As I said here, I’m not all that happy about the nation having to subsume the risk, and ride to the rescue of, the many banks and Wall Street types that profited massively from these obviously suspect mortgage deals. But, what else is there to do? As with so much else occurring over the past eight years, it befalls us now to clean up the mess left by the free market fundies of late. I just hope we learn something from the economic consequences of this latest binge of free-market fraudulence, before they grow too dire. To wit, whatever the corporate-funded right tells you about self-regulating markets, we need, and will continue to need, real refs on the field.
Update: Uh oh. The bailout compromise dies in the House, prompting the Dow Jones to swiftly tank 700 points. “The measure needs 218 votes for passage. Democrats voted 141 to 94 in favor of the plan, while Republicans voted 65 to 133 against. That left the measure with 206 votes for and 227 against.“
As the TIME article linked above noted before the vote, “the candidate with the most riding on Monday’s vote is McCain, who backed the concerns of conservatives in the House over the initial agreement…[I]f a majority of the House Republicans don’t vote for the measure, McCain could lose political face. ‘If McCain cannot persuade them, it is hard to portray him as a leader,’ said Clyde Wilcox, a political science professor at Georgetown University.” So, that’s the silver lining, I guess. But the bad news now, alas, is considerably worse.
“‘If you want to look at why the Republican Party is down in the dumps and why the president’s numbers are down in the dumps,’ Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said this afternoon, ‘it’s that the American people are beginning to understand that when they talk about tax cuts, they’re not talking about helping middle-class people. They’re talking about helping the wealthiest corporations and individuals among us.’” True, that. And, since Dubya signed the dividend tax giveaway extension into law this afternoon, the Dems now have another potent issue in their arsenal through November. “‘Today’s really a good day to be a millionaire, but it’s a bad day if you want to be a millionaire,’ Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) said at a news conference minutes after Bush signed the bill.”
“‘The point is the preponderance of these revenues will go to upper-income people, people who make a million dollars or more,’ Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) said yesterday. ‘It’s a question of priorities.‘” Nevertheless, as expected, House and Senate GOP leaders strike a deal to extend Dubya’s tax breaks for the wealthy to 2010, with the House passing their end 244-185 today. Well, this tax gambit may help the GOP with their base among the “haves and have-mores,” I guess, but I really don’t see how this will stop the GOP’s 14-point freefall across the rest of the country. Update: The Senate follows suit, 54-44.
Defying Dubya’s talk of a veto — in keeping with the Operation Offset line of thinking, he wants less spending to help mitigate his ridiculous tax giveaways — and Dennis Hastert’s declaration that it was “dead on arrival” in the House, the Senate passes an $109 billion emergency spending bill 77-21. “The Senate bill would provide $70.9 billion to the military to pay for personnel, operation and maintenance, and procurement costs, along with diplomatic efforts such as democracy-building programs. The Senate more than doubled a $58 million request for peacekeeping assistance in Sudan, providing $173 million. Bush requested $19.8 billion in hurricane-related assistance, and the Senate responded with $28.9 billion — adding projects large and small.”
“‘You talk about completely detached from reality, that’s this place,’ said Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee.” Throwing caution to the wind despite their imploding poll numbers and the ballooning deficit, the White House and congressional Republicans craft a deal to extend Dubya’s dividend and capital gains tax breaks for the wealthy. Still, the “compromise measure falls well short of making Bush’s first-term tax cuts permanent. Instead, all of the major tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2003 would expire at the end of 2010.“
Update: The WP dissects the GOP’s tax gamesmanship: “If the deal wins congressional approval, every major tax cut passed in Bush’s first term will be set to expire on the same day five years from now. [Jan. 1, 2011.] At that moment, politicians would face a choice: Either allow taxes to rise suddenly and sharply on everyone who pays income taxes, is married, has children, holds stocks and bonds, or expects a large inheritance, or impose mounting budget deficits on the government far into the future, according to projections by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.”
TIME Magazine unveils Josh Bolten’s new five-point plan for righting the Dubya presidency: 1) Act tough on immigration with “guns and badges”; 2) Humor Wall Street with extensions on capital gains and dividend tax cuts; 3) “brag more”; 4) Talk tough at Iran; and 5) play nice with the press. So, wait, we’re going to war with Iran just so Bolten can squeeze six more months out of lame duck Dubya? Brilliant.
“Calamitous presidents, faced with enormous difficulties — Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Hoover and now Bush — have divided the nation, governed erratically and left the nation worse off. In each case, different factors contributed to the failure: disastrous domestic policies, foreign-policy blunders and military setbacks, executive misconduct, crises of credibility and public trust. Bush, however, is one of the rarities in presidential history: He has not only stumbled badly in every one of these key areas, he has also displayed a weakness common among the greatest presidential failures — an unswerving adherence to a simplistic ideology that abjures deviation from dogma as heresy, thus preventing any pragmatic adjustment to changing realities.” As seen all over the place, historian Sean Wilentz wonders aloud in Rolling Stone if Dubya is the worst president in American history.
To my mind, the only other president that even comes close is James Buchanan. Sure, Warren Harding was lousy, but he knew it (“I am a man of limited talents from a small town. I don’t seem to grasp that I am President.“), and thus didn’t go out of his way to be actively terrible like Bush has been. (Plus, for all the corruption of the Ohio gang, Harding’s cabinet also included Charles Evans Hughes, Andrew Mellon, and Herbert Hoover, all impressive in their own right.) Speaking of Hoover, both he and Ulysses Grant have been given a bad shake. Even if the Depression basically ate his administration alive, Hoover — once renowned as the “Great Engineer” — was a more innovative president (and empathetic person) than he’s often remembered. And Grant’s administrations, although plagued by corruption, at the very least tried to maintain Reconstruction in the South. (In fact, I’d argue that Grant’s sorry standing in presidential history is in a part a reflection of the low esteem in which Reconstruction was once held by the now-woefully obsolete Dunning School.) Regarding the other Reconstruction president, Andrew Johnson is assuredly down near the bottom too, but to be fair, he faced an almost impossible situation entering office in the time and manner he did, and — as with Clinton — his impeachment was a bit of a frame-job. And Richard Nixon, for all his many failings, had China (as well as the EPA despite himself, and, although it didn’t pan out, the Family Assistance Plan.) Nope, I think it’s safe to say that we may be experiencing perhaps the most blatantly inept, wrong-headed, and mismanaged presidency in the history of the republic. Oh, lucky us.
In somewhat related news, the administration’s freefall in the polls continues, with even conservatives now admitting that Dubya is quacking like a lame duck. Meanwhile, some congressional Republicans begin to hear strains of 1994 in their own corruption and excess. And, with the Christian Coalition also nearing the End of (its) Days to boot, one has to wonder: Could we Dems ask for a more favorable electoral terrain against the Dubya-DeLay GOP heading into this November? And when are our party leaders going to rise to this opportunity and start offering a vision of leadership the American people can get behind?
“‘You’re going to have more change than you expect,’ one GOP insider said.” According to CNN, Andy Card’s permanent vacation was just the beginning of Dubya’s White House shake-up: The next victims may well be press shill Scott McClellan and Treasury Secretary John Snow. Update: In related news, Gen. Anthony Zinni calls for Rumsfeld’s resignation on Meet the Press.
“In recent weeks, a startling realization has begun to take hold: if the elections were held today, top strategists of both parties say privately, the Republicans would probably lose the 15 seats they need to keep control of the House of Representatives and could come within a seat or two of losing the Senate as well. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich…told TIME that his party has so bungled the job of governing that the best campaign slogan for Democrats today could be boiled down to just two words: ‘Had enough?’“
TIME previews the increasingly nightmarish electoral landscape for the GOP, and the “signs suggest an anti-Republican wave is building, says nonpartisan electoral handicapper Stuart Rothenberg… ‘The only question is how high, how big, how much force it will have. I think it will be considerable.’ In addition, “administration officials say they fear that losing even one house of Congress would mean subpoenas and investigations–a taste of the medicine House Republicans gave Bill Clinton.”
