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“No, Really – I Mean It”: The Same-Old Same-Old Paul Ryan

One of the reasons that Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 is that the Republican agenda had been shattered. After eight years of Bush/Cheney, our economy crashed due to deregulation, while the federal deficit soared because of unfunded wars and tax cuts for the wealthy. Similarly, our foreign policy was a mess because, after invading Afghanistan, we pretty much ignored those who were actually responsible for 9/11 and went on to invade Iraq based on lies that were meant to gin up a “global war on terror.” We abandoned basic universal values with an embrace of things like torture and the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Americans were ready to abandon all of what the Republican Party stood for in the modern era.

That’s what led the GOP to become “post-policy.” Instead of fighting for what they wanted to do to address the challenges America faced, they decided to fight President Obama and obstruct anything he attempted to accomplish. The result is that their current presidential nominee is the one who best captured post-policy nihilism.

Obviously that approach doesn’t sit well with House Speaker Paul Ryan. As the guy who impressed a lot of the Washington press corp with his wonkishness, he is determined to take Republicans back to the the agenda that failed in the past. This week Ryan announced that starting next week, Congressional Republicans will release six policy papers that he calls their “Confident America” agenda.

As Steve Benen noted, you can hear Ryan saying, “No, really – I mean it,” in this quote:

“What you will see with these [releases] are detailed policy papers,” the Wisconsin Republican said. “We’re not talking about principles here. This is substance. It’s going to be a clear explanation of the policy changes that are needed in these areas.”

The six areas to be covered include: poverty, taxes, healthcare, national security, regulations and constitutional authority. In case anyone is tempted to think that they will be any different from the failed Republican policies of the past, there’s this:

Ryan declined to detail the contents of the policy papers, other than offer a few hints: anti-poverty proposals will transition existing programs from “a work replacement system to a work encouragement system”; deficit reduction proposals will not affect seniors in or near retirement; and a healthcare overhaul will involve repealing the Affordable Care Act despite recent member proposals that wouldn’t involve full repeal.

In other words, we’ll see social programs block-granted to states (with significant reductions in revenue), voodoo economics with tax cuts for the wealthy, privatization of entitlement programs and the elimination health care coverage for millions of people. Sound familiar? Of course, Ryan will dress all of that up with language that pretends it will actually help working Americans. But it will all be the same-old same-old that failed so miserably in the past.

Yesterday I described the dance that is currently going on between Ryan and Trump – mostly from the perspective of what Trump is looking for (submission to his enormous ego). This is what Ryan wants. It is the classic post-truth/post-policy battle that has been going on among Republicans over the last few years. To the extent that Ryan makes any headway in that dance, it would provide a contrast for the 2016 election. Do Americans want to return to the failed policies of the Bush/Cheney years? Or do they want to continue the policies that have worked during the Obama administration?

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 27, 2016

May 27, 2016 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Paul Ryan, Republicans | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“In Politics, Does Evidence Matter?”: We’ll Be Having A Lot Of Disagreements Over The Next Few Years

One of the lovely formulations in John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address expressed his hope that “a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion.” Kennedy was talking about the Cold War, but we could use a little of this in the partisan and ideological warfare that engulfs our nation’s capital.

And so let us pause at the beachhead established after the midterm elections by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). They have co-sponsored a bill that’s unlikely to get a lot of attention but deserves some — not because it will revolutionize politics but because it could, and should, encourage both sides to begin their arguments by asking the right questions.

The Murray-Ryan bill would create a 15-member commission to study, as they put it in a joint announcement, “how best to expand the use of data to evaluate the effectiveness of federal programs and tax expenditures.” The commission would also look into “how best to protect the privacy rights of people who interact with federal agencies and ensure confidentiality.”

Before you sigh, dismiss this as “just another commission,” and turn or click elsewhere, consider what Murray and Ryan are trying to do. Whatever your views, they’re saying, you should want government programs to achieve what they set out to do. And in this age of Big Data, there are more metrics than ever to allow you to have a clear sense of how well they are working.

Also, credit Murray and Ryan for this: They are looking not only at whether programs live up to their billing but also at whether the various tax breaks Congress has enacted — they are worth about $1 trillion a year — bring about the results their sponsors claim they will. If we are ever to reform the tax system, it would be useful to know which deductions, exemptions and credits are worth keeping.

The bipartisan duo — they worked together amicably on budget issues despite large disagreements — is not asking the commission to invent something out of whole cloth. On the contrary, evidence-based social policy is a hot idea at the moment.

Ron Haskins, my Brookings Institution colleague, has just co-authored a new book with Greg Margolis, Show Me the Evidence. It’s about what Haskins sees as the “terrific work” of the Obama administration in subjecting some 700 programs to careful testing based on the idea, “if you want the money, show me the evidence.”

Haskins, by the way, is a Republican with whom I’ve engaged in a long-standing (though friendly) argument over welfare reform. His interest here is not partisan but in having both sides pay more attention to what it takes to create “high-quality programs.”

