Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Last Call

Josh Marshall posits that once again the Obama White House is already losing the messaging fight on the FY 2012 budget, because they are basically telling the truth, while the Republicans are lying as much as they can.

President Obama's staff is signaling that tax increases on upper income earners are going to be a key component of the plan he lays out tomorrow to balance the federal budget -- I suspect all that means is that he won't support re-upping the Bush tax cuts yet again. And as you'd expect, as makes perfect sense to do, every Republican leadership office is now sending out press release after press release saying in various ways, "No Obama Tax Increase!"

For all conservatives and for a lot of independents and a decent amount of Democrats, that brings things into focus. Who wants their taxes raised? I don't. Any conversation about taxes only makes sense when placed against a larger context.

Do you want to raise taxes to close the deficit or abolish Medicare?

Which is what the Republicans want:  the electorate split over the responsible thing to do as it would pit older Americans versus younger ones, while the Republicans can come in with their snake oil and say "Not only will we not raise taxes on you, we'll do so by giving you the freedom of health care choice when you're older!"

The freedom to pay two or three times what Medicare costs now in order to get less coverage, that is.  But tax cuts for the wealthy, so that's okay!

Look, I appreciate what Josh is saying, but the message of "Republicans are going to destroy Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security" beats "But they're going to raise taxes!"  And hey Josh, let's not forget that you aren't exactly totally unable to affect how the message goes out, with your decent-sized DC news blog/site either.

Getting Randy About The Budget Deal

Looks like my Senator is considering taking J-Pod's advice and wrecking the budget deal.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that he's considering a filibuster of the budget agreement to fund the government for the remainder of this fiscal year.

Paul, who said yesterday that he would vote against the agreement reached last Friday to cut $39.9 billion between now and September, acknowledged that he's considering waging a filibuster, which would make it so that leaders need 60 votes to pass the deal and advance it to President Obama's desk.

"Yes, but we haven't really made a final decision on that yet," Paul said on conservative talker Sean Hannity's radio show.

A filibuster would make it difficult for the Senate to pass the budget deal by midnight Friday, when the government's spending measure expires.

Paul acknowledged that even if he were to filibuster, it's unlikely that he'll attract 40 other senators' votes in order to sustain his procedural roadblock to the budget deal.

But such a move might crystallize conservative dissatisfaction with the deal brokered by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in last-minute negotiations with Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Conservatives are angry the deal falls short of the benchmark of $100 billion in cuts below Obama's original budget proposal for this fiscal year.

Paul said that he would be more inclined to block action in the upper chamber if it led to consideration of the Senate GOP's balanced budget amendment.

But even if it came up in the Senate, Paul said that House GOP leaders would be reluctant to bring it up because even Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget does not balance out for at least two decades.

I'm really not seeing how the Randroid thought this threat through, honestly.  He's trying to force a vote on the balanced budget amendment, which none of the Republicans actually want to pass, because they want to give craploads of tax cuts to the rich and want to increase defense spending instead.  Republicans have no intention of balancing the budget, ever.  You know who did balance the budget in the last 40 years?

Clinton, the Democrat.  But I digress.

Rand here is not going to do anything other than complain about the deal...and that's it.  You lost this one, doofus.  Unless you want to blow up the budget deal and shut down the government.  Good luck with that.

And you don't have the stones, son.

A Desire Named Streetcar

As expected, Ohio Republicans in Columbus have all but killed the Cincy streetcar, canceling all state funding that was passed last year for the project.

Cincinnati’s streetcar project suffered a major blow during a meeting in Columbus Tuesday.

The Ohio Transportation Review Advisory Council voted not to award nearly $52 million to Cincinnati’s streetcar project.

That money had preliminary been approved last year.

But the funding got a second look after Governor John Kasich was sworn-in to office in January.

The decision leaves a major hole in the city’s financing plan for the $128 million first phase of the project to connect Downtown, Over The Rhine and the Uptown area near UC. 

