Dem déjà vu: Obama triangulates

posted Jul 8, 2011, 4:08 AM by Take Back Country   [ updated Jul 8, 2011, 4:11 AM ]

WASHINGTON - President Obama’s stunning move to consider changes to Social Security as part of a debt deal is a politically risky gamble that puts him at odds with Democratic leaders in Congress.

The move harkened back to President Clinton’s decision in 1995 to work with a new Republican Congress on welfare reform, a decision that won him support from independents but infuriated allies on the left. 
As recently as March, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on MSNBC, “Leave Social Security alone.

“Two decades from now, I’m willing to take a look at it. But I’m not willing to take a look at it right now,” said Reid, who will have to convince Democrats in the Senate to support whatever deal Obama works out with members of both parties. 

The president’s left flank, in a constant state of distrust and anger toward the Obama White House, reacted in shock Thursday morning to reports that the president was putting Social Security on the table in the debt talks. 

Liberal House members demanded that it be removed from the negotiating table, while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) repeated Thursday that Social Security reforms should only be used to shore up the popular program, not to reduce the U.S. deficit. 

The White House sought to push back against the reports on Thursday, with White House press secretary Jay Carney stating: “There is no new news here.” 

But stories about the deal, and Obama’s own statements this week that both parties needed to accept political pain and seize a “unique opportunity” with the debt-ceiling negotiations, had already created the impression that the White House was willing to go big.

The White House on Thursday would not put parameters on the size of a deficit-reduction package said to be in the range of $4 trillion, but embraced the idea of going for a grand deal. 

“Bigness is our target,” Carney said at his daily briefing following Obama’s own remarks on a meeting with congressional leaders at the White House. “Comprehensiveness and balance are our targets.”

Carney said he didn’t want to put a figure on the deal because “we don’t have a specific dollar target.” 

The push for a $4 trillion deficit-reduction package adds to the pressure on Republicans to consider tax revenues, and sends the signal Obama is willing to take on his party’s sacred cows. 

If Obama does embrace Social Security reform, it is an arguably riskier move than Clinton’s decision to tackle welfare reform, a program that was much less popular with voters than Social Security, a Democratic strategist noted. 

Clinton also promised to reform the program for the poor as a candidate in 1992, meaning his decision to sign a reform bill, after vetoing two previous versions, was something his allies on the left saw coming. 

That’s not the case with Obama, who during the 2008 campaign pledged to protect Social Security “today, tomorrow and forever,” and blasted Republican opponent Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), whom Obama accused of wanting to privatize the program. 

Several Democrats have embraced calls for Social Security reform, leaving one Democratic strategist to conclude that Obama can move forward with some confidence. 

“The only risk is a wholesale Democratic uprising in Congress, but that risk is slight — there are plenty of Democrats who agree something needs to be done on Social Security, too,” the strategist said.

But those Democrats, including Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), think any savings from reforming Social Security should be funneled back to shoring up the program. 

Carney on Thursday said Obama in his State of the Union address said he wanted to work with both parties to strengthen Social Security in a “balanced way that preserves the promise of the program and doesn’t slash benefits.”

If Obama succeeds in getting a big deal that cuts trillions from annual deficits and meets approval from credit rating agencies and Wall Street, he might just earn his greatest reward yet — reelection.

He might also be able to tell political allies that he saved them from what they’d see as a worse fate.

“I suspect President Obama recognizes the political risk with his base, but I think he is actually trying to set things up so that he can say, ‘I saved you from those even worse [Rep. Paul] Ryan [R-Wis.], et al, Republican cuts’ to Social Security and other programs,” said political scientist Larry Berman, a professor at the University of California-Davis.

“He can take credit for the sun rising in the morning and blame the Tea Party darlings for allowing it to set in the evening. It’s high-risk for both sides.”

By Sam Youngman

Ending tax breaks required to cut deficit

posted Jul 2, 2011, 6:06 AM by Take Back Country

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama pressed his case on Saturday for achieving deficit reduction, in part by ending tax breaks and singling out hedge fund managers, oil companies and billionaires to take the hit.

Obama is locked in a dispute with Republicans over how to bring down the deficit as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling and prevent Washington from default.

Democrats insist that some tax increases be included in a deficit-cutting package.

Republicans say that would be bad for the economy.

"Now, it would be nice if we could keep every tax break, but we can't afford them," Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address.

"Because if we choose to keep those tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, or for hedge fund managers and corporate jet owners, or for oil and gas companies pulling in huge profits without our help - then we'll have to make even deeper cuts somewhere else."

Obama listed a range of areas, some of which are considered top Democratic political priorities, that would face the chopping block if such tax breaks were allowed to continue.

"We've got to say to a student, 'You don't get a college scholarship.' We have to say to a medical researcher, 'You can't do that cancer research.' We might have to tell seniors, 'You have to pay more for Medicare,'" he said.

"That isn't right, and it isn't smart. We've got to cut the deficit, but we can do that while making investments in education, research and technology that actually create jobs."

Senator Dan Coats, delivering the weekly Republican address, said reducing spending was the key.

"The president and Democrats in Congress must recognize that their game plan is not working," he said. "It's time to acknowledge that more government and higher taxes is not the answer to our problem. It's time for bold action and a new plan to address our current crisis."


Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has warned of huge risks if Congress fails to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by August 2, potentially triggering a default that could send shivers through an already-fragile banking system.

Obama said both sides agreed spending cuts were necessary and said he and Vice President Joe Biden had made progress in getting lawmakers to agree on areas to cut.

"Over the last few weeks, the vice president and I have gotten both parties to identify more than $1 trillion in spending cuts," Obama said.

"But after a decade in which Washington ran up the country's credit card, we've got to find more savings to get out of the red. That means looking at every program and tax break in the budget - every single one - to find places to cut waste and save money."

Fears of a default, which could disrupt everything from debt payments to retirement benefits, rose after Republicans walked out of budget negotiations led Biden last week.

Coats said Obama had to step up to get a deal done.

"Now is the time for decisive leadership from this president," he said. "It's time to cast aside the false safety of political denial and re-election hopes and put the future of our country above all else." 

Stephen Colbert super PAC

posted Jul 1, 2011, 7:13 AM by Take Back Country   [ updated Jul 1, 2011, 12:07 PM ]

Stephen Colbert has a "super PAC." The Federal Election Commission on Thursday approved his application to form such a political fundraising entity. He celebrated with a balloon drop to patriotic music on "The Colbert Report" Thursday night.

"I am a super PAC, and so can you!" the comedian crowed to his studio audience.

But what is a "super PAC" anyway? Is it like a regular political action committee, only with a nicer office? Are its donors richer? Must its employees wear capes.

Stephen Colbert and laughable politics: Five comedians who ran for office

No, no, and no. But the Stephen Colbert news got us to wondering how many people understand campaign finance basics. The law in this area is pretty complicated, after all. We’ll do our best to try to disentangle it.

Political action committees have been around since the 1940s, pointed out journalist Elizabeth Drew in her 1983 classic, "Politics and Money." They began as associations organized by labor unions to bundle together their members’ campaign donations. Some old-line trade groups such as the American Medical Association had PACs as well.

But they didn’t really take off until Congress passed the 1974 law that established the Federal Election Commission, provided for public financing of presidential campaigns, and generally set the boundaries for the modern US political cash system. With big donations from wealthy individuals banned, PACs suddenly looked like a great way to channel money. By the end of 1974, 600 PACS had registered with the new FEC. By 1982, there were 3,400. Today there are about 4,600.

Nowadays there are two kinds of regular, plain vanilla, nonsuper PACs: connected and unconnected. Connected PACs are associated with unions, corporations, or other groups. They take money only from individuals who belong to the group in question. Unconnected PACs are – you guessed it – not associated with another organization. They’re organized around issues, or ideologies, or even members of Congress.

Individuals can give only $5,000 a year to a regular PAC. In turn, regular PACs are limited to hard-money donations to candidates ($5,000 annually), parties ($15,000 annually), or other PACs.

Super PACs are a new breed created after several 2010 Supreme Court decisions that struck down some restrictions. They’re "super" because there is no limit to how much money they can receive from an individual, corporation, or union.

They’re limited in that they can’t give money directly to candidates to help in elections. However, they can spend unlimited amounts advocating for or against political candidates on their own.

Capes are optional.

Campaign finance experts worry that super PACs will allow rich individuals or corporations to have an undue influence on US politics. (Yes, we know, that’s happened before.) Colbert, for his part, said he doesn’t know what he’ll do with any funds he collects.

"Give it to me, and let’s find out," he said Thursday.

The new Colbert super PAC already has a website, and it’s open for donations, Colbert noted.

"Please donate, nation, because you can’t spell ‘donation’ without ‘nation’ and ‘dough’, he said.

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