Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Obama Didn't Cry Wolf on the Sequester

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza President Barack Obama talks with Chief of Staff Jack Lew, center, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner as they walk on the Colonnade of the White House, Jan. 10, 2013. Over at the Washington Post , Chris Cillizza chides President Obama for "crying wolf" on sequestration: In the days leading up to the March 1 sequester deadline, dire warnings about its impact were being issued daily from President Obama. Lines at airports would be interminable. First responders would be compromised. Things would be, in a word, bad. Then the sequester hit — and (almost) no one noticed. (Sidebar: It’s kind of like the “snow” storm currently “hitting” D.C.; lots of advance warning, very little immediate impact.) The sky is falling language seemed overblown, and the devastating consequences amounted to the suspension of public tours at the White House. Obama hasn’t helped himself post-sequester — landing in a bit of political hot water with a mistaken claim...

A Tale of Two Filibusters

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr Today has been an interesting day for filibusters. This morning, the Senate filibustered President Obama's nomination of Caitlin Halligan to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. Halligan isn't unqualified and she isn't a radical. Her only offense is that Obama wants her for one of the most important courts in the country. As such, Republicans successfully filibuster her nomination, by a vote of 51 to 41. Sixty votes are needed to break a filibuster and move to a final vote. Shortly after this vote went down, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin announced his intent to reintroduce filibuster reform, perhaps frustrated by the Halligan nomination and the general approach of the GOP, which is to filibuster anything that might provide an advantage to President Obama: “We have tried at the beginning of this Senate session to avoid this kind of filibuster confrontation. The last several years we have had over 400 filibusters — a record number of filibusters in the Senate,”...

There is No "Fever" to Break

Google Images
Google Images The New York Times 's reports today that President Obama has invited a dozen GOP senators out to dinner, in an effort to get around Republican leadership and build support for a new agreement on long-term deficit reduction. As Greg Sargent writes for The Washington Post , "It’s not hard to figure out what Obama is telling these Senators: He’s telling them what his actual deficit reduction plan contains — a mix of real entitlement cuts and new revenues." This sounds like something Republicans should already know, but they don't. In an interview with Ezra Klein last week, one unnamed Republican lawmaker was surprised to learn that Obama had floated Social Security adjustments (chained CPI, in particular) as part of a deal for new revenue. Likewise, on Twitter, Republican strategist Mike Murphy had no idea that Obama had offered chained CPI and Medicare cuts in exchange for new revenue. But here's the important thing: When this was pointed out to him, he dismissed the...

Fake Prostitutes, Fake Terrorists, and the Trouble with Conservative Media

Remember this guy?
Just before the 2012 election, the Daily Caller , a website run by Tucker Carlson, produced a blockbuster report claiming that New Jersey senator Robert Menendez had frequented underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, and they had the prostitutes' testimony to prove it. Bizarrely, mainstream media did not pick up the story, Menendez was re-elected, and to almost no one's surprise, the whole thing now appears to have been a slander cooked up by Republican operatives. How did such a thing happen? The answer is, it's ACORN's fault. Hold on while I explain. It turns out that Republican operatives pitched the Menendez story to ABC News at the same time as the Daily Caller , but after looking into it ABC decided it was probably bogus, as they explain here . It was pretty obvious the women were being coached, and their stories just strained credulity: Her account of sex with Menendez in the video interview was almost word-for-word the account given by two other women who were produced...

Show Me the Policy!

Flickr/Talk Radio News Service
Republicans have been scrambling since the election to figure out what they need to improve their standing with the public and appeal to the electorate of the future. Despite trumpeting Marco Rubio and his immigration platform in a shallow attempt to appeal to Hispanic voters, things have only gotten more dire since November. In part because of the sequester fight, the GOP’s approval ratings have plummeted . According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, even a majority of registered Republicans disapprove of their congressional counterparts and Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s disapproval rating sits at a record high. I think the problem is pretty straightforward: The GOP has become a party that’s almost allergic to holding specific, real, policy positions; instead, it’s substituted a blanket knee-jerk opposition to anything Barack Obama does, along with a series of symbolic “issues,” such as American exceptionalism or a rhetorical commitment to a balanced budget (without, for most of...

