Democrats Don’t Have a Good Answer to the Mitch McConnell Question

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell speaks with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, December 3, 2014
Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell speaks with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, December 3, 2014 (White House/Pete Souza)

Democrats don’t have a good answer to what Ezra Klein calls the “Mitch McConnell question”.

The Republican leader is likely to retain his majority, or at least a blocking minority, in the United States Senate next year. Then what will come of the Democrats’ plans?

In two debates on Wednesday and Thursday night, none of the party’s twenty presidential hopefuls had a good answer. Read more “Democrats Don’t Have a Good Answer to the Mitch McConnell Question”

Republicans Put Party Before Country in Election Hack

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell speaks with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, December 3, 2014
Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell speaks with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, December 3, 2014 (White House/Pete Souza)

Since The Washington Post reported on Friday that the CIA believes Russia intervened in the election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, more damning revelations about his party have surfaced.

We now know that President Barack Obama, wary of publicizing the CIA’s findings unilaterally lest it be seen as an attempt to help his chosen successor, Hillary Clinton, summoned leaders of both parties to the White House in hopes of presenting a united front against Russia’s mischief.

Democrats were in favor; Republicans split. Senate leader Mitch McConnell reportedly raised doubts about the intelligence and told Obama he would consider it an act of partisan politics if the administration revealed to the public that a foreign power was manipulating the electorate to the advantage of his party’s candidate.

This is appalling. Read more “Republicans Put Party Before Country in Election Hack”

Republican Senate Leader Scolds Party’s Rejectionists

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell speaks with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, December 3, 2014
Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell speaks with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, December 3, 2014 (White House/Pete Souza)

Politico quotes from Senate leader Mitch McConnell’s new memoir, which contains a pertinent section on the deceit of hardline Republicans.

McConnell relates that when the upper chamber took up a deficit-reduction bill in 2005 — Republicans were in the majority at the time — Jim DeMint, then a senator for South Carolina, thanked McConnell for his work on the legislation, saying, “That was the best we could do.”

And then voted against it. Read more “Republican Senate Leader Scolds Party’s Rejectionists”

Republicans Must Not Hold Trade Pact Hostage

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell speaks with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, December 3, 2014
Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell speaks with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, December 3, 2014 (White House/Pete Souza)

Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the United States Senate, argued on Thursday that a trade pact with eleven other Pacific nations should not be send to Congress for approval until after Barack Obama’s successor is elected next year.

“I think the president would be making a big mistake to try to have that voted on during the election,” he told The Washington Post. “There’s significant pushback all over the place.”

Even McConnell, a free trader who previously expressed support for the treaty, said he now has “serious problems” with the Trans Pacific Partnership Obama negotiated.

It’s hard to take him seriously. Read more “Republicans Must Not Hold Trade Pact Hostage”

Republicans Reject Tax Hike for Millionaires

Republican lawmakers on Sunday rejected President Barack Obama’s call to raise taxes on the wealthiest of Americans and argued that business taxes should be cut instead to stir economic expansion and job growth.

House budget committee chairman Paul Ryan, a Republican congressman from Wisconsin, characterized the president’s proposal, which was reported by The New York Times over the weekend, as “class warfare” which “may make for really good politics,” he said, “but it makes for rotten economics.”

Ryan, who put out his own plan for tax reform this week, warned on Fox News Sunday that increasing tax rates could reduce tax revenue. “If you tax job creators more, you get less job creation,” he suggested. “If you tax investment more, you get less investment.”

The Republican plan, by contrast, would eliminate tax loopholes and exemptions and lower the corporate tax rate from 35 to 25 percent which approximates the average rate among industrialized nations.

Several Republican presidential contenders also support eliminating taxes on dividends altogether, something Ryan described as a “double tax” on Sunday.

A person who’s paying an income tax is paying the first level of tax on that money and then when you pay capital gains and dividends tax, you are paying that tax again on that money that earns it.

The president argues that raising taxes on millionaires and billionaires merely asks them to contribute their “fair share” to fiscal consolidation but according to Ryan, it is a plan that “seeks [to] prey on people’s fear, envy and anxiety.”

We need a system that creates job and innovation and removes these barriers for entrepreneurs to go out and rehire people.

The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, agreed. “We don’t want to stagnate this economy by raising taxes,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press. He pointed out that even members of the president’s own party are wary of raising taxes while the economy is still in recession.

“The way you get more revenue,” said McConnell, “is getting the economy going.” To do that, he urged the Obama Administration to constrain its regulatory zeal.

Right now, we’ve thrown a big wet blanket over the private-sector economy. We borrow too much, we spent too much, we’re dramatically overregulating every aspect of the private sector in our country and now we’re threatening to raise taxes on top of it! That’s not going to get the economy moving.

Nearly one out of ten American workers is unemployed and the federal government is projected to spend $1.6 trillion it doesn’t have this year. To close the fiscal gap, President Obama is expected to recommend long-term spending cuts on Monday besides the tax increase that was reported this weekend as part of what he believes is a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction.

Republicans Urge Ratification of Trade Deals

Container terminal in the Houston Ship Channel, Texas
Container terminal in the Houston Ship Channel, Texas (US Army Corps of Engineers)

The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, has urged President Barack Obama to submit pending trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea to Congress for ratification.

In an op-ed for The Washington Post, the Kentucky lawmaker accuses the administration of delaying the trade agreements because “unions have been extracting concessions in exchange for their support.”

Obama agrees with Republicans that implementing the treaties, which together are expected to boost exports by $13 billion per year, would create jobs in the United States.

But Obama’s own Democrats have delayed ratification by conditioning their support on an extension of unemployment benefits for workers whose jobs are displaced by foreign competition or outsourcing. Read more “Republicans Urge Ratification of Trade Deals”

Debt Ceiling Talks Reach Impasse Over Taxes

Lawmakers in the United States continue to negotiate a deal for raising the nation’s debt ceiling but the two major parties are far apart with Republicans insisting on deep spending cuts and Democrats arguing that tax increases should be part of the agreement.

The Treasury Department will exhaust its legal ability to borrow by August 2 by which time Congress should have raised the $14.3 trillion debt limit in order to continue to finance the government. Republicans, who control the lower chamber of Congress, demand budget cuts in return for their votes — at least $1 dollar in cuts for every $1 with which the debt ceiling is raised.

President Barack Obama aimed for an ever larger agreement that would reduce deficit spending by up to $4 trillion over the next ten years with a combination of savings and tax hikes. According to administration officials, the president was willing to reform popular health support programs if Republicans agreed to closing tax loopholes to boost revenue.

House speaker John Boehner, whose conference is adamantly opposed to raising taxes especially during a time of lackluster economic growth, rejected the president’s proposal on Saturday. “I believe the best approach may be to focus on producing a smaller measure,” he said in a statement which would probably amount to $2 trillion in cuts to future spending growth.

On Fox News Sunday, the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, defended Boehner’s decision to refuse to raise taxes. He pointed out the enormous growth in the public sector that has occurred under President Obama and said that Republicans would not “freeze perpetually this much government.”

You see the government running banks, insurance companies, car companies, national housing loan business, taken over health care, trying to take over the Internet, increasing spending, discretionary spending 24 percent, increasing debt 35 percent. How big a government do we want?

With 9.2 percent unemployment, raising taxes would be a “terrible idea,” according to McConnell but Democrats disagree. Congressman Chris Van Hollen, who sits on the House budget committee, lambasted Republicans on CNN’s State of the Union for prioritizing “special interest tax breaks for big corporation” over successfully negotiating a deal.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner deployed similar rhetoric on NBC’s Meet the Press this Sunday to argue for ending tax deductions and loopholes that benefit wealthy Americans. “Why is it fair,” he wondered, “to ask middle-class families to take more of the burden if those savings are going to go to sustain special interest tax breaks, the lowest tax rates for the most fortunate Americans we have seen in fifty years?”

Asked to respond to the necessity of a “balanced approach” or “shared sacrifice,” McConnell said, “Those are nice words. But how do you get the economy growing, which is the biggest way to increase government revenue?” The private sector, he added, isn’t investing nor creating jobs because there is uncertainty about the Obama Administration’s state activism.

If you are in the private sector right now and you’re trying to decide whether to expand, what do you see the government doing? Proposing to raise taxes, borrowing, spending, overregulating. It’s not a very reassuring message if you’re running a business, if you look at the federal government.

The biggest hurdle to mending the deficit is entitlement spending which accounts for nearly two-thirds of the budget. “You can’t have serious deficit reduction program without dealing with those programs in the long term,” according to McConnell.

