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We initially supported the deal House Speaker John Boehner cut with the White House to cut $38.5 billion from the rest of the fiscal year 2011 budget. It was only a pittance in the context of all of Washington’s red ink, but it seemed an acceptable start, even if we assumed it would be imperfect in its details. What we didn’t assume was that the agreement would be shot through with gimmicks and one-time savings. What had looked in its broad outlines like a modest success now looks like a sodden disappointment.
The Congressional Budget Office estimate shows that compared with current spending rates the spending bill due for a House vote Thursday would cut federal outlays from non-war accounts by just $352 million through Sept. 30. About $8 billion in immediate cuts to domestic programs and foreign aid are offset by nearly equal increases in defense spending.
When war funding is factored in the legislation would actually increase total federal outlays by $3.3 billion relative to current levels.
To a fair degree, the lack of immediate budget-cutting punch is because the budget year is more than half over and that cuts in new spending authority typically are slow to register on deficit tallies. And Republicans promise that when fully implemented and repeated year after year, the cuts in the measure would reduce the deficit by $315 billion over the coming decade.
Still, the analysis is an early lesson about Washington budgeting for junior lawmakers elected last year on promises to swiftly attack the deficit.
After balancing the needs of the country and the range of divergent views on the path forward, the 50-50 plan represents the most reasonable compromise. Under this plan, spending would be 22.7 percent of GDP, down from 24.8 percent of GDP in fiscal year 2010, and revenue would be 19.8 percent of GDP, still lower than the 20.6 percent of GDP raised at the end of the Clinton administration.
Read the full report (pdf)
Tea Party loyalists who wanted tens of billions more cut from this year’s spending were shaking their heads, and at least one senator was lamenting a budget omission he said would hit his state’s economy hard.
In fact, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was down right incensed over the decision not to include a mere $50,000 for an Army Corps of Engineers study on deepening the Port of Charleston in his home state and vowed to “tie the Senate in knots” by holding up Obama administration nominations.
The new USA Today Gallup poll helpfully supplies public opinion context: By two to one, Americans support only minor changes or none at all to Medicare; meanwhile, 59 percent support higher taxes on families making $250,000 or more.
Also: Americans narrowly oppose more significant spending cuts, 47-45. These numbers suggest that the public might be receptive if Dems make the debate about GOP priorities.
A new CNN poll suggests Obama may have an edge in the coming spending wars: The public favors Obama’s approach to cutting the budget while maintaining needed federal programs, 48-43.
Also interesting: Sixty eight percent think the GOP’s approach “unfairly favor some groups more than others,” which also suggests Dems should make the debate about priorities. But: A majority doesn’t think GOP proposals go “too far,” suggesting the Dem message about GOP extremism is not resonating.
An activist group took credit for putting out a fake press release claiming General Electric had decided to donate a purported $3.2 billion tax refund to the US Treasury.
The Associated Press news agency was among the media outlets duped by the elaborate stunt put together by a group called US Uncut with the help of another known as the Yes Men.
The hoax played on recent criticism of GE over reports that it did not pay US income takes last year despite raking billions of dollars in net profit.
The press release claimed that GE chief executive Jeffrey Immelt, in response to a “public outcry,” had decided to donate the $3.2 billion tax refund to the government to “help offset cuts and save American jobs.”
The AP wrote a brief story based on the press release before withdrawing it about half-an-hour later.
Politico is reporting this morning that House Republicans are gearing up to blame high gas prices on Obama. His offshore drilling moratorium, they say, is to blame for pump costs rocketing towards $5 a gallon. The GOP hasn’t specified yet whether this is not intended to be a factual statement, but: This is not a factual statement.
FactCheck.org got out ahead of the noise machine three weeks ago. Tank up on these fast facts so you can spank the congressional Republicans in your circle:
- Obama’s deepwater drilling moratorium had zero effect on gas prices.
- Domestic oil production was up last year, at its highest level since 2003, though it’s projected to go down 2 percent in the coming year.
- Gas prices are actually up because of a perfect storm of global events — including strikes in France, refinery operating problems in Central and South America, and unrest in the Middle East — and because of overall increased demand for oil.
There’s an image of the United States out there as the land of free market capitalism. And certainly there’s something to that. But it’s also the case that throughout our history, America has traditionally been the best educated country in the world. That goes all the way back to New England’s settlement by Bible-obsessed Puritans who through up schools everywhere so kids could learn to read the word of God. It continues through Justin Smith Morrill’s Land Grant Colleges Act, through an emphasis on being an attractive destination for high-skill workers, through to the GI Bill, and public school desegregation in the twenty years after 1955. But we’ve really slowed down. Our fancy colleges are getting more expensive rather than getting bigger or better. The downscale for-profit college sector is dynamic and innovative, but it’s basically a scam where barely anyone graduates. We’re not investing in high-quality preschool, we’re shutting the door on skilled migrants, and we’re not investing in effective job training programs. On top of that, we’ve created housing policies that generally make it too expensive for low-income families to move to school districts whose public school perform well!
