Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Last Call

Blanche Lincoln's primary challenger, Bill Halter, says he's making the public option a campaign issue and supports it completely.
Asked directly if he supported a public plan that would give folks access to Medicare or something like it, Halter answered: “Yes.”

“If you give individuals the opportuinity to voluntarily buy into a system like Medicare, there is broad support for that,” Halter said.

Asked directly whether he’d back a reconciliation vote on the public option — and the use of reconciliation in general to pass reform, which Lincoln has hedged on — Halter answered Yes on both counts.

“Reconciliation has been used multiple times not just on tax bills but on health bills,” he said.

Asked whether Lincoln’s hedging on these issues ill serves her constituents, Halter said: “We have a difference of opinion,” adding: “I think that that’s gonna be an issue of course in this campaign.”
I like this guy more and more and I've only known about him for a week.  More power to you, Bill.

Bunning Unblocks The Plate, Finds Different Ballfield, Blocks Another Plate

TPM is reporting that Harry Reid's office has confirmed on top of everything else Jim Bunning has done in the last five days, he has also put a blanket hold on every single one of Obama's remaining nominees.

That's right.  Bunning's pulling a Shelby Shakedown!
"It turns out that not only has he been blocking the unemployment insurance bill, he has also been blocking the confirmation of nominees since last week as well," said Reid spokesman Jim Manley.

Bunning's spokesman tells TPMDC that he doesn't know about the holds.

"I don't know that. Right now the senator's number one priority is reaching an agreement to get this bill paid for and passed," said the spokesman, Mike Reynard. 
I have to admit, if you're going to go down in flames like this as a retiring Senator, make sure you use enough accelerant.   Still, it looks like Bunning's finally relented on the unemployment package.
Bunning agreed to stop blocking legislation to extend benefits and COBRA health plan subsidies to the unemployed after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) agreed to allow him a vote on an amendment to pay for the $10 billion bill. 

It’s the same deal Bunning was offered last week, but Bunning at the time decided to continue his fight. He’d been holding up an extension of the benefits since Thursday. 

The Senate was scheduled to vote on the 30-day extension after The Hill’s press time.

Bunning will also get to offer two amendments to a one-year extension of the legislation the Senate is considering. 
More on this later.  And yes, the Shelby Shakedown remains in effect. Oh, and 200K+ Americans won't get unemployment checks this week, and it may take a month or more to get those checks restored.  Nice guy.

Wrangling Charlie Rangel, Part 3

At this hour, NBC's Chuck Todd is reporting that Charlie Rangel will "voluntarily" give up his gavel on the House Ways and Means Committee.  If true (and there's pretty good reason to believe it is) then that's a good thing.  I've been saying Rangel was in trouble on this one for months, and looks like he's finally doing the right thing.

At this point a number of Democrats were calling on him to step aside, including fellow New Yorker Rep. Mike Arcuri.
Arcuri, who stood by the chairman during the ethics investigation, said his resignation would be in the best interests of the Democratic-controlled Congress.

"We have far too many critical issues to deal with right now ranging from the economy to health care reform, and can’t afford to allow this investigation to distract us,” Arcuri said.

He added, “As a former district attorney, I know that in matters such as this it is always important to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Given the House Ethics Committee’s recent decision to reprimand Congressman Rangel, I feel strongly that he should step down as chairman of the Ways & Means Committee.”
Rangel didn't really have much of a choice, frankly.  But it at least puts an end to this mess.

Bunning Blocks The Plate, Part 3

Jim Bunning's still at it.  Kevin Drum calls it what it is:  nihilism.
A lot of liberals have taken lately to calling the GOP nihilistic, and I've never bought it. Opportunistic? Sure. Brutally partisan? Sure. Vacuously unwilling to address the country's most serious problems? Sure. Ideologically frozen in the past? Sure. But nihilistic? On the contrary, they seemed driven by a brute cunning that I might even approve of if it were my own side doing it.

