The release of Rep. Paul Ryan’s anti-poverty “discussion draft” last week marks another milestone in a long, painstaking, and necessary project: the development of a non-toxic policy agenda on which the next Republican presidential nominee can run.
Zooming out, we see Republicans, like Tiktaalik, slowly transitioning out of the primordial soup of supply-side dogma. There was Rep. Dave Camp’s comprehensive tax reform proposal. It’s revenue neutral and maintains progressivity. Relatedly, Ryan takes care to insist his own proposal is “not a tax cut.” It’s true the conservative movement didn’t exactly leap for joy at Camp’s proposal—and there’s a myriad of reasons to doubt that the GOP could ever muster the courage to eliminate as many loopholes and deductions as it would take to reconcile the math of the Ryan budget.
But the larger point is this: a net tax reduction for the rich is now a radioactive position on the mainstream right.
Climbing down the income ladder, Ryan, in presenting his anti-poverty plan, with its devolution to states and consolidation of public assistance spending, noted that “this is not a budget-cutting exercise.” Yes, there’s the matter of reconciling these reforms with the harsh math of the Ryan budget. And the “accountability standards” to which states and local agencies would be held smells an awful lot to me like the anti-poverty version of No Child Left Behind.
But—and again—the larger point is this: a net reduction in spending on the poor and vulnerable is now a radioactive position on the mainstream right.
The recovery from “The 47 percent” and “You built that” will remain a tough slog over the next 18 months. However, the momentum is clearly in the direction of rational reform. The Tea Party era—in which “conservatism” for all practical purposes stood for an unholy alliance of plutocracy and Dixie revanchism—is clearly coming to a close.
Just how the all the manic energy of the last five years will be brought into the fold of a plausible governing agenda remains to be seen. The Room to Grow agenda represents the seedbed of ideas that might eventually become an appealing campaign platform. I like, in particular, Andrew Kelly’s ideas on higher-ed and job training, and Carrie Lukas’s emphasis on fiscal reforms that improve work-life balance.
Broadly speaking, the “reformocon” carriage is an interesting one, fraught with tension but full of possibility: that of the nontechnocratic wonk; of superintendence of the welfare state in a pro-market direction. Of bottom-up or middle-out reforms that issue from the top. The idea of a Medicare premium support system is qualitatively different than, say, Ronald Reagan’s original position on Medicare. But if the arrow is pointing in a rightward direction, can each faction of the right buy into it? Can you sell the idea of “reform” to people on a steady diet of Mark Levin, Ted Cruz, and Sarah Palin? Personally, I think the right would be better off it admitted—no, more than admitted—that “spontaneous order” does not and will not ever lead to a safety net or social insurance for the elderly.
But perhaps I worry too much. One of my themes in this space is the belief that the Tea Party was a cultural temper tantrum more than a granular programmatic shift. It may turn out that tea partiers can be lead to the water of an essentially neoconservative domestic agenda more easily than anyone currently imagines.
The State Department’s annual report on International Religious Freedom paints a dark picture for religious liberty advocates. The AP says that “Millions of people were forced from their homes because of their religious beliefs last year,” referring to the IRF report’s summary of “the devastating impact of conflicts in Syria, Iraq and the Central African Republic.”
The IRF report itself opens by saying that, in 2013, “the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory. … Communities are disappearing from their traditional and historic homes and dispersing across the geographic map. In conflict zones, in particular, this mass displacement has become a pernicious norm.”
In Mosul, the crisis of Iraqi Christians has reached fever pitch: a fourth-century monastery was recently taken by force. The tomb traditionally held to be the resting place of Jonah was destroyed by insurgents. The Iraqi government has denounced the rebels’ actions, but done little to stop them. An AP report sheds light on the havoc:
Residents in Mosul also say the Islamic State group’s fighters recently have begun to occupy churches and seize the homes of Christians who have fled the city. … Already in Mosul, the extremist group has banned alcohol and water pipes, and painted over street advertisements showing women’s faces. It has, however, held off on stricter punishments so far.
The State Department report was released on Monday, serving to illustrate a known trend of international religious chaos and neatly coinciding with President Obama’s announcement of David Saperstein’s appointment as Ambassador-at-Large of International Religious Freedom for the U.S.
The appointment has been a long time coming. Obama, criticized by some for dawdling, has allowed the post to remain vacant since Suzan Johnson Cook, Saperstein’s predecessor, vacated the post in October 2013.
Mark Silk writes at Religion News Service that Saperstein is highly qualified for the position:
Saperstein’s religious liberty bona fides is without peer. Two decades ago, he put together the coalition responsible for gaining all but unanimous passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the law that has recently become the darling of religious conservatives. In 1999, he was unanimously elected by his fellow commissioners to serve as the first chair of the USCIRF. He served on the first advisory council to Obama’s Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and was a member of the task force to reform the office. No representative of a religious organization in Washington comes close to matching his credibility across the political spectrum.
His appointment comes at a time when religious strife is prominent at home and abroad. Saperstein has been tasked with what is arguably one of the most complex and difficult political missions of the moment. He faces extraordinarily violent international religious conflict, in addition to the prospect of political resistance at home. And given the trajectory of the world, things look likely to only get worse before they get better.
At first glance, I thought my informal bet—that a red-state governor will soon claim he stood up to the Obama administration over the formation of health exchanges, despite knowing full well that his or her constituents wouldn’t be eligible for tax subsidies—had died a quick death.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal:
A number of states are scrambling to show that they—not the federal government—are or will soon be operating their insurance exchanges under the 2010 health law, in light of two court decisions this week.
The efforts are aimed at ensuring that millions of consumers who get insurance through the exchanges would be able to retain their federal tax credits if courts ultimately rule against the Obama administration.
The rest of the story, however, doesn’t bear out this picture of “scrambling.” It’s true that a few of the states mentioned—Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico—have Republican governors. And while Arkansas is bona fide red state, it has a Democratic governor. So we’re not talking here about the likes of Rick Perry or Sam Brownback “scrambling” to secure tax credit eligibility on behalf of their states. That’s to be expected. If such governors were willing to forgo expanded Medicaid money, I don’t see why they’d be in a rush to protect health exchange subsidies, either.
There’s a golden political opportunity in the offing, it seems to me. The aforementioned Perry; or Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal; or New Jersey’s Chris Christie; or Ohio’s John Kasich—one or all of these potential presidential contenders could appeal to their party’s base by making a fresh case that they refused federal blackmail. At the very least, they could ensure the Gruber-gate story has legs for weeks to come.
Mind you, I’m not saying I’m prepared to believe them. (One would think the argument would already have been made at some point over the last two years.) But this whole rotten enterprise is an exercise in post hoc opportunism. This is the next logical step.
A few more thoughts on Gruber-gate:
1. It seems the exponents of the D.C. Circuit’s ruling on Obamacare subsidies have moved from the position that the ACA passively fails to authorize tax credits through federal exchanges to the idea that it actively prohibits them. That’s pretty astonishing.
2. A second clip featuring Gruber surfaced in which the MIT economist said the same thing he did in the first video. I don’t know what more to add to my reaction to the initial revelation. It seems to me that Gruber did not “misspeak” on either occasion; he believed residents of states that hadn’t set up exchanges would miss out on subsidies until such time as the federal exchanges came online. It’s plausible, too, that he was encouraging states to cooperate with the law in order to score consulting contracts. One could see why he’d be loath to admit this now.
3. There’s another meme that’s about to be set loose: that it took “guts” for Republicans not to set up Obamacare exchanges, that is, accept the bribe of federal money. It’s only a matter of time before a Republican governor says he interpreted Obamacare in this fashion all along. Perhaps one with presidential aspirations—say, Rick Perry. I’ll take bets on who it will be, and when.
Putting aside the fact that no one thought the states wouldn’t want to run the exchanges themselves (indeed, Senators were demanding that option for their states), the exchange provisions simply do not work in the same way as Medicaid. Unlike the ACA’s Medicaid provisions, the exchange provisions have a federal fallback: Medicaid is use it or lose it; the exchanges are do it, or the feds step in and do it for you. In other words, this isn’t Medicaid; it’s the Clean Air Act (CAA). If a state decides not to create its own implementation plan under the CAA, its citizens do not lose the benefit of the federal program—the feds run it. The same goes for the ACA’s exchanges and so it would be nonsensical to deprive citizens in federal-exchange states of the subsidies. More importantly, if we are going to compare apples to oranges, the ACA’s Medicaid provisions have an explicit provision stating that if the state declines to participate, it loses the program funds (this was the provision at issue in NFIB v. Sebelius in 2012). The ACA’s subsidy provisions, in contrast, have no such provision, strong evidence that the subsidies were was not intended to be forfeited if the states did not participate. If the challengers are going to insist on strict textual arguments, this is exclusio unius 101: the rule of interpretation that provides that where Congress includes a specific provision in one part of the statute but does not include an analogous provision elsewhere, that omission is assumed intentional.”
This wiki entry on the Clean Air Act seems apposite:
Although the 1990 Clean Air Act is a federal law covering the entire country, the states do much of the work to carry out the Act. The EPA has allowed the individual states to elect responsibility for compliance with and regulation of the CAA within their own borders in exchange for funding. For example, a state air pollution agency holds a hearing on a permit application by a power or chemical plant or fines a company for violating air pollution limits. However, election is not mandatory and in some cases states have chosen to not accept responsibility for enforcement of the act and force the EPA to assume those duties.
Again: I can’t believe this contest is even necessary. Sigh. Carry on.
Conservative economist Scott Sumner offers up a desperately needed example of intellectual honesty on l’affaire Gruber. (For those who haven’t been keeping score at home: Some libertarians last night released a video of Obamacare “architect” Jonathan Gruber in 2012 seemingly affirming the reasoning of the D.C. Circuit Court’s ruling on the legality of offering healthcare subsidies via exchange.)
Sumner actually watched the video and noticed Gruber’s remarks were taken out of context (context: what a concept!):
That seems to suggest he agrees with the recent court ruling. But he actually disagrees with the ruling. Indeed he seems to regard the ruling as ludicrous. That doesn’t look good. Until you realize that the quote was taken out of context, and that the comments immediately preceding the quote tells a very different story: “Yes, so these health insurance exchanges . . . will be these new shopping places and they’ll be the place that people go to get their subsidies for health insurance. In the law it says if the states don’t provide them the federal backstop will. The federal government has been sort of slow in putting up its backstop in part because I think they want to sort of squeeze the states to do it.”
That seems to imply the federal backstops would provide health subsidies. So how can we reconcile these two statements? I believe Gruber was trying to say that the federal government was being slow in setting up the exchanges, because until they did so, those states without state exchanges would get no subsidy. Once the federal exchanges were set up, they would all get the subsidy.
What I don’t understand is why commenters were providing me with the quote on top, but not the second quote, which provides important context.
The cherry-picking of off-the-cuff remarks isn’t the worst thing about this absurdist drama. Take a step back: Michael Cannon, the Cato mastermind, basically went on a fishing expedition to find someone with standing in the Halbig case. His lightbulb: the average citizen has standing! And now this bombshell video: the Gruber remarks were the first and so far only piece of documentary evidence I’ve seen that anyone actually believed subsidies weren’t intended to be offered via the federal exchanges. This evidence was discovered two years after the lawsuit was filed.
We already had a murder charge without a body; now we have a smoking gun with all its bullets. I’m sorry. We’re not in the realm of reasonable disagreement. The charitable explanation is that this stuff is pure unmitigated cuckoo cockamamie BS. The cynical explanation, per Sumner:
BTW, which of the following two statements represents the conservative view on the role of the courts?
A. The courts should interpret the laws passed by the duly elected members of Congress, and should not be substituting their own views. Original intent is what matters. Unelected judges should not set policy.
B. Yay!! the courts have just gutted the ACA, which was an awful law passed by Congress.
I used to think it was A; now I wonder if it is B.
You’ll pardon me if I don’t find this behavior—this abusive legal chicanery—the least bit “conservative.”
Decades ago, a few friends and I were listening to Not For Kids Only, an album of Appalachian folk songs recorded for charity by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman. An older brother entered the scene, barking, “What’re you guys listening to? This stuff’s for kids!” My friend, who, it should be noted, was quite stoned, retorted, “No! It says right here—‘not’ for kids only.’ ”
I thought of my old buddy, bless his heart, when I learned of the D.C. Circuit’s ruling—its “ringing affirmation … of the rule of law,” according to the reliably florid Charles C.W. Cooke—on Obamacare’s insurance-exchange subsidies.
The right’s chortling reaction, in sum: It says right here — “Exchanges established by the State”!
I’d sincerely like to imagine that Cato’s Michael Cannon was stoned when he discovered this quirk in the text of the Affordable Care Act. But I’m afraid it’s a lot easier to imagine the pinkie ring and prideful guffawing of Mike Myers’s Dr. Evil.
I didn’t think “They’re going to make you buy broccoli next” could be topped.
Oh, was I wrong.
The two judges who comprised a majority of the D.C. Circuit panel argued that the government failed to provide evidence that the authors of the law did not intend to funnel subsidies through state exchanges only. Well, why would such evidence exist—if, as seems exceedingly likely, it never occurred to anyone that the subsidies were so structured until Cannon announced his discovery? “It was a carrot dangled in front of states, just like the promise of more Medicaid money,” the plaintiffs speculated. If so, then why the backstop of a federal exchange? What’s the point of the thing if not to convey subsidies to eligible customers? Much to the dismay of supporters of the ACA, there was no Plan B after the Supreme Court allowed states to opt out of the Medicaid expansion. And so the money remains unspent.
There’s no getting around the fact that those who drafted the law are guilty of a linguistic oversight. In a sane world, the matter would have been dispatched through a technical corrections bill, much as President Clinton and Congress ironed out a kink in U.S. Code that granted citizenship to those born abroad and one of whose parents was a U.S. citizen. Before the correction, the government granted citizenship only to those whose fathers were citizens.
But we’re not living in a sane world right now. We’re living in the world of massive resistance.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m hardly a fan of Obamacare. I’m with those who champion a cheaper and cleaner method of achieving universal coverage. I suppose it could be argued that the Halbig case is one way of getting there. But when its mastermind heads the “Anti-Universal Coverage Club,” I kind of doubt it.
The Guantanamo Bay detention center briefly reasserted its presence in the public consciousness this month with the news that a single Navy nurse refused to participate in the force-feeding of detainees on hunger strike. Quietly feted by civil liberties advocates, the story quickly slipped off the radar. The Pentagon confirmed that the nurse “has been temporarily assigned to alternate duties with no impact to medical support operations”—in other words, the torturous force feedings, instituted in 2006, will continue unabated.
Gitmo currently houses 149 inmates. Fewer than 20 detainees have been charged, and 78 are cleared for release—a status some have held for more than half a decade. About 45 prisoners are scheduled for indefinite detention, never to see a day in court.
The tepid response to the nurse’s moral stand is not surprising. Despite the fervor of outspoken antiwar protesters during the Bush years, the broader public has never cared much about the welfare of those imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, innocent or no. Support for closing the facility peaked at 51 percent in early 2009. That high corresponded with the first inauguration of President Barack Obama, who took office trumpeting his intentions to put an end to Bush-era abuses like Guantanamo, which he labeled a betrayal of American ideals.
A year after the inauguration, the Obama administration’s now-extensive history of Gitmo excuse-making was well underway. “Political opposition” caused the President to break his promise. Temper your expectations, an anonymous White House official suggested, “The president can’t just wave a magic wand and say that Gitmo will be closed.” But of course—of course!—it’s still going to happen.
Come 2011, we found the President admitting that the facility won’t be closed in the near future. “[W]ithout Congress’s cooperation, we can’t do it,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I stop making the case.” And that narrative—the “I really want to close Guantanamo, but Congress just won’t let me!” line—has persisted ever since, typically with a heavy dose of partisan undertones. As Obama moved an issue he once called vital to the restoration of the United States’ moral authority to the backburner, public opinion followed his cue. By 2010, only 39 percent supported closing the prison. Today, just 27 percent are on board.
