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“Meekly Accepting GOP’s Extreme Premise”: As Obama Moves To Replace Scalia, The Press Enables Radical GOP Obstruction

In the wake of Antonin Scalia’s sudden death, the Beltway press almost immediately began to seamlessly frame the unfolding debate about the Supreme Court justice’s replacement along the contours of Republican talking points. To do so, the press continued its habit of looking away from the GOP’s stunning record of institutional obstructionism since 2009.

Immediately after the news broke of Scalia’s passing, Republican Senate leaders, GOP presidential candidates, and conservative commentators declared that the job of picking Scalia’s replacement should be performed not by President Obama, but by his successor.

Quickly suggesting that Obama was picking a “fight” with Republicans by signaling he plans to fulfill his constitutional duty by nominating Scalia’s successor, the press aided Republicans by presenting this radical plan to obstruct the president as being an unsurprising move that Democrats would likely copy if put in the same position during an election year. (Given the rarity of the situation precedents aren’t perfect, but it’s worth mentioning that during the election year of 1988, Democrats actually did the opposite, confirming Justice Anthony Kennedy unanimously.)

The framework for much of the coverage regarding the GOP’s radical demand that Scalia’s seat sit empty for a year is this: It’s Obama’s behavior that’s setting off a showdown, and of course Republicans would categorically oppose anyone Obama nominates. But journalists often don’t explain why: Why is it obvious Obama would have zero chance of getting a Supreme Court nominee confirmed when every president in the past has been able to fill vacancies?

Is it unusual for a president to face a Supreme Court vacancy his final year in office? It is. But there’s nothing in the Constitution to suggest the rules change under the current circumstances. (Obama still has 50 weeks left in office.) It’s Republicans who have declared that all new rules must apply. And it’s the press that has rather meekly accepted the extreme premise.

Note that Republicans and their conservative fans in the media aren’t telling Obama that a particular nominee he selects to become the next justice is flawed and will likely be rejected after hearings are held. Republicans are telling Obama that there’s no point in even bothering to make a selection because the Senate will reject anyone the president names. Period. The seat will remain vacant for an entire year. That is the definition of radical. But the press still looks away.

For instance, Politico reported the president “was facing the choice between setting off a nasty brawl with Congress by seizing the best chance in a generation to flip the ideological balance of the Supreme Court, or simply punting.” The Politico headline claimed Obama had chosen to “fight” Republicans.

But Obama faces no real “choice,” and he isn’t the one who decided to pick a “fight.” As president of the United States he’s obligated to fill Supreme Court vacancies.

The New York Times stressed Scalia’s death had sparked “an immediate partisan battle,” suggesting the warfare ran both ways. But how, by doing what he’s supposed to do as president, is Obama sparking a “partisan battle”?

If Obama eventually decided to nominate an extremely liberal justice to replace the extremely conservative Scalia, then yes, that could accurately be described as sparking a “partisan battle.” But what could be “partisan” about the president simply doing what the Constitution instructs him to do?

Meanwhile, the Associated Press framed the unfolding story as Obama’s announcement being “a direct rebuttal to Senate Republicans,” without noting the Republican demand that a Supreme Court justice’s seat sit empty for at least a year is without recent precedent.

And BuzzFeed suggested Scalia’s vacancy is different because the justice was, “as one Republican put it, ‘a rock solid conservative seat,’ and given the divisions on the court conservatives will be adamant that one of their own replace him.”

But that’s not how Supreme Court nominations work. Obviously, while the Senate has the responsibility to advise and consent on nominees, the party out of power doesn’t get to make the selection. So why the media suggestion that Republicans deserve a say in this case, or else?

Again and again, the press has depicted Obama’s expected action in the wake of Scalia’s death as being highly controversial or partisan, when in fact it’s Republicans who are acting in erratic ways by categorically announcing they’ll refuse to even consider Obama’s next Supreme Court pick.

The sad part is this type of media acquiescence has become a hallmark of the Obama era. Republicans have routinely obliterated Beltway precedents when it comes to granting Obama the leeway that previous presidents were given by their partisan foes in Congress.

