TAPPED

Imagine a Hostage Crisis Where Democrats Were In Control

We'll be talking more about the debt deal later, but something else in the meantime: Ezra Klein points out that a year and a half from now, there will be a looming deadline in which Democrats, if you can believe it, will actually hold the upper hand: But Democrats will have their turn. On Dec. 31, 2012, three weeks before the end of President Barack Obama's current term in office, the Bush tax cuts expire. Income tax rates will return to their Clinton-era levels. That amounts to a $3.6 trillion tax increase over 10 years, three or four times the $800 billion to $1.2 trillion in revenue increases that Obama and Speaker John Boehner were kicking around. And all Democrats need to do to secure that deal is...nothing. This scenario is the inverse of the current debt-ceiling debate, in which inaction will lead to an outcome -- a government default -- that Democrats can’t stomach and Republicans think they can. There is only one thing that could stand in the way of Democrats passing...

For Whom the Pell Tolls

The Hill reports that Pell Grants have become a sticking point between the freshman GOP and John Boehner for the passage of his debt-ceiling compromise plan. Representative Denny Rehberg described the right's grievances with the program on a talk show in April: "So you can go to college on Pell Grants — maybe I should not be telling anybody this because it’s turning out to be the welfare of the 21st century.” But if the GOP actually thinks Pell’s size is harming the economy, it’s certainly not making a strong argument. Pell is, it’s true, much larger today than it was even a few years ago. It’s grown roughly 150 percent since 2006-2007. A number of nonpartisan institutes are concerned it may be too large and are analyzing its size. But according to New America , only 25 percent of that growth is attributable to the increase in the maximum size of the grant eligible students can receive. Instead, the increase is caused by changes to eligibility requirements and by the fact that more...

Will the Kids Be Alright?

Throughout the debt-ceiling negotiations, funding for the Federal Pell Grant Program, which gives low-income students access to higher education through need-based grants that don’t have to be repaid, has been tossed around as a bargaining chip. Though the bulk of Pell spending is discretionary, the program has entitlement status in that each student eligible to receive a grant is guaranteed one. Rising college tuition prices and a tough economy have fueled demand, making the program increasingly necessary and, inevitably, a target for Republican lawmakers trying to cut the budget. Though the program’s costs have risen in recent years, an annual budget of around $35 billion represents a negligible contribution to the deficit. Earlier this week, there was hope the program wouldn’t suffer dramatic cuts because plans from both Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Reid increased Pell Grant spending by $17 billion and $18 billion respectively. Such funding would mean that Congress...

Obama's Approval Continues Its Downward Trend

These new results from Gallup’s survey of presidential approval make me a lot less bullish about President Obama’s chances for re-election: Last week, I noted the extent to which the public still holds President Bush and the Republican Party responsible for the current state of the economy. According to the latest CNN/ORC poll , not only is this still true -- 57 percent of all voters say they think President Bush and the GOP are responsible for the country’s economic woes -- but the number is higher than it was several months ago. In May of this year, 55 percent said that Bush and Republicans were responsible, compared to September of last year, where 53 percent agreed. Most important, this is still true among independents -- 53 percent lay blame for the current economy on the former administration. That said, Obama doesn’t have much room to maneuver with regards to the economy; 59 percent of Americans are pessimistic about the country’s economic future. If Obama can’t count on high...

Today at the Prospect

Jamelle Bouie explains how even if Boehner gets the votes for his debt-ceiling plan, the fight won't end. Jennifer Mascia laments that Amy Winehouse's life (and death) romanticized mental illness. Gershom Gorenberg writes of Israelis protesting a dearth of affordable housing.

An Indefensible Defense

Educators and activists opposed to the high-stakes testing that has come to dominate education reform have reason to be concerned, but they may have picked a losing strategy to make their point. More than 450 teachers and activists are gathering in Washington for the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action, a four-day conference and rally at the White House on Saturday. The point is to push back against the administration's school-reform agenda -- particularly the reliance on high-stakes testing to evaluate students and teachers -- before the government finishes its reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. High-stakes testing systems have come under increased scrutiny after revelations that teachers and principals in 44 Atlanta public schools cheated on the 2009 statewide test. Some gave inappropriate help to students taking the test, while others had changed students’ answers. In March, Washington, D.C.’s schools chancellor Kaya Henderson announced an investigation to look...

Why Tea Partiers Are Unmoved By the Prospect of Economic Destruction

Norman Ornstein makes a good observation : While the components of the Affordable Care Act were very popular, the act itself was not, and the opposite happened with the tax-cut deal President Obama struck with Republicans in December. The components (particularly extending tax cuts for the wealthy) were not popular, but the deal was. The reason, of course, is process: When the process looks smooth and cooperative, people think Washington is "getting things done," but when it's fractious and angry, it looks like Washington is bickering. The substance is almost irrelevant. Ornstein argues, therefore, that the Tea Partiers misunderstood their mandate: Tea Party conservatives are convinced that the 2010 elections were a huge public mandate of support for a radical, cut-government and cut-taxes agenda. The mandate was far more one of trying to get mature individuals to come together and transcend their differences for the public good. That was certainly true of most Democrats and most...

Are Senate Republicans Going to Filibuster the Debt-Ceiling Increase?

