Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 30, 2010

THURSDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will leave his post tomorrow, in preparation for a mayoral campaign in Chicago. His post will be filled, at least for now, by senior adviser Pete Rouse, though he may be "interim" and may not want the job long-term.

* A pleasant surprise: "New claims for unemployment benefits plunged by 16,000 last week to 453,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday, a steeper fall than had been anticipated in a sign that labor markets may be strengthening modestly."

* The Senate managed to confirm two Federal Reserve Board governor nominees, Janet Yellen and Sarah Bloom Raskin. A third, economist Peter Diamond, was blocked by Republicans for no reason. Again.

* Afghanistan: "Pakistan brought a critical NATO supply route for U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan to an abrupt halt on Thursday after NATO aircraft crossed into Pakistan in a confused attack that killed three Pakistani paramilitary troops."

* Revised totals showed that the economy grew at 1.7% in the second quarter, up ever so slightly from the previous 1.6% estimate.

* AIG is paying us back, and will likely return a profit to U.S. taxpayers.

* No progress on the Korean peninsula: "The first military talks in two years between North and South Korea ended Thursday with no apparent progress and no new talks scheduled, according to an official with South Korea's Defense Ministry."

* The Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) staffer who published an item online saying "all fa**ots must die" has been identified and fired.

* With Elizabeth Warren leaving the Hill for the administration, departing appointed Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) will take her place overseeing TARP for Congress. He's a strong choice.

* Good: "J.P. Morgan Chase, one of the nation's leading banks, announced Wednesday that it will freeze foreclosures in about half the country because of flawed paperwork, a move that Wall Street analysts said will pressure the rest of the industry to follow suit. "

* Congress' Net Neutrality bill dies.

* Andrew Shirvell, a lawyer in the office of Michigan Attorney General, seems like a very odd man.

* This is pretty scandalous: "Experts are now seriously questioning Pinal County Sheriff's Deputy Louie Puroll's much-hyped tale of being shot by drug smugglers in a remote part of the Arizona desert. But even if every detail of Puroll's story is true, it still does not square with many of the claims the Sheriff's office has peddled about the case."

* President Obama gave a hearty plug to Jon Stewart's planned rally to "restore sanity" yesterday in Virginia. Describing the kind of folks who'll attend, Obama said, "They are just expecting some common sense. ... Having those voices lifted up is really important."

* And maybe it's just me, but when I hear about a "Goldilocks" planet that appears capable of supporting life, I don't think, "Cool, maybe there are aliens there." I think "Cool, maybe we can move there after we've finished screwing up here."

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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LYING ABOUT LYING IS NEVER A GOOD IDEA.... I didn't occur to me that Christine O'Donnell blatantly lying about her educational background would turn into a multi-day story, but it just keeps getting more interesting.

The story started when O'Donnell claimed to have graduated with a bachelor's from Fairleigh Dickinson years before she actually earned a degree. It got worse when we learned that O'Donnell lied about having studied at Oxford, and lied again about post-grad work at Princeton. It got even worse when O'Donnell lied about a fellowship at Claremont Graduate University.

By way of a defense, O'Donnell's poor campaign staff argued yesterday that the bogus claims were part of the candidate's LinkedIn bio, but O'Donnell wasn't responsible for that unauthorized bio and she shouldn't be blamed for its inaccuracies. That, of course, didn't make sense -- there have been media questions about information from that LinkedIn page for weeks, and neither O'Donnell nor her team ever questioned its veracity. Indeed, when reporters asked yesterday why the campaign never challenged the authenticity of the bio before, the staff couldn't answer.

Just when it seemed the story couldn't get worse for the extremist candidate, it gets worse.

[T]he claim that Christine O'Donnell studied at Oxford has now turned up on a second O'Donnell online resume, this one from ZoomInfo. [...]

This morning, the Democratic National Committee pointed out that O'Donnell is also described in a ZoomInfo entry as having achieved a "certificate" in "Post Modernism in the New Millennium" from the "University of Oxford." The Zoom Info entry was labeled, "user verified."

ZoomInfo, which has spent the day looking into this, has sent over a statement detailing what happened with this profile. According to the company, O'Donnell's profile was claimed in 2008 through something called a "double opt-in process."

The only way that resume, with its patently false claims, could have been published is by O'Donnell posting it to the site. She had plenty of opportunities to correct it, but chose to leave the falsehoods in place.

Worse, TPM found instances in which O'Donnell told similar lies on her MySpace page, 2008 campaign website, and 2006 campaign website. She included deceptive information about her education in court filings, and repeated related false claims during recent media interviews.

This wasn't a typo or sloppy word choice.

In other words, Christine O'Donnell lied, and then lied about lying. This, coupled with her suspected campaign embezzlement, suspected tax fraud, background in witchcraft, rejection of modern science, hatred of gays, anti-masturbation efforts, and hysterically extreme political worldview, makes her a U.S. Senate candidate who's literally hard to believe.

Update: Wait, one more piece of evidence has emerged. Those working for the O'Donnell campaign probably aren't well grounded anyway, but this story is unspinnable.

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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NO RECESS APPOINTMENTS FOR YOU.... Congress, as you've no doubt heard, is done until mid-November, with lawmakers headed to their home states and districts to campaign for the midterms. Any chance President Obama might use the opportunity to fill some key vacancies with recess appointments? Actually, no.

The two parties' Senate leaders -- Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) -- quietly struck a deal this week. The Minority Leader agreed to let the Senate do its job and confirm 54 non-controversial administration nominees. None of the confirmations applied to judicial nominees -- the court crisis continues -- and there are still several dozen pending nominees whose lives are on hold for no reason other than GOP pettiness, but in his majestic graciousness, McConnell agreed to let 54 qualified officials, all of whom had been blocked for months, go to work. The rest may or may not get a vote during the lame-duck session.

And what did McConnell get in exchange? He had one demand: no recess appointments.

Democratic leaders have agreed to schedule pro-forma sessions of the Senate every week over the next six weeks, a move that will prevent Obama from making emergency appointments, according to Senate sources briefed on the talks.

Democrats agreed to the pro forma sessions to keep Republicans from sending Obama's most controversial nominees back to him while lawmakers are out of town. Such a move would have forced the president to resubmit the nominees to the Senate and Democrats to start their confirmation processes (including hearings) all over again. [...]

Under Senate rules, the chamber may only carry over pending nominees during an extended recess if senators agree by unanimous consent. Senators rarely invoke this rule, but McConnell threatened to object unless Democrats agreed to prevent Obama from making recess appointments. The deal saved several of Obama's most controversial nominees from a reset.

Dems, in other words, get something out of this. Some ambassadorial, U.S. Attorney, and U.S. Marshall offices now have officials in place, and other key nominees are still alive.

But we're still dealing with degrees of Republican abuse -- the Senate GOP blocked votes on the confirmed nominees, is still blocking votes on many more nominees, and hatched a scheme to allow some progress on basic Senate procedure in exchange for blocking a legitimate presidential power. (Obama has one tool available to circumvent the broken Senate, so McConnell's "deal" made sure it was taken away, at least through mid-November.)

Alex Pareene added, "This deal getting struck this time basically means that every future Senate minority leader will hold up every future president's nominees until getting the same deal -- which means that, in lieu of Senate rules reform, we've just seen the end of recess appointments."

Steve Benen 3:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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SELECTIVE INTEREST IN THE DEFICIT.... The death of the TANF emergency fund was awful enough, but there was another jobs-related effort in the Senate yesterday that shouldn't be overlooked.

Just hours before adjourning, Democrats pushed a long-sought measure on extensions of long-term unemployment insurance. It didn't go well.

The unemployment insurance extension would've made it possible for jobless workers in states with high unemployment to collect 119 weeks of benefits. The current cut-off point is 99 weeks, the most in recent history. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) had for months pushed to add another 20 weeks onto the available 99 in states with 7.5 percent unemployment or higher. Joining her in demanding more relief for jobless workers were the "99ers," those out of work Americans who've exhausted all of their support funds and now have no safety net at all. But it was Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fl.) who stood in their way.

This didn't come as a surprise, of course. But in explaining himself, LeMieux said that "all" senators are "certainly sympathetic" towards those who've been out of work for so long, but the country can't "put this debt on our children and grandchildren."

He added, "Now, if we could only vote on $700 billion in deficit-financed tax cuts for millionaires...."

OK, I made up that second quote, but the point is the same. LeMieux cited the deficit in blocking on extensions of long-term unemployment aid, but couldn't care less about the deficit when it comes to tax breaks -- which don't help the economy anyway -- for millionaires and billionaires.

In other words, the deficit matters when it comes to helping those struggling to get by. The deficit doesn't matter all when it comes to lavishing even more tax breaks on the rich.

Stabenow replied, "The reality for us in America is that we will never get out of debt with more than 15 million people out of work."

That kind of reasonable, accurate argument clearly has no place in our contemporary discourse.

Steve Benen 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

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BIG GOVERNMENT FOR ME, NOT FOR THEE.... We've seen plenty of these anecdotes before, but I have to admit, I continue to find them endlessly entertaining. In this case, Matt Taibbi checked in with some of the folks attending a recent Tea Party rally.

"I'm anti-spending and anti-government," crows David, as scooter-bound Janice looks on. "The welfare state is out of control."

"OK," I say. "And what do you do for a living?"

"Me?" he says proudly. "Oh, I'm a property appraiser. Have been my whole life." I frown. "Are either of you on Medicare?"

Silence: Then Janice, a nice enough woman, it seems, slowly raises her hand, offering a faint smile, as if to say, You got me!

"Let me get this straight," I say to David. "You've been picking up a check from the government for decades, as a tax assessor, and your wife is on Medicare. How can you complain about the welfare state?"

"Well," he says, "there's a lot of people on welfare who don't deserve it. Too many people are living off the government."

"But," I protest, "you live off the government. And have been your whole life!"

If it seems like stories like these are common, it's because they are. There's the anti-government candidate who loved to accept federal farm subsidies. Or the guy who is active with Tea Party politics because he wants the government to spend less and get rid of public programs, but he loves Social Security, and when he lost his job, one of his first steps was contacting his congressman about available programs that might give him access to government health care.

Then there's the woman who's considered a "star" right-wing activist in her efforts against government programs, but who loves the socialized medicine that comes with Medicare. And the activist who considers himself a hard-line libertarian, but his main source of income is taxpayer-financed disability checks sent to him every month by the federal government.

Even one of this year's most breathtakingly ridiculous Senate candidates, Nevada's Sharron Angle, gets by on government-subsidized health care and a taxpayer-financed pension.

The hypocrisy is obvious, as is the impressive cognitive dissonance. But I think Paul Waldman is right that the key here is understanding who benefits from government generosity: "Medicare? Well, that's for people like David and Janice, and their friends, so that's good. 'Welfare'? Well that's for shiftless, undeserving people -- not people like them. Chances are that most Tea Partiers have no idea exactly what the stimulus is paying for, but given their preconceptions about Barack Obama, they're pretty sure it's benefiting people who don't deserve it -- people who are not like them.... Being the beneficiary of government benefits doesn't seem to change some people's view about what sort of person gets government benefits.

Steve Benen 2:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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R.I.P, TANF EMERGENCY FUND.... Readers probably got tired of my reports on one of the most effective federal jobs programs in recent memory, but it was my hope the Senate would find a way to keep it alive. As usually happens when counting on the Senate, those hopes were in vain.

At issue is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Fund, which should have been one of the most popular programs in Congress. A key component of the Recovery Act, the fund subsidizes jobs with private companies, nonprofits, and government agencies, and has single handedly put more than 240,000 unemployed people back to work in 32 states and the District of Columbia.

Governors, including Mississippi's Haley Barbour (R), have sung its praises, and urged its extension. In July, CNN called the TANF Emergency Fund "a stimulus program even a Republican can love."

Except, Republicans didn't love it. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) led the floor fight this week, and was even willing to accept a compromise: instead of a year-long extension that Democrats had requested, Durbin sought a three-month extension, at a cost of just $500 million, in order to keep the fund alive through the end of the year. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) refused to allow it.

"The majority has known this program was going to expire at the end of this month all year and has taken no steps to reauthorize this important social safety net program," said Enzi, who blocked Durbin's request for "unanimous consent" for a reauthorization.

Enzi either isn't very bright or he hasn't been paying attention. Dems first tried to reauthorize the TANF Emergency Fund in March, but Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) blocked it. Dems tried again earlier this month, but Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) blocked it. Dems tried again this week, but Enzi blocked it.

Regardless, what difference does it make when and how often it's come up? If Enzi agrees that this is an "important social safety net program," then why the hell did he feel it necessary to let it die?

This isn't some academic exercise -- by killing the measure, Republicans will force thousands of Americans out of work. The House approved an extension of the program (twice) but the Senate GOP just didn't care. As a result, the TANF Emergency Fund comes to an end tonight at midnight. Thousands of layoffs will begin quickly, and continue as we get closer to the holiday season.

And we'll once again face an ironic dynamic: Americans will get frustrated with Democrats over more job losses, instead of the Republicans responsible for killing an effective program that kept tens of thousands on the job.

Indeed, in a sane political world, the death of the TANF Emergency Fund would be a pretty big scandal, and Republicans would have been afraid to kill an effective jobs program with an unemployment rate near 10%. Instead, the GOP is counting on being rewarded by Americans for taking steps like these, and polls suggest that's exactly what's going to happen.

Republicans will keep asking, "Where are the jobs?" and no one seems inclined to answer, "Your party got rid of them."

Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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WANT FRIES WITH THAT NON-STORY?.... The headline on the Wall Street Journal front page raised eyebrows: "McDonald's May Drop Health Plan." So, too, did the lede: "McDonald's Corp. has warned federal regulators that it could drop its health insurance plan for nearly 30,000 hourly restaurant workers unless regulators waive a new requirement of the U.S. health overhaul."

Politico labeled the article a "bombshell," and it's already caused quite a stir. That's a shame because the story is weak and misleading.

At issue here is the medical loss ratio -- a new rule that forces health plans to spend 80% to 85% of premium dollars on providing actual medical care, rather than everything else (marketing, executive salaries, overhead, etc.). According to the report, McDonald's has told the administration it thinks that's a standard that the company won't be able to meet, which would lead it to drop coverage for up to 30,000 employees.

HHS has already called the article "flat out wrong," and McDonald's has said the report is "completely false."

But if you're like me, your first response to the article might have been, "Wait, McDonald's offers health insurance to workers behind the counter?" The answer is, sort of. Jonathan Cohn has a very helpful explanation of what's going on here:

As the Journal story makes clear, the policies in question are so-called mini-med plans with very limited benefits. In the case of McDonald's, according to the Journal, there are two options: Employees who go with the minimum plan pay $14 a week for a policy that won't cover more than $2,000 in medical bills a year. Employees who opt for the "generous" option pay about $32 a week for a policy that maxes out at $10,000.

To call that "insurance" is to distort the definition, since these policies would do very little to help people with even moderately serious medical conditions.... In the long run, McDonald's employees need policies that protect them in case of serious medical problems. And they need policies they can afford. They'll get those policies thanks to the Affordable Care Act -- but not until 2014, because the administration and Congress couldn't come up with enough money to implement the full scheme sooner.

For now, some fast-food workers can take advantage of the law's early benefits, like the temporary insurance plans for people with pre-existing conditions that the administration and the states have been starting. But for the most part these people will have to wait.

While they're waiting, is there a chance the ACA will force a company like McDonald's to scrap the meager mini-med "insurance" plans these workers currently have? Not really. As Igor Volsky noted, the administration hasn't even come up with medical loss ratio regulations yet, and is already working with companies on phased-in exemptions and flexible standards to deal with issues until 2014.

In other words, there's just nothing here. The freak-out among opponents of health care reform has about as much merit as all of their previous freak-outs.

Update: Reader A.C. reminds me that the news, such as it is, isn't even new. The WSJ flubbed this in a big way.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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THURSDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Rep. Mike Castle (R) has announced that he will not run as a write-in Senate candidate this year. The decision improves Newcastle County Executive Chris Coons' (D) odds over Christine O'Donnell (R).

* After making crackdowns on illegal immigration a key part of her campaign, California Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman acknowledged yesterday she paid an undocumented worker to be her maid for nine years.

* On a related note, Whitman trails Jerry Brown (D) in a new Time/CNN poll, 52% to 43%, though she leads the Democratic nominee by one in a Public Policy Institute of California poll, 38% to 37%.

* Speaking of California, the new Time/CNN poll shows Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) leading Carly Fiorina (R), 52% to 43%, among likely voters. The Public Policy Institute of California poll also shows Boxer ahead, but by a smaller 42% to 35% margin.

* In Illinois, the new Time/CNN poll shows Alexi Giannoulias (D) leading Rep. Mark Kirk (R) by one point among likely voters in this year's Senate race, 43% to 42%. Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones has 8% support in the poll.

* And speaking of Illinois, the same poll shows Bill Brady (R) leading Gov. Pat Quinn (D) in this year's gubernatorial race, but by a smaller margin that most other recent polls, 40% to 38%.

* In New York, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Carl Paladino yesterday accused Andrew Cuomo (D) of adultery, despite not having proof, and despite the fact that Paladino had a daughter with his mistress. This came shortly before Paladino threatened violence against a New York reporter.

* How offensive is Sharron Angle's (R) anti-immigrant ad in Nevada? One of her own spokespeople, acting in her personal capacity, denounced the commercial.

* In Florida's U.S. Senate race, the new Time/CNN poll shows Marco Rubio (R) continuing to expand his lead over Gov. Charlie Crist (I), 42% to 31%, Rep. Kendrick Meek is third with 23%. A new Quinnipiac poll shows Rubio with an even bigger lead, 46% to 33%, over Crist.

* And while campaigns featuring write-in campaigns are notoriously difficult to poll, the new Time/CNN poll of Alaska's U.S. Senate race shows Joe Miller (R) leading Sen. Lisa Murkowski among likely voters, 38% to 36%. Democrat Scott McAdams (D) is third with 22%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

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THE WHITE HOUSE WHITE BOARD MAKES ITS DEBUT.... It often seems as if Democrats would be more likely to win policy debates if the public actually understood what the debate is all about. It's tempting to think getting everyone into a giant classroom, and handing Professor Obama a sharpie and a dry-erase board would do wonders for the public discourse.

As it turns out, the White House sees some value in this, too, and today unveiled the "White House White Board." The president's not in it -- and least not in this first edition -- but Austan Goolsbee, the new chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, has the pen and the dry-erase board, and he does a nice job explaining the debate over tax policy.

It's fairly brief, and it's the kind of explanation that should be easily understood by most of the public. (I would have made it a little longer -- it's worth explaining why tax breaks for millionaires don't do much to help the economy -- but I can appreciate why the White House felt compelled to keep it as short as possible.)

Here's hoping there will be many more of these. Trying to get a message out is obviously tricky -- speeches tend to be long; the media prefers quick sound bites; and few are willing to read policy papers -- but an explanation of a policy debate in a video that's under two minutes strikes me as a clever and worthwhile idea.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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IT'S NOT JUST THE FILIBUSTER.... Not that we needed any reminders, this week offered several new examples to reinforce what has been apparent for a while: the Senate doesn't work, and its inability to function as a legislative body is seriously undermining the strength of the country.

If this were just about filibusters, it'd be easier to understand (and explain). But Ezra Klein had a very smart item yesterday on the role of unanimous consent requirements for routine institutional functions, making it possible for a lone senator to effectively shut down proceedings. The dynamic "creates a dangerous incentive for individual senators: Given that the Senate cannot function without their consent, their consent has a lot of value. And that value can be traded for things they want."

There's always been a certain amount of this stuff in the Senate, but in recent years, both individual obstruction, as manifested through holds, and team obstruction, as manifested through the filibuster, are getting worse.... As this behavior normalizes, everyone will do it. The Democrats will filibuster everything Republicans attempt. Individual senators will place larger holds more frequently in an attempt to get their way, get some media, or both. And if everyone does it, the Senate falls apart.

On some level, the Senate has always been riven by a collective action problem. If the individual senators and the two parties use the rules in the way that are rational for them, the chamber can't function. But there've been norms that held both sides, and most senators, in check. As those norms dissolve and the payoffs of obstruction become clearer to everyone, the collective restraint that allowed the Senate to function breaks down.

Several months ago, Paul Krugman had a column on 18th-century Poland, which had a legislature, the Sejm, that allowed a single member to block literally anything with a single objection. Krugman noted, "This made the nation largely ungovernable, and neighboring regimes began hacking off pieces of its territory. By 1795 Poland had disappeared, not to re-emerge for more than a century."

As should be evident after this week, the U.S. Senate is moving quickly in the Sejm's direction.

Matt Yglesias added the other day that "it's worth observing that according to Hamilton & Madison, a Polish-style national legislation is precisely what they're trying to avoid."

The American system, in other words, wasn't designed to work this way. It can't work this way. And when the Senate fails to function as a legislative body, the country's ability to compete, thrive, and respond to challenges effectively disappears.

The status quo is simply untenable.

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... Last week, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said talk of a possible government shutdown next year is "absurd," and the very idea is little more than "the left" and "the media" attempting to "create an issue that doesn't exist."

With that in mind, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele was asked yesterday about "the possibility of a government shutdown if Republicans get control of Congress." He replied:

"Well, anything can happen."

The comment comes less than a week after CNN pressed House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) on the issue of a shutdown, and he refused to answer.

Remember, contra Gregg, this is an issue Republicans are taking very seriously. Recent talk of a government shutdown has been pushed by a House Republican leader (Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia); a Republican Senate candidate (Joe Miller of Alaska); a Republican House candidate (Teresa Collett of Minnesota); and a variety of prominent Republican voices (Newt Gingrich, Dick Morris, and Erick Erickson).

Earlier this month, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) even demanded this his party's leadership sign a "blood oath" that they will gut America's health care system, even if the effort leads to a government shutdown.

We're well past the point of "anything can happen," and clearly in the realm of "what's likely to happen."

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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IS BOEHNER SELF-AWARE?.... House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) will head to a conservative D.C. think-tank to speak on "congressional reform." By one account, the would-be Speaker intends to present, "his personal vision of how we need to reform Congress to restore trust in 'the people's House.'"

What's less clear to me is how Boehner is able to address the subject with a straight face.

Powerful interests are banking on Republican John Boehner to be the next Speaker of the House, fundraising reports show.

The Ohio lawmaker has collected nearly $7.1 million for his campaign and leadership committees -- more than double the $2.9 million that current Speaker Nancy Pelosi has received in similar fundraising, according to data compiled by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. Another $2 million has flowed into "Boehner for Speaker," a fundraising committee that shares contributions with the group working to elect more Republicans.

The industries giving the most to Boehner: insurance companies, drug manufacturers and Wall Street firms, all of which now face new regulations adopted by the Democratic-controlled Congress. The political action committees and employees of insurance firms, for instance, donated nearly $426,000 to Boehner's campaign committees through June 30, according to the center's tally.

By any reasonable measure, Boehner is almost a caricature of what's wrong with Washington insiders. He first gained national notoriety in 1996, when the chain-smoking conservative congressman, shortly before a key vote, walked the House floor distributing checks from tobacco industry lobbyists.

More recently, Boehner has developed an unrivaled love of corporate lobbyists, with whom the GOP leader coordinates to try to kill jobs bills, Wall Street reform,health care reform, and energy legislation.

We're talking about a long-time Capitol Hill veteran who literally meets in smoke-filled rooms to scheme behind closed doors with powerful interests, most of which have hired his former aides for maximum influence and impact.

Can anyone seriously expect this guy to offer a credible vision "of how we need to reform Congress to restore trust in 'the people's House'"? Is this some sort of joke?

No wonder the DNC released a biting new ad this morning, and the White House blog has already made a persuasive case that Boehner has no credibility on the subject.

This really isn't complicated. If voters like the idea of House leaders handing over congressional power to lobbyists and wealthy donors, John Boehner intends to make that happen. When he speaks of "the people's House," Boehner neglects to mention that the only "people" he cares about are those who write big checks and travel with him on private jets to their next golfing getaway.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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KEEPING THE LAWYERS BUSY IN 2011 AND 2012.... Last week, Taegan Goddard connected with former President Bill Clinton, who said a potential campaign issue is the prospect of congressional witch hunts launched by a possible Republican majority.

If the GOP takes the House, Clinton predicted, Republicans would pursue "two years of unrelenting investigations." This realization, the former president added, "might shake up all these apathetic Democrats and get them to vote again."

I'm not sure if that's true -- does the typical voter really understand the process that well? -- but let there be no doubt about the likelihood of these pointless investigations.

House Minority Leader John Boehner threw his full support behind Rep. Darrell Issa's (R-Calif.) plan to bombard the Obama administration with subpoenas if Republicans take back the House in November.

"I think Congress has an appropriate role under the Constitution to provide oversight of the executive branch. And I would pledge that it's going to happen," he told reporters Wednesday.

Issa, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Committee, has said he'll double the size of his staff if he becomes chairman of the committee next year. He called for an investigation of the Obama administration earlier this year for offering Rep. Joe Sestak an unpaid job if he would drop out of the Democratic primary, and he has promised to investigate the White House in search of similar controversies.

Keep in mind, when President Obama took office, there were a wide variety of calls for him to investigate Bush-era wrongdoing, holding the previous administration responsible for possible crimes. Republicans implored the Obama White House to instead ignore the past, and focus solely on policies affecting the president and the future. With all the country is facing, the argument went, this is not time to look backwards.

Though it proved deeply controversial with many of his supporters, the president agreed and left Bush-era scandals, abuses, and crimes to the verdict of history.

Two years later, the same Republicans who demanded that Democrats look forward, not backward, may very well take a congressional majority and spend most, if not all, of their time doing the exact opposite -- investigating manufactured controversies from before, gutting health care legislation that passed before, fighting for tax cuts that didn't work before, etc.

Obama's reward for moving past Bush's controversies will be the polar opposite.

As for the severity, I still don't think the political fully appreciates how ugly this would be. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said over the summer that endless investigations should be her party's principal focus. "I think that all we should do is issue subpoenas and have one hearing after another, and expose all the nonsense that has gone on," she said in July.

To be sure, it was farcical on the Hill in the mid- to late-'90s. Rep. Dan Burton (R) of Indiana and his House committee on administrative oversight launched pointless investigations into every wild-eyed Clinton-related accusation unhinged activists could manufacture.

And I mean "every" quite literally. In one instance, Burton held hearings -- for 10 days -- on the Clintons' Christmas card list. In another, Burton fired a bullet into a "head-like object" -- reportedly a melon -- in his backyard to test his conspiracy theories about Vince Foster. Over the last six years of Bill Clinton's presidency, Burton's committee unilaterally issued 1,052 subpoenas -- that's not a typo -- to investigate baseless allegations of misconduct. That translates to an average of a politically-inspired subpoena every other day for six consecutive years, including weekends, holidays, and congressional recesses.

Issa wants to make Burton look like a tepid wallflower.

As Paul Krugman noted recently, "[W]e'll be having hearings over accusations of corruption on the part of Michelle Obama's hairdresser, janitors at the Treasury, and Larry Summers's doctor's dog."

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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WHERE LANDRIEU'S LOYALTIES LIE.... It's maddening enough when conservative Republican senators abuse Senate rules and interfere with the government's ability to function. It's just as offensive when conservative Democrats do the same thing.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said [Wednesday] she stands by her hold on President Obama's nominee for White House Office of Management and Budget director because the administration has yet to overturn its moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

Landrieu, who has been a vehement opponent of the drilling ban, has come under fire this week from many in her own party -- including Senate Democrats and administration officials -- over the hold on Jack Lew, the OMB nominee. But, in a floor speech today, she said she won't budge.

Keep in mind, Landrieu doesn't object to Jack Lew. On the contrary, she's described him as an "outstanding" choice to head the OMB, and would be more to happy to vote for his confirmation. It's just that she's looking for a hostage, and Lew became a convenient choice to exploit -- as soon as Landrieu gets what she wants, she'll be gracious enough to let the Senate vote on a key administration nominee. Until then, she just doesn't care about the consequences.

In this case, those consequences aren't just minor inconveniences. The Office of Management and Budget is poised to start writing the 2012 budget, and it needs the administration's budget director. But there is no budget director, because Mary Landrieu, in a move that's been fairly described as "both absurd and irresponsible," has decided her demands are more important the administration's ability to govern.

And what are those demands? She wants oil companies to start deepwater drilling again, as well as faster permits for shallow-water drilling projects. In other words, Landrieu won't even let the Senate vote on an important nominee until oil companies tell her they're happy.

The country simply can't be expected to thrive in the 21st century with a Senate that's this broken.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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September 29, 2010

WEDNESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Terror threat: "Threats of a possible 'Mumbai-style' terror attack on Western interests in Europe are considered 'credible' and U.S. officials aren't ruling out the possibility that the plot could extend to the U.S., a senior U.S. counterterrorism official told NBC News. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said information about a possible plot emanating from al-Qaida-linked groups in northwest Pakistan was first picked up by U.S. intelligence several weeks ago and was believed to be aimed at targets in France, Germany or the United Kingdom."

* It's not much of a surprise, but the House has officially decided to punt on the tax-policy debate until after the midterms.

* Stem-cell research can continue for now: "A federal appeals courts Tuesday ruled that the federal government can continue funding human embryonic stem cell research pending the outcome of a lawsuit challenging the Obama administration's new policies on the controversial field of science."

* Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), a constant source of crushing disappointment, went to the far-right Heritage Foundation today to endorse the Republican line on tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires.

* In light of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's imminent departure, Dave Weigel reviews why the left has never liked him.

* Good idea: "Nine retired U.S. military officers are urging that the U.S. travel ban to Cuba be lifted."

* Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) holds up millions of dollars in aid for Haiti earthquake survivors. Seriously.

* On a related note, Coburn really will just block anything and everything: "A bill aimed at increasing enforcement of existing legislation to protect sharks was scuttled in the Senate today when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), one of the chamber's chief obstructionists, objected to a unanimous consent request by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)."

* Measuring what colleges do isn't easy.

* As appointed Sen. Ted Kaufmann (D-Del.) prepares to wrap up his brief tenure, he makes it plain: "I don't know what the answer is. I don't know what to say about the system. The system is so awful."

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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MELANCON GOES THERE.... Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, despite humiliating scandals and a tragic voting record, is cruising to re-election this year, leaving his challenger Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) with very few options if he hopes to close the gap quickly.

In something of a hail-mary pass, the Melancon campaign has unveiled this two-minute long ad that goes into Vitter's prostitution scandal -- the "family values" senator has been caught with at least two hookers during his time in Congress -- in quite a bit of detail.

At first blush, the message may not seem like the kind of thing that will resonate. After all, Louisianans know about Vitter's betrayal of his family, but he's winning anyway.

But the ad isn't about the prostitutes so much as it's about a senator getting away with criminal activities his constituents would face punishment for. The spot shows one Louisiana voter saying, "If you're writing the laws, you should abide by the laws," says one man identified as a retired firefighter. Another man argues, "For me, it's not about hookers or cheating on his wife. The man broke the law, and there ought to be consequences for that."

That's the key here. People know about the affairs, and they don't care. But voters might resent the arrogant politician who begs for votes so he'll fight for "family values," goes to Washington and gets involved with hookers, and then faces no punishment whatsoever, legal or otherwise.

It's pretty expensive to run a two-minute long commercial, but Politico reports that the ad "will initially run largely on cable — possibly during the New Orleans Saints or LSU games this weekend. It is expected to reach every market in Louisiana."

If the clip looks familiar, it's based on a five-minute web video that was released over the summer, but which has since been edited down.

I don't know if this will turn things around in this race, but if anything's going to cut into Vitter's lead, this ought to do the trick.

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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HOUSE FINALLY APPROVES ZADROGA 9/11 HEALTH AND COMPENSATION ACT.... A bill that should have been one of the year's most obvious no-brainers passed today, about three months later than it should have.

The Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act would pay health care costs for 9/11 rescue workers, sickened after exposure to the toxic smoke and debris. The legislation was fully paid for, financed by closing a tax loophole for American companies that try to hide their headquarters at P.O. box in the Caymans.

The GOP trashed the bill, calling the health care money a "slush fund." In July, it needed a two-thirds majority to pass, and it came up short -- nearly every Democrat voted for it, and nearly every Republican voted against it.

Today, the House tried again, and this time it passed.

The final vote was 268 to 160. Among the majority, 251 Democrats voted for it, while only three voted against it. On the other side of the aisle, 17 House Republicans voted for the bill, while 157 opposed it.

The bill calls for providing $3.2 billion over the next eight years to monitor and treat injuries stemming from exposure to toxic dust and debris at ground zero. New York City would have paid 10 percent of those health costs. The bill seeks to set aside $4.2 billion to reopen the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund to provide compensation for any job and economic losses.

In addition, the bill contains a provision that would have allowed money from the Victim Compensation Fund to be paid out to anyone who receives payment under the pending settlement stemming from lawsuits that 10,000 rescue and cleanup workers filed against the city.

Just so we're perfectly clear, a month before national elections, 90% of House Republicans voted against health care benefits for sick 9/11 heroes. Seriously. This is the party that's expected to do extremely well in November.

Indeed, the House GOP held the bill in such contempt, they tried to play yet another petty, partisan game with the legislation -- they pushed a poison-pill motion to recommit this afternoon, which would have repealed major parts of the Affordable Care Act and added the GOP's "tort reform" measure to the bill.

What happens now? President Obama strongly supports the legislation, but it may very well die in the Senate, which wouldn't consider the bill until the lame-duck session, if at all.

Steve Benen 3:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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RON JOHNSON'S BIZARRE POSITION ON CHILD-ABUSE VICTIMS.... It's been fairly obvious for a while that Ron Johnson (R), the strange far-right Senate candidate in Wisconsin this year, is hard to take seriously. On everything from economic policy to climate policy to Social Security, Johnson's positions have varied between wrong and ridiculous.

Yet this one is shocking, even for a GOP Senate candidate.

[B]efore running for Senate, Johnson did have one prominent act of political participation. In January 2010, Johnson testified before the Wisconsin state legislature in opposition to the bipartisan Wisconsin Child Victims Act. The legislation, if passed, would alter Wisconsin law to eliminate the statute of limitations on civil suits for child abuse and allow a three-year window to bring suit for victims who were victimized before the bill. The legislation also specifies that the entities that can be sued would include not just individuals, but also a "corporation, business trust, limited liability company," and other formal organizations that could be held accountable for the illegal behavior of their employees. As the bill's authors write, "We believe that there should be no deadline on justice for child sexual abuse victims."

But Johnson did not place protecting victims as his highest priority.

Clearly not. Johnson instead told policymakers, I" think it is extremely important to consider the economic havoc and the other victims [the Wisconsin Child Victims Act] would likely create."

In other words, if victims of child abuse seek justice, it might interfere with the economy. It's preferable, then, to make it harder for victims to go to court. In a dispute pitting victimized children and abusers, Johnson spoke out against a measure looking out for the former.

Jed Lewison added, "The issue here isn't that just that Ron Johnson is opposing victims of predators -- it's that he's doing so to defend the interests of a tiny elite. If he can't even stand up for children -- sexually abused children, in fact -- who in their right mind believes he would stick up for the interests of everyday Wisconsin families?"

Making matters even worse, Joe Sudbay notes that Johnson served on the Green Bay Diocese Finance Council, which was being sued for its role in the sexual abuse of children at the time of his testimony, putting him in an awkward position -- he urged state lawmakers to make it harder for victims to sue while at the same time helping a church at the center of an abuse scandal. (It's unclear if the legislature was aware of the potential conflict of interest at the time of Johnson's testimony.)

I don't know if this is the kind of story that resonates with voters in Wisconsin, but it seems pretty awful.

Steve Benen 3:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), he of "terror baby" fame, is fond of wandering onto the House floor at odd times and sharing odd thoughts that pop into his head. Last night, Gohmert offered this gem:

"We have people on welfare and I know there's some that just don't wanna work, but there's some that do. How 'bout if instead of the welfare, we give 'em an alternative. We'll give you so many acres that can provide land where you can live off of it, make a living and we'll give you seed money to start, but you have to sign an agreement that you'll never accept welfare again. How 'bout that? We got plenty of land."

He really said that. It's on video.

I'm not sure quite where to start with this. I suppose the first question is whether Gohmert's Republican colleagues would be comfortable with Congress handing over large swaths of federal land -- for free -- to low-income Americans.

Second, I'd like a definition of "welfare," since it really isn't limited to the poor. ExxonMobil receives all kinds of subsidies from the government. Is that "welfare," too? Dose Gohmert intend to having over "so many acres" to oil giants in exchange for the elimination of subsidies in the future?

And third, I'd love to hear more about implementation. If a family is on food stamps in, say, Florida, and there's plenty of federal land in, say, Utah, does Gohmert envision a federally funded migration/relocation program? All in the hopes of eliminating food stamps forever?

Walid Zafar concluded, "If any of this sounds familiar, it should. Gohmert's proposal has vestiges of the much-misunderstood 40 acres and a mule deal offered to former slaves after the Civil War or the relocating of 'undesirable' populations into predetermined plots of land."

I shudder to think how many lawmakers will be in Congress next year who share Louie Gohmert's intellect and understanding of reality.

Steve Benen 2:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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SENATE SHOOTS DOWN ENZI'S 'GRANDFATHERED PLANS' NONSENSE.... The Senate calendar is very limited at this point, before the chamber could wrap up their pre-adjournment work, members were forced to endure yet another ridiculous health care debate.

This time, it was Wyoming's Mike Enzi (R), perhaps best known for negotiating in bad faith on a compromise package last year, and boasting to constituents that he only talked to Dems so he could force concessions on a deal he'd later try to kill anyway. His new scheme, considered on the Senate floor today, involved repealing parts of the Affordable Care Act dealing with insurance reforms. It's all about defining "grandfathered plans."

Among other things, the new health reform law would require health plans to cover preventive care without cost-sharing, undergo reviews to see if their premium rate increases are unreasonable, and offer enrollees the choice of their primary care provider. But plans that existed when the law was enacted on March 23, 2010 -- known as "grandfathered" plans -- aren't required to comply with these reforms.

The regulations define how much a grandfathered plan can change before it is considered a new plan that must abide by these new reforms and consumer protections. As we explained in a recent fact sheet, they strike a good balance for consumers, allowing people to keep the plans they have while ensuring that consumer protections kick in if an insurance company reduces a plan's benefits or raises consumers' out-of-pocket costs significantly.

Repealing the regulations, as Senator Enzi is proposing, would confuse consumers, employers, and insurers about which plans are grandfathered and which plans have to comply with market reforms. As a result, it would threaten the implementation of the immediate market reforms, thus making the insurance market less stable and would likely leave many consumers without access to critical protections the Affordable Care Act provides.

In a statement of policy, the White House explained, "By dismantling the (regulation) that set out the conditions under which health plans can qualify for 'grandfather' status, the resolution would limit individuals' and businesses' choice to keep the plan they had in place when the Affordable Care Act was enacted. Adoption of the joint resolution would result in significant uncertainty as to what kind of changes may be made to coverage without a loss of grandfather status."

Regardless, the right loved it, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce demanded that Republicans support it. They did just that -- the final vote was 40 to 59, 11 short of what was needed, with every Senate Republican on the floor today voting with their party, and every member of the Democratic caucus voting against it. The so-called "moderate" trio of Snowe, Collins, and Brown went along with the far-right crowd.

"This resolution is a political stunt," Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said. "It's an election-season effort to take pot-shots at the new health care reform law."

I think that's entirely right, though the election-season scheme will very likely become a year-round crusade after GOP gains are reflected in the next Congress.

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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ENSIGN WANTS TO RUN AGAIN (IF HE'S NOT IN JAIL).... Nevada Sen. John Ensign (R) has no intention of letting a little thing like a criminal investigation interfere with his re-election plans.

Over the past month, Ensign has crisscrossed Nevada, holding a number of official Senate events to show voters that the messy fallout from his affair hasn't undermined his responsibilities. He's reaching out to fundraisers -- for his legal expense fund and for his campaign accounts -- and he's making no secret to the local press and his supporters that he is not yet ready to call it quits from politics.

For Ensign to succeed in 2012, and ward off primary challengers, he'll need to shore up support from conservative voters who he hopes forgive him for his infidelity with former aide Cynthia Hampton and overlook the ethics inquiries that still dog him as a result of that affair.

CREW's Melanie Sloan recently noted, "Senator Ensign had an extended affair with a campaign staffer, who happened to be married to his chief of staff Doug Hampton, fired them both, and had his parents pay them off without properly reporting it to the Federal Election Commission. He then conspired to help Mr. Hampton to set up a lobbying business to lobby his own office, in violation of federal law."

That's the long and the short of it. And with these scandalous details in mind, of course Ensign is thinking about re-election.

Here we have a "family values" conservative Republican who had an extra-marital sexual relationship with his friend's wife, while condemning others' moral failings. Ensign's parents offered to pay hush-money. He ignored ethics laws and tried to use his office to arrange lobbying jobs for his mistress' husband. The likelihood of Ensign being indicted seems fairly high. He's already the target, not only of a Senate ethics probe, but also of an ongoing FBI investigation.

Ensign probably doesn't mention while he's crisscrossing Nevada, but by 2012, he may be facing criminal conviction.

But this ties in to what we were talking about yesterday: there's just no such thing as being "permanently disgraced" when it comes to Republican politics. It's why South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) is considering future campaigns; it's why Newt Gingrich is a media darling considering a presidential race; it's why Dick Morris is a Republican celebrity; it's why Ralph Reed can host a well-attended D.C. confab; and it's why David Vitter isn't the slightest bit embarrassed running for re-election in Louisiana.

It gives new meaning to the word "shameless."

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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GILLESPIE'S BAD ARGUMENT.... The Democratic campaign committees are no doubt pleased to have a financial advantage over their Republican counterparts, but that edge disappears when one considers the legion of well-funded, right-wing organizations -- taking in money hand over fist -- funding attack ads targeting Democrats.

A Washington Post analysis recently found that 85% of the flood of money from "independent" groups is going to support Republican candidates. The Associated Press came to a similar conclusion, reporting yesterday that "groups allied with the Republican Party and financed in part by corporations and millionaires have amassed a crushing 6-1 advantage in television spending, and now are dominating the airwaves in closely contested districts and states."

Former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie, who has partnered with Karl Rove for the well-financed American Crossroads project, concedes that Americans must not be allowed to know who's financing his attack ads. If the public knew who was trying to buy the elections for Republicans, the argument goes, those wealthy conservatives doing the financing might be subjected to public scrutiny. And the next thing you know, some liberal might be mean to them or something.

It led Adam Serwer to raise a good point about the Palinization of the First Amendment.

...Gillespie wants to have it a Palinesque both ways -- he wants to see money as speech and shield those who are speaking from having to face any kind of public accountability for that speech. There's nothing that makes a millionaire shelling out cash for his favorite right-wing cause any more legitimate a form of political speech than liberals staging a public protest, such that the former should be shielded with a shroud of anonymity. [...]

It's worth noting that by Justice Antonin Scalia's standard, Gillespie's argument is an outrageous form of political cowardice.... If a political cause is worth giving money to, it's worth standing up for publicly.

Quite right. I'd add one other angle, though: whatever happened to the right's love of disclosure?

For years, as campaign finance reform gained momentum, conservatives said any new legal restrictions were wholly unnecessary -- just mandate disclosure and the problem can take care of itself. If voters could see who was funding whom, the argument went, candidates would rise or fall accordingly. Caps, limits, and stand-by-your-ad phrasing constituted legally-dubious overkill.

I've always been skeptical about disclosure as a cure-all, but Gillespie's spin suggests even the old Republican argument is now considered excessive. To hear him tell it, we can't have campaign-finance restrictions and we can't let the public know who's financing the ad campaigns that sway election outcomes.

And once the Rove/Gillespie model proves effective by electing a whole lot of Republicans this year, it'll be duplicated for the foreseeable future. Voters will be in the dark, but I'm sure the secretive billionaires' favorites will write laws that benefit working families, right?

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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WEDNESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* New York's Republican gubernatorial nominee, Carl Paladino, has assembled a team of criminals to help run his statewide campaign.

* Ohio's gubernatorial race is getting more and more competitive all the time. A new Reuters poll shows former Rep. John Kasich (R) leading incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland (D) by just one point, while a new New York Times/CBS News poll shows a similar result, with Kasich up 43% to 42%.

* Ohio's U.S. Senate race, however, is not following a similar pattern. Former Bush Budget Director Rob Portman (R) with a double-digit lead over Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) in the New York Times/CBS News poll, 45% to 34%. A Reuters poll shows Portman up by a similar margin, 50% to 37%.

* Could a Green Party candidate in Illinois end up giving Republicans control of the U.S. Senate? Maybe. New results from Public Policy Polling show Rep. Mark Kirk (R) leading Alexi Giannoulias (D) in Illinois' U.S. Senate, 40% to 36%. Despite Giannoulias running as a progressive Dem, Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones garnered 8% support, and may help hand Kirk the seat by splitting the left.

* Maryland's gubernatorial race appeared to be surprisingly competitive, but a new Washington Post poll shows incumbent Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) leading former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) by 11, 52% to 41%.

* In Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race, the latest Suffolk poll shows Rep. Joe Sestak (D) gaining a bit on former Rep. Pat Toomey (R), with the Democrat now trailing by just five, 45% to 40%.

* In Florida's U.S. Senate race, the Florida Democratic Party has released a fairly devastating new ad targeting Gov. Charlie Crist (I), highlighting some of the more conservative things he's said in recent years. With so much of Crist's support coming from Democrats, the ad is likely to hurt Crist's chances of catching up with Marco Rubio (R).

* Speaking of Rubio, the Republican Senate nominee in Florida supports English-only policies. He's also running a new television ad entirely in Spanish.

* Connecticut's Senate race is getting more competitive, and a new Quinnipiac poll shows the gubernatorial race tightening, too -- Dan Malloy (D) now leads Tom Foley (R) by just three, 45% to 42%.

* And in Minnesota, a Minnesota Public Radio-Humphrey Institute poll shows former Sen. Mark Dayton (D) up by double digits over Tom Emmer (R) in this year's gubernatorial race, 38% to 27%. The Independence Party's Tom Horner is a competitive third with16%

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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FAKE RIGHT-WING PIMP SCHEMES TO SEDUCE REAL CNN REPORTER.... The problem isn't that there are far-right activists who engage in their brand of "investigative journalism." The problem is that these activists appear to be idiots.

CNN, for example, is working on a documentary called, "Right On The Edge," intended to highlight the work of young right-wing activists and their larger collective efforts. Part of the project involved reaching out to a man who famously pretended to be a pimp, and who apparently had quite a scheme in mind for CNN.

A conservative activist known for making undercover videos plotted to embarrass a CNN correspondent by recording a meeting on hidden cameras aboard a floating "palace of pleasure" and making sexually suggestive comments, e-mails and a planning document show.

James O'Keefe, best known for hitting the community organizing group ACORN with an undercover video sting, hoped to get CNN Investigative Correspondent Abbie Boudreau onto a boat filled with sexually explicit props and then record the session, those documents show.

The plan apparently was thwarted after Boudreau was warned minutes before it was supposed to happen.

The story is so remarkable, it reads like bad fiction. Boudreau reached out to O'Keefe, who was planning to star in a music video, and who was considering CNN's request to cover the filming of the video. O'Keefe set up a meeting with Boudreau in August, and asked that she meet him alone. Boudreau was led to believe they'd talk in his office, and she flew to Baltimore.

When she got there, Izzy Santa, who helps run O'Keefe's investigative journalism project, explained that O'Keefe had set up the meeting for a boat, where he would try to seduce Boudreau.

CNN later obtained a copy of a 13-page document titled "CNN Caper," which appears to describe O'Keefe's detailed plans for that day. [...]

[I]n a phone conversation, Santa confirmed the document was authentic. Listed under "equipment needed," is "hidden cams on the boat," and a "tripod and overt recorder near the bed, an obvious sex tape machine."

Among the props listed were a "condom jar, dildos, posters and paintings of naked women, fuzzy handcuffs" and a blindfold.

As part of the scheme, O'Keefe would reportedly record a video on the boat, explaining his intention to "have a little fun," adding, "Instead of giving her a serious interview, I'm going to punk CNN. Abbie has been trying to seduce me to use me, in order to spin a lie about me. So, I'm going to seduce her, on camera, to use her for a video."

James O'Keefe, the future of conservative political activism.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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GOP SENATORS BLOCK NATIONAL WOMEN'S HISTORY MUSEUM, TOO.... When the Senate's two most right-wing members -- Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) -- block the legislative process because they hate the Democratic policy agenda, their motivations aren't especially mysterious. But their decision to block the National Women's History Museum is just dumb.

Gail Collins wrote about this the other day, noting that a simple bill clearing the way for the museum was already approved by the House, but like everything else, is tied up in the Senate. The proposal intends to sell an unused piece of federal land to a private group, which would use private funds to pay fair market value for the land and construction. If financing falls apart, the land property would simply revert back to federal ownership.

...Washington already has a postal museum, a textile museum, a spy museum and the Newseum. You may be wondering why there is any problem getting Congressional support for a women's history museum. Especially since the bill has already passed the House unanimously and come out of its Senate committee with unanimous approval. And since the bill, which is sponsored in the Senate by Susan Collins of Maine, has 23 co-sponsors from both parties. The Senate itself passed a different version of the plan unanimously a few years ago when the museum people were hoping to lease a government building rather than construct a new one.

