Thursday, November 29, 2012

Obama Lays Out a Plan Not a Compromise

     That's what a Washington Post headline says and it's dead on. So that's the first thing you notice about the President's proposals. The second thing is I really, really like his plan.

     The GOP claims his offer is a joke. However, I think the joke may be on them. This is a really, really good budget. You see how much I like it by the fact that I wrote really twice: it's that good.

      It's no surprise that they don't like it as it offers only $400 billion in cuts and $1.6 trillion in revenue. They think this is unfair. Yet is it more unfair than Mitt Romney who during the campaign had said he wouldn't accept a deal with a ratio of 9 to 1 in spending cuts to tax increases?

      Yet the GOP continues to offer the Romney budget-no tax increases for the rich just "closing loopholes." Making the code "flatter and fairer" is an oxymoron, of course. Flat means more regressive which is less fair.

      What they lose sight of is that Obama has already given them over $1 trillion in budget cuts. What's actually ironic is that the GOP is saying he's not serious for not proposing more spending cuts yet they themselves refuse to propose anything in terms of entitlement "reform" instead saying that since he has the mandate he can go first. So who is it that needs to get serious?

      Obama as he campaigned on-and nothing in this budget by the President is new, so the GOP shouldn't be so surprised-calls for the Bush tax cuts for the rich to expire. He also raises both the capital gains and dividends rate-booyah! Sorry, but I love this so much.

       He also calls for a return either of the payroll tax cut or the Making Work Pay credit in the 2009 stimulus. His Medicare cuts are all on the provider side and sound very promising. There is no mention of raising the retirement age. I still insist he played the GOP in the Summer of 2011. He never said he would raise the retirement age-it was just speculation that he allowed as part of negotiations. Yet all the Firedoglakers took that and ran with it screaming from the Heavens that he wanted to gut Medicare-as if what he wants to do and Paul Ryan are one and the same.

      For good measure he calls for an end to the debt ceiling altogether. I mean c'mon! This is a great budget. The GOP is disgusted. It also calls for $200 billion in new stimulus-did I not say this is a great budget? As Ezra Klein says, the real trouble is not that he won't get serious, but that he finally has. Remember how hard he used to try to get GOP support-all to no avail? He had insisted that the stimulus got a certain level of GOP support that he didn't want a straight party line vote. Where did it get him? The GOP tried to claim that it was he who refused to compromise, ignoring that from the start they had vowed to not support anything he proposed.

      Now they miss the old Obama:

      “How did it take them three weeks (and two days) to offer nothing but President Obama’s budget?” A GOP leadership aide asked me rhetorically."

       "We’re seeing two things here. One is that the negotiations aren’t going well. When one side begins leaking the other side’s proposals, that’s typically a bad sign. The other is that Republicans are frustrated at the new Obama they’re facing: The Obama who refuses to negotiate with himself.
That’s what you’re really seeing in this “proposal.” Previously, Obama’s pattern had been to offer plans that roughly tracked where he thought the compromise should end up. The White House’s belief was that by being solicitous in their policy proposals, they would win goodwill on the other side, and even if they didn’t, the media would side with them, realizing they’d sought compromise and been rebuffed. They don’t believe that anymore."

       As Klein says, the obvious question now is: what's the GOP's proposal? Notice how for all their talk about Obama not being serious, he's now offered a comprehensive plan whereas they've offered us nothing. Even the Medicare cuts they wanted, they refused to name. They wanted him to name them-so then he's got blood on his hands and Jane Hamsher and her little brood can inveigh against him to the Heavens.

       He's not falling for it this time. If they want to cut Medicare, let them come out and say so and where and how much. If they want to close deductions, which ones? Is it the mortgage rate interest deduction? Of course they don't want to say that as it would upset the middle class. Their strategy was always to let the President negotiate with himself and so he'd take all the hits for compromises he'd make-before they even opened their mouth.

      Yeah, they're disgusted. They're shocked in fact. They seemed to be no more ready for this than they were for November 6.  It was such a great strategy and it's over.

       "Although the White House offer seemed to startle Republicans, it contains little that would be unfamiliar to anyone following the president’s recent public statements. The exception was his proposal on the federal debt limit. GOP aides said Obama is seeking to permanently enact procedures that were temporarily adopted in the summer of 2011 that allow the White House to unilaterally increase the debt ceiling unless two-thirds of lawmakers disapprove."

       It was startling becasue they honestly thought this was still the Obama of 2009. As much as they sneered during campaign season that the old 'Yes We Can" Obama was gone, on some level they actually thought he hadn't changed, he hadn't learned anything.

        Now it's the GOP's turn to shine:

       "Democratic leaders, meanwhile, were triumphant after receiving similar briefings from Geithner and White House legislative liaison Rob Nabors. Top Democrats have for months insisted that an Obama victory would entitle them to demand far more in new taxes than Republicans have been willing to consider, to seek new measures to boost economic growth, and to avoid major cuts to entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare."

      “Democrats are on the same page,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). “The president has made his proposal; we need a proposal from them.”

Congressman Boehner: We're Still Waiting on You to Get Serious

     So all pretense of progress seems to be going now. Harry Reid the other day pointed out that very little has been accomplished. The GOP has done nothing except make an issue of showing daylight between them and Grover Norquist-as if that means anything by itself as E.J. Dionne points out.

      "Here’s the first lesson from the early skirmishing over ways to avoid the fiscal cliff: Democrats and liberals have to stop elevating Grover Norquist, the anti-government crusader who wields his no-tax pledge as a nuclear weapon, into the role of a political Superman."

      "Pretending that Norquist is more powerful than he is allows Republicans to win acclaim they haven’t earned yet. Without making a single substantive concession, they get loads of praise just for saying they are willing to ignore those old pledges to Grover. You can give him props as a public relations genius. Like Ke$ha or Beyonce, he is widely known in Washington by only one name. But kudos for an openness to compromise should be reserved for Republicans who put forward concrete proposals to raise taxes."

       Now Boehner is saying there's been no progress throughout the last two weeks. There most certainly hasn't been. But who's fault is that? As usual the Boehner is pointing fingers:

       "John Boehner shook things up today when he told reporters at a press conference that the fiscal talks are in trouble. He said (emphasis mine):
“Based on where we stand today, I would say two things. First, despite the claims that the president supports a balanced approach, the Democrats have yet to get serious about real spending cuts. And secondly, no substantive progress has been made in the talks between the White House and the House over the last two weeks.”

        As Greg Sargent points out, the Democrats have already agreed to plenty of spending cuts-the $40 billion in the 2011 budget agreement and then the $1 trillion in the debt ceiling deal. When is the GOP going to get serious about revenue? Until now all we've heard is talk about loopholes. If this is what we wanted we would have elected Mitt Romney. If Boehner wants to get serious he can start by offering up a plan that is in some way distinguishable than the failed Mitt Romney approach.

       Yet, he's right that Democrats aren't serious about spending cuts-this time around. For one thing, they've caved enough.

        "I continue to find this a curious interpretation of recent events. It’s unclear whether Boehner is saying Dems are not serious about spending cuts in the context of the current fiscal talks or that they have never gotten serious about them. But either way, it continues to get lost in the discussion that Democrats did agree to two rounds of major spending cuts during Obama’s first term — totaling well over $1 trillion — and got no tax hikes in return for them."

