I like how Mitt and Ann Romney are described as "speaking out." Remember when we used to reserve the term "speaking out" for people bravely blowing the whistle on someone powerful or raising their voice in pursuit of some sort of justice, and not "rich dude who got booked on a blather show?"
But, as Wallace points out, the Romney's have "gone silent" since the election, which I guess is weird, comparatively, since the last guy who got run out of the gym on Election Day, John McCain, apparently gets most of his meals from the green rooms of various news programs. (Today he is grazing over at FACE THE NATION, and my recently broken pledge to not watch that anger-otter on Sunday mornings is now back in enforcement.) Wallace went out to San Diego to interview them, and right from there, I have to ask, surely they are happier there?
Wallace asks if they thought they had the election won. Ann says that she "for sure" thought so, and Mitt said that he saw that the energy and passion were with his voters, so he was pretty sure too. I'll recommend you check out the last picture posted on Romney's campaign tumblr, in which he assays the energy and passion of his voters, from a safe distance behind some barbed wire.
Anyway, Romney thought that the exit polls were the distant early warning of a defeat that was a "slow recognition." The moment of realizing the loss was "hard" and "emotional" and Ann says that it was a "crushing disappointment, not for us, but for the country." I'll let "the country" speak for itself, but Ann should in no way be disappointed about not being in Washington, pretending to enjoy the company of Sally Quinn and other members of the Beltway Frenemy Circuit.
But she cried! "Not sorrow for our life or 'this dream' but the dream was to serve," Ann says, as Romney allows his "emotional availability" circuits to not overclock.
Ann Romney says it was an adjustment to part with the special weird things that came with the election -- like Secret Service protection -- but she and Mitt really like each other and have a big family, and "that's their life now." They aren't saying this in some greedy or weirdly entitled way, as Mitt puts it, running for President was like a "roller coaster" and it's just a very exciting thing to experience that suddenly comes to an end and it takes some time to realize that "the ride's over."
Ann cried, because it was sad. Mitt experienced no "anger or depression."
Wallace and the Romney's laugh at all the strange pictures of Romney pumping gas. "None of them were done by professional photographers," Mitt says, "otherwise I would have combed my hair." Or crushed the photographers in his powerful android arms.
Anyway, getting closure time is over. Wallace asks about an after-action comment with donors in which he blamed his loss on Obama using the "political strategy" of "giving a bunch of money from the government to a group and then they vote for you." Wallace compares it to the infamous "47%" video. I'm not expecting Romney to engage the question in any serious way, but that's some sudden high-hard stuff from Wallace. Romney says that he was talking about the "power of incumbency" and the popularity of Obamacare. (The president's nominal support of people not needlessly crawling off into the woods to die was, perhaps, a critical difference between the two candidates.)
Wallace buries Romney further in somewhat acid-tipped quips from other GOPers, criticizing his campaign, and asks if that "hurt." Mitt says that "you never look back, you look forward." Ann is slightly angried, saying that she is like a "she-lion" defending Mitt, from the barbs of other people who didn't win anything.
For some reason, Ann is now being asked to account for the campaign's failures. She's pretty realistic about it, actually -- "We were blindsided by the passion coming from the other side." You and basically every political pundit, Ann, so don't feel that bad, you are not the one who gets paid thousands of dollars to deal realistically with contemporary politics.
What about the charge that the Romney's were "wealthy and out of touch." Ann says that there's a certain amount of unavoidable reality, but she felt like people did not get to know the "real Mitt." (One day, it will be sold in a box for $149.99 and have four USB ports to run your devices.)
Wallace asks after the family's criticism of the campaign, and she says that the campaign -- and the media! -- prevented people from seeing the real Mitt. Indeed, the media did keep pointing their cameras at Romney and broadcasting his visage and statements on the teevee. She stops short of saying that the media was "in the tank" for Obama, instead saying that anytime you are running for office "you always think you're being protrayed unfairly" and that "people on our side feel that there is bias."
She says that the Obama campaign was not fair in the way they portrayed her husband. Of course, he's the guy who greenlit all those weird "you didn't build that" attacks, so I guess everyone's going to have to call it even.
Ann says that Romney is "exceptional" and "wonderful" and he "truly cares about the American people," and you can sort of see how those things might not have worked in Obama campaign ads. She says that she truly believes that we would not be facing sequestration if Mitt had won, which is true, but not because of some Mitt-centric display of vision or leadership, just because he would go along with signing stuff that the Congressional GOP wants to do. As Grover Norquist famously noted, no one was all that interested in Mitt's thoughts -- that's what Paul Ryan was for. Mitt brought a hand capable of wielding a pen, and that's about it.
The Romney's have a foundation now, to help poor children, so congratulations, poor children.
Ann Romney was approached by Dancing With The Stars, and did consider it, but opted against it, and is now happy because Dorothy Hamill is on the show and she wouldn't want to compete against her. I'll just applaud Ann for doing her part in re-erecting a firewall between politics and reality television.
She says that she was never approached to run for John Kerry's Senate seat, which she correctly assays as something that would not be an enjoyable thing to do, at all.
Ann says that she's discouraged about the election but optimistic about America. Mitt says that the experience was exciting and exhilirating and life-changing. He'd totally recommend that everyone try it.
No thanks, pass.
Well, now Ann has left the room and we're alone with Mitt and Chris. This begins the "substantive" part of the interview, though there were some brushy pitches in the more friendly first act. Wallace begins saying that he started by asking Mitt why anyone should listen to what he has to say about anything. The actual question doesn't read as that unkind -- it's more like, "What role do you see yourself playing, in the Republican party."
