Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sunday Reading

Josh Marshall on Republicans and deficits.

It’s remarkable the degree to which television commentators are embracing interpretations of Republican fiscal profligacy which are either oblivious, unschooled or simply dishonest. One line has it that Republicans are shedding their former obsession with spending and deficits. Another had it that Republicans are realizing that their ‘base’ doesn’t really care as much about deficits as they thought. They really agree with Trump, who doesn’t care about deficits. All of this is nonsense – not based on a theory or interpretation but simple history and experience. In a word, facts. Deficits go up, often dramatically, under Republican governance and usually go down under Democrats. This isn’t an interpretation. It’s a simple fact. Nor is it an artifact of history or coincidence. It is because Republicans don’t care about deficits.

Modern American deficit spending began under Reagan. It was brought under some control under the first President Bush. This was largely because of pressure from congressional Democrats. But in his defense, Bush made major and highly difficult decisions to make this possible. It was largely by doing so that he started a war in his own party that played at least a large contributing role in his reelection defeat. The deficit went down dramatically under Bill Clinton and then exploded under George W. Bush. The deficit went up dramatically in the first year of President Obama’s presidency but almost entirely because of the financial crisis. It went down consistently over the course of his presidency. From 2008 to 2009, the deficit close to tripled to $1.413 trillion. It fell in each subsequent year both in dollar terms and in the more important measure of the percentage of GDP. Now we have it going up again. (Historical numbers here. Again, deficit as a percentage of GDP is the best measure.)

There’s an interesting and not implausible argument that it is divided government that is the best for the deficit. Let’s take the Clinton example. The argument here would be that what was critical were three things: First there’s the 1990 Bush/Dems budget deal. Then there’s the 1993 Clinton tax hike. Then it gets more complicated. Some would argue that it was the combination of Clinton’s tax increase followed by Republicans coming into power in 1995 and putting a brake on more Democratic spending. There’s some plausibility to this. And it may have played some role in enforcing spending restraint in the late 90s. The problem is that deficits have gone up most under unified Republican control. The early Bush years are the key example (as is today). President Bush came into office and pushed through a big tax cut which promptly pushed the country back into deficits. Spending also went up dramatically, both on the military (which at least in theory was driven by 9/11) but also on domestic spending.

After Bush left office and Republicans had seen their congressional majorities wiped away, they began to talk about Bush as some sort of outlier or heretic from Republican orthodoxy, embracing something called ‘big government conservatism’. But this was entirely retrospective and basically bunk.

The argument also doesn’t hold up on the Democratic side of the ledger. There’s a large faction of Democrats who do think Democrats should spend substantially more and not feel so bound by budget balancing. But in practice, this is not how Democrats govern, even when they have total control of the government.

Obamacare is a case in point. Democrats went to great lengths to make sure that the Affordable Care Act was deficit neutral, even marginally reducing the deficit. The same pattern applied generally under Clinton. Why do they do this? Partly this is because they feel cowed by decades of ‘tax and spend’ criticism. More importantly, the kind of people who believe in fiscal restraint and budgetary probity on principle are now mainly Democrats. You can see this in policy terms. But more interesting historically is that you can see it in geographical terms. That wasn’t always the case. Many or even most of those people were once Republicans. But this isn’t something that changed four or five years ago. You have to go back forty and even fifty years to find that. This is a decades-old change – almost as old as the segregationist Dixiecrat exodus from the Democratic party to the GOP. Indeed, they are all part of the same transformation.

The simple reality is that Republicans don’t like taxes. Full stop.

Deficits are a stalking horse Republicans use as a political cudgel when they are out of power. Again. Full stop. You simply cannot argue with the fact that deficits have risen dramatically under Reagan and Bush and now under Trump. Republicans do not care about deficits. They care about keeping taxes as low as possible. What has changed slightly over the last forty years is a marginal difference in attitudes toward spending. Since the late 70s, the guiding star of Republican politics is getting taxes as low as possible. Spending was basically an afterthought, except for the degree to which spending might create upward pressure on taxes.

