From what I can tell, the reception to this new Ryan travesty is mixed. Of course he's being savaged on my side of the pond, which is to be expected and is deserved. In the redoubts of deficit hawkery, it's hard to make out a clear line yet.
The Washington Post's Lori Montgomery can always be counted on to give the deficit hawks favorable coverage, but her piece that's up is pretty neutral. She hasn't yet gotten around to quoting Erskine Bowles and the others about how serious and responsible all this shitting on poor people is. So the jury is still out there. And of course we've yet to hear from the Post's ed page, which will come tomorrow morning.
Politico at least has refrained from giving us a headline praising Ryan today. That's a step in the right direction. However, the lead Politico piece right now is "Is he serious?", which is not a mocking article about Ryan's budget but is aimed at Obama, fretting that he's not serious about a grand bargain. Tsk tsk.
Amazing. I mean, a sentence like this one: "If Obama fails to hit the right notes, his overtures may only exacerbate GOP concerns." What on earth are the writers talking about? What right notes? Here are the notes that Obama would have to hit to mollify the GOP: no revenue, severely deep cuts to domestic programs across the board, no cuts for a military budget that has grown at unprecedented levels for the last 15 years, and deep cuts to entitlements.
Ramesh Ponnuru and Jonah Goldberg are out with a long-ish rebuttal to a recent New Republic essay by Sam Tanenhaus declaiming on the continuing legacy of John C. Calhoun in today's Republicans Party. I'm something of an unlikely Tanenhaus defender, and in fact the conservatives make a few points that ring true to my reading of the Tanenhaus essay--it is the case, for example, that both sides use the phrase "Take Back America" when the other side has the White House, so it's hard to make a claim as Tanenhaus does that the phrase carries a racial whiff.
However...Well, first of all, what Ponnuru and Goldberg are basically doing here is crying foul about what they see as extremist name-calling and a rather over-determined use of a historical figure. That's pretty rich coming from one guy who wrote a book about the Democrats called Party of Death (death!) and another who wrote Liberal Fascism, in which Woodrow Wilson and Jack Kennedy were described--not ironically, not hyberbolically, but specifically and literally--as fascist presidents.
They set up the usual straw man early on:
The explanation for conservatives’ opposition to President Obama and his agenda must be found not in our ideas but in our pathologies.
You can bet that Paul Ryan’s budget will set the hearts of Washington’s deficit hawks aflutter. Obama should ignore them—and make it clear that jobs, not deficits, are his main priority. By Michael Tomasky.
Paul Ryan’s new budget is now out on its shakedown cruise, as they did with Broadway plays in the old movie musicals about Broadway shows, playing New Haven and Providence before hitting the Great White Way, as it were, when he officially unveils it Wednesday. Early reviews are deservedly brutal, because Ryan assumes the repeal of Obamacare and reverses his position from last year on the $716 billion Medicare savings, over which he and Mitt Romney used to savage Barack Obama but which Ryan now assumes. Even so, something tells me that when the plan is released in full, the “serious” people will applaud the effort and will implore the president to mimic Ryan’s alleged sincerity about deficit reduction. And that makes this week probably the most important week in his presidency for Obama to stand up and refuse to do that.
(L-R) Rep. Paul Ryan and President Barack Obama in March 2013. (AP)
You’ve probably followed what has happened so far. These two Ryan assumptions—about the repeal of Obamacare and his inclusion of the Medicare cuts that only last year he and Romney were calling brutal—expose his entire exercise for what it is: a wholly political act designed to do two things. The first is to maintain Ryan’s viability on the hard right as a 2016 presidential candidate. As I mentioned in a blog post yesterday, failure on his part to assume the repeal of Obamacare could have exposed him to vicious attacks from other wannabes and from the Limbaugh caucus. So there’s no way he could risk that.
Ryan’s second purpose with this budget is more substantive, and it’s the same purpose that drove his first two budgets. He wants to kickstart a process that leads to monstrous cuts in domestic discretionary programs and in entitlements. That’s what he’s really about. He certainly isn’t about balancing the budget. Ryan Budget I achieved balance in 2047. When that was laughed out of the park, he came back with Ryan Budget II, which achieved balance about a decade earlier. Mind you these “achievements of balance” were entirely chimerical anyway, because he wouldn’t say in either budget exactly what he was putting on the table in the realm of revenue, so it was actually impossible to say when they’d be balanced. But in any case, the point is that budgets that achieved balance in 25 or 30-odd years weren’t about attacking the deficit. What he really sought with those first two budgets was not to egg Washington toward deficit hawkery, but to egg it toward cuts to programs he doesn’t like—Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, other projects that assist poor people, keep the air clean, and perform all those bothersome functions that keep America’s potential Galts in chains.
Hello, I am back. We will discuss aspects of my vacation in due course, but first, our friend Mr. Ryan.