This morning I was listening to NPR, as we liberal elitists are wont to do, and they brought on Senator Michael Bennett to talk about the debt ceiling. He and host Steve Inskeep were discussing how the competing bills would go back and forth between the two chambers, and Inskeep said (I'm paraphrasing here), "You still need to get 60 votes in the Senate." Bennett agreed. We haven't been paying much attention to the Senate in the last few days, but we're apparently still operating on the assumption that just as they have filibustered every bill of consequence for the last two years, Senate Republicans will filibuster any debt-ceiling increase, regardless of what it contains. We're four days away from setting off an economic catastrophe, and we all just assume that, of course, Republicans will try to kill a solution by filibustering it. And of course, we're not going to bother questioning them about that, much less condemning them for it, because that's just the way "Washington" works...

Michele Bachmann Touts Business Experience, Refuses Questions About Business

Think Progress tells us that Michele Bachmann doesn't think people should ask her questions about whether her husband's "Christian therapy" business performs "reparative therapy" to de-gay-ify its clients: The problem is that this business is something she herself touts as part of her qualifications for being president. She is constantly referring to herself as a "business owner" or a "small businessperson" to explain that she understands how the economy works. I happen to think this is a ridiculous argument -- owning a hardware store doesn't qualify you to set national economic policy any more than a kid who's just out of basic training in the Army should be the next secretary of defense -- but it's one she makes a lot. And if you're going to do that, you can't say that nobody has a right to ask you about what goes on in this business, the one that supposedly gives you such deep and critical knowledge. That being said, I don't think it matters all that much whether Marcus Bachmann is...

Herman Cain's Heart Opened by Interaction With Actual Humans

I have seen the light! (Flickr/ Gage Skidmore ) As we all know, it's harder to have discriminatory feelings toward individuals you know than toward abstract groups -- that accounts for much of the movement in American public opinion on gay rights in the last few years. And this fact may be helping Herman Cain see the light on Muslims. As you may have heard, every time Cain has opened his mouth on the topic of Islam recently, he has made himself appear to be more and more of a bigot, saying, among other things, that he wouldn't be comfortable with a Muslim in his cabinet, that he would demand a special loyalty oath of Muslims who work for the government, and that communities should be able to ban mosques, because the First Amendment apparently doesn't apply to your religion if a majority of your neighbors don't like it. But yesterday, Cain had what may well have been his first opportunity to sit down and talk to some real live Muslims. And he came out a changed man : "While I stand by...

Today at the Prospect

Paul Waldman writes that Obama's biggest mistake was assuming Republicans had the country's best interests at heart. Monica Potts explains how the polygamists' lawsuit against the state of Utah is a nightmare for both liberals and conservatives.

New Voter-ID Laws Target Women

In the last few years, Georgia and Indiana have instated overly strict voter-ID laws. The Supreme Court upheld Indiana's law, which required voters to present valid photo identification at the polls, finding it to be of legitimate state interest in preventing voter fraud. Five more states are now following suit. Voter ID laws don't really catch voter fraud, however, because voter fraud is a fictional problem -- it rarely happens and the kind of fraud these laws are supposedly meant to prevent don't have a tangible effect on elections anyway. Instead of combating a problem, voter-ID laws create one by disenfranchising minorities, the poor, students, and the elderly. And thanks to a new spate of extra-rigorous voter-ID laws aimed at disenfranchising Democratic voters, women's ability to vote will be affected too. Kansas and Wisconsin have taken up strict photo-ID laws modeled on Georgia's and Indiana's, where voters must show a photo ID issued by the state or federal government in order...

Tootle, the Ex-Gay Train

In Slate , Jessica Roake tells us that beloved children's book/television/licensed product line Thomas the Tank Engine actually tells a nightmarish tale of imperialist triumph and oppression. She makes a pretty compelling case, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to tell you about something equally horrifying from a lesser-known corner of the animated anthropomorphic train universe. Let me introduce you to Tootle, the ex-gay train. A number of years ago, when my oldest was a tot, a relative got us this book . Because hey, there's a cute train on the cover. When we read it, the missus and I were aghast. There's some discussion in the Amazon comments about whether the book encourages conformism, which it certainly does. But it's almost impossible to read it as anything but an anti-gay allegory. Written in 1945, "Tootle" tells the story of a young train in the town of Lower Trainswitch who has to learn how to be a big locomotive. At locomotive school, they tell the trains that the...

Today at the Prospect

Ben Adler explains how a third-party candidate could be a disaster for American politics. Robert B. Reich writes that Obama has failed us a bully-pulpit president.

The Freshman Problem

It's natural to assume that if you're a member of Congress, you have access to all kinds of inside information, and your job makes you deeply informed about all sorts of issues, particularly whatever is dominating the nation's debate at a particular moment. For some members, that's true. But not all, maybe not even most, and that fact is having a meaningful influence on how the debt-ceiling crisis is playing out. A lot of the analysis of this debate has been about brinksmanship, the moves and countermoves that the administration and congressional Republicans are using in an attempt to achieve their substantive and political ends. That's important, but we can't forget that a very large group of people who have a role in this decision are operating within a completely different reality than the rest of us. There are members of Congress who genuinely believe that reaching the debt ceiling will be no big deal, and may actually be a good thing, because it will constrain government spending...

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