What’s the point of President Obama’s new proposal to end the “fiscal cliff” financial crisis? This question arises because Republicans seem genuinely startled and annoyed by the details of the plan. In their view, it’s a Democratic wish list instead of a starting line for serious negotiations.
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told The Weekly Standard he “burst into laughter” after hearing Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner outline the plan. “Nothing good is happening” in the fiscal cliff talks, Senator McConnell said.
Let’s back up and examine Mr. Obama’s offer. As expected, it calls for $1.6 trillion in tax increases over 10 years. The president has long said that’s his dollar goal for new revenue and that raising rates on the top 2 percent of taxpayers is the only way to raise enough cash to get there.
FISCAL CLIFF 101: 5 basic questions answered
But the proposal also calls for $50 billion in immediate stimulus spending, according to the GOP. This would pay for some new national infrastructure, the continuation of extended unemployment benefits, and a deferral of looming reductions in Medicare physician reimbursements.
(We’ll note that this last detail, the “doc fix,” is something that both parties have agreed to for years. Whether it counts as new stimulus spending is thus open to interpretation.)
Obama’s plan also calls for eliminating congressional votes to raise the debt ceiling – a shift in institutional balance of power that lawmakers of both parties might resist.
But what really appears to peeve Republicans is the lack of specificity on spending cuts. The White House proposal identifies some upfront reductions in some programs, but only in vague terms, they say. It does propose $400 billion in long-term savings from Medicare and other entitlement programs, but only as a goal. Specifics are deferred for later negotiations.
“Unfortunately, many Democrats continue to rule out sensible spending cuts that must be part of any significant agreement that will reduce our deficit,” said House Speaker John Boehner after Thursday’s meeting with Secretary Geithner.
Democrats say the other party is just acting the diva. Obama has talked publicly about pretty much all this stuff, they say, so nobody should pretend to be surprised.
But even some liberals say the list is loaded up with most of their favorite proposals. In this sense, it’s a compendium of many things the administration has been pushing. This could mean the White House is not trying to woo the GOP with upfront concessions. Instead, Obama appears to believe he’s entering these talks in a position of strength.
“This opening bid will cheer liberals – it strongly suggests the White House is willing to push Republicans very hard, in the belief that it has all the leverage,” writes left-leaning Greg Sargent in his Plum Line blog at the Washington Post.
Some on the right say all this means Obama has also decided he’s not that worried about actually reaching a deal. Instead, he’s decided that allowing automatic spending cuts and tax increases to kick in on Jan. 1 will only increase his leverage. The logic of this view runs this way: Polls show a majority of voters will blame the GOP if the United States dives over the cliff. The administration can then say any resultant weakness in the economy is Republicans’ fault, and Democrats would do better in the 2014 midterms than they would have otherwise.
Obama is “either indifferent about going over the cliff or now actively wants it to happen, and since he knows he can count on the press to scapegoat Republicans when it does, he’s decided to shoot for the stars with his ‘offer’ and see how desperate Boehner is,” writes conservative blogger Allahpundit on the Hot Air website.
However, our favorite guess here stems from game theory, which focuses on strategic decisionmaking. Perhaps the administration is trying to enter fiscal cliff talks in a position to both reach a deal and get most of what it wants.
One way to do this might be to lard up opening positions with lots of stuff you’d be willing to discard. This way, the other side gets “victories” when you agree to strike them, allowing it to save face in the final deal.
Opening positions are just that – openings. In that sense, the administration’s proposal could be both unrealistic and the opening to a solution.
Why did Vice President Joe Biden go shopping at Costco Thursday morning? He’s got a day job, after all. We’d have thought he might have spent the a.m. holed up in his White House office plotting strategy for “fiscal cliff’ talks. Or maybe preparing a greeting for Mitt Romney, who’s lunching Thursday with President Obama.
But no, Mr. Biden was out setting an example for holiday shoppers by priming the pump at the grand opening of the first Costco in Washington, D.C. Among other things, he bought cookies, children’s books, an apple pie, fire logs, and a 32-inch Panasonic TV. He tried some food samples. He declined to purchase a new set of tires.
“Hey man, I don’t need tires,” he said, according to the pool report. “I don’t drive anymore.”
QUIZ: Are you a smart shopper?
No, we’re not making that tire thing up. Sometimes reality needs no improvement.
Anyway, we can think of several serious reasons that a man who’s a heartbeat away from the most powerful job in the world might spend a few minutes checking out pallets of dress shirt three-packs.
