Howard Dean, Tim Pawlenty, Politico senior political "reporter" Maggie Haberman, and Todd Purdum from Vanity Fair in today's This Week roundtable with Jonathan Karl in the usual mix of Village conventional wisdom and occasional glimmers of reality -- mostly in the form of Howard Dean:
KARL: Look into the crystal ball here for the next couple of days. And we're going to get your predictions for next year, but just over the next couple of days, based on what you heard here today from the senators and then the raucous discussion with the House members, each of you, do you think that the deal is going to happen? And if it happens, is it going to pass House and Senate?
PAWLENTY: There will be a deal. I'm a little pessimistic, unfortunately, at the moment. I hope they could get over the cliff and avoid this January 1st cutoff, but if they do go over the cliff, my hope is that they can put something together as early as possible in January, but I'm a little pessimistic about whether they can get that done by December 31st midnight.
HABERMAN: I'm where the governor is. I mean, I think that the -- I understand that Schumer and Kyl are optimistic, but there's not much coming out of the House right now that seems positive. I do think there will be some framework.
DEAN: It's the best thing for the country to go over the cliff right now. It's not a great thing for...
KARL: But will we?
DEAN: Yeah. It's not a great thing for the country, but it's the best of all the alternatives.
PURDUM: Well, they'll have to do something, and the market's reaction on Wednesday morning, if they haven't done anything tomorrow, may be the next wedge that will...
DEAN: It will be, although I predict ultimately that if we go over the cliff and stay over the cliff, six months from now, the Dow will be at 15,000. You know why? The biggest uncertainty in the market is not taxes and blah, blah, blah.
KARL: Size of the deficit.
DEAN: It's the size of the deficit. If you go over the cliff, you've done something for the first time really serious about the deficit. All of a sudden, the financial horizons look pretty good.
Here's my major takeaway so far from the Republican convention: the mean and unnecessary pettiness that comes through every single speaker's theme, except for Condoleeza Rice, who actually gave a speech worth listening to, even if you don't agree with her.
The theme for Night 2 was "We Can Change It", but as far as I could see, there weren't any actual ideas for changing anything so much as bashing the change that Democrats have brought about. Change like stopping the economy from dropping into another Great Depression, and actually doing something about the abysmal health care system, student loans, and getting us out of these godforsaken wars. But that wasn't on their minds. No, this was a night to be mean and petty and point fingers at us and others.
For all of Republicans' big talk about the big serious problems facing our country, they didn't spare the nasty little personal attacks every chance they got. I mashed up a few for you here. From Tim Pawlenty's Biden-bashing to Mike Huckabee's uncalled-for comment about Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, no one was spared.
The unbearable meanness of conservatives spills from petty personal attacks on their opponents over into abject hatred for people who don't agree with them, and it's ugly. Any impartial observer would have to be scratching their heads wondering how someone can be talking about public policy one minute and slapping their opponents around the next for daring to have a day off from time to time!
That same impartial observer might also wonder how it is that the entire audience can rise to their feet to applaud the inevitable deaths that will result from denying health care access to people who aren't perfectly healthy. In another time and place, that decision might have been called something ending with -cide. Today it gets a standing ovation. Watch Paul Ryan smugly tell 50 million or so Americans they can die, and die quickly.
I shudder to think what people on the outside looking in must think.
For months, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has been at the forefront of the Republican crusade to demonize government workers as "freeloaders" and a "new privileged class in America." Regurgitating talking points from the right-wing Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, Romney declared that "average government workers are now making $30,000 a year more than the average private-sector worker." And in the plan to cut federal spending he unveiled last week, Romney took aim at Uncle Sam's workforce (see the video above, starting at the 5:50 mark):
Align Federal Employee Compensation With The Private Sector -- Savings: $47 Billion. Federal compensation exceeds private sector levels by as much as 30 to 40 percent when benefits are taken into account. This must be corrected.
As it turns out, not so much.
