Slash and Burn Republicanism is not Good for the Country, our Children, and other Living Things

US children starvingSome time during the Reagan campaign, our government became the enemy of a huge number of people in this country. Paranoia over a democratically elected government enshrined by voters and a sophisticated legal and political system is usually confined to a groups of paramilitary paranoids that call themselves preppers, read too much Ayn Rand, and never emotionally develop beyond, say high school. Through the money of the Koch Brothers, the pulpit connivings of Pat Robertson and the paranoid shrieking of folks like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh that have failed at every endeavor but snake oil peddling on the radio, we now have entire sections of the country that gerrymander legislators to send these freaks to Congress.

Take Texas. Please.

Perry and like-minded Republican governors subscribe to the slash-and-burn economic philosophy — a belief that “less” will somehow become “more.” In Texas, he has implemented this vision with gusto, cutting taxes and slashing funding for critical middle-class priorities such as public schools, higher education, health care and infrastructure. The results? Texas ranks 49th in high school graduation10th in the rate of poverty and 50th in the percent of residents with even basic health insurance.

And while Perry likes to promote the job creation in Texas during his time in office, he leaves out a critical point: The jobs “miracle” he touts is driven by low-paying, non-sustainable jobs. This year, Texas — tied with Mississippi — leads the nation for the percentage of hourly paid workers earning equal to or less than the minimum wage. More than one in 10 workers nationwide earning at or below the minimum wage works in Texas.

Let’s not even go into the social costs of letting Texas businesses operate however they want to.  Just ask the towns and farms that no longer have water and are nsubjected to earthquakes due to fracking.  We can also mention the town that mostly disappeared from a fertilizer plant explosion that killed 14 people.  Wait until Texas property owners and taxpayers get the bills for those kinds of preventable disasters.  I’m fairly certain that northern Texas will soon be paying more for water than the world will pay for its oil.  In fact, I’ll stake all my years drawing supply and demand graph on it.

Then, there is a new kick-the-can down the road effort on the 2013 Farm Bill that’s going to leave a lot of American children starving.  Republican members of Congress appear to still think that folks live large off of Food Stamps.  It’s the old untrue Welfare Queen canard peddled by Reagan back in the 1980s come back to haunt us.

An extension does not solve problems. Congress is currently engaged in a philosophical debate about federal nutrition programs, namely, the farm bill’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Some members of Congress believe the program and its current level of benefits and eligibility requirements are appropriate, particularly in this challenging economic time. Others erroneously believe the program is fraught with waste, fraud and abuse and want to cut funding and benefits to vulnerable families.

Regardless of where one falls on this issue, it is clear that an extension of the current farm bill is inadequate from both perspectives. Members wanting to preserve existing funding for this vital safety net program should welcome the long-term policy certainty provided by a five-year comprehensive bill, rather than leaving SNAP vulnerable to cuts year after year. And members interested in cutting funding from SNAP won’t achieve any of the so-called reforms they desire without the passage of a new five-year bill; an extension merely perpetuates the status quo.

Rather than waste time on a nutrition-only bill to be brought up in the House next week that would leave between 4 and 6 million Americans ineligible for full SNAP benefits, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, or pass an extension that merely kicks the can down the road, Congress must instead preserve the historic coalition between farmers and consumers in need and pass a comprehensive five-year farm bill that includes both farm and nutrition programs.

Then, here we go again on shutting down the budget process, a debt ceiling increase, and vital services over providing more health care to individuals through the Affordable Health Care Act.  Once again, I remind every one that this act is basically the Heritage Institute Plan of the 1990s.  It was the Republican answer to “HillaryCare”.  How far down the path of slash and burn have we gone that today’s Republican’s reject their “conservative” plan of less than 20 years ago?  Here’s an argument for a shutdown.

I’m quickly coming to the conclusion that a government shutdown may be the only way to deal with the coming budget bedlam and #cliffgate.

Let’s start by reviewing the situation.

  1. As of today there are less than two weeks before fiscal 2014 begins.
  2. None of the FY14 appropriations have been enacted; none have any chance of being enacted.
  3. There are no formal negotiations going on between Congress and the White House, between the House and Senate or between Democrats and Republicans.
  4. The only discussions that seem to be taking place are between the two main factions in the House GOP…and the best thing that can be said about them is that they appear to be going nowhere.
  5. The original plan suggested by the House Republican leadership was flatly rejected by the tea partiers in the House GOP caucus. The tea partiers were energized by their success.
  6. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) haven’t put a new plan on the table since their last plan was rejected by members of their own party a week ago. Boehner has even indicated publicly that he’s not sure whether there is a plan than is acceptable to his caucus.
  7. Meanwhile, in keeping with the tradition that the House goes first on CRs, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said he is going to wait for the House to act before moving forward. What happens when/if he moves forward is anyone’s guess
  8. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has far less room to maneuver compared to previous budget fights because he is being challenged in the GOP Kentucky primary by a tea partier.
  9. House Democrats, who in the past have provided the votes to help the House GOP pass budget-related bills when the Republican caucus couldn’t decide what to do, this time seem hell bent on not doing it again.
  10. The White House has far less sway over congressional Democrats now than it did before the 2012 election. Needless to say, it has almost none over congressional Republicans.
  11. The extremely negative political impact of the 1995-96 shutdowns is such a distant (or nonexistent) memory for so many House Republicans that it’s not at all clear they have any fear of it happening again in 2013.
  12. To top it all off, this year’s budget debate is less about the budget than it is about defunding Obamacare and that makes a compromise far harder on the budget issues.

Two things usually help with a political stalemate like this (although I’m not really sure there ever has been a situation exactly like this one):

  • A charismatic leader who can overcome the partisan warfare
  • A crisis that substantially changes the politics

It’s hard to see any leader emerging in the short-term In the current hyper partisan environment. And while there are many charismatic politicians, at least right now none have the stature with both parties to negotiate a budget peace plan.

That leaves a crisis, and baring a military or foreign policy disaster, the only one with the potential to create enough political pain in a relatively short period of time is a federal shutdown.

That makes a shutdown a better option for Boehner, Cantor, McConnell and Reid than it might otherwise seem.

A shutdown also may work for Boehner because (1) it will show his tea partiers that he was willing to allow it to happen as they wanted, (2) it will change the politics as many voters go from being amused to being furious and (3) the tea partiers may be able to use the shutdown with their own voters to prove their political testosterone.

As usual, there’s a group of greedy billionaires behind the shutdown mentality.  It seems they all make lots of money just from all the hooplah.

Club for Growth and other extremist groups consider a record like his an unforgivable failure, and they are raising and spending millions to make sure that no Republicans will take similar positions in the next few weeks when the fiscal year ends and the debt limit expires.

If you’re wondering why so many House Republicans seem to believe they can force President Obama to accept a “defunding” of the health care reform law by threatening a government shutdown or a default, it’s because these groups have promised to inflict political pain on any Republican official who doesn’t go along.

Heritage Action and the Senate Conservatives Fund have each released scorecards showing which lawmakers have pledged to “defund Obamacare.” When a senator like Tom Coburn of Oklahoma refuses to pledge, right-wing activists are told: “Please contact Senator Coburn and tell him it’s dishonest to say you oppose Obamacare, but then vote to fund it. Tell him he swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution.”

Mr. Schock and 10 other lawmakers considered suspiciously squishy by the Club for Growth were designated as RINO’s (Republicans in name only), and the club has vowed to find primary opponents and support them with cash — a formidable threat considering that it spent $18 million backing conservative candidates in the 2012 cycle. Americans for Prosperity, a Koch brothers group that has already spent millions on ads fighting health reform, is beginning a new campaign to delay the law’s effects.

