/2 times the average per capita of other rich countries.

When congressional Republicans do talk about health care, they have one useful suggestion – tort reform – and it was foolish for Democrats (in bed with trial lawyers) to stiff them on it. But research suggests that curbing malpractice suits, while helpful, would reduce health costs only modestly.

Beyond that, the serious Republican idea is to dismantle Medicare in its present form. That would indeed reduce government spending but would increase private spending by even more, according to the CBO.

The Obama health care plan could have done better on cost control, but it does promote evidence-based medicine, so that less money is squandered on expensive procedures that don’t work. And the Independent Payment Advisory Board will recommend steps to curb excess spending in Medicare.

Yet congressional Republicans are trying to kill the Obama health plan. Yes, of course: another contradiction.

A final puzzle concerns not just the Republican Party but us as a nation. For all their flaws, congressional Republicans have been stunningly successful in framing the national debate. Instead of discussing a jobs program to deal with the worst downturn in 70 years, we’re debating spending cuts – and most voters say in polls that they’re against raising the debt ceiling. I fear that instead of banishing contradictions, we as a nation may be embracing them.

By: Nicholas Kristof, Columnist, The New York Times, Published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 14, 2011

July 18, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Health Care Costs, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Medicare, Middle Class, National Security, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Loopholes, Taxes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Getting to Crazy: The Culmination Of A GOP Process

There aren’t many positive aspects to the looming possibility of a U.S. debt default. But there has been, I have to admit, an element of comic relief — of the black-humor variety — in the spectacle of so many people who have been in denial suddenly waking up and smelling the crazy.

A number of commentators seem shocked at how unreasonable Republicans are being. “Has the G.O.P. gone insane?” they ask.

Why, yes, it has. But this isn’t something that just happened, it’s the culmination of a process that has been going on for decades. Anyone surprised by the extremism and irresponsibility now on display either hasn’t been paying attention, or has been deliberately turning a blind eye.

And may I say to those suddenly agonizing over the mental health of one of our two major parties: People like you bear some responsibility for that party’s current state.

Let’s talk for a minute about what Republican leaders are rejecting.

President Obama has made it clear that he’s willing to sign on to a deficit-reduction deal that consists overwhelmingly of spending cuts, and includes draconian cuts in key social programs, up to and including a rise in the age of Medicare eligibility. These are extraordinary concessions. As The Times’s Nate Silver points out, the president has offered deals that are far to the right of what the average American voter prefers — in fact, if anything, they’re a bit to the right of what the average Republican voter prefers!

Yet Republicans are saying no. Indeed, they’re threatening to force a U.S. default, and create an economic crisis, unless they get a completely one-sided deal. And this was entirely predictable.

First of all, the modern G.O.P. fundamentally does not accept the legitimacy of a Democratic presidency — any Democratic presidency. We saw that under Bill Clinton, and we saw it again as soon as Mr. Obama took office.

As a result, Republicans are automatically against anything the president wants, even if they have supported similar proposals in the past. Mitt Romney’s health care plan became a tyrannical assault on American freedom when put in place by that man in the White House. And the same logic applies to the proposed debt deals.

Put it this way: If a Republican president had managed to extract the kind of concessions on Medicare and Social Security that Mr. Obama is offering, it would have been considered a conservative triumph. But when those concessions come attached to minor increases in revenue, and more important, when they come from a Democratic president, the proposals become unacceptable plans to tax the life out of the U.S. economy.

Beyond that, voodoo economics has taken over the G.O.P.

Supply-side voodoo — which claims that tax cuts pay for themselves and/or that any rise in taxes would lead to economic collapse — has been a powerful force within the G.O.P. ever since Ronald Reagan embraced the concept of the Laffer curve. But the voodoo used to be contained. Reagan himself enacted significant tax increases, offsetting to a considerable extent his initial cuts.

And even the administration of former President George W. Bush refrained from making extravagant claims about tax-cut magic, at least in part for fear that making such claims would raise questions about the administration’s seriousness.

Recently, however, all restraint has vanished — indeed, it has been driven out of the party. Last year Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, asserted that the Bush tax cuts actually increased revenue — a claim completely at odds with the evidence — and also declared that this was “the view of virtually every Republican on that subject.” And it’s true: even Mr. Romney, widely regarded as the most sensible of the contenders for the 2012 presidential nomination, has endorsed the view that tax cuts can actually reduce the deficit.

