Ringside

Ringside Seat: Down Goes the Deficit

In case it slipped your mind during all this talk of scandal and impeachment, official Washington has spent the last couple of years gnashing its teeth about the budget deficit. Even as European austerity policies threw the continent into a period of extended despair, Republicans and their allies in the well-appointed conference rooms of "centrist" think tanks told us sternly that unemployment would have to wait; the most immediate crisis was the deficit. Well today, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued its latest deficit projection , and lo and behold, it turns out that mercilessly slashing spending and allowing some modest tax increases has an impact. They project the deficit will be $642 billion this year, lower than it has been since 2008. Not only that, the CBO's projections of future Medicare spending have been reduced as well. Hard as it might be to wrap your head around the idea, there has been some good news of late on the fiscal front. So here's a bold prediction:...

Ringside Seat: Taxghazi

Within hours after the news broke that the Internal Revenue Service singled out Tea Party and other conservative groups that had applied for tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status for extra scrutiny, conservatives were already complaining that the story wasn't getting enough play in the media. "Imagine if this had happened under President Bush!" they cried. For starters, it actually did. In that case, it was the FBI, not the IRS, that went after liberal groups under the pretense that they might be harboring al Qaeda terrorists (after all, it's well known that the first thing a sleeper cell does when they get to the U.S. is maintain their low profile by participating in an anti-war protest). Now that there are finally a couple of Obama administration "scandals" for conservatives and the media to chew on, we're going to be hearing a lot of comparisons to what went on in prior administrations, so it will be useful to get our history straight. One Republican after another has declared the Benghazi...

Ringside Seat: Bad Heritage

When Jim DeMint left the Senate to assume command of the Heritage Foundation, some people questioned the wisdom of the move. Not from DeMint's perspective—after all, instead of being a staunchly conservative member of the minority party with a staff of a few dozen whose job was to throw rhetorical bombs at the majority and say mean things about Barack Obama, now he'd have a staff of a few hundred and rule one of the right's most important institutions, not to mention probably quadrupling his salary. No, the puzzle was why a think tank like Heritage would want someone like DeMint, not known for putting much stock in thinking, as its leader. And before you know it, Heritage is taking a huge hit to its reputation. It was always known for producing tendentious analyses of issues, but the report it released this week on immigration, claiming that reform would cost the country trillions of dollars, was a masterpiece of glaring omissions and questionable assumptions; included among the...

Ringside Seat: The American People Will See!

Yet again, congressional Republicans have devoted time and energy to hitting the Obama administration over the incident in Benghazi, Libya, where a diplomat and several other State Department employees were killed in an assault by a heavily-armed group. The administration insists that this was a tragic accident, and an investigation has cleared officials of wrongdoing or serious mistakes. But Republicans continue to believe that this was mishandled, to the extent that administration officials are covering up key information. They point to inconsistent talking points from the White House—originally, the attacks were blamed on a video—and the question of security around the compound. For the last nine months, Republicans on the House Oversight Committee have tried to prove this point with constant hearings, each aimed at a different facet of the alleged cover-up. And each time, they find nothing. There’s no doubt the administration made mistakes in handling Benghazi, but there’s no...

Ringside Seat: Sanford v. Colbert Busch

Down in South Carolina, one of the more ridiculous special elections in recent history is wrapping up today. That the race in the extremely conservative 1 st district is close at all can be attributed partly to the reflected fame of Democratic candidate Elizabeth Colbert Busch, who happens to be Stephen Colbert's sister, partly to the fact that she massively outraised him thanks to generous donation drops from D.C., but mostly to the fact that when approximately 275 Republicans ran in the primary (OK, it was only 16, but still), Mark Sanford—whose first name was officially changed to "Disgraced former governor" due to that one time he abandoned his official duties and his family to go "hike the Appalachian Trail," a.k.a. "run off to Argentina to see his mistress"—came out on top. There's nothing conservatives love more than a redemption story, and Sanford's chutzpah in making a political comeback may pay off, as late polls had him pulling even with Busch. To be realistic, there are...

Ringside Seat: A Scandal Is a Wish Your Heart Makes

There are few things that irritate Republicans more than the fact that Barack Obama went through an entire term with nothing but minor scandals to tie him down. No Watergate, no Iran-Contra, no Lewinsky, not even a little Valerie Plame. It wasn't that the GOP didn't try to create one, though. There was "Fast and Furious," in which the administration supposedly let Mexican drug gangs get all kinds of weapons from the U.S. on purpose, so that when it was revealed it could be used as an excuse to take away everybody's guns. Despite the Republicans' best efforts, the conspiracy theory didn't pan out. There was Solyndra, in which the administration supposedly knowingly squandered taxpayer money on a bunch of their cronies using a technology destined to fail. Alas, no sinister criminal activity was found there, either. As scandals go, they were small beans. But then, in the heat of the 2012 campaign, came Benghazi. Four Americans dead, a slightly misinformed Susan Rice repeating slightly...

Ringside Seat: Executive Disorder

Last summer, Congress passed a law reducing the number of executive-branch positions that require Senate confirmation. One hundred and sixty-six offices would now be able to be filled without endless hearings, anonymous "holds," and everything else that slows down the process of getting people to do the work of government. So, did that streamline hiring and make the executive branch more nimble? Hardly. The problem is that there are still an incredible 1,200 positions that have to go through the "advise and consent" process. We all agree that it's a good idea for the Senate to exercise its oversight when it comes to lifetime judicial appointments and high-ranking positions like cabinet secretaries. But are there really 1,200 people working in the executive branch from whom we couldn't be safe unless they had a confirmation hearing? And the problem now isn't the people working in the far corners of the Commerce or Agriculture departments, it's the jobs sitting unfilled. As The New York...

Ringside Seat: Guns Don't Support Senators. Voters Do.

And the polling is not looking pretty.

It has long been axiomatic among political professionals that gun-rights supporters vote based on the gun issue, while those who favor more restrictive gun laws don't. Consequently, office-holders believe that contradicting the National Rifle Association (NRA) carries a political cost, while supporting the NRA's position doesn't, even when the group is at odds with what most Americans want. That may partly explain why expanded background checks, which polls have shown enjoy the support of nine out of ten Americans, weren't able to overcome a Republican filibuster to pass the Senate. But that conventional wisdom may turn out to be wrong. A new round of polls from Public Policy Polling, a Democratic polling firm (but one with an admirable record for accuracy) shows that senators who voted against the background check bill have suffered losses in their standing among home-state voters since the bill failed. And polls in Louisiana and North Carolina show Senators Mary Landrieu and Kay...

Ringside Seat: "I'm Black and I'm Gay"

In recent weeks, rumors have been swirling around the sports world that a currently active male athlete from one of the four major sports—baseball, football, basketball, and hockey—was about to come out as gay. Today, we found out who it is: NBA center Jason Collins, in an upcoming cover story for Sports Illustrated , reveals his sexuality to the world. Collins, a journeyman who has played for six teams, is at the tail end of his career—he's 34—and is what is referred to as a "defensive specialist," meaning he doesn't score very much. Nevertheless, this is a significant moment. There have been retired players from all four of those sports who have come out in the past, but Collins is the first to do so while still playing. It was without doubt a courageous thing to do. But as Collins is lauded, we should acknowledge that gay athletes from earlier times whose sexuality became public—voluntarily or otherwise—faced much more difficult roads than Collins likely will. For example, in 1981...

Ringside Seat: D.C. Rager

So if you want to get all the scuttlebutt from the dinner, you'll have to check in with Vanity Fair or CNN. But chances are you won't miss much if you don't bother. There hasn't been an interesting Correspondents' Dinner since Stephen Colbert ridiculed the press in 2006, saying, "Here's how it works. The President makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spellcheck and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration? You know, fiction!" Awkward chuckles ensued. A lesson was learned, and in subsequent years the jokes have been just biting enough to be moderately funny without genuinely indicting anyone's sense of themselves. And as one of the few times during the year when...