“In politics, evidence is typically used as a weapon — mangled and used selectively in order to claim that it supports a politician’s predetermined position,” Haskins and Margolis write. “That is policy-based evidence, not evidence-based policy.”

The Haskins-Margolis effort comes in the wake of Moneyball for Government a book whose title is a play on Billy Beane’s approach to baseball. Edited by Jim Nussle and Peter Orszag, a pair of former budget directors of opposing parties, the book is part of a campaign by the group “Results for America” that is also looking to evaluate programs by their results. The basic idea is that government is better off focusing on “on outcomes and lives changed, rather than simply compliance and numbers served.”

No one, of course, should pretend that by marinating ourselves in data, we’ll render our philosophical and partisan differences obsolete. The major divide over how much government should do and which problems it should take on will persist. So will disagreements over the extent to which government should push back against rising inequality and the degree of regulation a capitalist economy requires.

But conservatives who care about more than just scoring points against government inefficiencies (both real and invented) should want taxpayer money spent in a sensible way. And progressives have more of an interest than anyone in proving that government can work effectively to solve the problems it sets out to deal with. It’s on those two propositions that Murray and Ryan have found common ground.

Argument is at the heart of democracy, so we shouldn’t fear that we’ll be having a lot of disagreements over the next few years. But dumb arguments are not good for anyone. Insisting that politicians base their claims on facts and evidence ought to be the least we expect of them.

 

By: E.J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post; The National Memo, December 8, 2014

December 9, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Politics, Progressives | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“This Is On Congress”: The Debt Ceiling Isn’t President Obama’s Problem, It’ The GOP’s Problem

Obama and Dems have vowed not to negotiate with the GOP over the debt ceiling. This morning, I asked what “not negotiating” would look like in the real world, and whether it’s even possible. But another question may be even more relevant: Do Republicans really have the leverage in the debt ceiling fight they think they have?

Some Republicans are now coming out and acknowledging that the GOP may not be in a strong position in the debt ceiling battle, after all. Here’s Newt Gingrich, on Morning Joe today, telling Republicans that a debt ceiling fight is a “loser” for them:

“They’ve got to find, in the House, a totally new strategy. Everybody’s now talking about, ‘Oh, here comes the debt ceiling.’ I think that’s, frankly, a dead loser. Because in the end, you know it’s gonna happen. The whole national financial system is going to come in to Washington and on television, and say: ‘Oh my God, this will be a gigantic heart attack, the entire economy of the world will collapse. You guys will be held responsible.’ And they’ll cave.”

And here’s the Wall Street Journal editorial page, warning against it in similar terms:

Mr. Obama will say Republicans are risking national default and recession, most of Wall Street will echo him, and the Treasury will maneuver to apply maximum political pressure — for example, by claiming it can’t pay Social Security benefits. We’ll support efforts to cut spending and reform entitlements, but the political result will be far worse if Republicans start this fight only to cave in the end. You can’t take a hostage you aren’t prepared to shoot.

This gets right to the heart of the matter, which is this: Are Republicans really prepared to let the country go into default and take the blame for crashing the economy? Sure, maybe some Tea Party Republicans are, but if GOP leaders aren’t, and the next compromise can be passed through the House with mostly Democratic votes, then all of a sudden the GOP position doesn’t look so strong, after all.

And so maybe the question of what “not negotiating” on the debt ceiling looks like has a simpler answer than you might think: The White House just treats this as Congress’ problem. You can see that framing already in this comment from the White House today (emphasis mine): ”It is quite clear that the economy will be better if Congress does its job and does what it routinely has done historically which is raise the debt limit without problem.”

It’s true that in one way, the White House will inevitably be negotiating on the debt ceiling, in the sense that it will be engaged in talks over the sequester, tax reform, and spending cuts that Republicans will insist must be resolved before they agree to raise it. But as Ezra Klein notes, this doesn’t necessarily mean the White House has to be held hostage over the debt ceiling, and it’s really quite possible that in the end, Republicans will opt to agree to a somewhat balanced deal rather than risk taking the blame for cratering the economy.

After all, John Boehner is already on record saying that not raising the debt ceiling will cause financial disaster. The pressure on Republicans not to let this happen will be intense. For the GOP, blowing up the economy will mean nothing short of political Armageddon. Can you name a single prominent Republican in any position of influence who is willing to say the GOP should allow the country to default, rather than accept a deal that doesn’t gut entitlements?

I understand the pessimism on the left that the White House will ultimately give away too much. But things seem to be shifting: Now even prominent Republicans are giving away the game, admitting that the GOP doesn’t have the leverage here that it claims to have.

This is on Congress. If Republicans are willing to force a choice between destroying the economy and gutting popular social programs, let them wallow in that winning message. If they’re willing to tank the economy to get what they want — after taking a shellacking in the election and proving so dysfunctional that they could not pass tax cuts for everyone but the ultra-wealthy without substantial Democratic help — then it’s on them. Just leave it there.

 

BY: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, January 4, 2012

 

January 7, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Debt Ceiling | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Real Moochers”: Obama Supporters Subsidize Romney Supporters With Their Taxes

In a video posted yesterday, Mitt Romney slammed the people who support President Obama, saying they are most likely “dependent on government.” Romney’s comments were recorded as he spoke at to an exclusive group of donors at a private meeting. Obama’s fans think of themselves as “victims,” he said. They believe they are “entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it.” He added, “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Many on both left and right have criticized Romney for his lack of empathy and rejection of the social contract. However, it’s easy to understand why Romney might view America this way. After all, Republicans supposedly represent those with more money, and Democrats supposedly represent those with less—sometimes much less. It’s plausible that Romney’s supporters would pick up the tab (through their taxes) for social programs that benefit Obama’s supporters. For the same reason, it’s plausible that Red states would subsidize Blue states, and Red counties would subsidize Blue counties where the poor people live.

But, although it’s plausible, it’s completely wrong. When Romney says his job isn’t to care about those who depend on government for healthcare, food, and housing, he’s talking about his base. Across America, Obama’s supporters actually subsidize Romney’s supporters.

Blue States Subsidize Red States

Studies show that states that elect Democrats contribute the most in federal taxes relative to what they consume in government services. Conversely, many states that elect Republicans contribute the least in taxes relative to the services they consume. This is true even though many Democratic states contain large, poor, urban populations of color.

Here’s the evidence: The 10 “Tax Producing States” listed below, left, contribute the most in tax revenues relative to the services they consume. They usually vote Democratic. The ten “Tax Dependent States” listed below consume the most in government services relative to the taxes they pay. And they usually vote Republican. (Each state’s name is shown in blue if voters there lean toward Obama, and red if they lean toward Romney, as per Nate Silver’s 538 blog.)

Red States vs. Blue States

More detailed analysis confirms this pattern. Even the libertarians at the journal Reason acknowledge this so-called “Red/Blue Paradox.”

Blue Counties Subsidize Red Counties

The same imbalance prevails within states, at the county level. The Blue counties contribute the most state taxes relative to the services they consume. The Red counties consume the most services relative to the taxes they pay. For example, a recent study documented the pattern in Washington state. King County, the solidly-Democratic county that surrounds Seattle, provides “nearly 42% of the state’s tax revenues, yet receives only 25% of the money spend from Washington’s general fund.” Conversely, five counties that require the most in services relative to the taxes they pay are largely Republican.

California shows a similar pattern. Republican Modoc and Tulare Counties consume the most in taxpayer-funded services from the state on a per-capita basis. Says San Francisco Chronicle writer Kevin Fagan: “The prevailing attitude among the right-wing ranchers and modern hippies who define Modoc County is of fierce self-reliance—but more people here than just about anywhere else depend on welfare checks of some kind to get by.” In contrast, famously liberal San Francisco and Marin Counties generate the most tax revenues for the state on a per capita basis.

Why Red States Need Blue State’s Tax Dollars

Why do people in Red states and counties resent government spending so passionately even as they need so much of it? The central problem is poverty. Many of the residents of these counties are poor. They are ill-prepared to make a decent living no matter how hard they tug on their own bootstraps. For example, in California’s conservative Modoc county only 12 percent of adults over 25 have a bachelor’s degree. Nearly 20 percent live below the poverty line. Many Modoc residents can’t afford to send their children to college. They need government programs to survive, let alone improve their financial outlook.

Without government support it’s hard to see a way to break the cycle of poverty and dependence. At least so far, the formula of small government, limited services, low investment, and low taxes that conservative states have implemented for themselves hasn’t helped their economies much. (See my earlier column.)

This situation would be funny if it weren’t so tragic. When a tax protester yelled “Keep your goddamn government hands off my Medicare” many scoffed at that one person’s ignorance. But most Americans who rail against taxes and the size of government are profoundly unaware that taxes they hate fund the programs they want and need. And they are unaware that the states and counties inhabited by “welfare queens” and “freeloading illegals” are actually sending them the money that keeps them fed, cared for, and educated.

Put It to a Vote

Let’s put the question of a tax rates to a national referendum and see what Americans really want. Allow voters in each county to decide whether to keep their state and federal taxes at their current level or to lower them. The catch is this: If you vote to lower your taxes then your county or state can’t take out any more money than it puts in. Perhaps this would make everyone happy. Red counties would get the lower taxes and vastly reduced services they want. And people in Blue counties (once they stop trying to give their money to people who don’t want to receive it) would keep more of their hard-earned cash, and enjoy vastly better-funded local services. Let’s give it a try.

 

By: David Brodwin, U. S. News and World Report, September 18, 2012

September 21, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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