Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Barney Frank Walks Back on Hagel

World Economic Forum / Flickr
World Economic Forum / Flickr Republicans straining to present opposition to Chuck Hagel as bipartisan had a small assist from retired Massachusetts lawmaker Barney Frank last week, who because of Hagel’s 1998 criticism of Ambassador James Hormel—he called him “openly, aggressively gay”—said he “ strongly opposed ” his nomination to head the Defense Department. As of today, however, conservatives will no longer be able to cry crocodile tears on gay rights and turn to Frank as an example of anti-Hagel criticism from “both sides.” Here’s the Huffington Post : Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is softening his opposition to Chuck Hagel’s likely nomination as Defense Secretary, saying he is willing to overlook the former Republican senator’s past anti-gay remarks and positions. “As much as I regret what Hagel said, and resent what he said, the question now is going to be Afghanistan and scaling back the military,” Frank told the Boston Globe in an interview. ”In terms of the policy stuff...

The Question Torture Apologists Can't Answer

There may not be much point in trying to relitigate the torture question from the Bush years, but every once in a while that era's torture apologists come back around to make their case, and there is one vital question I've never heard any of them answer: How do the defender's of "enhanced interrogation" (perhaps the most vulgar euphemism since "ethnic cleansing") define torture? I'll explain more in a moment, but this was prompted by an op-ed in Sunday's Washington Post about the film Zero Dark Thirty by Jose Rodriguez, a CIA officer who has defended the administration's torture program on many occasions. Since I haven't seen the film I can't say anything about the way it depicts torture, but Rodriguez takes the opportunity to say this: "I was intimately involved in setting up and administering the CIA’s 'enhanced interrogation' program, and I left the agency in 2007 secure in the knowledge not only that our program worked — but that it was not torture." And why aren't the things the...

Calling McConnell’s Bluff

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
The budget deal that just averted the supposed fiscal cliff was only a warm up. The next fiscal cliff is the $110 billion in automatic budget cuts (sequesters) that last week’s budget deal deferred only until March. But, as long as we are using topographic metaphors, this is less a cliff than a bluff. On the Sunday talk shows, Republican leaders were full of bravado and swagger. Representative Matt Salmon of Arizona, on CBS “Face the Nation” said it was about time “for another government shutdown.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, ruled out any further tax increases, declaring that “the tax issue is finished, over, completed.” He insisted, “Now it’s time to pivot and turn to the real issue, which is our spending addiction.” But is spending really the problem? For most the postwar era, federal tax revenues hovered around 19 percent of GDP, and spending a bit more than that. But for the four years since the financial collapse, federal...

Republicans' 40 Days in the Desert

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite Members of the 113th Congress, many accompanied by family members, take the oath of office in the House of Representatives. T here’s no way to spin the 2011 debt-ceiling crisis as anything other than ridiculous, but it’s easy to understand the mentality that led the GOP to hold the country hostage. Republicans had just won a massive victory in the House of Representatives and conservatives felt validated; the GOP majority was built with candidates who didn’t shy away from the right. Moreover—to the recently elected representatives—the public had sent them to Washington to cut spending , and the debt ceiling was a perfect opportunity to do just that. There’s much less clarity in the current situation. President Obama won re-election by a solid margin , taking 51 percent of the popular vote and 65 million votes overall. Democrats expanded their majority in the Senate, and managed to make a little headway in the House. For as much as it disappointed liberals...

Playing Constitutional Hardball with the Electoral College

Flickr / Politics for Misfits
Republicans are playing Constitutional hardball again. It’s a dangerous game. The GOP may attempt to rig the Electoral College by changing the electoral vote allocation in GOP-controlled states which voted for Barack Obama. The idea would be to shift from the normal winner-take-all plan to something that would split the votes in those states. Ideally, from the Republican point of view, every Republican state would be winner-take-all while all Democratic states would be split more or less evenly, making it almost impossible for a Democrat to win the White House. All of that, as obviously undemocratic as it is , would be perfectly Constitutional; the Constitution leaves every state in charge of how to choose its electors. The idea should be not be seen as a stand-alone. Instead, it’s best thought of as one of a set of schemes Republicans have advanced over the last 20 years. It includes the establishment of the 60-vote Senate; mid-decade redistricting in Texas after Republicans took...

