Popular Posts

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Morning After

Speaker Boehner and the country awake to a new reality. Just days after going “mano a mano” with the president it is clear that

any credibility he had in claiming that his restive members could get behind a consensus debt deal has vanished…In a highly embarrassing development, Boehner must now move his bill to the right in order to secure enough votes from his own party. The Speaker's failure exposes an uncomfortable reality for the GOP: A final debt ceiling compromise will likely require a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans to pass the House, and the outspoken conservative wing of the party will not be on board…but it's clear now that Speaker Boehner will need Democratic votes to get any compromise through the House. And that leaves the Republican leader with two options: abandon Tea Party freshmen and form a coalition between his most moderate members and 150+ Dems, or potentially allow the last best hope for a debt ceiling deal to fail in his chamber, with nothing but market panic left to make his members reconsider. Either would be a bruising choice for the embattled Speaker.

No wonder Time is predicting a “coming GOP split”:

As two roads diverge before the GOP on the debt ceiling, it’s increasingly hard to see a path that leads to party unity. Go right and the GOP risks default and, as McConnell has warned, being blamed by the center for an economic disaster. Take the center path – there is no left turn here – and Republicans risk an angry Tea Party base and potential primary threats. From the advent of the Tea Party to purity tests and the 2010 primary challenges, the split has been a long time coming.

The hubris of a week ago has vanished for traditional conservative Republicans. Their attempts to blame Obama and his "jello-like" negotiations and his "irresponsible press conference" look like the ridiculous delusions they were at the time. They failed to see what is now clear to the nation--their only chance to do the right thing is to compromise and cut the Tea Party off at the knees. Instead of reverting to blaming Obama, this Friday lets hope they join with him.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Palin won't get in line

How appropriate that on the day that traditional conservatives assured us they would force the radicals to “get their a** in line”, as Speaker Boehner put it, we hear from Sarah Palin. I have avoided all mention of Palin at this blog, but I must refer to here because her actions today demonstrate a broader point. Palin is the ultimate example of how traditional conservative Republicans have nurtured and enabled the extremists that they now seek to control and tame.  Traditional conservatives made Palin by bringing her on to the GOP ticket, they remained silent as she accused the president of “palling with terrorists” and they have had to live with her presence ever since lest they alienate the very people that her extreme rhetoric helped to bring into the party. It turns out that a lot of these folks are like Palin and they really meant the extreme things they said and will hold to the extreme positions they took—they weren’t just going to fall in line and forget that they really do believe Democrats are socialists, Obama is a Muslim, the Federal Reserve is evil. So today, as the ultimate traditional conservative Boehner tried to rein in the extremists that he allowed into the party, Sarah Palin took to facebook to remind the freshmen congressman that she helped elect that she really meant what she said to them months ago. She sent them an open note in which she referred them back to a letter that she had written them months ago. It is worth reading in full, so here it is in all its Palinesque glory (shame?):

Out here in proverbial politico flyover country, we little folk are watching the debt ceiling debate with great interest and concern. Today I re-read the open letter I wrote to Republican Freshman Members of Congress in November 2010, just days after they were ushered into office in an historic landslide victory due in large part to the activism of commonsense patriots who are considered part of the Tea Party movement. I respectfully ask these GOP Freshman to re-read this letter and remember us “little people” who believed in them, donated to their campaigns, spent hours tirelessly volunteering for them, and trusted them with our votes. This new wave of public servants may recall that they were sent to D.C. for such a time as this.

The original letter is pasted below, with added emphasis to certain passages that I feel are especially relevant to the current discussion. 

All my best to you, GOP Freshmen, from up here in the Last Frontier.


Sarah Palin

P.S. Everyone I talk to still believes in contested primaries.


November 13, 2010

Welcome to all Republican Freshmen and congratulations!

