Published: Tuesday 15 January 2013
In a pinch, the Treasury could issue IOUs to the nation’s creditors — guarantees they’ll be paid eventually. But there’s no indication that’s Obama’s game plan, either.

 

A week before his inaugural, President Obama says he won’t negotiate with Republicans over raising the debt limit. 

At an unexpected news conference on Monday he said he won’t trade cuts in government spending in exchange for raising the borrowing limit. 

“If the goal is to make sure that we are being responsible about our debt and our deficit - if that’s the conversation we’re having, I’m happy to have that conversation,” Obama said. “What I will not do is to have that negotiation with a gun at the head of the American people.”

Well and good. But what, exactly, is the President’s strategy when the debt ceiling has to be raised, if the GOP hasn’t relented?

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Published: Thursday 3 January 2013
Published: Thursday 3 January 2013
Published: Thursday 20 December 2012
Tick tock. Ten days left. The hostages wait for forces beyond their control to decide their fate.

 

President Obama criticized House Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” proposal today because it  lacks an extension for unemployment insurance for the long-term jobless.

If the president fails to win on this issue, two million people will face tough choices. The mortgage or the car payment? Go to the doctor or hope for the best? Cash in the 401(k) or take the kids out of college?

Tick tock. Ten days left. The hostages wait for forces beyond their control to decide their fate.

Yet it is up to all of us. Will we send these two million unfortunates a brochure with their last check? A few words of encouragement and instructions for signing up for the food stamps that Republicans love to hate? Don’t forget to say “Happy New Year.”

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Published: Sunday 16 December 2012
Published: Thursday 13 December 2012
“Publicly, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) offered another deal to Obama on Tuesday night claiming to concede more than $800 billion in tax revenue - still without any tax increases.”

As the Bush tax cuts are scheduled to expire automatically in a few weeks, some Republicans are urging their leaders to accept President Obama’s deal to allow tax rates to rise for the top 2 percent of earners, while looking ahead to the next budget showdown. The US will hit its debt limit in early 2013, and the GOP sees an opportunity to once again use the threat of default to force Democrats to concede to devastating cuts to entitlement programs along with more tax cuts for the wealthy.

Publicly, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) offered another deal to Obama on Tuesday night claiming to concede more than $800 billion in tax revenue — still without any tax increases. As 

Published: Thursday 13 December 2012
As the parties wrestle over these numbers — which would pull massive amounts of money out of a still-delicate economy — Republicans insist on bringing in the brass knuckles of another debt-ceiling fight.

 

Nothing like a debt-ceiling brawl to raise the public's anxiety levels. The Republican threat two summers ago to let America default on its borrowing helped lower America's credit rating and sent consumer confidence back into intensive care. The people were not amused.

Consumer confidence dove again this month, as shoppers feared a jump over the "fiscal cliff" would undo their economic gains. We refer to the deep spending cuts and tax hikes that Republicans agreed to as a condition of their not sending the United States into default.

As the parties wrestle over these numbers — which would pull massive amounts of money out of a still-delicate economy — Republicans insist on bringing in the brass knuckles of another debt-ceiling fight. They should desist for America's sake, and for theirs.

If the country careens over the so-called fiscal cliff, most Americans are prepared to blame Republicans, according to polls. A weak economy, or any economy, is no time to start playing games with the full faith and credit of the United States.

Since 1960, Congress has raised the debt ceiling 78 times, 49 of them under Republican presidents. The government should ...

Published: Tuesday 11 December 2012
Published: Saturday 8 December 2012
Published: Tuesday 4 December 2012
Published: Friday 30 November 2012
“We need more spending in the short term in order to keep the recovery going, particularly in light of economic contractions in Europe and Japan, and slowdowns in China and India.”

 

So the bidding has begun.

According to the Wall Street Journal (which got the information from GOP leaders), the President’s opening bid to Republicans is:

— $1.6 trillion in additional tax revenues over the next decade, from limiting tax deductions on the wealthy and raising tax rates on incomes over $250,000 (although those rates don’t have to rise as high as the top marginal rates under Bill Clinton)

— $50 billion in added economic stimulus next year

— A one-year postponement of pending spending cuts in defense and domestic programs

— $400 billion in savings over the decade from Medicare and other entitlement programs  (the same number contained in the President’s 2013 budget proposal, submitted before the election).

— Authority to raise the debt limit without congressional approval.

The $50 billion in added stimulus is welcome. We need more spending in the short term in order to keep the recovery going, particularly in light of economic contractions in Europe and Japan, and slowdowns in China and India.

But by signaling its willingness not to raise top rates as high as they were under Clinton and to cut some $400 billion from projected increases in Medicare and other entitlement spending, the White House has ceded important ground.

Republicans obviously want much, much more.

The administration has taken a “step backward, moving away from consensus and significantly closer to the cliff, delaying again the real, balanced solution that this crisis requires,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) in a written statement. “No substantive progress has been made” added House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio).

No ...

Published: Thursday 22 November 2012
Published: Friday 16 November 2012
Published: Wednesday 14 November 2012
“We’re joined by Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, who says the protection of ‘entitlement’ programs will depend on action from Obama’s progressive supporters.”

President Obama will open deficit reduction talks on Friday with a call for a $1.6 trillion tax hike on corporations and the wealthiest Americans over the next 10 years. Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are sitting down to avert the so-called fiscal cliff of expiring tax cuts and automatic spending reductions set to take effect at the end of the year. We’re joined by Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, who says the protection of "entitlement" programs will depend on action from Obama’s progressive supporters. "The question is: Will the Democratic Party — specifically the progressive and liberal components — change its behavior from cheerleader, from blindly supportive partisan apparatchiks ... into some kind of a force where they actually fulfill their duties as citizens, which is to hold political leaders accountable?" Greenwald asks.

Published: Tuesday 6 November 2012
Published: Wednesday 15 August 2012
“With so many human needs being unattended to here on Earth, the argument went, we should not be spending billions on space.”

When Curiosity touched down on Mars, joy erupted at NASA's lab in Pasadena, Calif., and national pride swelled. America the Demoralized had briefly vanished. Our research instruments were going where no research instruments had gone before. America was back at its game.

 

The Mars landing cost a cool $2.5 billion. No doubt, the folks at NASA wanted this voyage to drum up interest in the space program at a time when budgets everywhere are under attack. They've done a good, convincing job of it.

 

In olden days, the loudest calls for slashing the space program came from the left. With so many human needs being unattended to here on Earth, the argument went, we should not be spending billions on space. Fortunately, those protests went unheeded. We are now harvesting the fruit of decades in which Americans were willing to pay for space exploration, even though their tax rates were a lot higher than they are currently.

 

Nowadays, the demands for radical budget chopping emerge chiefly from the right, except when it comes to military spending (though a few conservatives are looking there, as well). And so we see The Wall Street Journal's Kimberley Spending We Can Believe In complaining that the "sequester" requiring $500 billion in the defense spending cuts will be a jobs killer. "Military jobs are on the block," she writes, "but the bulk of the pink slips will come from private businesses — from giant defense companies on down to smaller businesses that are the economic mainstays of their communities."

 

I've always been intrigued by the notion, popular among big-spending Republicans, that when taxpayer dollars are sent to private companies, they magically turn into free-market investments. Anyhow, let's have a Time Out.

 

Published: Monday 25 June 2012
Due to weak insider trading rules, Bachus was cleared of any legal wrong doing by the Congressional Ethics Committee, but the case still motivated Congress to pass the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, which supposedly prevents lawmakers from profiting off information they receive in private briefings with top economic officials.

 

 

Last November, 60 Minutes aired a report showing that House Financial Services Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-AL) made tens of thousands of dollars trading stock as he was receiving private economic briefings during the height of the 2008 financial crisis. Due to weak insider trading rules, Bachus was cleared of any legal wrong doing by the Congressional Ethics Committee, but the case still motivated Congress to pass the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, which supposedly prevents lawmakers from profiting off information they receive in private briefings with top economic officials.

However, the problem may go far beyond just Bachus. As the Washington Post reported on Monday, 34 lawmakers — including Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) — shuffled their investment portfolios during the financial crisis, after speaking to high-ranking economic officials:

Boehner is one of 34 members of Congress who took steps to recast ...

Published: Sunday 17 June 2012
Although clean energy creates hundreds of thousands of better paying jobs, Republicans looking to gain ground in an election year have disparaged these jobs as less valuable.