Without that $52 million, the project is essentially dead as is.  There are plans to possibly move ahead with a smaller phase, but opponents of the plan say that the project will be shut down at the city level.  Mayor Mark Mallory is fighting for the project, but frankly the City Council now has the excuse to try to axe the project wholesale and they'll have the votes to do it, more than likely.  Certainly all four Republicans on the Council have been eager to kill it, and that leaves Chris Bortz as the swing vote.

The problem is, Bortz has his own issues with conflict of interest and the streecar project.

Bortz’s ability to continue to support the streetcar has been clouded by the conflicting legal advice he has received on whether the property holdings along the proposed streetcar route of Towne Properties, the family-owned business he works for, disqualify him for voting for the project.

Cincinnati City Solicitor John Curp has said that in his view Bortz may vote, saying that any benefits Towne Properties might derive from the streetcar line are not disproportionate from those of hundreds of other property owners.

But a staff attorney for the Ohio Ethics Commission issued an advisory opinion stating that Towne’s property creates a conflict of interest for Bortz that prevents him for voting on streetcar matters.

And that puts Bortz right back on the hot seat over this.  Republicans could make things very, very messy for Mayor Mallory as well as Bortz.  We'll see how this all shakes out.

Epic Fail: Margarita Style

Applebee's pledged to change its drink policy Monday after a Michigan toddler was rushed to the hospital when his sippy cup of apple juice came back full of margarita mix instead.

The restaurant chain made national headlines when Taylor Dill-Reese said that her 15-month-old had a BAC of .10 after sipping the mixed-up mixer.

So now, the restaurant chain promises, it will serve apple juice only from single-serve containers served at the table.  They will also "retrain all servers on our beverage pouring police, emphasizing that non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages must be stored in completely separate and identified containers."

So most folks are aware this has happened, but I confess I was shocked to learn it wasn't the first time.  The stories from 2006 and 2007 are almost identical to the recent one.  So even though this week's WTH is taken, I have to ask... what the hell, guys?  Once isn't great, but even the most diligent will slip after serving a million meals.  But three times, serving alcohol to babies, and they're just now moving to make a correction?

Well Now, That's Quite A Jackass You Have There

I don't even know what to say.  I'm an animal lover, sure.  I'm a believer in treating all creatures with dignity, and making sure I do not cause harm whenever possible.  This is just awful, even if you don't feel strongly about animals.  How a person could cause such pain to a creature is beyond me.  And on a rare occasion, two WTHs in a single day.

The squirrel was collected, cleaned and treated, then released back into the wild.

Obama Got The Win

Taking a realistic look at the $38.5 billion the Republicans held the country hostage for, it looks like they got short-changed in the details.

A close look at the government shutdown-dodging agreement to cut federal spending by $38 billion reveals that lawmakers significantly eased the fiscal pain by pruning money left over from previous years, using accounting sleight of hand and going after programs President Barack Obama had targeted anyway.

Such moves permitted Obama to save favorite programs — Pell grants for poor college students, health research and “Race to the Top” aid for public schools, among others — from Republican knives.

The full details of Friday’s agreement weren’t being released until late Monday when it was officially submitted to the House. But the picture already emerging is of legislation financed with a lot of one-time savings and cuts that officially “score” as savings to pay for spending elsewhere, but that often have little to no actual impact on the deficit.

As a result of the legerdemain, Obama was able to reverse many of the cuts passed by House Republicans in February when the chamber passed a bill slashing this year’s budget by more than $60 billion. In doing so, the White House protected favorites like the Head Start early learning program, while maintaining the maximum Pell grant of $5,550 and funding for Obama’s “Race to the Top” initiative that provides grants to better-performing schools.

Obama also repelled Republican moves to cut $1 billion in grants for community health centers and $500 million from biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health, while blocking them from “zeroing out” the AmeriCorps national service program and subsidies for public broadcasting [NPR].

Instead, the cuts that actually will make it into law are far tamer, including cuts to earmarks, unspent census money, leftover federal construction funding, and $2.5 billion from the most recent renewal of highway programs that can’t be spent because of restrictions set by other legislation. Another $3.5 billion comes from unused spending authority from a program providing health care to children of lower-income families.

