Cooking the Public Books

The phrase for today, boys and girls, is “dynamic scoring.” We’ll likely be hearing a lot about dynamic scoring when the new Congress convenes, because dynamic scoring is high on the Republican agenda.

What is dynamic scoring? This has to do with the Congressional Budget Office, the doggedly nonpartisan office that analyzes whatever Congress is up to that might impact the federal budget. The CBO has always used what’s called “static scoring,” which actually isn’t all that static, to make projections.  Edward D. Kleinbard, a law professor at the University of Southern California and a former chief of staff of the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, explains:

Whenever new tax legislation is proposed, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office “scores” it, to estimate whether the bill would raise more or less revenue than existing law would.

In preparing estimates, scorekeepers try to predict how people will respond to a new tax law. For example, if Congress contemplates raising the excise tax on cigarettes, scorekeepers consider existing trends in cigarette consumption, the likelihood that the higher taxes will induce some smokers to quit, and the prospect that higher prices will increase incentives for cigarette smuggling. There are no truly “static” revenue estimates.

How would dynamic scoring be more dynamic? Might I remind you this is a Republican idea? Could you guess if I told you Paul Ryan is a big fan of dynamic scoring? That’s right, folks — dynamic scoring adds an assumption that tax cuts will raise revenues.

So if Republicans get their way, future CBO projections will will filled with rainbows, unicorns and confidence fairies.

 A lot of Republicans also want to replace the CBO chief to appoint someone who will reliably give them analyses more to their liking. In other words, they want to “capture” the CBO and turn it into a propaganda tool for the Republican Party. Whether they’re going to get away with this isn’t clear. Note that they object to the current guy, Doug Elmendorf, not because CBO projections have been wrong, but because they don’t always fit right-wing narratives.

Elmendorf’s term actually ends today, but apparently he’s going to stay on the job until Congress decides what it is doing. This may take awhile.

The Devil in the Details

This week House Republicans choked on Paul Ryan’s budget plan. Yes, the plan Republicans and baggers have long praised as a work of genius and exquisite wonkiness suddenly didn’t look so hot. That’s because they finally had to deal with the details.


The big if hard-to-report story in DC last week was the ongoing collapse in governance, as Republicans proved themselves unable to reconcile their ideological commitment to drastically lower government spending with the reality that they and their constituents actually benefit from said spending. They’re willing to impose savage cuts on the poor — but even that gets them nothing like the spending cuts they claim they’ll make. Yet rather than acknowledge this reality, they’re basically sticking their heads in the sand.

Times Editorial Board:

A $44 billion measure based on the tooth-and-claw Ryan blueprint approved by the same House just three months ago had to be yanked from the floor when not enough Republicans showed up to vote yes. An embarrassed leadership was forced to concede that the size of the proposal’s cuts to transportation, housing and urban development had become intolerable even to the fiscal zealots among the rank and file, who no longer had the stomach to walk the austerity talk.

Part of the problem, as I understand it, is that the famous policy wonky Ryan Budget that House Republicans have passed at least twice that I can remember was actually long on promise but short on detail. It was more wishful than wonky, to be honest. And when it finally came time for the congress critters to get specific about exactly what programs had to be cut, and how much, they choked. They realized that the cuts would hurt actual flesh-and-blood voting constituents, plus their political careers, and not just the generic welfare queens and other fabled archetypes of parasitism rattling around in their heads. The Times continues,

… the House’s skittishness at the decidedly unpopular costs of some of the party’s budget strictures presented a revealing tableau of both hypocrisy and weakness: Republicans could not pass their own cramped vision of the future.

The Ryan Budget never added up, or subtracted down, or whatever, the way Ryan claimed it would. Ezra Klein explained back in March 2012,

CBO hasn’t looked at whether Ryan’s budget will achieve the results Ryan says it will. Rather, it looked at what will happen assuming Ryan’s budget achieves the results that Ryan says it will.