Republicans have bullied the clean energy industry for months, pointing to flimsy evidence for why the government should slash funding for the industry, even as Big Oil subsidies continue.

On the heels of passing legislation that slashes clean energy funding 13 times, House Republicans are fulfilling the oil and coal industry’s wish list with next week’s Domestic Energy Production Act.

Although clean energy creates hundreds of thousands of better paying jobs, Republicans looking to gain ground in an election year have disparaged these jobs as less valuable. Mitt Romney’s former economic adviser said as much: “I am buying that they’re rooting against the economy somewhat because they think that the short-term pain of, you know, the next four months is much better than having additional four years of pain under Obama.”

Republicans have made green jobs a political target, at the behest of their oil and coal allies:

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said the 1603 tax credit reimbursement program is a “Solyndra-style stimulus program.” This program has created thousands of jobs, 5,000 projects, and helped the industry grow during tough times. “Listen, the American people continue to ask the question, ‘Where are the jobs?’ They deserve answers, ...

Published: Saturday 9 June 2012
Published: Wednesday 16 May 2012
“As Greg Kaufmann reported in The Nation, these cuts in 2013 include $36 billion less in spending on food assistance to the poor (the SNAP, or food-stamp, program), eliminating 5.5 million children from eligibility for the Child Tax Credit and eliminating programs under the Social Services Block Grant that serve millions of low-income children and seniors. ”

Multibillionaire Peter G. Peterson's Fiscal Summit may have started with conciliatory nods toward bipartisanship, but it did not climax that way. And that had to have been by design.

Peterson and the people who planned the Fiscal Summit had to have known when they planned to have House Speaker John Boehner as the day's closing speaker that he would deliver the right-wing, red-meat, no-compromise speech that even Peterson himself was too polite to give. If that was the case, Boehner did not disappoint, declaring that he would once again risk having the federal government default in order to ram his conservative austerity agenda down the throat of the nation.

The middle finger pointed at the American Majority could not have been more plain. He said in his speech:

Yes, allowing America to default would be irresponsible. But it would be more irresponsible to raise the debt ceiling without taking dramatic steps to reduce spending and reform the budget process.

We shouldn’t dread the debt limit. We should welcome it. It’s an action-forcing event in a town that has become infamous for inaction.

... When the time comes, I will again insist on my simple principle of cuts and reforms greater than the debt limit increase. This is the only avenue I see right now to force the elected leadership of this country to solve our structural fiscal imbalance.

We already know what this looks like because the House last week passed its budget, based on the budget plan written by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the House Budget Committee chairman. (Ryan was at the summit as well, as its lunchtime speaker, followed by his ...

Published: Saturday 25 February 2012
The debt forgiveness act originally had broad bipartisan support: It passed in the House of Representatives on a 386-to-27 vote.

You bought your house when the market was high and then lost your job. In order to avoid foreclosure, you negotiated a short sale for half of what you paid, ruining your credit rating for years and draining your bank account. But there is a tiny silver lining: Thanks to a 2007 law, you don't have to pay taxes on the $100,000 of debt your bank forgave as part of the short-sale agreement.

This week, real estate columnist Kenneth R. Harney pointed out that this important tax break will ...

Published: Tuesday 21 February 2012
“Oil prices are rising for three reasons — none of which has to do with offshore drilling or the XL pipeline.”

Nothing drives voter sentiment like the price of gas – now averaging $3.56 a gallon, up 30 cents from the start of the year. It’s already hit $4 in some places. The last time gas topped $4 was 2008.

And nothing energizes Republicans like rising energy prices. Last week House Speaker John Boehner told Republicans to take advantage of voters’ looming anger over prices at the pump. On Thursday House Republicans passed a bill to expand offshore drilling and force the White House to issue a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. The tumult prompted the Interior Department to announce on Friday expanded oil exploration in the Arctic.

If prices at the pump continue to rise,  expect more gas wars.

In fact, oil prices are rising for three reasons — none of which has to do with offshore drilling or the XL pipeline.

The first, on the supply side, is Iran’s decision to cut in oil exports to Britain and France in retaliation for sanctions put in place by the EU and United States. Iran’s threat to do this has been pushing up crude oil prices for weeks.

The second, on the demand side, is rising hopes for a global economic recovery – which would mean increased oil consumption. The American economy is showing faint signs of a recovery. Europe’s debt crisis appears to be easing. Greece’s pending bailout deal is calming financial nerves on both sides of the Atlantic, and the Bank of England and European Central Bank are keeping rates low. At the same time, China has decided to boost its money supply to spur growth there.

Neither of these would have much effect were it not for the third reason — overwhelming bets of hedge funds and other money managers that oil prices will rise on the basis of the first two reasons.

Speculators have pushed crude oil to $105.28 per barrel, up 35 percent since September. Brent crude, Europe’s benchmark, is now $120.37 a barrel ...

Published: Sunday 19 February 2012
In the following charts, the left side, where it is red, shows how things were going before the stimulus, and the right side, where it is blue, shows the effect of President Obama's policies.

This is the 3rd anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly known as President Obama's "stimulus." Republicans say it made the economy worse. Let's see...

House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday, "Today, there's no denying the fact that his 'stimulus' policies not only failed, they made things worse." Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney released an ad that says, "What did we get with all the spending?" text in the ad reads. "24 million Americans struggling for work. Record long term unemployment. 4th straight trillion dollar deficit."

So What Happened?

In the following charts, the left side, where it is red, shows how things were going before the stimulus, and the right side, where it is blue, shows the effect of President Obama's policies. Click any chart for a larger view.

Jobs: (the left side, with all the lines going down, down, down, is before the stimulus. The right side, with the dramatic reversal, with all the lines going up, up, up, is the stimulus taking effect.)

January 2012 Jobs Report

Private sector jobs: (the left side, with all the lines going down, down, down, is before the stimulus. The right side, with the dramatic reversal, with all the lines going up, up, up, is the stimulus taking effect.)

January 2012 Jobs Report - Private Sector

Economic growth: (the left side, with ...

Published: Saturday 18 February 2012
Lawmakers congratulated themselves on finally reaching a quick compromise.

Congress on Friday overwhelmingly approved extending a payroll tax cut for 160 million workers through the end of the year, probably the biggest accomplishment lawmakers will be able to savor in 2012.

The rare bipartisan agreement, which also provides jobless benefits to the long-term unemployed and preserves Medicare payment rates to physicians, came without the hostility that's scarred economic debates since President Barack Obama took office in January 2009.

The House of Representatives voted 293-132 to approve the plan. Minutes later, the Senate agreed 60-36.

Under the bill, Social Security taxes for workers will remain at their current 4.2 percent level this year on wages up to $110,100. The rate was scheduled to go up by 2 percentage points next month. Friday's fix assures that the average worker earning $50,000 a year would continue to get a weekly break of $20.

Medicare payments to doctors, which had been scheduled to drop by 27.4 percent, will stay at current levels. Extended unemployment benefits for people who've been out of work for long stretches will continue, though for shorter periods.

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Published: Thursday 9 February 2012
“The White House scrambled to contain the controversy — and cast the debate not as one over religious freedom, but one over access to affordable preventative care for women.”

 

The White House insisted Wednesday that the president's commitment to contraceptive access for women is "absolutely firm," even as Republicans from Capitol Hill to the presidential campaign trail assailed the policy as an attack on religious liberty.

Republicans seized on a call from Catholic bishops, who in recent weeks have asked their parishioners to object to a federal law requiring religious-based institutions, such as Catholic hospitals and universities, to provide contraceptives as part of their health care coverage. A new law taking effect this year requires most private insurers to pay for birth control. Religious groups have been given an extra year to comply.

At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney said the administration wants all American women — no matter where they work — to have access to the same health care coverage and the same preventive care services. That includes contraception without a co-payment.

"We want to work with all of these organizations to implement this policy in a way that is as sensitive to their concerns as possible," Carney said. "But let's be clear: The president is committed to ensuring that women have access to contraception without paying any extra costs, no matter where they work.

"That's the president's commitment," he said. "That is explicit in the policy proposal."

But at the Capitol, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, delivered a rare floor speech vowing a repeal. He and his Republican counterparts in the Senate called it an "assault on religious liberty."

"In imposing this requirement, the federal government has drifted dangerously beyond its constitutional boundaries, encroaching on religious freedom in a manner that affects millions of Americans and harms some of our nation's most vital institutions," Boehner said.

The White House scrambled to contain ...

Published: Saturday 28 January 2012
At the same time, the Buffett rule will aid in correcting some of the problems in the tax code that have helped drive income inequality up to a level not seen in the U.S. since the 1920s.

When President Obama announced his latest vision for the so called “Buffett rule” — a 30 percent minimum tax on millionaires — during his State of the Union address this week, Republicans were quick to criticize it. For instance, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) derided the proposal as a “political gimmick.” “It’s a smokescreen,” added Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA).

Published: Thursday 26 January 2012
“Higher spending doesn’t prevent rejection of Keystone XL project.”

TransCanada, the pipeline company pushing the recently rejected Keystone XL project, spent $410,000 on federal lobbying during the last three months of 2011 – a new quarterly high for the company.

The total is $20,000 more than TransCanada spent in the previous quarter and nearly double the $220,000 it spent in the second quarter of 2011. Altogether, the company paid $1.33 million on lobbying in D.C. last year.

The lobbying total is small considering what was at stake. TransCanada was seeking State Department approval of the proposed 1,702-mile-long Keystone XL pipeline. The $7 billion project would have connect Canadian tar sands deposits to Texas refineries.

On Jan. 18, President Barack Obama denied the company's permit request. But the company quickly vowed to reapply, which suggests its surge of lobbying spending may continue in 2012.

TransCanada officials met with Republican lawmakers Monday to push for the pipeline. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) even had “folks from Keystone management as his guests at last night’s [State of the Union speech],” according to Brookings Institution's Stephen Hess.

Republican Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska has proposed legislation to streamline ...

Published: Friday 30 December 2011
“This is happening because certain powerful interests are benefiting tremendously and using their wealth and power to keep things from changing.”

In November President Obama said, "enough is enough" to China's currency manipulations. Today the Treasury Department said it hasn't seen enough to call China a currency manipulator. This is happening because certain powerful interests are benefiting tremendously and using their wealth and power to keep things from changing.

China's Currency Manipulation

China manipulates its currency to keep it "undervalued." This means that things made there cost less in world markets than things made in other countries. The result is that manufacturing moves there, bringing them entire industries, supply chains, and the "industrial commons" of expertise, suppliers and culture that brings with it new businesses and industries. Many economists say that China's currency is undervalued by 25 to 40% meaning products made there have a 25-40% pricing advantage before any other advantages, subsidies, manipulations, etc. are considered. The currency does not rise to market levels because China takes steps like preventing open trading and buying other currencies -- most of us would call this manipulation -- to keep this from happening.

Instead of competing fairly China uses this manipulation and others, throwing world trade completely out of balance. Countries "make their living" by producing things and selling them to the rest of the world. This imbalance is costing our country jobs, factories, industries and trillions of dollars but we can't seem to get our government to do anything about it.

"Enough Is Enough"

In a November 14 press conference at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Hawaii,

Published: Friday 23 December 2011
“The House GOP surrender came after a week of White House pressure and mounting criticism of House Republicans from GOP-friendly allies.”

House Republican leaders reversed themselves Thursday and agreed to a temporary two-month extension of a payroll tax break — after a week of pummeling from President Barack Obama and even some of their conservative allies.

 

The retreat, which should spare 160 million Americans from suffering an $80 per month payroll tax hike starting Jan. 1, is a major win for Obama, who postponed a Christmas holiday in Hawaii to stay in Washington and pressure the House into taking the compromise.

 

The House GOP surrender came after a week of White House pressure and mounting criticism of House Republicans from GOP-friendly allies, including the Wall Street Journal editorial board, which likened the House leadership's opposition to extending a popular tax break to a "circular firing squad."

 

Obama, in a statement called it "good news, just in time for the holidays. ... I've stated consistently that it was critical that Congress not go home without preventing a tax increase on 160 million working Americans. Today, I congratulate members of Congress for ending the partisan stalemate by reaching an agreement that meets that test."

 

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who stunned Washington on Sunday by rejecting a compromise that had cleared the Senate Saturday by a vote of 89-10 — with 39 Republicans voting for approval — said Thursday evening that his members had wanted a full-year tax cut to give businesses some certainty in a turbulent economy, but he finally agreed to the two-month compromise, along with a minor accounting fix.

 

"We were here fighting for the right things," Boehner said. "It may not have been politically the smartest thing in the world, but ... we have fought the good fight."

 

Boehner plans to bring the Senate bill — with the fix — to the House floor Friday for a voice vote ...

Published: Friday 23 December 2011
“It’s about time someone told the House speaker that if he thinks $166 is “measly,” he should resign from the House, surrender his wealth and get back in touch with the American economy wrecked by the policies that he has advocated.”

For "renaldomacias" on Twitter, $40 extra a paycheck means "buying a full bag of groceries OR filling the car with gas to get to work. Without that $40, we'll be doing neither." BaldEmotions writes, "#40dollars a paycheck through the entire year is what it costs us to send our daughter to public preschool." Fink820 sent this Twitter message: "#40Dollars means gas 4 a wk so that I can get to work to earn #40Dollars for the next week. #40Dollars means ALOT to ALOT of us middle class."

But to House Speaker John Boehner and the House Republicans who appear to be leading him rather than the other way around, $40 extra a paycheck for two months isn't worth the trouble. Rather than taking the simple step of accepting a bipartisan Senate-approved two-month continuation of a payroll tax break, Boehner and his Tea Party brethren chose to be obstinate and arrogant.

After all, the tan one said, all that's involved is "a measly $166." Making sure that workers aren't hit with the loss of that "measly" amount of money is too much to expect of the "job creators" out there, he went on to say.

"“The Senate only goes for two months, but businesses send their taxes in, write the check – I used to write the check to the IRS, but it’s done on a quarterly basis. And so you’re gonna have a couple of months of this and another month of this … trying to figure out what your obligation is, is going to be difficult,” he said.

Waaa!

This afternoon, there are reports that Boehner may finally be trying to find a way to gracefully back down and accept some sort of short-term tax extension, after a 24-hour period in which Boehner was rebuked by even ...

Published: Wednesday 21 December 2011
The standoff is about partisan positioning for next November’s elections.

 

The bitter showdown of Republicans versus the White House and congressional Democrats over a Social Security tax break grew uglier and more tense Tuesday, and the result is that 160 million people face the increasingly likely prospect of a tax increase Jan. 1.

 

The GOP-led House of Representatives, by a 229-193 vote, formally disagreed Tuesday with a bipartisan Senate plan to extend the current tax rate for two months. Employees have paid a 4.2 percent tax this year; it's scheduled to go up to 6.2 percent next year unless the current rate is extended. The House vote makes an increase likely.

 

House Republicans want a yearlong tax break, and they say terms for one can be negotiated over the next two weeks if the Democratic-led Senate will try. Most congressional Democrats are willing to go along with the Senate approach and negotiate toward the yearlong break after the holidays and before the two-month deadline. The Senate adjourned last week until mid-January.

 

In no small part, the standoff is about partisan positioning for next November’s elections. Each party thinks it can persuade voters that the other is being irresponsible.

 

After the House vote, an angry President Barack Obama warned, "The issue right now is this: The clock is ticking; time is running out." And, he said, the Senate bill is "the only viable way to prevent a tax hike January 1. It's the only one.”

 

He urged House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and other House Republicans to "put politics aside, put aside issues where there are fundamental disagreements and come together on something we agree on. And let’s not play brinksmanship. The American people are weary of it; they’re tired of it."

 

Boehner was defiant: "We've done our work for the American people," he told a news conference. "Now it's ...

Published: Tuesday 20 December 2011
“The Senate on Saturday overwhelmingly approved the two-month extension. But Boehner and other House Republicans want the lower rate in effect throughout 2012.”

Rebellious House of Representatives Republicans fought hard Monday to scuttle a two-month extension of the Social Security payroll tax break, seriously jeopardizing chances that 160 million taxpayers will see the lower rate after Jan. 1.

Speaker John Boehner flatly predicted the bid to keep the rate at its 2011 level of 4.2 percent for two months would fail in the House. A vote is expected Tuesday.  

"I expect that the House will disagree with the Senate," Boehner said.

The Senate on Saturday overwhelmingly approved the two-month extension. But Boehner and other House Republicans want the lower rate in effect throughout 2012.

Employees have been paying the tax at that rate this year. If no change is approved, they would pay 6.2 percent after Jan. 1.

The Senate bill was a bipartisan compromise, reached after negotiators were unable to agree on how to pay for a full-year plan. Democrats wanted a surtax on millionaires; the GOP proposal included a federal pay freeze.

A House defeat of the Senate package would set up a tense last-minute confrontation. Leaders of the two chambers would have to negotiate a compromise. But Senate Democrats, who control that chamber, balked at such talks.

"I will not reopen negotiations until the House follows through and passes this agreement that was negotiated by Republican leaders and supported by 90 percent of the Senate," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

The $33 billion Senate package also would extend for two months the current Medicare payment rates to physicians and up to 99 weeks of unemployment benefits for long-term jobless workers. It would be funded by higher fees charged by mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The plan got substantial Republican support, and Monday, some GOP senators were angry that the House was balking.

"The House Republicans’ plan to scuttle the deal to help middle-class families ...

Published: Monday 19 December 2011
Boehner, as well as other Republicans, made it clear they didn’t like a two-month fix.

The fate of the two-month Social Security tax break extension suddenly became uncertain Sunday as House Speaker John Boehner said he and most Republicans were opposed to the plan.

 

"It's pretty clear that I and our members oppose the Senate bill," Boehner, R-Ohio, told NBC's "Meet the Press." Republicans, he said, want a longer-term fix.

 

Boehner was reflecting the view of many House Republicans, who complained loudly in a conference call about the deal hours after the Senate overwhelmingly approved the measure on Saturday.

 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, reacted angrily.

 

"Instead of threatening middle-class families with a thousand-dollar tax hike, Speaker Boehner should bring up the bipartisan compromise that (Republican Senate Leader Mitch) McConnell and I negotiated, and which passed the Senate with an overwhelming majority of Democratic and Republican votes," Reid said.

 

"I would hate to think that Speaker Boehner is refusing to act on this bipartisan compromise because he is afraid it will actually pass, but I cannot imagine any other reason why he would not bring it up for a vote."

 

Other Democrats joined the chorus.

 

"It's time House Republicans stop playing politics and get the job done for the American people," said White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer. Added Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee: "This is the latest example of the tea party Republicans sacrificing the good of the country on the altar of extreme ideology."

 

The $33 billion package approved Saturday would extend the current Social Security tax rate paid by employees through the end of February. The 2011 rate is 4.2 percent; it would revert to 6.2 percent if the package doesn't take ...

Published: Saturday 17 December 2011
Project advocates throw out claims that Keystone XL creates “tens of thousands of jobs,” but studies conducted independently of TransCanada find much smaller jobs numbers.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) insists that the GOP-led House will fight for the cash-rich oil industry at the expense of the middle-class payroll tax cut. “If that bill comes over to us,” he told reporters, “I will guarantee you that the Keystone pipeline will be in there when it goes back to the United States Senate.” Project advocates, who include Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, misrepresent its economic benefits to favor the oil industry, throwing out claims that Keystone XL creates “tens of thousands of jobs.”

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Published: Monday 28 November 2011
Common Republican assertion of U.S. health care dominance is ‘way off base’.

A little more than a year ago, on the day after the GOP regained control of the House of Representatives, Speaker-to-be John Boehner said one of the first orders of business after he took charge would be the repeal of health care reform.

"I believe that the health care bill that was enacted by the current Congress will kill jobs in America, ruin the best health care system in the world, and bankrupt our country," Boehner said at a press conference. "That means we have to do everything we can to try to repeal this bill and replace it with common sense reforms to bring down the cost of health care.”

Boehner is not the first nor the only Republican to try to make us believe that the U.S. has the world’s best health care system and that we’re bound to lose that distinction because of Obamacare. I’ve heard GOP candidates for president say the same thing in recent months, charging that we need to get rid of a President who clearly is trying to fix something that doesn’t need fixing, something that isn’t broken in the first place.

Well, those guys need to get out more. Out of the country, in fact. They need to travel to at least one of the many countries that are doing a much better job of delivering high quality care at much lower costs than the good old USA.

If they’re not interested in a fact-finding mission abroad, then perhaps they might take a look at two recent reports before they make any other statements about the quality of American health care.

Last week, the 34-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation (OECD) released the results of its most recent study of the health care systems in its member countries, including the U.S., plus six others, for a total of 40. And those results are illuminating.

If Boehner and his fellow Republicans had characterized the U.S. system as the most expensive in the world, they would have been right on target. But they would have ...

Published: Friday 25 November 2011
Tennis courts and airport parking — legislators have lots to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

It’s seemingly been a pretty rough autumn on Capitol Hill. Last month, the public’s approval rating for Congress dropped to 9 percent, the lowest ever, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.

But there’s still plenty for the nation’s lawmakers to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Being a member of Congress remains a surprisingly sweet gig.

In addition to the power to shape policy and public discourse, legislators get great health care and retirement benefits, hefty salaries with annual cost of living increases and the incumbency-boosting ability to blanket constituents with mail touting their achievements.

But there are many less-publicized perks that come along with the job. Here are a few to keep in mind the next time you hear politicians refer to themselves as “public servants.”

Capitol Hill Conveniences

Members ...

Published: Friday 25 November 2011
“The blame game is a dreary enterprise, but if we’re destined to play yet another round, let’s go back and at least take a more nuanced view of the ledger.”

Congress fails. The can is kicked. Cue the finger-pointing at President Obama for failing to lead.

Count me out, this time around.

 

The collapse of the supercommittee is not Obama’s fault. If he had pushed and prodded and cajoled and horse-traded, the result likely would have been the same. Perhaps even worse, in the sense that the partisan digging-in might have been even more entrenched.

For all the eleventh-hour, “where-was-Obama?” moaning, the bipartisan congressional directive to the White House as the supercommittee did its work was simple: Back off.

That’s right. The message from both Republican and Democratic members of the group was that presidential involvement could only be counterproductive. The more ...

Published: Thursday 24 November 2011
“Tax the poor. Deregulate the rich. Drill Baby Drill. Filibuster the jobs bills. And to hell with Social Security and Medicare”

What am I thankful for this year? I am thankful the conservative movement has stopped trying to pretend to be something that they are not.

Instead of masquerading as "compassionate conservatives" who want "clear skies," "personal retirement accounts," protect Medicare" and "tax relief" for all, today's conservative just lays it on the table:

Tax the poor. Deregulate the rich. Drill Baby Drill. Filibuster the jobs bills. And to hell with Social Security and Medicare.

Before we enter the sweeps month of the "GOP 2012" reality TV show -- when the crazy will be turned up to 11 -- let's pause before Thanksgiving, and give thanks for the many wonderful crazy moments conservatives have shared with us so far this year, so we all know exactly what conservatives would do to America if given the chance.

Published: Tuesday 22 November 2011
With Super Congress decision looking unlikely, lawmakers already fighting automatic budget cuts.

Failure by Congress' debt-cutting supercommittee to recommend $1.2 trillion in savings by Wednesday is supposed to automatically trigger spending cuts in the same amount to accomplish that job.

But the same legislators who concocted that budgetary booby trap just four months ago could end up spending the 2012 election year and beyond battling over defusing it.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., say they are writing legislation to prevent what they say would be devastating cuts to the military. House Republicans are exploring a similar move. Democrats maintain they won't let domestic programs be the sole source of savings.

In the face of those efforts, President Barack Obama has told the debt panel's co-chairmen that he "will not accept any measure that attempts to turn off the automatic cut trigger," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters last week. The leaders of both parties in the House and Senate have expressed similar sentiments — seemingly making any attempt to restore the money futile.

"Yes, I would feel bound by it," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said recently of the automatic cuts. "It was part of the agreement."

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Published: Monday 7 November 2011
“The $7-billion reconstruction of the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland is in the hands of a state-subsidized Chinese company.”

Listening at last to his inner FDR, President Barack Obama is going straight at the Know-Nothing/Do-Nothing Republicans in Congress.

At a rally in September on a bridge connecting Rep. John Boehner's state of Ohio to Sen. Mitch McConnell's state of Kentucky, Obama challenged the two GOP leaders to back his plan for repairing and improving our country's deteriorating infrastructure. "Help us rebuild this bridge," he shouted out to Boehner and McConnell. "Help us rebuild America. Help us put this country back to work."

 

Yes, let's do it!

However, in addition to the usual recalcitrance of reactionary Republican leaders, another impediment stands in the way of success: many of the infrastructure jobs that would be created could end up in China.

