Tags: John Boehner

Hello Again, Speaker of the House John Boehner.


The vote for speaker of the House is complete. John Boehner received 216 votes; Nancy Pelosi 164, Daniel Webster 12, Louie Gohmert 3, Ted Yoho 2, Jim Jordan 2, Jim Cooper 1, Peter DeFazio 1, Jeff Duncan 1, Trey Gowdy 1, John Lewis 1, Kevin McCarthy 1, Rand Paul 1, Jeff Sessions 1, Colin Powell 1.

I count 408 votes cast, so Boehner needed 205 Republicans to vote for him.

Boehner opponents will tout the fact that they had 24 Republicans voting for a non-Boehner option. One member voted present. (Neither a “present” vote nor a member refusing to vote adds to the total for calculating who got a majority of the votes cast.) A significant number of Democratic members from New York missed the vote to attend the funeral of former governor Mario Cuomo.

If you’re genuinely surprised Boehner won the support of so many of his colleagues, remember that he raised $102 million in the past cycle to help elect House Republicans. He was there for many of them; undoubtedly many of them felt they should be there for him.

“Orange you glad I won?”

Tags: John Boehner

How Did the Anti-Boehner Forces Attempt to Persuade the GOP Caucus?


The conventional wisdom is solidifying:

ABC News: Why John Boehner Will Win Reelection as House Speaker Today

Politico: Boehner Likely to Survive Another Squeaker for Speaker.

The Hill: “Conservative firebrand Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) have launched long-shot alternative candidacies for Speaker that aren’t expected to result in victory or even a second ballot.”

The boast that Boehner will face “the biggest Speaker revolt since 1923” is still not certain; at this hour, 13 House Republicans have indicated they will vote for someone besides the current speaker. As the Post notes, “19 Democrats cast symbolic votes against outgoing speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who had already lost her post by virtue of losing the House majority in the 2010 election.”

As noted in today’s Jolt, any House Republican who’s got a decent working relationship with Boehner (and probably spent years developing it) isn’t going to want to toss that relationship away, particularly without knowing who would replace him as speaker. And if you’re John Boehner, staying on good terms with a majority of your caucus — not everybody, but 218 or so of them — is job one.

The outlook for Boehner would be a lot cloudier if there were an alternative who was well-liked by about 218 of his colleagues and who seemed genuinely interested in the job. This person would have to enjoy the trust and faith of the conservatives, while also reassuring less-conservative members that his agenda for floor votes wouldn’t be endangering them. He would have to have a good feel for the political instincts and worldviews of just about every member, and know their passions and idiosyncrasies. And on just about every issue under the sun, he would have to know exactly what kind of a deal a majority of his members could live with, and what they couldn’t.

It’s a tall order. And if Boehner wins today, it may very well be that for all his flaws, a majority of his colleagues aren’t yet convinced that any other member can handle that task any better than Boehner can right now.

If you want to persuade a member to do something that involves risk — and voting against the current speaker involves a lot of risk — you have to lay out how taking the risk serves that member’s self-interest. (Read Alinsky.)

Tags: John Boehner , Ted Yoho , Louie Gohmert , House Republicans

The Fight for the Speakership: About a Dozen Votes Away from High Drama


From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

The Fight for the Speakership: About a Dozen Votes Away from High Drama

Now we’ve got three Republicans interested in being Speaker of the House – John Boehner, Ted Yoho, and Louie Gohmert.

Gohmert says they’ll need 29 House Republicans to say that they’re not supporting Boehner. In November, Americans elected 247 House Republicans; Rep. Michael Grimm resigns today. That leaves 246. Boehner needs 218 votes to remain as Speaker. [SEE BELOW]

Rep. Walter Jones said he had been talking to 16 to 18 House Republicans in an effort against Boehner. Presuming his count is correct and they stay unified, the anti-Boehner forces will need another 11 to 13 to not support the current Speaker, either by supporting another candidate or not voting. (In 2013, nine Republicans voted against Boehner and three didn’t vote.)

Members of Congress who have said publicly they won’t support Boehner include Jones, Reps Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Jim Bridenstine of OklahomaPaul Gosar of Arizona, freshman Gary Palmer of Alabama, Steve King of Iowa, and Yoho and Golmert.

Are there another 11 to 13 members willing to cross Boehner? As the old saying goes, if you’re going to strike at the king, you had better not miss. Boehner has demonstrated he’s willing to throw members off committees for being too loudly and openly rebellious.

Yoho and Golmert are correct that the first hurdle is preventing 218 votes on the first ballot. Note that neither Yoho, in only his second term, nor Golmert, one of the most conservative members of the conference, will have an easy time cobbling 218 votes together. (It’s easy to wonder if the effort to replace Boehner would be better with one candidate instead of two, or whether it’s inevitable that one will withdraw quickly Tuesday.)

Odds are Boehner will remain as Speaker come Tuesday evening – but it’s worth counting heads and seeing how close the number of openly anti-Boehner members gets to 29. There might be some drama yet. 

One thing the coverage of the Speaker race hasn’t yet illuminated is just how many House Republicans have serious enough beefs with Boehner’s leadership to prefer the devil they don’t know to the one they do. A year ago, House aides expected Rep. Tom Price of Georgia to run for Speaker; Price seems pretty busy these days, taking over the House Budget Committee from Paul Ryan and preparing entitlement reform proposals.

UPDATE: A reader writes in to clarify that to win, a candidate for Speaker only needs a majority of votes cast, so vacancies, abstentions and those voting “present” don’t count towards the total:

Four times in our history has the Speaker been elected by less than a majority of the House membership, with the most recent instance being in 1997, when Newt Gingrich was elected with only 216 votes for him. Here’s the full historical analysis from the Congressional Research Service:

As you can see from the report, the actual requirement is that the Speaker must receive a majority of votes *cast for an actual person*, so vacancies, abstentions and votes cast as “present” aren’t included in the denominator. Thus, if 29 Republican Representatives vote “present” as a protest against Boehner, Boehner would be reelected Speaker with 217 (Republican) votes for him to 188 (Democrat) votes for Pelosi, with 29 Representatives voting “present” and 1 vacancy.

Tags: John Boehner , House Republicans , Ted Yoho , Louie Gohmert

Rep. Louie Gohmert to Challenge Boehner for Speaker


Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas announced his bid for Speaker of the House on Fox News Channel this morning:

From Gohmert’s statement:

“After the November elections gave Republicans control of the Senate, voters made clear they wanted change.  There have been numerous examples of problematic Republican leadership, but we were hopeful our leaders got the voters’ message. However, after our Speaker forced through the CRomnibus by passing it with Democratic votes and without time to read it, it seemed clear that we needed new leadership. There had been much discussion. But, until yesterday, no one had stepped up.

I applaud my friend Rep. Ted Yoho for putting his name forward as an alternative to the status quo. Ted is a good man for whom I could vote, but I have heard from many supporters and also friends in Congress who have urged me to put forward my name for Speaker as well to increase our chances of change. That is why I am also offering my name as a candidate for Speaker.

Gohmert said that if he and like-minded allies can get 29 House Republicans to vote for someone besides Boehner, there will be a second ballot. The House votes on a speaker January 6. 

Gohmert has a lifetime ACU rating of 96.44

Tags: Louie Gohmert , Ted Yoho , John Boehner

Yoho Volunteers as Potential Alternative to Boehner in Speaker Vote


Friday I mentioned that the movement to replace John Boehner as Speaker of the House lacked a named, willing alternative.

Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida just announced that he is willing to stand as an alternative candidate for Speaker, “if needed.”

In his statement, Yoho states, “Our vote for a new Speaker is not a personal vote against Representative Boehner — it is a vote against the status quo. Our vote is a signal to the American people that we too, have had enough of Washington politics and that we will stand with the American people.”

Yoho, a second-term member, beat incumbent Republican Cliff Stearns in the 2012 GOP primary in his district, which covers most of north central Florida. Before his election to Congress, he was a veterinarian.

In the most recent ACU ratings, Yoho scored an 80. Boehner’s lifetime ACU rating is 86.99. 

Tags: Ted Yoho , John Boehner , House Republicans

New Poll Shows Tepid GOP Support for Boehner in Role of Speaker


From the final Morning Jolt of the week…

Despite an Ominous New Poll, Speaker Boehner Isn’t Going Anywhere

House Speaker John Boehner is not particularly popular with Republican voters.

We now know just how unenthusiastic Republicans feel from a new poll conducted by Pat Caddell and EMC Research, commissioned by the People’s Poll, in an exclusive to the Morning Jolt/Campaign Spot.

Nine percent of self-identified Republicans and self-described independents who say they lean closer to Republicans say they feel “strongly favorable” about Boehner, and another 34 percent say “somewhat favorable.” Another 23 percent say they’re “somewhat unfavorable,” and another 11 percent say strongly unfavorable. An entire 11 percent say they’ve never heard of John Boehner.

Asked, “If it were up to you, would you elect John Boehner to continue as Speaker of the House or would you elect someone new?”, 11 percent of respondents said “definitely” Boehner, 15 percent said “probably,” 26 percent said “probably” someone new, and 34 percent said someone new, definitely.

When asked whether they agree with the statement, “I trust House Speaker John Boehner to fight for the issues that are important to most Republicans,” 52 percent agreed, 37 percent disagreed. Only 13 percent strongly agreed, 18 percent strongly disagreed.

When asked whether they agree with the statement, “Speaker Boehner has been ineffective in opposing President Obama’s agenda”, 64 percent agreed, 24 percent disagreed. An entire 29 percent strongly agreed, only 9 percent strongly disagreed.

When asked whether they agree with the statement, “House Speaker John Boehner has the best interests of the American public at heart, rather than special interests”, 44 percent agreed, 43 percent disagreed. Only 9 percent strongly agreed, and 20 percent strongly disagreed.

Those aren’t awful numbers, but they’re not exactly warm, either.

Particularly after the Steve Scalese headache – is it conceivable the congressman apologized for attending a meeting he didn’t actually attend? – some folks on the Right are saying this recent brouhaha is the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and that Boehner has to go. For example, Sean Hannity is calling for Boehner to be replaced with Trey Gowdy.

First, basic question: Does Trey Gowdy want to be speaker? The official word is “no.”

But the conservative South Carolina Republican says he has no interest in becoming Speaker when lawmakers cast their vote on the House floor next month. 

“Rep. Gowdy has said his time and attention will continue to be devoted to the work assigned to him,” said Gowdy’s spokeswoman, Amanda Duvall. “He is not interested in any leadership positions and believes one can have influence without the title.” 

This past spring, Boehner (R-Ohio) appointed Gowdy as chairman of the special House committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. And Boehner recently said Gowdy would remain in that high-profile post in the 114th Congress as well. 

This hasn’t stopped the “Elect Trey Gowdy Speaker of the House” Facebook page from getting 21,000 likes and widespread use of the #SpeakerGowdy hashtag.

You can’t beat something with nothing. Replacing Boehner requires a rival that a majority of House Republicans will support – and while it’s understandable that other Republicans might want to hide their ambitions, eventually you need a figure to make this more than a theory or a dream. At this point the “rebellion” against Boehner consists of 16 to 18 guys out of 247 House Republicans.

So it’s cute when Rep. Thomas Massie, Kentucky Republican, Tweets out this

…but it doesn’t mean much until there’s an alternative named something besides “Not Boehner.”

An odd little revelation about John Boehner from a New York Times profile of actor Tony Danza:

Then there was that earlier meal at Patsy’s when he and Mr. Farah ran into House Speaker John A. Boehner and his family.

When Mr. Boehner learned that it was Mr. Danza’s birthday, Mr. Farah recalled, “He turns to his family and he goes, ‘Family, what do we do on someone’s birthday?’ 

“Mid-meal, they put their things down and sang their own birthday song. It’s like a fight song.

The EMC Research survey polled 602 Republican voters and independents who lean Republican and voted Republican in 2014; the margin of error is +/- 4 percentage points. The poll was conducted from December 26 to 30.

Tags: John Boehner , House Republicans , Polling , Trey Gowdy

Desperately Seeking Republican Unity


From the last Morning Jolt of the week:

Desperately Seeking Republican Unity

Radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt and Representative Charlie Dent (R., Pa.) really got into it earlier this week on Hugh’s program. Charlie Dent is shopping a deal where they fund the government for six months, repeal the medical-device tax, and make up for the lost revenues of the medical-device tax through a “a pension-smoothing provision” in Dent’s words.

Hugh’s objection isn’t that Dent is offering an alternative plan; it’s that he went on CNN and criticized most of the rest of the House Republicans. Pardon the long excerpt, but I think it’s required to accurately depict the context and tone:

CD: No, I have said, well, I have not really blasted leadership. What I said is that I believe the votes are there to pass a clean continuing resolution.

HH: But that, to me, undercuts the Republicans in such a profound way, because then my friends in the media, and Jake Tapper was on last hour, and I have them all on this show, they all point to Charlie Dent and Peter, and they say there are enough votes to pass the clean CR, and that therefore, the Republicans are obstructionists. And by the way, you’re a center-right guy. I read your whole bio.

CD: Yeah.

HH: Center-right guy from a center-right district in a center-right state. You know, it’s a great line. But aren’t you destroying the Republican bargaining position by empowering the media to parrot the President’s line?

CD: Well you know, I mean, I think, Hugh, there’s a certain unfairness here. When there are some members, I’ve said repeatedly, there are 180-200 members of the House Republican conference who have an affirmative sense of governance, who really want to get things done, who are going to play up the hard votes to enact the must-pass pieces of legislation. They’re going to be there. We have a few dozen folks who don’t share that same affirmative sense of governance. And the reality of the situation in the House is we don’t have 218 votes to pass the debt limit, or frankly the continuing resolution, on our own. We simply don’t, and we have to accept that reality. And there’s going to be, require some kind of a bipartisan vote to get this done out of the House. That’s all I’m saying.

HH: But now, I actually, I think, and this is said with respect.

CD: Yeah.

HH: I’m not yelling at you.

CD: Yeah.

HH: I think that you and Congressman King, who’s been a guest on this show, are in fact wrecking the opportunity to reach a constructive conclusion by undercutting the Speaker and empowering the media to beat him up. And I think that the place to have those conversations is in the conference, not on CNN.

Drew M., over at Ace of Spades, makes these points about the Tea Party, the Establishment, and a conflict that can no longer be ignored:

I have no problem with acknowledging the failures and shortcomings of this new brand of political player but let’s not pretend the entrenched professionals have been racking up win upon win for years. The track record of the insurgents may be spotty but wins like the House in 2010, replacing Bob Bennett with Mike Lee in Utah, Ron Johnson win in Wisconsin, Rand Paul over Mitch McConnell’s choice in Kentucky, Cruz over Dewhurst in Texas, and yes even Marco Rubio over Charlie Crist in Florida.

