Monday, December 31, 2012

A summary of where the mess currently stands

Plenty of forces are aligned against a deal right now. . . . [read on]

Republicans have no political incentive to make deal with Obama

[Chris Cillizza] The fiscal cliff cometh. And, whether or not the House and Senate — with an assist from the White House — figure out some sort of stop-gap(ish) way to avert going over the edge, one lesson is already crystal clear: Congress has failed. . . [read on]

[John Avlon] The fiscal cliff is, of course, the world’s most predictable crisis. Congress set this time bomb themselves—and now they can’t agree on how to defuse it, despite more than a year of debate and a presidential election largely centered on the subject. . . .

This congressional Kabuki is killing us, because it masks a more fundamental problem. Congress seems unable to act unless confronted with a crisis at the last minute—and even then, they can’t agree on anything significant or substantive that actually deals with long-term problems. Maybe they should just stay on vacation and spare us the rhetoric. But as the clock ticks to New Year’s, they should have a guilty conscience that might inspire a genuine resolution to reform. Because they created this crisis and now seem unable to fix it. We’re the ones who will feel the pain. It is an epic act of self-sabotage. [read on]
Why did McConnell throw the "chained-CPI" monkey wrench into the deal, when even his own members didn't want that issue brought up in the context of this negotiation?

This Isn't a Normal Negotiation

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he counted 80 senators who were ready to vote for a plan that did not include chained CPI. Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee, John McCain of Arizona, Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and others also said it did not need to be in the fiscal cliff deal. . . .

No, not a normal negotiation. Having introduced the Social Security issue into this debate, the GOPers also don't want to be blamed for it

[Ezra Klein] Today’s Republican Party thinks the key problem America faces is out-of-control entitlement spending. But cutting entitlement spending is unpopular and the GOP’s coalition relies heavily on seniors. And so they don’t want to propose entitlement cuts. If possible, they’d even like to attack President Obama for proposing entitlement cuts. But they also want to see entitlements cut and will refuse to solve the fiscal cliff or raise the debt ceiling unless there are entitlement cuts.

You can see why these negotiations aren’t going well.

A good question
Why Is Obama Caving On Taxes? 

Estate tax? The GOPers are going to blow up the deal over the ESTATE TAX??!!

[Kevin Drum] Do you know how many people leave estates valued at more than $3.5 million? Something like 0.01 percent, give or take a bit. This is a tax that's a huge deal for the super-rich, but completely irrelevant for nearly everyone else, including the merely ordinary rich. And needless to say, all the talk about small businesses and family farms is just a pretense. Virtually no family farms are affected, and the ones that are have extremely generous rules for dealing with estate taxes.

President Obama has Republicans dead to rights on this. "They say that their biggest priority is making sure that we deal with the deficit in a serious way," he said on Meet the Press this morning, "but the way they're behaving is that their only priority is making sure that tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are protected. That seems to be their only overriding, unifying theme." Quite so.

What happens if/when we go over the "cliff"?

We hear a lot about how "small businesses" are taxed at the individual rate, and how "small businesses" create the most jobs. But what counts as a "small business"?

First, small businesses destroy almost as many jobs as they create. Second, only about 3 percent of small-business owners fall into the upper-income tax brackets that would increase if, as Obama has proposed, the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire. And third, many businesses counted as small aren’t engaged in traditional small-business activity. Instead, they are partners in hedge funds, law firms and private-equity shops, or they are highly paid actors, athletes, speakers and authors.  . . .

[A] lot of that supposedly “small”-business income is really from giant firms bringing in over $50 million a year. . . .

Who created the national debt?

Let's see the Fox News liars try to turn this into another conspiracy theory over why Clinton is afraid to testify before Congress

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was hospitalized on Sunday with a blood clot stemming from a concussion she suffered earlier this month, a State Department spokesman said.  . . .

Bonus item: The best and worst 2012 moments of political theater
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Sunday, December 30, 2012


Happy New Year!

[Jonathan Cohn] But, if you’re a Democrat, holding out past January 1 has its upsides. Once the Bush tax cuts come off the books, the baseline for budget calculations changes: Bills preserving Bush-era rates on lower and middle-incomes, while restoring Clinton-era rates on upper incomes, would become tax cuts rather than tax increases. It's a purely semantic distinction, for sure, but it could win over reluctant Republicans. In addition, the House on January 3 votes for its leadership—and whether to reelect John Boehner as speaker. After that date, Boehner could more easily defy the most conservative members of his caucus, whose opposition could prevent him from serving as speaker again.

