Posts Tagged ‘Paul Ryan’

All Good Just A Week Ago

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

A remnant from the Rand Paul filibuster story. I’ve watched this video of Marco Rubio quoting Jay-Z and Wiz Khalifa on the floor of the Senate about ten times. It always leaves me with my mouth open. If you told me 7 years ago that the President of the United States would be a black guy named Hussein Obama and that the likely Republican front runner to succeed him would be quoting Jay-Z on the floor of the Senate, I would have rolled my eyes and said, “Come on man!” Just more evidence that The Times Are A Changin’.

Anyway, this video led to some mildly entertaining discussions with my conservative uncle. He pointed to Rubio’s comment that things would be much different if President Bush waffled when asked if he had the power to order drone attacks to assassinate US citizens within the United States and citing a Glenn Greenwald blog post calling out liberals for their embrace of Bush era policies, including (amazingly), the keeping of Gitmo opened. Good points all, but I reminded him that hypocrisy is a double edged sword. Both Rubio and Mitch McConnell lent support to Rand’s filibuster, but where have they been for all this time on the expansion of government powers to fight terrorism? #StandWithRand starts trending on twitter and these guys are newborn civil libertarians?  Can anyone imagine them joining a Democratic filibuster in protest of Bush Era executive overreach?

It was all good just a week ago.

Same with spending: where was brave deficit hawk Saint Paul of Wisconsin when the prescription drug bill was passed without any source of funding? Oh yeah, he provided one of the deciding votes.

cuz, it was all good just a week ago.

How about the Tea Party? Where were they when the Bush Administration went on their 8 year spending binge? Nowhere to be found. The didn’t even exist until America hired a (black) Chicago Democrat to clean up GW’s mess.

and it was all good just a week ago.

and how about the most blatant example of Republican hypocrisy over the last 4 years: Benghazi. Iraq War: over a hundreds thousand people died as a result of Bush’s bad decision and the lies he told to sell it. Meh… Benghazi: 4 people die and the president shades the truth for a couple weeks. National Outrage!!

cuz it was all good just a week ago.

And since we’re talking about the intersection of politics, hypocrisy and Hip Hop, how can it be that it’s okay for Marco Rubio to quote a song by Jay-Z and Too $hort, on the floor of the Senate, but when Common get’s an invite to the White House, it’s a national emergency on Fox News. Someone on the staff of The Daily Caller might want to do a google search for “Too Short Nancy Reagan” I mean…

It was all good just a week ago…

Joe Biden Opens Up a Can on Paul Ryan

Monday, October 15th, 2012

 

Joe Biden was on fire Thursday night.

Lots of debate on whether or not he was inappropriate or rude, but I think it’s hard to argue that he was not effective. Biden dominated the debate, refusing to let Ryan sanctimoniously lecture on the inadequacies of the Obama record and laughing not only at the blows that he tried to land, but at Ryan’s whole persona and the persona of Mitt Romney as well. Obviously this was a tactical decision on Team Obama’s part, and it has roots in the historical messaging of the campaign.

Early on in the campaign, Obama’s campaign had to make a decision on whether to attack Mitt Romney for the far right positions that he took throughout his 6 year campaign for the presidency, or on his historical habit of changing his positions depending on what office he was running for. They chose the former and, aside from destroying the contention that he was a “job creator,” their campaign was mostly about the extreme positions that Romney had based his campaign on to date. Team Obama knew that this was never an either/or choice, because if Romney started to move towards “Moderate Mitt,” they could always go back to the flip-flopper charge.