The first is an obvious one: He’s rewarding a supporter. Costco co-founder Jim Sinegal endorsed the Obama ticket, held a fundraiser at his New York home, and even spoke at the Democratic National Convention. Mr. Sinegal was present Thursday as Biden appeared at Costco’s door. Undoubtedly he was pleased at all the free publicity about the new store he’s getting because of his administration friends.
But this wasn’t just an economic/political quid pro quo. Our second point is that the administration tries to promote Costco as an example of how US businesses should treat employees. Costco’s people are well paid (for retail), and the firm offers good health insurance. Sinegal himself took home $350,000 in the last year he served as CEO, which sounds like a lot but is about one-third of the average for firms of Costco’s size.
That’s why the DNC got him onstage in Charlotte, N.C. His speech didn’t get that much attention, as he’s not exactly a rousing orator, and it went on late. Maybe Biden’s visit is a way of trying to raise those issues again.
“At our company, we recognize that job creation requires time and investment and commitment to the long term,” Sinegal said in his convention speech.
Last, Biden may just have been boosting D.C. Or an area of the city underserved by retail, in any case. The new Costco that the VP visited looms on a cliff in the northeast part of the city near the Anacostia River and the border with Maryland. It’s a lower-income area called Fort Lincoln, where local officials have put together a new shopping area named the Shops at Dakota Crossing. Costco is the first big tenant to open. Shoppers Food Warehouse and Marshalls are supposed to follow.
D.C. officials have long lamented that city residents who don’t live in the prosperous northwest quadrant have few retail options and must drive to Virginia or Maryland to shop. In visiting Costco, Biden brought attention to a place where D.C. residents can spend their bucks in D.C. – keeping jobs and tax revenue within the city.
QUIZ: Are you a smart shopper?
As Republicans on Capitol Hill continue their public flogging of Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, it’s hard not to notice that a more senior administration official – who, arguably, might bear more responsibility for what went wrong in Benghazi – has largely escaped criticism.
We’re referring, of course, to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
True, a handful of right-wing news outlets have raised questions about why Ms. Clinton’s department failed to heed earlier warnings about security concerns in Benghazi. But the top Republican senators driving this story have so far chosen to leave Clinton largely out of the discussion.
It’s a remarkable turnaround for a woman who, not too long ago, was seen as such a lightning rod that she could have easily been called “GOP Enemy No. 1.” Today, the secretary of State is the de facto Democratic frontrunner for the 2016 nomination (though she has not made a decision about whether to run) and seems almost – as Saturday Night Live’s Darrell Hammond once famously called her husband – “bulletproof.”
The lack of criticism directed at Secretary Clinton over Benghazi may be in part a reflection of her years in the Senate – a still-clubby institution that instinctively protects its own. Clinton only served two terms, but she made the most of her time there, reaching across the aisle and developing close relationships.
In particular, Clinton’s friendship with Sen. John McCain appears to be paying dividends. As Politico’s Scott Wong writes Wednesday, in a detailed examination of the warm relationship between the two, Clinton’s “decade-old bipartisan friendship with McCain appears to have helped shield her from GOP fire – even as her agency finds itself in the thick of a partisan battle over Benghazi.”
It may also indicate how sharp Clinton’s own political instincts have become. Notably, it was not Clinton who went out on the Sunday shows with those now-infamous talking points. As New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote recently, Rice should have been “savvy enough to wonder why the wily Hillary was avoiding the talk shows.”
But Clinton also seems to be benefitting from a larger rehabilitation of her reputation that began even before her husband left office. She earned praise during her time in the Senate for buckling down and seeming to eschew the spotlight (“a workhorse, not a showhorse” was the oft-repeated phrase).
And as secretary of State, Clinton’s status has been elevated even more – in part because, for the first time in decades, she’s been front and center in a decidedly nonpartisan role. Her above-the-partisan-fray image probably also got a lift from the fact that she gamely went to work for a former rival who arguably took the presidency away from her.
In the job, she has earned kudos, again, for hard work – most recently, for her role in brokering a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel. And she’s shown a fun side, boogieing in South Africa, partying at a nightclub in Cartegena, and playing along with the “Texts from Hillary” blog on Tumblr.
Indirectly, Clinton may also be profiting from the warm public embrace that her husband – like many former presidents whose time in office has receded sufficiently into the past – has been receiving of late (that same Gallup poll found that Mr. Clinton was No. 3 on the list of most admired men).
Of course, a 2016 presidential run would likely bring Hillary Clinton’s reputation back down to earth. As Dee Dee Myers, Bill Clinton's former press secretary, recently told the Daily Beast: “Once she was running for office as a partisan – as a Democrat – again, as opposed to being the global figure she is, she’d lose a little bit of that luster.”
For now, however, that luster is proving awfully powerful.
Stilted conversation over scallops, anyone? President Obama has invited Mitt Romney to lunch at the White House on Thursday, and while we’re sure the food will be delectable, we’re not sure how much genuine communication will occur.
But is that really the point? Instead, both parties might just want a public burying of mutual animosities. It could be good for them, and the country. Perhaps this will become a US tradition, along with the presidential turkey pardon and the lighting of the White House Christmas tree. Every four years, the combatants in the just-past election will gather in the private dining room next to the Oval Office and air their grievances. (Yes, that’s a “Festivus” reference. If you don’t know what that means, look it up.)
But let’s back up a bit. The White House announced the meal Wednesday in a statement released by spokesman Jay Carney.
“It will be the first opportunity they have had to visit since the election,” said Carney, adding that there would be “no press coverage of the meeting.”
He means no press coverage of the actual words they exchange, of course. That’s because they don’t matter nearly as much as press coverage of the mere existence of the event.
Following his reelection Mr. Obama said nice things about his ex-opponent, including that he’d like to sit down with him and hear Mr. Romney’s ideas about how to improve economic prospects for middle-income Americans.
“He presented some ideas during the campaign that I actually agree with,” said Obama in his postelection press conference.
It behooves Obama to be gracious, of course. With large margins of Americans telling pollsters they want Democrats and Republicans to work together, the lunch offer is a big flashing light of a signal that Obama intends to do just that. Or look like he’s doing that, at least. It could set a tone of civil discourse that the administration may want to continue to project in the months ahead.
For Romney the lunch must now loom as a necessary but emotionally difficult task. Only weeks ago he thought the Oval Office would be his workspace. Now it’s just an exclusive cafe that’s deigned to admit him for a visit. It would be churlish for him to turn down the offer – good losing is part of sportsmanship, as anyone who ran the Olympics must know. But he would not be human if he didn’t look around and think how his own family portraits would have looked on that desk.
By accepting Obama’s offer Romney, too, shows that he understands Americans want their politicians to work together. The running-for-office part of his own career may be over, but he bolsters the Republican brand by appearing, which could help in “fiscal cliff” negotiations. And Romney needs to rebuild his status within the GOP, as well as within the country – lots of Republicans have complained about his campaign, and his postelection analysis that Obama won by giving people “gifts.”
A photo of the two 2012 opponents deep in conversation over fennel and endive salad could provide a better coda for Romney’s losing effort, perhaps counteracting some of the bitterness evident in the “gift” remark.
Sixty percent of Americans support raising levies on those with incomes over $250,000 a year, according to the survey. Meanwhile, reducing the deductions that people can claim on their income taxes was a much less popular move, opposed by a plurality of 49 percent of respondents. And raising the age of eligibility for Medicare? That’s a downright downer, with 67 percent of respondents rating that “no thanks.”
So this clarifies the political situation, right? President Obama’s solution wins, Speaker John Boehner needs to cave, taxes on the rich rise, Republicans and Democrats walk arm in arm out of the Capitol to a bipartisan catered lunch at the Hawk and Dove.
FISCAL CLIFF 101: 5 basic questions answered
Nope. In fact, the data within this poll and similar recent surveys shed some light on why it’s so hard for the two parties to agree on solutions to the major money problem now facing Uncle Sam.
Dig into the Post/ABC data, and you find that Democrats and independents by large margins back raising rates on the wealthy. But Republicans oppose it. Fully 59 percent of self-described members of the GOP think this move would be a bad idea.
A new YouGov survey on attitudes toward the Grover Norquist Taxpayer Protection Pledge shows a similar partisan split. (You know what the Norquist pledge is, right? It’s supposed to bind signees to vote against any and all revenue increases. Virtually all House Republicans are adherents.)
Among Democratic respondents to the YouGov poll, a plurality of 35 percent say that any lawmaker who breaks the pledge to vote for tax hikes in the current situation should be commended. Republicans are just the opposite: A plurality of 40 percent say such a move should be criticized.
