Daily Archives: August 23, 2012

The Party of No: New Details on the GOP Plot to Obstruct Obama

via Swampland by Michael Grunwald on 8/23/12

TIME just published “The Party of No,” an article adapted from my new book, The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era. It reveals some of my reporting on the Republican plot to obstruct President Obama before he even took office, including secret meetings led by House GOP Whip Eric Cantor (in December 2008) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (in early January 2009) where they laid out their daring (though cynical and political) no-honeymoon strategy of all-out resistance to a popular president-elect during an economic emergency. “If he was for it,” former Ohio senator George Voinovich explained, “we had to be against it.” The excerpt includes a special bonus nugget of Mitt Romney dissing the Tea Party.

But as we say in the sales world: There’s more! I’m going to be blogging some of the news and larger themes from the book here at time.com, and I’ll kick it off with more scenes from the early days of the Republican Strategy of No. Read on to hear what Joe Biden’s sources in the Senate GOP were telling him, some candid pillow talk between a Republican staffer and an Obama aide, and a top Republican admitting his party didn’t want to “play.” I’ll start with a scene I consider a turning point in the Obama era, when the new president came to the Hill to extend his hand and the GOP spurned it.

On January 27, 2009, House Republican leader John Boehner opened his weekly conference meeting with an announcement: Obama would make his first visit to the Capitol around noon, to meet exclusively with Republicans about his economic recovery plan. “We’re looking forward to the President’s visit,” Boehner said.

The niceties ended there, as Boehner turned to the $815 billion stimulus bill that House Democrats had just unveiled. Boehner complained that it would spend too much, too late, on too many Democratic goodies. He urged his members to trash it on cable, on YouTube, on the House floor: “It’s another run-of-the-mill, undisciplined, cumbersome, wasteful Washington spending bill…I hope everyone here will join me in voting NO!”

Cantor’s whip staff had been planning a “walk-back” strategy where they would start leaking that 50 Republicans might vote yes, then that they were down to 30 problem children, then that they might lose 20 or so. The idea was to convey momentum. “You want the members to feel like: Oh, the herd is moving, I’ve got to move with the herd,” explains Rob Collins, Cantor’s chief of staff at the time. That way, even if a dozen Republicans ultimately defected, it would look like Obama failed to meet expectations.

But when he addressed the conference, Cantor adopted a different strategy. “We’re not going to lose any Republicans,” he declared. His staff was stunned.

“We’re like, uhhhhh, we have to recalibrate,” Collins recalls.

Afterward, Cantor’s aides asked if he was sure he wanted to go that far out on a limb. Zero was a low number. Centrists and big-spending appropriators from Obama-friendly districts would be sorely tempted to break ranks. If Cantor promised unanimity and failed to deliver, the press would have the story it craved: Republicans divided, dysfunction junction, still clueless after two straight spankings.

But Cantor said yes, he meant zero. He was afraid that if the Democrats managed to pick off two or three Republicans, they’d be able to slap a “bipartisan” label on the bill. “We can get there,” he said. “If we don’t get there, we can try like hell to get there.”

Shortly before 11 a.m., the AP reported that Boehner had urged Republicans to oppose the stimulus. Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs handed Obama a copy of the story in the Oval Office, just before he left for the Hill to make his case for the stimulus, an unprecedented visit to the opposition after just a week in office. “You know, we still thought this was on the level,” Gibbs says. Obama political aide David Axelrod says that after the president left, White House aides were buzzing about the insult. And they didn’t even know that Cantor had vowed to whip a unanimous vote—which, ultimately, he did.

“It was stunning that we’d set this up and before hearing from the President, they’d say they were going to oppose this,” Axelrod says. “Our feeling was, we were dealing with a potential disaster of epic proportions that demanded cooperation. If anything was a signal of what the next two years would be like, it was that.”

But that wasn’t the only signal. A few other examples:

*Vice President Biden told me that during the transition, he was warned not to expect any bipartisan cooperation on major votes. “I spoke to seven different Republican senators who said: ‘Joe, I’m not going to be able to help you on anything,’” he recalled. His informants said McConnell had demanded unified resistance. “The way it was characterized to me was: ‘For the next two years, we can’t let you succeed in anything. That’s our ticket to coming back,’” Biden said. The vice president said he hasn’t even told Obama who his sources were, but Bob Bennett of Utah and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania both confirmed they had conversations with Biden along those lines.

“So I promise you—and the President agreed with me—I never thought we were going to get Republican support,” Biden said.

* One Obama aide said he received a similar warning from a Republican Senate staffer he was seeing at the time. He remembered asking her one morning in bed: How do we get a stimulus deal. She replied: Baby, there’s no deal!

“This is how we get whole,” she said with a laugh. “We’re going to do to you what you did to us in 2006.”

