Tag Archives: Republican

Who’s the Fiscal Conservative Now?

Dollars and Cents

Dollars and Cents (Photo credit: kahunapulej)

The Senate is about to pass a bill that the CBO estimates will cut the deficit by $197 billion over the 10-year 2014–2023 period, but there are those from a certain party who won’t vote for the bill unless additional spending of $30 billion is added to the bill. That party is the Republican Party.

Based on the way the Republican Party likes to brand itself as the party of fiscal conservatism and the way they like to brand their opponents as “tax and spend” liberals, it is a little odd that it is members of the Republican Party who are the ones who are insisting on adding $30 billion of government spending.

It is a little odd but not a lot odd. This is the pattern of the Republican Party: they like to talk big about being conservative spenders and deficit hawks, but history shows that they are quite fond of adding to government spending so long as it is for stuff they want the government to spend its money on.

They like government to spend money on “security.” Heck they created a whole new branch of government: Homeland Security. Recent estimates are that this new department has cost us $791 billion since it began ten years ago. Even adjusting for inflation that is more money than we spent on the New Deal.

Republicans also like to spend money that end up in the coffers of corporations rather than in the pockets of individuals. When individuals benefit, their stock portfolios don’t perform nearly as well as when they use tax dollars to churn up business for publicly owned companies.

The stock market has swooned over the past few days at the thought that the Federal Reserve might soon end its stimulus package for banks and corporations. The American people only got an anemic stimulus package 5 years ago, and Republicans are blocking any consideration of doing more. One of the reasons, among many, is, I believe, that the Federal Reserve  ties its stimulus for banks and corporations to the unemployment rate. The party for Wall Street ends when people go back to work, so why would Republicans want people to go back to work?

Why Congress Will Take Us Over The Cliff (And Other Depressing Predictions)

079 Capitol Hill United States Congress 1993

079 Capitol Hill United States Congress 1993 (Photo credit: David Holt London)

Before the year ends, I decided to go on record about how I think Congress will deal with the so-called “fiscal cliff”. I do this in hopes that they might prove me wrong. I would love to be pleasantly surprised.

Congress will send us over the cliff.

I do not believe that Congress will be able to pass any legislation that could be described as a tax increase. The Republicans will not allow themselves to vote for such. Memories are long about how the elder George H. W. Bush raised taxes despite having pledged not to (in his famous “read my lips” declaration), and he never recovered among conservatives. Every Republican must court the conservatives because their party has alienated every other group; they have no one left.

On January 1, the Bush tax cuts expire, so this means that tomorrow there will be an income tax increase for everyone who pays income taxes. The negotiations will suddenly switch from increasing taxes to lowering taxes. Republicans love to be able to claim credit for lowering taxes, so their attitude about passing legislation to solve the fiscal cliff will change dramatically at that point.

Similarly, but to a lesser degree, Democrats will more comfortably vote for legislation after the New Year. Just as taxes go up tomorrow, spending cuts take effect as well. A vote today for a Democrat means cutting a program, but tomorrow it will mean restoring a program.

So for both parties, a deal today looks bad politically because in a few years their opponent will be able to use the deal to attack them among their base. This is one reason, I believe, that John Boehner and the House yielded their constitutional duty to originate laws concerning the budget over to the Senate. If an ugly deal was going to happen, they wanted to make sure that it was the Democratic Senate that could be blamed.

Despite the fact that conventional wisdom is that the Democrats have the upper hand, I fear they will give up more than the Republicans in the compromise. First of all, I believe Obama and the Democrats are less willing to hurt people in order to achieve their political aims. If I’m right, Democrats will feel the pain of regular Americans more than Republicans. They will be more desperate to find a solution, and we have already seen the Republicans take advantage of this dynamic.

Second, I think Republicans are more afraid of their Tea Party base than Democrats are of their progressive base. Republicans will be more stubborn about pleasing their base than the Democrats. Third, Obama and the Democrats are already making more noises about compromises that they would be willing to make. So I fear that we are already seeing the conversation shift in the Republican’s favor.

By the middle of January, I believe that we will see a deal that gives more to the Tea Party than to the progressives. Naturally both sides will declare victory, but I believe that people will be crying about how Obama got outsmarted again. I believe that Obama’s favorability ratings will decline: his supporters will be unhappy with his negotiations, and those in the middle will see him as weak. The deal will avoid disaster, but it will not help the economy. It may not derail the recovery, but it will slow it down.

If I’m right, then it probably means that we will have another fight very soon about raising the debt limit, and unless Obama wins this fiscal cliff negotiation, then it will likely be another repeat of the mess we’ve already seen.

As I said, I’d love to be proven wrong. My version of the future is too depressing.

The GOP’s Response to Defeat Exposes Their Short Game

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney (Photo credit: Dave Delay)

Both George Will and Glenn Beck told us that Romney was going to win the election with 321 electoral votes. Karl Rove told us that Romney would win with at least 279 electoral votes. Dick Morris said Romney’s total would be 325. Ann Coulter‘s number for Romney was 273. Newt Gingrich promised that Romney would get at least 300. Gingrich, Rove, Morris, and Pat Buchanan promised their followers that the Republicans would win back the Senate.

Despite what these Republicans predicted, Obama won 332 electoral votes to Romney’s 206, and the Democrats made gains in both the House and Senate. Any way you cut it, election night was not good news for Republicans. On the morning after, there was much hand-wringing over what the GOP must do to be able to start winning again.

At the very least, I expected to see the Republicans begin to acknowledge that their mandate from 2010 was over. I expected to see them soften some of there opposition and begin moving back to the center. After all they no longer are in a position of strength politically. Demographics have turned, and the GOP cannot survive as the party of old white men for very much longer, right?

What I’ve seen instead has been a rush to double down on the policies that made them losers in 2012. In states where the Republicans have majorities, they have been hurriedly passing laws against unions, immigrants, gay marriage, and abortion. At first I didn’t understand this. Were these people not paying attention? It is easy to imagine that one’s political opponents are idiots, but that is never the case.

My best guess at this point is that precisely because Republicans see that history is not on their side and demographics will make it more and more difficult for them to maintain their power, they are rushing to enshrine as much of their reactionary policies into law as they can before they lose that power. The more laws and state constitutional amendments they can pass banning everything they don’t like, the longer it will take for progressives to unwind their policies. The more they injure labor unions and restrict voting, the more they can privilege their own political strength and delay their eventual defeat. Rather than trying to “evolve” into an opposition party with compelling ideas for the 21st century, they are playing the short game of trying to use their current power to circumvent the will of the American people for as long as possible. The GOP seems to have lost the concept that once elected, politicians are supposed to represent all of their constituents while they are in office.

Few Republicans have much use for John Maynard Keynes, but I think they are embracing one of his famous quotes: “In the long run we are all dead.” Republicans don’t seem to have any interest in playing the long game here, after all most of their current base will be long gone by the time the Democrats can turn back their policies.

Trickle-Down Theory: It’s Still A Myth

Poor People

Image by PropagandaTimes via Flickr

The original peddlers of Supply Side Economics argued that tax cuts would defy expectations and actually increase tax revenues. They argued that it would stimulate the economy sufficiently to offset the loss of revenue. It was a trickle-down promise: give money to the wealthy and it will trickle down to the rest of us. Although this fantasy has been largely abandoned by serious economists, it is kept alive by politicians who want to convince you that transferring wealth from the poor to the rich is in your best interests.

We heard a lot last December from the Republicans about how we had better extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich in order to protect jobs in America. We now know that their success in forcing Obama to go along with this bad idea is adding $410 billion to our deficit in 2011 alone.

After exploding the size of the deficit, Republicans shifted strategy and are now sounding the alarm about our rising deficits in order to convince America to embrace Paul Ryan‘s budget plans. They claim it is the only serious and courageous proposal to tackle our rising deficit. The funny thing about his proposal is that it really doesn’t do that much to improve the deficit, but it does a lot to reduce taxes for the rich. According the The Center On Budget And Policy Priorities, based on analysis from the CBO, Ryan’s plan reduces the deficit by 380 billion between 2012 and 2021. In other words it would take the Republicans’ budget plan nine years to recover the damage their Bush extension caused in one year.

They are trying to sell Ryan’s plan as a way to get serious about the deficit, but in fact it is primarily a plan that seriously reduces government services to Americans for the sake of the most well-off. Ryan’s plan cuts government spending by over ten times as much as his plan saves.  How can that be? Most of the money from cuts in services is used to pay for tax cuts. Ryan cuts $4.5 trillion in government services but he adds $4.2 trillion in tax cuts.  In order to hand out this largess in tax cuts, America is supposed to swallow the fact that the money they have paid into Medicare will no longer be there to guarantee their healthcare when they retire. Most of Ryan’s cuts affect the average American, but most of his tax cuts benefit the wealthiest Americans.

The Republicans have successfully limited dissenting arguments against Ryan’s budget to the issue of whether his plan turns Medicare into a voucher system or not. Refusing to call his Medicare proposal a “voucher” is the Republican’s white lie. Their big lie is the claim that his plan is about deficit reduction; in truth, it is just another attempt to transfer more wealth to those who already have the most in this nation.

Choosing to Repeat History

Unemployment rate in the US 1910–1960, with th...

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Lately economic news has suggested that the dreaded double dip in the economy may be upon us. The talking heads at CNBC have been talking up a double dip for months if not years; their dream/fear may be finally coming true.

The Republican victory last November essentially killed any notion that the government might be able to continue to stimulate the economy until it gets on more solid footing. After getting their rich constituents a nice slice of their favorite form of government handout: a juicy tax cut extension, the Republican’s have been able to keep up a steady drumbeat about the deficit and the need to suppress the economy through spending cuts.

George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It was only by remembering the Great Depression that this country was able to respond to the recent Great Recession and limit its carnage. Unfortunately, we have recently either forgotten our history or worse.

Back in 1937, there were signs that the nation was recovering from the Great Depression. President Roosevelt decided it was time to get the debt problem under control. His advisers told him he needed to cut spending from his stimulus programs. He agreed, and the result was the Recession of 1937-1938.

I would like to think that the clamor for spending cuts today simply reflects a general ignorance about history. Yet the more cynical side of me realizes that these cuts are being urged by some on the right who certainly know all about what happened in 1937. I then have to wonder whether the Republican cries for spending cuts are motivated precisely because they know their history and they hope to send the economy into a double dip. After all, a double dip is their best hope for regaining the White House in 2012. As the New York Times reports, “No American president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has won a second term in office when the unemployment rate on Election Day topped 7.2 percent.”

Churning Out True Believers Who Are Inoculated Against Doubt

Roger Ailes, Cupid

Image by DonkeyHotey via Flickr

Rolling Stone magazine has a lengthy article on Fox News’ Chairman, Roger Ailes. I’ve read news stories before about Fox and seen the documentary Outfoxed, but this article delivers a more detailed and carefully researched exposé about what it dubs “the most profitable propaganda machine in history.”

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to notice that Fox News functions like the PR arm of the Republican Party. This thesis is painstakingly documented by Tim Dickinson for Rolling Stone. What has escaped me before, however is the degree to which Roger Ailes’ political attack strategy has poisoned the entire process of discourse for devotees of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and others.

Dickinson’s article paints a picture of a man who has put his stamp on virtually every right-wing pundit. He has schooled each of them in the same strategy that he has used to help every Republican president since Richard Nixon. According to this article, Ailes’ strategy is to “forget all the facts and figures, and move to the offense as quickly as possible.”

It strikes me that the problem isn’t all of the propaganda that gets spewed forth by Fox and others; the problem is that over time they have trained an army of Tea Party patriots to be totally immune to facts or argument. As soon as they hear facts that challenge their own opinions, then they react by going on the offensive. They do not become circumspect. They do not wonder whether the fact is true. They do not search for a plausible counter-fact with equivalent weight. They simply get aggressive in their denial. And in the end, they’ve been energized by how well Ailes’ strategy has allowed them to “win” against those who disagree with them.

How can a society have intelligent discourse if people are inoculated against ever questioning their own beliefs? What is the point of educating such a person about history or anything else, if their mind has been effectively sealed shut? More troubling is the question of what is the consequence to a Democracy filled with people immune to all forms of doubt? Roger Ailes knows the answer, and that answer is the reason he’s dedicated his life to such a quest.