        The Democrats are making it clear that entitlement cuts-or any kind of entitlement reform-will not be part of any deal for the fiscal cliff. The tax cuts for 98% of Americans must be extended. Full stop.

        About this, the Dems are serious. There won't be any entitlement cuts until Boehner and his GOPers get serious about revenue. The key word is serious-not the Romney-Ryan plan that wasn't in any way serious.

        They're also serious about not again leaving the debt ceiling as a future Republican bargaining chip:

         "While House Press Secretary Jay Carney declined on Wednesday to say whether it was the administration's hope that debt ceiling be resolved in any grand-bargain deal that takes place during the lame-duck session."

          "But two top Democratic sources confirmed to The Huffington Post that the president, in private meetings and conversations, has made it abundantly clear to Boehner that he wants the debt ceiling raised as part of the current package being negotiated. In comments to reporters on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) echoed this position."

         "We are not idiots," A Senate Democratic aide said, speaking anonymously to (colorfully) outline the caucus' thinking. "And we are not going to sign a deal to get past a fiscal cliff and then turn around and have Republicans force us into another deal two months later."

          Not clear what Boehner is doing here. Sometimes it seems much of what the GOP says these days is just a pathetic attempt gain back all the face they've lost. Maybe Boehner is just nostalgic for the old days in 2011 right after the "shellacking" when the GOP thought it had a huge mandate and lots of clout.

           For him to say "My way of the highway" now is almost cute. When I say they're just trying to save face, I think of how they started discussing having all taxpayers with income above $400,000 pay all their taxes at the 35% rate-ending the lower marginal rates for them. This would have raised their rate to 41% but at least technically they could still claim it's only 35%.


           Maybe this same paper tiger syndrome was behind his boasting to President Obama that the debt ceiling is his leverage. In any case this has backfired as it was this that firmed Democratic resolve that getting the debt ceiling raised must be part of any deal on the fiscal cliff.



Liberal Groups Starting to Believe in Obama, Dems

      Many liberals of course have been very skeptical of Obama and the Dems for the last 3 years. During the debt ceiling farce last Summer, Obama skepticism hit its nadir. And even since the election there is still an undercurrent of libs who think he's going to sell us out any day now.

     There's wide suspicion that he plans to gut Medicare. I never have gotten how they are so sure of this, mind you. About the only thing explicit even hinted at was considering raising the retirement age during the height if the impasse during the debt ceiling talks. I admit that I too find this very unacceptable. However, he never quite said he would do this, it was simply speculated about in the press and he didn't deny the speculation.

     I just never got how this one episode led to this sense of certainty that he was ready to gut Medicare. I mean the idea of "gutting Medicare" was drawn too broadly. What Ryan and Romney wanted to do was gut Medicare. At most no Democrat had ever spoken about doing any more than considering raising the retirement age and means testing it. No doubt, these ideas are far from unproblematic. Means testing also isn't as a major secret of the success of both Medicare and Social Security was not making them means tested as the GOP at the time had advocated.

    Still this is far from gutting it entirely. Even so, it's not hard to see why there has been worry about Obama's resolve if you look at how he operated in the first two years. Steve Kornacki has a good piece over at Salon about the education of the President "How to make a President Better."

     "Without question, the lowest moment of Barack Obama’s first term came at the end of the summer of 2011, when the public registered its disgust with a totally needless debt ceiling drama that produced a last-minute compromise that seemed to enrage everyone. The fallout crashed Obama’s approval rating to the low-40s, the lowest mark of his presidency and a level dangerously close to where George H.W. Bush – the last one-term president – was in his reelection year."

      "That nadir, as Steve Benen pointed out Tuesday, was the product of a serious strategic blunder by the White House. In the lame duck session at the end of 2010, Obama’s team had opted not to push for the inclusion of a debt ceiling extension in the tax cut/stimulus package that the president and congressional Republicans agreed to. That allowed the GOP to manufacture a crisis as the August 2 deadline approached, threatening to allow a default unless Obama caved to their demands. Obama was hardly alone in taking a P.R. hit – the Republican Party’s image tanked in the wake of the fiasco too – but he emerged from it with his presidency imperiled."

     "He learned two lessons from the experience. The first was that meaningful compromise with Republicans in the 112th Congress was impossible. In the run-up to the August deadline, he had pursued a grand bargain with House Speaker John Boehner, an effort that grew out of Obama’s belief that voters had been signaling their desire for bipartisan compromise in the ’10 midterms. But the GOP’s staunch anti-tax absolutism left Boehner powerless to meet Obama halfway, with the Speaker walking away from talk just days before the deadline."

     "In the wake of this, Obama dedicated the rest of his first term to highlighting the basic philosophical differences that had kept him and Boehner apart and demonstrating how intent the GOP was on obstructing his economic agenda. For the first two-and-half-years of his term, Obama tried to play the role of compromiser-in-chief, straining to win over Republican support for his agenda. It was the debt ceiling showdown that convinced him once and for all that this was a dead end – that he’d have to take his case to the voters in 2012 and hope that they’d send a message that would jar Republicans from their obstinacy."

     "And there are some tentative signs that this month’s election is having that effect. It’s true that the headlines about Republicans suddenly breaking with Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge are overstated, but there is at least some recognition on the right that Obama has real leverage in the current “fiscal cliff” standoff. On Tuesday, for instance, one of the top Republicans in the House urged his colleagues to agree now to Obama’s call for an extension of the Bush rates for the bottom 98 percent of income-earners, and to fight the battle over the low rates on the rich after. Such talk of decoupling by a Republican would have been unthinkable before the election."

    I agree with most of this. However, I think that one point should be qualified. Why does the President now have so much leverage? I agree Obama messed up in 2010 by allowing the GOP to use the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip. However, I think that a large reason for his leverage is because he actually did a masterful job during the debt ceiling negotiations. I've never been as down on Obama as I tended to agree with Laurence O'Donnell-he actually played the GOP during those negotiations. If you want to understand this better read David Corn's "Showdown" sometime.

     Ignore Bob Woodward's recent tome accusing Obama of "failing to shape things to his will." The Democrats have leverage today because of the final shape of the debt ceiling deal: that's all due to the sequestered military cuts and the Bush tax cuts being up for expiration now. Anyways, other liberals more skeptical than me-even at the worst point in that 2011 farce I defended the President. It just seemed so wrong that the GOP was going to get to leave him holding the bad when they had deliberately sandbagged him and, again, like Laurence I did think he did better in that debt ceiling deal than was realized at the time; as it should be, if it were obvious the GOP wouldn't have gone along-are finally beginning to believe again, albeit guardedly.

    Which is fine. The big liberal groups should be watching to make sure this goes right. However, they're increasingly liking what they see:

     "Progressive activists afraid that President Obama would sell them out in budget negotiations with the GOP are breathing a little easier this week after some reassuring words from top Democrats.
An array of liberal and labor groups are currently running pressure campaigns out of longstanding concerns that the White House will cede too much ground in a deficit deal. And while they aren’t planning on disarming anytime soon, several activists told TPM that they’re cautiously optimistic that Democrats are heading into battle with the right goals and the leverage to obtain them."

     “I think most people are buoyed by the fact the president seems intent on sticking with his demand that taxes go up on the top 2 percent even if it means going over the cliff,” Bob Borosage, president of the Institute for America’s Future, told TPM. “He’s been stronger than I might have anticipated.”
Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress haven’t gone wobbly either.

       "Liberals were surprised to find themselves cheering on Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) this week as he argued before the Center for American Progress that Democrats should resist benefit cuts to Medicare and Medicaid and keep Social Security out of the negotiations entirely. Durbin, the majority whip, is a leading Democratic supporter of the Simpson-Bowles debt commission, which liberal groups denounced as a nightmare solution to the long-term deficit, so his words carry special weight."

      “It’s a weird thing that Democratic leaders like Dick Durbin and Chris Van Hollen appear to be embracing the ideas that progressives are pushing,” Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, told TPM. “I read Dick Durbin’s speech and it’s actually beautiful.”
Borosage also took note of Durbin’s rhetoric, calling him a “stalking horse for the president” that could signal good news.

     "Labor and progressive leaders came away from a private meeting with White House officials Tuesday encouraged as well, according to an attendee who spoke with the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent. In particular, hopes are rising that the president is willing to go over the so-called fiscal cliff on Jan. 1 in order to force Republicans to pass a bill that preserves the Bush tax cuts for the bottom 98 percent of income earners. Combine that with loud grumbling among some Republicans about the right’s resistance to tax increases and the outlook is looking even better on the revenue side.:

     The one thing the progressive groups do worry about is that the Dems could panic if no deal is reached and the market tanks on the news. So they will continue to apply pressure but are also increasingly optimistic.

      P.S. As far as entitlements go, the Dems are right to say that this should not be part of this deal. The GOP may cry foul-that they deserve some compromises, but for one thing, we already had lots of budget cuts in both the 2011 debt ceiling deal-$1.5 trillion-and the 2011 budget deal-$61 billion in cuts.

     As far as entitlements are concerned, as Obama, Durbin, and other Democrats have pointed out, Social Security doesn't contribute to the deficit. After ObamaCare there is less appetite to cut into Medicaid either-as cuts would discourage states from paying into Medicaid for ObamaCare.

    With Medicare the GOP also creates the wrong impression that Medicare is a drive of rising costs when in fact the trouble is rising healthcare costs more generally which Medicare can do a good job of restraining.

     In fact, ObamaCare will cut into costs considerably-perhaps a great deal-so as Jonathan Cohn is concerned we should wait first to see how much these cuts are once the program goes into effect-by 2014 it will be fully operational.

      If anything else is wanted sooner then one big help would be to allow Medicare to negotiate with drug companies.



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Obama Administration Gets Behind Senator Reid's Filibuster Reform

     I've said this more than once, but lately I've felt like I've died and gone to Democrat Heaven. It started at the DNC convention which was so incisive in calling out Mitt Romney and clearly defining the party's support for our President.

     It's carried through to the post-election glow where we see the Democrats standing together shoulder to shoulder and insisting that elections have consequences and that the GOP must not stand in the people's way.

     It's been remarked more than once that the Democrats have so much discipline and cohesion you'd think there were: Republicans, or at least the way Republicans used to be.

     Now the President's team has clearly voiced support for the efforts of Senate Majority Harry Reid's plan to reform the obstructive Senate filibuster process that has grown so unwieldy.

     "Jumping squarely into the white-hot debate currently being waged in the Senate, the White House on Wednesday said it supports Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's efforts to change the rules of the upper chamber."

       "The President has said many times that the American people are demanding action," White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said in a statement to The Huffington Post. "They want to see progress, not partisan delay games. That hasn't changed, and the President supports Majority Leader Reid's efforts to reform the filibuster process."

       "Over the past few years important pieces of legislation like the DREAM Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act, and the American Jobs Act weren't even allowed to be debated, and judicial nominations and key members of the administration are routinely forced to wait months for an up-or-down vote," Pfeiffer added. "The American people deserve a United States Senate that puts them first, instead of partisan delay."

      This is new for the White House. Obama has never been this explicit in favor of filibuster reform before.

      "This endorsement of Reid's effort to reform the filibuster is the firmest White House statement to date on the matter. During last year's State of the Union address, President Barack Obama urged lawmakers to give judicial and "public service" nominees an up-or-down vote. But when Reid was contemplating a set of rules changes before the last Congress, the administration was largely ambivalent with its support and even less so with its engagement."

      Back in the old days when Democrats were Democrats-that is timid losers I dreamed of Democrats that would be like this. The next 4 years are their's for the taking and their's to lose.

      P.S. They really were timid. It wasn't until this cycle that they suddenly saw abortion as an issue that actually helps them electorally. Precviously it was kind of like a family secret that's too shameful to talk about in public.


Tom Cole Again Calls on GOP to Take Obama Tax Deal

     This suggests there could be considerable chink in the armor-Cole usually follows GOP marching orders-he's not known as a moderate or "maverick", normally he sticks with GOP orthodoxy.

      Yet here he goes again:

      "Late Wednesday morning, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) reiterated his call for Republicans to accept President Obama's offer to extend middle income tax cuts in the near-term, and then fight against tax hikes in a broader package."

      "In my view, we all agree that we're not going to raise taxes on people who make less than $250,000," he said on camera, as caught by MSNBC. "We should take them out of this discussion right now and continue to fight against any rate increase, continue to try to work honestly for a much bigger deal."

      So he acknowledges that the tax cuts are Obama's leverage. Boehner says he doesn't agree with Cole.

       "House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) signaled no new willingness to bend on raising taxes for the rich Wednesday after one of his more respected GOP colleagues suggested the party should take President Barack Obama's offer to extend Bush-era tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans."

        "Rep. Tom Cole, a five-term Oklahoma Republican, told others in his party Tuesday that even though he does not want to let the top federal income tax rate rise back to the Clinton-era level of 39.6 percent, his party should take that deal for the time being. He stood by that assessment Wednesday, telling reporters the GOP would be wise to act on his idea "soon."

         "Asked if his proposal would pass the House if it came up for a vote, Cole replied, "My opinion is yes." He said "a lot" of his GOP colleagues agree with his approach. Still, he noted his influence only goes so far. "I'm not the chief whip. I'm just a deputy whip."

     Boehner however claims he won't budge:

      "I told Tom earlier in our conference meeting that I disagreed with him," the speaker told reporters Wednesday. "He's a wonderful friend of mine and a great supporter of mine, but raising taxes on the so-called top 2 percent -- half of those taxpayers are small-business owners that pay their taxes through their personal income tax filing every year. The goal here is to grow the economy and control spending. You're not going to grow the economy if you raise tax rates on the top two [percent]. It'll hurt small businesses; it'll hurt our economy."

      Still, it's notable that Cole has supporters on this: the question is how many? It's at least a chink in the armor-what if many follow him over Boehner's objections?

       Brian Beutler over at TalkingPointsMemo thinks this may be the writing on the wall and that taking Obama's deal may make tactical sense-Bill Kristol has also urged them to take it:

       "If you were enjoying your evening last night, you may have missed the day’s biggest development in the fight over the Bush tax cuts. Specifically, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), an influential conservative, is privately and publicly urging House Republicans to do what President Obama wants and extend all of the Bush tax cuts except for those benefiting top earners alone."

