We have many theories today as to why the Potus is proceeding with the nomination of Chuck Hagel to the Pentagon, despite what appears to be fairly significant opposition from senators of Hagel's own party. Let's cut to the darkest-scenario chase: Suppose they filibuster him.
That is extremely hard to envision--senators filibustering a former senator for a cabinet position. But with these people, you just never know. My guess at this point would be that even if they have more than 40 votes against him, they would permit an up-or-down vote to proceed, and Hagel would pass.
I would bet today, though, that they don't even have 40 at the end of the day; more like 15 to 25 nay votes would be my guess. Which won't matter once he gets the post. Clarence Thomas had 48 votes against him, a fact that does not, alas, detract a whit from his votes and opinions.
I would reckon that Obama is counting on something like the above. It's a little risky to proceed with a second "controversial" nomination after the Susan Rice mess. He must feel pretty confident that at the end of the day Hagel will get through.
But to pull it off, says Michael Tomasky, he needs to take a tough negotiating line. And he has to start laying the groundwork for it now.
I find it a good policy, every so often, to size up the biggest and most universally agreed upon piece of conventional wisdom on the horizon and ask: really? The conventional wisdom is laughably wrong often enough that it’s not so difficult a trick to come out of such an exercise looking like a savant. The biggest piece of conventional wisdom right now is that the Republicans will have all the leverage in round two, the debt talks, because they can force Obama to make huge cuts. I’m not sure I buy it, and my confidence is only reinforced by seeing that Newt Gingrich thinks the same thing. Gingrich has a fat ego and fatter mouth, but in terms of strategy, the man is not stupid. And since I’m the pundit with the best prediction of 2012 by a margin that “landslide” doesn’t even begin to describe (!), maybe you should heed us.
The conventional wisdom, with which I’m sure you’re familiar, goes like this. Just as they did in 2011, the Republicans can and will demand a dollar in spending cuts for every dollar by which they are asked to raise the debt limit. Just as they did in 2011, they can and will back Barack Obama into a corner, out of which he’ll have no choice but to play ball. Just as they did in 2011, when they drove down Obama’s approval ratings (they drove their own approval ratings down even more, but they didn’t care about that, as long as they singed Obama) and won key substantive concessions, so they will prevail this time as well. That’s the c.w., salted with a heavy dose of liberal anxiety about how that Obama is absolutely certain to sell us out.
It all makes sense. But here’s why I don’t buy it. Obama says he will not negotiate this time, that this will be no replay of 2011. Chuck Schumer, the most important Democratic senator in terms of strategy, just said the same thing, and emphatically, reports Sahil Kapur of TPM: “Anyone who wants to come and negotiate, and say ‘we will raise the debt ceiling only if you do A, B, C’ will not have a negotiating partner. And if then they don’t want to raise the debt ceiling, it’ll be on their shoulders. I would bet that they would not go forward with that.”
So let’s just play that out: that the White House literally and simply does not negotiate the point. The two sides meet, either principals or seconds. They talk domestic budget, they talk Pentagon budget. They talk entitlements. They talk Steve Strasburg’s arm. They talk whatever you please. But when Republicans raise the issue of the debt limit, the Democrats just get up and walk out of the room. Or the Republicans call a meeting. The administration people simply don’t show. No negotiating means just that. No negotiating.
So Sandy aid finally passed, by 354 to 67, with nine not voting. Now that's lopsided, I suppose, by any measure. But 67 votes against hurricane relief (all of them Republican) seems like kind of a lot, doesn't it? The Katrina funding, for example, passed by 410 to 11 (and yes, all 11 were Republicans then, too).
The New York Times has a fine interactive map showing where the no votes came from. There's a slight concentration from the South, but really they're from all around the country, and a little surprising. For example, all of Wisconsin's present-and-voting Republicans voted nyet. Yes, this included Paul Ryan. This is a dim memory now, so help me out here, but didn't he once want to be the vice-president of the whole country or something like that?
