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What Were Obama’s Real Options?

Andrew Sullivan:

The debt ceiling deal: What should we have expected?

The Monkey Cage:

I’m seeing tons of assessments of “who won” the debt-ceiling bargaining, with basically every single one saying the Republicans did much better.  The analyses stress that the Republicans got no tax increases (or even loophole closures) and lots of cuts, thus not anything like the more balanced deal the President had argued was fair and best for the country.  Even commenters who think the Dem’s didn’t do as badly as the consensus view seem to believe that the administration would be just terrible at buying rugs in Morocco.

But I’m wondering, What should we expect in terms of bargaining power here?

Isn’t it the case that when it comes to making laws, the Constitution gives “Congress” the power to make take-it-or-leave-it offers to the president?  (That is, the president’s only formal power over legislation is the veto.)   That’s all the structural bargaining power.  “Congress” should be able to extract all the surplus if it wants to, which is to say it should be able to make an offer that makes the president just prefer not to veto it.  In this case, since a veto could have had terrible economic consequences and probably saddled Obama with a lot of the public blame for them, “Congress” could get practically anything it wanted.

Ok, it’s not “Congress,” instead it’s two chambers.  So the law that gets through has to get the median dude in the House, and 60th most liberal senator.  The 60th most liberal Senator is not all that liberal, no?  Is the argument that even that guy preferred some increase in tax revenues, but lousy bargaining skill meant that the Dem’s didn’t get that?

Or is the idea that Boehner was able to use an implicit threat that he would be deposed by his caucus if the deal had tax increases (or other stuff hated by his radicals) to credibly commit to only pass a bill somewhere off to the right of the House median?   If so (or under some other party cartel sort of story), the argument would be that the administration could have extracted more from Boehner because they were misjudging what his red lines were?

I know another common argument out there is that Obama didn’t have to choose between veto and sign—he could have invoked the 14th amendment or made some other emergency claim, or have just threatened  to invoke it.  Again, I’m no American Politics expert, but I’m wondering if that’s actually realistic.  In addition to setting a terrible precedent, everyone could see that that could be a very messy course for Obama, so it’s not clear that it would have been a particularly credible threat.

Further, suppose he had made such threats anyway, in attempt to gain bargaining leverage.  Mightn’t this have made some on the other side even more intransigent, since if Obama dropped the bomb it could relieve them of responsibility for raising the debt ceiling?  (I’m guessing that’s one reason why the administration was so insistent about rejecting the 14th amendment route; they wanted to keep the pressure on Congress.)  If so, then not so clear he could have gotten much bargaining leverage out of that move.

So I don’t know, maybe Obama is bad at legislative poker, but I’d like to know more about how the argument works.   Seems to me that he has very little bargaining power to begin with in a legislative situation like this one. And this is not so much because the economy is terrible and his favorability ratings are low, but because the U.S. Constitution has it that Congress organizes its own procedures and makes the laws, basically.

Center for American Progress Analysis of the Debt Deal

The debt deal struck this weekend does nothing to help with the biggest problem facing our nation: anemic job growth and a faltering economy. In fact, by putting a noose on public investments and tightening the squeeze on the middle class, the deal goes straight in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, conservatives put the country on the precipice of an economic calamity that would have ensued had Congress not raised the debt limit. Precisely because of conservative willingness to carry through on that irresponsible threat, this agreement skews toward conservative priorities.

There is the potential for one saving grace, however. The special congressional committee created by the deal, which is tasked with presenting to Congress a proposal for further deficit reduction, has the authority to recommend policies aimed at getting the economy moving again. As leadership in both houses and both parties choose their appointees, they should select those for whom job creation and economic growth are the top priorities. If the committee fails to produce a plan that furthers those goals, its proposals should be rejected.

It’s especially important for the committee to produce a plan that creates jobs and spurs growth because the committee’s proposals will come on top of a set of already-dramatic spending cuts that will have adverse economic consequences. The deal starts out with caps on discretionary spending that are much tighter for domestic, nondefense programs than they are for the Pentagon. As a category, nondefense discretionary is home to the most important public investments our federal government makes, including education, highway building and repair, scientific research and development, clean energy projects, and health care research. It also houses some areas of support for the vulnerable and those hardest hit by the economic downturn. This category also includes all of the nuts and bolts of everyday government operations such as food inspections, air traffic control, border security, and law enforcement. The caps on this category of spending would amount to cuts of more than 11 percent, compared to the current baseline.

On the defense side of the ledger, the initial round of cuts is much less severe. Defense spending, excluding ongoing war costs, would suffer a 3.5 percent cut compared to the baseline.

To the dealmakers’ credit, the initial round of cuts holds harmless the largest programs that serve low-income households because these are not in the “discretionary” part of the budget. The country’s safety net is porous as it is. Further cuts would have been a grave injustice—especially since this is legislation that asks nothing from the wealthiest or largest corporations.

Together, the initial cuts to nondefense and defense discretionary spending will cut the budget about $1 trillion over the next 10 years. That, however, is only the first stage. The second stage is where the special congressional committee becomes involved.

This committee will consist of 12 members of Congress: six from each party drawn equally from both chambers. They are assigned the task of coming up with $1.5 trillion of deficit reduction over the next 10 years. Importantly, the committee’s proposal must be put to a majority vote in both houses of Congress and therefore may better reflect the will of the American people by including revenues as part of its solution. If the committee is unable to achieve $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction, or if Congress refuses to pass the recommendation, then $1.2 trillion of spending cuts will occur automatically, split evenly between defense cuts and nondefense cuts. The deal, however, exempts from automatic cuts Social Security, Medicaid, and other low-income programs.

Exempting these essential safety net programs from sequester preserves a long and essential tradition from prior deficit reduction packages. Medicare would not be exempt from the automatic cuts but the cuts would be limited to 2 percent, all from payments to health care providers and none from payments to beneficiaries. It’s important to note, however, that none of these rules apply to the committee itself. If its proposals are adopted, they would supersede the automatic cuts.

If the committee fails and the automatic cuts go into effect, the total cuts to defense would amount to about 12.5 percent from the current nonwar baseline. This includes both the initial round of cuts plus this new, automatic round. The discretionary part of nondefense spending would be cut by nearly 17 percent compared to the current baseline.

The deal pending before Congress today just starts the process. The next steps, including who is appointed to the committee, are crucial in determining the consequences unleashed. While the committee is charged with finding a net decrease in the deficit of $1.5 trillion, there are better pathways to that result. The committee could find more revenue and spending cuts and include proposals that help foster job creation.

Indeed, job creation and boosting the economy should be an important litmus test for the work of the committee and progressives should hold the committee, its members, and the resulting product to that standard. If the committee’s proposal doesn’t accomplish this in its recommendations, then it’s hard to imagine how those recommendations will be any better than a stalemate that produces the automatic cuts to both domestic and defense spending—and potentially the expiration of all the Bush tax cuts.

As a practical matter, there’s no way for the committee to achieve these economic goals without including tax increases, getting back to the balanced approach that was initially demanded by President Obama and progressives in Congress—an approach that includes contributions from the wealthiest Americans. Since domestic investments and middle-class services will face substantial reduction in the first round of cuts, the case for such revenue is even stronger now.

As budget negotiations move to the committee, America’s priorities should be better reflected in the deliberations, including job growth and ensuring all Americans, especially those who have fared better through the economic turmoil, are contributors to the solution.

BUDGET (It’s Mostly Good)

Upon Further Examination

JM Ashby, Bob Cesca’s Blog:

While everyone is fixated on how terrible this debt-ceiling deal is for Democrats, If one pauses long enough to really analyze the details and all of their implications, one finds that, in the long term, this deal is actually wildly in favor of the President’s position.

The truth is — there actually is revenue included in this deal, and here I will briefly defer to Ezra Klein:

In a presentation to his members, Boehner says (pdf) that the rules governing the committee “effectively [make] it impossible for Joint Committee to increase taxes.” Specifically, he’s arguing that using the Congressional Budget Office’s “current-law baseline” makes tax increases impossible, as that baseline assumes the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, and so, if you touched taxes at all, you’d have to raise taxes by more than $3.6 trillion or the CBO would say you were cutting taxes and increasing the deficit.

Confused? That seems to be the point. Boehner is misleading his members to make them think taxes are impossible under this deal. But make no mistake: The Joint Committee could raise taxes in any number of ways. It could close loopholes and cap tax expenditures. It could impose a value-added tax, or even a tax on carbon. The Congressional Budget Office would score all of this as reducing the deficit under a current-law baseline. The only thing that wouldn’t reduce the deficit is going after part of the Bush tax cuts. That means they’re likely to go untouched in this deal.

In case you don’t understand — allow me to elaborate.

John Boehner is selling the current CBO baseline to his caucus to pass this bill, and the current baseline includes an expiration of the Bush Tax Cuts. The only way for the Bush Cuts to be extended is if the “super congress” committee offsets it with tax hikes or tax reform in other areas. Going after the Bush Tax Cuts in the committee would not count as reducing the deficit, because the baseline already assumes they will expire.

John Boehner knows this, but most members of his caucus and, admittedly, many members of the Democratic caucus don’t realize it. I didn’t put two and two together myself until late last night.

If you view this deal from the perspective that there is a guarantee the Bush Tax Cuts will expire, then suddenly the deal swings wildly in favor of President Obama.

The president offered John Boehner a 4:1, cuts:revenue deal, but what he ended up getting instead is a 1:2, cuts:revenue deal.

The Bush Tax Cuts account for roughly $3.7 trillion dollars in additional revenue over 10 years. The spending-cuts tentatively agreed to in the deal account for only $2.7 trillion dollars over 10 years. This means there is $1 trillion more dollars in revenue contained inside the deal over 10 years than there are spending cuts.

Furthermore, the spending cuts contained inside the bill do not come into effect until 2013, after the Bush Tax Cuts expire, meaning the revenue and cuts come into effect at roughly the same time.

If the rabid members of John Boehner’s caucus realized this, they would probably be calling for his head.

It’s no coincidence that President Obama came out last night and bluntly said this is not the deal he wanted. It’s no coincidence that John Boehner and Eric Cantor both told their caucus that President Obama “caved.” They have to say this, because if it appears that President Obama got anything in the deal, then suddenly it can’t pass the House of Representatives. There is nothing they hate more than giving the president a victory, so it has to appear as if he got nothing, and they have been pretty convincing.

