Government

Frankly Scarlett, You Should Give a Damn

AP Images/Gali Tibbon
O utside of being celebrities and having Jewish mothers, Benjamin Netanyahu and Scarlett Johansson aren't usually thought of having a lot in common. But they've been displaying another shared quality of late: the ability to act clueless about the suddenly snowballing economic boycott of Israeli settlements. To be fair, it's a lot more likely that Netanyahu is the one putting on an act. Johansson sincerely appeared to have little idea about what she was getting into when she agreed to be the straw-sipping poster girl of SodaStream, the Israeli maker of home fizzy-drink devices that produces wares in the industrial park of a West Bank settlement. "I never intended on being the face of any social or political movement… or stance," she said in a press statement responding to criticism of her role advertising the firm. This sounds painfully naïve: Nothing having to do with Israeli settlements in occupied territory comes packaged without a political stance, but Johansson may have noticed...

Republicans Are Really, Really Bad at Hostage Negotiations

For some time, I've been arguing that we should not just extend the debt ceiling but get rid of it altogether. It's a weird historical anomaly that serves no practical purpose other than allowing the opposition party, should it be sufficiently reckless, to threaten global economic catastrophe if it doesn't get its way. I assumed that your average Washington Democrat would share this view, but now I'm beginning to think that if you're someone like Nancy Pelosi or Barack Obama, the debt ceiling is actually quite helpful, and you'd be sorry to see it go. Because here's what keeps happening: The debt ceiling approaches. Republicans begin making threats to torpedo the country's economy by not raising it, and thereby sending the United States government into default, if their demands aren't met. We then have a couple of weeks of debate, disagreement, and hand-wringing. Republican infighting grows more intense, and their reputation as a bunch of radicals who are willing to burn down the...

Affordable Care Act Gives Workers Freedom; Republicans Enraged

No, they didn't take er jerbs.
Since I wrote about postal banking this morning, I've decided to continue the day's shameless, lowest-common-denominator clickbaiting by talking about a new Congressional Budget Office report and the Affordable Care Act. Hang on to your hats. With all the hype of a new Beyonce album, the CBO dropped its latest report on government finances and other related topics, which includes the news that the deficit has dropped to its lowest level since Barack Obama took office. This may prove inconvenient for Republicans still invested in fomenting deficit panic, but they'll be helped by the fact that most Americans actually believe the deficit has gone up in the Obama years. According to a new poll from the Huffington Post , not only do 54 percent of people think so, but 85 percent (!) of Republicans think so. In any case, the part of the CBO's report that's getting more attention is their projection that as a result of the ACA, the labor force will be reduced by 2 million in 2017, rising to 2...

Heat or Something to Eat? New SNAP Rules Might Force Poor Families to Choose

AP Images/Gerry Broome
The Senate is expected to vote on the Farm Bill today , which could reach President Obama’s desk later this week. A new version of the bill, which comes up for reauthorization every five years, has been delayed for two years; Congress has simply been renewing the most recent farm bill for short periods of time while the House and Senate fought over the details in the new one. Most of the fights were over agricultural subsidies, but most of the spending in the $100-billion-a-year bill goes to the program formerly known as food stamps, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Participation has more than doubled since the start of the recession—from 20 million every month to about 47 million every month —largely because more people qualify for aid. That has led to attacks on the program from conservatives who said the spending levels were “unsustainable,” and the House of Representatives voted in September to cut food stamps by $40 billion. The Senate voted to cut it by $4...

Is Barack Obama a Tyrant?

You can't spell "tyrant" without "rant"!
A typical State of the Union address is criticized for being a "laundry list," little more than an endless string of proposals the president would like to see enacted. The criticism usually has two parts: first, most of the items on the laundry list will never come to pass, and second, it makes for a boring speech (the pundits who make the criticism seem to care more about the second part). Last night's SOTU didn't have the usual laundry list (which of course meant that it was criticized for being too vague), but the one specific proposal getting much attention today is President Obama's idea to require that on future federal contracts, all workers be paid at least $10.10 per hour. So naturally, Republicans are crying that this is the latest example of Obama's tyrannical rule, in which he ruthlessly ignores the law whenever he pleases. As Ted Cruz wrote in today's Wall Street Journal , "Of all the troubling aspects of the Obama presidency, none is more dangerous than the president's...