Romney says that he recognizes that he lost the election. Well, that's good! "I'm not going to be the leader of the party...but I'd like to have influence," he says. Wallace says that there's a lot of residual blame, directed at him -- he's the guy who lost a winnable election, Wallace notes, asking if when the GOP talks about a rebrand, "aren't they talking about distancing themselves from you?" Funnily enough, they are saying that, but what they don't know -- maybe -- is that they are sort of simultaneously calling for a re-embrace of the Mitt Romney that Mitt Romney used to be when he ran for Governor of Massachusetts. Back then, he was a modern human being living in the real world -- go back and watch him in those debates, and you'll see a guy who is much sharper and more comfortable in his own skin.
Actually, don't go back and watch old debates of Mitt Romney. You guys, just, you know...go one living your lives.
Romney says that "it kills him to not be" in the White House to "do what needs to be done," which is just agree with John Boehner on not raising additional revenues to reduce the deficit. Romney disparages Obama for "campaigning" in front of the American people and "attacking Republicans" on the sequester. I think he's misreading the fact that GOP entrenchment came ahead of asking the American people to get involved. Also, Obama went to the Tidewater region of Virginia with a Republican Representative from the Old Dominion named Scott Rigell, and he said a lot of awfully kind things about him and basically portrayed him as an honest broker and a serious guy.
Romney says that there "should be a deal done" and that the sequester is an "opportunity for America to solve it's fiscal problems." I think that Obama sort of agrees with that? They are both, of course, tragically and pathetically wrong about that though -- this is a moment where you have to pull out all the stops to get the country back to something that looks like full employment. All this talk of extracting additional capital from the economy in the form of massive budget cutting is really, really unfortunate.
Romney thinks that Obama should definitely send that additional aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf. I understand the objection to the cheap theatrics of Obama saying, "Oh boy! We can't send but one aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf!" But I'd love to hear any of the critics engage in some Real Talk. What will that second aircraft carrier accomplish, really? Are we literally two ships away from getting Iran to surrender their nuclear program? If not, why not send fourteen aircraft carriers? Why not turn the Persian Gulf into ONE LARGE AIRCRAFT CARRIER, the "U.S.S. Abstruse Goose," or something?
Wallace brings up the fact that Congress attempted to give the White House the "flexibility" to make targeted sequester replacement cuts himself. Romney says, "I know, why wouldn't he take that?" Well, a few reasons:
1. It's a canard.
2. Congress is actually not supposed to cede its authority over the purse strings to the White House.
3. The whole reason we had a bunch of fiscal crises in the first place was because Congress wasn't just going to do what the White House said.
4. As Lindsey Graham pointed out, the reason the GOP wanted to cede "flexibility" to the White House -- a move he opposed -- was just so Congressional Republicans could launch cheap criticisms of how and what the White House cut from the budget. (Graham: "We'll criticize everything he does...We'll say, 'Mr. President, it is now up to you to find this $85 billion in savings and we'll say it’s to make it easier for you.' But every decision he’ll make, we'll criticize.")
I wrote about the whole "flexibility" thing here. Anyway, the White House has a plan for replacing the sequester, that they've already proposed. It includes stuff Democrats hate, like Chained CPI for Social Security. Speaking of! You guys should read Ezra Klein chronicling the extent to which the Republicans bend themselves into pretzels in order to pretend that various things that they say they want to President to offer them in a deal have not actually been offered.
Read this first, and then maybe check out Jonathan Chait's quippy post as an intermezzo, and then return for the exciting second act of this farce.
While I was finding that stuff, Romney said some things about immigration that aren't relevant to the discussion.
He says that the long primary season sucked, as did the debates. He decries that question -- ASKED BY FOX NEWS! -- that required candidates to raise their hands if they would not support a budget bargain of ten-to-one ratio of cuts to revenues. Wallace sort of side-eyes Romney and asks that if it was so objectionable, why not be the guy who stood on stage and say he'd take that deal? He says that if he had, he'd have been accused of wanting to raise taxes. He goes on to say that the ten-to-one thing is a "fairy tale" anyway, and that in the negotiations you have to come in with your beliefs, recognize that the people on the other side of the table have their beliefs, and that "there is going to be some sort of compromise." Ha! That's the fairy tale, at least lately.
What Romney perhaps does not recognize, is that he is actually criticizing his party's orthodoxy on taxes.
Wallace asks about the "47%" video, and Romney says that it was unfortunate, because it's not what he meant and did not mean it. He says that when you "speak in private" you don't spend as much time working on saying things the right way. Oh, ha, sorry no. When you run for President, you enforce "message discipline" and so you have said your kind things about how great all the American people so many hundreds of times that it becomes second nature. It should follow that behind closed doors, if you want to keep saying those things, it should be as easy as falling off a log. So if you sound like a different guy in front of donors, it's not because you were tired or overtaxed and suddenly you just accidentally started forming different words with you lips and tongue and teeth and palate. You worked harder to convey those sentiments, deliberately.
Romney does not blame Chris Christie for his loss. "He was doing what was best for his state," he says, "I lost because of my campaign." He goes on to say that his campaign was not successful in "taking his message to minority voters," and that he underestimated the appeal of Obamacare with lower-income voters, who saw it as an opportunity to not die in droves of easily treatable ailments.
Why does Romney want to get back in the game? Because he cares about America. He will not run for office again, so that's at least a good first step in proving that contention.
Okay, let's panel our hearts out with Bill Kristol and third-stringers Kirsten Powers, Charles Lane, and Scott "Bqhatevwr" Brown.
Bill Kristol, who was not the biggest fan of Romney, says that while the interview reminded him that Romney was a decent guy and that in his estimation would have been a better president, nevertheless gave him flashbacks of Gerald Ford losing to Carter and thinking, "Well that's not the future of the Republican party."
Powers says that Romney's critique of Washington was "on point," but it's easy to point fingers from outside the fray, and Romney's critique left out the fact that the Republicans are being intransigent. Naturally, because Powers is as harebrained as most Washington pundits, she indulges herself in Leadership Surrealism.
"I think both parties are to blame," is a statement that presents as a symptom of vegetative states.
Scott Brown said some stuff I missed...I pick up with him saying that there just should have been more Super Committees, forever. Brown also apparently missed the part where John Boehner had to promise his caucus that he wouldn't negotiate with the White House anymore.
Lane says that Romney is a "person with a lot of ability and energy" and suggests that maybe he could be Detroit's new "emergency manager." That would sure be a fun way for Detroit to die.
Anyway, sequestrated incorporated. Kristol says that the next steps might feel like a tactical victory for the GOP, but in fairness to Obama, he's trying to stop the sequester from happening because of massive defense cuts and that eventually, that's going to start hitting home. (Some truth: the GOP caucus still has a lot of defense hawks who could drive everyone back to the table. But again, the more devastating cuts aren't falling on an agency that outspends the entire world on military readiness and then some. It's the cuts on the domestic side of the budget that are really dire.)
Wallace asks about the whole "flexibility" issue and Powers doesn't understand the issue any better than Romney. Brown basically says that the President should do more to make the Republicans look better in the public eye. He also points out that under sequestration, the military might not be able to run as many global conflicts as we currently are, which to me is a case to discontinue some of the more unwinnable conflicts we are in at the moment.
Lane wonders if the White House isn't just crying wolf, and maybe the sequestration has a lot of surprises. "The politics are going to turn out to be a lot more blurry, than he may have hoped," Lane says. Maybe so! Nevertheless, we could end it all right now if the GOP would just take the deal they've been offered -- which is a package over which past GOP Congressional majorities would have cream dreamed.
Anyway, time to move on!
THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS
We move now, from the not-entirely softball encounter with Mitt Romney to two shows interviewing Gene Sperling -- the guy who put the rod of fear into Bob Woodward because of that time he told Woodward that if he went and made a bunch of obviously dumb contentions about the Budget Control Act, then he was going to look pretty stupid. VERY SCARY. I hope that George Stephanopoulos has a couple of heavies by his side, so he is not too intimidated by Sperling -- who will be portrayed in the movie version of "Bob Woodward Freaks Out" by Vinny Jones.
Also, Dennis Rodman is on this show today, because we literally have just given up as a culture.
But first, the sequester. Stephanopoulos: "It looks like those cuts are here to stay." Huh? I mean, that's actually quite doubtful. If history is any guide this period should be short-lived. If the present-day circumstances are any guide, maybe sequestration stays but there was always a pretty good chance that ineptitude would govern our economy anyway.
Anyway, Gene Sperling is here, and he's generously removed his Bane mask, so as not to turn anyone at ABC News into trembling bags of idiot-jelly.
Are these cuts going to be in place for the whole year? Sperling sure hopes not. They were designed to be insanely harsh, so that Congress would be compelled to avert them. "This is not a win for Republicans," he says. They really don't sound like a win for everyone. He says that the only win for the GOP come from those who believe that there should not be "one dime of deficit reduction that comes from closing loopholes and deductions," which Sperling considers to be "an unreasonable position."
Mitch McConnell blames the White House for positioning the hurt, however, and has been offering that whole "flexibility" canard. Sperling points out that the adults in the room have pointed out that there's really no way of "moving the deck chairs" in the sequestration around without doing harm.
SPERLING: When you have those type of harsh spending cuts in such a short concentrated period of time, it's like saying to somebody you can cut off three of your fingers, but you can have the flexibility to choose which ones you want to cut off. If you're cutting $42 billion from defense, you're going to dramatically hurt operations and maintenance and our military training. If you have to cut as much as is required on the domestic side, you could eliminate Head Start, the FBI and the National Science Foundation, and you still would not get there. Now you know, if they want to talk about real flexibility, that would allow the president to actually reduce the deficit in a way that didn't hurt jobs and, most importantly, to be able to reduce loopholes, corporate tax expenditures, tax expenditures for the well off in a way that didn't hurt jobs, that would be one thing. But what they're saying is the only way that we can do cuts are in very harsh, devastating ways that would cost 750,000 jobs and that their flexibility does not include the ability to ask for one dime of revenues as you lower the deficit from corporate loopholes, even though, George, it was only 10 weeks ago that Speaker Boehner said that we could reduce the deficit by up to $1 trillion from exactly this type of tax reform that closes loopholes.
The "flexibility" canard doesn't actually move the discussion to a useful place. The White House wants a balanced approach, the GOP wants an "all-cuts" approach. The all-cuts approach is a non-starter, and the GOP doesn't even bring it to the table with the expectation that it is a smart thing to do. "Flexibility" just is a way of saying, "Let the President do all the cutting." The White House wants to do revenues and entitlement reforms as well.
This isn't hard to understand. The GOP wants to advocate for lots of cuts, but they understand that cutting is not particularly popular. So their demand is for the President to take all those slings and arrows, and then come in the back and plant their own shivs, as Lindsey Graham pointed out, criticizing McConnell's offer. (The White House has pretty consistently asked the Congressional GOP to give them some idea what they are wanting to do, in terms of cuts, and the GOP has answered by saying, "No, no, you have to guess!")
