A Government Shutdown Averted . . . For Now

The White House and House Republicans reached an agreement late Friday night on a budget deal that would avert a government shutdown. The proposed six-month deal would cut domestic spending and foreign aid by more than $40 billion from the rate of spending at the beginning of this Congress. Behind the closed doors of a special meeting of the Republican Conference, Speaker John Boehner presented the package to his Tea Party caucus as at least an agreement in principle. President Obama, for his part, hailed the deal as "the biggest annual spending cut in history". GOP riders on Title X subsidies and on EPA regulations were deferred.

The House and Senate quickly approved a stopgap measure to keep the government running. The final deal would still require another vote sometime next week.

Politico has more details on what the agreement entails.

President Barack Obama noted late Friday that a last-minute deal to avert a government shutdown happened because "Americans of different beliefs came together ... Both sides had to make tough decisions and give ground on issues that were important to them. And I certainly did that. Some of the cuts we agreed to will be painful. Programs people rely on will be cut back. Needed infrastructure projects will be delayed.""

Painful for whom? Certainly not for the wealthy in this country who remain undertaxed even as their wealth accumulates to proportions of gross indecency. No, when it comes to doling out painful austerity measures, these fall disproportionately on the weakest members of society.

As per the needed infrastructure projects, well that's just insane as well. Over the past few months, Republican Governors have killed important and vitally needed infrastructure projects in New Jersey, Ohio, and Florida. I'm not sure how to recreate the political conditions that led to the interstate highway system initiated during the Eisenhower Administration, but until the American right obtains an equivalent conviction regarding the urgent need to update the rapidly decaying and outmoded infrastructure across the nation, the country will fall further and further behind in the global economy. And that serves no one.

To be perfectly candid, we have a President who refuses to lead. President Obama sees himself as some Solomonian arbiter who rises above the partisan divide to bridge irreconcilable differences. Pity, for one, that he gets few political dividends for his efforts. To many on the right, he remains some sort of Marxist Kenyan born usurper who is committed to subverting the Constitution - no matter his stance on any issue, there are some who will take the opposite position even if they have to run through harried hula hoops of hypocrisy as Newt Gingrich recently did on Libya - while to much of his base, he remains simply an enigma. What are Barack Obama's values? For what and for whom will he fight? Nearly 27 months into his Presidency, for those on the left these questions remain unanswered. 

If the Democrats won this round in the court of public opinion, which for now it seems that they did if only marginally, they did so because of the leadership coming from the Senate. It was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senator Patty Murray of Washington who were out in the front battle lines defending the rights of women to adequate health care and the cause of reproductive freedom. Honorable mentions to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and New York Congresswoman Louise Slaughter for speaking out on the GOP's war on women.

The Republicans were their own worst enemies but given their base, it is unlikely to hurt them that much, though I suspect the gender gap in next year's election will only grow. Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana likely cemented his following among social conservatives. It was Pence who led the charge against Title X subsidies. Surprisingly, Rep. Michelle Bachmann showed signs of sanity being among the first on her side of the aisle to call for a clean bill, free of any controversial riders. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee who made a similar plea, however, was ravaged on conservative websites such Free Republic and Red State for merely suggesting such a compromise. Bachmann largely proved immune to attacks, suggesting that she maintains a street cred with Tea Party activists that is the envy of others on the right. One other loser, who is growing more irrelevant by the day, is Sarah Palin. She took to Facebook again with another diatribe against the President and she was unceremoniously ignored. 

A Nation of Simpletons

When I first arrived in the United States, I remember watching the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite do a report over the enactment of a law prohibiting open containers for drivers in Texas. At that time, it was legal to drink alcohol while driving in 11 states and according to the report one could drive from New Mexico to Florida beer in one hand, steering wheel in the other. This report has stuck in my mind these now 30 plus years for the reaction of a woman when asked about the law which was then about to take effect. Beer in hand, cigarette in mouth, this tank topped graced woman offered the view that the enactment of this law marked the fact that America was becoming "a communist country." My reaction then was geez what a simpleton.