President Obama knew this would look bad for his administration in the short term, but he took that risk in exchange for winning further along down the road. As I mentioned above, none of this policy actually comes into effect until 2013. Not even the spending cuts. Only 1% of the spending cuts will be felt in 2012.

This deal masterfully accomplishes the task of kicking the can down the road for the Republicans without actually appearing so unless you really dig deep into it, and it leaves most of the details up to the next session of Congress beginning in January of 2013.

We all owe the president a great deal of respect for being willing to take the political hit in the short term to save us in the long term.

On the debt-ceiling deal

The Economist:

TO DEMOCRATS I would like to say relax, guys. The debt-ceiling got raised. Yay! And the debt-ceiling deal is not going to destroy the recovery, if there has been a recovery. While the deal does rule out further fiscal stimulus, the bulk of the putative cuts in the deal are so far in the future that their contractionary effects are likely to be small to nil. Josh Barro is today’s cool-headed voice of reason:

[L]iberals who are upset that this deal is destimulative, or who expect it to tank the economy, are off base. Suzy Khimm cites a study finding that a 1 percent of GDP fiscal consolidation implies a 0.5 percent reduction in GDP after two years—or a reduction in the growth rate of 0.25 percent each year. That points to a hit to annual GDP growth of roughly 0.04 percentage points from the FY 12 changes in this plan—an effect that will be impossible to pick up amidst the noise. The consolidations get larger in later years. But an eventual fiscal consolidation is inevitable—we can’t run deficits over 5 percent of GDP forever. If the economy remains terrible in 2014, it is likely the cuts will be delayed.

Moreover, as Tyler Cowen regularly reminds us, the monetary authority moves last. If, for some reason, an all-but-undetectable cut relative to the pre-deal 2012 spending baseline nudges the economy into contraction, the Fed will likely respond to offset destimulative effects. For all I know, the Fed has been ready to go with QE3, or some other plan for additional monetary stimulus, but has been waiting for some legislative commitment to future deficit reduction before opening the spigot.

That said, I see very little credible legislative commitment to cut anything. Hark! Buttonwood:

There is no balanced budget amendment, the cuts are less than the rating agencies want to ensure the continuance of AAA status and there is an element of “can-kicking” in the way the cuts are designed. Much is left to 2013, which will be a new Congress (and possibly new president); what one Congress can do, another can undo. Remember the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings balanced budget act?

But wait, it gets worse/better! Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute looked at CBO’s scoring of the alleged spending cuts and produced this graph:

Mr Edwards comments:

Wait a minute, those bars are rising! Spending isn’t being cut at all.  The “cuts” in the deal are only cuts from the CBO “baseline,” which is a Washington construct of ever-rising spending. And even these “cuts” from the baseline include $156 billion of interest savings, which are imaginary because the underlying cuts are imaginary…

The federal government will still run a deficit of $1 trillion next year. This deal will “cut” the 2012 budget of $3.6 trillion by just $22 billion, or less than 1 percent.

Nevertheless, Paul Krugman is flipping his wig over this hand-waving, non-binding promise to mildly decrease the future rate of spending growth. Not only will the debt-ceiling deal retard growth, Mr Krugman argues, but “by demonstrating that raw extortion works and carries no political cost, it will take America a long way down the road to banana-republic status.”

Where Mr Krugman sees “raw extortion” tending toward “banana-republic status” I see “democracy”. Kindred Winecoff points us to this insightful piece by Sean Theriault, a professor of government at the University of Texas, who argues that “our members of Congress are acting exactly as they were elected to.” Mr Theriault says that message voters sent to Congress in the 2010 elections came through loud and clear.

The problem with our deficit crisis today is that the message the voters sent — and that the winning candidates heard — was “never compromise, never surrender.” We may need such a mentality on the battlefield, but we cannot have such a mentality in politics. Politics, after all, is the art of compromise.


Regrettably, pragmatic problem solving was not the choice voters made in the Republican primaries or the general election in 2010. And, now, we are all living with it. Elections, indeed, have consequences and we are now bearing the consequences of the decisions made by the electorate in district after district and state after state nine months ago.

Maybe Washington’s game of debt-ceiling chicken went on too long for comfort, but the resolution of the game looks a lot like a pragmatic compromise to me. Unless the bill fails, which it might, it looks like our democracy will have raised the debt ceiling, didn’t really cut a thing, passed off responsibility for substantial deficit reduction to a “super committee”, which will either come up with a plan that does not bind the future executive and legislature or will trip a “trigger” that won’t go into effect until after the next election, and then, again, will go into effect only if the government of the future wants it to go into effect. If this is what “raw extortion” delivers, it’s not very much.

Contrary to Speaker Boehner’s Claim, Budget Deal’s “Supercommittee” Can Consider Revenue Increases

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

[…]Documents that Speaker Boehner circulated to his caucus yesterday claim that the legislation implementing the new debt limit agreement “requires [the] baseline to be current law, effectively making it impossible for [the] Joint Committee to increase taxes.”

This claim is wrong, for two reasons. First, many tax proposals would raise revenues relative even to a current-law baseline. For instance, the President’s proposals to eliminate preferential treatment of expenses for corporate jets and tax breaks for oil and gas companies would reduce the deficit relative to a current-law or “plausible” baseline. Most such “tax expenditures” are permanent and so are the same under current law and under a “plausible” baseline; reducing them would raise revenues and is clearly allowed under the proposed agreement.

Second, while it is true that tax reform of the sort that Bowles-Simpson, Rivlin-Domenici, and the Gang of Six proposed would not reduce the deficit relative to a current-law baseline, nothing in the debt limit legislation requires the use of a current-law baseline to determine how much the Joint Committee proposal reduces the deficit. Section 401(b)(3)(B)(i)(I) of the bill requires the Joint Committee’s report to contain CBO’s estimate of the savings that the proposal would produce. CBO’s cost estimates typically reflect changes from its current-law baseline, but CBO on occasion produces estimates relative to alternative baselines if the House or Senate Budget Committees or leadership indicate that such estimates are necessary to help them enforce budget rules or targets.

In fact, CBO’s estimate of the proposed debt limit legislation shows the effect of proposed discretionary spending caps relative both to its standard baseline issued in March (with adjustments to reflect the April 15 enactment of full-year 2011 appropriations) and — presumably at the request of the Budget Committees or the leadership — relative to its earlier January 2011 baseline as well. CBO’s letter to Speaker Boehner that included its estimate of his July 25 debt limit plan explicitly stated that the comparison to the January baseline was included because “Your staff indicated that this comparison would be useful.”

Nothing in the debt limit legislation prohibits the Budget Committees or leadership from asking CBO to produce estimates of the effects of a Joint Committee proposal relative to a current-policy or plausible baseline. And nothing in the legislation prohibits Congress from using that estimate to determine the extent to which the Joint Committee has met its deficit-reduction target.

In fact, the debt limit legislation seems to anticipate that Congress will use a baseline other than CBO’s current-policy baseline for that purpose. Section 401(b)(3)(B)(i)(II), which immediately follows the clause stating that the Joint Committee’s report must include a CBO estimate, says that the legislation the Joint Committee reports must include “a statement of the deficit reduction achieved by the legislation over the period of fiscal years 2012 to 2021.” By not saying that the legislation must include “the CBO estimate,” the legislation indicates that the Joint Committee has flexibility in the choice of the baseline. The Joint Committee could use an estimate by CBO that is relative to a baseline other than its current-law baseline, or an estimate that the Budget Committees produce that may represent an adjustment to a CBO estimate. Such flexibility is consistent with section 201(f) of the Congressional Budget Act, which the debt limit legislation references with regard to CBO estimates and which states, “the Budget Committees of the Senate and House shall determine all estimates with respect to scoring points of order and with respect to the execution of this Act.”

Furthermore, it is the Administration, not Congress, which must estimate whether a Joint Committee proposal that Congress enacts has met the Committee’s $1.5 trillion savings target, and the debt limit legislation does not specify what type of baseline the Administration must use when it makes this determination. (A CBO estimate — based on whatever baseline — cannot be used for this purpose. The Supreme Court determined in Synar v. Bowsher that under the Constitution, such a determination is inherently an executive branch function and hence no law can require the Administration to rely on a determination by a legislative branch agency such as CBO.)

In short, the debt limit legislation does not require changes in tax law to be scored relative to a current-law baseline. The Joint Committee, the Congress, and the President are free to determine that savings should be calculated relative to a current-policy or plausible baseline, which would show tax reform of the sort proposed by the Gang of Six as reducing rather than increasing the deficit.

It is not the terms of the new agreement, but rather the opposition of Speaker Boehner (who has promised to appoint to the Joint Committee only members who will refuse to consider any revenue increases) and other Republican leaders, that threatens to prevent the Joint Committee from considering a balanced approach to deficit reduction.

Baselines and Balance

Gene Sperling, White House Blog:

The budget deal sets the stage for balanced deficit reduction.  It immediately makes a down payment on deficit reduction of more than $900 billion by limiting discretionary spending and sets up a new Joint Congressional Committee charged with recommending $1.5 trillion in additional deficit reduction by the end of the year.  As the President has said, that deficit reduction should be balanced and cut tax loopholes and expenditures just like it cuts traditional spending.

There are now reports that this Joint Committee won’t be able to raise revenue at all because of the way the budget deal is drafted.  That is simply wrong.

The Joint Committee is tasked with deficit reduction, and the Committee can reduce the deficit by cutting spending and getting rid of tax loopholes and expenditures.  Everything is on the table, as it should be.

First, the Committee can consider getting rid of tax expenditures like subsidies for oil and gas companies or corporate jet owners. These types of tax changes have been a major part of the recent deficit reduction conversation and would be a smart part of an overall balanced plan. No one on any side can dispute that the Joint Committee could consider them.

Second, the Committee can consider the kind of revenue raising tax reform that has broad and growing bipartisan support.

The argument against this second claim is based on a misrepresentation of what is called “the baseline.”  The “baseline” is what deficit reduction is measured against.  Reports have suggested that the Committee would have to use a “current law” baseline—a baseline that assumes that all of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts expire along with relief from the Alternative Minimum tax.  That would mean that any tax reform effort that raised less revenue than allowing all those tax cuts to expire would be scored as increasing the deficit. Even conservative Republican proposals for “revenue neutral” tax reform would be scored under this approach as increasing the deficit by more than $3 trillion.

However the claim that the Committee is required to follow this approach is simply false.

The Budget legislation specifically calls for deficit reduction – not simply spending cuts – and does not anywhere require the Committee to work off a current law baseline.  Nor does it preclude the Committee from requesting CBO estimates based on alternative baselines and using those estimates for purposes of the certifying the deficit reduction achieved in the Committee.

In fact, Congressional requests to CBO to score proposals off different baselines happen as a matter of course. For example, at the request of members of Congress, CBO scored the deal being considered today using two different baselines. Or, to take another example—Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, requested that CBO score his budget “Roadmap” against an “alternative fiscal scenario,” which assumed extension of the tax cuts described above.  As CBO said in response to Chairman Ryan: “As you requested, the analysis in this letter compares the Roadmap with the alternative fiscal scenario.” Relative to that baseline, tax reform—like that proposed by the bipartisan Fiscal Commission and Gang of Six—would reduce the deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars.

The bottom line is that the Joint Committee can reduce the deficit through tax reform and eliminating tax expenditures just like it can cut spending. What it ultimately does is up to the members of that Committee. We hope that they seize this an opportunity to come together and build on the down-payment in this deal to put the Nation on a sustainable fiscal course in a balanced way that cuts spending in the tax code as well in the rest of the budget.  The President believes that is possible and looks forward to working with both parties to accomplish this.

Another Take (from a reader at TPM)

From TPM Reader RW

Let me get this straight. The President kept revenues on the table, did not touch the sunset provisions in the Bush tax cuts, ensured that military cuts keep the GOP honest, protected Medicare by adding in only provider cuts in the trigger, made the reduction apparently enough to stave off a debt downgrade, got the debt ceiling raised, wounded Boehner by demonstrating to the world that he is controlled by the Tea Party caucus, took out the requirement that a BBA be passed and sent to the states and got the extension through 2012? What exactly is wrong with this deal?

The fact that there are cuts? If people don’t like that, why in God’s name didn’t they turn out to vote and bring back our Congressional majority? Once these nut jobs were in there, it was inevitable that this crap was going to happen. Whether or not it is advisable to cut spending, what exactly was going to stop this from happening? My experience is that the primary factor in all negotiations are the facts on the ground. The complaints center on a ridiculous notion that if the President had only said “no” harder, that these guys would have caved in. This isn’t negotiating over who gets the side of the bed near the A/C. This is a complex matter involving 3,000 members and staffers. Negotiations in these situations don’t work like this. That’s why I’m irked by the constant parade of people comparing the negotiations to movies and card games. These comparisons obscure more than they reveal.

The GOP came out of this looking unreasonable–I’ve been getting E-mail messages from friends saying they are back with the Democrats because the Tea Party is “destroying this country.” Nate Silver tweeted last week that local conservative talk radio in Kansas was filled with callers attacking the Tea Party! The Wall Street Journal ran two editorials which called the GOP delusional and “childish.” The vaunted GOP message discipline broke down–I read stories all over the “inside baseball” papers here in DC where GOP House members went on the record after the Friday vote wondering out loud if the party had been damaged! I don’t know if you noticed, but John Boehner spent last week negotiating with himself. No new proposals came out from the Dem side, but he produced two proposals, one of which he had to pull after he didn’t have votes. A congressional Dem staffer told me his dad, an urban Catholic who voted for Nixon over Kennedy and has always voted Republican suddenly thinks the GOP is out to lunch and supports the President.

Hey, we all hate the pain, but this is an ongoing process. They are going to try this again with a government shutdown. When that happens, I’m pretty sure that the country will be resoundingly against a repeat of these types of hijinks.

On a better note, we know that Boehner has the votes if Mitt Romney “sticks his neck out” opposing the deal.

No, Starve the Beast Didn’t Win






AP: Small spending cuts to have little economic impact





Not as Bad for Democrats as You Think

Nate Silver: “If Democrats read the fine print on the debt deal struck by President Obama and Congressional leaders, they’ll find that it’s a little better than it appears at first glance. That’s not to say that the deal is a good one for them. It concedes a lot to Republicans, and Democrats may be wondering why any of this was necessary in the first place. But the good news, relatively speaking, has to do with the timing and structure of the spending cuts contained in the deal.”

Meanwhile, Jay Newton-Small has the five reasons liberals should like the deal.


The Sky Has Not Fallen – The Pragmatic Progressive Forum:








BUDGET (It’s Mostly Bad)

CBPP: Statement: Robert Greenstein, President, on New Debt Ceiling Agreement

The new debt ceiling agreement will achieve the essential goal of avoiding a potentially catastrophic default in the days ahead. But to say that the deal is likely to lead to highly unbalanced results would be an understatement. The deal places the nation on a disturbing policy course and sets what may become important precedents that are cause for serious concern.

The agreement starts with nearly $1.1 trillion (or $840 billion, depending on the budget baseline used) in discretionary (i.e., non-entitlement) spending cuts over ten years, enforced by binding annual caps through 2021. It also calls for a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to propose, by November 23, steps to reduce the deficit by at least another $1.5 trillion over ten years, and for the House and Senate to consider the proposal under fast-track procedures that guarantee an up-or-down vote in both bodies, with a simple majority needed for passage. If policymakers achieve less than $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction through this process, an automatic across-the-board cut in non-exempt discretionary and entitlement programs will take effect to make up the difference between what they accomplished and the $1.2 trillion target.

Multi-year discretionary caps were included in the major 1990 and 1993 deficit reduction agreements — but as part of larger deals that also included revenue increases. As we have noted repeatedly in recent years, establishing multi-year discretionary caps without an agreement on increased revenues makes it even harder to secure revenue increases for deficit reduction in the future. That’s because the only way to secure a bipartisan agreement that includes increased revenues is to provide anti-tax policymakers with significant spending cuts in return, likely including substantial savings from imposing discretionary caps. With 10-year discretionary caps already in place (and with the potential for across-the-board cuts that would further cut discretionary programs), there will be little prospect to exchange substantial discretionary cuts in return for revenue increases unless policymakers who support a meaningful federal governmental role are willing to accept even deeper, more draconian cuts in discretionary programs than the $1.1 trillion in such cuts the agreement already requires.

To be sure, the joint committee will have the legal authority to produce a balanced package that includes revenue increases as well as program cuts. But House Speaker John Boehner, in an effort to secure votes for the deal, is undermining the joint committee before it’s even established. Boehner has circulated documents to his caucus claiming the agreement requires the use of a “current-law revenue baseline,” thus “making it impossible for Joint Committee to increase taxes.” That’s not true. Even with such a baseline, policymakers could choose from among numerous tax proposals — such as the President’s proposals to end special tax preferences for corporate jets and tax breaks for oil and gas companies — that would produce deficit reduction. Moreover, the agreement does not require the joint committee to use a current-law baseline. The legislation to implement the agreement would allow the joint committee to elect to use another baseline, such as the “plausible” revenue baseline that the President’s 2012 budget, the Bowles-Simpson commission, the Rivlin-Domenici commission, and the Gang of Six all used, or the current-policy baseline that was used in the earlier negotiations between the President and Speaker Boehner. This would allow the joint committee to consider tax reform such as the Senate’s Gang of Six proposal, which would not raise revenues relative to a current-law baseline but would raise revenues relative to either the “plausible” baseline or a current-policy baseline.[1]

That one party is being led to believe that the deal does bar the joint committee from raising tax revenue is not helpful, to say the least. Coupled with Speaker Boehner’s pledge not to name any members to it who will raise any tax revenue at all and to defeat any joint committee-produced package on the House floor if it raises any revenue, this interpretation of the agreement seems to give the joint committee only three places to go — severe cuts in entitlement programs, deep cuts in entitlements coupled with even deeper cuts in discretionary programs (i.e., cuts on top of the at-least $1.1 trillion in discretionary cuts that the annual caps will produce), or a failure to meet its target.

If the joint committee were only to cut entitlement programs to reach its target, how deep would those cuts be? The deal that President Obama and Speaker Boehner were negotiating several weeks ago would have raised Medicare’s eligibility age, raised Medicare cost-sharing charges, shifted significant Medicaid costs to states, modified cost-of-living adjustments in Social Security and other benefit programs (and in the tax code), and instituted other entitlement savings. Those steps would have saved $650 billion to $700 billion over ten years. The joint committee would have to produce cuts twice as deep — and roughly twice as deep as those in the Gang of Six plan.

Democrats on the joint committee would not conceivably agree to entitlement cuts, or a mixture of entitlement and deeper discretionary cuts, that deep. Hence, if Speaker Boehner honors his pledge to keep revenue increases off the table, the committee will surely fail — and gridlock and policy warfare will continue.

The joint committee could agree on a much smaller amount of savings without revenues, but nothing close to $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion. Thus, unless Republicans back off their refusal to consider any increase in revenues, the joint committee will fail to produce savings anywhere close to $1.2 trillion — triggering across-the-board cuts that are of unprecedented depth and will remain in place for nine years.

In key respects, then, this deal postpones the biggest battle over deficit reduction, creating an even more cataclysmic clash that would occur most likely in a lame-duck congressional session after the 2012 election. At that point, three huge events will loom: 1) across-the-board cuts in January 2013, with half of them coming from defense (amidst likely charges that they will jeopardize national security); 2) the scheduled expiration of President Bush’s tax cuts at the end of 2012; and 3) the renewed specter of default if policymakers do not raise the debt ceiling quickly again by early 2013. Where all of that will lead policy debates and outcomes is impossible to predict at this point.

Anticipating the policy battles to come, we should not lose sight of an alarming development. Those who have engaged in hostage-taking — threatening the economy and the full faith and credit of the U.S. Treasury to get their way — will conclude that their strategy worked. They will feel emboldened to pursue it again every time that we have to raise the debt limit in the future.

They also will likely continue insisting, in future hostage-taking efforts, that for every dollar we raise the debt ceiling, we must cut spending by a dollar, with no revenue allowed. When one considers that even the harsh budget plan of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan would require policymakers to raise the debt limit by nearly $9 trillion over the coming decade, one begins to understand the extraordinary results such a policy path would produce over time. Substantial parts of the federal government, including important parts of the Great Society and even the New Deal, would be cut sharply or eliminated. That would put us on a path toward achieving anti-tax activist Grover Norquist’s vision of shrinking government to the point where “we can drown it in the bathtub.”

Having said all this, the agreement has some partially — but important — redeeming features. For one thing, the Administration ensured that half of the automatic cuts that could be triggered will come from defense programs, and that basic entitlement assistance programs for low-income Americans, as well as Social Security, will be exempt from such cuts. This could provide helpful leverage for a more balanced solution in the showdown likely in the 2012 lame-duck session. For another, the deal raises the debt ceiling until about early 2013, so the nation’s credit will not be threatened in coming months by election-year politics. (On a smaller front, the Administration secured beneficial provisions related to Pell grants.)

Our grim assessment of the agreement, its very disturbing implications, and the policy and political trajectory that we now face are not arguments for defeating the agreement on Capitol Hill. There is an adage that, as bad as things get, they can always get worse. If Congress defeats the package, one or both of two very troubling developments may well occur: we may experience a default, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the economy and the nation’s future; or policymakers may quickly rejigger the deal, making it still more unbalanced in order to secure more arch-conservative votes. These are risks that are simply too dangerous to take — despite the deeply troubling problems that this deal poses.

Five cuts the debt commission might make to Medicare, Medicaid

Suzy Kimm for Ezra Klein:

Medicare and Medicaid will be spared from the first round of cuts in the debt-ceiling deal. But the Joint Congressional Committee tasked with finding $1.5 trillion or more in deficit reduction is going to be looking hard at both programs. Here are five options they’re likely to consider:

1) Raise the Medicare eligibility age, increase premiums for wealthy recipients, and increase deductibles and co-pays. President Obama backed all of these changes during the negotiations last month, echoing the details of the deficit-reduction plan from Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), which would save $600 billion in Medicare spending. The Lieberman-Coburn plan is “the most likely model for Medicare cuts from a bipartisan fiscal committee,” says Tevi Troy, a former George W. Bush staffer and health policy expert. Those changes would elicit howls from liberals and make it tougher for Democrats to cast themselves as the program’s staunchest defenders, but the White House’s backing could override these concerns.

2) Give states more leeway in Medicaid to scale back eligibility and benefits, as well as payments to nursing homes: The GOP’s most controversial Medicaid proposal—Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wisc.) plan to block grant the program—won’t pass muster. But House Republicans have been quietly floating other reforms, some of which have picked up support from some Democratic governors. One is the State Flexibility Act, which would allow states to modify their Medicaid eligibility and benefit requirements, reducing both federal and state spending. If the specter of direct “benefit cuts” scares off Democrats, the committee could turn its focus to providers instead. Nursing homes receive a huge chunk of Medicaid dollars, for instance, and they could be starved of some money. Such cuts would eventually affect beneficiaries, if nursing homes reduce services and access in response, but the effect is more indirect—and thus politically palatable.

3) Improve care coordination between Medicare and Medicaid: Health care wonks have long been clamoring for officials to pay more attention to “dual eligibles,” Medicaid enrollees who are also signed up for Medicare. Dual eligibles make up only 15 percent of Medicaid’s population, but they’re disproportionately old and sick and expensive, and their care tends to be fragmented, and so they are the beneficiaries of almost 40 percent of the program’s spending. Changing the way that these beneficiaries receive services and payment incentives could ultimately save a lot of money. (Here are some more specific ways that could happen.) Some of these changes would require more spending in the short run to incur long-term savings, which could make them a more difficult sell. But policy experts like Peter Harbage, a former Clinton official, urge lawmakers to consider such approaches rather than simply take up the hatchet. “The question is what can be done to increase efficiency, like care coordination for Duals, versus just eliminating services and versus just transferring federal costs to states and individuals,” says Harbage. “Cuts are easy, investments are harder to do.”

4) Slashing prescription drug payments: There’s a good chance the Congressional committee could take these up even if the deficit trigger isn’t set off. Back in April, President Obama vowed to cut $200 billion in spending on Medicare prescription drugs. The implication was that he’d push for the government to use its bulk purchasing power to negotiate Medicare drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies—something explicitly prohibited in the GOP’s 2006 deal on Medicare Part D. During the health reform negotiations, the White House won Big Pharma’s support by leaving the prohibition in place. If the deficit-reduction committee puts it back on the table, industry lobbyists will be out in full force.

5) Cutting Medicare provider payments: Legislators could also take up provider payments that the White House already believes are too high. “There are areas (like [medical] imaging) where [the administration] believes they pay too much,” says Harbage. But depending on the specifics, certain Medicare provider cuts could also have a big impact on beneficiaries, albeit indirectly. In Medicaid, for instance, low payment rates have resulted in many providers dropping out of the program, exacerbating a shortage of primary care doctors that the country is already facing.

So would such cuts eliminate wasteful entitlement spending or eliminate vital services? It would depend on whether the committee decides to use a scalpel or a hatchet in paring back spending. Warns Troy, “the notion of ‘only’ provider cuts is misleading, as cuts typically get passed on throughout the system. It’s hard to say without seeing specifics, but beneficiaries would likely feel such cuts in terms of reduced services.”

Angry Dems!

David Weigel:

The meeting was supposed to last one hour. It lasted more than two hours and twenty-five minutes. Vice President Joe Biden worked and talked to bring as many Democrats as possible over to the administration’s side, and to back the debt deal.

“I didn’t go to convince,” he said on the way out. “I went to explain.”

The most talkative people in situations like these are the Antis. Media-friendly Democrats like Eliot Engel, D-NY, and Sheila Jackson-Lee, R-Tex., chatted with reporters at length, decrying what they were supposed to vote for. “I didn’t come here to cut Medicare,” Engel groaned. Rep. Dennis Kucinich left the meeting with an armful of printed-out copies of the debt deal’s CBO report, with the section about war funding highlighted. Would he vote aye? “You’ll hear about it later.”

But there were yesses, and they included members who have not voted for previous debt deals. Rep. Chakka Fattah, D-Penn., a liberal from Philadelphia, told reporters he’d reluctantly back the deal. After her spiel, Jackson-Lee said she was undecided. Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., who voted for Cut, Cap, Balance, admitted that he was trying to dodge reporters with a fake phone call; he was undecided, but you could see him voting yes. It was just clear that more than half of the party would not back the deal.

“It’s between our consciences and the president,” said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. “This is a Trojan Horse with Scylla and Charabis inside of it.”

Nancy Pelosi entered the meeting telling the press that she would talk up how Democrats had kept entitlement cuts out of the bill. But she left without saying she, or Democrats, would back it. She wouldn’t say if it had the votes to pass.”

“You’ll have to ask the speaker,” she said. “He has the majority.”

Debt deal likely to put hurt on states, poor


Drug prices to plummet in wave of expiring patents ~ what IS working


MUST SEE! The Death of TV News in One Horribly Racist Video (this is shocking)

Probably the ugliest side effect of the mass death of news outlets is the salacious schlock to which the surviving outlets resort in order to retain their fans. “If it bleeds, it leads” has always been a go-to saying for news outlets hoping grotesqueness will drum up readers, viewers or listeners, but in the new hyper-competitive digital news era, it needs to bleed, explode, and die in broad daylight to lead.

Consider the above clip from Chicago CBS affiliate WBBM for proof of how pathetic some news  reports have become. Watch the whole video to see a harmless quote from a 4-year-old boy get manipulated into a bloodthirsty proclamation, clear cut evidence of the cyclical nature of violence in the ghetto.

This is where horror stories about marginalized groups begin, and it’s all in pursuit of more ratings.

Frank Rich: Murdoch Hacked Us Too

New York Magazine:

The News Corp. scandal already exposed just how thoroughly the company had corrupted Britain. Now it’s time to look on this side of the pond.

(It’s a must read, six-page article.)

What Murdoch’s media empire did: the big picture

What Rupert Murdoch Means For You Personally

Media Malpractice on Debt Ceiling
Five ways media misreported deficit debate

There are specific patterns in corporate media coverage of political debates: Progressive ideas are generally marginalized. “Compromise” between the major parties is encouraged. Democrats should “move to the center,” which in practical terms actually means moving to the right.

All of these tendencies have driven the discussion over the federal debt and the debt ceiling. In the end, the political process has produced an agreement that can be cheered by pundits and analysts for adhering to media’s built-in bias for center-right economics and bogus ideas about centrism and political compromise.

Of the criticisms one can make of the media’s coverage of this discussion–and there are plenty–here are five areas where media mangled the debt discussion.

–Why Is the Debt Ceiling Being Raised?[…]

What was rarely explained is the fact that raising the debt ceiling is a consequence of previous budget decisions made by Congress (New York Times, 7/28/11)–like a massive tax cut tilted towards the wealthy, two major wars and, most of all, the effects of a major recession.

As economist Dean Baker (Al Jazeera English, 7/27/11) pointed out, the debt “crisis” has very little to do with out-of-control spending: […]

–‘Balance’ Bias

On NBC Nightly News (7/19/11; FAIR Blog, 7/21/11), Chuck Todd declared that “any sort of deal is putting pressure on the bases of both parties.” His evidence? A new poll that found support for raising taxes–anathema to Republicans–while a majority opposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The findings were inexplicably summarized by Todd as “a mixed political bag for both parties.”

The media’s aversion to pointing out when one side is more prone to obstruction or exaggeration than the other makes it difficult for voters to understand what is happening–and does little to dissuade lawmakers from engaging in similar behavior in the future.

–Debate Way Off to the Right

[…] The New York Times July 31 headline “In Debt Limit Showdown, Obama Edges to the Right” accurately captured this political dynamic, which had been on display for weeks. The article nonetheless asserted that

Mr. Obama, seeking to appeal to the broad swath of independent voters, has adopted the Republicans’ language and in some cases their policies, while signaling a willingness to break with liberals on some issues.

The assumption, then, is that “independents” really just want Republican budget ideas. There is no evidence that this is the case.

–Finding the ‘Center’ […]

–Were There Budget Alternatives?

If this debate was really about dealing with the nation’s long-term debt/deficit issues, then the press would seriously examine a range of ideas for addressing these problems. But the most serious progressive alternative, the People’s Budget, was never given significant attention in the corporate media–in contrast to Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which, contrary to the rhetoric, failed to meaningfully reduce the deficit at all (Extra!, 6/11).

The corporate media’s abject failure to seriously examine a budget proposal that is more in line with majority public opinion suggests that serious dysfunction is not limited to Beltway political leaders.





Chris Hayes gets weekend politics show on MSNBC


Rep. Gabrielle Giffords Returns to the House

How the Debt Committee Could Turn Republican Against Republican (Hawks vs Deficits)

Jonathan Chait, The New Republic:

[…] The bill, as you probably know, fulfilled the right-wing demand that absolutely not one penny of extra revenue be raised, and therefore contains significant defense cuts. In other words, the members of the conservative coalition looked around and decided to eat the defense hawks. Ross Douthat writes one of the more delicious observations I’ve seen in a while:

This clarifies something that’s been increasingly obvious for a while: The interests of right-wing tax cutters and right-wing defense hawks do not necessarily align with one another, and they will continue to diverge as we go deeper into the looming age of austerity. There is simply no scenario in which the United States will close its yawning deficits exclusively with cuts to popular social programs: One can imagine such a world only by imagining the Democratic Party and all its various constituencies out of existence entirely. Conservatives will be free to argue that both tax hikes and defense cuts should be off limits, but in political reality at least one of the two will have to give. …

At the moment, the hawks are at a clear disadvantage. […]

The result, at the risk of spoiling your enjoyment, is that Kristol is not happy. […]

The dynamic is going to get really interesting in the fall. That’s when phase two begins. A bipartisan committee is tasked with reducing the deficit by $1.8 trillion, and if the committee’s plan fails, huge automatic cuts to Medicare providers and defense will go into effect. Michael Scherer explains the political logic. The idea here is that the normal mechanisms that force parties to compromise have failed. So, instead, the alternative scenario (huge cuts to the medical and defense industries) is designed to mobilize those lobbyists to force the two parties to strike a deal:


So to save their own skin, military contractors, who spent $146 million lobbying Congress in 2010 with more than $16 million in political donations from PACs, will have to get in the game, urging Republicans to find savings in other places. In practice, that will likely mean new revenue, collected by ending corporate tax breaks and eliminating expenditures. If the plan works as Democrats would like, Republicans will be forced to raise taxes with the help of the military industrial complex….

Hospitals have already started running ads on cable television protesting the potential cuts, under the banner of a group called The Coalition To Protect America’s Health Care. But simply advocating against cuts will not be enough. Like defense contractors, they are the hostages now, and they must advocate for Democrats and Republicans to come together on a final deal in the fall, before the trigger gets pulled. In the deficit debate, Congress has proved itself inept at fighting for the common interest. In turning the gun on special interests, they are essentially outsourcing that job to Washington’s most effective actors.

I actually think the design of this plan is fascinating. You take a couple of the most powerful forces preventing major policy change — partisan gridlock and special interest influence — and turn them into forces for change by rejiggering the default setting. […]

The anti-tax movement has held absolute sway within the GOP for two decades. But it’s worth noting that the GOP has never had to choose among its constituencies in a zero-sum fiscal environment before. The policy of huge tax cuts and big defense spending hikes could coexist as long as Republicans could just run up the budget deficit. The party refused to reconcile its contradictions by refusing to acknowledge fiscal reality. Higher revenue to pay for the wars? Reagan proved deficits don’t matter. It’s easy to hold all your factions together when you refusing to acknowledge basic accounting properties (deficits equal expenditures minus revenue, not just “too much” expenditures by definition.) George W. Bush made the defense hawks happy, made the medical industry happy with a prescription drug bill designed to maximize their profits, and made rich people in general happy with a series of regressive tax cuts.

But imagine Democrats insist on higher revenue, and they decide, sensibly enough, that failure to cut a bipartisan deal is better than $1.8 trillion in cuts. (Which is probably is.) Then what? Well, then the entire defense lobby plus the entire medical and insurance lobbies turn fiercely against the very people with whom they had marched shoulder-to-shoulder under Bush. If the Democrats hold the line and insist on more revenue, the committee has the potential to split the GOP coalition wide open. […]

The simple fact is that trying to formulate rationale answers to the fiscal challenge without raising revenue is essentially impossible. The Journal no doubt hopes the Republicans follow the traditional course — the course that has held the party together since 1990 — of simply ignoring reality. The difference is that this time, reality will be knocking urgently on the door.

Worst Argument Ever

Jonathan Bernstein:

Robert Reich tweets:

Ds can no longer campaign on R’s desire to Medicare and Soc Security, now that O has agreed it

Just utter foolishness. I’ve already written a How To post, so let’s try another way of thinking about it:

Suppose that Barack Obama and the Democrats succeed in getting Republicans to agree, as part of the second-stage process of the debt limit deal, to include revenues in a deficit reduction package. Does anyone think that as a result Republicans would refrain from running against Democrats on taxes? Of course not.

For that matter: does anyone think that Republicans who vote for the debt limit deal won’t attack Democrats on Pentagon spending, if the polls show that it would work?

Indeed, we just finished a fight in which Republicans supported higher deficits than Democrats (or at least than Obama); does anyone think that Republicans will therefore not use claims that they will lower deficits as an issue in 2012? Of course not.

Is there currently a huge gap between what Democrats want on Medicare and Social Security and what Republicans want? Of course there is — even if one credits (or blames) Democrats with actively preferring the cuts that they offered in response to GOP demands (for larger cuts), what Democrats offered was nothing remotely like what Republicans voted for in the budget Paul Ryan wrote for them.

Besides: recall that ACA already contained Medicare cuts, and that Republicans were apt to run against those cuts anyway, regardless of what Obama and the Democrats did during the current Congress, and of course despite the plain fact that virtually all Republicans voted for those cuts after first campaigning against them.

I’m sure Reich doesn’t think of this kind of logic as defeatist, fatalist thinking, but that’s of course what it is. Democrats should certainly hope that no one running actual campaigns follows that line of thinking next year. If attacking the GOP position on Medicare was a good idea back in the spring, it’s still a good idea regardless of what happened in the debt limit negotiations and regardless of what happens in the next round of the budget fight.



Public Opinion and the Debt Ceiling Fight

The Monkey Cage:


The debt ceiling debate has tarnished the image of both President Obama and Speaker Boehner – about a third say they have come to have a less favorable view of each leader in recent weeks, while relatively few say their impressions have improved. In both cases, a plurality says their opinion of these key leaders has not changed as a result of the budget negotiations.

In particular, 37% said that their opinion of Obama had become less favorable and 18% said it had become more favorable (44% said it “no change”).  So you would think from this that Obama’s overall job approval might have declined in the past month or so—the period of time during which media coverage of the debt ceiling peaked.  In fact, most of the approximately 7-point decline in Obama’s approval rating since the killing of Osama bin Laden took place in May and June—when the Biden talks were still ongoing, before Obama started convening meetings with congressional leaders at the White House, before Boehner walked out of negotiations, etc.  One apples-to-apples comparison: Gallup’s data suggest a 43% approval rating for Obama at the end of June.  At the end of July, that number was no different: 42%.

There are two lessons here.  First, many if not most Americans don’t like politics very much.  They do not understand why all the disagreement and fighting is necessary.  This is well-known, of course.  For some relevant political science, see John Hibbing’s and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse’s Stealth Democracy.  They write that Americans

are consequently turned off by political debate and deal making that presuppose an absence of consensus. People believe these activities would be unnecessary if if decision makers were in tune with the (consensual) public interest rather than cacophonous special interests.

Second, and more importantly, public opinion about political processes doesn’t have big consequences.  It didn’t matter much during the health care debate, for example.  And there isn’t much evidence that it cost Obama a lot of support during the debt ceiling fight, even if the public found that fight to be “ridiculous,” “stupid,” or “disgusting.”

But note the corollary: Obama allegedly wants to seek bipartisan solutions that allow him to be seen, particularly by independents, as “making Washington work.”  This just doesn’t work.  Not only because such solutions are hard to come by, but because the public cares more about fixing stuff than about how that stuff gets fixed.  For this reason, a robust economy is a thousand times more helpful to Obama than are his bipartisan credentials.  And, for that matter, it’s more beneficial for members of Congress too.  The economy structures everything.

The real political benefit to this deal is how it affects campaign strategy in 2012, when the presidential race will probably be close and campaign tactics might make the difference.  For Obama, the deal makes issues relating to the deficit and the size of government more advantageous for him and less advantageous for Republicans.  Should Republicans need some issue besides the economy to campaign on, it becomes harder for to tag Obama as someone unconcerned about the national debt.  And, as I argued last week, should Obama need to campaign on this issue, the debt ceiling deal and the associated deficit reduction will help him do that.

A Favorable Debt Ceiling Deal in December Was Not Possible, Says White House Advisors

Valerie Jarrett: “Republicans were not going to extend debt ceiling back then.”

Despite arguments that President Obama could’ve dealt with the debt ceiling promise last December, while there was still a Democrat majority, instead of waiting until near-default, White House officials are saying no debt ceiling deal was possible in December.

“We could not get this then, they were not willing to give it to us,” said senior adviser Valerie Jarrett on a conference call about the debt ceiling agreement. “The Republicans were not going to extend the debt ceiling back then.” […]

Many have said that this last-minute compromise didn’t need to be. There was an opportunity last December, during the lame-duck session when Democrats were Congress’ majority, when debt ceiling measures could have been dealt with during the clash over extending the Bush tax cuts, and allowing unemployment insurance to expire.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman said:

“First of all, he could and should have demanded an increase in the debt ceiling back in December. When asked why he didn’t, he replied that he was sure that Republicans would act responsibly. Great call.”

At The American Prospect, David Dayen wrote:

“The president and Democrats could have pre-empted this by demanding a large increase in the debt ceiling as part of the tax extension and threatening to allow all the Bush tax cuts to expire if no deal was reached.”