Holy Uncle Sam! How is this possible?

It's due to a trap door that was built into the Buy American Act. This 1933 law gives preference to U.S. companies bidding on major infrastructure projects. However, it allows the general contractor to opt out of this requirement if the difference in U.S. and foreign bids is significant. This is no theoretical concern, ...

Published: Sunday 25 September 2011
The simplest and best thing the country could do is adopt and increase the President’s direct job creation proposals, the ones that put people to work doing things that need doing.

"Class warfare!" Whenever you heard those words, it's a pretty sure bet whoever's saying them is the one who's really conducting class warfare.

And that you're the target.

The Fast and the Spurious

The Republican responses to President Obama's moderate plan for jobs creation have been fast and furious - and really, really repetitive. "Class warfare" is getting thrown around a lot, but other rhetorical warhorses are getting even more of a workout.

"This is another failed stimulus that will not stimulate the economy," said Texas Republican Rep. Francisco Canseco. (Well, a failed stimulus, wouldn't, would it?)

"The President needs to move beyond the failed stimulus programs of yesteryear," said Republic Rep. Mike Conway. ""I had hoped the President would ...

Published: Monday 19 September 2011
At a moment when Obama desperately needs Democratic solidarity, there is no reservoir of goodwill from which he can draw.

With apologies to Winston Churchill: The talk in the political class is that this is the beginning of the end of the Obama administration, while the talk in the Obama administration is that this is the end of the beginning. Which will it be?

Last week was not exactly what President Obama hoped for when he rolled out his big jobs initiative. He expected pushback from Republicans. He did not anticipate the resistance he is getting from Democrats — or, perhaps more to the point, he did not expect the questions about the bill that might inevitably arise on his side to get quite so much attention.

The administration’s strategy was clear enough, and for the first few days it was working as planned. By putting together a rather large but relatively uncontroversial package of measures to boost the economy, Obama sought to put the Republicans on the defensive and to spur Democrats, including his progressive critics, behind a push for action.

In a series of campaign-style rallies, Obama exuded new energy. The friendly crowds he gathered radiated with a spirit that has been largely absent since the 2008 campaign. Cries of “Pass this bill!” seemed comfortingly similar to the old shouts of “Yes, we can!” And the initial response from congressional Republicans — they pointedly did not reject all of his ideas — suggested that things just might be turning the president’s way. The poll ratings of congressional Republicans, after all, are awful. Their leaders sensed that rejectionism might not be good politics.

But then the Democrats lost two congressional special elections and the administration proposed to pay for its $447 billion jobs plan with a combination of tax increases that it had proposed before and that Congress had rejected.

The elections brought to the surface all of the anxiety Democrats feel about 2012. And while Obama’s broadly progressive set of tax increases on special ...

Published: Sunday 18 September 2011
A payroll tax holiday is one of the few types of tax cuts that do actually stimulate the economy, precisely because they mostly affect working- and middle-class people, who need the money more and thus spend it right away.

In a sudden move, House Republicans rejected President Obama’s week-old jobs plan, including about $240 billion in payroll tax cuts. In a memo to their caucus, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), and other leaders dismissed the bill’s largest spending and tax cutting portions, leaving little of the bill intact. In the memo, the leaders explained their concerns on the tax:

There may be significant unforeseen downsides to large temporary tax cuts immediately followed by large tax increases. Compounding this negative effect is the scheduled increase in all individual tax rates, capital gain and dividend rates, and the elimination/reduction of various individual credits and deductions. In short, we are creating significant new uncertainty in an already uncertain economy. [...]

House Republicans are supportive of tax relief for working families and small businesses, but the temporary relief proposed by the President must not cause unforeseen harm to the economy 15 months from now and it shouldn’t be offset with permanent tax increases; and it shouldn’t come at the expense of the nation’s charities.

As ThinkProgress has noted, Republicans finally found a tax cut they didn’t like in the payroll tax holiday. What’s unusual about the payroll tax, which funds Social Security, is that cutting it almost entirely affects middle- and working- class people. Because the tax only applies to the first roughly $100,000 a person ...

Published: Saturday 17 September 2011
“I think the polling data got their attention,” said John Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College in California

Sniping and snide remarks are out on Capitol Hill. Being nice — and seeking common ground, or at least appearing to — is suddenly in.

Since returning from their summer recess earlier this month, lawmakers have heeded the strong message from an infuriated public: Stop squabbling, fix the economy and act like adults.

While this new era of good feeling doesn’t necessarily mean compromise on big economic issues is imminent, this much is clear:

“I think the polling data got their attention,” said John Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College in California and the author of “The Art of Political Warfare.”

The data show that Congress’ approval ratings remain dismal. A Sept. 8-11 Gallup poll found only 15 percent of the public approved of how Congress was doing its job, while 82 percent disapproved. The margin of error was 4 percentage points.

Nothing frightens politicians like numbers that low, especially when the economy remains sluggish, consumer confidence is bleak and businesses are reluctant to hire.

“I think GOP leaders, at least, see that jobs and the economy are going into the tank,” said Burdett Loomis, a professor of political science at the University of Kansas and the author of several books about Congress.

“They see the possibility that obstructing the Obama proposals, or at least appearing not to negotiate in good faith, might cost them politically.”

They know well how fast an angry public can turn on a political party; last year, Republicans took control of the House of Representatives as 87 GOP freshmen won seats. And with the nation’s unemployment rate at 9.1 percent and the economy barely growing, incumbents of both parties see themselves as vulnerable.

Republican pollster Bill McInturff found that public disgust with the summer debt-ceiling debacle had eroded confidence in the economy and the ...

Published: Saturday 10 September 2011
Their refusal to pass the strongest provisions in this reasonable bill, if that’s what they choose to do, will be conclusive proof that their only allegiances are to their own re-elections and the massive corporations that they serve.

This is not your father's (or mother's) GOP. During a time of national crisis, the President has submitted an urgently-needed jobs bill that is well within the mainstream for Republicans as well as Democrats. But today's Republicans are a new breed, dedicated not to their country or even an ideology.

Who could best express the absurd lengths these politicians will go to destroy anything that's stands in their way? Nobody I can think of - except Groucho Marx. But before Groucho has his say, let's have ours.

Their refusal to pass the strongest provisions in this reasonable bill, if that's what they choose to do, will be conclusive proof that their only allegiances are to their own re-elections and the massive corporations that they serve. This bill is far from perfect, but it's a start.

Rejecting this bill wouldn't just be a vote against jobs, although it would certainly be that. It wouldn't just be a vote against children, although it would condemn them to oversized classrooms in crumbling buildings. It wouldn't just be a vote against bridges and highways and a safer, more prosperous country.

It would also be a vote against business. It would be a vote against the real "wealth creators" and "job creators" in this country. Strangest of all, it would be a vote against the Republican Party and what it has historically stood for: pro-business policies, but commonsense policies that actually made those businesses more prosperous.

What would it be a vote 

Published: Saturday 3 September 2011
“This Isn’t A Serious Job Proposal. It’s Just Another Political Stunt From Obama And The Opticians.” –Rush Limbaugh

Can't Wait: Conservative Media Attack Obama's Jobs Plan Before It's Even Released

Conservative media have attacked President Obama's jobs plan as a "catastrophe," a "political stunt," and a "giveaway" to groups that Obama "favor[s]" before the plan has even been released.

Obama's Jobs Plan Has Yet To Be Released...

AP: President Obama Will "Deliver An Address On Jobs And The Economy To A Joint Session Of Congress On Sept. 8." The Associated Press reported:

In a retreat after an hours-long test of wills Wednesday, President Barack Obama agreed to deliver an address on jobs and the economy to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 8, yielding to House Speaker John Boehner, who had balked at Obama's request for a Sept. 7 speech.

Obama's address still gives him a grand stage to unveil his economic agenda, but it falls on the same evening as the opening game of the National Football League season. White House officials were working on the precise timing of the speech. [Associated Press, 8/31/11]

...But Right-Wing Media Have Attacked It Anyway

Rush Limbaugh: "This Isn't A Serious Job Proposal. It's Just Another Political Stunt From Obama And The Opticians." From the September 1 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: It is interesting to go through the drive-by media headlines on what happened regarding John Boehner's refusal to agree to the date September the 7th for Obama's political speech, a campaign speech before a joint session of -- no, it wasn't a jobs speech. It was never going to be a jobs speech. ...

