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Republican Fiscal Irresponsibility Continues

I’ve mentioned it before, but ever since I became of age to vote, Republicans have had a consistent track record of fiscal irresponsibility. Which is ironic given that they claim to be the responsible ones. This started with Ronald Reagan, whose policies created then-record deficits. His vice president and successor, George H.W. Bush, continued the same spending habits, racking up new record deficits. And George W. Bush was famous for profligate spending, tax cuts with no matching spending cuts, and unfunded mandates, such as Medicare Part D. He also established new deficit records.

This year, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives reserved the prime designation of H.R. 1 for the tax reform plan they intend to introduce. Get a load of the “plan:” lower the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, lower the tax rate for top individual earners from 39.6 percent to 25 percent, and don’t worry about how to pay for it.

See, the paying for it part is always left out of the Republicans’ plans. It simply isn’t important to them. The fact is, their track record indicates that they don’t really care whether their tax cuts are paid for–that’s beside the point.

Writing about Ways and Means Chairman David Camp’s plans to release details of a tax-reform package next week, the National Journal wrote:

Democrats say that plan did not contain specific ways to replace that lost revenue. The simple fact, according to Democrats, is that Republicans have not been able to make the math work—and to do what they want to do would add $5 trillion to the deficit.

On Thursday, Democrats said there was talk that Camp may have actually recently revised his own plan, so that his top rate may not be lowered below 30 percent, after all. But they say they expect gimmicks will be needed to pay for it, anyway. One big gimmick anticipated, they say, is expanding the Roth IRA, which could raise a lot of money now but cost a lot of money in the future.

All the Republicans ever have are gimmicks, time after time.

But don’t worry too much. The odds of such a plan actually getting introduced seems remote, since Republicans are afraid of doing anything in 2014 because the voting public might notice. As the National Journal writes, “With no chance of their plan being backed by Democrats in the House and Senate, many Republicans also do not want to draw any election-year focus away from their attacks on the Affordable Care Act.”

Yup. Your 2014 Republicans in action. Or not.

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Posted by on February 20, 2014 in Current Events, Politics

 

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Republican hostage taking ends with a whimper

So in the end, Republicans couldn’t agree on which hostage to take, so they gave up. The House passed a one-year suspension of the debt limit with no strings attached. Speaker John Boehner had to rely on Democrats to get the job done. Then he complained that it was President Obama’s fault because he wouldn’t negotiate over what was a routine procedural vote until Republicans seized upon the debt ceiling vote in 2011 as a way to undercut President Obama. He must be having a sad.

Politico has a good round down of the outcome.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2014 in Current Events, Politics

 

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The Michael Mann Lawsuit Against National Review

Something that I think hasn’t gotten much attention is the lawsuit brought by scientist Michael Mann against the conservative journal National Review and one of its reporters, Mark Steyn.

Dr. Mann is one of the best known scientists working in the area of climate science and policy. He received a Ph.D. in geology and geophysics from Yale in 1998, where he did pioneering work in global temperature reconstruction. A year later, he co-authored the 1999 report that described the so-called “hockey stick” effect, in which the earth’s temperature was relatively flat from 1000 to 1900–the shaft of the hockey stick–after which  temperatures underwent a dramatic rise–the blade of the hockey stick. He was a lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Third Assessment Report, and shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore. He continues to be an active presence in the scientific community and climate policy debate.

Mann has seen his share of controversy. In 2009, emails illegally obtained from University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom purported to show climate scientists manipulating data. Many of the emails were to or from Dr. Mann. Several organizations conducted investigations into his work, including the National Science Foundation and his employer, Penn State. All found no indication of fraud on Mann’s part. But that didn’t stop the attacks. Mann has received death threats, and conservative groups have spent considerable time and money attempting to discredit him.

Then in 2012, Nation Review smeared Mann, drawing parallels between Penn State’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal, who was a coach at the school, and the “climate-gate” email controversy. Quoting from a Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) post, Steyn wrote, “Mann could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of political science, except that instead of molesting children he has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science.” Steyn also said that Mann was “behind the fraudulent climate-change ‘hockey-stick’ graph, the very ringmaster of the tree-ring circus” and asked, “if an institution is prepared to cover up systemic statutory rape of minors, what won’t it cover up?”

