Two years ago, when S&P downgraded the credit rating of the United States, they didn’t site our debt or our spending. Instead, they knocked our political system, and in particular, the dysfunction and institutional creakiness that made a debt ceiling stand-off possible: “The downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenge,” said the company in a statement released that summer.
In general, I’m skeptical about the prospects for new gun-control laws. The universe of people whose political activism is centered on opposing gun control is still much larger than the reverse, and few Republican lawmakers have any incentive to sign on to any kind of comprehensive law.
Writing for The New Yorker, George Packer has a succinct but excellent look at the South’s political distinctiveness. In short, national trends are creating even more distance between the South and the rest of the country, and this doesn’t bode well for either:
Two years ago, President Obama welcomed the debt ceiling as an opportunity to negotiate deficit reduction with congressional Republicans. This backfired—rather than work in good faith with the president, Republicans used this as an opportunity to hold the economy hostage to a list of narrow demands: for a balanced budget amendment, for regressive changes to entitlements, for large cuts to the social safety net.
If there’s anything frustrating about American politics at this moment, it’s the disappearance of mass unemployment as an area of elite concern. Now that joblessness is on the decline, Washington has moved away from efforts to further address the problem, despite the fact that unemployment isn’t expected to reach pre-recession levels for another four years.
You can say the same for Washington’s attitude towards growth. Gross domestic product increased by 3.1 percent in the third quarter of 2012, up from 1.3 percent in the second quarter, and 1.9 percent in the first. Average GDP for the year will probably fall near 2 percent.
If you’re looking for evidence that Republicans will—despite their rhetoric—eventually cave on the debt ceiling, it’s worth noting a recent statement from Rand Paul, to Business Insider, on how he thinks the GOP should approach the ceiling. Rather than force a shutdown, Paul thinks Republicans should pass a bill that would prioritize payments to bondholders if the limit is reached. This would, he says, “force us immediately to have a balanced budget.”
If there’s a must-read story today, it’s the Huffington Post’s long look at the National Rifle Association and its connection to gun manufacturers. In short, the NRA isn’t so much an advocate for gun owners as it is a lobbying vehicle for gunmakers and distributors.
Writing for ABC News, Amy Walters notes that for all the criticism of Obama’s traditional cabinet—which, thus far, is heavy on white men—the bigger problem for Democrats is that their presidential hopefuls lean heavily on the conventional side:
For all the hand-wringing over the lack of diversity in the Obama Administration’s second term Cabinet, Democrats should really be more depressed about the fact that their potential 2016 field is a lot less diverse than the GOP’s. Take away Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic bench looks more like that picture in the New York Times than it does the picture of Obama’s 2012 voting coalition.
Last week, TheWashington Post’s Greg Sargent had the great idea of talking to an actual hostage negotiator, for a little more insight into the current situation with congressional Republicans and the debt ceiling. Throughout the interview, the negotiator stressed one key point: If you want to defuse a hostage situation, you have to show the hostage taker that you’re in control. For police, this is straightforward—they have lots of guns, and the hostage taker doesn’t.
When it comes to racial segregation in higher education, the good news—according to a new paper from a professor at Georgetown University—is that four-year colleges are now less segregated than they were in the 1960s. The bad news is that they’re still pretty segregated. Here are the key findings:
I find little to disagree with in Scott Lemieux’s look at the legality of minting a trillion-dollar coin. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, the idea is simple. When the president is required to spend all money authorized by Congress, in most instances, that requires the Treasury to borrow money to fulfill congressional obligations. But Congress has also imposed a borrowing limit on the Treasury. In the past, Congress has lifted the limit with little fuss, but beginning in 2011, House Republicans have used it as leverage for spending cuts.
There were two reasons to legitimately doubt the level of Latino support and enthusiasm for Obama last year—the economy, and deportations. By last July, Obama had deported 1.4 million undocumented immigrants since the beginning of his administration, or 1.5 times more immigrants on average than Bush deported every month. This high and sustained pace of deportations fueled fair questions about the extent to which Latinos would support Obama’s reelection bid.
Astute observers of American politics know that President Obama—moreso than his immediate predecessors—operates in an unusual institutional environment, at least by historical standards. Forty years ago, bipartisan coalitions were (relatively) easy to assemble.
Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum marshals two charts showing—quite clearly—that the federal government has a revenue and aging problem, not a spending one. The first shows federal spending as a percentage of gross domestic product, from 1981 to the present: