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 Peter King of New York in saying that adherence to the Norquist pledge is outdated.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.
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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.
Has the White House turkey pardon jumped the shark?
We ask this because this year’s traditional ceremony – in which President Obama will pardon a bird presumably otherwise bound for a Thanksgiving platter – is more, um, elaborate than ever. It involves two turkeys, and Facebook, and voting, and Carly Simon. This isn’t a lighter moment in a president’s otherwise heavy schedule, it’s an over-produced reality show. Call it “The Gravy Factor," or maybe “America’s Got Drumsticks."
OK, we’ll back up a moment and take this whole thing from the top. Since at least 1947, US presidents have participated in an annual event in which they receive a turkey from the National Turkey Federation in honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving harvest feast.
At the beginning, these birds had a date with oyster stuffing. President Truman ate his, or at least said he was going to. President Eisenhower did the same thing.
But more recently, White Houses have decided it looks less carnivorous for them to grant the on-stage bird clemency. According to a White House history of the event, John F. Kennedy was the first to send his turkey back to the farm. “We’ll just let this one grow,” he said.
President George H. W. Bush was the first to use the actual word “pardon." He sent his turkey to live out its days at Frying Pan Park in Herndon, Va., thereby indicating he had a subtler sense of humor than historians give him credit for today.
Since then the ceremony has become more and more Hollywood. Two turkeys are involved – a primary turkey and a backup in case the first bird can’t carry out its duty of continuing to live.
Enter Gobbler and Cobbler. This year, some Obama aide had the bright idea of pitting these two birds against each other in a Facebook-based voting contest. The one with the most “likes” would be named the official White House bird.
Cobbler is a four-month-old, 40-pound male, also from Rockingham, who’s a “strutter” and likes the song “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon, according to his official bio.
(Sweet cornbread stuffing! Who’s the overachieving White House official who had to make that stuff up? They clawed their way to the top of Washington and thought they’d be running the world and instead they’re hawking poultry.)
At last look, Cobbler was the favorite – he had about 2,400 “likes” to Gobbler’s 2,100. Neither will be eaten, so the title is honorific. Maybe they get a sash, or a crown.
But here’s our point – it seems to us they’re being ironic about the whole ceremony instead of straightforward. “Cobbler”? Carly Simon? If it’s not worth doing it without a subtext, maybe it’s not worth doing at all.
It’s not like presidents enjoy it. Or at least, many don’t seem to. Ike and Jimmy Carter made their veeps shoulder most of the turkey-related duties. Ronald Reagan laughed when his turkey made a flyabout and bolted for freedom.
In 2009, Obama approached the bird to be pardoned, named “Courage," and asked his (the bird’s) handlers if there was an “official gesture." Come on – this whole thing has become too grandiose, like the “Happy Days” episode where Fonzie literally jumped a shark while water-skiing. At that point, the show’s creators were out of ideas, and it began to go downhill.
Perhaps the turkey pardon has reached that crucial turn in the narrative road. The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has asked Obama to end the practice, calling it “archaic."
“The White House turkey ‘pardon’ is a sorely outdated event,” PETA president Ingrid Newkirk wrote in a letter to the White House.
We might agree with that, but then again, the scalloped oysters are our own favorite part of the turkey-day meal.
Rep. Ron Paul (R) of Texas may be retiring from Congress but he still knows how to stir a pot, metaphorically speaking. In the latest example of his ability to get people talking he’s issued a statement that’s supportive of state petitions to secede from the US.
You’ve heard about those petitions, right? They’re on a section of the White House website intended to allow citizens the ability to express their opinions about the direction of the US government. Disgruntled voters have now initiated petitions for each of the 50 states to withdraw from the union. The one for Texas has the most signatures – 115,751 the last time we looked.
Anyway, all this got Congressman Paul thinking. “Is it treasonous to want to secede from the United States?” he writes.
While many people might think this question was answered by the Civil War, the “principles of self-governance and voluntary association are at the core of our founding,” Paul argues. He adds that if secession is off the table, there’s nothing to stop the federal government from continuing to encroach on individual liberties.
“Consider the ballot measures that passed in Colorado and Washington State regarding marijuana laws,” Paul writes, pointing out that the residents of those states have indicated they want pot policy to be different than the federal government's.
"At what point should the people dissolve the political bands which have connected them to an increasingly tyrannical and oppressive federal government?" Paul concludes.