Published: Thursday 11 August 2011
Protestors showed up in numbers at Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner’s office in West Chester, Ohio to demand that the Speaker actually start focusing on jobs rather than partisan bickering in Washington.

Protestors showed up in numbers at Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner’s office in West Chester, Ohio to demand that the Speaker actually start focusing on jobs rather than partisan bickering in Washington. Staffers locked the door and even refused to allow protestors to send two people in to give their message directly to Boehner or his staff. When they were informed that Boehner was at a country club fundraiser, the protestors departed for the golf course soiree in nearby Dublin, Ohio. (Inside the fundraiser, donors were reportedly given golf balls with Nancy Pelosi’s face printed on them.) The protesters were told “Boehner chooses not to come out”, and police were called to shoo the protesters away.

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Published: Friday 5 August 2011
"In an effort to block President Obama from making recess appointments, Congressional Republicans have kept Congress technically in session."

As many have noted, members of Congress left behind some unfinished business when they headed home for their August recess. But here’s something else you should know: Even though hordes of lawmakers have left D.C., neither chamber of Congress officially adjourned.

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Published: Thursday 4 August 2011
"We've just spent months of bitter struggle to accomplish remarkably little."

The debt-ceiling fight generated enough hyperventilation and heartburn to replace a coal-fired power plant. The resulting product? It's starting to look kind of puny and irrelevant.

The political outcome was awful. But leaving politics aside for a moment, I'm confident that budget cuts totaling less than $1 trillion over 10 years will not meaningfully alter life as we know it. And since the legislation produces absolutely no new revenue, the impact on the national debt is minimal.

About $1.5 trillion in additional cuts would be imposed if the "super-committee," a bipartisan congressional panel charged with reshaping our future through entitlement and tax reform, should reach an impasse. Hey, when has (BEG ITAL)that(END ITAL) ever happened? Still, with the exception of Pentagon spending, sacred cows are pretty much exempt from the automatic cuts. The impact on the debt would barely rise to underwhelming.

We've just spent months of bitter struggle to accomplish remarkably little. Meanwhile, most of the world's advanced economies, including ours, are mired in an economic "recovery" that is proceeding so slowly it feels as if we're moving backward.

Earth to Washington: Unemployment is stuck around 9 percent. Businesses aren't hiring because consumer demand, normally the great engine of the U.S. economy, is feeble. Americans are saving rather than spending because their most valuable assets -- their homes -- have not begun to regain the value they lost when the housing bubble went splat. Housing prices can't begin to recover ...

Published: Thursday 4 August 2011
"Republicans repeatedly assured the nation that once the debt-limit deal was done the economy would bounce back."

John Boehner said Tuesday the Republicans got “90 percent of what we wanted” from the budget deal. So presumably he and his colleagues are willing to take responsibility for some 450 points of today’s mammoth 513-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. 

 I’m being a bit facetious – but only a bit. It’s always dangerous to read too much into one day’s move in the stock market. 

Yet the stock sell-off – not just today’s, but that of the last days – cannot be easily dismissed. It marks Wall Street’s largest losing streak since 2008.

Republicans repeatedly assured the nation that once the debt-limit deal was done – capping spending, cutting the budget deficit, and getting “90 percent” of what they wanted — the economy would bounce back.

 Just the opposite seems to be happening.

Call it the Republican’s double-dip recession. 

Wall Street investors aren’t ideologues. They don’t obsess about budget deficits ten years from now, or the size of the government. One day doesn’t make a trend, but a giant sell-off like this is motivated by hard, cold realities.

Here are the two hard, cold realities investors are most worried about:

First, the economy looks like it’s dead in the water. The Commerce Department reports almost no growth in the first half of the year. And job growth is just about at a standstill. Far fewer jobs were generated in May and June than necessary just to keep up with the growth in the potential labor force – meaning the employment picture is actually worsening. Investors fear tomorrow’s (Friday’s) jobs report for July will show more of the same.

Secondly, investors now know the federal government’s hands are tied. The original stimulus is over; the Fed’s “quantitative easing” is over.

This ...

Published: Wednesday 3 August 2011
"There is a core group of Republicans and Democrats in Washington who yearn to escape the shackles of solution-stifling party orthodoxy."

Welcome to the new Washington normal: endless rounds of legislative carjacking. 

Perhaps that’s unduly grim -- pessimism fueled by the exhaustion of the moment. Perhaps, having peered into the abyss of political gridlock and economic collapse, those Republicans who pushed things to the brink this time will be chastened on the next round. 

Perhaps, but I’m sticking with pessimism. One side wanted the car, had a gun and wasn’t afraid -- certainly not afraid enough -- to use it. The other had a child in the back seat.

Those who blame Democrats or President Obama for being lousy negotiators fail to appreciate the fundamentally asymmetric nature of the current bargaining. You cannot practice the art of the possible with a party that insists on finger painting with a single color: spending cuts only. 

The coming crisis points are manifold. The current spending deal -- the one reached on the brink of government shutdown -- expires in September. Extended unemployment benefits run out at the end of the year. The temporary cut in the payroll tax expires. 

The evenly divided and therefore easily deadlocked supercommittee is supposed to report just before Thanksgiving. Congress is supposed to vote by Christmas. Absent agreement, the trigger -- across-the-board cuts to defense and domestic spending -- gets pulled shortly after New Year’s.

Luckily, the bullet moves slowly -- the cuts don’t take effect until 2013. Meanwhile, looming over the rest of 2012 will be the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, or, more precisely, the Obama extension of the Bush tax cuts.  

There is no shortage of hostages, and no reason to imagine that the hostage-takers are anything but emboldened. If anything, the worry is that the tactic extends beyond the fiscal ...

Published: Tuesday 2 August 2011
One American world, one Washington, is devouring the other. Think of this as the half-hidden psychodrama of this American moment.

By now, it seems as if everybody and his brother has joined the debt-ceiling imbroglio in Washington, perhaps the strangest homespun drama of our time.  It’s as if Washington’s leading political players, aided and abetted by the media’s love of the horserace, had eaten LSD-laced brownies, then gone on stage before an audience of millions to enact a psychotic spectacle of American decline.

And yet, among the dramatis personae we’ve been watching, there are clearly missing actors.  They happen to be out of town, part of a traveling roadshow.  When it comes to their production, however, there has, of late, been little publicity, few reviewers, and only the most modest media attention.  Moreover, unlike the scenery-chewing divas in Washington, these actors have simply been going about their business as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening.

On July 25th, for instance, while John Boehner raced around the Capitol desperately pressing Republican House members for votes on a debt-ceiling bill that Harry Reid was calling dead-on-arrival in the Senate, America’s new ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, took his oath of office in distant Kabul.  

Published: Monday 1 August 2011
"Obama tried, and failed, to shake Republicans out of their fevered dream that the $14.3 trillion national debt can be brought under control with budget cuts only."

It's supremely galling. It's unbalanced, unfair and mostly unwise. For President Obama and the Democratic Party, it's a comprehensive defeat. But it's not the end of the world.

The deal struck Sunday to free the U.S. economy from its Republican hostage-takers is impossible for progressives to love. It gets all the big things wrong, starting with the most fundamental: Obama never should have acquiesced in linking a routine hike in the debt ceiling -- necessary to pay bills Congress has already incurred -- with all the difficult spending questions that should be dealt with in the budget process.

Obama's starting point was a demand for a "clean," unencumbered bill to raise the ceiling; House Speaker John Boehner said no. What would have happened if Obama refused to budge? We don't know because that's not his style. It would be nice, someday, to find out.

Once this became a debate about debt reduction and national priorities, it was obvious that budget cuts needed to be matched by new revenue. After all, if you look at historical norms, spending is too high and tax receipts are too low by about the same amount. Obama commandeered the bully pulpit and demanded a "balanced approach" that included revenue. He inveighed against undertaxed "millionaires and billionaires" who fly around in corporate jets. Polls showed that by a considerable margin, the public agreed.

Republicans insisted on budget cuts only, with not a cent of new revenue -- and that, ladies and gentlemen, is what they got. There's no way to spin it: Boehner and the GOP won. Obama and the Democrats lost.

This isn't a rout, however. It's a retreat, in relatively good order, that leaves Democrats provisioned for the battles to come.

Published: Monday 1 August 2011
"This compromise does make a serious down payment on the deficit reduction we need and gives each party a strong incentive to get a balanced plan done before the end of the year."