Just before Romney locked up the Republican nomination, top advisor Eric Fehrnstrom noted that once a nominee locked up the nomination, it represented a reset for the campaign, sort of like shaking up an Etch-a-Sketch. Most people assumed that this, in fact, would be Romney’s strategy.   What most people underestimated was how much the far right prevented Romney from moving to the center. This was made evident in August when Romney campaign spokesperson Andrea Saul dared to mention Romney’s Masachussets health care reform in a positive light and the right wing threw a three stage hissy fit. Ann Coulter even demanded that Andrea Saul be fired for daring to suggest that Romney’s major accomplishment as governor could be seen positively. Given these constraints placed on him by his own party, it was perhaps understandable that Romney would not be able to move effectively to the center, but I think the Obama campaign was surprised how Romney neglected to even try.

Fast forward to last week’s debate, where Romney seemed to disavow many of the themes he ran on. $5 trillion in tax cuts by cutting income tax rates? I don’t have a plan to do that… Cover people with pre-existing conditions? Sure, my plan does that, just like yours… Repeal Dodd-Frank? Well, I’m not for all of it, but we really do need regulation. Business can’t function without regulation, and so on…. Frankly, I think that Obama’s team was surprised by this sudden move to the center because it’s probably unprecedented for a candidate to do it with less than a month to go in the campaign.

The Obama campaign spent millions of dollars convincing America that Mitt Romney was a joke, but in one and a half hours of a debate that Obama just neglected to show up to, Romney effectively turned that on its head, seeming not only presidential, but moderate once again, and in the process, erasing all of the gains Obama made post-convention. Biden’s job last week was to once again make Mitt look like the craven politician that he has always been, and (despite the rhetorical excesses) he did that effectively on Thursday night.

Ryan is the conservative Boy Wonder, but Biden treated him an insolent young punk, laughing when he spoke, looking at him with amazement every time he dared to criticize the Administration, throwing his hands in the air and interrupting him frequently.  The pundit class at Fox was outraged (outraged I say!) at Biden’s debate demeanor. The following day we were treated to Dick Cheney on Hannity saying that Biden seemed unstable and that ”It’s not the type of personality I’d like to see in the Oval Office” Ponder that for a second: the guy who invaded the wrong country, shot a man in the face and told a sitting Senator to “Fuck Yourself” on the floor of the Senate thinks Joe Biden is too “volatile” to be Vice President?

To be sure, I thought Biden did take it a little too far (giggling during a discussion of Iran’s nuclear weapons capability was slightly unseemly), but Matt Taibbi summed it up pretty well, arguing that given what Mitt Romney is trying to pull on America, “We should all be rolling our eyes, and scoffing and saying, ‘Come back when you’re serious.’” 

The Romney/Ryan ticket decided, with incredible cynicism, that that they were going to promise this massive tax break, not explain how to pay for it, and then just hang on until election day, knowing that most of the political press would let it skate, or at least not take a dump all over it when explaining it to the public. Unchallenged, and treated in print and on the air as though it were the same thing as a real plan, a 20 percent tax cut sounds pretty good to most Americans. Hell, it sounds good to me.

The proper way to report such a tactic is to bring to your coverage exactly the feeling that Biden brought to the debate last night: contempt and amazement. We in the press should be offended by what Romney and Ryan are doing – we should take professional offense that any politician would try to whisk such a gigantic lie past us to our audiences, and we should take patriotic offense that anyone is trying to seize the White House using such transparently childish and dishonest tactics.

Taibbi points to this specific dodge on tax policy, but that analysis can be applied to any number of characteristics of the Romney-Ryan campaign: from his high profile shifts on long held positions like health care, abortion rights and gay rights, to his claim to be a “job creator” when his firm was a “pioneer in outsourcing” American jobs, to his claim that he views debt as a moral imperative, while his tax and defense plans dig a $7 trillion hole in the budget before they try to balance anything, or to the idea that he claims to be someone who wants to tell America “hard truths,” but refuses to name any of the sacrifices he would ask of Americans in order to get to where we need to go, or to Ryan’s derision of the stimulus as “green pork” when he actually wrote to Biden asking that constituents in his district be awarded green energy contracts since the programs “would create jobs and growth,” or to Romney and Ryan’s laughable assertion that they are the would be saviors of Medicare when they were both in favor of a plan to dismantle it last year, or to his constant criticism of Presdent Obama’s foreign policy when they are offering NOTHING different save their vague promises not to “apologize for America.” The only thing consistent about Mitt Romney seems to be his inconsistency and Joe Biden put that into stark relief last week.

Now that Biden has softened up the target, expect that to be a big theme in Tuesday’s debate between Romney and Obama.

Wonk in Chief Demolishes Romney-Ryan

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

The Democrats wrapped up an amazing Convention last week, but the best speaker by far was former President Bill Clinton. In a speech that was remarkably full of wonky policy details (someone on Twitter refered to it as ”45 minutes of wonk porn” and Ezra Klein dubbed him the Wonk in Chief),  Clinton dismantled the case for a Romney-Ryan Presidency piece by piece.

He spoke about Democratic vs. Republican economic philosophies and economic records:

We Democrats, we think the country works better with a strong middle class, with real opportunities for poor folks to work their way into it, with a relentless focus on the future, with business and government actually working together to promote growth and broadly shared prosperity. You see, we believe that “We’re all in this together” is a far better philosophy than “You’re on your own.”

So who’s right? Well, since 1961, for 52 years now, the Republicans have held the White House 28 years, the Democrats 24. In those 52 years, our private economy has produced 66 million private- sector jobs. So what’s the job score? Republicans: twenty-four million. Democrats: forty-two.

He put the economic and political situation in perspective:

In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president’s re- election was actually pretty simple, pretty snappy. It went something like this: “We left him a total mess. He hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in.”…

I like the argument for President Obama’s re-election a lot better. Here it is. He inherited a deeply damaged economy. He put a floor under the crash. He began the long, hard road to recovery and laid the foundation for a modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good, new jobs, vibrant new businesses, and lots of new wealth for innovators…

When President Barack Obama took office, the economy was in freefall. It had just shrunk 9 full percent of GDP. We were losing 750,000 jobs a month.

He compared the situation to when he was in office, intimating that the economy just hadn’t been given enough time to recover:

Here’s the challenge he faces and the challenge all of you who support him face. I get it. I know it. I’ve been there. A lot of Americans are still angry and frustrated about this economy. If you look at the numbers, you know employment is growing, banks are beginning to lend again, and in a lot of places, housing prices have even began to pick up.

But too many people do not feel it yet. I had this same thing happen in 1994 and early ‘95. We could see that the policies were working, that the economy was growing, but most people didn’t feel it yet. Thankfully, by 1996, the economy was roaring, everybody felt it, and we were halfway through the longest peacetime expansion in the history of the United States…. But the difference this time is purely in the circumstances. President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did. Listen to me now. No president, no president — not me, not any of my predecessors — no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years.

The not so subtle message: You know how great I was for the economy, but even I couldn’t have got this economy moving. A very important message aimed directly at moderates who worry that the lack of a more robust economic recovery may be the result of Obama’s economic policies instead of the devastating effects of the 2008 financial crisis.

Clinton defended the Administration’s policy decisions on health care and the auto bailout and then demolished the Romney-Ryan argument on Medicare:

(B)oth Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan attacked the president for allegedly “robbing Medicare” of $716 billion. That’s the same attack they leveled against the Congress in 2010, and they got a lot of votes on it. But it’s not true.

Look, here’s what really happened. You be the judge… There were no cuts to benefits at all, none. What the president did was to save money by taking the recommendations of a commission of professionals to cut unwarranted subsidies to providers and insurance companies that were not making people healthier and were not necessary to get the providers to provide the service. And instead of raiding Medicare, he used the savings to close the donut hole in the Medicare drug program. And — you all got to listen carefully to this. This is really important — and to add eight years to the life of the Medicare trust fund so it is solvent until 2024.

So President Obama and the Democrats didn’t weaken Medicare. They strengthened Medicare.

