Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

News Flash: Americans Still Don't Understand Deficits

Business Insider
At Business Insider, Walter Hickey reports results from an online survey (commissioned by the website) that show a public muddled over the consequences of going over the fiscal cliff. Per the survey, 47.4 percent of Americans said that the deficit would increase if we went over the cliff, only 12.6 percent say that it would decrease. Here are the full results: Yes, this is an online poll, and you should take the results with a grain of salt. Still, this remarkable, given the fact that the whole reason to worry about the cliff is that it would put the United States on a path of large and (relatively) rapid austerity. With that said, I’m not too surprised; most Americans don’t actually understand what the deficit is—opinions of the deficit are essentially a proxy for opinions of the economy writ large. Voters associate high deficits with poor economic performance—the public might say that it wants more action to lower the deficit, but what it means is that it wants Washington to improve...

The Importance of Elizabeth Warren

(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
The Boston Globe , Politico, and Huffington Post are all reporting that Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren has been granted her wish to get a seat on the Senate Banking Committee. This victory for progressives is huge. It means that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid—who makes the committee selection, later ratified by the Democratic caucus—did not cave to pressure from either the financial lobby or from Senate Banking Committee Chairman, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, who is effectively part of that lobby. (South Dakota gutted its usury laws decades ago to make the state hospitable to the back office operations of the biggest banks.) It isn’t just that Warren is a resolute progressive. It’s that she knows so much about the financial industry, from her years as chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel for the TARP, and before that as one of the leading scholars of bankruptcy and consumer abuses. And it’s that she’s incorruptible, as well as very smart. More than your typical freshman...

Better-Looking, Spunkier Senator From Kentucky Now a Possibility

In 1964, George Murphy was elected as the junior senator from California. Murphy, a Republican, had been a song-and-dance man in the thirties and forties, appearing in Hollywood musicals. Despite having a substantial career as a political operative after leaving show business (he had led the California Republican party, among other things), the idea that a performer would be a U.S. senator struck some people as absurd, so much so that satirist Tom Lehrer wrote a song about Murphy ("At last we've got a senator who can really sing and dance!"). When Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California two years later, it didn't seem so funny anymore. Which brings us to today's political-entertainment news : Ashley Judd vs. Mitch McConnell? It might not be as far-fetched as you think. The Hollywood movie star and eighth-generation Kentuckian is seriously exploring a 2014 run for the Senate to take on the powerful Republican leader, four people familiar with the matter tell POLITICO. In...

Resistance (on Tax Rates) Is Futile

Google
Google Obama will force you to bend to slightly higher tax rates on rich people. It seems that Republicans are beginning to understand the futility of their opposition to higher tax rates on the wealthiest Americans. Writing for the Washington Examiner , Byron York reveals the extent to which GOP lawmakers know the weakness of their position: [M]any in the GOP do not believe that raising the rate on top earners from 35 percent to 39.6 percent (the rate before the Bush tax cuts) would seriously damage the economy. Second, they know that most Americans approve of higher taxes on the top bracket, and President Obama, having campaigned and won on that platform, seems dead-set on higher rates. Third, they fear that if the government does go over the cliff and Democrats propose re-lowering taxes for everyone except the highest earners, Republicans would be in the impossible position of resisting tax cuts for 98 percent of the country on behalf of the top 2 percent. It’s hard to overstate...

Republicans, Exposed

(Flickr/David Silver)
President Barack Obama’s persistence has managed to smoke out House Speaker John Boehner and the Republicans. Their just-announced plan for cutting the deficit is what we suspected: cuts in Medicare and Social Security; no higher tax rates on the rich; limits on tax deductions that would hit the middle class as well as the wealthy, but only raise half the revenue of Obama’s plan; and a lot of fudging with numbers. The Republicans might as well be parading around with a sign that reads “Kick Me.” None of this stuff solves the real problem of getting a recovery going. If you believe that deficit reduction is required, it doesn’t even solve that. And the plan cuts into social insurance programs that are hugely popular, while Obama defends them. Best of all, the corporate deficit hawks marching under the banner “Fix the Debt” are left out in the cold. Nobody is emphasizing austerity as an economic cure. Corporate Democrat Erskine Bowles is yesterday’s news (sit down, please), almost as...

It's Time to Kill the Debt Ceiling

(AP Photo/CBS News, Chris Usher)
There are a number of strange aspects to the negotiation/maneuvering/posturing now taking place between the White House and congressional Republicans about the Austerity Trap (a.k.a. fiscal cliff), but one that hasn't gotten much attention is the disagreement over the debt ceiling. As part of their initial offer, the White House included something I and other people have been advocating for some time: Just get rid of the debt ceiling altogether. The Republicans, particularly in the House, don't seem to be interested. But we should take a good look at how crazy their position on this issue is. In an ordinary negotiation, each side has things it wants, while it dislikes some or all of the things the other side wants. A union wants higher wages for its workers, while the company doesn't want to pay the higher wages. You'd rather have your partner do the laundry while you do the dishes, but your partner doesn't like doing the laundry either. The White House wants to increase taxes on the...

Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

Since President Obama unveiled his proposal for the fiscal cliff last week, Republicans have been complaining that it’s nothing new. “After the election, I offered to speed this up by putting revenue on the table and unfortunately, the White House responded with their la-la land offer that couldn’t pass the House, couldn’t pass the Senate, and it was basically the president’s budget from last February,” House Majority Leader John Boehner told reporters this afternoon. As such, there’s been some anticipation about what Republicans would offer. If the GOP is so opposed to old ideas, then surely they’d come up with something new and exciting to break the impasse over the fiscal cliff? Nope. To be fair, House Republicans haven’t actually offered anything yet—instead, they’ve presented an earlier House budget bill as what they would offer if they took the White House proposal seriously. This of course flies in the face of Boehner’s disdain for “old” policies, but at this point there’s no...

How to Talk about a Changing America

New American citizens at a naturalization ceremony at the Grand Canyon. (Flickr/Grand Canyon NPS)
After the election revealed the central demographic problem the GOP faces—it is emphatically the party of white people in a country that grows more diverse by the day—there was some triumphalism among liberals about this state of affairs. But the always humane and thoughtful Harold Pollack reminds us that we should reserve some sympathy for the people who feel unsettled by the rapid pace of change in 21st century America: These are good people, mostly older and white, who are unsettled and scared by the pace of social change in America. Same-sex marriage, legalized marijuana, talk of legalized status for undocumented immigrants—that's a lot of change to accept within just a few years. I met some others, too. Consider the liberal Jews of my parents' generation who sense—accurately, I think–that the coming generation of liberal politicians can read from the hymnal but don't sway with the music about Israel the way the generation of 1967 and 1973 once did. It's an irony of recent history...

Party of Rich Guys Suffers from Image as Party of Rich Guys

Typical Republican youth.
Losing is never good for your party's image, but Mitt Romney may have left the GOP in a particularly bad position by reinforcing the party's most unappealing characteristic. As a son of privilege worth hundreds of millions of dollars, Romney would have to have labored hard to convince voters he wouldn't just be a representative of his class, perhaps in the way George W. Bush did 12 years before (though buying a ranch, putting on a cowboy hat, and clearing brush might not have worked as well for Romney). Instead, he did just the opposite, again and again drawing attention to the fact that he was a rich guy representing a party of rich guys ("Corporations are people, my friends," "47 percent"). Combine that with the current argument over upper-income tax cuts, and Republicans are going to have a particularly difficult time in the near future convincing voters they have their interests at heart. Not that this is a new problem. As John Sides explains , "Party images do not change quickly...

Refighting the 1950s

Pat McDermott-public relations
Pat McDermott-public relations Ross Douthat says women should be more open to child-rearing, as in this scene from Leave it to Beaver . I t’s hard to overstate the role of demographics in shaping the challenges that face the United States over the next few decades. To use one prominent example, the rush to reform entitlements and the focus on restraining health-care costs owe themselves to demographics—an unusually large cohort of people are due to retire from the workforce and will begin to strain our social insurance programs. Likewise, efforts to prepare for this inevitability—such as the Affordable Care Act—are hampered by, again, demographics; as we saw in the 2010 midterm elections, older voters are loath to sign on to anything that looks like a change to the status quo. With that said, if the United States has a distinct advantage over its similarly situated fellow travelers in Europe and elsewhere, it’s due to demographics. Thanks to mass immigration, our birthrate has held...

Ongoing Conservative Delusions

Ted Cruz, the future of the Republican party. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
There's a phenomenon I've long noticed among liberals dissatisfied with Barack Obama, whereby they'll say, "He's never said X!", with X being some kind of defense of liberal values or articulation of the liberal position on a particular issue. But if you look through his speeches and comments, you'll find that just about every time, he has in fact said whatever it is he's being blamed for never saying. Maybe he hasn't said it often enough for your liking, but the real problem is probably that saying it didn't have the effect you wanted. I thought of that reading this article by Molly Ball about a gathering of conservatives yesterday at which new senator Ted Cruz of Texas was the headliner: "More than a few conservatives say, well, if the voters want to bankrupt our country, let them suffer the consequences," he said. But the real problem, Cruz said, was that "Republicans were curled up in the fetal position, so utterly terrified of the words 'George W. Bush'" -- for whom Cruz once...

A New, Tougher Obama?

(AP Photo)
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. The White House proposal included only $400 billion in spending cuts over a decade, none of which cut into Social Security or Medicare—details to be filled in later. Obama also proposed a change in the law to eliminate the obstructionist ritual of requiring a congressional vote to periodically increase the debt ceiling. (The debt increase has already been obligated by previous congressional actions, so the debt-ceiling vote is entirely redundant and nothing but an opportunity for mischief.) The Republicans, not surprisingly, dismissed the White House position out of hand. Two things are encouraging about Obama’s...

Explaining the Mortgage Interest Deduction

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. The mortgage interest deduction came about essentially by accident. When the Constitution was amended in 1913 to allow for an income tax, Congress made all interest payments deductible. Mortgage interest wasn't mentioned specifically, and there was no suggestion that this was something necessary to promote home ownership. But as more Americans...

Jon Huntsman Critiques the Republican Party

Wikipedia Commons
Jamelle Bouie 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.” Of course, there’s a certain amount of sour grapes in this...

The Ovaltine Summit in the Oval Office

(AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Romney: Thanks for having me here to the Oval Office to bury the hatchet, Mr. President. I know we both care deeply about America and its future. Obama: Really? Because that's not what you said about me during the campaign. You said I didn't understand America and I had foreign ideas. Romney: Oh, that was just campaign stuff! I didn't mean any of that. What is it the kids say? Don't hate the player, hate the game. Obama: You getting a little hip-hop on me there, Mitt? Romney: Well sir, I've long prided myself on my ability to be "down" with young people and their culture. And as I understand it, even many white kids listen to hip-hop these days. Imagine that! Obama: Yeah. Anyway, how's the post-political life treating you? Romney: Not too bad, although I have to admit it's a little slow. I know you're going to say, "Hey, he's rich, he must spend his days literally bathing in cash and gold coins like Scrooge McDuck." Common misconception. My money isn't in cash in a room in my house,...

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