Friday, February 5, 2010

Delicate Flowers

Greg Sargent

* Dana Milbank, on Scott Brown’s first day in the Senate:

The one declarative position Brown did take — “The last stimulus bill didn’t create one new job” — was demonstrably untrue.

* Too bad the Associated Press reported on that same claim by Brown as if it’s a matter of argument, describing it as “a claim that most economists would dispute.” Lame.

* New CNN poll: One-third of the country views Tea Party movement favorably, versus only one-fourth who view it unfavorably. Plurality has no idea what it’s about. Maybe time to rethink the Dem strategy of attacking the Tea Partiers to paint the GOP as extreme?


But there’s no reason to panic about budget prospects for the next few years, or even for the next decade. Consider, for example, what the latest budget proposal from the Obama administration says about interest payments on federal debt; according to the projections, a decade from now they’ll have risen to 3.5 percent of G.D.P. How scary is that? It’s about the same as interest costs under the first President Bush.

Why, then, all the hysteria? The answer is politics.

The main difference between last summer, when we were mostly (and appropriately) taking deficits in stride, and the current sense of panic is that deficit fear-mongering has become a key part of Republican political strategy, doing double duty: it damages President Obama’s image even as it cripples his policy agenda. And if the hypocrisy is breathtaking — politicians who voted for budget-busting tax cuts posing as apostles of fiscal rectitude, politicians demonizing attempts to rein in Medicare costs one day (death panels!), then denouncing excessive government spending the next — well, what else is new?

The trouble, however, is that it’s apparently hard for many people to tell the difference between cynical posturing and serious economic argument. And that is having tragic consequences.

For the fact is that thanks to deficit hysteria, Washington now has its priorities all wrong: all the talk is about how to shave a few billion dollars off government spending, while there’s hardly any willingness to tackle mass unemployment. Policy is headed in the wrong direction — and millions of Americans will pay the price.

DougJ: Question

You probably heard about this:

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) has put an extraordinary “blanket hold” on at least 70 nominations President Obama has sent to the Senate, according to multiple reports this evening. The hold means no nominations can move forward unless Senate Democrats can secure a 60-member cloture vote to break it, or until Shelby lifts the hold.

“While holds are frequent,” CongressDaily’s Dan Friedman and Megan Scully report (sub. req.), “Senate aides said a blanket hold represents a far more aggressive use of the power than is normal.”

The Mobile Press-Register picked up the story early this afternoon. The paper confirmed Reid’s account of the hold, and reported that a Shelby spokesperson “did not immediately respond to phone and e-mail messages seeking confirmation of the senator’s action or his reason for doing so.”

It goes without saying that this shows what a great, venerable institution the Senate is, what a serious, bipartisan legislator Shelby is, and (of course) what a failure Obama has been at changing the tone in Washington.

Here’s what I’d like to know: is there any limit to how much a strong-willed minority can slow things down in the Senate? Could a new Republican Senator do something like this every day and bring everything to a complete halt for months on end?

  • Steve Benen adds:

    And why, pray tell, has Shelby decided to hold several dozen administration nominees hostage? It's not about qualifications, ideology, or party -- it's about pork. The conservative Alabama senator wants some defense earmarks for his state, and until he's satisfied, Shelby apparently won't allow the Senate to vote on just about anyone, including nominees ready to fill positions related to national security.

    The abuse, the arrogance, the corruption ... it's just breathtaking. Shelby is proving himself to be little more than a petty, greedy thug, undermining our system of government until he's been paid off to his satisfaction.

    Josh Marshall added, "This is more like just a stick up. Gimme my money and I'll give you your Senate back! Worse than a squeegee man and not much better than a bank robber, Shelby is shutting down the president's ability to appoint anyone to anything until he gets his way."

    What's more, it's additional evidence, as if more was needed, that congressional Republicans are simply out of control. At a time when the nation needs strong institutions, GOP lawmakers have not only gone mad, they're also tearing down governmental touchstones like the United States Senate.

    It's inexcusable and unsustainable. Something's gotta give.

