Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

The Sequester Blame Game


A key part of the GOP's strategy on the sequester is to blame President Obama for the fact it exists at all. One good example is House Speaker John Boehner's op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal:

With the debt limit set to be hit in a matter of hours, Republicans and Democrats in Congress reluctantly accepted the president's demand for the sequester, and a revised version of the Budget Control Act was passed on a bipartisan basis.

Americans Really Want the GOP to Knock It Off

fakelvis / Flickr

If the public is unhappy with anything, it's the crisis-driven governing of the last two years. Between the debt ceiling stand-off—when House Republicans threatened to sink the economy if they didn't get spending cuts—and the recent fiscal cliff battle—where, again, Republicans threatened economic disaster if they didn't get spending cuts—the United States has lurched from fight to fight, crisis to crisis, in an ongoing game of domestic brinksmanship.

What We'll Be Talking about in 2016

AP Photo/Mark Hirsch

Yes, pundits of all stripes are already starting to handicap the presidential fields for 2016. Yes, that’s a long time from now …  although we are under three years to the Iowa Caucuses, and probably just about two years from the first debates, so it’s not all that long. More to the point: as long as the candidates are running—and they are—there’s no reason to pretend the contest hasn’t started yet.

Republican Rationality on Medicaid

Rick Scott, who surprised everyone and did the right thing. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

Florida governor Rick Scott, with his skeletal frame, shiny bald pate, 9-figure fortune possibly obtained at least partially through Medicare fraud, and love of humiliating poor people, resembles nothing so much as a comic-book villain. So it was something of a surprise when he announced yesterday that he is reversing his previous position and will allow poor Floridians to receive Medicaid coverage as provided for in the Affordable Care Act. It isn't hard to explain why: the federal government is paying 100 percent of the cost of new enrollees in the first few years, and nearly all the cost thereafter, meaning for a small investment on the state's part it gets a healthier, happier, more productive citizenry. Only a truly despicable politician would turn it down, preferring to see their constituents go without health insurance than get it from the government, as I've argued (OK, "raged" is more like it) before.

After the Supreme Court said it its Obamacare decision that states could opt out of the Medicaid expansion, some people were more optimistic than I was, arguing that though Republican governors might shake their fist at Barack Obama for a while, eventually the Medicaid money would be too difficult to turn down. It's looking like I was wrong and they were right; Scott follows Republican governors in states like Ohio and Michigan in announcing that they'll accept the expansion, and though there are still some holdouts (most notably Rick Perry of Texas, which has more uninsured than any other state), the dominoes are starting to fall.

So what does this tell us? It turns out that even the most ideological politicians respond rationally to the incentives they're presented with—maybe not all the time, but much of the time.

Still More BS

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

We all do things that we regret. President Obama must surely regret that he ever listened to the extreme deficit hawks back in early 2010, when he appointed the Bowles-Simpson Commission, the fiscal zombie that just won’t die.

The commission is long defunct. The recommendations of its majority report never became law (because that required a super-majority). But the dreams and schemes of B-S have become the gold standard of deflationists everywhere. The test of budgetary soundness is: does it meet the recommendations of Bowles and Simpson?

Why Republicans Should Want to Index the Minimum Wage


If Republicans have any political sense at all, they’ll support not just raising the minimum wage, but indexing it.

The economic case for raising the wage, at a time when economic inequality is rampant, working-class incomes are declining, and Wal-Mart sales are falling through the floor, is overwhelming. But while Republicans may blow off the economic consequences of not raising the federal standard, they can’t be so cavalier in dismissing the political consequences.

Augmented Reality Is Here, and It's Right on Your Face

You must be at least this cool to buy Google Glass.

There are some technological developments that come as a complete surprise, and some that are logical extrapolations of what we've had for a while, so obvious that we know we'll eventually get them, it's just a matter of the development of the necessary components. A wearable augmented reality device falls into the latter category. For years, we've been seeing sci-fi movies in which a character looks out at the world, or at a person, and sees a whole bunch of information pop up in front of his eyes (the best-known example is probably The Terminator, which came out in all the way back in 1984).