He's facing lots of derision for assuming the repeal of Obamacare in his new budget. First of all, credit where it's due--it was apparently Chris Wallace of Fox News who brought this information to light in questioning Ryan, so good for him.
And second of all, yes, this is a total howler. Repeal of Obamacare? Not going to happen. Could theoretically happen in 2017, one supposes, but by that time, even if there is a Republican president and Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, including the super-majority of 60 in the Senate that would presumably be needed to enact full repeal, states will be getting billions in federal funding to put working poor people on the rolls of their new exchanges. It seems pretty unlikely that broad support for undoing that would exist.
So Ryan's assumption doesn't pass any known laugh test. So why does he do it? Well, because of the old saying "that's my story, and I'm stickin' to it." Which is to say...
As some of my regulars may remember from last week, I'm on vacation this week. Touring around Charleston a bit this morning I learned something I hadn't known, which is that the Abner Doubleday, the self-safe Doubleday who invented baseball, fired the first Union shot at Ft. Sumter. Good man, Doubleday! Gave those yellow-bellied traitors a strong wihff of the grape. (Actually, not really, but he tried.)
Turns out Doubleday was quite a fellow. He was there at Gettysburg, gallantly leading outnumbered Yankee divisions before suffering a neck injury. He then took over the defense of the nation's capital. He rode with Lincoln on the president's train up to the Gettysburg dedication that November. After the war, he moved to San Francisco. All he managed to do there was to patent the cable car!
Anyway. Charleston is beautiful, of this there is no doubt. It still feels a little strange down here. I couldn't believe along I-95 that I still saw a billboard for Pedro's South of the Border that used the word "Sometheeng," spelled just like that. I thought those billboards were racist in 1981, the last time I saw them.
So this is it for this week unless some truly earth-rattling news event takes place. Talk amongst yourselves about Ft. Sumter, baseball, the South, whatevah.
Why does Bob Woodward get to lie—twice!—and still be Bob Woodward? And why is it that the Republicans can be so intransigent and Barack Obama gets blamed? Michael Tomasky explains.
Woodwardgate got me reflecting on the question of Washington morality. Now yes, that’s an oxymoron if ever there was one. But surely there is some set (however bizarre) of impulses and rules that lets Bob Woodward say what he said, and Politico promote it as if it were a feud between two soap opera stars, with both walking away essentially unharmed, as they likely will (certainly in Politico’s case; Woodward’s black eye will need a little time to heal). More important than that, there must be a set of impulses and rules that observes what has been going on in this town for the last four years, with Republicans being the most obstructionist opposition in the country’s modern history, and yet somehow contrives to blame Barack Obama for the fact that our government can’t function. I have divined three such rules that seem to apply to the present case and to most of the big dilemmas the capital has confronted in recent times.
US journalist Bob Woodward. (Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty)
Rule One: When information is being injected into the discourse, the content of the information is far less important than the stature of and/or establishment’s feeling about the person injecting the information. You could be as prescient as old Tiresias bumping his way around Thebes, but if the Washington bigwigs have never heard of you or haven’t already given you their seal of approval, you’re wasting your time. However, if you already possess said seal of approval, you can say pretty much anything, and you will be taken seriously.
Think of Colin Powell at the U.N. That was one howler after another. Now granted it was hard to know that in real time. But what it wasn’t hard to know at that point in the spring of 2003 was that the neoconservatives then peopling the Bush administration had been thirsting for war against Saddam since 1991, and anyone who knew that (as all of Washington should have) would have taken the general’s presentation with several grains of salt. Of course, the opposite happened. Powell was widely respected, and, well, it seemed impressive, with all those photos of all those trucks surely doing clandestine, trucky things.
Here's an interesting item from Mike Allen's Playbook this morning, from what he characterizes as a Republican congressman speaking on background to the Business Roundtable yesterday:
“By the way, this notion that Republicans are all eager to reform entitlements -- folks, Democrats have it all wrong. Republicans would love to avoid the issue, politically. … I love this poll: Tea party folks in Ohio, ‘Do you think your Social Security benefits should be reduced given the record debt and deficits?’ 85 percent ‘no.’ … [T]his is not an issue that anybody wants to take on, politically. It is the third rail of American politics, still. Is it easier? Yeah, probably than it was a couple of decades ago. But not much.”
I've always kind of wondered about this. This isn't the first poll to give us such findings. It's pretty well established that even most conservatives don't want to touch Social Security. So all these Republicans baying about entitlements...they're not talking to their constituents, if these polls are correct, so to whom are they talking? I suppose first, establishment Washington, which hungers for entitlement cuts more than any other single item. And second, the right-wing political class, operatives and people at think tanks, who want the welfare state to wither away.