Stephanopoulos puts Sperling on the spot for two examples of the White House really badly overreaching and exaggerating the impact of the sequester -- Arne Duncan said that teachers were already getting pink slips, and the president said that janitors on Capitol Hill were going to get pay cuts. Not true, buckaroo, on either count! Stephanopoulos correctly calls these "scare tactics." Sperling says that really those janitors would not get as much overtime -- which is less take-home pay but not a "cut in pay" as salaries are conventionally understood.
When this sequester goes off, yes, it's not going to hurt as much on day one. But, again, every independent economist agrees it is going to cost our economy 750,000 jobs, just as our economy has a chance to take off.
That is perhaps, the thing I'd drill home? Except that if it were up to me, I'd have thrown every deficit hack in the middle of the ocean as punishment for impeding the road back to full employment. Everyone on either side of this dumb long-term deficit discussion is culpable for harms done to most of America.
None of this is a fitting response to Stephanopoulos' earlier question, which should be, "You're right, we lied and we're sorry."
Sperling is very sorry that Bob Woodward got freaked out by the email he sent and calls him a "legend" and says he hopes they can get past this nonsense, but essentially reminds everyone how ridiculous it was the Woodward presented an obsequious apology as a "threat."
Oh, lord, not Kelly Ayotte is here, to audition for the third slot on the Graham-McCain Sunday morning triumvirate. Most of the conversation is dull. She is like one key on a piano plunked for twenty minutes. Even Philip Glass is like, "No, no, this is too minimalist." Occasionally it's funny because Ayotte and Stephanopoulos start talking at the same time and then stop and then start again and then stop.
Stephanopoulos asks her what specific cuts she'd offer, and she says, basically, there are a bunch of things -- like freezing Federal pay and retirement, and doing something with food stamps, and a "whole host of new ideas," of which she's named three things that are hopelessly on the margins.
She also says that the harm the sequester is potentially going to do to national security is "being left out of the discussion," which is insane because that's the only prism through which the harm of sequester was discussed for months and months. The one positive side to the administration's cheap theatrics and scare tactics is that is has reminded the media, "Oh, yeah, there's a whole other side to the sequestration that actually DOES have the potential to do some game changing harm."
Lindsey Graham says that he's willing to do raise revenue in a big deal that includes entitlement reform. The White House, per their own sequester offer, is willing to do the same sort of thing, so -- Stephanopoulos asks, what's the hang up? Ayotte says that the Senate deal they voted on was a non-starter, but she says she's open to the same sort of thing. Stephanopoulos makes sure she knows what she's talking about. She says that she'll raise revenue if it "goes to the debt" and not to "increasing the size of government." There's a pretty good chance that the administration will agree to that! To the lasting detriment of the nation's unemployed!
Because life has no meaning whatsoever and we should all just do a bunch of drugs and die in a cold hole, This Week is going to talk to Dennis Rodman about diplomacy in North Korea. Seriously.
Stephanopoulos asks, basically, if Rodman was totally out of his mind saying how awesome Kim Jong Un is, given the fact that he's threatened the United States and is essentially starving his people to death. "I hate the fact that he's doing that," Rodman says, "but he's a human being and let his guard down as a friend." Huh, what? Is this some warped version of "Tuesdays With Morrie" where Morrie is an inbred-idiot genocidaire? Anyway, Rodman just says it was too gauche to bring up a lot of criticism of his regime under those circumstances.
Stephanopoulos asks why he called him a great leader, then, and Rodman says that he was swayed by the outpourings of devotion that he witnessed -- which are of course, the combined products of fear and force and brainwashing.
Rodman says that Kim wants Obama to call him, maybe. He keeps portraying him as a 28 year-old kid who is wet behind the ears. I don't think I've ever met a 28 year-old person in my life who's like, "I just don't know if I'm adult enough to determine whether continuing to brutalize the population of my country is wrong. I'm on the fence. I guess it's something that I'll figure out around the time that I'm forty, or so."
Rodman says that Kim likes basketball and Obama likes basketball so there's probably fertile room for all sorts of diplomacy. He also calls Kim "humble" and "very strong as a man." Stephanopoulos reminds him that he's threatened the United States with war, and Rodman says, "Oh, yeah, you know he gets that from his father."
SWEET CHRIST, THIS INTERVIEW.
RODMAN: I can tell by him, he does one thing, he loves -- he loves power. He loves control. Because others, you know, dad and stuff like that, but he just -- he's a great guy. He's just a great guy. If you sit down and talk to him, you know, perception is perceiving how things work. STEPHANOPOULOS: A great guy who puts 200,000 people in prison camps? RODMAN: Well, you know, guess what, it's amazing how we do the same thing here. STEPHANOPOULOS: We have prison camps here in the United States? RODMAN: We don't have prison camps, guess what, this is all politics, right? This is all politics, right? And the one thing, he don't want to do that. He don't want to do that. But you know what, it's more like it -- I'm not like a diplomat, I don't want to do that… STEPHANOPOULOS: But it sounds like you're apologizing for him. RODMAN: No, I'm not apologizing for him. I think the fact that, you know, he's a good guy to me. Guess what, he's my friend. Guess what, I don't condone what he does, but as far as a person to person, he's my friend. But as far as what he does, you deal with it. STEPHANOPOULOS: Someone who hypothetically is a murderer who is your friend is still a murderer. RODMAN: Well, you know what, seriously, you know what, guess what, guess what, what I did, what I did was history, was history and guess what, it's just like we do over here in America, right?
How is it that they are "friends" now, after two days of mutually jackin' it in Pyongyang?