Congratulations to all of you for your contribution to this historic election, and for the contributions I am certain you will make to our country in the next two years. Your victory was hard fought, and the success belongs entirely to you and the staff and volunteers who spent countless hours working for this chance to put government back on the side of the people. Now you will come to Washington to serve your nation and leave your mark on history by reining in government spending, preserving our freedoms at home, and restoring America’s leadership abroad. Some of you have asked for my thoughts on how best to proceed in the weeks and months ahead and how best to advance an agenda that can move our country forward. I have a simple answer: stick to the principles that propelled your campaigns. When you take your oath to support and defend our Constitution and to faithfully discharge the duties of your office, remember that present and future generations of “We the People” are counting on you to stand by that oath. Never forget the people who sent you to Washington. Never forget the trust they placed in you to do the right thing.

The task before you is daunting because so much damage has been done in the last two years, but I believe you have the chance to achieve great things.

Republicans campaigned on a promise to rein in out-of-control government spending and to repeal and replace the massive, burdensome, and unwanted health care law President Obama and the Democrat Congress passed earlier this year in defiance of the will of the majority of the American people. These are promises that you must keep. Obamacare is a job-killer, a regulatory nightmare, and an enormous unfunded mandate. The American people don’t want it and we can’t afford it. We ask, with all due respect, that you remember your job will be to work to replace this legislation with real reform that relies on free market principles and patient-centered policies. The first step is, of course, to defund Obamacare.

You’ve also got to be deadly serious about cutting the deficit. Despite what some would like us to believe, tax cuts didn’t get us into the mess we’re in. Government spending did. Tough decisions need to be made about reducing government spending. The longer we put them off, the worse it will get. We need to start by cutting non-essential spending. That includes stopping earmarks (because abuse of the earmark process created the “gateway-drug” that allowed backroom deals and bloated budgets), canceling all further spending on the failed Stimulus program, and rolling back non-discretionary spending to 2008 levels. You can do more, but this would be a good start.

In order to avert a fiscal disaster, we will also need to check the growth of spending on our entitlement programs. That will be a huge challenge, but it must be confronted head on. We must do it in a humane way that honors the government’s current commitments to our fellow Americans while also keeping faith with future generations. We cannot rob from our children and grandchildren’s tomorrow to pay for our unchecked spending today. Beyond that, we need to reform the way Congress conducts business in order to make it procedurally easier to cut spending than to increase it. We need to encourage zero-based budgeting practices in D.C. like the kind fiscally conservative mayors and governors utilize to balance their budgets and reduce unnecessary spending.

There in the insulated and isolated Beltway you will be far removed from the economic pain felt by so many Americans who are out of work. Please remember that if we want real job growth, we must create a stable investment climate by ending the tidal wave of overly burdensome regulations coming out of Washington. Businesses need certainty – and freedom that incentivizes competition – to grow and expand our workforce.

The last thing our small businesses need is tax hikes. It falls to the current Democrat-controlled Congress to decide on the future of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. If it does not permanently renew all of them, you should move quickly to do so in the new Congress. It would remove from households and businesses the threat of a possible $3.8 trillion tax hike hitting all Americans at the worst possible moment, with our economy struggling to recover from a deep recession! You must continue to remind Democrats that the people they are dismissing as “rich” are the small business owners who create up to 70% of all jobs in this country!

Another issue of vital importance is border security. Americans expect our leadership in Washington to act now to secure our borders. Don’t fall for the claims of those who suggest that we can’t secure our borders until we simultaneously deal with the illegal immigrants already here. Let’s deal with securing the border first. That alone is a huge challenge that has been ignored for far too long.

On foreign policy and national security, I urge you to stick to our principles: strong defense, free trade, nurturing allies, and steadfast opposition to America’s enemies.  We are the most powerful country on earth and the world is better off because of it.  Our president does not seem to understand this. If we withdraw from the world, the world will become a much more dangerous place. You must push President Obama to finish the job right in Iraq and get the job done in Afghanistan, otherwise we who are war-weary will forever question why America’s finest are sent overseas to make the ultimate sacrifice with no clear commitment to victory from those who send them. You should be prepared to stand with the President against Iran’s nuclear aspirations using whatever means necessary to ensure the mullahs in Tehran do not get their hands on nuclear weapons. And you can stand with the Iranian people who oppose the tyrannical rule of the clerics and concretely support their efforts to win their freedom – even if the President does not.