Well, we’ve got a couple of comments here. The first is that, yes, for all practical purposes the Civil War did settle this question. But we’ll move past that since Paul is just writing rhetorically here. He notes that he has no expectation Texas is really going to secede.
The second is that this argument appears to greatly discount the power of democracy. Without the threat of secession, there’s nothing to stop the gradual slide toward a police state? That would mean elections don’t matter. Why bother to have them?
Which brings us to pot. Yes indeed, voters in Colorado and Washington indicated a desire for a different kind of antidrug regime. But would it be churlish to note that voters in both those states delivered their electoral votes to President Obama? That means they also approved of the administration that’s supposed to enforce national antidrug laws, which were passed by duly elected members of Congress. At the least, they're sending a mixed message here. Paul is picking the result he agrees with and discounting the one he opposes.
It's the same thing with regards to Obamacare. He says the federal government doesn't appear to be respecting the wishes of states that refuse to establish the health insurance stores, or "exchanges," called for under the law. But the law makes clear that if states don't establish these, the federal government will step in and do it for them. If US voters truly wished to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, they could have elected Mitt Romney. They didn't.
Lastly, it's possible that Paul is overstating the popularity of the secession petitions in general. He wouldn't be alone in this – even the media, in reacting to them, in essence elevate them to a level they may not quite deserve.
That's because many fewer individuals may have signed them than appears at first glance. While the petitions focus on particular states, signees may be from anywhere. They can – and do – sign more than one petition.
Neal Caron, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, has, with the help of his students, analyzed the particulars of more than 900,000 of the signatures, and his conclusion is that they represent about 321,000 different people. In essence, each signee put their John Hancock down in three places.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, support for secession was strongest by far in red states Obama lost, and strongest of all in – you guessed it – Texas.
What does this mean? It means that the secession craze is narrower than it at first appeared. And maybe it also means that in the end, talk of secession is about rejecting other American voters the secessionists don't agree with, as much as the federal government.
On Tuesday President Obama sent Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Middle East in an attempt to end the deadly fight between Israel and Hamas. Why now? After all, to this point US involvement in the escalating war of missiles and air strikes has seemed reticent, instead of forceful.
The short answer as to why Secretary Clinton is suddenly involved in shuttle diplomacy is that the conflict may have reached a moment when the presence of a high-ranking American official can do some good. In that sense Clinton’s trip may be a lagging indicator of a possible cease-fire, not a leading one.
Presidents don’t generally like to dispatch their secretaries of State to war zones unless they’re fairly sure something positive will occur during the trip. Otherwise, the US looks even weaker, as if they tried to influence events, but nobody would listen.
And indeed, following the announcement of Clinton’s visit, media reports are claiming that Hamas will cease firing rockets at Israel beginning at 2 p.m. Eastern time. These reports say Israel is asking for 24 hours of calm before it will accept a formal cease-fire.
The longer answer about the timing of Clinton’s trip involves the changed triangular relationship between the US, its traditional ally Israel, and the new pro-Islamist government of Egypt.
The last time Israel struck Gaza to “mow the grass,” or deter rocket fire against its territory, was in 2008. As Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, points out in a recent analysis, back then the US could count on authoritarian figures such as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to rein in Hamas in an effort to keep violence at lower levels.
They can’t any longer. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and other Arab leaders now face domestic pressure to “demonstrate that they are responsive to public opinion and hold Israel and the United States ‘accountable’ for their actions,” writes Mr. Cook.
At the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu all but campaigned for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the 2012 election cycle. At the highest level, the US-Israeli friendship, in a word, is “strained.”
In this context, the timing of a secretary of State’s visit to the region becomes all the more delicate. The US has no relations with Hamas, which it labels as a terrorist organization, and thus depends on Egypt to press the group to cease rocket fire. It needs an Israeli prime minister whose bluster has angered the White House to refrain from sending his troops over the border in a ground assault.
Indications are that both these things are occurring. (Or not occurring, in the case of the ground war.) President Morsi has voiced loud public support for Hamas, even visiting Gaza, but behind the scenes he seems to be trying to restrain Hamas leaders from an escalation of violence that could result in a devastating Israeli response. At the same time, Israel has massed troops and tanks on the Gaza border, but hasn’t yet unleashed them, despite threatening for days that it was just about to do so.
Any cease-fire in this conflict would be as fragile as balsa wood, weak enough to be shattered by only one Hamas rocket. Yet if Israel agrees to stand down its troops, the US might get some credit in the region for pressing restraint upon its ally.
