Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

What Goes Around (Comes Back Around)

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I find little to disagree with in Scott Lemieux’s look at the legality of minting a trillion-dollar coin . For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, the idea is simple. When the president is required to spend all money authorized by Congress, in most instances, that requires the Treasury to borrow money to fulfill congressional obligations. But Congress has also imposed a borrowing limit on the Treasury. In the past, Congress has lifted the limit with little fuss, but beginning in 2011, House Republicans have used it as leverage for spending cuts. If Treasury reaches the limit without paying its full obligations, it defaults, which would have catastrophic consequences for the global economy. At the moment, Republicans are threatening not to lift the limit (though, there is some question of their sincerity). This leaves President Obama with three options: He can let the government default, triggering a global recession. He can concede spending cuts to the GOP, giving further...

The Banks Win Again

AP Photo/Mike Groll, File
Last February, the big banks agreed to a major “settlement” to protect themselves from litigation by state attorneys general stemming from fraudulent documentation of mortgages. Though some, such as New York’s crusading attorney general Eric Schneiderman, believed that the government had leverage to get a lot more, the settlement required the banks to pony up some $25 billion to settle outstanding charges. The banks, without admitting wrongdoing, agreed to reform fraudulent practices, such as “robo-signing” and proceeding with foreclosures on one track while supposedly helping borrowers to adjust terms on another. The settlement reserved the government’s right to continue criminal prosecutions. But there was a lot of double counting of funds already committed, and at the end of the day the banks parted with only a few billion dollars in new money, precious little of which went to relief of damaged mortgage holders. Only about $2.5 billion has found its way to actual principal...

The Clear Legality of the Platinum-Coin Solution

It's likely that early this year we will once again see another debt ceiling crisis, with Republicans in Congress threatening the credit of the United States in order to win unpopular policy concessions. One increasingly popular idea for getting out of this cycle of hostage-taking is for the president to mint a trillion-dollar platinum coin that would allow the federal government to meet its outlays even if Congress refuses to lift the debt ceiling to allow the executive branch to cover the expenditures is has already required. Support for the idea, however, is far from unanimous. Mother Jones 's Kevin Drum has argued and reiterated that progressives are wrong to support the idea. The platinum-coin idea, Drum argues, is "not legal," and a legal challenge "would go against Obama 9-0 if it ever made it to the Supreme Court." Drum's objections, however, are erroneous. The platinum coin would be legal, and if the Republicans were to shoot their metaphorical hostage (i.e. the American...

Assault-Weapon Bans Are Not Enough

Flickr/M Glasgow
Flickr/M Glasgow Gun buyers examining merchandise at the Houston Gun Show T he Newtown elementary school massacre has finally sparked a discussion about what to do about the 80 gun deaths in America each day, seven of which are children. But the dialogue remains constrained, as if we know we have to talk about gun control but we’re still afraid the National Rifle Association (NRA) will scold us as anti-freedom oppressors or start shooting. Beyond the obvious—banning assault weapons and limiting the size of gun clips—there is little information or analysis about concrete reforms that could make a difference. We’re still shying away from basic issues like how criminals, youths, and mass murderers get guns, why existing laws don’t seem to provide rudimentary safety, and why so little attention is paid—and so little responsibility ascribed—to the purveyors and profiteers of the gun industry. Gun crimes are usually discussed as if the transactions and guns involved are illegal, but the...

The Only Solution Is Fewer Guns

AP Photo/Robert Ray
On an April Sunday in 1996, a young man named Martin Bryant went to the popular tourist site of Port Arthur in Australia, and using a pair of semi-automatic rifles, undertook a massacre that spread over several locations and killed 35 people. The crime was so horrific that previously pro-gun politicians changed their positions, and less than two weeks later the government announced sweeping changes to the country's gun laws, outlawing automatic and semi-automatic weapons, instituting lengthy waiting periods and background checks for gun purchases, and creating a gun buyback program that eventually resulted in a fifth of the country's firearms being destroyed. In the years since, the country's rates of gun homicide and suicide have fallen dramatically, and Australia has not had another mass shooting. What happened in Australia—a terrible tragedy galvanizing public sentiment and leading to a significant change in policy—is something many Americans fervently wish would happen here in the...

