Fiddling while America burns

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An originator of the Tea Party movement, a big, loud Texan by the name of Dale Robertson, is warning that Sarah Palin is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, attempting to ‘bastardize’ the principals of the populist movement and hijack the Baggers into the Republican stronghold. The movement distanced itself from Robertson during the summer when he was photographed with a controversial homemade sign that represented his passionate thoughts on taxation — and said a little something about his personal bias, as well. Well, so much for the notion that we’ve gone post-racial, now that we have a president of color.

Or perhaps this isn’t a question of either/or. Maybe, in our big divided nation, this is always a question of percentages.

Representative Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota is a particularly visible Tea Party proponent. Frequently over-the-top, she’s a proud ‘birther’ and a FOX News darling and is in news constantly due to her immoderate commentary. Despite a poll of GOP ‘movers and shakers’ indicating that 87% consider birthers fringe-members of their party, her state was recently surveyed and it was discovered that her popularity breaks down as one would expect along Right/Left party lines; but the surprise, given the supposed leanings of the Independent vote, was that only 26% of them are proud of the job Bachmann has done in Congress, while 62% call her an embarrassment.

Gosh, ya think? Moral of the story: the more infighting the Republicans do, the more they attempt to use one another while seeking to recapture their power base, the more they fracture and offer nothing to a national conversation in search of solutions. By the way, 78% of the anonymous GOP leadership mentioned above also think that Obama is a Socialist. I guess that’s why Republicans demured on unemployment extension for 1.2 million laid-off Americans last night, unwilling to give up on their “death tax” a.k.a. the Paris Hilton tax.

These folks just can’t help themselves. Their message is clear: we’re not giving anything away until we get a perk for the wealthy. One has to wonder what the Republican unemployed think about all that.

In a nation badly in need of sound governance, the Republican desire to drown it in a bathtub now looks like what it is — political nihilism. Jon Stewart took on their reluctance to actually participate in the transparent debate they’ve howled for last night, making them look like … well … who they are. I don’t think that was their plan.

Today the news of their shadow budget, including assaults on Medicare and Social Security which I detailed in the weekly, has legs that will walk into the homes of horrified Seniors everywhere. In his New York Times op/ed, Paul Krugman called it “a breathtaking act of staggering hypocrisy.” FOX News will spin it to keep the true believers calm, I expect, but you know the old saw — where there’s smoke, there’s fire. The smell of scorched earth economy is hard to ignore, no matter what your political affiliation. Maybe this is the point where we give up either/or ideology in favor of calling in the fire fighters … or maybe we’ll just burn awhile longer.

The thing with this notion of either/or is — it’s an illusion, deliberately brewed, bottled and sold like Budweiser. The Bush administration gave us an absurd and manipulative choice between being patriotic Republicans or weak-kneed liberals trying to pull the nation down into Third World status. It’s a tired old meme that still floats around out there, but the truth is harder to hide these days — the Bushies are the ones that brought the nation to her knees with their tax cuts and loop holes and elective wars, and the Party of No isn’t clever enough to hide their desire to put her flat on her back by continuing to ‘stay the course.’ If the Seniors are abandoned and the middle-class disappeared, who will they appeal to in the future? Makes no sense to me. It seems like a last-ditch effort to keep the plutocracy in power, even as the rest of the nation burns to ash and the golden goose cooks.

Either/or can only sustain itself as long as the plan is working — it didn’t, it isn’t, it won’t. Even its illusionary charm is losing steam. People are waking up and having a dialogue, shouted at one another over a picket line and leading off the Letter’s to the Editor. Take that as a good sign. That’s what democracy looks like, messy in its practice and a blast of fresh air against the smoke of rhetorical illusion. Because the squeaky wheel gets the grease, all we hear about is the squeakers but the press has finally picked up the larger conversation about Pub obstruction, sensing drama in the GOP’s vulnerability. Nothing smells quite so sweet to media folk as desperation. The Massachusettes vote had them sniffing around the deflated Democratics but these last few days have turned their heads toward the minority party.

Establishment pundits are telling us how confident the Republicans are, how they’re measuring for drapes in their new Congressional offices as they rub their palms in glee over their proposed wins in November. We’ll see. The Pubs are confident as a matter of policy, unbending in their self-aggrandizement. Give us another eight months of this and perhaps the frustrated Dems, the skeptical but demographically-powerful Indies and even a few disenchanted Pubs will be more interested in a Plan — ANY plan — than None At All.


McConnell Objects To One-Week Extension Of Unemployment Benefits

Republicans and Medicare
February 11, 2010

“Don’t cut Medicare. The reform bills passed by the House and Senate cut Medicare by approximately $500 billion. This is wrong.” So declared Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, in a recent op-ed article written with John Goodman, the president of the National Center for Policy Analysis.

And irony died.

Now, Mr. Gingrich was just repeating the current party line. Furious denunciations of any effort to seek cost savings in Medicare — death panels! — have been central to Republican efforts to demonize health reform. What’s amazing, however, is that they’re getting away with it.

Why is this amazing? It’s not just the fact that Republicans are now posing as staunch defenders of a program they have hated ever since the days when Ronald Reagan warned that Medicare would destroy America’s freedom. Nor is it even the fact that, as House speaker, Mr. Gingrich personally tried to ram through deep cuts in Medicare — and, in 1995, went so far as to shut down the federal government in an attempt to bully Bill Clinton into accepting those cuts.

After all, you could explain this about-face by supposing that Republicans have had a change of heart, that they have finally realized just how much good Medicare does. And if you believe that, I’ve got some mortgage-backed securities you might want to buy.