And then there are the polls, which suggest that the public overwhelmingly blames Republicans, rather than Obama, for inaction. Polls don’t always predict how people will react to actual political developments in real time. But chances are good that, the longer it takes for a deal, the more pressure Republicans will feel from the voters—not to mention their supporters in the business community—to abandon their opposition to tax increases and determination to cut entitlements.

Do Obama and the Democrats get that? It’s impossible to know. But Friday’s news was at least a little bit encouraging. During the White House meeting, Obama apparently offered no new concessions. Instead, he made a new demand: If weekend talks between the parties break down, Obama said, he wants both houses to hold an up-or-down vote on a Democratic bill. Later, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced he wanted to bring just such a bill to a vote on Monday. Not only would that bill raise rates on annual household incomes above $250,000 and extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed; according to a senior Democratic aide, the bill would also extend those critical tax breaks for working families and children. (The bill would also put off the cut in Medicare physician payments, according to the aide. Extending the payroll tax holiday seems to be off the agenda, to my great chagrin.)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell might filibuster such a bill anyway; even if he didn't, Boehner would be unlikely to hold a vote on it, at least right away. But Obama's demand and Reid's cooperation suggest the Democrats want to apply pressure and are willing to hold out a little longer . . .

David Brooks on the state of the GOP

But that doesn't seem -- one of the things that struck me -- I think it struck Mark too -- about the president's press conference is, he is saying, oh, these politicians in Washington, they're squabbling. I should write a letter to the White House and find out who is in charge here.

Well, it happens to be you, Mr. President. You are sort of involved here. And so, to me, if I have to talk about the flaws of each side, the president still is sort of, oh, those politicians should figure it out. The Republicans have a larger problem. It's sort of a Freudian problem. What do Republicans want?

It's been unclear for a month what their message is, what their goal is. They -- sort of without defining a general strategy, they have been casting about this way and that, doing the stupid things like plan B. And they are still in that problem. They still don't know what they want to use this moment for. . . .
There's still the debt, the general debt problem. There's still the crushing deficits. So they still have to do some big things, let alone do immigration reform and all the other stuff.

It's a little like TARP, I think, what is going to happen. When they -- remember, the House voted no, and then the markets just collapsed. I think we might see something like that in the first week in January, and then there will be a focusing of the minds. But there will still be the need to cooperate for the next year or two.

John Boehner is safe as Speaker, mainly because no one else wants the job 
Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.)? House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.)? Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)? Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)? Please, House GOP insiders say.
Not only have none of them signaled they will challenge Boehner, they are actively supporting his reelection.

No other rank-and-file Republican has publicly challenged him either, at least not at this point. The main anti-Boehner grumbling is coming from conservative media outlets like Breitbart and Hot Air, and outside groups such as American Majority Action. . . .

Then there’s this problem: No one has said how they’d handle the brawls with President Barack Obama differently. Leading conservatives considered the most likely to vote against Boehner didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“There’s no ‘better plan’ to get the House GOP out of this mess, i.e., ‘If I were speaker, I would do ‘X’ as an alternative,’” explained one House Republican.

A GOP aide echoed that: “[N]o outsider, were there even a path for them — which there isn’t — has any interest in doing this dirty work. They don’t want to have to meet with the president, work with Harry Reid, or even Mitch McConnell. They want to stay pure, and the only way to do that is to shout from bleachers.”

The end of filibuster reform?
A sure sign Dems have the upper hand in filibuster reform: a bipartisan 'compromise' to take it away [read on] 

Dick Armey, blackmailer 

Book review 
[Laura Clawson] Before beginning Donald Barlett and James Steele's The Betrayal of the American Dream, put away any implements with which you might be tempted to harm yourself. This is grim, grim stuff. Some of the grimmest stuff possible: an unvarnished picture of the place of middle- and working-class people in our economy . . . 

The Sunday talk show line-ups 

ABC’S THIS WEEK: Jonathan Karl hosts. Fiscal Cliff. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ). Plus, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID). Roundtable: former Vermont governor and founder of Democracy for America, Howard Dean; former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, president and CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable; Politico senior political reporter Maggie Haberman; and Vanity Fair national editor Todd Purdum. Then, ABC News’ Bianna Golodryga and Leigh Gallagher of Fortune Magazine on fiscal cliff fallout.

CBS’ FACE THE NATION:  Fiscal Cliff. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). Roundtable: The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan, Vanity Fair’s Dee Dee Myers, and TIME Magazine’s Michael Duffy and Joe Klein. Plus, CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett and CBS News Congressional Correspondent Nancy Cordes with fiscal cliff updates.