But as of now, you can actually get one. Well, maybe not you specifically, but somebody. Google Glass, which is essentially a smartphone in the shape of a pair of glasses that are, depending on your perspective, totally cool-looking or remarkably dorky, is going on sale. You won't be able to go down to Target and buy a pair, though; for this first run, you have to actually apply to Google, and if they decide you're cool enough to own one, they'll allow you to pay them $1,500 and you can start living your augmented life. Here's the ad they've released:

Ringside Seat: One Small Step for Florida

Two years after spearheading the lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act and just a few months after affirming his opposition to expanding Medicaid coverage in his state, Florida governor Rick Scott has shifted gears and indeed decided to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid. In a press conference late this afternoon, he explained his reasoning: “While the federal government is committed to pay 100 percent of the cost of new people in Medicaid, I cannot, in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care.”

Should Democrats Be Afraid of Marco Rubio?

Flickr/Gage Skidmore

Ed Kilgore alterts us to this interesting Reuters story in which freshman senator Ted Cruz of Texas charges that Democrats were beating up on freshman senator Marco Rubio of Florida after the latter's State of the Union response because as a Latino Republican with such mad skillz, Rubio is a dire threat and they need to take him out now. I'll tell you what I think about that, but this also raises an interesting question about how we look at politicians on the other side and how difficult it can be to objectively assess their appeal to the public. Here's an excerpt:

Why 2016 is the Year of Republican Reform


Bobby Jindal might say that the GOP needs to stop being the "stupid party," and Eric Cantor might call for a new agenda that helps ordinary Americans, but the fact of the matter is that the Republican Party hasn't changed much since November, when it failed to capture the White House or make gains in Congress.

Limbaugh Doubles Down

AP Photo/Photo Courtesy of Rush Limbaugh

Listening to the crude, discursive monologues on Rush Limbaugh’s daily three-hour radio program, which I have had occasion to do for a living, is a test of endurance for a person with minimum standards of decency. It’s a bit like being blown out of an airlock into the vacuum of space without a spacesuit. You can hold out for only so long before your lungs rupture and air bubbles perforate your brain. You lose consciousness just as your saliva starts to boil.

Sequester Stupidity

President Obama arguing against the sequester cuts.

Next week, the "sequester," a package of severe cuts to government spending, will take effect, and although the consequences won't all be felt the first day, they will come fairly quickly, and they'll be painful, not only to people on an individual basis—say if you're one of the thousands of government employees being furloughed, or when you're waiting in longer lines at the airport—but to the broader economy as all these effects begin to ripple outward. And so, the administration and Congress are engaging in what surely looks to most Americans like a spectacularly idiotic argument about whose fault it is. But before we start blaming both sides equally for indulging in a battle over blame, we have to be clear on who's actually to blame for all the blaming. The truth is that while both sides are trying to spin things their way, there's a difference in how each is talking about the sequester.

President Obama's principal argument is this: The sequester is a really bad thing, so Congress needs to stop it. He's out posing with first responders, detailing the cuts that will take place and the problems that will ensue, and generally trying to put pressure on Republicans to walk us back from this cliff. Does he want them to get the blame when it happens? Of course. But his main argument is about the practical consequences of the cuts, made in an attempt to avert the cuts from happening. Republicans, on the other hand, aren't spending much time talking about the consequences of the sequester. Yes, they'll decry the defense cuts, but that's almost throat-clearing before they get to their main argument, which is: This is all Barack Obama's fault. They created a Twitter hashtag, #Obamaquester, to make sure everyone knows whose fault it is. They're holding press conferences with that hashtag on big signs. The instruction has obviously gone out to every Republican that the most important thing to repeat when talking about this issue is that it was all Obama's idea, so there. John Boehner has an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal going on at some length about how Republicans had nothing to do with it (Steve Benen does the yeoman's work of going through Boehner's piece line-by-line to document all the absurd falsehoods contained therein).

On the question of who's idea it was, the basic answer is that it appears it came from the White House initially. But the real answer is, who cares who thought of it first?

Why Ken Cuccinelli Might Be Virginia's Next Governor

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Ideology matters much less to electoral outcomes than you’d think. Yes, there are obvious examples of where it matters—see: Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Sharon Angle, and Christine O’Donnell—but by and large, it plays a marginal role.

A Mixed Day for the Fourth Amendment

WikiMedia Commons

Yesterday, the Supreme Court decided two Fourth Amendment cases. The results were mixed. In one case, the Court protected an individual from an unreasonable search. But in another case, the Court again watered down Fourth Amendment protections in the name of the War on (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs.

Senate Tested, Iran Approved?

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

It’s become difficult to keep track of the all the ridiculous charges that have been thrown at Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel over the past few months, but surely one of the most absurd is the idea that the government of Iran “endorsed” his nomination.