The answer -- and, people, how many times have you heard this story? -- is that two senators, Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, have put holds on the bill.

So, what's the problem? For Coburn, the argument rests in part on the notion that there are other "similar" museums, and this one would likely "duplicate" the institution. As proof, the senator's office pointed to the Quilters Hall of Fame in Indiana. Think about that -- Tom Coburn thinks the National Women's History Museum in the nation's capital is unnecessary in part because of a museum for quilters several hundred miles away. (Dear Tom, women have contributed far more to American life than just quilts. Sincerely, Steve.)

As for DeMint, the religious right told him to intervene.

Abortion politics are also in play: The senators' action came two days after the Concerned Women for America, a conservative group, wrote DeMint asking for a hold. The group's CEO, Penny Nance, wrote in July that the museum would "focus on abortion rights without featuring any of the many contributions of the pro-life movement in America."

Noting the far-right senators' consistent opposition to measures related to women and women's rights, Kate Conway concluded, "The question is not why Senators Coburn and DeMint are blocking this no-brainer of a bill, but rather why we would ever expect a person who has scorned issues like mammograms and recourse for rape victims -- issues so immediate and vital to the well-being of American women -- to think that an institution dedicated to those women would be worthwhile."

While this was supposed to be one of the non-controversial bills to be approved this year, there's now a fairly good chance Coburn and DeMint will kill the measure, and museum backers will have to try again next year.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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O'DONNELL'S EDUCATION PROBLEM GETS WORSE.... Things looked bad yesterday when extremist Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell (R) got caught lying about her educational background. But the story got even worse for Delaware's GOP nominee last night.

The story started when O'Donnell claimed to have graduated with a bachelor's from Fairleigh Dickinson years before she actually earned a degree. It got much worse when we learned that O'Donnell lied about having studied at Oxford, and lied again about post-grad work at Princeton.

Making matters just a little worse still, Christina Bellantoni reports that O'Donnell claimed to have attended Claremont Graduate University, but a school spokesperson explained yesterday, "Claremont Graduate University has no student or education record for an individual named Christine O'Donnell."

As it turns out, O'Donnell actually received a fellowship from a right-right think tank called the Claremont Institute, which has no affiliation with the Claremont Graduate University. The radical GOP candidate just pretended they were one and the same. (She also lied about the fellowship itself, characterizing it as "graduate" work, which it was not.)

Yesterday, I made the case that all of this Mark Kirk-like lying is ironic, given that O'Donnell claims to be obsessed with truth-telling in all instances. But Ben Adler goes even further, noting that the elitism of O'Donnell's mendacity is ironic for cultural reasons, too.

[U]nlike actually going to Oxford or Princeton, lying about where you went to school really is elitist. Rush Limbaugh and Jay Sekulow attacked Elena Kagan as an elitist for having gone to Harvard Law but the mere fact that she went there does not show that she thinks one's worth is measured by where they went to school. Of course she could think that, but all that having gone to Harvard proves is that she wanted to get the education they offer. (You could strain to argue attending expensive private institutions is elitist compared to attending public schools, but that would be a leftwing, not rightwing, populist attitude.)

By contrast, pretending that you took courses at Princeton or Oxford when you did not, and you are many years past college-age, demonstrates that you think having done so is really a necessary credential. Aside from the sheer patheticness of such insecurity, it is the ultimate reification of the elitist idea that middle-aged adults should continue to define themselves by the academic credentials they obtained in their youth and that the best schools are old, expensive institutions that started out only allowing only white Christian males to attend.

Adler added that he'll look forward to Limbaugh's "denunciations of O'Donnell for being an out-of-touch coastal cosmopolitan," but I suspect we'll be waiting a long while for that one.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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'OFF THE WALL'.... A couple of weeks ago, the National Republican Senatorial Committee launched its first ad of the cycle, going after Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway (D) over Medicare. The argument was convoluted and wrong, but the message to voters was nevertheless fairly straightforward: if you love Medicare, don't vote for the Democrat who supports Medicare.

In retrospect, Republicans probably should have picked a different issue.

In Conway's new ad targeting right-wing ophthalmologist Rand Paul (R), the Democratic campaign reminds voters of Paul's approach to seniors' care: "The real answer to Medicare would be a $2,000 deductible."

The spot proceeds to show a series of seniors, all of whom are less than pleased by Paul's policy suggestion. One says, "I don't know what planet he's from." Another says, "Doesn't he know that we can't afford that?" Another says, "The more we learn about Rand Paul, the worse it gets." And then there's the memorable one: "Rand Paul is off the wall with a $2,000 deductible."

Remember, Republicans, it was your idea to make support for Medicare the key issue in the race.

Yesterday, Paul was livid about the ad, calling it, among other things, "a lie" and "dishonest."

I have no idea what Paul is whining about. The ad simply airs a quote he repeated in public. Was it taken out of context? You be the judge -- here's what he said: "Medicare is socialized medicine! People are afraid of that because they'll say 'Ohhh, you're against Medicare.' No, I'll say, 'We have to do something different. We can't just eliminate Medicare, but we have to get more to a market-based system.' It's counter-intuitive to a lot of people, but you have to pay for things if you want prices to come down. So you really need higher deductibles. And the real answer to Medicare would be a $2,000 deductible, but try selling that one in an election. But that's the real answer."

In other words, the ad shows Paul stating his beliefs. That's not "a lie"; it's the opposite of a lie.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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THE MIDTERM GAP NARROWS.... Unlike Gallup's erratic generic-ballot tracking poll, the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has proven to be far more stable over a long period of time. With that in mind, when it shows the midterm cycle narrowing, and the enthusiasm gap shrinking, it offers some legitimate encouragement to Democrats.

With Election Day exactly five weeks away, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that the battle for control of Congress has tightened, as key Democratic-leaning demographic groups are expressing more enthusiasm about the upcoming midterms.

Among likely voters, Republicans now hold a three-point lead in the generic-ballot test for control of Congress, down from their nine-point lead last month.

Among registered voters, Democrats and Republicans are now tied on the generic ballot at 44% each. Among likely voters, a month ago, the GOP enjoyed a nine-point edge (49% to 40%), which has now shrunk to a three-point advantage (46% to 43%).

According to the NBC/WSJ analysis, the gap narrowed thanks to "increased enthusiasm for the upcoming midterms by African Americans (who saw a six-point gain in high interest) and Hispanics (who saw an 11-point gain)."

For Dems, that's the good news. There is, however, good news for Republicans, too.

At its root, the larger national mood hasn't changed much -- voters are still deeply frustrated; the dislike of Congress remains intense; and younger voters, who tend to favor Democrats, are still prepared to sit out the midterm cycle.

That said, while the general trends clearly point to a GOP-friendly climate, Republicans probably hoped to be hitting their stride right and pulling away right about now, and that's just not the case (at least not yet). The generic ballot is tightening; President Obama's numbers have ticked up a bit; the Democratic Party is still more popular than the Republican Party; and the most well liked politician in America is Bill Clinton, who's hitting the campaign trail for key Democratic candidates.

Moral of the story: Dems are in a tough spot, but it's not over.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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SHADES OF '08.... Some of the White House's political gambits of recent months have been smarter than others. ("Recovery Summer," for example, belongs squarely in the "what were they thinking?" category.)

But whoever came up with the idea for a series of '08-style rallies in the campaign's closing weeks probably deserves a pat on the back. President Obama headlined an impressive event at the University of Wisconsin in Madison late yesterday afternoon, and if the goal was to capture some of the spirit of the presidential campaign, it worked like a charm.

President Obama, seeking to avert potentially devastating losses for Democrats on Election Day, delivered an impassioned appeal to a cheering throng of college students here Tuesday night, telling them to "keep believing change is possible" and pleading, "You've got to stick with me, you can't lose heart."

In a 45-minute speech on a packed green in front of the library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Mr. Obama reached back to the soaring rhetoric that carried him to the White House in 2008. The old-fashioned get-out-the-vote rally, in a brisk wind under gray skies, seemed to energize the president as much as the crowd.

"Change is going to come for this generation -- if we work for it, if we fight for it, if we believe in it!" Mr. Obama thundered. "The biggest mistake we can make is to let disappointment or frustration lead to apathy and indifference."

According to local law enforcement, 26,500 people showed up for the rally, and before the gates opened, the line of people waiting to enter stretched over a mile. (A local report said the crowd was "exceedingly well behaved.") What's more, the event was simulcast online to 200 other campuses, as part of a not-so-subtle attempt to reinvigorate younger voters who gave Obama a boost in 2008, but who traditionally don't vote in midterm elections.

In a message that seemed targeted specifically to those first-time voters from two years ago, the president said, "You proved that the power of everyday people, going door to door, neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend, was stronger than the status quo. You tapped into something that this country hadn't seen in a very long time. You did that. Every single one of you is a shareholder in that mission of rebuilding our country."

That "shareholder" line seemed new and noteworthy -- it was a way of reinforcing the notion that those who helped elect Obama are literally invested in his success, and have an incentive to avoid a hostile takeover of what they created.

Wisconsin, home to competitive gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races, was the first of four scheduled "Moving America Forward" rallies, with the next three scheduled for Nevada, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, each of which will also hold key gubernatorial and Senate races this year.

Politico's report noted that Madison offered "proof that the president could still work his magic."

I have no quantifiable evidence that rallies like these actually boost midterm turnout or affect the "enthusiasm gap," and with a struggling economy, I'm not sure how much of the country is even willing to listen.

But if last night was any indication, the White House may want to revisit the schedule and hold a few more of these events over the next 34 days.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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September 28, 2010

TUESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Something to keep a close eye on in Afghanistan: "The commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan said Tuesday that the Taliban are approaching the Afghan government and foreign forces about laying down arms after almost nine years of insurgency. US General David Petraeus, who commands more than 150,000 NATO and US troops in Afghanistan, said many small insurgent groups had already made "overtures" to NATO forces about quitting the fight."

* Hoping to keep the government open: "The Senate voted 83-15 on Tuesday to end debate and move to consideration of a stopgap spending measure to avoid a government shutdown later this week. Senators could vote on final passage of the legislation Wednesday, then head out of town to campaign for the November midterm elections."

* Another successful filibuster: "Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked a Democratic plan to encourage companies to bring jobs back from overseas, as a united GOP caucus voted against a motion to debate the measure on the Senate floor."

* I don't know if we're allowed to talk about this without being accused of class warfare, but the income gap between the richest and poorest Americans grew last year "to its widest amount on record."

* The DNC's ongoing "Boehnerization" of the Republican Party continues with a new web video contrasting GOP rhetoric with Democratic action.

* Tragic shooting at the University of Texas.

* On a related note, an interesting report about gun violence: "A study due to be released this week by a coalition called Mayors Against Illegal Guns uses previously unavailable federal gun data to identify what it says are the states that most often export guns used in crimes across state lines. It concludes that the 10 worst offenders per capita, led by Mississippi, West Virginia and Kentucky, supplied nearly half the 43,000 guns traced to crime scenes in other states last year."

* When Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) talks about treating public colleges "like a business," he doesn't really know what he's talking about.

* Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D-La.) fealty to the oil industry just doesn't seem healthy.

* Wait, World War I isn't technically over?

* Fox News' Stuart Varney, who presents himself as some kind of business journalist, is painfully confused -- even by the network's low standards -- about the basics of economics. What an embarrassment.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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DISPATCHES FROM THE CONTINENT.... This week, the Washington Monthly launched a fun little project called, "How's Europe Doing? Dispatches from the continent." It will feature posts from Steven Hill as he reports his five-week speaking tour of Europe -- visiting 12 countries and 20 cities.

Here's an overview published yesterday by Hill:

I just arrived in Budapest, Hungary as the first stop in a five-week speaking tour in Europe that will take me through 12 different countries and 20 cities, including most of Western Europe and ending in Athens and Istanbul. During this tour, I will give presentations at the European Commission (which, for those who don't know, is like President Obama's cabinet for the European Union), as well as to a host of think tanks, policy institutes and NGOs in Europe. I also have been invited to speak to some local chapters of Democrats Abroad, which is the international wing of the Democratic Party. In Vienna I will observe the Austrian national election which is occurring on October 10. I will arrive in Stockholm just after the Swedish national election, in which an anti-immigration party is predicted to win a few legislative seats for the first time in Sweden's history. And I will spend considerable time in Greece, where the recent sovereign debt crisis threatened not only Greece but the other so-called PIIGS countries (Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain), as well as the euro zone itself.

During my peregrinations across the European continent, I will be assessing the impact of the economic crisis, including what the political elites are saying, as well as what the average person is experiencing. Is the highly vaunted European social capitalism, which provides so well for families and workers, in danger of erosion? The varied venues in which I will travel and speak will put me in contact with people in many different countries, and should be a good vantage point for hearing a range of viewpoints.

And fortunately for us, Hill will be sharing those viewpoints at our new site. Take a look.

Steve Benen 5:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (2)

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SHARRON ANGLE AND THE PUBLIC DOLE.... If there's one thing extremist Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R) hates, it's all of these big government programs providing social services to people. It's these wasteful, taxpayer-financed programs that, as she sees it, makes Americans "lazy" and encourages some insidious form of "socialism."

It's precisely why Angle -- in the hopes of freeing us from "tyranny" -- will fight to stop protecting consumers from insurance companies, fight to eliminate Social Security and Medicare, and fight to free jobless Americans of the shackles of unemployment benefits.

And while she continues to urge people to endorse her extremist anti-government worldview, Sharron Angle will also continue to take advantage of the generous benefits her family enjoys by way of the federal government.

Angle's campaign acknowledged to Nevada journalist Jon Ralston Monday that both the candidate and her husband receive health care from the federal government. Spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said in a statement: "Mr. Ted Angle receives his pension through the (federal) Civil Service Retirement System. While it is not supplemented by the federal government, current civil servants pay into the program to pay the schedule of those already retired - much like how the Social Security Program works today. Mr. Angle does not qualify - nor does he receive Social Security benefits. His health insurance plan (the Federal Employee Health Program), which also covers Sharron, is a continuation of what he was receiving while he worked for the federal government."

Oh, poor Sharron. She's been tyrannized for years, and apparently didn't even know it. (That's how sneaky those awful federal bureaucrats can be.) Angle had the option of going without government-subsidized health care and a taxpayer-financed pension, but she and her family just kept accepting these generous benefits, unaware of the fact that she'd become a cog in an oppressive socialistic scheme.

Break free, Sharron! It's not too late! Stop cashing those checks! Tear up those insurance forms and tell your family's physician that, from now on, if you need medical care, you'll be paying for it out of your own pocket.

Sure, it'll likely undermine your family's finances, just as the Angle agenda would hurt middle-class families across the country, but it's the price of freedom. And can you really put a price on liberty?

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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CBO'S ELMENDORF TELLS REPUBLICANS WHAT THEY DON'T WANT TO HEAR.... I recall a David Brooks column from early last year -- the week of the inauguration, in fact -- in which the columnist insisted that President Obama is "going to have to prove the hard way that he meant what he said about being pragmatic and evidence-based. That means he won't sweep a C.B.O. study under the rug simply because the findings are inconvenient."

The president and Democrats have proceeded, of course, to do nothing of the sort. Reports from the Congressional Budget Office have been taken very seriously by Dems on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, and often, legislation has been written entirely with CBO scores in mind.

For Republicans, it's a little trickier. When the Congressional Budget Office tells the GOP what it wants to hear, the party loves the office and finds it credible. When analyses offer discouraging news, Republicans consider the CBO useless.

With this in mind, I'd be surprised if Republicans didn't try to shut down the CBO entirely, or at least fire its director, after today.

CBO Director Doug Elmendorf testified before the Senate Budget Committee today and dropped something of a bombshell. Extending the Bush tax cuts, he said, will "probably reduce income relative to what would otherwise occur in 2020." The reason is simple: Debt.

Elmendorf doesn't deny that tax cuts stimulate the economy. But they don't stimulate it that much, he says, and over the long run, the net economic growth from the tax cuts will be quite small. The net deficit impact won't be. "Lower tax revenues increase budget deficits and thereby government borrowing," Elmendorf said, "which crowds out investment, while lower tax rates increase people's saving and work effort; the net effect on economic activity depends on the balance of those forces." [...]

So the bottom line is that extending the tax cuts indefinitely would hurt the economy. The less you extend the tax cuts, the less damage you do to the economy.

Remember, Republicans tend to consider the judgment of the CBO the key factor in any debate involving the budget.

And before the right dismisses this entirely, I'd encourage conservatives to consider a hypothetical: if the CBO chief had reached the opposite conclusion, and said the Republican proposal was a great idea for economic growth and fiscal responsibility, would the right consider it good news? If so, at least a modicum of intellectual consistency suggests today's testimony should not be dismissed out of hand.

Nevertheless, I can only assume the Republican trashing of Elmendorf will commence immediately.

Steve Benen 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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SEBELIUS GETS IN THE GAME.... HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has spent much of her time lately behind the scenes, taking steps to help implement the Affordable Care Act. But this week, her profile is a little higher than usual.

Sebelius has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, for example, responding to some recent attacks from the far-right.

In the last two weeks, my department has been accused of "thuggery" (this editorial page) and "Soviet tyranny" (Newt Gingrich). What prompted these accusations? The fact that we told health-insurance companies that, as required by law, we will review large premium increases and identify those that are unreasonable.

There's a long history of special interests using similar attacks to oppose change. In the mid-1960s, for example, some claimed Medicare would put our country on the path to socialism.

But what is really objectionable about these comments is not who they're attacking, but what they're defending. These critics seem to believe that any oversight of the insurance industry is too much, and that consumers would be better off in a system where they have few rights or protections.

Lately, it's been reminiscent of Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) apologizing to BP at the height of the oil spill crisis. As Sebelius and other administration officials have been standing up to insurance companies, trying to keep premiums lower and get more families covered, Republicans have been standing up for insurers, demanding that the administration stop working so hard for the public.

It's good to see Sebelius offer a fairly high-profile response to the GOP criticism.

Also this week, the HHS Secretary took a rather direct shot at extremist Senate candidate Sharron Angle's public remarks about health coverage for children with autism.

"It is my understanding that Sharron Angle believes that there is a hoax, under the guise of autism, where you would include requests for treatments that may not even be required," said Sebelius, who was in Nevada promoting health care reform with Harry Reid.

Sebelius pounded Angle's comments as "insulting" to parents and kids, adding: "I don't know if there is any place in the country where the differences in the candidates are more stark than here."

In case it matters, I should note that cabinet secretaries getting engaged in the political process isn't especially unusual. In Bush's first term, the failed former president sent most of his cabinet out on the road, making campaign appearances in support of vulnerable GOP incumbents. They even broke new ground -- we'd never seen a Defense Secretary get involved in campaign politics before, but in advance of the 2004 race, Donald Rumsfeld, while avoiding Pentagon reporters, did 10 radio interviews in eight weeks, all with far-right hosts in battleground states.

So there's certainly nothing wrong with Sebelius taking a strong case to the public before the midterms.

Steve Benen 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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OBAMA PUTS FOX NEWS IN A HISTORICAL CONTEXT.... As part of a lengthy interview, Rolling Stone asked President Obama what he thinks of Fox News. "Do you think," the magazine asked, "it's a good institution for America and for democracy?" After reportedly laughing, the president replied:

"Look, as president, I swore to uphold the Constitution, and part of that Constitution is a free press. We've got a tradition in this country of a press that oftentimes is opinionated. The golden age of an objective press was a pretty narrow span of time in our history. Before that, you had folks like Hearst who used their newspapers very intentionally to promote their viewpoints. I think Fox is part of that tradition -- it is part of the tradition that has a very clear, undeniable point of view.

"It's a point of view that I disagree with. It's a point of view that I think is ultimately destructive for the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class and is competitive in the world. But as an economic enterprise, it's been wildly successful. And I suspect that if you ask Mr. Murdoch what his number-one concern is, it's that Fox is very successful."

Reporting on these remarks, CNN said Obama's comments "constitute the president's most direct attack yet" on Fox News. I think that badly misses the point.

Obama's response wasn't a "direct attack," so much as it was an effort to put Fox News in a historical context. It's only an "attack" if you buy into the transparently ridiculous notion that the Republican news network is a fair-and-balanced outlet for objective news.

I actually found this to be a rather forgiving explanation for a news organization that does so much damage to our public discourse, and causes so much confusion among its unwitting viewers. The practice of politically-neutral, dispassionate, objective outlets is, as Obama noted, a fairly new development in American history -- newspapers traditionally made no effort to hide partisan allegiances. Fox News stands out now, at least by 21st century standards, for its awful journalism, dishonesty, and lack of professional standards, but it's not breaking new ground; it's just returning to a media practice of a bygone era.

Sure, the president called out Fox News for pushing a point of view that's "ultimately destructive," but that's the only criticism that makes sense. As Ed Kilgore noted, "As the President implied, telling Fox viewers the network isn't exactly 'fair and balanced' is largely a waste of time; ideologues view reality through an ideological prism in any event. Explaining that Fox's point of view is wrong and destructive is a more fruitful approach than imagining there is some model of objectivity to which all news sources should conform."

Later in the Rolling Stone interview, the magazine asked about the kind of music Obama's been listening to. The president noted he tends to stick to the stuff he enjoyed when he was younger -- he iPod has "a lot of Stevie Wonder, a lot of Bob Dylan, a lot of Rolling Stones, a lot of R&B, a lot of Miles Davis and John Coltrane" -- but an aide has also exposed him to some more rap, so there's "a little Nas and a little Lil Wayne" on his playlist, too.

Fox News responded with this headline: "President of the United States Loves Gangsta Rap."

And in the process, Fox illustrated the president's point nicely.

Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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A PASSIONATE PLEA.... President Obama sat down with Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner and Eric Bates two weeks ago, chatting for an hour and a quarter for a new cover story. The discussion covered a lot of ground, and led to some fascinating exchanges on subjects ranging from Fox News to Tea Partiers, health care to global warming.

But the comments that ultimately may generate the most interest were the last ones. Obama had brought the interview to a close and left the Oval Office, but then quickly returned to make a "closing remark" that Wenner said was delivered "with intensity and passion."

"One closing remark that I want to make: It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election. There may be complaints about us not having gotten certain things done, not fast enough, making certain legislative compromises. But right now, we've got a choice between a Republican Party that has moved to the right of George Bush and is looking to lock in the same policies that got us into these disasters in the first place, versus an administration that, with some admitted warts, has been the most successful administration in a generation in moving progressive agendas forward.

"The idea that we've got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible.

"Everybody out there has to be thinking about what's at stake in this election and if they want to move forward over the next two years or six years or 10 years on key issues like climate change, key issues like how we restore a sense of equity and optimism to middle-class families who have seen their incomes decline by five percent over the last decade. If we want the kind of country that respects civil rights and civil liberties, we'd better fight in this election. And right now, we are getting outspent eight to one by these 527s that the Roberts court says can spend with impunity without disclosing where their money's coming from. In every single one of these congressional districts, you are seeing these independent organizations outspend political parties and the candidates by, as I said, factors of four to one, five to one, eight to one, 10 to one.

"We have to get folks off the sidelines. People need to shake off this lethargy, people need to buck up. Bringing about change is hard -- that's what I said during the campaign. It has been hard, and we've got some lumps to show for it. But if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren't serious in the first place.

"If you're serious, now's exactly the time that people have to step up."

It probably won't surprise regular readers to learn that I find this pretty compelling. Regardless, it raises an opportunity to make a distinction between different kinds of center-left critics of the president.

Kevin Drum notes, "If you're, say, Glenn Greenwald, I wouldn't expect you to buy Obama's defense at all. All of us have multiple interests, but if your primary concern is with civil liberties and the national security state, then the problem isn't that Obama hasn't done enough, it's that his policies have been actively damaging. There's just no reason why you should be especially excited about either his administration or the continuation of the Democratic Party in power."

Right. Glenn not only has a legitimate beef, I honestly can't think of anyone who's offered a persuasive argument to counter Glenn's criticism. I don't know, however, how large a group of voters we're talking about that disapproves of the president based primarily (but not exclusively) on concerns over the national security state.

I'd argue that if Glenn's contingent represents one group of the disaffected, the other two general groups of center-left critics are (2) those who believe the president's accomplishments have been inadequate; and (3) those who are struggling badly in this economy, and expected conditions to be better than they are under Obama.

For those in the "inadequate" camp, the president's pitch may or may not be persuasive, but I think it should be. We talked recently about the accomplishments of the last 21 months, so I won't rehash the list again, but I continue to believe it's a record that's as impressive as anything we've seen in modern times. What's more, I'm not at all convinced it was within the president's power to make these milestone breakthroughs any stronger. The accomplishments can and should go further, but for the Democratic base, that should mean getting more engaged, not less.

Reaching that final group seems to be a tougher sell. The administration's economic policies have made a huge difference, but the status quo is still woefully unacceptable. It's not necessarily up to the president alone to grab hold of the economy and make it better, but there have been missteps and the frustration is understandable.

I suppose the pitch Democrats can make to these voters is: it can and will get worse if Republicans win, and would have been much worse had the GOP gotten its way. Obama has taken steps to get us on the right track, and conditions have slowly improved, but the surest way to stop the progress, the argument goes, is to hand the GOP power and encourage Republicans to pursue their discredited economic agenda.

Or, as Kevin concluded, "And the alternative? Well, if the prospect of ripping apart healthcare reform, shutting down the government, deep sixing START, slashing social spending, and reliving the glory days of investigations over Christmas card lists isn't enough to get you motivated, I guess I'm not sure what is."

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (104)

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CHRISTINE O'DONNELL'S MARK KIRK PROBLEM.... Extremist Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell (R) has a record of quotes and beliefs that make it awfully difficult to take her seriously. But the Delaware candidate has made an effort to boost her credibility by pointing to her associations with prestigious universities, including having "Post Modernism in the New Millennium" at the "University of Oxford."

Greg Sargent reports on the problems with the academic claims.

[I]t turns out that was just a course conducted by an institution known as the Phoenix Institute, which merely rented space at Oxford. [...]

By itself, O'Donnell's Oxford claim might not matter too much. But the larger context is that O'Donnell has already been nabbed fudging her education record not once, but twice. She claimed for several years to have graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University, but she actually obtained her bachelor's degree last summer. And in a lawsuit she suggested she was trying for a Master's degree courses at Princeton -- but subsequently acknowledged she hadn't taken a single Princeton graduate course.

OK, so when O'Donnell said she studied at Oxford, that appears to be a lie. When she said she had earned a degree before she actually had, that was a lie, too. When she pointed to post-grad work at Princeton, that was also a lie.

I suspect O'Donnell is rather self-conscious about the fact that she's not very bright, and has very little working knowledge or understanding of any subject, so it becomes necessary for her to, Mark Kirk-like, fabricate a background that doesn't exist. It's kind of sad, actually.

But I'd extend the larger context a little more, and note that O'Donnell has presented herself to the public as someone who's borderline obsessed with telling the truth in all instances. In one of her more notorious TV appearances, she insisted that "telling the truth is always the right thing to do, I believe, and that's what always gets you out of a situation."

Asked if she would lie to Nazis during World War II who showed up at her door looking for homes harboring Jews, O'Donnell replied, "You never have to practice deception."

Unless, apparently, you're trying to deceive people about your academic background.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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TUESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* In New York, former Rep. Rick Lazio lost his Republican gubernatorial primary, but he was nevertheless the Conservative Party's nominee. Yesterday, Lazio scrapped that campaign, presumably giving a boost to right-wing billionaire Carl Paladino's (R) campaign.

* On a related note, Paladino has acknowledged having a daughter with a mistress under his employ, in addition to his children with his wife. Last year, he brought the other daughter and her mother on a trip to the Vatican with his wife's permission.

* In Connecticut's U.S. Senate race, a new Quinnipiac poll shows state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) leading right-wing wrestling executive Linda McMahon (R) by just three points, 49% to 46%.

* In Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race, the latest Muhlenberg College/Morning Call poll shows former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) leading Rep. Joe Sestak (D) by seven, 46% to 39%.

* In New Hampshire's U.S. Senate race, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is investing the legal maximum in a coordinated campaign in support of former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte (R). The DSCC has not yet made a similar commitment to Rep. Paul Hodes' (D) campaign.

* In Texas's gubernatorial race, a poll from a consortium of Lone Star State newspapers shows incumbent Gov. Rick Perry (R) leading former Houston Mayor Bill White (D), 46% to 39%.

* In one of the two U.S. Senate races in New York, a new Marist poll shows Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) leading Joseph DioGuardi (R) by 11, 52% to 41%.

* Vice President Biden appeared at a New Hampshire fundraiser last night, and told a group of about 200 Democratic activists and donors that the party base really needs to "stop whining."

* In related news, President Obama noted in a newly published interview, "It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election."

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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SECOND ACTS.... South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's (R) term in office is nearing an end, and the Wall Street Journal ran a profile the other day that included this little gem:

Many expect Mr. Sanford, 50 years old, to run for office again. "Never say never," Mr. Sanford said, declining to reveal specific plans.

My initial take was, "You've got to be kidding me." The right-wing governor and former congressman was nearly impeached after he lied about an adulterous affair, temporarily leaving the country (and his official responsibilities) behind in order to meet up with his mistress.

State lawmakers were forced to brush up on the legal meaning of phrases like "gubernatorial negligence" and "abandonment of office." Worse, it appears that at least one of Sanford's trips to Argentina was financed by taxpayers, which made the "private, personal indiscretion" argument a tougher sell.

Given this, and the fact that Sanford has presented himself as a "family values" evangelical, it's tempting to think his willingness to consider seeking public office again is, on its face, ridiculous.

That, at least, was my first thought. My second thought was that it wouldn't be too big a surprise, since in Republican politics, there's nothing anyone can do to be driven from polite company.

Newt Gingrich, Dick Morris, and Ralph Reed are all humiliated, disgraced figures, and yet all of them are prominent Republican players this year. Hell, Gingrich still thinks he could be president.

So, Sanford hasn't ruled out another campaign? Of course not; why would he?

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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A 'UNILATERAL DECISION TO END LEGISLATIVE ACTIVITY IN THE SENATE'.... Stan Collender speculated over the weekend that Senate Republicans may very well try to shut down the pre-adjournment legislative schedule, and possibly even try to shut down the government, this week. As it turns out, Collender was onto something. Roll Call reports on a new GOP scheme that the newspaper accurately describes as "remarkable."

Sen. Jim DeMint warned his colleagues Monday night that he would place a hold on all legislation that has not been "hot-lined" by the chamber or has not been cleared by his office before the close of business Tuesday. [...]

Traditionally, the Senate passes noncontroversial measures by unanimous consent at the end of most workdays, a process known as hot-lining. DeMint, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and others have fought against the practice for years and have dedicated staff members to reviewing bills that are to be hot-lined.

As a result, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have generally given DeMint, Coburn and others time to review legislation before proceeding with unanimous consent agreements.

But in a terse e-mail sent to all 100 Senate chiefs of staff Monday evening, Steering Committee Chief of Staff Bret Bernhardt warned that DeMint would place a hold on any legislation that had not been hot-lined or been cleared by his office before the close of business Tuesday.

Roll Call added that aides from both parties were "stunned" by DeMint's stunt, which effectively amounts to "a unilateral decision to end legislative activity in the Senate." If he doesn't personally approve of a measure, DeMint will kill it.

The Senate is still coming to terms with the practical implications, since the chamber was set to adjourn anyway on Thursday. But the Senate is set to consider, among other things, a "cloture motion to begin debate on a continuing resolution to keep the government funded when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1."

In other words, senators may have to scramble to craft "a stopgap spending measure to keep the government operating past Sept. 30," and the death of several "non-controversial bills that both parties are looking to clear before Election Day."

David Dayen has more on DeMint's "one-man government shutdown," including some procedural insights from David Waldman.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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WHAT MCCONNELL CONSIDERS 'EXTREME'.... There's something Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the other day that continues to irk me. It's what he considers political "extremism" in 2010.

Christiane Amanpour asked whether the Republican leader might be afraid of some of the extremist candidates who've won GOP Senate primaries this year, and pointed, in particular, to Sharron Angle's talk of armed rebellion against the United States government.

McConnell replied that it's Democrats who are "extreme," and presented his indictment.

"What most Americans think is extreme is the kind of government we've been running for the last year-and-a-half. We've seen the government taken over banks, insurance companies, car companies, nationalizing the student loan business.

"We're on a path to double the national debt in five years and triple it in 10. Most Americans think what's been happening around here for the last year-and-a-half is extreme, and they want to change it."

It came across as a little rehearsed because this was clearly something McConnell had given a lot of thought to. He wasn't just riffing off the top of his head -- this was McConnell's prepared pitch.

And it's a pretty awful case. Just consider them one at a time: (1) the government didn't really "take over" the banks, so much as it bailed the banks out through TARP, which McConnell helped create and voted for; (2) the government didn't take over health insurance companies at all, and the private entities will still be providing coverage for the vast majority of Americans; (3) yes, the administration felt compelled to rescue the American automotive industry, but the initiative was a great success, it saved millions of jobs, and the companies involved are making a comeback; (4) the student loan industry wasn't nationalized -- we were already paying for it -- so much as the government made the system more streamlined and efficient, and will no longer needlessly give money to banks that could instead go to students.

What's more, the national debt President Obama inherited was over $10 trillion. To hear McConnell tell it, it will be over $20 trillion in five years. That's not even close to true.

So, Mitch McConnell's five-point indictment included four allegations that don't make sense. The fifth is one of the Obama administration's greatest successes. This, according to the Republicans' Senate leader, is clear evidence of Democratic "extremism."

There's a very good reason it's impossible to take Mitch McConnell seriously on policy matters.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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CHART OF THE DAY.... Perhaps the most important benefit that comes with the release of the House Republicans' "Pledge to America" is that we can start to see credible comparisons between two competing visions.

CAPbudgetcomparison.gif

The Center for American Progress prepared an analysis of how the GOP plan would affect the federal budget, and more to the point, how it would exacerbate an already-large federal budget. The "Pledge" vows, "[W]e will ... bring down the deficit." We know reality suggests otherwise, but the CAP research helps drive the point home nicely.

"The 'Pledge to America' budget would mean $11.1 trillion in deficits over the next 10 years, CAP reported. "By 2020, the federal budget deficit would be 6.3 percent of gross domestic product, the federal debt would exceed 93 percent of GDP, and interest payments on the debt would be more than $1 trillion a year. The budget deficit would be about $200 billion larger in 2020 under the 'Pledge to America' plan than it would be under President Barack Obama's budget, and over the next 10 years deficits would be $1.5 trillion higher than under the president's budget."

Now, if Republicans were willing to increase the deficit as part of a larger effort to improve the economy, that'd at least be worth debating. But the "Pledge" intends to pursue policies that already failed to generate growth and create jobs. In other words, they intend to expand the deficit without anything to show for it.

And in case that weren't enough, the GOP approach complains bitterly about the Obama administration's fiscal management, but Republicans have nevertheless presented a plan that would run larger deficits, for more years, than the Democratic president.

Jon Chait adds that the CAP report is itself generous, since "it assumes that the huge cuts to domestic discretionary spending will be carried out" by Republicans, which seems rather unlikely.

Anyone taking the GOP seriously on budget issues just isn't paying attention.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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PICKING AND CHOOSING WHEN WALL STREET COUNTS AS A METRIC.... Over the first seven weeks of the Obama presidency, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, just one of many Wall Street indexes, dropped from 7,949.08 to 6,547.04. A wide variety of conservatives said this was necessarily evidence that the White House's economic policies were a mess, if not an outright failure, and that the president didn't know what he was doing.

The Wall Street Journal ran an entire editorial on this in early March. The drop in the Dow, the WSJ insisted, was a direct result of investors evaluating "Mr. Obama's agenda and his approach to governance." Karl Rove and Lou Dobbs made the same case. So did Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Fred Barnes. John Boehner also pushed the line. It was one of Mitt Romney's favorite talking points for a while, too.

That was last year. Yesterday, the Dow closed at 10,812.04, an increase of 65% over last March's low. Following Republicans' previous reasoning, is this evidence of President Obama's brilliance? Not so much.

Stuart Varney, Fox News' "very clearly partisan" economic analyst, said on Fox this morning that the stock market is doing well this month because investors are anticipating big Republican wins in November. Part of his explanation was that "a Republican sweep implies that most of us, if not all of us, will keep the tax rate we've got now. So that would end that uncertainty... The stock market anticipates what is likely to happen in the future, and the market is saying this is going to be a rally for the economy and the stock market because of a Republican sweep."

As a factual matter, Varney's description of tax policy isn't even close to being accurate.

But in this case, I'm more interested in this notion that Republicans deserve credit for the recent increase in stock values. Varney pushed this line on Fox News yesterday, while Neil Cavuto and the Wall Street Journal's Steve Moore pushed the same line last week. As the argument goes, the GOP, simply by talking about extending tax breaks for millionaires, boosted Wall Street.

Even for the right, this is all terribly silly. Looking back over the last year and a half, the message seems to be that all Wall Street declines are the president's fault, but credit for more dramatic Wall Street increases should go to Republicans.

To be clear, the value of a stock market index is hardly the best metric for measuring the strength of the economy. Indeed, it isn't even close. But the point is Republicans can't have it both ways -- a weaker Dow can't be evidence of Obama incompetence while a stronger Dow serves as evidence of GOP brilliance. Some shred of intellectual consistency should matter here.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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HOUSE GOP PREPARES ANTI-CLIMATE CRUSADE.... A couple of months ago, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said the main thing House Republicans should focus on, if they take back the majority, is launching endless investigations. "I think that all we should do is issue subpoenas and have one hearing after another, and expose all the nonsense that has gone on," she said in July.

In context, Bachmann was largely referring to the White House, but some of her House colleagues intend to pursue a very similar course, and include global warming among the "nonsense."

One leading far-right Republican said last week that attacking science would be near the top of his to-do list.

The House's top Republican watchdog is planning to launch an investigation into international climate data if he takes the helm of the chamber's oversight panel next year.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said a probe of the "Climategate" scandal will top his environmental agenda if the Republicans take over the House next year and he gets the chairmanship. [...]

Investigative panels in Britain and the United States have since cleared researchers of any wrongdoing, but some Republican lawmakers remain unconvinced.

Jim Sensenbrenner, meanwhile, is prepared to play the role of Tweedledee to Issa's Tweedledum.

Most House Republicans envision killing Nancy Pelosi's special global warming committee if they claw their way back into the majority this November.

But one senior GOP lawmaker has another idea in mind: sweet revenge.

Wisconsin Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner wants to keep the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming alive so it can investigate climate science and police President Barack Obama's green policies.

The Politico piece suggests there may be some simmering intra-party hostility between the two right-wing lawmakers -- they each want to take the lead in going after science and environmental policy -- but the point is they're both going to be launching anti-climate crusades.

When we think about what to expect from House Republicans when it comes to investigations, we tend to think of comparisons to Clinton-era witch-hunts. And to be sure, we're very likely to see exactly that -- as Paul Krugman recently noted, "[W]e'll be having hearings over accusations of corruption on the part of Michelle Obama's hairdresser, janitors at the Treasury, and Larry Summers's doctor's dog."

But it's also worth remembering that when the GOP isn't making up nonsense about the White House, it'll be holding ridiculous hearings and launching baseless investigations into other far-right obsessions, too.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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September 27, 2010

MONDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Afghanistan: "Evidence is mounting that fraud in last weekend's parliamentary election was so widespread that it could affect the results in a third of provinces, calling into question the credibility of a vote that was an important test of the American and Afghan effort to build a stable and legitimate government."

* Netanyahu pushes peace talks to the breaking point: "Israel's decision this weekend to end its freeze on West Bank Jewish settlement construction sent diplomats on three continents into desperate activity on Monday as they tried to keep Middle East peace talks alive. And although the discussions covered many topics, in the end they came down to one stubborn goal: how to end settlement construction."

* It never should have taken this for the bill to become law: "With Congress just about out the door for the remainder of the election season, President Obama on Monday signed a bill to aid small businesses, saying it will do 'two big things: It's going to cut taxes, and it's going to make more loans available.'"

* Clearly not the headlines civil libertarians hoped to see: 1. "U.S. Tries to Make It Easier to Wiretap the Internet" 2. "Money Transfers Could Face Anti-Terrorism Scrutiny" 3. "Critics Balk at Obama's Justification for Killing American Terrorist."

* Responding to the headlines, Michael Crowley notes, "My hunch is that Obama could make an excellent argument against all these positions, and that it pains him to adopt them. But also that he gets constant and chilling briefings about the terror threat and would rather be accused of limiting civil liberties than of having been less than fully vigilant."

* Glenn Greenwald is far less forgiving.

* Sharp piece from John Harwood: it's the economy, not "empathy," that's driving down President Obama's political support.

* The president spoke to college journalists today, and delivered a direct message to younger voters about the midterms: "You can't sit it out. You can't suddenly just check in once every ten years or so on an exciting presidential election and then not pay attention during big midterm elections where we have a real big choice between Democrats and Republicans.... That is a big choice. That has big consequences. So even though this may not be as exciting as a presidential election it is going to make a huge difference in terms of whether we are going to be able to move our agenda forward over the next couple years."

* On a related note, the impact of the 2010 elections on American colleges really is significant, whether students fully appreciate it or not.

* And finally, in a rare congressional move, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) got so sick of attacks from Concerned Taxpayers of America that he decided to stop by the right-wing group's offices for a surprise visit.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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PENCE'S CONFUSION KNOWS NO BOUNDS.... I'm always glad when Matt Yglesias writes about House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.). The well deserved repulsion just bleeds through the screen.

Last year, Matt had an item that explained "Mike Pence is a moron, and any movement that would hold the guy up as a hero is bankrupt.... I would refer you to this post from September about the earth-shattering ignorance and stupidity of Mike Pence.... [I]t's really staggering. In my admittedly brief experience talking to him, his inability to grasp the basic contours of policy question was obvious and overwhelming."

Today, Matt flags another Pence gem, reminding us that the House GOP Conference Chairman "gives every indication of being genuinely stupid."

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN: Why can't we [sell health insurance across state lines]?

MIKE PENCE: Well, it's really lost on me. I remember having a conversation with former senator Tom Daschle, who was really instrumental in the crafting and passage Obamcare, saying we couldn't sell insurance across state lines because it would be a "race to the bottom." Well, I gotta tell you, I think a lot of small business owners out there would like a race to the bottom -- on prices.

Even after a lengthy debate on this, Mike Pence still doesn't have the foggiest idea what he's talking about. When he says this issue is "really lost on me," that's clearly the truth.

We've been through this enough times that even a House Republican should be able to understand it. Different states regulate insurers in different ways, with restrictions ranging from strict to weak. As the GOP sees it, the model can and should follow the credit card industry standards -- let all the major insurers cluster in one state where the standards are barely existent.

It's why this idea is generally characterized as promoting a "race to the bottom." Insurers would be told that they can set up shop in a state and write the rules to the industry's liking. The industry would go with the state that offered the sweetest deal -- which is to say, the worst, weakest, most lax oversight with the fewest restrictions -- and before long, it would be consumers' only choice. Why? Because every major insurer would move to that state, leaving Americans with no other coverage to buy.

The insurance, under this approach, would probably be cheaper. It will also be awful. Pence may not care -- you and I already pay for his health insurance and that of his family -- and may even see this as preferable to the status quo, but the rest of us would suffer.

In the Affordable Care Act, President Obama offers a better approach, which allows insurers to sell coverage across state lines, just so long as they meet minimum federal standards. It's these standards that prevent the race to the bottom. When Obama offered this as a compromise a year ago to Republicans, they balked, insisting that minimum standards would mean federal regulations imposed on insurance companies. And we can't have that because it would mean government looking out for consumers, which is, you know, bad. Or something.

Democrats included the provision in the new law anyway, and insurers in states willing to operate under minimum standards can, in fact, sell coverage across state lines. (When Greta Van Susteren asks why we can't do this, she apparently doesn't know what the law says, either.)

Unfortunately for Pence, policy tutoring isn't covered in any plan, and profound ignorance is considered a pre-existing condition.

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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KRISTOL OFFERS A PREVIEW OF WHAT'S TO COME.... When it comes to journalistic standards, policy understanding, political prognostications, and basic human decency, I don't consider Bill Kristol an especially credible figure. But his sources in Republican politics tend to be pretty solid, so when he talks about what Americans expect from the GOP next year, it's worth taking him at least a little seriously.

Here, for example, was an exchange on "Fox News Sunday" yesterday about the widely-panned "Pledge with America" pseudo-agenda presented Thursday by House Republican leaders.

KRISTOL: It's a step on the way to boldness. I mean, seriously, if a power drunk, inebriated, big government-loving Democratic Party is driving the car off the cliff, the first responsibility is to put on the brakes. I think the Republicans are absolutely right about that. Stop the bad policies, go back to 2008 levels of discretionary spending, that's a pretty big cut, as you pointed out in your interview with Republican leaders. That's a pretty big cut in current discretionary spending.

WALLACE: Nothing about earmarks, nothing about entitlements.

KRISTOL: There are not gonna be earmarks next year. They can't get all their caucus to agree to it now, but if Republicans take the House, there will be such sentiment of the Tea Party nation that they will not, in my view, do earmarks. They will really cut discretionary spending. Paul Ryan will lay down the budget on April 1st, 2011, as chairman of the Budget Committee, that will address entitlements. They're being reasonable; they're being bold in a reasonable way.

First, "putting on the brakes" when Democrats are finally dragging the car out of the ditch Republicans left us in seems like a bad idea. At the risk of straining the metaphor, if hitting the gas helped end the recession and started adding jobs again, why would Republicans want to slam on the brakes?

Second, going "back to 2008 levels of discretionary spending" would lead to drastic cuts to education and essential public services -- the kind of cuts that would hurt working families at a time when the economy is already struggling.

Third, if there are "not gonna be earmarks next year," there's no reason why GOP leaders felt compelled to leave this out of their plan.

And fourth, if Paul Ryan "addresses entitlements," he's going to slash Social Security and Medicare with devastating consequences. That's his plan -- he's put in writing.

Kristol might as well been offering a testimonial on behalf of Democrats -- vote GOP in November and the country will go back to Bush-era economic policies, coupled with drastic cuts to education, Social Security, and Medicare. That's not some liberal making the case; that's Bill Kristol telling Fox News how it's going to be.

Steve Benen 4:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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COOPER PUTS THE CRAZY ON FULL DISPLAY (AGAIN).... There have been more than a few offensive attack ads this year, but right-wing congressional candidate Renee Ellmers took the discourse to new depths last week. In a television ad, the North Carolina Republican pushed the detestable envelope, using the words "Muslims" and "terrorists" interchangeably, while apparently basing her campaign on a Park51 plan nowhere near her state or district.

On Friday, CNN's Anderson Cooper invited Ellmers on for a nine-minute interview, which is well worth watching. (If you can't watch videos from your work computer, the full transcript is online, though it really doesn't do it justice.)

It was a reminder that unintelligent, extremist candidates, when subjected to even mild scrutiny, tend to fall apart pretty quickly. On Friday night, for example, Ellmers suggests Feisal Abdul Rauf might be a terrorist, before conceding she doesn't really know much about him.

Challenging Ellmers' notion of "victory mosques," Cooper went on to press the Republican congressional hopeful on an interesting point: "Don't all religions do that? I mean, you're Catholic. Rome was conquered from the pagans and their altars destroyed so the Vatican could be built. Christian conquistadors and pilgrims to America all destroyed local religions and built their own houses of worship. Is the Vatican a victory church?"

After hemming and hawing a bit, she replied, "I guess what I could ask you is, are you anti-religion? Are you anti-Christian in your thinking?"

Cooper replied, "That's like the lowest response I have ever heard from a candidate, I have got to tell you."

It's worth noting that Cooper may be creating a bit of a niche for himself. A month ago, he pressed Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) on his bizarre "terrorist babies" theory, and to his credit, Cooper kept his cool, tried to conduct a serious interview, and challenged the deranged congressman in a direct but professional way, leaving his guest looking like a fool. He did the same thing on Friday with the equally-nutty Renee Ellmers, with the same result. (The niche may not last -- I can only assume more ridiculous Republicans will simply stop appearing on Cooper's show, and rely exclusively on Fox News.)

What's more, Paul Waldman raises a good point about the larger political context of Ellmers possibly joining the House of Representatives: "One might say, well, this one person seems to be a bigot and an ignoramus, but so what? She's just one person. That's true, but if things work out for the GOP, she could be one of the people making our laws. Whether the Democrats hold on to their majority in the House, one thing we can be almost certain of is that the number of members who combine breathtaking ignorance with shockingly radical views will increase significantly. How much damage this army of Gohmerts and Bachmanns can really do, we don't know. But there will be a lot more of them."

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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AGAIN WITH THE BALANCED BUDGET AMENDMENT?.... Good lord, do we really have to debate the Balanced Budget Amendment all over again?

Two leading Senate candidates, backed by the tea party movement, are hoping to capitalize on GOP failures by campaigning on the promise to push for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution as one of their first priorities if elected.

Marco Rubio, who is running against Gov. Charlie Crist (I-Fla.) and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) for his state's Senate seat, said on CBS's "Face the Nation" with Bob Schieffer said that Republicans need to be held just as accountable as Democrats for their failed promises this November.

"The Republicans...didn't fulfill some of the promises they had made in [1994] when they were elected," said Rubio. "Things like a balanced budget amendment. Things like abandoning earmarks. Things like term limits."

Abandoning earmarks is a silly and inconsequential gimmick, and we already have term limits -- they're called "elections."

But Rubio and Buck talking up a constitutional amendment to require balanced budgets is just painfully dumb. That the message comes just days after House Republicans called for adding several trillion dollars to the debt makes it rather ironic. That it comes on the heels of a Republican White House and Republican Congress adding $5 trillion to the debt in eight years, and leaving a $1.3 trillion deficit for Democrats to clean up, makes the whole push almost amusing.

Regardless, the proposed amendment is, as Bruce Bartlett recently explained, "a terrible idea." His item on this is well worth reading -- and bookmarking for future reference -- and it hits nearly all of the highlights, including the fact that a BBA would undermine the economy and is probably unenforceable anyway.

But I'd just emphasize the fact that sometimes, running a deficit is both wise and necessary, and writing a prohibition into constitutional stone would tie policymakers' hands at key moments of crisis. Proponents have said the language would made exceptions in which deficits would be allowed -- wars, economic crises, etc. -- but at that point, there's no real point in having the amendment anyway.

For that matter, if Rubio, Buck, or any of the so-called deficit hawks want a balanced budget, they can do us all a favor and present a plan on how to make that happen. That would take effort and intellectual honesty, so instead we get the easy way out -- instead of doing the hard work, they want to trot out a gimmick that will mandate a policy goal they can't figure out on their own.

In other words, those who want a balanced budget amendment should make plain how they'd balance the budget. Otherwise, the scheme is just a silly political charade.

Still, if Republicans make major gains in November, expect this to a key area of debate in the next Congress.

Steve Benen 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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STILL WAITING FOR SERIOUSNESS.... Ross Douthat has an item on the House Republicans' "Pledge to America" today, and like nearly everyone else, he's not impressed. But there was one line in particular that stood out for me.

Not surprisingly, Douthat's criticism isn't entirely in line with my concerns about the GOP agenda, and I think he's soft-selling some of the more obvious flaws. But he nevertheless concludes that the document "inspires very little confidence in the Congressional G.O.P.'s ability to unite around good policy."

I understand that House caucuses are not traditionally hotbeds of policy innovation, and I give the Republican leadership credit for actually making an effort on this front, instead of just coasting toward the midterms. But I also refuse to succumb to the soft bigotry of low expectations! These are serious times, and for a party that may have a share of power again ere long, the Pledge to America is simply not a sufficiently serious response.

It's a recurring theme when it comes to Republicans in recent years -- there's just no seriousness to what they do, how they think, or how they behave.

Just a few months ago, the American Enterprise Institute's Norm Ornstein, not exactly a raging leftist, said House GOP leaders "are becoming the Bart Simpsons of Congress, gleeful at smarmy and adolescent tactics and unable and unwilling to get serious."

Ornstein may have thought of that as a throwaway line, but I've considered it rather devastating. He didn't just say Republicans aren't serious; he said they can't get serious and don't even want to try. That's not only a powerful critique, it has the added benefit of being true.

Early last year, as the GOP's descent into nonsense picked up steam, there was some rejoicing on the left, and I understood why. As Republicans took on the collective persona of angry, over-medicated children, it seemed highly unlikely American voters would reward them with power. The GOP was becoming a national embarrassment, progressives assumed, and would need to come to its senses before it could return to the big kids' table.

But that satisfaction was misplaced. Sure, Republicans abandoned the pretense of credibility, seriousness, reason, and thoughtful policymaking, but they're nevertheless poised to make significant gains anyway. Voters care less about the GOP's radical recklessness and more about a struggling national economy.

The result is the worst of all worlds. We're faced with daunting challenges, a dysfunctional political system, and a party poised to gain power despite being woefully unprepared for the responsibilities of leadership.

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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DON'T PRIVATIZE THE 'BEST CARE ANYWHERE'.... In a normal year, Ken Buck would be having a lot more trouble as a major-party U.S. Senate nominee. The far-right Coloradoan does, after all, support repealing the 17th Amendment, privatizing Social Security, eliminating the Department of Education, scraping the federal student loan program, and has talked about banning birth control and all abortion rights, even in cases of rape or incest. He's even said liberals are a bigger threat than terrorists.

But as things stand, polls show him with a narrow lead headed into November. Of course, the more Buck talks, the more Colorado voters have a chance to understand his ideology. We recently learned, for example, that Buck thinks it makes sense to privatize VA hospitals.

"Would a Veterans Administration hospital that is run by the private sector be better run then by the public sector? In my view, yes."

For the Washington Monthly, this has been a long-time area of interest. In 2005, we published a Philip Longman piece on V.A. hospitals called, "The Best Care Anywhere."

As Longman explained at the time, "Who do you think receives higher-quality health care. Medicare patients who are free to pick their own doctors and specialists? Or aging veterans stuck in those presumably filthy VA hospitals with their antiquated equipment, uncaring administrators, and incompetent staff? An answer came in 2003, when the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine published a study that compared veterans health facilities on 11 measures of quality with fee-for-service Medicare. On all 11 measures, the quality of care in veterans facilities proved to be 'significantly better.' ... The Annals of Internal Medicine recently published a study that compared veterans health facilities with commercial managed-care systems in their treatment of diabetes patients. In seven out of seven measures of quality, the VA provided better care."

Yes, the taxpayer-financed, government-run V.A. hospitals are some of the finest medical facilities in the country. Buck thinks they'd be better off being privatized, but that's largely because he's popping off on a subject he doesn't understand.

As his quote gained attention, the Buck campaign "clarified" the matter, telling reporters, "Ken said that private companies do a better job than the government.... Take a look at Walter Reed."

That might make sense, if Walter Reed were a V.A. hospital -- it's not -- and if the government weren't already doing such a good job with actual V.A. facilities.

In other words, Buck helped demonstrate that he doesn't know what he's talking about, and compounded the problem, by having his campaign spokesperson show he doesn't know what he's talking about, either.

Voters may not care, but given the number of veterans we have deserve first-class medical care, they probably should.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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MONDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* If Sen. Lisa Murkowski manages to win re-election in Alaska through a write-in bid, would she still caucus with Republicans? Probably, but she seems to like having "a little more flexibility."

* In Kentucky's U.S. Senate race, the last Bluegrass poll published several weeks ago showed Rand Paul (R) leading state Attorney General Jack Conway (D) by 15 points. A new Bluegrass poll, published over the weekend, showed the Republican's lead shrinking to just two points, 49% to 47%.

* In Ohio, Republicans continue to lead both of the key statewide races. The latest Cincinnati Enquirer/Ohio Newspaper Poll shows Rob Portman (R) leading the U.S. Senate race by 15, and John Kasich (R) leading the gubernatorial race by a much closer four-point margin.

* In Florida's U.S. Senate race, the latest Mason-Dixon poll shows Marco Rubio (R) continuing to pull away while his opponents split the center-left. Rubio now leads with 40% support, followed by Gov. Charlie Crist (I) with 28%. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) is a close third with 23%.

* In California, the latest L.A. Times/USC poll shows Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) leading her re-election bid by eight, and Jerry Brown (D) leading the gubernatorial race by five.

* Iowa's gubernatorial race is quickly turning into a one-sided contest, with former Gov. Terry Branstad (R) leading incumbent Gov. Chet Culver (D) by 19 points in the latest Des Moines Register Iowa Poll, 52% to 33%.

* Massachusetts' gubernatorial race is heating up in a big way, with a new Boston Globe poll showing incumbent Gov. Deval Patrick (D) leading Charlie Baker (R) by just one point, 35% to 34%. Independent Tim Cahill is third with 11%.

* On a related note, Cahill is shedding key staffers, but he's vowing to stay in the race.

* The latest Star-Tribune poll shows Mark Dayton (D) leading Minnesota's gubernatorial race, enjoying a nine-point lead over Tom Emmer (R), 39% to 30%. Independent Tom Horner is a competitive third with 18%. support

* And in Michigan*, former Rep. Tim Walberg (R), hoping to return to Congress this year, is apparently a Birther. Asked last week whether the president is a natural-born citizen, Walberg said, "You know, I don't know, I really don't know. We don't have enough information about this president."

* fixed

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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IT MAY NOT HAVE CELEBRITIES, BUT IT MAY HAVE MERIT.... A month ago, Glenn Beck hosted an event in Washington drawing about 87,000 supporters, touting a message of ... whatever it is Beck and his minions say they care about. About a month from now, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert will host an event in Washington, which should draw at least as many people, in the hopes of "restoring sanity."

But in between the two gatherings will be another rally, this one hosted by progressive groups that intend to "make the case that they, and not the ascendant right, speak for America's embattled middle class."

Predicting a crowd of more than 100,000, some 300 liberal groups -- including the N.A.A.C.P., the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the National Council of La Raza and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force -- are sponsoring a march on Saturday in the hope of transforming the national conversation so it focuses less on the Tea Party. The groups sponsoring the rally, which is called "One Nation Working Together," say they hope to supplant what they say is the Tea Party's divisiveness with a message of unity to promote jobs, justice and education.

"The Tea Party has been getting much more media attention than it deserves, and it's been saying it represents the voice of middle-class America," said George Gresham, president of 1199 S.E.I.U., a New York health care union local, who says his union has chartered 500 buses to carry 25,000 union members to the rally. "A lot of us feel we have to get a different voice out there speaking for working people, one respecting the diversity of this country, which the Tea Party does not."

One of the key problems, at least for me, with Beck's rally in late August is that it lacked a clear purpose. Attendees like "freedom," but it wasn't clear exactly what it was they want. They spoke loud, but said little.

With that in mind, what's the "One Nation" gathering all about? With a diverse group of liberals, it's not surprising that the message may appear a little vague. The New York Times put it this way:

Many sponsors say that the rally is not seeking to back President Obama or the Democrats, but rather to hold all of Washington, Democrats and Republicans, accountable for not doing more to fix the nation's problems. But some sponsors sound unmistakably partisan as they denounce "obstructionism" in the Senate that has blocked larger job-creation programs and other measures. While these sponsors steer clear of mentioning Republicans, their target seems obvious.

I think the NYT gets this very wrong. To take issue with unprecedented legislative obstructionism, which both undermines the effectiveness of the government and kills worthwhile legislation, is not "unmistakably partisan." It's just a fact -- those who care about effective policymaking should have a problem with what's become of the painfully dysfunctional Senate.

Nevertheless, here's hoping "One Nation" turnout is a success. Progressive voices are too often left out and unheard, and a sizable rally on the Mall may help send a larger message that the left still has something to say.

The rally won't have any celebrities, but it may offer something more important -- a message with merit.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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EFFECTIVE JOBS BILL TO DIE IN JUST A FEW DAYS.... For senators who claim to take job creation seriously, there's a terrific opportunity to prove it -- but they'll have to act very quickly.

By most measures, the the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Fund should be one of the most popular programs in Congress. A key component of the Recovery Act, the fund subsidizes jobs with private companies, nonprofits, and government agencies and has single handedly put more than 240,000 unemployed people back to work in 32 states and the District of Columbia.

Governors, including Mississippi's Haley Barbour (R), have sung its praises, and urged its extension. In July, CNN called the TANF Emergency Fund "a stimulus program even a Republican can love." If only that were true on the Hill.

The TANF Emergency Fund expires this week. Democrats want to extend it; Republicans want to kill it; and because our legislative process is ridiculous, one of the most successful jobs programs we've seen in a while is likely to die in just a few days.

In rural Perry County, Tenn., the program helped pay for roughly 400 new jobs in the public and private sectors. But in a county of 7,600 people, those jobs had a big impact: they reduced Perry County's unemployment rate to less than 14 percent this August, from the Depression-like levels of more than 25 percent that it hit last year after its biggest employer, an auto parts factory, moved to Mexico.

If the stimulus program ends on schedule next week, Perry County officials said, an estimated 300 people there will lose their jobs -- the equivalent of another factory closing. [...]

While the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress want to extend the program, they are meeting stiff resistance from Republicans, many of whom oppose all things stimulus.

It's obviously not just Tennessee. If the emergency fund expires on scheduled on Thursday, 26,000 workers in Illinois will lose their jobs. So will 12,000 workers in Pennsylvania. Thousands more across the country will meet the same fate.

The House has approved an extension of the program -- twice. It would cost about $2.5 billion to keep it going, which is a relatively paltry sum that has a considerable impact on helping struggling Americans get a job.

But Senate Republicans don't seem to care. It's part of the stimulus, which means it must be killed, whether it's working or not.

It's not too late -- Senate sources tell me Dems still might try to keep the TANF Emergency Fund alive for another year -- but no one seems to think a Republican filibuster can be broken.

And we'll once again face an ironic dynamic: Americans will get frustrated with Democrats over more job losses, instead of the Republicans responsible for killing an effective program that keeps Americans on the job.

Indeed, in a sane political world, the death of the TANF Emergency Fund would be a pretty big scandal, and Republicans would be afraid to kill an effective jobs program with an unemployment rate near 10%. Instead, the GOP is counting on being rewarded by Americans for taking steps like these, and polls suggest that's exactly what's going to happen.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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PRESIDENT EYES GOP 'PLEDGE'.... Given what we've seen over the last few days, it looks like the "Pledge to America" is off to an awkward start.

On the Sunday shows, for example, Republican leaders backed away from the idea that their policy agenda is actually a policy agenda. At the same time, the GOP base seems largely unimpressed, and Republican candidates haven't exactly been scrambling to associate themselves with the "Pledge."

In the meantime, leading Democrats don't seem especially afraid of the new agenda. President Obama sat down this morning with Matt Lauer for a discussion focused almost entirely on education policy. But towards the end of the interview, Lauer asked about the midterms and whether the president might change his "tone or your emotion in terms of pushing back" against the GOP.

"I think that if you've heard me speak around the country over the last several months, I think that it's clear I've got a very sharp difference with the Republicans on a lot of issues," Obama replied.

"And when I say 'Republicans,' I really should say 'Republican leadership' because I think there are lot of wonderful people out there who consider themselves Republicans or independents, who have maybe some criticisms of my administration, but basically recognize we've got to solve some big problems, we've got to be serious, we've got to base our decisions on facts.

"What I'm seeing out of the Republican leadership out of the last several years has been a set of policies that are just irresponsible. And we saw in their 'Pledge to America' a similar set of irresponsible policies. They say they want to balance the budget, they propose $4 trillion worth of tax cuts, and $16 billion in spending cuts. And then they say, 'We're gonna somehow magically balance the budget.' That's not a serious approach.

"So, the question for voters over the next five weeks is, 'Who is putting forward policies that have a chance to move our country forward -- so that our schools have improved, so that we have world-class infrastructure, so that we're serious about helping small businesses, we're serious about getting a handle on our spending -- and who's just engaging in rhetoric. And I think that if that debate is taking place over the next five weeks, we're going to do just fine."

When the Democratic president seems a little more excited about the Republicans' agenda than Republicans, it's probably a big hint about the merit of the "Pledge."

Steve Benen 10:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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STRUCTURAL VS CYCLICAL.... There are different kinds of unemployment crises. You've probably heard about "structural" unemployment, which generally refers to an economy with specific kinds of jobs to fill, but workers untrained to fill them. There's also "cyclical" unemployment, which tends to describe job losses that result from an economic downturn (fewer people with jobs means fewer people spending money means layoffs).

The good news is, cyclical unemployment can be addressed through government intervention -- or at least could be if we had a functioning political system. In the meantime, those who oppose government intervention on ideological grounds keep pushing the notion of structural unemployment, because it becomes a convenient excuse for inaction.

Paul Krugman's been blogging about this quite a bit lately, and it led to a helpful column today.

What can be done about mass unemployment? All the wise heads agree: there are no quick or easy answers. There is work to be done, but workers aren't ready to do it — they're in the wrong places, or they have the wrong skills. Our problems are "structural," and will take many years to solve.

But don't bother asking for evidence that justifies this bleak view. There isn't any. On the contrary, all the facts suggest that high unemployment in America is the result of inadequate demand -- full stop. Saying that there are no easy answers sounds wise, but it's actually foolish: our unemployment crisis could be cured very quickly if we had the intellectual clarity and political will to act.

In other words, structural unemployment is a fake problem, which mainly serves as an excuse for not pursuing real solutions.

If structural unemployment were really the problem we'd see "major industries that are trying to expand but are having trouble hiring, major classes of workers who find their skills in great demand, major parts of the country with low unemployment even as the rest of the nation suffers. None of these things exist. Job openings have plunged in every major sector, while the number of workers forced into part-time employment in almost all industries has soared."

To a certain extent, this should come as something of a relief. Structural unemployment is a far greater policy challenge, and it takes much longer to address. Cyclical unemployment can be addressed though additional stimulus and intervention from the Federal Reserve.

But additional investment in job creation has been deemed unacceptable by congressional Republicans, and the Fed wants to sit on its hands.

And so the jobs problem persists -- and will intensify just as soon as the GOP is rewarded for failure in the midterms.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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THE TALKING POINT I'M STILL WAITING TO HEAR.... On "This Week" yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said we can't raise anyone's taxes "in the middle of a recession." He liked the phrase so much, McConnell used it four times during the interview.

It's a weak argument. For one thing, we're not in the middle of a recession. For another, most economists agree that allowing the wealthy to start paying Clinton-era top marginal rates again would have little, if any, effect on the economy. (In recent decades, both Reagan and Clinton raised taxes during difficult economic times, and both saw the economy grow soon after.)

But putting all of that aside, there's one talking point that happens be true, but which is seldom repeated: we shouldn't cut spending during difficult economic times, either. The flip side -- tax increases during tough times is outrageous -- is ubiquitous, but this talking point is generally nowhere to be found.

I found this exchange between McConnell and Christiane Amanpour both fascinating and painful.

AMANPOUR: [T]here's also this huge thing that the people of the United States are worried about, and that is the deficit.... and keeping the tax cuts will add trillions to that. And let me ask you this. According to Howard Gleckman at the Tax Policy Center -- let's see what he's just written -- "McConnell would have to abolish all the rest of the government to get a balance by 2020, everything. No more national parks, no more NIH, no more highway construction, no more homeland security, oh, and no more Congress."

MCCONNELL: Let me tell you how I'd reduce the deficit. There are two things you need to do. Number one, you need to get spending down, and number two, we need to get the economy going.

In McConnell's mind, taking money out of the economy during a difficult time would make the economy stronger. And why does he think that makes sense? He didn't say, but he went on to argue:

MCCONNELL: Everything that's happened in the last year-and-a-half has been to pump up the government. We borrowed stimulus money. We spent it to hire new federal government workers. We sent it down to states so they would not have to lay off state workers. You have to get the economy going.

I realize McConnell's understanding of this is limited, but it's really not that complicated. We used public resources to create millions of jobs, and save many more workers who would have been laid off. They, in turn, had money to spend and invest, which then contributed to broader growth. It's why the economy started growing last year, and why the economy has added 763,000 private-sector jobs just this year.

As McConnell sees it, the U.S. economy would be better off if those millions of Americans had lost their jobs, and not had income to spend. That's how we "get the economy going."

I realize there are Americans who find this persuasive. I have no idea why.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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VOTE FIRST, DETAILS LATER.... A few weeks ago, Linda McMahon, the wrestling company executive turned Republican Senate candidate, was asked how she'd approach entitlement policy if elected. McMahon replied that she'd like to talk about the issue, but "I just don't believe that the campaign trail is the right place to talk about that."

It's an interesting approach to the political process. McMahon wants people to elect her to the U.S. Senate, and then she'll tell the public how she intends to use the powers of her office. McMahon could answer questions now, but voters may not care for the answers. It's preferable, then, to keep the public in the dark.

This attitude was on display yesterday on the Sunday shows, too.

Two Republican leaders defended the lack of specificity in the party's new "Pledge to America" on Sunday, saying it was a starting point for identifying problems and then moving toward meaningful solutions. [...]

"Let's not get to the potential solutions," [House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on "Fox News Sunday."] "Let's make sure Americans understand how big the problem is. Then we can begin to talk about possible solutions and then work ourselves into those solutions that are doable."

Boehner added that he wants to "have this conversation first," but that's not quite what he meant -- by "this conversation," Boehner was suggesting the campaign should be built around pointing to problems, not proposing solutions.

So, on Thursday, House GOP leaders said they were presenting an agenda and providing a blueprint of how Republicans would use their majority. By Sunday, House GOP leaders were saying their agenda isn't really an agenda, and it's premature to "get to the potential solutions."

When host Chris Wallace pressed further, looking for details on the kinds of cuts Americans can expect to see from Republicans, Boehner replied that specifics on this "invite all kinds of problems."

Yes, "problems" like "losing."

Look, we're not dealing with a complete mystery here. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has released his budget blueprint -- which has drawn support from a variety of far-right members and candidates -- and it calls for radical cuts to Social Security and Medicare. It's the only way Republicans could even try to pay for their trillions of dollars in tax cuts, and it's an approach Americans would fundamentally reject.

Which is exactly why Boehner doesn't want to talk about it. Instead, we're stuck with GOP leaders trying to convince Americans to take a leap of faith -- vote for the folks whose policies created this mess, whose numbers don't add up, and whose agenda will remain deliberately vague until they're in office and it's too late for voters to register their disapproval.

And if the Democratic base is prepared to sit out the elections, Boehner's game plan will likely work pretty effectively.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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September 26, 2010

NO MATTER WHAT, THE SENATE WILL STILL NEED FIXING.... Way back in January, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) expressed some frustration that Republicans obstruct the political process "with impunity."

Raising an issue that was relevant again this week, Durbin added at the time, "Some of the votes [Republicans] cast -- we would be on trial for treason if we had voted against defense appropriations in the midst of a war."

While that's a bit of an exaggeration, the underlying point is obviously sound. Democrats can be proud of some remarkable accomplishments over last 21 months, but they've been repeatedly stymied by obstructionist tactics unlike anything we've seen in American history. Legislation that should have passed easily was blocked and/or killed. Legislation that did pass was needlessly made worse because majority-rule has been replaced with mandatory supermajorities. Key government posts remained vacant because the nomination process is broken, too.

This isn't new, of course, but the point came to mind after reading a good item from Matt Yglesias the other day.

I'd say the problem is that by failing to get serious about procedural issues, Democrats have created a gigantic credibility problem for themselves. Under modern conditions, it's not realistic for a political party to obtain 75 Senate seats or whatever and then deliver policy accomplishments. Holding 59 or 60 requires a minor miracle. What you can realistically do is win a majority in Congress, then expand that majority and also capture the White House and then maybe hold on to those majorities. That'd be an impressive electoral achievement.

But the events of 2009-2010 have made it painfully clear to everyone that under any realistic scenario for the 2010 elections the progressive vision is dead in the US Senate. There are all these policy ideas out there, from Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal to cap-and-trade to immigration reform to labor law reform. They could be stitched together into a bold vision for economic and social renewal. Except everyone knows you're not going to get 60 votes for that stuff.

And so by failing to become vocal about procedural reform and demonstrate some seriousness about getting things done, the party leaders have created a situation where they can't make any promises to anyone besides "if we do well we'll negotiate with the Senators from New England but if we do badly we'll have to negotiate with Lindsey Graham."

In the wake of Republicans filibustering a vote just to have a debate on funding the military this week, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said institutional reform is now more likely. "I don't think a filibuster before has ever prevented the Senate from getting to a defense authorization," Levin said. "These filibusters on motions to proceed cannot be allowed to prevent us from getting our work done." He added that Tuesday's fiasco was "a very powerful argument for why we should change the rules."

Clearly, that's true, and when the new Congress begins its work next year, I'd certainly welcome an effort to make the Senate functional again.

But to Matt's point, I strongly agree that Democrats and the Democratic agenda have been damaged by GOP procedural tactics in ways that are hard to fully appreciate.

It's not fair or just, but Republican obstructionism has too often made Dems look weak and ineffectual. The largest Senate majority in decades has been stymied by abuses, but that won't stop voters from rewarding those doing the abusing. If the midterms are largely a referendum on the economy -- and I suspect that's the case -- it's worth emphasizing that the inability to pass effective legislation has undermined growth and undercut job creation.

It's the majority that gets the blame, even if it's the minority that deserves it. Dems were tasked with rescuing the country in the wake of devastating Republican failures, and then were told they couldn't act without at least some Republican approval -- approval that was nearly, if not literally, impossible to earn.

Looking ahead, the events of this Congress have created a standard that no political system can endure -- mandatory supermajorities for literally everything. Key milestone victories notwithstanding, an ambitious renewal agenda wasn't even considered, because it was a foregone conclusion that the support a majority of the House, a majority of the Senate, and the White House is no longer enough to govern.

What would I have preferred in terms of Dems "getting serious about procedural issues"? In addition to pushing meaningful reform efforts, I would have liked to see this as a focal point for political activism.

Consider a hypothetical. Let's say Democrats ran the government for several years, and drove the country into a ditch. Disgusted, voters elected a Republican president with a huge mandate, gave Republicans the biggest House majority either party has had in 20 years, and the biggest Senate majority either party has had in 30 years.

Then imagine that, despite the overwhelming edge, Democrats decided -- during times of foreign and domestic crises -- that they simply would not allow the GOP majority to govern. Dems ignored the election results and reflexively opposed literally every bill, initiative, and nominee of any consequence, trying to block anything and everything.

In this hypothetical, despite two wars, Democrats rejected funding for the troops. Despite a terrorist plot, Democrats rejected the qualified nominee to head the TSA. Despite an economic crisis, Democrats rejected economic recovery efforts, multiple jobs bills, funding for unemployment benefits, and nominees to fill key Treasury Department posts.

Now, in this hypothetical, what do you suppose the political climate would look like? Would GOP officials decide it's time to try "bipartisan" governing?

Or would every single day be another opportunity for Republicans to be apoplectic about Democratic obstructionism? How many marches on Washington would Fox News organize, demanding that Democrats allow the governing majority to function? How ubiquitous would the phrase "up-or-down vote" be?

Put simply, I would have liked to see Democratic leaders imagine what Republicans would do if the situations were completely reversed. Then they should have done that.

As things stand, come January, I still think it's likely there will be a Democratic majority in the upper chamber, albeit a much smaller one. At that point, to pass any meaningful bill, Dems will need eight or nine Republicans to break ranks, instead of one or two.

In other words, without institutional procedural reform, the most frustrating of the recent abuses will only get worse.

Steve Benen 1:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... There were several noteworthy exchanges between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Christiane Amanpour on ABC's "This Week" earlier, but I was especially struck by their discussion of pending Senate races.

The host noted, for example, the Republican Senate primary in Delaware. McConnell replied:

"The Delaware primary was interesting."

Amanpour followed up by asking, "[W]hat is Christine O'Donnell's qualification for actually governing? What is Sharron Angle's actual qualification for governing?" McConnell replied:

"Well, they won the primary fair and square against real competition."

The host asked whether the Republican leader might be afraid that these extremist candidates' "some might say, bizarre statements, their sort of fringe quality might actually turn people off." Amanpour noted, in particular, Angle's talk of armed rebellion against the United States government. McConnell replied that it's Democrats who are "extreme."

The host tried one last time, asking if McConnell would agree that some of this year's fringe GOP candidates have made "bizarre" comments. The senator replied that the question might represent an "attack" on the judgment of primary voters.

I often wonder how a clown like Mitch McConnell rose to such a prominent position in the first place.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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IN DEFENSE OF EXPERTISE.... The strain of anti-intellectualism on the right isn't new, but it is getting worse.

Marco Rubio does not see a problem with Christine O'Donnell's past of financial trouble and bizarre quotes, noting that system is not designed to elect "a bunch of experts" to the Senate.

Rubio made the comments in a question and answer session with the Kitchen Cabinet, a conservative women's group which will post the full interview on their website Wednesday.

"We actually have some people running that are not particularly experienced or maybe as skilled as some, in Delaware for instance, where there are some real questions about Christine O'Donnell," the group asked Rubio, Florida's Republican nominee for the Senate.

"The republic works and isn't designed to elect a bunch of experts," Rubio responded.

Now, it's true that to hold public office, one need not have post-graduate degrees and years of broad policy experience. And that's fine, of course.

But as a rule, the political system seems to be more effective when voters elect candidates who aren't idiots. This year, there seem to be an inordinate number of statewide candidates seeking key offices who've never taken a particular interest in learning anything about governing and/or effective policymaking. In some cases, they're even winning.

Some, including Rubio, may find a certain charm in this. "Outsiders" who don't know anything about shaping federal policy are running for the high offices, and that's great -- what they lack in intelligence, understanding, and judgment, they'll make up for with real-world know-how.

Or as Rubio put it this week, "I think the more you are in touch with the real lives of everyday people; the better you are going to be as a representative of those people in a Republic."

Other than politics, there's hardly any aspect of modern life where this would be considered credible. If someone's car breaks down, they don't usually think, "Who needs an 'expert'? What I want is someone who can relate to everyday people."

If someone needs medical attention, they don't usually think, "All these doctors with their highfalutin science; who needs 'em?"

If someone needs to fly from one airport to another, they don't usually think, "I don't care if the pilot has years of training; I care if he/she is in touch with my values."

But when it comes to government, this perspective is deemed irrelevant. With a candidate like Christine O'Donnell, voters are told that she has no background in government, knows nothing about federal policymaking, and has no working understanding of any of the issues she'd be working on -- but that's a good quality for a United States senator to have.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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IT'S NOT JUST THE BUGS THAT STINK.... The Washington Post ran an item the other day that, at first blush, doesn't seem especially political, but is worth considering in a larger context.

The issue is the spread of the brown marmorated stink bug through the mid-Atlantic states. They're harmless to people -- the don't bite, sting, or carry diseases -- but for the first time on the continent, they're doing significant damage to crops, ornamental shrubs, and trees. And as homeowners are discovering, as the bugs begin moving inside as temperatures drop, "when squashed or irritated, the bugs release the distinctive smell of sweaty feet."

The insects reached the U.S. in Allentown, Pa., in 2001, apparently as stowaways in a shipping container from Asia. Now they're spreading, they have no known natural predators, and there's "no easy way to kill lots of the bugs at once." Complicating matters, "the invasion is only going to get worse."

So, where's the political angle?

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a Republican who represents Maryland's rural 6th District, sent a letter Friday, signed by 15 members of Congress, asking U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson to take immediate action to limit damage caused by Halyomorpha halys.

Of the 15 members who signed the letter, eight of them are Republicans -- all from states between West Virginia and New Jersey, and all fairly conservative members of the GOP caucus. The group of lawmakers are looking for "coordinated federal government assistance" from the Obama administration to help farmers and local economies deal with the bugs.

In particular, the 15 lawmakers are eyeing a proposal to reclassify the species under federal guidelines to expand regulatory authority over the bugs.

In other words, faced with a environmental problem, the first instinct from conservative Republican politicians is to ask the federal government to do something. Indeed, they're specifically asking for federal bureaucrats to sweep into action and use expanded federal regulations to help people.

Hmm.

There seems to be a bit of disconnect here between Republican ideology and real-world problems. On the one hand, conservative lawmakers like Bartlett hate "big government," the EPA, federal regulations, and government bureaucrats. This year, plenty of GOP candidates are talking about eliminating the EPA, firing parts of the federal workforce, scrapping regulations, and slashing spending on various agencies.

Shouldn't conservative lawmakers, right about now, expect the free market to offer a solution to the stink-bug problem? Why hasn't the GOP offered everyone a tax credit for fly swatters and facemasks? Why aren't Tenthers running around demanding to know where, exactly, the Constitution empowers the federal government to deal with an insect infestation?

As it turns out, the EPA, USDA, and scientists at a variety of regional universities (remember, conservatives generally approve of neither scientists nor universities) are working on possible solutions. Hopefully, they'll be successful.

In the meantime, let this be a reminder to all of us -- the federal government can and does play a vital problem-solving role in American public life. Republicans know this, even when they pretend otherwise.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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DICK MORRIS, REPUBLICAN CELEBRITY.... Is there anyone quite as sleazy and odious in the political world as Dick Morris? It was 14 years ago when Morris was forced to resign in disgrace from the Clinton White House after a prostitution scandal, but the conservative hatchetman never actually went away.

After spending much of 2007 and 2008 using media platforms to try to destroy Hillary Clinton, and devoting 2009 to destroying President Obama, Morris is spending 2010 positioning himself as a leading Republican campaign surrogate for the first time.

[I]n his latest iteration, Morris has become something of a principal himself, headlining rallies, fundraising and advocating for Republican House candidates. He's formally endorsed some of the party's top prospects, raised money for a slate of GOP House candidates including David McKinley in West Virginia, and Bob Gibbs and Tom Ganley in Ohio, and even blasted out a message to his e-mail list subscribers heaping praise on David Harmer, a challenger for a northern California-based seat.

House candidates who haven't received material political benefits from Morris also report having informally discussed their races with the consultant and current FoxNews commentator at conservative events.

Morris hasn't limited his role to House races. He's offered public endorsements to GOP Senate contenders Carly Fiorina in California and Rep. John Boozman in Arkansas and Republican gubernatorial hopefuls Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania and Bradley Byrne in Alabama.

A spokesperson for a Republican congressional candidate said, shortly before a scheduled Morris appearance, "There is tremendous excitement about his visit, lots of grass-roots buzz that he is coming to our district in such a competitive race." Morris, the campaign said, "will certainly energize our base."

That says more than it should about the Republican base.

Of course, Morris being Morris, the goal is not limited to electing right-wing candidates -- there's also money to be made. A deep-pocketed far-right outfit called Americans for Prosperity "has sent Morris to headline rallies in Colorado, Virginia and Arkansas," and he's appeared at the organization's events. Asked whether Morris is getting paid to do all of this, Americans for Prosperity wouldn't confirm, but said, "We are happy to pay people, in general, if we are happy with their message."

Yes, and what a message it is. Zachary Pleat reminds us:

Morris has used the credibility that his Fox News employment gives to conservatives to shill for financial schemes, including urging readers to buy an investment newsletter where he gets a cut of each subscription. Morris frequently uses his employment by Fox News to urge viewers to contribute to or help Republican candidates or causes. He has also directed viewers to donate to political organizations to which he apparently has financial ties.

All of this is only the very tip of the iceberg that is Dick Morris' many, many problems. For instance, Morris has spread falsehoods about progressives, made comically off-track political predictions, and has a history of extremist statements, including his comment that "Those crazies in Montana who say, 'We're going to kill ATF agents because the U.N.'s going to take over' - well, they're beginning to have a case."

If only Republicans could show better judgment in choosing their celebrity heroes.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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THE BASIS FOR HEALTH CARE REFORM CRITICISM.... In February and March, when the fate of health care reform was very much in doubt, many Democrats had to consider a political calculation: would legislative success make the policy more popular?

One can only speculate about the effects of failure -- though I find it hard to imagine reform or its proponents gaining in popularity in the wake of the bill dying -- but it's safe to say those predicting improved poll numbers were mistaken. The expensive conservative crusade to make reform unpopular worked -- the public doesn't know what's in the bill, exactly, and Americans find the whole thing confusing, but they're pretty sure they're unhappy with the results.

Politically, this leads many to assume the American mainstream agrees with the right about the size and scope of the Affordable Care Act. We're occasionally reminded that there's ample reason to question the conventional wisdom.

A new AP poll finds that Americans who think the law should have done more outnumber those who think the government should stay out of health care by 2-to-1. [...]

The poll found that about four in 10 adults think the new law did not go far enough to change the health care system, regardless of whether they support the law, oppose it or remain neutral. On the other side, about one in five say they oppose the law because they think the federal government should not be involved in health care at all.

Obviously there are plenty of confused folks who've bought into nonsense. The AP talked with some guy in Arizona who's convinced health care reform is "a Trojan horse" for a "communist, socialist scheme." It's likely many Fox News viewers have reached the same foolish conclusion.

But what matters here is how limited the right-wing attitudes are. Indeed, the results are striking in challenging assumptions about how the public perceives the entire reform initiative. The usual complaints about "a government takeover" aren't just at odds with reality; they're also at odds with what Americans are actually worried about.

This is particularly important when it comes to the Republican campaign to kill the new law in 2011. The GOP looks at the polls and assumes the party has the public's backing on health care policy, but they're mistaken -- the vast majority of Americans didn't like the pre-reform status quo and consider Republican "reform" plans wholly inadequate.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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September 25, 2010

OBAMA HITS GOP AGENDA AS 'AN ECHO OF A DISASTROUS DECADE'.... As the midterm elections draw closer, note the sharper tone of President Obama's weekly address. This morning's edition echoed the kind of rhetoric we've been hearing more of on the stump, and added a few timely new points we haven't heard from the White House before.

The president began by noting the "official" end of the recession, adding that the announcement is pretty meaningless for those who've been struggling. Obama added that he's pushing a variety of measures intended to "keep pushing to promote growth that will generate the jobs we need."

But the president then turned his attention to one of the key political stories of the week: the introduction of the Republicans' policy agenda, which features "the very same policies that led to the economic crisis in the first place, which isn't surprising, since many of their leaders were among the architects of that failed policy.

"It is grounded in same worn out philosophy: cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires; cut the rules for Wall Street and the special interests; and cut the middle class loose to fend for itself. That's not a prescription for a better future. It's an echo of a disastrous decade we can't afford to relive."

Of particular interest, Obama mocked one of the central GOP gimmicks: "The Republicans in Washington claimed to draw their ideas from a website called 'America Speaking Out.' It turns out that one of the ideas that's drawn the most interest on their website is ending tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.

"Funny thing is, when we recently closed one of the most egregious loopholes for companies creating jobs overseas, Republicans in Congress were almost unanimously opposed. The Republican leader John Boehner attacked us for it, and stood up for outsourcing, instead of American workers.

"So, America may be speaking out, but Republicans in Congress sure aren't listening. They want to put special interests back in the driver's seat in Washington. They want to roll back the law that will finally stop health insurance companies from denying you coverage on the basis of a preexisting condition. They want to repeal reforms that will finally protect hardworking families from hidden rates and penalties every time they use a credit card, make a mortgage payment, or take out a student loan.

"And for all their talk about reining in spending and getting our deficits under control, they want to borrow another $700 billion, and use it to give tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires. On average, that's a tax cut of about $100,000 for millionaires."

The president is hitting the road for a series of rallies this week, starting with events at the University of Wisconsin and in Albuquerque, New Mexico on Tuesday, followed by an event in Iowa on Wednesday. With the weekly address in mind, it's safe to assume Obama will remain on the offensive over the last five weeks before the midterms.

Steve Benen 11:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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THE PRIORITIES OF A BLUE DOG.... When it comes to the debate over tax policy, there are two key contingents: (1) President Obama and much of the American mainstream, supporting permanent lower rates for the middle class, while allowing top rates for the wealthy to expire on schedule and return to Clinton-era levels; and (2) congressional Republicans, who prefer a package stacked to favor millionaires and billionaires, at a cost of $4 trillion.

Blue Dog Democrats, claiming a mantle of fiscal responsibility, want to extend lower rates for the very wealthy, too. But unlike Republicans, Blue Dogs only want an extension of a year or two, and unlike Republicans, Blue Dogs don't want the cost to be thrown onto the deficit.

So, are they to be applauded for pursuing a GOP policy in a less reckless way? Even by the soft bigotry of low expectations, it's hard to give Blue Dogs credit on this -- they want to pay for tax cuts for millionaires by cutting spending elsewhere.

"People are very imprecise with the way they are talking about it and reporting it," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md) said in an interview last week. "The Blue Dogs have not proposed a permanent tax increase for the wealthy, just a temporary plan... At the most what they have proposed is a one or two-year extension and most of them are in favor of a permanent extension for the middle class."

"They are working to identify offsets in the event that they are doing a one- or two-year extension [for the wealthy], which is totally different from the Republican plan."

In an interview with the Huffington Post on Thursday, Rep. James Cyburn (D-S.C) the House Majority Whip, confirmed that Blue Dogs are working on a plan to identify specific cuts in government spending as a means of paying for a temporary extension for tax cuts for the wealthy.

Look, I'm glad Blue Dogs don't just want to cut taxes for the wealthy with more deficit financing, but their priorities don't make any sense. They want to cut spending (which improves the economy) in order to pay for breaks for the wealth (which doesn't improve the economy).

And not only does this fail as a policy matter, but Blue Dogs have managed to thread a political needle in a way that runs counter to public attitudes twice -- they're fighting for tax cuts for millionaires the public doesn't support, and they'll pay for it with cutting programs the public does support.

Kevin Drum asks, "Are the Blue Dogs congenital morons?"

I'll assume that's a rhetorical question.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week is the latest in a series of sex scandals involving Christian pastors who rail against gays. This week, the spotlight shined on Georgia megachurch leader Eddie Long.

A fourth young male member of Bishop Eddie Long's megachurch is suing the prominent pastor, claiming Long coerced him into a sexual relationship.

The lawsuit was filed by Spencer LeGrande, a member of New Birth Charlotte. New Birth Charlotte is a satellite church run by Long in Charlotte, N.C. The lawsuit said Long told LeGrande "I will be your dad" and invited the 17-year-old to journey to Kenya with him in July 2005. LeGrande said that Long gave him a sleeping pill on that trip and that the two engaged in sexual acts. [...]

The complaint, filed in DeKalb State Court, comes after three other men filed lawsuits on Tuesday and Wednesday saying they were 17- and 18-year-old members of the church when they say Long abused his spiritual authority to seduce them with cars, money, clothes, jewelry, international trips and access to celebrities.

Bishop Long has vehemently spoken out against gay rights throughout his career. He also leads a boys' academy that demands teens abstain from sex.

Long, whose church's finances have been the subject of a federal investigation, strongly denies having sexual relationships with any of his four accusers, and is scheduled to deliver his first public message on the controversy in his sermon tomorrow.

Ted Haggard, who has some experience with the subject matter, has publicly defended Long this week, though under the circumstances, his support may not be ideal for Long's p.r. problem.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Pope Benedict XVI sparked outrage from atheists this week, after seemingly equating atheism with the Nazis. In an address in England, the pope spoke of "a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society." He went on to urge the UK to guard against "aggressive forms of secularism." Richard Dawkins, among others, was incensed by the remarks, and desribed Benedict as "an enemy of humanity."

* As expected, the Texas State Board of Education approved a resolution yesterday "warning textbook publishers to scrub their books of 'gross pro-Islamic, anti-Christian' bias." The final vote was 7 to 6.

* The Army National Guard welcomed 1st Lt. Rafael Lantigua as a military chaplain this week. That wouldn't be especially noteworthy, except Lantigua will be the Army National Guard's first Muslim chaplain. Here's hoping conservatives don't hear about this.

Steve Benen 10:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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ILARIO PANTANO'S CREATIVE EDITING.... One of the year's more controversial U.S. House candidates is Ilario Pantano, the Republican nominee in North Carolina's 7th district. You may recall Pantano's controversial military background -- in 2004, he killed two unarmed Iraqi detainees, twice unloading his gun into their bodies, and placing a "No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy" sign over the corpses as a message to the local community.

Pantano, who fired in upwards of 60 shots in total, said he was acting in self-defense, but the military accused him of premeditated murder. The charges were later dropped when a key witness's testimony could not be corroborated.

Pantano's former primary opponent, also an Army veteran of both wars in Iraq, said it would be "dangerous" to elect Pantano. "To shoot two unarmed prisoners 60 times and put a sign over their dead bodies is inexcusable," Breazeale said,

Pantano nevertheless hopes to parlay the scandal into a successful run for Congress. This week, we learned that he's already getting the hang of Republican rhetorical tricks.

Ben Smith noted yesterday that Pantano has a campaign commercial featuring news stories about his background, which wouldn't be especially interesting were it not for some remarkable editing. For example, an NBC News clip originally told viewers:

"His decision to take two lives led to rare criminal charges that could cost him his own life. Ilario Pantano, described by one superior as having more integrity, dedication and drive than any Marine he's ever met, now stands charged with murder."

Pantano took the clip, removed the context, and showed the same NBC segment in his ad, telling voters:

"Ilario Pantano, described by one superior as having more integrity, dedication and drive than any Marine he's ever met."

Similarly, there was another segment on his background that showed an interview with Pantano. As it aired:

"You served in Gulf One, you got out, you got a big great job at Goldman Sachs, a beautiful wife and a kid, then 9/11 happened, you come home, your hair is shaved off, you're ready to head back into a war zone to help America."

Pantano took the clip, and decided to remove the part about his work at Goldman Sachs.

The campaign yesterday claimed the segments had to be edited this way in order to "fit the time frame" of the 30-second spot.

What a remarkable coincidence. The parts about the candidate's background as an accused murderer and Wall Street trader just happened to be the parts that didn't fit under time constraints.

Steve Benen 9:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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LIFESTYLES OF THE RAESE AND INFAMOUS.... John Raese, the Republican Senate hopeful in West Virginia, was asked this week about his background. "I made my money the old-fashioned way, I inherited it," Raese boasted. "I think that's a great thing to do." He went on to say "a key part" of his platform is lowering inheritance taxes on multi-millionaires.

In a state where the median household income is less than $38,000, it seemed like an odd thing for a Senate candidate to say.

Nevertheless, with Raese, the heir to the Greer Industries fortune, crowing about all the money he's inherited, there's renewed interest in the Republican nominee's finances.

Raese leads a lavish lifestyle that's included over 15 cars, boats and motorcycles, a home in Florida where his family lives full-time and where, records show, he paved the driveway with marble in 2008 as the economy was nosediving.

The fact of Raese's family living in another state fulltime is almost certain to come up on the campaign trail.

Elizabeth and John Raese have a nearly 7,000-square-foot home, one where in 2008 -- shortly after the first of the TARP package was being allocated -- the Raeses put in permits to repave their marble driveway with fresh pink stone. They've also claimed homeowners' exemptions, which are available only to Florida state residents, including a $25,000 one this year, according to Palm Beach County property records, because of his wife's residence.

By all accounts, Raese's home is in Florida, where his wife lives and his kids went to school, and where he frequently visits by way of his private jet.

Raese isn't suspected of having done anything untoward with his riches, but stories like these create a narrative that will likely undermine his outreach to struggling West Virginia families.

To be sure, there's nothing wrong with being extremely wealthy, just as there's nothing wrong with getting rich by accepting an inheritance. West Virginia's senior senator, John Rockefeller (D), comes from a wealthy family, too.

The reason stories like these appear damaging, however, is two-fold. The first is that Raese's connection to West Virginia appears about as tenuous as Rick Santorum's connection to Pennsylvania in 2006 -- Santorum's home was in Virginia, just as Raese's home is in Florida. Voters tend to want officials representing them who actually live in their state.

The second is that Raese's extreme, inherited wealth has led him to believe he should fight for other rich people. Rockefeller may come from a wealthy family, but he's spent his career trying to create opportunities for those on the other end of the economic spectrum.

Raese is rich, and wants to go to the Senate to help people just like him. In one of the nation's poorest states, it's a bizarre pitch to take to voters.

Steve Benen 9:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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MAHER WASN'T KIDDING.... A week ago, Bill Maher, who's had extremist Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell on as a guest 22 times over the years. aired a clip from 1999 in which O'Donnell explained that she "dabbled into witchcraft," and even had a date that included a "midnight picnic on a satanic alter" where there was "blood and stuff."

In reference to his video collection of her appearances, Maher added, "I'm just saying, Christine, it's like a hostage crisis. Every week you don't show up [on my show], I'm going to throw another body out."

As it turns out, he wasn't kidding. Last night, Maher aired another clip, this time from 1998, in which O'Donnell insisted, "You know what? Evolution is a myth." When Maher asked at the time, "Have you looked at a monkey?" O'Donnell replied, "Well then, why they -- why aren't monkeys still evolving into humans?"

Remember, here we are in the 21st century, and Christine O'Donnell is the Republican Party nominee for the United States Senate in Delaware.

Maher told viewers last night that the witchcraft story wasn't especially important. "But," he added, "this is someone who could be in the Senate, who thinks that mice have human brains and doesn't understand 'oh my God, that monkeys don't evolve in the time that it would take to watch them.'"

I shudder to think what Maher might show us next week. Whatever it is, the larger problem -- aside from the fact that O'Donnell is painfully unintelligent -- continues to be the way in which these revelations keep slowly coming to light. Her reputation for lunacy keeps getting worse because humiliating examples of her extremism keep dribbling out, day after day, each generating a story reinforcing the Senate hopeful's radical qualities.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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MAJ. MARGARET WITT FINDS JUSTICE IN FEDERAL COURT.... It can be challenging selecting the single most egregious example that exposes the tragedy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," but if we were creating a list, Air Force Maj. Margaret Witt would have to be near the top.

Long-time readers may recall Witt's story. The highly decorated Air Force officer had an exemplary 19-year military career, including having been awarded the Air Medal for her Middle East deployment and, later, the Air Force Commendation Medal. Witt received sterling performance reviews and, in 1993, the Air Force literally used her photograph in brochures used to recruit nurses.

Witt was, however, drummed out of the Air Force because of her sexual orientation. She had assumed that under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," as long as she didn't tell, she'd be fine. But a third-party tip prompted an investigation of her personal life, leading to her discharge.

With the help of the ACLU, Witt filed suit. Yesterday, she won -- following a six-day trial, U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton, a George W. Bush appointee, sided with the Major and ordered the Air Force to take her back "at the earliest possible moment."

