Friday, March 12, 2010

The Media We Have

Tim F.: Good Raines, Bad Raines

Howell Raines, good.

One question has tugged at my professional conscience throughout the year-long congressional debate over health-care reform, and it has nothing to do with the public option, portability or medical malpractice. It is this: Why haven’t America’s old-school news organizations blown the whistle on Roger Ailes, chief of Fox News, for using the network to conduct a propaganda campaign against the Obama administration—a campaign without precedent in our modern political history?

Howell Raines, bad.

One question has tugged at my professional conscience throughout the year-long congressional debate over health-care reform, and it has nothing to do with the public option, portability or medical malpractice. It is this: Why haven’t America’s old-school news organizations blown the whistle on Roger Ailes, chief of Fox News, for using the network to conduct a propaganda campaign against the Obama administration—a campaign without precedent in our modern political history?

Raines was executive editor of the New York Times from 2001 to 2003.

Raines: Why don't honest journalists take on Roger Ailes and Fox News?

One question has tugged at my professional conscience throughout the year-long congressional debate over health-care reform, and it has nothing to do with the public option, portability or medical malpractice. It is this: Why haven't America's old-school news organizations blown the whistle on Roger Ailes, chief of Fox News, for using the network to conduct a propaganda campaign against the Obama administration -- a campaign without precedent in our modern political history?

Through clever use of the Fox News Channel and its cadre of raucous commentators, Ailes has overturned standards of fairness and objectivity that have guided American print and broadcast journalists since World War II. Yet, many members of my profession seem to stand by in silence as Ailes tears up the rulebook that served this country well as we covered the major stories of the past three generations, from the civil rights revolution to Watergate to the Wall Street scandals. This is not a liberal-versus-conservative issue. It is a matter of Fox turning reality on its head with, among other tactics, its endless repetition of its uber-lie: "The American people do not want health-care reform."

Fox repeats this as gospel. But as a matter of historical context, usually in short supply on Fox News, this assertion ranks somewhere between debatable and untrue.

The American people and most of our great modern presidents have been demanding major reforms to the health-care system since the administration of Teddy Roosevelt. The elections of 1948, 1960, 1964, 2000 and 2008 confirm the point, with majorities voting for candidates supporting such change. Yet congressional Republicans have managed effective campaigns against health-care changes favored variously by Presidents Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Clinton. Now Fox News has given the party of Lincoln a free ride with its repetition of the unexamined claim that today's Republican leadership really does want to overhaul health care -- if only the effort could conform to Mitch McConnell's ideas on portability and tort reform.

It is true that, after 14 months of Fox's relentless pounding of President Obama's idea of sweeping reform, the latest Gallup poll shows opinion running 48 to 45 percent against the current legislation. Fox invariably stresses such recent dips in support for the legislation, disregarding the majorities in favor of various individual aspects of the reform effort. Along the way, the network has sold a falsified image of the professional standards that developed in American newsrooms and university journalism departments in the last half of the 20th century.

Whatever its shortcomings, journalism under those standards aspired to produce an honest account of social, economic and political events. It bore witness to a world of dynamic change, as opposed to the world of Foxian reality, whose actors are brought on camera to illustrate a preconceived universe as rigid as that of medieval morality. Now, it is precisely our long-held norms that cripple our ability to confront Fox's journalism of perpetual assault. I'm confident that many old-schoolers are too principled to appear on the network, choosing silence over being used; when Fox does trot out a house liberal as a punching bag, the result is a parody of reasoned news formats.

My great fear, however, is that some journalists of my generation who once prided themselves on blowing whistles and afflicting the comfortable have also been intimidated by Fox's financial power and expanding audience, as well as Ailes's proven willingness to dismantle the reputation of anyone who crosses him. (Remember his ridiculing of one early anchor, Paula Zahn, as being inferior to a "dead raccoon" in ratings potential when she dared defect to CNN?) It's as if we have surrendered the sword of verifiable reportage and bought the idea that only "elites" are interested in information free of partisan poppycock.

Why has our profession, through its general silence -- or only spasmodic protest -- helped Fox legitimize a style of journalism that is dishonest in its intellectual process, untrustworthy in its conclusions and biased in its gestalt? The standard answer is economics, as represented by the collapse of print newspapers and of audience share at CBS, NBC and ABC. Some prominent print journalists are now cheering Rupert Murdoch, the head of News Corp. (which owns the Fox network) for his alleged commitment to print, as evidenced by his willingness to lose money on the New York Post and gamble the overall profitability of his company on the survival of the Wall Street Journal. This is like congratulating museums for preserving antique masterpieces while ignoring their predatory methods of collecting.

Why can't American journalists steeped in the traditional values of their profession be loud and candid about the fact that Murdoch does not belong to our team? His importation of the loose rules of British tabloid journalism, including blatant political alliances, started our slide to quasi-news. His British papers famously promoted Margaret Thatcher's political career, with the expectation that she would open the nation's airwaves to Murdoch's cable channels. Ed Koch once told me he could not have been elected mayor of New York without the boosterism of the New York Post.

As for Fox's campaign against the Obama administration, perhaps the only traditional network star to put Ailes on the spot, at least a little, has been his friend, the venerable Barbara Walters, who was hosting ABC's Sunday morning talk show. More accurately, she allowed another guest, Arianna Huffington, to belabor Ailes recently about his biased coverage of Obama. Ailes countered that he should be judged as a producer of ratings rather than a journalist -- audience is his only yardstick. While true as far as it goes, this hair-splitting defense purports to absolve Ailes of responsibility for creating a news department whose raison d'etre is to dictate the outcome of our nation's political discourse.

For the first time since the yellow journalism of a century ago, the United States has a major news organization devoted to the promotion of one political party. And let no one be misled by occasional spurts of criticism of the GOP on Fox. In a bygone era of fact-based commentary typified, left to right, by my late colleagues Scotty Reston and Bill Safire, these deceptions would have been given their proper label: disinformation.

Under the pretense of correcting a Democratic bias in news reporting, Fox has accomplished something that seemed impossible before Ailes imported to the news studio the tricks he learned in Richard Nixon's campaign think tank: He and his video ferrets have intimidated center-right and center-left journalists into suppressing conclusions -- whether on health-care reform or other issues -- they once would have stated as demonstrably proven by their reporting. I try not to believe that this kid-gloves handling amounts to self-censorship, but it's hard to ignore the evidence. News Corp., with 64,000 employees worldwide, receives the tender treatment accorded a future employer.

In defending Glenn Beck on ABC, Ailes described him as something like Fox's political id, rather than its whole personality. It is somehow fitting, then, that Sigmund Freud's great-grandson, Matthew Freud, might help put mainstream American journalism back in touch with its collective superego.

This year, Freud, a public relations executive in London and Murdoch's son-in-law, condemned Ailes in an interview with the New York Times, saying he was "ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes's horrendous and sustained disregard" of proper journalistic standards. Meanwhile, Gabriel Sherman, writing in New York magazine, suggests that Freud and other Murdoch relatives think Ailes has outlived his usefulness -- despite the fact that Fox, with its $700 million annual profit, finances News Corp.'s ability to keep its troubled newspapers and their skeleton staffs on life support. I know some observers of journalistic economics who believe that such insider comments mean Rupert already has Roger on the skids.

It is true that any executive's tenure in the House of Murdoch is situational. But grieve not for Roger Ailes. His new contract signals that when the winds of televised demagoguery abate, he will waft down on a golden parachute. By News Corp. standards, he deserves it. After all, Ailes helped make Murdoch the most powerful media executive in the United States.

As for Fox News, lots of people who know better are keeping quiet about what to call it. Its news operation can, in fact, be called many things, but reporters of my generation, with memories and keyboards, dare not call it journalism.

Yglesias: Beck vs Social Justice

I’m surprised there hasn’t been more attention paid lately to Glenn Beck’s attacks on the idea of social justice:

“I beg you, look for the words ’social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church web site,” Beck urged his audience. “If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”

If this is meant seriously—and Beck’s sounded the theme in three consecutive shows so I think it is—this seems to me like when McCarthy decided to go after the Army.

Social Justice is on the website of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops—do Beck’s fans on the mainstream right think all Catholics should leave the Church? Social justice is all over the Vatican’s website.

The Episcopal Church does social justice.

According to its website, the United Methodist Church “has a long history of concern for social justice.”

The American Baptist Church says “Our vision for mission energizes a multitude of servant ministries of evangelism, discipleship, leadership, new church development, social justice, healing, peacemaking, economic development and education.”