With his signature, folksy grin, Bill Clinton savaged Ryan:

Now, when Congressman Ryan looked into that TV camera and attacked President Obama’s Medicare savings as, quote, “the biggest, coldest power play,” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry… because that $716 billion is exactly to the dollar the same amount of Medicare savings that he has in his own budget!

And then the coup de gras:

You got to give one thing: It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did.

And then a pivot from Ryan to Romney:

Now, at least on this issue, on this one issue, Governor Romney has been consistent. He attacked President Obama, too, but he actually wants to repeal those savings and give the money back to the insurance company. He wants to go back to the old system, which means we’ll reopen the donut hole and force seniors to pay more for drugs, and we’ll reduce the life of the Medicare trust fund by eight full years. So if he’s elected, and if he does what he promised to do, Medicare will now go broke in 2016. Think about that. That means after all we won’t have to wait until their voucher program kicks in, in 2023, to see the end of Medicare as we know it. They’re going to do it to us sooner than we thought.

Clinton also hit Romney and Ryan on Medicaid cuts, which is a topic that has mostly been avoided by Democrats, since programs for the poor have shown consistently less support than universal programs such as Medicare. Clinton pointed out that all the Romney-Ryan talk about preserving benefits for current seniors is just that: talk.

They also want to block grant Medicaid and cut it by a third over the coming 10 years. Of course, that’s going to really hurt a lot of poor kids. But that’s not all. A lot of folks don’t know it, but nearly two-thirds of Medicaid is spent on nursing home care for Medicare seniors who are eligible for Medicaid. It’s going to end Medicare as we know it. And a lot of that money is also spent to help people with disabilities, including… a lot of middle-class families whose kids have Down’s syndrome or autism or other severe conditions.

Again, subtext: we’re not just talking about poor people here, we’re talking about good, middle-class people like you…

Similarly, Clinton took apart Romney and Ryan’s claim to be the guys making the tough calls on the budget: 

(T)he Romney plan fails the first test of fiscal responsibility: The numbers just don’t add up.

I mean, consider this. What would you do if you had this problem? Somebody says, “Oh, we’ve got a big debt problem. We’ve got to reduce the debt.” So what’s the first thing he says we’re going to do? “Well, to reduce the debt, we’re going to have another $5 trillion in tax cuts, heavily weighted to upper-income people. So we’ll make the debt hole bigger before we start to get out of it.”

Now, when you say, “What are you going to do about this $5 trillion you just added on?” They say, “Oh, we’ll make it up by eliminating loopholes in the tax code.” So then you ask, “Well, which loopholes? And how much?” You know what they say? “See me about that after the election.”

I’m not making it up. That’s their position. “See me about that after the election.”

Now, people ask me all the time how we got four surplus budgets in a row. What new ideas did we bring to Washington? I always give a one-word answer: arithmetic…

If they stay with this $5 trillion tax cut plan in a debt reduction plan, the arithmetic tells us, no matter what they say, one of three things is about to happen. One, assuming they try to do what they say they’ll do — get rid of — cover it by deductions, cutting those deductions — one, they’ll have to eliminate so many deductions, like the ones for home mortgages and charitable giving, that middle- class families will see their tax bills go up an average of $2,000, while anybody who makes $3 million or more will see their tax bill go down $250,000.

Or, two, they’ll have to cut so much spending that they’ll obliterate the budget for the national parks, for ensuring clean air, clean water, safe food, safe air travel. They’ll cut way back on Pell grants, college loans, early childhood education, child nutrition programs, all the programs that help to empower middle-class families and help poor kids. Oh, they’ll cut back on investments in roads and bridges and science and technology and biomedical research. That’s what they’ll do. They’ll hurt the middle class and the poor and put the future on hold to give tax cuts to upper-income people who’ve been getting it all along.

Or, three, in spite of all the rhetoric, they’ll just do what they’ve been doing for more than 30 years. They’ll go and cut the taxes way more than they cut spending, especially with that big defense increase, and they’ll just explode the debt and weaken the economy, and they’ll destroy the federal government’s ability to help you by letting interest gobble up all your tax payments.

To summarize: the three possible outcomes from the Romney plan: 1) huge tax cuts for the rich and increases for the midele class 2) drastic cuts in services that huge majorities of middle class voters support (all to give tax cuts to the rich) or 3) gigantic deficits (with yet another reminder of how abysmal the Republican record on deficits has been since the 1980′s).

Alltogether, Clinton’s argument was a tour de force. He gave Barack Obama the imprimatur of the most popular politician in America, he explained the extraordinary situation that we find ourselves in the during the Great Recession, and he demolished the credibility of the Romney-Ryan budget as well as their criticisms of Obama on Medicare. He did it making a speech that spoke to Americans as adults and didn’t shy away from policy details. But perhaps most impressive: he did it all with a smile on his face and you could tell he was having fun.

This one may resonate for a while.

Fact Checking Ryan

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

 

Well, you gotta give it up to Paul Ryan for a great convention speech. Veteran political reporter Howard Fineman said it was the best speech he has seen at any party convention and that’s a lot of conventions. But if Ryan gets an A for delivery, he gets an F for truthfulness.

Johathan Cohn has a good summary of the 5 major misrepresentations in the speech.

1) The plant that he argued Obama was responsible for letting close was shuttered during the last months of the Bush Administration. Not to mention the fact that (whatever you think about the auto bailout) it’s hard to argue that things would have been better for auto workers across the Rust Belt without it.   

2) Ryan attacked Obama on cuts to Medicare in order to fund Obamacare, but neglected to mention that under the two budgets he authored in the House, he maintains Obama’s cuts in Medicare while simultaneously cutting the benefits that were part of the Affordable Care Act. Ironically, if you’re a real budget hawk, keeping Obama’s cuts to Medicare can be seen as the right thing to do, but (contrary to their rhetoric that it’s responsible) Mitt Romney’s fairytale budget restores the cuts while simultaneously giving more tax cuts to the rich and providing no details on the imaginary deductions that he will eliminate in order to pay for all of these budget busters. 

To be sure, Obama and the Congressional Democrats left themselves wide open to this attack by making those cuts, but they were part of a larger deal expanding benefits under Obama:

Obamacare’s cut to Medicare was a reduction in what the plan pays hospitals and insurance companies. And the hospitals said they could live with those cuts, because Obamacare was simultaneously giving more people health insurance, alleviating the financial burden of charity care.

But that paragraph won’t fit on a bumper sticker, so you can see why Romney’s pollster stated that they “won’t let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers

3) Ryan blamed Obama for the downgrade of the US credit rating, but this ignores that there wouldn’t have been a downgrade if the Republican House of Representatives hadn’t politicized the debate about the debt ceiling in an unprecedented way.

4) Ryan blames Obama for the increase in debt, but the short lived stimulus is a paltry addition to our deficit over the next decade while the Bush budgets are a huge part of this problem if they’re allowed to stand. And guess who voted for those budget’s: Paul Ryan.

Still, Ryan should boost his grade with some extra credit for the giant brass balls he displayed last night with his statement that

We have responsibilities, one to another – we do not each face the world alone. And the greatest of all responsibilities, is that of the strong to protect the weak. The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves.

Cohen again:

The rhetoric is stirring—and positively galling. Analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that 62 percent of the cuts in Ryan budget would come from programs that serve low-income people. And that’s assuming he keeps the Obamacare Medicare cuts. If he’s serious about putting that money back into Medicare, the cuts to these programs would have to be even bigger.

Paul Ryan’s a slick guy, and he delivered a good speech. But the Democrats get their rebuttal next week, and they’d be foolish not to point out the many falsehoods in Ryan’s speech and the hypocrisy of this candidacy.