Lawyers for Mann demanded that National Review remove the post and make a retraction, calling the fraud allegations “defamatory.” But NR editor Rich Lowry refused, stating that Steyn was merely “savagely witty and stung poor Michael” by exposing “intellectually bogus and wrong” research reports. In a post titled “Get Lost,” Lowry concluded that Mann “risks making an ass of himself” should he choose to file suit.

Well, file he did. On October 22, 2012, Mann sued National Review and Mark Steyn, as well as CEI and its analyst Rand Simberg, who wrote the original piece that Steyn quoted. The lawsuit, Mann’s lawyer said, was based upon NR’s and CEI’s “false and defamatory statements” accusing him of academic fraud and comparing him to a convicted child molester. At the time, Mann said the lawsuit was part of “a battle” to assist climate scientists in the fight against those who attack their work. “There is a larger context for this latest development,” he wrote on Facebook, “namely the onslaught of dishonest and libelous attacks that climate scientists have endured for years by dishonest front groups seeking to discredit the case for concern over climate change.”

CEI’s lawyers called Mann’s suit “unfounded” and gave it little chance of succeeding, noting that Mann is a public figure who has played a highly visible role in the climate science debate. Nevertheless, CEI removed the most outrageous sentences from its piece, admitting they were “inappropriate.” But National Review has remained defiant and Steyn’s article remain online at National Review to this day.

Because the suit was filed in Washington DC Superior Court, it was subject to DC’s anti-SLAPP law, which is designed to discourage nuisance defamation suits. Per Wikipedia, strategic lawsuits against public participation are typically intended to intimidate or silence critics by burdening them with legal fees until they abandon their criticism or opposition. Accordingly, National Review et al filed a motion to dismiss the suit on that basis.

But as it turns out, getting the suit dismissed hasn’t been the slam dunk NR’s lawyers thought it would be. In July 2013, DC Superior Court Judge Natalia Combs Greene rejected NR’s motion to dismiss. While Combs Green called it a “close call,” acknowledging that Mann qualifies as a “public figure” in the context of climate science debates, she concluded that despite the “slight” evidence of actual malice “at this stage” of the litigation, “[t]here is however sufficient evidence to demonstrate some malice or the knowledge that the statements were false or made with reckless disregard as to whether the statements were false.” She ruled that the case could go forward.

Combs Green retired shortly after her ruling, and the case was reassigned to DC Superior Court Judge Frederick Weisberg and legal machinations continued. On Christmas Eve 2013, Steyn took to his blog in a post titled “Mumbo-Jumbo For Beginners,” ridiculing Combs Green’s original ruling, accusing her of “stupidity” and “staggering” incompetence. He hasn’t written a piece for National Review since. By contrast, he was a regular contributor throughout 2013, averaging nearly a post a day.

Now comes news that on January 22, Weisberg affirmed Combs Greene’s original ruling, paving the way to the discovery phase of an eventual trial. Whether the case actually gets to trial, and whether Mann would win, remains to be seen. Libel lawsuits are difficult to win, but in Mann’s favor are the independent investigations that found no basis of “intellectual dishonesty” and NR’s stubborn stance to acknowledge any error. As Mann clears legal hurdles, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that his suit has legal merit.

Continued legal activity could prove expensive for National Review, and some have suggested that the Mann lawsuit now poses an existential threat to the publication. NR’s been appealing to their readership for financial help. In the wake of Weisberg’s ruling, it posted this appeal:

As readers of our website are well aware (from our constant dunning of them for help, if nothing else), National Review is getting sued by climate scientist Michael Mann. He took offense at a Mark Steyn post in our blog The Corner that mocked his famous “hockey stick” graph. When he threatened legal action, our editor, Rich Lowry, wrote an online piece telling him to get lost — which become part of his complaint against us. The case has dragged drearily on, but it looks as though an initial, misbegotten decision siding with Mann against our motion to dismiss has been tossed aside, and our motion to dismiss Mann’s current complaint will now likely be heard by a different judge. This is heartening. Nonetheless, it is all very expensive, and we hope you can see fit to contribute to support our legal defense (215 Lexington Ave, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10016). At stake most narrowly is the question of whether Mann’s work can be vigorously criticized, and more broadly is the fate of free speech in an increasingly politically correct society. When Mann first threatened to sue, we promised to teach him a lesson in the First Amendment, and that’s exactly what we intend to do.

National Review was founded in 1955 by William F. Buckley. One might recall that Buckley took on the extreme elements of conservatism by attacking and marginalizing the John Birch Society and others. But now it seems that his publication has been handed over to the crazies and the lightweights. It’s a shame.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2014 in Current Events, Global Warming

 

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Speaking of polls…

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a lower approval rating in his home state of Kentucky than President Obama. Kentucky isn’t exactly known as a bastion of liberalism, so these results are pretty damning.

In an especially troubling sign for McConnell, his job-approval rating was two points below the approval rating poll respondents gave President Barack Obama, who remains deeply unpopular in the state.

Only 32 percent approved of McConnell, compared to 34 percent for Obama. Both men won a disapprove rating from 60 percent of voters.

With women and young voters, McConnell trails Grimes badly, losing women 49 percent to 37 percent and the 18-34 demographic 43 percent to 34 percent.

Wouldn’t it be delicious if McConnell’s strategy of denying President Obama a second term resulted not only in failing in its stated purpose, but also ended up in his ouster from the senate.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2014 in Current Events, Politics, President Obama

 

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The Republicans’ “visceral” opposition to fixing ObamaCare [Updated]

Robert Laszewski–an astute observer of health care policy and no fan of ObamaCare–had a post on Monday about the recently proposed Republican alternative to the Affordable Care Act. He writes:

The problem for Republicans is that they have such a visceral response to the term “Obamacare” that they just can’t bring themselves to fix it. The notion that Obamacare might be fixed and allowed to continue as part of an Obama legacy and as a Democratic accomplishment is something they can’t get past.

Bingo. Since November 4, 2008, about the only thing that has united Republicans, aside from cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans, has been their unrelenting desire to deny President Obama any accomplishment, regardless of the consequences. And exhibit number one is the Affordable Care Act.

This strategy of cynical obstruction originated as early as the transition period leading up to Obama’s inauguration on January 20, 2009. In Michael Grunwald’s book, The New New Deal, he quotes Joe Biden as saying, “I spoke to seven different Republican Senators, who said, `Joe, I’m not going to be able to help you on anything.” “The way it was characterized to me was: `For the next two years, we can’t let you succeed in anything. That’s our ticket to coming back.’” As former senator George Voinovich confirmed to Grunwald, “If [Obama] was for it, we had to be against it. [Mitch McConnell] wanted everyone to hold the fort. All he cared about was making sure Obama could never have a clean victory.”

Then there was the Republican strategy session on the night of the inauguration, in which they agreed to “show united and unyielding opposition to the president’s economic policies,” as well as other objectives designed simply to hurt the president and congressional Democrats. And of course, shortly before 2010 mid-term elections, Mitch McConnell famously stated, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

So it’s been orchestrated obstruction, solely for political gain. There has never been a spirit of cooperation and compromise among Republicans since President Obama was elected. Nevertheless, a stimulus plan was enacted. Financial reforms were signed into law. Health care reform did happen. And President Obama was re-elected to a second term in 2012. What did Republicans get in exchange? The lowest approval ratings in the history of such ratings, and the indignity of repudiating the very things they once supported. Oh, they did win back the House in 2010, which lead to such smart ideas as repeatedly holding the American debt hostage to one silly demand after another. On the whole, it’s been a dismal performance.

My favorite Republican throughout this process was Senator Chuck Grassley, whose hypocrisy was stunningly comical. A member of the “gang of six” that was supposedly negotiating a bi-partisan health care solution in the summer of 2009, he was an unequivocal supporter of the individual mandate going all the way back to legislation he co-sponsored in the 1990s. (Yes, it was a Republican idea in the first place.) Then in September he suddenly disavowed his own long-held positions, completely undermining his own credibility.

All of this brings us to Robert Laszewski’s article about the Republicans’ current predicament vis-a-vie health care. “My sense is that most independent voters––the ones that matter in an election-year––don’t want Obamacare repealed; they want it fixed.”

Bingo again. But as Laszewski writes, Republicans have driven themselves into a ditch because of their unwavering insistence on repealing ObamaCare and starting over.

There is a problem with that strategy. Have you heard the one about, “If you like your health insurance you can keep it?”

