President Obama’s Press Conference On The Debt Ceiling Talks

President Obama’s press conference on the breakdown of the debt ceiling talks (video above). Summary of the news conference here. Nancy Pelosi has offered another compromise.

Please Share

Weiner: More A Case Of Stupidity Than A Major Scandal (So Far)

Anthony Weiner has admitted to sending the picture of his (covered) weiner over Twitter, and of similar behavior with other women he communicated with on line. As scandals go, Weiner’s is fairly small. As Steve Benen wrote:

On the Political Sex Scandal Richter Scale, I’m still not altogether sure why this even registers at all. Given what we know, Weiner shared adult content with women he met online. They were adults and the interactions were consensual. He didn’t commit adultery (Ensign), he didn’t hire prostitutes (Vitter, Spitzer), he didn’t solicit anyone in an airport bathroom (Craig), he didn’t pretend to be someone else in order to try to pick up women (Lee), he didn’t abandon his office for a rendezvous with his lover (Sanford), he didn’t leave his first two wives after they got sick (Gingrich), he didn’t have a child with his housekeeper (Schwarzenegger), there’s no sex tape (Edwards), and no interns were involved (Clinton). He’s not even a hypocrite — Weiner has never championed conservative “family values,” condemning others for their “moral failings.”

This assumes that there isn’t anything more to this. Nancy Pelosi has called for an ethics investigation of Weiner. Assuming that there are no minors and there are not more explicit pictures, my guess is that this is not a career ending scandal, but at very least will be a career stalling one. As can be seen in Steve’s list, the less severe sex scandals do not necessarily end careers, but I doubt he will be elected to a more competitive spot in New York anytime soon. (Elliot Spitzer might even beat him–time does seem to make these scandals less important to voters).

While Weiner’s transgressions appear to be relatively minor (at least so far), they were rather stupid. It is amazing how often we see similar patterns in politicians. Was whatever pleasure Weiner received from sexting with young women really worth all of this?  I would ask whether this will dissuade future politicians (which can be from either party) from doing anything so foolish, but the answer, based upon the past history of sex scandals in Washington, is clearly no.

Please Share

White House Compromises On Battle Congress Avoided To Obtain Economic Stimulus

The White House had wanted to wage a battle over taxes for months but Congress was unwilling to hold a vote before the elections. I bet this was because Congressional leaders felt they could not win because some of the more conservative Democrats were unwilling to support the position of only renewing the cuts on income under $250,000. It turned out that many of these conservative Democrats still wound up losing and might have stood a better chance by supporting a cause supported by the majority of American voters.

After failing to take up this fight before the election when it should have been, there is suddenly a lot of noise coming from both the House and Senate. While the compromise is far from perfect and is not going to make everyone happy (which is the nature of compromise), critics are focusing too much on the extension of the tax breaks for the top ten percent while ignoring all the benefits for everyone else. As Ezra Klein has explained while discussing both the benefits and opposition from the liberal base:

If you’re worried about stimulus, joblessness and the working poor, this is probably a better deal than you thought you were going to get. “It’s a bigger deal than anyone expected,” says Bob Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Both sides gave more expected and both sides got more than expected.” The White House walked out of the negotiations with more stimulus than anyone had seen coming. But they did it in a way that made their staunchest allies feel left behind, and in many cases, utterly betrayed.

That the Obama administration has turned out to be fairly good at the inside Washington game of negotiations and legislative compromise and quite bad at communicating to the public and keeping their base excited is not what most would have predicted during the 2008 campaign. But it’s true.

Bill Scher from the Campaign for American’s Future has more on reasons why the left should support the deal to help the poor and to help the economy. The Center for American Progress predicts the deal will create or save 2.2 million jobs. The biggest downside is the amount that the tax breaks to the upper ten percent adds to the deficit. How come the tea party supporters who are so concerned about the deficit aren’t protesting the Bush tax breaks?

It is risky to predict what issues will determine future elections, as we have seen with unexpected events such as 9/11 and Katrina. However, baring anything unexpected, Barack Obama might have taken a major step towards his reelection. Obama’s support is already well above that of either party in Congress. If the deal fails due to Congressional opposition, the unemployed will see their extended benefits dry up and the middle class will see more money taken out of their paychecks in January. That will only increase the gap between Obama’s approval and the disapproval of Congress. On the other hand, if the deal does pass Obama gets a bigger economic stimulus than he ever could have gotten through Congress on its own. Simply managing to get any deals through with the Republicans enhances Obama’s reputation as being effective at compromise, and most voters will not share the opposition to compromise seen on the extremes.

Passing the deal also moves the battle over taxes to the 2012 presidential election, giving the Democrats an issue supported by most voters. As this debate continues over the next couple of years, here is a handy table which demonstrates the differences in the tax plans of the two parties (via Ezra Klein):

Under the Democratic plan those with incomes under $200,000 get the larger tax breaks. Under the GOP plan the winners are those making over $500,000 per year, with the big winners being those making over $1,000,000 per year. Unless people really believe in trickle down economics, the Democratic plan looks like the winner in the 2012 campaign.

Please Share

The New York Times Points Out The Failure Of Democrats–And Not Only The Former Speaker

The New York Times believes that the Democrats need a new minority leader in the House:

Ms. Pelosi announced on Friday that she would seek the post of House minority leader. That job is not a good match for her abilities in maneuvering legislation and trading votes, since Democrats will no longer be passing bills in the House. What they need is what Ms. Pelosi has been unable to provide: a clear and convincing voice to help Americans understand that Democratic policies are not bankrupting the country, advancing socialism or destroying freedom.

All true, but not only of Nancy Pelosi. The Democratic Party as a whole has been suffering from an inability to articulate its views and give voters reason to stick with them once the limited memories of the voters have forgotten George Bush. When Democrats fail to explain their views, they allow the Republicans to define them, and Republicans have become very good at presenting distorted views of what Democrats believe. Hell, if Democrats really believed half the things which is claimed by Fox and right wing talk radio I certainly wouldn’t vote for them.

The Democrats saved the country from a depression but failed to get the credit. Democrats saved the auto industry and saw Michigan turn into a red state. Democrats gave the country a major tax cut, but tea party supporters march in the street believing that Obama raised their taxes. Democrats passed a health care plan which takes many ideas from the Republican Party of the 1990′s, freeing individuals from the whims of the insurance industry, and Republicans managed to fool voters into believing this was a government take over of health care. Meanwhile seniors voted Republican, supporting a party with policies which would seriously harm Medicare, believing distorted claims that the Democrats were cutting Medicare (as opposed to cutting George Bush’s subsidies to insurance companies handling Medicare Part D plans).

Democrats must find a way to counter the Republican misinformation. That’s all Democrats–not only Nancy Pelosi.

Of course correcting the problem is not only a matter of explaining how Democrats support freedom and a market economy (as opposed to Republican policies of concentrating wealth in the hands of a small minority). Democrats must do a better job of debunking the false Republican frames, such as showing that the “small government” supported by conservatives intrudes far more upon the lives of individuals than the government supported by Democrats. Democrats must also be consistent in their policies. Obama should have stuck to his campaign position and opposed the individual mandate. Dealing with the free-rider problem would be more complex without a mandate, but it could be done. Backing down and accepting an individual mandate only helps fuel conservative memes about Democrats. Democrats further complicated this with their naive belief that voters who opposed health care reform when it passed would change their minds by this fall.

Little legislation is likely to be passed this year. Democratic leaders (regardless of whether this includes Nancy Pelosi) should devote this time to figuring out exactly what they stand for and explaining this to voters. Obama has often said the right thing, but his actual explanations of policy get lost among all the shouting. Democrats need to work harder to amplify his actual positions in order for them to be heard above the right wing noise machine.

Some of the pundits analyzing the midterm elections described how the Republicans had a successful two-year strategy to return to power. Actually the strategy has been in play for far longer. The right wing noise machine has developed a false narrative about what Republicans and Democrats believe which enabled them to regain much of their lost support. Fortunately long term demographics continue to work against a party which rejects science and reason, and which acts contrary to the long term trend for greater individual liberty in this country. Democrats can speed up the process by better explaining how they really differ from Republicans.

Please Share

Pelosi Running To Remain Democratic House Leader

After a lot of speculation she would do it, CNN has just issued a bulletin that Nancy Pelosi will run to be House Minority Leader. So far the only real opposition has come from the right. I had hoped she might step aside and that another liberal candidate might arise to replace her.

Please Share

Polls Show Race Tightening, But Democrats Still Have Uphill Battle

If you were to follow the conventional wisdom coming from the news media pundits you might believe that the Democrats are facing certain doom and Barack Obama is highly unpopular. There is still over a month before the election and there are signs that the election is tightening. While both houses of Congress are now in play, it is too early to predict the results. One problem with the conventional wisdom saying that the Democrats will do poorly is that this could influence behavior and harm Democratic chances, such as by reducing contributions when donors believe the race is futile.

The latest polls are showing that the difference in the generic ballot and in enthusiasm are not looking as badly for Democrats as previously. Republicans might have been more enthusiastic for months about a chance to vote out the Democrats, but the prospect of the extremist ideas of the GOP dominating Congress is starting to make more Democrats  interested in voting. Democrats remain at a disadvantage in having to defend many seats which have traditionally been held by Republicans before the 2006 and 2008 elections. Voters in off-year elections are also more likely to be older and more partisan as opposed to the younger and more independent voters who propelled Obama to victory.