Yet each step along the way, journalists have pulled back, refusing to detail the seismic shift taking place. Instead, journalists have portrayed the obstruction as routine, and often blamed Obama for not being able to avoid the showdowns.

Today’s Republican Party is acting in a way that defies all historic norms. We saw it with the GOP’s gun law obstructionism, the sequester obstructionism, the government shutdown obstructionism, the Chuck Hagel confirmation obstructionism, the Susan Rice secretary of state obstructionism, the Hurricane Sandy emergency relief obstructionism, and the consistent obstruction of judicial nominees.

For years under Obama, Republicans have systematically destroyed Beltway norms and protocols, denying the president his traditional latitude to govern and make appointments. It’s sad that in Obama’s final year in office, the press is still turning a blind eye to the GOP’s radical nature.


By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, February 15, 2016

February 18, 2016 Posted by | GOP Obstructionism, Media, Press, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why Obama’s Budget Matters”: Differences Within The GOP That Could Be Finessed In The Past Will Have To Be Dealt With Openly

When President Obama releases his budget on Monday, the words “dead on arrival” will be widely incanted because they are part of a quasi-religious Beltway ritual.

This year, those words will be misleading.

No one expects Obama’s budget to be enacted as he proposes it. Republicans responded even to early outlines of his plan with a wall of opposition. But this time around is different because, paradoxically perhaps, the fact that Republicans control both the House and Senate makes Obama’s role more rather than less important.

For the last four years, the budget game was three-cornered. The president played alongside an often radically conservative Republican House and a Democratic Senate with views of its own. Now, Obama’s plan will be the main public alternative to whatever the Republicans decide to do.

Moreover, the Republicans are responsible for passing a budget through two houses, so differences within the GOP that could be finessed in the past will have to be dealt with openly.

The most obvious will be on whether to continue cuts in the defense budget prescribed under the so-called sequester enacted in 2011. GOP defense advocates want to raise Pentagon spending substantially, libertarians want to keep both domestic and military spending low, and many mainstream conservatives will try to cut domestic spending even more to accommodate defense increases. The third option will almost certainly be a non-starter, not only with the president — he has a veto and will insist that any cuts be balanced between the two sides of the ledger — but also with many in the GOP rank-and-file.

Obama has declined to offer premature concessions to the Republicans in his own proposal, which further clarifies the stakes. At the same time, he has made things trickier still for his opponents by putting many of his ideas in a form that Republicans have supported in the past. That’s true even of some of his tax proposals.

The president is aware that the most damaging alliance in Washington has been the one between establishment deficit hawks, who continue to think that long-term deficits are the premier economic issue before the country, and Republican conservatives, who have used the legitimate concerns of the deficit hawks to justify deep cuts in government programs without any offsetting increases in revenues.

The president will call this bluff by putting $1.8 trillion in long-term deficit reduction on the table. But most of it will come on the revenue side. His argument here is straightforward: The bulk of the deficit reduction in the deals reached since 2011 has come from cuts in discretionary spending — that is, almost everything except the big retirement programs — which is now at its lowest level as a share of GDP in decades.

The deficit hawks who aren’t part of the ideological assault on the public sector know that the basic functions of government have already been cut too much and that some new domestic spending, particularly for infrastructure, is essential. Obama calls the question: If additional revenues are unacceptable, how is deficit reduction supposed to be achieved? There can’t be any “grand bargains” until conservatives acknowledge upfront that tax increases of some kind need to be part of any long-term solution.

But the biggest challenge to Republicans may be whether they are willing to go along with Obama on ideas that are plainly in their wheelhouse. One small but significant hope: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) have been pushing the idea that we need more evidence-based policymaking, and Obama is joining their campaign. This sounds like a no-brainer, but much needs to be done to integrate concerns about what works and what doesn’t into our governing routines.

Republicans have been trying hard to tout their concern about income stagnation and an increasingly frozen class structure. Obama will be pushing for a new initiative, “The Upward Mobility Project,” to provide more flexibility to local officials in a set of government programs if they can show how their efforts will help people climb occupational and income ladders. Projects of this sort are exactly what we should be thinking about.