In any case, this is not the Middle East of 2008; US influence now goes only so far with Egypt and other nearby nations newly sensitive to their own population’s demands. For Clinton, who is soon to leave her post, and Mr. Obama, who isn’t, the combat in Gaza is a difficult test in a region full of new tensions.
As the Republican Party continues its post-election “proctology exam” (as the always colorful former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour – a Republican – put it), analyzing what went wrong and how to restore the party brand, we’re starting to hear hints at a prescription that just two years ago would have been unheard of: Maybe it’s time to throw Grover Norquist under the bus.
Mr. Norquist, of course, is the president of Americans for Tax Reform, and the author of the famous “no new taxes” pledge taken by most GOP members of Congress. In years past, if politicians violated – or even threatened to violate – the pledge, Norquist at times responded by running attack ads against them and even supporting primary challengers.
But as the parties begin negotiations over the "fiscal cliff" – the automatic spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to hit at the end of the year – there are signs that Norquist may be losing some sway. For one thing, as The Hill's Russell Berman recently noted, in the next session the number of members who have taken the pledge will go down to fewer than half overall. This is in part because of GOP losses, but also because roughly a dozen newly elected Republicans did not sign it, and a handful of returning Republicans have now explicitly rejected it.
And notably, Republicans are not only making conciliatory comments about new tax "revenue" in general – but some are also explicitly saying they'd accept higher tax rates on the wealthy.
Of course, no one is suggesting that the party should abandon its overall commitment to low taxes. But there is clearly a growing realization among many Republicans that the party’s current image as favoring the wealthy at the expense of the middle class has become politically toxic – as has the perception that the party puts ideological purity before practicality. As Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) wrote in an opinion piece for CNN: "We must not be the party that simply protects the well off so they can keep their toys."
Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol kicked off the "let's consider higher tax rates for the rich" conversation last weekend, when he said on Fox News Sunday: “It won’t kill the country if we raise taxes a little bit on millionaires. It really won’t.” He then asked rhetorically: “Really? The Republican Party is going to fall on its sword to defend a bunch of millionaires, half of whom voted Democratic, and half of whom live in Hollywood and are hostile to Republicans?”
That line was echoed this week by some Republican governors: Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell told Politico that his party would have to be more flexible when it came to raising taxes on the wealthy. “Elections do have consequences,” he said. “As a piece of an overall package with tax reform that is more comprehensive, I think it’s something that absolutely has got to be discussed.”
Mr. Barbour, the former Mississippi governor, concurred, saying: “If there’s enough savings, if there’s enough entitlement reform, if there’s enough certainty about tax reform in the next few years, I would" let the Bush tax cuts expire on top earners. He added: “You can’t be purist.”
Now, the Republican leadership in Congress has been much more vague. So far, they’ve indicated that while they agree there is a need for new tax “revenue,” they’d prefer that it come from closing loopholes, not raising tax rates. Reading their statements closely, it's possible to interpret them as still relying on assumptions that a cleaner tax code, with lower rates, will automatically lead to greater economic growth, and – presto! – generate more revenue that way. (This is an assumption that Democrats regard as little more than wishful thinking and many economists, too, view with some skepticism.)
Yet some rank-and-file members have begun hinting that they might, in fact, be open to raising tax rates at some point. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) of West Virginia postulated in an interview with FoxNews.com this week that, "What I think you will see is a retention of the tax rates as they are for a year, with the promise that we will get into looking at all revenues – and that could include tax rates."
For his part, Norquist has always maintained that he’s fine with closing tax loopholes, as long as the overall effect is “revenue neutral” – meaning that the federal government should get no net increase in money. And he argues that raising tax rates on the wealthy would be just a first step toward ultimately raising tax rates on everyone.
But at this point, that appears to be a risk that more Republicans are willing to take. If they capitulate on the upper-level tax rates, they may hand Obama and the Democrats a victory – but they could also go a long way toward rehabilitating their own party brand in a way that ultimately gives it broader, more populist appeal. And that may be a more palatable option than risking being seen as the party that holds the US economy hostage for the sake of lower taxes for wealthy 1 percenters.
But even as her ascent up the leadership ladder showed Republicans realize they need to improve their standing with female voters, it was also the exception that proves the rule that Democrats have done far more to reach out to women, including by electing them to Congress.
With the backing of House Speaker John Boehner, among others, Representative McMorris Rodgers defeated Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, a former chairman of the largest House conservative caucus who had the backing of former vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, in the race for the GOP’s conference chairman.