Ryan Pick Is Turning Point for The Campaign

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

Mitt Romney’s surprise pick of Paul Ryan to be his running mate may prove to be a significant turning point in the presidential campaign. While many Democrats (including myself) are looking forward to a debate on the plan to gut Medicare that Newt Gingrich called “Right Wing Social Engineering,” fiscal conservatives are excited to have an opportunity for a referendum election that would open up the possibility of a real mandate for their plans to dramatically cut the social safety net and re-distribute the tax burden in this country. Aside from the political consequences, it is clear that Ryan’s nomination offers an opportunity to refocus the country on a debate about the fundamental values that we want America to embody in the decades to come.

Steve Benen commented on Saturday that Democrats are practically giddy over the choice of Ryan. As I wrote previously, the key to Obama’s re-election was to shift the campaign away from a referendum on Barack Obama to a choice between two competing alternatives. The Bain attacks were the first part of this strategy, and with the softening up of Romney complete, Obama had already turned away from the focus on Romney’s business career and towards attacking his fiscal plans for the country. While “Romney Hood’s” own plans provided ample targets for Obama, a significant part of the campaign was to eventually be focused on tying Romney to the Republican Congress and Paul Ryan’s Plan to end the guaranteed health care provided by Medicare and transform the program to a voucher program. With the pick of Ryan, Romney has effectively done the Obama campaign’s work for them.

In the meantime, the Romney camp’s original assumption was that the economy was the number one issue and that a stalled (or slowly growing) economy would effectively turn the country against Barack Obama, and voters would then turn to Romney as a viable alternative just as they turned to Reagan in the last days of the 1980 race. In recent months it has apparently come to the Obama campaign’s attention that Barack Obama is no Jimmy Carter and Mitt Romney is no Reagan: while Mitt Romney’s negatives continued to climb against the backdrop of the unrelenting attacks on his business experience and refusal to release his taxes, Obama largely maintained his standing and seemed to be widening his lead in a number of polls over the last week.

The fact that the usually conservative Mitt Romney campaign made the decision to go with such a high-risk pick  is in itself a tacit admission that their original strategy wasn’t working. As Ezra Klein notes “You don’t make a risky pick like Paul Ryan if you think the fundamentals favor your candidate. You make a risky pick like Paul Ryan if you think the fundamentals don’t favor your candidate.”

More importantly,

Ryan upends Romney’s whole strategy. Until now, Romney’s play has been very simple: Don’t get specific. In picking Ryan, he has yoked himself to each and every one of Ryan’s specifics….

It’s not just that Romney now has to defend Ryan’s budget. To some degree, that was always going to be true. What he will now have to defend is everything else Ryan has proposed. Ryan was, for instance, the key House backer of Social Security privatization. His bill, The Social Security Personal Savings Guarantee and Prosperity Act of 2005, was so aggressive that it was rejected by the Bush administration. Now it’s Romney’s bill to defend. In Florida.

Klein also argues that “the Romney campaign’s decision to pick Ryan (as opposed to Rob Portman of Ohio) is evidence that they feel they need to change the national dynamic, not just pick off a battleground state.” I agree with this sentiment, but there is still the possibility that the electoral college strategy was part of the calculation for Romney. A Romney win in Wisconsin would make Ohio or Virginia must wins for Obama, and a combination of Wisconsin and smaller states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and/or Colorado could become a winning strategy for the Romney campaign. Still, as Chuck Todd pointed out on Meet the Press today, while the Ryan pick moves Wisconsin from lean Democrat to the pure tossup category, it also opens other opportunities for Obama in states with aging populations like Pennsylvania, Florida and Iowa as the campaign turns to a more traditional Democratic fight to save Medicare from (now very real) Republican assaults.

Like Ryan or not, one thing most people seem to agree on is that this is a ballsy pick for Romney. Ryan Lizza wrote that “Romney has made the most daring decision of his political career” and Alex Castellanos’ article on the pick was entitled “Romney mans up”: 

Sometimes… the smartest political thing to do is not the smartest political thing. It is, simply, the right thing for the country. A lot of Republicans and swing voters, as surprised by the Ryan choice as I was, will be energized that Mitt Romney manned-up, got serious, took a political risk for a purpose higher than himself, and chose a VP, not to help him win an election, but to renew our troubled country.