On the third page, CBO writes, “Chairman Ryan and his staff specified rules by which revenues and spending would evolve.” They then detail what those rules were:

Ryan tells CBO to assume his tax plan will raise revenues to 19 percent of GDP and then hold them there. He tells them to assume his Medicare plan will hold cost growth in Medicare to GDP+0.5 percentage points. He tells them to assume that spending on Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program won’t grow any faster than inflation. He tells them to assume that all federal spending aside from Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will fall from 12.5 percent of GDP in 2011 to 3.75 percent of GDP in 2050.

He tells them to assume that if we all wish real, real hard, the budget will balance.

Back to Krugman:

There’s a long history here — Republicans have been for lower spending in the abstract, but unable to find things they actually want to cut, for a long time. But the more immediate source of their present difficulties is the Ryan budget. Remember how that budget was initially greeted with cheers and adulation? But the CBO wasn’t fooled; in fact, its report came as close as I’ve ever seen to being openly sarcastic, especially with regard to the kinds of spending that now have Congress paralyzed:

The path for all other federal spending excluding interest—that is, for discretionary spending and mandatory spending apart from that for Social Security and the major mandatory health care programs—was specified by Chairman Ryan’s staff. The remaining part of mandatory spending includes such programs as federal civilian and military retirement, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, unemployment compensation, Supplemental Security Income, the refundable portion of the earned income and child tax credits, and most veterans’ programs. Discretionary spending includes both defense spending and nondefense spending—in roughly equal amounts currently. That combination of other mandatory and discretionary spending was specified to decline from 12 percent of GDP in 2010 to about 6 percent in 2021 and then move in line with the GDP price deflator beginning in 2022, which would generate a further decline relative to GDP. No proposals were specified that would generate that path.

By budget office standards, that last sentence is uproarious.

A lot of right-wing governing ideas are like this. As long as they’re just talk bouncing around the echo chamber, being preached by fanatical gasbags long of wind but short of facts, the troglodytes can think themselves brilliant and congratulate themselves on their great ideas. But when dragged into the cold light of day and put to work actually doing something, the ideas are revealed to be the broken, twisted, ill-conceived things that they are.

Tough Talk

Frothy complains that Mittens is a wimp about taxes.

Our economy and American families are struggling, and the country needs bold reforms and major restructuring, not tinkering at the margins. …my opponent in the Republican primaries, Mitt Romney, had a last-minute conversion. Attempting to distract from his record of tax and fee increases as governor of Massachusetts, poor job creation, and aggressive pursuit of earmarks, he now says he wants to follow my lead and lower individual as well as corporate marginal tax rates.

It’s a good start. But it doesn’t go nearly far enough. He says his proposed tax cuts would be revenue neutral and, borrowing the language of Occupy Wall Street, promises the top 1% will pay for the cuts. No pro-growth tax policy there, just more Obama-style class warfare.

Mittens is tinkering at the margins? Ezra Klein says,

Mitt Romney is promising that taxes will go down, defense spending will go up, and old-people programs won’t change for this generation of retirees. So three of his four options for deficit reduction — taxes, old-people programs, and defense — are now either contributing to the deficit or are off-limits for the next decade.

Romney is also promising that he will pay for his tax cuts, pay for his defense spending, and reduce total federal spending by more than $6 trillion over the next 10 years. But the only big pot of money left to him is poor-people programs. So, by simple process of elimination, poor-people programs will have to be cut dramatically. There’s no other way to make those numbers work.

In fact, Mittens recently proposed a 20% across-the-board cut in income tax rates. This is much more drastic than what he has been proposing, but he has to keep moving Right to stay in the race.

Not to be outdone, Frothy is proposing a ten-point Economic Freedom Agenda, which he says will balance the budget in four years. Yes, and I’m Jean Dujardin. And the dog.

Here are his ten points, briefly:

  1. Drill, baby, drill; frack, baby, frack; and pipeline, baby, pipeline.
  2. Deregulate.
  3. Cut taxes.
  4. Cut taxes.
  5. Lay off public employees.
  6. Repeal “Obamacare” and replace it with the better plan Republicans keep promising but can’t seem to find anywhere.
  7. Pass a balanced budget amendment.
  8. Make lots of free trade agreements.
  9. Cut the hell out of “entitlement” programs.
  10. “Revive housing” by finally killing off Fannie and Freddie.