What does this mean? That as politicians elbow one another for position prior to hard negotiations, both sides may be representing the opinions of their constituencies at the moment, as opposed to being obstreperous for the fun of it.
And the public is watching the politicians closely here. A recent Gallup survey found that more than 80 percent of Americans think it is extremely or very important for Washington to agree on a plan to head off automatic budget cuts and tax increases prior to Jan. 1.
As to other proposed solutions, there are some where the differences between Republican and Democratic voters are not huge. Limits on the home mortgage deduction, for example, won 52 percent approval among Democrats and 43 percent approval among the GOP in a recent Pew Research Center survey. Forty-three percent of Democrats and 50 percent of Republicans support gradually raising the Social Security retirement age, according to Pew.
But those numbers don’t exactly represent ringing approval. And other fixes are far more controversial. The bottom line is that US voters are demanding their politicians solve a problem while remaining resistant or divided on actual solutions.
“If the deficit and related entitlements are to be addressed, it may well be in spite of public opinion, not in response to it,” concludes a Pew analysis.
What might Democrats give up in “fiscal cliff” talks? That question arises Tuesday as Republicans complain that they’ve acceded to increases in government revenue but Democrats haven’t detailed any spending cuts they’d accept.
President Obama has talked about his preference for a “balanced” solution to the crisis, with about $1.6 trillion of new revenue as part of a $3 trillion deficit-reduction package spread over 10 years. He’s been largely silent on the spending reduction side of this balance, however, and some Democrats have indicated they’ll fight if Mr. Obama tries to slash entitlement programs, as the GOP wants.
“In the past, Democrats have demanded tax hikes now for spending cuts that never happened. Not this time. A balanced approach means real cuts, now,” said Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky on the Senate floor Tuesday.
Of course, to some extent GOP lawmakers have also fuzzed their proposed fiscal cliff solutions. While House Speaker John Boehner and others have talked vaguely about “new revenues,” they’ve haven’t said how those new revenues might be produced. Plus, they’ve continued to resist allowing Bush-era tax cuts to expire for the very wealthy, as Obama wants.
But Republicans say that they’ve stepped out of their comfort zone by even discussing revenue hikes, and that in return Democrats must talk about sweeping entitlement changes. What sorts of changes? Consider the provisions of a 10-year, $4.5 trillion deficit-cutting plan that Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee is currently circulating. He calls for a gradual increase in the Social Security retirement age to 68 and in the Medicare eligibility age to 67, plus a less generous mechanism for adjusting Social Security outlays due to inflation, among other things.
The GOP also wants provisions of the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare,” revisited.
“It’s ridiculous to suggest that we make changes to Medicare and Medicaid, while leaving $1.6 trillion in new Obamacare spending untouched,” said Senator McConnell on Tuesday.
The White House, for its part, continues to make noises about the big entitlement programs, saying they’re on the table as part of a multipart deficit solution that also includes increased revenue.
In past fiscal negotiations with Congress, Obama has indicated he might be open to a gradual increase in the Medicare eligibility age, as well as some limits on future Social Security checks. But in recent days White House spokesman Jay Carney has said the administration believes Social Security shouldn’t be part of the current talks, since by itself it isn’t adding to the deficit. And some core Democratic constituencies, particularly liberals and unions, would fight hard to keep the age of Medicare eligibility from rising.
Unions and progressive groups met Tuesday with administration officials and reported themselves satisfied as to where the president currently stands.
“One person at the meeting ... came away convinced that the White House would ultimately prove willing to go over the fiscal cliff if necessary, rather than give ground on core demands,” writes liberal Greg Sargent Tuesday on his Plum Line blog at the Washington Post.
The left might be open to more means-testing of Medicare, however. Sen. Richard Durbin (D) of Illinois, an adamant foe of raising the age of eligibility, said Tuesday during an appearance on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" that one solution is to have higher-income people pay more toward their government-run health plans.
As to Medicaid, the joint federal-state health program for lower-income Americans, the administration might resist large reductions. Under terms of the Affordable Care Act, Obama is trying to entice states to join in expanding the program to many more people. Big reductions in federal subsidies would not help in this effort.
One last issue that’s sure to come up is Obamacare itself – specifically, the subsidies the government will offer beginning in 2014 to help the uninsured buy health coverage.
The Obamacare bill that emerged from the Senate Finance Committee contained less generous aid than the final legislation authorized. It’s possible the two sides might agree to scale back this cost.
