Elephants In The Room - July 27, 2011

1 hour ago by Media Matters Action Network

A daily look at the Republican presidential primary campaign.

Michele Bachmann got a home loan from a government-backed program she wants to eliminate.

Nate Silver thinks the Mitt Romney and Rick Perry might be “dual front-runners.”

Tim Pawlenty rejects Speaker John Boehner’s debt ceiling plan…

…and a member of his steering committee switches to supporting Romney.

Herman Cain is trying to reach out to Muslims. Yes, that Herman Cain.

Cain and Perry have the highest “positive intensity” scores of the potential GOP candidates.

Jon Huntsman tries out a speech attacking his former boss.

Romney has an ad out attacking President Obama on jobs. Yes, that Mitt Romney:


Speaker Boehner's Debt Plan Will Definitely "Hurt Some People"

1 hour and 57 minutes ago by Alan Pyke

Young Guns co-author and GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) rallied his troops at yesterday's caucus meeting by playing a clip from last summer's bank-robber flick, The Town. Ben Affleck's character says, "I need your help. I can't tell you what it is, you can never ask me about it later, and we're gonna hurt some people." His accomplice's only question is, "Whose car are we gonna take?"

The quip is catchy, and given the state of play within the party today, Republicans could use a unifying moment. But if Republicans are going to link arms and support Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) plan, it will definitely "hurt some people." Who? Either retirees or poor people. But definitely not the wealthy.

Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains why Boehner's plan is likely to "produce the greatest increase in poverty and hardship produced by any law in modern U.S. history":

House Speaker John Boehner's new budget proposal would essentially require, as the price of raising the debt ceiling again early next year, a choice between deep cuts in the years immediately ahead in Social Security and Medicare benefits for current retirees, repeal of health reform's coverage expansions, or wholesale evisceration of basic assistance programs for vulnerable Americans.

The plan is, thus, tantamount to a form of "class warfare." If enacted, it could well produce the greatest increase in poverty and hardship produced by any law in modern U.S. history.

This may sound hyperbolic, but it is not. [...]

§  The first round of cuts under the Boehner plan would hit discretionary programs hard through austere discretionary caps that Congress will struggle to meet; discretionary cuts thus will largely or entirely be off the table when it comes to achieving the further $1.8 trillion in budget reductions. As Speaker Boehner's documents make clear, virtually all of the $1.8 trillion would need to come from cuts in entitlement programs. (Cuts in entitlement spending totaling more than $1.5 trillion would produce sufficient interest savings to achieve $1.8 trillion in total savings.)

§  To secure $1.5 trillion in entitlement savings over the next ten years would require draconian policy changes. Policymakers would essentially have three choices: 1) cut Social Security and Medicare benefits heavily for current retirees[...]; 2) repeal the Affordable Care Act's coverage expansions while retaining its measures that cut Medicare payments and raise tax revenues, even though Republicans seek to repeal many of those measures as well; or 3) eviscerate the safety net for low-income children, parents, senior citizens, and people with disabilities. There is no other plausible way to get $1.5 trillion in entitlement cuts in the next ten years.

Put another way, the plan is consistent with the stated Republican desire to slash safety net programs and avoid addressing the revenue side of the equation. Yet because this draconian stuff just isn't strong enough for the radicals that make up his caucus, one of Boehner's top deputies has to whip support for his plan by reassuring his colleagues: "We're gonna hurt some people."

Sen. Coburn's 'Cut First, Ask Questions Later' Attitude Draws More Criticism

2 hours and 46 minutes ago by Jamison Foser

Rep. Tom Coburn

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) earns a rebuke from his state's second-largest newspaper:

Coburn attack on bridge plan not fully informed

It's awfully easy to take cheap shots at government spending, as U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn has demonstrated over and over and over again. [...]

The Oklahoma Republican, who's become the poster boy for the cut-spending crowd, recently targeted what he deems wasteful spending in an "Oklahoma Waste Report." His top example was a double-decker bridge over the Arkansas River that could accommodate rail transportation in the future. [...]

In fact, it's myopic thinking like Coburn's that is in part responsible for the higher construction costs we're having to pay to improve and expand our highway system. Because nobody thought to acquire rights of way decades ago when the highway system was planned, we're having to pay for that property now at much, much higher prices.

Oklahoma Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley recently defended the double-decker structure. "All we're doing is building it where a future rail line could be built on the bridge, making it where it is not prohibitive," he said. "You can't go back and do it. It does leave the option open."

Accusing Coburn of failing to "look past the superficial arguments to the long-term and sometimes not-so-obvious value" of the bridge, the editorial concludes: "is it too much to ask that he consider the other side of the story, as told by respected and experienced leaders from his own home state?"

