The 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.
The last month has not been good to John Boehner. His attempt to circumvent President Obama and gain leverage over congressional Democrats with a “Plan B” on the fiscal cliff was foiled by House Republicans, and when it came time to pass the deal crafted by the Senate, he had to rely on Democratic votes—only 85 members of his conference voted for the agreement.
On top of that, he’s had to worry about power grabs from his right (Eric Cantor), discontent from the membership, and constant criticism from everyone else. Just yesterday, New Jersey governor Chris Christie went on a rampage, attacking the House Speaker for failing to bring a bill offering aid to Hurricane Sandy victims to the floor for a vote.
John Boehner has held on to his job as Speaker of the House for now, mostly because no one ran against him. That may be because none of his Republican colleagues wants that nightmare of a job, or it may be because they want it, but just think biding their time a little longer is the best play. In any case, Boehner now faces the challenge of dealing with a caucus full of nutbars who would happily send the country off all manner of cliffs, fiscal and otherwise, if it meant sticking it to Barack Obama or those mooching 47 percent of Americans they think he represents. And how do you deal with a group like that? Empty symbolic gestures, of course!
Boehner has apparently made it clear to his caucus that he'll no longer participate in one-on-one negotiations with President Obama, letting them know that just like them, he thinks Obama is such a low-down dirty snake that there's no point in even talking to the guy. But can they still talk on the phone? What about texting? If Obama calls Boehner on Skype, can Boehner take the call but turn off his camera so Obama can hear him but not see him?
Income taxes have gone up for the first time in 20 years, but as the Huffington Postreports, only 1 percent of taxpayers are affected:
Forget the 1 percent, the fiscal cliff deal is all about the .7 percent. That’s the slice of Americans who will be affected by Congress’ new definition of “wealthy,” according to a new analysis from the Tax Policy Center, a nonprofit tax research group.
The centerpiece of the deal passed by Congress on Tuesday includes higher income taxes on individuals who make at least $400,000 and couples who make more than $450,000. The tax rate for those groups jumps to 39.6 percent from the current 35 percent.
Yesterday, I complained that political media presents debt reduction as a no-brainer—something we must do, for the sake of our solvency—and not as a choice that may or may not be warranted in the current environment (hint: it’s not). There’s no mystery as to why that’s the case; the major mainstream news outlets are heavily influenced by elite opinion, and elite opinion is dominated by the views of successful businesspeople.
If the debate around the fiscal cliff and, particularly, the still-impending sequester demonstrates anything, it’s that Richard Nixon’s one plunge into economic theory—“We’re all Keynesians now,” the former president once said—still holds. Everyone acknowledges that laying off hundreds of thousands of government employees, including 800,000 civilian Defense Department workers, and stopping payment to government contractors will, by definition, destroy jobs, at least until the payments resume. It’s still Republican orthodoxy, to be sure, to deny that government spending actually creates jobs, but even they acknowledge that the cessation of government spending destroys them. Which illustrates that the problem with contemporary Republicanism isn’t confined to their indifference to empiricism but also their indifference to logic. Reasoning—either deductive or inductive—is either beyond them, beneath them or above them.
When President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus in 1862 (a couple of times, actually), he conceded the possible unconstitutionality of what he had done but concluded that since the move was necessary in a time when half the country was at war with the other half, he would take his chances with Congress, the courts, and history. The country’s current chief executive finds Lincoln comparisons disconcerting, but this is a case where he might pay attention, because his legal grounds for unilaterally raising the ceiling on the national debt in a time of congressionally inflicted crisis are no weaker than Lincoln’s and probably stronger.
In all the attention paid to the drama over the fiscal cliff, most people momentarily forgot that there were a few other important things the 112th Congress was supposed to take care of before its ignominious term came to an end. But yesterday, thanks to a couple of prominent politicians criticizing their own party—something always guaranteed to garner plenty of media attention—everybody remembered that states in the Northeast, particularly New York and New Jersey, are still waiting on federal disaster aid. First New Jersey governor Chris Christie came out and gave a blistering press conference in which he blasted House Republicans for not taking up the relief bill, saying, "There is only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims: the House majority and their speaker, John Boehner." Christie also said he called Boehner multiple times, but Boehner wouldn't return his calls. Then Rep. Peter King, a Republican from New York, delivered a rather extraordinary statement on Fox News, not only urging people in New York and New Jersey not to donate to members of his party, but referring to them as "these Republicans," as though they were from a group of which he was not a part. "These Republicans have no problem finding New York when they're out raising millions of dollars," King said. "I'm saying right now, anyone from New York or New Jersey who contributes one penny to Congressional Republicans is out of their minds. Because what they did last night was put a knife in the back of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans. It was an absolute disgrace." Yow!
When Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association made his dramatic statements about the Newtown shooting, he placed the blame on some familiar suspects: not just insufficient militarization of elementary schools, but movies and video games. "Media conglomerates," he said, "compete with one another to shock, violate, and offend every standard of civilized society by bringing an ever more toxic mix of reckless behavior and criminal cruelty into our homes." But Matt Gertz of Media Matters discovered that the NRA is actually not so opposed to movies that feature people shooting each other. In fact, the NRA's National Firearms Museum features an exhibit called "Hollywood Guns," in which you can check out the actual guns used in some of your favorite films (go to the end of this post for a video of the NRA museum curator proudly showing off the movie guns).
You might respond that the NRA is full of crap when it points the finger at Hollywood, which of course it is. But let's take them at their word for a moment and examine the claim...
New Jersey governor Chris Christie has never been one to mince words—he became a conservative heartthrob during his first gubernatorial campaign thanks to a string of anti-union screeds that made the rounds on YouTube. But on Wednesday, Christie took aim at his fellow Republicans for their failure to pass a relief bill for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. “There is only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims: the House majority and their Speaker John Boehner,” Christie said during a press conference today. Boehner had promised to introduce the bill following the fiscal-cliff impasse but adjourned the House Tuesday night without offering a vote.
Every so often, Congress has to tackle “no-brainer” legislation. These are bills that, for the most part, are broadly supported by both parties and don’t require much in the way of time, negotation, or effort to resolve and pass. One of them is the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which provides funding for shelters and other services, and targets resources toward prosecution of violent crimes against women. The law has come up for reauthorization twice before—in 2000 and 2005—and in both cases passed without substantial opposition.
For gay-marriage advocates, 2012 marked a major turning point—not only did they see wins in the Washington and Maryland state legislatures, but voters in both states as well as in Maine voted to give same-sex couples the right to get hitched. But 2013 may prove to be even more momentous, as lawmakers in several other states plan to push the issue.
Of the many frustrating things about political punditry, one of the most frustrating is the extent to which many writers choose to ignore core facts about our political world and instead rely on generalities, intuition, and lazy conventional wisdom. For one great (terrible?) example of this, look no further than the most recent column from Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal, in which he blames the near-collapse of the fiscal-cliff deal on “both sides”: