Posts Tagged Ruth Marcus
It’s going to be a long slog
By Ruth Marcus,
“We have to get right in our minds that the bully pulpit will always probably get better press than we will,” the House Budget Committee chairman and the 2012 Republican vice-presidential nominee told me Wednesday evening in an interview. “That cannot deter us. . . .The sequester will happen, and that will be occurring all along until the president is willing to do an agreement that deals with the entitlement problem and the debt crisis.”
To listen to Ryan is to understand that the country should brace for a months-long slog, from sequester to continuing resolution to, yes, another debt-ceiling showdown sometime this summer.
Really, I ask, the debt ceiling, again? I thought Republicans were determined to avoid replaying that losing hand. “Not this time,” Ryan said, before the words were even out of my mouth.
“The debt problem is getting worse,” he said. “We’re not leaving this session of Congress until we have a down payment on the problem.”
That stance might not be so worrisome — indeed, it might be welcome, because the debt problem is real and curbing entitlement spending essential — were it not for the insistence of Ryan and fellow Republicans that the down payment be composed entirely of spending cuts.
That’s no surprise, but one insight that emerges from talking to Ryan is the degree to which his zeal for tax reform drives the refusal to consider new revenue. The general Republican allergy to taxes and the party’s specific unwillingness to swallow another increase, on top of the rate rise agreed to as part of the fiscal-cliff deal, is part of what drives the current no-new-taxes attitude, but only part. There is some method to this anti-tax madness.
In making the cliff deal, White House officials had bet that dangling the lure of tax reform before Republicans would lead them to cough up hundreds of billions more in additional revenue.
In fact, as Ryan explains it, exactly the opposite may be true. The extra revenue provided by the cliff deal provided the cushion needed to accomplish tax reform — a higher base from which to start trimming loopholes and lowering rates.
At the same time, however, only so much pruning is politically palatable. So closing enough loopholes to produce additional revenue — on top of what is needed to pay for the rate-trimming — is difficult. “Been there, done that,” Ryan says of new tax revenue.
I disagree, vehemently, with Ryan’s assessment of the proper mix of tax revenue and spending cuts to deal with the debt. Much more than the $700 billion or so raised in the fiscal cliff deal is needed to get the debt under control without imposing damaging cuts.
But I think he makes two legitimate, interconnected points. First, where’s the president’s budget? “I’ve never seen such staggering disrespect for the budgeting process,” Ryan said.
The budget was due, by law, the first Monday in February; now, it probably won’t be out until sometime in March.
The White House says that the delay is due to fiscal-cliff wrangling and the cumbersome process of updating discretionary spending numbers once the deal was struck. But the document ought to have been out by now — not because failing to have the president’s budget delays action on Capitol Hill but because the public is owed an overview of the president’s blueprint for governing.
Second, and related, how precisely does the president propose to rein in entitlement spending? The White House points to its offer from the last negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner and says that remains on the table. It cites earlier budget proposals on Medicare and puts it all together in a blog post that confirmed its willingness to change the formula for calculating Social Security cost-of-living increases. But, really, a blog post? What about a plan that the president himself explains, and sells, to the country?
“He never gives the public an honest account of what he’s willing to do on entitlements,” Ryan said of the president. “Trimming a statistic,” he sniffed of the proposed Social Security tweak, “is not entitlement reform.”
Ryan didn’t expect to be reliving what he describes as budget “Groundhog Day.” At this point in a Mitt Romney administration, Ryan imagined, he would be maneuvering to pass the grand debt-reduction plan.
“Mitt and I were going to bring to Congress a plan to fix this this year and we were going to launch a charm offensive with Senate Democrats to work with them to do it,” Ryan said.
So much for charm offensive. This is going to be trench warfare.
- It’s going to be a long slog on the federal fiscal crisis: Ruth Marcus (oregonlive.com)
- Ryan: We’ll See If Obama Uses the Sequester Flexibility We Plan to Give Him (cnsnews.com)
- The details Paul Ryan doesn’t want you to know (maddowblog.msnbc.com)
- How we got to the sequester’s doorstep: Ruth Marcus (oregonlive.com)
- “GOP Reversion To Form”: When Did “Tax Reform” Become A Tax Hike? (bell-book-candle.com)
- My Message to the White House & Senate Democrats Tomorrow: Do Your Job & Pass a Bill (speaker.gov)
- Charles Krauthammer – Republicans mustn’t wimp-out on Sequester (mypoliticalmusings.wordpress.com)
- ABC confronts Paul Ryan for praising sequester before using it to slam Obama (rawstory.com)
- How Republicans see the sequester (washingtonpost.com)
- What happened when I asked Paul Ryan why he hates taxes (washingtonpost.com)
Making a ‘B’ line to the cliff
By Ruth Marcus, Published: December 20
Blame John Boehner. Feel sorry for Boehner, sure — he is a decent man, a willing dealmaker overseeing an unruly caucus, and I’m being kind with that adjective. But blame him, too.
If — and, as is looking increasingly likely, when — the country hurtles over the “fiscal cliff,” it will be in part because the House speaker abruptly decided to upend negotiations with the White House.
Earlier this week, the two sides appeared to be on the verge of a deal. To Boehner’s credit, and more on this later, he had gone a remarkable distance in President Obama’s direction. Suddenly, instead of spending precious time hammering out final details,Boehner shifted to what he called “Plan B.” This made sense only if the “B” stands for blow-up. Which is exactly what happened Thursday night, when Boehner was forced to call off a scheduled House vote on his plan because it “did not have sufficient support from our members to pass.”