These groups, all financed with secret and unlimited money, feed on chaos and would like nothing better than to claim credit for pushing Washington into another crisis. Winning an ideological victory is far more important to them than the severe economic effects of a shutdown or, worse, a default, which could shatter the credit markets.

They also have another reason for their attacks: fund-raising. All their Web sites pushing the defunding scheme include a big “donate” button for the faithful to push. “With your donation, you will be sending a strong message: Obamacare must be defunded now,” saysthe Web site of the National Liberty Federation, another “social welfare” group that sees dollar signs in shutting down the government.

Brian Walsh, a longtime Republican operative, recently noted in U.S. News and World Report that the right is now spending more money attacking Republicans than the Democrats are. “Money begets TV ads, which begets even more money for these groups’ personal coffers,” he wrote. “Pointing fingers and attacking Republicans is apparently a very profitable fund-raising business.”

What always seems odd in all of this is the number of people that fall for these rich, ideological loudmouths whose slash and burn policy is killing every one.  It seems to me that it’s an offshoot of xenophobia, misogyny and racism.  It appears easier for some folks to believe that women, minorities, and other ethnic groups are more responsible for their economic demise than their bosses and overlords in the pulpits, in elected office, and the bosses chair.  Why some one doesn’t question the patriotism and birth certificate of the likes of Ted Cruz is beyond me.   He’s really the poster boy for everything that’s removing the greatness from our country imho.


Monday Reads: Lousyana Extra

DSCN0462Good Morning!

I got a lot of things that I didn’t bargain for when I moved South.  I’ve been here long enough that you must know that I am a New Orleanian.  I usually have dreams about not being able to get back to New Orleans when I am anywhere else; and they are usually high anxiety dreams.  It’s like I am Dorothy just trying to find her way home.

I want to share some state news with you because the Jindal administration makes every thing about my state seem so damned backward these days.  I know many of you think that these kinds of things can’t come to a state near you because the south is–well–so damned backwards. I am not so sure that a lot of this kind of nonsense isn’t going to sneak into places that might surprise you, so I am going to give you a little feel of the news down here that should make you very afraid of how parts of this country can completely toss modernity and the constitution aside to creep back in time.   Take North Carolina or Florida or Ohio or a number of states.  We’re living in a time where powers that be want to reassert their right to throw away any one that doesn’t fit their agenda. 

This story is from right up the street from me.  It is about the urban neighborhood between my Bywater and the French Quarter. We are in the process of gentrification. There are a lot of tensions that go with that.  Now, it seems we have our own version of the Zimmerman case and a test of “Stand your Ground” laws.  Are you in imminent danger when you’re like 30 feet away from an unarmed teenager? Is a minor break in really worth taking a life for?

Louisiana has its own version of the “stand your ground” law that got so much attention last year after neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in a Florida town.

The state’s law also embraces the “castle doctrine,” a centuries-old legal principle that grants people the right to legally protect their property — homes, cars, businesses — from intruders.

But some lawyers and legal experts said neither of those provisions seem to fit in the case of 33-year-old Merritt Landry, who was booked last week on an attempted murder count in the shooting of 14-year-old Marshall Coulter in his front yard.

If Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office decides to charge Landry, the case boils down to a simple argument over self-defense: Whether Landry could reasonably have felt himself in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm when he fired at Coulter, lawyers said.

Coulter reportedly jumped a gate into Landry’s Faubourg Marigny yard in the early morning hours of July 26. Landry, an inspector with the Historic District Landmarks Commission, told police he approached the boy “from his front yard, near his vehicle. As he grew closer, the victim made a thwarted move, as if to reach for something. At that time, Landry fired one shot, striking the victim.”

A witness, unnamed in the brief police account, gave a conflicting account, though the report doesn’t describe the difference.

Just what “thwarted move” means, or what Coulter did, is unclear. But the report says police found a single, spent shell casing some 30 feet from the boy’s blood — about the span from Landry’s back door to the gate.

That distance suggests Landry wasn’t in a “stand your ground” situation, and it may complicate his case for self-defense, local defense attorney Craig Mordock said.

“This is far worse than Zimmerman for the defendant. If Zimmerman had these facts, I think he would have been convicted,” Mordock said. “If you’re 30 feet away, are you under a threat of imminent harm? Remember, Trayvon Martin is on top of Zimmerman.”

According to police, Coulter was not armed.

DSCN0471 We’ve also made news at Politico and I’m not really proud of how we are “reinventing high school with private sector help.”  Here is yet one more way to filter funds to republican donors at the expense of public schools and of children.  Also, notice that we’re not the only state trying to do this.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s latest plans to reinvent public education with the aid of the business community will accelerate this fall with the launch of a novel program that lets high school students take classes from the private sector on the public dime.

State Superintendent John White said Monday that nearly 3,000 students have enrolled in an array of private-sector classes that the state has agreed to pay for, from math and literature to Japanese and German to hair styling, welding and nail manicuring. The classes, which carry regular high school credits, are taught by an eclectic mix of nonprofits, unions, trade associations and for-profit companies, as well as local colleges.

White said he had only budgeted $2 million for the program but would find another $1 million to cover demand, perhaps by leaving some open jobs in the state education department unfilled. And he plans to expand the program substantially next year. White said he is particularly interested in adding more vocational classes, though an analysis of enrollments that the state provided to POLITICO shows one of the most popular offerings is ACT Prep.

Louisiana’s Course Choice program represents a first foray into a new approach to public education as an “a la carte” offering. States including Utah, Idaho and Florida let public-school students take some classes online from approved providers.

But Louisiana aims to go further still, allowing students of all income levels to customize their course lists using taxpayer dollars to pay a broad range of public and private providers for classes they can’t get — or don’t believe are well taught — in their neighborhood schools.

It’s hard for me to watch our state move backwards to a plantation system of economy while having these steps touted as progress by the media and right wing politicians.  Jindal continues to be our absentee governor as he moves around the country stumping with his unusual gift for bad speeches and confused rhetoric.  He was in Iowa recently and now he’s gone to Virginia to dis Terry McAuliffe.

Republican Governors Association Chairman Bobby Jindal called on Democrats on Sunday to drop Terry McAuliffe as their nominee for governor of Virginia.

The governor of Louisiana seized on a report that the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating GreenTech Automotive, the electric car company McAuliffe co-founded, over its conduct in soliciting foreign investors.

This is laughable given the hot water Jindal is in here at home.   Jindal’s in trouble on many fronts.  First there is the number and types of donors to his wife’s ‘charity’.

  • After Jindal’s administration signed off on Marathon Oil’s request to increase its oil refinery’s output, the oil giant committed $250,000 to the foundation.
  • AT&T needed Jindal’s signature on a bill giving the company more freedom to sell cable TV services. It committed $250,000 to his wife’s foundation.
  • Northrop Grumman, a military contractor,  forged a deal with the government to build a maintenance facility at a former Air Force base. It has pledged $10,000.
  • Dow Chemical, a petrochemical company, was under investigation for a spill at one of its plants and, in 2009, the state proposed fining the company. Dow has pledged $100,000 to the charity and thus far hasn’t been fined.
  • Alon USA, an Israeli oil company, wanted approval to release more pollutants at one of its refineries. It has pledged $250,000.
  • D&J Construction has won $67.6 million in state contracts since 2009. It has pledged $10,000.
  • Governor Jindal hasn’t “entirely distanced himself” from the charty, notes the Times. He’s pictured with his wife on the charity’s corporate solicitation web page and his chief fund-raiser is the charity’s treasurer, according to its tax returns.

