Like the reckless financial industry whose interests it obsequiously serves, the modern Republican Party seems to have acquired a special talent for squandering its political capital on wild schemes of political speculation.
Mistaking the conditional support which American politics temporarily confers upon a political party for the open-ended mandate to unmake the social welfare system that has existed in this country for nearly 70 years, the Republican Party has wasted its past two election triumphs, in 2004 and 2010, engaged in full frontal assaults upon the twin pillars of the liberal state - Social Security and Medicare. And both times, Republicans have done so in the most ideologically divisive and politically suicidal way imaginable.
In 2004, George W. Bush declared that he intended to spend the political capital he had earned in his razor-thin victory over John Kerry on the quixotic attempt to privatize Social Security. No major changes to Social Security had been made or attempted since 1983, when a chastened Ronald Reagan reluctantly submitted to sit down with Democrats and negotiate a series of compromises that put the popular entitlement program on a solid footing for decades to come.
George W. Bush, in contrast, chose to ride this third rail of American politics solo as he took on Social Security, campaign-style, at more than 60 carefully screened and choreographed town hall pseudo-events that were designed to manufacture a sense of crisis, gin up urgency for change and create the impression, however false, that there existed broad public support for the "reforms" Bush had in mind.
Public policies that are able to sell themselves on their merits, or which do in fact enjoy the support of the public, do not typically need to resort to semantics and word play in order to succeed. And so it was probably not a good sign for Republicans or their ambitions to destroy Social Security as we know it that so much time was devoted to the comical debate over whether to call the Republican's signature Social Security reform a "private" account or merely a "personal" one.
Republicans seem to have stumbled into a similar quagmire in 2011 to judge by the ferocious debate we are currently having over whether to label Congressman Paul Ryan's plan to "save" Medicare a "voucher" program or one that provides "premium support" instead.
When Republicans are frantically dialing up Frank Luntz for advice on how they can salvage one of their premier issues by "reframing the debate" in order to "get their message out," it's a pretty good bet whatever substantive proposal Republicans hoped to advance is in full retreat instead.
The collapse of the capital markets in 2008 was precipitated by the piling up by Wall Street of a mountain of fee-paying debt upon the shaky foundation of subprime mortgages whose solvency depended on the gravity-defying assumption that the market for housing would always go up.
Likewise, the precipitous collapse in popular support for the Republican Party following its victories in 2004 and 2010 is attributable, I think, to the power those election victories had in emboldening the GOP's most ideological factions, who then demanded that Republican office-holders strike while the iron was hot and deliver on the radical right's 70 year-old obsession of dismantling the American social safety net.
But just as the housing bubble was inflated through smoke, mirrors and thin air, there was never any real public support for the sort of radical New Deal restructuring right wing Republicans had in mind in the heady afterglow of their victories in 2004 and 2010.
Both the leaders and the rank-and-file of the Republican Party might devoutly believe "the people" gave them a mandate last November to slash the big-government health-care program known as Medicare, says the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne. But will they also, he wonders, "understand that the anti-government cries they think they hear from 'the people' are the voices of no more than 20 to 25% of the electorate who constitute the diehard conservative core?"
The public's retreat from the Republican Party is not confined to the GOP loss in the special election in the New York 26th congressional district, says Dionne. Quoting Steve Benen, Dionne notes that Democrats also picked up formerly Republican state legislative seats in special elections in both Wisconsin and New Hampshire. Democrats also elected Alvin Brown, the first African American mayor of Jacksonville, Florida.
Voters don't seem to like cuts to Medicare, or education, or tax cuts for the rich, says Dionne, and for too long pundits and politicians saw the Tea Party "as a broadly based movement whose extreme anti-government views reflected the popular will."
But that was never the case, says Dionne. The Tea Party has always consisted of those "on the right end of politics who were always there but got angrier and better organized after Obama was elected."
Republicans tacitly conceded they were playing a weak hand by the unilateral and highly partisan way they sought to leverage their election wins by restructuring the American welfare state.
When it was his turn to reform Social Security in 1983, Ronald Reagan appointed a bi-partisan commission headed by Alan Greenspan and worked with Speaker Tip O'Neill to hammer out a balanced agreement on both benefits and revenues that still stands today.
George Bush, on the other hand, ignored Democratic leaders on what is probably the Democratic Party's defining program. Instead, Bush just charged off on his own to sell his own Social Security program, whose details he stubbornly refused to disclose until he was satisfied he had successfully convinced Americans the existing system was in imminent danger of imploding - an alarmist myth he hoped to pass off using scripted and by-invitation-only town hall forums whose perimeters were patrolled by Republican goons looking to bounce any critic who managed to sneak in.
Bush's standing with the American public began to sink almost from the moment he began this unilateral attack against Society Security without even a hint of bi-partisan Democratic cover. And his standing in the polls never recovered once Katrina and the growing insurgency in Iraq finished the work, which the campaign against Social Security had begun, of exposing George W. Bush as an incompetent, ideological hack.
Republicans have made a similar miscalculation following their win in 2010 which, if the results from the New York 26th race are prologue, may prove catastrophic for GOP prospects for years to come.
Congressman Ryan and the House Republicans who hitched their wagon to his falling star might have found greater sympathy and traction with voters worried about the nation's growing debt burden had Ryan told the GOP's far right base that once Ryan had agreed to do away with Medicare as we know it, enough was enough.
Instead, Ryan decided to double down on his plan to eviscerate Medicare -- to strike while the iron was hot, to claim a mandate that never existed -- in order to give the far right everything it had ever wished for: a budget that stuck it to the Great Society; a budget that closed the deficit by slashing programs used mostly by the poor; a budget that cut not one dime from the military; and a budget topped with the cherry of another 10% reduction in taxes for the wealthiest Americans.
After stitching together this hyper-partisan monstrosity, Ryan could not even plausibly claim his "deficit reduction" plan reduced the deficit, since with tax hikes of any kind off the table the CBO predicted that deficits under Ryan's plan would actually go up over the next 20 to 30 years before they finally started to subside.
No wonder Ryan and the House Republicans have lost all credibility with those outside the GOP's most committed hard-core base. The imbalance and one-sidedness of the House-passed Republican budget is so egregious and so glaring that no one can possibly take it seriously as anything other than the product of right wing fantasizing and fanaticism.
Paul Ryan has been whining about how Democrats are engaged in an effort to "shamelessly distort and demagogue" his Medicare plan. But even Ryan seems to admit those charges ring hollow when you consider the scare tactics and demagoguery employed by the Republicans against Social Security and health care reform in just the past few years alone.
Dana Milbank reminds us, for example, that when Ryan was speaking from the House floor in 2009, he said the Democrats health-care legislation would "take coverage away from seniors," "raise premiums for families" and "cost us nearly 5.5 million jobs." Later, Ryan said the health plan would result in a "rationing of health care" as the "government takeover of our healthcare system" pushed America toward the "tipping point" of a "European social welfare state" in which "16,000 IRS agents" would be deployed to enforce the law's mandatory enrollment provisions - a charge dubbed "wildly inaccurate" by Factcheck.org., says Milbank.
Ryan had a chance when he first wrote his budget to break this "historical cycle" of partisan "scare-mongering" and demagoguery on intractable issues like Medicare and the deficit, said Milbank. But instead "he cast aside bipartisan solutions and said he wanted to take the issue to voters. Democrats gave him exactly what he asked for."
If you wanted to, you could also add to the list of reckless Republican political speculations the decision in 2003 to invade Iraq so soon after the Taliban were toppled in Afghanistan, a decision in which Republicans abandoned one uncompleted conflict whose pieces we are still trying to pick up as they opened a whole new theater of war premised on false pretenses.
What conservative assaults on Iraq, Social Security and now Medicare all share in common is that each one of them is a pre-fabricated and pre-packaged part of the long-standing right wing ideological agenda.
Republicans didn't carefully analyze and update the need for each one of these policies before building the case for them based on current political conditions or changed facts on the ground. Instead, the destruction of Social Security, Medicare, and Saddam Hussein's Iraq were all pre-existing parts of right wing agenda going back many years, if not decades.
Republicans were not reacting to events when they pushed these initiatives to the front of the line of the nation's policy agenda. Instead, Republicans patiently bided their time, waiting for the perfect pretext or crisis, real or imagined, before jumping - whether they could see the other side of the chasm or not.
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Two good government groups are urging the Federal Elections Commission to reject Stephen Colbert's request for a "media exception" which would allow his employer Viacom to cover the costs of his "Super PAC" without having to disclose those expenses as in-kind contributions -- including the group headed by the lawyer representing Colbert.
Colbert's request could have serous implications on campaign finance law and would "would permit the corporate media employer of these individuals to make unlimited, undisclosed contributions to their PACs under the guise of the 'press exemption'," Campaign Legal Center & Democracy 21 said in a statement. They mentioned that Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum all had PACs and are (or recently were) television hosts or commentators.