While I like the idea of holding Republicans to feet to the fire, let’s be smart about it.

Former Congressman Joe Walsh of Illinois decided that Senator Mark Kirk, also of Illinois, needs to be primaried b/c he called for a clean CR. Now Walsh is a former Congressman because he’s, well, an idiot.

Here’s where a little discernment would go a long way for conservatives. Kirk is a moderate Republican. He’s also holding a Senate seat in ILLINOIS. That’s practically theft. Let’s not make him the problem, ok?

People like Lindsey Graham, a moderate in a deep red state are a problem. A big spender like Thad Cochran from Mississippi (a conservative but poor state that loves federal money) is a problem.

If Kirk needs to talk liberal on some issues, fine. Did I mention ILLINOIS?

What we can’t have is guys like Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, both from Tennessee starting or joining Senate “gangs” that always move things left and cut the legs out from conservatives.

We need our “mavericks” to emulate what “moderate” and red state Democrats do . . . talk a big game back home but when push comes to shove, shut up and vote the right way.

And NEVER join a “gang”. To me, that’s open warfare and a primary is a reasonable reaction no matter the state.

That’s the long-term issue. The short-term issue is what, if anything, the Republican party can get out from this current stalemate.

Fill in the blanks:

I would vote for a bill to raise the debt ceiling another trillion or so (enough for one, perhaps two years under current spending rates) in exchange for __________.

I would vote for a Continuing Resolution that would reopen the government at pre-shutdown, Sequester-era spending levels in exchange for _______.

Earlier this week, I said that Republicans need to know what their own “red lines” are.

I suppose the answer to either might be, “a repeal of Obamacare!” But the Senate Democrats will never vote for that, and President Obama will never sign that. Ted Cruz’s quasi-filibuster was fine for putting Senate Democrats on the spot, but ultimately, every Democrat decided their fates are tied to Obamacare’s. Nobody on their side is giving up on it now.

The next answer might be, “a year’s delay of the individual mandate!” But President Obama and the leaders of the Democrats aren’t that dumb. If you delay the mandate a year, the young, healthy people won’t buy insurance. (Even with it, they still might not buy the insurance. The penalty fee is $95 or 1 percent of a person’s income, vs. on average at least $100 per month (and that’s presuming you qualify for subsidies). For a young person making $30,000, that’s a $300 penalty fee vs. $1200 for the insurance, and we’re not even getting into the issues of high deductibles and co-pays.) If the only people who sign up are old people with high health-care costs, and the young people with low health-care costs don’t sign up and start paying premiums, the insurance companies will enter the “death spiral” –too much money going out, not enough money coming in.

It was here that Republicans needed a Plan C. What was another concession that they saw as worth raising the debt ceiling or keeping the government open? A few possibilities:

  1. A repeal of the medical-device manufacturer tax.
  2. Require all members of Congress and their staff to purchase insurance through the exchanges.
  3. Something else.

The rest of us, outside the House Republican Conference, don’t need to know what the “red line” is. (Oh, who are we kidding, Bob Costa and Jonathan Strong will probably know it first.) But the House Republicans need to know what their minimum threshold for a deal is, and they need to unite on it. John Boehner may or may not have one. It’s probably different from what Senator Ted Cruz would want, and different from what Charlie Dent and Peter King would want, and different from what Michele Bachmann and Scott Garrett would want.

Tags: John Boehner , Government Shutdown , Debt Ceiling

The DNC’s Weird, Futile Gesture Against Boehner in Ohio


The DNC announced yesterday it will be spending some money in Speaker Boehner’s district on robocalls and web ads, tying him and the GOP leadership to the government shutdown.

The NRCC sends along word they will be launching an onlineYouTube ad campaign in Nevada’s third district (which includes Las Vegas and Searchlight, Harry Reid’s home town) promoting a new web video, which accuses Reid of playing games over the government shutdown.

The NRCC is also putting online money behind similar videos (again, TouTube advertising) that hit Democratic representatives Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-01), Elizabeth Esty (CT-05), Bill Enyart (IL-12), Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), Annie Kuster (NH-02), Tim Walz (MN-01), and Rick Nolan (MN-08). These are all top targets for the NRCC in 2014 who voted against the House bills to fund WIC, the NIH, and veterans’ services.

Keep in mind, the DNC owes its creditors $18.1 million, and is past due on some bills. And yet they’re spending money on robocalls . . . against probably the best-funded House Republican incumbent, in Ohio’s eighth district, which scores an R+14 in the Cook Partisan Voting Index. Boehner won 99 percent of the vote in 2012, as the Democrats did not field a candidate. In 2010, Boehner won with 66 percent of the vote.

Tags: John Boehner , DNC , NRCC

How Do You ‘Win’ an Unpopular Shutdown Fight?


As mentioned in the Jolt, I’ll be on The Lead with Jake Tapper later today. Undoubtedly, we’ll end up discussing the state of negotiations to end the government shutdown.

Obviously circumstances could change at any time, but it seems neither side has a really good sense of what the other is thinking right now.

I’m sure President Obama thought that the GOP would take a big hit from the shutdown, and that would increase pressure on them to fold and pass a clean CR. The poll numbers say they’re getting more of the blame, but there’s not that big a split, and the numbers are pretty much what you would expect. Republicans blame the Democrats more, Democrats blame the Republicans more, and independents mostly say ”a pox on both your houses.” (Note the CBS poll didn’t offer “both” as an option and it was still the volunteered choice of 17 percent of the public and 24 percent of independents.) I suspect that as this drags on, the “pox on both your houses” sentiment will expand and grow.

Obama, Reid, and their team probably think that within another day, enough House Republicans will fold. And perhaps they will. But they made the same calculation yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that. In fact, the best window for a deal was probably right before the shutdown. Boehner might have concluded accepting some minuscule face-saving concession — say, reducing the 2.3 percent medical-device-manufacturer tax to 2 percent or something — would be enough to justify taking a deal that avoids the shutdown.

Now, for Republicans, the poll-support hit is already priced in, and having taken the hit, they might as well hold out until they get some more substantial concession — after all, there’s no point in settling for the same deal they could have reached a week ago.

The GOP’s hold-out crowd also assumes that at some point, the consequences of the shutdown will be severe enough that Obama will need to make concessions and reach a deal. Silly maneuvers like the National Park Service’s showdown with the World War Two Honor Flights, or Harry Reid’s inane gaffe on children with cancer, strengthen that perception.

But Obama’s still convinced that he’s “winning” this fight (he’s wrong; as the shutdown drags on, there are no winners) and that if he takes a deal — after weeks of insisting that he won’t negotiate, and the opposition is hostage-takers, guys with bombs strapped to their chest, etc. — then his base, already displeased by the NSA and Syria stuff, will be livid.

It’s an awful mess, and over time, it’s going to appear more and more silly to suggest that either party or a particular leader could be seen as “winning” this. The more this drags on, the more the entire leadership on both sides — Obama, Reid, Boehner, Pelosi, McConnell — takes a hit as the public regards them as incapable of compromising and negotiating when it mattered most.

As with nuclear war in WarGames, “the only way to win is not to play.”

Tags: Barack Obama , Government Shutdown , John Boehner , Harry Reid

Wrong Time for Boehner to Ask Anti-Amnesty GOP Donors for Cash


A recent NRCC fundraising e-mail begins:

[Name], this can’t be right.