This is just such a stupendously asinine use of journalistic resources. Really, why not just call Rodman a bloody idiot, over and over again, until he's weeping?
Stephanopoulos does hand him a report from a human rights organization so the Rodman can familiarize himself with what actually happens in North Korea. Rodman says, "Thanks for the report" and "don't hate me." Gag me.
Now Shane Smith, the barely articulate guy who facilitated this cultural exchange is here, and Stephanopoulos asks him if all they accomplished was giving Kim a "propaganda coup." Smith says, "I, uhhhhh, don't think so," and says "people know what's going on. And they know our position." But, no. They know assume the position is that Kim is a "great guy" who loves basketball and is "humble" and a "great leader" who is totally respected by his people and he would like Obama to give him a call on the phone to talk about basketball.
Smith says that he's been to North Korea twice before and made documentaries that have gotten him banned from returning, so I guess this is a continuation of that proud legacy?
He has excuses and justifications, like every moron: "I think it's a crazy story, but, you know, within North Korea is it a propaganda coup? You know, the New York Philharmonic went there."
Yeah, I remember when the New York Philharmonic came back and totally downplayed the cruelty of the North Korean regime. "They really like Chopin!" said every member of the New York Philharmonic, "So, you know, let's not allow the discussion of the devastation and the starvation and the oppression gloss over the fact that the brutal dictator at the top of the regime really likes the Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante, in E-flat major.
Anyway, Rodman and the idiots who dragged him around the world for that farcical dollop of complete hopeless bullshit deserve to be nut-punched, in lieu of that, though, I'll let Cord Jefferson at Gawker burn them all down to the rafters.
Anyway, we will try to wash off the blood of innocents with a panel discussion between Cokie Roberts and Mia Love and Matt Dowd and Paul Gigot and James Carville.
Roberts says that the devastating effect of the sequester have been oversold. Carville says that the GOP is precipitating "European style austerity policies" and notes that the forecast of the economy under the sequestration is a projected half-a-point off GDP. That is probably the correct way to argue the matter, rather than reaching for a thousand petty examples of harm that end up getting remembered for the two rather avoidable lies you told in the process.
Dowd says that the Democrats should be faulted for refusing to plainly speak on entitlement reform, but that's just daft. The Chained CPI debate has long been joined, the President has proposed it and the argument with groups like the AARP and labor organizations have been going on for some time. I really don't know how it's possible to have missed the very clamorous conversation over the matter, in which the administration very definitively has argued that they are merely real-keeping on the subject. I'm ready to watch a debate on the merits of what the President's proposed on entitlements to happen, but first people have to sort of wake from their slumber and come to grips with the fact that a proposal has been made.
The discussion continues and really, what's quite revolting about this is that everyone on the panel fronts like this dysfunction is just awful and terrible, but at the same time you can tell they all sort of relish it. There's almost nothing useful being said. It's mostly varying degrees of tribal nonsense. Gigot is mad at Obama for "insisting that taxed go up." That was January's fight. Now he's proposing to do nothing different than the Romney/Ryan ticket on taxes, and if, as Gigot says, the sticking point is that the Republicans find doing their own tax-reform proposals to be a non-starter, then you can leave the President out of this and ask the GOP if they were being insincere when they proposed tax reform or if they are being insincere now.
After a long harangue from Gigot and Love, everyone comes to grips with the fact that polls all show that Obama has the stronger hand and Cokie Roberts finally makes note of the fact that Obama's made proposals in which he's indicated a willingness to "take on his own party" on the entitlement issue.
Really, that Wonkblog-Chait=Wonkblog operetta I referred to and linked to earlier in this post does a better job demonstrating just how dumb all this dysfunction is than this panel is doing. One side is literally PRETENDING that the other has failed to propose a solution. When you TELL THEM or SHOW THEM they are wrong, they cover their eyes and yell, "BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH I CAN'T HEAR YOU."
Now they are talking about marriage equality. Gigot reckons that public support for marriage equality will divide Republicans and probably where there were once officials who were comfortable being an antagonist on the issue, now they would like the courts to just reserve the matter for the states, so they don't have to weigh in with any bold statements on the matter anymore.
Dowd: "This issue is done, and Republicans need to come face-to-face with it." Both he and Roberts note that public opinion just swerved very fast on this matter.
Moving on to Chris Christie's CPAC snub, and the internecine battles happening between Karl Rove and the grassroots, and elsewhere. Carville, naturally, says that he's amused by all the infighting. Gigot says that the party really needs these conflicts and debates -- and that it's dumb to leave Christie out of it. Dowd says that the Christie snub "totally diminishes their credibility" and mocks them for leaving the New Jersey Governor out of the mix on the basis of his "bad year" while inviting Sarah Palin.
Mia Love, I think, is arguing that the GOP should welcome a big debate, while simultaneously saying it's okay for CPAC to leave Christie out of the debate, while simultaneously saying that Christie is great leader of the party, while simultaneously saying that Christie is limited by dint of the fact that he runs liberal New Jersey. She's got all the instincts of a young, budding Washington insider -- don't say anything real, offend no one, and yet be as declarative as you can possibly pretend to be. But to graduate to the next level she needs to start hiding her brushstrokes.
Now they are talking about the Papal Conclave, in case you were wondering what I mostly fast-forwarded through out of boredom. Matt Dowd said a lot of smart things about it, so I give him fifty points and declare him the winner of Whose Line is in Anyway? I liked Mia Love's, "Everything I learned about [Papal whosits] I learned from Dan Brown" line, too.
MEET THE PRESS
Okay, let's see if I can endure one more round of this. Today, we have John Boehner and Gene Sperling and a panel discussion that will solve everything.
We start with John Boehner, who Gregory interviewed on Friday. Boehner says that everyone had a polite discussion but that no one came with a "plan to replace the sequester." Sounds like they need a plan to replace Boehner's wi-fi account, because, as I've been saying ad infinitum, the plan exists, and it's got lotsa entitlement reform goodies that many people are pretending aren't there.
In a lot of ways, this is just like the banks being allowed to not mark their assets to market. As soon as they have to realize the true market value of their toxic assets, the walls of pretense come tumbling down and we are have to step bright-eyed into the real world. The same is true for the Republicans, comically wishing for Chained CPI and other stuff that the President is literally trying to HAND THEM. As soon as they're forced to acknowledge the fact that their heart's desire is what's on offer, this fun little round of bickering has to end and we get to actually see who is willing to make what hard choice.
Gregory tells Boehner that he's wrong, and Boehner says that Gregory is wrong, because if the White House has a plan, why don't the Senate Democrats just pass it? (1. Because Mitch McConnell. 2. Because John Boehner.)
Gregory, really admirably, presses on this:
DAVID GREGORY: Well, let's just talk about that for a second, because this can get complicated, but it's an important point. If most Republican economists believe that tax loopholes is actually tax spending, it's actually spending in the tax code.
SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
All right, so if you like defense spending and that's going to be cut arbitrarily, you agree that this is stealth spending in the tax code. Why not give on this? Why not allow some revenues to come from tax reform, protect defense spending and you unlock the key to getting the kind of entitlement cuts the president says he would give you, if you would just give revenues on tax reform?
SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Listen. I have worked with the president for two years to try to come to an agreement. Unfortunately, we've not been able to do so.
Right, but why you are opposed to that formulation, because you were for tax reform a couple months ago.
The answer is that Boehner wants the goalposts moved and the tax rate battle he lost in the fiscal cliff deal declared null and void in a sort of political mulligan.
I should say that I really don't believe that Boehner, on his own, would be this obstinate. He carried the 2011 Grand Bargain on his back up his own hill, and got shot down by the bath-salts addicts in his caucus and the would-be backstabbers in his leadership group. I'm quite sure that deep down, he feels pretty fortunate that he's getting equivalent terms from the White House -- heck, he even got a favorable adjustment on the tax rate battle he's now bitching about -- but he's probably been brutalized even worse by the Congressional GOP than Obama has.
Gregory keeps trying, though.
GREGORY: I want to try to pin you down on two points. You were just talking about tax reform and your objection, it seems, to this formulation which is allow some revenues to come from tax reform to unlock entitlement cuts and then you'd get rid of the sequester. But you think that's sort of arbitrary. It's just a couple of deductions. Are you open down the line to using revenue derived from tax reform closing deductions to actually pay down the deficit?
BOEHNER: I'm going to say it one more time. The president got his tax hikes on January the first. The issue here is spending. Spending is out of control. There are smarter ways to cut spending than this silly sequester that the president demanded. And so we need to address the long-term spending problem.
It's like talking to a hostage!
Gregory has an extended jag of questioning in which he continually ridicules the notion that low tax rates lead to deficit reductions, so that's nice. He also presents Boehner with two of the key elements of the White House's entitlement reform platter:
DAVID GREGORY: Right. Okay, he pulled back. But he's for means testing for wealthier Americans. He's got that on the table according to the White House. And he's for what's called in this town chain CPI, which is basically a reduction in benefits over time. How is that not being serious about the long-term entitlement problem?
BOEHNER: Well, then why haven't Senate Democrats passed the President's plan? The House has passed a plan twice, over the last ten months, to replace the sequester. Senate Democrats have done nothing. It's time for them to vote. It's time for us to get back to regular order here in Congress.
Is it, though? Because only last week Republicans in Congress was begging the White House to enumerate cuts for the express purpose of allowing themselves the opportunity to ridicule them for the effort. They were expressly attempting to trick the White House in accepting "flexibility" in order to make that happen. (Boehner's one-time position on that, by the way? "Congress is never going to give up our ability to control the purse. And the fact is that the debt limit ought to be used to bring fiscal sanity to Washington D.C.")
I think that maybe what's signalling to the Senate Democrats to not even bother moving a bill is the fact that they see the opposition very elaborately and obviously planning to mount a bunch of bad-faith arguments. That said, they may as well call the bluff! It's not like they haven't won the argument in the court of public opinion.
Gregory isn't having any of this, "the sequester was forced on us" blather.
BOEHNER: Listen, I speak English. And the fact is, the House has done its work. We have this sequester because the president demanded it and because Senate Democrats have refused to act.
GREGORY: And 174 of your members in the House voted to support it at your urging. You both agreed to do this.
BOEHNER: Listen, the president demanded it at the 11th hour in July of 2011, when- because he didn't want to be inconvenienced by having another vote on the debt limit before his reelection in 2012.
Yeah, he probably also didn't want the "inconvenience" of the global economy being destroyed via a default on our sovereign credit, either. But this is useful, to remember that the sequestration came about from the Budget Control Act -- a pretty stupid bill whose only virtue was that it saved the planet.
Gregory calls shenanigans on Boehner calling shenanigans on the Senate:
GREGORY: So you say that the house has twice passed a bill on this. The truth is, you passed a bill that you knew was never going to be accepted by Democrats. You target setting up exchanges under Obamacare. You target Dodd-Frank. You target Medicaid eligibility. Laiden with poison pills that you say the Senate Democrats are doing now.
