Friday, December 11, 2009

Mitch McConnell's Circus

by Bob Cesca, Huffington Post (12/10/2009)

If it weren't for the fact that the Washington media establishment is gamed in favor of Republicans, it's very likely that they would have long since been relegated to nothing more than a LaRouche-style crackpot cult, handing out mimeographed pamphlets outside the post office.

How else, other than via the self-conscious deference afforded it by the press, do the Republicans get away with issuing the following two press releases within a single 24 hour span:

Sunday: "Cutting Medicare is not what Americans want."

Monday: "Expanding Medicare a plan for financial ruin."

In case you're wondering, these statements didn't come from one of the many far out wingnuts like Steve King, Michele Bachmann or Virginia Foxx (Medicare recipient). They were, in fact, dispatched from Senate Minority Leader (And Real-Life Albino Sleestak) Mitch McConnell's office. Yes, the highest ranking Republican in Congress wrote-up both headlines, ostensibly proof-read and unapologetically shoved into the public record.

Two press releases that exactly contradict each other. Yet I'm a little disappointed that Mark Halperin and Chuck Todd didn't fire off tweets about how the opposing headlines were "bad news for Obama." After all, every Republican gaffe is somehow "bad news for Obama." And so they get away with it.

As we have observed over the years, this Republican contradiction problem has been a feature of modern Bush Republicanism for a while now, but it's only during the past year that the gap between contradictory statements -- let's call it the Wingnut Gap -- has narrowed down to just 24 hours. Prior to this week, it took several years for, say, the Republicans to contradict their "criticizing the commander-in-chief during wartime undermines the troops" mantra, or for Glenn Beck to accuse the Obama administration of being Maoists then to inexplicably suggest that America needs to be "more like the Chinese."...

...But this is a dynamic that's most prevalent when the Republicans discuss Medicare. It really flummoxes them. After all, they despise socialized medicine. They despise single-payer health insurance. They despise government-run health care. They voted against the formation of Medicare during the high water mark of LBJ's Great Society. They ultimately would love to privatize (or drown in a bathtub) the whole thing and be done with it.

Yet at the same time, 55 Republican members of Congress are on Medicare. Congressman Weiner wrote up a list that includes Mitch McConnell. I could be wrong, but I also think proxy-Republican and anti-government-run-insurance drama queen Joe Lieberman, at 67 years old, receives Medicare. He's eligible. Additionally, I'm still attempting to ascertain how many Republicans get their primary care from the government-run Office of the Attending Physician. The office won't give me a partisan breakdown of their patients, but we can safely assume that, based on ideology, it's all Democrats, right?

Today, embattled Republican David Vitter spoke in favor of Byron Dorgan's Canadian drug-importation amendment and, in the process, praised the Canadian system -- which is, as you know, single-payer. However, Olympia Snowe said she doesn't support the Gang of 10's Medicare buy-in compromise, but she supports the Canadian importation measure. So she's siding with the rank and file Senate Republicans against single-payer health insurance on the buy-in, but she supports the single-payer system on the drug importation amendment. And it's not just Snowe and Vitter. The congressional Republicans are all toeing this upside-down We Hate-Slash-Love Medicare position.

No wonder the teabaggers and dittoheads are screeching in gibberish -- steam shooting from their ears. When it comes to Medicare, they have no idea what to support or how to support it. All they know is that President Obama should keep his government hands off their Medicare -- whether or not they understand that the government, in fact, runs Medicare. He just should. So there.

The fact is that if the Republicans really supported Medicare, they should also support the Medicare buy-in proposal for Americans between the ages 55-64. But they won't. Why? Because they hate Medicare. Even though many of them are on it. And even though many of them say they want to protect it from "ruin."

But expecting logic, reason and consistency from the Republicans is wasted time. (See also Fox News Channel's Rasmussen poll analysis showing a total of 94 percent of Americans think climate scientists falsified their evidence, while 26 think they didn't, thus indicating a total of 120 percent.)

The fact remains that the private health insurance system is broken and America is being left behind by the rest of the world as we cling to the decaying wreckage of a failed healthcare system. Medicare is an obvious solution.

