Friday, July 2, 2010

Please! Dear gods above and below!

Why aren't Democrats learning? Ezra Klein, staff writer for the Washington Post, explains why Congressional Democrats continue to make concessions on legislation in the name of bipartisanship when they get no Republican votes in return.

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Vice President Biden spoke at an event in his home town earlier, hoping to help raise some money for Chris Coons' (D) Senate campaign. Biden raised an interesting point about the chamber he served in for several decades.

VP Joe Biden on Monday accused Senate GOPers of holding their top members' votes hostage in exchange for ranking committee posts, assailing the GOP as sitting "on the sidelines" while the economy nearly collapsed.

"I know at least 7 [GOP] senators, who I will not name, but were made to make a commitment under threat of losing their chairmanships, if they did not support the leadership on every procedural vote," Biden said at a fundraiser Monday night.

"Every single thing we did, from the important to the not so important, required for the first time in modern American history, majority votes required 60 votes. All the sudden a majority became 60 instead of 50," the VP added, according to a pool report of the event.

The RNC said something about this being "a scurrilous accusation," though the party didn't exactly deny it, either.

Is it really so far-fetched? Back in October, when Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) was weighing how to vote on health care reform, word went out that the ranking member post on Senate Commerce Committee was up for grabs, and if Snowe wanted it, she had to toe the party line. One unnamed GOP senator on the committee told a reporter, "A vote for healthcare would be something that would weigh on our minds when it came time to vote" on which senator got the slot.

Two months later, Snowe filibustered a motion to proceed, filibustered to prevent a vote, and opposed the legislation -- and never could explain why.

Indeed, there are widespread rumors that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) shifted away from cooperation on reform and towards belligerence immediately after his Republican colleagues made it clear that his future committee assignments were in jeopardy if he worked with Dems to pass a reform bill.

It often goes overlooked, but it's worth remembering that the Senate Republican caucus, unlike Senate Democrats, have mechanisms in place to enforce party unity and discipline. When Democrats break party ranks on key bills, there are no consequences. Those who let GOP leaders down, however, know in advance that enticements like committee positions are very much on the line.

But this need not be considered criticism, though Biden almost certainly meant as such. Matt Yglesias explained that it's entirely "sensible" for a political party to "demand that its members support the party leadership on procedural votes."

Had the Democratic caucus adopted such a rule, the White House, the leadership, and the members themselves would have been spared an awful lot of headaches and the country would be in much better shape. After all, every member of the caucus puts some value on his or her ability to secure chairmanships of committees and subcommittees, so such a rule could very plausibly have swiftly led to the creation of a norm against filibustering your own party's initiatives. Vote "no" on final passage if you like, but vote with the leadership on process.

We should be so lucky.

President Obama hosted a town-hall meeting in Wisconsin yesterday, and appeared to be in campaign mode. Apparently annoyed by 18 months of Republican nonsense, the president even chided the opposition party a bit.

"Before I was even inaugurated, there were leaders on the other side of the aisle who got together and they made the calculation that 'if Obama fails, then we win,'" the president said. "That was the basic theory. They figured if we just keep on saying no to everything and nothing gets done, then somehow people will forget who got us into this mess in the first place and we'll get more votes in November." He proceeded to highlight recent history, and the ways in which Republicans have managed to be wrong about practically everything.

"[W]e've tried the other side's theories," he added. "We know what their ideas are. We know where they led us. So now we've got a choice. We can return to what we know did not work, or we build a stronger future. We can go backwards, or we can go forward. And I don't know about you, but I want to move forward in this country."

Roll Call reports today that presidential remarks like these hurt Republicans' feelings.

President Barack Obama has been pleading with Capitol Hill Republicans to work in a bipartisan way on key measures such as climate change legislation and immigration reform, but many of his most likely GOP allies say the president has lost all credibility since he bashes them every time he hits the campaign trail. [...]

House Republicans whom the White House has previously looked to for bipartisan help say comments like these are the reason Obama's vows to work together fall on deaf ears on the Hill.

"A day doesn't go by where we don't hear one thing and see another. The outstretched hand by the left with the clenched clock across the face by the right.... It just seems to be their method of doing things," Budget ranking member Paul Ryan said. [...]

"This administration's got a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde approach to governing. One day they want Republican support, the next they are out blasting us," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said.

Take a moment to consider exactly what congressional Republicans are saying here. They can root for his failure; they can oppose every proposal; they can stoke the fires of hate and paranoia; they can engage in truly scandalous legislative obstruction on a scale unseen in American history; they can even lie uncontrollably throughout key policy debates.

But if Obama hits the campaign trail and has some unkind words for the party that's desperate to destroy his presidency, then Republicans believe it's his fault there isn't more bipartisan cooperation.