You need to say no to cutting the necessities in our defense budget when we are engaged in two wars and face so many threats – from Islamic extremists to a nuclear Iran to a rising China. As Ronald Reagan said, “We will always be prepared, so we may always be free.” You will also have the opportunity to push job-creating free trade agreements with allies like Colombia and South Korea. You can stand with allies like Israel, not criticize them. You can let the President know what you believe – Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, not a settlement. And for those of you joining the United States Senate, don’t listen to desperate politically-motivated arguments about the need for hasty consideration of the “New START” treaty.  Insist on your right to patient and careful deliberation of New START to address very real concerns about verification, missile defense, and modernization of our nuclear infrastructure. No New START in the lame duck!

You can stand against misguided proposals to try dangerous, evil terrorists in the US; precipitously close the Guantanamo prison; and a return to the failed policies of the past in treating the war on terror as a law enforcement problem. Finally, you have a platform to express the support of the American people for all those around the world seeking their freedom that God has bestowed within all mankind’s being – from Burma and Egypt to Russia and Venezuela – because the spread of liberty increases our own security. You, freshmen lawmakers, can and will be powerful voices in support of foreign policies that protect our interests and promote our values! Thank you for being willing to fight for our values and our freedom!

In all this, you should extend a hand to President Obama and Democrats in Congress. After this election, they may finally be prepared to work with Republicans on some of these issues for the good of the country. And if not, we will all be looking forward to 2012.

Remember that some in the media will love you when you stray from the time-tested truths that built America into the most exceptional nation on earth. When the Left in the media pat you on the back, quickly reassess where you are and readjust, for the liberals’ praise is a warning bell you must heed. Trust me on that.

I and most Americans are so excited for you. Working together, we have every right to be optimistic about our future. We can be hopeful because real hope lies in the ingenuity, generosity, and boundless courage of the everyday Americans who make our country exceptional. These are the men and women who sent you to Washington. May your work and leadership honor their faith in you.

With sincere congratulations and a big Alaskan heart,

Sarah Palin

Joe Wilson Now Key to Boehner's "Win"

The symbolism is rich--those on the inside are reporting that Boehner's desperate effort to secure votes for his own extremely conservative proposal is now dependent on the support of Joe Wilson. Yes, that Joe Wilson, the extremist who shouted out "Liar" at President Obama during his health care speech to Congress in 2009. Wilson is important for another reason, rich in historical symbolism--he is the head of the South Carolina group of congressmen Boehner is frantic to appease. Yes, South Carolina is again the center of extremism and legislative intransigence. But do not fear, we are assured that these are good Christian men thinking things through. You can't make this stuff up:

"Several sources say the South Carolina delegation — which includes five Republicans — could be key in getting the vote across the finish line. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) visited the leadership office suite in the Capitol Thursday evening.
Adding even more drama to an already chaotic evening in the Capitol, several members of the South Carolina delegation retreated to an ornate chapel to pray on the issue.
Asked whether divine inspiration might hit during prayer, Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), a freshman from Charleston, replied: “Divine inspiration already happened. I was a lean no, and now I’m a no.”
A few key South Carolina Republicans were then seen in GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy’s office as the vote remained delayed on the House floor."

Chickens Coming Home to Roost in their HOUSE

Tonight we are witnessing in real time the inevitable consequence of 30 months of playing with rhetorical fire—the House is burning down under the heat of its own radicalism. Speaker Boehner, who just days ago was accusing President Obama of failed leadership and “jello-like” negotiations, is facing the unflinching reality of his own decision to court and empower the most extreme group of congressman since the 1960s. After assuring the public that it was President Obama’s fault that there was a failure to achieve a compromise, Boehner has failed to get the votes for his very own plan to raise the debt ceiling with no tax increases, only budget cuts.