Seriously. I left out some details, but the whole plan is such a fantasy the details are kind of irrelevant. Obviously if the country goes this way in no time we’ll be in such a hole that Greece will look good.

How Crazy Are They?

Republicans yammered about a balanced budget amendment through most of the 1990s, shutting up only when the Clinton Administration balanced the budget without one. They continued to keep their mouths shut while George W. Bush borrowed and spent trillions of dollars and ran up the Deficit That Could Eat Cleveland. And now they are pinning that deficit on the guy who inherited it and are demanding another balanced budget amendment.

Any respectable economist, meaning any economist not on the payroll of a right-wing think tank, will tell you that a balanced budget amendment would permanently cripple the U.S. economy. David Leonhardt provides a basic explanation why this is so. See also Stephen Foley, explaining our little pickle to British readers of the Telegraph:

[A] balanced budget amendment is terrible economics. It effectively means an end to counter-cyclical fiscal policy: when a recession strikes, the federal government would not be able to stimulate the economy by spending more. Instead, it must cut back at the same time householders and businesses are doing the same, making the recession worse. It could condemn the US to a perpetual recession, a depression even.

Wiser heads tend to regard any balanced budget amendment proposal as a gimmick Republicans periodically use to bash Democrats. “As it is such terrible economics, the tendency has been to assume it cannot pass,” Foley writes. The problem is that after years of such demagoguery, enough ideological zealots have been elected to Congress to possibly make it real, and the American public is brainwashed enough to support it.

Grassroots organisations have been lined up to agitate in support of the plan; Republican governors, including at least two potential presidential candidates, have written in support in the past few days. It could easily become a touchstone issue for next year’s elections, with moderate Democrats not wanting to be seen as weak on cutting the deficit.

Leading to:

After all the drama of last week, Republicans had the chutzpah (or, in Minnesota, “choot-spa,” possibly from Old Norwegian “sjøsltsbÃ¥t,” the act of sniffing reindeer glue) to trot out another hard-right proposal over the weekend that is absolutely devoid of compromise and which is nothing but another Dem-bashing tool. “Cut, Cap, and Balance” was praised as a “common sense” proposal, which in Republicanese means it’s wearing a tin foil propeller beanie and crazypants.

Ezra Klein explains,

It begins with the McConnell plan, in which the debt ceiling is raised three times between now and November, and each time, Republicans are able to offer a resolution of disapproval. Then it adds in $1.5 trillion in spending cuts harvested from the Biden talks. Then it creates a committee of 12 lawmakers charged with sending a deficit-reduction plan to Congress by the end of the year. Whatever they decide on would be protected from the filibuster and immune to amendments.

Ezra doesn’t mention a balanced budget amendment, but they’ve thrown that in as well.

The only bright spot in this mess is that opposition to this proposal can be found across the political spectrum. The teabaggers don’t like it because it gives too much away to Obama. Face it; any raising of the debt ceiling will be seen as a failure and betrayal by the wingnuts, which makes me think the Republicans should just do it and get it over with and think of something else to stir up the mob going into the campaign season.

And, of course, anyone sane enough to not believe pixies are hiding behind the light socket plates is nervous about this, also.

Amy Fried writes that Republicans, as always, justify whatever lunatic thing they are pushing by claiming it’s what the American people want, even when polls say the American people want something else entirely. But, in Republicanese, “the American people” means “large donors to the Heritage Foundation.” If you understand that much, then the rest of it starts to make sense. Sort of.

Why the Republicans Walked

Details are coming out about the deal the Republicans refused to discuss —

In essence, Van Hollen said, Republicans chose to “protect taxpayer subsidies for big oil companies, tax breaks for corporate jets, and tax breaks for millionaires.”