It's worth knowing here that the Club for Growth counseled a "no" vote, so Ryan probably felt moved to get back in their good graces after his scandalously responsible vote for the fiscal cliff deal. The Club will have none of that!
Kansas is the only entirely no state, where all three members (all of them Reps, it goes without saying) voted against. (Montana was also technically all no, but that was just one guy.) I was under the impression that they get tornadoes and things like that out there in Kansas. Well bubs, next time Kansas is devastated, I will use whatever earthly powers I have to make sure that members of Congress know how the three of you voted on this one.
Having rather heartily endorsed the cliff deal yesterday (see directly below), I now feel compelled to consider the opposing case. In political terms, I think there's no doubt Obama "won." But let's think about more from a policy perspective.
I taped a radio interview yesterday evening with Joshua Holland, the host of AlterNet's radio show and a fine fellow, and he challenged me on yesterday's column. He caught me a tad off guard, damn him, by talking actual substance! He pointed to a post by Brad Plumer on Wonkblog at The Washington Post in which Plumer noted that the terms of the deal in fact add up to more austerity than England and Spain:
A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests Congress has enacted around $304 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts for the coming year, an austerity package that comes to about 1.9 percent of GDP. (That’s merely the size of the cuts and taxes; it’s not necessarily the effect on growth.)
This includes the expiration of the payroll tax cut, which will raise about $125 billion this year. It includes $50 billion in scheduled cuts to discretionary spending from the caps in the 2011 Budget Control Act, as well as $24 billion in new Obamacare taxes and $27 billion in new high-income taxes. It also includes about $78 billion from the now-delayed sequester cuts — assuming that these either take effect or are swapped with other cuts.
Obama isn’t Captain Liberal. He’s the president. And liberal pundits who are up in arms about the fiscal-cliff deal seem not to recognize the difference. By Michael Tomasky.
Here’s my New Year’s resolution: I’m going to read less liberal grousing about Barack Obama. At the moment, we have a number of critics of the deal Obama just cut with the Republicans to avert the fiscal cliff. They make some fair points, about the deal and about Obama. But if there’s a style of criticism that really bugs me, it’s that which reproves him for failing to be Captain Liberal while refusing to recognize that the guy has to be Mister President. Here’s what I mean.
After the House passed the Senate’s fiscal cliff bill, Obama warned Congress: the U.S. can’t ‘simply cut our way to prosperity.’
The standard liberal position in the run-up to the cliff deal, or at least a position taken by a number of prominent liberals, was that Obama should have let the country go over the cliff, because he’d immediately have more leverage after Jan. 1. Taxes would go up, the argument went, most of the country would blame the Republicans, and boomity-boomity-boom, they’d come crawling to Obama ready to sign a deal on his terms.
I will readily confess that the logic is, if not impeccable, only mildly peccable. The Republicans would have been over a barrel. Of course predicting what those people will do and how they’ll respond to any given situation is risky business, but presumably they would not have wanted to be blamed for middle-class tax rates going up, so they’d have done something vaguely rational.
Just watched his press conference on Sandy disaster relief. Brutal. He started in with some historical comparisons--this disaster received federal aid in 28 days, that one in 17 days...With Sandy, it's 66 days and counting.
At that point, he could have said something like, "This is the fault of Washington dysfunction." But that isn't what he said. He said that the blame for this lands squarely in one place: The House majority, and their leader, John Boehner.
He savaged Boehner and his own party serially throughout this press conference. "I called the speaker four times last night. He didn't take my calls." And on and on and on--and on.
This is, I think, enormously damaging to the House GOP. It's one of their own, or at least another Republican. And Christie came across as very credible, he was at his no-b.s., regular-guy best. The Sandy failure will resonate and hurt the Republicans going forward.
From John Judis in TNR, fascinating regional breakdown of the House vote:
All in all, 85 Republicans voted for the Senate resolution and 151 voted against it. The opposition was centered in the Old South. Southern Republicans opposed the measure by 83 to 10. The delegations from Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, and South Carolina were unanimously opposed. As one might expect, the bill got support from five Florida Republicans, including Republicans from Cuban districts.