My understanding is that Beck is a Mormon, and while doesn’t talk as much about social justice as some other churches, they do talk social justice.

DougJ :Exhuming McCarthy

Steve Benen has a good summary of some of the McCarthy revisionism that’s been going on recently:

In Texas, for example, far-right activists are trying to rewrite the state’s school curriculum standards, part of which includes an effort to rehabilitee Joe McCarthy. In Congress, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) described McCarthy as “a great American hero” a few years back.

And then there’s Fox News’ Glenn Beck, who launched a bizarre tirade on the air yesterday, accusing FDR of hiring Communists to serve throughout the U.S. government, and lauding McCarthy for taking the threat seriously.

It would be a mistake to think it was only the fringers doing this: a few years ago, Bobo attacked “Good Night and Good Luck” for being unfair to Saint Joe as well.

Controlling today’s news cycles isn’t enough, history must be rewritten as well. We can all look forward to 50 years of Bush II revisionism.

HCR Updates

Ezra Klein: New CBO analysis says the Senate bill reduces the deficit. Still.

This won't be shocking to many of you, but the Congressional Budget Office just released an updated analysis for the Senate health-care bill, and it finds that it reduces the deficit, much as its predecessors did. The first 10 years see savings of $118 billion, and the second 10 years see savings in excess of $600 billion. Most striking is that "CBO expects that the legislation would generate a reduction in the federal budgetary commitment to health care during the decade following 2019," which is to say that this bill will cover 30 million people but the cost controls will, within a decade or so, leave us spending less on health care than if we'd done nothing.

That's a pretty good deal.

But it's not a very well-understood deal. In their Wall Street Journal op-ed, pollsters Scott Rasmussen and Doug Schoen observed that "people simply don't trust the official projections. People in Washington may live and die by the pronouncements of the Congressional Budget Office, but 81% of voters say it's likely the plan will end up costing more than projected."

That's obvious enough. People understand the part of the bill that costs money: We're buying health-care insurance for folks who can't afford it themselves. They don't understand the parts of the bill that save money: We're taxing high-value benefits? We've got a Medicare Commission empowered to make unnamed reforms to the system? We're moving toward bundling for hospital payments in Medicare? And since few know about these policies, much less understand them, the projections that show the bill saving money don't make much sense, and so voters don't believe them.
David Waldman (DKos): Update on reconciliation
Republicans have been lying about reconciliation being the "nuclear option" for weeks. So it should come as no surprise that CQ (subscription) now reports:

Republican aides, reporting the decision, interpreted it to mean the House would have to clear the Senate bill and President Obama would have to sign it before the reconciliation bill could be passed. House leaders had been hoping that the two bills could be passed almost simultaneously.

The parliamentarian, however, later reportedly clarified his position to Senate aides, saying that the reconciliation bill could be written in a way that would not require Obama to sign the Senate bill into law before the reconciliation bill is voted on.

Thank you, and have a pleasant day.

If you don't have a CQ subscription, for now you'll have to settle for Politico's story:

[A]ccording to reporting by POLITICO’s David Rogers, the accounts aren’t accurate and misconstrue what the Senate parliamentarians have said. That is that reconciliation must amend law but this could be done without the Senate bill being enacted first. “It is wholly possible to create law and qualify law before the law is on the books,” said one person familiar with situation.

For example, if the big bill itself amends some Social Security statute, reconciliation could be written to do the same --with changes sought by the House. Then if reconciliation is passed and signed by President Barack Obama after he signs the larger bill, the changes made in reconciliation would prevail.
This jives with what Pulse sources were saying soon after the first wave of stories hit – in essence, don’t take the reported parliamentarian’s declaration to the bank.

The White House recently began pushing a March 18 deadline for a House vote on health care reform for a specific reason: President Obama was scheduled to leave town.

The president was set to fly to Asia on the 18th, so he encouraged House leaders to wrap things up quickly, before he departs, so he would be available for 11th-hour appeals to lawmakers. The point was to make it easier for Obama to help the House leadership get to 216 before he left.

House Dems pushed back a bit, arguing that the 18th was unrealistic. As a result, the White House announced this morning that the president will delay his departure by a few days.

President Obama is delaying his trip to Indonesia, Guam and Australia next week, an administration official said Friday, so the White House can focus on passing health care legislation in the House. [...]

In fact, the president is no longer taking First Lady Michelle Obama and their two daughters on the trip, an administration official said. The president agreed to delay his departure from March 18 to March 21, an administration official said, shortening the trip for official business only in an effort to show flexibility in the final push on health care legislation. The three-day delay effectively sets a new timetable for the House vote on the measure.

The report was confirmed in a tweet from press secretary Robert Gibbs.

So, is this good news or bad? I'm inclined to see it as a positive move. It gives Democratic leaders a little more breathing room, but still focuses the timeline. This also signals to the House -- the vote is coming, and the president is intent on making this push successful.

In case you're wondering, if there's a delay, and the votes don't materialize by Sunday the 21st, the president won't return to Washington until Friday the 26th.

Tim F.: Green Shoots?

Contra Marshall, I would not put much weight on tea leaves and second derivatives. For example.

That uptick in support for Obama over health care happened at about the same time that Obama personally stepped into the process (i.e., announed his summit). Note that Obama didn’t push any specific policy until two days before the summit on February 25. People apparently respect leaders who care about things and show some leadership in making them happen. If nothing else the Bush administration showed that Americans reward boldness and success more or less independently of what the new laws actually do. Bush freed the FBI to tap everyone’s phones and more than half the country went nuts with joy.

Whatever minor upswing Democrats might be riding right now, they’re riding it because they have grown a little fighting spirit. If they let health care die the country will turn on them for being losers. Most Democrats will take exactly the wrong lesson from that and compromise the rest of their agenda away, and Republicans will run roughshod over them until they win a majority back in November.

thereisnospoon at Kos.

The situation now is as follows: * Whatever happens, must happen quickly or not at all. * Stances on healthcare reform have hardened significantly for nearly all legislators. * Whatever deals were going to be made, have basically already been made.

In short, the time for bluffing and negotiation is at an end. The final deal (Senate bill + reconciliation) is basically written in stone. Now the only question is whether that deal will pass, or not—and who will be allied with whom in that coming battle.

Exactly. Policy discussions are done. The House will put out its reconciliation bill as soon as Monday. The only question left is whether Democrats will grow the balls to save millions of uninsured Americans and their own jobs.

Today would be a good day to get to know your Reps’ staffers on a first-name basis.

Switchboard: (202) 224-3121

Guide for first-timers here.

John Cole: We’d Like To Help You Learn To Help Yourself


Health reform is back from the dead. Many Democrats have realized that their electoral prospects will be better if they can point to a real accomplishment. Polling on reform — which was never as negative as portrayed — shows signs of improving. And I’ve been really impressed by the passion and energy of this guy Barack Obama. Where was he last year?

I dunno. Maybe expecting the Democratic majority in the legislature to write some legislation on the issue they have been trumpeting for five decades? I guess the fact Obama had some personal relationships with people from his time in the Senate blinded him to the simple fact that the vast majority of Democrats in congress are as worthless as breasts on men.

Also, only recently has the White House deployed the Rahm Emanuel Penis of Doom in the House showers, so who knows what else they have up their sleeves in their pants left?

I don’t know how anyone can look at the past year and not realize the problem in this government is in the Senate, and not the House or the White House.

Frumin (TPM): Another Dem Defector? Gutierrez Suggests He'll Switch Health Care Vote

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) said on MSNBC yesterday that the immigration provisions in the health care bill "are enough to say I can't support this bill."

That would be a big blow to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Gutierrez voted 'yes' on the House health care bill last year. Switching to 'no' on the Senate bill -- as Guitierrez suggested he would -- would take a key vote away from Pelosi as she tries to hang onto enough votes for the House to pass the Senate bill.

Guitierrez, who was heading to the White House after his interview with Chuck Todd, expressed displeasure that undocumented immigrants would be barred from buying health care on a new exchange. He also worried that the Senate wanted to exclude illegal permanent residents for the first five years.

Todd asked if those two issues were enough for Gutierrez to say he couldn't support the health care reform bill.

"They are enough to say I can't support this bill," the congressman said.

Krugman: Health Reform Myths

Health reform is back from the dead. Many Democrats have realized that their electoral prospects will be better if they can point to a real accomplishment. Polling on reform — which was never as negative as portrayed — shows signs of improving. And I’ve been really impressed by the passion and energy of this guy Barack Obama. Where was he last year?