        "I’ve argued that the move makes tactical sense for Republicans, and that’s more or less what Cole’s telling his colleagues: The top income tax cuts are Obama’s leverage. Take them out of the equation and the mix of remaining leverage points (the sequester, appropriations, the debt limit) actually favors Republicans."

         "Maybe Cole’s argument will prevail, or maybe it won’t. But here’s an indication that it has appeal among Republicans: a couple of veteran GOP communicators — Ari Fleischer and Brad Dayspring — are already providing House Republicans free framing advice in the event they decide to go this route. Even if the tax cuts for top earners expire, they note, Bush tax rates for 98 percent of Americans will be made permanent. Huge victory for Bush and Republicanism."

         "That’s true as far as it goes. It’s also consolation — the Bush tax cuts for high earners constitute about 20 percent of the Bush tax cuts’ overall revenue cost. Hardly an unalloyed victory for the GOP."

         "So far these are the only two Republican flacks framing the issue this way. And it’s worth keeping in mind that both of them, in different capacities, worked for George W. Bush, whose legislative legacy is at stake. But Dayspring is best known as Eric Cantor’s former adviser and communications director, and currently advises Cantor’s SuperPAC — not exactly someone you’d expect to clear the runway for Obama’s tax plan, unless he knew Republicans were preparing for a (possible) emergency landing."

         There's some truth in this: why not see it as a victory to keep the tax cuts for all other income groups. Isn't that a kind of backhanded affirmation as no Democrats are actually calling to do away with them all. Yet, as Beutler points out that 2% of tax payers is also 20% of revenue lost. That the GOP has put up so much resistance to letting these tax cuts expire show  something about their attitude to income distribution.



Obama Bringing Fiscal Cliff Debate to the People

     This is what he was criticized for not doing enough of in 2009 after the campaign was over. He had that huge network of Obama supporters but after the election he turned it off. This time the plan is to continue to reach out to supporters post-election.
     " It helped get him re-elected, so President Barack Obama is again employing campaign-style tactics to increase pressure on congressional Republicans to compromise to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff."
     "Failure to reach a deal means tax increases and deep spending cuts take effect in five weeks, a scenario analysts fear could push the country back into recession."
     "While aides on both sides have been talking, no follow-up meeting between Obama and congressional leaders has been scheduled after their initial post-election discussion on November 16.
Instead, Obama met Tuesday with small business owners, the first in a series of events this week intended to highlight his push for raising taxes on the wealthiest 2% of Americans while maintaining current rates for everyone else."
       The point is to keep supporters mobilized for achieving policy objectives as well-not just for campaigns. That's what he meant when he said you can't reform Washington from the inside-the GOP had interpreted this as an admission of failure.
       So Obama for America-the name of the campaign will live on.
       "Last week, Obama's former campaign manager, Jim Messina, said the president's re-election campaign and its grass-roots resources will "live on," most likely as a tool to promote the president's second-term policies."
      "Obama for America, the name of the campaign, already released an e-mail to its distribution list in an attempt to educate readers on the president's fiscal cliff argument and to rally supporters behind him."
       Of course, the GOP is griping:
        "Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky complained that Obama was "back on the campaign trail" instead of "sitting down with lawmakers of both parties and working out an agreement."
        "We already know the president is a very good campaigner," McConnell said on the Senate floor. " ... What we don't know is whether he has the leadership qualities necessary to lead his party to a bipartisan agreement on big issues like we currently face."
         However, as Jay Carney points out:
         "This topic was perhaps the most debated, the most discussed, the most analyzed, for a year," Carney told reporters on Tuesday, adding that the election result showed Americans supported Obama's approach."
          "To suggest that we should, now that the election's over, stop talking to the American people about these vital issues is, I think, bad advice," Carney said.

           It is and it's good to see the Obama team gets that. I'll say it again: this is a very good time to be a Democrat. The Democrats have the people's support and they understand this. As long as they have this they cannot lose.

Nice Bus Crash in Hempstead! There But For the Grace of God...

     You may have heard about Nice Bus' big crash on Fulton avenue. It was mentioned this morning on NBC among other networks.

       "Police say a 6-year-old boy is dead and several others were injured after a Nassau bus slammed into a home in Hempstead last night."

       "According to police, the Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE) bus was traveling westbound on Fulton Avenue, swerved to avoid a pedestrian and hit a home at 505 Fulton Ave. at around 9:30 p.m.

       "The bus struck the pedestrian before crashing into the house, pinning the young boy, police say. The pedestrian is expected to be OK."

       "According to police, the 6-year-old boy who was killed and his 7-year-old brother were sleeping in a front bedroom. The 7-year-old suffered minor injuries."

       "Numerous fire departments responded to the scene and a triage center was set up in a Burger King parking lot to handle other injuries from the crash.

      "Officials say a total of 20 people were on the bus, 11 of them were injured."

     Believe it or not, your friendly blog writer was on that bus on my way back from work last night.. I wasn't hurt though others on the bus weren't so lucky and a 6 year old kid-in the house the bus hit-aren't so lucky.

      While I'm not a religious guy, I guess that phrase "There but for the Grace of God go I" fits pretty good. My Mother is very religious and insists that I'm all right because of all the praying she does for me.

     What about the six year old kid's Mother: how do we know she didn't pray just as much for him?

      It's interesting the things you remember. I didn't see what precipitated the crash. All I saw was the driver swerve to avoid hitting something-turns out he was trying to avoid hitting a pedestrian-and ended up someones lawn.

      At that moment I can see we're about to hit the house and I'm thinking to myself that I hope I don't get hurt in the impact. Other people got thrown and tossed around.

       As the story above said, there were 20 on the bus 11 were injured. These numbers are fluid. They are probably counting those injured by who took up the offer of the cops and EMT drivers to go to the emergency room. Some may not have been too badly hurt and it seems whatever injuries there were are likely minor.

       There were also probably more than 20 on the bus-many just left. I thought of that but I wanted to give a statement-just in case I need anything in the future they have a record of me being there.

        When I had gotten the bus over in Levitown-on Hempstead Tpke by Hicksville Rd-I had to rush there to catch the 9:07 N72. A woman was paying her change as I walked up to the bus. Then he acted like he was going to leave so I knocked. He let me in but was trying to give me a hard time about making him miss the light.

         I've gotten his bus a few times-when I can catch the 9:07. He usually seems to be a pretty aggressive driver, often slamming on the breaks real hard and complaining about someone driving crazy. When we got out of the bus after the crash some people told me that he usually drives crazy.

        On the other hand, there was a guy who claimed he saw the whole thing and that the bus driver was not to blame, that the pedestrian came out of nowhere "like a ghost." He was very definitive-though I didn't see it myself.

         The story put out by the police so far is that it was just a tragic accident and that the driver was driving at uniform speed.

           I don't know about that-he seemed like he was driving a little faster than that-but who knows.

           While no charges have been filed yet-the key word is yet. The family whose house got smashed into and whose son is dead likely will want to delve more deeply into what happened.



How Sweet it Is: Dems Playing Hardball on Cliff

     At this point the GOP really hasn't done much to show they are serious about a deal. Harry Reid has admitted that, unfortunately. due to GOP intransigence little progress has been made. They've played their semantic game about raising taxes on the rich but only by closing loopholes-even though they never mention what loopholes they have in mind. They have seemed sometimes to be singleminded in avoiding increases to the top rates-even raising taxes on those over $400,000 by more by forcing them to pay all their taxes at a 35% rate. So maybe partly they want to save face.