What’s fascinating about this unwillingness to close Guantanamo Bay as observed in government and citizens alike is the way it encapsulates the charade of modern American politics: a GOP that abandons its support for limited government out of fear, and a Democratic Party whose civil libertarianism is built more on partisan rancor than ethics.
Let’s look at the Republican opposition first—for those partisan undertones in Obama’s narrative are two-faced but not unfounded. Led by hawks like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), congressional Republicans have indeed worked to keep Gitmo open. Polling suggests they have the full support of their GOP constituents—no less than 81 percent want the detention center to stick around—and even Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), perhaps Graham’s staunchest foreign policy opponent in the Senate, agrees with his South Carolinian colleague on this point.
But what about Gitmo meshes with the small government philosophy Republicans espouse? Each prisoner costs taxpayers $2.7 million annually, a massive failure on the fiscal responsibility front (federal prison, for comparison, spends $26,000 a year per inmate).
Even worse for conservatives should be the prison’s blatant trampling of constitutional rights. Read More…
H.R. 5126 is the latest effort in a longstanding and increasingly bipartisan movement to send the Pentagon sailing into the azure waters of Sound Fiscal Policy. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), and co-sponsored by Reps. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), Dan Benishek (R-Mich.), and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).
For those seeking immediate, significant cuts to military spending, the measure might be less than satisfying, but Jill Shatzen, Communications Director for Rep. Burgess, said that the primary goal of the bill was to “put a little pressure on them in order to gain compliance.” The bill will “reduce by one-half of one percent the discretionary budget authority of any Federal agency for a fiscal year if [it] does not receive a qualified or unqualified audit opinion by an external independent auditor[.]“ A similar bill proposing five percent budget penalties for un-auditable Pentagon programs failed in 2013, so a more modest approach has been taken.
Led by Rafael DeGennaro, the Audit the Pentagon Coalition has secured endorsements from a diverse range of political figures. “[H.R. 5126] is a well-crafted and moderate piece of legislation,” DeGennaro said at a press conference. “It’s backed by a broad coalition: from Grover Norquist on the right to Ralph Nader — who endorsed it only recently — to Code Pink on the left.”
The law that H.R. 5126 seeks to enforce, passed in 1990, required the Pentagon to pass an annual audit and has been utterly disregarded since. “The current law is strong and clear,” said DeGennaro, ”The deadline was  years ago. We need to impose immediate financial consequences on un-auditable agencies.” Norquist, the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, emphasized at a press conference that establishing baseline accountability is an important first step to reform, regardless of political affiliation. ”There is always going to be a discussion on how and what to spend on defense,” Norquist said, “but do any of us know how much we are spending? You can’t begin to have a conversation without the facts.” Norquist is a long-time supporter of the effort to audit the Pentagon. TAC‘s Michael Ostrolenk interviewed him in 2012 about his efforts at the time. During the interview, he quipped that “[s]pending is not caring. Spending is what politicians do instead of caring.”
DeGennaro said that by requiring each individual agency to be responsible for passing an audit, H.R. 5126 sidesteps the mistake of treating the Pentagon as a “monolith.” Necessary spending cuts can be decided once the numbers are available and the agencies are once more operating within definable boundaries.
Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, a former officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency, strongly supported the Pentagon audit in a 2013 interview with TAC: “Audit the Pentagon?” he asked. “Absolutely—a no brainer. Just do it.”
One question I am asked while on tour for my new book, “The Greatest Comeback,” on the resurrection of Richard Nixon, is: Does Nixon’s rise, from crushing defeats in 1960 and 1962, and the debacle his party suffered in 1964, to capturing the White House and beginning a string of five victories in six presidential elections, have relevance for today’s GOP?
Can the “Great Silent Majority” of yesteryear be replicated?
The answer is probably not. For while there are similarities between the America of 1968, and of today, the differences are greater.