Leighton's ruling was surprisingly powerful:

The evidence produced at trial overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that the suspension and discharge of Margaret Witt did not significantly further the important government interest in advancing unit morale and cohesion. To the contrary, the actions taken against Major Witt had the opposite effect. The 446th AES is a highly professional, rapid response, air evacuation team. It is comprised of flight nurses and medical technicians who are well-trained, well-led and highly motivated. They provide a vital service to our fighting men and women around the world. Serving within that unit are known or suspected gay or lesbian service men and women. There is no evidence before this Court to suggest that their service within the unit causes problems of the type predicted in the Congressional findings of fact referenced above. These people train together, fly together, care for patients together, deploy together. There is nothing in the record before this Court suggesting that the sexual orientation (acknowledged or suspected) has negatively impacted the performance, dedication or enthusiasm of the 446th AES. There is no evidence that wounded troops care about the sexual orientation of the flight nurse or medical technician tending to their wounds.

The evidence before the Court is that Major Margaret Witt was an exemplary officer. She was an effective leader, a caring mentor, a skilled clinician, and an integral member of an effective team. Her loss within the squadron resulted in a diminution of the unit's ability to carry out its mission. Good flight nurses are hard to find.

The evidence clearly supports the plaintiff's assertion that the reinstatement of Major Witt would not adversely affect the morale or unit cohesion of the 446th AES.

It's worth emphasizing the overarching conclusion of the ruling: the court found that kicking Witt out of the Air Force hurt the military.

Also note, the ruling comes just two weeks after a different federal judge found that the DADT law itself is unconstitutional.

As for Witt's future, despite the treatment she's received, she's nevertheless anxious to rejoin her unit and return to treating injured troops. Here's hoping that happens sooner rather than later.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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September 24, 2010

FRIDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* A "stronger-than-expected increase in orders for manufactured goods in August" signaled encouraging economic news.

* The House probably won't vote on tax cuts before the midterm elections, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hinted today that the schedule is far from final.

* Mahmoud Ahmadinejad argued yesterday that much of the world believes the U.S. government was responsible for 9/11. In an interview today, President Obama was not pleased: "It was offensive. It was hateful. And particularly for him to make the statement here in Manhattan, just a little north of ground zero, where families lost their loved ones -- people of all faiths, all ethnicities, who see this as the seminal tragedy of this generation -- for him to make a statement like that was inexcusable."

* For those of us who eat food, the news from the Hill isn't good: "Sen. Tom Coburn objected again Thursday to bringing up a sweeping overhaul of food safety regulations, putting the future of the bill in doubt as the 111th Congress enters its final months."

* The Justice Department feels compelled to defend the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law in court, but the White House went out of its way to make clear that "the legal maneuver was a formality, not an indication of presidential policy." Press Secretary Robert Gibbs even issued a statement: "This filing in no way diminishes the president's firm commitment to achieve a legislative repeal of D.A.D.T. -- indeed, it clearly shows why Congress must act to end this misguided policy."

* On a related note, when the DADT policy ends, Harvard will reinstate its ROTC program on campus.

* In media news, Jonathan Klein is leaving CNN, and Jeff Zucker is leaving NBC Universal.

* Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was asked today to identify some government program congressional Republicans would cut if they were in the majority. He couldn't name anything.

* Does Fox News' lawsuit against Senate candidate Robin Carnahan (D-Mo.) have merit? No, actually, it doesn't.

* If "Young Guns" is going to be a best seller, folks probably should check the comprehensive fact-check of the book.

* The New York Times reports on Americans for Job Security really being a front for political operatives funneling corporate money for electoral ends. Of course, Washington Monthly readers learned all about this in our magazine six years ago.

* The Tea Party crowd thinks it embodies the traditions of the Founding Fathers. That's absurd.

* In case you missed it, Stephen Colbert testified -- mostly, but not entirely, in character -- before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law this morning, speaking at a hearing on "Protecting America's Harvest." It was pretty amusing, but Fox News and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) really didn't think so.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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O'DONNELL'S BANDAID COMES OFF SLOWLY, CONT'D.... It's been days since a humiliating development came to light about extremist Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell (R), but the streak ended today.

I'd heard this quote was out there, and even saw a partial transcript, but I just had trouble believing it was true. Alas, it's entirely legit.

In this MSNBC clip, an activist in support of sexual health and education explained that he talks with young people about these issues all the time. Asked what he tells them, he said, "I tell them to be careful. You have to wear a condom. You have to protect yourself when you're going to have sex, because they're having it anyway. There's nothing that you or me can do about it."

O'Donnell strongly disagreed, and suggested contraception isn't enough. When the other guest asked, "You're going to stop the whole country from having sex?" O'Donnell replied, "Yeah. Yeah!"

Told that she's "living on a prayer," O'Donnell added, "That's not true. I'm a young woman in my thirties and I remain chaste."

It's worth noting that the exchange was aired in 2003, which may seem like quite a while ago, but which came just three years before O'Donnell's first U.S. Senate campaign*. She was working, at the time, at a right-wing organization she later sued.

I wonder how many viewers saw the segment at the time, and thought, "You know, it's only a matter of time before the Republican Party nominates this crazy person to serve in the United States Senate."

* typo fixed

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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'POSTCARDS FROM THE PLEDGE'.... Many Democrats hoped to demonstrate yesterday that the House Republicans' "Pledge to America" is really little more than a rehash of old, tired, failed, and discredited ideas the GOP has been touting for years.

But leave it to "The Daily Show" to help drive this point home with flare.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Postcards From the Pledge
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Pay particular attention to the conclusion: "Just to get this straight: Two years ago America broke up with you because you had badly mistreated her. And so you disappear, do some soul searching, get your head together. And you come back rapping on our door, hat in hand, and you say: 'Baby, I know you left me, but if we get back together, I pledge to you, I promise you, I will still try to f**k your sister. Every chance I get. It's who I am.'"

Steve Benen 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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ROMNEY'S STRATEGY.... It often seems as if there's an assumption in the political world about the economy: any day now, we're start to see real improvements. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said this morning, for example, that he believes the economy is "getting ready to take off."

I desperately hope he's right, but it's worth remembering that a real economic bounce is hardly inevitable. We just finished what was, by some metrics, a lost decade, and the pain may very well continue. The Fed doesn't want to act, and the breakdown of the political process, coupled with Republican gains in November, suggests additional steps to improve the economic outlook simply won't happen for the foreseeable future. If the economy is going to bounce back, it's going to have to do so on its own.

That said, Frank's not the only one who's optimistic. Former one-term Gov. Mitt Romney (R), looking ahead to another presidential campaign, agrees that the economy will start to pick up in 2011, but thinks he can win a national race in 2012 anyway. In remarks to a gathering of capital financiers in Los Angeles this week, talked a bit about his strategy.

"I think President Obama will be difficult to beat in 2012, because I think an incumbent has extraordinary advantages. He will pull out all the stops, although he's pulled out so many stops at this point that there might not be a whole lot more to pull out in terms of federal reserve, interest rates and stimulus and so forth.

"But he will do everything he can to get the economy going back again, and most likely -- at least in my view -- the economy will be coming back."

Romney added that the White House will take credit for a growing economy, but he can nevertheless take on Obama effectively because "the American people have established a perspective on the president which is going to be lasting -- that he has not understood the nature of America, in some respects, that the values I've described of love of liberty, of freedom, of opportunity, of small government -- that those values he doesn't share."

A few reactions come to mind. First, I certainly hope Romney's right about the economy.

Second, if Romney thinks he can beat President Obama when the economy's on the upswing -- by talking about "values," no less -- he's out of his mind.

And third, Romney's talking points appear to be askew. Jon Chait explained, "[T]he interesting part of Romney's remarks is the implicit concession that government activism, including stimulus, can help restore the economy to health. I have no doubt that Romney understands this is true. But he seems to have forgotten the Republican line that the stimulus has either had no effect or made the economy worse."

Well, that is the Republican line, but remember, Romeny was one of a handful of Republicans to approve of Obama's Recovery Act last year, and predicted that the Recovery Act would "accelerate" economic growth. He was right, though his party doesn't want to hear that.

Those candidate debates sure will be entertaining.

Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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SESSIONS THINKS GOP HAS BEEN 'TOO GENEROUS' ON JUDICIAL NOMINEES.... The Senate Judiciary Committee once again approved a batch of stalled judicial nominations yesterday, but not before Republicans vowed to take their unprecedented obstructionist tactics up a notch.

Senate Judiciary Republicans threatened Thursday to block President Barack Obama's nominees for lower courts from clearing the full chamber, and panel Democrats accused them of making unwarranted objections.

"Republicans will not stand quietly by and allow the rule of law in America to be historically altered by a federal judiciary that is agenda-oriented," Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said during a committee markup. "If anything, we have been far too generous with our consent."

Oh really. Republican senators, according to the right-wing, borderline-racist ranking member, have been "far too generous" with nominees thus far. We're looking at a governmental landscape in which the judicial nominating process has been brought to a generational standstill, but Sessions would like to see it get much worse.

Keep in mind, GOP senators are now throwing a fit over district court nominees -- would-be judges who have, even during previous eras of Republican hysterics, been approved with relative ease. (Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse told his GOP colleagues yesterday, "Erecting a blockade for a district court nominee is a new threshold we will cross. Once that tiger is let out of a cage, it will never get back in.")

Also note, Republicans are making no effort to hide the ideological warfare. Session conceded that he wants to block judges, not because of qualifications or temperament, because he disagrees with their philosophy. When Democrats considered a similar approach, Republicans were absolutely apoplectic, and screamed that Dems were tearing at the very fabric of our democracy.

During the Bush era, Sessions, in particular, decried Democrats' "unprecedented, obstructive tactics," and demanded that every Bush nominee receive "an up-and-down vote," whether Democrats agreed with them ideologically or not.

Look, I know this isn't the sexiest issue, but there's a crisis on the courts, and it's the direct result of Senate Republicans engaging in tactics that no one has ever seen before. It is no exaggeration to say the status quo is the worst it's ever been -- the Alliance For Justice recently reported that President Obama "has seen a smaller percentage of his nominees confirmed at this point in his presidency than any president in American history."

Dahlia Lithwick said the ongoing fiasco may need to be renamed "a national judicial disaster or the global war on the judiciary."

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy recently noted the broken process, and argued, "It's important for the public to understand that the excellence of the federal judiciary is at risk."

But there's a Democratic president, which means Republicans don't care. Indeed, as far as they're concerned, they've already been "far too generous" with their consent.

Steve Benen 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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IF MCCONNELL WAS WORRIED, IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN A BIG HINT.... As you've likely heard, the Senate Democratic leadership officially punted on a tax-cut vote late yesterday, vowing to take up the issue again after the midterm elections. There's still a slight chance the House may act next week, but by all indications, nervous incumbents insisted they'd be better off not having a confrontation with Republicans over middle-class tax breaks before voters go to the polls.

As for the behind-the-scenes wrangling, Greg Sargent reports that the current and former chiefs of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee both urged the leadership to hold the vote next week, but apparently weren't persuasive enough.

Several sources tell me that Chuck Schumer was among the Senators pushing for the vote, on the grounds that it would have been good politics for Dems overall, and Politico reports that Robert Menendez wanted the vote, too. Menendez, of course, is the chair of the DSCC, and Schumer is the former DSCC chair -- and remains heavily involved in plotting political strategy.

Schumer wanted the vote because he believed Mitch McConnell had concluded it was bad for Republicans, according to a source with knowledge of the conversations. "It became clear that McConnell didn't want to have a vote," the source said. "If McConnell sensed that, it was a tell for Democrats that there was political advantage in having it. That's why Chuck was privately pushing for it."

When the Republican leader doesn't want Democrats to do something before an election, that's generally a big hint that Dems should do precisely that.

As for the larger caucus, it's not altogether clear exactly which Democratic senators were on which side of the fight, but the side that ultimately won out apparently concluded that the debate had gone well for Dems, and there was no need to "rock the boat."

"People felt like, Why rock the boat on a good situation?" the Senate source told Greg. "People weren't sure how having a vote would effect that dynamic. We would have lost Democrats on certain aspects of the vote. Who knows if the media would cover that as Democrats being splintered? In a way the good polling gave people faith that we don't need to do anything on the issue because we're already winning."

I've read this a few times, trying to understand the logic, but it eludes me. Dems could have forced a pre-election showdown with Republicans on an issue where voters are siding with Dems. The majority decided not to do the popular thing, though, concluding that supporting a popular idea but not voting on it is enough to curry favor with the public.

Someone's going to have to explain this one to me.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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FRIDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* After losing his Senate primary last week, Delaware Rep. Mike Castle (R) appeared to be finished with electoral politics. Now, however, Castle is poised to poll his state about the viability of a third-party, independent, write-in campaign. A Castle spokesperson put the chances of him running as a write-in "under 5 percent."

* It's not exactly encouraging that many militia activists in Alaska seem awfully fond of Senate candidate Joe Miller (R).

* In Nevada's Senate race, a new Mason-Dixon poll shows Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) tied with extremist challenger Sharron Angle (R), each garnering 43% support.

* Rep. Roy Blunt's (R-Mo.) Senate campaign presented Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan with a package of six proposed debates. Now Blunt has refused to participate if four of the six events he requested.

* In New York's suddenly-interesting gubernatorial race, a new Marist poll shows state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D) leading Carl Paladino (R) by 19 points, 52% to 33%, with Conservative Party nominee Rick Lazio running third with 9%.

* On the heels of a PPP poll showing a competitive Senate race in West Virginia, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is launching a new round of attack ads against Gov. Joe Manchin (D).

* In Florida's gubernatorial race, the latest Mason-Dixon poll shows state CFO Alex Sink (D) leading Rick Scott (R), 47% to 40%.

* In California's Senate race, a new Field Poll shows Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) increasing her lead to six points over failed former HP CEO Carly Fiorina (R), 47% to 41%.

* In a veritable replay of last year's special election, Doug Hoffman will run again in New York's 23rd as the Conservative Party nominee against Democratic incumbent Rep. Bill Owens and Republican nominee Matt Doheny.

* Don't expect competitive races in Idaho this year -- the latest Mason-Dixon poll shows Gov. Butch Otter (R) and Sen. Mike Crapo (R) with large leads over their Democratic challengers.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... The open U.S. Senate race in West Virginia may prove to be far more competitive than Democrats had hoped, and both major party candidates will no doubt be working hard in the coming weeks to prove that they understand the concerns of hard-working, middle-class Americans.

To that end, perennial candidate John Raese (R) may need to sharpen his message a bit. Here's the conservative candidate yesterday, appearing on a radio show:

HOST: Tell us a little bit about you and your business experience and how you got here.

RAESE: I made my money the old-fashioned way, I inherited it. I think that's a great thing to do. I hope more people in this country have that opportunity as soon as we abolish inheritance tax in this country, which is a key part of my program.

First, insisting that getting rich through inheritance is "a great thing to do" doesn't exactly scream "man of the people."

Second, if the inheritance tax was so onerous, then how is it Raese got to be so much wealthier than the typical West Virginian?

And third, if Raese seriously believes regular folks will have new-found opportunities at wealth just as soon as the inheritance tax on multi-millionaires is eliminated, then he probably doesn't realize that 99.75% of Americans already pay no inheritance tax, and the current law doesn't affect anyone inheriting less than $3.5 million. Indeed, Raese may be confused, but there really aren't that many ultra-rich families in West Virginia, so making breaks for multi-millionaires "a key part" of his platform is probably a bad idea.

Where does the Republican Party find these guys?

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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'CASH-AND-TRASH' MAKES A COMEBACK.... Earlier this year, around the one-year anniversary of the Recovery Act, the "cash-and-trash" strategy took shape in earnest. It went a little something like this -- Republicans would express their hate for the stimulus and "trash" it at every available opportunity, but at the same time, love the stimulus and grab the "cash" when it came to creating jobs in their own states/districts.

The Washington Times, for example, found that more than a dozen Republican lawmakers, all of whom insisted that the stimulus was an awful idea that couldn't possibly help the economy, quietly urged the Department of Agriculture to send stimulus money to their areas, touting the investments' economic benefits. A week later, the Wall Street Journal found that more than another dozen GOP members, all of whom also said they loathe the Recovery Act, urged the Department of Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Forest Service to send stimulus money to help their constituents and local economies.

This week, the Wall Street Journal moved the ball forward a little more. (thanks to reader P.H. for the tip)

Opposition to the Obama administration's economic-stimulus package didn't stop at least 24 congressional Republicans from lobbying the Department of Energy on behalf of companies and constituents who wanted stimulus contracts and grants from it.

Reps. Jo Bonner of Alabama, Dan Lungren of California, Doug Lamborn and Mike Coffman of Colorado, Lynn Westmoreland, Jack Kingston and Nathan Deal of Georgia, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Fred Upton, Vernon Ehlers, Thaddeus McCotter, Candice Miller and Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, Jim Jordan and Michael Turner of Ohio, Joe Wilson of South Carolina, Phil Roe and Zach Wamp of Tennessee and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington along with Sens. Mike Crapo of Idaho, Sam Brownback of Kansas and Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee and Bob Bennett of Utah wrote to Energy Secretary Steven Chu and top Energy Department officials asking them to consider particular recipients for stimulus dollars in 2009. [...]

The Energy Department is distributing around $48 billion in stimulus money, for projects such as modernizing the electric grid, advanced energy research, renewable energy and advanced battery manufacturing.

Now, the Republican response to questions like these is obvious, and at face value, it doesn't necessarily seem ridiculous. There's a whole lot of investment going on, the GOP argues, so it's only fair to ask for some of that money to help in their states/districts. They opposed the stimulus, the pitch goes, but if the funds are there anyway, it's not unreasonable to seek some resources for their constituents.

And that's fine, as far as it goes. But there's a larger context to consider here -- the letters help show that Republicans know that stimulus funding works. For all their palaver about how government spending is simply incapable of creating jobs and generating economic growth -- or worse, that the Recovery Act actually hurts the economy -- we know they don't mean it. Indeed, we have the written requests for stimulus funds to prove it.

As Rachel Maddow explained a while back, "It shows not only that Democratic policies work -- and when push comes to shove, in their home districts, Republicans know it -- it also shows that Republicans care so little about policy that they're O.K. with holding totally nonsensically contradictory positions on important stuff."

After noting the dozens of Republican lawmakers who've sought stimulus aid to help the economy in their states and districts, Rachel added, "These Republicans are acknowledging, in writing, that the stimulus is good policy. That it works. Thus proving that they don't mean it when they denounce the stimulus as worthless."

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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MICHAEL STEELE'S MAGIC BUS.... The New York Times reported the other day that in the typical midterm cycle, the Republican National Committee would, right about now, be sending large checks to state parties to boost the party's electoral ground game. This year, however, "the party cannot afford to execute a robust voter turnout program." What's more, for "the first time in at least a decade," the RNC has "reduced the scale of its turnout and targeting programs."

The party does have the resources, however, to send the RNC chairman on a bus tour.

The road trip, which kicked off last week to much fanfare at RNC headquarters in Washington and concludes on Oct. 29 in Steele's home state of Maryland, features 143 stops in 117 cities across the continental United States.

But crucially, according to a confidential itinerary of the tour provided to CNN by a Republican source, the bus will be spending almost half its time in congressional districts that are not in play this fall.

Of the 106 candidates Steele is tentatively scheduled to appear with during the trip, 43 are running in districts not listed as "competitive" by two separate nonpartisan political handicappers, Charlie Cook and Stuart Rothenberg.

The coast-to-coast tour has prompted charges from Steele's foes that the chairman is more focused on getting face-time with committee members than winning back majorities in November. One RNC member, speaking on the condition of anonymity, went so far as to dub the trip "the Michael Steele re-election tour."

Steele? Using his post for personal gain? Say it ain't so.

I still think the odds of a Republican takeover of the House are very good, but the party's chances improve when the RNC invests in voter turnout. Instead, it's using scarce funds to send the party's buffoon-like chairman on the road.

One state party chair told CNN the Steele road trip is "a colossal waste of time." The CNN report also noted several invited guests -- including Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley and Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio -- chose not to show up when the RNC chairman showed up in their area.

We'll see what happens in 39 days, but if the election results fall short of expectations on the right, Michael Steele's name will be reviled in Republican circles for many years.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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QUANTIFYING THE ENTHUSIASM GAP, CONT'D.... Looking at the recent trend on the congressional generic ballot, it's tempting to think Republicans "peaked" in August and the landscape is getting more competitive. For Democrats looking for a morale boost with just 39 days until the midterms, this is a good reason not to give into despair.

But I feel like the enthusiasm gap continues to be the one factor in this campaign that's likely to make all the difference -- if it doesn't close, Dems may very well lose everything; if it does close, the political world is in for a big surprise.

The new Associated Press-GfK Poll, for example, reinforces what we've seen from other recent surveys -- Democrats are unpopular; Republicans are more unpopular. (In 1994, this wasn't the case.) What's more, Americans "overwhelmingly fault Bush more than Obama for the recession."

But then there's that enthusiasm gap.

Reflecting that discontent, 54 percent who strongly dislike Democrats in the AP-GfK Poll express intense interest in the election, compared with just 40 percent of those with very negative views of Republicans. Extreme interest in the campaign is expressed by nearly 6 in 10 saying their vote in November will signal their opposition to Obama. Only about 4 in 10 say they want to show support for the president with their vote.

Overall, 49 percent of those supporting their Republican congressional candidate are very interested in the election, compared with 39 percent of those backing the Democrat in their local race.

Similarly, the Pew Research Center released its latest report yesterday, and the results make this point even more clearly.

When registered voters are asked which party's candidates they're more likely to support, Democrats actually lead by three, 47% to 44%, Among likely voters, there's a 10-point swing in the other direction, with Republicans up by seven, 50% to 43%.

President Obama's remarks at a party fundraiser on Wednesday night ring true: "The single biggest threat to our success is not the other party. It's us. It's complacency. It's apathy. It's indifference. It's people feeling like, well, we only got 80 percent of what we want, we didn't get the other 20, so we're just going to sit on our hands."

Steve Benen 9:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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PUSHING BACK AGAINST A 'WAR ON ARITHMETIC'.... Paul Krugman's column today does a nice job explaining that one of the nation's "great political parties" seems to have launched a "war on arithmetic."

Howard Gleckman of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has done the math. As he points out, the only way to balance the budget by 2020, while simultaneously (a) making the Bush tax cuts permanent and (b) protecting all the programs Republicans say they won't cut, is to completely abolish the rest of the federal government: "No more national parks, no more Small Business Administration loans, no more export subsidies, no more N.I.H. No more Medicaid (one-third of its budget pays for long-term care for our parents and others with disabilities). No more child health or child nutrition programs. No more highway construction. No more homeland security. Oh, and no more Congress."

The "pledge," then, is nonsense. But isn't that true of all political platforms? The answer is, not to anything like the same extent. Many independent analysts believe that the Obama administration's long-run budget projections are somewhat too optimistic -- but, if so, it's a matter of technical details. Neither President Obama nor any other leading Democrat, as far as I can recall, has ever claimed that up is down, that you can sharply reduce revenue, protect all the programs voters like, and still balance the budget.

And the G.O.P. itself used to make more sense than it does now. Ronald Reagan's claim that cutting taxes would actually increase revenue was wishful thinking, but at least he had some kind of theory behind his proposals. When former President George W. Bush campaigned for big tax cuts in 2000, he claimed that these cuts were affordable given (unrealistic) projections of future budget surpluses. Now, however, Republicans aren't even pretending that their numbers add up.

This is probably definitely an obscure reference, but there was an episode of "The Simpsons" many years ago in which the family visits "Itchy and Scratchy Land." A giant robot Itchy greets the Simpsons, takes off the top of its head as if it were a hat, exposing circuitry, chips, wires, etc.

Marge turns to Homer and say, "See all that stuff in there, Homer? That's why your robot never worked."

You see, in Homer's mind, simply building something that looked like a giant robot should have been enough. Plop a tin bucket on a metal torso, give it a name, and the thing should just start working. It didn't occur to Homer that robots are very complex, and that the advanced technology that goes into the tin-bucket head actually makes a difference.

In this little allegory, House Republicans are obviously Homer. They believe they have a policy agenda because they published a document they call a "policy agenda." Their tin-bucket head is empty, but they aren't quite sharp enough to realize that this matters.

This isn't to say all Republicans have always been like this. Not surprisingly, I was never especially impressed with Reagan's supply-side agenda from 30 years ago, but credible economists had thought out a specific approach and could back up their ideas with data. The point, however, is that this new generation of GOP leaders just doesn't bother. They find pesky details like arithmetic to be annoying distractions.

It leads to a desire to meet with the House Minority Leader and show him a real policy document. "See all that stuff in there, John? That's why your agenda never worked."

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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A NEW TARGET.... The headline on the AP analysis piece yesterday seemed a little silly, at least at first blush: "Could GOP be playing into Dem hands?"

Right. Dems are struggling in the polls; their base is prepared to sit on their hands; their opponents have momentum and deep-pocketed corporate backing; and weak-kneed members on the Hill are crouched in fear ... so clearly Dems have Republicans right where they want them.

But in fairness, the point of the AP piece -- that the Republicans' "Pledge to America" offers Democrats a big, new target -- really isn't silly at all.

House GOP leader John Boehner cast the "Pledge to America" as "a new governing agenda, built by listening to the American people, that offers a new way forward." But he also acknowledged that it lacked specifics on important subjects like Social Security and Medicaid.

Much of it also adhered generally to age-old GOP principles. "They want the next two years to look like the eight years before I took office," Obama asserted in New York. He derided the GOP plan as "the exact same agenda" even before the GOP officially rolled it out. [...]

Facing a stiff political headwind, Democrats are grasping for any strategy they can find to minimize an expected shellacking on Nov. 2. And the GOP's campaign manifesto gives the president's party a potentially valuable tool as it tries cast the midterm elections as a choice that voters must make between two economic visions rather than a referendum on Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress as Republicans want.

You'll no doubt recall that Democrats have been trying to goad the GOP to go down this road for quite a while. The point was hardly subtle -- Dems wanted something to attack. Yesterday, Republicans proudly unveiled a bull's-eye, and with it comes at least a hint of an opportunity.

After all, what's the underlying point of the Dems' election-year message? That Republicans are a far-right party pushing discredited ideas and the same failed agenda that got us into this mess in the first place. Yesterday, House GOP leaders offered in-print proof that the Democratic message happens to be entirely right.

Though the quote has been taken slightly out of context, John Boehner probably hurt his own cause yesterday when he declared, "We are not going to be any different than what we've been."

So, what do Democrats do now? It might help to take the offensive, demanding to know if Republican candidates nationwide have endorsed a governing strategy that would bring back Bush-era economic policies, increase the deficit, raise taxes on small businesses, and take health care away from tens of millions of middle-class Americans. Dems can start referring to the new agenda in media interviews as the Republicans' "controversial, widely-panned 'Pledge.'"

They can even start mocking it, noting that Pledge is generally known for trying to put a new shine on dull, old surfaces.

The AP report added that in Republican circles on the Hill, there's been a "private internal debate," with some in the party preferring not to release an agenda at all, "worried it would open GOP candidates to criticism."

Why not prove them right?

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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September 23, 2010

THURSDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* The U.S. is looking for some partners: "Telling the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday that his efforts to engage friends and adversaries were beginning to bear fruit, President Obama called on Arab states to support fragile Middle East peace talks and warned Iran that it would face sustained international pressure if it did not negotiate seriously over its nuclear program."

* Soon after, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the General Assembly that most of the world believes the U.S. government was responsible for executing the Sept. 11 attacks. The remarks prompted U.S. and European delegations to walk out.

* There were some hopes that the number of first-time filers of unemployment benefits would drop this week. That didn't happen: "Initial claims for jobless aid rose by 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 465,000, the Labor Department said Thursday." The uptick reversed a five-week trend.

* Housing market: "Sales of previously occupied homes rose last month, but not enough to keep August from being the second-worst month for sales in more than a decade."

* The author of the House Republicans' "Pledge for America" is a House GOP staffer "who, up till April 2010, served as a lobbyist for some of the nation's most powerful oil, pharmaceutical, and insurance companies."

* Good news out of Florida: "A 30-year-old Florida law that prohibits adoption by gay men and lesbians is unconstitutional, a state appeals court ruled on Wednesday, and the state's governor said the law would not be enforced pending a decision on whether to appeal." Gov. Charlie Crist (I) applauded the decision and said the ban would stop being enforced immediately.

* As if conservative Republicans weren't enough, conservative Democrats can screw up our system of government, too: "President Obama's pick to serve as head of the Office of Management and Budget looked headed for an easy Senate confirmation, until this afternoon, when Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) announced she will place a hold on the nomination until the Obama administration lifts a moratorium on deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico."

* It's a problem that's getting worse: "At a time of growing tensions involving Muslims in the United States, a record number of Muslim workers are complaining of employment discrimination, from co-workers calling them 'terrorist' or 'Osama' to employers barring them from wearing head scarves or taking prayer breaks."

* New allies for for-profit colleges?

* Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) knows someone in his office was responsible for publishing "all f*ggots must die" online, but he doesn't know who.

* The House GOP leadership probably should have scheduled their "Pledge" event a little better -- it coincided with President Obama's remarks at the United Nations, and the news networks covered the president instead of John Boehner.

* President Obama, talking to Democratic supporters last night: "The single biggest threat to our success is not the other party. It's us. It's complacency. It's apathy. It's indifference. It's people feeling like, well, we only got 80 percent of what we want, we didn't get the other 20, so we're just going to sit on our hands."

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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STILL TRYING TO MAKE OBAMA 'THE OTHER'.... A couple of weeks ago, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) argued that Americans know less about President Obama than "any other president in history." He went on to say -- just as "an observation," of course -- that "there's not much known" about the president's youth. "We don't know any of the childhood things," Barbour said.

Yesterday, a certain former half-term governor tried to push a similar line on Fox News, and even felt compelled to use the president's middle name.

"Funny, Greta, we are learning more about Christine O'Donnell and her college years and her teenage years and her financial dealings than anybody ever even bothered to ask about Barack Hussein Obama as a candidate and now as our president," Palin said.

Palin added later that it is "fair to dig in somebody's past." She said that if the "lamestream media" did do that digging voters would "find out their associates and beliefs and what formed their beliefs."

It's certainly not the first time Palin has cracked about Obama's past, but we couldn't find any references to her using his middle name.

No, Palin's capacity for conspicuous unintelligence hasn't reached its limit quite yet; thanks for asking.

In case it's not obvious, it's worth appreciating how wildly wrong these arguments really are. Ta-Nehisi Coates noted this morning:

How many presidents have published two memoirs of their lives -- before and after getting into politics? How many presidents have confessed to drug use? As Jamelle Bouie points out, there's even the David Remnick biography (which Barack Obama was interviewed for) laying bare the man's entire life.

I don't really get it....

It's ironic that leading right-wing voices continue to suggest that Obama is some kind of stranger when in reality, we know more about this president than any in modern times -- his life has literally been an open-book.

The larger point, though, remains the same, and it remains ugly. Far-right leaders are obsessed with characterizing the president as some kind of foreign "other" to be mistrusted and seen as illegitimate. It's absurd and offensive, but it remains at the center of conservative thought.

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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RHETORIC VS. REALITY ON SMALL BUSINESSES.... In their "Pledge to America," House Republicans reference small businesses 18 times. In case that was too subtle, John Boehner & Co. unveiled their plan at a small business in a D.C.-area suburb, suggesting it's outlets like the Tart Lumber Company that would benefit from the GOP agenda.

It's a curious argument. Over the last 20 months, Democrats have approved eight separate measures intended to help small businesses, and Republicans opposed all of them.

Indeed, in an ironic twist, House GOP leaders left a small business this morning to hustle back to Capitol Hill in order to vote against small businesses.

One week after the Senate passed a $42 billion bill aimed at helping small businesses, the House voted Thursday to send the bill to President Obama's desk.

The measure, which passed the House in a 237 to 187 vote, is aimed at creating 500,000 jobs, according to a Senate summary of the bill.

Of the 175 House Republicans to vote on the small business incentives bill, 174 voted against it. The GOP likes to talk about helping these entrepreneurs; it's the follow through where the party runs into trouble.

Keep in mind, there are all kinds of small businesses that "put hiring, supply buying and real estate expansion on hold," just waiting for this bill to pass. That didn't seem to sway the congressional minority.

It's especially interesting when one considers that Tart Lumber, which hosted the Republican gathering this morning, will now under the Democratic proposal be able to write off its first $500,000 in equipment investment next year, have access to expanded capital through the Small Business Lending Fund, have access to new loans through SBA lending programs, and investors in firms like Tart Lumber would receive zero capital gains on their investments.

Oh, and in case it matters, the bill is fully paid for, giving Republicans one fewer excuses for opposition. Of course, they opposed it anyway.

The legislation is now headed to President Obama's desk. He's expected to sign it into law on Monday.

Steve Benen 4:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (7)

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DISCLOSE ACT DIES AGAIN.... The DISCLOSE Act (Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections) seems like such a modest proposal. It the wake of the Citizens United ruling, Democrats thought it made sense to require corporations and interest groups that pay for campaign ads to identify themselves -- allowing the public to know who's saying what.

In the House, the proposal even had a Republican co-sponsor. In the Senate, Dems agreed to make changes Republicans wanted to see related to the way the legislation treated labor unions.

But in July, every Senate Republican blocked the chamber from even debating the bill. Today, every Senate Republican did the exact same thing.

The Senate on Thursday once again blocked consideration of a controversial campaign finance measure that would require greater disclosure of corporate campaign spending.

A cloture motion to begin debate on the DISCLOSE Act fell short on a 59-39 vote. The outcome likely puts the legislation on the back burner until after the midterm elections, but it is unclear whether Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will try to take the issue up again during a lame-duck session.

Democrats only needed one Republican to at least allow the Senate to debate the bill, but not one was willing to break ranks. Remember when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was a champion of campaign-finance reform? He not only opposed the bill, he filibustered an attempt to have a debate. Remember when Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) seemed like the kind of "moderates" who would support an effort like this? All three toed the party line.

It was too late to make any difference in this cycle -- "independent" groups helping Republicans are already trying to buy the midterm elections for the GOP -- but it's the kind of common-sense step that would have helped in the future. But "only" a 59-member majority supports the move, which in our dysfunctional legislative system, necessarily means it dies.

Steve Benen 3:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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RECONSIDERING RECONCILIATION.... Here was Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) in 2005, when he wanted to use reconciliation to allow ANWR drilling.

"The point, of course, is this: If you have 51 votes for your position, you win.... Reconciliation is a rule of the Senate (that) has been used before for purposes exactly like this on numerous occasions... Is there something wrong with majority rules? I don't think so."

And here was Judd Gregg in March 2009, on the prospect of Democrats using reconciliation to advance its policy agenda:

"That would be the Chicago approach to governing: Strong-arm it through....You're talking about running over the minority, putting them in cement and throwing them in the Chicago River."

A year later, Gregg was outraged by the very idea of using reconciliation on health care policy, because the legislative tactic shouldn't be used on "substantive" matters.

But Gregg isn't above executing the rarely-seen flip-flop-flip, in which he supports reconciliation, then opposes it, then supports it again. This week on CNBC, Gregg was asked whether reconciliation could be used to "roll back some of the unpopular Obama policies." The senator replied:

"Absolutely. Reconciliation passes the Senate with 51 votes and it can adjust entitlement programs so they're affordable."

Keep three things in mind here. First, just this year, Gregg said reconciliation shouldn't be used to make major, "substantive" changes. Now he's prepared to use the tactic on entitlements.

Second, the whole point of reconciliation is supposed to be about improving the budget outlook. In context, Gregg is now talking about using the tactic to make the deficit much bigger.

And third, it's a reminder as to why Democrats seem to lose arguments so often -- they care about intellectual seriousness and consistency. Their rivals do not.

Steve Benen 3:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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FOREGOING THE PRETENSE OF FISCAL RESTRAINT.... Republicans' selective, intermittent passion related to deficit reduction is a sight to behold. When the GOP was in the majority, they decided "deficits don't matter" and it was "standard practice" for Republicans "not to pay for things." The GOP, as a consequence, turned a big surplus into a massive deficit and added $5 trillion to the debt in eight years.

In 2009, they changed their minds. Deficit reduction, the GOP concluded, was paramount -- even taking precedence over economic growth and job creation.

But in 2010, with Republicans poised to possibly win back Congress, wouldn't you know it, the deficit, once again, doesn't really matter. In their "Pledge to America," House Republicans only use the word "deficit" four times in 21 pages, and three of four were criticisms of the Obama administration. The fourth was a vow: "[W]e will ... bring down the deficit."

No, actually, they won't.

Andrew Sullivan called the agenda "the most fiscally irresponsible document ever offered by the GOP" and "an act of vandalism against the fiscal balance" of the country. If you think that sounds hyperbolic, that probably means you haven't read the document.

As we talked about earlier, Republicans have decided to push for $4 trillion in tax cuts, which would increase the deficit; push for the repeal of health care reform, which would increase the deficit; and increase spending on missile defense, which would increase the deficit. But we can go even further and consider the fact that "the 21-page 'Pledge' omits any mention of a key Republican mantra: a ban on earmarks."

And what about entitlements?

Addressing a central criticism of the Republicans' new "Pledge to America," House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday said he doesn't have the answer to solving Medicare's spending crisis.

To solve those problems, Boehner said, Congress will first have to initiate "an adult conversation" with voters, who will then decide what fixes to apply.

Here's a tip for the political world: never try to hold "an adult conversation" with dimwitted hacks who aren't ready to sit at the big kids' table.

Just to be clear, I'm not a deficit hawk. If Republicans want to blow it off and focus on economic growth, that's fine by me. But that's what makes their proposal such a sham: the GOP claims it will embrace fiscal restraint, then presents a plan to do the opposite, then urges the country to help them lead "an adult conversation."

There's something deeply wrong with anyone who falls for this farce.

Steve Benen 2:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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DEPT. OF MISLEADING VISUALS.... As part of the House Republicans' "Pledge to America" pitch, the accompanying document includes this chart, which purports to show an increase in federal spending as a share of the economy.

republicangraphdishones.jpg

As Alexander C. Hart noted, "At first, I looked at that graph and thought 'Holy cow -- President Obama is proposing to double the size of government!' But then I saw the numbers at the top and bottom of the graph. The increase in government as a share of GDP looks so large only due to the fact that the box only ranges from 17 to 24. With that scale, even a small increase looks huge."

So Hart prepared an alternative, which adjusts the y-axis to go from 0 to 100.

honestgraph.png

Ezra takes this one step further, noting the data only goes up to the low-20s, and re-graphs the numbers this way:

government_size_as_percentage_of_economy.png

Any way you slice it, we're talking about a modest 3.5% increase in government spending in relation to the size of the economy.

And just to emphasize an element of this that shouldn't go overlooked, let's note that this increase makes perfect sense. In early 2009, when President Obama took office, it was necessary to boost spending to prevent an economic collapse. Indeed, by most measures, the increase should have been larger, not smaller.

House Republicans, in other words, are peddling a dishonest graph -- with a grammatical error -- to raise an observation that doesn't make any policy sense. Other than that, it's fine.

Steve Benen 1:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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THEY DON'T WANT TO HOLD THE DAMN VOTES.... As legislative strategies go, this one seemed pretty easy. President Obama's tax policy -- the one he ran on in 2008; the one polls find to be popular -- wants to give a tax break to the middle class, while letting top rates for the wealthy return to their Clinton-era levels. Republicans have threatened to hold that proposal hostage unless Dems agree to extend tax breaks to millionaires.

The smart move for Democrats, it seems, would be to hold a vote on Obama's proposed middle-class tax breaks -- before, you know, the election -- and dare Republicans to reject it.

But Senate Dems apparently don't want to do the smart thing...

Democratic aide told TPM today there won't be a vote on extending the Bush tax cuts in the upper chamber before the November election, a blow to party leaders and President Obama who believed this would have been a winning issue. [...]

The aide said it's already a winning message without a vote since Obama and Democrats have framed the debate as the Republicans being for the rich and Democrats wanting to help the middle class. Others have made similar arguments, but several lawmakers have said they think a vote is the only way to score a political victory. The senior aide doesn't think so.

"We have a winning message now, why muddy it up with a failed vote, because, of course, Republicans are going to block everything," the aide said.

...and House Dems aren't inclined to do the smart thing, either.

If the Senate's decision not to address the Bush tax cuts until after the election is any indication, then the game is over. After a Democratic caucus meeting this morning -- but before the news broke on the Senate side -- there was still no answer to the question of the week: Will the House vote on President Obama's plan to extend middle-income tax cuts? Key legislators were mum, and aides pessimistic, that the House will do what Speaker Pelosi wants to do: force a vote on tax legislation that will put Republicans on the record backing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. And with House Democratic leaders still insisting that they will follow the Senate's lead, it seems more and more likely that they too will drop the tax cut issue for now.

These reports, obviously, aren't official announcements, so I suppose there's still a chance Democrats will realize they're making a mistake, but all available evidence suggests both the House and the Senate will push the tax debate off until after the midterms.

In other words, Democrats could vote for a middle-class tax cut before an election in which they're likely to do very poorly, but they're choosing not to, preferring to have the vote after the election.

I was especially intrigued by the senior Democratic Senate aide: "We have a winning message now, why muddy it up with a failed vote, because, of course, Republicans are going to block everything."

I think I know what he/she means -- that Dems have already positioned themselves as champions of the middle class, and losing yet another vote would be disheartening -- but it's still a deeply flawed strategy. Holding a vote gets everyone on the record; allows Dems to boast of their votes on middle-class tax cuts; and offers Dems a campaign cudgel to use against Republicans who hold those cuts hostage.

It's an opportunity the majority is inexplicably willing to let slip by.

Steve Benen 12:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (71)

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ANGLE TAKES BOLD STAND AGAINST FAMILY HEALTH CARE.... When it comes to reform proposals and the health care system, some ideas are obviously more popular than others. For politicians, then, it makes sense to castigate provisions that don't poll well.

Sharron Angle (R), the extremist Senate candidate in Nevada, however, is inclined to rail against ideas that enjoy broad, bipartisan support. In this video, we see the Republican nominee at a Tea Party event, complaining about families receiving too much coverage, and demanding that policymakers "take off the mandates" that expand what treatments will be covered.

"[Y]ou know what I'm talking about," Angle said. "You're paying for things that you don't even need. They just passed the latest one, is every, everything that they want to throw at us now is covered under 'autism.' So that's a mandate that you have to pay for. How about maternity leave? I'm not gonna have any more babies, but I sure get to pay for it on my insurance. Those are the kinds of things that we want to get rid of."

So, vote for Angle, so health insurance coverage won't cover autism and maternity leave?

If you watch the clip, also note that Angle uses air quotes around the word "autism," though I don't know why.

In a statement, Reid campaign spokesperson Kelly Steele said, "Sharron Angle's extreme and dangerous agenda for Nevada has included some exceptionally callous rhetoric, including calling out-of-work Nevadans 'spoiled' by unemployment benefits and saying that rape victims should 'make lemons into lemonade' by having their attacker's child, but mocking those suffering with autism -- and in fact scapegoating their coverage for our nation's current health care woes -- is exceptionally cruel and represents a new low, even for Sharron Angle."

Steve Benen 12:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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THURSDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* The Texas Farm Bureau has decided not to issue an endorsement in the state's gubernatorial race, which wouldn't be especially interesting, except it's the first time in the bureau's history it hasn't backed the Republican candidate, signaling dissatisfaction with incumbent Gov. Rick Perry (R).

* In New York, a new Siena poll shows Andrew Cuomo (D) leading Carl Paladino (R) in the state's gubernatorial race, 57% to 24%, and Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D) leading Joe DioGuardi (R) in the U.S. Senate race, 57% to 31%.

* A new Quinnipiac poll, however, shows Gillibrand up by only six points against DioGuardi, 48% to 42%.

* In Delaware's Senate race, Chris Coons (D) leads Christine O'Donnell (R) in a new Time/CNN poll, 55% to 39%.

* In Colorado's Senate race, Ken Buck (R) leads appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D) in a new Time/CNN poll, 49% to 44%.

* In Wisconsin's Senate race, Ron Johnson (R) leads Sen. Russ Feingold (D) in a new Time/CNN poll, 51% to 45%.

* In Pennsylvania's Senate race, former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) leads Rep. Joe Sestak (D) in a new Time/CNN poll, 49% to 44%.

* In California's gubernatorial race, a new Field Poll shows Jerry Brown (D) and Meg Whitman (R) tied at 41% each.

* In Arkansas, Rep. John Boozman (R) leads incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) in a new Reuters/Ipsos poll, 53% to 39%. The 14-point margin is actually slightly more competitive that several other recent polls.

* And the award for most detestable and offensive ad of the cycle so far goes to right-wing congressional candidate Renee Elmers (R), running in North Carolina, and basing her campaign on using the words "Muslims," "they," and "terrorists" interchangeably.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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PUNISHING ALLIES, REWARDING FOES.... Senate Democrats successfully added a measure to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to this year's defense authorization bill, leading to a Republican filibuster that Dems couldn't overcome. Frustrated by the outcome, Andrew Sullivan is blaming ... those who agree with him.

Jason Mazzone made the case that the Senate GOP was prepared to kill the defense bill over the DADT measure, and there wasn't much Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could do about it.

Without elaborating, Sullivan replied:

If I lived in Arizona Nevada and had the vote, even though Sharron Angle is beyond nuts, I'd vote for her. Better nuts than this disgusting, cynical, partisan Washington kabuki dance, when people's lives and dignity are at stake.

I've read this several times, trying to wrap my head around it. I'm afraid I'm still at a loss.

Reid successfully pushed for the repeal provision to be included in the bill and supports ending the dangerous, discriminatory status quo. Sullivan agrees with him.

Angle is a crazy person who hates gays, and if elected, would fight to, among other things, keep DADT in place. Sullivan disagrees with her.

But if given a choice, Sullivan would choose to vote for the borderline-insane candidate he disagrees with, because of the procedural strategy on legislative amendments Reid utilized? It's better to defeat a senator who you agree with and elect a senator who'll work against you?

DADT should be repealed. Republicans, for now, have ignored decency, popular will, and the judgment of the president, the Defense secretary, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and unanimously rejected the repeal effort. Logically, then, those who support repeal should ... reward Republicans?

I just don't see how this makes sense.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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THE BRIEF LIFESPAN OF A DUMB TALKING POINT.... In book excerpts published yesterday, President Obama told Bob Woodward, "We can absorb a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever ... we absorbed it and we are stronger."

Fox News threw a bit of a fit over the comments, and some of the usual suspects quickly chimed in. Marc Thiessen insisted, for unknown reasons, that the president "is effectively saying: an attack is inevitable, we'll do our best to prevent it, but if we get hit again -- even on the scale of 9/11 -- it's really no big deal." Liz Cheney did her best to feign outrage, complaining, "This comment suggests an alarming fatalism on the part of President Obama and his administration."

In Grown-Up Land, the right's whining is backwards. Obama's comments were an endorsement of American resilience and strength. We won't let fear and violence destroy us, or send us into hiding -- we can absorb whatever's thrown at us and come out even stronger. That the right finds this offensive says more about conservatives than the president.

What I found interesting, though, is how quickly the right's new talking point faded away. It might yet may a comeback, I suppose, but I think the argument lived a short life in part because it was exposed for being even too stupid for the right.

Dick Cheney, for example, said in 2002, that the U.S. would inevitably get hit again by terrorists. Was this evidence of "an alarming fatalism"?

Steve M., meanwhile, found these gems.

"From the tragedy of September 11 emerged a stronger Nation, renewed by a spirit of national pride and a true love of country." [...]

"Over the past seven years, this system has absorbed shocks -- recession, corporate scandals, terrorist attacks, global war. Yet the genius of our system is that it can absorb such shocks and emerge even stronger.

The first of those was President Bush's 2002 proclamation designating 9/11 as Patriot Day. The second of those was President Bush's statement about the U.S. economy on February 13, 2008, as he signed that year's Economic Stimulus Act.

I'm well aware of the hair-trigger, talk-first-think-second attitude that leads to Republican attacks on the president. But this little outrage of the day deserved to die quickly.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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GREGG BLAMES THE LEFT FOR REPUBLICANS' SHUTDOWN TALK.... I sometimes get the sense Republican senators don't pay attention to current events.

Worries that a Republican-led Congress would lead a shutdown of the government similar to the one carried out in 1995 are "absurd," Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said Tuesday.

Asked on CNBC's "Kudlow Report" what the prospects are of a government shutdown should the GOP take the majority in the midterms, the retiring senator said, "It's absurd. And I think this is just the left trying -- you know, the media trying to create an issue that doesn't exist."

"The left" and "the media" aren't the ones who brought this up, Judd. It was the Republicans' idea.

Indeed, the issue "exists" because the GOP keeps talking about this. Recent talk of a government shutdown has been pushed by a House Republican leader (Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia); a Republican Senate candidate (Joe Miller of Alaska); a Republican House candidate (Teresa Collett of Minnesota); and a variety of prominent Republican voices (Newt Gingrich, Dick Morris, and Erick Erickson).

Last week, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) even demanded this his party's leadership sign a "blood oath" that they will gut America's health care system, even if the effort leads to a government shutdown.

Gregg thinks talk of a shutdown is "absurd," and I hope he's right. But rather than blame "the left" and "the media" for an argument raised by Republicans, maybe Gregg should spend some time urging his own party to take it down a notch.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN.... Six months ago today, the Affordable Care Act was signed into law. The milestone is significant for entirely substantive reasons -- effective today, many Americans who've been waiting for some relief will finally get some.

The New York Times' Kevin Sack noted that a number of the new law's "most central consumer protections take effect" this very day, and the list includes some very popular reforms. Starting today, for example, insurers won't be able to exclude children from coverage because of pre-existing conditions. Rescission, which led to many Americans losing their coverage when they needed it most, is forbidden. Young people can now stay on their parents' plan until age 26. Preventive care -- including colonoscopies, mammograms, and immunizations -- must now be covered without co-payments.

Republicans intend to take all of this away, of course, and will fight tooth and nail next year if voters reward them with a majority.

But in the meantime, the Affordable Care Act has begun making life better for some struggling Americans who need a break.

Joe and Mary Thompson had agreed to adopt Emily before her birth in 1999, and it never occurred to them to back out when she was born with spina bifida. But that same year, their residential remodeling business in Overland Park, Kan., went under, prompting job changes that left the family searching for health coverage with a child who was uninsurable.

The insurers were willing to cover the Thompsons and their older daughter, but not Emily, who was later discovered to have mild autism as well, or her 13-year-old brother, who had a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder.

Starting Thursday, the insurers will not be able to do that, as the new health care law prohibits them from denying coverage to children under 19 because of pre-existing health conditions. In 2014, the change will extend to people of all ages.

I realize the new law is still confusing to many Americans. That uncertainty makes it easier for demagogues to attack and for the public to believe them -- much of the country just doesn't know what's in the Affordable Care Act, so they're not in a position to approve of provisions that they'd really like.

To that end, I thought I'd include this video from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-partisan research organization, which does a fine job explaining the new law. If you have nine minutes, I highly recommend watching it.

Update: Also, the White House has a newly-revamped site devoted to the new health care law. It's worth checking out (and be sure to watch the video at the top of the page.)

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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THE NUMBERS DON'T ADD UP.... Following up on the last item, it's worth keeping in mind, as the "Pledge to America" makes the rounds today, that it was apparently crafted by Republicans who lacked access to a calculator.

With control of the House, the Republicans said they would seek to immediately cancel any unspent money from last year's $787 billion economic stimulus program, to freeze the size of the "nonsecurity" federal work force, and to quickly cut $100 billion in discretionary spending. But the blueprint, with echoes of the 1994 Contract With America, does not specify how the spending reductions would be carried out.

Right off the bat, House Republicans seriously want Americans to believe the struggling economy will be better off if we scrap investments in the economy and reduce the number of Americans (public workers) with jobs. That, in a word, is crazy.

But let's also pause to appreciate the proposed $100 billion in cuts to discretionary spending. The House GOP leadership actually floated this idea a couple of weeks ago, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published an important analysis, explaining what the consequences of such an idea would be. To do as the "Pledge" suggests would require drastic cuts to education and essential public services -- the kind of cuts that would hurt working families at a time when the economy is already struggling.

But, House Republicans say, these cuts are necessary to restore fiscal responsibility. Except, that's crazy, too, since their numbers don't come close to adding up.

The GOP left a $1.3 trillion budget deficit for Democrats to clean up. Two years later, Republicans have decided to push for $4 trillion in tax cuts, which would increase the deficit; push for the repeal of health care reform, which would increase the deficit; and increase spending on missile defense, which would increase the deficit.

It'd be a terrible mistake to cancel economic recovery funds, reduce the number of public jobs, and slash discretionary spending, but even if Republicans did all of this, economy be damned, the cuts don't even come close to covering the costs of the GOP agenda.

In other words, Republicans have spent two years complaining about the deficit, and have used the deficit as an excuse to block all kinds of worthwhile legislation. But when presenting its own "Pledge," the House GOP has presented a plan to make that same deficit considerably worse.

Why Americans would hire arsonists to put out a fire is something I'll never fully understand.

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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WITH 'PLEDGE TO AMERICA,' HOUSE GOP SHOOTS, MISSES.... Months in the making, House Republicans will unveil a new agenda this afternoon, and it's called the "Pledge to America." It won't be formally released for a few hours, but the contents are already online, offering us a chance to see what the GOP has in store.

Barring a dramatic last-minute overhaul, the "Pledge" appears to be something of a joke. I saw one analysis last night that characterized the document as "ridiculous," "laughable," and "dreck." The review added, "This document proves the GOP is more focused on the acquisition of power than the advocacy of long term sound public policy."

Did this come from the DNC? No, it came by way of a leading Republican media personality.

Looking at the bigger picture, it's tempting to think House Republicans deserve at least some credit for making the effort. After all, the GOP hasn't even tried to craft a policy agenda in many years. The point of the "Pledge," presumably, is to help demonstrate that congressional Republicans aren't just the "party of no"; this is a new GOP prepared to reclaim the mantle of "party of ideas."

But that's precisely why the endeavor is such an embarrassing failure. The document combines old ideas, bad ideas, contradictory ideas, and discredited ideas. The Republican Party that lost control of Congress four years ago has had an abundance of time to craft a policy vision that offered credible, serious solutions. Instead, we're confronted with a document that can best be described as tired nonsense.

Ezra Klein's take was entirely in line with my own.

[Y]ou're left with a set of hard promises that will increase the deficit by trillions of dollars, take health-care insurance away from tens of millions of people, create a level of policy uncertainty businesses have never previously known, and suck demand out of an economy that's already got too little of it.

You're also left with a difficult question: What, exactly, does the Republican Party believe? The document speaks constantly and eloquently of the dangers of debt -- but offers a raft of proposals that would sharply increase it. It says, in one paragraph, that the Republican Party will commit itself to "greater liberty" and then, in the next, that it will protect "traditional marriage." It says that "small business must have certainty that the rules won't change every few months" and then promises to change all the rules that the Obama administration has passed in recent months. It is a document with a clear theory of what has gone wrong -- debt, policy uncertainty, and too much government -- and a solid promise to make most of it worse.

If Republicans set out to prove that they're wholly unprepared and incapable of governing effectively, they've succeeded beautifully. That may have been obvious when there was an actual GOP majority and they failed on a spectacular, generational scale, but any hopes that the party has since learned valuable lessons quickly fade with the release of the "Pledge to America."

Indeed, the moral of the story this morning is very likely the fact that Republicans probably shouldn't even try. Last year, the House GOP released an alternative budget, which was so tragically pathetic, it neglected to include any numbers. Several months later, the House GOP released an alternative health care reform plan, which made no effort to actually improve a dysfunctional system.

And today, the House GOP will release a "Pledge" that simply doesn't make any sense to those who take reality seriously. It's a reminder that the Republican Party just isn't good at this sort of thing. It excels in attack ads, smear campaigns, and media manipulation; but the GOP struggles badly, to the point of comedy, when asked to do substantive work.

Ultimately, it may not matter. Voters are frustrated by a weak economy, and so Democrats are very likely to lose badly in November, even if they're being punished for trying to clean the GOP's mess. But electoral success for Republicans in the fall need not translate to an endorsement of this "Pledge." It's a transparent sham.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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September 22, 2010

WEDNESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Jerusalem: "With Israel's construction freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank due to end this weekend, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were seeking an elusive formula on Wednesday to keep their new peace talks going while both sides warned that if the talks ended, violence could erupt. As if to illustrate that warning, Palestinians clashed with Israeli security forces in and around the Old City of Jerusalem on Wednesday after an Israeli security guard fatally shot a Palestinian resident of Silwan."

* In a surprise move, Senate Republicans decided not to replace Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) as the ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The caucus did replace her, though, in the Senate leadership with John Barrasso of Wyoming.

* House Republicans will unveil "The Pledge to America" tomorrow. I'll have plenty of coverage once it's released.

* Look for Senate Dems to give the Disclose Act another try tomorrow, but it's probably best to keep expectations low.

* Justice Antonin Scalia and women's rights really don't go together well.

* In an apparent attempt to make my head explode, disgraced Republican lobbyist Ralph Reed insists he's "proud" of the work he did for Jack Abramoff.

* Michael Tomasky makes it plain: "A black guy with an alien name who was called a Muslim and a terrorist got elected president of the US by saying that he would raise taxes on people above $250,000. To which a Blue Dog would say, well, he lost my district by 15 points. To which I say, well, you're not black with an alien name who's being called a Muslim. Get out there and show some guts for a change."

* A pet peeve: when folks exaggerate the length of the Senate Dems' 60-vote majority. Kevin helpfully sets the record straight.

* Wait, the RNC is still paying Sarah Palin's legal bills? The 2008 campaign was nearly two years ago, but the expenses are apparently ongoing.

* On a related note, Craig Smith makes my day a little brighter, noting that "former half-term governor" line is catching on.

* Apparently the rate at which Americans finish college is not improving much.

* If you haven't seen Sen. Al Franken's (D-Minn.) remarks on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" from the Senate floor last night, they're well worth watching.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) tends to run into trouble when he addresses subjects he knows nothing about. Take the Constitution, for example.

Last week, for example, the conservative Iowan told a group of Republicans, "Americans want and Americans deserve the real original Constitution: A strong military, lower taxes, jobs through the private enterprise, border security, no apologizing for America. And most importantly, respect for life."

Ian Millhiser explained how truly ridiculous this is.

Grassley's call for a return to the "original Constitution" -- a term that normally refers to the Constitution before it was amended -- is downright terrifying if he actually means it. Slavery was permitted under the original Constitution; women and minorities were denied the right to vote; and basic human rights such as the freedom of speech or the right to choose your own faith were unprotected. Although, to be fair, it's much more likely that Grassley simply didn't understand what he was saying when he claimed that Americans deserve this "real original Constitution."

That's probably a safe assumption. Grassley has a tendency to simply make up whatever he thinks sounds good at the time -- remember the "sheer idiocy" he offered during the health care debate? -- which leads him to think the "real original Constitution" includes provisions that exist only in his imagination.

Oh, and did I mention that Grassley will likely be chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee if Republicans take back the Senate?

On a related note, Grassley also recently explained how he changed his mind about the individual mandate in health care policy. After having supported the idea for years, the Iowa senator said last week that he came to believe the opposite in "April or May" of 2009.

In June 2009, Grassley told Fox News, "I believe that there is a bipartisan consensus to have individual mandates.... There isn't anything wrong with it." In August 2009, Grassley argued that an individual mandate represents "individual responsibility and even Republicans believe in individual responsibility."

By any reasonable measure, Chuck Grassley just has no idea what he's talking about.

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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HOLD THE DAMN VOTES.... The debate over tax policy would appear to be tough for Dems to screw up. Republicans set their lower tax rates to expire at the end of the year -- President Obama and the public want to keep the lower rates for the middle class (price tag: about $3 trillion* to the debt over the next decade), while Republicans want that and breaks for the wealthy, disproportionately benefiting millionaires and billionaires (price tag: about $4 trillion to the debt over the next decade).

The smart move for Democrats, it seems, would be to hold a vote on Obama's proposed middle-class tax breaks -- before, you know, the election -- and dare Republicans to reject it. Greg Sargent reports today that the smart move isn't going over especially well.

A number of "moderate" House Dems have privately given Nancy Pelosi and other Dem leaders an earful in recent days, urging them not to hold a vote on whether to extend just the middle class tax cuts and not the high end ones, because it will leave them vulnerable to Republican ads, sources involved in the discussions tell me. [...]

Three dozen moderate Dems have signed a letter to Dem leaders demanding a vote on extending all the tax cuts. And behind the scenes, they are telling House Dem leaders in no uncertain terms that they don't want a vote focused on just the middle class ones, the sources say. The leadership aide says moderates are complaining that if they take the vote, "they'll be subject to a 30 second ad saying they raised taxes."

I hate to be the one who breaks this to Dems, but they'll probably have to face those ads anyway. It doesn't matter if it's wrong. Republicans may have rejected the tax cuts in the stimulus, and the tax cuts in the health care bill, and the tax cuts for small businesses, but they also have a tendency to make stuff up in attack ads. Giving the GOP what it wants rarely helps -- it tends to just encourage them to be even more irresponsible.

With that in mind, why not take the step that's better public policy and politically smart? Why not focus pre-election energies into cutting taxes for the middle class?

Indeed, why not make a really big deal about the fact that Democrats are fighting to pass middle-class tax cuts and have had to fight Republicans tooth and nail to make it happen?

More specifically, like Jon Chait, I continue to think the best of all strategies would be to hold two votes: one for the lower middle-class rates and one for breaks for the top 2%. If Dems are panicky, they can vote for both. If Republicans hold them hostage, that becomes the basis for a major campaign issue.

If push comes to shove, and both pass, the president could even veto the latter and explain we can't afford more breaks for millionaires.

All Dems have to do is Hold. The. Damn. Votes.

Postscript: It's worth emphasizing that while many Dems waver, a few are stepping up to show some progressive leadership. Alexi Giannoulias, the Democratic Senate hopeful in Illinois, is launching a new site called 700 Billion Reasons, as part of an effort to promote Obama's tax-cut policy. In a statement, Giannoulias said, "I'm launching a new advocacy site today, 700BillionReasons.com, to help voters across the country share their reasons about why we shouldn't doll out a $700 billion tax cut to a sliver of the wealthiest Americans when we could use that revenue to invest instead in the middle class or pay down our debt."

* fixed

Steve Benen 3:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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WHY NEWT MATTERS (MERIT NOTWITHSTANDING).... Whenever I take note of disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's latest nonsense -- something I do from time to time -- I invariably hear from readers who believe he's not worth mentioning. It's not an unreasonable point.

Gingrich is, after all, something of a sideshow. The pseudo-intellectual was driven from power by his own party more than a decade ago, and hasn't done anything worthwhile with his time in the 12 years since. No matter what nonsense Gingrich comes up with next, who cares?

The usual answer has to do with the media -- news outlets completely ignore every other living former House Speaker, but they inexplicably hang on Gingrich's every word. In 2009, the first year of the Obama presidency and with large Democratic majorities working on an ambitious agenda, "Meet the Press" had one guest appear more than anyone else in the country: Newt Gingrich. It's a fanciful idea, but maybe, by shining a light on his madness, the media will turn their attention to more serious people who actually have official responsibilities.

But there's another problem: congressional Republicans still rely on Gingrich's guidance, too.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) still plays a role in advising the current House Republican Conference, Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Tuesday. [...]

"Newt Gingrich -- I was not lucky enough to serve with him when he was in the House -- but he is still very much a counselor, adviser to us," he said on the "Imus in the Morning" show on Fox Business. "He was the architect of the last Republican takeover of the House. He is always around to allow us the benefit of the lessons he learned in all of that. He's an idea factory."

He's also a nut, though the House Republican caucus may be too far gone to notice.

Regardless, much to my dismay, Gingrich may be a disgrace, but so long as Republicans and major media outlets extend credibility and influence his way, his forays into madness are probably worth documenting.

Steve Benen 2:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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RAND PAUL SEES THE ROAD TO HITLER, CONT'D.... Rand Paul (R), the extremist Senate candidate in Kentucky, occasionally tries to put on a sane face, hoping to appear credible in the eyes of the American mainstream.

But Jason Zengerle got to spend some time with the right-wing ophthalmologist recently, and found that when Paul is speaking candidly, he really is stark raving mad. Zengerle notes an event in Kentucky, for example, where a congressional candidate Paul supports compared House Speaker Pelosi to a former Soviet dictator, prompting the reporter to ask the Senate hopeful about the perception that Tea Partiers are extremists.

He leans forward and smiles. "Well, I think whether or not your analogies are over the top, whether you might extend an analogy farther than others might, is not something to be reviled. It's just an opinion, you know?"

He pauses for a moment, as if wondering whether he should say more, then gives in to the urge. "But I don't hear that and say, 'Oh, he's absolutely wrong.' I hear him and say that our country is slipping towards that, and there could be a time when we slip and lose a lot of our freedoms. I'll say things like that Ben Franklin statement: 'Those who give up their liberty for security will have neither.' I worry about a time when we would have chaos in our country and then a strong national leader would come along and say, 'Give me your liberty and I'll give you security.' Not that it's imminent or happening tomorrow or applies to any particular players on the stage, but there are historical examples."

Paul pauses again, although this time it's not out of any hesitation on his part; he's just making sure we're still with him. "In 1923, when they destroyed the currency, they elected Hitler. And so they elected somebody who vilified one group of people, but he promised them, 'I will give you security if you give me your liberty,' and they voted him in. And that's not to mean that anybody around is Hitler, but it's to mean that you don't want chaos in your country. And we could have chaos, not just because of the Democrats, but because the Democrats and the Republicans have all been spending us into oblivion. And having a massive debt runs the risk of chaos at some point. Not tomorrow, maybe not next week -- I mean, I can't even predict the stock market six months from now. But I think that a country is in danger that spends beyond its means and lives beyond its means. And I don't ever say it started with President Obama. I think it started long ago."

If this seems vaguely familiar, it's because Paul traveled to NYC for a fundraiser in July, where he made the identical case -- by amassing such a crushing debt, he said, we're following a pattern that "led to Hitler."

As a substantive matter, Paul is spewing idiocy, and repeating it over and over again doesn't make it less crazy. Our debt, created by Paul's Republican friends, is not destroying the currency and won't lead to American fascism. The very idea is so detached from reality it's hard to believe anyone arguing this publicly -- more than once, on the record -- could ever be taken seriously again.

For that matter, this is the same Paul who wants to cut taxes for millionaires, without even trying to pay for it, adding hundreds of billions of dollars to the very debt he considers so dangerous.

In the larger context, this Hitler nonsense is offensive and disturbing, but it's also the kind of rhetoric that would have permanently discredited a Senate candidate up until fairly recently. Such radicalism was simply considered beyond the pale of what's acceptable in the American political mainstream.

Rand Paul, however, remains the frontrunner in Kentucky, no matter how crazy he is.

Steve Benen 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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JOHN MCCAIN, MEET MAJ. MICHAEL ALMY.... My problem with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is not limited to the fact that he's wrong. The more glaring issue is his habit of saying things that are blatantly untrue while pretending to know what he's talking about.

Going into the debate over the defense authorization bill, McCain told a national television audience that Republicans "never put any extraneous items on the bill because it was so important to defense and we just didn't allow it." He was blatantly lying.

Yesterday, after McCain's filibuster blocked a debate on funding the military, the senator argued with reporters, insisting that the military does not "seek to find out someone's sexual orientation." When journalists noted evidence to the contrary, McCain said the reporters didn't know what they were talking about. "Ma'am, I know the military very well and I know what's being done.... I don't care what you say. I know it's a fact."

The more reporters tried to point to reality, the more belligerent the conservative senator became.

Now, it's hard to say with certainty whether McCain is dumb or lying. But his cantankerous bullying doesn't change the fact that he's just clueless, saying things that aren't true.

Indeed, last night Rachel Maddow interviewed Air Force Maj. Michael Almy (ret.), who was removed from duty at the height of the war in Iraq because the military went through his private emails to determine whether he's gay. (via John Cole)

What's more, Almy testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee and told McCain directly about his experience.

McCain's anti-gay attitudes are offensive, and the contempt he shows for those who dare to challenge him is nearly as annoying. But it's the certainty he brings to blatant falsehoods that really rankles. The media still tends to treat McCain as some kind of credible figure, especially on military matters, but the truth is, the vast majority of the time, the guy just doesn't know what he's talking about.

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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IT TAKES A LOT, BUT THERE ARE LINES NOT TO BE CROSSED.... When it comes to the midterm elections, and with both parties desperate to win as many races as possible, it seems Republicans are willing to put up with quite a bit.

Sharron Angle's record of unhinged rhetoric hasn't interfered with her support from the GOP. The same is true of the extremism of Rand Paul and Christine O'Donnell. Ken Buck, Joe Miller, Pat Toomey, Ron Johnson, Carl Paladino, and Tom Emmer can say and do all kind of bizarre things, but they nevertheless enjoy the enthusiastic support of the Republican Party.

Is there no limit? As it turns out, we're witnessing a good test in New York's 18th congressional district, where Jim Russell, a Christian conservative author/activist, is the Republican nominee challenging on Rep. Nita Lowey (D). It's not expected to be an especially competitive contest, but Russell has nevertheless made a name for himself.

Politico discovered this week that Russell's published works for a racist publication have included criticism of inter-racial marriage, school integration, Jews, and African Americans, while offering praise for texts popular with white supremacists.

Yesterday, the New York Republican Party took steps to distance itself from its party's congressional candidate.

[State party spokesperson Alex Carey told Salon] GOP leaders were not previously aware of Russell's essay, adding, "We strongly condemn all of Jim's comments and certainly stand by none of what he wrote, which was racist and ethnocentric."

He said that the chair of the GOP in Westchester County is going to meet with Russell soon, "and if he can explain this somehow they're going to continue looking into this -- and if he can't they'll cut him loose." Carey said that even if the GOP drops Russell from its line on the ballot, he will still be a candidate.

Given all that we've seen this year, it's good to know there are at least some lines that can't be crossed.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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WEDNESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* In New York, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) is set to endorse state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D) in this year's gubernatorial race.

* At this point, Cuomo may need the boost -- a new Quinnipiac poll shows the frontrunner leading by only six over Carl Paladino (R). The Republican nominee is likely getting a post-primary bump, despite his record of sending racist and bestiality emails, and a platform advocating prisons for welfare recipients where low-income Americans would be trained in, among other things, "personal hygiene."

* First Lady Michelle Obama, dubbed "The Closer" in some Democratic circles, will be making a series of campaign appearances in mid-October, including stops in Wisconsin, Illinois, Colorado, Washington, and California.

* Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), dipping into her considerable campaign coffers, has already launched a new ad campaign explaining her write-in re-election bid.

* Christine O'Donnell (R), the extremist Senate candidate in Delaware, chatted with Sean Hannity for nearly 20 minutes last night, but said she would no longer speak to national news outlets.

* In Pennsylvania, a new Quinnipiac poll shows former right-wing Rep. Pat Toomey (R) with a seven-point lead over Rep. Joe Sestak (D), 50% to 43%.

* Colorado gubernatorial hopeful Dan Maes (R) appears to be having trouble with his campaign finances. In his latest filings, the Republican nominee has raised only $14,462 this month, as compared to $120,468 for Tom Tancredo (I) and $218,388 for Democrat John Hickenlooper.

* In California's gubernatorial race, the latest survey from Public Policy Polling shows Jerry Brown (D) leading Meg Whitman (R) by five, 47% to 42%.

* Speaking of PPP and gubernatorial races, the same outlet shows Rick Snyder (R) well ahead of Virg Bernero (D) in Michigan, 52% to 31%.

* And Tennessee's gubernatorial race is even more one-sided, with a new Crawford Johnson and Northcott poll showing Bill Haslam (R) leading Mike McWherter (D), 55% to 24%

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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SOME IN GOP NOW WILLING TO BE SEEN IN PUBLIC WITH GAYS.... The headline in this morning's Roll Call seemed odd and poorly timed: "Pro-Gay Groups Find New Allies in the GOP."

After years of sending in their regrets, Republicans are RSVPing yes to gay causes more than ever.

Prominent GOP lobbyists, activists and Members of Congress will attend or lend their names to two big gay rights events tonight, including one co-hosted by Ken Mehlman, the former Republican National Committee chairman and George W. Bush campaign manager who recently announced he was gay. [...]

At the same time as the New York event, the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay rights group, will hold its national dinner in Washington, D.C. Among those attending the Log Cabin dinner or cocktail reception at the Capitol Hill Club are the anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

I suppose if we're operating under the "soft bigotry of low expectations" rule, then sure, this development is something resembling a breakthrough. For as long as anyone can remember, Republicans would avoid events like these, but now, to the chagrin of the religious right, the NRSC chief is even willing to attend a Log Cabin Republican event in person.

But it's a real stretch to suggest that Republicans have turned over a new leaf when it comes to respect and acceptance for minorities, especially right now. It was, after all, just yesterday that every member of the Senate Republican caucus killed a bill to fund the military because it included a provision that could lead to the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Maybe Cornyn could take a moment to explain his support for the filibuster at tonight's event.

For that matter, we also saw this occur yesterday.

A slur against gays left on the blog Joe.My.God was traced back to the Atlanta office of Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) on Tuesday. Chambliss has confirmed to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution that he is investigating whether one of his staffers left the comment, which suggested that all gays "must die."

Blog readers helped trace the IP address of the commenter to either Chambliss' office or the office of Sen. Johnny Isakson, nearby.... Chambliss confirmed that the comment came from his office, but he is not yet concluding that one of his staffers left it.

Hmm. How common is it, exactly, for random people to enter the senator's office, sit down at one of the senator's computers, and issue death threats against gays on a blog's comments section? What kind of operation is Chambliss running?

Nevertheless, for all the talk about the LGBT community "finding new allies in the GOP," I think the party has a very long way to go.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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THE AMERICAN CAPACITY TO 'ABSORB' ADVERSITY.... Bob Woodward has a new book, "Obama's Wars," which will be released on Monday. Based on news accounts this morning, the crux of the text will be about the tense debate among leading officials last year over how to shape U.S. policy in Afghanistan.

This morning, it appears one quote from the book in particular is sparking interest.

Woodward's book portrays Obama and the White House as barraged by warnings about the threat of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and confronted with the difficulty in preventing them. During an interview with Woodward in July, the president said, "We can absorb a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger."

This strikes me as an eminently sensible thing to say. Of course Americans can absorb an attack and come out stronger. What's the alternative? That an attack permanently destroys the American psyche, leaving us cowering under our beds for the foreseeable future?

We're better -- and stronger -- than that. We mourn, we rebuild, we bring justice to those responsible, we make every possible effort to prevent future attacks, and we move forward. It's a testament to the American character and the strength of the fabric that holds us together. We get knocked down; we get back up.

The metaphor that comes to mind is that of a boxer known for "absorbing" punches. It doesn't mean the hits don't occur, and it doesn't mean the punches don't hurt, but the pugilist who can "absorb" the hits and keep on going tends to win in the end.

Except, conservatives don't see it that way. Indeed, the right has already begun throwing a tantrum over the president's remarks. Fox News' Gretchen Carlson suggested Obama is "inviting" an attack. (Gretchen, "Bring it on" invited another attack; saying we can absorb violence does not.)

John Bolton appeared on Fox News to declare the president's comments "outrageous," adding, "How can an American president say that as if he's a detached observer and doesn't care about Americans dying?" Bolton went on to say Obama's words "proves" he's not qualified to be president.

Expect Republicans, who take their cues from their cable network, to start repeating this nonsense later today.

Is it me, or is our discourse actually managing to get dumber?

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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ONE OF THE MOST EFFECTIVE ADS OF THE CYCLE.... In a year filled with odd statewide candidates, I still have a hard time figuring out what California's Carly Fiorina is thinking.

The Republican Senate nominee is best known for her tenure as HP's chief executive, during which the company lost more than half its value; Fiorina laid off tens of thousands of workers; and she was named one of Conde Nast Portfolio's "20 Worst American CEOs of All Time." With this background in mind, Fiorina has decided to try to parlay failure into a U.S. Senate victory.

Kevin Drum flagged this ad from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) this week, noting that his household focus group found it "pretty devastating." I'm very much inclined to agree.

The spot shows Fiorina boasting about having laid off 30,000 workers, and sending jobs to China. All the while, Fiorina tripled her own salary, and bought a million-dollar yacht and five corporate jets. And unlike so many critical ads this year, Boxer's spot actually stands up well to fact-checking scrutiny.

I realize it's looking like a Republican year, and voters in California are deeply frustrated with the weak economy, but a campaign ad like this one -- to my mind, one of the most effective of the cycle -- seems hard to overcome.

Oliver Willis, noting the same ad, added, "I still have a hard time with the idea that people don't just laugh Fiorina out of the room."

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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THE DRIVE TO BREAK FROM FORCED NEUTRALITY.... Peter Goodman, who's been a rising star at the New York Times, covering the economy and business news, agreed this week to leave the paper and sign on with the Huffington Post. Goodman's move, a coup for the online outlet, is a reminder about just how serious a media powerhouse HuffPost is becoming.

But what seemed especially interesting about this wasn't the transition, but rather, the motivation behind it. Goodman chatted with Howard Kurtz about his reasoning.

"For me it's a chance to write with a point of view," Goodman says in an interview. "It's sort of the age of the columnist. With the dysfunctional political system, old conventional notions of fairness make it hard to tell readers directly what's going on. This is a chance for me to explore solutions in my economic reporting."

Goodman, who spent a decade at The Washington Post before his three years at the Times, says he will still rely on facts and not engage in "ranting." And while he was happy at the newspaper, he says, he found he was engaged in "almost a process of laundering my own views, through the tried-and-true technique of dinging someone at some think tank to say what you want to tell the reader."

It's been one of the most glaring flaws in major American media for far too long -- news outlets can tell the public about a story, but they won't tell the public's who's right. Every story has to offer he-said/she-said coverage, and every view has to be treated as entirely legitimate. ("Republicans today said two plus two equals five; Democrats and mathematicians disagree.")

To tell news consumers about a controversy is fine. To tell news consumers who's objectively correct is to be "biased."

For the public that wants to know who's right, and not just who's talking, it creates a vacuum filled by online outlets. For journalists who want to "tell readers directly what's going on," it creates an incentive to abandon news organizations that demand forced neutrality.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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HINTS OF THE GOP'S 'CULTURE OF CORRUPTION' ALREADY MAKING A COMEBACK.... Congressional Republicans' affinity for corporate lobbyists is hardly new. When Congress worked on a jobs bill, the GOP huddled with corporate lobbyists. When work on Wall Street reform got underway, the GOP huddled with industry lobbyists. When Congress worked on health care reform, the GOP huddled with insurance lobbyists. When an energy/climate bill started advancing, Republicans huddled with energy lobbyists.

Care to guess who'll be writing the laws under a GOP majority on the Hill?

This week, however, the ties looked even more unsavory. The National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee announced that it would co-host an Election Night reception with one of the top lobbying firms in Washington, and corporate donors willing to write big checks could buy all kinds of nice perks.

GOP officials, meanwhile, are trying to argue this isn't a fundraiser, and that donors to the Election Night event are merely "underwriters" who will help cover the costs of the shindig.

If this sounds legally sketchy to you, you're not alone. Ben Smith reported that campaign finance experts believe soliciting corporate contributions to help throw an election night party is "treading close to the legal line."

Meredith McGehee, the Policy Director at the Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan group that favors finance regulation and is chaired by John McCain's campaign lawyer, said she's never seen an invitation to an event that listed both party committees and corporations as hosts.

Parties, she said, typically fall into the "widely attended event" exception to traditional gift rules, and legislators can attend them -- unlike, say, gratis concerts -- without running afoul of ethics rules.

"Because of the soft money limits and because there are party committees involved, parties should have an abundance of caution in ensuring they comply with the law, and they seem to have found a clever lawyer who figured out this is permissible because it's not a fundraiser," said McGehee. "It's a little too cute by half."

Another prominent campaign finance lawyer unconnected to the event asked not to be quoted by name, but emailed: "The NRSC and NRCC are raising money to pay for this event. That sounds like contributions to me and soft money is illegal."

Remember, these are the games the party is playing now. The last time there was a Republican congressional majority, a culture of corruption flourished and several members of Congress wound up in handcuffs.

The GOP hasn't won anything yet, and they're already planning a return to the party's ethically-challenged ways.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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SENATE GOP TO DELIVER 'CONSEQUENCES' TO MURKOWSKI.... Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski recently and unexpectedly lost in a GOP primary to right-wing lawyer Joe Miller, prompting her to launch a write-in bid in the hopes of winning another term.

Murkowski's Republican colleagues, of course, are less than pleased. The GOP caucus expects members who lose in a primary to throw their support to the nominee for the good of the party, and by late last week, Murkowski was forced to give up her position as a member of the Senate Republican leadership.

And today, the party will go a little further still.

Senate Republicans just said they will move [Wednesday] to strip Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, from her post as ranking Republican on the Senate Energy Committee.

Republicans say Wednesday they will vote to elect an acting ranking member and then the full GOP conference will ratify the vote.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman, John Cornyn, R-Texas, told CNN this is "the appropriate thing to do. When you chose not to accept the judgment of the primary voters and run as a write in... it has consequences."

Another Republican came out of the Senate GOP lunch and told CNN it was clear Murkowski has virtually no support among her colleagues anymore.

Murkowski's committee slot will reportedly go to Sen. Richard Burr (R) of North Carolina.

The party's hostility towards Murkowski is a stark reminder that congressional Republicans do not take kindly to those who fall out of line. Indeed, it's hard not to notice the differences between how the GOP is dealing with Murkowski as compared to how Senate Democrats dealt with Joe Lieberman under similar circumstances.

There are some differences, though, between Murkowski in '10 and Lieberman in '06 (and '08), most notably the fact that Lieberman was far more likely to switch his allegiance to the GOP if Democrats imposed any penalties for his betrayals at all. I am curious, though, about the extent to which the Republican punishments for Murkowski might lead her to rethink her own commitment to her party. As GOP senators go, the Alaska senator is one of the less right-wing members, and recently, she's begun characterizing Miller's agenda -- which isn't completely out of step with contemporary Republicans -- as "pretty radical."

If Murkowski manages to win her write-in bid -- it could happen -- are we absolutely sure which party she'd caucus with in 2011?

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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September 21, 2010

TUESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* The Fed is worried, but for now, it isn't doing anything: "Federal Reserve officials signaled for the first time on Tuesday that they are worried that the slow-moving recovery could be undermined by very low rates of inflation and hinted that they might resume buying vast amounts of government debt."

* Paul Krugman, summarizing the Fed' position, added, "We're failing in our mandate to deliver full employment; meanwhile, inflation is below target; therefore, we've decided to do nothing."

* Afghanistan: "The worst helicopter crash in four years killed nine people, bringing NATO fatalities in 2010 to 529 and making it the most deadly year of the war since 2001.... The NATO statement did not list the nationality of the soldiers, but Pentagon officials said Tuesday that most of the dead were Americans."

* Lawrence Summers will leave his job as the president's National Economic Council director after the midterm elections. Bloomberg reported this earlier, and the White House confirmed the news this afternoon.

* Despite rumored reports to the contrary yesterday, the House will not adjourn this week: "Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on Tuesday shot down the suggestion that the House might adjourn at the end of this week, saying Members would definitely be in session at least through next week."

* Unexpected news from the housing sector: "Some good news for the housing market: Building starts on new homes climbed 10.5 percent in August, the Census Bureau announced this morning. Construction ramped up to an annualized pace of 598,000 homes, the highest rate since early spring. Economists had expected starts to decline slightly."

* President Obama, speaking in Philadelphia last night, offered a message to the Democratic base: "Folks, wake up! This is not some academic exercise."

* The Kaiser Family Foundation has done a tremendous job creating a new site explaining the new health care law, including an extremely helpful timeline, noting when changes will take effect. Worth bookmarking for future reference.

* Daniel Luzer on those with college degrees making more money than those without: "[C]ollege is still worth it. This is not, however, because college is any more valuable or remunerative than it used to be, but just because things are much, much worse for people who didn't go to college."

* Fox News really isn't in a position to complain about anything being taken out of context.

* GOProud, a group of gay Republicans, apparently doesn't understand that Harry Reid had to switch his vote on the defense authorization bill today for procedural reasons. Not the sharpest group of folks.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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CAN WE PUT A MORATORIUM ON SENATE 'GANGS'?.... Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has already begun fighting for extended tax cuts for millionaires. He's now ready to kick things up a notch -- with a new "gang."

This afternoon, on his way into a weekly Democratic caucus policy lunch he explained that he'd like to head up another bipartisan "gang" to reach a tax cut compromise.

"All I'm saying now is that this is a place where we really do need -- it's an awful word -- but we need another gang. We need a bipartisan gang to come to a bipartisan agreement on tax cuts," Lieberman said.

I asked Lieberman whether he's organizing such a bloc. He claims he's working on it: "I'm talking -- as always it'll be a 'group' -- but that's what I'd like to see happen."

He added that if '90s-era tax rates return "that might put the country back into another recession."

A few things. First, can Lieberman offer any evidence -- any at all -- to suggest higher rates would cause a recession? Because lower rates certainly didn't produce an economic success story. Besides, Reagan raised taxes in '82, and the economy improved. Clinton raised taxes in '93, and the economy improved. I'm not drawing a cause-and-effect connection here, but to assume that higher rates necessarily leads to contraction is silly.

Second, there's already a "bipartisan agreement on tax cuts" on the table. Some want to allow the lower rates to expire for everyone; some want to the lower rates to be extended for everyone. President Obama has offered a middle ground -- permanent, lower rates for the middle class, which enjoys broad, bipartisan support, coupled with on-schedule expiration of lower rates for the wealthy. Lieberman doesn't have to like it; he doesn't even have to vote for it. But if he's looking for a centrist compromise that Americans can embrace, the White House has already offered it.

And third, another "gang"? Seriously? The "Gang of 14" and the "Gang of Six" -- both disappointments -- weren't enough?

One of these days, the Senate is going to have to figure out how to function as an institution again, and the over-reliance on gimmicks, workarounds, and procedural abuses will have to end.

Alas, that days is nowhere close.

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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THE ROAD AHEAD ON DADT REPEAL, DEFENSE SPENDING.... This afternoon, a Republican filibuster blocked the annual defense authorization bill from coming to the floor. The spending bill funds the military, but since it included a provision on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the GOP felt the need to crush it.

But here's a pesky detail: the bill still isn't quite dead, and the Senate still has every intention of coming back to it. Republican opposition to a military spending bill won the day, and the far-right can feel very pleased with itself this afternoon, but the money the Pentagon needed yesterday is still the same money the Pentagon will need tomorrow.

We have an "all-volunteer" fighting force, but the GOP shouldn't take that too literally -- the troops still need to get paid. Republicans just fought the bill that finances the salaries of servicemen and women, and would have even given them a raise.

So, what happens now? The defense authorization bill will be taken up again during the lame-duck session after the midterm elections.

Gay rights advocates vowed to keep pressure on the Senate Tuesday, with some believing they will have enough votes to end the ban if senators vote on the compromise in December. Several moderate Republicans have said they would vote to end "don't ask, don't tell" only after they review a Pentagon study of how repealing the ban might impact troop readiness and morale. The study is due to President Obama and senior military leaders on Dec. 1.

"This issue doesn't go away," said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a group providing legal assistance to troops impacted by the gay ban.

"The Senate absolutely must schedule a vote in December when cooler heads and common sense are more likely to prevail once midterm elections are behind us," he said.

But as today helped prove, there's very little reason for optimism. After the Pentagon study, anti-gay Republicans will find some new rationale. It's not as if they were sincere about this -- the working of the provision already says it would merely empower the Pentagon and the White House to act. The excuse they were relying on for the basis of opposition was thin to begin with.

One other thing to keep in mind: the Senate will look different in the lame-duck, with the winners of the Senate races in Illinois and Delaware taking office immediately, not next year. If Republicans win either of those races, it will make any hopes of progress that much less likely.

Regardless, the DADT provision will still be in the bill when the Senate takes it up in the lame-duck session. It would need 60 votes to remove the language, and it's not at all clear if those votes exist.

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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SENATE GOP BLOCKS DADT REPEAL, MILITARY SPENDING.... One of the more striking aspects of this afternoon's developments is how likely it seemed -- fairly recently -- that the Senate would do the right thing.

After all, just a few months ago, repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and approving the defense authorization bill was very much on track. President Obama was on board, as was the Secretary of Defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and two former Joint Chiefs leaders, including Colin Powell. Polls showed broad, bipartisan support for this, including a majority of rank-and-file Republicans. The House passed their version with relative ease.

The Senate is often a graveyard for worthwhile legislation, but even here, there was reason for optimism. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) voted with Democrats in committee, and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) signaled he would not support a filibuster of military funding. In May, with success looking secure, TPM ran a piece: "How The Deal To Repeal DADT Got Done."

And yet, this afternoon, the deal got un-done. Republicans successfully filibustered a motion to proceed on the defense spending bill this afternoon, blocking a debate from even getting underway.

The final roll call: 56 to 43. It was actually 57 to 42, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid switched his vote for procedural reasons, allowing him to be able to bring the bill back to the floor at a later date. And in the U.S. Senate, when 57 senators support something, and 42 oppose it, the 57-vote majority loses.

We are, by the way, talking about legislation that funds the U.S. military during two wars. It even includes money for a pay raise for Americans troops. But it also includes allowing servicemen and women to wear the uniform, even if they're gay. Republicans would have had an opportunity to push an amendment to keep the DADT policy in place, but that wasn't good enough, and every GOP senator on the floor today stood in lock-step to say, "No."

They were joined by one two conservative Democrats: Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, both of Arkansas. Lincoln may be under the truly ridiculous impression that joining Republicans to kill a military spending bill will help her salvage a re-election campaign she's losing by more than 20 points. It won't.

Of particular interest was Maine's Susan Collins, who voted in committee for the same bill she filibustered today. To hear Collins tell it, she supports DADT repeal, but had to kill the legislation anyway, because of procedural issues -- she wanted the Democratic majority to promise to allow more amendments during the debate.

She wasn't satisfied with the response, so Collins ensured that there won't be a debate, and the policy change she claims to support is likely dead for the foreseeable future.

In other words, in Susan Collins' mind, Senate procedure matters more than fairness, equality, and decency towards U.S. servicemen and women. Collins -- and Olympia Snowe and Scott Brown, the alleged "moderates" -- sided with far-right, anti-gay conservatives over procedural nonsense.

Watching the debate, I was thinking of Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach. He's an F-15 fighter pilot, and an 18-year veteran of the United States Air Force. He flew combat missions over Afghanistan in 2002, and over Iraq in 2003.

The U.S. government invested $25 million in training Fehrenbach, and it was money well spent -- he's a highly decorated pilot, having received nine air medals, including one for heroism. He's flown 88 combat missions, and logged more than 2,000 flying hours. In the midst of two wars, this hero is ready to deploy again, serving his country honorably, but because of his sexual orientation, the government has said Fehrenbach's services are no longer needed.

I'd love to see Susan Collins look Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach in the eye and tell him Senate procedure is more important than his career. For that matter, I'd love to hear Collins' Republican colleagues explain why Americans are better off throwing Fehrenbach out of the military than allowing him to serve.

And just as an aside, try to imagine the response from Republicans and the media if, under Bush/Cheney, every Senate Democrat united to filibuster a debate on the defense spending bill in the midst of two wars.

Steve Benen 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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THE OTHER REPEAL PUSH.... When Congress was working on financial regulatory reform a few months ago, you may recall that congressional Republicans huddled with Wall Street lobbyists to try to kill the legislation. They failed and the most sweeping reform measures since the Great Depression became law.

Soon after, those same Republicans announced that if they're given power, they'll try to repeal the Wall Street reform law and return to the regulatory structure that was in place for (and helped lead to) the 2008 crash that nearly collapsed the global financial system.

That rhetoric faded in time, probably because it didn't poll especially well. But we were reminded this morning that GOP attitudes haven't changed, and if voters reward Republicans in November, they'll go back and try to shape the law to Wall Street's liking.

Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the powerful Senate Banking Committee, said lawmakers must revisit the legislation enacted this summer, which is the broadest overhaul of financial rules since the Great Depression.

"The bill is so sweeping and such a game changer in many ways that it's incumbent upon us to revisit it," Shelby said at the Reuters Washington Summit. [...]

If Democrats lose control of Congress, Republicans are sure to tear apart the contentious legislation they mostly all opposed.

"The consumer agency bothers me the most," said Shelby, who failed to reach a compromise with Democrats and voted against the bill.

Soon after, the White House's Jen Psaki offered a compelling response.

Senator Shelby wants to go back to a time when there was no such thing as a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and when consumers were left without a voice at the table. This is an agency whose mission is to look out for American consumers and empower them with the clear and concise information they need to make the financial decisions that are best for them. Its existence is enormously important, because one cause of the financial crisis and the Lost Decade for the middle class was the unscrupulous practices of credit card companies and mortgage lenders, who reaped billions at the expense of consumers from hidden fees and penalties.

That's why the President fought so hard for the new CFPB and new rules to outlaw the tricks and traps that have punished the American people. That hard-won victory came over the fierce opposition of Wall Street and the financial industry. But now the man who would be chair of the Senate Banking Committee says that if Republicans win control of the Senate, he will work to gut these new consumer protections.

We hope Senator Shelby is prepared to explain why he feels that way to the millions of Americans who have been misled with pages and pages of fine print on applications for credit cards, mortgages or student loans, and now find themselves in untenable financial situations.

It's important to understand that when Congressional Republicans talk about re-opening this legislation, they're talking about standing up for the interests of big banks and their lobbyists and leaving middle class families to fend for themselves.

As we saw during the debate over the bill itself, that is how the GOP often prefers to operate.

Steve Benen 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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CHEESEHEADS WOULDN'T DO THIS, WOULD THEY?.... Several months ago, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) flirted with the idea of challenging Sen. Russ Feingold (D) in the 2010 midterms. When Thompson passed on the race, Dems were relieved. Whew, they said, it's a good thing there aren't other credible Wisconsin Republicans eyeing the race.

It's safe to say that relief has disappeared.

Ron Johnson is one of the year's stranger Senate candidates (and in 2010, that's saying something). He's the far-right candidate who rails against government intervention in private industry, but has sought and received federal aid for his business enterprises. He thinks "sunspots" cause global warming, which doesn't make any sense. He's argued that China is better for businesses than the United States. He thinks Greenland has snow because of global cooling. At the height of the BP oil spill disaster, he said he'd sell his BP stock, just as soon as it was more profitable for him.

More recently, Johnson has boasted in ads about his disdain for Social Security. Worse, he's said he hates the stimulus, then got caught seeking stimulus funds, and then said asking for stimulus money isn't proof that he wanted the money.

Given all of this, it's awfully difficult to take Ron Johnson seriously. He's running in a fairly reliable "blue" state against a terrific Democratic incumbent, so it's tempting to think this shouldn't even be a close contest.

Think again.

An enormous enthusiasm gap, coupled with a Republican nominee fresh from a decisive primary win and unsullied by the primary process, has catapulted Republican nominee Ron Johnson to a double-digit advantage over incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold, according to PPP's poll of the state on behalf of Daily Kos. [...]

As our polling partner at PPP, Tom Jensen, noted: "Wisconsin is seeing one of the most severe enthusiasm gaps in the country."

As hard as this seems to believe, Johnson, the deeply confused conservative with no background in government, is now leading Feingold in the PPP poll, 52% to 41%. No, that's not a typo.

It's easier to understand the enthusiasm gap among rank-and-file Democrats when we're talking about an incumbent who's repeatedly disappointed the left, but Feingold is arguably one of the Senate's most consistent progressives.

Granted, Wisconsin voters probably haven't gotten to know Johnson especially well, and haven't learned about some of his more laughable approaches to public policy. But with six weeks left, Russ Feingold appears to be in real trouble -- as hard as that is to understand.

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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IN DEFENSE OF EXTRANEOUS AMENDMENTS.... When Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) explains why he's trying to kill the bill that funds the military, he says it's necessary to prevent measures that aren't germane to defense spending.

Noting, for example, that the bill includes a repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, and may ultimately include the Dream Act, McCain says the problem has nothing to do with his animosity towards gays and immigrants. Rather, McCain says it's "reprehensible" to "use the defense bill ... to pursue a social agenda."

At first blush, this might seem half-way reasonable. Putting aside the fact that troop eligibility has quite a bit to do with the Pentagon, it does seem awkward to add extraneous provisions to spending bills that deal with unrelated subjects. Last year, for example, Democrats added the Hate Crimes Prevention Act to the defense authorization bill, though hate crimes and military spending don't seem related.

But here's the detail McCain and his cohorts hope you won't notice: this is actually pretty common, and just the way the Senate operates. More to the point, this is the way McCain and other Republicans have operated for years.

[F]or all the griping about what amendments have or haven't been added to the DoD Authorization, the fact remains that these appropriations measures have long been vehicles for unrelated legislation. McCain himself would know that. As Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich) noted right after he spoke on the floor, the Senate had previously considered hate crimes legislation in 2001, 2005, and 2008. McCain himself "offered a non-relevant amendment to the defense authorization bill," Levin added, proposing "to acquire campaign finance disclosure by the so-called 527 organizations as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization."

Meanwhile, as a Democratic source following the debate on the Hill noted, back in 2005, then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) managed to attach a provision granting immunity for companies manufacturing vaccines to protect against biological agents to an FY2006 DoD appropriations bill.

What do campaign-finance disclosures and immunity for vaccine companies have to do with funding the military? Not a thing, and therein lies the point. Republicans are whining incessantly about a legislative maneuver they've used many times.

McCain told Fox News the other day, "Interestingly, for many, many years, we never put any extraneous items on the bill because it was so important to defense and we just didn't allow it." He was either lying blatantly or he's completely forgotten his own recent history in the Senate.

Indeed, the closer we look , the more examples we find. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) has tried to add a concealed-weapons proposal to a previous defense authorization bill. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) used military funding to push a measure on indecency standards. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), interestingly enough, even tried to add the Dream Act to the 2007 defense authorization bill.

"When Senator McCain repeatedly says that extraneous items were never offered or put on the defense authorization bill, he's just clearly wrong," Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said yesterday.

He usually is.

Update: TPM finds even more examples of using the defense spending bill for extraneous amendments, including GOP efforts to ban Internet gambling and opening ANWR to oil drilling.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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TUESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* An anonymous donor has donated $1 million to Tea Party Patriots to help with midterm election activities. Dave Weigel reports, "Local groups -- 2,800 are eligible -- will fill out grants and the money will head out the door by October 4."