Investments and Entitlements

Entitlement programs have tended to squeeze out public investment. What is there to be done about that?

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"Entitlements" Are Just a Budget Category

Why should Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid be untouchable and not other programs? And shouldn’t there be more to the liberal message than, “Don’t touch entitlements”?

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Thoughts on a Center-Left Entitlements Strategy

How we might shape Social Security and Medicare for the future

div#sidebar-first { margin-top:1610px; } div.introduction { position:absolute; width:285px; left:675px; margin-top:1150px !important; padding:15px; border:1px solid #cccccc; height:300px; overflow-y:scroll; } div.introduction p { font-size:12px !important; line-height:18px !important; font-family: 'droid sans'; } div#table-of-contents { display:block; margin-top:0px; } #table-of-contents { position:absolute; width:285px; left:675px; padding:15px; border:1px solid #cccccc; } #table-of-contents h4 { font-size:28px; text-align:center; font-family:'Oswald', sans-serif;; } #table-of-contents p { font-family: 'Oswald', sans-serif; } Table of Contents Introduction: The Future of the Social Safety Net Triumph and Tribulation Henry Aaron When Public Opinions Collide Andrew Levison Social Insurance: The Real Crisis Robert Kuttner Thoughts on a Center-Left Entitlements Strategy William Galston Fiscal Policy, the Long-Term Budget, and Inequality Dean Baker "Entitlements" Are Just a Budget...

Social Insurance: The Real Crisis

Why an inefficient welfare state is an insufficient one

div#sidebar-first { margin-top:1610px; } div.introduction { position:absolute; width:285px; left:675px; margin-top:1150px !important; padding:15px; border:1px solid #cccccc; height:300px; overflow-y:scroll; } div.introduction p { font-size:12px !important; line-height:18px !important; font-family: 'droid sans'; } div#table-of-contents { display:block; margin-top:0px; } #table-of-contents { position:absolute; width:285px; left:675px; padding:15px; border:1px solid #cccccc; } #table-of-contents h4 { font-size:28px; text-align:center; font-family:'Oswald', sans-serif;; } #table-of-contents p { font-family: 'Oswald', sans-serif; } Table of Contents Introduction: The Future of the Social Safety Net Triumph and Tribulation Henry Aaron When Public Opinions Collide Andrew Levison Social Insurance: The Real Crisis Robert Kuttner Thoughts on a Center-Left Entitlements Strategy William Galston Fiscal Policy, the Long-Term Budget, and Inequality Dean Baker "Entitlements" Are Just a Budget...

The GOP, Guardians of Health Security

Mitch McConnell chats with some folks about health care 'n stuff.
This morning, Greg Sargent calls our attention to this new ad for Mitch McConnell, in which a man who got cancer from his job at a uranium enrichment plant in Paducah. The man testifies that it was McConnell, fierce advocate of worker safety and health security, who made sure that workers got cancer screening and compensation: That'll never work, a liberal might say. McConnell is not only one of the nation's foremost opponents of any and all regulations to protect worker safety, but he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would take away the health coverage tens of thousands of Kentuckians just got. As you may know, Kentucky has been more aggressive in taking advantage of the ACA than probably any other conservative state. They set up their own exchange, and it has proven to be one of the best in the country; they also accepted the Medicaid expansion (these developments can be attributed mostly to the fact that the governor is a Democrat). According to this site tracking...