"Although we recognize that Mr. Colbert submitted his advisory opinion in the spirit of political comedy, an opinion by the FEC permitting all that Mr. Colbert requests would have a sweeping and damaging impact on disclosure laws and the public's right to know about campaign finance activities," Paul S. Ryan, FEC Program Director at the Campaign Legal Center, said in a statement.
"Many television show hosts who are serious politicians have PACs that could reap great financial benefit from the expansion of the scope of the 'press exemption' to cover the costs of independent expenditure ads made for their federal PACs and the payment of such PACs' administrative expenses," Ryan said.
Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer said the press exemption "simply does not apply to allow a corporation like Viacom to secretly finance independent ads for Mr. Colbert's Super PAC, nor does it allow Viacom to secretly pay for the administrative costs of the Colbert Super PAC."
He said an advisory opinion from the FEC "would result in the Commission opening up a gaping loophole in the disclosure laws."
The Campaign Legal Center is headed by Trevor Potter, who is representing Colbert in his FEC request. Potter recused himself and took no part in the center's consideration of the Colbert filing.
Both groups say that the FEC's test for applying the so-called press exemption is determining whether an entity is acting in a "legitimate press function." Creating ads for "Colbert PAC," and paying the administrative costs of a PAC as Colbert wants to do with Viacom's money, "do not constitute legitimate press functions," the groups said.
Read their filing with the FEC here.
The Internal Revenue Service has granted James O'Keefe's group Project Veritas non-profit status, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports.
According to documents turned over to the newspaper after a Freedom of Information Act request, Project Veritas took in just $2,367 last year but wanted to bring in $1.65 million over the next three years.
"We're pleased that Project Veritas's nonprofit status has been approved," O'Keefe told the Chronicle in an e-mail. "Our nonpartisan mission of exposing corruption while training new, investigative journalists can now be fully supported by donors who require a tax-exemption for their generous contributions."
As the New York Times reports:
In its application, Project Veritas said it planned to pursue as many as a half-dozen journalism projects and conduct five two- to three-day training sessions for people interested in learning how to do such projects on their own. "I can't tell you the secret sauce of it, but we do have a training method," Mr. O'Keefe said. "There are many people learning this method and learning how to expose abusive power in creative ways."
He said he would work as the organization's "muckraker in chief," for which he will be paid about $120,000 a year, according to the group's application.
O'Keefe has faced two recent legal setbacks. First, a judge rejected his request to travel outside of New Jersey (he's still on probation for entering federal property under false pretenses). Second, a judge rejected his motion for judgment in a civil suit he's facing by a former ACORN employee.
A federal district judge in Virginia has found the campaign finance laws barring corporations from contributing to candidates to be unconstitutional. This is just a trial court judge, so the immediate implications are limited, but the basis for his[...]
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I just got off of the phone with Rep. David Norquist, the Vice Chair of Ways and Means in the House, and he confirmed an Mississippi Business Journal report that he will not be running for reelection this year. Norquist, the father of three young boys, has decided that his obligations to them are more important than being in the Legislature. I can't argue with that, but I will miss having Norquist around. He was a tireless advocate for his district, his alma mater (Delta State), and working Mississippians. In addition, there's no current Mississippi politician better at delivering a one-liner than David Norquist.
This is a fascinating discussion by Robert Cruickshank of Calitics about how coalitions work, and how a progressive coalition can be built and strengthened in the age of Obama.
The kick-off for the interview is this article in Daily Kos, also by Cruickshank, and the recent dust-up over the Cornel West comments on Obama. About coalitions, Cruickshank write, correctly I think (my emphasis):
Conservatives simply understand how coalitions work, and progressives don't. Conservative communication discipline is enabled only by the fact that everyone in the coalition knows they will get something for their participation. A right-winger will repeat the same talking points even on an issue he or she doesn't care about or even agree with because he or she knows that their turn will come soon, when the rest of the movement will do the same thing for them.About Democrats and the so-called "Democratic coalition" Cruickshank writes:
Progressives do not operate this way. We spend way too much time selling each other out, and way too little time having each other's back. ... But within our own movement, there is nothing stopping us from exhibiting the same kind of effective messaging - if we understood the value of coalitions.