Chairman Walden just emailed me a list of NRCC members for 2013, and I don’t see your name.

You’ve been one of the NRCC’s most loyal supporters in the past so I know this must be a mistake.

It’s not too late to join our efforts to create jobs, stop reckless Washington spending, and repeal the President’s train wreck of a health care law . . . 

Please don’t wait another moment. Renew your 2013 NRCC membership today with a gift of $45.

One reader of Campaign Spot noted he would be much more responsive to a Boehner fundraising pitch if Boehner’s SuperPAC wasn’t lobbying House Republicans to pass the Gang of Eight immigration bill.

UPDATE: A reader contends it’s unfair to label the Congressional Leadership Fund “Boehner’s SuperPAC,” arguing that it is an independent organization focused on keeping and growing the GOP House majority. In other words, Boehner shares their goals and helps but does not lead or direct it. Here’s how our Jonathan Strong characterized the relationship between Boehner and CLF, and the group touting the benefits of passing the Senate bill:

AAN is housed in the same office as the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC associated with Boehner, and the two organizations share senior aides, including Brian O. Walsh, the president of both organizations, and Dan Conston, the spokesman for both.

Boehner spoke at a fundraiser for CLN earlier this summer and also headlined the organization’s inaugural event. The group’s website has posted links to numerous news stories that refer to the group as “Boehner’s” super PAC.

The AAN’s e-mail, sent to GOP offices, touts the number of jobs the group estimates the Senate bill would create for the congressional district and state of that office. The group also released an embeddable “widget” that allows users to find out how many jobs the Senate bill would create in the district of their representative.

Conston, the spokesman for both AAN and CLN, said the analysis, based on the Senate bill, is “simply about broadly showing the local economic benefits of reforming a broken visa system — a problem House Republicans want fixed.”

Tags: John Boehner , NRCC , Immigration Reform

When Will the Shutdown Talk Get Shut Down?


From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

When Will the Shutdown Talk Get Shut Down?

The issue with this threatened government shutdown is the same as all the preceding ones: If the federal government is shut down, and public opinion turns against Republicans . . . then what? What’s Plan B?

Yes, I know that ideally, given a choice between defunding Obamacare and a government shutdown, President Obama would fold and accept defunding in order to keep the government open. But let’s recognize that no president will ever defund legislation named after himself.

Karl Rove, discussing this idea on Sean Hannity, notes that the last government shutdown effectively ended the Gingrich Revolution. (Republicans kept control of the House through 2006, but one could argue that their desire and drive to cut spending died pretty quickly after 1995.)

“This time around when the government runs out of money on September 30, it runs out of money for all the discretionary parts of the government. So the military isn’t going to get paid, FBI agents are not going to get paid. Border patrol people aren’t going to get paid. Anything that requires discretionary outlays is not going to get paid.” He predicts a slew of heart-rending stories about military families struggling, necessary medical procedures not being performed, and so on.

Sen. Mike Lee insists that it’s a false choice; that the Republicans would be passing a budget to fund everything except Obamacare, and it would force Senate Democrats to say that they would rather shut down the government than give up Obamacare. Rove doubts that the Senate Democrats will cave; he predicts they’ll just amend the legislation to fund everything, including Obamacare, and then send it back to the House and dare Republicans to reject that.

“You mean to suggest that we’re not going to fight and we shouldn’t fight just for the reason we’re going to get blamed for it?” Lee said. “We’re afraid that the other side won’t cave, so we have to? We cave and we cave and we cave. And we get Obamacare and we get new entitlement programs that never go away. This is how we get into trouble.”

There’s an oft-cited, apparently apocryphal anecdote, mentioned in The Hunt for Red October, of Hernan Cortez burning his ships after reaching the New World, in order to ensure his men would be highly motivated. A certain portion of the GOP grassroots wants that kind of all-or-nothing brinksmanship, to put all of their remaining chips into the middle of the table and bet them all on winning one fight. You win, you win big — i.e., President Obama, capitulating in humiliation, signing legislation to repeal his signature domestic-policy achievement. The problem is that if you lose, you lose big.

Lee contends that Rove’s scenario amounts to “the other side is going to try to blame something bad on us.” Except that a government shutdown will garner coverage that makes the Fiscal Cliff look like a handicapped ramp. It will be like the sequester doomsday talk, except that the doomsday talk will be largely right, at least in the short term. The consequences of a government shutdown would be felt immediately and widespread.

For what it’s worth, Senator Lee is completely, totally convinced that if the government shuts down, Republicans will win the messaging fight. I’d rather live in a world where he’s right. But I don’t think he’s right.

This may be moot, as Bob Costa is about as plugged into the House Republicans as any man alive, and his sources say buckets of cold water are being tossed onto this idea:

My cloakroom sources tell me they’re now confident that House Republicans will not tread into a shutdown battle with the Obama White House. GOP firebrands may threaten a shutdown and theatrically insist it remains an option, but the party’s private appetite for one, even among the right flank, is dissipating. “The electorate expects Congress to govern,” explains pollster David Winston, a longtime adviser to the House leadership. “House Republicans are going to offer their health-care alternatives within that process.”

The House leadership’s aversion to the tea-party plan is driven not only by strategy but also by the fear that having a debate on tactics would devolve into a Republican civil war. Boehner and Cantor, in conversations with fellow members, have reportedly warned that a shutdown would almost undoubtedly end in intraparty strife, owing to the Senate’s Democratic majority. To pass a vote on defunding Obamacare, Republicans would need 14 Senate Democrats to join them, and if Democrats declined, all blame, the thinking goes, would fall back on the House GOP for refusing to pass legislation to fund federal services. In all likelihood, Republicans would then be pressured to rush through a continuing resolution, only to get hit with recriminations and chaos in the wake of a shutdown.

But Conn Carroll points out that congressional Republicans’ leverage on another spending fight is based upon the same basic principle as Lee’s Obamacare gambit: Make some concessions or we won’t fund anything:

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is also on record threatening not to raise the debt limit unless Obama agrees to dollar-for-dollar spending cuts. On July 24, Boehner said, “We’re not going to raise the debt ceiling without real cuts in spending. It’s as simple as that.” “I believe the so-called Boehner Rule is the right formula for getting that done,” he added, referring to his rule matching new debt authority with spending cuts.

House Republicans can’t announce they are willing to surrender on Obamacare funding in the CR because they are afraid they will be blamed for a government shutdown, and then turn right around and threaten not to raise the debt limit unless Obama agrees to more spending cuts. There is no reason anyone should take them seriously.

If anything, a government shutdown is much safer ground to fight on. Hitting the debt limit would trigger far harsher consequences than a government shutdown.

If Republicans in Washington don’t want to fight Obamacare through the CR, that’s fine. But they shouldn’t then pretend that Obama and the Democrats should take their debt limit threats seriously at all.

Tags: John Boehner , Barack Obama , Government Shutdown , Obamacare , Mike Lee , Karl Rove

White House on Sequester Deal in 2011: ‘A Win for the Economy, Budget Discipline’


Hey, what was the White House saying when President Obama signed the sequester deal?

Fact Sheet: Bipartisan Debt Deal: A Win for the Economy and Budget Discipline

The Deal Includes An Automatic Sequester to Ensure That At Least $1.2 Trillion in Deficit Reduction Is Achieved By 2013 Beyond the Discretionary Caps: The deal includes an automatic sequester on certain spending programs to ensure that—between the Committee and the trigger—we at least put in place an additional $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction by 2013. 

Consistent With Past Practice, Sequester Would Be Divided Equally Between Defense and Non-Defense Programs and Exempt Social Security, Medicaid, and Low-Income Programs: Consistent with the bipartisan precedents established in the 1980s and 1990s, the sequester would be divided equally between defense and non-defense program, and it would exempt Social Security, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, programs for low-income families, and civilian and military retirement. Likewise, any cuts to Medicare would be capped and limited to the provider side.

Sequester Would Provide a Strong Incentive for Both Sides to Come to the Table:  If the fiscal committee took no action, the deal would automatically add nearly $500 billion in defense cuts on top of cuts already made, and, at the same time, it would cut critical programs like infrastructure or education.  That outcome would be unacceptable to many Republicans and Democrats alike – creating pressure for a bipartisan agreement without requiring the threat of a default with unthinkable consequences for our economy.

Now, they call those cuts “unacceptable,” but the sequester did meet President Obama’s top priorities – exempting Social Security, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, programs for low-income families, and civilian and military retirement. You only get so many top priorities. If you want to defend some areas of the budget from any cuts – you know, $85 billion out of a $3.8 trillion in a year with a projected deficit of $901 billion – you have to make some cuts in other areas. Cuts that range between 2 percent for Medicare and 10 percent for mandatory defense spending.

The sequester was a bet by the leadership of both parties in July 2011. Speaker  Boehner bet that the next time he had to deal with the sequestration cuts, he would be working with President Romney; President Obama bet that the next time he had to deal with the sequestration cuts, he would be working with Speaker Pelosi. They both lost.

Tags: Barack Obama , John Boehner , Campaign Advertising

A Presidency Without... Guts


So the secondhand tale of House Speaker John Boehner’s assessment that President Obama “can’t make a decision. He’s got balls made out of marshmallows” … has a certain precedent, as Exurban Jon reminds me:

“If Hillary gave him [Obama] one of her balls, they’d both have two,” Democratic strategist James Carville told the Christian Science Monitor at a breakfast on Thursday morning.

The editorial board of the Washington Post uses nicer language, but reaches the same conclusion:

… why is Mr. Obama not leading the way to a solution? From the start, and increasingly in his second term, Mr. Obama has presented entitlement reform as something he would do grudgingly, as a favor to the opposition, when he should be explaining to the American people — and to his party — why it is an urgent national need. Obama priorities such as health and energy research, preschool education and job training: Those come from the discretionary budget.

Why? Because it would mean telling his party and his supporters things they don’t want to hear. And he doesn’t have the, er… stomach for it.

Tags: Entitlements , James Carville , John Boehner , President Obama

Hate the Sequester? Then Pass Entitlement Reform.


The last Morning Jolt of the week (no Friday edition this week) features a potential lifetime ban for a prominent Democrat, why the perception of a Establishment vs. Grassroots fight gets so much media attention, and then the key question of how to think about the sequestration in the coming days:

Is the GOP Botching the Sequester?

Our old friend Byron York makes some good points here, but I don’t think the GOP’s argument is quite as garbled as he suggests.

In a& Wall Street Journal op-ed Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner describes the upcoming sequester as a policy “that threatens U.S. national security, thousands of jobs and more.”

Which leads to the question: Why would Republicans support a measure that threatens national security and thousands of jobs? Boehner and the GOP are determined to allow the $1.2 trillion sequester go into effect unless President Obama and Democrats agree to replacement cuts, of an equal amount, that target entitlement spending. If that doesn’t happen — and it seems entirely unlikely — the sequester goes into effect, with the GOP’s blessing.

In addition, Boehner calls the cuts “deep,” when most conservatives emphasize that for the next year they amount to about $85 billion out of a $3,600 billion budget. Which leads to another question: Why would Boehner adopt the Democratic description of the cuts as “deep” when they would touch such a relatively small part of federal spending?

The effect of Boehner’s argument is to make Obama seem reasonable in comparison. After all, the president certainly agrees with Boehner that the sequester cuts threaten national security and jobs. The difference is that Obama wants to avoid them. At the same time, Boehner is contributing to Republican confusion on the question of whether the cuts are in fact “deep” or whether they are relatively minor.

Here’s the 3-by-5-index-card version of what the GOP’s message on sequestration ought to be:

  • Our current level of spending is unsustainable. Spending must go down. Period.
  • This is a 2 percent cut.
  • Sure, if we in the Republican Party had complete control of the government, we would be implementing the cuts differently. But we don’t.
  • Congress can only appropriate funds; it doesn’t run the departments and agencies that spend the money. That’s the power and responsibility of the executive branch.
  • If the Obama administration’s response to a 2 percent cut is really to let all the criminals out of the jails and end food-safety inspections, then it is no longer disputable that he’s a Stuttering Cluster-you-know-what of a Miserable Failure.

I’m not exaggerating on Obama’s doomsday talk:

President Obama on Tuesday painted a dire picture of federal government operations across the United States should automatic budget cuts hit on March 1: F.B.I. agents furloughed, criminals released, flights delayed, teachers and police officers laid off and parents frantic to find a place for children locked out of day care centers.

“Federal prosecutors will have to close cases and let criminals go,” Mr. Obama said, flanked by law enforcement officers at the White House. “Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find child care for their kids.”

While the effects may ultimately be significant, many are unlikely to be felt immediately, officials said Tuesday after the president’s remarks. Rather, they will ripple gradually across the federal government as agencies come to grips in the months ahead with across-the-board cuts to all their programs.

. . . But officials conceded that day care centers are almost certainly not going to be padlocked on March 1. Border patrols will be staffed throughout that day and the days to come. Federal agents will continue to conduct investigations, and criminals will not immediately be “let go,” as Mr. Obama suggested.

This is the Washington Monument strategy:

Named after a tactic used by the National Park Service to threaten closure of the popular Washington Monument when lawmakers proposed serious cuts in spending on parks.

Roll Call calls it “an old legislative ploy where an agency threatens to close popular services first.”

The strategy is used at all levels of government in an attempt to get the public to rally around government services they take pride in or find useful. Closing libraries on certain days of the week or reducing days of trash pick up appears to have the same effect.

Will some of these cuts stink? Yes. I dread 800,000 civilian employees of the Department of Defense working four days a week.

The GOP message is, and should continue to be, “Hate these cuts? Then let’s take on the biggest issue, entitlement spending.”

As Yuval Levin recently spotlighted, one tweak to the cost-of-living adjustment to Social Security effectively saves that program for the foreseeable future:

We might pay wealthier individuals with higher Social Security benefits lower annual cost-of-living adjustments than those receiving lower benefits. A progressive COLA could reduce high-end benefits by reasonable amounts in the near term while generating incentives — not disincentives — to work or save. A policy in which the highest third of beneficiaries received no COLA, the lowest third received a full COLA, and the middle third received half the current COLA would reduce Social Security outlays by around 12 percent over the first ten years. In fact, the savings from this measure alone would be enough to balance the program’s finances over the long term.

Tags: Barack Obama , John Boehner , Sequester , Social Security

Obama: Defender of the Status Quo


After a tough three-day weekend of golfing with the boys away from Michelle and the girls, President Obama returns to work today with a press statement standing beside “a group of emergency responders who might have to absorb some of the sequestration cuts.”