One Small Step for the Fourth Amendment

AP Images/Susan Walsh
Last week, Barack Obama delivered a speech announcing some reforms in response to Edward Snowden's revelations about the National Security Agency. As with most aspects of Obama's record on civil liberties, my response is inevitably mixed. The outlined reforms would certainly constitute a real improvement over the status quo, but they are also too narrow and limited. Some of these limitations reflect real political constraints, while others don't. To start with the good news first, Obama has announced that some checks and balances will be restored to the NSA's inquiries under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Under current practices, the NSA doesn't need to get judicial approval to query the database of metadata it collects; it can simply make queries if it makes a self-determination that the query was "reasonable." This self-enforced reasonableness standard is functionally indistinguishable from having no standard at all. Obama announced that he was ending this practice: the database...

Triumph and Tribulation

How progressives might approach changes to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

div#sidebar-first { margin-top:1610px; } div.introduction { position:absolute; width:285px; left:675px; margin-top:1150px !important; padding:15px; border:1px solid #cccccc; height:300px; overflow-y:scroll; } div.introduction p { font-size:12px !important; line-height:18px !important; font-family: 'droid sans'; } div#table-of-contents { display:block; margin-top:0px; } #table-of-contents { position:absolute; width:285px; left:675px; padding:15px; border:1px solid #cccccc; } #table-of-contents h4 { font-size:28px; text-align:center; font-family:'Oswald', sans-serif;; } #table-of-contents p { font-family: 'Oswald', sans-serif; } Table of Contents Introduction: The Future of the Social Safety Net Triumph and Tribulation Henry Aaron When Public Opinions Collide Andrew Levison Social Insurance: The Real Crisis Robert Kuttner Thoughts on a Center-Left Entitlements Strategy William Galston Fiscal Policy, the Long-Term Budget, and Inequality Dean Baker "Entitlements" Are Just a Budget...

Daily Meme: Obama v. Congress

Today, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for National Labor Relations Board v. Canning . The case, which kicks off the high court's big year of big cases has the potential to change the whole balance of power between the executive and legislative branches on recess appointments. The most recent iteration of President v. Congress on appointments started when Obama appointed Richard Cordray to lead the NLRB while the Senate was not in session. Republicans had been ... a little reticent, let's say, to give Cordray the thumbs up, so the president went ahead and did it himself, while adding two more people to the board too so it could finally have a quorum. The AP sums it all up as "a politically charged dispute that also is the first in the nation's history to explore the meaning of a provision of the Constitution known as the recess appointments clause. Under the provision, the president may make temporary appointments to positions that otherwise require confirmation by the...

Want to Rock the Vote? Fill the Election Assistance Commission.

AP Images/The Roanoke Times/Joel Hawksley
J ust days after the 2013 elections, former Congresswoman Mary Bono and I were on MSNBC discussing voter-ID laws. A moderate Republican, Bono tried hard to shift the focus to a universally hated aspect of American elections—the lines. “There should be no reason there should be long lines, ever,” she said. “Why [can’t they] orchestrate and engineer a solution that you get to the polls, and there’s 15 minutes, guaranteed in and out, and you vote?” It’s a good question. Even if we forget about the disturbing rash of voting restrictions—the ID laws, the cutbacks to early voting, the efforts to make it harder to register—a basic problem remains: We don’t invest enough in our elections. Across the country, machines are old and breaking down, and we’re failing to use new technology that could clean up our voter rolls and make it easier to predict—and thus prevent—those long lines. The odds of Congress allocating the billions it would take to help localities buy new voting machines and solve...

The Doomed Wars

White House photo by Pete Souza.
Washington loves few things more than a tell-all memoir. Even if a memoir doesn't tell very much, the media will do their best to characterize it as scandalous and shocking. So it is with the book by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates which will soon be appearing in airport bookstores everywhere. From the excerpts that have been released, it sounds like Gates has plenty of praise for President Obama, and some criticisms that are not particularly biting. Sure, there's plenty of bureaucratic sniping and the settling of a few scores, but his criticisms (the Obama White House is too controlling, politics sometimes intrudes on national security) sound familiar. Gates' thoughts on Afghanistan, however, do offer us an opportunity to reflect on where we've come in that long war. The quote from his book that has been repeated the most concerns a meeting in March 2011 in which Obama expressed his frustration with how things were going in Afghanistan. "As I sat there," Gates writes, "I...

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