“These are just slush funds for conservative interest groups…These organizations would not be in existence if not for the federal dollars coming through.” The Post looks into the Dubya’s administration’s social spending priorities, and finds that during Dubya’s tenure the government has “funneled at least $157 million in grants to organizations run by political and ideological allies.” Says Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Tex.): “I believe ultimately this will be seen as one of the largest patronage programs in American history.“
“No longer does he see Republican government as a source of stability and order. Instead, he presents a nightmarish vision of ideological extremism, catastrophic fiscal irresponsibility, rampant greed and dangerous shortsightedness.” By way of Cliopatria, Columbia provost (and my dissertation advisor) Alan Brinkley takes a look at Kevin Phillips’ new book, American Theocracy for the NYT.
Hooked on Dubyanomics yet? Once again, the GOP will be forced today to up the national debt limit in order to avoid the government going into default. “The debt limit bill is the fourth such measure required since Bush took office five years ago. If approved, the latest version would mean that the debt had grown over that span from about $6 trillion to $9 trillion — about $30,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States.” Update: It’s a done deal.
Given Dubya’s recent dismal poll position, the NYT‘s David Kirkpatrick assesses the prospects of the Bush second-term agenda in the wake of his incipient lame-duckness.
Need a job? Just get in-between Dubya and his new talking points. “The Energy Department said it has come up with $5 million to immediately restore jobs cut at a renewable energy laboratory President George W. Bush will visit on Tuesday, avoiding a potentially embarrassing moment as the president promotes his energy plan.“
Operation Offsetted: By the slimmest of margins (216-214), the House GOP pass the “deficit-cutting” (read: millionaire tax-giveaway off-setting) bill striking $40 billion from “Medicaid, welfare, child support and student lending.” (It previously passed the Senate on Cheney’s vote.) I’m reminded of a quote by Walter Lippmann on the Goldwater ’64 campaign: “We all know of demagogues and agitators who arouse the poor against the rich. But in Barry Goldwater we have a demagogue who dreams of arousing the rich against the poor.“
A quick note on Tuesday’s State of the Union: I actually think Dubya has delivered some well-crafted speeches (1/23) in the past, even if I disagree with almost all of their content. This wasn’t one of them. Except for the “America is addicted to oil” line (which Jimmy Carter basically said over 25 years ago) and the “human-animal hybrid” goofiness (which, as Crooked Timber points out, might mean trouble for diabetics), there wasn’t a single memorable moment throughout, just more of the same “9/11″ and “freedom, yeah” grandstanding. (And Kaine was no better — I like to think I’m more interested in politics than most people, and I was bored stiff after a minute or two. Nice fireplace, tho’.) If the White House was looking for this address to reverse their ailing fortunes, a la Clinton in ’98, my guess is that they failed. (Pharyngula link via Now This.)
“The legislation would allow states to impose new fees on Medicaid recipients, cut federal child support enforcement funds, impose new work requirements on state welfare programs and squeeze student lenders.” Although a tie-breaking vote by Cheney got the deficit bill passed — meaning people on Medicaid, welfare recipients, and students with loans will soon be paying for Dubya’s millionaire tax breaks — the Dems do succeed in beating back ANWR drilling, much to the chagrin of Ted Stevens, who gambled that the Senate wouldn’t vote down a defense bill.
“We are about to lose New Orleans. Whether it is a conscious plan to let the city rot until no one is willing to move back or honest paralysis over difficult questions, the moment is upon us when a major American city will die, leaving nothing but a few shells for tourists to visit like a museum. We said this wouldn’t happen. President Bush said it wouldn’t happen.” By way of Looka, who’s been doing an exemplary job covering the Katrina aftermath, remember New Orleans.
As Chuck notes, “Why are [Dubya and the GOP] balking at spending $32 billion to protect a major American city from further destruction while they seem to have had no trouble passing four tax cuts in the last week that totalled $95 billion?” Update: The White House announces it will spend $3.1 billion on levees. Well, it’s a start, I suppose.
Ever the one-trick pony, Dubya tries to make the case anew for dividend and capital gains tax breaks for the wealthy. But, to their credit, GOP moderates such as Olympia Snowe (R-ME) are no longer buying, and even cultural conservatives don’t want tax credits for Vegas-style businesses along the rebuilding Gulf Coast.