Democrats want to close tax loopholes that benefit oil companies, and eliminate a tax preference that gives corporate aircraft a friendlier depreciation schedule than commercial aircraft. Additionally, Van Hollen said, Democrats were proposing to phase out tax deductions and certain credits for people making more than $500,000 a year. These would be paired with a reduction in the tax burden on lower earners, by eliminating existing limitations on their deductions.

“Folks with over $500,000, we’re going to phase out your deductions and some of your tax credit,” Van Hollen said. … “The message Republicans sent was…unless we accept their lopsided approach…they’re prepared to tank the economy,” Van Hollen said.

Cantor retorted by babbling about broad tax rate hikes on individuals, small business, and employers, and anyone who believes that is a wingnut already. I’m sure the rate increases he’s talking about are the end of the Bush tax cuts for upper income earners, which would affect very few small businesses.

And John Boehner just released a press statement saying that a debt limit increase will not pass the House if it includes tax rate increases.

But House Republicans also let it be known that Cantor’s walkout was long planned. The timing of the walkout has been discussed for weeks. So, they admit they never were negotiating in good faith. Big surprise.

I want to hear the Dems say, fine; no more closed door discussions. Spell out publicly what they propose for revenue increases. Then, they’ve got to go out and make a real effort to tell the American people what’s at stake if the debt ceiling isn’t raised, because I still say large parts of them really don’t know.

Read more:

Steve Benen

Andy Kroll

Paul Krugman

Steve M.

Republicans Don’t Do Compromise

Basically, the Republican theory of compromise is “you have to give in to my demands, but I don’t have to give you anything in return.”

Yesterday the remaining Republicans in Joe Biden’s debt ceiling negotiations walked out. Why? Because they’d reached the “tax increase” portion of the program. Per the Republican theory of compromise, they demanded that all tax increases be taken off the table entirely. And the Dems said, no deal. So Eric Cantor had what some are calling a hissy fit and a temper tantrum and walked out, followed by John Kyl. So no Republicans are left to negotiate.

John Dickerson says, never fear. The tax increase deal will be cut between John Boehner and President Obama. The walkout is just political theater.

Ezra Klein thinks the situation is more serious, since whichever Republican leader cuts the deal will be falling on his sword.

Cantor has the credibility with the Tea Party that Boehner lacks. But that’s why Cantor won’t cut the deal. The Tea Party-types support him because he’s the guy who won’t cut the deal. He can’t sign off on tax increases without losing his power base. But if he’s able to throw it back to Boehner, and Boehner cuts the deal, that’s all good for Cantor: Boehner becomes weaker and he becomes stronger. Which is why Boehner will also have trouble making this deal. It’ll mean he made the concessions that Cantor, the true conservative, didn’t. That’s not how he holds onto the gavel in this Republican Party.

One analysis of the House GOP right now is that there are two players in the GOP who can cut a budget deal: Eric Cantor and John Boehner (and, on some of the other budget issues, Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers). One of them is going to have to do it. Which means one of them is going to lose his job. The optimistic take is that what we’re seeing right now is a game of musical chairs over which one of them it’ll be.

Of course, sniveling weenies that they are, the poor babies Republicans are blaming the President for their predicament. Yesterday Cantor called on the President to make his position clear (clue: he has already done that). And Mitch McConnell is babbling about failures of leadership.

“It’s worth asking: Where in the world has President Obama been for the last month? Where is he? What does he propose? What is he willing to do to reduce the debt? And to avoid this crisis, that’s building on his watch?” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said today.

“He’s the one in charge. I think most Americans think it’s about time he started acting like it. It’s not enough for the President to step in front of a microphone every once in a while and say a few words that somebody hands him to say about the jobs situation and our economy. Americans want to see that he’s actually doing something about it.”

Raising the debt ceiling is Congress’s job, of course. The President cannot do it. But McConnell wants daddy to come and hold his hand, I suppose.

Headlines are saying the “White House” is absent from the negotiations, sort of overlooking the fact that the guy who’s been leading the negotiations, with the title “Vice President,” is part of the Obama Administration.

The truth is, the Republicans had no intention of honestly negotiating, but they lack the moral courage to admit this. Instead, they blame everybody else. Oh, and then they’ll all go out and make speeches about how Republicans stand for personal responsibility.

Um, This Is Not “Turning the Tables”

From the Washington Post, “McConnell Turns the Tables on Budget Vote“:

Two can play this budget game.

A day after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) put Republicans on the spot by saying he will bring the House Republicans’ budget proposal up for a vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) turned the tables by exercising his legislative prerogative to call for a vote on President Barack Obama’s budget.

The two votes amount to legislative brinkmanship by both party leaders. Mr. Reid wants to put Republicans on record supporting legislation authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) that would eventually transform Medicare and Medicaid. Mr. McConnell, meanwhile, wants to force Democrats to vote on a plan that rolls back Bush-era tax cuts for people who make more than $250,000 and ignores many of the long-term costs driving the deficit.

Oh, snap, Mr. McConnell. Of course, a significant “cost” driving the deficit are Bush’s tax cuts, a fact Republicans refuse to acknowledge. But perhaps Mitch missed hearing about some recent polling

Alarmed by rising national debt and increasingly downbeat about their country’s course, Americans are clear about how they want to attack the government’s runway budget deficits: raise taxes on the wealthy and keep hands off of Medicare and Medicaid. …

… On tackling the deficit, voters by a margin of 2-to-1 support raising taxes on incomes above $250,000, with 64 percent in favor and 33 percent opposed.

Independents supported higher taxes on the wealthy by 63-34 percent; Democrats by 83-15 percent; and Republicans opposed by 43-54 percent. …

… Voters oppose cuts to those [Medicare and Medicaid] programs by 80-18 percent. Even among conservatives, only 29 percent supported cuts, and 68 percent opposed them.

Vote away, Senate.

The Ryan Albatross

Steven Taylor, one of the few self-identified “conservative” bloggers I actually respect — well, OK, the only one I respect — asks of the Ryan budget planWTF does the GOP intend to do with it? Are they actually thinking of trying to pass it? Are they crazy?

Remember: we know that some attendees of Tea Party rallies have brandished signs demanding that the government keep its hands off Medicare.* Further, many Republicans ran for office in 2010 by campaigning on the notion that the PPACA was damaging to Medicare (for example: Coates Ad: Obama Forcing Seniors into “Government Run Healthcare” and Blunt Ad Complains of Cutting Medicare…to Support “Government-Run Health Care”).

Remember also (and more importantly): the public overwhelmingly opposes Medicare cuts: “76% of respondents oppose cutting Medicare (30% find it “unacceptable” and 46% find it “totally unacceptable”)” (see link for details on the given poll—which replicates a consistent result in poll after poll on this topic).

So again: will the GOP actually go to the mattresses for this plan?

Let me give you my utterly unsupported guess as to what’s going on with Ryan and his budget — Ryan’s plan actually has been rattling around for several months, under the title “Roadmap for America’s Future.” And it got mentioned a lot in GOP talking points, although until recently you had to wade into the fine print on your own initiative to understand what the plan actually provides.

My impression all along has been that the GOP kept bringing it up not because they were all in love with Ryan’s ideas — although destroying Medicare is always a plus for them — but because it was the closest thing the GOP had to a concrete deficit-reduction proposal. So, for most of them, it was a prop. It was a stack of paper they could wave around and claim to be a plan that would solve everyone’s problems while they carped ceaselessly on whatever it was President Obama was doing.

Ryan himself — possibly not the sharpest pencil in the box — may not have understood it was the appearance of a plan, not the plan itself, that had value to the GOP. So a couple of weeks ago, from his position as chair of the House Budget Committee, he submitted the thing as a serious proposal.

Given Ryan’s timing, he might have thought that popular support in Washington for his ideas would cause Congress to drop other budget bills in progress and adopt his budget instead. And given the pundit-world swoon that followed, one suspects that the Puppet Masters were behind the release of the budget and had put out a general order to the puppets to start swooning.