While Obama’s popularity is down (as Ronald Reagan’s was at this point in his presidency), the claim coming from many Republicans that Democrats wish to distance themselves for Obama, like most memes spread by the right wing media, is false. Democratic leaders are actually encouraging Obama to campaign more, knowing that he can often connect with the voters more successfully than members of Congress can. Unfortunately for the Democrats, Obama is not on the ballot and Democratic candidates still have to get a discouraged electorate to turn out to vote for them.

Some of the polls do not mean very much but make for some interesting discussion. Besides showing a tightening in the race, the recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll tried to show what the electorate wants and does not want. The manner in which this was reported gave a false impression of contradictory results as there are sizable numbers of both Democrats and Republicans answering making the desires of both come out high in the results. That said, here is how NBC summarized what voters don’t want:

And here are the most unacceptable outcomes: Palin becoming the GOP’s leading spokesperson (55% unacceptable), Pelosi continuing as speaker (51%), the Democrats continuing to hold the majority in Congress (42%), and the Tea Party becoming a major force in Congress (41%). If some of these results seem somewhat contradictory, well, they are. But these two lists do give you a gauge — however imperfect — what voters want and what they don’t. Here’s a final set of numbers: 41% said it’s an acceptable outcome if President Obama is dealt a setback in the midterms, while an identical 41% said it would be unacceptable, which is just more evidence that November will be more of a referendum on the economy and Washington than on the president.

It is a good sign that a majority do not want Palin leading the Republican Party, but I’m surprised by how much worse she came out here compared to the Tea Party.

If we bought the argument that Obama is to blame for the Democrats’ problems, the natural question would be whether he is susceptible to a primary challenge within his own party. In a poll which has near zero predictive value of what would happen in an actual race, Gallup found that Obama leads Hillary Clinton in a hypothetical Democratic primary race by 52 percent to 37 percent. Not surprisingly, Obama does better among liberals while the more conservative Clinton does better among conservative and female voters.

Please Share

Planned Islamic Community Center Turns Politicians Of Both Parties Into Babbling Idiots

The planned Islamic Community Center planned near ground zero has resulted in a lot of nonsense. Most of it has come from the right, who mischaracterized it as a Ground Zero Mosque, with the right wingers showing no respect for either freedom of religion or property rights. Some of the nonsense also came from the Democrats. I really don’t know what Nancy Pelosi is talking about here, as she speaks of looking into “who is funding the attacks against the construction of the center.”  Her clarification does not make much more sense. (Of course this is not the first time I’ve questioned if Nancy Pelosi was making sense).

What is obviously going on here (along with Harry Reid trying to sound like a conservative on this in the midst of a tough election campaign) is that the Democrats still have absolutely no idea how to counter the the hateful and ignorant rhetoric from the far right. Instead they look at the polls and find that a majority of Americans support the conservative position in this and fear saying anything meaningful.

If  Islamic terrorists who had flown planes into the World Trade Building had wanted to build a mosque near ground zero I would understand the opposition. Of course those who desire to build the Community Center had no more connection to 9/11 than Saddam Hussein did.

As long as the Democrats fail to provide leadership and manage to speak out intelligibly on such issues a majority of people will listen to the right wing position. Democrats need to counter Republican rhetoric and misinformation with intelligent and factual responses. They won’t win by chickening out and hoping that Rachel Maddow or liberal bloggers will manage to bring some sense to the debates.

Update: Not Howard Dean too.

Please Share

The Worst People In American History–To Conservatives

Right Wing News conducted a survey of conservative  bloggers to find out who they thought were the worst twenty-five people in U.S. history. John Wilkes  Booth beat out Nancy Pelosi, but only by one vote. Jimmy Carter leads, followed by Barack Obama. Both are well ahead of Timothy McVeigh, who also trails Ted Kennedy, FDR, and LBJ.  The results:

23) Saul Alinsky (7)
23) Bill Clinton (7)
23) Hillary Clinton (7)
19) Michael Moore (7)
19) George Soros (8)
19) Alger Hiss (8)
19) Al Sharpton (8)
13) Al Gore (9)
13) Noam Chomsky (9)
13) Richard Nixon (9)
13) Jane Fonda (9)
13) Harry Reid (9)
13) Nancy Pelosi (9)
11) John Wilkes Booth (10)
11) Margaret Sanger (10)
9) Aldrich Ames (11)
9) Timothy McVeigh (11)
7) Ted Kennedy (14)
7) Lyndon Johnson (14)
5) Benedict Arnold (17)
5) Woodrow Wilson (17)
4) The Rosenbergs (19)
3) Franklin Delano Roosevelt (21)
2) Barack Obama (23)
1) Jimmy Carter (25)

It also appears that, in their view, we are living in really bad times considering how many of the worst people in American history are now living or were around in the not very distant past.