* Joe Miller, the extremist Republican nominee for Senate in Alaska, has railed against agriculture subsidies. He also received agriculture subsidies when he owned a farm in Kansas in the 1990s.

* In a poll likely to give many Senate Dems heart palpitations, a new Public Policy Polling survey John Raese (R) leading Gov. Joe Manchin (D) in West Virginia's U.S. Senate race, 46% to 43%.

* The poll comes on the heels of Manchin picking up the support of the national and West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, which don't usually think highly of Democrats.

* Despite scandals, incompetence, and misguided priorities, Sen. David Vitter (R) is cruising to re-election in Louisiana. The latest poll from Magellan Strategies shows him leading Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA) by 18 points, 52% to 34%.

* The latest DSCC ad is targeted far-right Senate hopeful Ken Buck (R) in Colorado, labeling the Republican "too extreme" for Colorado.

* Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett (R) appears to be pulling away in this year's gubernatorial race, with a new Quinnipiac poll showing him up by 15 over Dan Onorato (D), 54% to 39%.

* Republicans have eyed legendary Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) as possibly being vulnerable this year, but a Detroit News poll shows the incumbent leading his GOP challenger by 19, 49.3% to 30.3%.

* Massachusetts' gubernatorial race continues to be a competitive three-way contest. The latest Suffolk poll shows incumbent Gov. Deval Patrick (D) leading Charlie Baker (R) by seven, 41% to 34%. Independent Tim Cahill was third in the poll with 14%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

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A STRAIGHTFORWARD PATH TO A BALANCED BUDGET.... It's hardly a secret that the federal budget spends just a little bit more than it takes in, to the tune of about $1.3 trillion. The huge budget surplus Clinton bequeathed to Bush a decade ago -- remember when the debt clocks had to be shut down because they couldn't run backwards? -- seems like a distant memory.

Under the circumstances, it's worth emphasizing that concerns about the deficit are entirely misplaced. When the economy is struggling and unemployment is high, the reasonable thing to do is borrow money and invest in the economy.

Still, many Americans, especially on the right, have expressed an interest in getting the budget shortfall under control. Given the deficit's size, it seems daunting, if not impossible, to close the gap anytime soon. But Lori Montgomery notes today that there's actually a fairly straightforward path to a balanced budget -- it's just one voters and policymakers aren't willing to consider right now.

As lawmakers bicker over whether to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, not just for the middle class but also for the wealthy, many economists and budget analysts say there's a simple way to curb borrowing: Let the tax cuts expire for everyone.

Official and independent budget estimates show that letting tax rates spring back to pre-Bush levels for all taxpayers would bring the country within striking distance of meeting President Obama's goal of balancing the budget, excluding interest payments on the debt, by 2015.

"If we actually ended the Bush-era tax cuts, that would pretty much do it," Obama's recently departed budget director, Peter Orszag, said in an interview last week with CNN's Fareed Zakaria. "If you do a bit on the spending side and then end the tax cuts, you pretty much get there."

Congress wouldn't even have to do anything -- Republicans designed their own tax policy to have the lower rates expire at the end of the year. There wouldn't even be a filibuster to overcome, since doing nothing would let the '90s-era rates return on schedule.

For all of those conservative budget hawks out there, this should sound pretty appealing, right? By 2015, the only part of the deficit remaining would be interest on the debt.

I saw recently that the debt is allegedly the "Tea Partiers' top issue." Surely, then, they'd welcome this effective approach to deficit reduction, wouldn't they?

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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IN THE MONEY.... Given the way the political winds have been blowing, the assumption was that the Republican campaign committees would be collecting more contributions at this point than their Democratic counterparts.

Fortunately for Dems, that's not happening. Chris Cillizza noted this morning, "Despite facing a difficult electoral environment this fall, the three national Democratic campaign committees outraised their Republican counterparts in August, numbers that should provide something of a boost to the party's hopes of retaining control of the House and Senate this fall."

Under the circumstances, the fundraising totals are surprisingly good for the majority party. The DNC outraised the RNC by a $3 million margin. The DCCC reversed recent trends and brought in $8.3 million in August, as compared to the NRCC's $6.6 million. Among the Senate committees, the NRSC has a cash-on-hand edge that matters a great deal, but in August it was outraised, $7.4 million to $6 million. Cillizza concluded, that Democrats "are not only guaranteed to have a spending advantage in many of the most competitive races in the county but also could benefit from a bit of unexpected momentum just six weeks before the November midterms."

When it comes to campaign resources, for Dems, that's the good news. What's the bad news? There's a legion of well-funded, right-wing organizations taking in money hand over fist, and all of it will go to fund attack ads targeting Democrats.

Take Karl Rove's operation, for example.

Two affiliated groups led by a blue-chip cast of Washington Republican strategists have raised a combined $32 million so far this year, using new freedom from fundraising restrictions to create a parallel and unofficial Republican campaign to defeat Democrats in November.

American Crossroads and its political sibling, Crossroads GPS, raised about $14.5 million in the 30-day period that ended Sunday, a signal that their aggressive advertising and voter outreach in key Senate battleground states have struck a chord with Republican donors.

Justin Elliott added that new FEC filings show that American Crossroads "continues to be funded virtually entirely by billionaires."

All told, there's a flood of money being spent in the midterm election from "independent" groups, and 85% of the money is going to support Republican candidates.

If the cycle were simply a matter of Democratic efforts vs. Republican efforts, Dems have the resources necessary to mount a credible defense of their majority. But with conservative corporations and right-wing fat cats getting involved at levels unseen in the modern era, the Democratic fundraising edge over the GOP committees can only go so far.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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THE LEAST OF HER TROUBLES.... Christine O'Donnell, the extremist Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in Delaware, has quite a record of unhinged madness. Her background in having "dabbled into witchcraft," for example, and having a date on a "satanic altar" with "blood and stuff" seems to be generating quite a bit of interest.

That's not surprising, since most U.S. Senate candidates haven't "dabbled into witchcraft," but when looking at O'Donnell's genuinely scary worldview, there are other aspects that are even more disturbing.

"People are created in God's image," [O'Donnell said in 2006]. "Homosexuality is an identity adopted through societal factors. It's an identity disorder."

O'Donnell's suggestion that gays suffer from a psychological disorder is far worse than other comments about gays that have already gotten media attention, such as her claim that the government spent too much on AIDS and her insistence that "gays get away with so much."

While some have suggested that O'Donnell's craziest quotes came from obscure '90s-era activism, it's worth emphasizing that in 2006, while she was condemning gays as suffering from some kind of illness, O'Donnell was an announced U.S. Senate candidate. (She's run for the Senate three times in five years. Before 2010, O'Donnell was considered one of those crazy/fringe kooks who runs every cycle. This year, the Republican base decided to embrace her.)

O'Donnell's apparent background in embezzlement also seems pretty interesting.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, today filed a pair of complaints concerning Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell's use of more than $20,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses.

"Christine O'Donnell is clearly a criminal, and like any crook she should be prosecuted," CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a release. "Ms. O'Donnell has spent years embezzling money from her campaign to cover her personal expenses. Republicans and Democrats don't agree on much these days, but both sides should agree on one point: thieves belong in jail not the United States Senate."

If the thief has an "R" after his/her name, I think the Republican establishment would disagree.

Regardless, my point is not to defend O'Donnell on the witchcraft stuff; my point is that on the list of things that makes her look like a lunatic, "dabbling into witchcraft" would seem to rank fairly low.

Steve Benen 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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THE DREAM ACT'S BEST SHOT.... This afternoon, when the Senate moves to consider the defense authorization bill, it will mark a key turning point in the debate over "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." But it will also offer an opportunity to pass the Dream Act.

Obviously, Congress lacked the time to tackle a comprehensive immigration reform bill this year, a task that was made more difficult by Republicans rejecting their own ideas. But lawmakers can still make considerable progress on immigration policy by passing the Dream Act amendment to the military spending bill.

The Senate will consider Tuesday whether hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children should be placed on a path to citizenship.

The controversial measure is being pushed by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who bypassed usual Senate procedures by including it in a defense reauthorization bill.

Opponents consider the Dream Act a form of amnesty and have accused Reid and other Democrats of using it to appeal to Hispanic voters, an important constituency, as the midterm elections approach. Supporters, who include retired Gen. Colin L. Powell and other military officials, have argued that the measure is long overdue, humane and practical.

If politics made sense, the Dream Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act) would pass easily. It's sponsored by Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) -- i.e., it enjoys bipartisan support -- and is years in the making.

Every year, tens of thousands of young illegal immigrants graduate from American high schools, but are quickly stuck -- they can't qualify for college aid, and they can't work legally. America is the only home they've ever known -- in most cases, they were brought into the country illegally by their parents -- but at 18, they have few options.

The DREAM Act provides a path to citizenship for these young immigrants -- graduate from high school, get conditional permanent residency status, go to college or serve in the military, and become eligible for citizenship.

The measure will, of course, need 60 votes. In theory, that shouldn't be difficult. Not only is Lugar co-sponsoring the bill, but Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) helped write the policy a few years ago. Better yet, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), before his transformation into a right-wing hack, has not only supported the Dream Act for years, he even promised the National Council of La Raza two years ago that he would support the bill if elected president.

Now, however, as the GOP has moved even further to the hard-right, supporters of the Dream Act have become opponents. Hatch and McCain, for example, have done 180-degree turns without explanation. Some so-called "moderates" have decided to toe the right-wing line -- Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) has condemned the proposal as "amnesty" for illegal immigrants, despite the fact that it's not these kids' fault that they're undocumented. Some center-right Dems may balk at the policy, too.

Unlike DADT repeal, the Dream Act is not already in the defense bill, but teh Senate leadership hopes to add it as an amendment. It'll need 60 votes, but the odds aren't good.

If it fails, progress will likely be pushed off indefinitely, after expected Republican gains in the midterms.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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WITH SIX WEEKS TO GO.... Remember a couple of weeks ago, when Gallup's generic-ballot tracking poll showed Republicans leading Democrats by 10? It was billed as the GOP's biggest Gallup lead in the history of humanity, and the results generated massive media attention, including a stand-alone Washington Post piece on page A2. It was iron-clad evidence, we were told, of impending Democratic doom.

I strongly recommended caution -- Gallup's generic-ballot tracking poll has been erratic and unreliable. Both parties had built up big leads in recent months, only to see them quickly disappear, for no apparent reason. I made the case that inconsistent polls with bizarre swings are necessarily suspect, but the media had its narrative -- the GOP tsunami is coming -- and couldn't be bothered to consider whether the Gallup poll had merit.

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In the weeks since, the Republican lead vanished, then reappeared, then evaporated again. In the new poll released yesterday, Democrats have a one-point lead over Republicans, 46% to 45%. Dems who rejoice are making a mistake -- the moral of the story over the last several weeks is that Gallup's generic-ballot tracking poll just isn't telling us anything useful, no matter which party likes the results in any given week. The "caveat emptor" phrase was made for results like these.

I mention this, though, for two other reasons. The first is that the media's double standard is annoying. If Gallup results Republicans like are big news, the opposite should be true, too, but that doesn't appear to be the case. If major outlets are running stories this morning pointing to "resurgent Dems re-take the lead," I haven't seen them.

The second is that, while I think it wise to discount the Gallup generic-ballot tracking data, it's probably worth noting that the overall picture seems to have improved ever-so-slightly for Dems recently. Looking at the Pollster.com chart, at least as of this morning, Republicans have seen their national numbers dip just a little over the last couple of weeks, while Democratic numbers have inched a little higher. If one excludes Rasmussen results, the picture for Dems looks a little friendlier still.

The point, I suppose, is that the midterm cycle isn't finished just yet. I still believe the "enthusiasm gap" is the single most important factor in the elections, and if the Democratic base can bring itself to show up on Nov. 2, it has the potential to make a lot of pundits promising a GOP tidal wave look foolish.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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SENATE SHOWDOWN SET ON DADT, MILITARY FUNDING.... If the Senate follows its schedule today, in about six hours there will be a vote to advance the defense authorization bill. A spokesperson for the Palm Center, a University of California think tank dedicated to repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, said yesterday, "This is the most important vote in the history of the gay civil rights movement."

That may seem a little hyperbolic, but it's certainly right up there.

The bill should enjoy broad, bipartisan support. We are, after all, talking about a spending measure that funds the military during two wars. Senate Republicans are, however, going to filibuster the motion to proceed, preventing the chamber from even debating the bill, in large part because of a provision that would empower the administration to end discrimination against gay servicemen and women.

Democrats need 60 votes to overcome Republican obstructionism, led primarily by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). If 60 votes are there, passing the bill with the DADT provision appears very likely. If the 60 votes aren't there, Republicans will have blocked funding for the U.S. military during two wars, and will have very likely killed DADT repeal for the foreseeable future.

As of this morning, those 60 votes don't appear to be there. There's still some time, but the outlook isn't encouraging.

As mind-numbing as this may seem, "moderate" Republicans may end up killing DADT repeal over a procedural question -- how many amendments will be considered to the military spending bill.

On the surface, the dispute Monday centered less on the substance of the bill and more on a procedural question about how many amendments Republicans would be able to offer to the massive defense spending bill.

Two key senators thought to be open to repealing the ban on openly gay soldiers serving in the military -- Maine Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe -- complained Monday that Republicans were being shut out of the debate.

Collins "believes that our armed forces should welcome the service of any qualified individual who is willing and capable to serve our country," said spokesman Kevin Kelley. "She would like the Senate to proceed to a full and open debate on the defense authorization bill, with members able to offer amendments on all relevant issues."

Just so we're clear, there's a very real chance that senators like Collins and Snowe -- who claim to oppose the existing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law -- will allow servicemen and women to be thrown out of the military for the indefinite future over a procedural question. The Democratic leadership will allow three amendments; Republicans want more.

Also note, GOP senators like Collins and Scott Brown already supported the spending bill at the committee level. They would, in effect, be filibustering legislation that they've already voted for.

For what it's worth, pro-repeal activists were hard at work yesterday. Organizing for America has made its first foray into gay rights, rallying support for DADT repeal, and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network hosted a rally yesterday in Maine with entertainer Lady Gaga.

Will the efforts pay off? We'll know more in about six hours.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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September 20, 2010

MONDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Afghanistan's parliamentary elections on Saturday featured 309 violent incidents and 11 civilian deaths. Officials expected much worse, and "declared a semi-victory" over how smoothly the process went.

* Iraq: "Six car bombs detonated across Baghdad on Sunday and a suicide bomber blew up a car in nearby Fallujah, killing a total of 37 people and wounding more than 100 in the deadliest day of violence in Iraq since the United States announced the end of combat operations three weeks ago."

* BP's Macondo oil well really is dead. Good.

* It seems like a whole lot of apologies are in order (and then some): "The FBI improperly opened and extended investigations of some U.S. activist groups and put members of an environmental advocacy organization on a terrorist watch list, even though they were planning nonviolent civil disobedience, the Justice Department said Monday."

* Hurricane Karl kills three in Mexico, while a weakening Hurricane Igor bears down on Bermuda.

* Would the House really adjourn this week? It'd be the earliest adjournment in 50 years.

* It's frightening to see how anxious Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to initiate a military confrontation with Iran.

* If wealthy hedge fund managers are waiting for mainstream sympathy, they'll be waiting a long time.

* Why for-profit colleges are like a pack of smokes.

* Sign of the times: "Howard Fineman, one of the more recognizable pundits on cable television and a correspondent for Newsweek for 30 years, is leaving the magazine to become a senior editor at The Huffington Post."

* Who helped break the Senate? "Gingrich Senators" had a lot to do with it: "That is, almost all of the increased polarization in the Senate over the past three decades is due to House members elected since 1978 who have since migrated to the Senate."

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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'SMALL' BUSINESSES THAT AREN'T ESPECIALLY SMALL.... For quite a while, a standard Republican argument has been that allowing tax rates on the wealthy to expire on schedule would hurt small businesses. One silly far-right congressman went so far as to insist that the policy would increase taxes on 94% of America's small businesses. (It wouldn't.)

The Joint Committee on Taxation recently reported that only 3% of small businesses would be affected by the expiration of Bush-era top rates. Asked about this a week ago, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, "Well, it may be 3%, but it's half of small business income. Because, obviously, the top 3% have half of the gross income for those companies that we would term small businesses."

Is this right? The key part of Boehner's answer was those last few words: how Republicans "would term small businesses." The GOP definition includes entities that aren't "small," and aren't even necessarily "businesses."

Many of those 750,000 small businesses aren't small at all. Some, like Bechtel Corporation, are positively enormous.

The Democratic and Republican figures come from the non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation. But numerous think tanks and government organizations have examined the data and come to similar conclusions: First, that letting the Bush tax cuts on the top two brackets of "small-business" income would impact a tiny percentage of those businesses; and second, that many of the "small businesses" that would be impacted are actually giant companies -- which explains why such a tiny fraction of them can account for half of small business income.

Under the Republican definition of "small business," the GOP is fighting to protect companies like Wall Street buyout firm Kohlberg, Kravis and Roberts, "which recently reported more than $54 billion in assets managed by 14 offices around the world." PricewaterhouseCoopers, a massive international auditing firm, qualifies for the label, too. So does Tribune Corp., which owns the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun.

In many cases, we're not even talking about "businesses" at all.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell says President Barack Obama wants to subject half of all small-business income to a tax increase, a move that he says would strike a blow at the U.S. job-creation engine.

McConnell's numbers only add up if you consider people like billionaire investor George Soros, most movie stars and Obama himself small-business owners, tax experts say.

That's because the lawmaker is basing his figure on a broad definition of the term that experts say includes authors, actors and athletes who employ few if any workers. It also encompasses businesses that many people wouldn't consider small, such as Soros's hedge-fund firm and major law partnerships.

"Every student who is a part-time Web designer, partner in a law firm with a billion dollars of revenue and investor in a hedge fund gets lumped together in the data, along with real small businesses," said Ed Kleinbard, a former staff director of the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation and now a law professor at the University of Southern California. "We are being over-inclusive in our use of small-business income."

Well, we're not; Republican leaders who hope to deceive the public are.

As a member of George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers recently conceded, "How can it be that 3 percent of owners are accounting for 50 percent of small business income? Those firms they're owning can't be all that small.... They're very large."

Something to keep in mind when GOP lawmakers start lying again.

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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SCRUTINY AND 'NITPICKING' AREN'T THE SAME THING.... A leading far-right Republican this morning suggested like-minded Republican candidates will do just fine in November, so just long as voters overlook pesky Democratic "nitpicking."

Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), the chairman of the House Republican Conference, said that Democrats' efforts to home in on controversial statements by some GOP nominees would fall flat with voters come Election Day.

"I think that [voters] are going to see through this typical nitpicking and 'We're going to pull things out of context,' " Pence said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

I suppose some of these words have subjective qualities, but "nitpicking" tends to relate to inconsequential differences. If John Boehner said he wanted to cut a program by $1.7 billion, but a closer look showed it would cut $1.6 billion, Dems probably shouldn't raise much of a fuss. It would fit into the "nitpicking " category.

But nationwide, we're looking at a landscape in which high-profile Republicans, nominated to key offices, have said things that are stark raving mad. This is, alas, far too long to republish in a blog post, but most political observers shouldn't have to try too hard to think of some of the frightening pronouncements from GOP candidates -- just run through the greatest hits collections of extremists like Sharron Angle, Rand Paul, Christine O'Donnell, Ken Buck, Joe Miller, Pat Toomey, Ron Johnson, Tom Emmer, etc.

Flubbing a minor statistic is "nitpicking." Scrutinizing candidates who want to rewrite the Constitution, eliminate Social Security, gut the American health care system, and contemplate an armed insurrection against the United States government isn't "nitpicking."

Pence added, by the way, that O'Donnell "has an obligation to explain" her remarks about "dabbling" in witchcraft. That's not unreasonable, I suppose, but wouldn't that, in Pence's mind, count as "nitpicking," too?

Steve Benen 4:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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OBAMA ON GOP'S TAX DEMANDS: 'I DON'T HAVE THE MATH'.... President Obama participated in a town-hall discussion on the economy today on CNBC, and heard from some folks who weren't necessarily pleased with him.

But given the debate on Capitol Hill about tax policy, the president's remarks on the subject may have been the most noteworthy. "Here's what I can't do," Obama said. "I can't give tax cuts to the top 2% of Americans -- 86% of that money going people making $1 million or more -- and lower the deficit at the same time. I don't have the math.

"I'd love to do it. Anybody in elected office would love nothing more than to give everybody tax cuts -- not cut services, make sure that I'm providing help to student loans, make sure that we're keeping our roads safe and our bridges safe, make sure that we're paying for our veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. At some point, the numbers just don't work, so what I've said is very simple. Let's go ahead and move forward on what we agree to -- which is tax relief for 97% of Americans, in fact, everybody would get tax relief, just up to $250,000 a year or more -- and let's the economy moving faster. Let's get it growing faster.

"At some point in the future, if we want to have discussions about further lowering tax rates, let's do so at a time when we can actually afford it."

Watching this, my first instinct is to wonder whether the American public in general will find this persuasive, which is why it's probably worth re-emphasizing that they already do.

At the same event, the president took note of the ambiguities of the Tea Partiers' agenda. He summarized their pitch this way: "We're going to control government spending. We're going to propose $4 trillion in additional tax cuts and somehow magically this is all going to work." Obama would like to know if these same activists would want to cut veterans benefits, Social Security, and/or Medicare. "The challenge for the Tea Party movement is to identify what exactly would you do," he said.

Sounds like a challenge. What do you say, conservatives?

Steve Benen 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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CANTOR'S CONFUSED CASE.... House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) takes his case for more tax breaks for the rich to the Wall Street Journal today, hoping the public realizes why he and his Republican cohorts are going all out to protect millionaires from 1990s-era top rates.

Lest there be any doubt why we are so determined to fight -- instead of going quietly and giving President Obama his way before Congress bolts for the elections -- the GOP has two primary motivations. The first concerns the pain that tax increases threaten to inflict on our economy over the short term. The second is to stop the slide under our current leadership towards becoming a stagnant European-style welfare state with limited individual opportunity and entrepreneurship.

This is, by the way, the same dimwitted conservative who thought the debt crisis was so serious, the United States ran the risk of becoming Greece. Now, however, Cantor is on board with throwing billions of dollars onto the debt, just so long as it comes in the form of tax breaks for people who don't need them.

Cantor may or may not realize this, but what he's "determined to fight" is a modest increase in the top marginal rate. The tax burden facing all Americans would still be lower -- in many cases, quite a bit lower -- than during the Clinton era. Indeed, the Democratic plan to give the middle class a break would even benefit the rich on the first $250,000 of their income.

I don't imagine Cantor wrote the op-ed himself, but I'd be curious to see him defend it. A Clinton-era top rate would inflict "pain" so severe that it threatens the economy? No serious economist believes this. Indeed, if a Clinton-era top rate is such a killer, why did the economy thrive in the 1990s? For that matter, under the Obama tax policy, rates would still be lower than they were for most of Reagan's presidency. Does Cantor think Reagan-era tax rates were so confiscatory that they crushed America's economic dynamism?

What's more, Cantor's silly rhetoric about "a stagnant European-style welfare state" is just so tiresome. If Cantor wants to sit at the big kids' table, he's going to have to get over these cliches. A 39.6% top rate will not stifle "individual opportunity and entrepreneurship." I can say this with confidence because this and higher rates never undermined "individual opportunity and entrepreneurship" before.

I'd also love to know how Cantor explains the lost decade of the Bush/Cheney era. Republicans got the tax rates they wanted, the regulatory structure they wanted, the economic policies they wanted, and there was no hint of a "stagnant European-style welfare state." Nearly a decade of weak growth, stagnant wages, and non-existent job creation later, we know that Cantor's way simply doesn't work.

We tried it; it failed; there's no point in repeating failure and hoping for a different result. The fact that Cantor wants to hold middle-class breaks hostage in order to protect ineffective breaks for millionaires and billionaires tells us a great deal about his priorities, values, and understanding of the world around him.

Steve Benen 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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HOLD THE DAMN VOTES.... In light of the talk about nationalizing the midterm elections, maybe it's time to consider doing just that -- and making tax policy the center of the debate.

Republicans continue to make their demands clear. This morning, the party continued with its campaign to demand one up-or-down vote giving the GOP everything it wants -- the lower rates for the middle class that Democrats are demanding, and the breaks for the wealthy that Republicans are fighting for. The GOP fears that Democrats will either only bring middle-class breaks to the floor, or worse, that Dems might split the effort in two, with one vote for the middle class and another for the rich.

Greg Sargent sees this as an ideal fight for the congressional majority, especially in a cycle where national issues are dominating.

[T]he best way for Dems to nationalize the elections right now is for Congress to hold a vote on whether to extend the middle class tax cuts. If Dems did this, it would reinforce the national strategy that Dems already have in place: Making the case that a vote for the GOP is a vote to return to the Bush policies that ran the economy into the ground. [...]

[H]olding a vote on whether to extend the middle class tax cuts would dramatize the contrast between the national parties even more cleanly, forcing lawmakers to go on record choosing between Obama tax policy and Bush tax policy. Put simply, there is no better way of driving home the Dems' core message than to hold this vote.

If there's a flaw in Greg's reasoning, I don't see it. With Democrats already positioning themselves as champions of the middle class, and hoping to characterize Republicans as toadies for millionaires and corporate lobbyists, I continue to see this as a no-brainer.

Christina Bellantoni, meanwhile, reports that Senate Dems seem to have a plan in mind, which includes having the debate before the election. The gist of it is, Dems would bring middle-class cuts to the floor, perhaps as early as next week. If Republicans hold it hostage, Dems rejoice at the chance to use this as a campaign cudgel. If Republicans allow it to proceed, the GOP will fight to add an amendment to extend breaks to the wealthy. It would need 19 Dems to break ranks and get to 60 votes, which seems unlikely.

There's really nothing for Dems to be afraid of here. Just hold the damn votes.

Steve Benen 1:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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TAKING CREDIT FOR POLICIES THEY OPPOSED.... One of the more frustrating habits congressional Republicans have adopted is taking credit for Obama administration initiatives that the GOP either hated, tried to kill, or both. We've seen this several dozen times with the stimulus -- Republicans hated the Recovery Act, right up until they take credit for provisions in it that benefit their state or district.

This is also true for one of President Obama's biggest success stories: the rescue of the American auto industry. Zaid Jilani flags a great example of a Republican touting the same effort he trashed when it began.

General Motors recently announced that, thanks to federal efforts to keep the American auto industry from going under, it would be able to rehire 483 workers at its Spring Hill, Tennessee plant to manufacture "three variants of Ecotec four-cylinder engines." The $438 million arrangement will start producing engines for the Buick, Chevrolet, and GMC models by 2011.

As auto blog Jalopnik reports, the plant recently held a ceremony to welcome back the new workers to begin production of the Ecotec engines. Attending the ceremony were three local Republican legislators, Sens. Bob Corker, Lamar Alexander, and Rep. Marsha Blackburn. Ironically, all three of these lawmakers opposed the plans to save General Motors and other U.S. auto companies. This didn't stop Corker from taking credit for the federal rescue, anyway. At the event he claimed he "contributed to strengthening the auto industry in this country." Jalopnik reports that "irony of the Republican lawmakers' presence wasn't lost on the workers who attended the ceremony; they booed Tennessee Republican Bob Corker."

Corker deserved to be booed. When the administration first intervened to rescue the industry, Corker described the president's actions as "truly breathtaking" and said government ownership roles at Chrysler and GM "should send a chill through all Americans who believe in free enterprise."

He went on to characterize Obama's rescue effort as "a major power grab."

But now that we know Obama was right and Republicans were wrong (again), Corker wants to show up at a GM plant to take a bow. The plant wouldn't have existed if Corker had his way. GM might not even exist if we'd followed Corker's advice from 2009.

What's more, Corker keeps trying to claim credit for the president's success. In early August, the conservative senator boasted, "The ideas [Republicans] laid out there were followed through. I take some pleasure out of helping make that contribution."

It's a cheap, hack move. Corker hated the auto industry "bailout," and we now know he got it wrong. Pretending he supported Obama's move all along -- and that the president embraced Republicans ideas in the policy Republicans denounced -- is ridiculous.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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MONDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* In the last primary day of the year, Hawaii Democrats nominated Rep. Neil Abercrombie as their gubernatorial candidate, and he'll take on Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona (R) in November. Abercrombie cruised past former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann by more than 20 points.

* The back and forth between Jerry Brown and Bill Clinton appears to be over, with the former president announcing that he'll campaign in California next month, supporting the Dems' gubernatorial nominee.

* In Georgia's gubernatorial race, Rep. Nathan Deal (R) continues to struggle with the prospect of personal financial ruin around the time of the election.

* The DSCC has launched a new ad in Delaware, targeting Senate hopeful Christine O'Donnell's (R) record of fiscal irresponsibility, including failing to pay her taxes and hiring employees she later refused to pay.

* In Pennsylvania's Senate race, a new Times Leader poll shows former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) leading Rep. Joe Sestak (D) by four, 40% to 36%. Most recent polling has shown Toomey with much bigger leads.

* In California's Senate race, a new survey from Public Policy Polling shows incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) ahead by eight over failed former HP CEO Carly Fiorina (R), 50% to 42%.

* Arkansas continues to move sharply to the right, but Gov. Mike Beebe (D) isn't feeling the effects -- a Mason-Dixon poll shows the incumbent with a huge lead in his re-election bid.

* The Senate race in Utah was not expected to be competitive, and it's not -- a Deseret News poll shows Mike Lee (R) leading Sam Granato (D) by more than a two-to-one margin.

* And in the Values Voter Summit's 2012 presidential straw poll, House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) came out on top, edging out former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R).

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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THE RECESSION'S OVER?.... It's hard to take much solace from an "official" end to the recession when growth and job creation remain so weak, but the officials who serve as arbiters this morning made their announcement.

The recession officially ended in June 2009, according to the Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research, the official arbiter of such dates.

As many economists had expected, this official end date makes the most recent downturn the longest since World War II. This recent recession, having begun in December 2007, lasted 18 months. Until now the longest postwar recessions were those of 1973-5 and 1981-2, which each lasted 16 months.

Recession and expansion dates are based on various economic indicators, including gross domestic product, income, employment, industrial production and wholesale-retail sales. The Business Cycle Dating Committee typically waits to declare that the economy has turned until well after the fact, when it has a longer track record of economic data to confirm a new trend.

The NEBR added that while the recession ended in June '09, that doesn't mean economic health in July '09 -- the "official" end marks the point at which the economy began to turn around.

"In determining that a trough occurred in June 2009, the committee did not conclude that economic conditions since that month have been favorable or that the economy has returned to operating at normal capacity," the bureau said. "Rather, the committee determined only that the recession ended and a recovery began in that month."

I don't imagine many folks will be especially excited by the announcement -- indeed, much of the country likely perceives the recession as ongoing -- but when it comes to official measurements, I suppose it's at least somewhat encouraging to know the modest, slow recovery began about six months after the Recovery Act started pumping capital into the economy.

As for the debate over tax rates, the argument that we can't allow higher rates* to return for the wealthy in "the middle of a recession" is wrong for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that this isn't "the middle of a recession."

* fixed

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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STEVE KING EYES SHUTDOWN, DEMANDS 'BLOOD OATH' FROM BOEHNER.... Last week, we expanded our list of Republicans eyeing a government shutdown in the event of a House GOP majority. The list, however, keeps growing.

Roll Call reports today that Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) wants his party's leadership to sign a "blood oath" that they will include a repeal of the Affordable Care Act in every appropriations bill next year, even if it leads to a government shutdown.

King said the problem in 1995 wasn't the government shutdown under President Bill Clinton -- which occurred after Republicans attached Medicare cuts and other items to spending bills -- it was that Republicans blinked when they feared the polls were turning against them.

"We must not blink," he said, noting that money cannot be spent without the House voting to pass it. "If the House says no, it's no."

Their new tea party backers won't tolerate anything less than a full repeal of the health care law, he said.

"They will leave us if we go wobbly," he said. "I am worried about that, but that's why I think it's got to be a blood oath."

Faiz Shakir has more on this.

The Roll Call report gets back to something we've been covering for a while now. There's every reason to believe John Boehner knows that another government shutdown would be a disaster, would do his party no favors, and he'd be wise to avoid one.

But the party is already backing itself into a corner. The House Minority Leader has already said scrapping the entire health care reform law is his top priority, and Boehner's caucus -- and the party base -- will expect follow-through. Boehner could pass a repeal bill in the House, but after it failed in the Senate or got vetoed, he wouldn't be able to say, "Well, we gave it a shot; let's move on to other issues now." It's too late for that -- defunding the law is already far too popular within the GOP. There's an expectation that the fight has to happen.

King is demanding a "blood oath" to ensure it does happen.

Josh Marshall noted a couple of weeks ago, "When I first heard this talk of another 'government shutdown' in 2011, I figured it was just Democrats whipping it up as a cudgel for the election. Then I heard Republicans talking about it too. But I still figured it was just a way of ratcheting up their own core voters -- who of course loved the first one too."

But those perceptions are changing quickly, and for good reason. This really isn't manufactured drama -- much of the Republican Party is intent on making this happen. It's why talk of a shutdown is already being pushed by a House Republican leader (Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia); a Republican Senate candidate (Joe Miller of Alaska); a Republican House candidate (Teresa Collett of Minnesota); and a variety of prominent Republican voices (Newt Gingrich, Dick Morris, and Erick Erickson).

It's not theater; it's not posturing; it's not an idle pre-election threat. Voters should appreciate how serious this is before heading to the polls.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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MARRIAGE EQUALITY GAINING SUPPORT.... About a month ago, a national CNN poll asked respondents, "Do you think gays and lesbians should have a constitutional right to get married and have their marriage recognized by law as valid?" A 52% majority agreed that they should -- one of the first, if not the first, national polls to offer such a result.

Now, an AP poll offers similar results.

A new AP-GfK Poll finds that 52% of Americans support the rights of same-sex couples to marry. It's the second national poll to have found majority support for gay marriage in the last two months.

In fairness, the wording of the question(s) in the AP poll wasn't quite as straightforward as the CNN poll. The first question asked, "Should couples of the same sex be entitled to the same government benefits as married couples of the opposite sex, or should the government distinguish between them?" A 58% majority said yes, same-sex couples should be entitled to the same benefits.

The second question asked, "Should the federal government give legal recognition to marriages between couples of the same sex, or not?" Here, a 52% majority said yes.

"Legal recognition" can have different meanings, but the question also included the words "marriages between couples of the same sex."

Either way, the larger trend is unmistakable -- American attitudes on marriage equality have changed steadily for many years, and the arc is bending towards justice.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (7)

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HAVEN'T THE ELECTIONS ALREADY BEEN NATIONALIZED?.... The New York Times reports today that White House officials, still hoping to "alter the course of the midterm elections," are considering an ad campaign that would "cast the Republican Party as all but taken over by Tea Party extremists."

Depending on the specifics of the ad, that might be a good idea. (I assume that the ads wouldn't come from the White House -- which doesn't run ads -- but rather, the DNC.) Much of the country may still not know much about the anti-government zealots shaking up Republican politics, but mainstream voters may think twice about backing GOP candidates if they perceived these Republicans are catering to the demands of fringe extremists.

The article notes, however, that congressional Democrats aren't sure about the idea.

Democrats are divided. The party's House and Senate campaign committees are resistant, not wanting to do anything that smacks of nationalizing the midterm elections when high unemployment and the drop in Mr. Obama's popularity have made the climate so hostile to Democrats.

That sentence may accurately reflect Democratic fears, but it doesn't make a lot of sense. The midterms have already been largely nationalized -- that is, voters' focus is less on local issues and more on national ones -- as evidenced by the "climate so hostile to Democrats." The cycle is likely to be awful for Dems precisely because national issues -- most notably the struggling economy -- are already driving public attitudes.

So why fear tactics that would nationalize elections that have already been nationalized? Indeed, the opposite attitude might yet make a difference -- tying Republican candidates in competitive races to an unpopular national GOP, unpopular Bush/Cheney agenda, unpopular Party of Palin, and an unpopular wish-list including shutting down the government and gutting Social Security, might well give Dems a boost.

Efforts to prevent a nationalized cycle have already failed. So why not play the strongest hand?

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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MILLER HELPS PROVE MURKOWSKI'S POINT.... Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) of Alaska, who announced late on Friday that she's seeking re-election as a write-in candidate, appeared on CNN yesterday and offered a hint about the kind of message she'll be pushing over the next six weeks.

Republican nominee Joe Miller, Murkowski said, is pushing "some pretty radical things.... He has taken an approach that is just, plain and simple, more radical than where the people of the state of Alaska are." She specifically referenced her opponent's desire to eliminate Social Security and Medicare.

Around the same time, Miller appeared on Fox News and reiterated his opposition to Social Security and Medicare, preferring a system in which he "can put my money where the government can't steal it."

What's more, host Chris Wallace noted new data showing 43.6 million Americans living in poverty, and asked the extremist candidate how he would go about helping them. Miller replied by talking about a national debt he considers "unsustainable."

So, Wallace asked again about what Miller would like to do, if anything, about the tens of millions of Americans in poverty. Miller complained that Americans have "an entitlement mentality" that includes a safety net. The would-be senator wants to replace the entire system of government as it currently exists, and create a system more in line with his interpretation of the 10th Amendment.

In other words, when Wallace asked what Miller would do in the Senate to look out for the interests of poverty-stricken American families, the answer was surprisingly simple: nothing.

Indeed, that may be giving Miller too much credit. Given that he wants to do away with unemployment aid altogether, and those benefits saved millions from poverty, Miller actually wants to increase the number of Americans living in poverty.

Did I mention that Miller is currently the frontrunner in a U.S. Senate race this year? And he enjoys the backing of the entire Republican Party establishment?

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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PRESIDENTIAL CHURCH ATTENDANCE REPORTS.... Are we really back to presidential church attendance reports? Apparently so.

President Obama publicly attended church Sunday morning for the first time in nearly six months, and shortly after a major survey showed that only a third of Americans can correctly identify Obama's faith as Christian.

The first family attended the 9 a.m. service at St. John's Church Lafayette Square, an Episcopal congregation about a block from the White House.

The Obamas -- the president, first lady Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha -- made the trip on foot.

The family sat a few rows from the altar, among roughly 40 worshippers. Each family member received communion, led by the president.

I found these reports unnecessary when they first started popping up nearly two years ago, and they seem no more appropriate now.

Ben Smith, who seems to have an ongoing interest in the subject, wrote yesterday that the president's Christianity "was a key part of his pitch and distinguished him from more secular Democrats, and the notion that he only went to church very occasionally -- which has been true since anyone started paying attention to him -- would have undercut that. He is, on the other hand, reluctant to ostentatiously fake a devotion to organized religion that he's never had before. It's a difficult political situation because the contradiction isn't resolved, or really soluble."

I look at this very differently. Indeed, I see no inherent "contradiction," and find no reason to believe the president's commitment to his faith is "undercut" by his irregular church attendance. Theologically, a person can be devout without regularly visiting houses of worship. This is especially true of presidents, who are all-too aware of the logistical burdens placed on churches when they visit.

What's especially irksome about all of this coverage is what strikes me as a partisan double standard. Reagan used religiosity as part of his message to voters, but rarely, if ever, bothered to attend services during his two terms. George W. Bush incorporate faith heavily into his political life, but Bush rarely went to church and never became a formal member of a congregation during his eight years in Washington.

And yet, I think it's fair to say neither of these Republican presidents faced the kind of scrutiny Obama is receiving. Maybe that's because there was no unhinged campaign to convince Americans that Reagan and Bush were secretly members of some other faith, but that's hardly an excuse for credible media outlets to care.

If Obama had pledged as a candidate to attend weekly services, I could see his Sunday schedules being of interest. But since that isn't the case, coverage of the president's worship routine continues to seem out of place.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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GETTING TO GRADUATION.... Here's another reminder about an event, scheduled for tomorrow, that we talked about last week.

The Obama administration has repeatedly identified the scandalously low graduation rates of certain public high schools, dubbed "dropout factories," as a key barrier to opportunity. The good news is that a handful of districts have measurably improved their graduation rates, and any district with the right leadership can do the same. The bad news is that many students who do manage to graduate from the lowest-performing high schools are shunted into colleges where the failure rates are even worse. Confronting these "college dropout factories" is essential to meeting the President's goal of regaining America's international lead in college graduation by 2020.

On September 21st, Washington Monthly and Education Sector will sponsor a two-part discussion called "Getting to Graduation." The first panel will feature leading researchers, policymakers and foundation leaders discussing the findings of a Washington Monthly special report "Fighting the High School Dropout Crisis." The second panel will include high-level congressional and administration officials along with the president of an innovative new university. It will focus on the recently published Washington Monthly College Guide and will address how the administration can keep the education pipeline flowing all the way to college graduation and beyond.

When:
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
8:30 AM to 12:15 PM (EDT)
Registration and Refreshments (8:30 - 9:00 AM)

Where:
Resources for the Future Conference Center
1400 16th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
(closest Metro: Dupont Circle)

Also note, unlike many of our events, this one will not have a live webcast, but we intend to post a video when it's available, after the event.

Steve Benen 7:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (1)

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September 19, 2010

A COMPELLING CASE.... There was an interesting item in The Hill last night noting that White House officials, most notably President Obama and Vice President Biden, are "concerned that liberals disappointed with Obama's policies might stay home this November," and are taking steps they hope will prevent a disaster.

Adding Elizabeth Warren to the president's team might help, and it probably wasn't a coincidence that when Biden raised his profile, he was sure to spend quite a bit of time with Rachel Maddow. Indeed, during the interview, he specifically told "our progressive base... you should not stay home." The V.P. added, "You better get energized, because the consequences are serious for the outcome of the things we care most about."

The next question, then, is how to get the left energized before the well-documented enthusiasm gap moves Congress sharply to the far-right. In the midst of a campaign, there are generally two choices, energize the base by: (a) pointing to a record of accomplishment or (b) pointing out the radical qualities of the other side. Republicans are excelling exclusively on the latter; for Dems it's more complicated.

The majority party shouldn't have too much trouble reminding the Democratic rank-and-file about the threat posed by radicalized Republicans -- by nominating so many hysterical extremists, the GOP has made that task easier. Besides, as we continue to struggle with crises left over from the Bush/Cheney era, the stench of Republican failure is still very much in the air.

But what about the record of the last 20 months? I've long believed, and continue to believe, that there's a chasm between perceptions and reality when it comes to the White House's policy accomplishments. Ezra Klein had an item the other day that rang true to me, and I hope he won't mind if I quote it at length.

The White House held a conference call today for Elizabeth Warren and various bloggers and writers. Most of it was what you'd expect, but Warren did mention that Rep. Barney Frank once told her that getting a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was a "pipe dream."

I think some people will see that as a mark against Frank, but he was right, at least judging by Washington's record over the previous 20 or 30 years. In fact, a lot of the Obama administration's accomplishments were pipe dreams.

A near-universal health-care system? Why would Obama and the Democrats succeed when Truman, Nixon, Carter, and Clinton had all failed, and politicians as adept as FDR and LBJ refused to even make the attempt? They've seen the numbers, right? The health-care industry is bigger now, and richer, and there are no more liberal Republicans. There's no way.

A $787 billion stimulus? Yes, it was too small. But everything Washington does is always too small. And within the confines of that stimulus, the Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress managed to make a host of long-term investments that would've been considered huge accomplishments in any other context, but are largely unknown inside this one. Huge investments in green energy, in health information technology, in high-speed rail, in universal broadband, in medical research, in infrastructure. The Making Work Pay tax cut. The Race to the Top education reform program. No recent president has invested in the country on anything like that level.

If voters who backed Obama two years ago are prepared to make an evaluation based on accomplishments, and decide whether to vote in 2010 accordingly, the White House has a compelling case to make, the popularity of these successes notwithstanding.

As unsatisfying as it seems to grade on a curve, it's worth noting that while Obama took office with sky-high expectations, he was also against the backdrop of a country that was practically in free fall. Arguably no president in American history started his first day with a list like this: the Great Recession, two deadly wars, a jobs crisis, a massive deficit and budget mess, crushing debt, a health care system in shambles, a climate crisis, an ineffective energy policy, an equally ineffective immigration policy, a housing crisis, the U.S. auto industry on the verge of collapse, a mess at Gitmo, a severely tarnished global reputation, an executive branch damaged by corruption, incompetence, and mismanagement, and an angry, deeply divided electorate.

The president was told to clean all of this up, quickly, without the benefit of a minority party willing to play a constructive role. And just to make things really interesting, Obama was also told that for the first time in the history of the United States, every initiative he came up with would need mandatory supermajorities just to pass the Senate.

And despite all of this, what have seen? The Affordable Care Act, the Recovery Act, Wall Street reform, student loan reform, Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, new regulation of the credit card industry, new regulation of the tobacco industry, a national service bill, expanded stem-cell research, nuclear arms deal with Russia, a new global nonproliferation initiative, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and the most sweeping land-protection act in 15 years.

But what about the unpopularity of the Democratic successes? Why are Democrats understandably reluctant to run on the most successful two years of policymaking in decades?

The White House's message machine has often fallen far short of late, but part of me thinks the pitch at this point should go something like this: we were moving in the wrong direction, but we've made some unpopular moves to get back on track.

It's like a recovery from a serious illness -- you feel miserable, the medicine tastes awful, and the shots hurt. You're left frustrated, weak, and maybe even embarrassed. The physical therapy and recovery process takes too long and leaves you wondering if it's even worth it.

But it is. Recovery happens. It wasn't pleasant, and the illness wasn't your fault, but you make progress and you get better, even if there are times when that seems that's unlikely.

Getting back on your feet and thriving again may seem like a "pipe dream," but once the toughest moves are behind you, real progress lies ahead -- that is, unless you decide to go back to the quacks who got you sick in the first place.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (131)

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THE LIMITED VALUE OF VAGUE ADVICE.... Former Secretary of State Colin Powell (R) appeared on "Meet the Press" this morning, and suggested he'd like to see President Obama "shift the way in which he has been doing things."

"I think the American people feel that too many programs have come down," Powell said on NBC's Meet the Press. "There are so many rocks in our knapsack now that we're having trouble carrying it. I think the president has to, like a razor blade, just go right after the single issue that is uppermost in the minds of the American people, and that's employment. And he's done a lot with health care, with cap-and-trade, with education. And I understand the importance of all of that.

"But as far as the American People are concerned, the main attack is employment.... I think he has lost some of the ability to connect that he had during the campaign. And it is not just me picking on the President. It's reflected in the polling."

In terms of the "ability to connect," a weak economy obviously puts a strain on public support for the president. I suspect as the jobs picture improves, so too will Obama's "ability to connect." In other words, it likely has far less to do with the president's style and far more to do with the larger circumstances.

But more specifically, Powell's advice about focusing on job creation isn't wrong; it's just vague. There's nothing wrong with urging Obama to put unemployment at the top of the to-do list -- I'd argue the White House has implicitly done this from the outset -- but in order for the suggestion to have real value, it needs some degree of detail.

Obama should "go right after" unemployment. Great idea. How should he do that? The president has called for a major investment in infrastructure, which would create jobs, and which Republicans have already vowed to kill. The president called for a small-business-incentives bill, which would create jobs, and which Republicans deliberately delayed for months as part of a campaign strategy. The president has called for a major overhaul in U.S. energy policy, which would create a lot of jobs, and which Republicans have already successfully killed.

Notice the pattern here? Obama is taking an active approach to job creation, and offering ideas with merit, but it's running into a brick wall of knee-jerk Republican opposition, which, despite being in the minority, has the tools to bring the policymaking process to a halt.

Indeed, the GOP is instead offering an alternative -- a Bush-era tax policy that already failed to create jobs.

Powell's advice isn't wrong, it's just misdirected. Instead of urging President Obama to focus more heavily on job creation, perhaps Powell could use his credibility and stature to publicly call on his Republican Party to stop standing in the way of economic progress.

Steve Benen 10:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... Arguably the Senate's most right-wing member, Sen. Jim DeMint (R) of South Carolina, argued on CNN this morning that his party was way too liberal when it was in the majority, but it'll do better next time.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said the Republican Party -- even if it regains control only of the House -- is "dead" unless it follows Americans' demands to rein in government spending.

"I came into the Senate in the majority, Candy. Fifty-five senators, large majority in the House, Bush in the White House, and Republicans didn't do what we said we were going to do," DeMint said on CNN's "State of the Union." "We spent too much, we borrowed too much. And frankly, if we get the majority again, even if it's just in the House, and we don't do what we say, I think the Republican Party is dead."

DeMint added, "[T]he urgency for me here is the Democrat Party [sic] -- and I know this sounds partisan but -- are [sic] completely dysfunctional. They're the left of Europe."

Now, as a matter of international standards of government, Jim DeMint just isn't very bright. His grammar needs some work, too.

But the larger point is that DeMint, something of a kingmaker in recent GOP primaries, is absolutely convinced of two things: (1) the Republican Party of the Bush/Cheney era was recklessly liberal; and (2) the American electorate would be thrilled when the GOP governs as radical conservatives dismantling much of United States government.

It's his right-wing vision, DeMint added, that is "kind of uniting America."