It's Worse than the Status Quo

AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File
In the midst of dealing with the fiscal cliff, Congress passed a one-year extension of the farm bill that eliminated funding for almost every even vaguely innovative agriculture policy and kept in place expensive and outdated subsidies that benefit big agribusiness. From the perspective of anyone interested in making change in America’s farm and food system, it was a disaster. “There's much isn’t to be happy about with this extension,” David deGennaro, a legislative analyst with the Environmental Working Group, said. “If you care about conservation, food production, or reforming the farm bill, this is a bad deal,” said Justin Tatham, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ senior Washington representative for food & environment. “It's worse than the status quo.” “They took all the newer, smaller, but most innovative programs and left them out of the extension,” says Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. At the same time, lawmakers left in...

A Long-Term Fiscal Slope

Liberals felt rightfully disgruntled with the president's capitulations during fiscal-cliff negotiations. Obama abandoned his hard-line stance that tax rates must be increased on incomes over $250,000. Instead the deal made the Bush tax cuts permanent for the vast majority of the country, with rates only rising for individuals earning over $400,000—hardly a sensible definition of the middle class. Yet as he gave up his leverage on automatic tax hikes, Obama's compromise bill punted the sequestration cuts until March 1 and left the necessary hike of the debt ceiling as a lingering threat for the nihilistic House Republicans to exploit for further cuts to discretionary spending. But along with the tax-rate hike on top incomes, Obama did win a few minor concessions when Congress averted the fiscal cliff. Emergency unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed was extended until January 2014 and a host of tax credits for the poor and middle class were extended for five years, all...

Retreat of the Welfare State?

Pete Souza / White House
Pete Souza / White House In two excellent posts, Elias Isquith at his blog , and Ned Resnikoff at MSNBC argue that the broader welfare state—and not just entitlements—is in a state of retreat, and that this has been helped along by liberals in and outside of Washington, who have accepted austerity as a necessary objective. Isquith notes that “liberals are buying into what is fundamentally conservative framing—that we’re already spending as much as we reasonably can, that the government can do no more.” And, echoing that point, Resnikoff writes that “all the political momentum seems to be favoring maintaining our meager welfare state its current size—at best.” While both observations are true, I’m not sure that they’re framed in the right way. Yes, there’s been real retrenchment in the welfare state over the last two years, but how much of that is a product of liberal rhetoric and choices, and how much of it is the logical consequence of an election cycle where radically anti-...

The Final Tally

Scout Tufankjian for Obama for America
Scout Tufankjian for Obama for America It’s been almost two months, but we now have an official tally for the 2012 presidential election. In the end, President Obama won 65.9 million votes—or 51.1 percent—to Mitt Romney’s 60.9 million votes, or 47.2 percent of the vote. It’s a significant drop-off from President Obama’s 2008 total, but compares favorably to other presidential election efforts. Obama’s total vote share is larger than George W. Bush’s in either 2000 or 2004, Bill Clinton’s in 1996 and 1992, Ronald Reagan’s in 1980, and Jimmy Carter’s in 1976. Overall, Obama is the first president since Dwight Eisenhower to win 51 percent of the vote in two elections, and the first Democrat to do so since Franklin Roosevelt. It’s worth noting that the total for Mitt Romney is in line with what polling averages showed for most of the year. At no point during the year did Romney move significantly above 47 percent—he almost always hovered between 46 and 48 percent support. Which, in the...

The GOP's Dangerous Debt-Ceiling Threat

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr Even for someone unmoved by hyper-ideological, right-wing rhetoric, Senator John Cornyn’s most recent op-ed for the Houston Chronicle is astounding in its mendacity and utter disregard for responsible governance. To wit, after engaging in a little bizarro history—where he blames the president for brinksmanship on the debt ceiling and the fiscal cliff, as if Obama has an obligation to implement the GOP agenda—the two-term Texas lawmaker presents a government shutdown as a responsible way to force spending cuts: Over the next few months, we will reach deadlines related to the debt ceiling, the sequester and the continuing appropriations resolution that has funded federal operations since October. If history is any guide, President Obama won’t see fit to engage congressional Republicans until the 11th hour. In fact, he has already signaled an unwillingness to negotiate over the debt ceiling. This is unacceptable. […] The coming deadlines will be the next...

