Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Ringside Seat: You Don't Know Jeb

Jeb Bush followed a time-honored tradition Monday morning, one set forth by past generations of sensible politicians contemplating a run for the Republican presidential nomination: He ditched his sane policy views to appeal to the far right. During a Today Show interview previewing his upcoming book, Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution , Bush—the esteemed former Florida governor and older brother to the country's most disastrous president—said immigration reform should not include a path for citizenship. That's a sharp break from his past views, a full Mitt Romney-style pivot to right-wing ideology. Much like baby bro George W, Jeb has spent years shouting a clarion call that the GOP is on a path toward electoral doom unless they stop alienating Hispanic voters. He penned Wall Street Journal op-eds as recently as January advocating for citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Yet in his new book he writes , "It is absolutely vital to the integrity of our immigration system...

Jeb Bush Flip-Flops on Immigration Reform

World Affairs Council of Philadelphia
World Affairs Council of Philadelphia Just six weeks ago, in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal , former Florida governor Jeb Bush endorsed a path to citizenship as part of a comprehensive immigration reform solution, following the path established by both his brother—George W. Bush—and President Obama. As he wrote at the time, "A practicable system of work-based immigration for both high-skilled and low-skilled immigrants— a system that will include a path to citizenship —will help us meet workforce needs, prevent exportation of jobs to foreign countries and protect against the exploitation of workers." [Emphasis added] At the time—again, just six weeks ago—this was the mainstream position of Republicans working on immigration reform. The framework endorsed by Florida Senator Marco Rubio and other lawmakers included a path to citizenship, with varying penalties for immigrants who came to the United States illegally. Now, with Rubio attacking Obama for holding ideas shared by both...

Republicans for Election Reform?

Flickr/Joseph Holmes
Election reformers were expecting big things from this year’s State of the Union address. They knew that President Barack Obama had invited 102-year-old Desiline Victor, a Floridian who’d waited three hours to cast her ballot. They had heard him acknowledge the many folks who stood in long lines when he ad-libbed in his election-night speech, “We have to fix that.” They were encouraged when he subsequently acknowledged the need for a broad range of fixes to the broken system. Hopes for an ambitious reform package were high. But Obama’s big reveal seemed less than inspiring: a bipartisan commission to study the problem. This is indeed a promising moment for bipartisan election reform, but that reform isn’t likely to come from Washington. Instead, it’s likely to emerge from the states where party lines on election reform are beginning to blur. This year, new laws to improve elections and expand voting may pass not only in blue states like New...

Virginia, Say Hello to the Sequester

Official U.S. Navy Imagery, Flickr/Jo Naylor
Official U.S. Navy Imagery Tugboats guide the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman to its new berth at Norfolk Naval Shipyard. V irginia didn't just weather the Great Recession; it thrived. Because of its reliance on federal dollars, the state was insulated from the worst of the economic crisis. At no point over the last five years, for instance, did joblessness reach 8 percent. Its peak was 7.4 percent in January 2010, and since then, it's declined to just 5.5 percent—one of the lowest rates in the country. But that was before the sequester. Every state will lose funding as a result of the $85.4 billion in across-the-board spending cuts, but because of its close ties to Washington and the military, Virginia might see the worst of it. Already, Governor Bob McDonnell has warned the commonwealth risks falling into recession. "The automatic sequestration reductions mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 are already having a significant adverse effect on the Commonwealth...

Sequestration Nation and Remembering Robert Kennedy

Flickr/Kemon01
With the sequester now beginning, I find myself thinking about Robert F. Kennedy—and 46 years ago when I was an intern in his Senate office. 1967 was a difficult time for the nation. America was deeply split over civil rights and the Vietnam War. Many of our cities were burning. The war was escalating. But RFK was upbeat. He was also busy and intense—drafting legislation, lining up votes, speaking to the poor, inspiring the young. I was awed by his energy and optimism, and his overriding passion for social justice and the public good. (Within a few months he’d declare his intention to run for president. Within a year he’d be dead.) The nation is once again polarized, but I don’t hear our politicians talking about social justice or the public good. They’re talking instead about the budget deficit and sequestration. At bottom, though, the issue is still social justice. The austerity economics on which we’ve embarked is a cruel hoax—cruel because it hurts those who are already hurt the...

The Maximum Impact of the Minimum Wage

AP Photo/Mike Groll
Cristina Romer, Berkeley economics professor and the former head of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, passed judgment on the merits of raising the minimum wage in Saturday’s New York Times , and in the process made clear why she wasn’t a member of the president’s de facto council of political advisers. She argued, as some mainstream economists do, that the merits of a heightened minimum wage were slight—that it may, for instance, raise prices, offsetting the gain to low-wage workers. The better solution, she argues, is to raise the earned income tax credit (EITC)—the government’s payment to the working poor—and to support universal pre-K education. “Why settle for half-measures,” she concludes (by which she means raising the minimum wage), “when such truly first-rate policies [by which she means the EITC and pre-K schooling] are well understood and ready to go?” Ready to go? Congressional Republicans are rarin’ to increase government spending on the working poor and...

The Sequester: A Mental-Health Crisis

Flickr/ranchocanyon
Flickr/ranchocanyon I f you've been reading The New York Times , The Washington Post and hearing statements by Republicans denouncing the sequester "hype," you may have been lulled into thinking that it won't be so bad after all. The country has apparently reacted with a "collective yawn" to the $85 billion across-the-board cuts that began last Friday, the Associated Press proclaims. "The sword of Damocles turns out to be made of Styrofoam," the Times reports. But the sword feels much sharper for families, advocates, and local officials who rely on government funding to treat and care for those with mental illness. Starting April 1 , cuts to the Mental Health Block Grant program alone will deprive over 373,000 seriously mentally ill and seriously emotional disturbed children of services, according to a White House fact sheet . Experts also say that nearly 9,000 homeless people with serious mental illness won't receive the outreach and social-work assistance offered by PATH , a vital...

Gun Control’s Long Game

AP Photo/Mike Groll
AP Photo/Mike Groll Y ou could be forgiven for thinking that recent news out of New York proves gun-rights supporters have lawmakers on the run. In mid-February, 500 outraged opponents of gun restrictions held a rally in Albany’s freezing temperatures to protest the state’s new gun-control regulations passed January 15. The president of a large state gun dealer said on January 21 that tens of thousands of assault rifle owners would boycott an April 2014 registration deadline mandated by the law. An anonymous source in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office responded like a parent who’s given up doing anything about their acting-out teen: “Many of these assault-rifle owners aren’t going to register; we realize that.” That official called it right. Those who expect the New York SAFE Act— which bans the purchase of new assault weapons and requires registration of those owned before the law took effect—to keep new assault rifles out of New York immediately will probably be disappointed. Local...

Ringside Seat: This Is Your Government on Sequester

Today is the first day of the rest of your sequester, and the cuts are already coming—undocumented immigrants released from detention, furloughs on military bases, agencies scrambling to determine whom they won't be serving and what they won't be doing. The optimistic take on all this is that in a country where people regularly shout at their members of Congress, "Tell the government to keep its hands off my Medicare!", this could be an education. Start cutting back government services, and citizens will come to an understanding of some of the good things government does for them. Then that in turn will make the next crisis less likely, since the public won't stand for it. But how much reason is there for optimism? We've been through government shutdowns before, after all, and we've had our debt-ceiling crises, and none of that seems to have helped. Not only that, this is just the first in a trio of crises: At the end of the month, the continuing resolution under which the federal...

These Aren't the Budget Cuts You're Looking For

White House/Pete Souza
Along with his many accomplishments as president, Barack Obama has given liberals many reasons to be disappointed. Well it looks like we're going to have to add one to the list : "I know that this has been some of the conventional wisdom that's been floating around Washington that somehow, even though most people agree that I'm being reasonable, that most people agree I'm presenting a fair deal. The fact that they don't take it means that I should somehow, you know, do a Jedi mindmeld with these folks and convince them to do what's right. Well, you know, they're elected. We have a constitutional system of government." A betrayal of generations of sci-fi geeks everywhere, who thought Obama was one of them? Or a mere slip of the tongue? Probably the latter. But as everyone knows, Jedis do mind tricks , in which they convince you to do or believe something (e.g. "These aren't the droids you're looking for"), while Vulcans perform mindmelds. Obama was saying that he couldn't perform a...