I'd love to see DeMint put that to the test in a more straightforward way. Why not go into specifics, telling voters before the election precisely how hysterically conservative Republicans would govern if given a chance? If a reactionary, right-wing vision of the country is "kind of uniting America," and the Republican Party has been just too darn liberal to win elections, why not share the details of that vision and try to reap the rewards?

Steve Benen 9:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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A MEMORABLE PERFORMANCE BECOMES A MEMORABLE AD.... It's been about two weeks since Arizona's first and last debate for this year's gubernatorial candidates, and state Attorney General Terry Goddard (D) hopes to remind voters what we learned about Jan Brewer (R) during the event.

As you may recall, Brewer drew a blank during her opening statement, struggling badly to explain what she's done in office over the last couple of years. Emphasizing her painful silence, this Goddard ad shines a light on some of Arizona's more pressing problems, juxtaposing the governor's debate confusion with her inability to address state issues.

"Is this the best Arizona can do?" is the hard-hitting tag line.

What's more, Brewer's now-notorious debate performance is the subject of two other Goddard campaign ads, including her debunked arguments about immigrant "beheadings," which led to an embarrassing moment for the governor after the debate.

Will an ad like this make a difference? It's hard to say. There hasn't been much in the way of polling in Arizona lately, so we don't really have a sense if the debate made any impact with voters at all. For that matter, the GOP base has come to see Brewer as a hero after she signed Arizona's anti-immigrant bill into law, and that alone is likely to keep her in office, whether she's up to the job or not. It's safe to assume she remains the clear frontrunner in the race.

But moments like Brewer's debate freeze don't come along often. If anything can raise public doubts about her abilities, this has a chance.

Steve Benen 9:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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MAYBE THEY'LL WORK ON 'TEA PARTY UNITY' SOME OTHER TIME.... Way back in February, a right-wing group called Tea Party Nation organized its first national event, hosting a convention in Nashville. It wasn't especially well attended -- despite paying former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R) a reported $100,000, only about 600 people showed up.

So, organizers decided to give it another shot, scheduling the National Tea Party Unity convention for July. Just two weeks before its kickoff, organizers announced that the Unity event had been postponed until October 14.

Of course, that's less than a month away. How's the event shaping up? As Raven Brooks discovered, it's not.

[M]y first stop was a Google search to find their web site. I found it, but this link should speak for itself. Check out nationalteapartyconvention.com. Oh you got a page not found error? Well there's nothing wrong with your browser, the site doesn't exist anymore. And there's absolutely zero media or blog coverage of the event since they announced the dates were changing. Not really what you'd expect for an event featuring Sharron Angle, Lou Dobbs, Joseph Farah, and Andrew Breitbart is it?

Well it gets better. I wanted to make sure the convention really was canceled and they weren't just having web issues or neglected to do any PR for their event. So I put in a call to the Mirage hotel and asked if I could book a room in their block for the event. Turns out the room block had been canceled and the Mirage had no record of the event.

In other words, it's another bust. Tea Party Nation has now tried three times to organize a national convention for activists, and it's failed three times.

I think the larger lesson here is that there is such a thing as too many gatherings. This so-called "movement" has no formal leadership, structure, agenda, or membership -- which in turn makes organizing kind of tricky -- but it keeps scheduling event after event. Some are billed as Tea Party rallies, while others are just rallies for Tea Partiers, but looking back over the last 17 months or so, the number of get-togethers intended to be national in scope has to be well over a dozen.

Is it any wonder that gathering fatigue has set in? I've never even heard of a movement trying to organize so many national events in such close proximity to one another, and actually expecting folks to show up.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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GINGRICH DEMANDS LEGISLATION TO ADDRESS IMAGINARY THREAT.... Remember, as far as the media establishment goes, disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) is a "visionary" worthy of respect, despite his frequent slips into madness.

[P]erhaps the former House Speaker's loudest applause [at the Values Voter Summit] came when he weighed in on the controversial Islamic center and Mosque proposed to be built near Ground Zero, declaring, "We as Americans don't have to tolerate people who are supportive of violence against us, building something at the site of the violence."

"This is not about religious liberty, if they want to build that mosque in the South Bronx, frankly they need the jobs," he continued. "But I am totally opposed to any effort to impose Sharia on the United States, and we should have a federal law that says under no circumstance, in any jurisdiction in the United States, will Sharia be used in any court to apply to any judgment made about American law."

Note the classic non-sequitur -- converting a clothing store into a community center, in Newt's twisted mind, is part of an effort to impose Sharia on the United States. At least, that is, what he wants his easily-confused audience to believe.

But I'm especially impressed with the legislation Gingrich wants to see. To hear him tell it, we need a law to prevent U.S. courts from basing rulings on Sharia. Are there any U.S. courts doing this? Well, no. Have there ever been any U.S. courts doing this? Nope, not one. Is there any evidence at all to suggest U.S. courts might ever do this? Not even a little. This is the talking point of fringe, unhinged radicals.

But Gingrich wants a law anyway. I was disappointed he didn't also call for a federal law that says, under no circumstances, will Bigfoot be allowed to run for Congress. Also, unicorns must not be permitted to roam the streets, and flying saucers must not land within 100 yards of a school. We must think of the children, you know.

The disgraced former Speaker added that the Democrats' "secular socialist machine" is comparable to "radical Islamists," and that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius relies on "the spirit of Soviet tyranny."

Major media outlets, however, have no qualms about considering Gingrich a credible, mainstream figure.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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September 18, 2010

NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME -- OR SUNDAY MORNING.... In May, right-wing ophthalmologist Rand Paul, shortly after winning Kentucky's Republican Senate primary, agreed to appear on "Meet the Press." Upon realizing the candidate might be asked to explain his extremist ideology, the Rand campaign quickly walked away from the commitment.

Four months later, right-wing activist Christine O'Donnell, shortly after winning Delaware's Republican Senate primary, agreed to appear on "Face the Nation" and "Fox News Sunday." And wouldn't you know it, after realizing O'Donnell may be asked about her witchcraft-dabbling, gay-hating, anti-masturbation-crusading, delusion-sharing background, the Republican nominee discovered she has other plans tomorrow.

Yes, just one day before her scheduled appearances, O'Donnell backed out.

Campaign spokeswoman Diana Banister cited scheduling conflicts and said O'Donnell needed to return to Delaware for commitments to church events and afternoon picnic with Republicans in a key county where she has solid backing.

"Tomorrow the priorities are back in Delaware," Banister said. "Those are people who supported her, who were very helpful to her in the campaign, and she feels obligated to be there and thank them."

The campaign spokesperson added, "We felt really bad."

Of course.

It's one thing to duck "Face the Nation"; Bob Schieffer leans to the right, but he's a media professional who would have asked real questions. But O'Donnell also bailed on Fox News, suggesting either she, her team, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, or some combination of the three aren't even confident in her ability to handle questions from a Republican cable network.

Noting recent examples -- Palin, Angle, et al -- David Kurtz added, "It's become a staple of the tea party candidacy. You make a big splash onto the national stage then quickly retreat from any press scrutiny because you are so unprepared and ill-equipped for the rigors of the job that tough questions will expose you as the charlatan you are."

It's worth noting that Chris Coons, the sane candidate who's on track to defeat Christine O'Donnell, hasn't been invited onto any of the Sunday shows, even after her cancellations. Imagine that.

Steve Benen 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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THE TREE OF CRAZY, ITS DEEP ROOTS, AND ITS NEW BRANCHES.... The Tea Party crowd, its candidates, and its zealotry are often treated as a fairly new phenomenon. Glenn Greenwald had an item the other day arguing that this is a mistaken impression -- there's nothing new about this.

The "tea party" movement is, in my view, a mirror image of the Republican Party generally. There are some diverse, heterodox factions which compose a small, inconsequential minority of it (various libertarian, independent, and Reagan Democrat types), but it is dominated -- in terms of leadership, ideology, and the vast majority of adherents -- by the same set of beliefs which have long shaped the American Right: Reagan-era domestic policies, blinding American exceptionalism and nativism, fetishizing American wars, total disregard for civil liberties, social and religious conservatism, hatred of the minority-Enemy du Jour (currently: Muslims), allegiance to self-interested demagogic leaders, hidden exploitation by corporatist masters, and divisive cultural tribalism. [...]

To me, it's little more than the same extremely discredited faction which drove the country into the ground for the last decade, merely re-branded under a new name.... Tea Party extremism isn't an aberration from what the GOP has been; it's perfectly representative of it, just perhaps expressed in a less obfuscated and more honest form.

This strikes me as both fair and accurate. Last year, Rick Perlstein had a terrific piece emphasizing a similar point -- the right's "tree of crazy" has been around for a long while, and far-right conservatives of recent eras have been every bit as hysterical, irresponsible, and ridiculous as the ones we see today. Assuming this is some kind of break with the past is a mistake.

Nixon, after becoming Ike's vice president, said Republicans "found in the files a blueprint for socializing America" in the White House, left over from Truman. Civil rights leaders were accused of being part of a Soviet plot. The Civil Rights Act was believed to be intended to "enslave" whites. A prominent right-wing radio host insisted that JFK was building a political prison in Alaska to detain critics of the administration. When FDR proposed Social Security, the conservatives of the era not only screamed about "socialism," but told the public Roosevelt would force Americans to wear dog tags.

In 1961, Ronald Reagan was absolutely convinced that Medicare would lead federal officials to dictate where physicians could practice medicine, and open the door to government control over where Americans were allowed to live. In fact, Reagan warned that if Medicare became law, there was a real possibility that the federal government would control where Americans go and what they do for a living.

When we hear Michele Bachmann's hysterical nonsense, then, it's worth remembering that it's an echo of rhetoric that began decades ago.

But since reading Glenn's fine piece the other day, I've been thinking about why today seems different -- or more to the point, worse.

Noting Glenn's item, digby raised a good point.

One thing to remember, however --- while these people have been around forever, this is the first time they have become a truly powerful institutional force in the Republican party. They have moved smartly into the vacuum left by the Cheney failure and they have done it in a time of crisis, which gives them opportunities they wouldn't normally have. They are more dangerous today than usual and if they win these seats this fall they cause some very serious trouble.

That rings true, too. We have to go back many years, but there was a moderate, pragmatic wing of the Republican Party. In 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower (R) wrote a letter to his brother. "Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history," Ike said. The president acknowledged in the letter that there are some who advocate such nonsense, but added, "Their number is negligible and they are stupid."

A half-century later, Republicans from the base to Capitol Hill are convinced Eisenhower was stupid. Hell, Ronald Reagan raised taxes in seven out of the eight years in office, approved "amnesty" for immigrants who entered the country illegally, and met with our most hated enemy without preconditions. When Lindsey Graham said Reagan "would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today," it seemed like a very reasonable assessment.

The point isn't that the Republican fringe is new; it's clearly not. The point is that the Republican fringe is now the Republican mainstream -- and that is new. We've long seen a party with bizarre theocrats, Birchers, and the like, but they were always kept on the periphery. That's no longer the case.

I also believe today seems different from previous generations because of the decline of American journalism. More from Pearlstein's piece:

Conservatives have become adept at playing the media for suckers, getting inside the heads of editors and reporters, haunting them with the thought that maybe they are out-of-touch cosmopolitans and that their duty as tribunes of the people's voices means they should treat Obama's creation of "death panels" as just another justiciable political claim. If 1963 were 2009, the woman who assaulted Adlai Stevenson would be getting time on cable news to explain herself. That, not the paranoia itself, makes our present moment uniquely disturbing.

It used to be different. You never heard the late Walter Cronkite taking time on the evening news to "debunk" claims that a proposed mental health clinic in Alaska is actually a dumping ground for right-wing critics of the president's program, or giving the people who made those claims time to explain themselves on the air. The media didn't adjudicate the ever-present underbrush of American paranoia as a set of "conservative claims" to weigh, horse-race-style, against liberal claims. Back then, a more confident media unequivocally labeled the civic outrage represented by such discourse as "extremist" -- out of bounds.

The tree of crazy is an ever-present aspect of America's flora. Only now, it's being watered by misguided he-said-she-said reporting and taking over the forest. Latest word is that the enlightened and mild provision in the draft legislation to help elderly people who want living wills -- the one hysterics turned into the "death panel" canard -- is losing favor, according to the Wall Street Journal, because of "complaints over the provision."

Good thing our leaders weren't so cowardly in 1964, or we would never have passed a civil rights bill -- because of complaints over the provisions in it that would enslave whites.

I'd add just one related note. In previous generations, the American Right still had to contend with some accurate information. That's no longer the case -- a Republican activist can listen to talk radio during the day, listen to Fox News after work, read right-wing blogs with breakfast, and hang out with Tea Partiers over the weekend. It's possible, if not easy, for a conservative to come in contact with literally no accurate, objective journalism.

And as more and more of the right falls into this category, it makes it easier for fringe extremists to grow in number, to the point that they can take over a major political party, and purge it of those who fail to fully embrace their worldview.

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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GOP FOLLOWERS NOT ENTHRALLED BY GOP LEADERS.... There have been quite a few polls recently showing that the Republican Party is likely to make significant gains in the midterm elections, but the party remains deeply unpopular nationwide. One new poll, however, shows the men who hope to be Speaker and Senate Majority Leader aren't popular either -- even with Republicans.

The Democrats' campaign to keep John Boehner from becoming the next Speaker of the House may be resonating — with Republicans, anyway.

A new Public Policy Polling survey finds a majority of GOP primary voters think Boehner and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell should lose their leadership posts. Fifty-seven percent of Republicans say the congressional GOP needs new leadership.

Republicans are split on whether Boehner should win the Speaker's gavel if the GOP retakes control of the House this fall. Thirty-three percent say he should, while 34 percent say he shouldn't. Another 33 percent of GOP voters are undecided.

McConnell is in about the same shape. Thirty-three percent say the Senate GOP needs a new leader, while 27 percent think the party should stick with McConnell. A whopping 40 percent say they are "not sure."

Now, I suspect some of this is the result of much of the public having no idea who John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are. Some of it may also be the result of the base looking for "fresh blood" -- Boehner and McConnell, irrespective of merits, may very well be seen as the "old guard," while activists look for more reactionary, radical leaders.

But whatever the motivations, results like these underscore some simmering divisions among Republicans. Boehner may very grab the gavel in January, but he wouldn't exactly be riding a wave of "Speaker Boehner" enthusiasm -- only a third of Republicans want him in the post, and in the silly "Young Guns" book, other House GOP leaders barely mention his name.

It's too soon to say with certainty how the midterms will play out, or whether current GOP leaders have anything to worry about when it comes to support from their caucuses. But let's put this in the "something to keep an eye on" category -- if there's a wave that sweeps new right-wing extremists into Congress, will they eye a new leadership team? Will the base, which is apparently calling the shots, start to demand it?

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week is the latest adventures of the reactionary right-wing activists on Texas' Board of Education.

Board members became the subject of national ridicule in recent months, as it worked on re-writing the state's social studies curriculum -- without guidance from historians, sociologists, educators, or economists. The result is a curriculum that would require students to learn about "the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s," lessons on "the violent philosophy of the Black Panthers," a version of history that celebrates Joe McCarthy and downplays Thomas Jefferson, and a requirement that students explore alternatives to Social Security and Medicare.

This week, however, board members turned their attention to religion.

The board will consider a resolution next week that would warn publishers not to push a pro-Islamic, anti-Christian viewpoint in world history textbooks.

Members of the board's social conservative bloc asked for the resolution after an unsuccessful candidate for a board seat called on the panel to head off any bias against Christians in new social studies books. Some contend that "Middle Easterners" are increasingly buying into companies that publish textbooks.

A preliminary draft of the resolution states that "diverse reviewers have repeatedly documented gross pro-Islamic, anti-Christian distortions in social studies texts" across the U.S. and that past social studies textbooks in Texas also have been "tainted" with pro-Islamic, anti-Christian views.

Apparently, the strange people on the state board were bothered by world history books -- that aren't used in Texas anyway -- that highlight the massacre of Muslims by Christian Crusaders early in the last millennium, without enough emphasis of Muslim massacres of Christians in Jerusalem there in 1244 and at Antioch in 1268.

Of course, since Texas currently uses textbooks that offer a balanced treatment of the world's religions, there's no real point to the board's latest crusade. "This is another example of board members putting politics ahead of just educating our kids," said Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network. "Once again, without consulting any real experts, the board's politicians are manufacturing a bogus controversy."
Also from the God Machine this week:

* Pope Benedict XVI is in the midst of a historic four-day state visit to Britain, where officials have arrested six men believed to be part of a plot against the Roman Catholic leader. Details are scarce, but those in custody are being detained under Britain's Terrorism Act.

* Speaking of the Roman Catholic Church, the church in Belgium has been rocked by its role in the sexual abuse of children. Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard this week "acknowledged the scale of the scandal that had engulfed the country over sexual abuse by priests and promised to do more for the victims, but he offered few short-term solutions and said little of substance about further pursuing the abusers." A lawyer representing church victims called the response "scandalous." (thanks to reader D.J. for the tip)

* The French Senate voted 246 to 1 this week to ban burqa-style Islamic veils in public. The AP noted, however, that "the leaders of both parliamentary houses said they had asked a special council to first ensure the measure passes constitutional muster amid concerns its tramples on religious freedoms."

* And as deranged media personality Glenn Beck positions himself as the head of some kind of religious/cultural/political movement, a poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and Religion News Service found that "fewer than one in five Americans (17 percent) believe Beck is the right person to helm a religious movement." Imagine that.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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WHITE HOUSE KEEPS FOCUS ON CITIZENS UNITED FALLOUT.... During an appearance in Connecticut this week, President Obama focused on an issue we don't hear much about lately -- the way in which the Citizens United ruling is shaping the midterm elections.

With far-right interest groups collecting millions for attack ads, all in support of Republican candidates, and financed through shadowy groups awash in undisclosed donations, the president raised the specter of "a corporate takeover of our democracy."

Today, in his weekly address, Obama focused attention on the issue again, explaining that voters are seeing deceptive ads from secretive organizations collecting undisclosed contributions. He emphasized that he supported a new proposal -- requiring groups to "say who you are and who's paying for your ad" -- but Republicans refused to let the Senate even vote on the measure. It's all part of "a power grab, pure and simple."

The president conceded that it's too late to protect the integrity of this year's elections, but offered some sound advice to voters: "[A]ny time you see an attack ad by one of these shadowy groups, you should ask yourself, who is paying for this ad? Is it the health insurance lobby? The oil industry? The credit card companies?

"But more than that, you can make sure that the tens of millions of dollars spent on misleading ads do not drown out your voice. Because no matter how many ads they run - no matter how many elections they try to buy - the power to determine the fate of this country doesn't lie in their hands. It lies in yours. It's up to all of us to defend that most basic American principle of a government of, by, and for the people. What's at stake is not just an election. It's our democracy itself."

I don't know how much of a difference this will make -- the vast majority of the public has no idea how or why the rules have changed, or why Republicans would fight against disclosure and transparency -- but it's nevertheless good to see the White House shine a light on the issue.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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O'DONNELL'S BANDAID COMES OFF SLOWLY, CONT'D.... Christine O'Donnell's (R) Senate campaign in Delaware has a variety of problems. I made the case yesterday that near the top of the list is the fact that humiliating examples of her extremism keep dribbling out, day after day, each generating a story reinforcing the Senate hopeful's radical qualities.

ThinkProgress flagged a new one, aired last night by Bill Maher, who's had O'Donnell on as a guest 22 times over the years. Maher aired a clip from 1999 in which O'Donnell explained that she "dabbled into witchcraft," and even had a date that included a "midnight picnic on a satanic alter."

She was, by the way, completely serious. In context, O'Donnell seemed to be arguing that she's a credible person to talk about the dangers of witchcraft because she "dabbled" in it herself.

By the way, Maher added, in reference to his video collection of her appearances on his program, "I'm just saying, Christine, it's like a hostage crisis. Every week you don't show up [on my show], I'm going to throw another body out."

One can only wonder what else O'Donnell said. It's hard to imagine her record getting any worse, but then again, her record thus far is already one of jaw-dropping insanity, so stay tuned.

On a related note, Greg Sargent flagged a 2006 item from Delaware's Wilmington News Journal that says O'Donnell "considers homosexuality an identity disorder."

If you're wondering if there's a point at which the Republican Party will pull its support for O'Donnell's U.S. Senate campaign, let's set the record straight -- no, there is no such point. The GOP wants the seat, and so long as O'Donnell has an "R" after her name, she will enjoy the party's backing.

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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MURKOWSKI MAKES ALASKA'S SENATE RACE A THREE-WAY CONTEST.... It's been about three weeks since right-wing lawyer Joe Miller stunned the political world, defeating incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska's Republican Senate primary, but it was clear the race wasn't quite settled. Murkowski didn't endorse Miller, and was openly exploring her options.

Last week, reading the tea leaves, Republican leaders on the Hill told Murkowski if she ran against Miller, she would have to resign her post in the party's Senate leadership. Late yesterday, she did just that. Soon after, Murkowski launched a write-in re-election campaign.

"Alaskans deserve a fighter in the United States Senate who will always stand up for Alaska, who understands our great potential, and has the experience, the respect and the seniority to accomplish that," Murkowski said. "I am that Senator."

Murkowski also took a shot at former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, saying she is "one Republican woman who won't quit on Alaska."

She admitted that she did not go after Miller enough in the primary, something the national party had pushed her to do. But she signaled that was about to change.

"We made some mistakes," Murkowski said. "When he swung, I didn't swing back. Well, ladies and gentleman, the gloves are off."

The announcement sets up a three-way contest pitting Murkowski against Miller and Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams. (If one includes Libertarian Party nominee David Haase, it's a four-way race.)

The next question, of course, is trying to guess who might win. A reasonable case can be made for any of them.

Miller, the ostensible front-runner, has the advantage of enjoying the enthusiastic support of the Republican Party in a state where Republicans tend to dominate. Despite a bizarre right-wing ideology and an agenda better suited to the political fringe, polls show Miller leading the pack, though he isn't especially well known statewide, and has fairly high negatives.

Murkowski, meanwhile, has plenty of money still in the bank and universal name recognition. The very nature of write-in campaigns makes success unlikely, but it's not unprecedented. As for difficulties voters might have spelling her name, Alaska's elections secretary "is prepared to take a fairly liberal interpretation of voter intent. Ballots that misspell Ms. Murkowski's surname would probably be counted, for instance, and so might ballots that identified her by her given name (e.g. 'Lisa M.')."

As for McAdams, it's very difficult for a Democrat to win statewide in Alaska, especially in a year that looks to be very favorable for Republicans. But Murkowski's effort almost certainly improves his chances, at least a little, by raising the specter of splitting the conservative vote. The last major three-way race in Alaska -- 1994's gubernatorial race -- propelled Tony Knowles (D) to victory.

In a year like this one, anything's possible.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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September 17, 2010

FRIDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Elizabeth Warren finally and officially joins the Obama White House team. She even wrote a post today for the White House blog.

* Afghanistan: "Insurgents have kidnapped a parliamentary candidate and at least 18 election workers, Afghan officials said Friday, raising fears on the eve of an election that has emerged as a test of wills between the Afghan government and the Taliban."

* Finishing one of the jobs in the Gulf: "BP's once-gushing Macondo well should be finally and firmly 'killed' by Saturday, company officials said Friday morning. Both company and federal officials said that a "relief well," which had been drilled down nearly 18,000 feet beneath the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, appears to have broken through into the Macondo well's shaft at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. That was necessary in order to pump cement into the well from below, completing the long-awaited 'bottom kill' that will guarantee the well is sealed."

* Brian Beutler does a nice job gaming out how the House Democratic leadership may yet pull out a victory on the fight over Bush-era tax rates.

* A new phrase to look out for: "global climate disruption."

* One of the problems for Rush Limbaugh's listeners? The host struggles to tell the difference between facts and Internet hoaxes.

* The National Park Service hasn't quite issued the permits yet for the Stewart/Colbert event(s) scheduled for Oct. 30.

* Daniel Luzer: "After a decade of college costs (the actual cost of running an institution, not the price of tuition) increasing at the rate of two to five percent a year, they barely rose at all last year."

* Rep. Michele Bachmann thinks she understands what "negative rights" are. She really doesn't.

* In what I saw as one of the day's more interesting quotes, former Sen. Rick Santorum told right-wing activists at the Values Voter Summit, "Don't let them put you in the back of the bus." In context, when he mentioned "them," Santorum was referring to Republicans, not Democrats.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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DON'T LET THE DOOR HIT YOU ON THE WAY OUT.... MSNBC's Chuck Todd chatted with Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) by this morning, and to his credit, Todd raised a question many in the media haven't bothered to ask.

TODD: Yesterday, the Census came out and said one in seven Americans are living below the poverty line. Do you look at that story today -- you know, you open up your USA Today, right, and you see that story -- and you see Washington is debating the tax rates for the wealthy, and you sit there and say, isn't that a disconnect in America right now?

BAYH: It is a disconnect, Chuck. What we need to be focused on is growth, how do we create jobs, how do we expand businesses. That needs to be job one right now. And all these other issues involving, oh, fairness and things like that can wait.

Oh, for crying out loud.

In 2009, at the end of nearly a decade of conservative governance that ravaged the country, 43.6 million Americans found themselves in poverty, the highest number since the government started keeping track more than a half-century ago. The number of Americans without health insurance went from 46.3 million in 2008 to 50.7 million in 2009. We're in the midst of a jobs crisis, and those who are employed are working more for less.

But "fairness and things like that can wait"? What does that even mean? Pulling people out of poverty and strengthening a safety net isn't a matter of "fairness" necessarily; it's a matter of strengthening the country and giving working families a chance to get ahead.

Is he saying income inequality -- the worst since before the Great Depression -- is unimportant? At least not as important as $700 billion in tax breaks for people who don't need them and won't spend them?

Bayh said "we need to be focused on is growth, how do we create jobs, how do we expand businesses." That's not an unreasonable position, but if the conservative Democrat means this, why would he side with Republicans on tax breaks for the rich that don't grow the economy, don't create jobs, and don't expand businesses? For that matter, why has Bayh spent so much time arguing that deficit reduction and spending cuts are so important, when those undermine growth and job creation.

I realize that Bayh, rather than work on issues he claims to care about, is walking away. I also realize that he's very likely to be replaced with a corporate lobbyist who'll be considerably worse on every issue I can think of.

But having said that, I can't say I'm going to miss Bayh's misplaced priorities and his habit of reinforcing patently false Republican talking points.

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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THE EFFECT OF FRINGE SUCCESSES.... With the primary season effectively over, and the far-right GOP base overriding the party establishment's judgment on more than a few occasions in recent months, it's pretty clear the Republican mainstream has been replaced with extremists and hard-line ideologues. The question, though, is whether this will matter.

E.J. Dionne Jr., who believes the GOP has been "reduced to nothing but its right wing," noted that the pertinent question now is "whether the country is ready to deliver a majority to a Republican Party that now holds problem-solvers like [Mike] Castle in contempt [and] is scared to death of a well-financed right wing that parades under a false populist banner.... Will moderate voters take a chance on the preposterous proposition that this Republican Party will turn around and work in a calm, bipartisan way with President Obama?"

The answer isn't obvious. Josh Green said this week that the radicalism of the Republican Party may matter a great deal, especially if "independent voters start to ascribe the views of Tea Party candidates like O'Donnell to Republican candidates in general." Clive Crook added, "A party that nominates O'Donnell is a party unfit to govern. Many centrists and independents, previously ready to swing over to the Republican side, are likely to take that view."

David Brooks thinks all of this is backwards.

Many of my liberal friends are convinced that the Republican Party has a death wish. It is sprinting to the right-most fever swamps of American life. It will end up alienating the moderate voters it needs to win elections.

There's only one problem with this theory. There is no evidence to support it. The Republican Party may be moving sharply right, but there is no data to suggest that this has hurt its electoral prospects, at least this year. [...]

In Ohio, Republican Rob Portman has opened up a significant lead on his Democratic opponent. In Kentucky, Republican Rand Paul is way ahead, as is Marco Rubio in Florida. In Illinois, Republican Mark Kirk has a small lead, and Linda McMahon has pulled nearly even in Connecticut. Sharron Angle, a weak candidate, is basically tied with Harry Reid in Nevada.

That's not a bad pitch, but it's unpersuasive. Most of Brooks' own examples actually tell a different story than the one he perceives -- Paul is ahead in Kentucky, but the race wouldn't be competitive if Republicans hadn't nominated an extremist. Rubio is leading in Florida, but had the party not driven Charlie Crist from its ranks, the incumbent governor would be cruising past Kendrick Meek and the race would be off the board. Angle is both "weak" and "effectively tied," but had the GOP nominated someone sane, Nevada would have been a sure-fire pick up for Republicans.

What Brooks sees as examples of extremism having no meaningful effect are actually examples of Tea Party zealots creating competitive races where there would have been smooth sailing for the GOP.

What's more, Election Day isn't tomorrow. Opinions are still taking shape; Republicans still aren't gaining in popularity; and voters are just starting to notice the radicalization of a major political party after a decade of that party's spectacular failures.

I'm reluctant to draw any hard conclusions here; the season may yet take a couple of twists and turns. For that matter, the midterms may very well come down to Democratic Congress + weak economy = electoral ruin for the majority, and the GOP's extremism will be rewarded despite itself.

But the Republican Party's decision to "sprint to the right-most fever swamps of American life" may yet carry consequences Villagers haven't considered. Using Brooks' examples, it already has.

Steve Benen 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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THE FORGOTTEN DETAIL: THE BUSH TAX POLICY WAS A FAILURE.... President Obama wants to extend lower tax rates for the middle class, while allowing the top rate for the wealthy to expire on schedule. Republicans want to make current rates permanent, adding $4 trillion to the debt over the next decade, and is prepared to kill middle-class breaks unless they get what they want. The public is siding with Obama; a few too many cowardly congressional Democrats are siding with Republicans.

A detail that's doesn't get as much attention as it deserves is that the policy everyone's fighting over -- the one the GOP will do anything to protect -- didn't work. Bush's tax policy was a failure, and didn't deliver on any of its intended goals. Bruce Bartlett offers a timely reminder.

Republicans are heavily invested in permanently extending the tax cuts enacted during the George W. Bush administration, all of which expire at the end of this year exactly as the legislation was written in the first place. To hear Republicans, one would think that the Bush tax cuts were the most powerful stimulus to growth ever enacted and only a madman would even think of allowing any of them to expire.

The truth is that there is virtually no evidence in support of the Bush tax cuts as an economic elixir. To the extent that they had any positive effect on growth, it was very, very modest. Their main effect was simply to reduce the government's revenue, thereby increasing the budget deficit, which all Republicans claim to abhor.

It'd be one thing if the Bush tax policy were a sterling success. Republicans could at least go into this debate arguing, "Look how effective these rates have been! Changing course now would be crazy!"

But the policy the GOP and some terribly foolish Democrats want desperately to keep didn't work. The lower rates didn't create jobs; they didn't generate the predicted boom; they didn't keep a balanced budget; they didn't meet any of the nation's pressing needs.

So why are Republicans fighting so hard to continue with a policy that failed? Because this isn't about the economy or the deficit or jobs -- this is about the fact that Republicans start with the conclusion and work backwards to rationalize their decisions. In this case, that means starting with tax cuts heavily weighted to benefit millionaires and billionaires, not because they work, but because tax cuts heavily weighted to benefit millionaires and billionaires necessarily are worthwhile. Why? Because they're tax cuts heavily weighted to benefit millionaires and billionaires.

That they failed doesn't matter. That they won't improve the economy now doesn't matter, either. The GOP knows what it wants, and merit, evidence, and reason are hopelessly irrevelant.

Steve Benen 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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THE OTHER RACE IN DELAWARE.... There's been considerable interest in Delaware's Republican Senate primary this week, and with good reason -- it's not often a key Republican pick-up opportunity becomes a Democratic opportunity overnight.

But reader R.S. emails a good question:

I am out here [location redacted], so I don't know much about Delaware, but I do know Castle was their member of the House of Representatives.

All the focus has been on the Senate race. Who is running to replace Castle in the House? Democratic pickup in the offing?

It's an interesting story, actually. In the open U.S. House race, with Mike Castle (R) giving up his seat for an unsuccessful Senate race, the Republican Party rallied behind a candidate named Michelle Rollins, a wealthy attorney named to the NRCC's "Young Guns" program and the beneficiary of campaign checks from every member of the House Republican leadership. Democrats, meanwhile, rallied to former Lt. Gov. John Carney (D), setting up a competitive contest.

But the same GOP primary voters who nominated Christine O'Donnell for the U.S. Senate weren't impressed with the establishment's choice for the House, and they nominated real estate developer and Tea Party favorite Glen Urquhart.

There aren't many "red" House seats Dems hope to flip this year, but this is clearly one of them. A survey this week from Public Policy Polling showed Carney leading Urquhart by double digits, 48% to 37%

Soon after the NRCC announced its list of 47 races in which it plans to air television ads -- and Urquhart's didn't make the list.

And just to get a sense of what kind of congressional candidate Glen Urquhart is, note that he believes the notion of separation of church and state was crafted, not by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, but by Adolf Hitler. He recently told voters, "[The] next time your liberal friends talk about the separation of church and state, ask them why they're Nazis."

Seriously. He actually said that.

PPP's Dean Debnam noted this week, "Delaware has really worked out well for Democrats."

Steve Benen 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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MIKE HUCKABEE'S CALLOUSNESS IS A PRE-EXISTING CONDITION.... The Affordable Care Act is not popular. The provisions in the Affordable Care Act tend to be quite popular.

And perhaps nothing in the health care law enjoys quite as much support as protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. If you followed the policy debate, you probably remember the issue -- millions of Americans can't qualify for coverage, or can't afford insurance at exorbitant rates, because insurance companies openly discriminate against those who've been sick. Those with pre-existing conditions, and often their family, are simply left behind, one serious ailment away from financial ruin.

Republicans, in no uncertain terms, considered this perfectly acceptable; Democrats did not. The law -- which the GOP intends to shut down the government over in order to kill -- gives protections to those with pre-existing conditions, and polls show overwhelming public support. This week, a NYT/CBS poll found that 40% of the public supports getting rid of the new law, but when told about this one provision that would disappear, support for repeal dropped to 19%.

Speaking today at the Values Voter Summit in D.C., arguably the nation's largest annual religious right gathering, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) said Americans are just wrong about this.

"And a lot of this, it sounds so good, and it's such a warm message to say we're not gonna deny anyone from a preexisting condition. Look, I think that sounds terrific, but I want to ask you something from a common sense perspective. Suppose we applied that principle that you can just come along with whatever condition you have and we're gonna cover you at the same cost we're covering everybody else 'cause we wanna be fair. Okay, fine. Then let's do that with our property insurance. And you can call your insurance agent and say, 'I'd like to buy some insurance for my house.' He'd say, 'Tell me about your house.' 'Well sir, it burned down yesterday, but I'd like to insure it today.' And he'll say 'I'm sorry, but we can't insure it after it's already burned.' Well, no preexisting conditions.

"How would you like to be able to call your insurance agent for your car and say 'I want you to insure my car.' 'Well tell me about your car.' 'Well it was a pretty nice vehicle until my sixteen year-old boy wrecked it yesterday. [He] totaled the thing out but I'd like to get it insurance so we can get it replaced.' Now how much would a policy cost if it covered everything? About as much as it's gonna cost for health care in this country."

Oh, conservative humor is just so droll, isn't it?

What I'd really like is for Mike Huckabee to talk to a family in which a woman had breast cancer. It's in remission now, and her prognosis is good, but the family wasn't able to get coverage they could afford, because insurers don't want to sell insurance to those with pre-existing conditions.

I'd like Mike Huckabee to look those folks in the eye and explain that they don't deserve new protections, and President Obama was wrong to give those protections to them. I'd like Mike Huckabee, the alleged champion of "family values," to tell them that their family could get affordable coverage, but it runs counter to his notion of a "common sense perspective."

Go ahead, Mike, give it a try. See if they think your charming metaphor is amusing. See if they think their plight is worthy of mockery.

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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SHOWDOWN ON DADT SET FOR TUESDAY AFTERNOON.... The fate of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will hinge on the events of Tuesday afternoon. Those who want to see the end of this indefensible policy -- especially those in Maine and Massachusetts who want to see the law changed -- are going to have to pick the phone over the next 72 hours.

Up until fairly recently, repeal looked to be on track. A huge majority of Americans support scrapping the existing policy, as do President Obama, a majority of the House, a majority of the Senate, the Secretary of Defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and two former Joint Chiefs leaders, including Colin Powell.

The repeal provision is already included in the 2011 defense authorization bill, which, among other things, funds the U.S. military in the midst of two wars. The Senate Democratic leadership announced yesterday that it would bring the spending bill to the floor at 2:15pm (ET) on Tuesday -- where Senate Republicans, led by a tantrum-throwing John McCain (R-Ariz.), may unanimously prevent lawmakers from voting.

Gay rights advocates went on high alert Thursday afternoon after Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), a key proponent of repealing the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, said that he believes Senate Republicans can kill the defense authorization bill containing the repeal -- a step Sen. John McCain has already threatened to take.

"The question is whether the Senate leadership can negotiate an agreement with the Republicans that will allow the bill to come up and get them to feel that they can introduce amendments that they want to introduce as well," Lieberman said in an interview with Kerry Eleveld of the Advocate, a web site and magazine for the gay community. "But until that happens, I don't think the votes are there to break the filibuster, which would be a shame."

McCain (R-Ariz.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, declared he will block the defense bill if the "don't ask, don't tell" language isn't stripped.

Just to be clear, Lieberman is actually really good on this issue, and will fight in support of passage. McCain, meanwhile, has already won his primary, and his re-election appears assured -- but he really hates gay people, even those who volunteer to put their lives on the line for America.

Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine voted with Democrats at the committee level, and it looked like she would help overcome a Republican filibuster on DADT. Now, however, Collins has slipped backwards, and is no longer committed to doing the right thing. What's more, because Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) had said he would not support a filibuster on this, but he's prepared to go back on his commitment, too.

If Republicans stick together, they can prevent a vote and kill DADT repeal. That means the existing law -- the one opposed by the public, the president, a majority of Congress, and the Pentagon -- would remain in place for at least another two years, after expected Republican gains in the midterms.

Tuesday afternoon, in other words, is a do-or-die showdown. Those who care -- about basic fairness, about ending discrimination, about military readiness, about national security, about saving taxpayer money, about the careers of dedicated servicemen and women who are needlessly being thrown out of the military during two wars -- are going to have to pick up the phone and call the Senate.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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FRIDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Perhaps no one has more negative feelings about Delaware Senate hopeful Christine O'Donnell (R) than those who used to work for her.

* A new Quinnipiac poll shows the Buckeye State, which President Obama won two years ago, moving sharply to the right. In Ohio's open U.S. Senate race, former Bush Budget Director Rob Portman (R) now leads Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) by a whopping 20 points. The same poll found that 58% of Ohio voters want a senator who opposes White House policies.

* In Georgia, Republican gubernatorial nominee Nathan Deal is leading in the polls, but his personal finances look far worse than his political fortunes. In the wake of a failed business venture, Deal is reportedly poised to sell his home to avert foreclosure or bankruptcy.

* In New York, former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R) is so unimpressed with his party's gubernatorial nominee, Carl Paladino, that D'Amato described him "dangerous" and unfit for office.

* In Alaska, radical Senate hopeful Joe Miller (R) is the target of a new progressive ad, highlighting the candidate's extremist beliefs. Parodying a Discovery Channel program, Miller is labeled "The Craziest Catch."

* A poll from the Arkansas News Bureau shows Rep. John Boozman (R) trouncing incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D), 51% to 34%. Oddly enough, most other recent polls show Lincoln trailing by an even larger margin, so maybe this will be perceived as good news by the Democrat's campaign.

* In Tennessee, Republican congressional hopeful Scott DesJarlais, taking on Rep. Lincoln Davis (D), has been accused of harassing, intimidating, and abusing his ex-wife.

* And in Texas' gubernatorial race, a UT/Texas Tribune poll finds Gov. Rick Perry (R) hanging onto a modest lead over former Houston Mayor Bill White (R), 39% to 33%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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OBAMA WARNS OF 'CORPORATE TAKEOVER OF OUR DEMOCRACY'.... We talked earlier this week about far-right interest groups collecting millions for attack ads, all in support of Republican candidates, and financed through shadowy groups awash in undisclosed donations. The NYT raised the specter of "a relatively small cadre of deep-pocketed donors, unknown to the general public ... shaping the battle for Congress."

It's not an issue Democrats spend a lot of time talking about -- they have plenty of other items they're trying to emphasize -- which is why I was glad to see President Obama take some to talk about this at an event last night in Connecticut.

"I want you to consider this -- right now, all across the country, special interests are planning and running millions of dollars of attack ads against Democratic candidates. Because last year, there was a Supreme Court decision called Citizens United. They're allowed to spend as much as they want without ever revealing who's paying for the ads. That's exactly what they're doing. Millions of dollars. And the groups are benign-sounding: Americans for Prosperity. Who's against that? Or Committee for Truth in Politics. Or Americans for Apple Pie. Moms for Motherhood. I made those last two up.

"None of them will disclose who's paying for these ads. You don't know if it's a Wall Street bank. You don't know if it's a big oil company. You don't know if it's an insurance company. You don't even know if it's a foreign-controlled entity. In some races, they are spending more money than the candidates.... They're spending more money than the parties.

"They want to take Congress back and return to the days where lobbyists wrote the laws. It is the most insidious power grab since the monopolies of the Gilded Age. That's happening right now. So there's a lot of talk about populist anger and grassroots. But that's not what's driving a lot of these elections.

"We tried to fix this, but the leaders of the other party wouldn't even allow it to come up for a vote. They want to keep the public in the dark. They want to serve the special interests that served them so well over the last 19 months.

"We will not let them. We are not about to allow a corporate takeover of our democracy."

Voters may not mind a corporate takeover of our democracy; at this point, it's hard to say. But given the number of attack ads the public will see from these "independent" groups, it's a message voters should probably be aware of.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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IDENTIFYING A KEY JOBS PROGRAM -- AND LETTING IT DIE.... Politicians of every stripe insist that job creation is their top priority. If that were true, the TANF Emergency Fund would be the most popular program in Congress, and its funding would be assured. Instead, it's poised to die.

It's never received a lot of attention, but the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Emergency Fund has been one of the most successful elements of the Recovery Act. The fund subsidizes jobs with private companies, nonprofits, and government agencies and has single handedly put more than 240,000 unemployed people back to work in 32 states and the District of Columbia.

Governors, including Mississippi's Haley Barbour (R), have sung its praises, and urged its extension. In July, CNN called the TANF Emergency Fund "a stimulus program even a Republican can love."

Except, CNN was wrong. The TANF Emergency Fund expires at the end of this month -- just two weeks from now -- and despite Democratic efforts to continue its success, Senate Republicans will block a vote and let the program die.

"One of the best things that the Recovery Act did was to put in place this program," said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) at a Capitol Hill press conference Wednesday. "The worst thing that we could do at a time when our economy is coming out of the ditch and we're able to start building and growing is to pull up the ladder and say we don't want to do this anymore, we're just going to move on to something else." [...]

"Normally you hear the phrase if it's not broken don't fix it. And in this particular case, if it's working don't end it. This is a program that works."

Extending the program would cost about $2.5 billion, a relatively paltry sum that has a considerable impact on helping struggling Americans get a job. But Senate Republicans don't seem to care -- not one has signed on to keep the program going another year, and proponents, including Bob Casey who's taken the lead on this, expect the worst.

For all of the GOP's obsession with tax cuts for the wealthy, not one has the sense or the courage to endorse an affordable program that creates thousands of jobs. And yet, voters are poised to reward them anyway.

We already know exactly what the consequences will be of the program's demise.

Most of the 37 states operating subsidized employment programs created those programs to respond to the current recession. Many -- including most of the largest programs -- will close their doors on September 30 if Congress does not extend the TANF Emergency Fund; others plan to continue operations but at a reduced level. In anticipation of having to close down or greatly scale back operations, some programs have already stopped taking applications and making new job placements, and many more plan to do so in coming weeks.

Tens of thousands of individuals participating in the programs will lose their jobs when the programs close.

The irony is, when those Americans lose their jobs, Republicans will say it was the failure of the stimulus. Their pathetic rhetoric will have it backwards -- the stimulus created those jobs, and the GOP's filibuster of an effective jobs program will throw these men and women out of work.

In a sane political world, this would be a pretty big scandal, and Republicans would be afraid to kill an effective jobs program with an unemployment rate near 10%. Instead, the GOP is counting on being rewarded by Americans for taking steps like these, and polls suggest that's exactly what's going to happen.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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O'DONNELL'S BANDAID COMES OFF SLOWLY.... Christine O'Donnell's (R) Senate campaign in Delaware is running into the same problem we saw with Sharron Angle's (R) campaign in Nevada -- an extremist candidate who wasn't taken seriously suddenly wins a primary, starting a race to find the most ridiculous things the candidate has said in public.

With Angle, the bandaid was ripped off slowly (and in some cases, isn't quite done), with humiliating examples dribbling out over weeks, each generating a story reinforcing the Senate hopeful's radical qualities. With O'Donnell, the same dynamic is playing out the same way.

One day, a humiliating list of examples of O'Donnell's extremism comes to light. A day later, there's another. On the third day, it gets even worse.

Indeed, the new parlor game seems to be trying to choose the single craziest thing Christine O'Donnell has said in public. Looking only at examples that came to light over the last 24 hours, we have this gem from an interview with Bill O'Reilly on Fox News:

"American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains. So they're already into this experiment."

There was also the CNN interview in which O'Donnell touted the Biblical family structure in which women should be subservient to their husbands.

"This is a biblical doctrine. And the passage from the Bible the Baptist article is taken from talks about a submissive family. And yet, what the media seems to be reacting to is the word 'submit' in the wives. But yet, even in, Mary, your introduction, you ignored or you left out where it says they graciously submit to a servant leader. And that is God's design for the family. It is not about dominating and it is not about being a slave to your husband."

There was also a C-SPAN appearance in which O'Donnell suggested President Clinton was involved with Vince Foster's death, which she baselessly described as a "murder":

"I think it's very interesting that President Clinton has come on a lot more charges and a lot more serious charges than what Newt Gingrich is being charged on, yet we're not making as big of an issue, we're not forcing that he go to trial. We're not giving people like Paula Jones a fair trial, we're not giving the case of Vincent Foster a fair trial -- when there is a lot more empirical evidence that Clinton is involved in wrongdoing."

There was also the MSNBC interview in which O'Donnell attacked condoms:

"[C]ondoms will not protect you from AIDS. So to just throw a bunch of condoms over to Africa and say, here, we're helping you with AIDS, is just going to further the spread of AIDS over there."

In fairness, O'Donnell now believes her worldview has "matured" over the years, and some of these quotes are from the '90s. Then again, her belief that scientists have created mice with fully functioning human brains was stated in 2007, which wasn't that long ago.

For many credible candidates with professional operations, research is done months in advance, so campaigns knows what's coming and can even leak out bad news before the race enters the home stretch. But O'Donnell is just a fringe activist, who happens to be a major party U.S. Senate nominee, who we'll continue to get to know over the next several weeks.

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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THE ROAD TO A SHUTDOWN IS PAVED WITH BOEHNER'S GOOD INTENTIONS.... The headline on this Politico piece certainly seemed encouraging: "Boehner: GOP won't shut down gov't." Given the Republican interest in shutting down the government next year, it was an encouraging sign.

But the headline was misleading. Boehner didn't say the GOP wouldn't shut down the government; he said the GOP doesn't intend to shut down the government. There's a big difference.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) rejected the idea that Republicans will shut down the government if they come to a legislative impasse with President Barack Obama, even as some conservative activists have predicted and even pushed a shutdown next year.

"Our goal is to have a smaller, less costly, and more accountable government here in Washington DC. Our goal is not to shut down the government," he said.

The wording here matters. Boehner is effectively saying that, if Americans hand the House majority to a radicalized Republican Party, he and his caucus will pursue a far-right agenda. Their "goal" isn't to shut down the government; their "goal" is to get everything they want. If President Obama stands in their way, a shutdown is the likely result, but that doesn't mean it's their "goal" going into 2011.

Indeed, Boehner went on to tell reporters, "I am committed to doing everything that I can do and our team can do to prevent Obamacare from being implemented. When I say everything, I mean everything."

This isn't exactly subtle. Boehner is so intent on destroying the law -- returning to discrimination for Americans with pre-existing conditions, boosting the deficit, restoring rescissions, depriving tens of millions of uninsured Americans of access to quality care -- that he'll do whatever it takes. "Everything," in this context, means shutting down the government.

"Boehner: GOP won't shut down gov't"? I think the truth is much closer to the opposite.

Steve Benen 9:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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STEWART, COLBERT TO HOST D.C. RALLY ON 10/30.... A couple of weeks ago, when Jon Stewart said on "The Daily Show" that he was planning some kind of announcement, I thought he was kidding. It sounded like a joke: "I, Jon Stewart, am announcing that I will have an announcement sometime."

As it turns out, he was serious. Last night, Stewart announced he will host the "Rally To Restore Sanity" on the Washington Mall on October 30. The central message of the event, which Stewart also characterized as the "Million Moderate March," will be "Take It Down A Notch -- For America." Featured signs will include reasonable maxims, such as, "I Disagree With You, But I'm Pretty Sure You're Not Hitler."