Conservative Projection Takes a New Angle

Flickr/kylebogucki
Peggy Noonan is, without doubt, America's most hilariously ridiculous opinion columnist, someone forever pleading that we ignore piffle like "facts" and focus instead on the collective emotions that are bubbling just out of our awareness until she identifies them. But in her column today , she does something that we ought to take note of, because I suspect it will become a common Republican talking point. Noonan asks why Obama is so darn mean to Republicans, and answers the question thusly: Here's my conjecture: In part it's because he seems to like the tension. He likes cliffs, which is why it's always a cliff with him and never a deal. He likes the high-stakes, tottering air of crisis. Maybe it makes him feel his mastery and reminds him how cool he is, unrattled while he rattles others. He can take it. Can they? He is a uniquely polarizing figure. A moderate U.S. senator said the other day: "One thing not said enough is he is the most divisive president in modern history. He doesn't...

Will There Be a Second-Term Obama Administration Scandal?

Just after the election, I wrote that the reason conservatives were so worked up about the tragic events in Benghazi was scandal envy; they were livid that a president they despise so much had gone an entire term without a major scandal, so they were desperately grasping for whatever was handy. The response I go from many conservatives was vigorous, including assertions that Benghazi was a far worse scandal than Watergate (that necessitated another post explaining, for those who had apparently forgotten, why Watergate was a big deal). But as President Obama's second term begins, we have to wonder: What's the big Obama administration scandal going to be? There might not be one, of course. It's possible that his second term will proceed with nothing but low-grade controversies on the order of Solyndra or Fast and Furious, Darrell Issa's best efforts notwithstanding. The lack of a scandal so far might be a testament to Obama's integrity, but it's just as attributable to good luck. After...

Holding Steady

wools / Flickr
Estimates for December job growth converged at around 150,000 net jobs, and according to today’s report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy created almost exactly that: 155,000 new jobs, with a steady unemployment rate of 7.8 percent. The revisions show an economy that’s a little stronger than it looks; October was revised to 138,000 jobs from 137,000, and November was revised from 146,000 to 161,000. Three years after the stimulus was passed, and just a few months after the latest round of quantative easing, what we have is an economy that turns in steady, but unremarkable, growth. At the current rate, our unemployment rate will slowly decline to 6 percent by the end of President Obama’s term. This isn't a full recovery—unemployment would have to be at the five percent range for that—it would still make Obama a major job creator by historical standards. Current projections hold that the economy will grow by 12 million jobs by the end of 2016. Add to that the nearly 5...

New Year, New Abortion Restrictions

Flickr/NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell obviously wasn't looking for any attention when he certified a set of new regulations last week that could shutter many abortion clinics in the his state. The Republican certified the new requirements on the Friday between Christmas and New Years, and chose to forgo a public announcement about his decision. But low-profile or not, the decision is an scary one for the state's 20 abortion clinics, which now must get to work to comply the 2010 building code for hospitals. That means a lot of very costly changes that have no bearing on the work these clinics do, like widening hallways and doorways and installing hands-free sinks (the kind that automatically turn on when you put your hands underneath the faucet). Advocates for reproductive rights say many of the state's 20 abortion facilities could be forced to close—which is, of course, the whole idea. But McDonnell's decision to make the move as quietly as possible indicates a significant change in the...

The Austerity Lobby Loses One

Flickr/Michael Pollack
Flickr/Michael Pollack A conference sponsored by Fix the Debt in Washington, D.C. takes place in January 2012. T he fiscal deal that raised taxes on the top one percent was a victory only for what it did not do. It did not cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or other public spending. Unfortunately, it merely put off the next round of jousting over fiscal issues to a time when Republicans will have more leverage. In what we might call Cliff One (tax increases for the rich), the status quo played to President Obama’s advantage. If Congress failed to act, taxes would go up on everyone. So the Republicans caved. But in the coming battles over Cliff Two (the debt ceiling) and Cliff Three (the $120 billion in automatic cuts known as the Sequester) the status quo favors the Republicans. If Congress fails to act affirmatively, the United States defaults on its debt, and highly deflationary spending cuts kick in automatically. President Obama might dispatch Cliff Two by invoking the...

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