But reform still has to run a gantlet of misinformation and outright lies. So let me address three big myths about the proposed reform, myths that are believed by many people who consider themselves well-informed, but who have actually fallen for deceptive spin.

The first of these myths, which has been all over the airwaves lately, is the claim that President Obama is proposing a government takeover of one-sixth of the economy, the share of G.D.P. currently spent on health.

Well, if having the government regulate and subsidize health insurance is a “takeover,” that takeover happened long ago. Medicare, Medicaid, and other government programs already pay for almost half of American health care, while private insurance pays for barely more than a third (the rest is mostly out-of-pocket expenses). And the great bulk of that private insurance is provided via employee plans, which are both subsidized with tax exemptions and tightly regulated.

The only part of health care in which there isn’t already a lot of federal intervention is the market in which individuals who can’t get employment-based coverage buy their own insurance. And that market, in case you hadn’t noticed, is a disaster — no coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions, coverage dropped when you get sick, and huge premium increases in the middle of an economic crisis. It’s this sector, plus the plight of Americans with no insurance at all, that reform aims to fix. What’s wrong with that?

The second myth is that the proposed reform does nothing to control costs. To support this claim, critics point to reports by the Medicare actuary, who predicts that total national health spending would be slightly higher in 2019 with reform than without it.

Even if this prediction were correct, it points to a pretty good bargain. The actuary’s assessment of the Senate bill, for example, finds that it would raise total health care spending by less than 1 percent, while extending coverage to 34 million Americans who would otherwise be uninsured. That’s a large expansion in coverage at an essentially trivial cost.

And it gets better as we go further into the future: the Congressional Budget Office has just concluded, in a new report, that the arithmetic of reform will look better in its second decade than it did in its first.

Furthermore, there’s good reason to believe that all such estimates are too pessimistic. There are many cost-saving efforts in the proposed reform, but nobody knows how well any one of these efforts will work. And as a result, official estimates don’t give the plan much credit for any of them. What the actuary and the budget office do is a bit like looking at an oil company’s prospecting efforts, concluding that any individual test hole it drills will probably come up dry, and predicting as a consequence that the company won’t find any oil at all — when the odds are, in fact, that some of the test holes will pan out, and produce big payoffs. Realistically, health reform is likely to do much better at controlling costs than any of the official projections suggest.

Which brings me to the third myth: that health reform is fiscally irresponsible. How can people say this given Congressional Budget Office predictions — which, as I’ve already argued, are probably too pessimistic — that reform would actually reduce the deficit? Critics argue that we should ignore what’s actually in the legislation; when cost control actually starts to bite on Medicare, they insist, Congress will back down.

But this isn’t an argument against Obamacare, it’s a declaration that we can’t control Medicare costs no matter what. And it also flies in the face of history: contrary to legend, past efforts to limit Medicare spending have in fact “stuck,” rather than being withdrawn in the face of political pressure.

So what’s the reality of the proposed reform? Compared with the Platonic ideal of reform, Obamacare comes up short. If the votes were there, I would much prefer to see Medicare for all.

For a real piece of passable legislation, however, it looks very good. It wouldn’t transform our health care system; in fact, Americans whose jobs come with health coverage would see little effect. But it would make a huge difference to the less fortunate among us, even as it would do more to control costs than anything we’ve done before.

This is a reasonable, responsible plan. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Ezra Klein: The health-care bill's spending in context

I've been a bit annoyed by the convention of referring to the health-care bill's 10-year cost rather than its annual cost. We don't talk about very much in terms of 10-year costs, and so people don't have much context for it. So I asked crack intern Dylan Matthews to build a crude comparison of what various government programs are projected to cost in 2015 (chosen because health-care reform doesn't kick off until 2014, and I wanted to give it a year to get up and running). Projections are always iffy, but this is just to get an idea of the relative size of different programs. Ready for it?


What you're seeing is health-care reform clocks in around $100 billion. Which is pretty small compared to the $600 billion going to defense, or the $700 billion going to Medicare, or the $900 billion going to Social Security. It's even small in comparison to the to the $250 billion going to subsidize employer-based health care and the $150 billion for the mortgage interest deduction -- both of which are massive tax breaks for people who are a lot better off than the beneficiaries of the health-care bill. That's the health-care proposal in context: Real money, but not the biggest bill on the planet.

Ezra Klein: The media's Massa problem

Matthew Yglesias on the coverage of Eric Massa:

I really think that political journalists who’ve spent more than 20 minutes over the past 24 hours covering the Eric Massa story need to turn the TV off, turn the BlackBerry off, turn the Twitter off, shut everything down, go to a nice quiet room, take a deep breath, look in the mirror and ask themselves why they got into this business.

How many reporters are covering this story? What are the odds that some important fact of Massa’s life will go unrevealed if you do not devote your talents and energies to looking into it? Isn’t it more likely that you’re going to commit useful journalism by looking into something else? Anything else? Like, literally, anything else? It seems to me that at the margin pretty much any use of a journalist’s time would have a greater social value than further Massa reporting. A nap, even. Get well-rested for tomorrow’s goofy story.

You can go too far talking about this in terms of individual journalists. Competitive pressures are competitive pressures, and individual journalists get assignments from their editors. But the point still stands.

I'd only add this: The indictment isn't that Massa turned out to be a nonstory. It would be much worse, in fact, if he'd been a "story." If he'd done more to attack the health-care bill, or offered specific stories of members of the House leadership doing terrible things like trying to add elements to the legislation in order to secure Massa's vote. That would've been a "big" story and no one would feel silly for covering it. But it actually would've been worse.

The media are so focused on the undecideds and unlikely opponents of the world -- the Dennis Kucinichs and Joe Liebermans -- that all the American people ever hear are these self-important chin-strokers hammering legislation. And when it's not them, it's the serious partisans: Members of the leadership and so forth. But it's not because these folks know the most about the legislation, or have the most informative take. It's because these people's statements are the most newsworthy because their votes are the most important.

But that means we center our coverage around the most egotistical and politically motivated legislators, and then we let them explain the substance of policy through their skewed and self-interested lenses. Of course, the people tuning into our shows or reading us don't know that we're doing this to get insight into these legislator's votes and that they should ignore the analysis, as it's coming from some of the least credible players in Congress.

John Cole: Is Our Sully Learning?

Every couple of weeks, in between visits to a Pampered Chef outlet or the Iphone store or a wine party held by Cato or Reason, McMegan will belch out a post so silly and riddled with inaccuracies that some poor bastard like Tom Levenson or Susan of Texas will have to spend hours noting all the mistakes and absurdities.

Then, a few days later, after everyone has already had a laugh and the piece has been thoroughly debunked, Sullivan will then link to it and call it “interesting” or “provocative,” and we here will then have to field 5000 comments furiously asking why DougJ and I continue to read Sullivan (because I like his writing!).

But the worm may have turned. In her latest offering, Megan asserts that the GOP in-house polling unit, Rasmussen, really isn’t that off, and Sullivan not only corrects the record but appears to have finally had enough:

“Gimme a break,” he says.

I, for one, am hopeful.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Republican Economic Plan

Drum: Summing Up Paul Ryan

I'd just like to quickly sum up what we now know about conservative Rep. Paul Ryan's "Roadmap for America’s Future":

And remember, this comes from the guy who's pretty much the best the GOP has to offer. Pretty impressive, no?

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, recently unveiled what he described as a budget "roadmap," intended to address the budget mess his own party had created during the Bush/Cheney era. Ryan's blueprint immediately became a political hot potato that Republicans liked but were reluctant to hold on to -- the roadmap, after all, would eliminate Social Security and privatize Medicare.

Policy experts have since had a chance to scrutinize Ryan's plan in detail. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained today, the roadmap "calls for radical policy changes that would result in a massive transfer of resources from the broad majority of Americans to the nation's wealthiest individuals."

The Roadmap would give the most affluent households a new round of very large, costly tax cuts by reducing income tax rates on high-income households; eliminating income taxes on capital gains, dividends, and interest; and abolishing the corporate income tax, the estate tax, and the alternative minimum tax.

At the same time, the Ryan plan would raise taxes for most middle-income families, privatize a substantial portion of Social Security, eliminate the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance, end traditional Medicare and most of Medicaid, and terminate the Children's Health Insurance Program. The plan would replace these health programs with a system of vouchers whose value would erode over time and thus would purchase health insurance that would cover fewer health care services as the years went by.

