In response to pushback from Congress and progressive activists following a report in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal that Obama had offered to be “flexible” on tax-rate hikes for the very richest, the White House formally unveiled a tough bargaining stance: $1.6 billion in tax increases over a decade, all on the top two brackets, and no tax hikes for the bottom 98 percent.
Biltmore House, where the mortgage is probably paid off by now. (Flickr/Steve and Sara Emry)
Something strange has happened in the past few days as we have approached the Austerity Trap (aka "fiscal cliff"). Suddenly, people are actually talking about the possibility of cutting back on the home interest deduction, a "gift," as Mitt Romney might call it, that dwarfs most others the federal government distributes (among tax expenditures, only the deduction for health insurance costs the government more). I continue to believe that there's just no way Congress is going to touch the MID, cherished as it is by so many. But I could be wrong, and this is a good time to brush up on where the deduction came from and what its consequences are.
In the Huffington Post yesterday, Jon Huntsman gave his thoughts on the current state of the Republican Party:
His sharpest words were directed not to the future of the GOP but at the not-so-distant past. Huntsman described the Republican primary process as corrosive, producing pledge-signing, cookie-cutter candidates more interested in money and publicity than policy. Recalling one particular debate, Huntsman described the sensation he felt observing his fellow White House aspirants.
“Some do it professionally. Some were entertainers,” he said of the Republican presidential field. “I looked down the debate stage, and half of them were probably on Fox contracts at one point in their career. You do that. You write some books. You go out and you sell some more. You get a radio gig or a TV gig out of it or something. And it’s like, you say to yourself, the barriers of entry to this game are pretty damn low.”
Washington is full of advocates and lobbyists, working in organizations both large and small. The ones that we think of as the most powerful, like the AARP or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are huge operations with armies of people swarming Capitol Hill and deluging reporters with press releases. Then there's Grover Norquist. One guy (actually a guy with an organization, Americans for Tax Reform), with one issue, who has done such a spectacular job of bending Washington to his will that he has become a national figure. In the upcoming Congress, there will be 234 Republicans, 219 of whom have signed The Pledge, the promise never to raise taxes. In the Senate there will be 45 Republicans, 39 of whom have signed. The Pledge (you can see it here; it's all of 60 words) commits its signatories not only to "oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses," but also to "oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates." While a few Republicans have come out in the last few weeks to say they will consider reneging on The Pledge as part of a deal to avoid the upcoming Austerity Trap, this debate is still constrained to an extraordinary degree by Norquist and the rules he has set.
Republicans might deny most forms of science, but after this past election, they at least recognize polling realities. The demographic trajectory of the country spells doom for the GOP in future national elections, unless they figure out a way to buck the trend and appeal to groups beyond white voters. For now, the new emerging majority strongly favors Democrats. Young voters? Check. Among voters under the age of 30, Obama won 60-37 percent. Hispanics? Voted for Obama 71-27 percent and turned out in record numbers. As South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham described his party's predicament earlier this year, “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”
At any given time, there will be a few people celebrated among partisans on each side in Washington because they have left their own tribe and come to the other side to assure them that their opponents are just as terrible as they imagined. The apostate promises not only a validation of what you believed, but a thrilling insider perspective on the other side's true nature. Becoming one of these dissidents is surely painful, but it also promises both professional opportunity and intellectual satisfaction, as you may well find yourself lauded more often and more loudly than you had been when you were just one of hundreds of operatives or thinkers on your own side...
It’s gone under the radar, but Politico reported this morning that, after a private request from President Obama to raise the debt ceiling, House Speaker John Boehner responded with a (not so) veiled demand.
“There is a price for everything.”
Sure, but that doesn’t mean you always have to pay it. Unlike last year, when he needed House Republicans to raise the debt ceiling—lest the United States fall into a second recession—Obama has all the leverage in this situation. If he does nothing, taxes on the rich return to their Clinton-era levels, and Republicans will have to negotiate from an unfavorable baseline.
In New York magazine, Benjamin Wallace-Wells has a long article about the failure of the War on Drugs, in which he says, "Without really acknowledging it, we are beginning to experiment with a negotiated surrender." This is in reference to the recently passed marijuana legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington, which will likely be followed by other states in upcoming elections. Hanging over these policy changes is the still-to-be-determined reaction of the Obama administration, which hasn't yet said whether it plans to send DEA agents to crack down on the businesses these laws allow for, or the growing operations they'll produce. And I'm beginning to suspect that the administration will try to set some kind of policy course intended to be as low-key and neutral as possible, neither giving the two states the green light to proceed as their new laws envision, nor embarking on some kind of dramatic and visible crackdown.
Photograph by Scout Tufankjian for Obama for America
One of the surprises on Election Day was turnout among young voters. Rather than decline, the youth vote went up as a proportion of the electorate, from 18 percent to 19 percent. The most recent analysis from the Pew Research Center, which looks at the composition of the youth vote, offers a few clues as to why that may have been the case.
In case you missed it, Team Marriage Equality just won five different statewide votes (I’m counting the Iowa race, where NOM failed in its attempt to recall one of the Supreme Court justices who voted for equal marriage). Okay, so maybe you heard. Everyone and her brother has been reporting on the ballot breakthrough, including me in my most giddily Tiggerish incarnation.
This year's election wasn't the most negative in history, or the most trivial. But it did see a few new developments, including one particularly troubling one: the spread of politics into some places it used to be unwelcome. And not just any politics, but a kind of ill-informed, antagonistic kind of politics, the kind that says that your party losing is literally a national catastrophe and that there is no such thing as an opponent, only an enemy. When we hear ridiculous stories like that of the gun store owner in Arizona who took out an ad in the local paper proclaiming, "If you voted for Barack Obama, your business is NOT WELCOME at Southwest Shooting Authority," we aren't surprised.
For the past week, GOP lawmakers have been falling over themselves to move away from Grover Norquist, pied piper of low tax rates on rich people (see Daily Meme. Tennessee Senator Bob Corker said that he was not “obligated on the pledge,” and Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss followed suit, telling a local TV station that he cares “more about his country” than a “20-year-old pledge.” Likewise, South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham declared that he would violate his promise for the good of the country, only if Democrats will "do entitlement reform."
House Committee on Education and the Workforce Dem / Flickr
Of the various post-election stories, the GOP’s “Latino problem” is one of the most prominent. At some point over the last three weeks, every prominent Republican leader has had something to say about the party’s poor performance with Latino voters.
Less remarked upon, but just as important, is the GOP’s abysmal showing with Asian Americans. Most exit polls show President Obama winning Asian Americans 3-to–1, a larger spread than his margin among Latinos, and second only to African Americans, who gave nearly all of their votes to the president.