Republican House members from the East and the Far West strongly backed the Senate resolution. In the East, House Republicans were 24 to one in favor, with New York and Pennsylvania unanimous. In the Far West, Republicans voted by 17 to eight in favor. The Midwest was split, with 27 against and 21 for, with Michigan and Illinois in favor, and Ohio, the Speaker’s state, against 7 to 6.
I'll do the math for you. Take out the Confederate States of America and the House Republicans actually backed the compromise by a 62-36 margin. Not. Even. Close, in other words.
You may have noticed that Marco Rubio voted against the cliff deal, while Paul Ryan voted for it. Now that sets up an interesting little potential set-to in 2016, no?
Rubio seems to have made the calculation that the supposedly "new" GOP is going to be awfully similar to the extant one and decided that a vote accommodating the schemes of the Kenyan is one he'd rather not have to explain away in those candidate forums come 2015. But it was a serious chickenshit vote. Look at the number of extremely conservative legislators who took their leader McConnell's advice and voted aye. If they could do it, he could. This is 2016's first RIV (Romneyesque Invertebrate Vote).
Ryan has made a different bet. I think in some part he just wanted to stand with Boehner on this one. Maybe he's also thinking, is this vote really, really going to be a litmus test come 2015-16? We can't possibly know, of course, but I admit that I like Ryan's wager. At some point, you have to have enough confidence in yourself as a pol to explain away a few votes.
It might surprise you if I say that I always admired Rudy Giuliani in this regard. He made it a habit of saying, "Look, I did what I did. If you disagree that much, there are other people to go vote for." Of course he never made it to the White House and never will. I think there's a chance, in fact there's every chance, that it's Rubio's vote that is going to look stupid and callow, especially to a general election audience. I can hear our Hillary now...
Well, now we know what it takes for House Republicans to see a little bit of reason: It takes Fox News anchors warning them that if they don't pass the fiscal cliff bill, they'll be universally blamed. I would guess that there were some interesting phone calls being made yesterday afternoon to Speaker Boehner's office, calls we'll never know about, from various rich and influential people telling him to quit playing games and do the responsible thing.
Even so, it's worth remembering that only 85 of 241 Republicans backed the cliff bill. In other words, if it had been entirely up to them, they'd have killed it. That will always be worth remembering. Here's the roll call if you're interested. Boehner and Paul Ryan voted aye, Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy no.
One question now is Boehner's speakership. He broke the Hastert Rule--he let a vote pass with mostly Democratic support. They were saying on TV last night that no one was making noises about challenging him, and the vote is soon--tomorrow--so maybe he gets to hold on. But if he does, the hard right is going to demand that he play much harder ball in March.
Obama comes out of this looking pretty good. He got a tax increase--not the one he wanted, but at least he got one on principle. He won on unemployment benefits, on which Senate Republicans didn't even demand offsetting cuts. And no entitlement cuts. But we'll see what happens next. March is going to be ugly.
The fiscal-cliff impasse had its roots in—where else?—the old South, with its lunatic blend of obstructionism and greed at the public trough, writes Michael Tomasky.
While most liberals were stewing at Barack Obama yesterday for his “capitulation” on tax rates, I confess that I was feeling philosophical about it, and even mildly defensive of him. He is negotiating with madmen, and you can’t negotiate with madmen, because they’re, well, mad. I also spent part of yesterday morning re-reading a little history and reminding myself that rascality like this fiscal-cliff business has been going on since the beginning of the republic. So now I’d like to remind you. It’s always the reactionaries holding up the progressives—and usually, needless to say, it’s been the South holding up the North—and always with the same demagogic and dishonest arguments about a tyrannical central government. We’ll never be rid of these paranoid bloviators, and if no other president could stop them I don’t really see why Obama ought to be able to.
