Jamelle Bouie

How Obama Can Win the Debt Ceiling by Threatening Mutual Destruction

Wikipedia
Last week, The Washington Post ’s Greg Sargent had the great idea of talking to an actual hostage negotiator, for a little more insight into the current situation with congressional Republicans and the debt ceiling. Throughout the interview, the negotiator stressed one key point: If you want to defuse a hostage situation, you have to show the hostage taker that you’re in control. For police, this is straightforward—they have lots of guns, and the hostage taker doesn’t. President Obama can’t sit the National Guard outside of John Boehner’s home, but the idea still holds. If congressional Republicans can see that he holds the cards in the situation, then they might walk away and agree to lift the debt ceiling. Obama already has one, important card—public opinion. Already, a solid majority of Americans say that the GOP is too extreme. If the government defaults on its obligations as a result of hitting the debt limit, there’s little doubt Americans will blame the Republican Party. But...

Higher Ed Is Still Pretty Segregated

DryHundredFear / Flickr
When it comes to racial segregation in higher education, the good news—according to a new paper from a professor at Georgetown University—is that four-year colleges are now less segregated than they were in the 1960s. The bad news is that they’re still pretty segregated. Here are the key findings: “[In] 1968, the typical white student attended a college that was 2.3 percent black. But by 2009, the typical white student attended a college that was 9.8 percent black. This percentage gain is much larger than overall black enrollment during this period, which also rose, from 5.5 percent to 13.7 percent.” In other words, it’s still the case that black students are clustered at a smaller number of colleges. “[C]olleges in the South remain more segregated than those in any other region when measured by dissimilarity or by black exposure to whites.” Thanks largely to the presence of historically black colleges and universities, black students are more likely to go to schools with large...

What Goes Around (Comes Back Around)

Google
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...

Obama's Expensive Commitment to Deportations

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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...

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...

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...

Barney Frank Walks Back on Hagel

World Economic Forum / Flickr
World Economic Forum / Flickr Republicans straining to present opposition to Chuck Hagel as bipartisan had a small assist from retired Massachusetts lawmaker Barney Frank last week, who because of Hagel’s 1998 criticism of Ambassador James Hormel—he called him “openly, aggressively gay”—said he “ strongly opposed ” his nomination to head the Defense Department. As of today, however, conservatives will no longer be able to cry crocodile tears on gay rights and turn to Frank as an example of anti-Hagel criticism from “both sides.” Here’s the Huffington Post : Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is softening his opposition to Chuck Hagel’s likely nomination as Defense Secretary, saying he is willing to overlook the former Republican senator’s past anti-gay remarks and positions. “As much as I regret what Hagel said, and resent what he said, the question now is going to be Afghanistan and scaling back the military,” Frank told the Boston Globe in an interview. ”In terms of the policy stuff...

Republicans' 40 Days in the Desert

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite Members of the 113th Congress, many accompanied by family members, take the oath of office in the House of Representatives. T here’s no way to spin the 2011 debt-ceiling crisis as anything other than ridiculous, but it’s easy to understand the mentality that led the GOP to hold the country hostage. Republicans had just won a massive victory in the House of Representatives and conservatives felt validated; the GOP majority was built with candidates who didn’t shy away from the right. Moreover—to the recently elected representatives—the public had sent them to Washington to cut spending , and the debt ceiling was a perfect opportunity to do just that. There’s much less clarity in the current situation. President Obama won re-election by a solid margin , taking 51 percent of the popular vote and 65 million votes overall. Democrats expanded their majority in the Senate, and managed to make a little headway in the House. For as much as it disappointed liberals...

Retreat of the Welfare State?

Pete Souza / White House
Pete Souza / White House In two excellent posts, Elias Isquith at his blog , and Ned Resnikoff at MSNBC argue that the broader welfare state—and not just entitlements—is in a state of retreat, and that this has been helped along by liberals in and outside of Washington, who have accepted austerity as a necessary objective. Isquith notes that “liberals are buying into what is fundamentally conservative framing—that we’re already spending as much as we reasonably can, that the government can do no more.” And, echoing that point, Resnikoff writes that “all the political momentum seems to be favoring maintaining our meager welfare state its current size—at best.” While both observations are true, I’m not sure that they’re framed in the right way. Yes, there’s been real retrenchment in the welfare state over the last two years, but how much of that is a product of liberal rhetoric and choices, and how much of it is the logical consequence of an election cycle where radically anti-...