This is Fiscal Responsibility?

U.S. soldiers tour the Saint Elijah Monastery ...

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The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a defense authorization bill to spend $690 billion dollars yesterday. That’s odd because they still haven’t given themselves permission to raise the debt limit to pay for the stuff that they already agreed to buy in the past. That’s funny because the Republican’s are screaming about how bad the deficit is, and yet they are still signing checks that will overdraw their account. That’s funny because they are increasing spending more on defense than the Obama administration requested. It’s funny because the Republicans are the ones who say that we need to balance the books by cutting spending without even considering doing anything to bring in more money.

Republicans talk about how sacrifice is needed to solve our debt problem. That’s funny because so far the only people who they have expected to sacrifice are citizens who traditionally don’t vote for them; they still want their pet projects and their base to keep receiving goodies from the government.

The Republicans claim it is the President and the Democrats who are playing politics around the deficit.  That’s funny because  they are the ones holding the solvency of the U.S. hostage to their own special interests. That’s funny because they are the ones who attached provisions to this $690 Billion bill to prevent us from dealing with Guantanamo detainees in a way consistent with our constitution and in a way that is consistent with the liberties for which we fight wars. That’s funny because they have also attached a provision that prevents us from reducing the number of nuclear weapons we have.

The Republicans insist that the only way to fix the deficit is to make people pay more for their healthcare, and they say the government should subsidize private health insurance rather than be in the business of providing healthcare. That’s funny because this bill also reduced the amount that the Secretary of Defense suggested was the military’s fair share to pay for its own government-provided healthcare costs.

Many Republicans complained that Obama did not flex our military muscle adequately to support the Libyan rebels. It’s odd that they also passed a bill to prohibit the Commander in Chief to use any money to put ground troops in Libya. It’s funny that they want to give the military more money, but they don’t actually want our president to be able to use it as Commander in Chief. That’s funny because the last president the Republicans gave this country started two wars for very dubious reasons.

So why am I not laughing?

Yet it is the Republicans who claim to be fiscally responsible, and the Tea Party elected them to eliminate political games in Washington.  Now, that’s funny!

The Dubious Virtue Of A Strong Backbone

Last summer while I worked in a political campaign for a Democrat, I met a Republican ex-Mayor who was supporting my candidate. We worked a festival together, so we had some time to talk. I was interested in picking her brain about what she thought about the Tea Party influence over her party.

Jim DeMint speaking at CPAC.

Image via Wikipedia

In particular, I asked her about Jim DeMint. He is our senator who, in my opinion, is like the Godfather of the Tea Party movement. She told me that although she frequently disagreed with his views (like the one that gay people should not be allowed to be teachers), she liked him because he was the same man on the campaign trail as he was in office. In other words, he never misleads people about who he is and what he believes in. I was amazed to learn that it mattered less whether she thought that what he believed was true so long as he was steadfast and open about it. She seemed to fully embrace the postmodern idea that truth is less important than passion and sincerity.

Paul Ryan

Image by Gage Skidmore via Flickr

This brings me to the latest Tea Party man of the hour, Paul Ryan. Here is a man who is pretty passionate about the philosophies and ideas of Ayn Rand. She had much love for the productive superstars in society and disdain for the rest. She obsessed over the idea that without the efforts of the most creative businessmen, scientists and artists, the economy would falter and society would implode.

In turn we see Paul Ryan standing firm in his insistence that once people are  no longer economic producers for society, our society should not be obligated to provide medical care for them. His idea is to take their money that they paid into the Medicare system and dole it back out to them later in the form of vouchers to purchase their own health insurance.

Most Americans probably see their society in contrast to one that casts their infirm and elderly out on ice floes to die. (Anybody recall the Palin-induced outrage over death panels?) I doubt there are many who actually embrace the idea that because a person has lost their economic production value to society they should be discarded much like worn-out machinery. However, I suspect there are many who embrace Ryan simply for his tenacity and willingness to propose such a politically difficult position. They support him precisely because he has the temerity to propose something that is politically unpopular. His idea is politically unpopular because it runs counter to the general culture and beliefs of our society.