An analysis by the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center found that the richest 1% of Americans -- those making more than $633,000 a year -- would find their tax burden cut in half in 2014. The more one makes, the bigger the cut -- millionaires who Republicans have already taken good care of would find their taxes cut even more dramatically, by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

To make up the difference, we'd all have to pay a new consumption tax on goods and services. On the whole, the tax burden would shift dramatically from the wealthy to the middle class.

And best of all, even with new taxes on the middle class, and the massive cuts to Medicare and Social Security, Ryan's roadmap still wouldn't balance the budget for a very long time.

It's a rather breathtaking vision of how the government should operate in the 21st century. The roadmap offers directions to a system that makes it even easier for the very wealthy, even harder on the middle class, and all but eliminates bedrock societal programs. It raises taxes on 90% of the public without managing to close the budget gap, a feat that hardly seems possible.

Remember how radical the Gingrich/Dole agenda seemed after the '94 takeover? This is like that agenda on steroids -- with a crack chaser.

Best of all, don't forget the punch-line: if Republicans reclaim the House majority next year, Paul Ryan will be the chairman of the House Budget Committee, directly responsible for helping write the federal budget.

I can't wait to see just how many congressional Republicans endorse Ryan's roadmap in advance of the midterm elections. It looks bleak for Democrats now, but the radical nature of Ryan's scheme offers Dems a chance to go on the offensive.

Sullivan: The Reality Of The Ryan Budget

The Tax Policy Center finds that Rep. Ryan's budget alternative falls short of its revenue goals. Also:

Top-bracket taxpayers would overwhelmingly benefit from Ryan’s tax cuts. By 2014 people making in excess of $1 million-a-year would enjoy an average tax cut of more than $600,000. To put it another way, their after-tax income would rise by nearly 30 percent.

By contrast, the average taxpayer making $75,000 or less would pay higher taxes if they chose Ryan’s two-rate alternative. If they chose the tax plan more favorable to them, they’d do a bit better. For instance, people making between $50,000 and $75,000 would typically get a tax cut of $157 in 2014, while those making between $40,000 and $50,000 would pay $128 more on average.

Ryan responds here. Drum flags a report by Citizens for Tax Justice, a progressive tax group, that mocks the plan by writing that "it’s difficult to design a tax plan that will lose $2 trillion over a decade even while requiring 90 percent of taxpayers to pay more. But Congressman Ryan has met that daunting challenge". Ezra thinks this shows that "even draconian, unthinkable limits on spending won't be enough to balance the budget."

Beutler (TPM): Experts: Ryan Roadmap Balloons Deficits While Taxing Middle Class, Slashing Entitlements

Ever since Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the GOP's top budget guy, unveiled a proposal to slash and privatize entitlements in order to reduce long-term deficits, the media--and even some Democratic politicians--have praised the plan as a serious way to save money. The plan may be conservative, they say, but at least it takes a serious, honest stab at averting fiscal catastrophe. Ryan even had the Congressional Budget Office score the package, and they found that, by mid-century, it would eliminate federal deficits.

But it turns out that's not even close to true.

As we reported a month ago, the CBO's analysis of the Ryan plan was drawn up based upon revenue projections Ryan himself provided. The CBO doesn't analyze the impact of tax policy on revenue, so they were unable to estimate how Ryan's policy prescriptions would actually impact revenues--and just took Ryan's numbers at face value. Turns out, those numbers were pure fantasy.

The Tax Policy Center--a non-partisan think tank--did a thorough analysis on the impact of the tax changes Ryan proposes--a massive tax cut for the wealthy, paired with substantial tax increases on 90 percent of the country--and found that the so-called "Roadmap" would actually leave the federal government desperately starved for funds.

According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, "the Ryan plan would result in very large revenue losses relative to current policies."

[The Tax Policy Center] estimates that even with its middle-class tax increases, the plan would reduce federal revenues to 16 percent of GDP in 2014. Because the tax cuts for the wealthy would dwarf the tax increases for the middle class, the Ryan plan would allow the federal debt to continue growing for a number of decades to come, despite its steep cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

The result, they conclude, is ballooning, unsustainable deficits--a quirky feature for a plan touted far and wide for its potential to right the country's fiscal course. And yet, Ryan's star is on the rise in the GOP and in Washington.

By contrast to the Ryan Roadmap, President Obama's budget would increase revenues as a share of GDP from 14.5 percent in 2010 to 19.6 percent in 2020. There would still be deficits at that point--but at a much more sustainable level than under the GOP alternative.

Not Backing Down on HCR

Tim F.: 40 Senate Votes For The Public Option

HuffPo notes that Florida’s Nelson has signed on. What does your Senator think? Phone and ask.

If your Senators already support the public option, phone them anyway. Liberals rarely phone their Reps and Senators, but angry stupid teabaggers do it all day. They will really appreciate a friendly voice.

Switchboard: (202) 224-3121

Guide for first-timers here.

In order for health care reform to advance, a handful of steps have to be taken. And while most of the attention has centered around getting the necessary number of votes, there's also the matter of figuring out exactly what will be in the separate budget fix, which would be approved through reconciliation.

The AP reports this morning that the a final agreement is "nearly in hand."

A closed-door meeting in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office Wednesday evening moved congressional leaders and administration officials close to agreement on such issues as additional subsidies to help lower-income families purchase health insurance and more aid for states under the Medicaid program for low-income Americans.

Democrats still need to see a final cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office -- and want to ensure it stays around $950 billion over 10 years -- but they made plans to begin to read the bill to rank-and-file Democrats at a caucus meeting Thursday.

Pelosi met with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and other top officials, and came away optimistic. "I'm very pleased about where we are," Pelosi said, adding that she and House leaders would iron out the remaining wrinkles "over the course of the reading" with her caucus later today.

"We've resolved a number of issues and seriously made a lot of good progress," Emanuel added. "The staff now has direction to go work on a couple other things to basically resolve some issues. But we've made tremendous progress."

House Dems will get their first real sense of how much progress in their caucus meeting. "We're going to get started," Pelosi said of her afternoon plans.

Also today, we're likely to hear from the Congressional Budget Office, giving lawmakers additional information about the cost and expected budget impact of the package.

And what about the Stupak Dozen? There have been no announced breakthroughs, but one of Rep. Bart Stupak's (D-Mich.) key allies -- Rep. Dale Kildee (D) of Michigan -- has been supportive of Stupak's efforts, but said last night that he's satisfied with the language of the Senate bill. "I think the Senate language keeps the purpose of the Hyde amendment," Kildee told reporters. "I'll probably vote for it."

There's no official list of members in Stupak's bloc, but Kildee was likely a member. Of course, Stupak can still kill health care reform with 11 votes instead of 12, but keep an eye on whether Kildee's pronouncement influences other member of the contingent.

Really good interview with Ezra Klein.

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Greg Sargent:

* Republicans escalate the air wars: The national GOP is planning to expand its health care offensive with a new batch of targeted TV ads warning House Dems who voted for the health plan last time — and are mulling doing so again — that their career is on “life support.”

The spot, paid for by the NRCC, is set to go up today in the district of Dem Rep Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who voted Yes last time and is now said to be undecided, a GOP official says. The script:

Is Gabrielle Gifford’s political career on life support? At first, Giffords said she would be bipartisan. Now, she’s voting 90 percent with Nancy Pelosi.

Giffords backed President Obama’s healthcare takeover. And now the President wants her vote again. Even though only 38 percent of Arizonans support the Obama plan.

Send a text. Help us tell Giffords to stop voting with Obama.

The NRCC will run the same spot — a version of which targeted Earl Pomeroy — in multiple other districts of Dems who voted Yes last time and are now wavering, the official says, depending on their public statements in coming days. It’s the latest salvo from the NRCC’s Code Red program, which includes robocalls and billboards and is designed to spook vulnerable Dems into flipping to No in the final stretch.

* DCCC raising cash off of Rush Limbaugh’s vow to leave the country.


* And the Republican National Committee, apparently intent on writing the Dems’ talking points for them, is touting its efforts to stop Obamacare as an “accomplishment.”

Booman: Never Back Down

God help me, I was watching Countdown with Keith Olbermann tonight (hosted by Lawrence O'Donnell), and Progressive Caucus co-chair Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) was a guest. O'Donnell told her that the Republicans are threatening to bash Democratic House members in the upcoming elections if they vote for the Senate bill which includes the vastly unpopular 'Louisiana Purchase' and 'Cornhusker Compromise.' Woolsey's response was that the American people are smart. According to her, they are smart enough to notice when a politician votes for something in one bill and then turns around and votes to eliminate it in the next. This was a reference to the much anticipated sidecar budget reconciliation bill that will somehow accompany the Senate bill through the House. It is in the sidecar that unpopular measures like the 'Louisiana Purchase' and 'Cornhusker Compromise' will be stripped out.