* David Obey, then-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, met with his GOP counterpart, Jerry Lewis, to explain what Democrats had in mind for the stimulus and ask what Republicans wanted to include. “Jerry’s response was: ‘I’m sorry, but leadership tells us we can’t play,’” Obey told me. “Exact quote: ‘We can’t play.’ What they said right from the get-go was: It doesn’t matter what the hell you do, we ain’t going to help you. We’re going to stand on the sidelines and bitch.”

Lewis blames Obey and the Democrats for the committee’s turn toward extreme partisanship, but he doesn’t deny that GOP leaders made a decision not to play. “The leadership decided there was no play to be had,” he said. Republicans recognized that after Obama’s big promises about bipartisanship, they could break those promises by refusing to cooperate. In the words of Congressman Tom Cole, a deputy Republican whip: “We wanted the talking point: ‘The only thing bipartisan was the opposition.’”

Read more in this week’s issue of TIME or pick up a copy of The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era.


Andrew Sullivan: Paul Ryan’s Zombie Reaganomics

I don’t share some Obama-supporters’ contempt for Paul Ryan. That’s in part because he comes across as a sincere, decent, fine fellow – whose Randian worldview has produced a reformist zeal known most intimately to an adolescent male. Indeed, he reminds me most of all of myself in my teens – dreaming of how to cut government in half, relishing schemes to slash taxes and slash spending and unleash revolutionary growth which, in itself, would render all other problems more manageable. There is no libertarian quite as convinced as a teenage libertarian. And it’s the adolescent conviction of Ryan that shines so brightly.

One can call it courage or arrested development. But he is, in some ways, a pellucidly bright plant bred in the conservative movement’s hydroponic greenhouse. Barely exposed to natural light, these young fertile saplings are fed with a constant drip of Koch money, sprayed with anti-liberal pesticides and brought eventually into the political marketplace with joyful children, a lovely wife and a set of abs Aaron Schock would die for (and probably has). He has no life or experience outside the greenhouse – which is why he glows with its certainties. Most important, he has that quintessential characteristic of the modern conservative – total denial of the recent past. Ryan was instrumental and supportive of the most fiscally reckless administration in modern times. He gave us a massive new unfunded entitlement, two off-budget wars and was key to ensuring that the Bowles-Simpson plan was dead-on-arrival. This alleged fire-fighter – whose credentials are perceived as impeccable in Washington – just quit being an arsonist.

But on one key subject, the ineluctably rising costs of healthcare for the elderly, Ryan has in the past proffered a real solution. At some point, seniors would be cut off from the funds they would require for the kind of comprehensive treatment many now expect. This is a rather blunt way of putting it – and Ryan may hope somehow to bring costs down with some kind of competition among private plans for Medicare recipients to ease the pain. But that hope is no more credible at this point than Obama’s ACA hope for lower costs – except Obama has initiated several specific cost-control pilot projects, while Ryan is relying on the increasingly tenuous hope that competition within Medicare really will lower costs – i.e. that the sick elderly will act like twenty-somethings seeking a bargain on a smartphone. I doubt it – probably more than I do the ACA experiments. In the latest iteration of his plan, however, Ryan has made the premium support option voluntary – thereby effectively tabling its fiscal potential, and shunted off all the pain onto the post-boomers. Ryan doesn’t reverse this generational warfare; he intensifies it by siding with today’s seniors over tomorrow’s.

I’ll be frank, though, and say that some kind of premium support in Medicare seems to me the only solid way I can see right now to save us from fiscal catastrophe. If I had my druthers, I’d give the ACA a decade to make real progress on cost-cutting and then, if it failed, I’d move to premium support. Ryan’s right on the unsustainability of the current program and has made cutting it a campaign promise. We owe him thanks for that.

But, no, he is not a serious fiscal conservative. Not even close. In 2012, decades after supply-side economics was proven not to add more revenues than it gave back, Ryan is still a true-believer. His view is that if you cut taxes massively, you will decrease the debt. But this is the primary reason we currently have the massive debt that began its ascent under Reagan, was arrested by Bush and Clinton and then exploded under Bush and Ryan. Worse, Ryan believes that you can cut taxes drastically, increase defense spending massively and still cut the debt. This, to put it mildly, is Zombie-Reaganomics. Tax rates are already far lower than they were in 1980 – and can’t be cut still further and have the same impact. Besides, our problem right now is obviously lack of demand, rather than enervated supply. Companies are sitting on piles of cash. Interest rates are very very low. And yet we struggle under a debt burden Ryan would immediately drastically increase, with a promise to get to a balanced budget somewhere near the middle of the century. It makes zero sense to me.

But in many ways, it helps frame this election constructively. We all know we have a debt and a growth problem. Obama favors raising taxes on the wealthy, cutting defense and controlling costs in the ACA. He’s also open to serious Medicare reforms if the GOP would join in. Bowles-Simpson was much more of a reach for a Democrat than for a Republican on entitlement reform. And I firmly believe that Obama would sign a Bowles-Simpson type deal in his second term if the GOP were to cooperate. I think he’d sign one this December if he could. Ryan never ever would. Obama’s reason for ducking Bowles-Simpson was that the GOP wouldn’t bite. Ryan’s reason for ducking Bowles-Simson is that he is still a supply side fanatic.