But then along comes Bunning, ranting against a temporary extenstion to unemployment benefits just for the sake of.....well, no one quite knows. For the sake of whatever demons are running around in his head, I guess. It's the kind of situation where a non-nihilistic party would finally step up and agree to rein the guy in. But that hasn't happened. The Republican leadership has, by all accounts, done nothing, and the rest of the caucus — or enough of it, anyway — has actually rallied around Bunning. Rallied around him! They know perfectly well he's a crackpot; they know perfectly well this is a bipartisan bill designed to provide working-class relief in the middle of a massive recession. But for guys like Bob Corker and Jeff Sessions and John Kyl it's more important to demonstrate solidarity with a crackpot than it is to help a few people out. "I admire the courage of the junior senator from Kentucky," said John Cornyn, apparently speaking for many.

Nihilism is probably still the wrong word for this. But I guess it's close enough for government work. Whatever it is, it's a very deep rot in the soul of the Republican Party.
Here's the best part:  Democrats won't calling Bunning out.  Well, one of them at least will:  Joe Biden.  The Lexington Herald-Leader let him have it, as well as the Republicans trying to succeed him in November.
To those who know him, it's not surprising that Bunning answered a Democratic colleague's complaint with a crude profanity. Or that he joked about missing a basketball game while pushing some unemployed Kentuckians into homelessness or bankruptcy.

What is surprising is that Trey Grayson and Rand Paul, the leading Republicans to succeed Bunning, jumped on his one-man band wagon.

Both of them applauded Bunning's actions. Paul's campaign even announced that it will hold a rally supporting Bunning's blockade of aid to the unemployed.

Maybe Grayson and Paul think this plays well with the conservatives who vote in Republican primaries, though Republicans also lose jobs in a bad economy.

It doesn't say much for Grayson's and Paul's judgment, however. Voters could justifiably conclude that they too would be prone to ideological grandstanding, something of which Washington already has far too much.
Got a valid point.  Grayson and Paul need to pay a price too.

Carbon Dating

The "Tripartisan" climate bill in the Senate is gaining steam as Sens. John Kerry, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman work on legislation.  But the reality is that the bill takes the "cap" part out of "cap and trade" and that means there's a very good chance that carbon emissions will go up, not down...that is if there's even a bill to begin with.
First, we have to take for granted that any major energy and climate legislation in Congress will be hijacked by special interests. This happened with the House cap-and-trade bill, which saw huge numbers of pollution permits handed out for free to utilities, coal generators, oil refiners, etc. But under cap-and-trade, no matter how many permits you give away, no matter how much revenue the government loses that could have been spent on valuable clean energy investments, you still have a firm economy-wide emissions cap to show for it — a guarantee that the United States will emit over 80 percent less carbon in 2050 than it does now.

With this proposal, though, it looks like we lose that. If electric utilities successfully lobby the Senate and get it to weaken their emissions target by 20 percent, and coal companies win a 15 percent reprieve, well then you’ve just taken a huge step back in the country’s commitment to fight global warming. It’s possible that when we actually see the text of the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill, there will be some provision to prevent this kind of manipulation, but I’ve yet to see anything to that effect.

Second, there’s the annoying truth that you can keep taking the teeth out of climate legislation, but you’re still not going to get many — if any — more Republicans or conservative Democrats to vote for it. Case in point from The Washington Post:
Even some moderate Republicans, seen as possible supporters of a new climate bill, remain opposed to the idea of putting a price on carbon, which Lieberman still calls “sine qua non,” or an essential ingredient, of any such bill. Andy Fisher, a spokesman for Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), said the senator, who has opposed cap-and-trade and carbon taxes, could support pricing carbon “potentially at some point, but not at the moment.”
Which is Congress-speak for: Sure, I’d consider voting for climate legislation, but not until after the midterm elections, when the Democratic majority will be sufficiently reduced to make passing a comprehensive climate bill impossible. At which point I’ll oppose it because “it simply doesn’t have the votes.”
In other words, yes, Graham and Lieberman and Kerry are on board, but the other 57 Dems are iffy and there's precisely zero chance another Republican will sign on.   That means Evan F'ckin Bayh, Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, or any other Dem Senator can kill the bill outright.  One of them will most certainly do so.