Somehow this exchange between O'Donnell and Woolsey crystalized something I've been trying to communicate to Democrats for years. That is, you cannot avoid Republican attacks by ducking tough votes because they will accuse of being a wacko socialist no matter what you do. Barack Obama has cut taxes on 95% of all Americans, and he hasn't yet raised taxes on the other five percent. The top 5% will only see their taxes raised in 2011 when the Bush tax cuts for top earners are allowed to sunset. Yet, the Republicans are going around the country saying that Obama has raised taxes and will continue to do so. He might as well have raised taxes on the highest earners since most people think he already has.

The health care situation is an interesting case. It would be an inverse of John Kerry's 2003 war-funding vote: Democrats will vote against it after they vote for it. First they will vote for the Senate bill that includes the 'Louisiana Purchase' and 'Cornhusker Compromise' and then they will strip those provisions out in the sidecar budget reconciliation bill. The Republicans will then accuse Democrats of having voted for the unpopular measures. The Democrats who fear this, fear it because it will be technically true. They think they'd avoid being accused of being a corrupt socialist if they just anticipated the attack line and avoided taking the first vote. They know the American people are collectively stupid enough that they can be tarred as a flip-flopper and a supporter of sordid backroom deals.

But, the problem is deeper than how a strategic vote can be distorted. The chances are that candidates for office will be accused of voting for backroom deals even if they don't vote for the Senate bill. The error is in thinking that the Republicans stick to making distorted attacks that have at least a grain of truth them. But, they don't, as the attacks on Obama's tax-raising should make clear.

The Republicans are bullies. If you punch them in the nose, they will back down. Otherwise, there are no rules they respect, in debate, campaigns, or on the law books.

The folks at FDL are going after Woolsey for backing the Senate bill without a public option. I'm glad she's showing pragmatic courage on this. Good interview

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On Kucinich, who promises to vote with the repuglicans against HCR:

mistermix: Purely Useless

If the mighty Rahmbama was able to eject Massa from Congress, how did he miss the continued existence of Dennis Kucinich, who’s done little but bitch and obstruct for his 7 terms in Congress:

In fact, according to the Web site GovTrack, of the 97 bills Kucinich has sponsored since taking office in 1997, only three have become law. Ninety-three didn’t even make it out of committee.

The three that were enacted are, in chronological order from first to last: bill “to make available to the Ukranian Museum and Archives the USIA television program ‘Window on America,’” a bill “to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 14500 Lorain Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio as the ‘John P. Gallagher Post Office Building” and a bill “proclaiming Casimir Pulaski to be an honorary citizen of the United States posthumously.” (via Kos)

Unlike Massa, who was the best Democrats are going to get in a R+5 district, Kucinich lives in a D+8 district where a well-financed Democrat would probably win the general. Yet he’s coasted to more than a decade of easy wins.

Kucinich is the Ron Paul of the Democratic Party: a useless, one-man purity squad. In Paul’s defense, the whole point of being a libertarian Congressman is to accomplish nothing. Kucinich doesn’t have that excuse.

  • from the comments:

    Mike Kay

    he is anti-choice. His anti-choice votes have earned him a 95 percent position rating from the National Right to Life Committee, versus 10 percent from Planned Parenthood and 0 percent from NARAL.

Booman: A Little Four Page Bill Cure-All
It's a bill introduced by Rep. Alan Grayson to allow any American to buy in to Medicare buy at cost. I know I'm dreaming, but wouldn't it be nice to see it passed?

Please, if you can, tell me what's wrong with a bill that would increase competition, increase health care coverage and is not mandatory? No one would have to get rid of their old insurance coverage if that's what they preferred, but neither would anyone be forced to stay at a bad job to keep their health insurance, or pay ridiculous rate hikes every year, or risk losing their insurance coverage if they lost their job, or have their claims for treatment denied at the whim of an insurance company executive. Aren't we a nation that believes in the market? Well why don't we let the market work? In my neck of the woods (lot's of woods actually) we have basically two health care providers. The rates they charge are effectively the same. You can pay a lot for really crappy coverage or you can pay a lot more for somewhat better coverage.

The one we have denies claims for treatments for my medical condition all the time. Of course, that's after we pay a $2,400 deductible before our benefits (such as they are) kick in. Probably a fifth of our income goes to pay for health care costs: medications, physician's visits, etc. My wife now qualifies for Medicare due to her disability and so she was kicked off our family coverage. Not surprisingly our coverage rates did not go down, and our family deductible went up.

I'd pay for Medicare coverage for myself and my children in a heart beat rather than keep tossing money at corporate bloodsuckers America's private health insurance industry.

America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) extended an 11th-hour invitation to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, asking her to speak to the industry trade association's annual policy conference.

To her credit, Sebelius accepted, and made no real effort to play nice with the industry that has tried everything to kill health care reform.

Instead of attacking the president's proposal, Ms. Sebelius said, insurers should use their assets, their influence and their bully pulpit to win approval for the legislation in Congress. [...]

Ms. Sebelius complained that "over the last year, we have seen tens of millions of dollars, by the insurance industry, spent on ads and lobbyists to help kill health reform.''

The secretary said she could not understand such efforts, because Mr. Obama was not trying to "eliminate the private insurance market and go to some kind of single-payer system like Europe or Canada.'' Indeed, the president's proposal would provide hundreds of billions of dollars in tax credits to help moderate-income people buy private health insurance.

Ms. Sebelius, a former governor and insurance commissioner in Kansas, sounded exasperated at the pace of change. "How many years in a row can we have the same discussion over and over?'' Ms. Sebelius asked. "How many years can we look at a marketplace which is getting more segmented and more difficult? How much pressure can be put on the remaining customers before the business model collapses of its own weight?''

Sebelius went on to explain that health insurers -- the single most disliked institution in the entire debate -- have a choice. The industry can continue to do what it's been doing, investing obscene sums in dishonest attack ads, and hoping to convince those who stand to benefit from reform not to trust the life-preserver Democrats are trying to throw to them.

Or, the HHS secretary said, insurers can make a different choice: "You can choose to take the millions of dollars you have stored away for your next round of ads to kill meaningful reform, and use them to start giving Americans some relief from their skyrocketing premiums."

That, of course, won't happen. Today's industry profits must be used to destroy anything that might interfere with tomorrow's industry profits. ("Dear customers, sorry we had to jack up your premiums, but we needed your money to finance our campaign to destroy the reform package that would help you more than us.")

But I was glad to see Sebelius take a firm line with insurers anyway. Sometimes, when major establishment types get together in a setting like this, there's a temptation to play nice, be polite, and suggest the differences aren't so great.

Sebelius didn't bother with the facade. Good for her -- with the industry poised to drop another $1 million in attack ads, the insurers don't deserve the niceties.

TRMS investigates: Who are the Stupak dozen? March 10: Rachel Maddow fact-checks Rep. Bart Stupak's threat that he has "at least a dozen" other members of Congress who will vote against a health reform bill that doesn't contain a version of Stupak's anti-abortion language.

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McMorris (TPM): Stupak Gets A Primary Challenge From The Left

A former teacher and county commissioner will challenge Rep. Bart Stupak in the Aug. 3 Democratic primary in Michigan, the Detroit Free Press reported this afternoon.

Connie Saltonstall, a former commissioner in Charlevoix County, told me this evening she's challenging Stupak over his refusal to allow health care reform to move forward without abortion language attached.

Saltonstall told me her "two passions" are health care reform and choice. And after spending the last 20 years voting for Stupak, Saltonstall said he managed to run afoul of both of them.

"I've had to vote for him because he's a Democrat and not a Republican -- he was not as bad as the other side," she said. But Saltonstall said Stupak's stance on abortion in the health care debate "crossed the line" for her.

"That has happened not only with me but with many Democrats in the district," she said. Saltonstall told me her phone has been ringing off the hook with calls of support from inside the massive 31-county district.

She outlined how her philosophy on abortion and health care reform differed from Stupak's in a statement to the Free Press today. "I believe that he has a right to his personal, religious views, but to deprive his constituents of needed health care reform because of those views is reprehensible," Saltonsall told the told the paper.

