GOP — Where’s the Beef?

From “The Big Budget Mumble,” Paul Krugman, NYT:

“The veil [on GOP spending cuts] lifted a bit when Senator Mitch McConnell, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, finally mentioned a few things — raising the Medicare eligibility age, increasing Medicare premiums for high-income beneficiaries and changing the inflation adjustment for Social Security.

“Start with raising the Medicare age. … When the Congressional Budget Office analyzed the likely fiscal effects of a rise in the eligibility age, it found that it would save only $113 billion over the next decade….

“Increasing premiums for the affluent would yield even less; a 2010 study by the budget office put the 10-year savings at only about $20 billion.

“Changing the inflation adjustment for Social Security would save a bit more — by my estimate , about $185 billion over the next decade.  But put it all together, and the things Mr. McConnell was talking about would amount to only a bit over $300 billion in budget savings — a fifth of what Mr. Obama proposes in revenue gains.  Emphasis added.


The GOP’s “Player To Be Determined” Offer

So the GOP has made a fiscal cliff offer to Obama, such as it is.  They say their plan will cut deficits by $2.2 trillion over a decade.

They propose $800 billion in tax revenue, but through reform, not raising rates.  This is half what President Obama has asked for in increased revenue.  They don’t specify what loopholes they would close or what deductions they would limit or eliminate.  Unlike a straight rate increase, this would take a long, long time to negotiate, so it would be more of a Memorandum of Understanding than a final revenue deal.

The rest, or $1.4 trillion, would come from spending cuts in programs like Medicare and from changing the way Social Security cost-of-living increases are calculated.  They give no specifics about how they would cut Medicare — whether from raising the eligibility age  and/or having the rich pay higher premiums.

The Social Security change has been bandied about for awhile and is probably inevitable.

Other than that, the GOP is basically throwing numbers out there to increase revenue and cut spending without any specifics.  It’s like “player to be determined” in baseball.

Hours of Smile Practice

From “Inside the campaign:  Reinventing Romney,” Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, Politico:

“The reinvention effort includes softening the edges of Romney, both stylistically and philosophically.  The more likable version of Romney was no accident — he worked hours on his smile his posture and the delivery of his words.  The more centrist version of Romney was no accident either — he carefully calibrated his message on taxes, spending and Medicare to broaden his appeal.”

I assume “calibrated” is a euphemism for “lied about.”

Losing By Saying Anything to Win

From “In the end, it’s Mitt,” Mike Allen and Jonathan Martin and Jim VandeHei, Politico:

It isn’t the chair or the ho-hum convention.  Or the leaked video.  Or Stuart Stevens.  Or the improving economy.  Or media bias.  Or distorted polls.  Or the message.  Or Mormonism.

It’s Mitt.

With Republicans everywhere wondering what has happened to the Mitt Romney campaign, people who know the candidate personally and professionally offer a simple explanation:  it’s the candidate himself.

Slowly and reluctantly, Republicans who love and work for Romney are concluding that for all his gifts as a leader, businessman and role model, he’s just not a good political candidate in this era.

It kills his admirers to say it because they know to be a far more generous and approachable man than people realize — far from the caricature of him being awkward or distant — and they feel certain he would be a very good president.

Campaign officials, in the end, think likability is the least of his issues.  The much bigger one is this sense that Romney is not comfortable in his skin, at least the conservative, no-compromise skin he had to put on to win the nomination.

His past willingness to change or shade his views for apparent political advantage resulted, over time, in one of his biggest political vulnerabilities.  One close confidant said Romney sees the process like buying a company from a reluctant seller:  Just do and say what you need to do to get the deal done, and then when it’s done, do what you know actually needs to be done to make the company a success.   Emphasis added.

And there, I think, is the bottom line why Mitt is losing.  The political consensus in this country supports programs like Social Security and Medicare.  Yes, we know they have to be fixed, but we don’t want their problems to be used as an excuse to get rid of them.  So you have a guy who’s perceived as willing to say anything to get elected, combined with a sense that he and his Ayn Rand-worshipping running mate are more radical than the vast majority of Americans, a ticket that wants to dismantle both the New Deal and the Great Society.  

Mitt’s being told to be more specific, but if you don’t trust someone to begin with, what does it matter how specific he is?  You think he’s going to do what he wants after he’s elected, and that what he wants will heavily favor the already rich.  We are reluctant sellers who are not going to turn our company over to Mitt.



Quote of the Day

“Given the conversations that have been out there in the political arena lately, I want to emphasize:  Medicare and Social Security are not handouts.  You’ve paid into these programs your whole lives.  You’ve earned them.”

President Obama, speaking via satellite to the AARP Convention in New Orleans.

Paul Ryan spoke there live, and was booed when he talked about Social Security and Medicare.

More on the 47%

I’m tired of reading stuff trying to justify Mitt and the 47% garbage.  What he said wasn’t just politically stupid, it’s factually stupid.