 Then, there is “vouchergate”.

Did Governor Bobby Jindal’s staff and Louisiana’s state education superintendent conspire to suppress a news story that the state had ”not DSCN0463performed site visits or extensive review of voucher applications?” It looks like it. From reporter Barbara Leader in the Monroe News-Star:

Emails between Louisiana Education Superintendent John White, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s spokesman Kyle Plotkin and Jindal’s policy adviser Stafford Palmieri show White devising a scheme to “muddy up a narrative” and to “take some air out of the room” after a news report about the new voucher program that was published before his Senate confirmation hearing in May.

In the email exchange, White proposes creating a news story about the “due diligence” process for school voucher approvals to counter the impact of a News-Star article that revealed the sate Department of Education had not performed site visits or extensive review of voucher applications.

Read All of   Louisiana’s ( School) Vouchergate Scandal Erupts

Then there is the resignation of the Secretary of Health and Human Services over bid rigging.

Louisiana’s health secretary, Bruce Greenstein, is resigning amid state and federal inquiries into the awarding of a Medicaid contract to a company where Mr. Greenstein once worked. Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration last week canceled the nearly $200 million state contract with CNSI, which is based in Maryland, after details leaked about a federal grand jury subpoena involving the contract award. The governor’s office announced the resignation on Friday but said Mr. Jindal, a Republican, did not seek it. When the Medicaid contract was awarded two years ago, Mr. Greenstein denied any involvement in the selection of the company, but he acknowledged that a change he promoted in the bid solicitation made CNSI eligible for the contract. Mr. Greenstein gave no explanation for quitting in his resignation letter to the governor.

Then, there is this one.

Immediately after the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority filed an historic lawsuit against over 100 oil and gas companies, Governor Bobby Jindal “demanded” the authority drop the suit. Curiously, though, neither he nor any member of his administration have ever criticized the actual merits of the litigation; instead, Jindal and company seem to be infuriated with the idea that lawyers may make money off of this. “This is nothing but a windfall for a handful of trial lawyers,” Jindal said. “It boils down to trial lawyers who see dollar signs in their future and who are taking advantage of people who want to restore Louisiana’s coast. These trial lawyers are taking this action at the expense of our coast and thousands of hardworking Louisianians who help fuel America by working in the energy industry.”

Governor Jindal, in doing the bidding of the oil and gas industry, failed to mention that the only way these “trial lawyers” could make a significant amount of money from this litigation is if they win. And if they win, Louisiana stands to gain billions that would be used for coastal restoration. If they lose the case, they make nothing. And if, for some political reason, the lawyers, whose contract was unanimously approved by the authority, are forced to abandon the lawsuit, they can only be compensated for the work they’ve already done. It’s a standard contingency fee agreement. Governor Jindal’s contemptuous comments about “trial lawyers” not only reflect a cynical politicization of the most critical issue in Louisiana, they also promote an insidious and ignorant disdain for the rule of law, the legal profession, and the judicial process.

It is easy to try to write this off as just another Louisiana example of corrupt politics or just another example of a backward Southern state. But, remember, this man is running for president as a main stream republican candidate and on the grounds that he is modernizing and bringing a new environment of openness in government.  This is hardly the case.  All of these Republican governors need to be watched very carefully.  I feel like our state is just one big Tea Pot Dome Scandal eruption every few months.

Here are some other headlines you may want to watch:

The State Department has extended its reaction to Terror threats in key MENA regions.

The State Department announced late Sunday it would extend the closures of 19 foreign embassies across the Middle East and Northern Africa through next Saturday, as the terror threat across the region remained high through the final days of Ramadan.

 Rick Santorum is likely running for president again so get prepared for a barrage of religious hatred towards every one.

Santorum is heading to Iowa for three days next week, where he’ll attend a GOP fundraiser, a state fair and a leadership summit — a schedule that’s prompted speculation that he’s laying the groundwork for another presidential campaign. In 2012, he made stops in each of Iowa’s counties, ultimately winning the state by a slim margin.

Obama and the Republicans are likely to come to blows even as the deficit closes.   Raise the deficit ceiling?  Fiscal Cliff?  Shut down the Government?  Here we go again!

Obama is insisting Congress raise the debt ceiling with no strings attached, while a group of Republicans say they are willing to stop paying the government’s bills unless the president’s signature health care law is defunded.

“Both sides are more dug in than in the past,” said Jared Bernstein, a former chief economist for Vice President Joe Biden who is senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a fiscal research group.

Lawmakers return from a five-week break on Sept. 9, just three weeks before government funding runs out. For the new fiscal year starting Oct. 1, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky favors a one- or two-month extension of current yearly spending levels, which are $988 billion, said Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman.

If Congress concurs, that would push the broader fiscal fight into November, when the U.S. is expected to reach its $16.7 trillion debt limit.

smaller government

So, thanks for letting me let off steam over my freaking incompetent and corrupt governor. Pictures of the Bywater Riviera–that is the  west bank of the Industrial canal two blocks behind my house most famously known for overtaking the Lower 9 after Katrina–are courtesy of Youngest Daughter. Those of you that have ever talked to me on the phone know the sound of the New Orleans Beltway Rail Road really well too. You gotta cross it to get to the Bywater Beach.

So, what is on your reading and blogging list today?


Sunday Night Open Thread: The Calm Before the Storm?

calm before storm

I’ve been having this feeling all weekend that the entire country is holding its breath as we mark time until Washington DC blows sky high. Is anyone else feeling that way or is it just me? I’ve been somewhat out of the loop the past couple of days. I have some kind of sinus thingy and I ended up spending a lot of time updating my computer drivers and other software. But I’ve been surfing around this evening, and everything is looking very weird and wacky in the nation’s capital.

In the first place, why are Republicans all over the place threatening a government shutdown? And why aren’t Democrats countering the Republican lies? Failing to raise the debt limit won’t trigger a government shutdown. If the U.S. defaults on its debts it will trigger a national economic disaster–and perhaps a global meltdown. A shutdown would happen if Congress refused to appropriate funds to keep the government running. Defaulting on the debt would mean another lowering of our credit rating and higher interest on the debt in the future.

I can’t figure out if the Democrats are just giving the Republicans rope to hang themselves or if there is something else going on.

This morning on Dancin’ Dave’s Disco Dance Party, Mitch “Pruneface” McConnell wouldn’t respond to questions about the threatened “government shutdown.”

Pressed repeatedly on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” McConnell instead placed responsibility on President Obama for leading the country and avoiding a shutdown.

“I know what your question is,” McConnell said. “What I’m telling you is I haven’t given up on the president stepping up to the plate and tackling the single biggest issue confronting the country.”

Neither Dancin’ Dave nor McConnell addressed the most important issue–raising the debt ceiling. McConnell’s focus is squarely on cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, but he wants the President to spell out the cuts. As Josh Marshall writes:

In other words, big cuts to key social insurance programs are not only the price of avoiding what would likely be a catastrophic government shutdown (a real one, not like what we had back in the 90s). But Democrats must also shield Republicans from the political consequences of cutting these programs by cutting them on the Republicans behalf.

McConnell apparently also claimed that “He Doesn’t Want Debt Ceiling Negotiations to Turn Into a Hostage Situation.”

In one of three Sunday talk show appearances, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wasn’t sure whether he’s prepared to “shoot the hostage” by letting the country default on its loans in the next round of the fiscal fight. While some Republicans are threatening to block a debt ceiling increase unless Democrats agree to major spending cuts, McConnell sidestepped the issue on ABC’s This Week. “It’s not even necessary to get to that point,” he said. “Why aren’t we trying to solve the problem? Why aren’t we trying to do something about reducing spending? … Waiting until the last minute is no way to run the government.” He added that he would not accept any new tax revenues in the next deal. “The tax issue is finished. Over. Completed. That’s behind us.”