BOEHNER: Most of the changes in our bill to replace the sequester came out of the president's own budget. Not all of them, but most of the changes.
GREGORY: But the stuff you put in there, you knew Democrats wouldn't support it. And it's exactly what you see Senate Democrats doing now, which is putting things that Republicans won't support.
Boehner says that everyone should just do the process and go to conference.
Gregory asks if Boehner has a take on the effects of the sequester -- dangerous, or is the White House crying wolf? Boehner is all over the map on this. He moves from, "Listen, this is not the smartest way to cut money," to " I don't know whether it's going to hurt the economy or not." Gregory calls him out for saying, at one point that the sequestration would "threaten US national security." But the problem for the administration is that they can't claim a victory on this because they lied a bunch of times and everyone knows it and now Boehner can exploit it:
BOEHNER: Well, if you look at the fact that they claimed all these air traffic controllers are going to be laid off and then if was found out they really didn't have to. And then when Secretary of Education went out and claimed that all these teachers in one county in West Virginia were being laid off as a result of the sequester, found out that wasn't quite true.
Boehner is being kind (unless you're British) by using the word "quite" there. It wasn't true at all, and in that way, the White House has fired a couple of rounds into their own feet.
Boehner is asked about Bob Woodward's various blatherings lately and Boehner basically says, what everyone else has concluded: thanks for noticing the details, Bob, but do try not to analyse the situation, it's not your strength: "Well, I think he made clear that this sequester was the President's idea. It was the White House that demanded it. I think Bob Woodward was right." So, Boehner embraces the thing no one disputes -- Jack Lew suggested the sequester -- and makes no move to embrace Woodward's weird "moving the goalposts" argument. If Boehner believed he could sell that as even remotely sensible than he would definitely try. As it turns out, it's too stupid a concept to be used.
So what happens next? "I don't think anyone quite understands how it gets resolved," says Boehner. Does he bear any responsibility for the problem? The short version of his answer is "no."
Gene Sperling is here to intimidate us all into puddles of brine.
Gregory asks him why the Senate get the President's plan passed, and Sperling points out that they did not have sixty votes to do so. He points out that the plan, however reflects a certain amount of compromise, and that even after Boehner rejected it, the White House is not looking to punish him with more demands with an election-year mandate at his back.
Gregory asks why -- if the fact that the GOP has made it clear that they'll accept no revenue -- why the White House tried to run an outside campaign to pressure them, instead of negotiating. Sperling rejects the premise: "David, I have to disagree with you because we were in negotiations in December where the speaker of the House, John Boehner, who you just interviewed, was willing to suggest, put on the table, $1 trillion in revenues for deficit reduction as long as it came from reform that focused on closing loopholes and deductions."
SPERLING: Obviously, the president wanted that balanced agreement, it was the speaker who walked away. We wanted an agreement that included long-term entitlement reform, and we give the speaker credit for the $600 billion. But I'll do a simple math equation here, David.
If he put $1 trillion on the table ten weeks ago, and $600 billion has been passed, if he was keeping his offer on the table, he would be at least willing to consider $400 billion more in revenues as a starting point from tax reform if the president is keeping his offer on the table. And David, as you know, these are tough things the president agreed to. Means testing, Medicare, that means higher premiums for well-off Medicare recipients. $400 billion over ten years in Medicare savings.
Gregory says that he's not doubting the President's sincerity, but it's not what the Senate Democrats put in their bill. Sperling says that these two ideas need to be separated: that the Senate merely proposed a temporary measure to give more time for the sides to bargain. All well and good, but I sort of have to say that in terms of politics, I can't see the harm in just having the Senate try to pass the President's plan, and dare the GOP to go on the record objecting to a really favorable-to-the-GOP deal. In terms of policy, I can understand why Democrats wouldn't rush to embrace Chained CPI -- but in that case, they should show some courage and come out against it.
But hey, I'm not actually sure that any of this will produce a good policy. "Good policy" in 2013 is tabling the entire deficit reduction discussion until we're back at full employment, and we spend money productively in a low-interest rate/low inflation environment to nurse the nation back to health and restore the natural engine of deficit reduction -- an employed populace.
The really good news about me missing next week is that I'm pretty sure that all of next week's Sunday shows are going to sound exactly like this one. Anyway, let's quickly breeze through the highlights of this panel discussion between Tom Brokaw and Raul Labrador and Joy-Ann Reed and Chuck Todd and Kathleen Parker.
Brokaw says that behind all of the conflicts are a GOP that wants to hold the house and the President that wants to build a legacy and at some point the cuts will get severe enough that everyone will come to a deal in order to fulfill those desires. That's the optimistic take.
Labrador basically says that this is all totally overdone and that Obama is just looking to magnify pain in GOP districts: "We can find ways to cut in Washington, D.C., that are reasonable, that are appropriate, that are not painful. But what the White House is going to make sure that we do is that we feel the pain because they don't want to cut government spending."
Hey, Raul, sounds like it's time for you to write up the "Raul Labrador Deficit Plan for 2013" and get on the floor. Chop, chop, there, buck-a-roo.
Reid says that the political strategy behind the president's moves are daunting but he'll probably prevail. Parker says that the political strategt behind the president's moves are daunting but he'll probably fail.
Chuck Todd, whether he knows it or not, articulates the real reason for all the trouble -- the deal is obviously a compromise but the GOP's allowed themselves to be overrun by bath-salters:
TODD: Well, look, I think the miscalculation was they didn't understand, for some reason, that John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and John Cornyn, okay, the top two leaders in the Senate and John Boehner, that they would-- what President Obama was asking them to do was, "Will you risk your political career, will you lose your job in exchange for doing a deal with me that includes these taxes?" Okay?