As the Washington Post reported Friday, the large and growing pay gap runs the other way:
The federal government reported Friday that on average its employees are underpaid by 26.3 percent when compared with similar non-federal jobs, a "pay gap" that increased by about 2 percentage points over the last year while federal salary rates were frozen.
As in the previous assessments of the numbers presented to the Federal Salary Council, federal workers are paid less than their counterparts in the30-plus metropolitan area surveyed, as well as the catch-all "rest of the US" (RUS):
The pay gap in the Washington-Baltimore area was calculated at 36.9 percent, slightly below the 38.1 percent reported last year...The gap in the locality with the largest number of federal employees, the catchall locality, was pegged at 19 percent, up from 14.7 percent. The overall average gap was calculated at 24.1 percent last year.
That persistent and growing gap hasn't prevented Republican mythmakers from claiming exactly the opposite. Consider, for example, the "2 to 1" claim now dominating the U.S media:
"The average federal employee makes $120,000 a year. The average private employee makes $60,000 a year." (Rand Paul)
"It's gotten to a point where the average federal worker makes twice as much as the average private sector worker." (John Boehner)
"Federal employees receive an average of $123,049 annually in pay and benefits, twice the average of the private sector." (Tim Pawlenty)
But as with state and local governments, this line of attack is an apples-to-oranges comparison at best and an outright deception at worst. As FactCheck pointed out:
The analysis is based on data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and crudely done by dividing total compensation (salary and benefits) by the number of current federal civilian employees. Comparing such averages is quite misleading, for two reasons:
First, BEA says the figure is inflated by including compensation that is actually paid to benefit retirees, not just for current workers. The figure is at least several thousand dollars too high, by our calculations.
Second, the average federal civilian worker is better educated, more experienced and more likely to have management or professional responsibilities than the average private worker.
Over 44% of federal employees have a college degree, compared to about 19% of private sector workers. More importantly, an assessment of salaries (excluding benefits) by the Office of Personnel Management found that on average comparable federal civilian workers are paid 22 percent less than private workers. The disparities, even including incentive pay, are even greater in some metropolitan areas:
There's nothing better than asking two guys who couldn't get their own presidential aspirations going what they think of the current crop of candidates. And better yet, let's ask them to opine on religious tests for office and whether Mitt Romney's Mormonism dooms him in the primary because he's not a "true" Christian, as friend of Perry Pastor Jeffress said at the Values Voter convention.
Pawlenty, to his credit, opts for the constitutional route of reminding David Gregory that there should be no religious test for office.
PAWLENTY: Well, in my view, David, it’s disappointing that Governor Perry and others who didn’t denounce Pastor Jeffress and those comments more directly, we have a country where we don’t have prohibitions on a particular church attendance for public office. In fact, it’s prohibited in the U.S. Constitution.
He always did seem a little too sane for the party to consider.
But Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal isn't done kissing up to those wacky tea party fringes of the GOP. Not only does he ignore that whole constitutional ban against religious tests, but he one-ups it with biblical strictures:
JINDAL: I don't think it's for any of us to judge somebody else's religious views, their relationship with God. The Bible is very clear, that's up to God, not up to us. I have some experience with this. Last time I ran for office, the Democratic Party in Louisiana attacked me for my faith.
GREGORY: Why not call on Perry to denounce this very strongly?
JINDAL: It did give me a chance to explain my Christian beliefs to Louisiana voters. It's not for any of us to judge somebody's faith, relationship to God. I think that would be inappropriate. The Bible is very clear. That's not our role.
Really not grasping that whole "separation of Church and State" are you, Bobby?
McCain favors making the Bush tax laws permanent, and also plans to repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax, double the dependent exemption and offer tax breaks on business income...Had McCain's tax proposal been in place in 2006, [they] would have done incredibly well - saving even more than they did under the existing Bush plan. John and Cindy McCain would have walked away with $373,429 in their pocket.