No, what’s truly mind-boggling is this: Even as Republicans denounce modest proposals to rein in Medicare’s rising costs, they are, themselves, seeking to dismantle the whole program. And the process of dismantling would begin with spending cuts of about $650 billion over the next decade. Math is hard, but I do believe that’s more than the roughly $400 billion (not $500 billion) in Medicare savings projected for the Democratic health bills.

What I’m talking about here is the “Roadmap for America’s Future,” the budget plan recently released by Representative Paul Ryan, the ranking Republican member of the House Budget Committee. Other leading Republicans have been bobbing and weaving on the official status of this proposal, but it’s pretty clear that Mr. Ryan’s vision does, in fact, represent what the G.O.P. would try to do if it returns to power.

The broad picture that emerges from the “roadmap” is of an economic agenda that hasn’t changed one iota in response to the economic failures of the Bush years. In particular, Mr. Ryan offers a plan for Social Security privatization that is basically identical to the Bush proposals of five years ago.

But what’s really worth noting, given the way the G.O.P. has campaigned against health care reform, is what Mr. Ryan proposes doing with and to Medicare.

In the Ryan proposal, nobody currently under the age of 55 would be covered by Medicare as it now exists. Instead, people would receive vouchers and be told to buy their own insurance. And even this new, privatized version of Medicare would erode over time because the value of these vouchers would almost surely lag ever further behind the actual cost of health insurance. By the time Americans now in their 20s or 30s reached the age of eligibility, there wouldn’t be much of a Medicare program left.

But what about those who already are covered by Medicare, or will enter the program over the next decade? You’re safe, says the roadmap; you’ll still be eligible for traditional Medicare. Except, that is, for the fact that the plan “strengthens the current program with changes such as income-relating drug benefit premiums to ensure long-term sustainability.”

If this sounds like deliberately confusing gobbledygook, that’s because it is. Fortunately, the Congressional Budget Office, which has done an evaluation of the roadmap, offers a translation: “Some higher-income enrollees would pay higher premiums, and some program payments would be reduced.” In short, there would be Medicare cuts.

And it’s possible to back out the size of those cuts from the budget office analysis, which compares the Ryan proposal with a “baseline” representing current policy. As I’ve already said, the total over the next decade comes to about $650 billion — substantially bigger than the Medicare savings in the Democratic bills.

The bottom line, then, is that the crusade against health reform has relied, crucially, on utter hypocrisy: Republicans who hate Medicare, tried to slash Medicare in the past, and still aim to dismantle the program over time, have been scoring political points by denouncing proposals for modest cost savings — savings that are substantially smaller than the spending cuts buried in their own proposals.

And if Democrats don’t get their act together and push the almost-completed reform across the goal line, this breathtaking act of staggering hypocrisy will succeed. ++

Republicans Are Blocking the Jobs Bill
Bob Cesca, his blog

I sincerely hope the DNC is readying the midterm commercials about this one.

Brian Beutler reports:

    Democrats still don’t have enough votes to overcome a filibuster, and unless they can win over at least one Republican, they may adjourn this coming weekend empty-handed.

    What’s the hang up? Republicans are working with Democrats on one key aspect of the legislation: tax breaks for employers who hire new employees. But beyond such a measure, Republicans are balking at supporting a full package. And with Democrats now one vote shy of a 60-vote supermajority, they will need one GOPer to break ranks if they want the package to overcome a filibuster.

The question remains: if the Republicans filibuster a jobs bill in the middle of 9.7 unemployment, and no one makes a big stink about, does it make a sound? ++

So Much For That! Bipartisan Jobs Agreement Falls Apart Almost Instantly
Brian Beutler, TPM
February 11, 2010

Bipartisan agreement on jobs lasted all of a few hours. This afternoon, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus announced he’d reached accord with ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA). They unveiled what was supposed to be a final jobs package. But the agreement didn’t sit well with many Democrats, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has pulled it out of their hands, and announced he’d move ahead with a smaller bill.

“I think Reid saw the writing on the wall,” said one top Senate Democratic aide. “This was about to get bogged down again so he pulled it back.

Liberal Democrats were not pleased with the Baucus-Grassley compromise. Among other things, Baucus and Grassley said that jobs could only move forward if the Senate agreed to take up a bipartisan “reform” (a.k.a. slashing) of the estate tax. They registered their dissatisfaction at a weekly caucus lunch this afternoon, and when it was over, Reid emerged to make the announcement.

“We’re going to move this afternoon to a smaller package than I talked about in the press,” he said.

We’re going to do a bill that has four things in it: has a Build America bonds, which has been so dramatically successful. We’re going to do the highway bill extension for one year, which will save a million jobs. We’re going to do the — Section 179 small-business tax program, which, in effect, allows people to (inaudible). That’s going to be in one package, that we’re going to move together.

And then when we finished that, we’ll move on to the tax extenders and all the other stuff.

Reid could file for cloture tonight, before the Senate adjourns for President’s day recess, but the first procedural vote wouldn’t take place until after Congress returns.

For a bit of background on this, the jobs initiative originally belonged to Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND). But Baucus recently objected, saying that he should be allowed to run certain key elements of it through his powerful committee–that by doing so, he could bring Republicans on board.

So the package went to his committee, where Democrats and Republicans tried to reach agreement on a measure to provide tax incentives for businesses to hire new employees–and on ancillary measures to allow Republicans to sign on to the broader bill.

Looks like Baucus was willing to give them far too much. More soon. ++

“I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington … I’m asking you to believe in yours.”
~ Barack Obama

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