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.”
Lots of chatter about Ted Cruz, the new senator from Texas. Steve Kornacki in Salon:
So it goes for Cruz, the freshman Texas senator who in his first two months on the job has baselessly asserted that Chuck Hagel might have received money from the North Korean government, reiterated his belief that there were 12 Communists on Harvard Law School’s faculty when he was a student there, and delighted in playing the role of ideological purist, even – or especially – if it puts him at odds with fellow Republicans.
The Hagel attacks have drawn cries of McCarthyism from the left, a torrent of negative media coverage, and earned Cruz a public rebuke from John McCain. But none of this has bothered Cruz, and for good reason: His standing within the conservative movement is only growing.
And here's Greg Sargent:
There must be some systemic reason no one can host the Oscars successfully anymore. I think there's way too much silly media anticipation these days, which makes the job kind of impossible, which is not intended as any kind of excuse for Seth McFarlane, whose opening routine was just shockingly terrible.
Risque material can rise above being offensive as long as it's funny. Ted was funny for about 40 minutes, and after that it was just in relentlessly terrible taste. Well, I turned it off, I confess, after Ted's job interview at the grocery store, so I can't honestly say what the rest was like, but that one line was way out there. Nominally offensive material is funny as long as there's some wit involved. Where there's no wit, the c-word isn't funny, it's just in poor taste. Although speaking of which, I do think last night's "rhyme" of "Helen Hunt" and "adorable" was quite funny. That was witty, as it made the viewer stop and connect the dots.
The other problem is trying to package teenage humor in post-modern wrapping: See, we're not really making jokes in terrible taste, we're making jokes about making jokes about terrible taste. That was funny 15 or 20 years ago when pop culture first embraced irony, but it's old now. The "boobs" thing failed along these lines.
I think what they ought to do is start now and spend the next year building an animatronic Bob Hope. That would be genuinely funny, a fake Bob Hope, cracking the old jokes ("Welcome to the Oscars, or, as we call it at my house, Passover") and some new ones. Take it away, Disney.
Conservative pundits’ ideas about fixing the GOP are totally meaningless, says Michael Tomasky, until they deal with the problem of their party’s rage-driven fanaticism.
Conservative pundits and intellectuals have spent the past week or two—ever since the publication in Commentary magazine of Peter Wehner and Michael Gerson’s “How to Save the Republican Party”—talking about, well, how to save the Republican Party. They have lots of ideas—some good, some not so good, most very sober-minded policy prescriptions. I wrote a short blog post about this on Thursday. But then I reflected: This topic needs a longer treatment. The party they purport to support and care about has been engaged in burning down the house of American politics for three or four years now, and they are saying nothing about it; and until they say something about it, everything else they say is close to meaningless.
This past week, Lindsey Graham in essence demanded that cabinet nominee Chuck Hagel disprove rumors against him. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post, via Getty (FILE))
As I’ve written many times, the conventional view of what’s wrong with the GOP gets at only a portion of the truth. When The New York Times or Politico does such a story, the story inevitably focuses on policy positions. Immigration. Same-sex marriage. Climate change. Tinker with these positions, several sages are quoted as saying, and the GOP will be back in the game.
God knows, policy positions are a problem. But they are not the problem. The problem is that the party is fanatical—a machine of rage, hate, and resentment. People are free to scoff and pretend it isn’t so, but I don’t think honest people can deny that we’ve never seen anything like this in the modern history of our country. There’s a symbiosis of malevolence between the extreme parts of the GOP base and Washington lawmakers, and it is destroying the Republican Party. That’s fine with me, although I am constantly mystified as to why it’s all right with the people I’m talking about. But it’s also destroying the country and our democratic institutions and processes, which is not fine with me.
The Times has a front-pager today on Scott and other big-state GOP governors (in Arizona, Ohio, Michigan, etc.) accepting Obamacare and agreeing to cover people with Medicaid funds. Jon Chait had a great take on Scott himself yesterday, under a provocative headline asserting that Scott had just dealt the death-blow to Obamacare repeal.
This is because Scott is the governor of a huge state with loads of old people; because he called Obamacare an evil job-killer about fifty gajillion times; because he's a former health-care exec (albeit a badly sullied one) who could speak to all this with some presumed knowledge; and because he's a Tea Party guy, although perhaps not anymore.
Scott made the decision he made in part because it's the sensible one substantively--turning down nearly $3 billion in federal money because it's going to turn people into moochers is rather insane. But look! Here's another reason:
Scott's approval rating is just 33%, with 57% of voters disapproving of him. Scott's numbers had gradually improved over the course of 2012, but these numbers represent a regression from early November when he was at a 37/48 spread. Scott meets with near universal disapproval from Democrats (21/71) and independents (32/64) and is even on pretty shaky ground with Republicans (49/38).
So I just went to a Staples and bought an item worth $3.79. I was in a hurry, and I was thinking about something, Mitch McConnell or the fate of Medicare or the creator of Underdog or something, and I dashed out the store without paying. The item wasn't magnetized, you see. I got halfway across the street and realized: "Effin'ell, I didn't pay!" I wheeled around and went back in and paid.
The guy said to me, "You're an honest man." I said, "Well, yeah, I am." Self-satisfaction inflamed my breast. But then as I left I started thinking, well, how honest am I?
That is to say, what if I'd been three blocks away? Seven? Back in my car already? For four bucks? I cannot claim that I am absolutely ethical in this regard, I confess.
It seems there is an x axis of "distance from the store" and a y axis of "cost of item," and the line probably descends accordingly. If I'd had a $30 item, obviousy you make more effort. But I think for $2, I'd have just figured the gods owed me one that day. Thoughts, calculations?
Loads of stuff this week from conservative intellectuals on the future of the Republican Party. This all begins with the essay in Commentary by Peter Wehner and Michael Gerson, which is pretty good and offers a five-point plan:
1. Care about the middle and working classes in economic terms.
2. Embrace immigrants.
3. Embrace the common good (hey, watch it, bubs!)
On Sunday's 'Meet the Press,' Senator Mitch McConnell didn't mince words when criticizing President Obama's administration for the IRS scandal. 'The president demonizes his opponents,' said McConnell. 'The nanny state is here to tell us all what to do, and if we start criticizing, you get targeted.'
For such a diverse city, the L.A. City Council is a depressing bastion of likeminded men.