President Obama is expected to announce a jobs plan that would include an extension of payroll tax cuts, revenue for transportation projects and an extension of emergency unemployment benefits for the 9.1% of Americans who can’t find a job. Obama’s campaign adviser, David Axelrod, said (9/21) there was nothing in the proposal “that reasonable people shouldn’t be able to agree on,” but Laura Bassett noted at HuffingtonPost.com that fired-up Republicans already are preparing to reject whatever the president puts on the table, including extension of the payroll tax cuts.

Many of the same Republicans who are fiercely protective of tax cuts for the wealthy have already said they oppose Obama’s plan to extend the payroll tax cut, which would help the 4% of Americans who owe no federal income taxes but who pay the payroll tax on every dime they earn. “It’s always a net positive to let taxpayers keep more of what they earn,” Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) told the AP, “but not all tax relief is created equal for the purposes of helping to get the economy moving again.”

Rep. David Camp (R-Mich.), Ways and Means chairman, said he also opposed the 12-month payroll tax cut because it would cost the government about $120 bln next year if it were renewed. [Extension of the Bush-era tax cuts last year cost about $331 bln annually.] Both Hensarling and Camp are on the “super committee” that will try to recommend budget cuts.

Axelrod suggested that the Republicans’ position was hypocritical. “It is unthinkable to me that the Republican Party would say we can’t touch tax cuts for the wealthy, we can’t touch special interest corporate tax loopholes because that will hinder the economy, but we’ll allow a $1,000 tax increase on the average American come January,” he said on ABC News’ This Week. “How could that be? The only explanation for it is politics.”

Social Security payroll taxes apply only to the first $106,800 of a worker’s wages. Therefore, $2,136 is the biggest benefit anyone can gain from the one-year reduction. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says payroll tax reductions give the economy a short-term boost, but Republicans assume thast keeping taxes low on “job creators” — the rich and corporations — will spur investment and hiring, although Andrew Leonard noted at Salon.com that “The empirical evidence for this theory has always been slim — some of the strongest economic growth rates of the last century in the United States occurred when taxes on the wealthy were at their highest rates — but it’s particularly absurd right now, after two years in which corporate profits have been high, taxes have been low, and employment growth has been paltry.”

Republicans are also pushing back on Obama’s plan to extend emergency unemployment benefits. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) said that while he would “consider” supporting the payroll tax cuts, he is less enthusiastic about unemployment insurance. “I don’t think that creates jobs,” he said on CNN’s State of the Union. “It lessens the pain. The problem is we need to have things that create jobs, not just promote benefits for people that are not working.”

CANTOR REJECTS STIMULUS. In a letter to his caucus (8/17), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said he hopes to avoid brinksmanship in battles over federal spending, but he blamed Obama’s policies for harming the economy and invoked President Franklin Roosevelt, whom he said had lengthened and deepened the Great Depression. Cantor said the GOP will focus on ending regulations and “stopping the discussions of new stimulus spending.”

Then in a column for the Washington Post (8/22), Cantor wrote that “the Obama administration’s anti-business, hyper-regulatory, pro-tax agenda has fueled economic uncertainty and sent the message from the administration that ‘we want to make it harder to create jobs.’”

Cantor, of course, made up that quote, as part of a ridiculous argument, Steve Benen wrote at WashingtonMonthly.com. “In effect, the dimwitted Majority Leader — who opposes job-creation measures he used to support, and has vowed to kill any proposal to boost the economy — believes the White House is deliberately against lowering unemployment. Given the frequency with which the Republican ‘sabotage’ question comes up, Cantor’s attack is as ironic as it is absurd.”

ECONOMISTS CALL FOR TAX INCREASES. Some three-quarters of economists who do forecasting for the private sector say tax revenue should rise as part of efforts to tame budget deficits, according to a study released (8/22) by the National Association for Business Economics. Of the 250 business economists who participated in the survey, only 19% said tax reform should be done in a “revenue-neutral” way, and 5% said reforms should reduce tax revenues. The survey was conducted before the 8/2 debt deal.