He said these 47% are in the tank for Obama, no point in trying to reach them.  Really?  How can he not know that a chunk of the people who don’t pay federal income tax are retirees, living on Social Security and their savings?  And how can he not know that the one group he consistently has been leading among is seniors?  So to say that the 47% are synonymous with Obama voters just makes him look an idiot because so many of them are his freaking base.

And I don’t get the leap between not paying (actually I would frame it as not owing) federal income taxes and seeing yourself as a victim, as not taking personal responsibility for yourself.  I don’t see any connection there, it’s just a non sequitur.

Who are these people who don’t owe on April 15?  As I said, a chunk of them are seniors, which means that they used to work and pay federal income taxes.  They also paid in to get their Social Security and their Medicare.  Yes, some of them will take out of the system more than they put in, but some of them will die before they get their investment back.  That’s what an insurance system is.  And what’s Mitt’s solution here to end their “dependency”?  Does he want people in their 80’s and 90’s to rejoin the work force?

Some of them are students.  They are old enough to vote, and maybe flipping burgers to get through school, but not in their prime earning years.  They have decades of paying federal income taxes ahead of them, and the more education they get, the more they will earn and the more they will pay.

Some of them are low-wage earners because they’ve lost better-paying jobs in the Great Recession; because they lack education and skills; because they don’t speak English well; because they choose careers that don’t pay well, but help other people; because they work part-time so that they can write or paint or spend more time with their kids or do volunteer work.  People are low-wage earners for all kinds of reasons.  Some of them have paid federal income taxes in the past and will do so again in the future.

Just because you’re working a low-wage job (or two or three) doesn’t mean you don’t work hard.  Anyone doing honest work is taking personal responsibility for himself or herself.  The GOP has consistently supported earned income tax credits and child care credits to keep low-wage earners out of poverty and off of welfare, to make work worthwhile.   The GOP has declared this tax policy the path to personal responsibility, and now Mitt is denying his own party’s long-standing beliefs.

It is beyond chutzpah for someone earning $20 million a year and paying 13% in federal income taxes (maybe, assuming we believe him) to bitch and moan about those terrible people making $20,000 a year who don’t pay their fair share.

Listening to that tape, I don’t think this guy is just politically dead, I think he’s brain dead.

The Unbearable Vagueness of Being Mitt

From “GOP to Mitt Romney:  You’re so vague,” Jim VandeHei and Alexander Burns, Politico:

Leading conservatives are offering blunt advice to Mitt Romney:  Quite ducking details, start engaging in a real and specific war of ideas with President Barack Obama — or lose.

[The story then quotes conservatives like Rupert Murdoch, Trent Lott, Laura Ingraham, the WSJ editorial page, Alex Castellanos, Mike Murphy, Bill Kristol, William McGurn, Jonah Goldberg, and George Pataki, all from the last 24 hours.]

“This is not a new concern: Before Romney picked Paul Ryan as his running mate, many of the same conservatives were lamenting the Romney strategy of showing very little leg when it comes to his policy plans…. The selection of Ryan, many of these conservatives assumed, meant Romney was prepared to scrap that plan and engage in an authentic, if high-risk, war of ideas. They assumed wrong.

“Romney, according to people who have discussed the issue with him, did not pick Ryan because he suddenly changed his mind about the strategic risk of detailing his ideas. Instead, it was personal chemistry first and a belief that Ryan would be instrumental in a governing context second that ultimately sealed the deal. Still, that didn’t keep conservatives from hoping otherwise — and Romney and Ryan from sending mixed signals about their intentions to go all-in on policy debates, especially on restructuring Medicare. Initially, they promised a campaign of bold choices and substance. Since then, the campaign has very much settled into a pre-Ryan mind-set.

“Why such reticence to go specific? Top campaign officials have explained it this way: In the modern political and media culture, with every day dominated by one side doing a better job than the other of pouncing on facts or, more often, on plausibly defensible distortions or lies, specificity is merely ammunition for the other guys.

“Moreover, the officials believe voters are moved by big ideas — a bad economy or impulse for change. The Romney theory of the case for winning rests on voters turning against Obama because of the economy and then ultimately warming to Romney because they see him as a better-than-even bet to improve it.

“In this context, a full-throated engagement on the laurels of injecting private competition into the existing Medicare system or detailing the loopholes to be eliminated to finance broad-based tax reductions for the middle class are a distraction — not a political asset.

“It’s not clear the pressure from the leading voices on the right will do anything to change this.”  Emphasis added.

Don’t listen to them, Mittens.  You just keep doing what you’re doing.

Ryan Threw Away His Carefully-Cultivated Reputation with That Speech

I’ve been reading so many excellent take-downs of Paul Ryan’s speech last night.  But I especially like this one.

From “Paul Ryan fails — the truth,” Jonathan Bernstein, The Plum Line, Washington Post:


It was, by any reasonable standards, a staggering, staggering lie.  Here’s Paul Ryan about Barack Obama:

He created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report.  He thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing.

“They.” “Them.” “Them.” Those words are lies. Because Paul Ryan was on that commission. “Came back with an urgent report.” That is a lie. The commission never made any recommendations for Barack Obama to support or oppose. Why not? Because the commission voted down its own recommendations. Why? Because Paul Ryan, a member of the commission, voted it down and successfully convinced the other House Republicans on the commission to vote it down.

That wasn’t the only bit of mendacity – lazy mendacity, incredibly lazy mendacity – in Ryan’s speech. Twitter lit up as soon as he started telling the story of the Janesville auto plant that Barack Obama didn’t save – a plant that, it turns out, closed before Obama was president. And of course there’s the infamous cuts to Medicare that Ryan lambasted Obama for without happening to mention that those very same cuts were in Paul Ryan’s own budget. Yes: absolutely everything in Obamacare is an abomination, says Paul Ryan, except for (as he forgets to mention) the cuts to Medicare that he supports – and yet he still singles that part out to use as an attack.

It isn’t even true in some symbolic or abstract way. The real truth is that Paul Ryan completely rejects the approach of that commission – because it includes tax increases along with spending cuts – while Barack Obama has, while not endorsing the exact plan that Ryan shot down, basically endorsed the commission’s approach.

And then there’s the logic of the whole thing. As Seth Masket said, it all comes down to arguing “we must cut entitlements! Obama cutting entitlements is un-American.”  There’s also, as many were pointing out, the plain fact that until January 2009 Paul Ryan faithfully supported all the tax cuts and spending increases which created the deficit problem he’s been so concerned about since January 2009.

But really, the proper response to a speech like this isn’t to carefully analyze the logic, or to find instances of hypocrisy; it’s to call the speaker out for telling flat-out lies to the American people. Paul Ryan has had what I’ve long thought was an undeserved good reputation among many in the press and in Washington. It shouldn’t survive tonight’s speech. 

Italics in original; emphasis added.

Paul Ryan — You Lie!

From “Top 5 Fibs in Paul Ryan’s Convention Speech,” Brian Beutler, Talking Points Memo:


Ryan forged his reputation in large part by drafting and advancing an unpopular plan to dramatically cut and privatize Medicare. Though he didn’t mention that plan once on Wednesday, he included it in his last two budgets, both of which preserved the Affordable Care Acts cuts to Medicare — taken mostly from overpayments to private insurers and hospitals.

Instead, Ryan once again dubiously accused President Obama of being the true threat to Medicare.

“You see, even with all the hidden taxes to pay for the health care takeover, even with new taxes on nearly a million small businesses, the planners in Washington still didn’t have enough money. They needed more. They needed hundreds of billions more. So, they just took it all away from Medicare. Seven hundred and sixteen billion dollars, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama. An obligation we have to our parents and grandparents is being sacrificed, all to pay for a new entitlement we didn’t even ask for. The greatest threat to Medicare is Obamacare, and we’re going to stop it.”

Obama did use those Medicare savings — in the form of targeted cuts in payments to providers, not in benefits to seniors — to pay for the health care law. Ryan’s budget calls for using them to finance tax cuts for wealthy Americans, and deficit reduction. But by now calling to restore that spending commitment to Medicare, Ryan and Romney are pledging to hasten Medicare’s insolvency by many years.

U. S. Credit Rating

Standard & Poors downgraded the country’s sovereign debt rating in 2011 because congressional Republicans… threatened not to increase the country’s borrowing authority — risking a default on the debt — unless Democrats agreed to slash trillions of dollars from domestic social programs and investment.

Janesville GM Plant

Ryan criticized Obama for — yes — not using government funds to prop up an auto plant in his district.

Ignoring the inconsistency of a Republican chastising Obama for not bailing out more auto manufacturers, the plant in question closed before Obama’s inauguration in 2009.

Bowles-Simpson Debt Commission

Ryan chastised Obama: “He created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing.”

Ryan sat on that commission. He voted against it. Following his lead, so did the panel’s other House Republicans.

Protecting the Poor

Near the end of his speech, Ryan claimed the campaign’s top priority is protecting the poor. “We have responsibilities, one to another — we do not each face the world alone,” he said. “And the greatest of all responsibilities, is that of the strong to protect the weak.”

Just under two thirds of the dramatic spending cuts in Ryan’s budget target programs that benefit low-income people. That plan also calls for large tax cuts for high-income earners.

Emphasis added.


Both House Speaker John Boehner and Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are refusing to commit to pushing Paul Ryan’s Medicare “voucher” plan if the GOP wins the White House and control of Congress.*  Boehner said, “I’m sure there will be other ideas about how you save Medicare…”

While some of this is just to avoid scaring people away from Mitt before the election, I think some of it is a recognition that even if they win in November, they have to avoid over-reaching.  Otherwise, they could lose what they won in the Congress — and then some — in 2014.

But if Boehner and McConnell don’t follow the will of the Tea Party wing — those who arrived from the 2010 election and may arrive from 2012 — they could well find themselves replaced as leaders, especially Boehner, who sees the lean and hungry Eric Cantor at his heels every time he turns around.

If cooler heads don’t prevail in Congress, cooler voters will in 2014.

* “GOP leaders are not sold on Ryan’s trumpeted Medicare plan,” Susan Davis, USA Today.