Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

The Five Most Terrifying Things about the Sequester

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
The latest fiscal showdown concerns the “sequester”—across the board cuts to (almost entirely) discretionary spending that will total just over $1 trillion in the next decade, and which are set to take effect on March 1. What should those who have better things to do with their life than follow fiscal policy debates know about the sequester? 1. The sequester will hurt job-growth As we pointed out during the debates raging in the run-up to the “fiscal cliff," the sequester was the second-most damaging component of the austerity bundle set to take effect on January 1, 2013. The worst component was the non-renewal of the payroll tax cut, which is already dragging substantially on the economy . All told, if the sequester kicks in the economy will likely end the year with roughly 500-600,000 fewer jobs than if it were repealed. These are jobs the economy desperately needs . To be clear, the sequester alone won’t drive the U.S. economy back into outright recession, but it surely will make...

Ringside Seat: Times, They Keep on Changin'

Just eight years ago, Republicans were crowing that the terrifying specter of gay people being allowed to marry was an electoral gold mine for them, persuading people to vote for the GOP and bringing their voters out to the polls in force. Things have changed a lot since then—same-sex marriage is now legal in nine states plus the District of Columbia, with more sure to follow, and most polls now show a majority of the public in favor of marriage equality. A few smart Republicans have acknowledged that their party is on the wrong side of history on this issue, and many assume that it will come around eventually. At which point, as they now do on issues of race, they'll claim they were on the right side all along. But for now, there are only a few well-known Republicans publicly favoring same-sex marriage, and it's a good bet that any elected Republican who did would get herself a Tea Party primary challenge in short order. So it was something of a pleasant surprise when we learned that...

Conservatives Shun Popular GOP Governor

Bob Jagendorf / Flickr
Bob Jagendorf / Flickr New Jersey's Chris Christie is now the eighth Republican governor to back Obamacare's Medicaid expansion. Jeffrey Young, writing for the Huffington Post , gives the details : Expanding Medicaid in New Jersey would provide new health care coverage to an estimated 291,000 people through 2022, according to an analysis released by the Urban Institute and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation in November. New Jersey would spend an additional $1.5 billion and receive $15.4 billion from the federal government to finance the expansion during that time period, the report predicted. Politically, there's no question that this will improve his (already impressive) standing with New Jersey voters. What it won't do is help his case with conservative activists, who are angry enough with his position on guns—he supports a new, restrictive proposal in his state—to exclude him from this year's Conservative Political Action Conference. Here's the National Review with more : New...

Secret Wiretapping Cannot Be Challenged Because It's Secret

By delegating broad authority to the executive branch to engage in warrantless wiretapping of Americans, t he Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) raises serious potential constitutional issues. The Fourth Amendment, which forbids "unreasonable" searches and seizures and under which warrantless searches are presumptively unconstitutional, is difficult to square with the kind of powers claimed by Congress and the Executive Branch. Today, however, the Supreme Court decided to duck this crucial constitutional issue based on almost comically illogical reasoning. The Court's 5-4 opinion in Clapper v. Amnesty International was, appropriately enough, written by Samuel Alito, who is more consistently hostile to civil liberties than any justice in at least half a century. The Court ruled that the journalists, organzations, and human rights lawyers bringing the suit lacked the "standing" to bring a lawsuit challenging FISA on 4th Amendment grounds. The American constitutional system...

Victory for the Friends of Hamas!

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff / Flickr
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff / Flickr By a vote of 71 to 27, the Senate closed debate on Chuck Hagel's nomination to lead the Department of Defense, thus beating a Republican filibuster on his confirmation. He is now poised for a final confirmation vote later Tuesday or early Wednesday, even as Republicans continue to object to his views on foreign policy and Middle East security. The " Friends of Hamas " will be pleased.

Does the GOP Have a Forward Vision?

Pew Research Center
Yet another poll shows a public unhappy with the Republican Party's political positioning. According to a new survey from the Pew Research Center, 62 percent of Americans say the GOP is "out-of-touch" compared to 46 percent who say the same for the Democratic Party. Likewise, 52 percent of Americans say Republicans "too extreme"—only 39 percent say that's true of Democrats. Overall, as this graph shows, the public has a pretty negative view of the Republican Party: More important than the GOP's overall popularity, I think, is this finding: Only 45 percent of Americans say that the GOP is looking out for the country's future. It's hard to know exactly what that means—I'd love to see Pew explore the question further—but odds are good it refers to the complete absence of a positive agenda from the GOP. Republicans have returned to their position as the "party of no." In rejecting tax increases of any kind, for any reason, they have all but refused to compromise—either President Obama...

Conservatives Seek to Blot Bob McDonnell's Name from the Book of Reagan

Jamelle Bouie / The American Prospect
Jamelle Bouie / The American Prospect I wrote yesterday that Ken Cuccinelli was the clear winner of the fight over Virginia's new transportation bill. Yes, it passed the General Assembly and is on its way to becoming law, but Cuccinelli successfully positioned himself as an opponent of new spending and higher taxes, and in a low-turnout election where energized supporters are key, Cuccinelli bought himself a small advantage. As did Terry McAuliffe, who—in supporting the bill—positioned himself in the sensible center of Virginia politics. The only loser in this fight, so far, is the governor, Republican Bob McDonnell. In his campaign for the governorship, as Scott Galupo points out for The American Conservative , McDonnell pledged not to raise taxes to pay for new transportation projects. When fully implemented, however, the current bill would raise taxes on Virginians by $6.1 billion over the next five years . Given the trade-off—better roads, bridges and mass transit for more than 8...

Nobody Knows What They're Doing

He loves it when a plan comes together, but he doesn't work in Washington.
In his Washington Post column today, Ezra Klein makes an important point about politics generally and Washington in particular that I think isn't widely enough understood. He calls it "the myth of scheming," and what it amounts to is that in politics, things don't operate they way do in the movies. Or to put it less charitably, nobody knows what the hell they're doing and everyone is bumbling around blindly: This is the most pervasive of of all Washington legends: that politicians in Washington are ceaselessly, ruthlessly, effectively scheming. That everything that happens fits into somebody's plan. It doesn't. Maybe it started out with a scheme, but soon enough everyone is, at best, reacting, and at worst, failing to react, and always, always they're doing it with less information than they need. That's been a key lesson I've learned working as a reporter and political observer in Washington: No one can carry out complicated plans. All parties and groups are fractious and bumbling...

The Sequestering of Barack Obama

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
AP Photo/Susan Walsh President Barack Obama urges Congress to come up with a plan to avert the automatic spending cuts set to kick in on March 1, 2013 last week. P resident Obama has miscalculated both the tactical politics of the sequester and the depressive economic impact of budget cuts on the rest of his presidency. The sequester will cut economic growth in half this year. But it’s now clear, one way or another, that we will get cuts in the $85 billion range that the sequester mandates this fiscal year. All that remains are the details. Obama’s miscalculation began in his fist term, with his embrace of the premise that substantial deficit cutting was both politically expected and economically necessary, and his appointment of the 2010 Bowles-Simpson Commission as the expression of that mistaken philosophy. Although the Commission’s plan was never carried out, its prestige and Obama’s parentage of it locked the president into a deflationary deficit reduction path. This past week,...

Save the Surpluses for Another Rainy Day

Guido Bergmann/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
The last several years have been bleak for state governments. Most had to tap, if not drain, rainy-day funds—money set aside for emergencies. But that usually wasn’t enough to bridge shortfalls. Some raised taxes and other revenue, but for the most part, states relied on cuts. Since 2007, states have slashed nearly $300 billion from their budgets, with health care and education being hardest hit; according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a progressive think tank, over the last five years 23 states have made deep cuts to pre-K and public school spending, while 20 have made major cuts to health care. But the economic recovery that began nearly four years ago is finally beginning to come to states, albeit slowly. Only eight states made emergency mid-year cuts to their budget, and others are finding themselves with more money than they’d budgeted. According to the National Association of State Budget Officers, 34 states wound up with revenues higher than expected. (...

