Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rep. Cantor's Magic Bullet

Much has been made recently of threats and acts of vandalism perpetrated against Democrats that voted for health care reform over the weekend. Those Congressmen and women have spoken up about this intimidation and that his has no place in American politics. That all sounds reasonable enough, except....

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor thinks the Democrats are making too much political hay of these acts. Then he drops the supposed bombshell publicly disclosing, "A bullet was shot through the window of [his] campaign office in Richmond this week." Of course, here's the problem. It doesn't match the facts. From the Richmond Police Department it appears a bullet was fired into the air, fell back toward the earth (as gravity is want to make objects do) and broke through a window pane in the same building that Cantor's office is housed in. It broke the window pain, but not the blinds and it fell at a downward trajectory.

That seems like a gross overstatement on Cantor's part and a false comparison as opposed to lawmakers that have face thrown bricks and cut propane lines.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

HCR Passage Popular?

First post-Healthcare Reform Gallup Poll finds 49% of the American people think passage of the Healthcare Reform Bill is a "good thing" compared to 40% of Americans viewing it as a "bad" thing. Democrats are predictably thrilled about its passage while Republicans are just as predictably not thrilled. Independents split basically even.

Process may have been the problem after all.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Monday Round-Up

  • Happy Health Care Reform Day. Last night, the House passed both the Senate Health Care Reform Bill and a Reconciliation Bill. Meanwhile, a Thomson Reuters report finds that, despite the Great Recession, Healthcare costs increased last year.
  • Jane Mayer takes on Marc Thiessen's new book in the New Yorker. We've addressed Thiessen here and here recently.
  • The internationally supported Transitional Federal Government reiterated its now stale vow to launch an offensive and take control of Somalia.
  • The Times Online reports that Iran is training Afghan Taliban fighters in small unit tactics. If true, this is notable because Iran initially supported US/NATO intervention in Afghanistan.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ryan's Voodoo Economics

Much hay has been made recently of Rep. Paul Ryan's "Roadmap" to fiscal responsibility. You know, the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And guess what, it is.

Due to an assumption the Congressional Budget Office made, as requested by Ryan's staff and in keeping with the historical analysis CBO does for members of Congress, Ryan's plan has been hailed as THE Republican alternative. What is that assumption?

Ryan's staff requested the CBO assume that tax revenues would remain unchanged, despite all the changes to tax policy the plan outlines. Talk about sleight of hand. The Center of Budget and Policy Priorities has a great analysis of the plan integrating revenue changes as outlined by the Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center.

Rep. Ryan's response basically says the normal scoring bodies can't do it, so we'll just go with our numbers. Basically 2 + 2 = 5. If this is the serious Republican proposal then I feel sorry for the intellectual state of the party.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Health Care Reform and the American People

Joel Beneson looks at recent polling and makes a point that I've been hammering away at for some time: the American people are not opposed to Health Care reform and that not passing the bill will damage the Democrats' midterm election prospects.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

CBO Marks-Up the Senate Bill

The Congressional Budget Office predicts the Senate Health Care bill will reduce the deficit by $118 billion over 10 years.

Also, you can now follow D.C. Exile on Twitter.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

GOP Continues to Castigate the Unemployed

Sunday, Tom DeLay (R-TX), former Majority Leader, claimed, “there is an argument to be made that these extensions of these unemployment benefits keeps people from going and finding jobs.”

Delay is not alone in pushing this nonsense. Last week, Jon Kyl (R-AZ) similarly accused the unemployed of being unemployed out of choice, “because [the unemployed] are being paid even though they’re not working.”

Delay and Kyl are conflating what would likely occur if the United States were at full employment and raised the generosity of benefits accorded to the unemployed. In this scenario, all those people that would like to find jobs are able to do so, but those whose jobs at the low end of the wage scale are easily substituted for by increased unemployment benefits. Those individuals then leave the work force. The theory is reasonable enough—when the unemployment rate is around 3% and benefits are increased not extended.

But we do not find ourselves in a situation with 3% unemployment, nor have unemployment benefits been increased. Unemployment benefits have merely been extended, making current unemployment benefits no more competitive with wages than they were 30 days ago, or 90 days before that. Instead, with real unemployment around 17%, it is ridiculous to suggest that, absent substantial employment benefit increases, the 12% of the work force that has lost its jobs due to the Great Recession have not done so voluntarily, in favor of the lavish insurance provided for the government.