Of course, as Bob Woodward reported, Obama is denouncing his own idea: “First, it was the White House. It was Obama and Jack Lew and Rob Nabors who went to the Democratic Leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, and said, ‘this is the solution.’ But everyone has their fingerprints on this.”

Sequestration was put together as part of the budget deal in 2011. The administration had more than a year to work out an alternative; you’ll recall that the day after the 2012 election, House Speaker John Boehner declared, “we’re willing to accept new revenue, under the right conditions.”

On February 5, President Obama urged Congress to “pass a smaller package of spending cuts and tax reforms that would delay the economically damaging effects of the sequester for a few more months,” roughly three weeks before the deadline.

There’s a similar dynamic to all of the fights between Obama and Republican leaders in Congress. He claims to be adamantly opposed to the status quo, but his actions suggest otherwise. He wants a long-term budget deal, but won’t pressure the Senate to pass its own budget and only offers broad guidelines. He says he wants to ensure the long-term viability of entitlements, but won’t propose any bold reforms of his own.

He did propose – well, leak – his own immigration reform plan, but that appears more likely to blow up the delicate balance of support for the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” bill. After all, he’s basically telling Democrats that if they don’t like the Rubio-Schumer deal, they can hold out and push the president’s.

His rallying cry on guns is that the proposals… “deserve a vote”, not that they must pass.

What has Obama spent much of the past years campaigning against? The horror of budget cuts, the heartless cruelty of entitlement reform, the failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform, and the callousness of the “gun lobby.” Getting a bill passed in any of these areas would take away his ability to campaign on these issues as he aims to help Congressional Democrats in the 2014 midterms.

Tags: Barack Obama , Entitlements , Immigration Reform , John Boehner , Campaign Advertising

The New GOP Strategy: Make the Senate Go First


From the final Morning Jolt of the week:


Well, this is nice; Common Cause is irked at Harry Reid for not destroying the Republicans’ ability to filibuster legislation. And if they’re complaining, it probably means Republicans got a good deal:

Today’s announced “compromise” on Senate filibuster reform is in fact a capitulation by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who now has missed two excellent opportunities to restore the Senate to its proper role as a working legislative body, Common Cause said.

“My friend Harry Reid, the senator from Searchlight, NV, has gone missing in the fight for filibuster reform,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “The deal he and Sen. McConnell have struck allows individual senators to continue blocking debate and action by the entire body and to do so without explaining themselves to their colleagues or the American people. This is not the Senate of debate and deliberation our founders envisioned.”

The Huffington Post’s coverage makes it clear: Liberals believe Harry Reid sold them out:

Progressive senators working to dramatically alter Senate rules were defeated on Thursday, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and his counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), set to announce a series of compromise reforms on the Senate floor that fall far short of the demands. The language of the deal was obtained by HuffPost and can be read here and here.

Ed Morrissey summarized the impact at Hot Air:

If I had to guess, I’d say that the prospect of living under any other rules in the minority after 2014 prompted some moderate Democrats to slow down the “reform” train, as well as the prospect of setting a 51-vote precedent for rules changes and placing it in Republican hands in 2015. Instead of dictating an end to the filibuster, Reid ended up settling for a compromise that refines it, but essentially leaves it in the hands of the minority.

It looks as though McConnell got his wish in reforming the amendment process, too. The first section gives the right to the minority to offer amendments in rotation with the majority, which means Reid can no longer “fill the tree” by introducing enough amendments to shut out Republicans, although the schedule becomes constricted significantly if cloture is invoked for both the majority and minority.

This is a smart play for both Democrats and Republicans in trying to repair the reputation of the upper chamber. Reid, however, will come out looking like the big loser not so much for what he gave up, but for what he promised and then failed to deliver.

This may end up being a very big deal, as it appears that Speaker Boehner is trying a smarter strategy, trying to make Harry Reid the face of the opposition rather than President Obama and his bully pulpit.

The House GOP’s maneuver on the debt ceiling? We’ll give a three-month extension, in exchange for the Senate finally passing a budget — and in the process, putting every Democrat on record on just how much in tax increases would be necessary to pay for the spending they envision. You can picture the ads now: “As the national debt passed $16 trillion, Senator So-and-so voted to increase spending by another $1 trillion a year . . .” Translation, the Senate goes first, steps into the muck of unpopular budget decisions, and then then the House will act.

(For those screaming “but spending has to originate in the House!” keep in mind that this is not an appropriations bill but an authorization bill/plan; it doesn’t actually transfer money but instead just lays out a detailed proposal of the government’s financial goals and priorities.)

It’s the same deal on the president’s gun-control proposals: “If the Senate passes a bill, we will also take a look at that.” Translation, if NRA-friendly Harry Reid has something that he wants to make Mark Begich of Alaska, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Max Baucus of Montana, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia (not running for reelection) and Joe Manchin of West Virginia vote on . . . that’s fine.

Tags: Filibuster , Harry Reid , John Boehner , Mitch McConnell

A Long Cliff-mas Break Comes to an End


The first Morning Jolt of 2013:

Welcome back! I don’t know about you, but this holiday season seemed to stretch on forever — a school vacation that kept the kids at home for eleven days, an awful cold that kept getting passed around our family, a lost cell phone, a logistical and paperwork nightmare to replace the cell phone, and a steady stream of mostly miserable weather. On the bright side, I didn’t have to deal with covering the fiscal-cliff negotiations, so God bless Bob Costa.


The fiscal cliff drama is over — for now:

After exhaustive negotiations that strained the country’s patience, the House approved a bill to avert the dreaded fiscal cliff, staving off widespread tax increases and deep spending cuts.

In the 257-167 vote late Tuesday, 172 Democrats and 85 Republicans favored the bill; 16 Democrats and 151 Republicans opposed it…

While the package provides some short-term certainty, it leaves a range of big issues unaddressed.

It doesn’t mention the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling that the United States reached Monday.

It also temporarily delays for two months the so-called sequester, a series of automatic cuts in federal spending that would have taken effect Wednesday and reduced the budgets of most agencies and programs by 8% to 10%.

This means that come late February, Congress will have to tackle both those thorny issues.

Yuval Levin: “This deal is projected to yield $620 billion in revenue over a decade — increasing projected federal revenue by about 1.7% over that time. And that’s about it. The Democrats have made the Bush tax rates permanent for 98 percent of the public, which Republicans couldn’t even do when they controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency.”

The righty grassroots expressed a lot of anger, frustration, and dissatisfaction in the past few weeks. Over the past week I saw a lot of comments on Twitter in the vein of, “we have a spending problem! Why won’t Republicans insist we deal with that first!”

Fume at Speaker Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell all you want, but here’s the problem: The chance to gain leverage in these negotiations was on Election Day, and the GOP came up with bubkes that day. Sequestration and the expiration of all of the Bush tax cuts presented an awful status quo to begin with, and there was really no better alternative that would get A) passed in a Senate controlled by Harry Reid and B) signed by President Obama. They don’t want what we want, and we don’t want what they want. And time was on their side in several ways, not least of which was that as of noon Thursday, a new Congress, with even more Democrats, is sworn into office.

There was and is no magic argument, anecdote, policy detail or chart that could change that dynamic. What was worse — or perhaps, if you look at it a certain way, liberating — was that Republicans were and are just about certain to get the blame from most of the public, either for the failure to reach a deal or for the unpopular parts of any deal reached. Some of this is because of the power of the presidential bully pulpit, and some of this reflects people’s enthusiasm for taxing somebody making more money than they do. But a lot of this dynamic is because a large segment of the public just doesn’t pay attention to budget fights and doesn’t want to pay attention to budget fights. So no matter what the numbers actually say, they’re inclined to blame the party they already consider to be the problem.