Saltonstall told me that her "dream" health care bill would create a single-payer system in the U.S. "But I know how difficult that would be to get," she said, "so I would support [the current reform proposal] and then work to get it fixed."

How serious a candidate is Saltonstall? Some of the many calls she's fielded today, Saltonstall told me, have come from "national groups" expressing a willingness to help her become the Bill Halter of the Upper Peninsula. She wouldn't name the groups, or how serious the talks have been, but it's not a stretch to see her candidacy appealing to the same dissatisfied progressive groups pouring millions into Halter's campaign in Arkansas.

Saltonstall is not a complete political neophyte -- she won campaigns for the school board and county commission in Charlevoix county in the past, and mounted a losing campaign for the state Legislature in 2008. But she recognized that taking down an opponent like Stupak is no easy fight.

"I know how difficult it is to defeat an incumbent," Saltonstall told me. But she said Democratic party leaders from across the district have welcomed her entrance into the race, as Stupak's willingness to block health care reform over abortion has, according to Saltonstall, turned off many Democratic activists in his district.

For now, Saltonstall's campaign remains a grassroots effort. Her supporters are in the process of collecting the 1,000 signatures it will take to appear on the ballot next to Stupak in August and she expressed hope that national and local activists will come through with the massive financial foundation she'll need to build a serious challenge.

"I don't know how it's going to turn out," she told me. "But based on the calls I've had today, I feel pretty good."

You can donate to Connie here: Connie Saltonstall


We're well past the point at which Republicans can make substantive arguments about health care policy and hope to influence the outcome. Whether a Democratic lawmaker votes for or against the final package is not dependent on the GOP raising some heretofore overlooked policy observation.

So, what's left in the Republican playbook? Scaring the bejesus out of wavering Dems. Jon Chait had a good item on this.

Republicans are warning Democrats that passing health care reform will make them less popular. They are alerting the House that Senators will betray any deal they make. And they are insisting that reconciliation will be a bloody, protracted fight, even signing a letter promising to invoke the "Byrd Rule" to strike out any non-budgetary measures from a reconciliation bill.

Clearly, this is mostly a bluff. After all, Senate Democrats would be crazy to make specific promises to the House and then renege on them -- they would never pass another bill again. Democrats aren't planning to put non-budgetary items into a reconciliation bill, so Republican can threaten all they want to invoke the Byrd Rule, but they'll lose. Anyway, threatening to fight reconciliation is a threat to fight popular changes -- delaying the excise tax, canceling special deals for Florida and Nebraska -- after a comprehensive health care reform has already become a fait accompli. The GOP would be putting itself on the wrong side of public opinion to stop a bill that's already passed.

I just wonder if Democrats are actually foolhardy enough to heed these warnings.

That's certainly the right question. Republicans are just being shameless at this point, making obvious, ham-fisted threats, trying to drive a wedge between the House and Senate caucuses, and hoping to convince some Democrats that the GOP is a reliable source of campaign advice -- as if Republicans were seriously looking out for Dems' best interests.

In other words, the GOP hopes Democrats are so weak, and have such a hair-trigger panic reflex, that Dems will do what Republicans want, simply because Republicans want it.

Chait asks whether Democrats could really be that "pathetic." My sense is, no, they can't. I talked to some Hill staffers yesterday who characterized the GOP tactics as transparent joke. "How dumb do they think we are?" one aide told me.

I try not to underestimate some Dems' capacity for self-destruction, but at this point, the fear tactics are just too over the top to be effective.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wednesday Potpouri

Atrios: Keep Clapping Tom
Little Tommy Friedman has written another of his "it's up to them" columns. I've never quite found a way to express how inane this view of how the world works. It's as if Little Tommy Friedman - and many like him - think there's some pure costless process whereby what's deep in the soul of the Iraqi people is mapped onto some national policy outcome, instead of a somewhat corrupt set of imperfect impolitical institutions operating in a country in a degree of turmoil which very imperfectly reflects the desires of the people.

Tom thinks that if the people want a pony enough, the pony will come. Tom also thinks it matters if he keeps clapping.
I wish I could say that that was inevitable. It is not. But it is no longer unattainable, and I for one will keep rooting for it to happen.
Daily Kos: Markos on Rush: Let him get health care in that libertarian paradise of Somalia
In which the Great Orange Satan takes on Rush and Dennis Kuccinich.

Atrios: But, Mitt Romney hardly EVER disagrees with him
Rush Limbaugh, loved for more than just exploiting the 3rd world amongst Republicans.

He's the most respected voice in the party.
David Paterson will become the massa...who gets to appoint whoever gets to take Massa's place. So, for the first time in his life, Paterson's gonna be a massa. Interesting, interesting.
And he's not talking about Eric Massa.

Following and feting him is a sound long-term plan for the Republicans.
Aravosis: 'If he was a Republican, we would hear a never-ending drumbeat of news stories about markets voting in favor of the president'


One year after U.S stocks hit their post-financial-crisis low on March 9, 2009, the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has risen more than 68 percent, and it’s up more than 41 percent since Obama took office. Credit spreads have narrowed. Commodity prices have surged. Housing prices have stabilized.

“We’ve had a phenomenal run in asset classes across the board,” said Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist for Miller Tabak & Co. in New York. “If he was a Republican, we would hear a never-ending drumbeat of news stories about markets voting in favor of the president.”
[M]onthly job losses have abated, from 779,000 during the month Obama took office to 36,000 last month. Corporate profits have grown; among 491 companies in the S&P 500 that reported fourth-quarter earnings, profits rose 180 percent from a year ago, according to Bloomberg data. Durable goods orders in January were up 9.3 percent from a year earlier. Inflation is tame, and long-term interest rates remain low.
The U.S. may add as many as 300,000 jobs in March, the most in four years, David Greenlaw, chief fixed-income economist at Morgan Stanley in New York, said in a Bloomberg Radio interview.

Zandi said the economic rebound is largely a result of the policies of the White House and Federal Reserve. He cited the bank bailout, the Fed’s low-interest-rate policy and support for credit markets, and the Obama administration’s stimulus plan, bank stress tests and backing of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

“When you take it all together, the response was massive and unprecedented and ultimately successful,” Zandi said.
This is rather compelling evidence that the administration brought us back from the brink. No, people won't entirely believe it until they see their own bottom line improving - but, if Democrats did a better job reminding people of how dire things were a year ago, how we were on the verge of another Great Depression, and how Republicans were claiming that there was no economic crisis at all, I think voters would be more appreciative of the gains we've made to date.
Drum: Paul Ryan's Plan to Tax You More

Rep. Paul Ryan's tax and spending "roadmap" is a fascinating critter: conservatives all praise it to the skies but none of them want to actually commit to supporting it. The reason for their hesitation is obvious: Ryan's plan would cut spending dramatically, and supporting it would mean having to explain what, exactly, they'd cut. That would be electoral suicide and they know it. They much prefer their usual game of loudly denouncing "spending" without ever having to say what spending they're actually opposed to.

However, their reason for supporting Ryan's plan is also obvious: it would cut taxes on the rich dramatically, and there's nothing conservatives like better than cutting the tax bills of America's wealthy. But how much would it cut taxes on the rich? Citizens for Tax Justice has run the numbers and the answer is: a lot. The very richest of the rich would see their tax bills go down by an average of over $200,000, a whopping 15% of the income. Ka-ching! To make up for that, everyone with an income under $100,000 would have their taxes increased by about $2,000 per year.

It's a sweet deal for the rich. But even with all the tax increases on the middle class, Ryan's plan still raises less revenue than today's tax code. "It’s difficult to design a tax plan that will lose $2 trillion over a decade even while requiring 90 percent of taxpayers to pay more," says CTJ acerbically. "But Congressman Ryan has met that daunting challenge." Details are in the table below, where you can find out how much more you'd have to pay under Ryan's plan. Enjoy.

Krugman: Ryan and the Zonkers

When I was in college, we sat around eating, among other things, Screaming Yellow Zonkers; they weren’t especially tasty, but the copy on the boxes was fun. Among the instruction was the Disappearing Zonkers Trick:

After putting on your magician’s outfit, look around the house for a handkerchief, two hard boiled eggs, and a small piece of radium. Then take seven Zonkers and place them neatly into the exact center of the handkerchief. Two eggs are arranged near each other and under your hands. Tie a half-hitch knot in the radium. Then make the seven Zonkers disappear. Your friends will be amazed.

It occurred to me that this is a pretty good description of the Ryan Roadmap plan for controlling health care costs — make a lot of proclamations about responsibility, dress up in a reformer’s costume, then make cost growth disappear.

Meanwhile, if you want actual, concrete steps to control costs, they’re actually in the Obama plan*. The CBO scores them low, basically because nobody knows how well any given proposal will work. But some of them will — and as David Cutler says, the odds are that the plan will save much more than the official projections.

*Curiously, the Cutler op-ed is very hard to find on the WSJ web site — not mentioned at all on the front page.

In a more healthy political environment, it's the kind of bill that would have passed easily. The Kerry-Murray amendment came to the Senate floor yesterday, and would have extended stimulus money to finance a summer jobs program for young people and subsidies for vulnerable families with children via the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

The proposal wasn't especially expensive in U.S. budgetary terms, and it would have created a lot of jobs. When the debate had run its course, the measure had 55 supporters and 45 opponents. Because our Senate is ridiculous, that means the bill died.

Just a week after Senate Republican Jim Bunning's infamous obstruction of an unemployment benefits extension, the GOP is taking another stand that pits deficit reduction against aid to the poor and jobless.

On Tuesday, Senate Republicans -- along with some Democrats -- defeated a measure to provide $1.3 billion for summer jobs for young people this year and a $1.3 billion extension of enhanced subsidies for poor families with children.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who introduced the amendment along with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), pleaded with her colleagues not to object.

"I have personally heard the stories of these young men and women whose summer jobs changed their lives across the country," she said. "This amendment will provide $1.3 billion to create up to 500,000 temporary jobs this coming summer. It will invest in critical employment and learning programs that will help not only these young people but the businesses who hire them."

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) became the ringleader of the opposition, insisting that deficit considerations were more important than job creation and stimulative aid to low-income families.

Murray reminded her colleagues that her amendment carried a one-year deficit, but was fully paid for over a 10-year period. It didn't matter -- all 41 Senate Republicans voted to kill the measure, and four Democrats joined them.

This should have been a no-brainer. A $2.6 billion package that would have directly created hundreds of thousands of jobs? And it failed because the Senate doesn't operate on majority rule?

One of the keys to national progress is policymakers mustering the political will to address public needs. The Senate seems intent on making this impossible.

BarbinMD (DK): Mitch McConnell, Concern Troll

Of course McConnell has the Democrats best interests at heart:

As Republicans work to prevent a health-care bill from reaching President Obama, they are scrambling to exploit divisions between Democrats in the House and the Senate.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned House Democrats that they would be taking a colossal risk if they approved the Senate's version of health-care legislation before the Senate had acted to remove some of the bill's most contentious provisions ...

"House Democrats will have to decide whether they want to trust the Senate to fix their political problems," McConnell said.

Note to House Democrats: working to prevent a health-care bill from reaching President Obama is the actual basis for McConnell's concern. FYI.

Maddow provides chapter and verse on HCR obstruction.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Sargent: Biz Groups Pour Millions Into Massive Ad Campaign Bashing Health Plan

With the final, frenzied push to round up votes for health reform under way, a coalition of business groups is pouring millions into a new TV ad campaign hammering the reform proposals — and the potential use of reconciliation to pass them — nationally and in the districts of vulnerable Dems:

The spot, which is being paid for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a bunch of other groups, and includes some insurance industry funding, will cost up to $10 million. It will first run on national cable, and then in targeted districts of vulnerable Dems who are now deciding how to vote.

The spot paints the reform bill as a job killer and specifically targets the planned use of reconciliation to pass it.

“We thought Washington understood,” the spot intones. “But now Congress is trying to use special rules to ram through their same trillion-dollar health care bill. Billions in new taxes.”

Actually, reconciliation would only be used to pass the fix to the bill, which has already passed the Senate by a supermajority. But that aside, it looks as if the powerful forces arrayed against the bill are badly outworking proponents — with time running out.

Hill aides tell me they’re wondering where the heck the air cover is from the big lefty groups for vunlerable Dems preparing to take an extremely difficult vote. After all, aside from this one spot from Health Care for America Now, where are the ads from labor and from the power liberal groups? It’s not as if time is on the Dems’ side here.

Sargent:Lefty Groups Planning Massive TV Ad Push In Health Reform’s Final Stretch

Lefty groups to vulnerable House Dems: Hang tight, the air cover is coming!

Major liberal groups and labor unions allied with the White House are planning a massive TV ad push in coming days to get health reform across the finish line, and are vowing to match the huge amounts conservative groups are spending on the air attacking reform, multiple sources familiar with the plans tell me.

Foes of reform, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are already up on the air with multi-million-dollar ad campaigns warning hundreds of thousands of voters that Dems are preparing to jam the bill through Congress. This has prompted some to wonder where a similar push is coming from the left. It is.

Americans United for Change is set to announce a $500,000 ad campaign in the districts of multiple House Dems across the country, a source familiar with the plans says. The labor federation AFSCME is preparing a “significant push in the weeks ahead,” according to an AFSCME official, who adds that ads could air before and after the House votes on the Senate bill, providing cover for Dems who find themselves under assault after voting Yes.

Americans for Stable Quality Care, a pro-reform coalition which is working with the labor powerhouse SEIU, is finalizing plans for a major buy in multiple districts, an official familiar with the plans says.

And MoveOn is currently polling its members to ask whether the group should support the Senate bill. If the answer is Yes, as expected, the group will mount an “aggressive advocacy campaign, including ads,” one source involved in the planning says.

Details are still being worked out, and it’s always possible that plans could change. But officials involved in the discussions expect to match or come close to matching the push coming from conservative groups, which is expected to top $10 million or more.

“We expect to match the business groups,” one official says. “The air cover is coming.”

Aravosis: World War III flashback

Now with the Republicans threatening World War III, Armageddon, or something equally disastrous if the House passes the Senate health care reform bill, and threatening disaster if the Congress passes tweaks to HCR using reconciliation, I thought it might be fun to look back on another World War III threat from the GOP - they do it a lot. Here's this hissy fit from March 30, 2009:

Texas Sen. John Cornyn is threatening “World War III” if Democrats try to seat Al Franken in the Senate before Norm Coleman can pursue his case through the federal courts.

Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, acknowledges that a federal challenge to November’s elections could take “years” to resolve. But he’s adamant that Coleman deserves that chance — even if it means Minnesota is short a senator for the duration.
In fact, if the shoe were on the other foot, the GOP would have declared World War III had Democrats held up one of their new Senators for months. Remember how just this past January the Republicans demanded that Scott Brown be seated immediately, and that the Senate should suspend all business until Brown was seated? And now, as Joe just reported, GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell is threatening "colossal" consequences if the House simply passes the Senate HCR bill, which is their right. McConnell isn't just objecting to the bill on substance, he's arguing that it's somehow not permissible, not legal, for the House to pass legislation.

This is what the GOP does. They throw a hissy fit and hope the media covers it. And they do. Democrats need to learn to hit back hard, every time, and nip this in the bud.

Sargent: Conservative Group Rips Romney For Declaring Romneycare “Conservative”

As you may have heard, Mitt Romney went on Fox News this past Sunday and described the universal health care plan he passed in Massachusetts four years ago as “the ultimate conservative plan.”

Romney made the eyebrow-raising claim because he aspires to the GOP presidential nomination in 2012, and thus wants to put as much distance as possible between Romneycare and Obamacare, which is loathed by conservative GOP primary voters — even though the two plans are very similar in various ways.

But guess who disagrees with Romney’s assessment? The Club for Growth, a powerhouse conservative group with a lot of sway in GOP primaries. A top Club official tore into Romney, telling us that if Romney believes this, then he’s “in the wrong party.”

“We can say unequivocally that that is not a conservative plan,” Andy Roth, Club for Growth’s vice president for government affairs, told our reporter Ryan Derousseau when asked for comment on Romney’s claim about Romneycare.

On Sunday, Romney elicited skepticism even from Fox’s Chris Wallace when he said: “There a big difference between what we did and what President Obama is doing. What we did I think is the ultimate conservative plan.”

But Club for Growth’s Roth dismissed this as bunk, citing Romneycare’s individual mandate as proof. “The individual mandate is diametrically against what free-market conservatives believe in,” he said, adding that if Romney thinks his plan amounts to a conservative policy “than I think he is in the wrong party.”

Romney would strongly protest this, arguing that his plan was state-based, whereas Obama’s is Federal. But the mechanisms the two plans employ are very similiar, and the Club for Growth’s criticism could complicate his efforts to sell this line to GOP primary voters.

