What a Victory!

Perhaps Mark is right, and I was too anxious.  After all, now that Republican hostage-taking demands have begun to cave, Obama has doubled down, calling again for entitlement cuts and higher taxes:

For all its talk of the importance of averting a debt default, the White House is signaling that major deficit reduction has become more than just a bargaining chip to bring Republicans aboard a debt deal.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner opened Tuesday’s meeting not by focusing on the perils of debt default, but instead with a “vivid” presentation on “what happens if you don’t cut the deficit,” according to a Democratic source familiar with the talks.

Geithner warned the group that ratings agencies are actively watching both the debt ceiling debate and the ability of Congress to turn around the nation’s growing deficit and debt. He pointed to the economic unrest in Europe as evidence of what could happen in the United States if the White House and Congress don’t tackle the deficit in a serious way.

Lawmakers obviously discussed the pressing consequences of debt default, said the Democratic official. And on that front there still “continues to be a big difference on revenue.”

But as negotiations on a debt package resumed, Obama made it clear that he isn’t playing small ball. He warned Republicans that the major concessions he has offered on entitlement reforms are off the table if they don’t agree to a sizable debt deal.

In the meantime, just a year before a general election,  the country’s unemployment rate is over 9% and its effective unemployment rate might be twice that.  Obama’s solution to the searing crisis of the middle class apparently is to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, in exchange for tax increases that will occur anyway.  Oh yes, and $2 trillion of other unspecified cuts, which always figure to work beautifully during a recession.   If we don’t do that, then we’ll end up like Europe, where people are supposedly concerned about deficits.  What is there in any of this that a progressive could possibly object to?

Best President since Ike, I’d say.

Shut Up or Put Up, Chuck

Senator Chuck Schumer says about the deficit negotiations that “there needs to be revenues in any deal.”  Very true.

What revenues might those be?  Well, the Democrats are talking about a lot of loopholes for the very wealthy.  Let me suggest one: treating the investment gains of hedge fund managers — mnay of whom make millions of dollars — as ordinary income instead of capital gains.

The Democrats tried that in 2007.  And who helped to kill it?  Chuck Schumer.  Clearly, the Republicans don’t want it, either, but this one of those times where the messaging is crucial.  Democrats want to make sure that Wall Street pays its fair share, and Republicans want to end Medicare.  That can’t be done as long as Schumer decides that campaign contributions are more important.

So what’s it going to be, Chuck?

Some Gullible Skepticism on the Debt Ceiling

Here’s some analysis from Greg Sargent that’s enough to make one nauseous:

There’s no way around it: Republicans have won the political war over the debt ceiling. The House is set to vote today on a proposal for a debt ceiling hike without any spending cuts attached. It will be rejected — the GOP is unified against it, and even some Democrats will vote No. This is the “clean” vote Dems originally sought, but it’s now clear that Dems think it’s politically impossible not to accede to the GOP demand for deep cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.And so, with the Biden-led deficit negotiations set to resume this week, Mitch McConnell has now begun insisting that big Medicare cuts will be necessary in exchange for GOP support for the debt ceiling hike. Thanks to their willingness to draw a hard line at the outset, Republicans now appear poised to win big concessions in exchange for supporting something that they and everyone else have already said is inevitable.

In fact, it’s so nauseating that I’m having a hard time believing it: thus, the title of my post.  Maybe I am just being gullible about this.

The Republicans are in deep trouble over Medicare.  They lost a safe GOP House seat because of it.  Obama’s poll numbers are going up because of it.  The Democrats now have an advantage in the generic congressional ballot because of it.  McConnell’s gambit is to take it off the table by forcing the Democrats to sign onto Medicare cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.  And the Democrats are going to go along with it?

There are several possibilities, then, that could explain this report.

1)  The Democrats are so blitheringly idiotic that they are cutting their own throats.  In other words, gross political malpractice.

2)  The Democrats actually want to cut Medicare, and are using this as a justification.

3)  Sargent is wrong; the mere fact that the Dems won’t vote for a “clean” debt ceiling increase doesn’t mean that they aren’t pushing for it; it’s just that they have other pressure points to use, namely, the fact that the GOP’s money masters will not let them sink the credit of the United States Government, and put billions of their dollar-denominated assets into question.  Republican donors are selfish plutocrats, but when push comes to shove, they are selfish first, plutocrats second.