There's no carbon emissions bill that the Republicans and ConservaDems will sign on to.  Period.  Everyone wants this to go away until after 2010.  Republicans want this to go away forever, and they will make sure it does.

We No Longer Deliver For You

The Postal Service is looking to drop Saturday delivery to save money.  They may not have a choice in the age of the internet.
Customers are continuing to migrate to the Internet and to cheaper standard-mail options, and away from the Postal Service's signature product -- first-class mail, Postmaster General John E. Potter will report in announcing the projections.

The Postal Service experienced a 13 percent drop in mail volume last fiscal year, more than double any previous decline, and lost $3.8 billion. The projections anticipate steeper drops in mail volume and revenue over the next 10 years, and mounting labor costs only complicate the agency's path to firm fiscal footing.

In an effort to offset some of the losses, Potter seeks more flexibility in the coming year to set delivery schedules, prices and labor costs. The changes could mean an end to Saturday deliveries, longer delivery times for letters and packages, higher postage-stamp prices that exceed the rate of inflation, and the potential for future layoffs.

"At the end of the day, I'm convinced that if we make the changes that are necessary, we can continue to provide universal service for Americans for decades to come," Potter said Monday. "We can turn back from the red to the black, but there are some significant changes we need to make."

The postmaster general called for many of these changes last year but failed to convince lawmakers. This time he's armed with $4.8 million worth of outside studies that conclude that, without drastic changes, the mail agency will face even more staggering losses. 
And given A) the GOP looking to be "fiscally responsible", B) the chance to attack civil service jobs as "government waste" (you know, the ones that aren't Congress-related) and C) it being an election year, you'd better believe the Republicans are going to want to balance the Postal Service's budget.  Big time. 

After all, America's 100,000+ Postal Service employees are all Socialists, right?  I wonder which GOP ace in Congress will be the first to propose scrapping the entire USPS?  I've got money on Paul Ryan.  After all, Americans all have internet access, bank accounts and online bill pay, right?  So who needs mail?

Watch this one become a rallying cry for the Teabaggers.

Seeking Expert Advice

Well, this one makes sense:  Tiger Woods looking how to handle being a famous celebrity with a clean image facing a marriage blowing up.  Who better to turn to than the most famous philanderer in recent history, the Big Dog himself?
Bill Clinton offered his support to Tiger Woods in a phone call with the embattled golf star, a spokesman for the former president confirms.

"President Clinton spoke with Tiger and wished him well," Matt McKenna tells PEOPLE confirming a report in Golf Digest that the two had spoken.

It wasn't clear when the former president spoke with Woods or how the phone call came about. But Clinton, who has navigated his own infidelity scandals, offered words of encouragement to the golfer, who is reportedly in an Arizona rehab facility for therapy.
Hey, he feels your pain, you know.  Really, he does.

The man's playing to his strengths and experiences as a statesman, yo.

Let Them Eat Cheap, Mass-Produced Cake

The Republican mask has fallen off.  They've pretended to care about America's working-class families but in the end the Estate Tax is calling, and GOP Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona is more than happy to help Kentucky GOP Sen. Jim Bunning continue to throw the unemployed under the bus.
Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republican whip, argued that unemployment benefits dissuade people from job-hunting "because people are being paid even though they're not working."

Unemployment insurance "doesn't create new jobs. In fact, if anything, continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work," Kyl said during debate over whether unemployment insurance and other benefits that expired amid GOP objections Sunday should be extended.

"I'm sure most of them would like work and probably have tried to seek it, but you can't argue that it's a job enhancer. If anything, as I said, it's a disincentive. And the same thing with the COBRA extension and the other extensions here," said Kyl.
You get that, unemployed people in red states?  You're just f'ckin lazy.  You should have found a job that paid far less than your old job already, and then worked two of them.  Why are you so lazy?

