Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Don't Believe the Fiscal Cliff Hype

For the past week, GOP lawmakers have been falling over themselves to move away from Grover Norquist, pied piper of low tax rates on rich people (see Daily Meme. Tennessee Senator Bob Corker said that he was not “obligated on the pledge,” and Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss followed suit, telling a local TV station that he cares “more about his country” than a “20-year-old pledge.” Likewise, South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham declared that he would violate his promise for the good of the country, only if Democrats will "do entitlement reform."

How Not to Appeal to Asian Americans

House Committee on Education and the Workforce Dem / Flickr

Of the various post-election stories, the GOP’s “Latino problem” is one of the most prominent. At some point over the last three weeks, every prominent Republican leader has had something to say about the party’s poor performance with Latino voters.

Less remarked upon, but just as important, is the GOP’s abysmal showing with Asian Americans. Most exit polls show President Obama winning Asian Americans 3-to–1, a larger spread than his margin among Latinos, and second only to African Americans, who gave nearly all of their votes to the president.

What Do Republicans Want?

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

As we head into negotiations on the Austerity Trap (better known by the inaccurate moniker "fiscal cliff," which I refuse to use), there's a clear narrative emerging. This narrative has it that Democrats want to see taxes increase on rich people, which Republicans aren't happy about, while Republicans want to see entitlement "reform," which Democrats aren't happy about. So once everybody gives a little, and Republicans accept some tax increases for the rich while Democrats accept some "reform" of Social Security and Medicare, then we can have a happy ending.

The problem with this is that while the Democrats' position is quite clear—the Bush tax cuts should expire for income over $250,000—the Republicans' position is extremely vague, on both the tax side and the entitlement side. Let's take taxes first. A bunch of Republicans are being praised for their willingness to violate Grover Norquist's pledge to Never Raise Taxes In Any Way Ever Never Ever. Yet they're remaining steadfast that tax rates must stay the same, while allowing that maybe we can trim some deductions for the wealthy. As Steve Benen points out, some are acting like these Republicans are being generous for essentially taking the position that they support Mitt Romney's tax plan. Perhaps they're assuming that the wealthy will be able to cleverly evade any limitation on deductions, so it won't make a difference to their primary constituency. But in any case, we haven't heard them take a specific position. Are they proposing a hard cap on all deductions? Eliminating certain deductions while keeping others? We don't yet know.

Then we get to the price Republicans are going to want to exact for any agreement to stop the Austerity Trap, and this is where they're really vague. They want "reform" of entitlements. And what is "reform," you ask? Well, nobody ever says...

Simpler Is Better

(Flickr / James Milstid)

On Saturday, The Wall Street Journal ran one of its trademark editorials making fun of government red tape—the massive regulations required to implement the Affordable Care Act; the 398 different rulemakings necessary to carry out the Dodd-Frank Act, and a great deal more. 

I seldom agree with the Journal’s editorial page, but it makes an unintentional point: Government regulations have become so complex that they can’t do their job. Or at best, the sheer complexity makes the government sitting ducks for the mischief of industry lobbyists looking to further complicate the rules with loopholes.

Do Republicans Have a Southern Problem?

(Flickr/change-of-venue)

One of the more interesting elements of President Barack Obama’s re-election victory was his strong performance in the South. He won Virginia and Florida—again—and came close to a win in North Carolina, where he lost by just two points. “Obama’s 2012 numbers in the Southeastern coastal states,” writes Douglas Blackmon for The Washington Post, “outperformed every Democratic nominee since Carter and significantly narrowed past gaps between Democratic and Republican candidates.”

Another Defeat for the NRA

Earlier this year, I did a lengthy series for Think Progress detailing how the National Rifle Association's power to influence elections is wildly overestimated by nearly everyone in Washington (here's Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4). The group's advocates argued that I was wrong, and in fact the NRA retains the ability to get its friends elected and defeat its enemies. So how did they do in this year's election?

The answer is, abysmally. The Sunlight Foundation put together data on outside spending from a variety of interest groups, and the data show how poorly the NRA did. At the top of the ticket, of course, they failed to defeat the man whom they have promised is coming to take everyone's guns (despite the fact that he is not actually coming to take anyone's guns). Through their two political committees, the Political Victory Fund and the Institute for Legislative Action, the NRA spent $13.4 million on the presidential race, to no avail. But the Senate is where their futility was really striking.

Scott Walker Figures It Out

What does a 2016 presidential aspirant do when his state votes Democratic? Rig the next election, of course. Wisconsin didn't turn into the swing state Scott Walker, Mitt Romney and the GOP had wished, with Obama carrying it by more than six percent and Democrat Tammy Baldwin winning an open Senate seat. Walker, the union-busting Koch brothers buddy, has pinpointed the source of the GOP's woes in Wisconsin—its liberal voting laws. "States across the country that have same-day registration have real problems," Walker 

Remember that Provisional Ballot Problem?

(Flickr/Joe Hall)

Ohio has finally begun to tally provisional ballots. This was supposed to be the moment we were all waiting for—back when the presidential election was going to be airtight and everyone was worried about elections administration in the ultimate battleground. Instead, the Obama campaign won a decisive victory, so few kept following the counting in Ohio. But even without an audience, the state's court battles continued well after Election Day. While the presidential race may not hang in the balance, the outcomes of two legislative races will determine a whether Republican lawmakers have a supermajority—which would allow them to easily pass a conservative agenda, including more attempts at voter suppression.