Hmmmmm….

According to The Hill, some “appropriators” in Congress have been “working quietly to avoid government shutdown.”

House and Senate appropriators have been quietly working behind the scenes for months to craft 12 compromise annual spending bills to avoid a shutdown that is slated to occur when the current six-month stopgap spending bill expires.

That sounds ominous. Are these unnamed Congresscritters working out the details of “entitlement” cuts so they can whip them out at the last minute when everyone is desperate for an agreement?

“We’ve got most of it worked out,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), the chairman on Interior and Environment appropriations subcommittee.

A Senate Democratic aide concurred that work is far along and will pick up again when the Senate returns Jan 22. Appropriators had been striving to attach an omnibus to the year-end “fiscal cliff” deal and new Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) is ready to continue the effort.
The negotiations mean that disputes over individual programs and policy riders — such as those on abortion and defunding Obama’s health reform — that have exacerbated government shutdown crises like that in April 2011 are being minimized.

Nancy Pelosi did talk about the debt ceiling, and she recommended that Obama just take the bull by the horns and raise it himself.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urged the president on Sunday to drop his resistance to the idea and simply bypass the upcoming debate over raising the debt ceiling by deeming the entire cap unconstitutional.

Appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Pelosi offered her strongest endorsement to-date of the 14th Amendment option, which holds that Congress doesn’t have the power to use the debt ceiling as a hostage-taking device because the validity of the debt “shall not be questioned.”

Nancy Pelosi: Well, you ask the Republicans, because we always passed the debt ceiling. When President Bush was president, as he was incurring these massive debts, and the Republicans weren’t saying ‘boo’ at the time. There should be, this is a conversation where there should be no doubt. In fact, if I were president, I’d use the 14th Amendment, which says that the debt of the United States will always be paid.
Bob Schieffer: You would just go ahead and do it, you wouldn’t wait for the Congress?

Nancy Pelosi: I would just go do it. But the Congress has incurred much of this debt. And so what are you saying, we incurred it but we’re not going to pay it? If you want to say, ‘We are not going to do it so much in the future,’ well that’s another thing. But you can’t say, ‘I’m not paying my past debts.’

Go Nancy, Go!!

boehner

Now check this out from the Wall Street Journal: The Education of John Boehner.

What stunned House Speaker John Boehner more than anything else during his prolonged closed-door budget negotiations with Barack Obama was this revelation: “At one point several weeks ago,” Mr. Boehner says, “the president said to me, ‘We don’t have a spending problem.'” [....]

The president’s insistence that Washington doesn’t have a spending problem, Mr. Boehner says, is predicated on the belief that massive federal deficits stem from what Mr. Obama called “a health-care problem.” Mr. Boehner says that after he recovered from his astonishment—”They blame all of the fiscal woes on our health-care system”—he replied: “Clearly we have a health-care problem, which is about to get worse with ObamaCare. But, Mr. President, we have a very serious spending problem.” He repeated this message so often, he says, that toward the end of the negotiations, the president became irritated and said: “I’m getting tired of hearing you say that.”

Boehner, like McConnell announced there will be no more tax increases, period–only tax reform, and by that he means lower tax rates.

The speaker is adamant on two points: First, Republicans won’t be agreeing to any more tax increases during the next two years. “The tax issue is resolved,” he says, and it will be discussed only in the context of a broader debate about tax reform—specifically, lower rates. He dismisses the president’s declaration that any future budget cuts will have to be “balanced” with more tax hikes.

Second, Mr. Boehner says he won’t engage in any more closed-door budget negotiations with the White House, which are “futile.” He adds: “Sure, I will meet with the president if he wants to,” but House Republicans will from now on proceed with establishing a budget for the year following what is known as “regular order,” and they will insist that Harry Reid and Senate Democrats pass a budget—something they haven’t done in nearly four years—before proceeding.

The real showdown will be on the debt ceiling and the spending sequester in March….The debt bill is “one point of leverage,” Mr. Boehner says, but he also hedges, noting that it is “not the ultimate leverage.” He says that Republicans won’t back down from the so-called Boehner rule: that every dollar of raising the debt ceiling will require one dollar of spending cuts over the next 10 years. Rather than forcing a deal, the insistence may result in a series of monthly debt-ceiling increases.

The Republicans’ stronger card, Mr. Boehner believes, will be the automatic spending sequester trigger that trims all discretionary programs—defense and domestic.

It’s a long interview and it provides some insight into Boehner’s thinking, such as it is.

Roll Call has a piece called: Boehner Coup Attempt Larger Than First Thought

A concerted effort to unseat Speaker John A. Boehner was under way the day of his re-election to the position, but participants called it off 30 minutes before the House floor vote, CQ Roll Call has learned.
A group of disaffected conservatives had agreed to vote against the Ohio lawmaker if they could get at least 25 members to join the effort. But one member, whose identity could not be verified, rescinded his or her participation the morning of the vote, leaving the group one person short of its self-imposed 25-member threshold. Only 17 votes against Boehner were required to force a second ballot, but the group wanted to have insurance.

Even with 24 members, the group would easily have been able to force a second ballot round, but the effort was aborted in frenetic discussions on the House floor.

“Aborted?” I thought Republicans were against that.

And did you hear that Thomas Gibson was arrested for DUI today?

The 50-year-old actor, known for his roles on “Criminal Minds” and “Dharma & Greg,” was driving in downtown L.A. at around 1:00 a.m. on Jan. 6 when he attempted to continue through a part of town that had been sectioned off for a half marathon.

Sources tell The Huffington Post that the race was not over when Gibson drove his Audi SUV right onto the course, interrupting several runners. The race started at 9 p.m., but the road was still blocked off and authorities were making sure no vehicles were let through.

According to TMZ, Gibson was stopped by police and told to go a different way, but he proceeded anyway.

I hope that won’t cause any problems for my favorite TV show, Criminal Minds.

So what are you all hearing? Are we headed for the storm of the century?


Republican Insanity Continues Unabated Following Fiscal Cliff Agreement

Crazy John Cornyn

Crazy John Cornyn

Have you heard the latest from Texas Sen. John Cornyn? This morning the Houston Chronicle published Cornyn’s bizarre op-ed in which he calls for a “partial government shutdown” if President Obama refuses to come to Republicans on bended knee with a plan to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in return for Congress agreeing to raise the debt ceiling.

Over the next few months, we will reach deadlines related to the debt ceiling, the sequester and the continuing appropriations resolution that has funded federal operations since October. If history is any guide, President Obama won’t see fit to engage congressional Republicans until the 11th hour. In fact, he has already signaled an unwillingness to negotiate over the debt ceiling. This is unacceptable. The president should immediately put forward a plan that addresses these deadlines, and he should launch serious, transparent budget negotiations.

The biggest fiscal problem in Washington is excessive spending, not insufficient taxation. Tax cuts didn’t cause this problem, so tax increases won’t solve it. If we don’t reduce spending and reform our three biggest entitlement programs – Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – then we will strangle economic growth, destroy jobs and reduce our standard of living. With the national debt above $16 trillion, and with more than $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities hanging over us, our toughest fiscal decisions cannot be postponed any longer.