And yet while all this is happening, financial deregulation has sucked an increasingly large share of ambitious people with technical skills into the financial sector and out of more entrepreneurial realms of endeavor.
This is encouraging: “privatization” is still a dirty word, when it comes to Medicare. At least, if you can judge by Speaker John Boehner, who says that the Republican plan to replace Medicare with vouchers that can by used to purchase private insurance is not privatization.
“There’s no privatizing of Medicare,” Boehner said. “We’re transforming Medicare so that it’ll be there for the future.”
A reporter asked Boehner whether his members support the GOP budget, which includes a plan to give seniors vouchers to buy insurance in a private marketplace. He offered less than a full-throated defense.
“I think it’s an option worth considering,” Boehner said. “I think our members are in full support of us continuing to march forward with our budget.”
The Republican Party has a bit of a problem: Their coalition is heavily weighted toward seniors. But their agenda is heavily weighted toward cuts to entitlement programs that benefit seniors. In 2010, they handled this by relentlessly attacking Democrats for the Medicare cuts in the Affordable Care Act. In 2011, they’re trying to handle it by saying that Paul Ryan’s Medicare cuts will exempt anyone under 55 — but because he’s keeping all the Medicare cuts from the Affordable Care Act and implementing them on schedule, that isn’t, by the GOP’s own logic, actually true.
I knew all of that, and so, probably, did you. But I still wasn’t expecting this:
The most popular position in the GOP’s coalition isn’t that Medicare needs a complete overhaul, as Ryan thinks. It isn’t that it needs major changes, or even that it needs minor changes. It’s that we shouldn’t try and control costs at all. That’s not true for the Democrats’ coalition, where both “minor changes” and “major changes” beat “no cost control,” and it’s not true for the independent coalition, where “minor changes” at least tie cost control.
And in more bad news for the GOP, elsewhere in the poll, raising taxes on the rich turns out to be very popular, while a plurality further cuts in programs.
The chairman of the U.S. Senate’s investigative subcommittee said he believes Goldman Sachs officials made misleading statements about their trading during the financial crisis and should be investigated criminally.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said on Wednesday that he plans to refer Goldman officials, and potentially officials from other organizations, to the Justice Department for possible prosecution and to the Securities and Exchange Commission for possible civil proceedings.
“In my judgment, Goldman clearly misled their clients and they misled the Congress,” said Levin, the chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
Levin’s statement came after a two-year, bipartisan investigation by his subcommittee. In one widely covered hearing in April 2010, as part of the investigation, senators sparred with Goldman officials over a mortgage-related product that a Goldman executive had referred to in an e-mail as a “shitty deal.”
Levin said prosecutors should look at not only Goldman’s statements to the public about its investment products, but also the statements officials made to Congress. Goldman officials, including chief executive Lloyd Blankfein, gave testimony that was “inaccurate,” Levin said. It is a crime under federal law to make a false statement to Congress or to obstruct congressional proceedings.
At issue are the investments Goldman made regarding mortgage-backed securities. Citing e-mails and other internal company documents, the Levin-Coburn report alleges that Goldman placed major bets against those types of securities even as it continued to sell them to clients. Blankfein testified a year ago that Goldman was “not consistently or significantly net short the market in residential mortgage-related products in 2007 and 2008.”
Tax evasion by Americans who use overseas bank accounts and financial services to hide their wealth from the U.S. government has prompted the Justice Department to look into fining foreign banks for violating U.S. law, a New York Times report revealed on Tuesday.
The Times, citing a government official and a private lawyer both on the condition of anonymity, said the Department of Justice could apply a penalty to banks who have American clients that hold foreign assets and who are potentially evading taxes.
A former foreman for Massey Energy has pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the federal criminal investigation of last year’s deadly coal mine disaster in West Virginia.
Thomas Harrah, 45, admits in a plea agreement (see below) to faking the foreman’s credentials he used at the Upper Big Branch mine and then lying about it to federal agents.
Mine foremen are responsible for conducting safety inspections before and during production shifts underground that are supposed to catch problems that could put lives at risk. Harrah failed the examination that would have certified him as a properly trained foreman.
The commander in chief invited me to attend tomorrow’s bill signing; I am honored to report for duty.
And as exciting:
Reclaiming my West Point ring at 1p in the majority leader’s office. I’m grateful for his leadership, service, and safe-keeping.
So Dan Choi will be there after all, along with some 500 other invited guests. And Harry Reid will return his West Point ring!
The signing ceremony will take place at 9:15 AM ET. I understand that it will take place in an auditorium in the Interior Department. I assume that it will be televised and/or streamed, but I don’t have any information on that yet.
Previewing Obama’s deficit reduction speech: A White House official emails a preview, saying that the core of Obama’s vision will be “shared prosperity and shared responsibility”:
President’s proposal will build off of the deficit reduction measures included in his 2012 budget and will borrow from the recommendations of the bipartisan Fiscal Commission he created. The President will lay out four steps to achieve this balanced approach, including: keeping domestic spending low, finding additional savings in our defense budget, reducing excess health care spending while strengthening Medicare and Medicaid, and tax reform that reduces spending in our tax code. The President will make clear that while we all share the goal of reducing our deficit and putting our nation back on a fiscally responsible path, his vision is one where we can live within our means without putting burdens on the middle class and seniors or impeding our ability to invest in our future.
