A Ripe Moment to Speak Up on Climate Change?

Although climate change is perhaps the most serious threat to our future, the fact that most people have viewed this threat as distant and uncertain has made it difficult to rally support for policy responses.  But climate scientists have now published evidence linking global warming to the recent explosive growth of extreme weather around the globe—floods here, droughts there, and rapidly rising average temperatures. The United States, for example, has just recorded the hottest 12-month period on record, and much of the nation is wracked by extreme drought.

 As long as climate change remained a distant, abstract threat in the public mind, Paul Ryan and other leading Republican climate-change skeptics paid no political price for insisting that global warming needn’t be taken seriously. Now, with the realities of climate change staring voters in the face, that free pass is in jeopardy.  The vivid immediacy of today’s extreme weather has created an opportunity to hold climate change skeptics accountable for their obstructionism.

President Obama and his surrogates should travel to Paul Ryan’s own drought-ravaged district in Wisconsin to remind voters that both members of the Republican ticket are avowed climate-change skeptics.  Ryan, who has received substantial financial support from the Koch brothers, the most politically aggressive of all climate-change denialists, has voted consistently for their policy agenda.  He voted against allowing the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.  He voted to prevent the Department of Agriculture from preparing for extreme weather emergencies like the drought that has destroyed this year’s crops in the Midwest.  He voted to eliminate White House climate change advisers. And he voted to eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency at the Department of Energy. Those votes attracted little scrutiny when climate change seemed a remote threat. It would be interesting to see the public’s reaction to them now.

Continue reading “A Ripe Moment to Speak Up on Climate Change?”

Nancy Pelosi’s “attack” on Stephen Colbert and his Super PAC is the cleverest marketing the Democrats have done since the 1964 daisy ad linking the Republican Presidential nominee with nuclear war.  Yes, it’s been a long dry spell; but let’s be grateful for this particular bit of rain.  If nothing else it disproves the canard that feminists don’t have a sense of humor.

“Infrastructure: The Play”

In an earlier post, I noted with approval the comments of Jonathan Chait, Keith Humphreys, and others who have been critical of Drew Westen’s claim that if President Obama had been more forceful in his use of narrative, he could have enacted a much greater proportion of the progressive agenda.  But I went on to note that Westen had made an important point nonetheless. Given the composition of the House and Senate, Mr. Obama may not have been able to achieve substantially better legislative outcomes in the short run, but he could and should have forced Republican obstructionists to pay a much steeper political price.  In this piece, I propose a bit of political theater that I hope the president will consider for that purpose.

Westen vs. Chait on Obama

Keith Humphreys’ thoughtful post called to mind some thoughts I wanted to jot down after re-reading Drew Westen’s NYT piece on Obama and Jonathan Chait’s blistering response to Westen in the New Republic. Westen is surely a primary target of Keith’s scorn, and I agree with both Chait and Keith that Westen grossly exaggerates what a leader in Obama’s position could have been expected to accomplish.

Yet it would be a mistake not to acknowledge that Westen is onto something. Obama might not have been able to have achieved substantively different outcomes in many of the recent battles. But he does have the rhetorical skill to have forced Republicans to pay a much stiffer political price for their obstructionism. And his supporters can hardly be faulted for being upset that he chose not to.

Last December’s struggle about the Bush tax cuts on high-income households is a case in point. Many on the left have been bitterly critical of the president for capitulating to Republican demands on that issue. But consider the details of the choice the president faced.  Continue reading “Westen vs. Chait on Obama”

Senator McCaskill opposes UI benefit extension

Missouri’s economically-stressed African-American voters put Claire McCaskill over the top in a close 2006 race. She repays her most loyal constituents and her party by opposing UI extension.

(Cross-posted on the Century Foundations’s Taking Note).

David Goldstein reported this last year,

Black voters were pivotal to McCaskill’s Senate victory in 2006 over former Republican Sen. Jim Talent. She won 91 percent of African-American votes.

More importantly, the black share of the overall voter turnout in Missouri rose to 13 percent in 2006, up from 8 percent two years before…

That was an important victory, in no small part because Missouri’s African-American community needs some serious help. Indeed, the African-American jobless rate in greater Saint Louis was ranked third-worse among the nation’s top fifty metropolitan areas.