Shortly thereafter, Stephen Colbert announced he, too, would hold a rally at the same place at the same time. Keeping with his on-air persona, Colbert labeled his event the "March To Keep Fear Alive."

It sounds like fun, and if I had to guess, I'd say turnout should be pretty strong. Watching Stewart and Colbert, it didn't seem as if any kind of specific agenda would be pushed -- only the notion that the American mainstream shouldn't be drowned out by extremists.

For what it's worth, my only concern here is one that I often hear in the media -- the notion that the left and right are equally crazy, and the fringes are driving their respective parties' agendas. That strikes me as a mistaken assumption. Republicans really have moved sharply to the far-right and allowed extremists to call the shots, while Truthers and Code Pink have no meaningful influence whatsoever in Democratic politics.

But by all appearances, this has nothing to do with partisanship, and everything to do with restoring some sense of sanity to our public discourse. It's a notion I heartily endorse, and hope desperately is successful.

It's also worth noting, of course, that the event will be held on Oct. 30, which just so happens to be a few days before the midterms. Ideally, those hoping to elect sensible, reasonable officials to key public offices would be spending that Saturday canvassing and working in support of mainstream candidates' campaigns. That said, a rally like this one, especially if it's well attended, will likely get sane voters' attention, spark some excitement among younger voters (who often don't vote in midterms), and encourage more reasonable folks to care about what's at stake three days later.

As for turnout, Glenn Beck's shindig drew 87,000 people. I'd be surprised if Comedy Central went to great lengths to coordinate efforts to boost attendance (organizing buses, for example), but here's guessing Stewart and Colbert can generate an even bigger audidence.

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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A BOLD STAND IN SUPPORT OF SALMONELLA.... There's no shortage of evidence, but one of the more striking examples of the Senate's dysfunction is playing out this week over an overhaul of the nation's food safety safeguards.

The legislation passed the House over a year ago, with relative ease, even garnering votes from several dozen Republicans. In the Senate, it has six principal co-sponsors -- three Democrats and three Republicans.

Perhaps most importantly, over the summer, the nation saw at least 1,300 salmonella-related illnesses spanning 22 states, all of which was a direct result of "holes in the country's food safety net." Given that Americans like eating food, and don't like getting sick, the bipartisan bill is a textbook example of a no-brainer.

And yet, it may die. At least one far-right senator believes spending offsets are more important than salmonella.

Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday the Senate will not take up long-pending food safety legislation before the Nov. 2 elections, citing a Republican senator's objections.

Reid announced on the Senate floor that "we're not going to be able to get this done before we go home for the elections." Reid and Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin have been trying to move the bill quickly, but Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who has a long list of concerns about the legislation, has blocked them.

Reid said Coburn's objections mean that the bill (HR 2749) will not be completed before the Senate departs Oct. 8 for the midterm election campaign. "It's just a shame that we can't get this done," Reid said.

Reid, D-Nev., could push the bill through the Senate by filing procedural motions to advance the legislation over Coburn's objections, but doing so would require days of the Senate's time.

That last part is key. A growing number of folks seem to understand that Republican abuses and obstructionism have effectively killed majority rule, creating mandatory supermajorities on everything for the first time in American history. What's far less appreciated is the abuse of the clock/calendar -- in this case, Dems have more than 60 votes. What they didn't have is spare days to spend dealing with Coburn's nonsense. There's too much else to do, and not enough time to do it.

And so yet another important bill is pushed off, perhaps indefinitely.

What would it take to make Coburn happy? The far-right Oklahoman's objection is over cost -- the bill carries a price tag of $1.4 billion over five years. That's not a typo. This is one of the cheapest bills Congress will consider this year, but rather than add a miniscule amount to the deficit, Coburn would rather sacrifice Americans' food safety.

Coburn, it's worth noting, cannot allow $1.4 billion to be added to the deficit over the next five years. He is, however, entirely comfortable with adding $700 billion to the deficit over 10 years, so long as it's in the form of tax cuts for the wealthy. Coburn is on board with the spread of E Coli, but balks at Clinton-era tax rates for millionaires.

This, for reasons that escape me, is not considered a national scandal. Indeed, most of the country will probably never hear a word about this.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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September 16, 2010

THURSDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Economists expected an increase in unemployment claims; fortunately, we saw a slight dip: "Weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance fell by 3,000 to 450,000 last week, the Labor Department said this morning. It is an encouraging sign, although no weekly number should be read into too much, as the data tends to jump around."

* The Senate Banking Committee ponders Chinese currency: "The Obama administration ratcheted up its criticisms of China's economic policies on Thursday, as Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner told Congress that China had substantially undervalued its currency to gain an unfair trade advantage, engaged in widespread theft of foreign technology and improperly blocked American imports."

* While Hurricane Karl takes aim at Mexican Gulf coast, Hurricane Julia, taking advantage of unusually warm water in the Atlantic, rose in intensity to become a powerful Category 4 storm.

* While the vast majority of national polls show Republicans with a generic-ballot edge, Politico's poll shows the parties tied.

* In a surprising move, Fox News has filed a lawsuit against Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D), who's taking on Rep. Roy Blunt (R) in a key Senate race. It appears to be "the first time such a fair use fight between a media company and a political campaign has been taken to court."

* In just a few weeks, the White House will host a summit on community colleges. Daniel Luzer added, "All that's needed are a location, participants, and, well, any substantive ideas at all."

* DNC's latest video hopes to characterize the Republican slate this year as uniquely crazy. The clip, hot on the heels of this week's Senate primary in Delaware, is called "Republicans 2010: What a Bunch," and it's a frame the GOP will have to hope doesn't catch on.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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GETTING TO GRADUATION.... The Obama administration has repeatedly identified the scandalously low graduation rates of certain public high schools, dubbed "dropout factories," as a key barrier to opportunity. The good news is that a handful of districts have measurably improved their graduation rates, and any district with the right leadership can do the same. The bad news is that many students who do manage to graduate from the lowest-performing high schools are shunted into colleges where the failure rates are even worse. Confronting these "college dropout factories" is essential to meeting the President's goal of regaining America's international lead in college graduation by 2020.

On September 21st, Washington Monthly and Education Sector will sponsor a two-part discussion called "Getting to Graduation." The first panel will feature leading researchers, policymakers and foundation leaders discussing the findings of a Washington Monthly special report "Fighting the High School Dropout Crisis." The second panel will include high-level congressional and administration officials along with the president of an innovative new university. It will focus on the recently published Washington Monthly College Guide and will address how the administration can keep the education pipeline flowing all the way to college graduation and beyond.

When:
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
8:30 AM to 12:15 PM (EDT)
Registration and Refreshments (8:30 - 9:00 AM)

Where:
Resources for the Future Conference Center
1400 16th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
(closest Metro: Dupont Circle)

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (2)

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FOOL LOUISIANA VOTERS ONCE, SHAME ON.... When Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) first ran for statewide office, he ran on a "family values" platform, and promised Louisianans he would a champion of the religious right's agenda. Voters believed him; he was elected fairly easily; and then he got caught with prostitutes.

Six years later, Vitter's back to making the old promises all over again. Brian Beutler flags this amusing item:

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), along with a handful of other Louisiana politicians, has signed on to the North Central Louisiana TEA Party Patriots Candidate Pledge.

That includes a promise to "Conduct myself personally and professionally in a moral and socially appropriate manner."

It takes an unusual amount of chutzpah to even attempt something like this. Here we have a right-wing politician running on a family-values platform ... then getting caught with hookers (at least one of which was hired while Vitter was on the floor of Congress) ... then running for re-election anyway ... then vowing to conduct himself "personally and professionally in a moral and socially appropriate manner."

And in case the irony weren't quite head-shaking enough, also note that Vitter is expected to win easily.

Steve Benen 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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SENATE OVERCOMES GOP SCHEME, APPROVES SMALL BUSINESS BILL.... When the Senate manages to pass good bills, it always comes as such a relief.

The Senate on Thursday approved a multi-billion dollar package of tax breaks and government-backed loans for small businesses, as Democrats surmounted months of opposition by Republican leaders. Backers say the bill could spur business growth and new hiring.

"Small businesses are the major job creators in our economy, and this legislation will ensure that our small businesses have the tax incentives and credit they need to expand and hire," said Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California.

After breaking a Republican filibuster on Tuesday, final passage was 61 to 38. Every member of the Senate Democratic caucus voted for it, and every member of the Senate Republican caucus opposed it, except Ohio's George Voinovich and Florida's George LeMieux.

It now heads to the House, which is expected to act fairly quickly in order to send the bill onto President Obama, who's been demanding the bill for months.

The basis for near-unanimous opposition to the legislation was ... well, I'm still not sure what Republicans were thinking. We're talking about a bill with tax incentives for small businesses and an attempt to expand credit through a lending program that utilizes local banks. The bill, which is fully paid for, was finished and ready to go in July, arguably even June.

Indeed, there were all kinds of small businesses that "put hiring, supply buying and real estate expansion on hold," just waiting for the Senate to act.

But Republicans didn't want the Senate to act. For reasons that remain a mystery, the GOP fought to delay passage, then fought it again with a filibuster, then fought it again even when final passage was assured. For all their talk about small businesses needing relief, Republicans -- including the alleged "moderates" (Snowe, Collins, and Brown) -- spent most of the summer trying to kill a bill to help small businesses.

Voinovich, in refreshing candor, acknowledged last week that his Republican colleagues were, in fact, playing petty games, as part of a larger political "messaging" effort. Now, the Ohio senator believes, "we don't have time anymore" for the partisan gamesmanship.

In other words, according to a senior GOP senator, his Republican Party delayed progress on a worthwhile economic bill -- on purpose -- as part of an election-season scheme. Businesses that could have aided economic expansion months ago were delayed because the GOP had a "messaging" strategy in mind.

If our political system made more sense, this would be a huge national scandal that would force Republicans onto the defensive seven weeks before the midterms.

Steve Benen 4:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE KEEPS MILLIONS OUT OF POVERTY.... A new report from the Census Bureau points to a painful, ugly 2009 for those struggling to get by. The poverty rate jumped to 14.3% last year, its highest level in 16 years. As CNN noted, there were 43.6 million Americans in need -- "the highest number in 51 years of record-keeping."

If you're thinking it seems obscene that the biggest fight in Washington right now is over whether to give the rich yet another round of tax breaks, on the heels of a 14.3% poverty rate, then you and I are on the same page.

2010.09.16pov-f1.jpg

But as heartbreaking as the Census data is, it's worth remembering that government spending prevented it from being even worse. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities' Arloc Sherman reports today that an analysis of the new survey data "shows that unemployment insurance benefits -- which expanded substantially last year in response to the increased need -- kept 3.3 million people out of poverty in 2009."

Sherman added, "In other words, there were 43.6 million Americans whose families were below the poverty line in 2009, according to the official poverty statistics, which count jobless benefits as part of families' income. But if you don't count jobless benefits, 46.9 million Americans were poor."

And this is just UI. It's hard to calculate, but imagine what the poverty rate would have been without the Recovery Act, too.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying the Census numbers should be seen as "not that bad." I believe the opposite -- it's a national tragedy. I also believe, however, that it's worth emphasizing that government intervention -- with spending that Republicans found offensive -- prevented an awful situation from being even more drastic.

Indeed, in a political context, let's also remember that, as far as many Republicans are concerned, unemployment insurance benefits shouldn't even exist. Nevada's Sharron Angle believes the benefits "spoil" the jobless; Alaska's Joe Miller believes unemployment benefits are unconstitutional; Kentucky's Rand Paul thinks it's time to cut the jobless off before we're worse than Europe; and a wide variety of Republican lawmakers have said the aid to the unemployed is encouraging laziness.

These same Republicans will be outraged if tax rates for millionaires expire on schedule. The GOP has its priorities.

Steve Benen 3:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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TAKE TWO VOTES AND CALL ME IN 2011.... Just four days ago, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) was sounding surprisingly reasonable about the debate over tax policy. He's changed quite a bit since.

President Obama wants a tax cut for the middle class, while allowing higher rates for the wealthy to expire on schedule. Boehner said on Sunday he would prefer, of course, to give breaks to the rich, no matter what it does to the deficit, but if lower rates for the middle class are the best he can do, he'll take it. Some breaks, Boehner grudgingly conceded, are better than none.

Contrast this with Boehner's new-found inflexibility.

House Minority Leader John Boehner on Thursday called on Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to allow an up-or-down vote on extending all of the Bush-era tax cuts while continuing to blast President Barack Obama for proposing more spending.

"The Speaker should pledge to the American people and when she stands before these cameras later today [to allow] an honest up-or-down vote to stop all of the coming tax hikes," the Ohio Republican said in his weekly press conference. "Anything less than that is unacceptable."

Putting aside the fact that "the coming tax hikes" were Republicans' idea -- it was the GOP who set the lower rates to expire at the end of the year -- I'm not sure where Boehner derives the authority to dictate what's "unacceptable." Unacceptable to whom? The fat-cat lobbyists bankrolling Boehner's campaign operation?

Nevertheless, it's an election season, and conservative Dems are prone to do silly things. Today, at least 31 House Democrats, mostly Blue Dogs, announced their agreement with Boehner, and urging the House leadership to extend tax breaks for the wealthy, even if it adds billions of dollars to the deficit.

What happens now? Cowardly center-right Dems foolishly running to embrace the GOP line complicates matters, but I think Jon Chait has the right suggestion.

Well, there's a simple solution to that: hold two votes. First have a vote on the tax cuts for all income under $250,000. (That of course, also provides significant tax relief to upper-income taxpayers. Indeed, under that plan, the rich would get more than the middle class in total dollars). [...]

Then you hold a separate vote on tax cuts exclusively for people earning more than $250,000 a year. Anybody who wants to vote for that can vote for that, too.

Remember, the uper-bracket tax cuts are unpopular. The only way the Republicans pass them is to combine them with middle-class tax cuts, then use the former to pass the latter. The whole tactic is to combine the two in order to put the GOP at an advantage. The Republican game is to hide their political shit sandwich in your ice cream sundae. Why let them play that game? Keep the two separate and let people decide which they want.

Works for me. Boehner demanded "an honest up-or-down vote" on this -- so give him one. One vote for the Obama policy with middle-class tax breaks, and one vote for the GOP plan for wealthy. Let's get everyone on the record and let the chips fall where they may.

Steve Benen 2:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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NEW START ADVANCES FROM COMMITTEE.... Going into today, only one Senate Republican -- ranking Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Dick Lugar -- had publicly endorsed the New START treaty President Obama successfully negotiated with Russia. It will need 67 for ratification -- not 60, not 51 -- which means Lugar would have to be joined by at least seven other Republican senators.

Today was the first key test, with a committee vote on whether to send the treaty to the floor. The results, fortunately, were encouraging.

A Senate panel approved a new strategic nuclear arms control treaty with Russia on Thursday, advancing one of President Barack Obama's main foreign policy priorities to an uncertain future in the full Senate.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 14-4 to approve the new START treaty. The full Senate must consent to the agreement before it can go into effect, but it is unclear when the treaty will get a vote on the Senate floor.

Three committee Republicans voted with the Democratic majority: Lugar, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Johnny Isakson of Georgia. With those three on board, Dems would need five more for ratification, which seems feasible.

Ideally, this wouldn't even be a question. For many years, support for U.S. nuclear arms treaties has been overwhelming and bipartisan, especially in the Senate. The INF Treaty of 1988 was ratified on a 93-to-5 vote. The 1992 vote on START was 93 to 6. The SORT Treaty's vote in 2003 was a unanimous 95-to-0 vote.

That was, of course, before much of the Republican Party went stark raving mad.

To be sure, the treaty enjoys enthusiastic bipartisan support -- mostly, with the exception of Sen. Dick Lugar, from Republican elder statesmen who are no longer in government. Officials like Reagan Secretary of State George Shultz, Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell, Reagan Chief of Staff Howard Baker, and former Sens. John Danforth and Chuck Hagel have all urged the Senate to ratify New START.

Fortunately, today, a few GOP senators actually managed to agree.

Time is, however, of the essence, and it's unclear if the Senate will complete its work this year. It really needs to. Not only would ratification be far more difficult next year with an influx of new, right-wing members, but while the Senate dithers, we no longer have the ability to inspect Russian long-term missile bases (Jon Kyl's humiliating ignorance notwithstanding).

The sooner the vote, the better.

For more background on this, Fred Kaplan had a good piece a few months ago on the treaty and its larger significance.

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (5)

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GREGG FEARS WARREN'S COMMITMENT TO 'SOCIAL JUSTICE'.... Back in March, deranged media personality Glenn Beck launched a crusade of sorts against houses of worship that make a commitment to "social justice." To Beck, the phrase is some kind of "code" for, among other things, "Marxism."

Apparently, fear of "social justice" is spreading in conservative circles.

A top Republican on financial issues said Thursday he was concerned that Elizabeth Warren would use a position in a new consumer protection agency to promote "social justice."

Gregg, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and a senior member of the Banking Committee, expressed dismay at President Obama's decision to tap Warren as a key "adviser" to help set up the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency established in the Wall Street reform bill.

"My concern is that she would use the agency for the purpose of promoting social justice," Gregg said on ABC's "Top Line" webcast.

Maybe someone can remind me -- what's so bad about social justice?

In this context, I suspect Gregg is talking about Warren's career protecting the rights and interests of consumers. She's developed a well-deserved reputation for going after abusive corporate practices -- shining a bright light, for example, on deceptive and unfair lending practices -- and looking out for the kind of families conservative Republicans prefer to ignore.

If "social justice" means a commitment to those who too often fall victim to abuses and corporate irresponsibility, don't we want more officials interested in "social justice," not fewer?

Gregg, one of the alleged reasonable Republicans who Democrats are supposed to be able to work with, condemned the White House's new role for Warren, calling it a "terrible adulteration of the process."

Actually, Judd, the "terrible adulteration of the process" came when Republican broke the confirmation system. The White House wouldn't have to find workarounds if the GOP hadn't left the Senate as such a dysfunctional embarrassment.

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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ROVE SEES THE ERROR OF HIS WAYS.... On Tuesday night, Karl Rove appeared on Fox News and said what he believed about Delaware's U.S. Senate race. In light of Christine O'Donnell's primary win, Rove called some of the nominee's remarks "nutty" and said "this is not a race we're going to be able to win." (In Fox News context, "we" means "Republicans.")

He went on to describe the extremist candidate in less-than-flattering terms: "It does conservatives little good to support candidates who, at the end of the day, while they may be conservative in their public statements, do not evince the characteristics of rectitude and truthfulness and sincerity and character that the voters are looking for."

Right-wing personalities -- Palin, Limbaugh, Malkin, Erickson, Pat Buchanan -- were deeply unhappy with Rove's criticism of a Republican. Would he apologize?

Well, not explicitly, but this morning's walk-back on Fox News was rather humiliating. Shortly after explaining that it's not his job "to be a cheerleader for every Republican," Rove quickly reversed course.

"Look, I endorsed [O'Donnell] the other night.... I was one of the first to do it," Rove argued.

Remind us, Karl, did the endorsement come before or after you questioned her "rectitude and truthfulness and sincerity and character"?

Rove went on to insist this morning that he personally intervened to help O'Donnell's campaign, not only with an endorsement, but with financial support from the party.

The Fox News screen only showed Rove from the chest up, but if the camera panned down, we might have seen his tail between his legs.

I suppose this should serve as a reminder to Republicans everywhere -- no matter how powerful you are, there's an unshakable expectation that GOP voices will support GOP candidates, without exception, and without regard for merit or national interest.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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THURSDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Yesterday afternoon, former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte officially won New Hampshire's GOP Senate primary, eking out a narrow win over Ovide Lamontagne.

* On a related note, the latest survey from Public Policy Polling shows Ayotte starting the general election phase with a narrow lead over Rep. Paul Hodes (D), 47% to 43%.

* In Florida's Senate race, a new Reuters/Ipsos poll shows Marco Rubio (R) pulling away, now leading Gov. Charlie Crist (I) by 14 points, 40% to 26%. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) is third with 21%, and Meek is clearly pulling his improved numbers from Crist, propelling Rubio.

* Speaking of Florida, Reuters/Ipsos also shows disgraced former health care executive Rick Scott (R) narrowly leading state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink (D) in the gubernatorial race, 47% to 45%.

* Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman is breaking all kinds of spending records in her Republican gubernatorial campaign in California. So far, she's contributed $119 million to her own effort -- easily surpassing the most money any candidate has ever invested in their own race in American history.

* In Ohio, two new polls show former Rep. John Kasich (R) with increasingly-comfortable leads over incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland (D). Quinnipiac shows Kasich, a former Fox News personality and Wall Street executive, up by 17 points, 54% to 37%, while a CNN/Time poll shows Kasich up by seven, 51% to 44%.

* Speaking of Ohio, CNN/Time also shows former Bush budget director Rob Portman (R) ahead of Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D), 52% to 41%.

* In Nevada, the new CNN/Time poll shows Sharron Angle (R) with a one-point lead over Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D), 42% to 41%.

* In the state of Washington, the CNN/Time poll shows Sen. Patty Murray (D) leading in her re-election bid, topping Dino Rossi (R) by nine, 53% to 44%

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (5)

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THE O'DONNELL HITS JUST KEEP ON COMING.... We've already learned quite a bit about Christine O'Donnell, the Republican Senate nominee in Delaware, and none of the revelations are especially flattering. But the revelations continue, and Richard Allen Smith flags the latest gem.

O'Donnell has articulated many extreme and/or ridiculous positions (for example, no lying to Nazis to protect Jews, and fervent opposition to masturbation), but one in particular stands out to me as a former Soldier. Christine O'Donnell doesn't want women in service schools.

There was a debate not too long ago over whether to allow women into institutions like the Citadel, and it was fairly common for conservatives to protect the "traditional" educational settings. But O'Donnell went much further than most, insisting, "By integrating women into particularly military institutes, it cripples the readiness of our defense."

O'Donnell, in other words, believes women at service academies is dangerous for America.

Ryan J. Reilly, meanwhile, compiled O'Donnell's top 10 quotes on a variety of issues she cares about. The Republican Senate nominee -- labeled "The Woman Who's Against Everything" -- is not only against masturbation, but also feminism, government anti-AIDS spending, psychics, nude sunbathing, and certain forms of dancing, among other things.

This from a candidate who enjoys the official support and financial backing of the Republican Party and its national leadership.

By the way, those hoping to learn more about O'Donnell by stopping by her website will likely be disappointed -- as with Sharron Angle after her primary win, O'Donnell's site has been stripped of literally all of its content, except a splash page asking for money.

One assumes savvy Democrats have plenty of screen shots, and we'll know what kind of changes her campaign made.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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THAT'S RICH.... The debate was especially common during the 2008 presidential campaign -- then-candidate Barack Obama said he'd allow Bush-era tax breaks to expire on schedule for those households making more than $250,000 a year. The response from Republicans and much of the media was that an income of $250,000 isn't a lot of money.

As the debate over tax policy takes center stage, we're hearing the same kind of talk. So once again, Daniel Gross does what's necessary and explains that "people who make $250,000 or more a year can afford a tax hike."

Based on the average American household income, those making $250,000 are bringing home five times the median, which puts them in the top 2% of all earners.

There are, of course, regional differences -- $250,000 in a major metropolitan area is different from a small, rural town. But "even if you look at the wealthiest metropolitan areas -- Washington ($85,236), San Francisco ($76,068), Boston ($70,334), and New York ($63,957) -- a quarter of a million dollars a year dwarfs the median income."

In a few ZIP codes and neighborhoods, to be sure, brandishing a $250,000 salary is like bringing a knife to a gunfight. There are significant numbers of rich people -- including a healthy contingent of filthy rich people -- in places like New York City and San Francisco. If you want to live in a neighborhood where starter homes cost $1 million, and you want to send your kids to private schools, and you want to go on great vacations and have a beach house, then $250,000 likely won't cut it. When the investment banker down the street just got a $2 million bonus, the knowledge that you're doing better than 98 percent of your fellow Americans is little solace.

But the places where $250,000 stretches you are few and far between: some of the swankier East Coast and Chicago suburbs, several neighborhoods in Manhattan, chunks of the California coast. Even in the most exclusive communities where the wealthy congregate, $250,000 is still pretty good coin. Consider this: In late 2008 Forbes ranked America's 25 wealthiest neighborhoods. In all of them, someone making $250,000 a year would probably not be able to afford his dream house. But in all of them, someone making $250,000 would be doing better than most of his neighbors.

Let's also not forget a little something called "marginal tax rates." A household bringing $300,000 a year will still get a tax break on most of that income (everything up to $250,000). So those towards the bottom end of the wealthiest 2% -- let's call them the "modestly rich" Americans -- aren't exactly going to get slammed with a massive new tax burden.

Something to keep in mind as the debate proceeds.

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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AN AMBIGUOUS LANDSCAPE.... You don't need a meteorologist to know which way the winds are blowing -- frustrated voters are in a sour mood and the Democratic majority is poised to feel the brunt of the public's anxieties and frustrations.

But the closer one looks at the data, the more ambiguous the political landscape appears.

Republicans are heading into the general election phase of the midterm campaign backed by two powerful currents: the highest proportion of voters in two decades say it is time for their own member of Congress to be replaced, and Americans are expressing widespread dissatisfaction with President Obama's leadership.

But the latest New York Times/CBS News poll also finds that while voters rate the performance of Democrats negatively, they view Republicans as even worse, providing a potential opening for Democrats to make a last-ditch case for keeping their hold on power.

Right off the bat, Republicans may be inclined to feel encouragement from the results. President Obama's approval rating has edged lower; the public doesn't like health care reform or the Recovery Act; and among likely voters, the GOP is ahead on the generic ballot. That's not a bad position for the minority party to be in less than seven weeks before the midterms.

But go ahead and dig through the data. You'll notice that it's apparent Republicans aren't exactly popular right now.

* Asked for their opinion on the way congressional Democrats have done their jobs, 30% of respondents approved. Asked the same about congressional Republicans, only 20% approved.

* Generally speaking, 45% of Americans have a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party, the highest score in a year. For the GOP, 34% have a favorable opinion. At this point in 1994, when Republicans took control of Congress, the party's favorable rating was 52%.

* 39% of Americans believe President Obama has a clear plan for solving the nation's problems. 18% say the same about congressional Republicans.

* Which party has better ideas for solving the nation's problems? 40% say Democrats, 33% say Republicans.

* Who's doing more to improve the economy? 48% say President Obama, 28% say Republicans.

* Which party is more likely to create new jobs? 44% say Democrats, 38% say Republicans.

* Which party will do more to help the middle class? 55% say Democrats, 33% say Republicans.

* Who's to blame for the economic mess? 37% say the Bush administration, 11% say Congress, 5% say the Obama administration.

Even on health care, 40% support repeal. But when the poll tells respondents that repeal would go back to allowing insurance companies to discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions, support for repeal drops to 19% -- suggesting the repeal push would fail miserably if Americans were told of the consequences.

I realize Republicans already assume they're taking at least one chamber of Congress, and the odds of them doing so are pretty good. It's possible, if not likely, that voters will find the GOP's message, agenda, and tactics to be completely wrong, and then elect them anyway.

But reading a poll like this, it's hard not to think Dems still have a chance.

Steve Benen 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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RANK-AND-FILE DEMS NEED TO LOOK AT THE HORIZON.... There's often a disconnect between the assumptions of those deeply engaged with the news and the public at large. Those of us who follow politics at the granular levels may be tempted to assume that "everyone" knows about a development, which is often largely unnoticed by those only passively aware of current events.

In a campaign context, this can make the difference between success and failure. Josh Marshall flagged this item.

An interesting nugget from PPP. According to their latest poll, Republicans are extremely bullish on their chances for recapturing Congress -- 74% think they'll capture the House and 62% think they get the Senate. That's pretty optimistic for the Senate, but maybe not too far off on the House. But Democrats look likely not to know what hit them on November 3rd. Only 22% of Dems see a House loss and only 17% one in the Senate.

This isn't new. As we talked about last week, there was a Pew Research Center survey two months ago that found rank-and-file Dems simply had no idea of the impending electoral threat. Less than a fifth of self-identified Democratic voters (18%) expected 2010 to be a worse-than-usual year for their party's candidates. About half (48%) thought this year would be about the same, while 29% of Dems, apparently living in some kind of fantasy world, actually thought the Democratic majorities are likely to get bigger this year.

I'd assumed that Democratic voters would be more aware of the threat as the elections drew closer, but the PPP data Josh referenced suggests most self-identified Dems still don't quite appreciate the danger, better yet the consequences of failure.

It adds a pretty significant item to the Democratic Party's to-do list: make the party's rank-and-file know that a huge cycle is less than seven weeks away, and the possibility of a political catastrophe is high.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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NO MODERATES NEED APPLY.... Vice President Biden sat down with Rachel Maddow yesterday, and the two covered quite a bit of ground, but the interview began with a discussion about the GOP Senate primary for Biden's old seat in Delaware.

Rachel asked how he explains what transpired on Tuesday. "It's hard to explain," Biden conceded. After noting the low turnout, the V.P. noted the bigger picture: "[T]he truth is, it's real tough for the Republican Party. It's kind of hung on a shingle: 'No moderates need apply.'"

Just so we're clear, no one disagrees with this, right? In other words, if there's one thing that reasonable political observers of every stripe should be able to agree on, it's that the Republican Party is now, through and through, a far-right entity that actively and deliberately rejects moderate candidates.

There was a point earlier in the summer at which the media seemed anxious to characterize this as a bipartisan problem -- the party bases were in control, and only extremists, purists, and ideologues could win primaries. The Washington Post editorial board, in one especially odd piece, lamented the "ideological purification of both parties."

Have we reached the moment at which this need not be considered a "bipartisan" issue?

There's been a remarkable purge in the GOP this year, unlike anything we've seen in quite a while. Mike Castle's defeat in Delaware was stunning and borderline ridiculous, but it was only the cherry on top of a disturbing sundae.

How long is the list of purge victims now, anyway? Castle, Specter, Crist, Bennett, Inglis, Murkowski, Scozzafava ... these were Republicans in good standing, poised to do very well with a broad swath of voters, right up until the party's rank-and-file decided they were insufficiently right-wing.

I suspect most voters find it difficult enough to keep up on political developments in their area, and don't keep an eye on larger trends outside their own state, so much of the country probably has no idea that Republicans have driven so many moderates away. If the public isn't aware of the purge, the party probably won't suffer electoral consequences.

But just as a factual matter, when Biden says the GOP has declared "no moderates need apply," I like to think anyone paying attention to national events would see this as obviously true.

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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ELIZABETH WARREN TO JOIN OBAMA TEAM.... It's been difficult keeping up with the rumors in recent weeks about Elizabeth Warren and her possible role in the Obama administration. Atrios joked the other day, after a Fox News report that Warren would be the interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, "Went to bed, Warren interim. Woke up, she wasn't. Went for a walk, now she is again."

And soon after, Fox News retracted its report and she wasn't again.

As of this morning, however, we finally know with confidence what's going to happen. ABC's Jake Tapper broke the story last night, reporting that President Obama will name Elizabeth Warren to "a special position reporting to both him and to the Treasury Department," tasked with heading the effort to get the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau -- which was Warren's idea -- up and running.

There are lingering questions about the details, but Tapper's report has been widely confirmed.

The decision, which Mr. Obama is to announce this week, would allow Ms. Warren, a Harvard law professor, to effectively run the new agency without having to go through a potentially contentious confirmation battle in the Senate. The creation of the bureau is a centerpiece of the Wall Street financial overhaul that Mr. Obama signed in July.

Ms. Warren will be named an assistant to the president, a designation that is held by senior White House staff members, including Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff. She will also be a special adviser to the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, and report jointly to Mr. Obama and Mr. Geithner. The financial regulation law delegated to the Treasury Department the powers of the bureau until a permanent director was appointed and confirmed by the Senate to a five-year term.

This looks like very positive news. Warren is one of the nation's leading consumer advocates and experts on bankruptcy law, and has drawn fire from conservatives precisely because she's so effective in going after abusive corporate practices.

Why not just appoint her to head the commission? The White House came to believe that the Senate's dysfunction would leave Warren in limbo for months, if not longer, leaving her unable to work and the consumer-protection agency unable to function. (And if the Senate ultimately killed her nomination, it would set back the process even more.) The approach the president chose allows Warren to have the authority to start making a difference right away.

It's probably premature to draw hard conclusions until the official announcement is made and more details are available, but this isn't necessarily a mushy, split-the-difference compromise; at least it doesn't have to be if the White House does it right. Indeed, this is very likely news Warren backers should celebrate -- she'll be in a position to shape the CFPB the right way, and effectively serve as its functioning chief for quite a while. At some point down the road, the president may go ahead and nominate Warren to formally head the agency anyway.

Ideally, of course, these circuitous tactics wouldn't be necessary. The White House could nominate an overwhelmingly qualified official to a key post, and the Senate would vote on her nomination. But as Annie Lowery reminds us, the "confirmation process is broken," forcing the administration to get creative. It's bad for the country and our system of government when unprecedented Republican tactics make a branch of government this dysfunctional.

But until there's meaningful Senate reform, workarounds are necessary. In Warren's case, the solution appears to be a good one.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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September 15, 2010

WEDNESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* No breakthroughs: "Palestinian militants and Israeli forces attacked each other Wednesday, forming a grim backdrop for the latest round of U.S.-driven peace negotiations. The talks ended with no agreement on the most pressing issue: Jewish settlements."

* The oil leak stopped in July, but it's time to finish this once and for all: "The U.S. government's point man on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill said Wednesday that BP's blown-out well is expected to be permanently sealed and declared dead by Sunday, nearly five months after a rig explosion set off the disaster."

* Let your friends and family members who served in the military know -- veterans affected by the stop-loss policy are eligible for retroactive pay, but the filing deadline is in a couple of weeks.

* More good news out of Detroit: "U.S. auto sales this month are surprisingly strong, and the pace picked up during the nation's Labor Day holiday weekend, said Mark Fields, Ford Motor Co.s president of the Americas." (thanks to T.K.)

* He's serious about this, and I'm glad: "Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Tuesday laid out details of his plans to save $100 billion in five years as he tries to run the Pentagon more efficiently."

* For the discussion about "uncertainty," the facts are remarkably clear: "Businesses aren't hiring because of poor sales, period, end of story."

* The DNC hopes to show voters around "BoehnerLand."

* GOP leaders really do seem to believe, for no reason at all, that their tax policies are popular. They're not.

* Daniel Luzer explores "financial literacy" and student debt.

* I have no idea what the National Federation of Republican Women was thinking by hosting this event, but having the South Carolina Senate President Glenn McConnell (R) dressing up as a Confederate general, and posing with African Americans dressed as slaves, was a spectacularly bad idea.

* Elon Green on Debra Burlingame, who the media treats as "an apolitical voice representing relatives of the 9/11 victims," but who more closely resembles "a political operative with a right-wing agenda."

* And two years ago today, the economy "teetered on the brink of collapse as the nation's largest financial institutions began to fail." It was genuinely horrifying; here's my post from that morning.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (5)

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A LESS NOTEWORTHY BACK-TO-SCHOOL MESSAGE.... About a year ago, we got our first unmistakable sign that the political discourse would border on farcical for much of the Obama era. The White House had announced the president would deliver a speech to children, broadcast nationwide, encouraging them to do well in school. It was the start of a new school year, and it seemed like a reasonable thing for a president to do. (In fact, other presidents had done the same thing without controversy.)

The chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, in a striking tantrum, lashed out at Obama for trying to "indoctrinate America's children to his socialist agenda." Much of the right became apoplectic about the president's message, and many, including Glenn Beck, began organizing a campaign to keep children from going to school the day of Obama's speech.

Conservatives, in all seriousness, equated a presidential message of responsibility and hard work with Communist China and Hitler Youth. The uproar, based on nothing but hysterical stupidity, literally became front-page news.

Yesterday, Obama gave it another shot, and thankfully, the right didn't bother to throw a fit.

With an acknowledgment that he had slacked off in school himself on occasion, President Obama exhorted the nation's students Tuesday to show "discipline and drive" to help their country compete in the global economy. [...]

The address, described as a nonpolitical event, was shown on the White House Web site and on C-SPAN. The president urged students at Philadelphia's Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School, as well as his national audience, to study and stay out of trouble. [...]

Carlton Mosley, 17, a 12th-grader at Masterman who was in the audience in the school's ornate two-story auditorium, said Obama's message resonated with students. "Who could disagree with following your dreams and working hard?" he said.

The kicker of all this was a Washington Times suggesting last year's right-wing freak-out was the president's fault: "This time around, the White House appeared to have learned its lesson and avoided a similar media frenzy by issuing Mr. Obama's straightforward and -- judging by the lack of conservative backlash -- uncontroversial address ahead of time."

But that doesn't make sense. Last year's address was straightforward and uncontroversial, too, and it was issued in advance. The only difference is that, a year ago, the right felt like throwing a tantrum, and major media outlets felt like treating their faux outrage as a serious story.

Had conservatives felt a little more bored over the last few weeks, and felt like stirring up trouble all over again, we would have seen a replay. Fortunately, the right has had other things -- like converting clothing stores into community centers -- on its mind.

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (4)

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ROVE FACES RIGHT-WING HEAT FOR ACCIDENTALLY TELLING THE TRUTH.... Fox News campaign coverage is supposed to follow a certain script -- the conservative Republican candidate deserves to win, without exception. Last night, Karl Rove forgot his lines and actually offered objective analysis.

Karl Rove and Sean Hannity duked it out tonight over Christine O'Donnell's win in the Republican Senate primary in Delaware, with Rove, surprisingly, calling some of O'Donnell's remarks "nutty" and conceding that "this is not a race we're going to be able to win."

"This was about Mike Castle's bad votes," Rove said tonight on Fox News. "It does conservatives little good to support candidates who, at the end of the day, while they may be conservative in their public statements, do not evince the characteristics of rectitude and truthfulness and sincerity and character that the voters are looking for."

Rove pointed out that there have been a lot of questions about O'Donnell's finances, and some of her allegations against Castle.

By any reasonable estimation, this assessment of O'Donnell was objectively fair and consistent with what any media professional scrutinizing the race would say.

The problem, of course, is that the right doesn't want Karl Rove, a media professional, to play the role he's paid to play. They want him to be a Republican advocate, regardless of circumstance or merit, using his media perch to cheerlead for the party's candidates.

As a result, former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R) is calling on Rove to "buck up" because "it's time for unity." Soon after, the Family Research Council, D.C.'s most prominent religious-right group, sent around an item arguing that Rove "seems to have a personal vendetta against" O'Donnell. The headline on the FRC item read, "Stark Rove-ing Mad."

Elsewhere, Michelle Malkin, Erick Erickson, Pat Buchanan, and Mark Levin, among others, all slammed Rove for his criticism of the Delaware primary winner.

As far as I can tell, no one's actually gotten around to arguing that Rove's comments were wrong, only that he shouldn't have made them out loud.

So, will Rove be forced to apologize? It doesn't seem consistent with his personality, but then again, he rarely faces this much heat from his right-wing friends.

Steve Benen 4:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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GETTING TO KNOW HER; GETTING TO KNOW ALL ABOUT HER.... There was a point, immediately after Sharron Angle's Republican Senate primary win in Nevada, when objective observers would say, "She seems pretty crazy." And then some more information about her would come to light, leading observers to say, "Wow, she really is crazy." And then we'd hear about her suggesting armed insurrection against the United States, leading observers to say, "Good lord, she's cover-your-eyes crazy."

Prepare for a similar series of events in light of yesterday's contest in Delaware.

Going into yesterday's Republican Senate primary, Christine O'Donnell was considered just a kook who kept embarrassing herself, running unsuccessfully for statewide office. Ed Kilgore offered this description:

O'Donnell is a recent newcomer to Delaware and, since arriving, has managed to get into trouble with her student loans, her taxes, her mortgage, and her job. She also unsuccessfully sued a conservative organization for gender discrimination. In general, she's the kind of person whom you'd expect Tea Party activists to excoriate for irresponsibility, not promote as a candidate for high office. But yesterday she beat Castle handily, becoming yet another exhibit of the extraordinary extent to which ideology has trumped every other factor in the 2010 Republican primary season.

But just as Angle's madness came into sharper focus with additional information, the closer one looks at O'Donnell, the more detached from reality she appears.

The story that's getting a fair amount of attention today is O'Donnell's anti-masturbation campaign. But that's really just the beginning. For example, she not only rejects modern biology, O'Donnell believes there's "just as much, if not more, evidence supporting" creationism over evolution.

She's also argued against coed college dorms, insisting that they could lead to "orgy rooms" and "menage a trois rooms."

Politically, O'Donnell has told Fox News that President Obama "is so liberal that he's anti-American." She's also fought against AIDS funding and insisted the condoms wouldn't stop the disease from spreading.

More recently, her campaign manager explained, "This is her third Senate race in five years. As O'Donnell's manager, I found out she was living on campaign donations -- using them for rent and personal expenses, while leaving her workers unpaid and piling up thousands in debt."

O'Donnell also appears to be a little paranoid, telling the Weekly Standard that she regularly checks the bushes and cars around her townhouse because some unknown people "follow me home at night."

In the competition for craziest Senate candidate of 2010, there are some strong contenders -- Angle, Paul, Buck, Miller, Toomey, Johnson -- but O'Donnell has to rank near the top.

Steve Benen 3:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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TOP RATES.... Chris Hayes raised a good point this morning that bears repeating: "I would very much like to see the U.S. return to the average top marginal tax rates of the Reagan administration." He added, "Do Republicans believe the top marginal rates under Reagan were 'job killing'?"

This is relevant, of course, in light of the debate over tax rates in Washington. President Obama wants to keep lower rates for the middle class; Republicans are fighting to protect lower rates for the wealthiest Americans. Under Obama's vision, the top marginal tax rate would return to 39.6% -- where it was under Clinton, and where it would return based on the expiration date adopted by George W. Bush and congressional Republicans.

top_rates.jpg

At this point, the GOP considers a 39.6% top rate, applied only to the top 2% of wage earners, as somehow confiscatory and dangerous. So, to Chris' point, let's add a visual element to the discussion.

John Cole posted this graph early last year, and it's still helpful. See that column on the far-right edge? That's where Obama proposes the marginal top-rate should be. Indeed, that's exactly where the rate would be, effective January 1, 2011, based on the tax policy adopted Republicans several years ago.

(If you're having trouble seeing the chart, MoveOn republished it in an easier-to-read version.)

A 39.6% top rate isn't outrageous. It's not socialism. It's lower than the top rate for most of Reagan's presidency, lower than Nixon's top rate, lower than Eisenhower's top rate, and lower than FDR's top rate when he pulled us out of the Great Depression.

There's really no reason for Republicans to hyperventilate here.

Steve Benen 2:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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PARTY RALLIES BEHIND CANDIDATE IT CAN'T STAND.... Almost immediately after Christine O'Donnell had won the Republican Senate primary in Delaware, the National Republican Senatorial Committee made one thing clear: it had no intention of investing resources in O'Donnell's general-election campaign.

About a half-day later, wouldn't you know it, the NRSC has had a change of heart.

In a clear sign of the grassroots pressure on Republican leaders, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn just put out a statement embracing Christine O'Donnell -- a dramatic contrast with his group's curt response last night -- and writing her a big check.

It's a remarkable reversal, and a vivid illustration that the base is in charge and has the leadership running scared.

Cornyn not only endorsed O'Donnell, he also sent her a check for $42,000 -- which may not sound like much in a statewide race, but it happens to be double the amount O'Donnell had in the bank as of two weeks ago.

Hot on the NRSC's heels, former Gov. Mitt Romney (R), still desperate to impress far-right activists in advance of another presidential campaign, also endorsed O'Donnell. His political action committee also sent her a $5,000 contribution.

It's a reminder that Republican leaders continue to go to great lengths to satisfy their base, but it's also further proof of how the parties deal with fringe candidates who unexpectedly win statewide primaries. When Alvin Greene managed to win the Democratic Senate primary in South Carolina, leading Dems, including House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, said they wanted nothing to do with him. It was a responsible thing to do.

But on the other side of the aisle, candidates who are nearly as ridiculous as Alvin Greene keep winning Republican primaries, and keep receiving their party's backing.

No one seriously believes the NRSC has a patriotic duty to endorse Chris Coons, Harry Reid, Jack Conway, et al. But it is interesting that Dems distance themselves from their fringe, unqualified Senate candidates, while Republicans aren't interested in doing the same.

Steve Benen 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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TEA PARTIERS CAN WIN A PRIMARY, BUT CAN THEY STAND ON PRINCIPLE?.... Congressional Republicans are currently working on a plan to permanently extend Bush-era tax rates, at a cost of $4 trillion over the next decade. How would the GOP pay for these cuts? It wouldn't -- every penny would just get thrown onto the national debt for future generations to worry about.

OK, so the Republican Party's talk about fiscal responsibility is obviously a transparent sham. But what about the Tea Partiers? Benjy Sarlin had this Daily Beast item yesterday. (via TS)

If the GOP retakes Congress and doesn't immediately take on the Tea Partiers' top issue, the national debt, they face a backlash that could cost them the support of the movement -- whose expectations are sky high.

Now, the point of the Sarlin piece was about whether Republican lawmakers would follow through on meeting right-wing activists' demands, but let's focus in on a slightly different point -- the notion that the national debt is the so-called movement's "top issue."

It's hard to say with any confidence -- different zealots get involved for different reasons -- but if that's true, the Republican tax plan offers Tea Partiers with a great opportunity.

Indeed, it's something of a challenge of their credibility and principles. When will we see a Tea Party organization, any Tea Party organization, publicly denounce the Republican tax plan as irresponsible and unaffordable? The GOP has no qualms about adding $4 trillion to the debt over the next 10 years. Surely the folks who consider the debt their "top issue" should have something to say about this, right?

Taking this one step further, the plain truth is that the entire Obama agenda -- every proposal that has passed or even been talked about -- costs far less than the Republican tax plan. And that's an agenda that forced these far-right activists into the streets to scream bloody murder.

So, what's it going to be, debt-obsessed Tea Partiers? Are you on board with a $4 trillion package that isn't paid for, or are you ready to "refudiate" it?

Steve Benen 1:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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A PEEK AT THE NRSC PRIORITIES.... In one of the handful of Senate pick-up opportunities for Democrats, Kentucky continues to look like a tough haul. The party got the match-up it wanted -- an accomplished and successful state Attorney General (Jack Conway) against an extremist ophthalmologist who doesn't know much about Kentucky (Rand Paul) -- but polls show the Dem trailing.

Nevertheless, the race remains competitive -- so much so that the National Republican Senatorial Committee chose Kentucky for its first ad buy of the election cycle.

Here's some evidence that, despite some of the public polling, this one is still a race: The National Republican Senatorial Committee has put up its first television ad of the cycle ... in Kentucky.

It's also a bit of an olive branch from the national party to Rand Paul.

The ad ties Jack Conway to national Democrats, and attacks him for failing to sue to block the health care overhaul as Attorney General.

As a factual matter, the attack ad is ridiculous. But that's not exactly shocking -- Republican attack ads are nearly always deceptive.

There are two other angles to this I find interesting. The first is that it attacks Conway for a Democratic health care plan that, the NRSC says, cuts Medicare. But the last time I checked, Conway is running against a Republican opponent who doesn't think Medicare should exist. If the race comes down to which candidate values Medicare more, I suspect the Democrats would be thrilled.

The second is the strategy behind the ad itself. The NRSC could have chosen any Senate race in the country to devote resources, but the first contest they chose was Kentucky's race -- an election in a deep "red" Southern state that Republicans didn't expect to be competitive at all.

The funny thing about campaign committees is that they really can't bluff very well. The parties have limited resources and a lot of races, so when a committee invests in a contest, it's clear evidence that the party is concerned about the outcome.

There aren't many GOP-held Senate seats that the National Republican Senatorial Committee is worried about this year. This is obviously one of them.

Update: Right on cue, the Conway campaign points to an internal poll showing Paul up by only two points.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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WEDNESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Who won New Hampshire's closely-watched GOP Senate primary? No one's sure quite yet -- it's too close to call -- but locals hope to have a winner by the end of the day. Former state A.G. Kelly Ayotte, with the support of the Republican Party, appears to have narrowly won.

* Rep. Mike Castle will not endorse Christine O'Donnell, who defeated him yesterday in a GOP primary, in Delaware's U.S. Senate race.

* A survey taken last night by Public Policy Polling shows Chris Coons (D) starting the general-election phase with a 16-point lead over O'Donnell (R), 50% to 34%.

* Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has decided not to run as a Libertarian this year, but has not yet ruled out a write-in campaign. An announcement about her future is now expected by Friday.

* Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) overcame a primary challenge in Harlem yesterday, defeating Adam Clayton Powell IV by a two-to-one margin, 50%, to 23%.

* In a win for progressive activism, Ann McLane Kuster defeated Katrina Swett in a New Hampshire congressional primary yesterday, in the race to replace Rep. Paul Hodes (D), who's running for the Senate.

* Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) faced a primary challenge from Wall Street veteran Reshma Saujani, but the incumbent had little trouble, winning 81% to 19%.

* In Nevada, a new Reuters/Ipsos poll shows Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) hanging onto a two-point lead over Sharron Angle (R), 46% to 44%.

* And in Kentucky, the latest DailyKos/PPP poll shows right-wing ophthalmologist Rand Paul (R) continuing to lead state A.G. Jack Conway (D), 49% to 42%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

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