It is too early to declare his efforts dead, but it is not too early to face the music—there is nothing Obama could have done to clinch a deal with House Republicans. This is a tiger that no one can ride, unleashed on the body politic by cynical, manipulative operatives hungry for power and willing to say anything about the president and his proposals in order to defeat him. But now we see that those who they nurtured into power really believe the things they have been saying—about the president, about the federal reserve, about the role of government and about the evils of compromise.

This should serve as a wake up call to everyone who believed that the extreme rhetoric of the House Republicans and the conservative movement was just “politics as usual.” All who winked and nodded as the most extreme elements in our politics tore into the president now must face the fact that they have the responsibility to bring this country back from the brink. They have to face the obvious conclusion—only a balanced approach that can garner Democratic support will rescue us from default and true crisis. They have to deal with the President with respect and partnership and genuine compromise. And they have to turn away from the rhetoric and the political faction that rhetoric has created and join with Democrats to pass a package like the one the president was offering last week.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tea Party Tiger Turns on Boehner

When negotiations on a grand bargain broke down last week, many conservatives tried to shift the conversation to the supposed failures of Obama as a negotiator and leader. My point in recent blogs has not so much been to defend Obama’s every step in these many months, but to ask more fundamental questions about what drove Boehner’s decision to end the negotiations for a larger budget deal and focus on his own narrow debt ceiling proposal. I believe it is folly to assume that President Obama could have done anything that would have led to anything resembling a compromise—the driving forces in the Republican Party have demonized Obama, embraced no-tax increase orthodoxy and become convinced that this is the moment to radically redraw the fiscal direction of the country. The reaction within the Tea Party and among their supporters in the Republican caucus in the House to Boehner’s own proposal gives fresh support for my argument.

First, these quotes from an interview in the Daily Beast with Mark Meckler, the cofounder of the largest Tea Party group in the nation.

Is there any scenario where you think it would be OK to raise the debt ceiling?  No.
What do you think about the proposal that Speaker Boehner has put out? It’s an embarrassment. He proposes $1.4 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years. Legally, no Congress can bind a future Congress. Anything he promises about what future Congresses will do, they simply can’t make that promise. In the real world, we call that a lie. If you promise something that you have no control over, that’s called a lie. In Congress, it’s called a promise. We don’t understand how the American people don’t get that. Number two, no Congress has ever been able, by wish or by promise, to bind future Congresses to spending cuts. When past Congresses cut spending under their own budgets, those spending cuts will never and have never materialized. It’s smoke and mirrors and the American people understand this.

Given the influence of the Tea Party on House Republicans it is no surprise that Speaker Boehner is having a devil of a time keeping his ranks behind him as the vote on his plan nears. Check out this bit of backroom maneuvering, reported in Politico:

Scrambling for votes on his troubled deficit package, Speaker John Boehner bluntly told wavering GOP lawmakers Wednesday morning to “get your ass in line” behind his debt ceiling bill…The hard line from Boehner came as there was a serious internal blowup over the Republican Study Committee, a bloc of conservative lawmakers chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio). Jordan, who is opposed to the Boehner plan, was forced to apologize on Wednesday after an RSC staffer sent out e-mails to outside conservative groups asking them to target GOP lawmakers to oppose the leadership proposal. House Republicans were infuriated by the RSC tactic, which even targeted dues-paying RSC members, with some threatening to quit the group…The RSC missive angered some rank-and-file Republicans who came under fire from outside groups, including Rep. Renee Ellmer (N.C.), Todd Young (Ind.) and Bill Flores (Texas). Elmers stood up at the GOP Conference meeting and blasted the RSC for the move, saying she was ashamed to be part of the group, according to sources in the room. Afterwards, Elmers said she may quit the RSC.