McCain's tax plan was radically more regressive than even that of President Bush - it would have delivered 58% of its benefits to the wealthiest 1% of American taxpayers. But John and Cindy's winnings wouldn't have ended there. As both the financial crisis and his slump in the polls deepened, John McCain proposed slashing capital gains taxes (a halving from 15% to 7.5%). Again, the gains from his scheme go overwhelmingly to the richest Americans (almost 60% of its benefits to families earning over $1 million a year), including his wife:
The McCains made $746,395 in capitals gains last year. A new analysis by Michael Ettlinger, Vice President for Economic Policy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, reveals that McCain's capital gains cut would have reduced the McCains' taxes by $55,980 in 2007.
But the McCain's proposed personal payday pales in comparison to the vault-stuffing espoused by his surrogate Meg Whitman. During her failed 2010 run for governor of California, the billionaire former eBay CEO proposed killing the state's capital gains tax altogether. As the Los Angeles Times' Michael Hiltzik noted, ending the capital gains tax would cost California up to $10 billion in revenue annually even as it would put tens of millions of dollars directly into Meg Whitman's pocketbook.
The Whitman campaign refused to tell me this week what percentage of Whitman's income derives from capital gains (which can be defined as profits on stock, bond, real estate and other such investments). Whitman has thus far refused to make public her tax returns, which might hold a clue...Capital gains might even represent the majority of her income in some years.
As Chris Kelly of the Huffington Post aptly put it, "Meg Whitman's Tax Plan: She Stops Paying Hers."
That recent history suggests that the 2012 GOP presidential field should come clean about what their respective tax plans will do for their own personal finances. After all, by any standard most are wealthy, with Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman and Herman Cain especially so. (Romney's fortune has been estimated as high as $250 million dollars.)
Alas, the odds of any of the Republicans taking the MyTaxCut Pledge are virtually zero. After all, as Politico reported earlier this year:
A POLITICO survey of the major GOP hopefuls found that none are promising to making their tax returns public, as then-candidate Obama did in 2007 and 2008 -- as well as during his Senate campaign in 2004 and later in 2006.
But if the would-be Republican presidents won't fess up about the personal bonanzas their tax policies are certain to produce, at least they could come clean about what they'll do to the national debt.
If nothing else, the debt ceiling crisis provided what Barack Obama is so fond of calling a "teachable moment." Hopefully, that extends to the President himself. After seeing his nominees blocked, his legislation filibustered and popular upper-income tax increases delayed by Republicans who withheld their support from his watered down stimulus and health care programs, President Obama nevertheless continued to seek common ground with those whose only goal remains his political destruction. The result was as painful as it was predictable.
As for the rest of us, here are 25 things we learned during the debt crisis.
(2) We learned that the national debt tripled under Ronald Reagan, forcing him to raise the debt ceiling 17 times. Overwhelmed by the torrents of red ink unleashed by his supply-side tax cuts of 1981, Reagan raised taxes eleven times while in office. (His deficit reduction initiatives of 1982, 1984 and 1987 relied on over 75% in new tax revenue.) It's no wonder Reagan called the mountain of debt he bequeathed to America his greatest regret.
(4) We learned that the Bush tax cuts were the single biggest factor in erasing the projected surpluses Dubya inherited from Bill Clinton. The Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 accounted for almost half of the red ink during his tenure, and if made permanent, would contribute more to the debt over the next decade than Iraq, Afghanistan, the recession, the stimulus and TARP combined.
(7) We learned that for John Boehner, some "spending binges" are more equal than others. While spending under Barack Obama rose by about 10% from George W. Bush's last budget in FY 2009, federal outlays almost doubled between 2001 and 2009. As it turns out, the two unfunded wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the budget-busting Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 (the first war-time tax cut in modern U.S. history) and the Medicare prescription drug program drained the U.S. Treasury. Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Eric Cantor voted for all of it.