Bull Market for Stocks, Bear Market for Workers

Flickr/Michael Aston
Today the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose above 14,270 — completely erasing its 54 percent loss between 2007 and 2009. The stock market is basically back to where it was in 2000, while corporate earnings have doubled since then. Yet the real median wage is now 8 percent below what it was in 2000, and unemployment remains sky-high. Why is the stock market doing so well, while most Americans are doing so poorly? Four reasons: First, productivity gains. Corporations have been investing in technology rather than their workers. They get tax credits and deductions for such investments; they get no such tax benefits for improving the skills of their employees. As a result, corporations can now do more with fewer people on their payrolls. That means higher profits. Second, high unemployment itself. Joblessness all but eliminates the bargaining power of most workers—allowing corporations to keep wages low. Public policies that might otherwise reduce unemployment—a new WPA or CCC to hire the...

How to Survive a Miracle

A World AIDS Day display in Mississippi on Dec. 1, 2009. (AP Photo/MSU, Kenny Billings)
This week, a baby from Mississippi was “functionally cured” of HIV after doctors treated her aggressively from the time of her birth with anti-retroviral medications. It's the first time a patient’s system has been cleared of the disease with a regular HIV treatment regimen designed to disrupt the ability of the virus to replicate itself. It opens the door for new research that could, theoretically, lead to a cure for AIDS. But while the breakthrough illustrates how far we’ve come in treating the virus since it was first identified three decades ago, it's also a stark reminder of how little progress we’ve made in fighting the spread of the disease. In the dark days of the 1980s, AIDS patients often found themselves turned away from emergency rooms by fearful hospital administrators, and politicians debated putting HIV-positive people into permanent quarantine. The Oscar-nominated documentary “ How to Survive a Plague ,” which has recently been optioned by ABC for a mini-series, shows...

Ringside Seat: Thou Shalt Not Govern

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s snub from the Conservative Political Action Conference is dumb —he’s the most popular Republican governor in the country—but it makes sense: In the course of governing a blue state, he’s had to take positions that run counter to the national party. CPAC’s decision to exclude Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, on the other hand, makes no sense at all. No one will ever mistake McDonnell for a moderate; during his campaign, he faced questions over work he did for his graduate degree—arguing, in essence, that women were better served working in the home—and once in office, he rushed to implement conservative policies, from large budget cuts to new restrictions on abortion. By the end of his first year, he was hailed as a presidential contender and vanguard of the Republican right. Indeed, under his tenure, Virginia state politics have taken a sharp turn to the right—yes, Barack Obama won the state in 2012, but Republicans control the General Assembly as...

Republicans Upset Obama Is Also a Politician

Barack Obama / Flickr
Scout Tufankjian for Obama for America Republican control of the House makes meaningful advancement on President Obama's agenda near-impossible. And so, to deal with this, Obama plans to make the midterm elections a priority. If Democrats can take back the House—or at least, shrink the GOP's margin—they will be in a better position to pursue their policies. Odds are good that it won't succeed—the president's party almost always loses seats in the midterm—but it makes sense. Naturally, Republicans aren't happy about this : In response, McConnell said Obama and Democrats have “expended enormous amounts of energy to advance that goal – rebooting his political organization, provoking manufactured crises with Congress, engineering show votes in the Senate, and traveling around the country to campaign relentlessly against his opponents. That’s why the Sequester went into effect in its current form. That’s why Washington continues to careen needlessly from crisis to crisis. And that’s why we...

The GOP's Bush Dilemma

CNN
CNN Jeb and George Bush sit with an interview with CNN's Candy Crowley. This morning, Washington solved the mystery of Jeb Bush's strange about-face on immigration reform: It was a simple case of political calculation gone wrong. In his new book, Immigration Wars: Forging a New Solution , the former Florida governor comes out against a path to citizenship, a policy he formerly endorsed. "Permanent residency in this context, however, should not lead to citizenship," Bush writes . "It is absolutely vital to the integrity of our immigration system that actions have consequences — in this case, that those who violated the laws can remain but cannot obtain the cherished fruits of citizenship." The key thing to remember is that this was written during the GOP presidential primaries, when support for comprehensive immigration reform—even without a path to citizenship—placed Bush to the left of most Republicans. Now, shell-shocked from their poor showing among Latino voters, Republicans have...

The Sequester, Now What?

