Cute Overload


The bleep with politics. I want cute little animals being cute.

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They Caved

Obama Administration

I hear the House GOP agreed to sign off on the two-month deal. Details to come.

OK, here’s a short write-up in TIme.

Steve Benen:

What changed Boehner’s mind? Or more accurately, what changed Boehner’s mind again? The Speaker, as recently as Saturday, wanted to pass the Senate compromise and send his caucus home for the holidays. They rebelled and the leader quickly became the follower.

By some accounts, this happened again today. House Republicans —- Wisconsin’s Sean Duffy, Arkansas’ Rick Crawford, Pennsylvania’s Charlie Dent, among others — started breaking ranks after getting an earful in their local districts. GOP lawmakers who wanted to fight the Senate Braveheart-style came to the conclusion, “Maybe that Senate bill isn’t so bad after all.” When his members reversed course, the Speaker again took his cues from them, rather than the other way around.

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They Blinked

Congress, Obama Administration, Republican Party

Well, the Senate is blinking, anyway — Mitch McConnell has called on the House Republicans to pass the two-month extension on the payroll tax bill. And then President Obama and Sen. Harry Reid came out and said they agreed with Mitch McConnell. The House GOP is truly painted into a corner.

Steve Benen writes,

The timing of McConnell’s announcement was rather remarkable. House Republican leaders, including Speaker Boehner, had just wrapped up a press conference on the Hill, telling reporters that the House GOP caucus won’t give in, won’t pass the temporary extension, and won’t do anything until a conference committee convenes (the conference committee would invariably kill the tax cut).

McConnell, almost immediately after Boehner wrapped up his remarks, cut the legs out from underneath the House GOP leadership and sided with Harry Reid’s proposed solution.

I honestly can’t remember the last time we saw a Senate Republican leader and a House Republican leader this far apart on a high-profile policy dispute. Everything about McConnell’s new statement appears intended to smack Boehner down, just as the Speaker tries to find his footing.

And then President Obama spoke at the White House

President Obama today endorsed a proposed compromise by the Senate Republican leader on the payroll tax cut impasse: have House Republicans pass a temporary two-month extension, while Senate Democrats agree to negotiate a year-long extension at the same time.

“We should go ahead and get this done,” Obama said at the White House. “This should not be hard.”

In pitching his compromise, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Republican-run House should approve a two-month extension now, while the Democratic-run Senate should agree to immediate negotiations on a year-long extension as requested by the House. “We can and should do both,” McConnell said in a statement.

Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said Democrats seconded McConnell’s idea: “Once the House passes the Senate’s bipartisan compromise to hold middle class families harmless while we work out our differences, I will be happy to restart the negotiating process to forge a year-long extension.”

As far as I can see the “proposed compromise by Senate Republican leaders” is what the Senate had already approved on Saturday before the House GOP decided to throw a hissy fit.

Apparently GOP senators now are worried the payroll tax standoff will hurt them politically.

And, truly, I can’t imagine what the House GOP were thinking when they decided to throw their tantrum. Talk about an overplayed hand. The word last Monday was that Boehner had tried to sell the extension to the House GOP, but he was shot down by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Tex.).

Today Boehner tried to muddy the waters once again by claiming the GOP is opposed to a two-month deal:

“A one year bill, like the president requested and like the House produced, is simply better for jobs and better for our economy. A one year bill provides, on average, about $1,000 for American workers as opposed to the Senate bill which would provide a measly $166.”

But the “deal” was never an either/or between two months and twelve months. The two-month extension was just to give Congress more time to negotiate before the old bills expire, on January 1.

Frank James writes at NPR,

Actually, all the players say they’d like a year-long extension. The sticking point, however, has been how to pay for it, with Republicans demanding spending cuts to programs that benefit middle and lower income Americans while Democrats have wanted taxes to be increased on households reporting gross adjusted income of $1 million or more.

President Obama told Boehner yesterday that until next year, his only options are to pass the two-month extension or go piss in the wind. And now Mitch McConnell is seconding that.

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Stuff to Read and Look At

Obama Administration

There are all kinds of headlines right now that suggest House Republicans could cave and Obama is getting a lift from the payroll tax battle. And while all day long we’ve seen Republicans getting flustered, the President took Bo the dog to Petsmart and bought him a chew toy. He’s the ice man, I tell you.

Every picture tells a story. See a whole lot of graphs about the economy at the Atlantic and and Wonkblog.

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Today on CSpan


Apparently this clip was posted on YouTube by Nancy Pelosi’s office.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is the one doing most of the talking. Here is Pelosi’s caption:

This morning, Speaker Pro Tempore Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA), under orders from Speaker Boehner, refused to allow Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer to speak on the floor and ask for unanimous consent to bring up the Senate bipartisan compromise to extend the payroll tax cut. Whip Hoyer and Congressman Chris Van Hollen are continuing to try to offer the Senate compromise even though Republicans walked off the floor. Once again, Republicans are risking a tax increase on 160 million Americans and the loss unemployment benefits for those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

Steve Benen says the reason the video cuts off suddenly is that the Republicans demanded CSpan turn off the cameras.

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A Tantrum Too Far?

Obama Administration

I don’t know how much Americans are focusing on what’s happening with the payroll tax fight, but this is a big bleeping deal that could have a major impact on the 2012 elections. And it’s make or break time for President Obama.

As you probably heard, yesterday the House Republicans officially nixed the two-month extension of the payroll tax hike, unemployment benefits, and the Medicare “doc fix.” The “doc fix” is a legacy of the 1997 Congress that ties physician reimbursement rates to growth (or not) in the GNP. Since 2003 Congress has voted every year to defer changes, meaning cuts, to physician reimbursement rates. And every year the amount that is deferred gets bigger.

That last part is not getting as much media attention, but if the “doc fix” isn’t fixed, on January 1 Medicare physician reimbursements will be cut by 27 percent. The Administration says it will hang on to bills until January 18 in anticipation of having a deal by then. Even so, if any of you are on Medicare you might want to get any planned medical procedures out of the way before the end of the year. If he cut does go into effect, a lot of doctors are likely to stop seeing Medicare patients.

Of course, the increase in payroll taxes will likely get some attention from workers. And three million people could lose unemployment benefits.

Congressional Republicans are in love with this hostage taking maneuver. Last year congressional Republicans took the “doc fix” hostage by demanding a repeal of the Affordable Care Act in exchange for the fix. A deal was reached on December 9, 2010, that passed the fix for one year, paid for by tweaking benefits in the ACA. That probably encouraged them to engage in the debt ceiling hostage taking stunt this year.

But now it’s December 21, and I understand the Senate officially adjourned for the year after their vote on Saturday. Many House members have packed up and gone home also. President Obama and Sen. Harry Reid say they will do no more bargaining until the House approves the two-month extension. Take it or leave it.

So the propaganda war begins. The House Republicans initially defended themselves by saying they wanted only a 12-month deal, because a two-month deal would be burdensome on payroll software companies. Seriously.

Ezra writes,

The beginning of clarity on this is to realize that it’s not about the payroll tax. If Republicans wanted a clean, one-year extension of the payroll tax, they could get the vote of every Democrat in the House and Senate and this would be done tomorrow.

Rather, this is about finding agreement on two things: the policy concessions that House Republicans will accept as payment for the payroll tax cut, and a process that House Republicans will accept as legitimate in securing those concessions.

Remember, Mitch McConnell had negotiated the two-month extension with Harry Reid, which the Senate overwhelmingly accepted on Saturday so they could all go home. McConnell was supposed to be representing the House as well as the Senate, and the House revolt against the deal was a surprise to Republican leadership. Now they’ve got to defend it.