That was pretty much my reaction when I saw this little ditty composed and performed by former Saturday Night Live cast member Victoria Jackson:

Unfortunately, the above isn't satire. She's serious. By her own self-admission, even her parents think she's crazy. But millions in the Tea Party movement beg to differ.

And my reaction to reading that a poll by James Carville run Democracy Corps (pdf) finds that 55 percent of likely voters believe that the word "socialist" describes the president either "well" or "very well" was did they just poll morons or we can now safely assume that most Americans just that ignorant. I have to ask how many of these people can actually define what socialism is or means. 

Over at Salon, Steve Kornacki finds that these results are "actually not all that surprising" and that we shouldn't be "alarmed" by them.

The first thing to keep in mind is that we're talking about likely midterm voters, which means that the sample is skewed to include more Republican-friendly voters, who are more likely to turn out in November. This is what always happens in midterm elections: The out party's base is more motivated.

Of course, this only accounts for a few extra points. As the poll shows, even when the pool is broadened, the number of voters who describe their president as a socialist is quite high. But maybe this has always been the case? The right has been screaming about Obama's "socialism" since the summer of 2008 (at least) -- long before he was elected, long before he was sworn in, and long before he signed a single piece of legislation. In other words, the right reached its conclusion before there was any evidence. (This is the "thinking with my gut" mentality that Stephen Colbert likes to mock.)

I can't immediately recall or find any polling from the '08 campaign about the Obama/socialism question. But it seems entirely possible that, even during that campaign, around 40 percent of the electorate would have described him as a socialist. This isn't to say that they knew what the term meant (or even how to spell it); they just latched onto it because it meshed with the emotions that Obama and his supporters stirred in them. And now the number has jumped, with some voters from outside the hardened GOP base joining in the name-calling.

Or perhaps we just live amongst simpletons who have been failed by the educational system and who are exploited for political ends by a self-serving elite that preaches freedom couched in economic terms based on an erroneous mantra that lower taxes translate into greater wealth ever while condemning an ever larger percentage of Americans into perpetual poverty even as they enrich themselves. Frankly, I am alarmed by the stupidity which surrounds me.

Poll in Hawaii First Congressional District Gives GOP the Edge

In the race to fill former Congressman Neil Abercrombie who resigned to in order to run for the Governorship of the Aloha state, a new poll from the Honolulu Advertiser finds the GOP candidate Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou leading his two Democratic rivals former Congressman Ed Chase and State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa.

Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou has the advantage in the special election for Congress, a new Hawai'i Poll has found, giving Republicans the best opportunity in two decades to claim the urban Honolulu district.

Djou leads with 36 percent, former congressman Ed Case is chasing at 28 percent, and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa is trailing with 22 percent. Thirteen percent were undecided.

The poll, taken for The Advertiser and Hawai'i News Now, confirms fears among Democrats that Case and Hanabusa could split the Democratic vote in the winner-take-all election and help Djou score a rare Republican upset.

The poll was conducted by Ward Research from April 23 through April 28 among 349 voters who said they were likely to mail back their ballots in the May 22 election. The margin of error was 5.2 percentage points.

The May 22nd election pits the three candidates against one another in a winner take-all format.

The Revolving Door - Healthcare Edition

Northwestern University's Medill News Service in partnership with the Tribune Newspapers Washington Bureau and the Center for Responsive Politics have released their analysis of the revolving door in the healthcare debate. OpenSecrets' Revolving Door database tracks anyone whose résumé includes positions of influence in both the private and public sectors and tracks the shuffle of individuals who were former federal employees and then take jobs as lobbyists, corporate consultants and legislative strategists as well as hired guns who then return to work in government helping to craft legislation.