Excuse me? Tax cuts didn’t cause the problem? The Bush tax cuts, combined with two interminable wars that Republicans allowed President Bush to exempt from inclusion in the budget certainly did lead to our fiscal crisis–with a lot of help from banksters. If Republicans want to “reform” the big three safety net programs, nothing is stopping them from coming forward with their own list of specific cuts. The President doesn’t have the power of the purse after all, Congress does. Back to Cornyn’s moronic screed:

Republicans are more determined than ever to implement the spending cuts and structural entitlement reforms that are needed to secure the long-term fiscal integrity of our country.

The coming deadlines will be the next flashpoints in our ongoing fight to bring fiscal sanity to Washington. It may be necessary to partially shut down the government in order to secure the long-term fiscal well being of our country, rather than plod along the path of Greece, Italy and Spain. President Obama needs to take note of this reality and put forward a plan to avoid it immediately.

WTF?!! Cornyn doesn’t seem to understand what failing to raise the debt ceiling would mean. Congress has already approved borrowing for expenditures that must be paid for. We’ve already reached the debt limit, we’re way beyond fixing our problems with a government shutdown. Of course Cornyn doesn’t explain what he means by that anyway, but I’m guessing he wants to stop Social Security checks and Medicare and Medicaid payments. Whatever, what he has written makes no sense.

Yglesias responds to Cornyn’s “outrageous op-ed.”

What he’s missing here is that the path he’s advocating is much worse than anything that’s happened in Italy or Spain. He proposing that the federal government simply default on payment it’s obligated to make.

We have had, in the past, episodes that have been called government shut-downs. What’s happened in those cases is that no new appropriation bill has been passed authorizing many branches of the federal government to operate. Absent an appropriation, there’s no legal basis for the government programs to be administered and so they aren’t administered. Then congress appropriates new money and things come back.

What Cornyn is talking about is something else. He’s talking about the government not paying bills that it’s already obliged to pay. Social Security and Medicare exist. Bondholders are owed interest payments. State and local governments have submitted paperwork to get their grants. Veterans are owed benefits. Contractors have agreed to do work. Congress has passed the appropriations bills. But if the debt ceiling isn’t raised, the Treasury won’t have the money to pay the bills it has to pay. The result won’t be a “shutdown” of government functions; it’ll be a deadbeat federal government. Some people won’t get money they’re legally entitled to. But who won’t be paid? And who will decide who won’t be paid? Does the Secretary of the Treasury just arbitrarily get to decide that bondholders and residents of blue states get paid, but there are no Social Security benefits for Texans? Can Obama dock Cornyn’s pay but not Chuck Schumer’s? Certainly there’s no legal authority for that kind of prioritization, but what’s Obama supposed to do if congress tries to prevent him from spending money that he’s legally obliged to spend.

As Dakinikat has already made abundantly clear to us in numerous posts, the U.S. is not in the same or similar position as Greece, because, for one thing, we can print our own money. Here’s just the latest from Dak on this point.

What we really need is a recovery. That will not happen with all the fiscal policies being placed on the table right now. Let’s review one simple thing. As long as you have a good currency, federal debt instruments in demand, and a vast array of taxable assets in your country, there is no such thing as a ‘bankrupt’ government or excessive debt.

Jamie Bouie discusses government shutdowns:

A government shutdown occurs when Congress fails to pass an appropriations bill. Without appropriations, the federal government lacks the authority to operate, and so it doesn’t. Agencies close, workers go home, programs are suspended, and nothing goes on for as long as Congress is at an impasse. This is what happened in 1995, when the Gingrich-led House forced a shutdown, and this is what almost happened at the beginning of 2011, when Boehner led his conference to a similar position.

This isn’t on the table. Rather, Cornyn is referring to the debt ceiling, which is a congressional limit on the Treasury’s ability to pay obligations. If Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling, the government will continue to function, it just won’t pay the people its promised to compensate. Social Security checks won’t go out to retirees, Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements won’t go out to hospitals, payments won’t go out to military contractors, and federal workers will receive an I.O.U for paychecks.

This is why its so dangerous for Republicans to refuse to raise the debt ceiling. Contra Cornyn, keeping the limit low won’t reduce deficits or stop the United States from accumulating debt; instead, it will keep the federal government from paying what it owes to a variety of people and organizations, from bondholders to pensioners. When you stop making payments on your mortgage, the bank comes to take your house. When the government of the world’s largest economy stops making payments on its obligations, financial markets spin into a panic.

In 2011, the mere threat of not raising the debt ceiling was enough to slow economic growth to a crawl, and nearly erase the gains of the previous months. Put another way, what Cornyn has signaled—along with most of the Republican Party—is a willingness to crash the economy and damage the full faith and credit of the United States if President Obama doesn’t adopt core parts of the conservative agenda.

Boehner

Cornyn isn’t alone in his insane tactics. This morning, John Boehner claimed in a “closed door meeting” with House Republicans that Americans support Republicans’ threats to bring down the national–and likely global–economies in return for allowing the Treasury to pay our debts.

“With the [fiscal] cliff behind us, the focus turns to spending,” Boehner said, according to a person in the room. “The president says he isn’t going to have a debate with us over the debt ceiling. He also says he’s not going to cut spending along with the debt limit hike.”

The Speaker cited a new poll conducted just before the New Year by the Winston Group, a Republican firm, which found that 72 percent of respondents “agree any increase in the nation’s debt limit must be accompanied by spending cuts and reforms of a greater amount.”

Boehner first laid out that principle in a 2011 speech in New York, and he has said he will stick to it as Congress debates the debt ceiling in the next two months. The Treasury Department said the nation hit its $16.4 trillion borrowing limit in late December and estimates the next increase must occur before March.

lindsey-graham-scsen

And Lindsay Graham made similar demands a few days ago.

Graham said he anticipates forcing Democrats to give in on a long list of the GOP’s top spending priorities in the new year: raising the eligibility age for Medicare, increasing premiums for its wealthier beneficiaries, and trimming Social Security benefits by using a new method to calculate inflation.

“I think if we insist on changes like that, we’ll get them,” he said.

At the Atlantic, Elizabeth Reeve notes that Republicans have embraced the label “hostage takers” and are taking pride in their claimed willingness to drive the country and the world into economic chaos.

Conservatives did not always advocate so openly that Republican lawmakers be really and willing to risk the full faith and credit of the United States, nor did they say this is what Republican lawmakers wanted to do. In August 2011, New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat put hostage-taking in scare quotes, and noted, “it’s an odd sort of hostage situation when the hostage seems to want to be there,” arguing that Democrats always negotiate on taxes. Today, the change is not just that conservatives are embracing this liberal talking point as their own. It’s that they’re doing it completely cynically. In 2011, you had some people — Michele Bachmann, for instance, at least claim that failing to raise the debt limit wouldn’t be so bad. “I’ve been in Washington for a long time, and I’ve seen smoke and mirrors time and time again,” Bachmann said in June 2011, calling the talk of the economic damage from a default “scare tactics.” The next month, she shrugged, “As we debate the debt ceiling, the players seem to have lost all sense of proportion.” This was widely viewed as crazy. In 2013, conservatives are not making the claim that failing to raise the debt limit would have few negative consequences. Instead, they’re just urging Republicans to use the crazy.

Today, the problem is not the political costs, but the lack of Republican unity to hold out for a great deal. “At some point we have to be serious about this,” Chocola told Newsmax. “At some point, Republicans have to do what Republicans say they have to do — and they have to stand up for limited government, spending restraint, and fiscal responsibility.” It’s not that the GOP has too many hostage-taking Bachmanns. It’s that it doesn’t have enough of them.

Unfortunately, as Greg Sargent reports, the corporate media seems to be buying into the “GOP debt ceiling spin.”