Under Plan B, the Bush tax cuts would have been extended, except for households making more than $1 million a year. So Republicans were asked to yield on what once seemed unthinkable, agreeing to raise not only tax revenue but also tax rates.
They would take these tough votes — and for what? A plan that raises taxes (Republican anathema), fails to cut spending (Republican dogma) and does not avert a noxious (especially to Republicans) part of the cliff, the sequester of defense spending.
All of which may help explain Plan B’s astonishing demise.
White House officials were mystified by Boehner’s attempt to maneuver in the first place. Perhaps, they thought, Boehner felt he needed to gum up the works with Plan B to strengthen his bargaining position with the president. Perhaps he felt he needed to convince reluctant Republicans that the deal he was cooking up with the president is the best that can be achieved.
Or perhaps, and this may be the most likely after Plan B’s failure, he, once again, cannot produce the votes for the grand-enough bargain.
Before the non-vote, congressional Republicans insisted that Boehner was forced to switch course because the two sides were further apart than the White House asserted. While the differences could be narrowed, they argued, the time had run out to finalize a deal before the new year.
In the meantime, Republicans said, they were obligated to come up with a solution to avert tax hikes on the vast majority of Americans. If Senate Democrats weren’t willing to start the increases at $1 million — a level Republicans were happy to point out was once endorsed by several top Democrats — they could come up with an alternative.
This would have been more persuasive if the time necessary to ping-pong such a deal back and forth between the two houses wasn’t at least as long as the time necessary for approving a deal negotiated by the president and the speaker. Or if parallel negotiations on the grand-enough bargain were continuing.
Indeed, Plan B seemed aimed more at shifting blame as the cliff arrives than at solving the problem. What suddenly changed between Monday, when talks were proceeding, and Tuesday, when Boehner shifted precipitously to Plan B?
As the fiscal-cliff talks have progressed, way too slowly, I have pointed fingers at both sides for intransigence. Then came signs of remarkable progress.
Boehner gave on both revenue (now $1 trillion) and rates (now letting rates rise for those earning more than $1 million). The White House gave on revenue, rates and entitlements. It reduced its revenue demand to $1.2 trillion and raised the sock-it-to-me, rate-rising level to $400,000, from $250,000. It agreed — infuriating progressives — to an entirely sensible change in the inflation measurement for calculating tax brackets and cost-of-living adjustments for benefit programs.
The two sides were so close it makes you want to cry, although, in a sign of the trying times, they can’t even agree on how close. On taxes, a mere — yes, mere, given the uncertainties of these projections — $200 billion over 10 years. On spending, the gap depends on whose accounting you buy. The White House says the difference is just $100 billion. Republicans put the number at several hundred billion, but they are suddenly shifting the terms of debate, including about whether lower interest costs should be counted, as they have been, as part of spending cuts.
Either way, these differences are paltry. The rational response would be to keep working to narrow them. But this is Washington, and rationality is fleeting. Just ask John Boehner.
- Breaking: Boehner’s Plan B fiscal cliff bill pulled amid dissension in GOP caucus (mbcalyn.com)
- Here’s What Happens Now That Boehner’s “Plan B” Went Down In Flames (hennessysview.com)
- Obama, Boehner meet on “fiscal cliff” (cbsnews.com)
- Let’s Go Over The Fiscal Cliff With A Bungee Cord (conservativesonfire.wordpress.com)
- No, Boehner Isn’t Nuts (washingtonmonthly.com)
- Republicans rebel… (telegraph.co.uk)
- Heading Over the Cliff With Plan B? (commentarymagazine.com)
- How Boehner’s Plan B for the ‘fiscal cliff’ began and fell apart (theneteconomy.wordpress.com)
- Boehner Handed Humiliating Defeat as ‘Plan B’ Fails; What Now? (towleroad.com)
- BREAKING: Republicans Revolt, Reject Boehner’s ‘Plan B’ | ThinkProgress (tribuneofthepeople.com)
Ruth Marcus: The shifting line on tax cuts
By Ruth Marcus,
Hint: It wasn’t because rates were too high. It was because the surplus was too big.
Yes, too big.
President George W. Bush laid out this reasoning in his first address to Congress, in February 2001. “Many of you have talked about the need to pay down our national debt. I listened, and I agree,” he said, vowing to eliminate $2 trillion in debt over the next decade.
Likewise, he said, the nation, like “any prudent family,” should have a “contingency fund” for emergencies. And so, Bush assured the nation, he would set aside another sum, nearly $1 trillion over 10 years.
“That is 1 trillion additional reasons,” he said, “you can feel comfortable supporting this budget.”
Even with that rainy-day fund, and the budget growing at a comfortable 4 percent, Bush argued, “we still have money left over” for a tax cut.
“The people of America have been overcharged,” Bush proclaimed, “and on their behalf, I am here asking for a refund.”
Smart people in both parties understood, even then, that the projected surplus was uncertain; that the rosy estimates did not adequately account for the long-term needs of Medicare and Social Security; and that the true cost of the tax cut, obscured through budget gimmickry, was greater than advertised. They were right.
As it turned out, the people of America — in particular, the rich people of America — hadn’t been overcharged, they were undercharged. They received an unaffordable tax cut premised on the false notion of affordability.
Don’t take it from me, take it from Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain — that is, McCain circa 2001 and 2003.
“I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us,” McCain said in 2001.
Two years later, when the surplus had evaporated and Bush was pressing to accelerate and expand tax cuts to help the faltering economy, McCain said more benefits for the wealthy would be “irresponsible” at a time of “rising national debt.”