Dayen also wrote: “Democrats, though, never even offered” a debt ceiling deal.

Not so, said White House National Economic Council deputy director Jason Furman on this afternoon’s conference call.

When The Loop 21 asked why the Obama Administration didn’t take up debt ceiling in their December dealings, Furman said Democrats did bring it up but Republicans refused to include it.

“I was present in those negotiations, and it was an issue that Democrats brought up,and there was no way we could have gotten it there, and certainly no way — they refused, they did not want to do it there.”

Furman and Jarrett went on to list the things Obama was able to achieve in December, such as a payroll tax cut, earned income tax credit, child tax credit, as well as an extension of unemployment benefits, which at the time were set to run out for five million Americans.

“It was fortunate that we were able to get all of that,” said Furman, “and we could not have gotten that and the debt limit. I don’t think we could’ve gotten the debt limit by itself.”

This does, in fact go against the words of Senate leader Harry Reid who said back in December that he would put the debt limit issue off until Republicans controlled the House. Nor does it square with Obama’s December words that he believed Republicans would merely do the right thing when the time came.

It might only be assumed that neither Obama nor Reid were part of the negotiations that Furman sat in on, or weren’t aware of debt ceiling discussions. The Loop 21 will follow up to gain clarity.

Still, if Furman is revising history, there remains no guarantee that Republicans would have agreed to it had it come up. But Jarrett also said that a December debt-limit deal wasn’t possible, and that it might have cost the U.S. more than they could afford to at the time.

Said Jarrett: “What the President was able to get in December … was very, very sound. But the Republicans were not going to extend the debt ceiling back then, and when you look at what we were able to achieve, it was important that we had all of those metrics and programs in place for hard working folks around the country.”


Our Step-By-Step Guide to Understanding ALEC’s Influence on Your State Laws

Pro Publica:

For decades, a discreet nonprofit has brought together state legislators and corporate representatives to produce business-friendly “model” legislation. These “model” bills form the basis of hundreds of pieces of legislation each year, and they often end up as laws. As media scrutiny of the nonprofit—the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC—has grown, we’ve built both a guide and a searchable database so you can see for yourself how ALEC’s model bills make their way to statehouses.

Following the steps we lay out may reveal some interesting connections. Last month, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel political columnist Daniel Bice looked into an obscure ALEC-approved bill to tax chewing tobacco by weight rather than price. The ALEC model legislation calls this a “fairness” issue, noting that “taxes that create a consumer preference within a product category impede free market commerce.” It does not note that Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris and a member of ALEC’s private enterprise board, sells pricier “premium” brands of chewing tobacco and stands to benefit from the tax change.

ALEC and its members favor “federalism and conservative public policy solutions,” and ALEC representatives tell reporters that its mission is fundamentally “educational.” ALEC spokeswoman Raegan Weber told the Los Angeles Times, “Legislators should hear from those the government intends to regulate.”

Founded in the mid-1970s, ALEC has no real counterpart on the left. Its closest equivalent, the Progressive States Network, was founded in 2005, has about a quarter of ALEC’s funding and produces only a small amount of model legislation.

Thanks to a critical mass of resources now available on the Internet, you, too, can trace which of ALEC’s model bills made it to statehouses, which legislators sponsored them and which industries may have had an interest in the success of the bill.

You can find 800 of ALEC’s model bills on the Center for Media and Democracy’s “ALEC Exposed” site. Using data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics, you can also find out how much ALEC-affiliated companies and associations have donated to ALEC-affiliated state legislators, going back to the 1990 election cycle. We’ve made that process even easier—we used the institute’s data to build a more easily searchable contributions database.

To navigate among these different sites, we’ve put together a detailed, step-by-step guide to help journalists, bloggers and citizens trace the influence of ALEC’s model legislation on state law.

If you’re confused, or if questions come up as you’re researching, we’ll be answering questions via Twitter (@ProPublica) as well as responding to questions in the comment thread.

If you write stories about your findings, let us know so we can feature them in a special section of #MuckReads and share them via @ProPublica.

Please use the comments section below to compare notes or to reveal anything interesting you’ve found. Make sure to include any URLs that illustrate what you’ve found. Our ALEC contributions database makes that part easy—there’s a box on the side of every page with a “permalink” you can include in your comment or story.

Step one: Focus on a particular legislator or issue

To get started, you can search our ALEC Contributors database by state or name to find out which of your state legislators are affiliated with ALEC. Then you can look at their official websites, which typically include lists of the legislation they’ve sponsored. (This might appear under a heading like “Accomplishments.”)

If you’re interested in a particular issue, you can browse ALEC’s website, where their model bills are organized by topic.

Once you’ve identified a model bill related to a particular issue, you can start with a simple Google search of the title of the bill. Sometimes that will bring up news articles or press releases about the states where the bill has been introduced.

If that doesn’t work, another tactic is to find out which ALEC legislators brought that bill back to their statehouses to turn into law. ALEC’s bills are discussed, written and approved by “task forces” of particular legislators and private sector representatives. So, to find out which state legislators may have sponsored legislation on this topic, it’s helpful to first check which legislators belong to the task force that developed the “model bill.”

Confused? Here’s an example. Under “Civil Justice” on the ALEC site, there are three bills related to limiting asbestos exposure claims. To find out which state legislators may have sponsored a bill on this topic, you should first check see which legislators are members of ALEC’s “Civil Justice” task force. ALEC’s site lists at least one: Ohio State Sen. Bill Seitz. But the Center for Media and Democracy’s “ALEC Exposed” site has a bigger list of task force affiliates, and the “Civil Justice” section of the list includes nine state legislators, including Kansas Rep. Lance Kinzer, who listed his ALEC affiliation in a press release for his 2010 re-election bid.

Posted on Kinzer’s website are detailed annual newsletters with his “legislative highlights.” Search for the term “asbestos” in each of these newsletters, and a relevant bill pops up: 2006, SB 512, the Silica and Asbestos Claims Act.

Step two: Compare the text of sponsored legislation with the text of ALEC’s model bills

Once you’ve found a potential connection between an ALEC model bill and state legislation, it’s time to do a full-text comparison.

You can find the full text of roughly 800 ALEC model bills obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy on the ALEC Exposed website. The easiest way to find the bill you want is to do a keyword search. When browsing the bills, you should note that they are organized by subject but in a different way than the bills on the ALEC site, so you may have to click around to find a particular bill. Another tip: Bypass the “Click here for a zip file of bills” option for each topic and instead choose “For more details click here.” On each topic page, there’s a link to the “full list of individual bills” for each section, which will bring you to a long list of ALEC’s model bills, all available in PDF.

To continue our previous example, search the ALEC Exposed site for “silica” or browse the “Tort Reform and Injured Americans” section until you find the relevant bills. A keyword search brings up the PDF of the “Asbestos and Silica Claims Act Revealed,” which seems a likely match for Kansas’ “SB 512, the Silica and Asbestos Claims Act.”

Next, you need the full text of the actual state legislation. To find this, you can usually go to the state legislature’s web page, which should give you the option to search or browse through bills under consideration in the state’s House or Senate, as well as search for approved statutes. (If you need a refresher on how a bill becomes law, some states provide that, too.)

So, in the asbestos example, if you click on the “Bills and Laws” tab on the Kansas Legislature home page, go to “Statutes” and do a full-text search for “silica,” you’ll find the Silica and Asbestos Claims Act. You have to click through several pages to read the whole text, but even a quick scan shows that many phrases in the Kansas statute are identical to the ALEC model. (You can also download software like Beyond Compare that will do an automatic text comparison for you.)

Bingo—you have identified a state law based on an ALEC model bill.

Step three: Find out who benefits from the bill’s passage

Every bill that’s introduced is supposed to benefit somebody, but the real beneficiaries aren’t always obvious.

One of the most powerful ways to find out who has an interest in the legislation is to look at the records of the discussion and passage of the bill. State legislatures’ websites often provide this information, including minutes of the hearings at which specific bills were discussed, which typically include lists of who came forward to speak for and against the bill.

For instance, doing a site search for “SB 512” on the Kansas Legislature’s page brings up the minutes for the Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee on Feb. 14, 15, 21 and 22, 2006; and the House Insurance Committee’s meetings on March 14 and 21, 2006. These minutes contain a rich trove of information and reveal that insurance companies, business associations and contractors stood to benefit from the bill, while representatives from trial lawyer associations spoke against it.

You can also see which corporations were involved in discussions about model legislation. ALEC runs conferences, bringing together politicians and corporate representatives. Attendees meet in topic-specific groups such as “Civil Justice,” and you can find partial task force membership information on the ALEC Exposed site.

While you’re looking for potential beneficiaries, you might also want to glance at campaign donations through our ALEC database, as well as the National Institute for Money in State Politics’ state-by-state database of campaign contributions. Which companies and individuals contributed to the legislators who supported the bill?

For instance, Lance Kinzer’s page in our ALEC Donor database includes $1,000 in campaign contributions from Kansas-based Koch Industries in 2006, the year the asbestos legislation was introduced. At that time, Koch had recently acquired a company with 57,400 asbestos litigation claims against it. Koch has also lobbied about asbestos at the national level. Kansas politicians don’t exactly rake in the money: Kinzer raised about $43,000 in 2006, and Koch’s $1,000 made it one of his biggest contributors. Of course, this is also a relatively modest contribution from a conservative-owned Kansas corporation to a conservative Kansas politician.

When we called and emailed Kinzer to ask about the legislation, he wrote back: “The real expert on this is former Representative Eric Carter.” (Carter was out of the office this week and unavailable for comment.)

“I honestly remember virtually nothing about this issue from 5 years ago,” Kinzer added in a subsequent email message. He did not respond to further questions.

Step four and beyond: Look at the bigger picture

It’s perfectly appropriate—in fact, it’s the right thing to do—to call lawmakers or companies for more information. Do your homework, and have your facts ready. Ask them things like: How did you come to support this particular legislation at this particular time? What factors influenced your decision? What role did ALEC’s model legislation play? Their answers may not be illuminating—they may, in fact, not remember much at all—but it’s important to go directly to the source.