When budget fights become melodramas over whether the government will shut down or default, we lose track of what the exercise is supposed to be about. Obama’s opening bid ought to be the start of a back-to-basics debate — an argument that will extend into the 2016 campaign — over what we actually want government to do, and how we propose to pay for it.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post; The National Memo, February 2, 2015

February 3, 2015 Posted by | Federal Budget, GOP, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Austerity’s End Strengthens U.S. Recovery”: Speechless, Republicans Fall Back To Peddling More Nonsense

For a variety of partisan and ideological reasons, the right finds it necessary to believe austerity helps the economy. Conservatives, on Capitol Hill and off, remain wedded to the idea that taking capital out of the economy and weakening demand will lead to more growth, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

In an amusing twist, as the U.S. economic recovery gains strength, some on the right actually feel vindicated.

Grover Norquist would like Republicans to shut up about how bad the economy is, and instead take credit for the recovery.

The prominent anti-tax crusader hasn’t turned into a bullhorn for President Barack Obama’s economic policies; he still thinks they’re a drag on jobs and wages. But he’s also grown critical of his fellow Republicans for making poor strategic and messaging decisions on several key issues. Rather than tying the economic recovery to spending cuts ushered in by the sequester and to the continuation of 85 percent of the Bush tax cuts, he said, some in the party have insisted their own leaders fumbled those items.

It’s an interesting course correction for the right. In recent years, Republicans have said the combination of the Affordable Care Act, federal regulations, and higher taxes on the wealthy are crushing the economy. That argument obviously doesn’t make any sense in light of the strongest growth and job creation in over a decade.

So Norquist is suggesting his party flip the script: sure the economy is starting to soar, he says, but that’s only because deep spending cuts like “the sequester” gave the nation a big boost. Austerity took capital out of the system, some conservatives are now arguing, and just look at how great the results are!

It’s important to understand the degree to which Norquist has the story backwards. Recent developments haven’t bolstered conservative economic theories; they’ve done the opposite.

First, the national economy hasn’t improved as a result of spending cuts, but rather, the end of spending cuts.

For a long stretch, government spending cutbacks at all levels were a substantial drag on economic growth. Now, finally, relief is in sight. For the first time since 2011, local, state and federal governments are providing a small but significant increase to prosperity. […]

Across the nation, state and local governments, Democratic and Republican alike, are spending on projects that were stalled. Teachers, who were laid off in droves in recent years, are being hired again. Even federal spending in some sectors is on the rise.

The more the public sector starts to reinvest, as opposed to scaling back, the stronger economic growth becomes. This is the polar opposite of Republican economic theory, and yet, the laws of supply and demand don’t much care about politicians’ ideology.

Second, as Danny Vinik explained, “one of the big reasons that the economy kicked into gear in the latter half of this year is that the Murray-Ryan budget deal alleviated much of sequestration. Fiscal policy, finally, is largely not standing in the way of stronger growth.”

Paul Krugman last week seemed to anticipate Norquist’s argument, and preemptively destroyed it.

Suppose that for some reason you decided to start hitting yourself in the head, repeatedly, with a baseball bat. You’d feel pretty bad. Correspondingly, you’d probably feel a lot better if and when you finally stopped. What would that improvement in your condition tell you?

It certainly wouldn’t imply that hitting yourself in the head was a good idea. It would, however, be an indication that the pain you were experiencing wasn’t a reflection of anything fundamentally wrong with your health. Your head wasn’t hurting because you were sick; it was hurting because you kept hitting it with that baseball bat.

And now you understand the basics of what has been happening to several major economies, including the United States, over the past few years. In fact, you understand these basics better than many politicians and commentators. […]

[I]n America we haven’t had an official, declared policy of fiscal austerity – but we’ve nonetheless had plenty of austerity in practice, thanks to the federal sequester and sharp cuts by state and local governments. The good news is that we, too, seem to have stopped tightening the screws: Public spending isn’t surging, but at least it has stopped falling. And the economy is doing much better as a result.