Karl Rove Is Going to Haunt American Politics Forever

Ah, the good old days.
Karl Rove is, it's fair to say, the most famous political consultant of the modern age. There are a few others who achieved notoriety, like Lee Atwater, but none has had quite Rove's profile. He's admired and reviled, has had biographies written about him, and has been satirically immortalized by Stephen Colbert as a canned ham with glasses (" Ham Rove "). This came about partly because he was extremely successful at his craft, and because his success came out of some of the most ruthless and immoral tactics you could imagine, the kind of stuff you ordinarily only see in movies about politics but not in actual politics ( see here for some details). But more than anything else, it was because the politician he drove to the White House was assumed by so many to be a dolt, and therefore the idea of Rove as the evil genius puppetmaster pulling all the strings made sense. After reaching the pinnacle of his profession, most people in Rove's position would have left the actual work of...

Trading The Blame Game for The Bully Pulpit

Flickr/Neon Tommy
The White House apparently believes the best way to strengthen its hand in the upcoming “sequester” showdown with Republicans is to tell Americans how awful the spending cuts will be and blame Republicans for them. It won’t work. These tactical messages are getting in the way of the larger truth, which the president must hammer home: The Republicans’ austerity and trickle-down economics are dangerous, bald-faced lies. Yes, the pending spending cuts will hurt. But even if some Americans begin to feel the pain when the cuts go into effect Friday, most won’t feel it for weeks or months, if ever. Half are cuts in the military, which will have a huge impact on jobs (the military is America’s only major jobs program), but the cuts will be felt mainly in states with large numbers of military contractors, and then only as those contractors shed employees. The other half are cuts in domestic discretionary spending, which will largely affect lower-income Americans. There will be sharp...

Ringside Seat: It's All in the Details

As a number of commentators have pointed out in the last few days, with the sequester looming, the Democrats have a single message they're sending to the public. Republicans, on the other hand, are a bit more muddled. The former say that this will be a disaster, with effects seen in every corner of the country and in too many areas of American life to count. The latter say that it was all Barack Obama's idea, so blame him (even if Republicans voted for it), and besides, Democrats are exaggerating how bad it'll be. But Republicans are facing what they've faced in previous showdowns: When you actually shut down the government or cut it back drastically, the debate moves from the abstract to the specific. And that's not where they want to be. For many decades, political scientists have known that as a group, Americans are "symbolic conservatives" but "operational liberals." They like the idea of "small government," as long as you're staying at that level of abstraction. But they also...

Ken Cuccinelli Makes Smart Moves in Virginia's Transportation Fight

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr Attorney General of Virginia Ken Cuccinelli speaking at the 2012 Liberty Political Action Conference in Chantilly, Virginia. On Saturday, the Virginia General Assembly ended its session by passing a landmark transportation funding bill that would overhaul how Virginians pay for roads, highways and mass transit. The new plan would replace the 17.5 cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline—unchanged for 26 years—with a new 3.5 percent tax on motor fuels that would keep pace with inflation and growth. It allows for lawmakers to divert as much as $200 million in general fund revenue toward transportation instead of other services, and it charges a registration tax on hybrid, electric, and alternative fuel vehicles. Finally, it raises the state sales tax to 5.3 percent, and creates a special funding mechanism for the Hampton Roads area, where sales taxes are bumped to 6 percent to pay for regional transportation improvements. Merits of the law aside (it all but subsidizes...

Better Technology Won't Save the GOP

NewsHour / Flickr
It's hard to argue there isn't a large technology divide between Republicans and Democrats. The Obama campaign was lightyears ahead of Team Romney in terms of its online sophistication, including its presence on social media. As a result, some Republicans argue for a greater focus on technology as a way to appeal to younger voters and recover lost support in national elections. Stuart Stevens, chief guru for the Romney campaign, disagrees. Writing in The Washington Post , he argues that Republicans need a new message—and not just new technology—if they want to make inroads: In this fourth decade of the Internet, one of the original truisms is still true: Content is king. The ugly, clunky Drudge Report site still harvests record numbers of eyeballs because it serves up a hearty meal at a good price: free. The content rule is true across mediums. How many graphic makeovers and relaunches has CNN attempted to arrest its slow slide? The simple truth is that most people feel there is no...

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