Callousness and wrong economics aside, the most pernicious aspect of the Delay-Kyl line is that it suggests, not so gently, that the unemployed are to fault both for the individual failure to find new jobs and the larger economy’s failure to recover. Effectively, Delay and Kyl suggest that if Congress were to revoke unemployment benefits—if unemployment weren’t so comfortable—the suddenly uncomfortable, lazy jobless would be driven by economic pressure to create new jobs for themselves or fill the many jobs that are just waiting to be filled.

Of course, even if that were the case, even if there were hundreds of thousands of jobs waiting to be filled if only workers could be coaxed off the dole, wouldn’t that economic pressure simply drive wages up, making unemployment less attractive, filling those empty jobs? This is just simply not a phenomenon we are witnessing. The millions of Americans unemployed did not abandon their jobs in favor of unemployment insurance. They do not remain unemployed because they prefer visiting the unemployment office weekly. They will go back to work when there are jobs again. Taking away the unemployment safety net will simply drive people into poverty.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Time to Go

Iraqis went to the voting booth on Sunday for national elections. They were to select a new parliament and potentially a new prime minister. After a morning rife with explosions and some death, the cities quieted and the citizens reportedly voted in droves. There are no early reports of widespread fraud, no reports of voter intimidation (save the bombings), and now the country waits for the results. Even reading about it in the New York Times this morning, it just sounded kind of mundane, normal. Sure there was violence, but it was limited and desperate. Perhaps more remarkably the Iraqi people saw the violence for what it was, a desperate attempt by a marginalized insurgency to derail through violence Iraq's path to democracy. The public didn't buy it.

So now what? I think it's time to go. I'm not alone in this and I'm not going to set a timeline, but if things keep progressing the way they have I see no reason for us to stay for two main reasons. First, there is a democratic Iraq, even if it's a shaky democracy. Second, despite the fact that it's shaky there is almost nothing the US can do to make it any less shaky.

The successful vote will be followed by protracted jockeying for a ruling coalition. Many people put these post elections negotiations in terms of months, not days. That said, there isn't a major concern of violence with regard to the negotiations, at least not the kind of sectarian violence that lead Iraq to the edge of civil war in 2006. Iraq will remain a shaky democracy for some time, but there's little we can do about that.

We have toppled a government, botched reconstruction, lost the people we tried to liberate, and yet were able to correct course and helped create a viable, if not thriving democracy in Iraq. What is left to do? If this isn't victory, what is? Sure there are areas of concern, but they aren't our concerns in any direct way. We have done enough, spent enough, spilled enough blood to give Iraq a chance.

We went in for specious reasons. We fumbled, repeatedly, reconstruction. We lost the lives of American servicemen and women in a war that was and is not tied directly to our national security. And yet, now, seven years on, from all the missteps, mistakes, and misdirection we can leave Iraq politically better then we found it. We've done all we can. It's time to go.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Gruesome Old Party

Politico broke a story yesterday about Republicans using fear mongering as a fundraising (and presumably an electoral) tactic. The GOP plans to caricature Pres. Obama and the Democrats as Socialists, turning deep seated American fears of Communism into a fundraising bonanza. This is not particularly surprising, the Republicans have been flogging this Obama=Socialist message for some months. It is, however, a bit shocking to be presented with clear evidence of the abiding cynicism of the Republican Party.

Clearly, the Republican Party has used fear as an electoral strategy for years—fear of communism, fear of terrorisms, fear of socialism, fear of an imagined Muslim other—but one always hopes that it is borne by a genuine belief in what they are saying. To see that, at least in this case, the GOP is consciously using what it must realize is nonsense to raise money is ghastly.

Ghastly, intellectually dishonest, and exploitative of Americans that are facing real problems. It also shows a tipping toward the tea party movements, the largely disorganized libertarian fringe groups that the Republican party is trying to harness versus going toward the center. It would seem the moneymen in the Republican party have determined that success comes not from widening the tent, but from wringing money from a small, largely misinformed group of Americans. Call it the Glenn Beck Guide to Electoral Success and Government Suicide.