I can appreciate the dilemma facing Norquist and his allies when it comes to explaining the sudden economic surge. Indeed, after the strongest economic growth in 11 years, Republicans greeted the news with total silence – literally.

And if I were in their shoes, I’d probably be speechless, too. But that’s no excuse for peddling nonsense – those hoping to credit austerity for a healthy recovery clearly have no idea what they’re talking about.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 2, 2014

January 4, 2015 Posted by | Austerity, Economic Recovery, Republicans | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Obama Recovery”: You Shouldn’t Conclude That Hitting Yourself In The Head Is Smart Because It Feels So Good When You Stop

Suppose that for some reason you decided to start hitting yourself in the head, repeatedly, with a baseball bat. You’d feel pretty bad. Correspondingly, you’d probably feel a lot better if and when you finally stopped. What would that improvement in your condition tell you?

It certainly wouldn’t imply that hitting yourself in the head was a good idea. It would, however, be an indication that the pain you were experiencing wasn’t a reflection of anything fundamentally wrong with your health. Your head wasn’t hurting because you were sick; it was hurting because you kept hitting it with that baseball bat.

And now you understand the basics of what has been happening to several major economies, including the United States, over the past few years. In fact, you understand these basics better than many politicians and commentators.

Let’s start with a tale from overseas: austerity policy in Britain. As you may know, back in 2010 Britain’s newly installed Conservative government declared that a sharp reduction in budget deficits was needed to keep Britain from turning into Greece. Over the next two years growth in the British economy, which had been recovering fairly well from the financial crisis, more or less stalled. In 2013, however, growth picked up again — and the British government claimed vindication for its policies. Was this claim justified?

No, not at all. What actually happened was that the Tories stopped tightening the screws — they didn’t reverse the austerity that had already occurred, but they effectively put a hold on further cuts. So they stopped hitting Britain in the head with that baseball bat. And sure enough, the nation started feeling better.

To claim that this bounceback vindicated austerity is silly. As Simon Wren-Lewis of Oxford University likes to point out, if rapid growth after a gratuitous slump counts as success, the government should just close down half the economy for a year; the next year’s growth would be fantastic. Or as I’d put it, you shouldn’t conclude that hitting yourself in the head is smart because it feels so good when you stop. Unfortunately, the silliness of the claim hasn’t prevented its widespread acceptance by what Mr. Wren-Lewis calls “mediamacro.”

Meanwhile, back in America we haven’t had an official, declared policy of fiscal austerity — but we’ve nonetheless had plenty of austerity in practice, thanks to the federal sequester and sharp cuts by state and local governments. The good news is that we, too, seem to have stopped tightening the screws: Public spending isn’t surging, but at least it has stopped falling. And the economy is doing much better as a result. We are finally starting to see the kind of growth, in employment and G.D.P., that we should have been seeing all along — and the public’s mood is rapidly improving.

What’s the important lesson from this late Obama bounce? Mainly, I’d suggest, that everything you’ve heard about President Obama’s economic policies is wrong.

You know the spiel: that the U.S. economy is ailing because Obamacare is a job-killer and the president is a redistributionist, that Mr. Obama’s anti-business speeches (he hasn’t actually made any, but never mind) have hurt entrepreneurs’ feelings, inducing them to take their marbles and go home.

This story line never made much sense. The truth is that the private sector has done surprisingly well under Mr. Obama, adding 6.7 million jobs since he took office, compared with just 3.1 million at this point under President George W. Bush. Corporate profits have soared, as have stock prices. What held us back was unprecedented public-sector austerity: At this point in the Bush years, government employment was up by 1.2 million, but under Mr. Obama it’s down by 600,000. Sure enough, now that this de facto austerity is easing, the economy is perking up.

And what this bounce tells you is that the alleged faults of Obamanomics had nothing to do with the pain we were feeling. We weren’t hurting because we were sick; we were hurting because we kept hitting ourselves with that baseball bat, and we’re feeling a lot better now that we’ve stopped.