The declaration that Obama will “borrow” from the fiscal commission is a suggestion that it won’t be the primary model for his speech. He wants to be seen taking ideas from many sources to craft a vision that is uniquely his, which would be in keeping with what we know of his M.O. The mention of “shared responsibility” and the vow to strengthen Medicare and not to put “burdens” on seniors is encouraging, and suggests that Obama may try to draw a sharp contrast with a GOP vision whose values and priorities are out of whack.
But we still don’t know whether Obama will make a persuasive and compelling moral case for an expansive vision of Democratic governance, or whether he’ll draw any sharp lines, or whether he’ll lay down a baseline that’s non-negotiable. And of course, when it comes to “borrowing” from the fiscal commission and “strengthening” Medicare, the details are what will count.
* Obama set to draw sharp lines? Marc Ambinder reports that the President will lay down a variety of things he cannot accept, such changing Medicare as we know it, or a budget approach that doesn’t ask the rich to pay more. Moderately encouraging…
* Obama to aggressively defend liberal governance? Howard Fineman reports: “Obama will offer viewers and voters a strong defense of the moral role of government.” Also encouraging…
* Setting the bar for Obama: Jonathan Cohn sets the bar at a good place: If Obama isn’t willing to delve into specifics, at a minimum he must frame the budget as a “test of our priorities” and make a “principled, moral case for shared sacrifice.”
* Obama will claim mantle of bipartisanship — for his own vision: An apt prediction from Steve Benen: “the president will present a very different vision, and make it seem like it’s the Simpson-Bowles plan.”
* Ceding turf to GOP could cost Dems their base: The Post has a big article that gets at the heart of why the left is angry over Obama’s handling of the spending wars: He has thus far agreed to fight the battle largely on the GOP’s turf.
* Dems determined not to be united on Social Security: A handful of Senate Democrats is signaling an openness to raising the retirement age, despite Harry Reid’s’ strong opposition, indicating in advance that Dems won’t have a united front on “entitlements.”
* Better Dem messaging on Medicare needed: Joan McCarter suggests: “It’s the narrative Obama should adopt for tomorrow’s speech: In privatizing Medicare, Republicans want to dismantle it.”
* Medicare history lesson of the day: Andrew Leonard traces the history of conservative opposition to medical reform all the way back to 1964, a reminder that what we’re seeing today is only the latest chapter in a decades-long ideological struggle.
Pundit Roundup AFTER the President’s speech:
President Barack Obama staked out his long-term vision for deficit-reduction on Wednesday, proposing to save the government $4 trillion in 12 years or less by offering proposals to reform Medicare and overhaul tax policies that differ dramatically from a plan offered by congressional Republicans.
In a speech at George Washington University, Obama defended the Medicare program, but said he would control its growth and cut its spending on drugs; end tax breaks for families making $250,000 a year or more; and squeeze $360 billion from programs including agricultural subsidies and federal pension insurance.
Obama’s ideas contrasted sharply with Republican proposals to lower taxes for individuals and corporations; privatize Medicare and turn Medicaid over to states to administer. Raising any taxes is a “nonstarter,” Republicans say.
David Dayen argues it’s a mistake to play the game on GOP turf, but didn’t otherwise have a major problem with the speech:
This could have been a ton worse. Other than the fact that this speech is being given at all, I didn’t have a major problem with it.
Huffington Post led with the plan’s top line:
In an effort to recast the debate over the nation’s fiscal future, President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday a plan to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over 12 years.
Andrew Sullivan saw the speech as classic Obama:
it was classic Obama – a center left approach to a center-right conviction: that the debt is unsustainable; that we all have to make sacrifices; that defense-cutting, reducing the cost of healthcare; and tax reform are integral to this possibility.
And it looks as if he will indeed use the debt ceiling moment to push some version of this through. I didn’t get the sense from this speech that he was only planning to do this in his second term. And surely, after the cold shock of the Ryan plan, his less draconian vision for the vulnerable will be popular in the middle. The least persuasive part of the GOP proposal is its refusal to ask anything from the top one percent in this crisis. Obama saw this, and went for it.
At Balloon Juice, John Cole enjoyed watching Obama hammer the GOP over the Ryan plan to abolish Medicare:
Obama Takes Ryan and the GOP to the Woodshed…He can barely suppress a laugh as he repeatedly points out how unserious it actually is.
Meanwhile, L.A. Times reports:
House Republicans appear to be all aboard the Ryan Express—and there ain’t no stopping it now.
Even as President Obama laid out his own deficit reduction plan Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner was forging ahead with plans for his caucus to vote on Rep. Paul Ryan’s sweeping blueprint to radically reshape Medicare and Medicaid—and he offered unswerving support for the proposal.
“I fully support Paul Ryan’s budget, including his efforts on Medicare,” Boehner told reporters after meeting with Obama at the White House.