That news was welcomed in many GOP circles as a good sign for a party that endured a yawning gender gap in the 2012 election cycle, where Democrats won women’s votes by an 11 percent margin over their Republican foes.
“She is a firebrand for conservative women, and electing her to the chairmanship is the first step in a much-needed transformation of the GOP party,” said Sabrina Schaeffer, the executive director of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, in a statement. “The party – still viewed by many as too old, too white, and too male – needed a shakeup, and Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers is the right person for the job.”
“I'm proud to see the progress that is being made within our party and the growing role of women in our leadership,” Representative Ellmers said in a statement.
The number of women in the GOP leadership increased by one versus the last cycle – while Rep. Kristi Noem (R) of South Dakota stepped away, Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R) of Kansas and Rep. Virginia Foxx (R) of North Carolina both joined the leadership team.
McMorris Rodgers isn’t a token lawmaker – she was Mitt Romney’s congressional liaison and was already in party leadership during the last Congress. Moreover, she defeated a man who has deep respect in the conference for his knowledge of policy issues, particularly on health care.
But compared with the level to which women have come to help define the Democratic party in Congress, McMorris Rodgers and Co. have a long, long way to go.
One need only look to earlier in the day, when House minority leader Nancy Pelosi showed the potency and breadth of women’s power in her party. There was Representative Pelosi, standing shoulder to shoulder with many of the nearly 60 House Democratic women at a press conference announcing that she, the first-ever female speaker of the House, would stay on as leader of her caucus for another two years.
That’s a nearly three-to-one advantage for Democrats in terms of female representation in the House. In the Senate, where liberal heartthrobs like Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren (D) of Massachusetts and Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin (D) of Wisconsin will join the party in 2013, Democrats will have 16 women senators to the Republicans’ four.
Overall, that’s the most women in the Senate ever – and it’s a four-to-one advantage for Democrats.
While there isn’t a one-to-one connection between lawmakers and gender support, the results of the 2012 election are unambiguous: Exit polls showed women breaking for President Obama and Democrats by double-digit margins in many states.
“I come here with my sisters,” said Pelosi, noting that when she came to Congress a quarter of a century earlier there were only 23 total women in the House, split relatively evenly between right and left.
“Today, we have over 60 House Democratic women,” she said as her members applauded. “Very good. Not enough. We want more.”
In the Republican event unveiling the party’s new leadership, women – even with three of them on stage – went with nary a mention.
Has speaker of the House John Boehner really agreed to increase taxes on the wealthy in some manner to help strike a fiscal deal with President Obama? That’s a crucial question as congressional Republicans and administration officials get ready for face-to-face negotiations Friday over the so-called “fiscal cliff” crisis facing the US.
Washington’s conventional wisdom is that Speaker Boehner has telegraphed his willingness to give a bit on this issue after years of GOP insistence that it wouldn’t accept higher taxes on anyone, millionaires included. The punditocracy bases this conclusion on the public statements Boehner has made since the election, which have been carefully worded but conciliatory in tone.
Take Boehner’s public statement of Nov. 7, in which he congratulated Mr. Obama on winning a second term, and said that when it came to producing a deficit-reduction package to keep the automatic spending cuts and tax hikes of the fiscal cliff from taking effect, House Republicans would be willing to accept new revenue, under the right conditions.
“What matters is where the increased revenue comes from, and what type of reform comes with it,” Boehner said. “Does the increased revenue come from government taking a larger share of what the American people earn through higher tax rates? Or does it come as the byproduct of a growing economy, energized by a simpler, cleaner, fairer tax code, with fewer loopholes, and lower rates for all?”
Since then, both Boehner and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell have clarified this a bit by insisting that they are not in favor of letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire for those making $250,000 or more a year, as Obama has proposed. Many people in that tax bracket are small-business owners whose firms would be damaged by such a hike, according to the GOP.
“What we won’t do is raise tax rates, and kiss goodbye more than 700,000 good jobs in the process,” said Senator McConnell in a floor statement on Nov. 15.
Carefully parsed, these statements leave open the possibility that Republicans would agree to increase revenues from the wealthy through a cap on deductions or some other non-marginal-rate-increase means. As we’ve written, this is something GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney proposed as part of his own tax reform package. That might make it easier for GOP backbenchers to accept.