The deficit that year was $378 billion. What once sounded scary now seems quaint.
Today, the argument against raising top rates comes down to a tired and self-contradictory combination: First, rates can’t be allowed to rise now, with economic growth lagging. Second, rates can’t be allowed to rise ever, because of the supposed impact on — all together now — small-business job creators.
The first argument is not persuasive because the economic drag of higher rates on the wealthiest taxpayers is far less than the impact on the middle class. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that raising top tax brackets would lower growth next year by one-tenth of a percentage point, compared to a 1.3-percentage-point hit if middle-class taxes rose.
The second argument, about small business, is equally unconvincing. Despite the bipartisan idolizing of small business, it is not the engine of job creation. Start-up businesses are — at least the sliver of those that succeed.
Even if small businesses were the key to job growth, most — fewer than 3 percent — would be unaffected by an increase in top rates. Republicans respond that about half of income earned by small businesses goes to those in the top two brackets. But this is because the tax code’s strange notion of business income isn’t limited to your neighborhood dry cleaner.
Rather, it sweeps in all taxpayers with business income, no matter how small a share of earnings, along with lawyers or hedge fund managers whose firms are organized as partnerships.
Under this definition, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 237 of the wealthiest 400 taxpayers, with incomes averaging more than $200 million, would be considered small-business owners. So would President Obama, because he receives book royalties.
These upper-bracket “small businesses” are not making hiring decisions based on tax rates. Most don’t employ anyone. According to the Treasury Department, less than 6 percent of income to taxpayers in the top two brackets went to small businesses that employ people.
Nearly a dozen years and trillions of dollars in debt since the Bush tax cuts, no one invokes the now-vanished surplus. But proponents argue with equal vigor that rates cannot be allowed to rise.
The justification shifts, yet the bottom line remains the same.
- Remember the surplus? A history lesson on tax cuts: Ruth Marcus (oregonlive.com)
- Ruth Marcus: Early voting’s pros and cons – The Washington Post (mbcalyn.com)
- Ruth Marcus: A history lesson on tax cuts (redding.com)
- Marcus: Obama’s message to GOP: Ante up (goerie.com)
- Another GOP Leader Recognizes Reality (nymag.com)
- Ruth Marcus: Politicians play fiscal chicken (goerie.com)
- Why the Norquist pledge may not even apply to the ‘fiscal cliff’ (washingtonpost.com)
- Ruth Marcus: Veering toward the plunge (redding.com)
- Raising the Medicare eligibility age is more complicated than advertised: Ruth Marcus (oregonlive.com)
- Marcus: A history lesson on tax cuts (denverpost.com)
Early voting’s pros and cons
By Ruth Marcus, Published: November 1
The neighbors gathered in Hurricane Sandy’s drizzly aftermath, surveying the damage: tree limbs crushing the roof of a car, telephone poles snapped in half, power lines strewn across the street. It was, for all the unpleasant circumstances, a nice communal moment.
It made me think, oddly enough, about what it is that bothers me about early voting.
More precisely, it reminded me about what I like about Election Day — the neighborly lines at the local elementary school, the sense of common purpose, the we’re-all-in-this-together ritual of the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. I like wearing my corny “I voted” sticker on Election Day. I like seeing yours.
Early voting is the civic manifestation of the modern age: fragmented, individualistic and solitary. Once we all saw the same television show at the same time; now, we watch “Modern Family” whenever it is most convenient. We withdraw our cash from a machine when we need it, rather than racing to the bank before it closes. We scan our groceries as we shop and check out on our own.
Like early voting, these are conveniences of modern life. And we are, on balance, better off for the advent of early voting as much as for the ATM and DVR. Not everyone can make it to the polls on Election Day. Not everyone can afford to be late to work in the event of long lines.
In what early voting expert Paul Gronke of Reed College has termed a “quiet revolution” in American politics, the country no longer has Election Day — we have Election Month.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 32 states and the District of Columbia now allow in-person early voting, beginning, on average, 22 days before the election.
In addition, and almost entirely overlapping, 27 states plus the District have no-excuse absentee voting. Two states — Washington and Oregon — conduct elections entirely by mail.
The result has been a surge in early voting — to 30 percent of voters in 2008. Michael McDonald of George Mason University predicts that this share could rise to 35 percent this year; several states, including Maryland, Louisiana, Iowa and Montana, have already exceeded their 2008 numbers. In battleground states where both parties have been pushing early voting, well over half the vote could come in early.
Initial studies raised questions about whether early voting increased turnout or simply shifted the time that voters cast their ballots. But given candidates’ emphasis on early voters in recent elections — the Obama campaign targeted them in 2008 and the Romney campaign is trying to catch up to Democrats this year — it seems likely that early voting is boosting turnout.
I would support early voting even if it didn’t, for the same reason that I support laws requiring restaurants to post calorie counts even without conclusive evidence that such information helps reduce obesity levels. Consumers should have access to nutrition information to consider as they wish. Voters should be able to turn up early if that is convenient for them.
Some states do begin their early voting disconcertingly early — up to 45 days before the election.
Does too-early voting matter, potentially depriving voters of information that could have affected their decision?
Probably not much this year, when so many voters were so settled on their choices. In addition, most early voters, even in truly early-bird states, wait until close to Election Day. The earliest among them are probably the most energized partisans, unlikely to be swayed by new information.
If it were up to me, I would condense the early voting time to perhaps two weeks out, and also rejigger the presidential debate calendar so that the debates take place before most early voting starts.
This year, by the time the final debate took place on Oct. 22, early voting had commenced in all but five of the states that permit it, although in some cases just barely. That’s unfortunate. Voting on the basis of more information is better than voting on the basis of less.