The early returns, based on the coverage of this looming battle so far, suggest Republicans are successfully defining the terms of this debate — they are defining it as a standard Washington standoff, in which each side will demand concessions from the other. Indeed, you can read through reams of the coverage without learning three basic facts about this fight:

1) Republican leaders will ultimately agree to raise the debt ceiling, and they know it, because they themselves have previously admitted that not doing so will badly damage the economy.

2) Because of the above, a hike in the debt ceiling is not something that Democratic leaders want and that Republican leaders don’t. In other words, it is not a typical bargaining chip in negotiations, in the way spending cuts (which Republicans want and Dems don’t) or tax hikes (which Dems want and Republicans don’t) are.

3) And so, if and when Republicans do agree to raise the debt ceiling, it will not constitute any kind of concession on their part — even though they will continue to portray it as such to demand concessions in return. It will only constitute Republicans agreeing not to damage the whole country, which does not constitute (one hopes) them making a sacrifice.

President Obama has stated that he will not negotiate with Republicans over the debt ceiling, only over a balance between increased revenues and spending cuts. Who knows whether he’ll stand firm or not? We can only hope that he will use every bit of the power of the bully pulpit to educate the American electorate about the consequences of failure to raise the debt ceiling. He can do it in the State of the Union and Inaugural addresses and he can continue traveling around the country explaining what the Republicans are up to. This might be a good time to hire Bill Clinton as official “explainer in chief.”

Regardless of what happens, this is certainly going to be a fascinating, though nerve-wracking fight to watch.


Fiscal Bunny Slope Update and Breaking News

three stooges So, the Senate fiscal kick-the-can bill is now in the house Republican Caucus where there are two options under consideration.

The two choices: amend the bill with spending cuts – likely killing it for the 112th Congress – or vote to adopt the Senate measure and send it to President Obama for his signature.

During an evening vote series, members are being whipped on an amendment option: attaching a $328 billion spending cut measure to the Senate deal. That measure passed the House twice in 2012 on party-line votes. It reduced the deficit by $243 billion, left cuts to Medicare in place, turned off $72 billion of $109 billion in defense and non-defense spending set for 2013. The Senate throughout 2012 ignored this House measure.

When the standalone bill came up for a vote in May, it passed by 218 to 199 votes with 16 GOP “no” votes. In December, it passed 215 to 209 with 21 GOP “no” votes. Since that last vote, Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), a “yes” vote, has resigned from the House to become a senator.

Sources confirmed that despite conservative grumbling about corporate tax “giveaways” in the Senate bill, tax breaks for corporations are not considered for amendment. The Senate deal contains dozens of “tax extenders” including for clean energy.

If there is more than a 217-vote majority within the Republican conference for the amended bill, it will be brought to the floor. If a majority cannot be found, the Senate deal will get an up-or-down vote, members said.

While House Republicans broadly oppose the legislation the Senate passed overwhelmingly early Tuesday morning, many of them emerged from their second closed-door meeting of the day believing that, ultimately, the House would approve the measure without amendments.

Meanwhile, stock markets around the world are on USA Economy Death Watch.   Believe me, markets will not react will to what’s going on right now–starting in about an hour–when the Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo markets open up.  Ask me why all of my money is sitting in FDIC insured bank accounts right now and not enriching my brokerage firm.  Yes, folks, it’s the House Republican Dysfunction Show!

Let me provide some background music while I explain what’s going on with the Republicans in the House.

So, what are the folks that are willing to tank-the- country over  fear of losing their seats to even more crazy people in 2 years doing now?  Well, combine that with political ambitions of Ryan, Cantor, and other “up and comers” that would cook their grandmother for the main dish at a fundraiser for their 2016 presidential bids and it’s drama worthy of any Three Stooges short.

Conservative opposition to the agreement stems from a host of issues, including the fact that the deal does not include any spending cuts, would significantly add to the nation’s deficit and raises taxes on those making more than $400,000 a year.

And Cantor’s not alone in opposing the deal: the agreement is universally disliked within Republican circles, and even Democrats in the House and Senate have voiced complaints about the deal.

The lack of spending cuts in the Senate bill was a universal concern amongst members in today’s meeting,” said Boehner spokesperson Brendan Buck. “Conversations with members will continue throughout the afternoon on the path forward.”

Rep. Steve LaTourette, a Boehner ally, said there were “two schools of thought” expressed in the meeting: To accept the deal and “live to fight another day,” or amend the measure and send it back to the Senate.

CNN and Twitter appear to be the sole sources of news on this at the moment.  The news readers are still recovering from the champagne brunches and aren’t working.  Mostly, CNN has turned into a breif show of representatives that want to be counted in the “I’d rather tank the country than piss off my insane base” number.  Boehner is clearly in a corner.  He appears to be the appetizer on the let’s cook granny for our fundraiser event.

Under our non-parliamentary system, the party leadership has less leverage to pressure rank-and-file members of the caucus. The result is episodes like last month’s “Plan B” fiasco, where Speaker Boehner tried and failed to pass an official Republican solution to the fiscal cliff. Democrats were unified against the bill, which they viewed as too conservative. Yet many Republicans viewed it as not conservative enough, and Boehner didn’t have any way to force them to support it.

In short, John Boehner has committed himself to a set of principles for operating the House that makes the body fundamentally dysfunctional. A functional legislative body either needs a mechanism for the majority leader to get members of his caucus to toe the party line, or he needs the ability to “reach across the aisle” to get the votes he needs from the minority. John Boehner lacks the former, and by ruling out the latter he’s effectively painted himself into a corner where he might not be able to get any piece of “fiscal cliff” legislation passed by the full House of Representatives.

It does look like the amended bill will not pass.  Most bets are that Boehner will hold an up or down on the Senate bill and the Dems will ensure its passage.  Hey house Republicans!   Feet meet your ak-47s!!!!   We’ll know more within the our after all the hand wringing and protesting too much occurs.

As your friendly resident economist, I’d just like to say that it’s apparent that there are a bunch of people in charge of our policy that did not learn the lesson of the great depression or the great recession.  They’ve also not learned the lessons of the research surrounding the Reagan years.  Every one needs to know the variables that can use to plan their finances.  Businesses and families should not be held hostage to political antics and economic policy based on wishful thinking and extremists beliefs.  This keeps repeating itself because crazy people have taken over the Republican Party.  It needs to stop.

BREAKING NEWS:

The choice is to let an up or down vote on the Senate Bill happen within the next hour or so.  The Democratic Leadership believes they have enough Democratic votes to get it passed.  So, the thought is that the Senate bill will pass. The technical process to get the bill to the floor has started (per CNN).  The vote will be held some time around 9:00 pm.


Monday Reads

baby new yearHappy New Year’s Eve!!

Congress continues to drag us down its path of dysfunction.  This headline from Lindsey Graham should win him a congressional hearing for sedition.

But in an interview on Fox News Sunday this morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) threatened to oppose this must-pass bill unless Social Security benefits are taken away from millions of future retirees:
I’m not going to raise the debt ceiling unless we get serious about keeping the country from becoming Greece, saving Social Security and Medicare [sic]. So here’s what i would like: meaningful entitlement reform — not to turn Social Security into private accounts, not to take a voucher approach to Medicare — but, adjust the age for Social Security, CPI changes and means testing and look beyond the ten-year window. I cannot in good conscience raise the debt ceiling without addressing the long term debt problems of this country and I will not.

Unbelievable. We continue to see a series of really ridiculous memes spouted by the right. These included dragging Social Security into the debt crisis when it has nothing to do with the Federal budget, deficit or debt other than it is a primary investor in Treasury bills and bonds. We also continue hear about our country going the way of Greece or going bankrupt. We have the reserve currency of the world, a huge country filled with taxable assets and treasury bills and bonds under high demand. How many times do I have to call shenanigans on these cretins?