One thing to keep in mind about the Puppet Masters is that most of them became rich and powerful because they inherited more money than God. And while they may possess a large degree of shrewdness, it’s a myopic kind of shrewdness. I suspect their “smarts” have serious limits. They may have imagined they could use their influence to get some version of the Ryan budget passed into law. And it may have just dawned on them over the past couple of days that they made a huge miscalculation. This would account for the over-the-top hysteria in right-wing media — if Daddy ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

President Obama’s decision to stay behind the scenes until Ryan threw his pitch may turn out to be one of the smartest moves he ever made. If the Dems play this right — please — the Ryan budget could become the Mother of All Wedge Issues and an albatross to hang around the neck of every Republican running in 2012.

See also: Paul Krugman, “Who’s Serious Now?

Update: What makes anyone think the President didn’t know full well the microphone was on? This is exactly the kind of thing the President needs to be saying to everyone, loudly and often.

Update: Ryan and his fellow travelers think the President was being mean to them in his speech last week.

They expected a peace offering, a gesture of goodwill aimed at smoothing a path toward compromise. But soon after taking their seats at George Washington University on Wednesday, they found themselves under fire for plotting “a fundamentally different America” from the one most Americans know and love.

“What came to my mind was: Why did he invite us?” Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said in an interview Thursday. “It’s just a wasted opportunity.”

The situation was all the more perplexing because Obama has to work with these guys: Camp is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, responsible for trade, taxes and urgent legislation to raise the legal limit on government borrowing. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Tex.) chairs the House Republican Conference. And Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is House Budget Committee chairman and the author of the spending blueprint Obama lacerated as “deeply pessimistic” during his 44-minute address.

Unbelievable. I’m starting to think Ryan really is a clueless wonder. See also Matt Yglesias.

About the Speech

I’m glad to say the budget speech met my criteria from the last post. Here’s a transcript if you missed it. I like that he called out the Ryan plan —

Worst of all, this is a vision that says even though America can’t afford to invest in education or clean energy; even though we can’t afford to care for seniors and poor children, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy. Think about it. In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90% of all working Americans actually declined. The top 1% saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. And that’s who needs to pay less taxes? They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut that’s paid for by asking thirty three seniors to each pay six thousand dollars more in health costs? That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.

The fact is, their vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America. As Ronald Reagan’s own budget director said, there’s nothing “serious” or “courageous” about this plan. There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. There’s nothing courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill. And this is not a vision of the America I know.

I especially liked this part —

In December, I agreed to extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans because it was the only way I could prevent a tax hike on middle-class Americans. But we cannot afford $1 trillion worth of tax cuts for every millionaire and billionaire in our society. And I refuse to renew them again.

“I refuse to renew them again” — I hope he realizes he’s going to be held to that.

Paul Krugman said he was mostly pleased with the speech and said he could live with it, although he added —

I should probably say, I could live with this as an end result. If this becomes the left pole, and the center is halfway between this and Ryan, then no — better to pursue the zero option of just doing nothing and letting the Bush tax cuts as a whole expire.

This is the big joke on all of us — with all of the talk of sacrifice and what not, the truth is that if Congress does absolutely nothing for the next few years, allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire, this would close the budget gap by 40 percent over the next 20 years. All by itself.

Some of the bashbots are using this to argue that the President shouldn’t address the deficit at all; I think that would be politically stupid. And I don’t think Obama wants to eliminate the tax cuts on the middle class, not only because of politics, but because this is not the time to slow consumer spending.

Krugman also notes that the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that the President’s proposal is still too weighted toward budget cuts instead of revenue increases. The President is vague about where some of these cuts will come, but defense is on the table.