Now, the president never says, "Will you lose your job?" in the middle, but that is the fact. They would have lost their jobs. John Cornyn would lose a primary, Mitch McConnell would lose a primary. Any compromise that includes this, any new taxes on this is going to do that.
Labrador, to his credit, understands that Boehner's actually been willing to put his job at risk. He's wrong about Obama "moving the goalposts," though. Gotta quote Brian Beutler at length:
But in this case Woodward is just dead wrong. Obama and Democrats have always insisted that a balanced mix of spending cuts and higher taxes replace sequestration. It’s true that John Boehner wouldn’t agree to include new taxes in the enforcement mechanism itself, and thus that the enforcement mechanism he and Obama settled upon — sequestration — is composed exclusively of spending cuts. But the entire purpose of an enforcement mechanism is to make sure that the enforcement mechanism is never triggered. The key question is what action it was designed to compel. And on that score, the Budget Control Act is unambiguous.
First: “Unless a joint committee bill achieving an amount greater than $1,200,000,000,000 in deficit reduction as provided in section 401(b)(3)(B)(i)(II) of the Budget Control Act of 2011 is enacted by January 15, 2012, the discretionary spending limits listed in section 251(c) shall be revised, and discretionary appropriations and direct spending shall be reduced.”
Key words: “deficit reduction.” Not “spending cuts.” If Republicans wanted to make sure sequestration would be replaced with spending cuts only, that would have been the place to make a stand. Some of them certainly tried. But that’s not what ultimately won the day. Instead the, law tasked the Super Committee with replacing sequestration with a different deficit reduction bill — tax increases or no.
“The goal of the joint committee shall be to reduce the deficit by at least $1,500,000,000,000 over the period of fiscal years 2012 to 2021,” according to the BCA. The bill even provided the House and Senate instructions for advancing a Super Committee bill if it included revenue. This couldn’t be clearer.
I guess someone had to try to take up Woodward's argument! But, again, the fact that John Boehner had the opportunity to put his voice behind the notion today and pointedly passed at the chance just shows that Woodward's argument is so daffy that very few of the people who are on the winning side want to touch it.
Joy-Ann Reed, real-keeping:
GREGORY: Do liberals have to come to the idea that the president is willing to give up some stuff on Medicare at a certain point, if he can get to that endgame where he might be able to get some more revenues?
REID: Well, you know, obviously liberals are not happy with any idea that cuts Medicare. And it was interesting that the whole deal that came together, the Budget Control Act in 2011, left Medicare off the table. It's such a hot issue, and I think Republicans maybe have some regrets that they didn't try to get that in there. Because this deal that was done did not include Medicare.
That said, the president has put chained CPI on the table in the past. His base doesn't like it. But I don't see how you get to a compromise when Paul Ryan, who's the budget writer in the House, is coming back again to this idea of voucherizing Medicare. He's bringing that back again. And this was an idea that Republicans almost universally supported. They voted it through in the House. They paid for it, to some extent, with their constituents during the midterms.
But, you know, I think that bringing that idea back is such a non-starter that I can't imagine a compromise position between the White House -- which is saying they want to protect Medicare recipients -- and vouchers. I don't think that's going to fly with Democrats at all.
Parker says that the bottom line is that the GOP won't move on revenues (even, I guess, the ones that formed the backbone of their entire 2012 election year tax plan!) because giving in "damages their brand permanently." Which is a little extreme! Maybe their brand, in its current state, is just not very good. Maybe "permanently damaging" this "brand" is just a bad way of describing the act of "embarking on a successful rebranding."
She adds that on the other side of the impasse is, "And the president is unwilling -- he is insisting on raising revenues through taxes."
But if you are going to put it like that, what is supposed to motivate Obama to take his revenues-by-Romney-Ryan-tax-plan request off the table? Is Obama supposed to assist the GOP is escaping their branding problems? I think that we can say that the President has many responsibilities, and that insofar as the align with the stated policies of the opposition, he shouldn't refuse to do what's best out of pure spite. But no one in their right minds should be arguing that the President has to be the guy who leads HIS OPPOSITION TO POLITICAL VICTORIES. The fact that the GOP will experience brand-damage by accepting the very revenue plan they ran on all last year is not Obama's problem, I'm afraid.
The panel returns and talks about the Voting Rights Act case going on in front of the Supreme Court. Reed has words for Scalia, and his "racial entitlement" line:
REED: First of all, it was a very antebellum phrase, so it was jarring just to hear it. He's said it before; this is not the first time that Anthony Scalia has used the term "racial entitlement." And I think one of the ironies in it is that his apparent objection to section five of the Voting Rights Act is that it interrupts the sense of entitlement of political officials to interrupt the demographic tide, and to shape the elections to sort of thwart it, right?
Because what's happening here, and the reason section five is so relevant, is that you do have politicians that are attempting to alter the process. Whether it's cutting down early voting days, whether it's instituting voter ID. There was one instance that was argued during the court case about a municipality that literally stopped having elections because the demographic tide was turning against the white emerging minority, and so they just stopped having elections to avert the demographic tide.
Labrador says that the Voting Rights Act is clearly something that Congress has supported. He's pretty sure that Idahoans, by electing him, have made it clear that they don't have the problems that the Voting Rights Act originally addressed. (Move to Idaho, suggests Labrador, to America's minorities.)
Brokaw says that we need to still do a lot of work to expand the voting franchise, including moving the election to weekends instead of Tuesday, which, yes, that's awesome, thank you Mr. Brokaw, I could not agree more.