(8) We learned that Republicans have short memories. When Eric Cantor complained recently that "what I don't think the White House understands is how difficult it is for fiscal conservatives to say they're going to vote for a debt ceiling increase," he apparently forgot that Republican majorities voted seven times to raise the debt limit under President Bush. Along with John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl, Cantor and the current GOP leadership team voted a combined 19 times to increase George W. Bush's borrowing authority by $4 trillion. (That vote tally included a "clean" debt ceiling increase in 2004, backed by 98 current House Republicans and 31 sitting GOP Senators.)
(9) We learned that Republicans are bad at genetics, too. Last Friday, Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling claimed that for Republicans, raising the debt ceiling is "contrary to our DNA."
(10) We learned that in rare moments of candor, Republicans can speak the truth. In January, Speaker Boehner acknowledged that failure to raise the debt ceiling would cause "financial disaster." And Utah Senator Orrin Hatch explained that when President Bush was in the White House, for Republicans "it was standard practice not to pay for things."
But as the 2012 primaries approach, another de facto requirement for GOP White House hopefuls is emerging. That is, candidates must not only (a) proclaim that they have been called on God to seek the presidency, but (b) declare that divine intervention is the cure for what ails America. Call it the Divine Right Pledge. And so far, it's one most of the GOP field seems more than willing to take.
Of course, the GOP has long been parodied as "God's Own Party." But now, the Party of Lincoln is rapidly turning Honest Abe's mantra ("My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side.") on its head.
"I'm not ready to tell you that I'm ready to announce that I'm in. But I'm getting more and more comfortable every day that this is what I've been called to do. This is what America needs."
If the Lord is calling on Rick Perry to lead the United States, Perry plans to call Him back when it's time to actually run it.
On August 6th in Houston, Governor Perry will tunnel under the wall separating church and state to lead The Response, an evangelical day of prayer and fasting seeking divine intervention for America. As Perry put it:
"I sincerely hope you'll join me in Houston on August 6th and take your place in Reliant Stadium with praying people asking God's forgiveness, wisdom and provision for our state and nation. There is hope for America. It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees."
"The chief consequence of the conservatives' unrelenting faith in the badness of government," Thomas Franks wrote three years ago in The Wrecking Crew, "is bad government." But would happen if virtually every article of that faith were wrong or, much worse, a blatant lie? Then you'd have something that looks very much like the crisis over the soon-to-be breached U.S. debt ceiling. After all, despite the dire warnings of impending doom from economists, the Federal Reserve, Wall Street ratings agencies, GOP-friendly business groups and even some of their leaders, many Republicans would sooner see the United States default and its recovery destroyed than follow the dictates of either national interest or reason. And it's all because the Republican prime directive - political power at any cost - trumps the truth.
Arizona's Jon Kyl, the second-ranking Senate Republican, gave the game away in April when his office declared his slander of Planned Parenthood was "not intended to be a factual statement." So it is for just about every GOP talking point. Tax cuts don't "pay for themselves." The GOP job creators didn't create jobs after the Bush tax cuts, though they did when their taxes were higher. There are neither "death panels" nor a "government takeover of health care" in the Affordable Care Act which, despite Republican myth-making, actually reduces the national debt over the next decade. Barack Obama isn't a Muslim, but he was born in the United States. Public employees are not overpaid and vote fraud does not threaten American democracy. Global warming isn't "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." And we did not go to war in Iraq "because we were attacked."
Despicable and dangerous as these frauds are, they didn't threaten to destroy the American economy in a matter of days and with it, the global financial system.
On the same day last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Wall Street rating agencies joined the ever-louder chorus of voices warning Republicans that failure to raise the U.S. debt ceiling would result in "calamity." Those pleas followed a new analysis by the Bipartisan Policy Center concluded that failure to boost the debt ceiling by the August drop-dead window would force the U.S. Treasury to immediately slash spending by 44%. As The Hill reported, "On an annualized basis, the cut in spending alone is a 10 percent cut in GDP, BPC scholar Jay Powell told reporters." The IMF similarly cautioned that "the debt ceiling should be raised as soon as possible to avoid damage to the economy and world financial markets." 235 economists - including six Nobel Prize winners - signed an open letter to Congressional leaders urging them to raise the ceiling, and to do so "without attaching drastic and potentially dangerous reductions in federal spending." Failure to do so, they warned, "could push the United States back into recession." So it came as no surprise when Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner declared on Thursday, "We're running out of time" to avoid what Ezra Klein deemed the "catastrophic calculations" of default.
But Republicans don't need to take Geithner's word for it. They can heed the words of their party bosses.
In their few moments of candor, GOP leaders expressed agreement with Tim Geithner's assessment that default by the U.S. "would have a catastrophic economic impact that would be felt by every American." The specter of a global financial cataclysm has been described as resulting in "severe harm" (McCain economic adviser Mark Zandi), "financial collapse and calamity throughout the world" (Senator Lindsey Graham) and "you can't not raise the debt ceiling" (House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan). In January, even Speaker John Boehner acknowledged as much:
"That would be a financial disaster, not only for our country but for the worldwide economy. Remember, the American people on Election Day said, 'we want to cut spending and we want to create jobs.' And you can't create jobs if you default on the federal debt."
Boehner's head count doesn't begin to do justice to the Republican fiscal recklessness bordering on dementia.
For months, Republican presidential candidates Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty led the default denier chorus. While Mitt Romney joined Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul in supporting the "Cut, Cap and Balance" Pledge which demands a balanced budget amendment and draconian spending cuts as conditions of raising the debt ceiling. This week, the House and Senate will vote on their respective versions of the Cut, Cap and Balance Act, which among other things would require supermajorities to raise taxes or breach a federal spending cap targeted at 18% of U.S. gross domestic product.
House Republicans voted to make the Ryan budget law. But the Ryan budget includes $6 trillion in new debt over the next 10 years, which means that to become law, the Ryan budget would require a substantial increase in the debt ceiling. But before the Republicans agree to increase the debt ceiling so that the budget they passed can become law, Republicans are demanding the passage of either a balanced budget amendment that would make the Ryan budget unconstitutional or a spending cap that the Ryan budget would, in certain years (and if you're using more realistic numbers, in all years), exceed.
Nevertheless, House Republicans, pressured by Tea Party zealots, have been digging in their heels. This week, Congressmen Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and Steve King (R-IA) joined Bachmann in calling the Obama administration's warnings about the August 2 deadline lies. (Not to be outdone, Sarah Palin, who previously blasted "Timothy Geithner's false statements to the American people," tweeted "Obama lies, economy dies.") Georgia Rep. Paul Broun called for the debt ceiling to be lowered to $13 trillion, would necessitate immediately cutting roughly three-fourths of all federal spending. And while Arkansas Rep. Eric "Rick" Crawford announced that a default "wouldn't work for just a few days, that would work for a few years," his freshman colleague Mo Brooks (R-AL) insisted no debt ceiling increase, no problem. As the Washington Post reported:
"There should be no default on August 2," Brooks said. "In fact, our credit rating should be improved by not raising the debt ceiling."
That stands in contrast to a warning from Moody's. The rating agency said Wednesday that it might downgrade the U.S. government's top-notch credit rating, "given the rising possibility that the statutory debt limit will not be raised on a timely basis, leading to a default."
"The people who are threatening not to pass the debt ceiling are our version of al Qaeda terrorists. Really. They're really putting our whole society at risk by threatening to round up 50 percent of the members of the Congress, who are loony, who would put our credit at risk."
What Tim Pawlenty is finding out--or maybe he already knew--is that the GOP has descended into a John Birch/John Galt party because of the FOXation of the party and some of its members reveling in racism.