After some balking by GOP moderates — and a surprising defeat on a spending bill — yesterday, the House manages to pass their budget. Still, “Republicans salvaged the win this time only by jettisoning one of President Bush’s top domestic priorities, opening Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, then trimming planned cuts to food stamps, Medicaid and student lunch programs.” And, on the Senate side, GOP moderates not only joined Dems in preventing the renewal of Dubya’s capital gains and dividend tax cuts, but raised taxes on oil companies (which, of course, may prompt a Dubya veto.) Sure, there’s still a lot of lousy stuff in these bills, but it’s nice to see some of the central premises of Dubyanomics — soak-the-poor, cut the rich a break, a free ride for Big Oil — fall apart in a GOP-controlled Congress.
Just as it seemed the Senate had decided its fate, ANWR gets a reprieve, thanks to House GOP moderates forcing the removal of arctic drilling from the budget bill. And it gets worse for the rabid right-wing: Not only are the same GOP moderates balking at some of the draconian cuts in this budget, but key Senators are now turning against extending Dubya’s millionaire tax breaks. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) has already registered her disapproval, and George Voinovich (R-OH) says: “I do not know how anyone can say with a straight face that when we voted to cut spending last week to help achieve deficit reductions we can now then turn around two weeks later to provide tax cuts that exceed the reduction in spending…That is beyond me, and I am sure the American people.” Update: The House GOP are forced to punt ’til next week, as they try to gather the requisite votes.
“Using backdoor tactics to destroy America’s last great wild frontier will not solve our nation’s energy problems and will do nothing to lower skyrocketing gas prices.” And yet, by a 51-48 vote, the Senate refused to remove ANWR drilling from an upcoming budget bill (which cannot be filibustered), making it increasingly likely that oil derricks will be populating the Alaskan wilderness in very short order.
Speaking of oil, today the Dubya administration came out against a plan put forth by Republican Charles Grassley “that oil companies donate some of their record profits to a federal fund to help poor Americans pay winter heating bills.” So, yet again, Dubya puts the profit margin of his corporate cronies over the welfare of struggling people…one more reason why America has given up on this president.
“It was unfortunate political timing for House Republicans: On Friday, as the Agriculture Committee was drafting budget-cutting legislation that could knock 295,000 people off food stamps, the Agriculture Department released findings that 529,000 more Americans went hungry last year than in 2003.” As is their wont, the House GOP cut food stamps, student loans, Medicaid, and child support enforcement in the name of preserving Dubya’s tax breaks for millionaires. Whatsmore, “[a]ccording to the Congressional Budget Office, neither the House nor the Senate bills will actually trim projected budget deficits, since they will be followed by a package of tax-cut extensions that would cost the Treasury $70 billion over five years.”
“The blend of businessmen’s aversion to government regulation, down-home cultural populism and Christian moralism that sustains today’s Republican Party is a venerable if loosely knit philosophy of government dating back to long before the right-wing upsurge that prepared the way for Reagan’s presidency…Insofar as perennial themes shape our politics, it is remarkable how so many of contemporary conservatism’s central ideas and slogans renovate old Whig appeals.“
By way of Cliopatria, historian Sean Wilentz compares today’s GOP to the Whig Party of the 1830′s and ’40s. Food for thought, but, as Wilentz himself admits, the general lack of state power back then — and, more importantly, the absence of corporate consolidation in the antebellum era — significantly changes the rules of the game. While laissez-faire policies more likely meant increased competition and economic growth in the 19th century, it means something else entirely in today’s world, when long-standing, fully-formed corporate behemoths are ready and willing to fill any power vacuum left by less government regulation. (That’s why the Gilded Age analogy, I think, still makes more sense — It’s business cronyism, and not economic competition, that drives Dubya republicanism.) Update: Via The Late Adopter, Eric Foner, the centerpiece of a weekend conference around these parts, reviews Wilentz’s new tome in The Nation.
Has Operation Offset been enacted? “Beginning this week, the House GOP lawmakers will take steps to cut as much as $50 billion from the fiscal 2006 budget for health care for the poor, food stamps and farm supports, as well as considering across-the-board cuts in other programs.” There’s today’s GOP in a nutshell for you. When the going gets tough, their first instinct is to keep the Dubya tax breaks for millionaires and crack down instead on food stamps and Medicaid. Really, who put these assholes in charge of the public purse? You couldn’t find a more detestable gang of bandits and thugs if you tried.