At this point, I am still leaning toward Door #3.  This is mostly because I don’t believe that Obama is a political idiot, and I do believe that he sees health care policy as central to his legacy.  On Medicare, this is the man who closed the donut hole, and is now pursuing some of the most important efficiency reforms in Medicare’s history. I’ll need a lot more data before jumping to conclusions.  Besides, one central fact jumps out at me from Sargent’s report: he is focusing almost entirely on the House Democrats, perhaps the least-relevant caucus in the negotiations now.  I wouldn’t draw many conclusions from what they are doing.

I have no idea what’s going on inside Biden’s negotiations over the debt, but I have yet to see that reporters do.  And now that I think about it, I’m not even sure that the people inside the room know, either.

Obama does this a lot; sacrifices on the rhetoric, and then we find that he has gotten what he wanted from the beginning.  The budget deal a couple of months ago was a good example: turns out that the federal government will spend $3 billion more this year than it would have otherwise.  That’s not to deny that a lot of the cuts were awful, but they were far less awful than they could have been, and they wound up weakening Boehner and enraging his caucus, getting that caucus to go all-in on the Ryan plan, which has injured them more.

I’m fully prepared to lambaste the President, but I don’t see it here.  Yet.

UPDATE: If you believe TPM, I’m right.  So far, Obama hasn’t caved.  The quotes coming from the GOP appear to become more and more desperate. 

“Unfortunately, what we did not hear from the president is a specific plan of his to deal with the debt crisis,” sad Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX).

That’s because if he’s smart, you’re not going to get one, Jeb.  You’re in big trouble on Medicare, and Obama isn’t going to bail you out (again, if he’s smart).  He’s going to wait for your Wall Street Galtian overlords to start screaming at you.

Evan Bayh: Empty Suit to the End

It is truly a sign of American decline that Evan Bayh could ever get elected to anything.

When Empty Suit Evan Bayh announced his retirment from the Senate a few months ago, I called him an empty suit, although of course it would be better had he stayed and kept the seat for the Dems.  Now, the New York Times has seen fit to give him some of the most valuable space in US journalism to lecture us on why the Democrats took heavy losses in the midterms, and we can see that he’s a not-very-bright empty suit.

His piece was a typical collection of inane Bayh-bromides.  But one thing stood out to me.  Among his suggestions for a Democratic program going forward are:

Democrats should support a freeze on federal hiring and pay increases. Government isn’t a privileged class and cannot be immune to the times.

Now, it’s bad enough that this is absolutely 100% backwards on policy grounds: we’re at double-digit unemployment, so the government shouldn’t hire people?  The cure for a recession is…deflation?

But if that were all, it would be standard inside-the-Beltway idiocy.  The worst thing is his pompous second clause, about the government not being a privileged class.

This is coming from Evan Bayh.  Son of former Senator Birch Bayh (whose record towers over his son’s).  Who went to the St. Albans’ Prep School in Washington DC while his Dad was a Senator.  Who I’m sure had all kinds of problems connecting with powerful people and large campaign contributors when he decided to begin a political career.

We’ve heard idiotic lectures from Bayh before: usually pieces in which he castigates the Dems for not being serious about the deficit and also demands the abolition of the estate tax.  But this is really too much to bear.  At least we won’t have to hear them as much now that he is leaving the Senate.  This pretty much sums up his legacy. Buh-Bayh, moron.

Tin Cup Time: Michael Bennet and Colleen Hanabusa

Two new polls out of Colorado and Hawai’i show us where some campaign money can be smartly invested.

Public Policy Polling is a Democratic-leaning polling firm, but with an excellent track record.  And yesterday, they issued a couple of relatively hopeful results: Michael Bennet is leading Tea Partier Ken Buck by one in the Colorado Senate race, and Colleen Hanabusa is leading incumbent Republican Charles Dijou in the race for Hawai’i’s First District.

Two immediate notes of caution come in:

1)  This is clearly Bennet’s strongest showing in any poll, and I’m not sure that even PPP believes it [See Update below — good news]; and 2) Hanabusa should be leading in her race.  It’s Hawai’i, for crying out loud: Hanabusa lost this race back in April because the Democratic vote was split.