Paul Krugman actually was pleasantly surprised but doesn’t want to see this as a starting point in negotiations:
Much better than many of us feared. Hardly any Bowles-Simpson — yay … I could live with this as an end result. If this becomes the left pole, and the center is halfway between this and Ryan, then no — better to pursue the zero option of just doing nothing and letting the Bush tax cuts as a whole expire.
TIME sees taxes taking center stage:
President Obama didn’t offer a lot of specifics about how he intends to close the federal budget deficit in his speech at GW Wednesday, but he did make one thing clear: he intends to go head-to-head with Republicans over taxes.
That makes political sense. If he’s going to go after $2 trillion in spending, as his aides say he will in coming negotiations, he’s going to have to give Democrats, for many of whom that spending is sacred, some red meat. That red meat is $1 trillion in tax hikes aimed at primarily at the rich.
Daily Caller echoes the GOP line:
The president’s budget deficit speech is a vague framework for saving $2,000 billion and taxing an extra $1,000 billion by 2023, but is also a brightly drawn blueprint for campaign-trail criticism of Republican candidates.
Jim DeMint is so bad at math that he thinks reducing excess spending and raising revenues will make us bankrupt:
The President made it absolutely clear today that Democrats will cling bitterly to deficit spending until our nation is bankrupt .
Fox thought Obama’s speech would split liberals:
The president is wading into a potential political thicket. Liberals fear he will propose cuts in prized Democratic programs like Medicare and Medicaid, the health care programs for older adults, the disabled and the poor, and in Social Security.
Steve Benen thought Obama did an effective job defending progressive values:
As heartening as it was to hear President Obama’s full-throated condemnation of the House Republican budget plan — he didn’t pull any punches — what made his remarks this afternoon especially satisfying was his defense of the progressive vision.
How Ryan set up Obama’s comeback
“Whatever you do, don’t serve to his backhand.”
“Don’t be nervous. I have the new Ryan serve. It’s bold!”
“Trust me on this. Don’t serve to his backhand.”
There are at least four things to like about his approach. First, without mentioning Rep. Paul Ryan by name, he called out Ryan’s truly reactionary budget proposal for what it is: an effort to slash government programs, in large part to preserve and expand tax cuts for the wealthy. “That’s not right,” he said, “and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m president.”
Second, he was willing to speak plainly about raising taxes, and he insisted correctly on restoring the Clinton-era tax rates for the wealthy. Tax reform, which he also proposed, is a fine idea, though there is ample reason for skepticism as to how much revenue it can produce. It would be far better to return to all of the Clinton tax rates and then build tax reform on that base, in particular through higher taxes on investment income.
Third, he was right to focus on the need to cut security spending. Any serious effort to reduce the deficit cannot exempt defense. It’s laughable for Republicans to criticize defense cuts and then be utterly unwilling to increase taxes to pay for the defense they claim we need.
Finally, he was eloquent in defending Medicare and Medicaid. He proposed saving money by building on last year’s heath-reform law. There are two ways to reduce the government’s heath-care expenses. One is Ryan’s path, which, Obama said, “lowers the government’s health-care bills by asking seniors and poor families to pay them instead.” The alternative, which the president rightly embraced, “lowers the government’s health-care bills by reducing the cost of health care itself.”
How Obama used Paul Ryan
President Obama may be criticized after his speech Wednesday for not providing many specifics about his plan to cut the national debt.
What he will not be criticized for is being too soft on Republicans.
The target of Obama’s speech was unmistakable, as the president used his pulpit at George Washington University to lay into the House Republican plan proposed by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
Republicans already failed one test of whether they are serious about passing a debt-reduction plan: Against political and mathematical
reality, House Speaker John Boehner (R) on Tuesday insisted that any
proposal from the president that included any tax increase would be a
“non-starter.” Now here’s another test of Republicans’ sobriety on
debt: Whether they start talking about “Death Panels” or “health-care
This is going to generate a tremendous amount of reaction. Then again, that was the intent.
My initial impression is that this looks a lot like the Simpson-Bowles report, but in a good way. It doesn’t go quite as far on defense cuts, but it also doesn’t implement a cap on tax or spending. It goes a lot further than Ryan’s budget does in terms of actually figuring out ways to save money rather than just using caps to shift costs onto states/beneficiaries.
In truth, Mr Obama’s speech today was less a blueprint of how to save America from fiscal ruin than a means to establish a stronger negotiating position. Until last week, Simpson-Bowles had represented the centre of the fiscal debate; it was the basis for the Gang of Six’s deliberations. Mr Ryan’s plan threatened to move the centre of debate significantly to the right. By staking out ground to the left of Simpson-Bowles, Mr Obama may succeed in moving the debate back to the centre.
I could live with this as an end result. If this becomes the left pole, and the center is halfway between this and Ryan, then no — better to pursue the zero option of just doing nothing and letting the Bush tax cuts as a whole expire.