“I don’t see how the subsidies [for people earning] up to 400 percent of poverty could remain in this environment,” said G. William Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center and a longtime Senate staffer, at a recent symposium sponsored by The Alliance for Health Reform.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is certainly riding high these days. His announcement that he will, as expected, seek reelection next year comes just as several new polls show his approval ratings have hit record levels in the Garden State.
According to a new Quinnipiac University poll, 72 percent of New Jersey voters currently approve of the job Governor Christie is doing. That’s the highest score ever recorded for a New Jersey governor, and a 16-point improvement for Christie since before superstorm Sandy hit the state last month. A Fairleigh Dickinson University poll released Monday put Christie's approval rate even higher, at 77 percent. Even 52 percent of Democrats in the Quinnipiac poll now approve of the governor.
In a release, Maurice Carroll, the Quinnipiac poll’s director, commented that Christie "never looked more like a 'Jersey Guy' than when he stood on the Seaside boardwalk after Sandy, and, just about unanimously, his New Jersey neighbors – Republicans, Democrats, Independents – applauded.”
The turnaround in Christie’s standing in his home state has clearly given pause to Democrats like Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who, not too long ago, seemed poised to mount a gubernatorial bid of his own.
Still, in politics, popularity – particularly when it comes in the wake of a single event – can be fleeting. The real questions are: How long can Christie’s halo last? And, even if it begins to tarnish (as history suggests may be inevitable), could it still help propel him to a White House bid in 2016?
One obvious comparison is the case of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Giuliani’s popularity skyrocketed. He went being from a controversial and combative Republican in a city of mostly Democrats to “America’s Mayor,” as Oprah Winfrey famously dubbed him. He was named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year, and he was even knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.
Notably, Giuliani managed to retain that image, nationally, for some time (it may have helped that term limits put him out of the office just a few months after the 9/11 attacks, which spared him some of the subsequent fights over victims’ compensation, rebuilding, and other thorny issues).
In early 2007, Giuliani was leading all other potential GOP presidential candidates in most national polls, with his approval ratings hovering in the mid-60s among all voters, and in the 80s among Republicans. But throughout the course of the campaign, Giuliani’s poll numbers steadily dropped. His post-9/11 reputation wasn't enough in the eyes of Republican primary voters to make up for his onetime liberal positions on social issues like abortion, gay rights, and guns (as well as his own marital history).
The harsh reaction from many conservatives to Christie's public praise of President Obama in the wake of Sandy suggests that he might face a similar set of hurdles were he to enter the presidential primary gauntlet.
Of course, dealing with the aftermath of a storm is not the same as dealing with the aftermath of a terrorist attack. There's reason to believe voters in New Jersey may not show the same levels of patience with their public officials' dealing with the ongoing hassles of cleanup and rebuilding as New Yorkers did in the wake of 9/11. And in terms of national reverberations, the storm is clearly a less significant event (though that could actually be a good thing – since, ironically, Giuliani wound up having to argue in his presidential bid that there was more to him than 9/11, pleading with voters to look at his "whole record").
Still, the goodwill Christie amassed in the weeks immediately following the storm shouldn’t be underestimated, either. A perhaps more relevant comparison is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush – who, interestingly, seems to be pondering a 2016 run himself. Bush was widely praised by Democrats and Republicans alike for his handling of a series of hurricanes that battered the Sunshine State in 2004 and 2005. The St. Petersburg Times dubbed him “The Hurricane Governor” in a laudatory profile that quoted Democratic strategists who'd worked for his opponent as saying he’d been “a superb leader.” Two years later, Bush left office with a nearly 60 percent approval rating.
On the other hand, it's worth noting that Bush’s predecessor, former Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles, was roundly criticized in the wake of 1992’s Hurricane Andrew – with his approval rating in the state going all the way down to a dismal 22 percent. Two years later he won reelection, anyway.
In recent days some big-name congressional Republicans have said they won’t be bound by past pledges to not raise taxes. They’re rejecting this aspect of GOP orthodoxy to help strike a deal on the nation’s “fiscal cliff” problem, they say.
The latest lawmaker to bolt the longtime antitax party line is Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee, who said on Monday he’d be flexible about raising tax rates and capping income-tax deductions in return for reform of America’s huge entitlement spending programs.