On the Republican side, we now have a debt-reduction plan that actually cuts tax rates for the very rich along with everyone else, vastly increases defense spending, and “balances” the entire thing on gutting care for the old, the poor and the sick (the Medicaid proposal is truly Darwinian) and ending loopholes (which Ryan refuses to specify). I’m all for ending loopholes but even then, we wouldn’t get a balanced budget for three decades because of all the defense spending and tax cutting.

This isn’t conservatism. It’s rightist theology. In a fiscal emergency, the Republicans are proposing not clear remedies but ideological fantasies that were already disproven in 1990. They have learned nothing. And the immense damage they inflicted on this country’s fiscal health in the last decade would be nothing compared to what would come under a Ryan-Romney administration.

Because it compounds the errors that came before it.

Humor: The Borowitz Report

Republicans Move Convention to Seventeenth Century

TAMPA (The Borowitz Report)—With the threat of Hurricane Isaac hitting Florida next week, the Republican National Committee took the extraordinary step today of moving their 2012 National Convention to the seventeenth century.

While the decision to send the convention four centuries back in time raised eyebrows among some political observers, R.N.C. spokesperson Harland Dorrinson downplayed the unusual nature of the move.

“After exploring a number of options, we decided that moving to the seventeenth century would cause the least disruption,” he said. “We’re not going to have to change a thing.”

Mr. Dorrinson added that despite recent controversy involving the U.S. Senate candidate Representative Todd Akin (R., Miss.), there would be no modification of the Party’s official platform: “After we ban abortion in cases of rape and incest, we’re going to focus on America’s spiralling witch problem.”

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Photograph: NOAA.

Mario Piperni Does Texas

Obama, Lexington and Concord – Take Up Arms!

August 23, 2012 By

I have to ask again. Why are all the really reasonable, intelligent ones on the right side of the political divide?

A Lubbock County, Texas, judge, the panhandle county’s chief administrator, is asking for a tax increase to hire deputies for the inevitable civil war he believes would follow President Obama’s re-election.

Judge Tom Head and Commissioner Mark Heinrich told the station this week that a 1.7 cent tax increase for the next fiscal year was necessary to prepare for many contingencies, including Obama’s re-election.

“He’s going to try to hand over the sovereignty of the United States to the (United Nations), and what is going to happen when that happens? I’m thinking the worst. Civil unrest, civil disobedience, civil war maybe. And we’re not just talking a few riots here and demonstrations, we’re talking Lexington, Concord, take up arms and get rid of the guy.”

“Now what’s going to happen if we do that, if the public decides to do that? He’s going to send in U.N. troops. I don’t want ‘em in Lubbock County. OK. So I’m going to stand in front of their armored personnel carrier and say ‘you’re not coming in here’.”

“And the sheriff, I’ve already asked him, I said ‘you gonna back me’ he said, ‘yeah, I’ll back you’. Well, I don’t want a bunch of rookies back there. I want trained, equipped, seasoned veteran officers to back me.”

Yes, I know, zany stuff but cut the good people of Texas some slack. Their governor is some guy named Rick Perry.


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Republican’s Fringe Has Become Its Mainstream

August 22, 2012 By

A conservative’s call to end the madness.

Until this incarnation of the Republican party is destroyed at the polls, we live in its thrall. We have in this election an opportunity not just to re-elect a president capable of making the Grand Bargain we all need; but to punish and humiliate the most extreme, irrational, hateful version of Republicanism that now stalks the land, led by a brazen liar and fathomless cynic.

It’s an opportunity of a lifetime: to use this election to try and destroy the fundamentalist insanity that has effectively destroyed any American conservatism worthy of the name. Former Republicans, Independents and all non-fundamentalists, Christians and Jews and Muslims, have a chance to excise this metastasizing cancer from our politics.

I could imagine that at any other time in American history, Sullivan’s description of a major political party would be called an exaggeration. Not today. How else to describe a political party that…

  • has based its entire agenda on increasing the wealth of the top 1 percent on the backs of a shrinking middle class and the economic welfare of an entire nation?
  • preaches Christian values but promotes bigotry and intolerance at every opportunity?
  • shows no concern for the health care needs of 50 million uninsured Americans while working to maximize profits for CEOs in the health care industry?
  • dismisses climate science as a hoax and watches a planet die while fossil fuel industries pull in record profits?
  • treat women as chattel who can be forced to give birth against her will to a baby conceived by way of rape or be forced to lie on her back as a doctor inserts a probe inside her body?
  • would deny equal rights to tens of millions of Americans based on sexual orientation?
  • think it proper to increase military spending by drastically cutting social programs which allow the poor to survive in difficult times?

Describing today’s Republican Party as a “metastasizing cancer” is probably the most honest thing you can say about a political party that has lost its way.


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