It is now 2014. The Affordable Care Act is law. The Republican alternative would mean taking lots of things away the Democrats will quickly pounce on:

Medicaid Expansion – The Republican alternative would “not expand” Medicaid––presumably rolling back the Medicaid expansion in each of the 24 states that have expanded it. By year-end, millions of Americans will have gained coverage. Who wants to tell these people now on Medicaid the Republican alternative only contemplates covering pregnant women, low-income children, and low-income families at the old levels? Twenty-four states that would see benefit cuts equates to 48 U.S. Senators.

Insurance Subsidies – The Republican alternative would offer health insurance premium subsidies for people up to 300% of the poverty level. Far fewer people than expected are buying Obamacare but that number will be well into the millions before long. Obamacare offers subsidies up to 400% of the poverty level meaning that lots of people would lose their subsidies––and they would be the voters who are solidly middle-class.

The Tax Exclusion for Employer-Based Health Insurance – There is no health insurance policy so sacred in America as the one a worker gets from their employer. The Republican alternative would cap the tax exclusion, currently at 100% of whatever the employer gives the worker and their family for health insurance, at 65% of the cost of the “average” cost of a policy. Democrats will quickly jump on this as a huge middle class tax increase and an attempt to undermine employer-based health insurance.

Lower Premiums for Older People – A controversial part of Obamacare was its requirement that older people can’t be charged more than three times the premium of the youngest. That contributed to the rate shock that hit many people in the small group and individual market when Obamacare policies had to comply. Republicans would take people through the same political nightmare once again but in reverse this time. Their plan would cap rating differences at 5:1, thereby forcing older peoples’ premiums up, and younger peoples’ premiums down. Older people tend to vote more often. Ironically, they have also been the ones who so far have more often bought an Obamacare compliant policy.

The Prohibition of Pre-Existing Condition Provisions – As of January 1, 2014, there is no such thing in America any longer. But Republicans would bring the provision back if people did not maintain continuous coverage. That sounds fair. But what happens when someone is forced to drop their expensive coverage when they lose their job for a few months and the Republican tax credits don’t give them enough help maintaining it? Democrats will be able to think of lots of scenarios where a family playing by the rules has no choice but to drop coverage and face pre-existing condition provisions once again.

Each of these Republican proposals is credible and constructive and should be part of any discussion over how to move forward with health insurance reform.

Look, no one thinks the Affordable Care Act was perfect. It was an historic step toward health care reform, but any reform of this magnitude consists of trade-offs and potential missteps. Eventually, improvements are going to be made and trade-offs tweaked. But Republicans have painted themselves into a corner. For years, they’ve insisted that nothing will do other than a full repeal of ObamaCare and a return to the previous status quo. That becomes more infeasible with every passing day. Eventually they’ll be seen as the ones proposing radical disruption as opposed to the Democrats proposing sensible improvements.

Republicans will insist that ObamaCare can’t be fixed and we must start over, “but tell that to the older people who Democrats will be quick to remind will be paying more, the middle class people who would get their health insurance subsidies cut, and the 160 million people who get their health insurance––which they really like––through employer-based plans and will see their taxes go up.”

Ah, the irony. After years of being the party entirely dedicated to obstructing, it will be fascinating to see how Republicans become the party of doing. That is, if they can muster the courage.

[Update]

Jonathan Chait has a similar take in his column today. His conclusion:

Once it was no longer useful as a weapon to stop universal health insurance, the Republican health-care plan had to be abandoned. This was the fate of every Republican health-care plan, a durable pattern I call the Heritage Uncertainty Principle. Republican health-care proposals reside in a state of quasi-existence, and any attempt to summon them into political reality will cause them to disappear. Their purpose is to refute the accusation that Republicans lack a health-care plan. The elusive quasi-plan allows them to claim all the potential benefits of health-care reform without having to defend any drawbacks. The game offers Republicans advantages they are unlikely to forfeit for the rest of the Obama era.

The rapidly approaching dilemma for Republicans is that the endgame of preserving the status quo no longer helps them. Their posture always served the endpoint of preventing the creation of a national health-insurance plan. Whenever Republicans gain political power, they’ll inherit a system that confers rights upon the previously uninsured. Pretending to care about the uninsured won’t get them anywhere. They may have the votes to change the health-care system, but they’ll be forced to reckon with its effects in an actual way, not as a hypothetical they can engage with or ignore as it suits them. The game has been changed. And, as the disintegration of the latest GOP health-care plan shows, the Republican Party is not yet remotely prepared to play it.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2014 in Current Events, Health Care, Politics, President Obama

 

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Republican Hostage Taking Update

You really have to wonder if Republican congressmen have any clue how idiotic they look. They’ve been huddled up for the past several days trying to agree on something–anything!–to hold hostage in exchange for voting to increase the debt ceiling. On Monday they appeared to have narrowed their choices to either demanding approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, or demanding a repeal of the Affordable Care Act risk corridors, which they ignorantly label insurance industry “bail outs.”

Yesterday, they were still mired in indecision, and cracks were beginning to show. Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-Idaho) complained, “We should bring up a clean debt ceiling, let the Democrats pass it and just move on. Our constituents are fed up with the political theater. If we’re not going to fight for something specific, we might as well let the Democrats own it.” Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) also referred to the charade as “theater,” noting, “It’s going to end up being clean anyway. I don’t see anything they can put on the table that I would support as some sort of trade-off.”

You see, this is all about political theater, trying to make Republicans look responsible… or something. Instead, they look more craven by the day, with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warning that the temporary suspension of the debt limit passed by Congress last year expires this Friday.

But have no fear! Another hostage was proposed today. Speaker John Boehner has floated the idea of demanding the restoration of recently cut military benefits in exchange for a one-year extension of the debt ceiling. According to reports, he hasn’t actually endorsed the idea himself, because that would require him to take a stand without knowing whether he’d have the support of his fellow Republicans. And if we’ve learned anything about John Boehner since the Republicans regained control of the house in 2010, it’s that he won’t take a stand on anything unless he already knows he’ll be on safe ground.

The quotes coming out of the capital today are classic. Patrick J. Tiberi (R-Ohio) told reporters, “Right now, Jesus himself couldn’t be the speaker and get 218 Republicans behind something, so I think Speaker Boehner is trying his best to come up with a plan that can get close to that. Whatever we move, there will be critics everywhere, but at the end of the day we still have to govern.” At least he acknowledges that they need to govern. I’m not sure the rest of the bunch understand that.

And Rep. Doug Lamborn ­(R-Colo.) chimed in, “I’d support [restoration of military cuts] in a heartbeat. We need to figure this thing out, and that’s a way to do it.” Yup, anything to “figure this thing out.” You get the idea that the specific hostage is secondary to the need to simply have a hostage.

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2014 in Current Events, Politics, The Freak Show

 

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Republican hostage taking, February 2014 edition

According to Robert Costa, Republicans have narrowed down their choices for what to hold hostage in return for raising the debt limit. They’ll either demand a repeal of the Affordable Care Act risk corridors, or approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. The more extreme Republicans favor the former, the not-as-extreme Republicans favor the latter. (We can’t call them moderate Republicans, because they’re no longer allowed in the party.) Meanwhile, the Freak Show Republicans tried to demand a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget, but someone must have told them, “STFU before you make us all look like idiots.”

All this for a one-year extension of the debt ceiling, after which they’ll think of some other ransom to extract from President Obama in exchange for agreeing to pay for the bills they’ve already rung up. Because you see, the real point in all of this is to try to make President Obama look bad.

This game is getting tiresome. Americans have grown weary of it. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, who just weeks ago worked with Paul Ryan to hammer out a budget, pointed out the obvious:

“There is no reason to hold anything hostage to getting a debt ceiling raise. We just had a budget agreement, we had an appropriations bill, we determined where our spending is going to be, we now have a responsibility as the managers of this country to pay for that.”

As far as the ACA risk corridors go, Republicans have been demonizing them as insurance company “bailouts.” Either they don’t understand risk corridors, or they do and choose to call them bailouts anyway. I suspect the smarter Republicans do understand them and have opportunistically instructed their pals who don’t to call them “bailouts.” Anything to demonize ObamaCare, of course. Ironically, the Congressional Budget Office says that repealing the risk corridors would actually increase the national debt.

I’ll give the Republicans one thing: They sure are stubborn, even as they keep lowering their price. Wasn’t it just a few years ago they were demanding trillions of dollars of spending cuts? Now it’s a pipeline. Next year they’ll demand that the first lady cut a college intern from her staff. In any event, I’m sure this will end just as well for them as it always has.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2014 in Current Events, Politics, Uncategorized

 

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