John Boehner is holding out for a conference committee, and Ezra explains why:

First, it offloads the compromises on a coalition of negotiators who come from different wings of the House Republicans. That protects Boehner in the final agreement. Second, it creates a procedural argument that distracts from the underlying disagreement: House Republicans won’t want to extend the payroll tax cut except in the absence of extraordinary policy concessions, like the immediate greenlighting of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Third, it lets Boehner spend some time standing up to the Senate and the president who are trying to rush a compromise through the House — a move that perhaps gives him some political capital he can spend on the ultimate compromise, as he’ll have proven to House Republicans that he didn’t capitulate at the first sign of pressure.

But the Dems are out telling the world that if the payroll tax cuts expire, this is entirely the House Republicans’ doing. And I say call that bluff. Thomas Schaller says,

The payroll tax fight provides the president a rare opportunity to pull together so many of the loose threads of his presidency. This is the opportunity for the former law professor to be an educator-in-chief about the growing disparities between those who derived incomes from wealth and those who derive them from work. It is an opportunity to prove that he can stare down and unmask the rump Republican national minority that pretends its House majority represents the public will. It is a chance to prove that Washington’s rigged game need not always result in the spoils of political victory going automatically, or at least disproportionately, to the economically spoiled. This is, in short, a moment for the president to demonstrate the resolve that earned his hopeful believers’ support three years ago, and it comes as he begins asking the electorate for another four-year lease on the Oval Office.

Right now, conventional wisdom says the House GOP might sign off on the extension on the condition that the Dems agree to go to a conference on a one-year extension by February 1. The next most likely outcome is that the payroll tax cut, etc., will be allowed to expire. There is a slight chance the House will propose a one-year extension offset by money budgeted for Iraq and Afghanistan. There is little expectation either side will capitulate entirely.

And someone needs to tell Shiela Jackson Lee to STFU. The President doesn’t have the authority to override Congress on a tax bill, and she’s not helping her party by arguing that he does.

Related: More proof that wingnuts have the emotional maturity of six-year-olds.

Update: See also Steve Benen. It appears the enormous majority of Washington Dems want to let the House Republicans hang themselves.

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Farewell, Snitch

Obama Administration

A couple of literary postmortems of Christopher Hitchens that are must-reads — see Katha Pollitt and Michael Lind.

Hitchens was one of those people who seem to have become famous and admired and sought-after without actually doing anything to deserve it. He was the Kim Kardashian of punditry, an opinionated gasbag who passed for an intellectual.

As Lind writes, Snitch really was a gossip columnist who specialized in sensational trash talk. Although he pretended to be an iconoclast, he earned his bread and butter by speaking for the id of some elite consensus, whether neocons or atheists. He was a shallow and sloppy thinker who spoke more from bias than reason, but his fans loved him because he expressed their own biases so very strongly and authoritatively.

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More Jeb!

Republican Party

Do read Draft Jeb! by Charles Pierce. Then come back here.

Jeb — ‘scuse me, Jeb! — actually scares me more than the clowns currently running. Yeah, he’s as corrupt and hypocritical as the rest of the bushies, but he cleans up well. Unlike the other presidential hopefuls, he doesn’t have visible bats flying around his head.

Also unlike the current candidates, he would enjoy the benefit of the unified GOP establishment and its propaganda machine. Americans will hear nothing but what a great guy he is. The biggest challenge to his campaign will be keeping little brother George locked in a basement until after the election.

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Jeb’s Thinking About It

Republican Party

Jeb’s got an op ed in today’s Washington Post about how American capitalism is being strangled by taxes and regulations. This is total bullshit, of course, but the wingnuts eat this stuff up. I’m thinking Jeb’s taking steps to shine up his “conservative” credentials and get his name in circulation.

Meanwhile, Newt is crashing in Iowa, and Ron Paul has taken the lead. This feels a bit like hearing that Tandy computers are making a comeback and overtaking Dell. Nate Silver is giving Paul a 44 percent chance at winning Iowa.

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Kim Jong Il, 1941(?)-2011

Obama Administration

Good luck in the bardo, dude. You’ll need it.

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