CHRIS HAYES:  Former Governor James Florio (D-NJ), Adjunct Professor of Public Policy and Administration at Rutgers University. Mayor Kasim Reed (D-Atlanta, GA). Mayor Michael Nutter. (D-Philadelpha, PA). Dylan Glenn, Senior Vice President of Guggenheim Advisors and former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush. Heidi Moore, Finance and Economics Editor for The Guardian newspaper. Kevin Alexander Gray, Contributing Editor to Black News and Contributing Writer to CounterPunch and Black Agenda Report. Maya Wiley, Founder and President of the Center for Social Inclusion. Dean Baker, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Rebecca Peters, international arms control advocate who led the campaign to reform Australia’s gun laws after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre.
CNN’S STATE OF THE UNION:  Fiscal Cliff.  Chair of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD). Then, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on the farm bill. 2016 Horse Race Roundtable: CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jessica Yellin, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, Gerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, and Matt Bai of The New York Times Magazine.

CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS" -- National Security Advisor Tom Donilon.

MOYERS & COMPANY:  Rewriting the Story of America. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz straddles two cultures while telling the story of America’s past and future.

NBC’S MEET THE PRESS:  Fiscal Cliff.  President Barack Obama. Roundtable: NBC’s Tom Brokaw; historians Jon Meacham and Doris Kearns Goodwin; the New York Times’ David Brooks; and NBC’s Chuck Todd.

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Obama's ultimatum

“So if we don’t see an agreement between the two leaders in the Senate,” the president said, “I expect a bill to go on the floor — and I’ve asked Senator Reid to do this — put a bill on the floor that makes sure that taxes on middle class families don’t go up, that unemployment insurance is still available for 2 million people and lays the groundwork then for additional deficit reduction and economic growth steps.”

Here’s how that threat would play out. Taxes will automatically go up on all income earners next week if a deal isn’t struck. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will put forth legislation to bring taxes back down for middle incomes. That’ll leave Senate Republicans with a choice: either let it move forward and pass, or go on record filibustering a middle class tax cut as the nation watches. . . [read on]
Obama to GOP: Last chance

Republicans Continue to Stare Into the Abyss

Republicans Resigned to Getting Blamed
In other news . . .

So the Senate CAN do something
Congress approved a measure Friday that would renew expansive U.S. surveillance authority for five more years, rejecting objections from senators who are concerned the legislation does not adequately protect Americans’ privacy. . . .

[Kevin Drum] The worst part of all this is that nobody cares. None of our three major daily newspapers made this front-page news. Virtually none of the blogs I read highlighted it. . . .

A new record!

112th Congress Set To Become Most Unproductive Since 1940s

Filibuster "reform"

The two leading champions of weakening the Senate filibuster on Friday criticized a bipartisan proposal that was unveiled in the afternoon with scaled-back reforms, and they pushed for their own package to make more sweeping changes to the rules. . .

[Ezra Klein] This is filibuster reform for people who don’t want to reform the filibuster. 

I can't imagine how this could go wrong

200 Utah educators take class on handling, having concealed gun in class

Freedom of information
After newspaper's gun-permit map, blogger posts journalists' addresses
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Friday, December 28, 2012


Does a fiscal cliff deal get done today?
Don’t Get Your Hopes Up
[Jonathan Bernstein] I see three possibilities, which I’ll take from least likely to most. . . .
[Steve Benen] So what's the point of today's White House chat? I suspect one of two scenarios is true:

1. Participants have been very quietly working out the details of a compromise, and today's meeting is about sealing the deal while working out a legislative strategy. They're closer than is publicly known, and today, they'll try to work out the final details.

2. Everyone knows failure is inevitable, and there's no way a deal can be reached with Republican extremists, especially with so little time remaining, so today's meeting is motivated by theatrics -- they'll go through the motions so no one can say they didn't at least try to sit in a room and talk to one another.

Republican "leadership":
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell isn’t sticking his neck out this time. . . .
Speaker John Boehner’s message to House Republicans is no different privately, than what he’s saying publicly. “We are waiting on the Senate” . . .

Another phony, ginned-up controversy
GOP Plans To Block Kerry Until Hillary Testifies On Benghazi
Clinton has already promised to testify before Congress on Benghazi . . .

"Conservative absolutism"

The end of "swing districts"
[Nate SIlver] In 1992, there were 103 members of the House of Representatives elected from what might be called swing districts: those in which the margin in the presidential race was within five percentage points of the national result. But based on an analysis of this year’s presidential returns, I estimate that there are only 35 such Congressional districts remaining . . . [read on]

"Too lazy to vote," eh?
Blacks voted at a higher rate this year than other minority groups and for the first time in history may also have voted at a higher rate than whites, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of census data, election day exit poll data and vote totals from selected cities and counties. . .