Early voting has begun in my state, Maryland, and I considered taking advantage of it — now, that is, that we have our power back. But I’ve decided to hold off until Election Day, lines and all. I can swap Sandy stories with my neighbors while I wait, and feel part of the quadrennial ritual, however anachronistic.
- Early voting turns Election Day into Election Month (oregonlive.com)
- Complaints crop up in Ohio of early voting machines marking Romney votes for Obama (conservativeread.com)
- Romney camp predicted early/absentee Fla lead by election day. So far Dems lead by 76k (tampabay.com)
- Friday is the deadline for early voting in Wisconsin (fox6now.com)
- Today is the last day for early voting in Texas (star-telegram.com)
- 34.8 percent vote early in Victoria County (victoriaadvocate.com)
- Crist to Scott: ‘Florida deserves better,’ extend early voting (tv.msnbc.com)
- Democrats crushing Republicans on sporadic Fla voters in early voting (tampabay.com)
- Saturday is your last chance to vote early (salisbury.wbtv.com)
- More than 1.4 million have voted early in Georgia – Atlanta Journal Constitution (ajc.com)
Questions for Obama and Romney to answer
● President Obama, climate change has been on the back burner during your time in office. In your nomination-acceptance speech last month, you spoke of climate change as “a threat to our children’s future” and cited “my plan” to deal with it. And that would be . . . ?
● Governor Romney, in your acceptance speech, you seemed to mock the notion of climate change. You have called for additional study because of a “lack of scientific consensus.” What is your basis for saying so, and what would it take to get you to act?
● Governor Romney, you have said that businesses need regulatory certainty. Auto companies and workers support the Obama administration’s new fuel economy standards, which will also save drivers money and reduce carbon pollution. Why do you oppose what your campaign called these “extreme standards”?
● President Obama, your own jobs council has warned against government obstacles that “threaten the development of some energy projects, negatively impact jobs and weaken our energy infrastructure.” How does this square with your holding up the Keystone XL pipeline?
● Governor Romney, the Republican platform calls for denying federal aid to state colleges and universities that provide in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. Is that your position?
● President Obama, your administration has deported more people than any other. Will this continue or accelerate in a second term? How do you plan to convince Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform?
● Governor Romney, you have criticized the federal government’s direct involvement in student loans, yet the program is estimated to save the government more than $60 billion over the next decade. Why end it?
● President Obama, you have consistently opposed a program that provides vouchers for about 1,600 children in the District of Columbia to attend private school. Why deny children in failing schools the opportunities that your daughters have?
● Governor Romney, ensuring that children are school-ready is an important element of their later success. Your education plan is silent on early childhood education. You said recently that having one parent who “can be at home in those early years of education can be extraordinarily important.” Since this is not feasible for many families, what do you propose?
● President Obama, would the country be better off without teachers unions?
● Governor Romney, rather than directing funding to schools, you propose giving low-income and special-needs children vouchers to allow them to attend the school of their choice. What happens if the voucher covers only a fraction of the cost or if those schools don’t have room? What happens to parents who aren’t capable of getting their children to such schools? And why does your plan dismantle standards for holding low-performing schools accountable?
● President Obama, your administration has granted waivers to about half the states from a requirement that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Some states, such as Virginia, are holding schools less accountable for the academic achievement of African American and Hispanic students. How will that help close the achievement gap with white students?
● For both: You have agreed that it is an appropriate role of government to help develop the infrastructure the economy needs to prosper. The World Economic Forum has ranked the quality of U.S. infrastructure at 24th in the world, down from fifth in 2002. How do you propose to confront this challenge — and to pay for it? How will you prioritize among various needs?
● Governor Romney, you have said you believe life begins at conception. How then do you justify an exception for abortion in cases of rape or incest? Do you support the call in the Republican Party platform for a constitutional amendment that would prohibit abortion?
● President Obama, do you believe that the Constitution protects the right of gays and lesbians to marry? If not, what is the difference between discrimination on the basis of race and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation?
● President Obama, during the 2008 campaign you called for reinstituting the assault-weapons ban. Despite the shootings in Colorado, Arizona and elsewhere, you have remained silent on gun control as president. Will that continue in a second term?
● For both: If you do not win election, what will you do instead?
- Ruth Marcus: So, what’s your answer? (redding.com)
- Ruth Marcus: Self-preservation, meet cynicism – The Washington Post (mbcalyn.com)
- A Heaping Helping of Ridicule for Ruth Marcus (my.firedoglake.com)
- Seeking answers from the candidates in the presidential debates (oregonlive.com)
- Ruth Marcus: What questions make a perfect presidential (sfluxe.com)
- More: NBC/WSJ poll shows 44% believe economy will improve in next 12 months – @NBCFirstRead (firstread.nbcnews.com)
- NBC/WSJ poll: Obama maintains lead, Romney within striking distance (firstread.nbcnews.com)
- Call on the New York Times to publish an obituary for Ruth Marcus (peasoup.typepad.com)
- A Heaping Helping of Ridicule for Ruth Marcus (businessinsider.com)
- Ruth Marcus memorial scheduled (leiterreports.typepad.com)
Self-preservation, meet cynicism
Start with Akin. The six-term congressman now running for the Senate posted a Facebook statement Sunday, explaining that he “misspoke” in making an “off-the-cuff” remark.