    However, we also saw Boehner refer to the debt ceiling as his "leverage." It's rather astonishing that he can shamelessly admit that he wants to play another round of debt ceiling chicken, that he wants to again dangle default seeing what a hit this was last time to the Republican brand.

    What's great though is the Democrats aren't taking this lying down this time. They recognize the American people are behind them as long as they fight. So as the GOP is not making any progress-there's already a Senate version of a deal-and they are even looking for more games of chicken the Dems are playing a tough game themselves. They now say the debt ceiling should be part of the deal to stop taxes rising on 98% of Americans and that entitlement reform should not be linked to a deal.

   That should be handled later. This is how growing up I only dreamt the Dems would play.

    "Democratic leaders, frustrated by the GOP’s unwillingness to reckon with the need to raise taxes, are publicly airing the hard-bargaining demands they’re bringing to budget negotiations with Republicans."

     "The Senate’s top two Democrats, in separate remarks Tuesday, each said that Congress could avoid looming across-the-board tax increases and spending cuts if House Republicans agree to freeze all the Bush tax rates except those benefiting top earners. If that were accompanied by an increase in the debt limit, and the creation of a separate track for reforming the tax code and social safety net programs in 2013, the near-term austerity problem will be solved, and lawmakers can call it a day.
In other words, Senate Democrats are staking out the position that entitlement reform should not be on the table in fiscal cliff negotiations."

     “If we fail to reach an agreement, the average middle-class family will see their taxes go up by $2,200 a year,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told reporters at his weekly press availability. “As I’ve indicated, the Senate has already reacted to stop that and the House is one vote away from making that a reality for many millions of Americans who are middle class.”

     "Reid and other leading Democrats have been pressing Republicans to allow the Bush tax cuts for top earners to expire for months. But their push takes on new meaning as they warn that budget negotiations have slowed and the scheduled austerity measures might take effect in full just one month from now."

     "Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Democratic whip, sang a similar tune in remarks across town Tuesday at the Center for American Progress, a liberal DC think tank. Like Reid, Durbin said that Congress should agree to a framework that includes the expiration of the top end tax cuts, raises the debt limit, and creates a pathway toward tackling bigger issues like overhauling the tax code and reducing spending on entitlement programs next year."

     “Progressives should be willing to talk about ways to ensure the long-term viability of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, but those conversations should not be part of a plan to avert the fiscal cliff,” Durbin said in prepared remarks.

      "A Durbin spokesman clarified the broad intent of these remarks. “We’ve cut 1.5 [trillion dollars] and shouldn’t cut further to avoid the cliff. Pass the Senate tax bill, create a framework for long-term deficit reduction talks (i.e. tax reform) and get past the cliff. Then we can and should entertain changes to entitlements that protects beneficiaries, but extends the future of these programs. We can make small changes that pay big dividends over the long term.”

     The GOP will cry foul about waiting on entitlements. But Durbin's point is sound. We've already did plenty of budget cuts starting in 2011. It's time to get some revenue done. Interestingly, the GOP hasn't put forward any entitlement cuts either: they've wanted the Dems to go first.

     In any case, the Dems clearly have the stronger position as we now have a GOP Congressman arguing that the GOP should take Obama's tax deal. Even Bill Kristol doesn't get why they won't.

     We also seen many of the outside groups that helped so much in re-electing the President are also fighting now to get the President's priorities through. It's a very good time to be a  Democrat-it's been a long time since you could say that, especially if you like me grew up in the 80s- and I think it will become a better time to be an American again.



Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Dick Durbin: Make Debt Ceiling Part of Fiscal Cliff

     On the one hand why would we want to go down this road? The answer is that Boehner is now boasting that the debt ceiling is his leverage.  So he's admitting that he's willing to play chicken with our debt rating for incremental advantages for the GOP?

      "John Boehner recently said Obamacare must be part of the debt talks. Now Politico reports on a remarkable exchange between Obama and Boehner, in which the Speaker told Obama that the coming debt ceiling fight constitutes “my leverage.” Boehner responded to Obama’s demand that he agree to raise it by saying: “There is a price for everything.”

       "Of course, in this case, the thing that has a “price” includes averting something that would be dangerous for the whole country — default. This is the clearest sign yet that we’re headed for another debt ceiling showdown, and you can bet that this time, Congressional Democrats will insist that no concessions be made to House Republicans."

     "Implicitly responding to House Speaker John Boehner’s warning to President Obama that raising the nation’s debt ceiling will come with “a price,” a top Senate Democrat said Tuesday that an increase in borrowing authority will have to be part of whatever package Congress and the White House settle on to avert automatic spending cuts and tax increases at the end of the year."

     “I think honestly it’s going to be closer to $4 trillion when it’s all said and done, and I also think that the President isn’t going to sign off on any agreement that doesn’t include some certainty as to budgets, appropriations, dealing with our debt ceiling,” said Senate Dem Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) after a policy speech at the liberal Center for American Progress. “We’re not going to find ourselves at some big party celebrating in February and then turn around in March and have another doomsday scenario with the debt ceiling. We’ve got to get this done as one big package.”

     "The latest dustup over the debt limit isn’t necessarily a harbinger of a new hostage fight over the country’s creditworthiness. But it at least suggests that Boehner is using the need to raise the debt ceiling in the coming weeks to offset the leverage the expiring Bush tax cuts provides Obama.
The White House has insisted in the past that it won’t enter new brinksmanship with Congressional Republicans even if the debt limit isn’t raised as part of a bipartisan legislative package. But Democrats would clearly prefer to take that issue out of the equation as they negotiate a way to avoid automatic austerity in January — and for now, Boehner won’t let them."

      The debt ceiling is something that should eliminated-as Geithner recently said. For now it's important not to allow Boehner and friends any "leverage." That Boehner even sees threatening default as leverage tells you all you need to know about today's Republican party.

All in on Some Filibuster Reform

     There's nothing like an idea whose time has come. It seems that filibuster reform's time may finally be here. Of course, the GOP is crying Holy Hell about how this puts a nuzzle on the minority.

     Mitch McConnell did touch on a key point in his protests yesterday.

     "So it’s no surprise that GOP leaders are characterizing the plan as a fatal assault on the Senate minority’s rights."

     “If a bare majority can now proceed to any bill it chooses, and once on that bill, the majority leader, all by himself, can shut out all amendments that aren’t to his liking, then those who elected us to advocate for their views will have lost their voice in the legislative process,” McConnell said.
McConnell warned that Reid and fellow Democrats might come to regret the power move in future Congresses.

    “How would you feel if two years from now I have your job and my members are saying let’s get rid of the filibuster altogether with 51 votes?” McConnell asked Reid during floor debate.

       It's no doubt that for this very reason in the past Reid has been reluctant to take this step. No doubt the GOP plays dirty enough as it is when they have the actual majority. Still, how can it be worse than it's been in recent years? Reid now sees this:

       "The point I would make is that I’ve said from the outset is that a test of a good proposal is whether or not you could live with serving under it in the minority,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). “That’s why the talking filibuster is the right way to go. McConnell has broken the social contract. His team, under his leadership, uses it constantly and silently, out of public sight. Really the proposal I put forward restores the basic elements that existed in the past, and I’m quite happy to live under that structure as a minority. … [That] has been part of every conversation I’ve had with colleagues. … If we’re in the minority and we’re blocking something, we should be accountable to the public.”