(Yes, Obama in his press conference Thursday replied that it’s hard to reach his goal of $1.6 trillion in new revenue, as part of a 10-year, $3 trillion deficit-reduction package, without raising rates on top earners. But that $1.6 trillion is his goal, not the GOP’s, so presumably it’s open to negotiation, too.)
Given the results of the election, many in the GOP realize that they might have a tough time resisting new taxes on high-income earners. Some conservatives outside the party, such as the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol, have publicly come out and said Republicans should accept some tax hikes as the price for getting a real deficit-cutting deal.
But the words of the GOP congressional leaders also might be read in another way: that they’d reject any increase in taxes per se, but they’d accept new revenues stemming from what they predict would be the increased economic activity spurred by wide-ranging tax code reform.
That’s how some analysts reacted to Boehner’s postelection remarks. After all, on Nov. 7 he said he'd accept new revenues that were "a byproduct of a growing economy."
“Conservative proponents of tax reform have long wanted to change the budget rules so that they get credit for bigger tax collections from hoped-for changes in economic growth that follows tax reform. The Speaker has merely restated that hope in a conciliatory tone,” wrote federal tax expert Clint Stretch earlier this month on the blog Capital Gains and Games.
Democrats call this “dynamic scoring,” and they say the heck with it. They point out that the Congressional Budget Office has studied this question and concluded that it cannot find a direct correlation between tax reform and economic growth. Obama rejected it at his Wednesday press conference.
“What I will not do is have a process that is vague that says we will sort-of, kind-of raise revenue through dynamic scoring or by closing loopholes that have not been identified,” he said.
So that’s the state of play heading into Friday’s meeting between the two sides at the White House. We’ll have a better idea about the chances of quick fiscal deal after they’ve exchanged initial positions that may provide more detail on this crucial question. Keep in mind that Boehner has to negotiate with his own party's hard-line antitax right wing as well as the Democrats he'll face across the table.
Even as the post-mortems on Campaign 2012 continue to be written, the jockeying for 2016 has already begun. And in many cases, they are one and the same.
At a press conference, Governor Jindal drew a stark contrast between himself and Mr. Romney, calling Romney’s reported comments that President Obama had won the election because of “gifts” he’d provided to key constituencies "absolutely wrong."
“We have got to stop dividing the American voters,” Jindal said. “We need to go after 100 percent of the votes, not 53 percent.” He also criticized the Romney campaign for focusing too much on biography, and not offering enough of a “vision.”
If Jindal – who has been frequently mentioned as a possible 2016 contender – does wind up running, then comments like these could help him stake out early ground as the Republican candidate who could best speak to middle-class voters and bring more diversity into the party.
Now, we realize that it may seem awfully early for would-be contenders to be drawing battle lines. But in this age of the permanent campaign – when a politician’s words and actions have instantaneous reach and can live forever on the Internet – the initial phase of self-definition can actually prove critical. As Talking Points Memo’s Benjy Sarlin notes, it was during this very same week back in 2008 that Mitt Romney, in an apparent effort to begin burnishing his conservative credentials, wrote his ill-fated “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” opinion article.
And Jindal’s not the only one who appears to be doing some early 2016 positioning.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio – who just so happens to be traveling to Iowa this weekend to appear at a fundraiser for the state's governor – has also been using conspicuously big-tent rhetoric, recently telling reporters that his party needs to moderate its tone when talking about illegal immigrants. How Rubio positions himself during upcoming efforts to tackle immigration reform in Congress could go a long way toward shaping a possible presidential run for him. (Interestingly, so far, he has indicated that he still believes a “piecemeal” approach makes more sense than a comprehensive reform package).
Former vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, on the other hand, seems to be speaking more to the conservative base. His recent comments crediting Mr. Obama’s win to big “urban” turnout struck some on the left as a divisive reference to blacks. Ryan will also be a key player in the upcoming negotiations over the fiscal cliff. How he navigates that turf – whether, for example, he holds the conservative line against higher tax rates, or strikes a more conciliatory pose – could go a long way toward shaping a potential presidential run for him.
On the other side of the aisle, how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handles the upcoming hearings on Benghazi – she’s now scheduled to testify before Congress in December – could prove critical to her political future.
By the way, just in case you needed any new evidence that the next campaign has indeed already begun – well, Secretary Clinton has already received the endorsement of The Buffalo News, which this week published an editorial saying: “We hope the competing factions in national Democratic politics will coalesce to make her the nominee.”
And it looks like Clinton will be getting Warren Buffett’s vote, as well.