Misspoke is when you accidentally introduce your vice presidential running mate as the “next president of the United States.” (See both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.) Misspoke is when your mouth gets ahead of your brain. (See Joe Biden, most recently on Republicans putting “y’all back in chains.”) Misspoke is a politician’s way of never having to say he’s sorry, the first cousin to the non-apology apology (“I’m sorry if you were offended”).
But suggesting that in situations of “legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down” is not misspeaking. It’s mis-thinking.
By midday Monday, Akin was in full grovel, appearing on Mike Huckabee’s radio show to disavow his remarks without ever managing to explain them.
The Romney campaign followed a similar arc. First came the non-denunciation denunciation. On Sunday night, hours after the story broke, the campaign put out a joint statement by Romney and Paul Ryan mildly saying that they “disagree” with Akin’s statement and “a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape.”
Disagreement is when you differ over the proper tax treatment of capital gains income. When an ally comes under assault, the first impulse of politicians of both parties is to circle the political wagons, to concede only as much as politically necessary and not a millimeter more.
Thus the Obama campaign’s steadfast — and wrongheaded — refusal to distance itself from an inflammatory ad by an Obama-supporting super PAC insinuating that Romney helped contribute to the death of a laid-off worker’s wife.
The second impulse is to throw the offending person under the bus. As the outrage over Akin’s remarks mounted, so did the tone of the Romney campaign’s rhetoric.
By Monday morning, Romney was telling National Review’s Robert Costa that Akin’s comments were “insulting, inexcusable and, frankly, wrong,” adding, “Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive.” After we thought about it for a while.
Then there is the sheer cynicism of Democrats’ attitude toward Akin, even predating his rape remarks. In the three-way Missouri GOP primary, Akin was the Democrats’ favorite Republican. No surprise there: He was the most conservative of the field, and therefore represented Sen. Claire McCaskill’s best shot at holding on to her endangered seat.
The cynical twist was that a Democratic super PAC intervened in the primary to try tobolster Akin’s chances. Majority PAC, a group allied with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), spent more than $1 million attacking the GOP front-runner, John Brunner.
This maneuver isn’t unprecedented: the Patriot Majority PAC, run by a former Reid staffer, pulled the same stunt in Reid’s own race two years ago, intervening in the Republican primary to help propel tea party candidate Sharron Angle.
This time around, McCaskill herself seemed to be meddling in the GOP primary, with ads blasting all three Republicans. But her critique of Akin as the “true conservative” in the race and a “crusader against bigger government” appeared designed more to bolster Akin than to hurt him — and it represented the vast majority of McCaskill’s spending.
There was McCaskill on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Monday, modestly demurring about whether Akin should withdraw as the nominee.
“It’s not my place to decide,” she said. “I really think that for the national party to try to come in here and dictate to the Republican primary voters that they’re going to invalidate their decision, that would be pretty radical. I think there could be a backlash for the Republicans if they did that.”
How nice of McCaskill to care so much about the other party — having helped cherry-pick its nominee.
Contrast McCaskill’s tender concern for Missouri’s Republican voters with that of Texas Sen. John Cornyn, head of the Republicans’ Senate campaign arm, who all but shoved Akin out the door Monday.
Cornyn issued a statement calling Akin’s remarks “wrong, offensive and indefensible” and urging him to take 24 hours to “carefully consider what is best for him, his family, the Republican Party.” A short time later, Romney was urging the same.
Is it any wonder Americans hate politics?
- Twitter Responds to Akin’s “Legitimate Rape” Comment (fox4kc.com)
- Ruth Marcus: Super PACs and stirring the constitutional pot – The Washington Post (mbcalyn.com)
- Ruth Marcus: Both parties dodge Medicare issues (goerie.com)
- Huckabee: Rapes Create Some Amazing People (newser.com)
- Ruth Marcus: Medicare still the third rail (redding.com)
- Mo. congressman renews vow to stay in Senate race (cnsnews.com)
- RUTH MARCUS: A gaffe a day keeps substance away (tauntongazette.com)
- Still Awaiting Ticket to GOP Convention: Sarah Palin (newser.com)
- Rep. Akin apologizes for rape comments, vows to stay in Senate race – @usatoday (content.usatoday.com)
- Todd Akin: The man who said too much (salon.com)
Stirring the constitutional pot
By Ruth Marcus,
The notion of fiddling with the First Amendment should make anyone nervous — especially anyone who has spent a career benefiting from it.
Then again, so should Sheldon Adelson’s $10 million check to Mitt Romney’s super PAC. A system that lets one individual pump so much money into supporting a favored candidate threatens to substitute oligarchy for democracy.
Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe has long opposed such tinkering. But writing last week for Slate, Tribe proposed an amendment, since introduced by Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), that would allow “content-neutral limitations” on independent expenditures.
Tribe told me he changed his mind because “there’s no serious prospect” that a majority of the Supreme Court “will see the light in our lifetimes.” Meanwhile, he said, the “distortive effects of Citizens United and its aftermath are becoming clearer every week.”
For all of the lamenting over the 2010 ruling in Citizens United, the trouble began far earlier, in the 1976 case Buckley v. Valeo. Citizens United and a later appeals court ruling simply made clear that the Adelsons of the world could band together — hence, the super PAC — to spend unlimited funds to elect favored candidates. Buckleyerected a distinction between limits on campaign contributions (okay, to prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption) and limits on campaign expenditures (invalid, because they restrict political speech without, the court said, furthering the anti-corruption interest).
The contribution/expenditure distinction has been assailed by both sides. Yet there are valid reasons to limit contributions and to offer more leeway on the spending side. For example, the money that poured into Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, in limited donations, reflected his immense popular support.