It's Getting Hot in Here

Fears of the Mayan apocalypse might have been for naught, but that doesn't mean 2012 went by without any new signs of our world's impending doom. On Tuesday the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the United States experienced record temperatures in 2012 . Last year's average temperature of 55.3°F is a full one degree higher than 1998, the old record-holder. According to one study, weather stations across the country recorded 34,008 new daily highs, juxtaposed against a paltry 6,664 new record lows. Those warm days led to a variety of problems. Last year was also the 15 th driest year on the books, including a devastating summer drought that crippled much of the West and Midwest. The winters seem to grow milder each year; some cities like D.C. haven't seen substantial snowfall in nearly two years. Super-charged storms wrecked havoc throughout the year, culminating with Hurricane Sandy. But don't try telling Republican deniers. And don't hold your breath for...

Obama's Expensive Commitment to Deportations

Rødt nytt / Flickr
There were two reasons to legitimately doubt the level of Latino support and enthusiasm for Obama last year—the economy, and deportations. By last July, Obama had deported 1.4 million undocumented immigrants since the beginning of his administration, or 1.5 times more immigrants on average than Bush deported every month. This high and sustained pace of deportations fueled fair questions about the extent to which Latinos would support Obama’s reelection bid. In the end, of course, Latinos gave overwhelming support for Obama. But there’s little sign Obama will ease on deportations, especially given the extent to which the administration has invested in immigration enforcement. According to the nonpartisan Migration Research Institute, reports The New York Times , the Obama administration spent more than $18 billion on enforcement last year. That’s more than was spent on all the other major federal law enforcement agencies combined. Here are a few of details: According to the report,...

Is Obama Aloof? Sure. Does it Matter? No.

Intel Photos / Flickr
Intel Photos / Flickr Astute observers of American politics know that President Obama—more so than his immediate predecessors—operates in an unusual institutional environment, at least by historical standards. Forty years ago, bipartisan coalitions were (relatively) easy to assemble. Because both parties were geographically mixed—with members from all regions of the country—it was possible to assemble a legislative majority of, for instance, northern Republicans and Democrats to pass something like the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And because the Senate operated by norms that privileged simple majorities, something controversial like the Social Security Act of 1965 could pass without need of a supermajority. Since then, the parties have become less heterodox and more polarized. Likewise, there’s been a sea change in the norms that govern congressional behavior. Both chambers operate as party cartels—where most legislation succeeds or fails on the strength of the majority party—and the...

Ted Cruz Is Crazy Like a Fox

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Texas has sent more than its share of nutty people to Washington—folks like Congressman Louie Gohmert , who, just days into 2013, defined hammers as a type of assault weapon and previously cried “terror babies” on Anderson Cooper. They may make a lot of noise and make some extreme statements, but at the end of the day, their impact is negligible. Don't expect Ted Cruz to be one of these people. Just a week into 2013, Cruz, the newly elected U.S. senator from Texas, has made a number of speeches that might lead many to to dismiss him as another hard-liner with little chance of having significant influence in the Senate. Over the weekend, he called the fiscal=cliff compromise “a lousy deal” for conservatives and made clear he wasn’t eager to work too closely with Democrats. “I don't think what Washington needs is more compromise,” he told Fox News . “I think what Washington needs is more common sense and more principle.” On PBS last night, he dismissed almost all attempts at gun control...

The Million Kids March: The Beginning of an Anti-Gun Movement?

Flickr/Jay Mallin
Flickr/Jay Mallin Dozens of anti-gun violence protesters at the lobbying offices of the NRA on Capitol Hill following the weekend shooting of 20 elementary school students and eight adults in Newtown, Connecticut L ike many other parents of school-age children, news of the Newtown, Connecticut, shootings hit close to home for David Bennahum, a New York tech entrepreneur and founder of the progressive American Independent News Network. The day after the attack, Bennahum took to Facebook: “I posted something along the lines of ‘What would really shift the debate is if you had a million kids march on Washington for gun control,” Bennahum says. “My friends on Facebook were like, ‘That’s a great idea. You should start a page about that.’” Two hours after starting the Facebook page, it had 600 “likes”; two days later, it had 3,000. With the backing of progressive leaders and organizers from his former life as a journalist, Bennahum forged ahead organizing the Million Kids March on...