Dem. Sen Dick Durbin of course comes back with the truth:  there are no extra jobs.
"The Senator from Arizona argues that unemployment insurance is a disincentive to jobs. Nothing could be further from the truth. I don't know anybody who's out of work and is receiving some unemployment insurance believes that that payment is sufficient not to find a job. The payments are so much lower than any salary or wage would be, it's just ridiculous. I might add, there are five unemployed Americans today for every job opening in the economy," said Baucus, chairman of the Finance Committee. "People are looking for work. They're not unemployed because of choice."

He added that Kyl's economic argument was flawed, as well. Unemployment benefits do create jobs because the recipients cycle the money through the economy. He cited a Congressional Budget Office analysis that said the Gross Domestic Product grew $1.90 for every dollar the federal government paid out. 
Having been on unemployment after 9/11 during the last recession, I wasn't unemployed because of choice.  There were jobs.  They just paid 50-70% what I was making, and that meant if I took that job, I wouldn't be able to afford my apartment.  When taking a job means you make less money than your current unemployment benefits, there's a problem.  It's a tough choice.  I didn't have anyone else to fall back on.  I could barely cover my bills with what unemployment paid me, and even then I was looking at a big tax payment at the end of the year.

Eventually I had to move.  It was not a fun time in my life.  If I was unemployed now -- and so many millions of us are -- I'd not even have the choice of taking the lower paying job, not when there's five or six applicants for every open job out there.

So if you think for a second that Republicans like Jon Kyl understand that, you're crazy.  They all think unemployed people are just lazy.  Jobs magically exist in the GOP's world...and they pay enough to support a family of four, too.

You know, except for all the jobs that don't even come close.

It Takes A Village To Raise A Rahmbo

The WaPo's campaign to save Rahm Emanuel from the Dirty F'ckin Hippies continues apace.  This time it's staffer Jason Horowitz going to bat for Rahm as "the only voice of reason" in the White House.
But a contrarian narrative is emerging: Emanuel is a force of political reason within the White House and could have helped the administration avoid its current bind if the president had heeded his advice on some of the most sensitive subjects of the year: health-care reform, jobs and trying alleged terrorists in civilian courts.

It is a view propounded by lawmakers and early supporters of President Obama who are frustrated because they think the administration has gone for the perfect at the expense of the plausible. They believe Emanuel, the town's leading purveyor of four-letter words, a former Israeli army volunteer and a product of a famously argumentative family, was not aggressive enough in trying to persuade a singularly self-assured president and a coterie of true-believer advisers that "change you can believe in" is best pursued through accomplishments you can pass.

By all accounts, Obama selected Emanuel for his experience in the Clinton White House, his long relationships with the media and Democratic donors, and his well-established -- and well-earned -- reputation as a political enforcer, all of which neatly counterbalanced Obama's detached, professorial manner. A president who would need the deft navigation of Congress to pass his ambitious legislation turned to the Illinois congressman and former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee because he possessed a unique understanding of the legislative mind.

The pairing made sense, but things haven't worked out as expected. And in the search for what has gone wrong, influential Democrats are -- in unusually frank terms -- blaming Obama and his closest campaign aides for not listening to Emanuel. And this puts the 50-year-old chief of staff in a very uncomfortable position. 
Listening to Emanuel would serve "all our overall goals," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.). "I think that Rahm's considerable legislative experience translates into advice that the president should heed."
I called this last week.  Rahm's pulling an Alexander Haig here and making it clear to those who oppose him inside...and outside...the White House that he's the guy calling the shots and that's not going to change.  Even better, the Village is now clearly backing Rahm's overly pragmatic worldview even when that worldview differs from that of a certain "singularly self-assured president".

This is straight Hippie Punching, here.  And the Village has always considered Obama to be a hippie.  The hope here is that Rahm is the surrogate for Clintonian triangulation, and that the president and the rest of his advisors will listen to the only man worth listening to in the West Wing.

The Village has found their man in the Oval Office, and it's not Obama.  That's a problem, and a potentially big one.  They love covering an infighting story, and it's even better if they're the ones creating the infighting story between Rahm and Obama.

Of course, Obama can make all this go away if he just jettisons his entire agenda and goes with Rahm's Sensible Centrist approach...

Arkansas Halter Top

Down Little Rock way, Dem Lt. Gov Bill Halter has entered the race for Sen. Blanche Lincoln's seat as a primary challenger.  The White House is backing Lincoln of course, they have no choice.  But labor certainly sees Bill Halter as better and the AFL-CIO has officially ditched Lincoln for Halter...to the tune of $3 million...in the space of 24 hours.
A labor source confirmed to TPMDC tonight that the AFL-CIO voted to back new Senate candidate Lt. Gov Bill Halter over Sen. Blanche Lincoln in the May 18 Democratic primary in Arkansas. Three unions within the umbrella group have committed to a $3 million independent expenditure on Halter's behalf.

In the day since he officially announced his intention to take on Lincoln in the primary, Halter has lined up the support from Democratic base groups, including progressive groups MoveOn.org and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. Those two, among others, raised nearly $500,000 for Halter from progressives across the country in less than 24 hours.

Lincoln still enjoys the support of at least one prominent national progressive though. The White House says President Obama backs Lincoln as he would any Democratic incumbent.

The backing of the AFL-CIO is an important one for any Democrat. For Halter, it signals that the unions are prepared to put their money where their mouth has been for almost a year now when it comes to Lincoln. When Lincoln came out against the "card check" provision in the Employee Free Choice Act, unions balked and threatened to fight her. Now it seems Halter has given them their chance.

Halter now adds the AFL-CIO's significant support to efforts on his behalf from grassroots progressive groups, which have publicly claimed some of the credit for Halter's decision to run today. Ben Tribbett, executive director of the progressive PAC Accountability Now and an organizer of the online campaign to draft Halter into the race, promised today that his group's efforts to help Halter will continue. 
I've said for a while now that we need better Democrats in Congress, particularly the Senate.  Bill Halter is definitely one of those better Dems.  He knows why he's running and who he's running for.  Right now the race is between two Republicans:  Lincoln and one of a various number of Republicans that all clean Lincoln's clock right now.

Halter's making his move.  Lincoln is doomed anyway.  Might as well go for the long shot in Little Rock than the sure loser.

I Recall A Time

Toyota's not the only company with a major recall in the US.  General Motors has announced a recall of 1.3 million Chevy Cobalts and Pontiac G4's/G5's for a power steering problem.
GM will replace a motor in the power-steering systems of Chevrolet Cobalt small cars and three Pontiac models, the Detroit-based carmaker said in an e-mailed statement late yesterday. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began an investigation following complaints, which included 14 crashes and one injury, GM said.

The action follows global recalls of more than 8 million vehicles by Toyota Motor Corp. for problems including unintended acceleration, which have prompted lawsuits and Congressional hearings. The cases have triggered a review of the NHTSA by the U.S. Transportation Department’s inspector general to examine the way government investigators monitor automotive defects.

“A lot of carmakers are coming out with recalls as they want to show that they are being strict about quality,” said Jeong Min Pak, a Seoul-based senior director at Fitch Ratings. “They want to avoid the negative press that Toyota has received.”

The vehicles covered by GM’s action are the 2005-2010 Cobalt, 2007-2010 Pontiac G5, 2005-2006 Pontiac Pursuit sold in Canada, and the 2005-2006 Pontiac G4 sold in Mexico. A remedy is being developed and customers will be notified when the plan is completed, the statement said.

“Recalling these vehicles is the right thing to do,” Jamie Hresko, a vice president for quality at GM, said in the statement. 
It also means they can come in under the radar while everyone's still mad at Toyota and make recalls now, rather than later.  Without Toyota's recall, we'd be having Republicans attack "Government Motors" and want to know why Obama personally wasn't falling on his sword over this recall.  Right now however, GM is one of the good guys again, an American automaker and not a foreign one that sold millions of potentially shoddy cars in the US.

Smart move, GM.


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