Which brings me to the culpability of those who are only now facing up to the G.O.P.’s craziness.

Here’s the point: those within the G.O.P. who had misgivings about the embrace of tax-cut fanaticism might have made a stronger stand if there had been any indication that such fanaticism came with a price, if outsiders had been willing to condemn those who took irresponsible positions.

But there has been no such price. Mr. Bush squandered the surplus of the late Clinton years, yet prominent pundits pretend that the two parties share equal blame for our debt problems. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, proposed a supposed deficit-reduction plan that included huge tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, then received an award for fiscal responsibility.

So there has been no pressure on the G.O.P. to show any kind of responsibility, or even rationality — and sure enough, it has gone off the deep end. If you’re surprised, that means that you were part of the problem.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Writer, The New York Times, July 14, 2011

July 16, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, Freedom, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Health Care, Ideologues, Ideology, Journalists, Media, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Press, Pundits, Republicans, Right Wing, Taxes, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Economic Illiteracy: GOP Catering To Tea Party Ignorance On Debt Ceiling

What happens when you take the certainty of an ideologue, mix in an unhealthy dose of economic illiteracy, shameless demagoguery, and bring the combustible mix to a boil on the national stage? Quite possibly national default and a new recession.

The nature of this mix—and the corner into which GOP leaders have  painted themselves—is neatly illustrated in the latest poll numbers from The Washington Post and the Pew Research Center.

As the Post’s Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake note today:

The data suggests that those who identify as Republicans who are supportive of the tea party not only view themselves as far more educated than the average person on the current debt debate, but are also far more worried about the impact if the debt limit is increased.

More than eight in 10 tea party supporters (81 percent) said they understand “what would happen if the government does not raise the federal debt limit” — far more than the 55 percent of all respondents who said the same thing.

Three quarters of tea party supporters said that they were more concerned that raising the debt ceiling would “lead to higher government spending and make the national debt bigger,” while just 19 percent said they were more worried that “not raising the debt limit would force the government into default and hurt the nation’s economy.”

The message from the numbers? Tea party backers simply don’t believe that not raising the debt limit by Aug. 2 is all that big a deal — and they feel that way because they believe they understand the issue inside and out.

If a significant chunk of his House members don’t fear the consequences of a default, it’s very difficult for Boehner to make the case for the fierce urgency of now in the debt debate.

While the overwhelming number of economists—and even prominent non-economists like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, who have both stated that not raising the debt ceiling is unthinkable—say that failure to raise the debt ceiling could have a host of nasty consequences for the economy, like a global financial crisis, downgrading of the U.S. credit rating, and a second recession … the Tea Party crowd has anointed itself a group of experts who know better.

This is why Eric Cantor could with a (presumably) straight face argue yesterday that the GOP’s great concession in this debate was considering a debt ceiling increase at all. But sorry, our base is too wound up in its own misconceptions to allow us to do the slam dunk right thing for the county is the politics of cowardice. And it’s a brand that Cantor, who has referred to the debt ceiling crisis as a “leverage moment”—an opportunity for the GOP to extract concessions in order to be forced to do the right thing—has played with either cold cynicism or reckless stupidity.

Then there’s Boehner, who acknowledges the debt ceiling must be raised but cloaks it in the language of Obama getting “his” rise in the debt ceiling—as if keeping the country from an economic disaster is some parochial, partisan, hobby.

No less a publication than The Economist, hardly a hotbed of socialist foment, recently called the GOP position “economically illiterate and disgracefully cynical.” I think that’s about right.

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, July 12, 2011

July 12, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Democracy, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Tea Party | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Republican Preachers: Believing What You Know Ain’t True

In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain makes a stinging observation on the overtly religious. “Faith is when you believe something you know ain’t true.” This is a perfect description of the religious asylum that is now the Republican Party and the tortured gospel they are spreading all over the country. Virtually the entire barnyard of their presidential candidates are preaching a mix of born again religious revivalism and brutal 19th century industrial capitalism, that they “know ain’t even remotely true.”