His rebuttal of the Ryan plan was all very well–I agree it’s no good–but the administration still lacks a rival plan. That, surely, is what this speech had to provide, or at least point to, if it was going to be worth giving in the first place. His criticisms of Ryan and the Republicans need no restating. And did the country need another defense of public investment in clean energy and the American social contract? It wanted to be told how fiscal policy is going to be mended: if not by the Ryan plan, with its many grave defects, then how?
Not only did Obama fail to resurrect his own deficit commission’s plan, he offered nothing specific in response to the specifics Paul Ryan and the GOP have already laid on the table. It’s almost impossible to present a substantive criticism of the proposal because it contains nothing substantive, an impression that more and more people have of this White House.
The new health care reforms sound very good upon initial inspection–and, particularly when added to cost controls already in the Affordable Care Act, this is far more serious than what Paul Ryan and the Republicans have in mind. And if Obama is more serious about controlling health care costs, then he’s more serious about reducing deficits overall.
Obama left other deficit reduction ideas on the table. He does not support raising the Medicare retirement age to 67, as Ryan suggests. A senior administration official was also careful to point out that capping or eliminating the tax exclusion for job-sponsored health benefits has not been proposed. (This was a major proposal in Simpson-Bowles and one that health care economists say should be seriously considered if the long-term health spending crisis is to be addressed.) Simpson-Bowles also recommended increasing cost-sharing for Medicare beneficiaries; Obama said nothing about this.
Essentially, the president declared that he still wants to raise taxes, that he is opposed to any substantive changes to entitlements — oh, and he wants to raise taxes. He did suggest that if somehow he hasn’t been able to cut spending by 2014 (anyone taking bets?), he would appoint a commission to recommend spending cuts and (surprise) tax increases. A commission: Now there’s an original idea.
That speech was not so especially eloquent. It was, however, very effective. It frames the debate in a way that is maximally useful for Democrats. This framing was made possible by the efforts of Republicans themselves, blinded by their own hopes, misdirected by their own messaging.
The Republican approach has been to embrace such radical proposals that they pull the terms of the debate rightward, making the unthinkable thinkable. The weakness of this approach is that it forces the party to adopt wildly unpopular positions. And not just wildly unpopular because they’re “bold.” Wildly unpopular because, as Obama explained, they benefit the rich and powerful and victimize the powerless, and they violate Americans’ basic sense of civic obligation. They only way to force Republicans to abandon their maximalism is to force them to pay a price for their extremism. Today’s speech may or may not result in a budget deal–I still prefer for Obama to wait until the Bush tax cuts expire–but it was an important step in that direction.
[T]here was a lot of liberals to love in this speech. Don’t think this will shift public opinion substantially — remember the bully pulpit fallacy — but it sends a clear signal to Democrats who have spent the last couple of days wondering whether they were supposed to run around defending everything in Simpson-Bowles now that the battle lines have been drawn.
[I]f Obama had actually offered a multi-decade blueprint, like Ryan did, he would have had to concede that there’s no way he can pay for all his spending over the long term without Washington raisingtaxes on the middle-class and probably instituting a value-added tax. (On that count, one nonpartisan budget expert told me, the Obama plan is “ridiculous.”)
Question: is Obama laying down a marker in hopes of getting a bill that extends only the middle-class [Bush tax] cuts? Or is he laying down a marker knowing that Republicans will refuse to budge and therefore the entire Bush tax cut package will expire?
I fully expected the Democrats to respond to the Ryan budget by simple undiluted demagoguery—that is, with the “Paul Ryan’s America” part of this speech alone. And some Democrats in Congress have certainly done that, with all the usual preposterous dishonesty of the Democrats’ Mediscare playbook. But this speech did not limit itself to that. Its demagoguery was diluted some. It accepted Paul Ryan’s definition of the fiscal problem, and it accepted more or less his broad outline of what a solution would look like in fiscal terms—in terms of deficit and debt reduction. And so it defined the debate going forward as a debate about how best to achieve the Republicans’ fiscal goals.
[T]he president has decided to come off the sidelines and participate actively in the debate. He called for negotiations involving both parties and both houses of Congress as well as the White House to begin in early May. This discussion will be neither short nor easy. While it must reach some concrete agreements prior to a vote to raise the debt ceiling (a linkage the president seems to have accepted), many important issues are bound to be left unresolved by the president’s target date of late June. This momentous fiscal debate will probably dominate the 112th Congress and shape the 2012 presidential contest as well.
Right or wrong, “The People” whom the left extol as the virtuous voice of democratic government voted, in part, for deficit reduction — now. In my view, and obviously that of the president, now is the wrong time. But elections do have consequences. Cutting some spending — now — is one of them. Hence Obama is only accepting the people’s wishes, as well as juggling the resulting and rather brutal reality of Capitol Hill.
[T]his was a good first speech of the 2012 re-election campaign. I have no doubt that it will reassure most of the Democratic base and appeal to the independents who are very skeptical of the Tea Party Republicans.
The president didn’t completely reframe that discussion today, nor did he offer many details to illuminate his own vision. The president has been a historically weak negotiator with Congressional Republicans, so these details will matter a lot in the months and weeks ahead. But at least the president offered the country a choice between two different philosophical visions about the role that government should play in our society. The public can now decide whether they’d like to gut the social safety net or protect it. I’m guessing they’ll choose the latter.