If you’re interested in tracing ALEC’s influence through a particular piece of legislation, you shouldn’t end your investigation with one state. What makes ALEC a powerful policy clearinghouse is that its model legislation is often introduced in several states at once. A quick Google search for the different titles of the act you’ve been following should be enough to point you to more states that may have considered or enacted similar legislation. From there, you can repeat the same steps to understand more about the local and national players who had an interest in the bill.



Tea Party Rally Against Boehner Plan Draws Next To Nobody





Justice Department to Monitor Elections in Mississippi





Gallup: Obama Weekly Approval at 42%; Liberal Support Remains High

President Obama’s weekly job approval rating for July 25-31 is 42%, by one percentage point a new weekly low for his administration. Though his approval rating is down among all ideological groups in recent weeks, the broad pattern of the president’s approval ratings across these groups remains similar to what it has been, with low support among conservatives, somewhat higher support among moderates, and high approval from liberals.

The last seven days were a tumultuous time in the nation’s capital, with the president and both houses of Congress engaged in high-tension negotiations over budget legislation that would raise the debt ceiling by Aug. 2.

Most of the week’s news headlines focused on failed plans and recriminatory accusations, although by Sunday, congressional leaders and the president announced the outline of a negotiated agreement. Twice last week, Obama’s three-day rolling approval average reached 40%, the lowest such average of his administration. By the end of the weekend, his three-day average had rebounded slightly to 43%.

A number of reporters and columnists have speculated on how Obama’s role in the agreement will affect his support within his liberal base. A New York Times online story over the weekend declared, “Outcry From the Left Precedes Debt Deal,” while Times columnist Paul Krugman, in a Monday morning column headlined, “The President Surrenders,” accused Obama of “folding” in the face of Republican threats. The website Politico carried a story on Monday morning headlined: “Debt deal complicates liberals’ support.”

Yet the data show that Obama’s support from his liberal base remains as high relative to his overall average as it has throughout his term. Specifically, liberals’ approval of Obama last week was 72%, 30 points higher than his overall approval rating of 42%. By comparison, liberals’ approval has averaged about 28 points higher than his overall average so far in the Obama administration.

Democrats’ Approval at 77%

Obama’s job approval last week was 77% among Democrats, 37% among independents, and 12% among Republicans. This overall pattern of partisan difference is not substantially changed from the average such differences over the last 2 ½ years. Democrats have on average given Obama an approval rating 33 points higher than his overall rating, and last week their approval rating was 35 points higher. Obama’s approval rating among independents has averaged four points lower than his overall rating, and last week their rating was five points lower. And Republicans have historically given Obama an approval rating 34 points lower than his national average; last week that gap was slightly narrower than usual, at 30 points.

Obama’s support among Americans who identify themselves as both liberal and Democratic was 83% last week, little changed from previous weeks and slightly higher relative to Obama’s overall approval rating than it has been historically.


Although President Obama’s job approval rating hit the low point of his administration during the past week and is down among most subgroups, there are no signs yet that he has taken a disproportionate hit among his traditional base of liberals and Democrats. On a relative basis, both of these groups remain as loyal to Obama compared with Americans overall as they have been on average since he took office in January 2009.


AP: NASA plans to launch astronauts into deep space around 2025. Here’s how the space agency envisions the mission:


Americans for Prosperity sending Dems ballots with late return date

POLITICO reports that Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity is sending absentee ballots to Democrats in at least two Wisconsin state Senate recall districts with instructions to return the paperwork after the election date.

The fliers, obtained by POLITICO, ask solidly Democratic voters to return ballots for the Aug. 9 election to the city clerk “before Aug. 11.” One flier was discovered in Hudson, Wisc. where Democrat Shelly Moore is attempting to upend GOP State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf in District 10; the other was found in Kaukauna, where Democrat Nancy Nusbaum is challenging Sen. Robert Cowles in District 2.

Read more at POLITICO.

See the fliers.

UPDATE: According to WiscPolitics, The Government Accountability Board received the complaints after AFP mailed out absentee ballot request forms to Districts 2 and 10 instructing voters to respond by Aug. 11, two days after the districts’ scheduled recall elections Aug. 9.

Senate Democrats will offer plan to end FAA shutdown, includes cuts in subsidies to some rural communities – AP


Business group cancels Rep. Allen West appearance after pressure from gay activists

The Racist Scourge

Roger Cohn, NYT:

Soon after I was born my father moved our family from Britain back to his native South Africa to become dean of the school for black medical students at the University of the Witwatersrand. Blacks were obliged to live separately from whites, a principal reason for his having left Johannesburg in the first place.

There had been some troubles. He told the students he was handing them responsibility for their affairs. That helped settle things on campus. Outside was a different story. Much of my father’s time was spent going to police stations to negotiate the release of black students who had been detained for no reason by stupid white cops.

Once he arrived to hear an Afrikaner policeman scoffing at a young black woman who was close to qualification as a doctor: “You think you’re some clever student, but really you’re just a Kaffir.” (The insult is now legally actionable in South Africa.)

Racism is stupidity’s recourse. There are plenty of stupid people in the world. Apartheid survived for almost a half-century, a system based on the view that the only thing blacks were good for was to work as hewers of wood and drawers of water. It had its American parallels: Jim Crow laws were on the books for almost a century.

That was the first year of my life, with the black Wits students. My father returned with the family to England. We’d go back regularly to South Africa. I remember the jacarandas, the faraway horizons, the firm yellow peaches. Beauty was too abundant. A shadow lurked. That’s how I absorbed racism, like a twinge, the first hint of a dangerous microbe in your blood.

These things shape you. The Jews in South Africa tended to view the blacks as a large buffer against their own persecution even as they were more engaged than most in trying to break the system. It’s a grotesque thought, but if you’re busy persecuting tens of millions of blacks you don’t have much time left over for tens of thousands of Jews. This thought did occur to the Jews, whose families (many of Lithuanian origin), had fled European pogroms and so avoided the ditches to which Hitler’s Einsatzgruppen would have dispatched them.

As a South African Jew, watching blacks without passes being bundled into the back of police vans was discomfiting. But this was not mass murder after all. You tried to look away.

Racism is a mind game. It makes its victims grateful for small mercies until such time as they rise in uncontainable anger.

I was schooled early by South Africa in racism’s poison. The Michels, my maternal family, lived in a spread only half-jokingly referred to as Château Michel. From beach to pool to barbecue the living was large, with its undertow of disquiet.

I felt as an infant the I-might-drop-you hostility in a black maid’s arms. I wondered at the blacks swimming in a filthy harbor when whites-only sand stretched for miles. I caught the illicit glances as an adolescent, flirtation as crime. I listened to the meat-chomping justifications, bigotry dressed up as scientific theory.

Years later in Lagos, watching Fela Kuti in a disco where I was the only white among a thousand blacks, I understood the word “minority.” The thing I’ve been most grateful for in journalism is the ability to cross lines: of racism and bigotry, for example. The blacks in South Africa weren’t even a minority. They were a majority corralled into serfdom.

Over in England things were O.K. I got called a “yid” for a while at school. I look up Jew in the Oxford English Dictionary of the day. Definition 1: A person of Hebrew descent; a person whose religion is Judaism. Definition 2: A person who behaves in a manner formerly attributed to Jews; a grasping or extortionate person.” There you go.

Nothing makes my blood boil like racism. I got a lot of angry mail over a recent column about Norway’s rightist mass murderer and his sympathy with “racist Islamophobia.” Muslims are not a race, the writers claimed.

Funny, several of the angry notes were from Jews, who seemed to have forgotten that not being a race but a religion had scarcely saved Jews from racist persecution: Perhaps the Einsatzgruppen just got in a semantic muddle before opening fire. Perhaps the Malaysian soccer crowd who just booed Chelsea’s Yossi Benayoun, an Israeli player and a Jew, were not really racists. Dream on.

Hatred of Muslims in Europe and the United States is a growing political industry. It’s odious, dangerous and racist. Thanks to my colleague Andrea Elliott, we now know the story of the orchestration of the successful anti-Shariah campaign in the United States, led by a Hasidic Jew named David Yerushalmi who holds that “most of the fundamental differences between the races are genetic.” The rightists in Europe using anti-Muslim rhetoric are true heirs to the Continent’s darkest hours.

I’m glad that at an impressionable age my Dad told me of a dumb white cop with power telling a smart young black woman with promise she was “really just a Kaffir.” The settings change, the vile stupidity does not.


A New York Times Crossword Writer Explains His Craft

Unless you’re the type who finishes The New York Times’ Sunday crossword puzzle in ink every week, you may not spend a lot of time thinking about the science behind puzzle-making. But if you’re anything like us, you do occasionally guffaw at a particularly brilliant clue, or sit befuddled at a stumper, wondering idly how they come up with those things. Today, a Times crossword creator (actually they call themselves constructors) named Brendan Emmett Quigley took to Reddit to answer questions about his craft, and the result was a fascinating bunch of information in the form of a dizzyingly long message board thread. But if you pull out just the pithy answers, they make for a neat FAQ that details how such puzzles are made.

Of course, we couldn’t just leave the questioning to Reddit. We had to call Quigley up to get his take on today’s online exercise. “I didn’t have any preconceived notions for it. I thought I’d give it a shot and see what happened. I was completely shocked that it skyrocketed to the front of Reddit,” he said via telephone. “There are obviously crossword fans there.” Quigley told us his favorite part of puzzle writing was debuting a new word before his competitors. “There’s a little unspoken race among us constructors who can be the first one to get the new buzz word in there. Since I give away puzzles on my site, I’m afforded the opportunity, if something comes up today, for example, to put it in the Thursday puzzle.” His least favorite part? That’s a little more complicated, but fascinating:

I’m not the hugest fan of cluing sometimes. It can be a bit of a drag to keep cluing the same words again and again, which unfortunately keep coming up. There’s only so many new ways to clue OLEO and OREO and AREA and that kind of thing, [but] they’re easy to work with. That’s what it boils down to. We don’t go out of the way to put OREO in there. OREO is like the cement holding the bricks together, the bricks being the real marquee entries. In order to make it work, following all the rules, we have to rely on these very trite, vowel-heavy words that are in puzzles all the time… They’re hopefully holding together MESHBASEBALLCAP and JOHNBOEHNER or some crazy new fun stuff.