(L) portrait of Alexander Hamilton and (R) James Madison (Bettmann/Corbis)
This history of legislative hostage-taking begins with the odious three-fifths compromise, which counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for census purposes. That much I trust you know. What you may not know is that the Southern states, backers of the three-fifths rule in this case in order to get greater representation in the House of Representatives, had opposed a different three-fifths rule earlier, back in the Articles of Confederation days. Then, three-fifths of all slaves were going to be counted for purposes of deciding how much federal tax each state owed.
In other words, the South had said, count slaves as part human for the purposes of taxation? Nevah! Count them as part-human for the purposes of representation, however—well, Yankee, now you’re talking. The South is still doing exactly the same thing today, never paying its freight, its cornpone pols inveighing against the evil government while the Southern states are collectively the most dependent on Washington largesse of all states and regions. The hypocrisy has a long pedigree.
We’re going to learn a lot about the post-election GOP this weekend, says Michael Tomasky.
Barack Obama sounded reasonably confident Friday evening that a deal can still be reached. But it’s his job to sound optimistic, and not to anger Mitch McConnell and John Boehner. Happily, that’s not part of my portfolio, so I’m free to say that the question that still looms over the eleventh-hour fiscal cliff negotiations this weekend is a simple one: Will McConnell and Boehner allow votes on any last-minute deal? A more emphatic way of phrasing it is, will they finally put the country ahead of their party for a change, and ahead of their party’s unaltered view that any posture toward Obama other than belligerence equals capitulation to an enemy? That’s all that matters here. They both have the power to permit a deal, at least on taxes. The question is whether they’ll allow it. We’re going to learn a lot about the post-election Republican Party this weekend.
On “This Week,” Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer blamed the fiscal impasse on the House Republicans who “say compromise is a dirty word.”
Let’s start with McConnell. Obama said Friday night that McConnell and Harry Reid were working on the details of deal that both could agree on. Well, that would be peachy, but count me skeptical, and a bit mystified as to what that deal would be. Would McConnell really be willing to raise taxes on dollars earned above, say, $400,000, the compromise figure mentioned lately? That’s a violation of the “principle” of no new taxes as surely as the $250,000 level is. I’m not sure why McConnell would suddenly be open to this. Maybe the prospect of having to face Ashley Judd in November 2014 worries him a little more than he’s letting on.
But even if he is, then we must ask about the other 46 Republicans. Matters can come to the Senate floor for a quick vote only under a “unanimous consent” rule, which means that every single senator needs to agree to allow it to do so. One senator can say no and end the whole process. Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and several others are obviously prime candidates to object to unanimous consent. McConnell could prevent such moves if he really wants to. So let’s see if he does.
Test your knowledge of what did—and didn’t—happen this year. Michael Tomasky provides the questions and answers.
I just know you’re sitting around avoiding even the small amount of work you told yourself you were going to do between Christmas and New Year’s, and so it is in the spirit of helping you ignore it that I present the Tomasky 2012 Year-End Quiz. I try to make these not mere trivia quizzes, but knowledge quizzes, which is something different in my mind and requires digging a little deeper, making a little more mental effort. But I’m also mindful that you’re just sitting around the house in your pajamas and aren’t very into mental effort, so most of these are in fact fairly easy. Let’s go.
Left to right, top to bottom: Submerged cars in Manhattan caused by flooding from Hurricane Sandy; George Zimmerman sits on the stand during his bond hearing in Sanford, Fla.; Dick Clark in 1987; Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (Christos Pathiakis/Getty; Pool photo by Gary Green; AP; Evan Vucci/AP)
1. Match the ridiculous quote to the ridiculous Republican candidate, and then say where and/or in what context the candidate said it:
“To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question in a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.”
With their refusal to vote for Boehner’s Plan B, Republicans have definitively shown that they’d rather sabotage democracy than govern. How can they be stopped?