The man America elected president has re-emerged.
For months, the original President Obama had disappeared behind mushy compromises and dimly seen principles. But on Wednesday, he used his budget speech to clearly distance himself from Republican plans to heap tax benefits on the rich while casting adrift the nation’s poor, elderly and unemployed. Instead of adapting the themes of the right to his own uses, he set out a very different vision of an America that keeps its promises to the weak and asks for sacrifice from the strong.
The deficit-reduction plan he unveiled did not always live up to that vision and should have been less fixated on spending cuts at the expense of tax increases. It may give up too much as an opening position. But at least it was a reasonable basis for a conversation and is far better than its most prominent competitors. That is because it is grounded in themes of generosity and responsibility that, until recently, had been shared by leaders of both parties.
Negotiations with an implacable opposition are about to get much tougher, but it was a relief to see Mr. Obama standing up for the values that got him to the table.
The president laid out a vision of optimism and equal opportunity that made Paul Ryan and the GOP look small
Some recommended takes on Obama’s speech: E.J. Dionne on how Obama has “finally decided to take his own side” in the grand philosophical struggle of the moment, and on why he really needs to stay on his own side.
Adam Serwer on how Obama just delivered the most full-throated defense of the welfare state — and of the legacy of Democratic presidents — of his career.
* The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities on why Obama’s plan, for all the stirring rhetoric, is still fundamentally a center-right one.
* Steve Benen warns that if this is the starting point, a middle ground between this and Paul Ryan would be unacceptable, meaning that Obama’s fight has only just begun.
* Massimo Calabresi says Obama will have no choice but to stage a major showdown over the tax cuts for the rich, in order to give the base something to offset disappointment over other future concessions.
* Steve Stromberg on how the policy details of Obama’s propsal toss the ball back into the GOP’s court and will test Republicans’ seriousness about the deficit.
* Jonathan Bernstein on how Obama’s speech was directed to a surprising degree at liberals who needed to be reminded that Obama does view government as a force for progressive change.
* Jon Chait finally heard some moral outrage.
* The House GOP view: This speech was Obama’s blueprint for reelection.
* If so, Digby says, it will work, because it has the virtue of appealing to liberals and independents.
* Tim Pawlenty comes out against the $38 billion budget deal, suggesting that demagoguing ever further to the right on spending will be a feature of the 2012 GOP primary.
* Watch this one: Rank and file House Dems call on the Dem leadership to take a firm stand in favor of a clean vote on raising the debt ceiling. No flirting with any deals.
* And right-leaning David Frum warns Republicans that they’re dangerously close to deluding themselves into believing that their Medicare and high-end tax-cut policies have popular support.
For some time now, a bunch of us have been wondering when — or whether — Obama would step up and make a strong case for an expansive vision of Democratic governance. With Republicans initiating what may be the most consequential argument over the proper role of government in decades — a debate over the legacy of the great liberal achievements of the 20th Century — we’ve all been wondering whether Obama would respond with a level of ambition and seriousness of purpose that he’s shown when taking on other big arguments.
By this standard — in rhetorical terms — it’s fair to say Obama delivered. Sure, the speech trafficked a bit in the usual “speaking hard truths to both sides” positioning. And speeches are the easy part: Obama’s words jarred against recent actions, and what Obama actually does in the months to come will be what either ratifies today’s promises or renders them meaningless. But Obama did offer perhaps the most ambitious defense he may have ever attempted of American liberalism and of what it means to be a Democrat.
Crucially, right at the outset, Obama cast the battle with the GOP as one over whether we are going to maintain the social safety net and the national social contract as we’ve understood it for decades — and cast this question as central to our national identity. He used a key word — “commitments” — to describe Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment insurance, insisting: “We would not be a great country without those commitments.” In other words, the social safety net and the liberal social contract are indispensable components of America’s greatness.
Obama also made a strong moral case against the Paul Ryan vision, describing it as “less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America.” He offered a critique of the Beltway meme that Ryan’s proposals are “courageous” that, notably, was grounded in an ideal of social justice.
“There’s nothing courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it,” Obama said. “The America I know is generous and compassionate.”
Finally, Obama placed tax hikes for the rich at the very center of the debate, arguing that the “worst” thing about the GOP vision is this: “Even though we can’t afford to care for seniors and poor children, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy.”
There’s no ignoring the fact that such stirring rhetoric jars against Obama’s recent deal with Republicans to continue the tax cuts for the rich, and some will be understandably wary of his stated moral conviction about them. But the President did draw a sharp line — one that will be hard to climb down from — on the coming fight over whether to let them expire: “I refuse to renew them again.”
On entitlements, it’s true that Obama repeated the formulation — disliked on the left — that we will reform entitlements without “slashing” benefits for future generations, which leaves the door open to mere “cuts.” But Obama did draw a hard line on defending Medicare’s core mission, and crucially, he did so while reiterating the speech’s larger message, which was that the Democratic version of the social contract is inviolable.