Weird Science

This totally happened, probably.

Twenty years or so ago, a few politicians got caught when somebody asked them the price of a gallon of milk and they didn't know the answer. As a consequence, campaign managers and political consultants started making sure their candidates knew the price of milk and a few similar items like a loaf of bread, should they ever be called upon to assure voters that they do in fact visit the supermarket and are thus in touch with how regular folk live their lives. In a similar but somewhat more complex game of gotcha, Marco Rubio is the latest Republican politician to express discomfort about the question of the earth's age. Unfortunately, unlike the price of milk, that's not a question upon which people of every ideology agree. But if you're a politician wondering what you should answer if you get asked the question, here's a guide to the possibilities, and what each one says about you. There are 4 possible answers:

Rush's Dream Journal

Republicans drifted through much of 2012 in trickle-down fantasyland, self-deporting to a mystical world where Mitt Romney's rightward shift during the primary helped their candidate. Election Day shook the party awake, forcing Republicans to reckon with their purity problem. Louisiana Governor and 2016 wannabe Bobby Jindal disavowed Romney's they-just-want-gifts comment all last week, and the Sunday shows featured a barrage of Republicans disparaging the man they had envisioned as president.

Ideological Positioning for the 2016 Primaries Has Begun

Andrew Cuomo, looking confidently into the future. (Flickr/Patja)

In 2012, the ideological question that Republican candidates confronted was really nothing more than whether or not they hated Barack Obama, a test they all passed. But what if you're running for the Democratic nomination in 2016? There may not actually be much to distinguish the candidates from one another. Now that the issue of marriage equality is pretty much settled within the party, if you put together a group of Democrats with national ambitions, they'll have the same positions on pretty much everything.

Which brings us to the interesting case of New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who is almost certainly running for president in 2016. Over the weekend, Chris Hayes explained that "Democrats can't count on New York's supposedly Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo," and Salon's Alex Pareene wrote a piece headlined "Andrew Cuomo, Fake Democrat." Both were criticizing Cuomo for seeming to undermine his chances of getting what you'd think every governor would want, a legislature controlled by his party. Right now control of the State Senate hinges on a couple of as-yet-undecided races, and to some observers it seems like Cuomo would actually rather have a divided legislature. Pareene offers his take on why:

Anti-Testing: Unlikely Common Ground?

(Flick/ cliff1066â„¢)

At first glance, the 2012 elections didn’t seem to have much bearing on education policies. After all, the fundamental debates around schools—whether to increase the role of testing, merit pay, charter schools, and school choice—are, for the most part, outside the realm of partisan politics. Among both Democratic and Republican leadership, there’s a fair amount of consensus in the self-proclaimed reform agenda, which seeks to make schools more like a marketplace and relies on testing to offer metrics for success. It’s the one area where the parties seem to agree.

No, Conservatives, Benghazi Is Not Worse Than Watergate

Richard Nixon delivering his resignation speech.

On Friday, I got into a little Twitter tete-a-tete with Jim Treacher of the Daily Caller over this post I wrote last week, which argued that the reason conservatives are acting as though the aftermath of the events in Benghazi is the scandal of the century is that they're frustrated that Barack Obama hasn't had a major scandal, so they're making as big a deal as possible out of whatever's handy. What ensued opened my eyes to something I found surprising, though I suppose I shouldn't have been so naïve. It turns out that many conservatives not only believe Benghazi is far, far more serious than Watergate was, they seem to have no idea what Watergate was actually about or how far-reaching it was. After the number of Treacher's followers tweeting me with "How many people died in Watergate? Huh? Huh?" reached triple digits (each tweet no doubt considered by its author to be a snowflake of insight), I decided that since the story broke 40 years ago, we all might need a reminder of why Watergate was, in fact, a really big deal.

The Great Society's Next Frontier

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

As The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein declared shortly after voters re-elected President Barack Obama, one of the major winners last week was health-care reform. With Democrats holding on to the Senate and the White House, Republicans will be unable to repeal the law before all of its provisions go into effect in 2014—after which, the theory goes, the public will come to accept that government has the responsibility to ensure health care is available for all. 

This is the end of a long battle for progressives: Health care has been the major missing piece of our welfare state for nearly a century, and for decades making it a part of our system of social insurance has been a primary goal of politicians, think tanks, and activists. With this piece of the progressive puzzle in place, the natural question to ask is, What’s next for the welfare state?

One useful way of thinking broadly about what the welfare state should provide comes from Lane Kenworthy, a sociologist and political scientist at Arizona State University. According to Kenworthy, the welfare state should accomplish three things: It should act as a safety net, providing a basic level of security for the poor and protecting citizens from sharp declines in income or unanticipated expenses; like a springboard, it should create opportunities for upward mobility; and, like an escalator, it should ensure that living standards rise across the board as the economy grows. Below are ways that liberals could fix the holes in the current safety net, expand opportunity, and make sure a growing economy benefits everyone.

Nobody's Fault but Their Own

(Flickr/George Allen for Senate)

If there was anything Republicans should have been surprised about in this month’s elections, it was their rout in the Senate. Not only did Republicans lose races against vulnerable Democratic incumbents in GOP leaning states—Missouri, Florida, Montana—but they also lost almost every competitive open race and failed to hold a vacant one in Indiana.

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