Friday, January 30, 2009

 

The GOP Steeles Itself For A Comeback

It took six ballots, but the Republican National Committee picked the right man as its new chairman Friday: It's Michael Steele. Not exactly objective view here: I've known Steele for several years (of the other candidates, I've also met Ken Blackwell a few times). I saw some of the BS some RNC-ers were tossing at him early on.

He brought to the race something important: Besides being smart, good on the issues -- yeah, "articulate" too, Joe Biden -- he always looks like he's enjoying himself while talking politics. (He was also chair of the Maryland GOP (before running for lieutenant governor) and did a good job there.)

He may be the person best suited to build the party in ways similar to what I write here. Steele's a conservative who can work with moderates while defending the party's principles to the rest of America.

Congratulation, Michael.

Oh, and I'm not a gambler, but between Barack Obama and Michael Steele, anyone heading to Vegas and playing roulette might want to bet on black.

What a stunning few months.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

 

Honeymoon? Over.

Barack Obama had a dream -- to create a bipartisan paradise which would cut through the divisions of the last two decades.

So much for that. Consider the so-called post-inaugural honeymoon over.

The $819 billion economic stimulus package sure created bipartisanship in the House on Wednesday -- in opposition. Not one single Republican voted for this bill.

Zippo. Nada. A GOP donut.

Actually, Republicans
picked up 11 Democratic votes. Not quite the bipartisanship we came to believe in.

Honeymoon? This is the political version of a bride coming down with a migraine on the wedding night and rebuffing her husband's romantic overtures. Sure, the stimulus package is still on track to become law eventually. The nature of the Senate is that the minority GOP has greater influence in getting more GOP-friendly changes into the legislation. After the Senate votes, the "conference" version of the two bills might entice some House Republicans to get on board for final passage -- but don't bet on it.

The opposition voting overwhelming against a new president's economic plan is is hardly unusual -- and a shutout isn't unprecedented. In 1993, minority Republicans unanimously opposed
Bill Clinton's first budget. But Clinton had won the presidency with only 43 percent of the vote -- and he had "reverse coattails": Republicans picked up seats in the 1992 election. Furthermore, the animosity between Clinton and Republicans then was already personal.

Today's House Republicans have
warm things to say about President Obama personally (though that might be a just a wise political gambit). But that's not going anywhere. Today's House Republicans are now more viscerally and uniformly conservative than they has been in -- perhaps forever. The Northeastern moderates are extinct in the party on the House side (indeed, there is not one House GOPer Republican in New England). While there might be a handful of pro-choice Republicans in the House, on the core issue of the moment, all of these Republicans have reverted to their fiscal conservative roots. Why not? They don't have to support a profligate spending Republican president anymore.

Obama's honeymoon with the public -- and the media -- is not over. But one of his principal campaign goals has failed in its initial test: A more bipartisan Washington? Sure doesn't look like it.


An $819 billion wedding present is just too much for House Republicans to accept.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

 

Out One Era...

When Barack Obama announced his economic team in November, they were all seen as an All-Star, centrist group, each of whom would sail through congressional confirmation without the slightest problem.

Monday, Obama's Treasury secretary pick, Tim Geithner, was confirmed, but
34 senators voted against him -- including four Democrats (counting Democratic-caucusing Independent Bernie Sanders). That level of opposition has to be considered a major slap to Geithner and the president who appointed him.

What happened? Well, welcome to the "new era of responsibility."


That phrase must have sounded nice when Obama and his speechwriters came up with it for the Inaugural address, but, as Geithner discovered, it has a real-world application.

Geithner's credentials surely didn't change between when Obama announced him in the fall and Monday -- but the perception of his character certainly did, specifically,
the revelation that he had failed to pay $43,000 in payroll taxes while working for the International Monetary Fund from 2001-04. He finally paid up -- after being tapped for Treasury.

The fact that the guy in charge of the nation's revenue collection -- a current Federal Reserve bank president, no less -- wasn't up to date on his own tax liabilities was too much for most Senate Republicans. Even those that have made careers crossing their party -- like defeated GOP presidential candidate John McCain and Maine's Susan Collins -- voted against Geithner. In fact, were this not a case of 1) Granting a new, very popular president the people he wants and, 2) the nation in an economic crisis, bet that more Republicans and a few more Democrats would have abandoned Geithner as well.

Meanwhile, former Merrill Lynch CEO and (briefly) Bank of America exec John Thain also ran into the "new era." New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo smacked both Thain and BofA's chief administrative officer with subpoenas. Cuomo wants to know why Thain accelerated payments of $4 billion in bonuses to Merrill executives -- even as the company was posting $15 billion in fourth-quarter losses. Traditionally, the bonuses had been paid out in January. This time, Thain distributed them in December -- right before the Bank of America went through. BofA, of course, has received $45 billion from the TARP fund (including $20 billion approved earlier this month to offset the larger-than-expected losses from Merrill Lynch.
Finally, Citigroup -- which has been in no end of trouble over the last couple of months -- was
forced to scrap the purchase of a $50 million French private jet, after The New York Post revealed the sale in Monday's editions.

Call it "enforced responsibility," "proportionality," or "rough justice." Call it whatever you wish. It amounts to the same thing: When the rest of the country is
reeling from layoffs spreading into every sector of the economy, tolerance of the antics of one-time Masters of the Universe and the companies they run is gone.

Brilliant, but manage to "forget" to pay your taxes? Expect to pay a price. Living beyond your means and helping your colleagues get fatter bonuses -- while the company's going downhill? Expect to be investigated. Take billions from the feds and still try to purchase a new private jet -- when the automakers were raked over the coals just for merely flying private planes to Washington, DC? Their antics will be slapped down by whatever measures are at hand -- a closer-than-expected Senate vote, called to account via subpoena, public shaming. Any means necessary.

The time for corporate BS is over. When close to a trillion dollars is being transferred from the U.S. Treasury to private firms, there's not one CEO whom Americans will have pity on.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

 

Capping That Package

President Obama and congressional Democrats may have learned that size does matter when it comes to the economic stimulus package. The larger arguments on the the huge billion spending bill is on its basic efficacy: Will that amount of money be able to get into the economy in a quick enough time to warrant the expenditure? Over the weekend, a Goldman Sachs study suggested the answer was "no":

"Preliminary estimates imply that of the $825 billion Congress is considering, only $250 billion will make it into the economy in the current calendar year. This could still change as the package works its way through Congress, but these estimates highlight the political and practical challenges in enacting an effective fiscal package, particularly in 2009."

But, that isn't what congressional Republicans started focusing on. As House Republican Leader John Boehner noted, conservatives seem more inclined to highlight one specific item in the bill: The $250-300 million (with an "M") targeted for contraceptives and various "family planning" as it is occasionally known. Simultaneously, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended this expenditure. As amusing as it might be to hear anyone with the name "Boehner" (even if it is pronounced 'Bay-ner', the fact is Republicans know when they've got a winning issue here.

This is a great example of the odd fact about big government-spending bill is: It's often not huge numbers that cause public opinion to sway one way or another. It's actually a smaller amount of money -- spent in a way that the public deems foolish -- that creates doubts on the overall wisdom being placed in the larger amount.

And the GOP has seen this script before: Back in 1994, before the election, Democrats were steering through a $30 billion crime bill. It was, generally, popular (though the Congressional Black Caucus had some problems with the increased punitive measures in the legislation). However, just before Congress headed into the Labor Day recess, conservatives seized on one item: $40 million for the creation of "midnight basketball leagues" in inner-city areas.

It was part of the "crime-prevention" part of the bill. It's inclusion in a crime bill hit many in the public the wrong way. House Republicans felt empowered to vote against the bill because it was in there. The CBC still felt the overall bill was too punitive. This odd left-right opposition caused a complete revolt in the House of Representatives. As a result, the procedural rule guiding debate on the bill -- usually a pro forma vote -- was voted down on the House floor. The failure to pass the bill became symbolic of the dysfunctional nature of the Democratic Congress -- with Bill Clinton as president. Two months later, the Republicans won Congress.

Circumstances are different today: For one thing, Democrats are on an upswing and aren't defending the way things have been done for the previous 40 years.

Still, the events of 15 years ago are instructive: Just $40 million was enough to help bring down a $30 billion bill. Could $250 million do the same to an $825 billion package?

No, but only because Obama wasn't going to give it the chance: Tuesday, he directed congressional Democrats to yank the contraceptive money. Why give new meaning to the phrase "stimulus package"?

Unless Democrats want a repeat, it might behoove them to isolate and eliminate any other such easy targets.

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