Either way, for Romney to call his effort the “ultimate conservative plan” risks feeding the narrative that hurt him last time: He’s ideologically opportunistic and malleable.


For months, congressional Democrats have said, with varying degrees of subtlety, that they want the White House to start taking charge of the process surrounding health care reform. While the West Wing has consistently asked Hill leaders to oversee the legislative and procedural details, lawmakers wanted to see the president take charge. They wanted to follow, and expected President Obama to lead.

So, the White House agreed to play the role. The president outlined a plan to bridge the House-Senate gap; Obama has hit the trail; wavering lawmakers are being called to the White House for a little arm-twisting; and the president's team is even starting to set deadlines. Congress wants the White House to tell lawmakers what to do? Fine, the White House said.

Except, now, Congress isn't sure it likes the new approach.

Congressional Democrats directly told White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel they don't appreciate being told when to finish their work on healthcare reform, according to a powerful committee chairman.

"He was certainly informed that we don't feel we want any deadlines assigned to us," House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said after a healthcare strategy meeting between House and Senate Democratic leaders and Emanuel.

I'm not unsympathetic to lawmakers' concerns, but they practically pleaded with the White House to start calling the shots in this process. Now that the West Wing is doing just that, it seems odd for leaders on the Hill to criticize unwelcome pressure.

At issue, apparently, are remarks from press secretary Robert Gibbs about the House passing the Senate bill by the 18th (a week from tomorrow). This has clearly rankled congressional Dems, who want to go at their own pace.

But it's not like Gibbs pulled the number out of the air. The date is important to the White House because the president is traveling to Asia, and would like the vote to happen before he departs so he can be available for 11th-hour appeals to lawmakers. The point was to pick a realistic date that would make it easier for Obama to help the House leadership get to 216.

Given the reaction, though, it now appears that congressional Dems just don't think it's possible to wrap up the debate over the next eight days. Waxman told Brian Beutler, "We want to pass the bill, we want to make sure it's the way it should be, and soon as possible, but we don't feel that we have to have any particular deadline."

In other words, this might take a while.

Sargent: Two More House Dems Move Away From Health Bill

Today in whipology: Two more House Dems are moving out of the Yes camp.

Dem Rep Steve Kagen of Wisconsin, who voted for the House health bill last time, tells his local WLUK-TV that he doesn’t trust the Senate to fix its bill via reconciliation and suggests he’s leaning against:

“I have made the case to the speaker and also to the White House that we should take small pieces, small bites,” Kagen said. “In the practice of medicine, I can’t give a child a big pill. What do we do? We cut it up into pieces. Let’s find things we can agree on.”

That sounds like he’s leaning strongly No. I’ve asked his office for clarification. Meanwhile, Rep John Spratt of South Carolina, who voted Yes last time, has also moved to the Undecided camp.

So where are we? Let’s take stock. According to David Dayen’s whip count, 193 House Dems who voted Yes last time have not publicly changed their position. The House Dem leadership needs 23 more House Dems to get to the magic number of 216. Where will they come from?

They’ll have to come from this pool of former No votes who haven’t declared definitively that they’re still a No (the ones in bold have publicly stated that they’re open to switching; the others have been silent):

Jason Altmire, Bart Gordon, Glenn Nye, Brian Baird, John Tanner, Rick Boucher, Allen Boyd, John Boccieri, Suzanne Kosmas, Betsy Markey, John Adler, Mike McMahon, Scott Murphy, Travis Childers, Harry Teague, Lincoln Davis, Heath Shuler, John Barrow, Jim Marshall, Tim Holden, Charlie Melancon, Jim Matheson, Ben Chandler.

It gets trickier. If any more former Yes votes switch to No, or if any of the so-called Stupak dozen make good on their threat to vote No, those will also have to be made up from the above pool.

The White House and Dem leaders are going to be doing a lot of persuading, and perhaps a bit of arm-twisting, in the days ahead.


Update: The votes can also be made up from this pool of former Yes votes who are now Undecided (this group has some overlap with the “Stupak dozen”:

Mike Arcuri, Zack Space, Chris Carney, Mike Doyle, Paul Kanjorski, Ann Kirkpatrick, Alan Mollohan, Nick Rahall, Dan Maffei, Bill Owens.

When considering Democratic lawmakers who oppose health care reform, we tend to think of a few contingents within the party. There's obviously conservative Blue Dogs, who represent the bulk of the Democratic opponents. There are also some vulnerable incumbents from competitive districts who are simply afraid of a backlash, regardless of how many people the legislation helps.

And then there's Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D) of Ohio, who has nothing in common with those other Democratic opponents. His district isn't conservative; he's not worried about polls; and his re-election isn't really in doubt. Kucinich simply opposes his party's reform efforts because, as he sees it, the proposals aren't liberal enough. Indeed, he voted with far-right Republicans against the reform package in November, even though it included a public option, because he concluded that the public option wasn't robust enough to earn his support.

This week, Kucinich made clear that he intends to vote with Republicans against health care once again. He thinks the legislation isn't strong enough, and if his opposition kills the legislation, so be it.

In general, Kucinich doesn't draw the same kind of progressive ire that, say, Blue Dogs do. The left realizes that Kucinich is sincere. His concerns are genuine. His heart is in the right place. He's certainly not being cowardly and/or putting electoral considerations above the public's needs.

But if Kucinich joins Republicans in killing health care reform -- as he has said he fully intends to do -- the millions of Americans who'd benefit from the Democratic proposals won't find much solace in Kucinich's deeply-held principles. They need a champion who'll make things better, not an idealist who'd rather wait until imaginary support materializes for a more perfect solution.

And with time running out, and the need for every single vote so great, Kucinich is starting to draw justified criticism.

Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas warned on Tuesday night that if Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) plays a role in killing health care reform, a Democratic primary challenger would almost certainly await him in the next election.

In an appearance on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Moulitsas conveyed pointed frustration with the Ohio Democrat's pledge to oppose reform on grounds that it doesn't go far enough. He said Kucinich was practicing a "very Ralph Nader-esque approach" to politics.

"The fact is this is a good first step and he is elected not to run for president, which he seems to do every four years," he said. "[Kucinich] is not elected to grandstand and to give us this ideal utopian society. He is elected to represent the people of his district and he is not representing the uninsured constituents in his district by pretending to take the high ground here." [...]

"What he is doing is undermining this reform," he added. "He is making common cause with Republicans. And I think that is a perfect excuse and a rational one for a primary challenge."

Markos said that Kucinich's willingness to deny help to those who need it is "completely reprehensible." Markos added, "I don't think he gets a pass; I don't care what his excuse is."

Watching Kucinich vow to vote with right-wing opponents of reform, it occurs to me that he almost certainly would have voted against FDR's Social Security plan, which was thin and weak when it was signed into law. He also would have rejected Medicare, because it wasn't ambitious at all when it passed.

Fortunately for all of us, lawmakers from those eras saw a value in establishing a strong foundation and then building on it in future years. In other words, fortunately for all of us, Social Security and Medicare weren't dependent on lawmakers like Dennis Kucinich.


The bipartisan pushback against Liz Cheney's "Keep America Safe" latest smear campaign isn't quite finished. Some unexpected conservatives continue to denounce the attacks against Justice Department attorneys.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Senate Armed Services and Judiciary Committees, told The Cable Tuesday that the Cheney-Kristol ad was inappropriate and unfairly demonized DOJ lawyers for doing a noble public service by defending unpopular suspects.

"I've been a military lawyer for almost 30 years, I represented people as a defense attorney in the military that were charged with some pretty horrific acts, and I gave them my all," said Graham. "This system of justice that we're so proud of in America requires the unpopular to have an advocate and every time a defense lawyer fights to make the government do their job, that defense lawyer has made us all safer." [...]

"I'm with Kenneth Starr on this one," Graham added, referring to a letter signed by several GOP lawyers, many of whom defended Bush-era detainee policies, condemning the "al Qaeda 7" ad.

So, apparently, is former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who blasted the Cheney smear campaign in a WSJ op-ed today.

This is all of a piece, and what it is a piece of is something both shoddy and dangerous. A lawyer who represents a party in a contested matter has an ethical obligation to make any and all tenable legal arguments that will help that party.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) called the Keep America Safe attack ad "over the top and unjustified." University of Chicago law professor Richard Epstein, one of Liz Cheney's former teachers, called the smear "appalling."

We seem to be approaching the point of a mainstream consensus that Cheney and Keep America Safe crossed a line of American decency that responsible figures simply aren't supposed to cross.