PROGS PROTEST JOBS INACTION. You might not know it from the lack of media coverage, but Republican members of Congress faced a lot of protests at town halls, local offices and golf courses in August, Chris Bowers noted at DailyKos.com (8/22). The protests are focused on the Republican lack of action on jobs and refusal to increase taxes on the wealthy. On 8/12, David Dayen of firedoglake.com compiled reports of protests against eight Republican members of Congress. On 8/16, Laura Clawson of DailyKos.com listed three more reports. Dayen on 8/19 had four more reports of clashes between members of Congress and constituents and The Hill reported (8/19) on protests of three more Republicans. ThinkProgress.org documented embarrassing moments at town halls for four more Republicans and RebuildTheDream.com has information on as many as 15 more protests.

“These actions are truly widespread,” Bowers wrote. “As such, it’s worth wondering why the media coverage has primarily been restricted to local news and not become a significant national narrative. A rationale sympathetic to the national political media would argue that these town halls lack the threat of imminent violence that was simmering in 2009, thus rendering the 2011 iteration both tame and repetitive as a story. A less sympathetic rationale would be that the national political media is simply differential to the angry conservatives, who are believed to have dominated electoral politics for decades and are thus allocated disproportionate attention.

“Whatever the reason, this sort of organizing needs to continue. There have been hundreds of local news stories, and most congressional communication offices take local media as their main concern. Further, Republicans in Congress were spooked enough that some are now charging entry fees to “town halls” (Reps. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Ben Quayle, R-Ariz., and Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.) were among those whose district meetings were pay-per-view) while others are distributing lists of “troublemakers” to their colleagues, and many more have simply cut back on their public appearances. When members of Congress change their behavior based on your actions, then you have definitely made an impact.”

PERRY BACKS OFF FROM BOOK. When Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R)’s book, Fed Up!, was published last fall, he was pretty frank in his criticism of the country’s Social Security system, which he called “a crumbling monument to the failure of the New Deal,” comparing it to a “bad disease” that has continued to spread” and a “Ponzi scheme.”

That was before he decided to run for president. Now the Perry campaign is backing away from the book. Perry’s spokesman, Ray Sullivan told the Wall Street Journal (8/18) the book “is a look back, not a path forward.” It was written “as a review and critique of 50 years of federal excesses, not in any way as a 2012 campaign blueprint or manifesto,” Sullivan said.

But that may be news to the candidate. Four days earlier, when asked at his first campaign stop in Iowa how he would fix the country’s entitlement programs, the governor shot back, “Have you read my book, Fed Up!? Get a copy and read it.”

In his book, Perry also proposed to repeal the 16th Amendment, which authorized the income tax, and replace the progressive income tax with “a national sales tax or the Fair Tax,” which Kevin Drum notes at MotherJones.com (8/21) would amount to a 30% sales tax on all goods and services — “including housing, health care, food, and everything else.”

By taxing everybody at the same rate, the “Fair Tax” would increase taxes for the working poor and middle class while it cuts taxes for the wealthy.

CODDLEES CALL FOR HIGHER TAXES. Warren Buffett outraged some of his fellow billionaires when he wrote in a New York Times column (8/15) that said Congress has been “coddling the super-rich” as he called for higher taxes on millionaires and billionaires. “While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks,” Buffett wrote. “My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.”

Several Republicans have attacked the Oracle of Omaha for his remarks. Mitt Romney, a multimillionaire presidential candidate, said Buffett is simply wrong about his tax rate, while Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn) said, “I have a suggestion. Mr. Buffett, write a big check today.” Even Buffett’s own GOP congressman, Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) said, “Mr. Buffett has my ultimate respect, but we disagree on taxes and takings.”

However, not all Republicans were so quick to dismiss Buffett’s point, At a town hall meeting in West Point, Neb., a woman asked Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb), “Did you hear what Warren Buffett said?”

“Yes, and I don’t necessarily disagree with him, either,” said Fortenberry. He later told USA Today that he doesn’t want to see taxes raised on small businesses and entrepreneurs. But he said Buffett is right that loopholes in the tax code “skew in favor of the ultra-wealthy, ultra-wealthy corporations, and the overseas aristocracy.”

Some of the super-rich also agree with Buffett. In an interview with Fox 4 News in Kansas City, multimillionaire Henry Bloch — co-founder and chairman emeritus of the tax preparation company H&R Block and a registered Republican — said that “the wealthy have a debt to this country. They can afford to pay it and they should.” He added that the Republican push to protect tax breaks for millionaires in order to promote job creation is “baloney”:

“That’s so baloney,” Bloch said. “Rich people don’t create jobs. Companies create jobs. … You probably pay a higher rate than I do … and yet my income is probably many times what yours is,” he told reporter Rob Low.