Spending on Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security is set to skyrocket in years ahead. Medicare, which finances health care for the elderly, is expected to run out of money in 2024 while Medicaid, which subsidizes health care for the poor and is paid for by the states, is increasingly crowding out investment in other areas, including education and infrastructure. The Social Security trust fund is projected to last until 2036 but once it is depleted, the annual payroll taxes that pay for the program will only be sufficient to cover 75 percent of the retirement benefits it is required to pay seniors.

Yet many Democrats won’t cut benefits or raise the eligibility age for these programs, let alone privatize Medicare as Republicans have proposed. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi promised last week that her party would not “reduce the deficit or subsidize tax cuts for the rich on the backs of America’s seniors and working families.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in January that Social Security was “not in crisis. This is something that’s perpetuated by people who don’t like government,” he told NBC at the time. “Social Security is fine.”

America “Needs to Get Its Act Together”

According to Republican leaders in Congress, President Barack Obama is “really not serious” about reining in America’s record $1.6 trillion deficit. The accusations come while the legislature is preparing to vote to raise the federal debt ceiling which limits the amount of money that the federal government can borrow.

Administration officials and Democrats have warned that letting the nation default on its debt obligations could trigger another financial meltdown yet several fiscally conservative freshmen members of Congress will vote against the measure to protest runaway federal spending. Others intend to use the vote as leverage to extract further spending reductions from the president and his party.

Speaking in New York City this week, House speaker John Boehner demanded trillions in deficit reduction if his party is to extend the government’s borrowing authority. In an interview broadcast on CBS’ Face the Nation Sunday, he accused the president of failing to take “real action” on the deficit, arguing that there could be no more “kicking the can down the road.”

The administration expects to raise the debt limit from $14.3 trillion by some $2 trillion which would postpone the next likely vote until after the 2012 presidential election.

Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, who designed the opposition’s alternative fiscal plan which balances the budget by the end of this decade, suggested that for every dollar the debt ceiling is raised, a dollar should be cut in spending. He noted on CNN’s State of the Union that only Republicans had come up with plans to tackle the problem. “We have yet to see counteroffers from the other side,” he said. Boehner agreed that Democrats should “put a plan on the table.”

The president said to champion a “balanced” fiscal approach last month but volunteered few specifics on how to cut trillions in future budget growth except to suggest that health-care spending for the elderly should be rationed and taxes on the wealthy raised.

During a CBS town hall event this week, President Obama agreed that $1 trillion in spending could be cut but he argued that an equal amount should be raised in additional revenue, “because I think the concept of shared sacrifice is something that most Americans believe in,” he said.

Republicans reject tax hikes altogether. Their plan actually lowers corporate and top income tax rates to stir investment and job creation. “The top 1 percent of wage earners in the United States pay 40 percent of the income tax,” Speaker Boehner explained. “The people he’s talking about taxing are the very people that we expect to reinvest in our economy and to create jobs.”

Despite the vast ideological differences, the debt ceiling vote, according to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is a “great opportunity” to address the nation’s fiscal predicament.

He proposed a “spending ceiling for the next two years” because the two parties are unlikely to agree on a budget and entitlement reforms in the long run. Public pension and health support programs are the main drivers of budget growth. Unless significant reductions in their scope are enacted, America will face an entitlement crisis soon. It is why McConnell urged his fellow legislators to get their act together. “We need to impress the markets,” he told CNN, referring to a recent warning from Standard and Poor’s about America’s deteriorating creditworthiness. “Now is the time to deal with the fiscal problems we have,” according to Boehner.

Boehner, McConnell Call for Spending Cuts

As America braces for austerity, the top Republicans in Congress spoke about ways to rein in public spending on Sunday morning. The new Speaker of the House, John Boehner sat down with Fox News Sunday while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky appeared on Meet the Press.

The Congressional Budget Office released its most recent figures on the country’s fiscal crisis this week, forecasting that up to the year 2021, the federal government will continue to run deficits and grow the national debt.

The deficit is set to reach $1.5 trillion this year alone, equaling nearly 10 percent of GDP. By the end of this fiscal year, the debt will have increased to 70 percent of gross domestic product. If no significant spending reductions are made, it could grow up to 100 percent by the end of the decade.

President Barack Obama addressed the reality in his State of the Union speech this week but other than a ban on congressional earmarks and a five year freeze in discretionary domestic spending, which accounts for barely $400 billion of the total budget, he proposed few spending reductions. He called for increased investment in education and infrastructure rather to enhance American competitiveness.

McConnell was “disappointed” with the president’s unwillingness to address America’s looming entitlement disaster yet Republicans haven’t fully endorsed plans to reform Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security either even as they account for a third of all federal expenditures.