Really, what is to be done about this Republican Party? What force can change it—can stop Republicans from being ideological saboteurs and convert at least a workable minority of them into people interested in governing rather than sabotage? With the failed Plan B vote, we have reached the undeniable crisis point. Actually we’ve been at a crisis point for years, but this is really the all-upper-case Undeniable Crisis Point. They are a direct threat to the economy, which could slip back into recession next year if the government doesn’t, well, govern. They are an ongoing, at this point almost mundane, threat to democracy, subverting and preventing progress the American people clearly desire across a number of fronts. They have to be stopped, and the only people who can really stop them are corporate titans and Wall Streeters, who surely now are finally beginning to see that America’s problem is not Barack Obama and his alleged “socialism,” but a political party that has become psychologically incapable of operating within the American political system.
On MSNBC’s “The Cycle,” global business editor Daniel Gross says that “House Republicans have to actually vote for something.+
We all know that the GOP has become much more extreme in the last few years, and, taking the longer historical view, the last 20 or 25 years. But when that gets said, it usually elides an important point—the important point. It’s usually meant to refer to the party’s policy positions. And the move to the hard right is obviously true along those lines.
But politics, and certainly political parties, aren’t only about policy positions. There’s also the question of what I’ll call process, which means simply how a party practices politics on a day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year basis. This isn’t a question of the positions per se, but how the party attempts to advance and defend them.
I didn't get to see LaPierre's press conference, but I just read the transcript of his remarks. I wouldn't necessarily oppose having a well-trained armed guard in every school. But the idea that he thinks this can just stop there is preposterous, not to say revolting, actually.
LaPierre calls for an armed guard in every school.
First of all, an armed guard in every school doesn't guarantee anything. Schools are big buildings; often they are campuses, not just buildings. What if the guard happens to be in the gym when a gun nut shoots his way into the shop? In fact, exactly this happened at Columbine High, which had an armed guard. He was out monitoring the Smoker's Corner, which every high school has, while the shooters did their work inside.
Second of all, this is one heck of a lot of money he's talking about. And, assuming one for each of roughly 100,000 public schools in the country, quite a few more members of the public employee unions (don't think Scott Walker and Rick Snyder didn't notice this angle!). LaPierre makes a blithe and idiotic reference to getting the money out of the foreign aid budget, but the foreign aid budget is tiny and badly strained as it is.
Let's get something straight from the start. Plan B wasn't going to lead to any deal anyway. Suppose it had gotten 218 votes last night, instead of being the epic failure that it was. Okay. That would have left Republicans at $1,000,000 on tax rates, with Obama at $400,000. That's still an extremely wide gulf, and if the GOP had to fight that hard to get to 218 on $1 million, what on earth would make anyone think there'd be votes in the GOP caucus for a compromise-on-the-compromise figure like $500,000 or $600,000? No chance.
And that's just tax rates. Plan B also included draconian, not to say outright cruel, cuts to the safety net--ending the child tax credit (Merry Christmas, kids?), permitting the lapsing of certain tax credits that alleviate the tax burden of the working poor. Finally, Plan B lifted the sequester, the across-the-board mandated spending cuts, on the Pentagon only (Merry Christmas, Lockheed Martin!).
In other words, Plan B was a fully baked conservative cake--penalties for poor people, goodies for defense contractors. Then over top of it Boehner tried to apply this icing of a tax increase on two-tenths of one percent of the population, so that the gullible and ever-hopeful establishment press would write that Republicans raised some taxes and see, there's hope.
But even if they'd passed it, the chasm between Obama and the Republicans would still have been vast, and Boehner's unyielding caucus would have signaled that they weren't budging one inch further. I shook my head ruefully yesterday as I listened to some of the credulous reporting on NPR about how Americans should keep hope alive (host Robert Siegel sounded, in fairness, like he knew better).
With so many scandals to cover, Stephen Colbert turned to his journalistic heroes to inspire his coverage: Cronkite, Murrow, and Bob Barker.
When it comes to presidential scandal, conservatives are utter hypocrites, says Michael Tomasky.