If Medicare works for senior citizens, then it can work for everyone else. Expanding the revenue base for Medicare by upwards of 2 million Americans with this buy-in plan, allowing a younger, healthier and, consequently, less costly population to buy into the system by paying the full, unsubsidized premiums, will only help to ameliorate Medicare's fiscal problems. Likewise, widening the buy-in window to include all adults would ultimately stabilize Medicare even further, because we'd ostensibly be adding even younger and healthier people to the pool, allowing chunks of their unused premiums to flow upwards to older, sicker recipients who need it.

And if you, Mr. and Mrs. Republican, are against a Medicare option for everyone, then you have to be against Medicare period. And feel free to be against it. You just can't have it both ways -- no matter how ridiculous and contradictory your congressional leadership is.

What I've Been Saying All Along...

From today's Huffington Post. Article by Sam Stein:


The emerging narrative in political circles is that the White House has a deficit problem. Glenn Beck, over at Fox News, insists that Obama is "spending us into oblivion." Politico called the recent round of job-stimulus appropriations a "spending binge." Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) deemed this an era of "fiscal recklessness and irresponsibility," the extent of which is "shocking to the American taxpayer."

The drumbeat is loud enough to put Democrats on notice. The president has increasingly discussed the need to get the deficit under control in recent speeches. And in Congress, a proposal to set up a bipartisan commission to force deficit reduction is gaining steam among the party's more conservative members.

All of which may be vital, say budget analysts say. But the hysteria over the deficit misses a fundamental point: the country's fiscal problems largely aren't due to Obama but rather his predecessor.

A forthcoming study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities concludes that the $1.4 trillion annual deficit run by the government has little to do with current White House policies and much to do with George W. Bush's actions.

"What we have looked at were several major contributors to the deficit: the tax cuts between 2001 and 2003 (on the assumption they get extended in 2010), the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the effects of the recession as well as the legislative response to the recession," James Horney, director of federal fiscal policy at the Center, told the Huffington Post. "When you take those things into account -- in other words, if we hadn't enacted the tax cuts, had the wars, if we hadn't had the recession and needed the legislation to deal with those problems -- the deficits are much, much lower. And basically none of those represent Obama's policies. He didn't run saying he wanted to pass a stimulus to deal with the recession or that he wanted to continue the war in Iraq or escalate [to this extent] in Afghanistan. He inherited these issues once he took office."

"Now we still have a big budget problem in the long run," Horney added. "It is not inappropriate for people to say we have to deal with that. And it is not inappropriate for them to say Obama is president and has the responsibility to deal with this. But it is not appropriate to say that Obama's policies have contributed to the deficit problem."

Horney said that the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities' analysis will be released in the next few weeks. But already, there is data available to supplement its findings. In mid-November, the Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress put together an analysis of its own, in which it concluded that the so-called "Obama spending spree" paled in comparison to the checks written by Bush.

"It's true that spending in 2009 was much higher than it was the previous fiscal year, by about $602 billion, excluding payments on the national debt (which actually declined in 2009 because of low interest rates)," wrote Michael Linden, an associate director for tax and budget policy at the Center. "But it turns out that a huge chunk of that increase actually happened before President Obama took office. In fact, fully 41 percent, or $245 billion, came in the form of the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the rescues of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, actions taken in the fall of 2008 under President George W. Bush.

As for the deficit that conservatives decried, Linden concluded that it was the recession, not Obama, that was to blame. In 2009, federal tax receipts were $419 billion below 2008 levels -- the largest decline from one year to the next in seven decades. "The overall cost of the decline in tax revenues was four times larger than the cost of Obama's initiatives," wrote Linden.

The decline of tax revenues due to the recession may not be a development tied to Obama. But it has become a perplexing problem for this administration.

The White House has raised spending levels by roughly $600 billion in FY2009 -- almost exclusively through temporary programs such as the stimulus -- in order to spur economic growth and increase that revenue base. But spending money to make money can be a costly venture in the short run, especially as the recession is prolonged. Unemployment benefits that used to expire after six months, for instance, have been extended by Congress at a heavy but morally defensible cost. And even when GDP rises, the government is still operating off a largely reduced revenue stream, complicating its efforts to pass pieces of domestic legislation.

"It is not like when the recession ends, people's incomes bounce back to where they were before the recession," said Rob Shapiro. "You will be behind where you were before the recession for a while... There has been a real economic reduction in the base of GDP. So GDP now, when it goes up three percent, it is off of a lower base. It's not off of, say $15 trillion but off of $14 trillion."

...of course, Republicans (especially the Palin supporters, Tea Party and birther types) will never admit this. They couldn't even read through the entire article.