By prizing stubbornness and candor above philosophies and ideas we circumvent the value of democracy. We open ourselves up for zealots who advocate ideas and plans that run counter to our culture. If we were all to vote for people based on their passion rather than their ideas, then we would be destined to elect some pretty dangerous characters.

President Harry Truman with "The Buck Sto...

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Harry Truman is admired for putting a sign on his desk that says, “The Buck Stops Here.” I appreciate the fact that he was willing to take full responsibility for his administration. In a democracy, however, the buck doesn’t stop at our leaders; it stops with us. We are the ones who placed them in their position of power. It is easy to want to throw all of the bums out; it is harder to acknowledge that we put those bums in power. It is easy to admire the strong backbone of a zealot; it is more difficult to consider the value of his or her ideas.

Unpopularity Vote

A symbol to indicate voting process

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Speaking recently with a Tea-Party leaning Republican, I was struck by the fact this person didn’t like John McCain or George W. Bush.  In fact I’m not sure they’ve liked anybody running for President since Reagan. I often hear people talk about how they don’t like the candidates that our two parties offer up. It seems to be more and more common for people to vote “no” against a candidate than to vote “yes” for a candidate.

For several election cycles we’ve heard how hard it was going to be for incumbents because so many people were furious with Washington, their state capitol, of city hall. Politics has perfected the art of making opponents look bad, and this has bled over into new media. To paraphrase an old proverb: Scandals and rumors ricochet around the world before real news can get its boots on.

As I reflect back on my own attitude towards people who I have voted for, I can say I have really liked all but one person who I voted for president (Walter Mondale, who later I have learned to respect more than I did at the time I voted for him). I truly do believe that it is important for us as a society to figure out a way to vote for people that we would like to serve in office. That seems sort of obvious, but the problem is of course the dominant parties. We are afraid of wasting our vote because then the worse of two evils might win.

There are proposals to change the voting method in order to encourage people to vote for who they really like best, and maybe that’s what it would take. But I also believe that if voters would take their responsibility seriously and do their homework, they might find that there is a candidate among the two major parties that on balance they do like. It’s not about finding the person who agrees with you on every single issue. It is about finding a person who is smart, capable, dedicated to what’s best for America, and has a similar world view as you do.

Now is the time for voters to begin doing their homework. Before a party nominates a candidate, then anything is possible. Now is the time to seek out a good candidate and to get behind that person. This is how our system is supposed to work, and if it’s not working, then we need to look to ourselves to begin the process of fixing it.

A Mandate By Any Other Name

Newt Gingrich

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Newt Gingrich opened a can of worms when he was asked about the Republican plan passed by the House which radically changed Medicare. Gingrich called it “right-wing social engineering.” More importantly his comments brought to my mind and to others the uncomfortable contrast between the Republican plan and what they have been saying about the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Republicans have been egging on the states to sue the government claiming that Health Care Reform (ACA) is unconstitutional because it mandates people to buy health insurance.

There’s the rub. The Republican plan does the very same thing, except in a bigger fashion. The Republican plan takes money that would fund your healthcare and uses it to subsidize your private health insurance premiums.  In other words, the only way you’re getting any of that money that you’ve spent your life paying into Medicare is for you to buy health insurance. Government financial rewards for buyers of insurance is precisely what the Republican plan offers, and it is precisely what they’d like to claim is unconstitutional about the Democrat’s plan.

Now, I have read some conservative commentators who write that this comparison is not fair. (see: National Review) However, on page 46 of Paul Ryan‘s “Path To Prosperity” it states, “This is not a voucher program, but rather a premium-support model. A Medicare premium-support payment would be paid, by Medicare, to the plan chosen by the beneficiary, subsidizing its cost” (italics mine). I don’t get it. Is there a difference between a voucher and a deal that pays premium-support money to a service provider rather than directly to you?

What I do get is that words matter. In politics, it isn’t as important what you are saying as how you say it. But it is the job of the electorate to see behind the curtain and to call out politicians who are trying to use words to mislead. To me Ryan’s plan calls for replacing Medicare healthcare with a voucher to buy insurance from a private insurer. And if his plan is taking money that currently is designated to fund my healthcare and directs it in a way so that I cannot receive its benefit unless I buy insurance, then that sounds to me like a mandate to buy health insurance.