But beginning in the Bush years, accelerating in the Obama years and now coming into its own in the Trump years spending has become more of a positive as long as it is being spent on Republican stakeholders, as long as it is being spent on the right people. Largely this means the military but also border walls and a bunch of other things. That is an interesting change and transformation which has tracked the GOP’s transformation from anti-government to ethno-nationalist orientations. But the one thing that has never changed in almost fifty years is that Republican do not care about deficits. Deficits will rise under Republican rule, especially under unified Republican rule, as surely as night follows day.

John Nichols on the need to get rid of John Kelly.

No one who was paying attention ever thought that John Kelly was going to make things better in the Trump administration when he abandoned his miserable tenure as Homeland Security secretary to take over as White House chief of staff. Kelly had already proven to be an enabler of Trump’s worst instincts on immigration, global relationships, and privacy rights, and there was no reason to assume that closer proximity to the president would make Kelly any less of a “yes man” for Trumpism at its worst.

But Kelly really has outdone himself.

With his scorchingly dishonest and demeaning attacks on one of the most honorable members of the House, Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, to his deliberately ignorant claim that a “lack of appreciation of history” inspired efforts to remove monuments honoring the Confederacy, to his ahistorical suggestion that “the lack of an ability to compromise” led to the Civil War, to his efforts (with alt-right favorite Stephen Miller) to derail negotiations on immigration reform, to his recent claim that many Dreamers were “too lazy” to apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Kelly has accomplished something remarkable. He has established that, as wrongheaded as Donald Trump may be, the president is being advised by people who are more wrongheaded.

As Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, the Illinois Democrat who serves as head of the immigration task force for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, says, the retired general who many thought would “[steer] a steady course and bring some balance to the White House, Mr. Kelly, is not that person, and he is clearly part of the xenophobic right that is entrenched in this White House.”

Kelly is not merely xenophobic, however. He has proven to be an atrocious player on multiple fronts.

This week, as reports of White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter’s physical abuse of women became public, CNN notes that “Kelly, who encouraged Porter to remain in his post despite the allegations, did not alter his effusive statement.” The “effusive statement” from Kelly read: “Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.”

Only after Porter resigned was it announced that the chief of staff was “shocked” by the “new allegations” about his top aide. When pressed about reports that Kelly knew as early as last fall that both of Porter’s ex-wives had accused him of abusing them, CNN said, “The White House declined to comment on Wednesday when asked about Kelly’s knowledge of the allegations against Porter.”

Democratic members of the House, led by California Congressman Ted Lieu have sent a letter to Kelly asking him to explain when he had knowledge of the allegations of domestic abuse by Porter and what actions he took given that knowledge.

The letter to Kelly, which was signed by Lieu and Representatives Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Brenda Lawrence of Michigan, noted that:

As White House Chief of Staff, you are intimately involved in the hiring and subsequent management of senior level presidential personnel. As such, we respectfully request responses to the following questions:
• When did you learn of the allegations that Mr. Porter had abused one or both of his ex-wives?
• After you learned of these allegations, did you take any steps to remove or suspend Mr. Porter from the White House staff?
• At any point after you learned of these allegations, did you encourage Mr. Porter to remain on staff?
• At any point after you learned of these allegations, did you offer Mr. Porter a promotion or expand his responsibilities?
• Were you aware that Mr. Porter was unable to obtain a permanent security clearance, or was not in possession of a permanent clearance during his time at the White House?
• Why was Mr. Porter allowed to handle and view our nation’s most sensitive materials without a permanent security clearance?

Senator Jon Tester, D-Montana, responded to reports on the Porter affair by saying, “If John Kelly is covering this up, he needs to be held accountable. He better have a really good reason. Otherwise, he’s gone, too.”

The Senate cannot remove Kelly, as the chief of staff is a direct presidential appointee who is not required to go through the confirmation process that is required for cabinet members and agency heads. So the issue of removal goes to Trump.