In other words, the Republicans got outsmarted by Obama, and the Tea Party is pissed as a result, they wanted three times as many cuts plus the zeroing out of the programs they were against.

It makes the debt ceiling hostage game all the more serious for both sides, and Obama needs to move to end that nonsense tomorrow.

Budgetary Pushback

Democrats have finally done what they should have done a year ago, push back with a detailed budget plan of their own that counters the frame-shifting noise of Paul Ryan and friends.

As the focus on Capitol Hill shifts to America's long-run fiscal woes, Congressional progressives are one step ahead of the White House and Democratic leaders in offering a counter-proposal to the House GOP approach.

The broad sketch proposes to end the Bush-era tax cuts on high income earners, enact a surtax on millionaires and billionaires, increase the the estate tax and eliminate corporate tax loopholes and subsidies for oil and coal companies. It also aims to create a public health insurance option, end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and invest $1.45 trillion in "job creation," energy, housing and education programs.

The revenue-heavy proposal (PDF) stands in stark contrast to the spending cuts-oriented plan put forth by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) -- and championed by GOP leaders -- that slashes $6 trillion in federal programs (including Medicare and Medicaid) while significantly reducing taxes for wealthy Americans and corporations.

"This budget is transparent, straightforward and realistic about where we are in America right now," Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), co-chair of the progressive caucus, told Raw Story. "The Ryan plan, for all the credit it gets for thinking big, doesn’t reflect the reality of the American economy. It destroys the successful programs that made this country strong, especially Medicare and education, and doesn't even try to explain how it creates jobs. It reflects a faith that making government disappear will somehow create prosperity."

The plan is a nonstarter in the GOP-led House and would have a hard time winning over more than a handful of Democrats in the Senate. But Grijalva and his progressive caucus co-chair Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) wrote a letter urging Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the top Democrat on the budget committee, to consider their ideas in the Democratic counter-offer this week.

I recall Jon Cohn saying yesterday that Democrats needed a liberal counter to the Ryan Unicorn Plan.  Well guys, you got it.  It's got the whole kitchen sink in there:  the public option, killing the Bush tax cuts on the upper class and replacing them with Rep. Jan Schakowski's 45-47% tax rate on the wealthiest Americans, taxing capital gains and foreign income, getting rid of the limit on Social Security taxable income, putting in the Medicare doc fix, and increases education and infrastructure spending.

Oh, and they cut $5.7 trillion from the deficit and balance the budget by 2021.  Rep. Grivalja has a pretty good blueprint here and is putting it up to give the President ammunition for Wednesday.

Oh yes, it has about the same chance of passage as the Ryan plan, if not less.  But it's on the table.  You want to see if anyone in the Village praises it as "serious" like the Ryan plan, or even mentions it at all?

Playing To Win Versus Not Having To

There's been a lot of kvetching and moaning about "Why Progressives Can't Get Anything Done" and the answer is simple.  Progressives play to win an election.  Wingers play to not have to worry about themBooMan speaks the truth today.  Progressive failure is structural.

I stopped being very idealistic when I finally got around to making myself understand our system of government. I don't get disappointed by a whole lot because my expectations are so low. I see a real threat out there. I see a threat to our way of life and to all humanity, and it stares me in the face every single day. That threat isn't coming from Barack Obama or the Democratic Party. It's coming from the other side of the aisle. And insofar as the Democrats are failing to meet the challenge (and they are failing) the real culprit is deep and structural and ingrained in our system and in our laws.

You may have noticed that the right is engaged in this fight on a structural level. They go after the people who register voters. They pass laws making it harder to vote. They attack the unions. They attack MoveOn.org. They go after anyone in the media, be it Bill Maher, Keith Olbermann, Phil Donahue, or Dan Rather who expresses any skepticism about the right. They built their own cable news station and took over the radio spectrum. They make it so corporations can give unlimited money anonymously. They are coming after us with real aggression, trying to make it impossible for even middle-of-the-road Bill Clinton-style Democrats to get elected in this country. If we want to defend ourselves and ever see real progressive change in this country, we have to fight on this structural stuff. In the meantime, we're playing defense. And we can't do much more than that.

So, I'm obviously troubled and concerned about our country and the future, but I am pretty clear-sighted about what our limitations are and why we have to settle for so little. Our problems are not one man's fault. One man cannot fix them. But we also need to remember that we have one man standing between where we are now and an immeasurably worse situation. I think about that every day, too. 

We considered ourselves lucky in 1992 and 2008.  Both of those wins were followed by the House going back to the Republicans two years later and a government shutdown in the case of 1995.  Let's keep in mind that while Clinton was re-elected in 1996, and the American people hated Newt Gingrich at the time, the Republicans kept the House for another dozen years and they patiently waited until they had the whole ball of wax during Bush's first term to really push the structural stuff.

I poke fun at the Tea Party and the Republicans all the time.  It's a coping mechanism.  It doesn't mean they don't frighten the hell out of me.  Right now the Republicans are doing everything they can to make sure they will basically always win future elections.  The Democrats do not have that level of organization, media reach, or power at the state level that the Republicans have now and will continue to have for a very long time.  They've spent 30 years doing it and now it's finally paying off.

Now they have a chance to put us away for good, with Voter ID laws that seek to disenfranchise minorities and the poor, with redistricting that will maintain Republican power at the state level, even in states that are growing due to increased minority populations.  They have a chance to force structural, long-term changes in the federal budget to rearrange social safety net programs.  They are not playing for 2012.  They are playing for 2012 through 2042.

If anything, the lesson for progressives in the last two years is this:  you can't get anything truly progressive done in just two friggin years.  And since Obama took office, the progressives that have failed to figure that out are trying to do everything they can to take down the man standing between us and the tsunami of red state corporate fascism.  The last 30 years is not the fault of Barack Obama.

It's the fault of letting the Republicans have their way for the last three decades.  America pushed back a bit in 2008, and it was only because Obama played the corporate game even better than the Republicans did, because as an African-American he had to.  Some see him as a sellout.  I see him as the guy fighting fire with the necessary application of better fire.  Yes, Obama's playing their game, because it's the only game in town right now.  The GOP shifted to taking over the states instead and 2010 was a landslide for them.

Progressives showed they can fight back in states like Wisconsin and Indiana too.  That's what we need to do in all 50 states.  That's where the real fight is, not Washington, not at FOX News HQ, not on the AM dial, but your city council, your county commission, your school board, your statehouse.

We spent everything on one hell of a free agent in 2006-2008.  Republicans went out and got themselves an entire farm system instead.  Structural.  And the Republicans are literally killing us at it.

[UPDATE]  Taylor Marsh beautifully, spectacularly, and most eloquently misses the entire damn point.

These types of Democrats and progressives are willing to continue to enable the Democratic establishment, while propping up Pres. Obama to win a second term, even though he no longer represents the interests of the middle class or the poor, let alone progressives, which he was never going to do. I told you that years ago, while Obama loyalists said simply “he’s the one.” Now they’re saying, “he’s still the one,” even with proof he isn’t, which I warned he never would be.

And yet, not once does she voice a valid, electable, realistic alternative to Obama.  The problem is not Obama.  The problem is the political system that made Obama the lesser of a whole hell of a lot of evils.  Replacing Obama with somebody who will do exactly what Obama was forced to do by the system over the last two years is not the solution.  The solution is to change the system.  One election will not do this, just like one baseball game out of 162 won't win you the season.  Abandoning Obama, allowing the Republicans to take over, and then screaming and gnashing our teeth isn't the answer.  The 2008 election wasn't the end, it was the beginning, and we have a long way to go.

You can give up.  Back Kucinich or Nader or Hillary.   Split the party, weaken it more, but remember that the basic Democratic principles you bemoan also including hanging in on the long term fight, and not stabbing ourselves in the back.

This short view of Obama as the "biggest problem" progressives face is idiotic to the point of dismissal.  You ask at the end what the Tea Party would do?  Take over at the local level, rebuild the party base state by state, capture state after state, win redistricting battles, control state cabinet offices like AGs and Secretaries of State, build a wide selection of candidates, leverage that into congressional victories in the House and Senate...and then worry about the White House.


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