So it’s especially disappointing to hear (via Daniel Strauss at the Hill) that Senator McCaskill has come out against the extension of UI benefits. Her stance will hurt the American economy. It will hurt the Democratic Party. Most important, it will hurt her own core supporters, many of whom must wonder why they turned out in force to help her win a close election five years ago.

Many conservative and moderate Democrats are trying to court swing voters by neglecting the human pain being experienced among poor people and among working-class Americans who are enduring economic catastrophe. I believe this is bad politics. It is also disgraceful. This stance will only mar Senator McCaskill’s own mixed political legacy.

Why the White House Doesn’t Want a Clean Debt-Ceiling Bill

Ezra Klein explains that the White House doesn’t want a clean debt-ceiling bill:

A lot of Democrats took one look at the McConnell plan, which would raise the debt ceiling without substantive fiscal concessions, and saw their way out of this mess. But not the White House. What’s come clear in recent weeks is that the Obama administration is much more intent on reaching a major deficit deal, and much less intent on making revenues a major part of it, than most observers assumed.

That’s led them to offer Republicans a deal that is not only much farther to the right than anyone had predicted, but also much farther to the right than most realize. In addition to the rise in the Medicare eligibility age and the cuts to Social Security and the minimal amount of revenues, it’d cut discretionary spending by $1.2 trillion, which is an absolutely massive attack on that category of spending.

This deal isn’t just a last-ditch effort to save the economy from the damage of a federal default. The White House would far prefer this deal to the McConnell plan, or to the $2 trillion deal that was under consideration during the Biden negotiations.

So why is the White House so intent on savaging Democratic priorities?  Klein lists five reasons, which readers can analyze for themselves.  Reasons 1,4, and 5 are typical Beltway nonsense, relying on the good faith of congressional Republicans and the idea that there are some “independents” out there who think that the deficit is important.  Reasons 2 and 3 make sense, but are entirely speculative because they depend upon specific contours of a deal that we don’t have yet.

But of course Ezra’s just a reporter.  Who knows?  He could be completely wrong.  He has been before.  Personally, I still entertain hope that the White House’s silence on the McConnell Plan stems from its knowledge that any embrace of such a plan would kill it.  In any event, Klein clearly doesn’t understand the magical, Zen-Master, Ninja, 11-dimensional chess playing abilities of our President, which served him so well in last year’s midterms.

What a Victory!

Perhaps Mark is right, and I was too anxious.  After all, now that Republican hostage-taking demands have begun to cave, Obama has doubled down, calling again for entitlement cuts and higher taxes:

For all its talk of the importance of averting a debt default, the White House is signaling that major deficit reduction has become more than just a bargaining chip to bring Republicans aboard a debt deal.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner opened Tuesday’s meeting not by focusing on the perils of debt default, but instead with a “vivid” presentation on “what happens if you don’t cut the deficit,” according to a Democratic source familiar with the talks.

Geithner warned the group that ratings agencies are actively watching both the debt ceiling debate and the ability of Congress to turn around the nation’s growing deficit and debt. He pointed to the economic unrest in Europe as evidence of what could happen in the United States if the White House and Congress don’t tackle the deficit in a serious way.

Lawmakers obviously discussed the pressing consequences of debt default, said the Democratic official. And on that front there still “continues to be a big difference on revenue.”

But as negotiations on a debt package resumed, Obama made it clear that he isn’t playing small ball. He warned Republicans that the major concessions he has offered on entitlement reforms are off the table if they don’t agree to a sizable debt deal.

In the meantime, just a year before a general election,  the country’s unemployment rate is over 9% and its effective unemployment rate might be twice that.  Obama’s solution to the searing crisis of the middle class apparently is to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, in exchange for tax increases that will occur anyway.  Oh yes, and $2 trillion of other unspecified cuts, which always figure to work beautifully during a recession.   If we don’t do that, then we’ll end up like Europe, where people are supposedly concerned about deficits.  What is there in any of this that a progressive could possibly object to?

Best President since Ike, I’d say.

Shut Up or Put Up, Chuck

Senator Chuck Schumer says about the deficit negotiations that “there needs to be revenues in any deal.”  Very true.

What revenues might those be?  Well, the Democrats are talking about a lot of loopholes for the very wealthy.  Let me suggest one: treating the investment gains of hedge fund managers — mnay of whom make millions of dollars — as ordinary income instead of capital gains.

The Democrats tried that in 2007.  And who helped to kill it?  Chuck Schumer.  Clearly, the Republicans don’t want it, either, but this one of those times where the messaging is crucial.  Democrats want to make sure that Wall Street pays its fair share, and Republicans want to end Medicare.  That can’t be done as long as Schumer decides that campaign contributions are more important.

So what’s it going to be, Chuck?

Some Gullible Skepticism on the Debt Ceiling

Here’s some analysis from Greg Sargent that’s enough to make one nauseous:

There’s no way around it: Republicans have won the political war over the debt ceiling. The House is set to vote today on a proposal for a debt ceiling hike without any spending cuts attached. It will be rejected — the GOP is unified against it, and even some Democrats will vote No. This is the “clean” vote Dems originally sought, but it’s now clear that Dems think it’s politically impossible not to accede to the GOP demand for deep cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.And so, with the Biden-led deficit negotiations set to resume this week, Mitch McConnell has now begun insisting that big Medicare cuts will be necessary in exchange for GOP support for the debt ceiling hike. Thanks to their willingness to draw a hard line at the outset, Republicans now appear poised to win big concessions in exchange for supporting something that they and everyone else have already said is inevitable.

In fact, it’s so nauseating that I’m having a hard time believing it: thus, the title of my post.  Maybe I am just being gullible about this.

The Republicans are in deep trouble over Medicare.  They lost a safe GOP House seat because of it.  Obama’s poll numbers are going up because of it.  The Democrats now have an advantage in the generic congressional ballot because of it.  McConnell’s gambit is to take it off the table by forcing the Democrats to sign onto Medicare cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.  And the Democrats are going to go along with it?

There are several possibilities, then, that could explain this report.

1)  The Democrats are so blitheringly idiotic that they are cutting their own throats.  In other words, gross political malpractice.

2)  The Democrats actually want to cut Medicare, and are using this as a justification.

3)  Sargent is wrong; the mere fact that the Dems won’t vote for a “clean” debt ceiling increase doesn’t mean that they aren’t pushing for it; it’s just that they have other pressure points to use, namely, the fact that the GOP’s money masters will not let them sink the credit of the United States Government, and put billions of their dollar-denominated assets into question.  Republican donors are selfish plutocrats, but when push comes to shove, they are selfish first, plutocrats second.

At this point, I am still leaning toward Door #3.  This is mostly because I don’t believe that Obama is a political idiot, and I do believe that he sees health care policy as central to his legacy.  On Medicare, this is the man who closed the donut hole, and is now pursuing some of the most important efficiency reforms in Medicare’s history. I’ll need a lot more data before jumping to conclusions.  Besides, one central fact jumps out at me from Sargent’s report: he is focusing almost entirely on the House Democrats, perhaps the least-relevant caucus in the negotiations now.  I wouldn’t draw many conclusions from what they are doing.

I have no idea what’s going on inside Biden’s negotiations over the debt, but I have yet to see that reporters do.  And now that I think about it, I’m not even sure that the people inside the room know, either.

Obama does this a lot; sacrifices on the rhetoric, and then we find that he has gotten what he wanted from the beginning.  The budget deal a couple of months ago was a good example: turns out that the federal government will spend $3 billion more this year than it would have otherwise.  That’s not to deny that a lot of the cuts were awful, but they were far less awful than they could have been, and they wound up weakening Boehner and enraging his caucus, getting that caucus to go all-in on the Ryan plan, which has injured them more.

I’m fully prepared to lambaste the President, but I don’t see it here.  Yet.

UPDATE: If you believe TPM, I’m right.  So far, Obama hasn’t caved.  The quotes coming from the GOP appear to become more and more desperate. 

“Unfortunately, what we did not hear from the president is a specific plan of his to deal with the debt crisis,” sad Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX).

That’s because if he’s smart, you’re not going to get one, Jeb.  You’re in big trouble on Medicare, and Obama isn’t going to bail you out (again, if he’s smart).  He’s going to wait for your Wall Street Galtian overlords to start screaming at you.

Scott Brown kicks off his campaign against - Scott Brown

In the last three days, Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts has endorsed Paul Ryan’s plan to end Medicare, and just today voted against repealing oil company subsidies. That’s more right wing than Susan Collins.

Some polls show Brown relatively popular in Massachusetts.  A few months of truthful negative ads should put an end to that.  Hello, DSCC?  Are you listening?