By and large these are not genetically stupid people. But the political trash talking they feel obligated to serve up to the Tea Party Gods–Rush Limbaugh and the inquisitors at Fox–has degenerated into a competition of who can do the best impression of an absolute lunatic. Rick Perry is preaching virtual secession from the union, while holding prayer vigils for God to solve our problems. By what twisted logic does contempt for the federal government and even secession equate to patriotism? Someone please show me where the founding fathers advocated prayer as the vehicle for solving a national debt crisis?

Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty have flip flopped on virtually every position they ever espoused so that their insanity titers can match Michelle Bachmann’s. I’ve met with Jon Huntsman on more than one occasion regarding environmental issues in Utah. He was a reasonable moderate Republican as my state’s governor and appeared on TV ads three years ago exhorting the entire country to act on the climate crisis. He did that because he respected the warnings of our climate scientists. Now he says we can’t deal with global warming in a depressed economy. He knows perfectly well that those same scientists are warning that if we don’t act on it right now, we condemn our children to a brutal, dangerous and likely unlivable world. Newt Gingrich? He appeared on national TV ads with Nancy Pelosi saying that he agreed on the urgency to deal with the climate crisis. Now he looks like a Keystone Cop, tripping over his own feet in full speed reverse.

Sarah Palin? Oh, never mind. Rick Santorum? According to him the world’s scientists are all in on a conspiracy with Al Gore. Really Rick? That conspiracy would have to have started in 1824 when the greenhouse gas phenomenon was first described by the French scientist Joseph Fourier. It would have to have involved scores of scientists in the 1800s like John Tyndall of the Royal Institute of Great Britain, George Marsh, the founder of the Smithsonian Institute, and hundreds of scientists in the 1900s like 1903 Nobel Prize winner Svante Arrhenius. The conspiracy would now have to involve virtually the entire world’s scientific community. That makes sense to you, Rick? Really?

Almost as irritating is the chorus sung over and over by Eric Cantor, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and 99% of Republican Congressmen proudly declaring their Huckleberry Finn type faith that an unfettered free market is the only way to create to millions of new jobs. “Stop choking businesses with excessive regulations!” they chant. All businesses, all regulations. Really, Mitch? Never mind that it was precisely the elimination of, inadequacy of, or lack of enforcement of federal regulation that allowed Wall St. to drag the economy to the edge of the apocalypse and the very reason why there are no jobs. Never mind that it was poor regulation and free market cost cutting that brought us the Deep Water Horizon, Kalamazoo River, and now Yellowstone River oil spills. 1,800 oil spills have occurred in this country in the last five years totaling 16 million gallons of oil contaminating our land and water. And Mitt, you want regulators to get off the backs of the oil companies? Really?

Never mind that it was inadequate federal oversight and greedy, unfettered capitalism on steroids that allowed Massey Energy to commit manslaughter on 29 coal miners last year. Hey, Eric just what jobs are created by paring down our already bare bones federal food inspection? Will even more outbreaks of e-coli and salmonella in peanut butter, spinach, eggs, cantaloupe, sprouts and hamburger be counted as just collateral blessings from unleashing the free market? We certainly don’t want to pay for inspection of imported sea food from Japan because a little radioactivity in your tuna fish and scallops would probably just make it taste a little more crunchy.

Hey Newt, what jobs will be created by eviscerating the EPA and their enforcement of the Clean Air Act besides morticians and health care providers? Michelle, so you’re comfortable with eliminating money for bridge inspectors from the National Transportation Safety Board because the one that collapsed in your home state in 2007 only killed 13 people, and that’s a small price to pay for that warm, orgasmic tingle only the free market can give?

Lets certainly get regulators off the backs of the pharmaceutical industry because other than the millions of people who have been killed or injured by Phen-Fen, Vioxx, Avandia, Bextra, Cylert, Baycol, Palladone, Trasylol, Tylenol, Darvocet, Heparin and all the drugs now made with ingredients from China without any real standards or controls–i.e. most of them–there’s no reason to think an unregulated free market won’t work out just fine. Really, Sarah? So if defective and tainted drugs weed out the weak among us, that’s just the beauty of the Ayn Rand/Milton Friedman world view?

The entire middle class is struggling with unemployment, under employment, mounting debt, lost pensions, mortgages foreclosed or underwater, and you want to undo even the pathetic protections of the 2010 Consumer Protection Act and put Elizabeth Warren’s head on a platter? Really, Speaker Boehner? That’s the job elixir the middle class so desperately need?