DEMS WIN WIS. RECALLS. Wisconsin Democrats won 5 out of 9 state Senate recall elections over the course of the summer, and while they didn’t gain control of the state Senate, as they had hoped, John Nichols of the Madison Capital Times noted that opponents of Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s attacks on collective bargaining rights have prevailed in a majority of recall elections and claimed the majority of votes cast in what many saw as a statewide referendum on Walker’s policies.

Republicans claimed victory because they retained a majority in the state Senate, but Democrats narrowed the GOP advantage to a 17-16 split, “which puts a moderate Republican senator [Dale Schultz] who opposed Walker’s assaults on collective-bargaining rights in a position to work with Democrats to temper the extremes of the governor and his allies,” Nichols wrote.

“Scott Walker’s working majority in the Wisconsin state Senate is over,” announced the labor-backed group We Are Wisconsin after the last two incumbent Democrats kept their seats (8/16). “(The) chamber now boasts a pro-worker majority that would not have passed the budget repair bill that touched off this entire fight.”

Nichols noted that all the elections took place in Senate districts that Republicans controlled, or where Republicans chose to force recall elections. None of the three targeted Democrats lost their races, but Democrats ousted two Republican incumbents, so they won 5 of 9 races — and Walker won all those districts in 2010. Democrats also won the majority of votes cast in the 9 districts, by roughly 243,000 to 239,000.

FEINGOLD WON’T RUN IN 2012. Former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) announced (8/19) that he will not seek public office in 2012. He had been the favorite to either take on Gov. Scott Walker in an expected recall election next year or run for the seat Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) will be giving up, but his decision opens those races to other Democrats. Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison) and Ron Kind (D-LaCrosse) as well as former Rep. Steve Kagen (D-Appleton) are considering the Senate race, as is former Gov. Tommy Thompson (R). Among those talked about as a potential gubernatorial candidates are Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who lost the 2010 race to Walker, outgoing Sen. Kohl, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and legislators who rose to prominence during the intense debate over Walker’s move to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights, John Nichols noted in the Madison Capital Times.

Feingold, who backed the recalls of Republican state senators, will be teaching law at Marquette University this fall and he will remain active in politics with his reform group, Progressives United. He also said he hopes to play “a significant role” in the re-election of President Obama.

ELIZABETH WARREN EYES SENATE BID. Former White House adviser Elizabeth Warren has launched an exploratory committee as she prepares to challenge Sen. Scott Brown’s bid for a full term in Massachusetts next year. Warren, a Harvard Law School professor, is a progressive hero for her work in creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but her strong record of consumer advocacy caused Republicans to declare that they never would clear her appointment to head the agency. See elizabethforma.com.

SUPER PACS GEAR UP. The 2012 elections will be the first big test of the corporate political money laundering authorized by the January 2010 Citizens United Supreme ourt ruling. In the 2010 campaign, political action committees, including the “super PACs” that can accept corporate contributions, spent $65.3 mln in congressional elections, according to OpenSecrets.org. Conservative PACs spent 54.5% of that money, led by Karl Rove’s American Crossroads with $21.5 mln. But more than $40 mln was spent on the August special elections in Wisconsin to recall six state senators. In the next year hundreds of millions of dollars are expected to be funneled through these outside political groups for everything from House races to the presidential campaign. American Crossroads, which is a 527 group that must disclose its donors, and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, a 501(c)4 nonprofit group run by Rove that is not required to disclose its donors, plan to raise $120 mln to defeat Democrats in the 2012 cycle.

SANDERS DEMANDS OIL SPEC LIMITS. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said federal regulators should use a year-old law to enforce limits on excessive speculation in oil markets. He cited data collected by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission that showed that Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and other banks and hedge funds dominated oil markets in 2008 when prices rose sharply and topped $140 a barrel. The records – first made public by Sanders – shed light on the role of speculators when oil prices soared and the pump price for gasoline spiked to around $4 a gallon.

In a letter, Sanders urged Commission Chairman Gary Gensler to crack down on speculators and provide relief for motorists and for people who live in cold-weather states, like Vermont, who face sharply higher prices this winter for oil to heat their homes.