The bigger problem is that it is very difficult to successfully maintain a coalition in today's Democratic Party. Michael Gerson has identified something I have been arguing for some time - that the Democratic Party is actually two parties artificially melded together. I wrote about this in the California context last fall - today's Democratic Party has two wings to it. One wing is progressive, anti-corporate, and distrusts the free market. The other wing is neoliberal, pro-corporate, and trusts the free market. ... The only reason these two antithetical groups share a political party is because the Republicans won't have either one.It's clear that the "Democratic coalition" can never function as Cruickshank prescribes above, since they many of their goals are actually opposite. The Cruickshank rule, if you want to define it, is that in every compromise with the other side, every member of the coalition either advances his goals, or at least, never suffers a loss. With Democrats, every advance of the DLC-corporate agenda is automatically a loss for progressives; and every progressive victory on taxes, for example, is always a loss for neoliberals. That baby can't be split.
Programming note: (I'll be on the Thom Hartmann show at 10 am PST today right after Sen. Bernie Sanders)
Murray Waas broke a story yesterday about the John Ensign scandal in Reuters which Nicole wrote about here. I've been pushing for the media to force Sen. Tom Coburn to explain his actions in the matter, since he was in the middle of the whole thing as some sort of a go-0between.
The Senate Ethics committee report portrayed Ensign as intermediary in negotiating a potential seven figure payment from Ensign to his former campaign treasurer, Cindy Hampton, who he had the affair with, and her husband, Doug Hampton, who was Ensign?s closest friend and administrative assistant. The Senate Ethics committee quoted several people who gave sworn testimony in the case. Coburn said today that they were lying.
Regarding the Senate Ethics Committee report?s conclusions, Coburn said: ?That?s a totally inaccurate characterization of what happened. What the story you hear is not an accurate reflection of what happened.? Ensign made the comments during an interview for C-SPAN?s ?Newsmakers,? which will air Sunday.
Coburn told C-SPAN that he never negotiated on Ensign?s behalf, but instead simply passed information along from the Hamptons and their attorney and Ensign. He also said that he was proud of what he had done and would do ?exactly? the same thing all over again:
?We put two families back together with multiple children ? both marriages are stable right now,? Coburn said. ?I?m proud of what I did and the way I did it. There?s nothing unethical about what I did.?
In fact, the Hamptons have said they are divorcing, and Cyndy Hampton recently filed for bankruptcy.
It is unclear why Coburn broke his long silence at this point in time and provided C-SPAN with his most extensive remarks on the entire matter since disclosure of the affair. One likely reason is that instead of the story fading, Coburn?s role might face renewed further press scrutiny if and when the Justice Department reopens its probe of Ensign.
Coburn has previously said that he was a witness about his role before the Senate Ethics Committee, but has never commented as to whether he was asked for information by the Justice Department.
How exactly did he put two families back together again? Does he believe divorce and bankruptcy is "mending the fences?' Will the media finally force Coburn to answer publicly for his involvement in this scandal?
61% of Iowa Republicans say they won't
back anyone who supported a mandate
Jeff Zeleny reports that Mitt Romney is starting to get actively involved in Iowa and might not end up skipping the state's caucuses after all.
Mr. Romney arrives here on Friday for his first time this year, for three public events and many more private meetings, the evidence suggests that he is leaning against a strategy of bypassing Iowa. He is the only candidate with a network of supporters in all 99 counties, many of whom say they have received calls from Mr. Romney?s aides in recent days.
In 2008, Romney invested heavily in Iowa, finishing behind Mike Huckabee (and ahead of John McCain). Nonetheless, despite his record of flip-flops on the social issues that dominate Republican politics in Iowa, supporters think he could do well in 2012:
Mr. Romney won 30,021 votes, or 25 percent. And when adding up the results of the other defeated candidates, Senator John McCain, former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee and former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York, about 55 percent of the voters supported someone other than a religious conservative.
?There?s a real opportunity for him to grab the establishment Republican vote ? 35 or 45 percent of the people are really looking for a place to go,? said Doug Gross, the Iowa chairman of the Romney campaign in 2008, who remains uncommitted. ?I haven?t come to the conclusion that I think he can win, but he could run a good solid campaign here.?
And how does Romney hope to appeal to establishment Republicans? According to Mike Allen's Playbook, his campaign his praying Sarah Palin runs:
Romneyworld strongly believes that if Palin gets in, he wins more easily. "The shock value would cause elected officials and party officials to rally around Mitt, because she'd scare the daylights out of them," one official said. "And it would allow him to position himself very much in the middle of Republican, conservative thinking and avoid the fringe, and look more moderate for the general election." Rep. Michele Bachmann would have the same effect, the adviser said. Either of them "gives Romney a bogeyman: 'Stop this crazy woman.'" Another top Republican said he relishes the idea of a Palin candidacy: "She'll be defeated, and we'll be done with her."