So why are they “relatively hopeful”?  In Bennet’s case, because it shows that things are moving in his direction: previous polls showed him with large deficits, and even pro-Republican pollsters like Rasmussen show the gap closing.  There is still time.

In Hanabusa’s case, earlier polls had showed Djou with a big lead: he’s an excellent politician, and Hawaii’ians generally don’t like kicking out incumbents.  Remember: if Hanabusa wins, this is a Democratic pickup, which means that the GOP needs to gain more than 39 seats to regain control of the House.  Unlike in 1994, there are four seats that lean Dem: LA-2 (Cao, who won only because Bill “Dollar Bill” Jefferson was a crook); IL-10 (Mark Kirk’s seat in a bluish district); DE-AL (Mike Castle’s old seat, which will almost definitely go Dem), and Hawai’i first.  If we win those, then the Republicans need to get 43.  The Delaware and Lousiana seats are pretty secure as pickups, and Dan Seals, the Dem candidate in the IL-10, has been a Netroots favorite for some time; Hanabusa has sort of been lost in the shuffle, and needs our help.

As Nate Silver mentioned earlier today, everyone knows that this is going to be a very good November for the Republicans; the question is how good.  Every race counts here: small differences will make, well, a big difference. 

And why else are these particularly important races?  Well, they both just happen to be on my ActBlue page!  These are winnable races that could make the difference.  Show these candidates some love here.

UPDATE: A new poll out of Colorado has Bennet up by three.  It isn’t clear if it’s an internal, and of course nowadays everything turns on how polls put on their “likely voter” screens, but this is very good news.  This one ain’t over yet, folks.

Jim DeMint is an Extremely Important Person

Jim DeMint thinks it’s so critical that you know how important he is that he doesn’t mind if a few thousand folks in Africa die over it.

So now South Carolina Republican Senator James DeMint has decided to shut down the Senate over the next three months unless he and his staff have personally reviewed any and all legislation.  DeMint announced that he will put a hold on all bills, which essentially will mean taking a week to overcome his obstructionism: even if all other 99 Senators support a non-controversial bill, because the Senate runs on unanimous consent, DeMint will require a cloture vote to consider the bill, which means 30 hours of debate, and then another cloture vote to allow debate on the bill, which means another 30 hours of debate.  That’s what a “hold” is: it’s a threat to make yourself a royal pain in the rear unless you get what you want, and DeMint is very good at that.  And now, being just a pain means defeating the legislation, because there is not much time in a lame-duck session.

In other words, Jim DeMint has decided to remind everyone in the country that he is an Extremely Important Person, and thus play to the rabid GOP base.  What he doesn’t want you to know is that his little hissy fit will have real consequences to real people.

Senator James DeMint (R-Romper Room)

Consider a bill like S.384, the Casey-Lugar Global Food Security Act, a piece of legislation that is close to my heart: I just got back from DC to lobby for it on behalf of the American Jewish World Service, and found that Congress probably won’t be able to take up the bill in the lame duck session because Jim DeMint has decided to remind people that he is an Extremely Important Person.  And so the bill will die. (To assist in bringing it up again in January, please consider contributing to AJWS’ efforts here: that’s my fundraising page, and the money raised there goes to food security efforts.).

By way of background, a recent United Nations study reports that more than 925 million people worldwide suffer from severe hunger and malnutrition. 

925 million starving people?  Shouldn’t we do something about that?  You don’t understand: Jim DeMint is an Extremely Important Person.

Casey-Lugar would (among other things) create an emergency fund to purchase food in countries where starvation is at its worst: as Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman observe in their recent spectacular book, Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty, in many countries suffering from hunger, farmers have food but can’t get it to starving populations, and in any event, current US law forbids purchasing food on site, delaying distribution by several months and impoverishing developing country farmers.  Most importantly, Casey-Lugar would begin to shift US aid policy away from just giving food to people toward making the poor self-sufficient by allowing for US assistance to develop agricultural capacity in the Global South.  For example, as Thurow and Kilman show, Ethiopia has made great strides in recent years toward food security by creating an agricultural futures market that stabilizes agricultural prices, allowing farmers to make a profit but keeping prices at more affordable levels.  Casey-Lugar would enable more experiments of this kind, and authorize (although not appropriate) $7 billion in funding for it and for the emergency fund.  A good short backgrounder can be found here.

An agricultural futures market like the Chicago Board of Trade?  That’s hardly socialist.  Who could be against that?  Well, you see, you don’t understand: Jim DeMint is an Extremely Important Person. Casey-Lugar is not an earth-shattering piece of legislation: at this point, it doesn’t seem even to be all that controversial.  It even has two Republican co-sponsors in the Senate (Lugar — of course — and Susan Collins). It passed the Foreign Relations Committee — which DeMint sits on — unanimously.

Well, maybe Jim DeMint will see all of this, and will deign to allow the Senate to take up the bill.  Or maybe not.  After all, Congres still has to take up all 12 appropriations bills, which of course the Republicans could also filibuster.  And who knows how many other good, small bills will die because Jim DeMint wants you to know that he is an Extremely Important Person.

DeMint claims he is a Christian: I have no idea, but I take him at his word. Conceivably, hundreds of thousands of people in the Global South could die because of the failure to pass this pretty non-controversial bill.  Theoretically, aren’t Christians supposed to be against that?  Well, maybe so, but these people aren’t nearly as Extremely Important as is Jim DeMint.

How about this, Senator?  Every time you come into a room, a band will play Hail To The Chief.  That seems to be really what is interesting to you.  The rest of us would like to act like adults.  In the meantime, if you want to try to make sure that DeMint has as little influence as possible in the next Congress, you can drop a few dollars here.

Self-fulfilling Prophecy Department: The Democratic “Punt”

On the tax cuts, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid made the best of bad situation; blaming them for caving risks creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Josh Marshall and Jonathan Chait are fighting back aneurysms upon hearing the news that Capitol Hill Democrats will not put forth a bill maintaining middle-class tax cuts.

But Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid aren’t stupid.  They did what they had to do.  This was the best of a bad series of choices.

Here were their options:

1)  Bring up the middle-class tax cut bill free-standing in the House.  The Republicans would offer a “Motion to Recommit” to the Ways and Means Committee with instructions to include the tax cuts for the rich.  With Blue Dog support, it would have won.  No go.

2)  Bring up the middle-class tax cut bill freestanding in the Senate.  The Republicans would offer an amendment to include the tax cuts for the rich.  It could have won:  41 Republicans plus Lieberman, Lincoln, Pryor, Landrieu, Ben Nelson, Bayh, Hagan, Dorgan, Baucus, Conrad, and then maybe Bill Nelson, Webb, or Warner.  Then where would you be?

3)  Bring up the middle-class tax cut bill free-standing in the House under a “Suspension of the Rules,” which requires a two-thirds vote and is not subject to the Motion to Recommit.  My favorite option, because theoretically, the Republicans would be in a bind.  Either they would vote no, in which case they would have voted no on a tax cut, or they would have voted yes, in which case the Dems win and they tick off their base.  BUT — they probably would have split, meaning that the Dems would not have not gotten a win AND the partisan difference would have been muddied.

In other words, there was no way to get an actual win under these circumstances.  You could only get a loss that would muddy the partisan split.

Under these circumstances, Pelosi and Reid decided not to have the vote.  Why?  Because you can still make the issue about it being the “Republicans holding the bill hostage.”  You can still say that the Republicans won’t vote for a middle-class tax cut unless they borrow $700 billion dollars to give to millionaires and billionaires.  President Obama still has the biggest megaphone in the country, and to his great credit, he is using it.  Just an hour or so after the decision was announced, he was blaming the Republicans for holding middle-class tax cuts hostage.

In other words, you can go to the country with a clear message, and without the picture of Democrats reprising the circular-firing squad.  It’s not perfect, but it’s the best of all possible situations given the unprecedented plutocratic obstructionism of the GOP.

Ironically, though, critics like Marshall and Chait could undermine the strategy if the meme becomes “Democrats cave.”  If instead the meme becomes, “Democrats refuse to borrow $700 billion to pay off billi0naires,” then it looks like they are stronger, not weaker.  Marshall and Chait are calling it like they see it, and I take their points, but they are creating some bad spin here: let’s not let the complaints become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Wanker of the Day: Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart’s 10/30 “Rally to Restore Sanity” has turned him into something he despises: a mainstream media creator of false equivalences. American politics hasn’t gone crazy: the Republican Party has.

Yes, that Jon Stewart.