Flickr/Justin Sloan
President Obama gambled that the threat of the automatic sequester of $85 billion in domestic and defense cuts would force the Republicans to accept major tax increases, and so far he is losing the wager. The Republican leadership, which was badly divided over the New Years deal that delayed the fiscal cliff, is now re-united around the proposition that Republicans will accept no further tax increases. So the president is left to court individual Republican House members to support loophole closures in exchange for the restoration of some popular domestic and military spending. But for the moment, Republicans got what they wanted—big spending cuts, party unity around no tax increases, and a weakening of a newly re-elected president. For Obama and the Democrats, there are three big risks going forward. First, the sequester slows down economic growth—cutting it in half this year from about 3 percent to 1.5 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Obama, more than the...

The Lone Star State Left Out To Dry

Flickr/Jmtimages
When the sequester deadline came and went last Friday, it was hardly a surprise. In Congress, Republicans had repeatedly made clear they would be willing to let enormous cuts to discretionary spending take effect rather than compromise with the White House on raising revenue. But cutting off their nose to spite their face hasn’t quite worked. As it turns out, the GOP may be defacing its figurehead: the State of Texas. The economic impact of the sequester on Texas will be enormous. As a Pew Charitable Trusts study shows, Texas receives 8 percent of its state revenue through federal grants, well above the national average of 6.6 percent. Only South Dakota, Illinois, and Georgia receive a higher proportion. One study from George Mason University showed that Texas is among the top three states that will lose out most as a result of the sequester, both in terms of jobs and GDP. The cuts could cost Texas $16 billion in gross state product—1.23 percent of the state’s GDP—and as many as 159,...

Why "Leadership" Won't Fix Washington's Problems

Intel Photos / Flickr
Intel Photos / Flickr With his latest column , Washington Post 's Eugene Robinson joins the chorus of pundits who insist President Obama force congressional cooperation and find a deal to avert the sequester. Conveniently forgetting this mess is a direct product of Republican intransigence and anti-tax extremism—there is no sequester if there is no debt ceiling crisis—Robinson focuses on Obama's negotiating skills as the reason for this predicament: Obama figured that Republicans would be so horrified at the prospect of deep defense cuts that they would make a deal on his terms, even after being forced to accept a humiliating defeat — and a modest tax increase for the wealthy — in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations two months ago. And since there are no entitlement cuts in the sequester, Robinson argues neither side has an incentive to compromise, since neither side will lose something valuable: Entitlement spending is largely untouched, and defense spending isn’t the sacred cow it once...

Conceived in Delusion, Sold in Deception

AP Photo/John Bazemore
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta O n March 19, two weeks from now, it will be ten years since the United States military commenced the invasion of Iraq. Even though some details are fading from memory, one bit that sticks in my mind—those final days before the war and its dramatic countdown, the 48 hours George W. Bush gave Saddam Hussein and his sons to get themselves out of the country. It was a fitting end to the pre-war campaign, some theatricality to lend an extra bit of drama to a conflict conceived in delusion and sold in deception. This anniversary is a good time to remind ourselves of what happened then and how so many of the people who continue to shape our public debate behaved. The campaign to sell America on an invasion of Iraq was probably the most comprehensive and dishonest propaganda effort our country has seen in the last century. As we discuss it over the next few weeks, those who continue to hold that it was a good idea—akin to saying to this day that the Titanic was...

The Once and Future Gov

AP Photo/Eric Risberg
AP Photo/Eric Risberg A merica’s most futuristic governor seems borne back ceaselessly into the past these days. As he shows me around his office on a crisp winter morning, California Governor Jerry Brown points out not just the desk that his father, Edmund “Pat” Brown, used during his own term as governor from 1959 to 1967 but also photos of his grandparents and his great-grandfather, who came to California in the gold rush years. “He knew John Sutter,” Brown says. The only two governors in the past half-century who were native Californians, he points out, were he and his father. At 74, Brown has lost little of the intensity that impressed and occasionally discomfited voters during his first tenure as governor nearly 40 years ago. His outfit—an open-collar shirt under a white pullover sweater, blue jeans—may be West Coast casual, his shaved head may call to mind the Zen monks with whom he’s studied, but Brown’s emotional repertoire does not include laid-back, except when he’s talking...

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