Yglesias: Martha Johnson

With 60 Democrats in the US Senate, the White House was annoyed by minority obstructionism. But with “only” 59 Democrats in the US, the White House no longer has anything better to do than to finally pivot and really confront it. Thus yesterday’s Dan Pfeiffer post offering a case study of pointless obstruction:

Nine months ago, the White House sent the nominee for GSA Administrator, Martha Johnson, to the Senate for its consideration. Today, she was finally given a vote and was overwhelmingly approved by a margin of 94-2. What happened in between was a perfect example of why Americans are so frustrated with Washington.

Martha Johnson is an ideal candidate for Administrator, which is highlighted by the unanimous vote she received in committee. And the only thing that’s changed between now and then is that some in Congress found it to be politically expedient to delay her vote. This isn’t just about one person filling one job – it hampers our ability reform the way government works and save taxpayer dollars by making it more efficient and effective.

What’s worse, Martha Johnson is hardly the first nominee to fall victim to this trend of opposition for opposition’s sake. Nine of the President’s nominees found themselves stuck in this same situation only to be confirmed by 70 or more votes or a voice vote. Several nominees, including two members of the Council of Economic Advisers, had cloture withdrawn and were passed by a voice vote.

The public is always a bit skeptical about the capacity of the government to deliver effective public service. And obstructionist Senators are doing everything possible to feed that skepticism. Finding a way to fight it effectively is critical to the progressive cause.

Kurtz: If You Got It, Flaunt It

You may have heard that Larry Kudlow, the former Reagan economic adviser, diehard supply-sider, and CNBC host, is considering running against Chuck Schumer for U.S. Senate from New York.

How can Kudlow hope to match the fund-raising prowess of the incumbent Schumer? Thanks to the Supreme Court's decision on corporate contributions in the Citizens United case, we got it covered, a top Kudlow supporter and pal tells TPMDC.

"People who are worried about their taxes, particularly medium- and large-size businesses, would be more interested in helping Larry Kudlow than Chuck Schumer," John Lakian says.

Greg Sargent

* New ad from the DNC: The DNC is going up on national cable with this new spot slamming the GOP over recent reports saying that Republicans are raising cash on Wall Street while promising to protect the Street from Dem efforts at regulatory reform:

“They’re at it again, promising Wall Street, `We’ll have your back, and we’ll block reforms to hold banks accountable,’” says the spot, in keeping with the Dem 2010 strategy of saying Republicans not only have no solutions, but also want to reinstate the policies that led to the economic meltdown in the first place.


Expectations for the new jobs report were all over the map, but by one estimate, the economy was expected to have lost 22,000 jobs. The prediction proved to be almost exactly right.

The United States economy shed 20,000 jobs in January, the government said Friday, deepening concern that relief from the deepest economic downturn in a generation would be slow to come. But the unemployment rate fell to 9.7 percent from 10 percent in December.

As the broader economy gains steam and crucial sectors like manufacturing spring back to life, analysts say the recovery appears to be intact. But the nation's stubbornly high unemployment rate remains a persistent thorn in the side of optimists, and economists expect the situation to worsen before it gets better.

Job totals from November and December were revised and changed rather significantly. Whereas previous estimates showed 4,000 jobs were added in November, the economy actually added 64,000. December, however, was much worse than previous thought, losing 150,000 jobs rather than the 85,000 originally reported.

The good news, if you can call it that, is that January 2010 was the second best month for the job market since the Great Recession began in December 2007. The trend line seems to be pointing in the right direction. The bad news, obviously, is that shedding fewer jobs isn't nearly good enough.

In terms of the politics, lawmakers are poised to take up a jobs bill as early as next week. One can only hope that the latest report will remind policymakers that the status quo, while vastly improved over the disastrous conditions of a year ago, is still not even close to where we need to be. The need for an ambitious jobs bill and additional economic stimulus should be obvious.

And with that, here once again is the homemade chart I've been running the first Friday of every month, showing monthly job losses since the start of the Great Recession:

Steven Pearlstein:

One thing that is already obvious is that most people in Washington have forgotten what bipartisanship means in practice, if indeed they ever knew it.

The most common misconception is that bipartisanship means finding common ground and focusing on the things most everyone agrees on. In reality, that turns out to be a pretty small set of ideas and proposals that, taken together, would not address the major challenges before us. Certainly, that is the obvious place to begin, and it would be an improvement over the current gridlock, but it won't add up to effective governance.

