Promises from GOP wannabes

            The 2012 slate of Republican candidates is shaping up to be one of the most interesting and bizarre in recent history, and I’m unsure whether I should be hoping the most outrageous candidate, or the most reasonable, makes it to the November 2012 ballot. While the most outrageous candidate would presumably have the smallest chance of winning, the risk is that a last minute October surprise could put them into office. Conversely, the risk of a Republican candidate perceived as more reasonable is that they could actually win.

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Obama 2012 Re-Election Campaign Ad (Analysis)


Cenk Uygur breaks down President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign ad.

Weekly Audit: Republicans' Budget Declares War on Medicare

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The Republicans are poised to unveil a model budget on Tuesday that would effectively end Medicare by privatizing it, Steve Benen reports in the Washington Monthly. House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) is touting the budget as a strategy to reduce the national debt.

Ryan’s plan would turn Medicare from a single-payer system to a “premium support” system. “Premium support” is a euphemism for the government giving up to $15,000 per person, per year, to insurance companies to defray the cost of a health insurance policy.

As Benen points out, privatizing Medicare does nothing to contain health care costs. On the contrary, as insurance customers weary of double-digit premium increases can attest, private insurers have a miserable track record of containing costs. They excel at denying care and coverage, but that’s not the same thing.

The only way the government would save money under Ryan’s proposal is by paying a flat rate in vouchers. Medicare covers the full cost of medical treatments, but private insurers are typically much less generous. So, after paying into Medicare all their working lives, Americans currently 55 and younger would get vouchers for part of their health insurance and still have to pay out-of-pocket to approach the level of benefits that Medicare currently provides.

Taking aim at Medicaid

The poor are easy targets for Republican budget-slashing, Jamelle Bouie writes on TAPPED. Ryan’s proposal would also cut $1 trillion over the next 10 years from Medicaid, the joint federal-state health insurance program for the poor, by eliminating federal matching and providing all state funding through block grants. Most of this money would come from repealing the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, which is slated to add 15 million people to Medicaid.

Block grants are cuts in disguise. Currently, Medicaid is an entitlement program, which means that states have to enroll everyone who is eligible, regardless of the state’s ability to pay. In return, the states get federal matching funds for each person in the program. Ryan and the Republicans want to change Medicaid into a block grant program where the federal government simply gives each state a lump sum to spend on Medicaid. The states want to use this new found “flexibility” to cut benefits, narrow eligibility criteria, and generally gut the program.

This is incredibly short-sighted. The current structure of Medicaid ensures extra federal funding for every new patient. So when unemployment rises and large numbers of new patients become eligible for Medicaid, the states get extra federal money for each of them. But with a block grant, the states would just have to stretch the existing block grants or find money from somewhere else in their budgets. Medicaid rolls surge during bad economic times, so a block grant system could make state budget crises even worse.

Ryan’s proposal has no chance of becoming law as long as Democrats control the Senate. The main purpose of the document is to lay out a platform for the 2012 elections.

Fake debt crisis

In The Nation, sociologist and activist Frances Fox Piven argues that the Republicans are hyping the debt threat to justify cuts to social programs:

Corporate America’s unprovoked assault on working people has been carried out by manufacturing a need for fiscal austerity. We are told that there is no more money for essential human services, for the care of children, or better public schools, or to help lower the cost of a college education. The fact is that big banks and large corporations are hoarding trillions in cash and using tax loopholes to bankrupt our communities.

She notes that Republican-backed tax cuts for the wealthy are a major contributor to the debt.

Jesus was a non-union carpenter?

Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones reports on the religious right’s crusade against unions. He notes that James Dobson of the socially conservative Family Research Council tweeted: “Pro-family voters should celebrate WI victory b/c public & private sector union bosses have marched lock-step w/liberal social agenda.”

Harkinson reports that the Family Research Council is backing the Republican incumbent, David Prosser, in today’s Wisconsin Supreme Court election–a battle that has become a proxy fight over Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-collective bargaining bill:

The FRC’s new political action committee, the Faith, Family, Freedom Fund, is airing ads on 34 Wisconsin radio stations in an effort to influence the April 5 judicial election that could ultimately decide the fate of the law. The ads target Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, who’s running against a conservative incumbent, David Prosser, for a seat on the state Supreme Court. If elected, Kloppenburg wouldalter the balance on the court in favor of Democrats, giving them the ability to invalidate the recently enacted ban on public-employee collective bargaining. “Liberals see her as their best hope to advance their political agenda and strike down laws passed by a legislature and governor elected by the people,” say the ads. “A vote for Prosser is a vote to keep politics out of the Supreme Court.”

Roger Bybee of Working In These Times argues that recalling Republican state senators in Wisconsin is not enough to defend workers’ rights from Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union onslaught.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The MulchThe Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.



Nation needs a Democrat to challenge Obama

(Cross-posted from Think it Through.)

The nation desperately needs a Democrat to challenge President Barack Obama for the party’s nomination for president in 2012.

The tipping point came last week when Jackie Calmes reported in The New York Times: “When West Wing officials discovered that the Democratic National Committee had mobilized Mr. Obama’s national network to support the protests [in Wisconsin and Ohio], they angrily reined in the staff at the party headquarters.”

The Times story goes on to say that administration officials saw the events beyond Washington as a “distraction” from the optimistic “win the future” message that the president unveiled in his State of the Union speech. He spent last Friday talking about the need to “educate and innovate” with Jeb Bush in Florida on one of the president’s begging-for-bipartisanship road shows.

That’s right – a Democratic president considers the men and women who have stood out in the cold in the Wisconsin winter to have a voice in their government a distraction from his positive message.

If you take all of Obama’s positions – too cautious to curtail the behavior of the Wall Street bankers, signing onto a health care plan that amounts to what the Republicans offered ten years ago, jawboning about overregulation of businesses, supporting a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, pandering to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at a time when big business is working with Republican governors to kill off what is left of organized rights for workers – you come to the conclusion that he should run as the Republican nominee. And he might win that nomination, if this were 1968 instead of 2012. His positions could fit comfortably into a debate among Richard Nixon, George Romney, and Charles Percy.

Obama’s theme of educate and innovate to win the future is positive and forward-looking, and has the perfect pitch to serenade the Rotarian Republicans of the ‘70s in Grand Rapids and Peoria. But not this year. The Republican party of 2012 has become enslaved to a narrow brood of Christian fundamentalists and extreme taxophobics – people that do not want government to do anything except what they can easily see helps them directly. That is 24 percent of voters.

The country needs someone to offer a completely different vision of America that is held by millions of Americans who do not fear enforcing the antitrust laws against heath insurance companies, or putting Wall Street executives in jail, or raising taxes on wealthy – and even non-wealthy – people for the public good.

The country may turn away from such an agenda, but it deserves the debate to be something other than how big a tax cut we should give to each other. If Obama runs unopposed, the nation will continue its slide into selfishness and a government philosophy of every person for himself or herself. His presidency has ignored the country’s moral and material depression caused by government and corporate malfeasance, and the need for institutional change.

America needs a candidate to do for the nation on a number of issues – chiefly taxes and the relationship between government, business, and individuals – what governor Scott Walker did for Wisconsin on unions. That is, to place the choices clearly in front of people rather than avoid what is really going on.

Right now it seems possible that the Republicans will nominate someone to push this debate about choices to a “Wisconsin” level.

It would be refreshing if the Democratic nomination process could at least begin such a debate – the way Bobby Kennedy’s candidacy forced Hubert Humphrey to reevaluate his position on the Vietnam war in 1968 and the way Alan Cranston and Gary Hart generated a national attention and a stronger Democratic nominee, Walter Mondale, on nuclear disarmament and gay rights in 1984.

In the narrative of American politics in the early 21st century there is a role on the left for someone to claim. We now know that role will not be filled by Barack Obama.

Someone else needs to try out.

John Russonello is a partner with Belden Russonello & Stewart: Public Opinion Research and Strategic Communications in Washington, DC. He writes the blog Think it Through.

Banking on Crazy, Ignoring the Middle Class

Two items from TAPPED paint a clear picture of the collision of 2010 electoral losses for Democrats at large and the lack of clear progressive policy.

First, Jacob Hacker on the "middle class" as more than an income category, and how it's been left behind:

Americans are skeptical because government hasn't delivered. The great social-policy breakthrough of 2010, health reform, falls far short of a long-term vision for rebuilding the middle class. Emergency actions such as the stimulus package and bank bailout sought to stabilize the economy without challenging its imbalances. The recently enacted tax-cut deal means two more years of huge tax cuts for the richest. In return, the middle class received grudging extensions of unemployment insurance and a partial payroll tax holiday that will create few good jobs. While Americans say that their highest priority is to restart the economy and their most cherished programs are Social Security and Medicare, political leaders from the center and the right are embracing a deficit-reduction agenda that will threaten those two programs and preclude serious investment in the middle class to restore broadly shared prosperity.

Second, E.J. Dionne on combined 2010 exit polling:

Republicans won control of the House of Representatives because many voters who didn't really like the GOP voted for its candidates anyway. According to the major TV networks' combined exit poll, 52 percent of November voters had an unfavorable view of the Republican Party, yet 23 percent of this group voted for Republican House candidates. These are the quintessential disaffected voters, and they may be the key swing voters of 2012.

Taken together, these numbers point to a country as much dispirited as angry. True, anger on the right drove conservative turnout to very high levels. But in core Democratic constituencies and in the middle of the electorate, disappointment more than rage drove decisions, including the one to stay home.

To the extent that a "pulse" can be gleamed from exit polling, the picture painted is as clear enough to demand a rethink we're not likely to see from this administration, or Senate leadership.  Obama's budget reads as political positioning against the predictable extreme's of a Republican Party caught between the juggernaut of irrational they created in the 2010 campaigns. 

Boehner and McConnell thought they had an understanding with the incoming freshman that had long been a staple of GOP electoral strategies: Say what you have to to win, but let's not get all crazy up in here once the name plates are on the office doors.  The tea party newbies, though, actually believe their campaign promises make for good policy in the midst of catastrophic unemployment numbers and intend to vote accordingly.  Obama's budget indicates a continuation of "I'm not that team!" moderation that may play well if the hysterics continue in the Republican Party, but is not nearly enough to stop the Democratic Party from repeating history, and driving independents -- long-term -- into the arms of the GOP.

Should a fresh-faced moderate challenger emerge on the right?  Different story.  A disenfranchised middle-class may see a vulnerable incumbent without a distinct definition of what team he is on losing control of the debate. 

Obama is banking on crazy, and let's be realistic, when Donald Trump is thinking "this is my chance," odds are he'll get it.  Meanwhile, the middle class is still looking for their FDR, even if they aren't articulating it.


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