The Tulsa World's criticism that Coburn rushed to judgment about the bridge funding without considering the views of local officials is reminiscent of a report last month that Coburn attacked projects funded by the National Science Foundation without first seeking input from scientists involved in the projects, despite his office's claim to have done so. Earlier this month, Coburn was criticized by a NSF board member for "scientifically irrational and fiscally shortsighted" proposed cuts.

Coburn, like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), is fond of producing lengthy lists of ostensibly wasteful and absurd government spending in an effort to enhance his reputation for fiscal responsibility. But these lists are actually an indication of the exact opposite. The funding in question tends to be absolutely trivial in the context of the federal budget — the Tulsa World notes that the element of the bridge to which Coburn objected "will cost only about $6 million." And projects aren't selected for the chopping block based on a substantive analysis of their worthiness, but because they sound funny.

That's an approach you'd expect from a third-grader, not a United States senator who aspires to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, the result of this juvenile approach is not that the people responsible for it are laughed off the stage, but rather that the public has an inflated view of role of wasteful and absurd spending in the government's budget.

Rep. Cantor's Comically Dishonest Case For The GOP Debt Plan

3 hours and 30 minutes ago by Matt Finkelstein

Rep. Eric Cantor

House Republicans are having some trouble selling Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) latest debt-reduction proposal. The White House has indicated President Obama would veto Boehner's plan, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has declared it "dead on arrival" in the upper chamber, and even House conservatives and right-wing advocacy groups are rallying against it. GOP leaders are so desperate that they tried to pump up their caucus yesterday by showing a movie clip in which Ben Affleck announces his desire to "hurt some people" before donning a hockey mask and beating another character senseless.   

Last night, Fox News broadcast an interview with Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) that was recorded before Republicans decided to delay the vote on Boehner's plan until Thursday. In the interview, Cantor made the case for why skeptical conservatives should embrace the plan (video below the fold):

CANTOR: Well, you know, I think a lot of the folks that have just come to join us realize that there are really three options right now. One is to push us past August 2nd, which many believe will bring on default. [...]

The second option is to go with Harry Reid's plan. Harry Reid's plan is basically giving the president a blank check, giving him what he wants, a blind increase of the debt ceiling to spend money the way he wants.

And the fact is, it's his spending and the promotion of his policies that have wrecked this economy. So what we say, the third option is, let's go about making sure that we're dollar for dollar, increase the debt limit but only if you got commensurate cuts to go along with that. And because the Democrats will not agree with enough cuts to give the president all that he wants, because they want to raise taxes with those cuts, we've agreed to a $1.2 trillion increase, or cuts, to afford a $900 billion dollar increase.

Even for Cantor, this is pathetically dishonest. Let's count the errors: 

(1) There are more than three options. For example, House Republicans could end this crisis immediately by passing a clean increase in the debt ceiling, as they did routinely when controlled Congress under the Bush administration.

(2) Reid's plan is not a "blank check." In fact, Boehner accidentally debunked this falsehood yesterday when he told Rush Limbaugh that raising the debt ceiling simply allows the country to pay its bills for spending that has already happened.

(3) Reid's plan does not let Obama "spend money the way he wants." That power still belongs to Congress, which Cantor presumably understands as the leader of the House majority.

(4) Obama's policies did not "wreck" the economy. The president inherited a recession and a massive deficit that was created by policies that Cantor supported

(5) Cantor demands "dollar for dollar" spending cuts to go along with the increase in the debt ceiling, but Reid's plan already has bigger cuts than Boehner's. Cantor complains that Democrats "want to raise taxes," but Reid's plan doesn't have any new revenues.

However, Cantor did make one honest argument for the Republican plan: "It forces the president back to the table kicking and screaming about taxes and spending in an election year, which he does not want to do." That's a clear admission that Republicans are more interested in playing politics than acting responsibly. 

Read the full entry ...

Rep. Peter King Rejects Rep. Ellison's Request To Testify At Radicalization Hearing

4 hours and 27 minutes ago by Matt Gertz

Rep. Peter King

Yesterday, we reported that the sole Muslim who Rep. Peter King (R-NY) had called to testify at today's House Homeland Security Committee hearing on the recruitment of Muslim Somali-Americans by the Somali-based terror group al-Shabaab is actually Canadian. We asked whether the reason for that was the widespread opposition in the Somali-American community to King's hearings on Muslim radicalization.

It turns out that King actually rejected the request by one Muslim who did seek to testify: Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN). As the representative for the Minneapolis, MN community from which many of the young Somali-Americans in question were recruited, Ellison has unique expertise on the subject. Minnesota Post reported:

Peter King, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, denied Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison's request to testify before at a committee hearing on Islamic radicalization scheduled for Wednesday.

Ellison, a Democrat who is the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, sent King a letter Monday asking if he could testify at a hearing on the Al-Shabaab terrorist organization operating in Somalia. The hearing is the third in a series of controversial meetings on the matter of radical Islam in America.

King responded that Wednesday's hearing is an extension of the first couple the committee has held, and since Ellison testified at the first hearing on the issue, in March, he would not be permitted to testify Wednesday.

"I look forward to working with you as we continue our urgent efforts to address growing threats of Islamic radicalization across the nation," King wrote in a letter to Ellison. King encouraged him to submit written testimony for the congressional record, which Ellison spokeswoman Jennifer Gore said he "absolutely" will do.

ThinkProgress notes: "Ellison's powerful and effective testimony before King's first hearing about Muslim radicalization may be part of the reason he was turned down to testify before this one."

Gun Lobby Distortion On U.S. Guns In Mexico Falls Apart

4 hours and 44 minutes ago by Chris Brown

Sen. Chuck Grassley

Last month, Political Correction reported on Sen. Chuck Grassley's (R-IA) misleading use of a State Department cable to write a memo that suggested the United States was not a large source of guns for the Mexican cartels, when in fact the cable said the exact opposite.

In the same memo, Grassley asked the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) a series of questions about sources of guns found in Mexico. The San Francisco Chronicle obtained a copy of the response Grassley received that shows hardly any of the guns submitted by the Mexican government were traced to any country other than the United States.

Previously, the ATF reported in a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) that 20,504 guns submitted for tracing by the Mexican government were U.S.-sourced firearms — roughly 70% of the 29,284 firearms submitted for tracing.

In response, Grassley assailed the ATF in his memo, repeatedly suggesting that South American countries were the source of many of those firearms. The Chronicle notes that "the claim that Mexican cartels rely on huge stocks of military surplus weaponry from civil wars in Central America is the mantra of pro-gun organizations."

Here are the four questions from Grassley's memo about the foreign sources of guns found in Mexico 2009 and 2010:

How many can be traced to the military of Guatemala?  How many can be traced to the military of Honduras?  How many can be traced to the military of El Salvador?  How many can be traced to other Central American and South American militaries?

The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting the answer Grassley got back was: 346. Roughly 1% of crime guns submitted by Mexico to be traced "were traced to any other nation besides the United States."

Not surprisingly, Grassley hasn't released the answer he got from the ATF.

NFIB Health Care Report: McKinsey Part II

5 hours and 24 minutes ago by Meredith Kormes

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) has released a new report claiming to show the negative impact of the Affordable Care Act on small businesses. With similar results to the debunked McKinsey report, NFIB found 57 percent of respondents were "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to explore dropping their firm's health care coverage if employees began to leave the plan for health care exchanges.

NFIB is a right-leaning small business advocacy group that in April confirmed its commitment to "overturning the federal health care plan." It is also a plaintiff in one of the major lawsuits that challenge the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, and ran ads in the 2010 election lying about the health care law. So the fact that the results support the NFIB's anti-ACA position shouldn't be surprising. 

However, the report shows that even a year its passage, just 18 percent of small-business owners claim to be "very familiar" with the health care law. And less than half of employers surveyed are familiar with the specifics law — 52 percent of respondents said they didn't know that health care law provides tax credits to small businesses that have or will provide health insurance.

Additionally, the way the key question about dropping health care coverage is framed misrepresents how the law actually works. According to The Hill:

The NFIB survey said employers will be more likely to quit offering health benefits if large numbers of employees choose to pass up the employer-based coverage and instead buy a plan through the newly created insurance exchanges.

But few employees will likely have that option, critics of the survey note. 

Most people who buy coverage through the exchanges will get a government subsidy to help make insurance more affordable. But subsidies aren't available to anyone whose company offers a healthcare plan that costs less than 9.5 percent of his or her income.

So the NFIB survey's question is backward, the law's supporters argue — employees would head to the exchanges if their companies quit offering healthcare, rather than employers dropping coverage because their employees aren't taking it.

Another figure from the study claims that in the last 12 months "one in eight (12%) small employers have either had their health insurance plans terminated or been told that their plan would not be available in the future" and that "plan elimination is the first major consequence of" the health care law. Yet, Politico reported that "NFIB senior fellow Denny Dennis, who wrote the group's report on small businesses dropping insurance, said there's no 'slam dunk' evidence the health law is responsible."

Despite the indications that this study has flaws, conservatives are latching on to it. The Wall Street Journal hyped the study in an op-ed on Friday. Fox News had American Action Forum president Douglas Holtz-Eakin on Tuesday to push the study. Congress is beginning to pile on, too, with a press release from the House Energy and Commerce Committee touting the study and the Wall Street Journal op-ed and a House Small Business Committee hearing later this week featuring testimony from the report's author.