But the distinction collapses in theory, and becomes pernicious in practice, when it comes to independent expenditures. In Buckley and Citizens United, the justices proceeded from a naively rosy view of the corrupting potential of independent expenditures and an unduly narrow view of the governmental interest in limiting them. Such spending, the court said in invalidating a $1,000 limit on independent expenditures in Buckley, “does not presently appear to pose dangers of real or apparent corruption comparable to those identified with large campaign contributions.”
Presently? What would the court have said about candidates benefiting from $10 million checks?
The mere “appearance of influence or access,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in striking down the ban on corporate independent expenditures in Citizens United, “will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy. By definition, an independent expenditure is political speech presented to the electorate that is not coordinated with a candidate.”
Take a look at the incestuous staffing of any super PAC, and consider whether you think it operates truly independently — and whether it bolsters your faith in democracy.
This is infuriating, yet I can’t bring myself to support a constitutional amendment. That quixotic enterprise would detract from more practical efforts to tighten rules — stricter limits on coordination between candidates and super PACs, for example — even under existing interpretations. And at bottom, the fault with the current arrangement lies not in the First Amendment but in the Supreme Court’s interpretation thereof.
A federal appellate judge made this clear in a concurring opinion last year in a case involving New York City’s campaign finance law. The high court, Guido Calabresi argued, has erred in finding that the government has no legitimate interest in ensuring that the voices of the wealthy do not drown out others in political debate.
If not, he asked, why is it legal to bar rich individuals from paying others to vote for their favored candidates?
“The critical problem with vote-buying is not corruption; it is rather that allowing the practice would give the wealthiest individuals a huge effect over political elections,” Calabresi said. “This same concern, of course, explains why a state has a valid interest in leveling the playing field with respect to campaign contributions” and, by implication, independent expenditures.
As it happens, 25 years ago this week a senator from Kentucky well versed in campaign-finance issues proposed a constitutional amendment to allow limits on independent expenditures.
“These are constitutional problems,” the senator said, “demanding constitutional answers.”
That was Republican Mitch McConnell, arch foe of campaign-finance regulation — or, as he would put it, staunch defender of the First Amendment.
Still not enough to make me support changing the Constitution. But it does make you think
- Ruth Marcus: Stirring the constitutional pot (redding.com)
- Is John Edwards a criminal? – The Washington Post (mbcalyn.com)
- Campaign cash is the gift that keeps on giving – Salon.com (mbcalyn.com)
- Super PAC influence overblown? (politico.com)
- Miriam Adelson gets $5 million back from super PAC (mcclatchydc.com)
- McConnell Defends Record Consistency (commentarymagazine.com)
- Growing GOP Super PAC Financial Power Threatens Obama (usnews.com)
- Sheldon Adelson to donate $10 Million to pro-Romney SuperPAC, and he’s NOT all in yet! (bluedownstate.wordpress.com)
- Why the Media Hates and Fears the Super PACs (johnmalcolm.me)
- Celebrity Pet Portraiture – Ruth Marcus Combines Your Cat and Favorite Famous Person (TrendHunter.com) (trendhunter.com)
Posted at 12:15 PM ET, 05/30/2012
The Romney-Trump-Nugent-Limbaugh ticket
Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, having secured the necessary 1,144 delegates last night, is playing a dangerous game.
Rather than be a statesman, he refuses to forcefully condemn the birther barnstorming of Donald Trump. What the Donald is doing — flopping about in a pool of proven lies for attention’s sake — is detestable and corrosive to political discourse. To literally stand next to someone who rides a wave of racist conspiracy theories to question the legitimacy of the president is equally detestable and demonstrates a reprehensible willingness by Romney to do whatever he feels is necessary to win.
Putting Romney on the couch, Ruth Marcus gets at part of the reason for this by citing two separate profiles on his parents. “You have to wonder what George and Lenore Romney would have made of their son the candidate,” she writes in The Post today. “The last week has brought two insightful profiles of Mitt Romney’s parents, offering an implicit, and disappointing, contrast with their more successful son.”
Like his father, Wallace-Wells writes, Mitt Romney is “caught in a similarly uneasy negotiation with conservatives.”
Here is the telling difference, and the sad, perhaps inevitable, trajectory of any political dynasty, from idealism to expediency. George Romney railed — indeed, he battled — against what he saw happening. Mitt Romney has adapted to it.
But John Avlon gets right at the heart of the matter by echoing what I’ve been saying in one form or another for months now.
Romney’s repeated reluctance to take such a stand speaks to the extent to which he is still being held hostage by the right-wing reality-show primaries. It reeks of Stockholm syndrome — Romney seems to think his captors are his friends. If the lure of big money isn’t enough to cause him to break the birther embrace, what will? Where is the red line that Romney won’t cross in his pursuit of political gold?
The fact that his long-fought-for nomination victory is being overshadowed by this radioactive distraction ought to be wakeup call enough. Romney is now the leader of the Republican Party, and it’s his responsibility to stand tall and set a tone that shows a capacity to be president of the United States. Failure to confront and condemn ignorance and hate indicates precisely the opposite.
Romney had an opportunity to push back against Rush Limbaugh’s invective against Sandra Fluke. Instead he said, “I’ll just say this, which is, it’s not the language I would have used.”
Romney had an opportunity to push back against the blunt and violent rhetoric from aging rocker and supporter Ted Nugent. Instead his spokeswoman said, “Divisive language is offensive no matter what side of the political aisle it comes from. Mitt Romney believes everyone needs to be civil.”
And Romney had an opportunity to push back against Trump, who used the airwaves to spread more lies about President Obama not being born in this country. Instead he said, “You know I don’t agree with all the people who support me, and my guess is they don’t all agree with everything I believe in,” Romney told reporters on his campaign plane Monday. “But I need to get 50.1 percent or more, and I’m appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people.”
This is but more evidence that Romney is still trying to convince the conservative base that he is one of them. If he’s not going to criticize Nugent, Limbaugh or Trump, at what point does Romney show himself to be a leader, not just of the Republican Party, but also as a potential president of the United States? Rather than show some backbone and stare down the crazy within his own party, he’s opted to go along to get along. The American people want a leader, a statesman. Romney has yet to rise to that level.
- Mitt Romney’s lessons from his political parents – The Washington Post (mbcalyn.com)
- Romney Finds Himself Upstaged by Trump on Big Day – NYTimes.com (mbcalyn.com)
- Mitt Romney’s losing gamble on Donald Trump – The Washington Post (mbcalyn.com)
- Rush: CNN set up Trump on birther issue (wnd.com)
- Cagle Post ” Reaction to Nugent Showcases Manufactured Outrage On The Right (mbcalyn.com)
- Borowitz Report – Trump Could Help Romney Win Elusive Billionaire Asshole Vote (mbcalyn.com)
- Donald Trump has a very large Twitter (politico.com)
- Oosp: Romney’s New App Misspells ‘America’ (newser.com)
- With friends like Trump (salon.com)
- George Will: Why Is Romney Campaigning With “Bloviating Ignoramus” Trump (alan.com)
Mitt Romney’s lessons from his political parents
The last week has brought two insightful profiles of Mitt Romney’s parents, offering an implicit, and disappointing, contrast with their more successful son.
New York magazine’s Benjamin Wallace-Wells describes the force of nature that wasMichigan Gov. George Romney, headstrong in his convictions and at odds with an increasingly conservative Republican Party.
Both authors posit that the parents’ losing campaigns — George Romney’s disastrous 1968 presidential race and Lenore’s reluctant, husband-propelled bid for the Senate two years later — shaped young Mitt and his approach to politics.
“No presidential nominee until now has grown up with two parents who ran for high office or so much early exposure to the craft,” Gellman writes. “Their public ruin seared him and schooled him. The lessons he drew have shaped his ambitions, his calculations of risk and his strategy for achieving what his mother and father could not. Bluntly put, Mitt learned from each of his parents how to lose an election. . . . [I]t became his prime concern to avoid their mistakes.”
The tale of two generations of Romneys in politics is, of course, a parallel story of the changing ideology of the Republican Party and its relentless shift rightward. In fact, as Wallace-Wells describes, George Romney’s Republican Party, the embodiment of the moderate establishment, was collapsing even as he ran, supplanted by the party of Goldwater and Reagan. Like his father, Wallace-Wells writes, Mitt Romney is “caught in a similarly uneasy negotiation with conservatives.”
Here is the telling difference, and the sad, perhaps inevitable, trajectory of any political dynasty, from idealism to expediency. George Romney railed — indeed, he battled — against what he saw happening. Mitt Romney has adapted to it.
Wallace-Wells tells the story of George Romney’s efforts at the 1964 convention to promote a plank in the party platform denouncing extremism of all types. Romney lost — and, with 17-year-old Mitt in tow, walked out of his party’s convention. “With such extremists rising to official positions of leadership in the Republican Party,” George Romney said, “we cannot recapture the respect of the nation.”
If the scars of this political battle led Mitt Romney to the conclusion that it is better to join the machine than rage against it, he would not be the first political son to do so. For George W. Bush, the enduring lesson of his father’s losing reelection bid was to shrink from any repeat of George H.W. Bush’s finest moment — the elder Bush’s willingness to renounce his “read my lips” no-tax pledge in the interest of fiscal prudence.
What is striking about the comparison of Romney father and son is the difference not only in outlook but also in personality. George Romney’s virtue, and perhaps his downfall, was his bullheaded willfulness. “Messianic” was one aide’s description.
As governor, he fought to institute a state income tax and to broaden civil rights protection. At the launch of the 1968 campaign, Romney insisted on a tour of American inner cities that featured a meeting with community organizer Saul Alinsky.
When he resigned as Nixon’s housing secretary, Romney assailed timid politicians who “avoid specific positions . . . for fear of offending uninformed voters.” Sound familiar?
This is where Gellman’s intriguing account of Lenore Romney’s campaign comes in. Where George confronted, Lenore conciliated.
“It was Lenore who gave Mitt a model for engaging in public life,” Gellman writes. “Whereas her husband relished a good fight, she sidestepped and looked for common ground with her critics. Mitt displayed much the same temperament as he grew up — cautious and increasingly self-controlled. In politics, he adopted his mother’s tactic of melting away from battle whenever possible.”
Except that Lenore Romney took positions that were not necessarily politically convenient in a primary campaign against a more conservative opponent. She wanted out of Vietnam. She advocated prisoner rehabilitation, environmental protection, abortion rights and a national health plan.
“So many of our senators sometimes become so caught up in the political situation that their answer is made politically before the issue is even brought up,” Mitt Romney lamented during her Senate campaign.
Young Mitt saw that as a critique of politics. For Adult Mitt, it has been a template for success.