As with most religions the Church of Unfettered Capitalism doesn’t have to make sense in order to thrive. But it does need preachers at the pulpit exhorting us to “believe in things that we know ain’t true” and the Republican Party can’t get enough of them. Huckleberry Finn would be so proud.

By: Brian Moench, CommonDreams.org, July 9, 2011

July 10, 2011 Posted by | Big Pharma, Capitalism, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Debt Ceiling, Democracy, Economy, Energy, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Tea Party, Unemployed, Wall Street, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“You Talkin’ To Me?”: Obama Calls The GOP’s Bluff

Here’s how to negotiate, GOP-style: Begin by making outrageous demands. Bully your opponents into giving you almost all of what you want. Rather than accept the deal, add a host of radical new demands. Observe casually that you wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to the hostage you’ve taken — the nation’s well-being. To the extent possible, look and sound like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.”

This strategy has worked so well for Republicans that it’s no surprise they’re using it again, this time in the unnecessary fight over what should be a routine increase in the debt ceiling. This time, however, something different is happening: President Obama seems to be channeling Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver.” At a news conference last Wednesday, Obama’s response to the GOP was, essentially, “You talkin’ to me?”

Obama’s in-your-face attitude seems to have thrown Republicans off their stride. They thought all they had to do was convince everyone they were crazy enough to force an unthinkable default on the nation’s financial obligations. Now they have to wonder if Obama is crazy enough to let them.

He probably isn’t. But the White House has kept up the pressure, asserting that the real deadline for action by Congress to avoid a default isn’t Aug. 2, as the Treasury Department said, but July 22; it takes time to write the needed legislation, officials explained. Tick, tick, tick . . .

“Malia and Sasha generally finish their homework a day ahead of time,” Obama said, gratuitously — but effectively — comparing his daughters’ industry with congressional sloth. “It is impressive. They don’t wait until the night before. They’re not pulling all-nighters. They’re 13 and 10. Congress can do the same thing. If you know you’ve got to do something, just do it.”

Obama’s pushing and poking are aimed at Republicans who control the House, and what he wants them to “just do” is abandon the uncompromising position that any debt-ceiling deal has to include big, painful budget cuts but not a single cent of new tax revenue.

The president demands that Congress also eliminate “tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires . . . oil companies and hedge fund managers and corporate jet owners.” Without these modest increases in revenue, he says, the government will have to cut funding for medical research, food inspection and the National Weather Service. Also, presumably, whatever federal support goes to puppies and apple pie.

In truth, some non-millionaires who never fly on corporate jets would also lose tax breaks under the president’s proposal. And it’s hard to believe that the first thing the government would do, if Congress provides no new revenue, is stop testing ground beef for bacteria. But Obama is right that the cuts would be draconian — and he’s right to insist that House Republicans face reality.

My view, for what it’s worth, is that now is the wrong time for spending cuts or tax increases — that it’s ridiculous to do anything that might slow the lumbering economic recovery, even marginally. But if there have to be cuts, then Republicans must be forced to move off the no-new-revenue line they have drawn in the sand.

Even if they move just an inch, the nation’s prospects become much brighter. This fight is that important.

Every independent, bipartisan, blue-ribbon panel that has looked at the deficit problem has reached the same conclusion: The gap between spending and revenue is much too big to be closed by budget cuts alone. With fervent conviction but zero evidence, Tea Party Republicans believe otherwise — and Establishment Republicans, who know better, are afraid to contradict them.

The difficult work of putting the federal government on sound fiscal footing can’t begin as long as a majority in the House rejects simple arithmetic on ideological grounds.

“I’ve met with the leaders multiple times,” Obama said, referring to House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “At a certain point, they need to do their job.” The job he means is welcoming fantasy-loving Republicans to the real world, and it has to be done.

The stakes are perilously high, but Obama does have a doomsday option: If all else fails, he can assert that a section of the 14th Amendment — “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law . . . shall not be questioned” — makes the debt limit unconstitutional and instructs him to take any measures necessary to avoid default.

Maybe that’s why, in this stare-down, the president doesn’t seem inclined to blink.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 4, 2011

July 5, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Corporations, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Middle East, Politics, President Obama, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Evasion, Tax Increases, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Tea Party, Voters, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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