Ringside Seat: Bush League

"In the end," George W. Bush said in his speech at the opening of his presidential library today, "leaders are defined by the convictions they hold. And my deepest conviction, the guiding principle of the administration, is that the United States of America must strive to expand the reach of freedom." We don't mean to begrudge Bush his special day, but that's not just poppycock, it shows that he really has learned nothing since he left office. Unless, of course, he's happy with the conclusion of history on his presidency being, "George W. Bush: He meant well." Given the alternatives, he might be quite happy with that. The trouble is, presidents aren't defined by their convictions, they're defined by what they do . During his tenure, Bush was positively brimming with convictions, all born from his "gut," where he sought counsel whenever an important decision loomed. His conviction was that the Iraq War would turn out great. His conviction was that installing a policy of torturing...

Ringside Seat: Cry for Sanford, Argentina

Mark Sanford is getting desperate. At the beginning of this year, the South Carolina Republican looked like a good bet for the congressional seat that was vacated by Tim Scott after he was appointed senator (to replace arch-conservative Jim DeMint). Yes, the primary field was crowded, but he was a former governor who stood a chance at winning back voters alienated by his hike-not on the Appalachian Trail. And while he had a potentially strong Democratic opponent in Elizabeth Colbert-Busch—sister of comedian Stephen Colbert—odds were on his side; suburban South Carolina is tough territory for a Democrat. Sanford won the primary in a run-off earlier this week, which was followed—almost immediately—by the complete unraveling of his campaign. First came the revelation that Sanford was regularly trespassing on the property of his ex-wife Jenny Sanford, in direct violation of their divorce decree. The most recent trespass came in early February, when Sanford was still fighting in a primary...

Ringside Seat: Crossfrankly

Turn on cable news at most times of the day, and you can find a "debate" in which a program's host throws questions to two guests, one a conservative and one a liberal, invited on for their ability to slog their way through five soul-deadening minutes of motive-questioning and oft-repeated talking points. If you've ever watched one of these and said to yourself, "Maybe they should just lose the host and have these two yell at each other directly. And extend it to a whole half-hour!", then there might be a job waiting for you at CNN. A couple of weeks ago, we learned that the flagging news network is looking to revive Crossfire , the horror show of partisan bickering that it featured for more than two interminable decades beginning in the early 1980s. When Jon Stewart went on the show in late 2004 and begged the hosts to "stop hurting America," it was as though the veil had been lifted and everyone finally realized how awful it truly was. The show was put out of its considerable misery...

Ringside Seat: How Much Bull Could a Sen. Chuck Chuck?

When you learned that the suspects in the Boston bombing were ethnic Chechens who came to the United States as children, you may have had any number of thoughts. Chances are, though, that "I'm just glad Obamacare hasn't taken effect, otherwise they might have gotten health insurance subsidies" wasn't among them. But that seems to be where Chuck Grassley's mind went. The Iowa Republican senator said today that the Boston attack showed that we ought not pass comprehensive immigration reform too quickly. "How do we ensure," Grassley asked, "that people who wish to do us harm are not eligible for benefits under the immigration laws, including this new bill before us?" Grassley was once considered reasonable and somewhat moderate, a legislator who would not only cross the aisle from time to time, but who could be counted on to at least go about the lawmaking business in a civil way. But somewhere along the line, Grassley went off the rails. When the Judiciary Committee was debating the...

Ringside Seat: Limbaugh vs. Rubio

It's one thing to fight for something when you know the base of your party is behind you. You may not succeed, but you only have to face fire from one direction, and it's the one you're used to. But when your own core supporters are opposing you, things can get very complicated. That's what many Republicans are now facing as they try to pass immigration reform, the sine qua non of repairing their abysmal image among Latino voters. Republicans in both houses of Congress are working with Democrats to come up with a plan, but Republicans aren't sure they can get their own base to support it. As the misinformation begins to fly (don't ask about the mythical " MarcoPhone "), GOP members are trying desperately to convince conservatives that comprehensive immigration reform is a good idea. Today, Marco Rubio went on Rush Limbaugh's show to defend the proposal he and the other "Gang of Eight" members came up with, facing off against the right's most powerful media figure. "The Republican...

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