“I will preserve these health care programs as a promise we make to each other in this society,” he said. “We will reform these programs, but we will not abandon the fundamental commitment this country has kept for generations.”
We cannot know right now whether the steadfastness of Obama’s rhetoric in defending core liberal and Democratic ideals will be matched by equal resoluteness in practice when the battles heat up and the temptation to make deals and jettison core priorities intensifies. But Obama did tell us in clear and unequivocal moral terms what he thinks it means to be a Democrat, and those who have been waiting for him to do so should be quite satisfied by what they heard.
UPDATE: In retrospect, it was wrong of me to suggest that Obama positioned himself between two “allegedly equivalent extremes.” The President was very agressive in calling out the radicalism of the right, and it wasn’t drawing an equivalence with the left when he insisted that doing nothing on the deficit is not an option. His tone was more one of speaking hard truth to both sides, though of course, liberals will continue to protest that the prioritization of the deficit itself is a concession of sorts to the right. I’ve edited the above in the interests of fairness.
It’s a seductive Beltway storyline: The President is in danger of losing liberals by ceding too much ground to Republicans. That’s the subject of a big Washington Post story today, and there will be plenty more along these lines.
In fact, despite the loud criticism of Obama from prominent lefties, liberal and Democratic rank and file support for Obama remains solid. The one who really has the most to fear from an angry base is House Speaker John Boehner.
The Post reports:
Key liberal groups, which helped elect Obama in 2008, are raising concerns that he has given up political ground to Republicans, allowing the message of reducing government to trump that of creating jobs and lowering the unemployment rate.
Seizing on Friday’s deal, which would cut $38.5 billion from the fiscal 2011 budget, activists on Tuesday threatened to sit out the 2012 presidential campaign if Obama goes too far with further cuts.
While it’s a bad idea to cut spending before the economy has completely recovered, the details of the budget compromise that have emerged suggest that Obama may have gotten a better deal than expected.
And while there’s a lot of disappointment among liberal elites and activists about Obama, the truth is that he hasn’t lost much standing with rank and file liberals or Democrats.
Gallup’s weekly demographics poll shows Obama’s approval rating among liberals and Democrats has been relatively stable over the past month. A recent CNN poll also showed that Democrats and independents broadly approved of the budget compromise even before the details were really out, which makes sense since unlike Republicans who seemed eager for a shutdown, Democrats tend to like compromise.
Indeed, it’s precisely because Obama’s standing among liberals and Democrats is so strong that liberal activists and elites have to make so much noise to hold his feet to the fire. Conservative elites, through an incredibly influential media ecosystem that includes Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and others, have much more influence over the opinions of the conservative base than liberal elites do over theirs.
Boehner is the person who really has to worry about pleasing his base. That same CNN poll, while giving him broad approval ratings among Republicans, still showed that a bare majority of GOPers believe he has given up too much ground, and his approval ratings among conservatives and Republicans are far lower than Obama’s standing among liberals and Democrats.
This is partly why Obama has more leeway that Republican leaders to compromise — and why it’s all the more important for liberal groups to pressure him to prevent him from giving too much ground.
The top line of the new USA Today/Gallup poll offers a fairly predictable result: Americans are closely split on “significant” cuts in domestic spending. A narrow plurality (47%) opposes the idea, but nearly as many (45%) support it. The partisan gap is enormous — by 2-to-1 margin, Dems oppose more cuts; by the same margin, Republicans support them.
That’s not the interesting part. This is.
[Poll respondents] overwhelmingly oppose making major changes to Medicare. By 2-to-1, they support minor changes or none at all to control costs, rather than major changes or a complete overhaul. Even a third of Republicans say the government should not try to control the costs of Medicare.
Just yesterday, the NYT noted that Republicans “are calculating that the political ground has shifted, making the public, concerned about the mounting national debt, receptive to proposals” to reshape Medicare. Leading GOP voices have been pressing this point for weeks.
They’re completely wrong, and just as importantly, they’re on the wrong side of public opinion. Americans aren’t “receptive” to radical Medicare changes; the mainstream wants the exact opposite.
And then there was this gem:
[Poll respondents] favor imposing higher taxes on families with household incomes of $250,000 and above, as Obama has endorsed: 59% support the idea, 37% oppose it.
So, let’s review. Americans, by wide margins, want Medicare left alone and higher taxes on the wealthy. Republicans want Medicare eliminated and massive tax breaks for the wealthy.
Note to Democrats: you can negotiate from a position of strength. Americans aren’t buying what Republicans are selling.
A few days after its main sponsor met with Donald Trump, Arizona’s “birther bill” has passed the state Senate. The bill requires a sworn statement confirming the candidates residents and… drum roll… (sorry for the caps):
A CERTIFIED COPY OF THE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE’S LONG FORM BIRTH CERTIFICATE THAT INCLUDES AT LEAST THE DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH, THE NAMES OF THE CANDIDATE’S MOTHER AND FATHER, INCLUDING INFORMATION SUFFICIENT TO DETERMINE THE CITIZENSHIP OF BOTH PARENTS, THE NAMES OF THE HOSPITAL AND THE ATTENDING PHYSICIAN, IF APPLICABLE, AND SIGNATURES OF ANY WITNESSES IN ATTENDANCE.
That’s for every candidate, so only Donald Trump can qualify for the ballot as of right now. This has been written so that Barack Obama’s certificate of live birth, which does not include the name of the hospital and attending physician, does not count.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
Repetition is used everywhere—advertising, politics and the media—but does it really persuade us? Psychology studies reveal all…
We see ads for the same products over and over again. Politicians repeat the same messages endlessly (even when it has nothing to do with the question they’ve been asked). Journalists repeat the same opinions day after day.
Can all this repetition really be persuasive?
It seems too simplistic that just repeating a persuasive message should increase its effect, but that’s exactly what psychological research finds (again and again). Repetition is one of the easiest and most widespread methods of persuasion. In fact it’s so obvious that we sometimes forget how powerful it is.
People rate statements that have been repeated just once as more valid or true than things they’ve heard for the first time. They even rate statements as truer when the person saying them has been repeatedly lying (Begg et al., 1992).
And when we think something is more true, we also tend to be more persuaded by it. Several studies have shown that people are more swayed when they hear statements of opinion and persuasive messages more than once.
Easy to understand = true
This is what psychologists call the illusion of truth effect and it arises at least partly because familiarity breeds liking. As we are exposed to a message again and again, it becomes more familiar. Because of the way our minds work, what is familiar is also true. Familiar things require less effort to process and that feeling of ease unconsciously signals truth (this is called cognitive fluency).
As every politician knows, there’s not much difference between actual truth and the illusion of truth. Since illusions are often easier to produce, why bother with the truth?
The exact opposite is also true. If something is hard to think about then people tend to believe it less. Naturally this is very bad news for people trying to persuade others of complicated ideas in what is a very complicated world.
Some studies have even tested how many times a message should be repeated for maximum effect. These suggest that people have the maximum confidence in an idea after it has been repeated between 3 and 5 times (Brinol et al., 2008). After that, repetition ceases to have the same effect and may even reverse.
Because TV adverts are repeated many more times than this, advertisers now use subtle variations in the ads to recapture our attention. This is an attempt to avoid the fact that while familiarity can breed liking, over-familiarity tends to breed contempt.
When repetition fails
Repetition is effective almost across the board when people are paying little attention, but when they are concentrating and the argument is weak, the effect disappears (Moons et al., 2008).
In other words, it’s no good repeating a weak argument to people who are listening carefully. But if people aren’t motivated to scrutinise your arguments carefully then repeat away with abandon—the audience will find the argument more familiar and, therefore, more persuasive.
When the argument is strong, though, it doesn’t matter whether or not the audience is concentrating hard, repetition will increase persuasion. Unfortunately I find it’s often people with the best arguments who don’t repeat them enough.
When people are debating an issue together in a meeting, you can see a parallel effect. When one person in a group repeats their opinion a few times, the other people think that person’s opinion is more representative of the whole group (see my previous article: loudest voice = majority opinion).
The same psychology is at work again: to the human mind there is little difference between appearances and truth. What appears to be true might as well actually be true, because we tend to process the illusion as though it were the truth.
It’s a depressing enough finding about the human ability to process rational arguments but recent research has shown an even more worrying effect. We can effectively persuade ourselves through repetition. A study has shown that when an idea is retrieved from memory, this has just as powerful a persuasive effect on us as if it had been repeated twice (Ozubki et al., 2010).
The aspiring sceptic, therefore, should be especially alert to thoughts that come quickly and easily to mind—we can easily persuade ourselves with a single recall of a half-remembered thought.
Students are conducting administration building occupations in eleven of the 23 campuses of the California State University system. The student activists are protesting budget cuts and demanding the resignation of the Cal State chancellor, Charles B. Reed.
[…]The occupations currently underway are part of a statewide day of protest throughout the CSU system. According to this article, student/faculty demonstrations were planned for all of the Cal State campuses today.
In response to the “severe budget cuts that would disproportionately target the poor and the hungry at home and abroad,” 28 Members of Congress are joining 35,000 Americans in former Congressman and Ambassador Tony Hall’s Hungerfast — an effort launched March 28 to demand that the budget deficit not be balanced on the backs of the vulnerable. In protest of “the severe cuts being proposed to poverty-focused international assistance programs” which “largely hurt women and girls globally” who represent “60 percent of the hungry worldwide,” 14 Democratic congresswomen will fast this week:
Fasters are demanding that the budget deficit not be closed by slashing programs targeting the vulnerable at a time of economic distress. In particular, Women Thrive co-launched this effort to draw attention to the severe cuts being proposed to poverty-focused international assistance programs, which will largely hurt women and girls globally. Women are the majority of the poor and 60 percent of the hungry worldwide.[…]
The women members fasting this week are Representatives Karen Bass (D-CA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Susan Davis (D-CA), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Donna Edwards (D-MD), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Laura Richardson (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Terri Sewell (D-AL), and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA).
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Fascism is not defined by the number of its victims, but by the way it kills them. ~ Sartre