Graham isn’t the only republican willing to take the debt ceiling hostage to raise the age of social security. 

Two Republican senators want to use the threat of an economic meltdown to raise the retirement age and cut Medicare. Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN)  introduced a plan today that would raise the federal debt limit by $1 trillion in exchange for $1 trillion in cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, as The Hill reported:

The Corker-Alexander dollar-for-dollar plan has several components.

It would structurally reform Medicare by creating competing private options giving seniors greater choice of healthcare plans. It would not, however, cap Medicare spending.

The plan would also give states more flexibility to manage Medicaid programs and prevent states from “gaming the federal share of the program with state tax charges.”

It would gradually raise the Social Security retirement age and use the “chained CPI” formula to calculate cost-of-living adjustments, curbing the growing cost of benefits.

In exchange, it would direct the debt limit be increased by the same amount as the savings generated from entitlement reform.

The U.S. will hit its debt limit  on or around December 31st. The Treasury Department estimates that, using extraordinary measures, it could avoid default for another two months or so. Allowing the U.S. to default on its debt via not raising the debt ceiling could cause a complete financial meltdown. The 2011 debt ceiling debacle — during which House Republicans nearly pushed the country into a default due to their intransigence on taxes — cost the country  about $19 billion in higher interest payments and  at least one million jobs.

So, here’s an interesting bit of history on its way to the British Museum.

The largest Viking ship ever found, a 118 foot troop carrier, is to go on display at the British museum 1,000 years after it helped King Canute control the seas of northern Europe.

The long boat, known as Roskilde 6 because it was part of a batch found in the Danish city, is slowly being dried out in giant steel tanks.

Once it is stabilised and fitted to a steel frame, it will travel to Britain to go on display at the British museum where it will be a star attraction at an exhibition.

The warship was discovered by chance in 1996 at Roskilde as the local ship museum was being extended.

It is believed it was deliberately sunk along with other ships to narrow the fjord and protect the approach to the former capital of Denmark.

It was an incredible example of ship technology in its day and would have taken up to 30,000 hours to build.

Once again, I agree with Paul Krugman who says that deficit reduction really isn’t the Republican goal in all of these fiscal cliff talks.  All we’d have to do is go back to the Eisenhower tax rates and we’d solve the problem pretty quickly which is why I hate it whenever I hear an idiot talk about bankrupting grandchildren’s future.  Again, World War 2 didn’t depress the 1950s or 1960s did it?  That level of debt and high, high tax rates didn’t bring about a second great depression.

Evan Soltas of Wonkblog and Joe Weisenthal of Business Insider both make the same point, in more detail, that I tried to make in my series on ONE TRILLION DOLLARS: the current budget deficit is overwhelmingly the result of the depressed economy, and it’s not clear that we have a structural budget problem at all, let alone the fundamental mismatch between what we want and what we’re willing to pay for that people like to claim exists.

Bush should’ve never been allowed to run two wars for decades without making people pay for it.

India’s outrage grows over the instances of gang rape and the death of one 23 year old woman.  Police are preparing arrest warrants in the case and will charge india protestssix men with murder.

The trial of the six, who allegedly assaulted the physiotherapy student in the back of a bus on Dec. 16, will start after police file charge documents on Jan. 3, Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said by phone today.

An Air India plane brought the woman’s body back from Singapore and it was cremated today, the Press Trust of India reported. Demonstrators gathered at the Jantar Mantar, an 18th- century observatory and traditional rallying point, demanding speedy punishment for the alleged rapists while some held placards calling for them to receive the death penalty.

Thousands joined protests and candlelit vigils to mark the death yesterday. Some protesters held placards calling for the improved treatment of women in India as they congregated in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore. Others braved the cold winter’s evening in New Delhi to carry candles or meet in quiet prayer.

So, that’s my offerings today.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Fiscal Bunny Slope Updates

73_skibunnyGood Evening!

I’m trying to get through a serious patch of the dread lazies.  All the rain and cold and glum has me in nap mode.  But, I thought I’d follow up a bit to BB’s morning post that had some more stupid congressional maneuvers on things that shouldn’t be happening with our fiscal situation.  I’m really getting tired of having Social Security tied in with deficit discussions for one since they are completely unrelated.  Second, it’s amazing to me that the Speaker of the House can be this close to letting chaos hit the markets and the economy over what is undoubtedly his concerns about holding on to the speakership.  So, here’s some this and that on the few things that are bad about the fiscal bunny slope and hooplah surrounding the rest.

The worst thing is the ending to extended unemployment benefits and the uncertainty surrounding the tax cuts for people that really need them.  My guess is that some of this will be renewed but only after the Republicans play the game of letting the rates go up so they can say the brought them down.  It’s inane, I know, but I’ve come to expect that of the party of jerks that have overtaken the Republicans.  Here’s an article from Salon by Steve Kornacki on the Tea Party Mindset and the destruction of our congressional functionality called the Triumph of the Tea Party Mind Set.

The problem, of course, is that the Tea Party’s power resides in Republican primaries, where conservative purists wreaked considerable havoc in the past two election cycles. This included, famously, McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, where the minority leader’s protégé was crushed in a 2010 GOP Senate primary by Rand Paul. Now McConnell has to worry about suffering a similar fate in two years, especially if his handling of the current fiscal impasse evokes cries of treason from the base. How could this square with claims of fading clout for the Tea Party?

Actually, there’s a way. It just depends on how you understand the Tea Party.

Defined as a literal movement, with an active membership pressing a specific set of demands, the Tea Party absolutely is in decline. Tea Party events have become less crowded, less visible and less relevant to the national political conversation. As the Times story notes, the movement’s die-hards are embracing increasingly niche pet issues. The term “Tea Party” has come to feel very 2010.

But if you think of the Tea Party less as a movement and more as a mindset, it’s as strong and relevant as ever. As I wrote back in ’10, the Tea Party essentially gave a name to a phenomenon we’ve seen before in American politics – fierce, over-the-top resentment of and resistance to Democratic presidents by the right. It happened when Bill Clinton was president, it happened when Lyndon Johnson was president, it happened when John F. Kennedy was president. When a Democrat claims the White House, conservatives invariably convince themselves that he is a dangerous radical intent on destroying the country they know and love and mobilize to thwart him.

The twist in the Obama-era is that some of the conservative backlash has been directed inward. This is because the right needed a way to explain how a far-left anti-American ideologue like Obama could have won 53 percent of the popular vote and 365 electoral votes in 2008. What they settled on was an indictment of George W. Bush’s big government conservatism; the idea, basically, was that Bush had given their movement a bad name with his big spending and massive deficits, angering the masses and rendering them vulnerable to Obama’s deceptive charms. And the problem hadn’t just been Bush – it had been every Republican in office who’d abided his expansion of government, his deals with Democrats, his Wall Street bailout and all the rest.

Thus did the Tea Party movement represent a two-front war – one a conventional one against the Democratic president, and the other a new one against any “impure” Republicans. Besides a far-right ideology, the trait shared by most of the Tea Party candidates who have won high-profile primaries these past few years has been distance from what is perceived as the GOP establishment. Whether they identify with the Tea Party or not, conservative leaders, activists and voters have placed a real premium on ideological rigidity and outsider status; there’s no bigger sin than going to Washington and giving ground, even just an inch, to the Democrats.