This is painfully silly. The White House has made repeated good-faith efforts to work constructively with Republicans, and they're not interested. It's hard to blame Obama for calling the GOP out once in a while.

Ezra Klein: Someone should have told Barney Frank how powerful he was

Barney Frank combines stand-up comedy with a denunciation of the Republican record on Fannie, Freddie and subprime lending.

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Click on image to play video.

The interview House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) did with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review this week turned out to be a pretty big deal. His remarks comparing the global financial crisis to "an ant" continue to be the subject of debate, as do his comments about raising the Social Security retirement age in order to pay for the wars in the Middle East.

But I'm also glad to see interest in another quote linger. In reference to Democrats, Boehner said, "They're snuffing out the America that I grew up in."

Nostalgia for the 1950s and 1960s isn't uncommon, but it's worth considering exactly what Boehner wants to go back to.

Michael Tomasky, for example, had a great item yesterday noting some of the policies that were common during Boehner's youth.

In the America John Boehner grew up in, the top marginal tax rate on wealthy earners was 90%. It had gone up there during the war, and five, 10, 15 years after armistice, no sizable group, Democrat or Republican, felt any strong urge to lower it.

In the America John Boehner grew up in, private-sector union membership was around or above 30%. Today's figure is 7%. The right to form a union was broadly accepted. Outside of a few small turbulent pockets, there was no such thing as today's union-busting law firms hired by management to go into workplaces and intimidate workers.

Is this the American Boehner wants to return to? I imagine Democrats would be happy to talk about it.

For that matter, America in the 1950s and 1960s was also heavily regulated -- airlines didn't even set their own prices -- and there weren't many complaints about "big government"' or "excessive spending" when a Republican president (Eisenhower) launched one of the biggest domestic infrastructure projects in history (the interstate highway system). Is this the American Boehner wants to return to?

What's more, politically, the Republican Party was very moderate -- indeed, it had plenty of northern liberals -- and, when it came to congressional votes, partisanship was a historic low. The GOP establishment was aware of right-wing nuts who wanted to eliminate Social Security and the rest of the New Deal reforms, but Republicans considered them bizarre kooks, better left ignored, or as the Republican president of the era labeled them, "stupid." Is this the American Boehner wants to return to?

Socially, America in the 1950s and 1960s was a repressive place for African Americans, Jews, and gays, and by any reasonable standard, women were second-class citizens is every aspect of American life. Is this the American Boehner wants to return to?

That's not really a rhetorical question. If the would-be Speaker wants to argue publicly that Democrats are trying "snuff out" the America that he grew up in, the public should know exactly what it is about that era he wants to fight to protect, or more to the point, bring back.

  • from the comments:

    Please! Dear gods above and below, have some reporter ask him these astute questions to his face!

    Posted by: sduffys on July 2, 2010 at 8:04 AM
Ezra Klein: Economy lost 125,000 jobs and 652,000 workers in June


A brutal unemployment report this month. Payrolls dropped by 125,000. In another one of those unwanted lessons in how we calculate unemployment data, the unemployment rate dropped from 9.7 percent to 9.5 percent -- but not because people got hired. Instead, 652,000 people gave up and stopped looking for work. And that number might be higher than it looks, as the natural monthly growth in the labor force is about 100,000 -- so to see a 652,000-person drop might mean something like 752,000 current workers left as 100,000 new workers entered.

It's true that when the National Bureau of Economic Research dates the end of the recession, it will probably have ended months ago. And it's true that the financial crisis has been over some time. But we really do remain in a jobs crisis. The fact that things are getting better most months, though worse in some months, obscures both how bad the situation is and how rapid our improvement has to be to really make a dent in it. But in the Senate, Republicans and Ben Nelson are objecting to using emergency legislative powers to pass further unemployment benefits, and there seems to be no appetite to try to intervene in this crisis in any further way.

The Washington Post's Frank Ahrens had an interesting item yesterday, noting a "raft of bad economic data" that was released yesterday -- before this morning's awful jobs report. Ahrens noted, for example, the "terrible home sales number," which coincided with "weak construction spending" and an unexpected drop in U.S. manufacturing activity.

The big takeaway? It's becoming apparent that this recovery, which began in March 2009, was based almost fully on government stimulus. The private sector has failed to kick in because it doesn't trust the future. Without private sector money in this economy, we can do one of two things: deflate and contract, and we know where that leads -- deep recession and possibly depression; or approve billions in new stimulus, which will only explode our already massive public debt and budget deficits, which was dragging states down one after the other.

Glad I'm not making the decisions.