Now Boehner might very well be able to overcome this resistance and gain a majority for his plan, but doesn’t his struggle to gain support for his own plan demonstrate the point that the Tea Party tiger would never have been tamed to support a grand bargain that had Obama’s support? Conservatives kid themselves when they imagine that to have been possible. Anxious progressives who have been ready to throw Obama under the bus for his concessions should note how this episode is vividly putting before the public mind the extremism and intransigence of the Tea Party. Polls are clearly showing the public recoiling at the Tea Party vision for the debt celing crisis and holding Republicans accountable for unleashing this tiger on the body politic.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Borking of Barack Obama

The Borking of Barack Obama

In 1987 President Reagan nominated Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. The reaction to that pick was so unique and so extreme that a new verb entered the English language—Borking. To this day a true political junky will use that word as shorthand for over the top rhetoric, character assassination and no holds barred political discourse. While the resistance to the pick succeeded in stopping Bork’s nomination it also stained the body politic. Any fair telling of the story acknowledges that the way Judge Bork was treated set a precedent for future Supreme Court nominations that has damaged the common good. I say this as someone who generally leans Left on national politics. To this day I am uncomfortable thinking about Ted Kennedy because I so associate him with his vicious attacks on Bork. I believe that my party, the Democratic Party, hurt not only itself but the good of our country by unleashing a new type of political attack on judicial nominees.

I raise this story now because I feel that the shoe is on the other foot. Now it is the Republican Party that has so demonized and diminished President Obama that they have made genuine compromise with him something to be feared within their party. And yet I still hear Republicans try to claim that the way Obama has been treated is just politics as usual, just the kind of cute rhetoric that all politicians use. They would like to go on as if the last 30 months of verbal assaults against the president has no bearing on their party’s ability to reach a meaningful compromise on the debt crisis. They sound like Democrats in the 1980s trying to live with themselves after the crushing of Robert Bork. They so want to believe that their consciences are clear that they ignore the obvious. After creating a picture of Obama as a socialist, Muslim, terrorist pal, unnatural citizen they would have us believe that this rhetoric has no connection to their unwillingness to compromise in the debt ceiling negotiations. Why can’t they just face the reality that they upped the anty, they pushed the envelope, they went beyond the norm, and now they are living with the consequences.

Here is what I would like to hear, just once, from a Christian conservative Republican—“We went too far. In our zeal to defeat Obama we delegitimized him to a large chunk of our base. We should not have done this. We did to him what Democrats did to Bork. We were wrong and if we are going to work for the common good we have to acknowledge that.”

If I could just hear something like that, instead of what always sounds like minimizing or justifying or excusing away or trying to make moral equivalence, it would be nice, it would be Christian. 

What motivated Boehner?

In my last blog I linked to a couple different articles that I have found compelling and that are striking alternatives to Timothy Dalrymple’s narrative. To recap, Tim argues that Speaker Boehner is justified in walking away from the negotiations last week because the president had poor motivations for the negotiations (only in it to “achieve a legacy-burnishing grand compromise”), deceptive in his negotiations (“jello-like”) and “irresponsible” in his Friday press conference (“the worst sort of demagoguery”). Tim leaves totally unexplored the logic behind Boehner’s stated reasons for walking away from the negotiations, reasons I find significant and telling. Here are two other writers who provide a different perspective and motivation for Boehner’s decision to walk away from the negotiations.

Here is Michael Tomasky at the Daily Beast, reflecting on the broader rhetorical context of Boehner’s decision:

We’ve watched for three years now as the right has unloaded every manner of vitriol on Obama it can think of. Muslim, socialist, communist, fascist, terrorist, what have you. Whenever someone crossed an obvious line—say, with a racial joke—defenders popped up: Come on, it’s just rhetoric. Not that big a deal.

But a group’s rhetoric has a way of creating its own reality, which in turn forces a certain kind of behavior. If you say someone is a terrible American, even if you’re just joking at first, eventually you believe it. And if you believe it, how can you negotiate with the person? You can’t. You can only defeat him.

Dana Milbank on the broader policy context of the president’s tax proposal:

So far, the Default Caucus is disregarding the advice of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, warnings from Standard & Poor’s, the record of Ronald Reagan and even the permission of Grover Norquist, the conservative loyalty enforcer who said that ending the Bush-era tax cuts would not violate lawmakers’ anti-tax pledges. The Default Caucus has dismissed all compromises. Obama and Boehner’s “Grand Bargain”? The “Gang of Six” proposal? Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s plan? No, nay, never. Even Tom Coburn’s plan to shave deficits by $9 trillion was disparaged as a “$1 trillion tax hike.”
Boehner is dealing with a caucus that he helped get elected that is profoundly distrustful of the president and deeply opposed to any tax increase. He is doing the best he can with that reality and maybe Timothy is right that he is doing even better than we realize. But lets not kid ourselves--the idea that Preisdent Obama's negotiation tactics and press conference antics are anywhere near as important to Boehner's position as the rhetorical and policy reality of his caucus is bogus. 

The Debt Ceiling

The Debt Ceiling

I have been out of commission for weeks due to extensive travel and family commitments, but I wanted to take a moment to respond to some of the commentary on the weekend's events.

Timothy Dalrymple has an interesting take on the budget negotiations at his Philosophical Fragments blog at Patheos. He is usually a witty, balanced conservative leaning blogger, so I take his perspective seriously when he argues as he does that the president deserves to be, and indeed is being, played like a drum by Speaker Boehner. According to Tim, Boehner’s brinksmanship is morally justifiable because of Obama’s irresponsibility and “jello” like negotiation posture, and politically masterful because Boehner is going to get significant concessions in exchange for only keeping the debt-ceiling a closed issue through the 2012 elections.

Now I don’t want to try and deconstruct Tim’s take on the chronology of events, the motivations of the president or the political wisdom of Boehner’s negotiating strategy. Wiser, more connected people than I have already provided an alternative narrative to Tim’s and drawn a different conclusion as to the reasoning behind Boehner’s pull out of negotiations. I am even going to let stand Tim’s take on the president’s press conference (he quotes approvingly Hugh Hewitt’s assessment that it was the most “irresponsible presidential press conference in memory”) even though I thought it was one of Obama’s stronger moments of leadership.

No, I want to focus my considerations on what Tim is perfectly willing to concede was the deal breaker for Boehner in his negotiations with Obama on a larger budget/deficit package. Here is how Tim presents it:

According to reports, about a week ago, President Obama and Speaker Boehner had agreed in outline to a package that included $800B in “additional revenue” by broadening the tax base and eliminating certain tax deductions.  The President took heat from his base, and asked for an additional $400B in taxes.  Boehner and Cantor said no, and this came to a head last Friday.

In other words, Tim is conceding that Boehner blew up the negotiations for a broader package because of the possibility of tax increases being a part of the deal. What Tim does not mention, but what is very important to both the context of the negotiations and the mindset of the Republican party, is that the president’s proposal for tax increases came on the heels of a Gang of Six proposal last week that called for significantly higher tax increases than what the president proposed. This proposal, which had the support of Lamar Alexander, the number three Republican in the Senate, was the brainchild of one of the most conservative Senate Republicans in recent memory, Tom Coburn. So lets be clear—the president proposed tax increases significantly less than Tom Coburn and Lamar Alexander and Boehner/Cantor rejected it and killed the negotiations. This may be political “genius”, as Tim calls it, and it may be “clever political maneuvering”, but I can’t help but be disappointed that Tim merely passes over in the significance of what was done by Boehner/Cantor and instead focuses on the political maneuverings since their rejection. Lets be clear--the House Republican leadership has killed a deal that would have cut the deficit by trillions of dollars, would have taken the debt ceiling instability off of the table for at least two years which would have given the broader economy in America and the world much needed stability, and would have demonstrated that politicians are still capable of principled compromise and yet it is the President who is “irresponsible” because he was visibly upset by this at his press conference? I hope I am missing something, but it seems to me that Timothy has missed the point. Republican orthodoxy on taxes has deprived the national and global economy of a significant victory.