The fact is that a stint on Capitol Hill as a legislative aide often leads to a more lucrative perch in the land of tasseled loafers known as K Street. For example, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has 14 of his former employees now working for the US Chamber of Commerce, Pharmaceutical Research and the National Association of Manufacturers, and Verizon while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has 13 former staffers who now lobby for clients including the US Chamber of Commerce and Pharmaceutical Research. In the healthcare debate, at least 14 former aides to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and at least 13 former aides to Montana Democratic Senator Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee served as registered lobbyists lobbying their former bosses and their colleagues.

At least 166 former aides from the nine congressional leadership offices and five committees involved in shaping health overhaul legislation -- along with at least 13 former lawmakers -- registered to represent at least 338 health care clients since the beginning of last year, according to the analysis.

Their health care clients spent $635 million on lobbying over the past two years, the study shows.

The total of insider lobbyists jumps to 278 when non-health-care firms that reported lobbying on health issues are added in, the analysis found.

Part of the lobbying pressure on current members of Congress and staffers comes from the powerful lure of post-congressional job possibilities.

"There's always a worry they may be thinking about their future employment opportunities when dealing with these issues, particularly with health care, because the stakes are so high and the breadth of the issues -- pharmacies, hospitals, doctors," said Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz.

Lobbyists' earnings can dwarf congressional salaries, which currently top out at $174,000 annually for lawmakers and $156,000 for aides, though committee staff members can earn slightly more.

In the health care showdown, insider lobbying influence has magnified the clout of corporate interests and helped steer the debate away from a public insurance option, despite many polls indicating majority support from Americans, according to Rutgers University political scientist Ross Baker.

"It imposes a kind of conservative bias on the discussion," said Baker, himself a former Senate staffer.

Breaking it down by Senate or House Committee, the numbers are eye-opening. Forty-five former staffers of the members of the Senate Committee on Health Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) are now lobbying. Their clients include the Chamber of Commerce, Exxon Mobil, AARP, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers, General Electric, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Verizon, AT&T, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Thirty-six current lobbyists are veterans of the Senate Finance Committee. They now represent the Chamber of Commerce, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturesrs, General Electric, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

Over in the House of Representatives, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has 45 former staffers now working as lobbyists, the Ways and Means Committee 23, and House Education and Labor trails with just 18.

There's more...

Edwards Got Trimmed by the Obama Campaign

The other tell-all book being released is Obama Campaign Manager David Plouffe's aptly named The Audacity to Win. Today, Ben Smith of Politico had a confession to make well because it was about to be divulged anyway. Smith's source for the John Edwards $400 haircut story was the Obama campaign. Here's the original post from March 2007 entitled The Hair's Too Perfect:

Well, John Edwards' campaign for president spent $400 on February 20, and another $400 on March 7, at a top Beverly Hills men's stylist, Torrenueva Hair Designs.

The expensive haircut is, of course, a perennial. Bill Clinton got zinged for getting a cut from Cristophe, and Hillary was found at one point to have buried a stylist on her campaign payroll.

Obama, on the other hand, gets his cut cheap and frequent -- but he does take the process seriously enough to hold his calls.

Only Edwards, however, has had the care he takes with his hair memorialized on YouTube.

Edwards' campaign also spent money at two spas: Designworks Salon in Dubuque, and Pink Sapphire in Manchester.

Note that Smith's reporting juxtaposes Edwards' expensive haircuts with Obama's cheap ones.  Perhaps that comparison should have been the tip-off in hindsight. That post on the cost of the Edwards haircuts derailed his candidacy. I'm shocked that Obama campaign or any Democratic campaign would engage in such pettiness and silliness.  Perhaps I'm just bitter because as a die-hard Edwards supporter anytime I tried to engage in a Two Americas debate all I got back was a retort about a haircut.

Yes, I realize the messenger was flawed but that does not negate the message. There are Two Americas and it behooves the Administration to address this fact if only to atone for such trivialities as the cost of a haircut.

There's more...


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