       "But Reid, who opposed Merkley’s efforts in 2010, has come around, and conceded that his junior caucus members had it right all along. The only question now is whether Reid can round up 51 votes for establishing a precedent that could be used against his own party in future Congresses."

        Reid then really nails McConnell:

       “The Republican leader thinks things are going well here. He’s in a distinct minority because things aren’t going well around here,” Reid said. “Lyndon Johnson: one cloture. Reid: 386. That says it all.”

        Some of the changes being considered are:

        "two ideas have wide support in the Democratic caucus. The first, more cursory change, would make what’s known as the “motion to proceed” non-debatable. That means the minority could no longer block debate on legislation, while holding out for guarantees on amendment votes or legislative changes to the underlying bill."

       "The other would recreate a status quo ante, where filibustering senators would be required to hold the floor and draw public attention to their obstruction efforts. “If they want a filibuster, stand and talk about it,” Reid said.

        Indeed, if anything, Greg Sargent and Ezra Klein are right. If at the end of this the Senate is still a 60 vote body the reforms don't go far enough.

        Steve Kornacki has a great piece at Slate looking at this problem. The filibuster didn't used to be abused, now it is abused egregiously as shown by Reid's tally: LBJ one cloture. Reid 386.

        He's somewhat pessimistic about the reforms the Democrats are looking at right now-though he still thinks they're worth doing and might make Repubs reconsider in the future if for no other reason than the Dems might push for more in 2014.

       The one thing that he doesn't mention-or the TPM piece linked above-is loosening the rules for reconciliation. This would mean the Dems could pass budget related bills more easily with just 51 votes.



Fox News Finally Sees the Danger in Asking a Stupid Question

     I mean they've been asking stupid questions for 15 years. Who knew it would finally backfire on them? That's exactly what happened when they tried to ask intelligence expert Tom Ricks some stupid questions about Benghazi.

      "During a Monday interview on Fox News, author Tom Ricks blasted the network as "operating as a wing of the Republican Party” and accused it of hyping the Benghazi attack for political purposes."

      "Ricks — who writes a blog for Foreign Policy magazine and is a best-selling author of books such as “Fiasco” and “The Generals” — told Fox News’s Jon Scott “that Benghazi generally was hyped, by this network especially.”

      “I think that Benghazi generally was hyped, by this network especially,” Ricks said. “And now that the campaign is over, I think [Sen. John McCain] is backing off a little bit. They’re not going to stop Susan Rice from being Secretary of State.”

       "Scott pushed back on the accusation that Fox News "hyped" the attack, asking, “When you have four people dead, including the first U.S. ambassador in more than 30 years, how do you call that hype?”

       “How many security contractors died in Iraq? Do you know?” Ricks replied.

       “I don’t,” Scott said.

        “No, nobody does, because nobody cared,” Ricks said. “We know that several hundred died, but there was never an official count done of security contractors dead in Iraq. So when I say this focus on what was essentially a small fire-fight, I think, number one, I’ve covered a lot of fire-fights, it is impossible to figure out what happens in them sometimes.”

        "Ricks then slammed Fox News again for their Benghazi coverage."
“And second, I think that the emphasis on Benghazi has been extremely political, partly because Fox was operating as a wing of the Republican Party."

        After that, Scott wrapped the interview. "Alright, Tom Ricks. Thanks very much for joining us today," Scott said.

      “You’re welcome,” Ricks replied.

        Lawyers say they want to always know what a witness is going to say before they ask him anything. When your at Fix News where your specialty if faux news that's probably at least as important for you.

        So when Fox ends up with all this egg on their face their reaction is to end the interview. Their next step is to: claim the interviewee that embarrassed you has apologized-even though they didn't.

        "Fox News has hit back at author Tom Ricks for blasting the network during an on-air interview as “operating as a wing of the Republican Party” and accusing it of hyping the Benghazi attack, saying he “apologized in our offices afterward but doesn’t have the strength of character to do that publicly.”

         When you think about it, to apologize at all takes some strength of character... Making up a fake apology certainly doesn't. Ricks of course has no recollection of this:

          "Ricks, however, told The Hollywood Reporter he never apologized."

            "Please ask Mr. Clemente what the words of my supposed apology were. I'd be interested to know," he wrote in an e-mail to THR. "Frankly, I don't remember any such apology."

            So that's their safe mode: to make up an apology that never happened. The apology that wasn't. They aren't used to getting smart answers to all their stupid questions.



Democrats Holding the Line on Entitlements

     There are some liberals who still don't trust the President and the Democrats and believe that gutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid is what any Grand Bargain will do. In that regard, however, we have some reason for encouragement after a big piece from the New York Times came out.

     Many Democrats are opposing any major changes to the big three entitlements and believe they have the political mandate to do so.

     "President Obama’s re-election and Democratic gains in Congress were supposed to make it easier for the party to strike a deal with Republicans to resolve the year-end fiscal crisis by providing new leverage. But they could also make it harder as empowered Democrats, including some elected on liberal platforms, resist significant changes in entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare."

     "As Congress returned Monday, the debate over those programs, which many Democrats see as the core of the party’s identity, was shaping up as the Democratic version of the higher-profile struggle among Republicans over taxes."

     Or read it at the NYTimes-it's easier to quote from CNBC as it's all on one page there.

      Democrats have made clear that Social Security belongs off the table. Dick Durbin made this point on the Sunday morning talk shows.

      The Obama Administration has also ruled out SS cuts
      "While a potential change in calculating Social Security increases was part of the talks with Speaker John A. Boehner last year, the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, made clear on Monday that the administration was not considering changes to the retirement program as part of the deficit talks.

     “We should address the drivers of the deficit, and Social Security is not currently a driver of the deficit,” Mr. Carney said.
       There has in the past been discussion about raising rates on wealthy beneficiaries increasing the number that must pay top rates. Yet the worry with this is it could turn Medicare into a means tested program-a sure way to cut its public support.
      "Max Richtman, the president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, which represents beneficiaries, said this idea had been “pushed as far as it should be pushed.” Saddled with more and more costs, he said, high-income beneficiaries may eventually want to leave the program."
     “If Medicare turns from an earned benefit into a welfare program,” Mr. Richtman said, “you will see support dissipate.”
      One thing that could work:
       "Mr. Obama also wants to impose a surcharge on Medicare premiums for older Americans who buy the most generous private insurance to supplement Medicare. The White House and some economists say such Medigap insurance encourages the overuse of medical care because beneficiaries are shielded from most co-payments and other costs. But many beneficiaries are willing to pay for the extra protection, and major insurers derive substantial revenue from the product."
       Obama has also considered raising prices on drug company providers. The way in which he structured the $716 billion dollar "cut" in Medicare was very good. It could be that more savings like this-not through cutting beneficiaries-could be the way to go.
        Cuts to Medicaid are problematic and now that the SJC made the Medicaid payments in ACA voluntary for states, cutting Medicaid would hurt ObamaCare.
         Overall, you have to like what you're hearing from some top Democrats.
          "Two staunch liberals, Senators Tom Harkin of Iowa and John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, said in a letter to Mr. Obama that he should “reject changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security that would cut benefits, shift costs to states, alter the structure of these critical programs, or force vulnerable populations to bear the burden of deficit reduction.”
           "More than 40 House members, led by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, declare in a resolution that any deal on taxes and spending “should not cut Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security benefits.”



Chris Christy Now Has Record Popularity in NJ

     Right now-obviously very early to say the least-he should be the odds on favorite for the GOP nomination in 2016.

     After all, he has record levels of approval with very high numbers even among Democrats now and at this point he's gone way ahead of Cory Booker for the Gubernatorial race in 2013.

     "Nearly three-quarters of New Jerseyans approve of GOP Gov. Chris Christie, an unprecedented rating that even includes half of Democrats, according to a poll released Tuesday."

     "Seventy-two percent of voters approve of Christie in a Quinnipiac University poll, and only 21 percent disapprove. Christie’s approval rating is the highest Quinnipiac has measured for a New Jersey governor in at least 16 years. Seventy-seven percent of independents and 52 percent of Democrats approve of the potential 2016 president contender, who filed for reelection Monday."

     He leads Booker 53-34 for 2013.

     No doubt his popularity is at its nadir right now-the polls between him and Booker was basically tied prior to Hurricane Sandy. However, it's also clear that he won big points for the way he handled the emergency-and his embrace of the President who's also very popular in New Jersey.

     So while it would seem to make him an early favorite for 2016 it's actually no doubt really aggravating many in the GOP who claim that his embrace of the President hurt Romney-in this they're no doubt kidding themselves that this really decided the election. Blaming it all on the hurricane and Christy is just another way to not face the truth.

    What has given Christy such great numbers is acting in a role that transcends politics-strong leadership in dealing with the hurricane-and being bipartisan in working with the President rather than against him. This is not what the GOP wants to believe is the answer.

    As Greg Sargent notes:

    "Right wingers gnash teeth as Chris Christie’s approval soars: A new Quinnipiac poll finds that Chris Christie’s approval rating in New Jersey has jumped to 72 percent. This finding is particularly striking:
Voters approve 84-12 percent, including 69-28 percent among Republicans, of Christie’s praise for President Barack Obama’s actions after Sandy.
     "Yup, working with Obama was good politics. Maybe there’s a lesson here for the fiscal talks? Also note that over two thirds of Republicans approve of Christie’s praise for Obama — again underscoring the isolation of conservatives who ground their teeth about it."

       Incidentally, the President's numbers are very strong now, as well. He currently has a 53% approval rating with only 39% disapproving.

        Sounds like a good time to negotiate the fiscal cliff.


Norquist: 'Impure Thoughts' on Taxes

     Though he claims not to be worried and that it's not his first rodeo, some of the other things he's said belie this lack of concern.

     "Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist on Monday downplayed possible GOP defections from his no tax increases pledge as a few senators “discussing impure thoughts on national television.”

     “No Republican has voted for a tax increase,” Norquist said on CNN’s “Starting Point.” “We’ve got some people discussing impure thoughts on national television.”

    Read more:

    As to Republicans who have criticized the pledge or said they aren't beholden to it, Norquist insists that there's nothing to see here:

    "But Norquist said all of the potential defectors had mused about higher taxes in the past, and had failed to attract a following within the Republican Party. The current crisis, he argued, would be no different."

    “They all said that two years ago when we were arguing over the debt ceiling limit,” Norquist said.

    “And during the debt ceiling, we cut spending, we didn’t raise taxes. So other Republicans didn’t listen to Peter King or these others.”

     Read more:

     Ok. Yet it might seem that the politics are different now. True, the GOP held the line on tax hikes for the rich in 2011. What did it buy them, however? Lots of losses. At some point, Norquist's spell will wear off if it's shown that he's become more a liability than an asset.

     He also says that a pledge is a pledge-forever.

      "Norquist also dismissed King’s argument that the pledge does not apply, since he signed it more than a decade ago when he was first elected. Norquist said the pledge is for the length of a time a person holds office and King’s argument “doesn’t pass the laugh test.”

       "And he rejected Graham’s departure from orthodoxy, arguing it was predicated on Democrats agreeing to a list of impossible conditions, including a ten-to-one ratio of entitlement cuts to tax increases."

      “I said to him, ‘Senator, you’re agreeing to a tax increase in exchange for a pink unicorn,’” Norquist said, recounting a recent conversation with Graham.

       Ok. Granted you have to give Norquist that one too. Graham's deal is not terribly enticing for a Democrat-10 to 1 ratio?!

       You have Dems-rightly-demanding a 1 to 1 ratio.

        "Liberals on Capitol Hill are already drawing their line. For instance, West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin have circulated a letter urging Obama to shield entitlement programs from benefit cuts and demand $1 in revenue for every $1 in spending cuts."

      Read more:

      Still, it's clear that Norquist's own personal standing is somewhat on the wane. At least politically he's becoming something of an albatross. It's conceivable that even Repubs who want to maintain the hard line will rather not have their name associated with them. That hurts Norquist to the quick as his whole brand is that it is politically beneficial to be his friend.

      Only 219 Congresspeople are now signed onto his pledge according to he, himself.

      In the larger picture though, too much can be ascribed to Norquist himself. As Greg Sargent says, Norquist's importance gets exaggerated.

      "Are Republicans really rebuking Grover Norquist? Over the weekend multiple Republicans claimed that they are not obligated to honor the no-tax-hikes pledge they made to Norquist, which is supposed to suggest they are willing to make concessions on taxes."

      "Color me unimpressed. It’s easy for Republicans to say they are not beholden to Norquist. What matters is what they’ll support in terms of actual revenue increases, and all signs remain that they will support raising revenues only via closing loopholes — not a big concession."

      It isn't. It shows that the GOP has had to change their tune some. Maybe Norquist's influence may not be quite what it was. Standing up to him now gives a GOPer a certain cache now-it used to be that standing with him did that.

      Until now the GOP has still been sticking to this loophole illusion. Nevertheless it does seem that part of this may just be a need to save face. It's not clear how much of this opposition is just that. There was recently a proposal that would leave the top rate at 35% but tax all income for those who make more than say $400,000 at that 35%-end the lower marginal rates at lower levels for them.

      This apparently would actually raise rates for them to 41%..

        So clearly the political groundswell is on the Democrats' side. They just have to seize it.



Monday, November 26, 2012

Are the Democrats Prepared to Jump?

      Some at least say so and let's hope they really are because they should be. The country clearly sides with them. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain by jumping if the GOP is being obstructionist again.

      "A growing bloc of emboldened liberals say they’re not afraid to watch defense spending get gouged and taxes go up on every American if a budget deal doesn’t satisfy their priorities."

      "Here’s what these progressives fear: an agreement that keeps lower tax rates for the wealthy, hits the social safety net with unpalatable cuts and leaves Pentagon spending unscathed. In other words, they’d rather walk the country off the cliff than watch President Barack Obama cave on long-held liberal priorities."

       “If the Republicans can’t see their way to significant additional revenues targeted toward the people who are best off and targeted toward passive income and other things like that, then we’re better off going over the cliff and readdressing this with a better Congress in January,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said. “And we would have plenty of time to fix it.”