But he is a fan of answering questions from Redditors. Below are some of his most interesting from today’s session. We’ve condensed and edited some of the Reddit questions, but Quigley’s answers are verbatim:

Reddit: How do you feel about the outlook for printed media, specifically newspapers such as The New York Times? Do you feel that this will impact your career in the near future? Is Times puzzle editor Will Shortz a nice guy?

Quigley: Crosswords are transitioning just fine digitally: Across Lite, Crossword Solver for laptops. Stand Alone for PDAs, etc. Will is a nice guy. He came to my wedding.

Reddit: How many of you crossword creators are there?

Quigley: About 150 of us

Reddit: Do you start with the clues and make them fit a template or the other way around?

Quigley: I come up with the theme to the puzzle first, then the grid. Clues come last.

Reddit: How do you go about filling in the words? I would assume you do the longer words first, followed by theme words?

Quigley: You start with the longest entries first, then you put in the entries that span the longest entries, then you work simultaneously across and down until you hit a corner.

Reddit: Is there any specific word that you love putting into crossword puzzles? Either because of its difficulty level or number of vowels in it?

Quigley: Not a specific word per se, but typically each grid will have what I call a marquee answer. A marquee answer can a never-before used phrase, a name in the news, a consonant-heavy answer, etc. Just sayin’: The consonant-heavy answers are much harder to work with.

Reddit: What is your invovlement with Will Shortz? What typical editting occurrs on a crossword?

Quigley: I send him puzzles and he runs the ones he likes. If we bump into each other, we might have a beer.

Editing typically means polishing up the answer grid to get rid of any lousy entries, then tightening up the clues.

Reddit: I’ve been doing New York Times crosswords since I was 16 and I’m 22 now. I have never been able to complete one past Wednesday. Do you have any advice for improving my skills?

Quigley: It sounds trivial, but doing it every day forces you to get better, even if you have absolutely no shot of even finishing any puzzle past Wednesday. It’s like working out, you have to tear muscle if you plan to build any. You’ll find that over time you’ll be able to see through the tricks in the clues. Eventually, you should be able to ask yourself what newfangled clue are they using to hide the most typical banal answer? We constructors do that a lot.

Reddit: What are the “rules” that a crossword has to obey? I read some of them once, I thought: diagonal symmetry, no more than some percent black spaces, etc.

Quigley: Odd number of squares on a side, grid should have 180 degree symmetry, no more than 1/6th of the grid is black square, word count something like 78 words for a 15x, 72 words if there’s no theme, no repeated words–even in the clues.

Reddit: Why those specifics?

Quigley: The first crossword editor, Margaret Farrar, came up with these rules to help her sift through the slush pile faster. She felt that anything else would be too easy to make and too simple to solve. Despite all the changes that the crossword has gone through, all of her rules stuck.

Reddit: How did you get on the career path leading to your current job?

Quigley: My career path entailed barely acquiring a BA at UNH, getting fired from miserable jobs in the publishing world, and slumming it in rock bands. That said, I’ve been selling puzzles to The Times since 1996.

Reddit: Have you ever put secret messages into the answers to your puzzles?’

Quigley: Once or twice.



Tell Attorney General Holder: Protect EVERY Citizen’s Right to Vote

Raw Video: Protesters Interrupt House Debate on Debt Deal

During House debate leading up to the vote on a bipartisan debt agreement, protesters on Monday were removed from the House chamber after chanting: “Boehner, get off it, it’s time to tax corporate profits” and “Hey Boehner, get a clue; it’s about revenue.” They were later detained.


Steamed Activists to Disrupt Forums

Roll Call:

Activists on the far right and far left might be angry at Congress, but they are fracturing with party leadership in a similar fashion, with each side decrying the debt deal for not going far enough.

As leaders attempted to sell the rank and file on the parameters of the compromise, Congress struck with President Barack Obama, tea party groups and liberal organizations alike bristled and promised that they will not be forgiving come the next election.

The battle began for many advocacy groups with terse statements that are likely to be followed by rallies, protests and, potentially, even party primaries.

Tea Party Patriots, which calls the deal “bad for America,” is organizing activists to disrupt Congressional town halls during the August recess.

“Make them tell you how [the deal] is putting us on the right track,” the group wrote in an email.[…]

Liberals also hate the plan because it didn’t include tax increases and left entitlement programs open to future cuts.

Robert Borosage, co-director of the liberal Campaign for America’s Future, told Roll Call that liberal groups opposing the deal will “organize mass pressure” on the members of a committee who this fall will consider tax increases and entitlement programs under the new plan.

Borosage said his group is working with labor unions and He said he has been bombarded with emails and calls from angry liberals expressing “serial angst and disappointment with the administration,” which could hurt Obama in 2012.

“There is a lot of anger about it. It’s not just this, it’s the wars, Guantánamo, retreats on a whole range of issues. [Liberals] feel like he’s not standing up and fighting and he’s losing the argument to the right.”

Earlier in a statement, Borosage had suggested that “Tea Party terrorists — the extremist faction willing to hold the economy hostage to get their way — have won.”

Progressive Change Campaign Committee’s Adam Green offered similar gripes, saying the compromise “will kill our economy and is an attack on middle-class families” and urged group members to flood Congressional offices with calls. surveyed some of the group’s 5 million members and concluded “the vast majority oppose the deal because it unfairly asks seniors and the middle class to bear the burden of the debt deal.”

The strong reactions on both sides reflected the unusually high level of citizen engagement in this policy debate. Last week, the Capitol switchboard and Congressional websites were overwhelmed by citizens demanding that Congress resolve the crisis. Advocacy groups might have a harder time sustaining that level of activism post-deal, but prominent leaders on both sides said the debate is far from over.

And though liberal groups might think the tea party has won the debt fight, tea partyers were hardly celebrating Monday.

Tea Party Nation’s Judson Phillips said Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had “totally sold the tea party and the conservative movement out.”

Phillips called on activists to organize against them and get involved in the 2012 elections to “kick these RINOs to the curb.”

But not all tea partyers were disappointed by the deal, raising questions about how united the grass roots will be in voicing opposition to it., whose members sent nearly 400,000 letters to Congress last week calling for deep cuts, hailed the deal as “a victory for the tea party.” The group plans to thank Boehner and House Republicans and is taking credit for forcing a tougher round of cuts.

Spokesman Dustin Stockton said tea partyers “took a terrible plan and made it neutral.”


A stupid man’s report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.
~~Bertrand Russell

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1.)The best option I heard for Obama was put forth by a reporter to Obama on a clip from the Daily Show last night. Why couldn’t we have attached the debt ceiling raise to a past bill that Republicans really wanted? They kinda did that to Democrats. And whose to say it won’t happen again? And worse. Why couldn’t we have attached the debt ceiling raise to the Bush tax cuts extension? The reporter pointed out to Obama that Republicans seem to have leverage over the White House now. And he asked Obama what happens when they do this again. I didn’t like Obama’s answer. “My expectations are that Republicans won’t watch the economy collapse.”….. Look, Mr. President, you took a shitty deal and did better with it than I ever expected. But they will not just let this go. You got to know it’s gonna come back around. They’re awful people.

2.)Mrs. Giffords is my hero.

3.)A hallucination is a fact, not an error; what is erroneous is a judgment based upon it.
~Bertrand Russell


They will not let it go.
They are on a mission to sort out Washington. When you chop wood, you make chips.

Those people will have a little rest and be back at it a fairly short time from now. Count on it.

And, the left, as it done has throughout its’ history and all over the world, continue to engage in internal feuds and backbiting. And defeat themselves.


It has to be kept in mind just exactly difficult it is for a legislative body – any legislative body – to come to grips with a serious issue that it takes up.

The 111rh and 112th are examples of that. The root cause of all this is the inablity of Congress to pass a strong stimulus. The other legislation passed proved problematic; but, the economy was, and is, number one. Democrats protested by staying home. This is not unusual; it has happened int USA before and in other countries: people protest by staying home.

The 112th is no better if not worse. The GOP is controlled by the Southern Faction and the Whiggish Faction is weak or pretty much extinct.


Good points, agrippa. Obama did make a huge error in shrinking and watering down the stimulus with so much in tax cuts, just so he could get Repubs to sign on.

Helping Americans climb out of the Great Recession should have been his priority, bipartisanship and changing the tone in Washington should have been secondary.

That said, he has been handling one crisis after another with mostly success and in this deal too, has come away with great leverage to ultimately get what he sought.


Good points, agrippa!

That seems to be the pattern for the President and is exactly what “know-nothings” get upset about. Few of them, it would seem, know how negotiations are done.

Take the extension of the Bush tax cuts last December…the President gave up in the face of the rethugs’ refusal to allow an extension of unemployment benefits. The President made a decision based on his belief that those benefits were much more important for the unemployed at that point than holding the line for the expiration of the tax cuts.

The same point can be made in light of this debt ceiling battle. The President had to set his priorities based on the long-term picture for the American people. Sure, I wanted him to include closing tax loopholes and taxing the rich, but it was more important to get the other items in the bill, like protection of SS/Medicare BENEFITS! (I still don’t know how he was able to pull that off!) We may not like everything he does, but I still do believe he has our backs!


emerald and adlib –

As for the stimulus, what I thought needed to be done – a program to actually create jobs, similar to WPA – was not done. Of course, that is a heterodox pov; realistically, it was not going to be done. Sad, but true.
Tax cuts to alleviate a recession are, virtually, an act of faith. Effectiveness of those cuts is never looked into. I don’t fault Obama for accepting the conventional wisdom believed by nearly everyone. FDR did that in 1936/37.

Obama did protect SS and Medicare. He does know how to frame an argument in negotiations. Basically, those other people – aka GOP – cannot do that.

We must never lose sight of that fact that we have elections every two years.


Well, the GOP won in Nov 2010. And, the GOP faction that is now in the ascendant is the Southern Faction – aka “Dixiecrats” or “Tea Party”. Boehner has to ride that horse. At the end of the day, that is a matter for the GOP to handle. Elections have consequences. We have to live withem until the next election – Nov 2012.

And, Congress writes laws. The President does not. Many people, including members of the commentariat seem to overlook that. But, many of them enjoy nagging; they consider their duty to nag and complain.