These folks appear to be ready to bring down the economy and the country if they don’t get their way and frankly, I think it’s scary.  The danger in doing nothing about the slope doesn’t come immediately.  It will come from the compounding impact of doing nothing over time which is what characterizes this congress.  As an example, the IRS may not immediately change the withholding tables so the tax changes may not be felt immediately but it eventually will mean $100-200 a month to families already living on the edge.    Boehner is calling the House back into Session on Sunday.  I’m really not sure if he can actually knock some sense in to these folks or what he’s up to but I guess we’ll see.  Here’s information on that from NBC.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, notified lawmakers that the House would come to order at 6:30 p.m. ET on Sunday in hopes of averting the end-of-year combination of tax hikes and spending cuts that constitute the fiscal cliff.

An anonymous source had this to say:

The lawmaker on Thursday’s call told NBC News that any Senate plan Boehner puts on the House floor (of which there is no guarantee) would only receive as few as 40 Republican votes, making Democratic help necessary.

“If the Senate will not approve these bills and send them to the president to be signed into law in their current form, they must be amended and returned to the House,” Boehner told Republicans Thursday, according to a source on the call. “Once this has occurred, the House will then consider whether to accept the bills as amended, or to send them back to the Senate with additional amendments. The House will take this action on whatever the Senate can pass — but the Senate must act.”

Democrats are using some pretty harsh metaphors to describe Republican intransigence.  Steny Hoyer compared their behavior to a hostage taker threatening to shoot a child.

Less than two weeks after one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings, the No.2 Democrat in the U.S. House, Steny Hoyer, compared Republican tactics for dealing with the nation’s debt limit to someone threatening to shoot a child hostage. “It’s somewhat like taking your child hostage and saying to somebody else, ‘I’m going to shoot my child if you don’t do what I want done.’ You don’t want to shoot your child. There’s no Republican leader that wants to default on our debt, that I’ve talked to,” Hoyer said at a Capitol Hill press conference.

Hoyer’s comments came in response to a question about the Treasury Department’s notice that the nation was approaching its debt limit. He criticized Republicans for previous resistance to raising the debt ceiling and used the gun analogy to argue that the issue should not be part of the negotiations involving the fiscal cliff.

Meanwhile, Reid called Boehner’s speakership a “dictatorship” on the floor of the senate.  His statement sent the markets down.  The Republicans have spent the last year playing the confidence fairy card so it’s really odd to find them trying to assassinate said confidence fairy right now.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said this morning that it “looks like” Congress will fail to come to a deal to avert the year-end fiscal cliff, blaming the failure on House Speaker John Boehner’s “dictatorship” running the lower chamber.

“It looks like that’s where we’re headed,” Reid said. “I don’t know, time-wise, how it can happen now.”

It’s not exactly a surprise — leaders left Washington last week without any imminent signs of a deal in the making. But it’s a grim warning just days before tax hikes and automatic spending cuts begin to take effect.

Markets tanked immediately in the aftermath of Reid’s floor speech, with the Dow off more than 110 shortly after noon.

Reid opened the Senate session by launching into a lengthy criticism of the House and Boehner, saying he “seems to care more about his Speakership” than making a deal on the cliff.

The House is being run “by a dictatorship of the Speaker,” Reid said. He accused Boehner of waiting until the election of the Speaker on Jan. 3 to get involved with negotiations. And he urged the lower chamber to pass the Middle Class Tax Cut Act, which the Senate narrowly passed in July. The bill made permanent all of the Bush-era tax cuts on incomes of less than $250,000 for couples and $200,000 for individuals.

Reid also slammed the House for not being in session on Thursday. He said that instead of being in Washington, Republicans are “out watching movies.”

 Yglesias–writing at Salon–chided the media for falling for Boehner’s “process games”.  Boehner keeps asking for more details and a plan when there are at least two different offers with details out there.

This is a transparent and silly negotiating ploy. Right now, Democrats have two different offers on the table. One is a narrow bill that’s already passed the Senate that would fully extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone with an AGI under $250,000 while letting the Bush rates expire for wealthier households. House Republicans could pass that bill, thus reducing taxes on rich and middle class Americans alike relative to current law. With that done, congress and the White House could start discussing other aspects of the fiscal cliff if they care to. Alternatively, the president has put an offer on the table that involves a more tax increases than that but also a 1:1 ratio of tax increases relative to current policy and spending cuts relative to current law. If John Boehner is willing and able to deliver even a relatively small number of House Republican votes for that plan, then it will clearly pass the Senate.

But Boehner doesn’t want to do either of those things. So fair enough.

But the thing that Boehner does want to do—his “Plan B” bill to extend Bush era rates for everyone earning under $1 million—doesn’t even have the votes to pass the House of Representatives. Given that reality, if Boehner wants an alternative to the Senate Democrats offer or the White House offer the onus on him is to abandon the (pointless) quest for 218 Republican votes and try to come up with something that he’ll agree to and that will attract enough votes from House Democrats to pass over the objections of the right wing of his caucus. If he doesn’t want to pass the senate bill and he doesn’t want to pass the White House bill and he doesn’t want to try to bargain with House Democrats, then going “over the cliff” is inevitable.

That’s fine if that’s what he wants. Personally, I think there’s a lot to be said in favor of negotiating from the 2013 baseline rather than the 2012 baseline. But the holdup is Boehner and Boehner’s caucus. Anything that both the White House and John Boehner agree to can pass the senate. Everyone knows that.

Anyway, if you’re not jaded about our political process, parties, and elected officials by now, I doubt that you’ll ever be be.  Is it to much to ask Republicans to put away their purity pledges, quit feigning ignorance and denying economic reality and get on with being a minority party in a governance crisis they created?  I don’t recall it being this bad since maybe the slavery debates back in the day.  Odd to see how the parties of switched sides however.   It’s hard to see how we’re going to rid ourselves of the teabot crazies however, given the gerrymandering. This brings me to one more suggested read and it’s a wonky one by Nate Silver.  Silver inkles a hypothesis and backs it up with tons of graphs and numbers at his FiveThirtyEight Blog in a post called: As Swing Districts Dwindle, Can a Divided House Stand?

In 1992, there were 103 members of the House of Representatives elected from what might be called swing districts: those in which the margin in the presidential race was within five percentage points of the national result. But based on an analysis of this year’s presidential returns, I estimate that there are only 35 such Congressional districts remaining, barely a third of the total 20 years ago.

Instead, the number of landslide districts — those in which the presidential vote margin deviated by at least 20 percentage points from the national result — has roughly doubled. In 1992, there were 123 such districts (65 of them strongly Democratic and 58 strongly Republican). Today, there are 242 of them (of these, 117 favor Democrats and 125 Republicans).

So why is compromise so hard in the House? Some commentators, especially liberals, attribute it to what they say is the irrationality of Republican members of Congress.

But the answer could be this instead: individual members of Congress are responding fairly rationally to their incentives. Most members of the House now come from hyperpartisan districts where they face essentially no threat of losing their seat to the other party. Instead, primary challenges, especially for Republicans, may be the more serious risk.

His analysis is based on some really great numbers so be sure to check it out.  Robert Reich put this on his face book status today about the nature of the real fiscal cliff.


Robert Reich
Here’s what really worries me. We’re heading off the cliff, but I don’t mean the fiscal one. I’m talking about the family one. According to the Center for Responsible Lending’s newest report, the typical household has just $100 left each month after paying for basic expenses and debt payments. After controlling for inflation, the typical household has less annual income now than it did at the beginning of the decade. And starting next week, with the beginning of 2013 — assuming there’s no deal on the fiscal cliff, because Republicans are unwilling to raise taxes on the richest in the land — payroll taxes and income taxes increase on the typical family. In other words, the typical American family is about to go off its own financial cliff, and no one seems to be paying any attention.

I couldn’t agree more.