Senator Corker, like virtually all other US GOP officeholders, once vowed to oppose and vote against all tax increases by signing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge of antitax activist Grover Norquist. But on "CBS This Morning," he told host Charlie Rose he wouldn’t let this past position stand in the way of solving today’s fiscal problems.
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“I’m not obligated on the pledge ... the only thing I’m honoring is the oath that I take when I’m sworn in this January,” said Corker.
Corker thus joins Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Republican Rep. Peter King of New York in saying that adherence to the Norquist pledge is outdated. Are they the harbinger of a mass defection that would make it much easier for party leaders to strike a deal with the White House?
Well, anything’s possible in politics. But we don’t see this as a game-changing development, at least not yet.
First, the folks we’re talking about here aren’t important players in terms of fiscal cliff negotiations. Remember, the Senate is controlled by Democrats, so what GOP senators think is much less important than what top House Republicans think. True, Representative King is a committee chairman, but it’s the Homeland Security Committee, and he’ll have to step down in the next Congress due to party chairmanship limits. (House Speaker John Boehner has spoken vaguely of accepting revenue increases, but hasn’t detailed what that means.)
Second, these revelations aren’t exactly new. The lawmakers involved have either endorsed tax increases in the past as part of a deficit deal (Chambliss, Corker), often floated initiatives of one kind or another, only to back down (Graham), or are moderate Republicans in a district surrounded by Democratic areas (King), writes David Dayen Monday on the left-leaning Firedoglake blog.
“There’s no news here at all, but instead a fake Washington drama based on personality,” writes Mr. Dayen.
Third, the counterattack from the right has already begun. Grover Norquist himself on CNN’s "Starting Point" on Monday played down the issue, saying it’s nothing but a few lawmakers “discussing impure thoughts on national television." Some conservative activists have been more pointed, saying that all those involved risk facing primary challenges from the right if they maintain such an attitude.
“On this core issue, Republicans like Chambliss and Graham side with Democrats. We side with the Constitution,” writes Mr. Horowitz.
One final thought: If individual GOP lawmakers, such as those mentioned above, truly believe the antitax pledge shouldn’t prevent a fiscal cliff solution, should they just keep quiet about it, pending negotiations?
That’s because Speaker Boehner faces tough talks with the White House. In terms of game theory, Boehner might benefit from administration uncertainty as to where the rank-and-file GOP stands.
Theoretically, President Obama might give in a bit more if the administration comes to believe that Republican backbenchers would revolt at revenue increases.
“Boehner may ironically (but completely classically from a game theoretic vantage point) benefit from being able to portray himself (accurately or not) as not being able to corral his own troops. ‘Sir, I told them gruel was sufficient to survive the night, but they simply insisted they’d die without gruyere,’ ” writes John Patty, an associate professor of political science at Washington University in St. Louis, on his blog, The Math of Politics.
Will Obamacare be targeted for possible budget cuts during upcoming talks in Washington aimed at averting a fiscal crisis in January? Speaker of the House John Boehner insists that it should be. In an opinion piece he wrote for The Cincinnati Enquirer earlier this week he called the president’s signature Affordable Care Act a massive, expensive, and unworkable government program.
“That’s why I’ve been clear that the law has to stay on the table as both parties discuss ways to solve our nation’s massive debt challenge,” he said.
Democrats, unsurprisingly, see things otherwise. The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein quotes an administration official saying this is something President Obama opposes. A top Senate Democratic aid calls the idea “absolutely” a nonstarter, according to Mr. Stein.
The reality is that aspects of Mr. Obama’s health reforms likely will be discussed when negotiations over the so-called “fiscal cliff” heat up. But another reality is that Obamacare is now the law of the land, and isn’t going to be repealed or changed in any major way as a result of a final fiscal deal.
That last point is in conflict with Boehner’s expressed wishes. The part about negotiating cuts in the law was only a few lines in his recent opinion piece. Overall he said that he and the GOP leadership would continue to try and repeal the entire law. “As was the case before the election, Obamacare has to go,” he wrote.
Well, good luck with that. With a Democratic president and Senate still in place, the best House Republicans can hope for is to chip away the law’s rough edges. As respected Washington health-care policy consultant Bob Laszewski wrote on his blog following the election, the Affordable Care Act’s fate is now settled.
“It will be implemented,” wrote Mr. Laszewski. “It will also have to be changed but not until after it is implemented and the required changes become obvious and unavoidable. We can all debate what those things will be ... but it doesn’t matter what we think will happen – time will tell.”