Please Share

Gallup Again Finds That Tea Party Supporters Are Generally Conservative Republicans

Another Gallup poll has demonstrated what we already knew–Tea Party supporters are generally part of the conservative Republican base:

There is significant overlap between Americans who identify as supporters of the Tea Party movement and those who identify as conservative Republicans. Their similar ideological makeup and views suggest that the Tea Party movement is more a rebranding of core Republicanism than a new or distinct entity on the American political scene…

While Tea Party supporters are not universal in their backing of Republican candidates, they skew heavily in that direction. About 80% of Tea Party supporters say they will vote for the Republican candidate in their district, slightly lower than the projected 95% Republican vote among conservative Republicans.

This suggests that the potential impact of the Tea Party on Republican chances of winning in congressional and senatorial races this fall — even if supporters turn out in record numbers — may be slightly less than would be expected.

It certainly came as no surprise that the poll showed unfavorable views of both Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi among the Tea Party supporters.

Please Share

House Passes Temporary Medicare Fix After Senate Again Fails To Pass More Comprehensive Legislation

Nancy Pelosi’s misguided attempt to use Medicare as leverage to pass the unemployment and jobs measures in the tax-extenders bill failed. Fortunately Pelosi quickly realized there was no point in continuing this strategy when Senate Republicans again blocked passage. Forty Republicans and Ben Nelson voted against the measure, blocking the measure supported by 57 Democrats. Subsequently Pelosi backed down and the House passed the temporary Medicare fix.

While misguided, at least it can be said that Pelosi meant well, motivated by a desire to promote economic recovery, which certainly could not be said of the Republicans. After the Senate passed a Medicare fix as a separate measure, she was under the mistaken belief that she had some leverage over Senate Republicans by blocking a vote on the Senate measure.

I am surprised at how badly Pelosi misread the Republicans. Republicans were willing to vote for the Medicare “doc fix” but certainly would not be heartbroken if it failed and they could blame Democrats for destroying Medicare. Even if they were actually in support of the measure, their opposition to spending money on jobs or the unemployed certainly trumped any such feelings.

Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan (where we recently fell to the number two in unemployment, now surpassed by Nevada)  summed  up the Republican mind set here:

It is very clear that the Republicans in the Senate want this economy to fail. They see that things are beginning to turn around. You know the numbers. When this president took office, we were losing 750,000 jobs a month. … Now we are gaining jobs. … Unfortunately, and cynically [on their part], in cynical political terms, it doesn’t serve them in terms of their elections if things are beginning to turn around.

I believe when you look at this bill, which is all paid for — we raised revenues to pay for it — the one piece that is technically not paid for [is the federal unemployment benefit extensions and] that is done in a way that we have always done it, … [those are] always categorized as an emergency. And, frankly, if 15 million people without jobs is not an emergency, I don’t know what is.

Ezra Klein provided this political interpretation earlier in the day when he anticipated the loss on the jobs measures:

And still, it looks like Democrats might lose the vote today. And when I say “lose the vote,” I don’t mean that a majority of the Senate will vote against it. I mean that 58 senators, rather than 60, will support the legislation. All Republicans, and possibly Ben Nelson, appear to remain opposed. And why not? The less that Democrats appear to be doing on jobs — and the fewer jobs that Democrats actually create — the better Republicans will do in November. Substantial compromises on the bill haven’t brought any new votes, and that’s in part because Republicans see no political upside in passing the legislation.

While it made no sense for Pelosi to believe that the threat of not passing the Medicare fix would get Republicans to vote for unemployment benefits, at least she did quickly back down and get the Medicare fixed later the same day.

Getting this passed quickly was important for a number of reasons. After postponing the processing of payments since the beginning of June, Medicare began processing payments with the 21 percent cut. It will now be necessary to reissue these checks with the updated amount. Earlier in the week I saw estimates that this would cost $15 million, and this would increase with every batch of Medicare payments which must be reprocessed. The delay also increases expenses for physicians and undermines confidence in Medicare. This might lead more doctors, who now see Medicare patients at a considerable discount compared to commercial payers,  to decide against accepting Medicare patients.

Now that it is established that both parties agree that this needs to be fixed, hopefully we can also achieve a permanent fix to the Medicare payment formula before the end of the year. Attempts last year failed because the Republicans had wanted to include this cost in the cost of health care reform and use it as another bogus argument against reform. Now that health care reform has been passed hopefully the Republicans will not see further political gain in blocking a permanent fix.

Please Share