The vast chasm between these two groups and regular Republicans is something that Republican lawmakers can't easily bridge. Maybe they can't bridge it at all. There is after all no position on entitlements that can satisfy both groups. So I wonder, when push came to shove, how many Republicans would vote. For all the noise they make, would they really vote with the establishment and against their constituents?
I never had the slightest idea of what Woodward meant by saying that Obama was "moving the goalposts." The Washington Post's Erik Wemple now helpfully clears that up:
Obama “got what he needed,” says Woodward, referring to the raising of the debt ceiling. “So then the supercommittee failed, the sequester’s there, so now he wants more revenue. He should just get up and say, ‘We’re moving the goal posts, we averted the calamity of 2011, we won the election and I want more revenue.’” The way Woodward appears to see things, the supercommittee negotiations were the place where a deficit reduction was on the table; they broke down in November 2011. That leaves us with the sequester, to Woodward’s thinking, which was negotiated as a package of spending cuts, period.
Okay, that makes sense as an explanation, but it leaves me baffled, quite frankly, about Woodward's grasp of very basic facts. Woodward is supposing that the supercommittee was the only place for discussions about a bargain including revenues. That's crazy. Once the supercommittee failed, the action shifted to the White House and Congress to negotiate. That's all.
I don't remember anyone seriously thinking the supercommittee was going to get the job done. Actually I slightly take that back. There were a few credulous types around. Woodward was probably one. But it was certainly no shocker when it dissolved in acrimony. And when it did, Obama said...guess what? He wanted revenues to be part of any sequester-avoiding deal! This is from a CNN.com article from November 2011, back when the supercommittee collapsed:
If the question here is whether the old, bad habits still persist enough to justify the continuation of Section 5 of the VRA, we need look no farther than the very Alabama County that's named in the suit. Calera, the seat of Shelby County, has a black population of about 10 percent. It has a seven-member city council. So one of those being an African-American ever so slightly overrepresents the black population, but it's the closest the city could come to fair and equal representation.
There was a black council member, Ernest Montgomery. He represented a district that was abour 70 percent black. In fact there had been one black seat for 20 years. Then they redrew the lines in 2008. They somehow or another redrew the district so that it was 30 percent black.
Here's the story, from Lou DuBose of The Washington Spectator:
New electoral maps, created by consultants from the Greater Birmingham Regional Planning Commission, added several predominately white subdivisions to Calera’s black city council district.
Twitter is afire with thoughts on the Woodward-Politico-Gene Sperling imbroglio. How amazingly shallow this whole thing is can't be overstated. If you've not yet read the emails, here they are. Sperling:
But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying that Potus asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim. The idea that the sequester was to force both sides to go back to try at a big or grand barain with a mix of entitlements and revenues (even if there were serious disagreements on composition) was part of the DNA of the thing from the start.
That's a threat? Insane. Sperling and Woodward, as the tone of the emails makes clear, have known each other for years. I know Sperling too. He's not the threatening type. First of all he's about five-seven or something, but that aside, it's obvious to anyone who knows him that he meant Woodward would regret having a big factual error hanging around his neck for the sake of his historical reputation.
And let's remember that that is what this is about: A big factual error Woodward made over the weekend that is misleading in very important ways. He said that Obama and his people were lying ("moving the goalposts") when they claim that revenues have been understood to be part of any sequester deal. He is wrong. Dead flat-out wrong.
This entire year is likely to consist of Congress setting up a series of deadlines. That’s great news for Republicans—which is why Obama needs to break the cycle. By Michael Tomasky.
Whatever happens as this week ends, it establishes a pattern you’d better get used to. In legislative terms, this year is going to consist pretty entirely of one deadline following another in this long national slog. It’s going to happen this way, yes, because the two sides can’t agree on the big questions. But at bottom it’s going to happen because the Republicans are perfectly happy to let it happen this way. Stalemate and the appearance of incompetence suit them. They don’t even on some level really want a deal, even one that’s more than half on their terms. And you know what? Sadly, they’re probably right to think all this. One of these days, sometime this year, Barack Obama is going to have to rip the curtain open and expose their strategy for what it is and force the Great Showdown.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio wraps up a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 26, 2013, where he and GOP leaders challenged President Obama and the Senate to avoid the automatic spending cuts set to take effect in four days. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Here’s where we are. We have the March 1 sequester deadline, which we’re probably going to pass. Next up comes March 28, when the agencies of government run out of money and Congress has to pass new continuing resolutions to fund them. Then, by April 15, when most Americans think about their tax deadline, Congress has to pass a budget resolution, or they don’t get their paychecks. Something tells us they’ll find a way to meet that one, but with some of these people, who knows? Then, on or about May 19, we’ll hit the debt ceiling again, and it will need to be raised.