Boehner on the Fringe

In announcing Thursday that he would no longer negotiate with President Obama over a deal to reduce the nation’s budget deficit, House Speaker John Boehner said that Republicans would support no more tax increases. The question, he said, came down to “how much more money we want to steal from the American people to fund more government. I’m for no more .” Proudhon proclaimed that property is theft. Boehner proclaims that taxation is theft. That’s the kind of claim more associated with fringe parties that have never been in government, parties that argue that their governmental system is no longer legitimate. It’s the language of Beppe Grillo’s xenophobic Five Star Movement in Italy or the neo-fascist Golden Dawn Party in Greece, two nations in which both government corruption and tax evasion are systemic. It’s not the kind of claim we associate with a party that has controlled the executive branch of the U.S. government for 20 of the last 32 years and one or both houses of Congress...

Yet Another Thing Guns Can't Solve

Flickr/ Texas Lightbox
The GOP is worried about women’s safety on campus. Or at least that’s what they’d have you believe of late, howling in protest at Colorado state Democratic representative Joe Salazar’s clumsy remarks about callboxes , and calling out the University of Colorado for teaching young women to vomit, pee, or tell an assailant they have their period in order to avoid rape . And they’re right: Neither call boxes nor vomit are particular effective rape-prevention strategies. Most rapists choose a victim they know, and get them alone in private before they attack—even a pathway fully lined with call boxes won’t prevent much rape, because most of them happen in rooms. And I’m not sure what vomit is supposed to accomplish; rape isn’t inspired by sexual desire, so attempting to douse it is a misdirected strategy. Rapists choose targets they think seem vulnerable, not hot. But there’s a bigger problem with Repubicans’ newfound passion for rape prevention. Their antidote to callboxes and puke is...

Stop the Madness

Flickr/K.P. Tripathi
The sequester has failed. I say that because it was intended as a deterrent, not as something that was ever supposed to go into effect. So because it has gone into effect, it has failed. What should we do now? The answer is simple—not easy, but simple. We have to end this madness, this string of manufactured crises that hamstring the economy and cause enormous amounts of genuine human suffering. Enough is enough. So Congress has to do three things: 1. Repeal the sequester immediately. I've said it before and I'll say it again, this thing just needs to be repealed, period. Not replaced with some other negotiated deficit reduction package, just repealed. Stop the bleeding, and then you can start negotiating what the government's finances will look like in the coming years. But you can't do it with a gun to all of our heads, so it just needs to be repealed. Now. 2. Pass a continuing resolution to allow the government to continue functioning, and immediately begin negotiations to pass an...

Change is Bad. At Least for the VRA

Flickr/Ben Haley
On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder , the fifth time the Voting Rights Act’s Section 5 has been challenged in the high court since it was passed in 1965. Section 5 requires nine states and portions of six others with a history of racial discrimination to have changes to election law “pre-cleared” by the government before going into effect. Every lower court has upheld the provision as constitutional, and Congress reauthorized it four times—always with overwhelming bipartisan support. But Shelby County, Alabama—the plaintiffs in this case—still wonders why it gets treated differently than Tennessee, which is not covered by Section 5 and which passed a voter-ID law—thought by many experts to be aimed at disenfranchising poor and minority voters—without pre-clearance. A similar law was blocked in Texas, which is covered, after it was deemed discriminatory by the Justice Department. Bert Rein, attorney for Shelby County, suggested before...

Automatic Stabilizers: There When Congress Isn't

Flickr/JMazzolaa
As we approach sequestration today the dominant narrative continues to be that the huge run-up in the deficit since the Great Recession has been our greatest political—perhaps even a moral—failure. But it isn’t a failure. This is exactly how the system was designed to work if the economy ever saw a downturn on the scale of the 2008 financial crisis. The deficit is collapsing through the same planned process. As the economy recovers, it is falling quickly, down to 7 percent in 2012, and an estimated 5.3 percent in 2013. These are our "automatic stabilizers" at play. Though it sounds vaguely hydrologic or like a bad steampunk creation, it’s straightforward: The economy will naturally suffer from periods of slack demand in which there isn't enough purchasing power in the economy to produce goods and employ all of our resources, including people. Automatic stabilizers then kick into motion in to counteract this. One important automatic stabilizer is the tax code, which has people pay less...

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