Or Kelly could resign.

National Organization for Women President Toni Van Pelt argues, well and wisely, that the time for Kelly to remove himself has arrived.

“White House Chief of Staff John Kelly must resign. His pathetic defense of staff secretary Rob Porter reveals his true nature—an enabler of sexual abusers, a betrayer of trust and an avoider of responsibility,” says Van Pelt, who asks: “Why did John Kelly continue to support Rob Porter after he was told about Porter’s history of abuse? Why did he allow a man who was denied a security clearance because of his history of violence against women to continue in a high ranking position of trust? Why did he talk Rob Porter out of resigning, telling him he could ‘weather the storm,’ according to press accounts?”

Van Pelt concludes that

General Kelly should know better. As a military commander, he took pride in protecting his troops. As chief of staff, it is his duty to protect the people who serve in the White House. Women who work for John Kelly are asking themselves today if they can trust General Kelly to protect them from sexual predators.

Clearly, they can’t. John Kelly has shown his true colors. He’s on Team ‘Grab Them By The Pussy,’ leaving women who are victimized by sexual violence to fend for themselves.

John Kelly must go. Today.

I Am The Very Model — Matthew Dessem in Slate.

I am the very model of a New York Times contrarian,
My intellect is polished but my soul’s authoritarian,
From Allen down to Exxon, bullies’ water I am carrying,
Except for Donald Trump’s, because I find him a vulgarian.
I’m very well acquainted, too, with arguments political,
I love to mount defenses for the vile and hypocritical,
I filigree each sentence till its meaning I am burying,
My job is to distract you from the rising smell of carrion.

My eagerness to stand up for the powerful is frightening,
I’m always showing up when a sepulcher needs some whitening,
In short, with polished intellect and soul authoritarian,
I am the very model of a New York Times contrarian!

There’s nothing I like more than the chance to play Devil’s advocate,
My beat is moral virtue comma complete, total lack of it,
I’ll only call you “victim” if it’s clear that you’re a predator,
I’m lucky to have landed with a sympathetic editor.
Hate-reading makes my columns all go viral like canarypox,
Present me with the truth and I will turn it to a paradox,
I’ll spew undoubted bullshit till you’ll swear that it’s veracity,
Sometimes vocabulary gets confused for perspicacity.

I’ll never have to worry about financial adversity,
My sinecure’s secured by “intellectual diversity,”
In short, with polished sentences and soul authoritarian,
I am the very model of a New York Times contrarian!

I introduce myself in verse based on a comic opera,
Even though tragedy might strike my critics as more proper-a,
But cheerful, frantic forms can help obscure a darkness visible,
And keep people from noticing my arguments are risible.
I’m confident that confidence is all I need to dominate,
I’ll gladly share my theories with your business or conglomerate,
For money I will tell you money’s good for the environment,
Or argue that a safety net is nothing but entitlement!

The best people all know me and my pedigree’s immaculate,
That’s good, because my takes are generally quite inaccurate,
But still, with polished intellect and soul authoritarian,
I am the very model of a New York Times contrarian!

Doonesbury — Dreams dying on the vine.

2 barks and woofs on “Sunday Reading

  1. One aspect of the Republican tendency to balloon the deficit that occurs to the more paranoid among us (well, maybe not so paranoid, considering the open GOP intention to further gut social programs): they find it a useful excuse for pushing cuts to things like food stamps, CHIP, Social Security, and Medicare — in other words, programs that actually do people some good.

    • And it’s already happening in Kentucky where the recipients of Medicaid will be required to work, volunteer or get work training. I wonder how the inmates of nursing homes are going to comply. I wonder how poor, intellectually challenged people will be able to comply. People with no money to pay for the required documentation. People without transportation and no money for a bus that goes nowhere near where they have to go whether a volunteer job, a school or some form of employment. Indiana has already gotten permission to institute such “reforms”. Wait for the hammer to come down in the next session of Congress. This all from the tax-cut and spend Republicans.

Speak!