For that reason Ryan may also be brilliant politics. He is a serious, grown up choice when this country, in crisis, needs one.

This too is part of a re-branding strategy: after a campaign in which Romney was (and continues to be) pushed around by the right, his choice to turn into the Obama camp’s line of fire is an attempt to show political courage for one of the first times in his political life and to change the public’s image of him as weak and ineffectual.

Re-branding aside, the Ryan pick offers an important turning point for this campaign.  Mika Brezinski has called this cycle the Seinfeld election: an election campaign about nothing. Despite the high stakes for the country, we have been more focused on Mitt Romney’s taxes, whether he outsourced jobs at Bain, whether contraception should be covered by health insurance plans and whether Obama thinks business owners didn’t build their own business. These issues have their place, but they are peripheral to the debate about what kind of country we are going to have for decades to come.

The Ryan plan is a serious shift in the way our country percieves its responsibilities to the elderly and the less fortunate among us as well as who bears the tax burden in the country. It rightly deserves to be the focus of a debate. Politically speaking, the good news for Mitt Romney is that we’re not talking about his taxes anymore. The bad news is that we’ll now be talking about whether it makes sense to throw Medicare out the window in order to give more tax cuts to the top 2%. But there are political perils for President Obama as well. As the Ryan Budget increasingly occupies the debate, the President will face pressure to offer a realistic plan of his own (not to mention questions about why he hasn’t so far), which could alienate others in the electorate. Ryan provides risks for both sides, but also a potential upside for Americans hungering for a real debate on where we are headed as a country.

GOP Wake Up Call

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Thank You Paul Ryan!

Kathy Hochul waves to the crowd in Williamsville, N.Y. after winning the race in the 26th district. | AP Photo

His plan to end Medicare (which the House Republicans embraced as orthodoxy as they marched off the cliff like lemmings) has been nothing but trouble.

The latest: Republicans lose a special election in the reddest of the New York state House seats.

NY’s 26th District has been a reliable Republican seat for years. In 2008, it went for John McCain while the rest of the state shifted decisively to Barack Obama, and in some recent elections, Republicans have garnered almost 70% of the vote.

Not this year. Kathy Hochul knocked off her Republican opponent in a race that centered on one thing: the Republican’s support for Paul Ryan’s plan to end Medicare.

This could make for an interesting 2012.

The Irony of 2010

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Last week, Robert Gibbs set off a firestorm when he said what everyone already knows on Meet the Press: the Democrats could lose the House his year. This set off howls of protest from House members who feel that they have put their careers on the line for President Obama and that he has not shown the same level of commitment to them.

Meanwhile, prognosticators are reading the tea leaves for signs of how the electorate will respond in 2010 and whether this election will resemble the wave elections of 1994 and 1996 or the smaller, but significant, losses of the Reagan Republicans in 1982.

The irony of this all is that a favorable outcome for their respective Congressional parties may be a liability for the both President Obama and Republican presidential candidates in 2012.

Let’s stipulate up front that the loss of the House would be a clear setback for Obama and would put his agenda going forward in peril. Losing the House could also have long term implications for Democrats, since incumbency brings inherent advantages (such as a re-election rate that hovers in the 96% range) and having power in the present significantly increases a party’s chance of having power in the future.

For Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi’s House Democrats have been extremely helpful in pushing forward his agenda. Although he is not reaping the benefits in the polls, he has been remarkably successful at enacting policy. In less than two years, he has passed a budget that sets new priorities for the country, as well as the trifecta of a stimulus plan, health care reform and financial reform. A (much watered down) energy bill is on deck. The House of Representatives has been a key part of this effort, moving first on all four issues and providing a liberal push as counterweight to the slow moving, inherently conservative Senate. To lose control of the House would be a dramatic blow to Obama’s ability to enact new programs going forward.

On the Republican side, there is probably no one as reviled as Nancy Pelosi. The Republican faithful would like nothing more than to take Pelosi and Reid out of power and hand the Democrats a historic defeat.

But any careful observer can see that that taking or keeping control of the House may not in the best long term interests of Obama or of the Republican hopefuls in 2012.

For Obama, a Republican House would provide a useful foil for him in making his 2010 case for re-election, just as Newt Gingrich was for Bill Clinton. With the defeat of most moderate Republicans over the past five years, the party now consists of mostly hard line libertarians, extreme social conservatives and a gang of formerly independent statesmen who have been so cowed by the Tea Party that they act just like the Rand Paul wing of the party. In recent polling, only 32% of Americans believed that the Democrats in Congress could be trusted to make the right decisions. The only group who polled lower were the Republicans at 26%. The entire key to the 2010 elections (and by extension the 2012 elections) will be to make the contest a choice of two competing ideologies instead of a referendum on Obama, Pelosi and Reid.

For Republican presidential candidates, the situation is equally clear. Running in 2012 against Pelosi, Reid and Obama would be a much easier campaign to frame than one in which Republicans had any measure of control or claim to responsibility for the situation.

In addition, there is plenty of evidence that Congressional Republicans are not quite ready for prime time. Every other time John Boehner opens his mouth he says something that shows how out of touch he is. For the past two years, their policy has been based on one thing: saying no to everything proposed by Obama, Pelosi and Reid. They complain incessantly about Democratic proposals, but didn’t have anything particularly serious to offer on the major issues of the day (health care, financial regulation, energy). They regularly bemoan deficit projections, but the closest thing they have to a plan is conservative wunderkind Paul Ryan’s Roadmap, a serious plan to balance the budget to be sure, but one that relies on privatizing both Social Security and Medicare, as well as raising taxes on the middle class while slashing them for those with higher incomes (all policies that have found very little support among the American people) At last count, Ryan’s Roadmap was endorsed by nine Congressmen.

Perhaps the bigger issue is that, beginning next year, the focus of the country will most likely be on developing a long term deficit reduction plan. As discussed here before, the bi-partisan Simpson/Bowles Budget Deficit Reduction Commission will release its findings at the end of the year. In it will be a plan to cut deficits to $550 billion by 2015.  This plan should shift the conversation significantly. While their will be a debate on the specific plan, the report should make clear that the current path is unsustainable, that taxes and revenues need to increase and that budgets will need to be cut. This will be an opportunity for Obama to move to the center, provide a plan to decrease the projected long term deficits and refashion himself into the pragmatic candidate that he ran as in 2008.

If the Democrats do maintain control, it will be an opportunity for them to reclaim the mantle of fiscal responsibility that they have lost over the past two years and do it in a way that preserves Democratic priorities. But this process will be difficult to enact because of the fractious nature of the Democratic party, what will surely be smaller margins in the House and the complete lack of a credible partner in the Republicans.

On the other hand, if the Republicans take the House this year they will be forced to provide their own alternate plan to balance the budget. Given American’s historical aversion to sacrifice and the slim menu of choices available, this plan is likely to be unpopular and Obama can take advantage of the contrast to frame a choice between two competing visions of the country. If Republicans try to compromise and implement some real austerity programs with Obama’s support, this could be win-win for both parties, but it will make it much more difficult for Republicans to argue that Obama is a dangerous socialist. If, on the other hand, there is a long lasting standoff, Obama will be able to turn up the heat with the bully pulpit, returning to the stump to campaign against the vision of the party in power.

In the meantime, the fight for the House goes on and you can expect to see Obama and the Republican presidential hopefuls giving it their all.

But don’t be surprised if there are a few people in the White House (or in the Romney campaign) who don’t shed too many tears if their side loses.