As to what aspects of the law might be tweaked in exchange for GOP acceptance of increased tax revenues from the rich, the most obvious are the subsidies intended to help lower income Americans purchase health insurance when the law takes full effect at the beginning of 2014.
As the law now stands, those with incomes up to 400 percent of the poverty level could qualify for at least some aid. But as senior editorial writer Conn Carroll points out Friday in the Washington Examiner, the original version of the Affordable Care Act passed by the Senate Finance Committee was less generous.
“Republicans think they can get Obama to go back to those levels of Obamacare spending,” writes Carroll.
Other obvious targets include various boards and oversight panels that the law would authorize. Among these, the Affordable Care Act sets aside $10 billion for a Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. The CMMI is supposed to test methods of saving money in big government health-care entitlement programs.
The GOP thinks this is a waste and wants to reduce the group’s funding, writes congressional reporter Sahil Kapur of Talking Points Memo.
“Top Republicans have floated the idea before in previous debt reduction talks and, with the fiscal cliff negotiations coming up, will hope to reduce the funding for CMMI,” writes Kapur.
Black Friday: It’s a day in which most American citizens put aside politics in pursuit of shopping bargains. But in Washington we can sort almost anything in the US in terms of partisan proclivity, and temples of commerce are no exception. Want to know whether the big box store where you’re waiting in line leans Democratic or Republican? The folks at the invaluable Center for Responsive Politics have compiled a handy guide based on campaign contributions.
Toys R Us, for instance, seems a solidly blue store. Self-identified employees of the store gave $39,000 to political candidates in the 2012 election cycle, and $36,000 of that went to Democrats.
Dig into the numbers though, and you’ll see that Toys R Us is not so much Democratic as Klobucharian. All that $36,000 went to one candidate, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) of Minnesota. (That’s kind of odd, isn’t it? The retailer’s corporate headquarters are in New Jersey.) Other than that, Mitt Romney got $1,750 from Toys R Us workers. President Obama got zilch, according to CRP’s Open Secrets blog.
Macy’s employees, on the other hand, were big Obama fans. They donated $28,870 to the president’s reelection campaign, as opposed to $16,390 to GOP nominee Mr. Romney. This Democratic lean was counterbalanced to a certain extent by the store’s corporate political action committee, however. (Toys R Us doesn’t appear to have a central PAC.) Macy’s PAC gave $12,000 to Republicans, and $4,000 to Democrats.
Best Buy seems more of a red retailer. Both it s employees and the company’s PAC had a slight preference for Republicans, according to CRP. Store employees gave $17,662 to Democrats and $22,419 to the GOP, for instance.
But there’s Senator Klobuchar again – she’s the individual candidate to whom Best Buy-related entities donated the most. Yes, she’s chairperson of a Senate Commerce subcommittee on competitiveness, so that might have something to do with it. Maybe the money comes due to her political affiliation with Minnesota’s Gov. Mark Dayton? Governor Dayton is the scion of the Dayton retail empire, which among other things founded Target.
Hmm, we see that Target leaned GOP as well, so maybe that theory isn’t right. Of the store’s $483,777 in individual and PAC contributions, the majority went to the right side of the aisle, according to Open Secrets. And the top recipient is not Sen. Klobuchar, but Rep. Eric Paulsen – a Twin Cities Republican.
Employee donations skewed Republican – which might not be surprising, since Wal-Mart is a big employer in the exurban/rural areas where Romney ran strongly. The firm’s PAC gave roughly equal amounts to candidates of both parties, however. That might be because Wal-Mart lobbies hard in Washington and needs relationships on both sides of the aisle.
In fact, Wal-Mart has spent more than $12 million on lobbyists in the past two years. It has its own Washington office, with 15 employees, and pays hundreds of thousands of dollars in retainers to such top outside lobby firms as Patton Boggs and the Podesta Group.
The firm’s No. 1 issue is sales taxes – specifically, getting states to slap sales taxes on web retail. Rep. Steven Womack (R) of Arkansas, whose district includes Wal-Mart’s Bentonville headquarters, has long pushed national legislation that would force out-of-state online retailers to collect sales tax. He’s one of the top recipients of Wal-Mart campaign contributions.
“The traditional brick and mortar retailer is not asking for special treatment. They know they have to compete against a number of consumer criterion. What they don’t want – and should not compete against – is a disadvantage based on a tax loophole,” said Congressman Womack earlier this year during a Judiciary Committee hearing on the issue.