Get the idea? The legislative branch can invent deadline after deadline after deadline. And with each new one that is hit, two things happen. One, the public gets more and more disgusted with the appearance of incompetence. And two, and somewhat though not completely at odds with this, the public pays a little less attention each time. We’re already seeing in polls that people are paying less attention to the sequester than they did to the fiscal cliff, and this seems likely to continue.
Ross Douthat blogs today about an exchange between William Voegeli and David Frum in The Claremont Review of Books, conservative quasi-sort-of-answer to The New York Review. William Voegeli is a leading conservative policy analyst, while David Frum is David Frum.
In the exchange, they disagree about the efficacy of the Ryan budget, Voegeli enthusiastic and Frum pretty negative. Douthat tries to put the best face on their disagreement by arguing that there exists a possible synthesis of their view on entitlement reform and the broader questions of how to distribute wealth in society.
But here's what is noteworthy to me. Look at what Frum wrote in part, and note that with his first sentence in this graf he is saying, but this is really my most important point:
But that is a lesser point. The more important point is: Times change. Conditions change. Problems change … Within the context of our present politics—a politics in which market-minded people have won, not lost, most of the major arguments since 1975—we need a party of the center-right that can advocate private initiative, reasonable taxation, and sustainable government in ways that make sense to contemporary voters: without despair, without rage, without resentment, and without reliance on pseudo-facts and pretend information. We need a center-right that does not blame the voters for its own mistakes of head and heart. We need a center-right that is culturally modern, environmentally responsible, and economically inclusive. There’s the “finale” we should be seeking after the broken crockery from the Tea Party tantrum is cleared away.
You have to give Senate Republicans some credit for coming up with this one, via Politico today. McConnell is a crafty one:
Days before the March 1 deadline, Senate Republicans are circulating a draft bill that would cancel $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts and instead turn over authority to President Barack Obama to achieve the same level of savings under a plan to be filed by March 8.
The five- page document, which has the tacit support of Senate GOP leaders, represents a remarkable shift for the party. Having railed against Senate Democrats for not passing a budget, Republicans are now proposing that Congress surrender an important piece of its Constitutional “power of the purse” for the last seven months of this fiscal year.
This would force Obama to make the cuts, so the political weight of their impact would fall on him, which would ensure that the White House would strain to make every effort to make the cuts as un-feel-able as possible.
How the credulousness of mainstream media figures like Bob Woodward and Ron Fournier enables Republican extremism. By Michael Tomasky.
On Saturday, I wrote about what I called the conservative Republican “rage machine” and its poisonous impact on our politics. I argued that a number of prominent conservative thinkers and pundits—David Brooks, Ross Douthat, several others—were and are partly responsible for this problem as long as they sit there pretending it doesn’t exist. But there’s another responsible group here, too: Just as today’s Republican extremists benefit from the silence of conservative pundits, they also gain from the credulousness of mainstream figures who keep pretending that today’s GOP is a responsible party within the normal American political traditions. So that when the GOP takes a radical position on the sequester and Barack Obama a reasonable one, both are accorded equal seriousness, even when facts have to be ignored to do so.
Clockwise L-R: House Speaker John Boehner, National Journal Editor-In-Chief, Ron Fournier, and The Washington Post's Bob Woodward. (AP (1); Getty (2))
Bob Woodward is Exhibit A here. Late last week conservatives were crowing about a Woodward piece blaming Obama for the sequester. His argument was built on two points. First, that Obama staffers came up with the idea. That’s fine—this fact hasn’t been disputed, although its importance has. It’s interesting that Woodward acknowledged that a majority of Republicans voted for the sequester, but then he seemed to apologize for them by writing that key GOP staffers “didn’t even initially know what a sequester was.”
But his second point was the whopper. He went on to argue that any deal seeking to replace the sequestration cuts had to consist of only cuts, not revenues, so Obama was pulling a fast one. This was a new assertion, and the right pounced on it.
I wrote this column for the new Newsweek on the Scotus decision last week to hear the McCutcheon case, which gives them a chance to invalidate Buckley v. Valeo contribution limits. For some reason pieces written for Newsweek don't always land on this blog, so for those of you who still visit me the old-fashioned way I wanted to make sure you saw it.
Why do [contribution] limits exist? Here we go back 37 years to Buckley v. Valeo, the seminal Supreme Court decision in this area. Even if you follow this stuff only casually, you probably know that candidates and parties can spend as much as they want; that “spending is speech,” as it’s sometimes said in the trade. That was from Buckley. But Buckley also upheld limits on how much any single individual could contribute to a candidate on the grounds that excessive contributions from one person could lead to “corruption or its appearance.”
With a quick turn of phrase and a solemn visage, these four disgraced politicians re-entered the political arena after being removed from office. Three got back in; will Weiner join their ranks?
Writer George Packer mostly succeeds in describing the dissolution of our civic culture, says Michael Tomasky.