Ending the Mindset that Got Us into Iraq

AP Photo/Bill Wolf
Rex Features via AP Images The nomination announcement for Chuck Hagel as the next Secretary of Defense and Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan as the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency, in the East Room of the White House. P resident Obama’s announcement yesterday of his nomination of former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense is important in a couple of ways. The first is that by following through with a candidate who faced one of the most intense negative pre-nomination campaigns in recent memory, the president signaled that is shaking off some of the caution that characterized his first term, and is prepared to undertake a bolder political course. Indeed, the opposition to Hagel already seems to be weakening in the face of an overwhelming outpouring of support for the nomination now that it has been announced. According to a former Democratic Senate staffer I spoke to, this was to be expected. “It...

Getting the Neocon Band Back Together Again

Today, President Obama officially nominated John Brennan to direct the CIA, since the previous director made a sudden departure (note to prospective Brennan biographers: Watch your step), but the other appointment, of former Nebraska Republican senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense, is what got all the attention. Republicans dutifully trooped to the cable cameras to say somberly that they are "troubled" and "concerned" by Hagel's nomination. Though Hagel was once their esteemed colleague, he made them very angry by turning against the Iraq War after having voted for it in the first place. Because, as they will tell you, the war went swimmingly, and anyone who fails to understand that may not have the judgment to lead the Pentagon. Though they'll almost certainly lose the battle over Hagel's nomination and look like extremists in the process (noticing a pattern here?), Republicans are plainly spoiling for a fight. Bill Kristol's Weekly Standard has gone all-hands-on-deck to...

We Don't Have a Spending Problem

Mother Jones
Over at Mother Jones , Kevin Drum marshals two charts showing—quite clearly—that the federal government has a revenue and aging problem, not a spending one. The first shows federal spending as a percentage of gross domestic product, from 1981 to the present: There was a spike in spending in 2009, but that was entirely a function of the recession, when the government—as it should—began spending more on unemployment insurance, food stamps, infrastructure, and other stimulus programs. That spike was larger that similar recessionary spikes in 1990 and 2001, but that’s because the 2008 recession was the most severe since the Great Depression. Even with the Affordable Care Act and other new programs passed under this administration, spending is on track to reach the modest levels of the Clinton era by the end of Obama’s presidency. As for revenue, a combination of tax cuts and recessions have plunged federal income receipts to their lowest levels in 30 years: So how does this square with...

Once Again, Obama Does Something No GOP President Bothers to Do

Ten points if you know who this is.
I'm sure there are many reasons why President Obama nominated Chuck Hagel to be secretary of Defense, but the fact that Hagel is a Republican surely played at least some part. After all, if he nominated a Democrat to head the Pentagon, congressional Republicans would surely oppose the nomination and charge that the nominee was too dovish. Which of course is exactly what has happened with Hagel (along with some truly despicable phony accusations of anti-Semitism*). I'm not the first liberal to be disappointed with the fact that Democratic presidents seem to feel the need to placate their opponents by picking Republicans for this particular position. As Michael Beschloss observed , Republican presidents have never picked a Democrat for this job, but about half the secretaries of Defense in Democratic administrations have been Republicans. What's most important to note about this is that there is no equivalent on the other side. Republican presidents don't feel the need to appoint...

Yep, Republicans Plan to Use the Debt Ceiling for "Leverage"

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
It seems I was mistaken about the GOP’s stance toward raising the debt ceiling: Top Republicans won’t walk away from using the limit as leverage for cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Here is what Mitch McConnell had to say on Meet the Press yesterday: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – who helped strike the fiscal-cliff deal with the Obama White House – didn’t disavow his 2011 comment that refusing to raise the debt ceiling is “a hostage that’s worth ransoming." McConnell told NBC’s Gregory yesterday, “What we’re saying here is the biggest problem confronting the country is our excessive spending. If we’re not going to deal with it now, when are we going to deal with it? And we’ve watched the government explode over the last four years. We’ve dealt with the revenue issue.” Likewise, in the House, Republicans are pressing Speaker John Boehner to take a stand on the debt ceiling. Here’s Politico : In a marked shift, Boehner allies are urging him — publicly and privately — to...

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