The Daily Show is promoting the “Rally to Restore Sanity,” to be held October 30th on, of course, the National Mall.  After going through his (extremely funny) outline of the brutal craziness of American politics, Stewart proposes a series of great slogans, culminating with “Take It Down a Notch for America.”  But his take, and this rally, does make a serious point.  And it’s wrong.

Look again at some examples of the crazies that Stewart talks about: 9/11 Truthers on the one hand, Tea Partiers on the other.  Birthers on the one hand, people who want to prosecute Donald Rumsfeld on the other.  Let’s all calm down, he says.  You notice the problem?

9/11 Birthers aren’t even a fringe in the Democratic Party; they’re a fringe outside the Democratic Party.  Tea Partiers, on the other hand, are running the GOP.  Karl Rove is cowering in front of them.

Cindy Sheehan got some press a few years ago for a few weeks; Sarah Palin is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination.

With this (admittedly very funny) gambit, Stewart has become precisely what he despises: a generator of false equivalences between centrist Democrats and right-wing nutcase Republicans.  There is a difference between Birthers and people who want to prosecute Cheney: there is at least credible, plausible evidence that Cheney purposefully violated American law.  His chief of staff was convicted of federal crimes in connection with Bush Administration policies. 

“American politics” has not gone crazy: the Republican Party has gone crazy.  It’s not even bothering to hide it anymore.  If the GOP takes over the House in a few weeks, the chair of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security will be none other than Louie Gohmert, who famously melted down on CNN when asked to provide evidence for his theory about “terror babies.”  Newt Gingrich, famed Republican savant, says that one of our most pressing issues is to ban Sharia law in US courts.  Sharon Angle favors “Second Amendment remedies” as a response to the administration.  Rand Paul thinks that sections of the Civil Rights Act are unconstitutional.  Joe Miller thinks that the New Deal is.  Bob Bennett, one of the Senate’s most conservative members, was thrown out because the Utah GOP thought he wasn’t conservative enough.  There simply is no equivalence here.

The Daily Show, of course, is a comedy program.  Stewart is there to make us laugh, and he does a damn good job of it.  I’m a fan. He’s under no obligation to satisfy my political leanings.  But the rest of us should keep the truth in mind.

Nancy Pelosi’s Future

If the Democrats lose control of the House, keeping Nancy Pelosi as House Democratic Leader is a top priority.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the Dems lose control of the House this coming November.  The party will face three inside-baseball questions immediately:

1)  Does Pelosi want to continue as House Minority Leader?
2)  Is she able to do so if she wants to?
3)  What are the stakes for progressive politics?

I have no idea as to 1) and 2), but I strongly suspect that the answer to 3) is “very high.”  She pushed health care through when everyone else was ready to surrender, and engineered a very successful 111th House.  Presumably any challenge to her would come from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who has caved on key issues (e.g. voting yes on the bankruptcy bill).

I fear that the tendency will be to run for the hills, move into a defensive crouch, and blame the Speaker.  That would be a disaster, both for progressives and the country.  But it might happen.

There are not too many precedents here.  The last I can recall was Rayburn, who twice became Minority Leader after holding the Speakership (in 1946 and 1952), and of course both times returned to the Speaker’s chair.  But that was a different era, and I’m not sure it is relevant here.

The other day I mentioned that one critical job of Blue Blogistan, should the GOP regain control of the House, will consist in stiffening Democratic spines (what they have of them).  Key to that effort will be keeping Nancy Pelosi as the House Democratic Leader, and engaged Democrats need to be prepared both to defend her position and persuade her to stay on if need be.

Steaming Piece of Senator

Kent Conrad makes clear his relationship to excrement.

Yes, it’s Kent Conrad again.  The AP reports that although Conrad claims to be a deficit hawk, he supports extending the Bush tax cuts for the extremely wealthy.

The worst thing about it?  I think he’ll get what he wants.  The Republicans will filibuster any attempt to do what President Obama wisely wants to do, i.e. extend only those tax cuts for individuals making less than $200,000, and couples making less than $250,000.  Thus, in order to maintain the tax cuts for the middle class, Republicans will insist on the very rich getting their share.  And I think that the Dems will cave.

Oh — Evan Bayh, who loves lecturing the Democrats on fiscal responsibility, also wants to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.   Plutocracy is alive and well and living the Senate Democratic Caucus.