[Steve Benen] This should, of course, be the starting point for a fascinating debate: did voting rates among African Americans go up despite GOP voting restrictions or because of Republican disenfranchisement efforts? In other words, did the "war on voting" set up hurdles that voters found easy to overcome, or did the restrictions inspire black voters to work even harder to make sure their voices were heard? . . . [read on]

More post-mortems
Tea Party Leader: Romney Was ‘The Worst Candidate In History’

Bonus item: Top media fails of 2012 (and Fox wins three of the four slots!)
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Thursday, December 27, 2012


House Republicans now tell Democrats in the Senate "you go first" on a fiscal cliff deal. But it isn't clear that they would even vote on what the Dems produce

As Bloomberg notes, if Senate Democrats do introduce a fiscal package, [Senate Minorty Leader Mitch] McConnell has three choices:  He can do nothing, try to block the proposal, or work to find a bipartisan deal. In the past, McConnell might have gone for the last option. He was a key player in resolving last year's disputes over the debt ceiling and extending the expiring payroll tax break. He also worked on Boehner's Plan B effort behind the scenes, but after it flopped last week, many say it's unlikely he'll work to forge a new deal. “Unless Sen. McConnell radically changes his tune and agrees to substantive compromises, we are headed over the cliff,” said Jim Manley, a former aide to Harry Reid. “But Sen. McConnell wants to ensure that whatever happens doesn't have his fingerprints on it.”

Part of the problem may be that McConnell is focused on his 2014 reelection bid.. . .

What Boehner seems to mean by "you go first"

“We do have a House bill that sits in the Senate that extended tax rates for all Americans, and we’ve been waiting since August the first for the Senate to act,” Boehner said. “If the Senate wants to act on that bill, we’ll certainly take a look at it.”

Notice that he’s given up on the hopeless idea that the Senate would just pass that bill. His suggestion is that the Senate amend the bill with … something. . . .

[Steve Benen] As for this notion that it's "up to Senate Democrats to act," I've been hearing this a lot today and it seems more and more peculiar every time. Senate Democrats can pass a perfectly sensible package tomorrow, filled with popular proposals that enjoy broad support from the American mainstream, and which would earn the president's signature. But if it can't overcome a GOP filibuster and pass the right-wing House, it won't matter -- and Senate Democrats aren't in a position to accurately guess what Republicans might find tolerable.

In other words, it's not really up to Senate Democrats to act. Maybe if they showed up in town, ready to work, someone could explain this to them. . .

The House GOP's impeccable symbolism

House GOP not returning to D.C.
"Increasingly unlikely"

Gun defenders find a law they really DO want to enforce

The Metropolitan Police Department said on Wednesday that it had opened an investigation into whether NBC and David Gregory, the host of “Meet the Press,” broke the law when Mr. Gregory displayed a high-capacity gun magazine during an interview on Sunday with the vice president of the National Rifle Association.. . .

Mr. Gregory displayed the magazine, which rapidly feeds ammunition into the chamber of a gun, about 10 minutes into his interview with Wayne LaPierre, the N.R.A. vice president. The host picked it up from the table in front of him and held it in the air as he questioned Mr. LaPierre. 

[Mark Kleiman] I see all Red Blogistan wants to see David Gregory in prison for showing a high-capacity magazine on television.. . .

Gregory isn’t alone, of course: the same crowd is chortling over the “petition” to deport [CNN's] Piers Morgan for the unforgiven sin of blasphemy against the Holy Firearm. If gun-rights advocates don’t want to be called “gun nuts,” perhaps they might consider acting less insanely. . . .
Petition To Deport CNN Host For Gun Control Support

On Dick Armey's "armed coup" at FreedomWorks 
So Did Dick Armey Break the Law?

Why is Obama floating the names of potential Cabinet nominees before actually choosing them?

Helpful summary

Five ways your health care will change in 2013

We focus here mainly on national stories, but what's been happening at the state level?

In Fox World

Fox News says Fred Phelps’ “God Hates F*gs” hate group is “left wing”

***If you enjoy PBD and support what we are doing, you can help by forwarding a copy of this issue to your friends (using the envelope link below) or by sending them a copy of its URL:

I don’t get anything personally out of this project, except the satisfaction of doing it (I don’t run ads, etc.). The credit really all goes to the people whose material I copy and redistribute. But if I do have a “mission,” it is to get this information into the hands of as many people as I can.***