President Barack Obama and congressional leaders reached a historic agreement late Sunday to dramatically cut federal deficits by trillions of dollars over the next decade while likely ensuring that the nation's debt limit will be raised before Tuesday's deadline — averting a possible economic crisis.

"This compromise does make a serious down payment on the deficit reduction we need and gives each party a strong incentive to get a balanced plan done before the end of the year," Obama said Sunday night. "Most importantly, it will allow us to avoid default and end the crisis Washington imposed on the rest of America."

The first part of the agreement will cut nearly $1 trillion in federal spending over the next decade, Obama said, while a special legislative committee will look for more cuts. "Everything will be on the table," he said.

Obama spoke as financial markets opened in Asia — Japan's Nikkei index had climbed nearly 2 percent within an hour of his remarks — and eased fears that the United States would default on its debt and perhaps slip back into recession.

Congressional leaders said they would present details of the deal to their party members on Monday and were confident that both houses would approve the compromise before Tuesday night, when the nation's $14.3 trillion debt limit must be increased.

The agreement, forged after weeks of unusually intense, often personal Washington drama, still needs congressional approval, and lawmakers signaled Sunday that they wanted to learn details of a plan that was hammered out at the 11th hour.

Senate leaders quickly had warm words for the agreement.

"I know this agreement won't make every Republican happy. It certainly won't make every Democrat happy, either," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who signed off on the deal subject to approval of his caucus.

"Both ...

Published: Saturday 30 July 2011
"If the nation defaults on its financial obligations, the blame belongs to the Tea Party Republicans who fragged their own leader, John Boehner."

Fragging: “To intentionally kill or wound (one’s superior officer, etc.), esp. with a hand grenade.”

Take names. Remember them. The behavior of certain Republicans who call themselves Tea Party conservatives makes them the most destructive posse of misguided “patriots” we’ve seen in recent memory.

If the nation defaults on its financial obligations, the blame belongs to the Tea Party Republicans who fragged their own leader, John Boehner. They had victory in their hands and couldn’t bring themselves to support his debt-ceiling plan, which, if not perfect, was more than anyone could have imagined just a few months ago. No new taxes, significant spending cuts, a temporary debt-ceiling solution with the possibility of more spending cuts down the line as well as action on their beloved balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.

These people wouldn’t recognize a hot fudge sundae if the cherry started talking to them.

The tick-tock of the debt-ceiling debate is too long for this space, but the bottom line is that the Tea Party got too full of itself with help from certain characters whose names you’ll want to remember when things go south. They include, among others, media personalities who need no further recognition; a handful of media-created “leaders,” including Tea Party Nation founder

Published: Friday 29 July 2011
"The current debate is not about trimming this small program here and nipping that tax break there. It’s about the fundamental direction of the government for years to come."

First came the plans, then came the criticism. To be expected -- except the criticism came from ideological allies.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid released his debt-ceiling plan -- and the liberal group MoveOn.org pounced, complaining that the Nevada Democrat’s proposal was flawed because it did not insist on a “balanced approach that ends outrageous tax breaks and loopholes for big corporations and the rich.”

Also, the group warned, the supercommittee to recommend further cuts was a Trojan horse for gutting entitlement benefits. "Any plan that includes a backdoor to cut those vital programs,” it thundered, “is just as unacceptable as one that puts the cuts upfront."

House Speaker John Boehner unveiled his debt-ceiling plan -- and the conservative Cut, Cap and Balance Coalition pounced, complaining that the Ohio Republican’s approach was flawed because it did not hew to every jot and tittle of the program: The guaranteed vote on a balanced-budget amendment would not be linked to lifting the debt ceiling. And the amendment might -- horrors! -- allow a tax increase with less than a two-thirds majority.

Also, the group warned, the supercommittee was a Trojan horse for raising taxes. “History has shown that such commissions, while well-intentioned, make it easier to raise taxes than to institute enduring budget reforms,” it thundered.

With friends like this, who needs the other party?

Howls from implacable purists and relentless interest groups on both sides are nothing new. The “mischiefs of faction,” as James Madison observed, have been present since the founding. Tending to the base is like weeding the garden, a chore as endless as it is tedious. The ...

Published: Thursday 28 July 2011
"Boehner told House Republicans in a closed-door meeting to "get your ass in line" and support his bill."

With stocks tanking and next Tuesday's debt-default deadline looming for the country, no sign of compromise between Democrats and Republicans emerged Wednesday in Congress.

Both parties continued to pursue separate tracks as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, went back to their drawing boards to revise their plans to cut federal spending and increase the debt ceiling. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued studies that found that both plans fell short of their promised spending cuts.

Both men shrugged off the CBO reports as minor obstacles easily fixed. Republican officials said the House of Representatives could vote on Boehner's revised bill as early as Thursday, while the timing of Reid's retooled measure remained unclear.

Meanwhile, anxiety over the debt stalemate in Washington erupted on Wall Street as stocks on the Dow Jones industrial average plunged 198.75 points, most in the final hour of trading, to close at 12,302.55. Many authorities have warned that Washington's failure to raise its debt ceiling by Tuesday could cause financial markets to panic and kick the weak U.S. economy back into recession.

Both Reid's and Boehner's plans would slow the already sluggish U.S. economy, according to an analysis Wednesday from Macroeconomic Advisers, a prominent St. Louis-based forecaster. Reid's plan would slow U.S. growth by about one-quarter of a percentage point per year from fiscal 2012 through 2015, while Boehner's would slow growth by about 0.1 percentage point per year on average over the same period. Both plans would reduce federal spending, which stimulates the economy.

Senate Democrats united behind Reid's plan, but Boehner appeared to be still scurrying for GOP votes in the Republican-controlled House to put his measure over the top. Many conservatives oppose his deficit-cutting plan as too weak, and many also refuse to vote ...

Published: Wednesday 27 July 2011
"It's time for moderates to abandon centrism and stop shifting with the prevailing winds."

What the country yearns for is moderation. What we hear about is the political center. But centrism has become the enemy of moderation.

Moderation in politics is about balance. It means believing in a vibrant and innovative private sector and a government substantial enough to do what the private sector doesn't and to enforce sensible rules for economic competition. It means incentives for success, help for those making their way up, and security for the sick, the aging, the poor, the unlucky. It means equilibrium between our love of individualism and our desire for community. This, in turn, means that reducing the budget deficit can't rely only on cutting programs. Yes, taxes need to go up.

All the polls I have ever seen peg the vast majority of Americans as moderate by this definition.

Centrism is something altogether different. It's not a philosophy. It's a position based on calculation. It doesn't start with fixed principles. It measures where everyone else stands on some political spectrum at a given moment and then frantically adjusts.

Because centrism is reactive, you never really know what a centrist believes. Centrists are constantly packing their bags and chasing off to find a new location as the political conversation veers one way or another.

Right now, this sort of centrism is enabling our irrational, dangerous and decidedly immoderate debt-ceiling conversation. Pushed by the tea party, Republicans have created an unprecedented situation by tying an increase in the debt ceiling, once a routine matter, to sharp cuts in spending. And their most conservative members have blocked any new tax revenues to cut the deficit.

Worse, the right would junk majoritarian ...

Published: Wednesday 27 July 2011
Published: Wednesday 27 July 2011
"President Obama and the Senate Democratic leadership are clearly poised to cave in to those demands in the spirit of “compromise."

This phony debt crisis has now passed through the looking glass into the realm where madness reigns. What should have been an uneventful moment in which lawmakers make good on the nation’s contractual obligations has instead been seized upon by Republican hypocrites as a moment to settle ideological scores that have nothing to do with the debt.

Hypocrites, because their radical free market ideology, and the resulting total deregulation of the financial markets, is what caused the debt to spiral out of control this last decade. That and the wars George W. Bush launched but didn’t have the integrity to responsibly finance. The consequence was a banking bubble and crash leading to a 50 percent run-up of the debt that has nothing to do with the “entitlements” that those same Republicans have always wanted to destroy. 

Even Barack Obama has put cuts in those programs into play, warning ominously that a failure to lift the debt ceiling could cause the government to stop sending out Social Security checks. Why, when the Social Security trust fund is fully funded for the next quarter-century and is owed money by the U.S. Treasury rather than the other way around? Why would we pay foreign creditors before American seniors? The answer, offered as conventional wisdom by leaders of both parties, is that we cannot endanger our credit by failing to back our bonds, even though the Republicans have aroused the alarm of the main U.S. credit rating agencies by their brinkmanship on the debt.