The similarities: By the late 1960s, as today, the country was pivoting away from a Democratic Party and president that seemed incapable of mastering the crises of the times in which they lived. Then it was LBJ; today, Barack Obama.
In 1968, America turned to the GOP to manage a bloodier war than Iraq, that the Democratic Party could not win or end, and to cope with the social anarchy Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society seemed to have ushered in. And the party of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan delivered — eventually — a successful conclusion to the Cold War that had been the unifying cause of that generation.
America is another country today.
The Cold War is over. The nation is no longer united on America’s role. A majority want out of the Middle East wars into which George W. Bush led the nation. And the GOP is itself, like the Democrats of 1968 over Vietnam, divided on Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, and how to deal with the challenges of Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Xi Jinping’s China.
While distrust of government has rarely been greater than today, it is also true that dependence upon government has never been greater. Tens of millions of families rely on the government as a primary source of income, food, health care, housing and other necessities of daily life. Government’s role in education has never been greater. A Republican Party that preaches an anti-Big Government gospel or a rollback of programs is unlikely to be warmly received by the scores of millions who depend on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and a host of other social welfare benefits. Republican proposals to cut taxes on income, capital gains, estates, and inheritances are unlikely to win standing ovations from folks who pay no income taxes and have no estates or capital gains.
America is another country in other ways.
Nixon’s Silent Majority, which encompassed much of the Greatest Generation and of the Silent Generation born in the 1930s and during World War II, is passing on. And with a birth rate among the following generations below replacement levels for 40 years, the demography of America is markedly different from the days of Ike and JFK. Read More…
This week, seven college students and voting-rights advocates are challenging a North Carolina voting regulation law, alleging age-based discrimination. They argue that the law, which does not permit state university IDs or out-of-state driver’s licenses as acceptable voter ID and ends a DMV pre-registration program for teenagers, violates the 26th Amendment that enfranchised citizens 18 and over. Separately, efforts to shut down voting sites at universities are adding to complaints that the Republican-dominated state and local governments are deliberately blocking the youth vote, which turned out overwhelmingly for President Obama twice in North Carolina and nationwide.
The irony is, Republicans may be moving to depress the youth vote just when it could be starting to turn in their favor. While the millennials who comprise young voters now look to be strongly Democratic in the short term, David Leonhardt argues that today’s teenagers may grow up conservative:
In the simplest terms, the Democrats control the White House (and, for now, the Senate) at a time when the country is struggling. Economic growth has been disappointing for almost 15 years now. Most Americans think this country is on the wrong track. Our foreign policy often seems messy and complex, at best.
To Americans in their 20s and early 30s — the so-called millennials — many of these problems have their roots in George W. Bush’s presidency. But think about people who were born in 1998, the youngest eligible voters in the next presidential election. They are too young to remember much about the Bush years or the excitement surrounding the first Obama presidential campaign. They instead are coming of age with a Democratic president who often seems unable to fix the world’s problems.
As Leonhardt argues, college students and young voters in general are not inherently liberal groups. In the 1980s, Republicans dominated the youth vote: Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush won first-time voters, under-29 voters, and voters with some college education by large margins. Those then-young voters remain a consistently Republican constituency, lining up with Leonhardt’s argument that politics are more generational than anything. Young voters are entering the electorate while making their political allegiances in reaction to ongoing policies, forming beliefs that they will carry throughout their lives.
Legislating away unfriendly voters is rarely a productive path to long-term future success for a party seeking democratic legitimacy, and voting blocs generally aren’t courted by efforts to impede their franchise or deny their voting rights. With their gaze fixed firmly backward at their past two presidential setbacks, North Carolina Republicans and their counterparts nationwide are at risk of scoring a series of own goals.
This generation in particular could be a political opportunity ripe for Republicans’ taking. The teenagers who voted in the last election, and those entering the electorate now, are voting increasingly Republican in reaction to the current administration’s failures. A Democratic president that leans interventionist and is misleadingly ineffective on student debt makes for even more fertile ground for conservative alternatives. Rather than trying to inhibit the youth vote, Republicans should craft policy solutions that could serve to swing young voters to their side and take advantage of their momentum.