Allahpundit examines those who wanted the House to vote down the deal passed by the Senate about an hour and a half into the New Year:

It’s worth driving a hard bargain to get something important done, even at the price of a backlash. Just remind me again what “important” goal will be achieved by forcing a new round of negotiations. What sort of spending cuts do you expect to see here? A trillion dollars over 10 years when we’re running trillion-dollar deficits annually? Even if they got Obama to agree to that, why would you believe that future Congresses would allow those cuts to happen down the line? This entire process is an elaborate charade designed to postpone the ultimate reckoning on entitlement reform, and you’re simply not going to wring serious entitlement reform out of the Democrats given the two parties’ current postures. Obama just won reelection; the Democrats expanded their numbers in the House and Senate; entitlement reform remains depressingly unpopular among the public despite attempts to educate them about the role mandatory spending plays in driving the national debt. House Republicans aren’t going to hold out for weeks on end in the futile hope of revamping Medicare against that backdrop while middle-class voters stew over their new, higher tax brackets. Why risk some of the GOP’s small reserve of political capital on a deal that’s only negligibly less terrible than this one? I understand the “let it burn” strategy, to force the public to fully absorb the cost of big government. I don’t understand this one.

The Washington Examiner’s Phil Klein sees the conglomeration as a mix of some modest good and some considerable bad and ugly — but points out that perhaps nothing was uglier than how this mess came to be presented to the public as the best option:

Conservatives believe that higher taxes are a bad thing, that the tax code needs to be dramatically overhauled and that the true driver of long-term debt is out of control spending, particularly on entitlements. For those who thought it was possible to emerge from the “fiscal cliff” showdown without tax increases, with genuine tax reform and with real spending cuts that made fundamental changes to entitlements, this deal is obviously a nonstarter. For those who assumed that President Obama’s reelection and continued Democratic control of the Senate at a time when the nation was facing an automatic $4.5 trillion tax hike would inevitably mean higher taxes without actual tax or entitlement reforms, the deal is less bad.

. . . Beyond the specifics of the deal, the process was awful. Even though lawmakers knew this reality was coming for two years (on the tax side) and a year (on the sequester side), they waited until New Year’s Eve to strike a deal that passed through the Senate at 2 a.m. on New Year’s Day. The public has had no chance to review — let alone understand — the legislation. So much for transparency.

But since you deserve to hear dissenting voices, who loathe the agreement that passed the Senate, here’s Deroy Murdock:

President Obama repeatedly has called for a “balanced approach” to deficit relief and debt reduction. H.R. 8, the bill in question, is less balanced than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Amazingly, as the Congressional Budget Office calculates, for every $1 that this proposal cuts spending, it hikes taxes by $41! In total, $15 billion in spending cuts are dwarfed by $620 billion in tax increases. Meanwhile, America’s $16.42 trillion national debt roars relentlessly on, since this measure does not even attempt to fill this Grand Canyon of red ink.

And Ben Howe: “My problem with ‘pass whatever as long as taxes don’t go up’ position is that it’s a shining example of the can-kicking that got us here.”

Tags: Barack Obama , Debt , Fiscal Armageddon , Harry Reid , John Boehner , Taxes

Does Anybody Besides Boehner Know What Boehner Is Doing?


From the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Remember, there’s just ten shopping days until the Mayan apocalypse!

Does Anybody Besides Boehner Know What Boehner Is Doing?

Everybody’s got advice for House Speaker John Boehner. I suspect Marc Thiessen represents a new level of urgency and frustration within the GOP grassroots, as they see days slipping by, the fiscal cliff approaching, and few if any good options for the party:

Go on the offensive. Immediately put forward a plan to fundamentally reform the tax code. You will be able to outbid Obama and the Democrats in any tax-cut fight. And the intellectual groundwork has already been done. During the supercommittee negotiations last year, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) put forward a plan to lower rates, raise revenue and limit deductions. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has a revenue-neutral corporate tax reform plan that lowers the rate to 25 percent and moves to a territorial system.

On the spending side, “soak the rich” by getting rid of the billions of dollars in government benefits, taxpayer subsidies and corporate welfare the wealthy receive each year and don’t need, and by means-testing government programs from unemployment benefits to farm subsidies.

On entitlements, put forward a plan to save Social Security and Medicare through structural reforms and by reducing benefits for well-off retirees and eliminating them entirely for the wealthiest seniors. Propose a “Buffett Rule” of your own: Warren Buffett does not need taxpayers to subsidize his retirement and health care.

On his radio program Monday, Sean Hannity was grinding his teeth over this aspect, arguing that it amounted to theft of wealthy people who had spent their lives paying into entitlement programs.

I suppose you could see it that way, but perhaps it’s good to go back and figure out the purpose of these programs in the first place. Why do we have Social Security? To provide income for retirees who can’t take care of themselves. Why do we have Medicare? To provide health care for retirees who can’t take care of themselves. Once you have a sufficiently high net worth, you can take care of yourself. So why shouldn’t Social Security benefits be eliminated for the wealthiest retirees? The left has always resisted this, fearing that if some citizens didn’t collect their benefits, they might not see it as a universal system and the public might be more amenable to additional reforms of the system.

Why yes, they would, wouldn’t they?

Anyway, back to Theissen:

STEP THREE: Pass your plans. If the president refuses to negotiate and no progress is made by February, inform him that you will attach all or part of your plan to legislation raising the debt limit and pass it in the House. Then do so. Obama will sign it. Here is why:

Unlike with the fiscal cliff, Republicans have all the leverage when it comes to the debt limit. Today, Obama is perfectly willing to go over the fiscal cliff and blame the GOP for the resulting tax increases on the middle class. But when it comes to the debt limit, he does not have that luxury. He can’t default on our debt — the consequences are too catastrophic. So in the end he will cave.

Raise your hand if you think you’ve spotted a flaw in the strategy here. Wow, lots of hands. Yes, you in the back.

“President Obama doesn’t fear catastrophic consequences, he embraces them! Because economic instability increases the general public’s dependency upon government, in a variation of the Cloward-Piven strategy to shift America to a more socialist system of economics!”

Yup, something like that. I don’t know just how committed Obama is to policies that undermine America’s economic health, but we know he doesn’t blink upon running up more than $5 trillion in debt in less than four years, $3.4 billion to $4 billion per day. We know he loves, loves, loves blaming Republicans for everything. We know he will blame Republicans for failure to pass immigration reform, bad jobs numbers, the deficit, the continuing housing crisis, gridlock in Washington, the debt panel’s failure to reach a deal, the difficulty of life for the unemployed, and the inability to build the Keystone Pipeline.

Now at some point, the public may get really tired of his “it’s never my fault” routine, and Obama might find himself in deep doo-doo. But so far, that hasn’t happened.

So if the House Republicans dig in their heels on a debt-ceiling fight, all the way up to the deadline, Obama might be okay with default and the ability to use them as a scapegoat for the remainder of his presidency, or embrace the various theories that there need not be a congressionally controlled debt limit at all:

If Obama should fail to secure a long-term solution to the debt ceiling in the context of the current fiscal-cliff negotiations, there is another way out –invoking the US Constitution.

In the wake of the Civil War, the government wanted to make clear that loans to the US government were still good (while Confederate debt would not be honored). Accordingly, the 14th Amendment includes the following provision: “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law . . . shall not be questioned.”

In a 1935 case (Perry v. US) the Supreme Court determined that Congress does not have the authority to renege on its obligations to its lenders. The president, then, could declare as unconstitutional the current debt-ceiling law — which requires congressional approval to raise the limit — or at least use such a threat as leverage.

Maybe I’m not privy to some sort of really brilliant strategy on the part of Speaker Boehner. But right now, doesn’t it look like . . . nothing’s happening?

I thought Guy Benson had a good idea with his Hail Mary pass of having the GOP adopt Simpson-Bowles.

(Leave it to Ezra Klein to spell out all the reasons conservatives might not want to do that, such as $2.6 trillion in tax increases over ten years and $1.4 trillion in defense cuts, worse than would be enacted under sequester. Still, as far as optics and negotiation leverage goes, this would probably do the most to blow up the “stubborn uncompromising Republicans” argument.)

So Boehner offered “the Bowles plan” and . . . Obama rejected it, with no discernible consequence.

Shouldn’t House Republicans be in session, and holding votes, one after the other, on all of these options? Would that be doing more to add to the argument that they’re taking actions to avert going over the fiscal cliff, and that Obama’s the one being unreasonable and stubborn and refusing to compromise?

Tags: Barack Obama , Debt Ceiling , Fiscal Armageddon , John Boehner

Is the Sequester or the Public’s Denial the Bigger Problem?


Permit me a stray radical thought or two . . .

House Speaker John Boehner says there’s been “no progress” in the budget talks in the past two weeks.

At this moment, Republicans in Congress need to examine which presents a more dire threat to the country:

A) A double-dip recession driven by the sequester and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, or

B) the public’s belief (verified through polling) that our giant debt, our ticking time bomb of entitlements, and our gargantuan government can be solved by “asking the richest Americans to pay a little bit more,” as Obama insists.

Option A is terrible, but Option B is the giant locked door blocking all of the real solutions.

So if we must have tax hikes, let the tax cuts for every income level expire and let everyone of every income level pay higher taxes. Destroy the illusion among so many voters that they can get all the government they want without paying more in taxes.

We hear the sequestration deal described as terrible, but it passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Obama. Everyone knew there was a possibility it would go into effect.

Mitt Romney and Republicans spent much of 2012 talking about how badly sequestration would endanger our national security by cutting defense spending. The American people voted for the man who signed it into law anyway. It is time we all saw the consequences of that.

House Republicans can and should say, “Almost all of us gave our word on opposing tax increases. Breaking that promise struck some of us as flatly unacceptable; others found it unthinkable without some sort of major policy concession from the president and his congressional allies. Not only were we expected to break our word, we were expected to so so in exchange for only the most modest of policy concessions. At no point did the president offer a deal worth it to our caucus.”

Will some portion of the public, probably a majority, blame House Republicans if there is no deal? Sure. But reaching a deal under Obama’s current terms would intensely alienate the base with little or no offsetting gain among those who currently blame (and hate) the Republicans. Many will argue that failing to reach a deal would spell doom for Republicans in the 2014 midterms, but we don’t know what the political environment will be like in November 2014. And exactly how long will the public stick with Obama’s unflinching demand for tax hikes for the rich as the effects of sequestration drag on?

Obama’s negotiating stance and tactics suggest he’s extremely convinced that going over the cliff, with the attendant double-dip recession, is a scenario where he wins politically. Maybe it’s worth seeing if that confidence is well-placed.

Look, whether roughly 51 percent of voters realize it or not, in November they effectively voted for another recession. Might as well get it over with.

Tags: Barack Obama , John Boehner , Campaign Advertising

‘There is no secret, brilliant strategy. This White House is in a bubble.’


It is not often that Cenk Uygur, formerly of MSNBC, and I concur in our assessments, but he’s now no longer a believer in the theory among some liberals that Obama is quietly playing the long game and is thinking two steps ahead of their opponents: “There is no secret, brilliant strategy. This White House is in a bubble. They think they’re winning when the roof is about to cave in.”

Uygur believes that Obama’s mistake was agreeing to move the speech; I’d argue that the defeat really began with the speech-timing brinksmanship itself.

Suppose Obama had successfully forced the Republicans to reschedule their debate to another date or time. Then what?

Sure, Obama would have had the spotlight all to himself on Wednesday, September 6. But it’s not like the GOP debate wouldn’t have gotten its share of attention on the new date, and the value of the speech spotlight depends entirely on whether Obama persuades the country that he really has a worthwhile agenda that could bring unemployment down from 9.1 percent, some grab-bag of innovative proposals that will succeed in ways that the stimulus didn’t, in the way that Obama’s housing policies haven’t, etc.

We’ll see what Obama offers on Thursday night, but many of us feel like we’ve heard it all before: “I inherited this,” “prevented another Great Depression,” “saved or created,” “green jobs,” “repair our crumbling roads and bridges,” “winning the future,” “we can’t afford not to invest in” blah, blah, blah. Never mind that just weeks ago, Obama was promising a “very specific plan.”

It appears that the Obama team more or less believes that they have no chance of passing a jobs plan through a GOP House, anyway. From Mike Allen’s morning newsletter:

TIME’s MICHAEL SCHERER, in the forthcoming issue — ‘Can He Step Up His Game? Obama’s next move: if he can’t fix the economy, make sure the Republicans get the blame’: ‘In June, . . . White House chief of staff Bill Daley arranged a secret retreat for his senior team at Fort McNair . . . Historian Michael Beschloss went along as a guest speaker to help answer the one question on everyone’s mind: How does a U.S. President win re-election with the country suffering unacceptably high rates of unemployment? The historian’s lecture provided a lift for Barack Obama’s team. No iron law in politics is ever 100% accurate, Beschloss told the group. Two Presidents in the past century — Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1936 and Ronald Reagan in 1984 — won re-­election amid substantial economic suffering. Both used the same two-part strategy: FDR and Reagan argued that the country, though in pain, was improving and that their opponents, anchored in past failures, would make things worse. . . . The President’s aides, all but resigned to unemployment above 8% on Election Day, now see in Roosevelt and Reagan a plausible path to victory. They intend to make sure voters believe a year from now that their fortunes are improving, and they plan to persuade the American people that a Republican in the White House would be a step backward. . . . Obama will try to divert the public’s frustration with Washington toward his main enemy, the GOP.’

Yet the next item indicates the problem with this spin; Obama’s team is arguing that opposition from Republicans is preventing passage of ideas that are supported by both Republicans and Democrats. What?

JAY CARNEY, on “Morning Joe,” re President Obama’s jobs address to joint session of Congress next Thursday: “He will make the case to the American people . . . that politics is broken, and that politics is getting in the way of the very necessary things we need to do. Now he hopes . . . that members of Congress will come back from their recess with a new sense of urgency . . . There’s nothing that’s preventing us from doing these things — both to grow the economy and to create jobs, AND to get our fiscal house in order — except politics. In both cases, as you will see next week, there are broadly supported, bipartisan options here that would SOLVE THE PROBLEM.”

Really? There’s no collection of ideas that Obama and House Republicans could agree on to stimulate job creation? No trade deals? No regulations that could be eliminated? No tax-code reforms?

Tags: Barack Obama , John Boehner


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