What a topsy-turvy world when the same credit rating agencies that gave the thumbs up to the bankers’ toxic mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps now threaten the AAA rating of U.S. Treasury bonds. According to them, it will not be enough to merely lift the debt ceiling—what had been assumed by both Republican and Democratic presidents to ...

Published: Wednesday 27 July 2011
"The non-partisan CBO determined that Boehner's plan would cut spending by $850 billion over the next decade, less than the $1.2 trillion promised in the bill."

House Speaker John Boehner was rewriting his plan to cut federal spending and raise the debt ceiling Tuesday night after the Congressional Budget Office revealed that his bill wouldn't cut as much spending as he'd promised it would.

The non-partisan CBO determined that Boehner's plan would cut spending by $850 billion over the next decade, less than the $1.2 trillion promised in the bill. CBO's scoring came on the eve of a vote in the House of Representatives on Boehner's plan, which was already struggling to gain enough votes among Republican members.

"CBO estimates that the legislation would reduce budget deficits by about $850 billion between 2012 and 2021 relative to CBO's March 2011 baseline," the CBO wrote in a letter to Boehner Tuesday.

Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman, said the speaker is reworking his plan. It was undetermined when a vote on the revamped plan will occur.

"We're here to change Washington — no more smoke and mirrors, no more `phantom cuts,'" Steel said. "We promised that we will cut spending more than we increase the debt limit — with no tax hikes — and we will keep that promise. As we speak, congressional staff are looking at options to re-write the legislation to meet our pledge."

Before Boehner's setback, congressional Democrats and Republicans appear headed for a clash Wednesday over dueling plans to cut spending and raise the federal debt ceiling, while the head of the International Monetary Fund warned Tuesday of dire consequences for the world economy if lawmakers fail to act by the Aug. 2 default deadline.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid forged ahead his own plan, which could come up for a votes as early as Thursday.

"We're in a stalemate," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday. "I mean, this is the problem we have, is that we need Congress to produce something that ...

Published: Tuesday 26 July 2011
"Had Standard & Poor’s done its job, today’s budget deficit would be far smaller."

If you think deficit-reduction is being driven by John Boehner or Harry Reid, think again. The biggest driver right now is Standard & Poor’s.  

All of America’s big credit-rating agencies — Moody’s, Fitch, and Standard & Poor’s — have warned they might cut America’s credit rating if a deal isn’t reached soon to raise the debt ceiling. This isn’t surprising. A borrower that won’t pay its bills is bound to face a lower credit rating.

But Standard & Poor’s has gone a step further: It’s warned it might lower the nation’s credit rating even if Democrats and Republicans make a deal to raise the debt ceiling. Standard & Poor’s insists any deal must also contain a credible, bipartisan plan to reduce the nation’s long-term budget deficit by $4 trillion — something neither Harry Reid’s nor John Boehner’s plans do.

If Standard & Poor’s downgrades America’s debt, the other two big credit-raters are likely to follow. The result: You’ll be paying higher interest on your variable-rate mortgage, your auto loan, your credit card loans, and every other penny you borrow. And many of the securities you own that you consider especially safe – Treasury bills and other highly-rated bonds – will be worth less.

In other words, Standard & Poor’s is threatening that if the ten-year budget deficit isn’t cut by $4 trillion in a credible and bipartisan way, you’ll pay more – even if the debt ceiling is lifted next week.

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Published: Tuesday 26 July 2011
"Senate proposal to raise the debt ceiling is much more sensible than the House plan because it insists that we not go through this charade again until Americans get their say at the ballot box a year from November."

President Obama made clear tonight that the debate over the debt ceiling is not left vs. right. It’s center vs. right. There was nothing remotely “left” in this speech, unless you count higher taxes for corporate jet owners and a few other populist bits.

He summarized his approach this way: “[L]et’s live within our means by making serious, historic cuts in government spending. Let’s cut domestic spending to the lowest level it’s been since Dwight Eisenhower was president. Let’s cut defense spending at the Pentagon by hundreds of billions of dollars. Let’s cut out the waste and fraud in health care programs like Medicare — and at the same time, let’s make modest adjustments so that Medicare is still there for future generations. Finally, let’s ask the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations to give up some of their tax breaks and special deductions.”

That’s four sentences on cuts and barely one sentence on taxes, and not even tax increases as such — just a request that the privileged “give up some of their tax breaks and special deductions.”

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Published: Tuesday 26 July 2011
"President Barack Obama warned the nation Monday night that the partisan impasse risks "sparking a deep economic crisis, this one caused almost entirely by Washington."

With the deadline for raising the nation's debt limit and prospects for financial-market panic now a week away, an impatient, frustrated President Barack Obama warned the nation Monday night that the partisan impasse risks "sparking a deep economic crisis, this one caused almost entirely by Washington."

But House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, presenting the case for the Republicans, countered that "the solution to this crisis is not that complicated. If you're spending more money than you're taking in, you need to spend less of it."

Obama and the Democrats should just accept the massive spending cut package pushed by the GOP, Boehner said — but Obama, he charged, "wants a blank check today."

Obama's 15-minute nationally televised address capped a day when Senate Democrats' and House Republicans' positions hardened, as each unveiled deficit-cutting plans Monday that showed the two sides remain sharply divided.

The key conflict dividing the new Republican and Democratic congressional plans involved the length of any new debt-limit increase. Republicans in the House of Representatives want to increase it in two stages, the first a short-term stopgap that would last through early next year. Democrats want a new ceiling that will last through the 2012 elections.

Obama took the unusual step of getting specific in criticizing the House GOP plan offered earlier Monday by Boehner.

"A six-month extension of the debt ceiling might not be enough to avoid a credit downgrade and the higher interest rates that all Americans would have to pay as a result," Obama said. "We know what we have to do to reduce our deficits; there's no point in putting the economy at risk by kicking the can further down the road."

Obama said he was still confident that an accord could be reached, saying, "Republican leaders and I have found common ground before." ...

Published: Monday 25 July 2011
"House Progressives have leverage - lots of leverage. "

As online "Countdown Clocks" count the hours before there's a debt ceiling disaster, the spotlight is on the individuals and groups who can make or break a deal. We've heard a lot about the Senate's Gang of Six, members of the Administration, House leaders Boehner and Cantor, and the radical Tea Party Republicans who allegedly hold 'veto power' over any proposed deal.

But another group holds at least as much power as those radical Republicans, and it has the added advantage of representing views that are widely supporting by Americans in both political parties. That group is the House Progressive Caucus.

The media coverage is revealing. Tea Party Republican Joe Walsh holds no official position in Congress except that of a freshman Representative, and his economic views are far to the right of the American mainstream. Yet as we write this, a Google News search on "Joe Walsh" (excluding "guitar" and "Eagles" to eliminate "Rocky Mountain Way" Joe Walsh) gets 1,461 hits. Rep. Keith Ellison, on the other hand, co-chairs a large Congressional caucus whose support may be vital to the passage of any deal. Yet his name only gets 157 hits - a figure that falls even more when you eliminate references to his religion.

Rep. Joe Walsh: To paraphrase his namesake, life's been good to him so far. Rep. Keith Ellison, on the other hand, must sometimes feel as if he's fighting in the dark. Yet the way ...

Published: Friday 22 July 2011
"The Tea Party’s followers have endangered the nation’s credit rating."

Media reports are touting the Senate’s Gang of Six and its new budget outline. But the news that explains why the nation is caught in this debt-ceiling fiasco is the gang warfare inside the Republican Party. We are witnessing the disintegration of Tea Party Republicanism.

The Tea Party’s followers have endangered the nation’s credit rating and the GOP by pushing both House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor away from their own best instincts.


 

Cantor worked amicably with the negotiating group organized by Vice President Joe Biden and won praise for his focus even from liberal staffers who have no use for his politics.

Yet when the Biden group seemed close to a deal, it was shot down by the Tea Party’s champions. Boehner left Cantor exposed as the frontman in the Biden talks and did little to rescue him.

Then it was Boehner’s turn on the firing line. He came near a bigger budget deal with President Obama, but the same right-wing rejectionists blew this up, too. Cantor evened the score by serving as a spokesman for Republicans opposed to any tax increase of any kind.

Think about the underlying dynamic here. The evidence suggests that both Boehner and Cantor understand the peril of the game their Republican colleagues are playing. They know we are closer than we think to having the credit rating of the ...

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