Will this improvement in our condition continue? Britain’s government has declared its intention to pick up the baseball bat again — to engage in further austerity, which does not bode well. But here the picture looks brighter. Households are in much better financial shape than they were a few years ago; there’s probably still a lot of pent-up demand, especially for housing. And falling oil prices will be good for most of the country, although some regions — especially Texas — may take a hit.

So I’m fairly optimistic about 2015, and probably beyond, as long as we avoid any more self-inflicted damage. Let’s just leave that baseball bat lying on the ground, O.K.?


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 28, 2014

December 29, 2014 Posted by | Austerity, Economic Policy, Politicians | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fear Mongering, Because It’s All They Have Left”: The GOP Is Desperate To Win The Mid-Term Elections

They supported the sequester which cut funding research for the Center For Disease Control. Maybe we could have been closer to a cure for a certain virus. They refused to hold confirmation hearings for President Obama’s choice for Surgeon General because they don’t like the nominee, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy (big surprise! Could the NRA’s objection have something to do with it?) Gee, we could have used one right about now. They decided to not come back from their fall break (after a long summer vacation) to vote on going to war against ISIS and instead are campaigning for the mid-term elections.

And now certain members of the Republican party are running election ads attacking the President and Democrats for not doing more to stop both the Ebola virus and ISIS. To me, this is the height of hypocrisy.

One GOP campaigner, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) even went so far as to lie on Fox News and say at least 10 Islamist State fighters were captured at the southern border. This, after others concocted a false scheme where they say immigrant children were entering the country with the Ebola virus.

Either the GOP is very clever, playing on the fears of US citizens or they are desperate to win the mid-terms. But the truth is the President has shown leadership and taken bold action on both issues. He sent troops and medical aids and supplies to the Ebola afflicted African nations. He has appointed an Ebola Czar, Ron Klain, a veteran DC insider with experience in navigating the government bureaucracy and after calling on the President to appoint such a position, of course, the GOP are condemning his choice because they say he has no medical background.

My understanding is that this appointee will not be actually doctoring or healing those with the disease but coordinating and overseeing an effort to find a cure and assist health care workers and hospitals and tracking down those exposed to the virus.

The President and Secretary of State John Kerry have assembled an impressive coalition of many nations including Arab ones to help fight ISIS. Our bombing of ISIS headquarters in Syria and Iraq and most recently the Syrian Kurdish border city of Kobane have ISIS on the run. President Obama has said it will be a long fight but we must prevail.

The ironic thing is that even though Republican lawmakers support the President’s actions against ISIS, many have blamed him for their emergence and have constantly called him weak on foreign policy issues. I remember a time when it would have been deemed treasonous to not back our Commander in Chief in times of war.

Instead of constantly condemning, I would like to know what the GOP plans to do. Besides a travel ban which many experts believe would hamper efforts to contain the virus where it started, I have seen no solutions from Republicans to either of these crises.

I notice we hear little these days about Obamacare which was supposed to be the defining issue of these mid-terms. I guess that means those people who have it like it (and can keep it). My question is why don’t the Democrats turn it into an election year plus and call out the naysayers? Is it because it is too closely tied to the President? The GOP may be fear mongerers but the Dems are cowards.

It seems to me those seeking election should campaign positively and tell what they have done and will do for the American public rather than running away from the tough issues or blaming the other side for all the ills in the world. No wonder Congress has an approval rating of 16 percent. They talk about the President’s being low at 40 percent but he’s 24 percent higher than they are.

I get it. The campaign tactic is to deflect from the good economic news and the growing support for Obamacare. But I am hoping the electorate will reject the fear mongering and the voter suppression and the cowardly avoiding of the hot button issues and do research and vote for those who run clean campaigns and have proven themselves good public servants. There must be a handful of them out there. The only way to exact change is to throw out those who have no solutions but constantly complain. Negativity is not what we need right now, rather it is a coming together of hearts and minds to solve our problems in a constructive way regardless of party.


By: Joan E. Dowlin, The Huffington Post Blog, October 21, 2014

October 22, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Midterm Elections, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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