There are lots of good comments already, but I was taken with this one by Hendrik Hertzberg. It begins:

One of the mysteries of the Obama Presidency has been Obama’s inability—or disinclination, I’m not sure which—to give sustained emotional sustenance to a certain slice of his supporters. I don’t mean the “Democratic base,” especially the institutional “interest group” base. And I don’t mean the disillusioned left, which is easily, almost perpetually disillusioned because it has such an ample supply of illusions. (A lot of lefties, notwithstanding their scorn for “the system,” seem to have an implicit naive faith in the workability of the mechanisms of American governance. Hence their readiness to blame the disappointments of the Administration’s first two years mainly on Obama’s alleged moral or character failings—cowardice, spinelessness, insincerity, duplicity, what have you.) Mainly, I guess, the slice I’m talking about is of people like me: liberals who continue to respect and admire Obama; who fully appreciate the disaster he inherited and the horrendous difficulty of enacting a coherent agenda even when your own party “controls” both Houses of Congress; who think his substantive record is pretty good under the circumstances; who dislike some of the distasteful compromises he has made but aren’t sure we wouldn’t have done the same in his shoes (etc.—you get the idea); but who are puzzled that our eloquent, writerly President seems to have done so little to educate the public about his own vision and to contrast it with that of the Republican right—which is to say, the Republicans.

I’m keeping that bit in parentheses about the illusions of liberals and repeating it for all the Obamabashbots. But I agree with the part about not educating the public. I think that may be the President’s biggest failing.

Hertzberg gave the speech high marks, even comparing it to FDR’s fireside chats. Clive Crooks, on the other hand, found the speech “a waste of breath.” But Crooks seems to take the Catfood Commission seriously, so … so much for Crooks. His opinion is a waste of keyboarding.

I also agree with Steve M. that Glenn Greenwald is, um, confused. I’m sorry, but I’ve had it up to here with the hysteria that Obama is actually succeeding by losing to the Right deliberately, because it was the plan all along. See Hendrik Hertzberg above.

See also Ezra Klein.

Barbarians and the Budget

A long time ago I read an account of barbarian soldiers sacking a civilized city. The soldiers ripped plumbing fixtures off the walls to take with them, apparently not realizing faucets don’t work if they aren’t attached to water pipes.

House Republicans hacking away at the budget remind me of those barbarian soldiers. They are ripping stuff out in apparent ignorance of how it works and what the consequences could be.

Last month, House Republicans decided to hack the budget of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by $126 $454 million. This is the parent agency of the National Weather Service, which in turn oversees the National Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii.

Democrats, on offense for a change, sent out a press release earlier this week pointing out that GOP budget cuts were defunding the tsunami warning system.

Now some Republicans are all huffy about that, saying Dems are playing a dirty trick. For example, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Washington) said that she only voted to cut the funding of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “There is nothing anywhere that states tsunami warnings systems should be cut,” her spokesperson said.

In other words, she voted for all those cuts without bothering to find out exactly what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration does, and what programs she might actually be axing. And she still doesn’t seem to know.

At Faux News, James P. Pinkerton scoffed at the Democrats’ memo, calling it an example of “Washington Monument Syndrome.”

That is, if the Interior Department, for example, were confronted with the slightest of budget cuts, the Secretary of Interior would gravely warn the would-be budget-cutters that if the proposed cuts go through, the Department would have no choice but to shut down the Washington Monument, or Mt. Rushmore, or any other popular and visible Interior Department property.

I say Pinkerton suffers from the “free lunch” syndrome, or the belief that if he stops paying taxes the government will somehow continue to take care the nice stuff that he likes, like Mt. Rushmore. But it’s a fact that if the GOP continues to hack money away from the National Park Service, eventually monuments will fall into ruin and parks will have to be closed. I understand a lot of parks are operating on half a shoestring as it is.

Cuts to the National Weather Service also could affect hurricane and tornado alertness, as well as the quality of information needed daily by people like farmers and airline companies. So cutting that budget could harm a lot of people. Yes, it’s possible someone with thorough understanding of what NOAA does could comb through its budget and find some items that could be cut without serious consequences. But you know the House Republicans didn’t do that. Hack!

Getting back to plumbing — a better analogy to what Republicans are doing is cutting the budget for the city waterworks and then saying it’s not their fault if your drinking water is brown. Of course, it probably wouldn’t turn brown right away; it might take a few years for the aeration system to break down completely. Until then, they’ll assure you that everything is just fine, and those crazy people who say the water is getting dirty just want to make you pay more taxes.

And when the water does turn brown, they’ll find some way to blame a Democrat for it.