The reason, said McConnell on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday, was that entitlement reform should be a bipartisan effort. “I think the president needs to be more bold,” he suggested. “We’re happy to sit down and talk about entitlement reform with the president.”

On Fox News Sunday, the new Speaker of the House was all the more audacious. While McConnell referred to the upcoming vote on raising the federal debt ceiling as an “opportunity,” Boehner said that the American people would not “tolerate” an increase in the debt limit “without serious reductions in spending and changes to the budget process so that we can make sure that this never happens again.”

The country will not default on its obligations though. That, according to the Ohio congressman, would be “a financial disaster not only for our country, but for the worldwide economy.” He added that it would be nigh impossible to create jobs under such circumstances.

Should Congress refuse to raise the debt ceiling, it would technically herald the bankruptcy of the United States and threaten the stability of the dollar, the world’s main reserve currency.

In order to rein in federal spending, Boehner said that while Republicans won’t push for cuts across the board, items as the health insurance mandate, stimulus funding and mortgage subsidies have to go.

On the matter of entitlements, Boehner, like McConnell, called on the president to lead — especially in his own party. With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid denying that Social Security is even in trouble, Boehner said he didn’t know “how we begin to move down the path of having this adult conversation that I’d like to have and I, frankly, like the president would like to have.”

Previewing Obama’s State of the Union

Next Tuesday, President Barack Obama will deliver his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress. As the economy remains mired in recession and conservatives in the legislature are demanding deep spending cuts to balance the federal budget, the embattled president will likely focus on job growth and innovation.

With unemployment still over 9 percent and a national debt that is set to topple $14 trillion before the spring, both the president and his party have a tough message to sell: that America should invest many billions more in education and enterprise to continue to compete with economies in East Asia and Europe.

In a video addressed to Democratic campaigners released this week, the president admitted that despite signs of progress, the American economy has anything but recovered. His focus for the next two years, he said, will therefore be on “making sure that we are competitive, that we are growing and we are creating jobs.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia sympathized with that intention on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday. But he was wary of calls to stimulate with public funds what should be private-sector advances in engineering and technology. “When we hear invest,” he said, “to me, that means more spending.” On Fox News Sunday, the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, agreed. “Any time [Democrats] want to spend,” he said, “they call it investment.”

“One of the reasons the private sector is not doing any better than it is,” according to McConnell, is because of “the excessive government spending of the last two years.”

As a result, government will have to vote to raise the federal debt ceiling soon. If it doesn’t, the country may have to default on its obligations which would likely trigger another global financial crisis. Few analysts expect that Republicans will derail the process and risk instigating such a panic but they should “take advantage” of the situation to demand spending cuts, said McConnell.

Cantor even threatened to vote against raising the debt limit unless Democrats agree to serious spending reductions. “Every dollar should be on the table,” he added, including defense and entitlement expenditures.

Although his administration has vastly expanded regulation, Obama promised a “leaner and smarter” government on Friday; one that is able to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century. Cantor was skeptical. “Is he going to be able to step up and prove that he’s listened and learned to the electorate and that he’s actually going to change into these next two years?” he wondered.

Outgoing Republican senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas was equally cautious to applaud the president for what would appear to be an appraisal of small-government conservatism. On ABC’s This Week, she urged the president to not only speak of reducing regulation but actually cut back on rules that are affecting especially small businessowners across the country.

Hutchison also wondered whether he would agree to “some changes” in the health reform bill which Republicans in the House of Representatives have voted to repeal. In Texas, she said, businesses are “not going to hire people if they are looking at these big fines and big expenses in the health-care bill.”

Since November’s midterm elections, the White House has adopted a more conciliatory tone toward business in general. Whereas he previously lambasted “fat cat” Wall Street bankers, the president this year employed a former JPMorgan Chase executive as his chief of staff and asked General Electric chairman Jeff Immelt to advise him on job creation.

On Fox, McConnell noted that the president had “quit bashing business and is now celebrating business.” It was about time, he added, “because the only way we’re really going to get unemployment down and get out of this economic trough is through private-sector growth and development.”

According to McConnell, the president’s moves in recent weeks were part of an effort to retool his image and “that’s fine,” he said. “He ran as a moderate. I’d like for him to govern as a moderate.” Specifically, he recommended that the administration slash America’s corporate tax rates, which are among the highest in the world, and finalize free-trade agreements with Colombia and Panama.