Beutler: Dem Leadership Rips 'Republican Plan' To Privatize, Slash Medicare, Social Security

You thought Republicans were going to be able to wiggle away from their historic support for privatizing Medicare and Social Security? Think again.

Leading Democrats aren't letting the GOP put much distance between themselves and a new, long-term budget proposal written by their top budget guy, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).

"That's their budget plan," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)--chair of the House Democrats' reelection committee--told me in a brief interview. "He's the ranking Republican member on the Budget Committee. That is their so-called roadmap. And it's a roadmap right into the economic ditch that we got ourselves to begin with.... Put it this way. For seniors on Medicare, it's a dead end."

Van Hollen says Republicans should own up to their own ideas, and debate them on the merits, or else stop complaining when Democrats accuse them of being the Party of No.

"These guys got very sensitive about the fact that they had no ideas to put on the table," Van Hollen said. "Well, it turns out they did have some ideas to put on the table. You gotta give Congressman Ryan credit for putting the proposal on the table. Now they should have to live with the consequences of that proposal."

It's interesting to hear they're running away from that proposal. It's an idea they put on the table. They told President Obama at the Republican conference, We're not the party of 'no,' we've got ideas, and that was one of the major ideas they put on the table. I hope they'll have the courage of their convictions to stick with it and defend it.

In a conference call with reporters this afternoon, a number of other senior Democrats said much the same.

"They are dusting off their old playbook, rehashing the policies that the American people have rejected in the past," said House Democratic Caucus Chair John Larson (D-CT). "They want to privatize Social Security. They want to turn Medicare into a voucher program. And they're providing tax breaks for the wealthy while they raise taxes on the middle class."

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) said much the same: "This is not new. These are ideas, but they're not new ones. And privatization is on the row again by the Republicans."

Earlier today, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) tried to distance himself from Ryan's plan--but was unable to articulate any major disagreements with it. In response, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) suggested Republicans were fragmenting over the plan. "They're either not on the same page or the leadership is walking away from this ill-found roadmap," she said.

Welcome (again) to election season.

digby: Go Al! (Again)

So apparently, after the "question time" featuring endangered conservadems whining about bipartisanship, the Senators really let their hair down in private. And they were led by none other than Al Franken:

Sen. Al Franken ripped into White House senior adviser David Axelrod this week during a tense, closed-door session with Senate Democrats.

Five sources who were in the room tell POLITICO that Franken criticized Axelrod for the administration’s failure to provide clarity or direction on health care and the other big bills it wants Congress to enact.

The sources said Franken was the most outspoken senator in the meeting, which followed President Barack Obama’s question-and-answer session with Senate Democrats at the Newseum on Wednesday. But they also said the Minnesotan wasn’t the only angry Democrat in the room.


In his public session with the senators Wednesday, Obama urged them to “finish the job” on health care but did not lay out a path for doing so. That uncertainty appeared to trigger Franken’s wrath, and the sources in the room said he laid out his concerns much more directly than any senator did in the earlier public session.

The private session was set up in a panel format, with Axelrod joined at the front of the room by Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine and Democratic strategist Paul Begala.

A Democratic source said that Franken directed his criticism solely at Axelrod.

“It was all about leadership and health care and what the plan was going to be,” the source said.

Good for him, although there's certainly plenty of blame for the health care debacle to go around, particularly in the House of Lords.

But it appears the irreverent comedian isn't playing by the rules there either:

Franken — a comedian turned liberal talk show host — vowed to keep a relatively low profile when he arrived in the Senate over the summer after a protracted legal battle with former GOP Sen. Norm Coleman. But he has developed a reputation among his colleagues as one of the more aggressive personalities on the Hill.

Last November, after Tennessee Republican Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander authored an op-ed in a local paper defending their opposition to a Franken amendment, Franken confronted both men on the floor — and grew particularly irritated with Corker.

He lashed out at Corker and a staff member in a follow-up meeting about the matter, several people said. Franken also clashed with South Dakota Sen. John Thune, No. 4 in GOP leadership, last month in a scathing speech during the health care debate, and staffers have reported other run-ins.
Those delicate little Republican flowers just don't know what to do when a Democrat isn't afraid of them.

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