      Read more:

      The effects won't be immediate.

      "Bolstering the Democrats’ strategy is the belief that the “fiscal cliff” is actually shaped more like a “slope” where the economic effects will be felt gradually, not immediately. That theory gives Congress some time at the beginning of 2013 to set tax rates and configure budget cuts in a different political environment and with a new class of lawmakers."

       If they do go over the cliff there will be time enough to pass another tax cut-without the tax cuts for the top 1%. The prominent economist, Mark Zanid, has gone as far as saying this could even be the best option. Warren Buffett has also urged them to be willing to jump if need be.

       "If tax rates snap back to the higher levels from the 1990s and painful budget cuts start to hit the Pentagon, these Democrats — led by Washington Sen. Patty Murray — believe they would wield more leverage over the GOP to enact a budget compromise on their terms. And with a January deal, Republicans would technically avoid violating the no-new-taxes pledge that most of them have signed because they would then be voting to cut taxes."

       What they must bear in mind is that the country supports them. That was what this election was about and the polls show that if we do go over it's the GOP who will take the blame.

        "Republicans would most likely bear most of the public blame if policymakers deadlock. The Pew Research Center found that 53 percent of Americans would fault GOP lawmakers if Washington fails to avert the fiscal cliff; only 29 percent would point the finger at Obama."

        “This is very, very important that we hang in there to essentially get the revenue component,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.). “I favor an agreement before Jan. 1, but I’m skeptical that our leadership may be able to reach one. If it’s necessary to wait to get a good deal, let’s do that.”

         Yes. Let's do that. A bad deal is worse than no deal. Yes, it's possible that everyone could see their taxes rise-if the GOP honestly even next year refused to cut taxes for the 98%. Yet, I for one, and I think many Americans now feel this way, are just over the GOP's hostage taking and ransom letters. As Krugman put it "Well, this has to stop."

         It does, And I'd be willing to pay more taxes to see that it does. It's not just the economy but our very system of government that's been taken hostage. It has to stop.

          Between the need to take a strong stand here-no bad deals just to get something done-and filibuster reform the Dems have two big challenges to begin to repair our terribly dysfunctional government. Conservatives like to say that "government does not work" but they've proven this by holding their hands on the scale whenever Obama and the Democrats have tried to do anything.

          Now, it has to stop.

          For more on filibuster reform see here




Turns Out Democrats Are Better at Outside Money Too

     I know some will no doubt see this as hypocrisy. I too was bitterly opposed to the Citizens United decision. Still, in a world of nuclear weapons can you just go cold turkey? Jamelle Bouie argues the Dems should feel no guilt about joining the arms race.

     "Democrats made effective use of super PACs in the 2012 election, deploying devastating ads that harmed Mitt Romney in key states like Ohio, and helping congressional Democrats capitalize on major missteps by their opponents (see Akin, Todd). Now Democratic donors are gearing up for the next round of elections, in an effort to make these outside groups even more influential:
Shortly after Election Day, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and top White House aides spoke at a three-day secret meeting of major Democratic donors and officials from liberal outside groups gearing up for 2014, POLITICO has learned....
Their goal: a permanent network of officially blessed independent groups that leverages liberals’ increasing acceptance and appreciation of outside money to compete with a much-better-funded Republican shadow party.
     "This, of course, leaves Democrats open to charges of hypocrisy. After all, liberals form of the bulk of the opposition to Citizens United — the Supreme Court ruling that opened the doors to the proliferation of mega-donors and outside groups — and have been fighting for campaign finance reform at all levels of government. It’s hard to reconcile this with efforts to bolster the position of groups that can raise huge sums from a handful of wealthy donors. Indeed, several donors and organizers see the tensions inherent in this project:
“There will always be in the Democratic Party and the progressive community a skepticism about outside money writ large,” said [Priorities USA official Rodell] Mollineau, whose group is considering jumping into governors’ races and possibly state legislative and ballot campaigns. “But I also think there were converts won over this last election cycle, and there is now a sense that we need to compete with super PACs and outside groups, and we can win elections if we do.”
     "This gets to the key point worth remembering when evaluating the decision of liberal groups to embrace super PACs. The only way to limit the influence of big donors and outside groups is to win elections and pass laws. Democrats could abstain from the groups, and practice their principles by relying on smaller donations within a more limited — and self-imposed — campaign finance system. But while this would allow liberals to take the moral high ground, it would also make losing more likely, and limit their ability to actually change the status quo."

     "Using super PACs as a tool to win elections is not an endorsement of the laws and measures that make super PACs possible. Yes, the hope is that — eventually — liberals will be able to reverse Citizens United, or at least, put serious limits on the ability of outside groups to operate. But in the meantime — since they will continue to exist, anyway — there’s no reason why liberals can’t use their own super PACs to help elect candidates that support their goals. Including an end to super PACs."

     Part of the trouble is that the Dems turned out to be so good at raising money from the outside groups. Yet, as they aren't going anywhere soon can they just tie one hand behind their backs in fights with the GOP?  Is it hypocrisy to call for the end of the use of nuclear weapons while still continuing to use them? I say no. I agree with Bouie. I just don't think that there's any virtue in being a dead hero in American politics. As it is they have a shot of expanding onto GOP turf and fighting back in House and state races and governors races-areas of comparative GOP strength.

    "Some of those groups or their allies are considering expanding into state politics, policy fights or even primaries on both sides. And they have already gone back to their 2012 donors to ask for more cash while the euphoria from winning is still fresh."

     "Their goal: a permanent network of officially blessed independent groups that leverages liberals’ increasing acceptance and appreciation of outside money to compete with a much-better-funded Republican shadow party."

     "The three-day conference — the annual winter conference of the Democracy Alliance, an exclusive club composed of some of the biggest liberal donors — at Washington’s W Hotel featured presentations by top Obama campaign and administration officials including Mitch Stewart, Matthew Barzun, Gene Sperling and Jon Carson."

      "Democracy Alliance donors gave or pledged more than $14 million to super PACs and secret-money nonprofits this year after a vigorous debate about whether Democrats should participate in the wave of unlimited political spending that Republicans rode to control of the House of Representatives in 2010. Some of the left’s biggest traditional donors argued that joining the big money fight would be akin to condoning the recent court decisions that sparked it — most notably the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which Democrats up to and including Obama decried as facilitating a corporate takeover of democracy. They either abstained entirely or were slow to open their checkbooks."

      "But their hesitance also led to the development of a new crop of Democratic megadonors in 2012, who are pledging to be quicker to respond in coming elections."

     “There will be less reluctance — and more willingness — to participate in super PACs this time,” said Steve Mostyn, a Houston trial lawyer and rookie megadonor who along with his wife and their law firm donated $4.2 million to liberal super PACs. “We hope it’s a mutual disarmament, but if it’s not, then we’ll be back.”

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     Mostyn is right. If the disarmament isn't mutual it's a non-starter. I don't see how the answer is virtuous-out of power-liberals.

      It's amazing but it turns out that the Dems may actually be better at this game than the GOP who can hardly have been said to have spent their money efficiently. Have so few ever spent so much money to achieve so little?

      So yes, I guess I'm on the side of the "peace through strength" crowd. Rather than the "elect more conservative Republicans to show how virtuous we are" crowd.