- Mother of Mitt: How Lenore Romney’s Failed Campaign Shaped the Presumptive Republican Nominee (swampland.time.com)
- Would Donald Trump Have Gone After Mitt Romney’s Mexican-Born Father? (alan.com)
- Romney’s birth certificate evokes his father’s citizenship controversy (thegrio.com)
- Oosp: Romney’s New App Misspells ‘America’ (newser.com)
- For Some Reason, Mitt Romney Releases His Birth Certificate (outsidethebeltway.com)
- S.E. Cupp: Mitt Romney ‘An Incredible Optimist Who Keeps Campaigning, Losing, Campaigning, Losing’ (mediaite.com)
- Reuters dissects Romney’s birth certificate (wnd.com)
- Mitt Romney Releases Official Birth Certificate To Reuters (mediaite.com)
- Lawrence O’Donnell Accuses ‘Soulless’ Mitt Romney Of Civil Rights ‘Rewrite’ (mediaite.com)
- Romney Releases Birth Certificate, Stirs Dad’s Controversy (newser.com)
Google’s Eric Schmidt and the curse of constant connection
By Ruth Marcus, Published: May 22
Google executive Eric Schmidt offered some seemingly simple advice in his commencement address at Boston University last weekend: “Take one hour a day and turn that thing off.”
This is odd coming from a man whose career has been based, with enormous success, on making it ever harder to turn that thing off.
And — I can tell you, as a mom who’s waged a losing battle against excessive screen time — Schmidt means things, plural: iPhone, iPad, laptop, desktop, BlackBerry, Kindle. We are multiply wired, ensnared — for better and for worse — in a world of ubiquitous technology.
“What’s the first thing that you guys do when you wake up? Right? Check your phone, your laptop. Read some e-mails. Comb through your social networks. I’m awake, here I am! Right? If you’re awake, you’re online, you’re connected,” Schmidt said. “Some of you are probably texting right now, or tweeting the speech, changing your status.”
In the official Boston University video, as Schmidt speaks, the camera focuses on graduates in mortarboards, tapping away.
Schmidt’s message, naturally, was not anti-technology — it was antibeing-ruled-by-technology.
“People bemoan this generation that is growing up living life in front of screens, always connected to something or someone,” he said. “These people are wrong.. . . The fact that we’re all connected now is a blessing, not a curse.”
Mostly, which is where Schmidt’s piece of take-away advice came in. “I know it’s going to be hard,” he said, as the camera zoomed in, this time on a graduate shaking her head in disagreement — or maybe disbelief at his audacious suggestion. “Shut it down. Learn where the off button is.”
Here, Schmidt could not resist a series of digs at an unnamed Other Company. “Don’t push a button saying I like something — actually tell them,” he said. “Life is not lived in the glow of a monitor. Life is not a series of status updates.”
As commencement speaker advice goes, this is pretty good. There’s a chance that, unlike most platitudes of the not-an-end-but-a-beginning genre, it will stick.
But what struck me about Schmidt’s challenge is both how difficult so many of us would find it to implement and how pathetically modest the goal of unplugging for a mere hour a day actually is.
Consider these statistics:
●Among those who text, girls ages 14 to 17 sent a median of 100 messages daily in 2011, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. The average, which includes high-volume users like Certain People Who Know Who They Are in my family, is 187 daily texts.
●A survey from the publisher of Parents and FamilyFun magazines found that 12 percent of Millennial Moms, born between 1977 and 1994, had used their smartphones during sex, giving new meaning to the phrase Family Fun. “There is no part of their lives that is media free,” it concluded.
●More than half of children ages 5 to 8 have used an iPad, iPhone or other touch-screen device to watch videos, play games or engage in other activities, according to a 2011 report by Common Sense Media. Just 11 percent of children age 8 and younger use such a device on a typical day, but for an average of 43 minutes. You can guess where this is trending.
Unlike Schmidt, I believe this constant connectivity is both blessing and curse. The blessing is the Internet’s no-transaction-cost capacity to maintain friendships — camp, school, even grown-up life — forged in the real world. I witnessed this on college tours with my daughter, who spent the drive texting constantly with friends, sharing real-time assessments of campuses and figuring out where to meet up for dinner.
The curse is the powerful, distracting addiction to the world of instant updates and constant feedback. A friend who works at the Pentagon, where security blocks smartphone access, describes the novel experience of meetings where people actually listen to what is being said instead of tapping out e-mails.
A decade ago, pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, pre-BlackBerry, I took a year off from work. In that short interval, e-mail was transformed from something you checked a few times a day to a never-ending enterprise. Now, in those forget-the-charger moments when I am away from Internet or cell for more than Schmidt’s prescribed hour, I feel an almost panicky sense of disconnection.
Back then, the notion of unplugging for an hour daily would have seemed laughably easy. Not anymore, which is why Schmidt’s challenge is so important, and so sobering.
- Eric Schmidt’s Challenge To College Kids: Spend One Hour A Day Away From A Computer Or Phone Screen (businessinsider.com)
- Google CEO Eric Schmidt Challenges Boston University Graduates (socialbarrel.com)
- Eric Schmidt in Boston University commencement speech: no electronics for one hour a day (9to5google.com)
- Google exec hails ‘connectivity’ at BU graduation (mysanantonio.com)
- Schmidt challenges grads to turn off the screen for an hour a day (news.cnet.com)
- Life is Not a Series of Status Updates: Google’s Eric Schmidt at BU’s 2012 Commencement [Video] (bostinno.com)
- Even Google Boss, Eric Schmidt Thinks We Are Spending Too Much Time Online (ceoworld.biz)
- Schmidt challenges grads to turn off the screen for an hour a day (news.cnet.com)
- ‘Turn off’ screens for one hour everyday, challenges Google’s Schmidt (todayonline.com)
- Eric Schmidt, Google’s Executive Chairman, Challenges College Graduates To ‘Take Your Eyes Off That Screen’ (feeducation.blogspot.com)