Well, the decision really doesn't sound that difficult. It's similar to the decision we faced early last year.

In the wake of Republican policy failures, Democrats inherited two related problems: a deep recession and huge deficit. Addressing both wasn't an option -- dealing with one problem necessarily made the other worse. The Democratic majority decided economic growth and job creation was more important than the deficit, which was clearly the right call. At that point, they had to choose between competing options:

1. Pass a massive, ambitious economic stimulus.

2. Pass a trimmed down economic stimulus that could overcome a Republican filibuster.

3. Do nothing.

4. Pass a five-year spending freeze proposed by confused congressional Republicans at the time.

Left with limited options, Democrats went with Door #2. We would have been better off with Door #1, but we can all be very thankful Doors #3 and #4 were rejected. Indeed, it's genuinely pathetic to hear Republicans this morning boasting that the stimulus "didn't work." It did work -- the Recovery Act prevented a catastrophic depression -- and their alternative at the time permanently undermines their credibility on the subject.

But as the stimulus comes to an end, the economy is slowing badly (which largely helps prove that the stimulus kept us afloat for over a year), and we're left with another choice -- a very similar choice to the one we faced 17 months ago. Look at Ahrens' take again: we can either let the economy fall backwards or we can add to our debt.

That this is even considered a tough call strikes me as rather bizarre.

Indeed, as this debate heats up -- and I sincerely hope it does -- pay careful attention to the fact that conservative lawmakers don't have a competing vision to improve the economy. By their own admission, strengthening the recovery isn't the goal; lowering the deficit they created is the goal. They're not only offering the wrong answer; they're asking the wrong question.

The economy appears to be slowing. The threat of another recession is real. It's not too late to get the recovery back on track, but it's gut-check time for U.S. leaders.

Are they up to the challenge?

Steven D: What Did FDR Really Do for America?
Sometimes its worth taking a moment to remember what America was like the day before FDR's inauguration in 1933. All those Tea Party people who want austerity, to eliminate Social Security, medicare, unemployment benefits, etc., and who think that all sort of jobs are out there and that unemployed Americans laid off in near record numbers are lazy and undeserving leeches, need a history lesson.

And guess what? David Glenn Cox is here to give it to them:

Let's look at Roosevelt's predecessor, Herbert Hoover. Hoover was strongly against any direct aid to the poor, fearing that the poor would become demoralized. The Republican Congress, likewise, was against any national scheme to aid the poor. The United States was the only industrial power with no system of social security. No system of national unemployment. No minimum wage law, no national labor laws of any kind. No aid for the elderly or the disabled. Looking back at that America it is like looking into almost medieval proportions. [...]

Before the New Deal, the elderly were the poorest demographic in the country. When you got too old to work, you lived on your savings, and if you didn't have savings you starved or lived on charity or with your children. America was mainly rural then with most people living on farms, so those elderly worked until the day they died. Healthcare existed only for the rich and hospitals were a cash affair except for the "charity ward". If you were sick or injured you went home and you either got better or you died. There was no public health service. Hypothermia was the second leading cause of death for the elderly and pneumonia was the first. In Detroit in 1932 two people an hour died of starvation; in Toledo unemployment was at 70%.

People forget what that world was like. I honestly believe that some of them think we'd all be rich and jobs would be sprouting like mushrooms in a rain forest if only that Bad Old Government would just die a well deserved death. The truth is, we have the lowest taxes in a generation, the highest unemployment in a generation and (this will really surprise you I'm sure) the highest corporate cash on hand since 1952.

You see, corporations being awash in money does not mean they will go out and suddenly start massive hiring and solve all our economic woes. Why? Demand, that other part of the phrase "supply and demand." A generation or more of Americans have been told that supply side economics will bring us all prosperity, but it isn't true. Over the last three decades we have seen little if any real growth in wages among anyone who is not in the top 5% of earnings.

The rich got obscenely rich until the discrepancy between the wealth held by the upper 1% of Americans and everyone else has grown to its greatest level since -- well since Hoover was alive. That's what "supply side" economics (tax cuts, deregulation, relaxation or eradication of labor and worker safety laws) has brought us.

Why? Because feeding the supply side of the economic engine is not sustainable unless you also feed the demand side of the equation. Under republican policies we rejected any efforts to increase demand and promote jobs. We relied solely on the "free market: just like our ancestors back in the Gilded Age of Financial panics and depressions. What do you know. The free market doesn't always magically create demand.

To create demand you need good, well paying jobs. And corporations view labor not as an asset, not as an essential part of their collective effort to produce and innovate (as they do, by law, in Germany), but as a liability. In Germany, labor plays a significant role in the corporation's success:

go to the link for the rest of the post.

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