During his recent swing through New Hampshire for CNN's presidential debate, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty courted more than a hundred Republicans at a house party in the town of North Conway. But the Pawlenty campaign's choice of a host for the event, which was arranged by the candidate's regional field manager in the Granite State, was nothing if not controversial. The party took place at the home of Ray Shakir, a local Republican activist and retired construction executive, who calls President Obama a "jungle alien," Hillary Clinton "Osama's dream girl," and once labeled certain disabled children "uneducatable" and thus undeserving of taxpayer-funded schooling.
In an interview, Shakir says Pawlenty addressed tough issues at the house party, such as cutting subsidies for corn ethanol and implementing right-to-work legislation, which would allow employees to opt out of union membership but still receive union-won benefits. Shakir praises Pawlenty as "a real nice guy, very gregarious," adding, "at this point in the game, Tim Pawlenty is my choice for president."
The Breitbarts of wingnutopia can scream the word racism as much and as loud as they want in an attempt to cheapen its meaning, but it doesn't change the fact that that's exactly what the party has embraced. We saw it during the August Townhall meeting during the health care debate and Pawlenty is actively courting them on his presidential run.
Check out some of the other insane things Shakir has said in the past:
You can call me a birther if you want." Shakir claims the long-form birth certificate recently released by the Obama administration is merely a clever forgery. (The Pawlenty campaign did not respond to a request for comment.)
Moving to other issues, Shakir called human-caused climate change "bullshit" and accused liberals of "trying to destroy this country." "They're brainwashing people," he says
Shakir has a history of rhetorical flamethrowing. He's referred to President Obama as "Borat Hussein O'Bummer" and suggested he is "a radical, subversive, con-artist fraud."
In response to a special education official who said there was "no such thing as an uneducatable person," Shakir told a gym full of citizens: "I would dispute that fact. There are certainly individuals that are uneducateable. I am simply suggesting to you and everybody else that there should be a line drawn where the taxpayer is responsible to educate certain people."
Shakir's statement drew a chorus of boos, calls to resign, and even a comparison to Hitler. To which Shakir responded, "If you don't like it, that's the way it is. You people are divorced from reality."
Andy Kroll asks a question in his great piece that he really doesn't answer:
Q) But why did the Pawlenty campaign, running on a "Time for Truth" message, turn to Shakir, an activist whose eyebrow-raising comments on a range of topics fly in the face of that theme?
A) Because that's who the GOP of today are. Simple.
To be sure, the "Better Plan" from the man who calls himself "T-Paw" was greeted with sidesplitting laughter. His claim to that he could achieve to 5% economic growth over ten straight years - a feat never performed in modern American history, was righty mocked across the political spectrum as "fantasy", "magical", "wishful thinking" and "fuzzy math." His demand for a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget and capping federal spending at 18% of GDP would have made lawbreakers out of Ronald Reagan as well as the 235 House Republicans and 40 GOP Senators who just voted for the Ryan budget plan. Perhaps most comical is Pawlenty's insistence that "If you can find a good or service on the internet, then the federal government probably doesn't need to be doing it."
But the most jaw-dropping aspect of Tim Pawlenty's economic hallucination is the unprecedented upward income redistribution it would produce.
Reviewing an analysis by the Tax Policy Center, Bloomberg explained that "the top 0.1 percent of U.S. taxpayers would save an average of $1.4 million in taxes under the economic plan of Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty," while "almost half of the benefits would flow to taxpayers in the top 1 percent of income distribution, or those earning more than $593,011 in 2013." As Citizens for Tax Justice concluded, the 400 richest Americans - whose incomes doubled and tax rates were halved over the past decade - would enjoy a 73% reduction in their tax bills. And it turns out, the merely well-off and the fabulously rich would join the unimaginably wealthy in reaping the T-Paw Payday for the gilded class:
Taxpayers with incomes in excess of $1 million would enjoy an average cut in personal income taxes of $288,822, a 41.4 percent cut.
Taxpayers with incomes in excess of $10 million would enjoy an average cut in personal income taxes of $2.4 million, a 46.3 percent cut.
The cost of the personal income tax cuts just for taxpayers with incomes in excess of $1 million would be $141.8 billion.