The Final Tally

Scout Tufankjian for Obama for America
Scout Tufankjian for Obama for America It’s been almost two months, but we now have an official tally for the 2012 presidential election. In the end, President Obama won 65.9 million votes—or 51.1 percent—to Mitt Romney’s 60.9 million votes, or 47.2 percent of the vote. It’s a significant drop-off from President Obama’s 2008 total, but compares favorably to other presidential election efforts. Obama’s total vote share is larger than George W. Bush’s in either 2000 or 2004, Bill Clinton’s in 1996 and 1992, Ronald Reagan’s in 1980, and Jimmy Carter’s in 1976. Overall, Obama is the first president since Dwight Eisenhower to win 51 percent of the vote in two elections, and the first Democrat to do so since Franklin Roosevelt. It’s worth noting that the total for Mitt Romney is in line with what polling averages showed for most of the year. At no point during the year did Romney move significantly above 47 percent—he almost always hovered between 46 and 48 percent support. Which, in the...

The GOP's Dangerous Debt-Ceiling Threat

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr Even for someone unmoved by hyper-ideological, right-wing rhetoric, Senator John Cornyn’s most recent op-ed for the Houston Chronicle is astounding in its mendacity and utter disregard for responsible governance. To wit, after engaging in a little bizarro history—where he blames the president for brinksmanship on the debt ceiling and the fiscal cliff, as if Obama has an obligation to implement the GOP agenda—the two-term Texas lawmaker presents a government shutdown as a responsible way to force spending cuts: Over the next few months, we will reach deadlines related to the debt ceiling, the sequester and the continuing appropriations resolution that has funded federal operations since October. If history is any guide, President Obama won’t see fit to engage congressional Republicans until the 11th hour. In fact, he has already signaled an unwillingness to negotiate over the debt ceiling. This is unacceptable. […] The coming deadlines will be the next...

Holding Steady

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Estimates for December job growth converged at around 150,000 net jobs, and according to today’s report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy created almost exactly that: 155,000 new jobs, with a steady unemployment rate of 7.8 percent. The revisions show an economy that’s a little stronger than it looks; October was revised to 138,000 jobs from 137,000, and November was revised from 146,000 to 161,000. Three years after the stimulus was passed, and just a few months after the latest round of quantative easing, what we have is an economy that turns in steady, but unremarkable, growth. At the current rate, our unemployment rate will slowly decline to 6 percent by the end of President Obama’s term. This isn't a full recovery—unemployment would have to be at the five percent range for that—it would still make Obama a major job creator by historical standards. Current projections hold that the economy will grow by 12 million jobs by the end of 2016. Add to that the nearly 5...

New Congress, Same Republicans

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
The new Congress was sworn in today, which was cause for various writers to note the abysmal performance of the last Congress. Here’s Ezra Klein, for example, on the many, many failures of the 112th: What’s the record of the 112th Congress? Well, it almost shut down the government and almost breached the debt ceiling. It almost went over the fiscal cliff (which it had designed in the first place). It cut a trillion dollars of discretionary spending in the Budget Control Act and scheduled another trillion in spending cuts through an automatic sequester, which everyone agrees is terrible policy. It achieved nothing of note on housing, energy, stimulus, immigration, guns, tax reform, infrastructure, climate change or, really, anything. It’s hard to identify a single significant problem that existed prior to the 112th Congress that was in any way improved by its two years of rule. The 112th, which was gaveled into being on Jan. 3, 2011, by newly elected House Speaker John Boehner, wasn’t...

We Need More Tax Brackets

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Income taxes have gone up for the first time in 20 years, but as the Huffington Post reports , 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. Of course, income taxes were only ever going to go up on the wealtiest Americans: There was, and is, no appetite for significant middle-class tax hikes, though they will be necessary in the medium-term. With that said, I’m a little disappointed that there wasn’t more creativity with regards to how we’re raising taxes on the rich. I’ve said this before,...

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