As history has shown us, Republicans don't drop good talking points, even if they prove to be false. 

Leftovers - July 26, 2011

July 26, 2011 6:16 pm ET by Media Matters Action Network

Neither the administration nor the GOP likes Speaker John Boehner's debt limit plan...

...and the Congressional Budget Office says its savings would come up short.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor says his party should "stop grumbling and whining."

Rep. David Wu resigns.

At President Obama's request, the public calls their representatives about the debt ceiling.

The U.K. sees very weak growth a year after its austerity measures.

"The Undefeated" filmmaker also made a Citizens United-funded film about conservative women:

Speaker Boehner Debunks His Own "Blank Check" Lie

July 26, 2011 4:16 pm ET by Alan Pyke

In his hurry to rebut President Obama in prime time last night, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) tripped over his own feet. By decrying the once-routine process of "clean" increases in the debt ceiling as "a blank check," the Republican leader indicated he either fails to grasp how the debt ceiling works or he is a liar. In an interview today with Rush Limbaugh, the Speaker proved that it's the latter.

After compounding last night's mistake by telling Limbaugh that Obama "wants a $2.4 trillion blank check," Boehner spelled out exactly why his own talking point is false. "The debt ceiling is about debts that America has already incurred, obligations that we've already made," he explained. "It's like you're going up and buying something on your credit card: You're obligated to pay for it," he added, describing what he called "the moral obligation of our government to meet its debts."

RUSH LIMBAUGH: And of course the vast majority of people that voted last November actually want the debt ceiling lowered. That's what this is about, they want it lowered, they want spending really reduced, 'cause we don't have the money, we can't afford it, they're worried about their kids' futures.

BOEHNER: Let's separate the two issues, Rush. The debt ceiling is about debts that America has already incurred, obligations that we've already made. It's like you're going up and buying something on your credit card: You're obligated to pay for it. And these debts have already been incurred, and frankly I think it's the moral obligation of our government to meet its debts. Having said that, it is time— you know, if you're charging more than what you can afford, it's time to start spending less.


In other words, Boehner knows full well this is about our credit card bill, not our checkbook. This is the second time in a week that the Speaker of the House has called in to Rush, but his pandering to the right isn't going well.

A few hours after Boehner debunked his own lie, the Speaker's big plan for avoiding a default crisis has been rejected by conservative groups from FreedomWorks to Americans for Prosperity to the Club for Growth, as well as Boehner's supposed ally, Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH). A GOP Speaker of the House is supposed to use Rush Limbaugh to martial his forces and move the debate in his preferred direction. Instead, John Boehner's disagreeing with himself on the air as the professional right lines up against him, and all the while the American economy drifts closer and closer to disaster.

Gov. Scott Minimizes Consequences Of Default: "The Market Has Already Priced It In"

July 26, 2011 3:08 pm ET by Kate Conway

Gov. Rick Scott

Reasonable people — and even quite a few relatively unreasonable people — recognize that the debt ceiling must be raised in order to avoid economic catastrophe. Quibbles over ­whether the debt ceiling needs to increase are no longer at issue; what's holding up negotiations is Republican leaders' demand for severe spending cuts — and more recently, their determination to refuse any offer of compromise from Democrats.

Even some of the most hard-right Republicans have reversed their ideologically driven opposition to raising the debt ceiling once the reality of the consequences hits home. Mere months after suggesting that there should be no lift at all in the debt limit without spending cuts, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) changed course and urged Congress to act "immediately" once he realized a federal downgrade could also harm his state's credit rating.

But Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) has seen no such light. Providing further proof that his self-acclaimed experience as a businessman isn't backed up by any genuine understanding of markets or even common sense, Scott is ignoring the advice of economists, credit rating agencies, and the business community to insist that there would be "minimal" impact if the debt limit isn't raised because "the market has already priced it in." From the Miami Herald:

"The impact would be minimal," Scott said. [...] "I don't think anybody knows, because it's never happened," he said. "I believe the markets understand where the federal government is. They understand where the spending is, so I think the market has already priced it in."

So what would Scott do to break the impasse in Washington?

"I would not increase the debt ceiling," he said. "I would take this opportunity to really restructure government and really look at how we're spending our money."

Reasonable people don't form arbitrary beliefs about what the market will or won't do. They evaluate the evidence, listen to the experts, and make an informed decision. And to a reasonable person, warnings about a credit downgrade that would raise borrowing rates and throw the global economy into chaos wouldn't look like an "opportunity to really restructure government"; it would be a wake-up call that the U.S. had better get its act together to pay its bills before the consequences are irreversible.

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