My only hope is that this gets more ink, that the word gets out about what the GOP moneymen truly think of the constituents they hope to represent. I hope it also makes plain for the American people the emptiness Republican policy proposals, because there aren't any. They aren't targeting big ticket donors talking about how they plan to be pro-business, instead they're selling access ahead of time. They aren't telling small donors what they intend to do once they regain a majority. They're just telling people what to be afraid of and who to blame for it. If I could further rip off The American President, "that ladies and gentlmen is how you win an election."

That's how you win an election, but that's not how you govern and it should be shameful (and judging by comments issued on behalf of RNC Chair Steele, it is) for any political party to so methodically prey on the fear of the American people. Of course the realpolitik response from Republicans would probably be if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Beware of charlatans and fear for the republic.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Draft Bayh?

On February 15, Sen. Evan Bayh announced that he would not seek re-election as a United States Senator. Bayh won his 2006 re-election campaign by 24 points (61.6 to 37.3) and at the time of his retirement announcement, had a war chest of $13 million. In the immediate wake of his retirement, Bayh took great pains to explain his aversion to the current partisan climate in Washington.

With President Obama’s approval rating hovering around 50%, Americans split evenly over which party is to blame for the lack of bipartisanship in Congress, Congress’ approval rating somewhere around 20%, and the pervasive anti-incumbent attitude, a moderate, popular Democrat with national ambitions might find it opportune to take his money and run. I’ve no hard evidence but it seems to me that, Bayh might find it politically beneficial to not wage a re-election campaign, to retain his high approval rating, his war chest, and join the anti-Congress, anti-incumbent chorus. It seems to me that a moderate politician like Bayh might be “drafted” to run against a left-leaning incumbent President who is unpopular. The N.Y. Daily News suggested, at Bayh’s retirement, that he just began the 2016 race—I think he may have just begun the race for 2012.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

GOP Leadership (or lack there of) in Action

Sen. Collins has tried to override the objections of her colleague, Sen. Bunning regarding Bunning's hold on an emergency bill that provides unemployment payments to those still unable to find work, as well as numerous highway projects. As Ben posted early, those highway project have already furloughed their workers without pay.

Sen. Collins was quoted in the New York Times saying she made her override effort on "behalf of numerous members of the Republican caucus who have expressed concern to me." My question is: where are they? Has it really taken several days for a Republican senator to challenge Bunning's short-sighted legislative hold?

One Senator not among the number Collins alluded to is Sen. Kyl of Arizona who has defended Bunning's actions.

This isn't leadership. This is short-sighted cowardice, finding it politically convenient to decry a deficit (in no small part exacerbated by Bush tax cuts) at a moment when it will do the most damage to a good number of American people. Bunning and Kyl are simply wrong to become deficit hawks at a time of great need in this country. Sen. Collins's silent colleagues are cowards, apparently too scared of a Tea Party challenge to lend a voice to constituent concerns. This isn't leadership, this is shameful.

Bunning’s Misstep

Last week, as Jason pointed out, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky) single-handedly blocked the extension of unemployment benefits for millions of Americans left jobless by the Great Recession. Bunning defended his action as one of fiscal conservancy, a determination that the cost of unemployment benefits not be added to the deficit. Bunning’s claim is at best disingenuous.

Absent from the conversation last week, though, was any discussion of the impact Bunning’s tactics would have on those people with jobs. It turns out, the bill that Bunning blocked included highway funds. Not only is Bunning denying unemployment assistance to Americans who desperately need it, he’s killing jobs. According to the New York Times, 2,000 workers from the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration were furloughed (without pay) on Monday. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (Republican) says that these furlough will also halt 40 major projects.

Even though Bunning isn’t running for re-election, his job-killing misstep may do some lasting damage to the Republicans. In light of the unemployment rate and the apparent concern of the American people that the government isn’t doing enough to improve the economy, a Republican obstructing a bill that simultaneously extends unemployment and keeps other individuals employed, may give resonance to the Democrats’ recent embrace of a jobs-focused, populist message. This is more than inside baseball, stories about Bunning causing furloughs appear today on A-2 in the Washington Post, on A-15 in the New York Times, and on the front page of at least several small, local papers.