But even though Romneyworld may believe Palin doesn't have a shot at winning the GOP nomination, that doesn't mean Romney will see a surge of support. In fact, if establishment forces want to take down Palin, they are likely to back a candidate other than Romney out of fear that RomneyCare might be such a liability that it could actually give Palin a path to victory if he were the main alternative.
Remember, 61% of Iowa Republicans say there is no way they would ever support a candidate who had supported a health care mandate, even at the state level. Only 11% say they definitely could support such a candidate. And 25% aren't sure.
So if Republican poobahs end up freaking out about the possibility of a Sarah Palin candidacy, it won't necessarily be a good thing for Mitt Romney, because if they're looking for a candidate who they are sure can beat Palin, Mitt's not likely to be it.
Anxious over their increasing unpopularity, Republicans lawmakers across the country are banning media from chronicling the blowback at public events. Florida’s now deeply disliked Gov. Rick Scott (R) adopted a similar tactic yesterday at a “campaign-style” budget signing ceremony at a town square in The Villages retirement community in Central Florida. Before putting his pen to the $69.7 billion state budget, Scott took an ax to $615 million of what he called “shortsighted, frivolous, wasteful spending.” Scott conveniently failed, however, to mention exactly what some of those “frivolous” programs were, including ones that provide help for the most vulnerable in society:
In his speech Thursday, Scott omitted many of the serious-sounding programs he cut: homeless veterans, meals for poor seniors, a council for deafness, a children?s hospital, cancer research, public radio, whooping-cough vaccines for poor mothers, or aid for the paralyzed.
Many in the community would likely not be pleased with Scott’s cuts, but those voices remained unheard — mainly because they were banned. Declaring the town square event to be “private,” Scott’s staffers had Sumter County sheriff?s deputies remove Democrats and those with “liberal-looking pins and buttons” from the event:
Members of The Villages Democratic Club were barred from the budget signing by Scott staffers who said the outdoor event in The Villages town square was ?private.? Other staffers and Republican operatives scoured the crowd and had Sumter County sheriff?s deputies remove those with anti-Scott signs or liberal-looking pins and buttons. They escorted more than a dozen people off the property.
Despite blocking dissenting voices from a public arena, Scott failed to avoid anger from those in the crowd — most notably, Republican lawmakers. Bristling under his veto of lawmakers’ hometown earmarks, state House Speaker Dean Cannon (R) pointed out that much of Scott’s praise for K-12 education funding at the event was a “new found” priority. “The budget we sent him funds education at a higher level than the governor recommended just a few months ago, when he proposed a 10 percent cut,” he said. State Sen. Mike Fasano (R) called Scott “totally disingenuous” for this hypocrisy.
Democrats did point out one glaring irony in Scott’s “celebration” of his “jobs budget.” Pointing to the “roughly 4,500 state-worker jobs” the budget eliminates in a state with a 10.4 percent unemployment rate, state House Democratic leader Ron Saunders said, “If he means the ‘jobs budget’ is killing jobs, then it’s an accurate title.”
In response to the deadliest spring of climate disasters in decades, House Republicans are slashing billions from disaster preparedness programs, including support for firefighters. On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee cut the successful Department of Energy clean car manufacturing loan program by $1.5 billion to add $1 billion to disaster relief. But they also slashed other parts of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Homeland Security budget, including cuts of $1.5 billion from President Obama?s request for next year in firefighter assistance grants and state and local grants administered by FEMA.
During the markup, Reps. David Price (D-NC) and Steve LaTourette (R-IL) attempted to restore $460 million in funding for firefighter grants and $1.1 billion in state and local grants, but their amendment was defeated 20 to 27 by the Republican majority. Price blasted the decision to “decimate funding” for disaster preparedness:
One of the worst decisions was to decimate funding for almost every grant program for state and local preparedness. Providing a total of $1 billion for all State and Local Grants, or 65 percent below the request, and providing $350 million for Firefighter Assistance Grants, almost 50 percent below an already reduced request, breaks faith with the states and localities that depend on us as partners to secure our communities. These cuts will be doubly disruptive as many of our states and municipalities are being forced to slash their own budgets.
?In today?s environment,” said Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY), according to CQ, “we can?t be subsidizing local governments to the extent we have.? Parts of his district were declared a federal disaster area earlier this month because of catastrophic flooding.
Cross-posted on the Wonk Room.