“While making this confidential information public may have upset Wall Street oil speculators, the American people have a right to know exactly what caused gasoline prices to skyrocket to more than $4 a gallon back in the summer of 2008,” Sanders said. “Further, there is little doubt that the same speculators who caused gasoline and heating oil prices to unnecessarily spike in 2008 are playing the same games again in 2011. This is simply unacceptable and must not be allowed to continue.”

Sanders noted that the US Energy Information Administration predicts that the price of heating oil in the northeast will be about 33% higher than last winter.

The Wall Street reform law enacted last year gave the CFTC until 1/17/11 to impose strict limits on the amount of oil that speculators could trade in the energy futures market. Seven months later, the commission has not enacted those limits.

GOP CHOOSES GRANDSTANDING OVER JOBS. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said in an interview with Roll Call (8/18) that he was planning to promote a jobs agenda through the House Judiciary Committee, which he chairs. Later that day, the Obama administration announced that it would review the cases of the 300,000 illegal immigrants currently awaiting deportation and prioritize the expulsion of the more dangerous criminal violators, rather than targeting low-level immigration offenders for deportation.

Smith abandoned his “jobs agenda,” telling right-wing radio host Joe Pagliarulo that he was now planning to hold hearings on the new deportation policy with the avowed purpose of trying to “embarrass the President.” Smith also suggested that the House Appropriations Committee would defund the administration’s ability to implement their plan, Matt Gertz noted at PoliticalCorrection.org (8/22).

GOP NIXES SUPER COMMITTEE FOR JOBS. Democrats, led by Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), are pushing plans to get the “super committee” working on deficit cuts to add job creation to its core mission. One proposals would simply amend the current 12-member committee’s mission to include job creation. The second would ask each of the four congressional leaders to appoint one more person to the committee, bringing its membership to 16 — and create a subcommittee on job creation that would produce a jobs proposal as part of the final deficit reduction package. But both proposals would require that the “trigger” also kick in, requiring defense and non-defense cuts, if the committee fails to agree on a jobs proposal as part of the overall deficit deal. And both would set a clear goal of bringing unemployment down to 5.5% by 2014.

Ezra Klein ran the proposal by House Speaker John Boehner’s office and it was immediately shot down. The response: Deficit reduction will spur job creation and, therefore, the supercommittee does not need to take on an additional mission. “As every economist and every rating agency has made clear, getting our deficit under control is the first step to help get our economy growing again and to create jobs,” Michael Steel, spokesman for Boehner, told Klein. “Without knowing the specifics of this proposal, my concern would be this is some sort of new window-dressing for the same tired old, discredited Washington stimulus spending proposals.”

Joan McCarter noted at DailyKos.com: “Boehner’s spokesman couldn’t have made it any clearer. The Republicans will fight against putting people back to work. The Democrats’ job is to make them have that fight.”

GOP WON’T CREDIT OBAMA FOR LIBYA, EITHER. As Libyan rebels poured into Tripoli and consolidated their hold on the capital, Republicans appeared to be confused on how they could criticize President Obama’s role in the downfall of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. But they finally appeared to settle on a talking point. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) made a joint statement (8/21): “Americans can be proud of the role our country has played in helping to defeat Qaddafi, but we regret that this success was so long in coming due to the failure of the United States to employ the full weight of our airpower.” Rupert Murdoch’s *Wall Street Journal* echoed this criticism (8/22): “The shame is how much faster Gadhafi might have been defeated, how many fewer people might have been killed, and how much more influence the US might now have, if America had led more forcefully from the beginning.”

Alex Pareene noted at Salon.com (8/22), “And this is the ‘respectable’ Republican talking point. The line from the real nuts — I’m guessing something along the lines of ‘radical Obama allows Muslim Brotherhood to seize control in Libya’ — will begin bubbling up from the sewers to talk radio and Fox News and Michele Bachmann’s campaign soon enough.”

Republican presidential candidates praised many who were involved in overturning Gadhafi’s regime, except for Obama, who many of them attacked for endorsing the NATO intervention earlier this year.

After President Obama started building international support for intervention, Republicans accused him of “dithering.” Former Speaker Newt Gingrich predicted (3/8), “NATO … won’t bring much to the fight,” and he disregarded the importance of UN support for US airstrikes in Libya. The UN Security Council (3/17) approved a no-fly zone over Libya to protect civilians from being killed and the first international airstrikes against Qadhafi’s forces halted their advance on the opposition stronghold in Benghazi.

Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul opposed US intervention in Libya from the outset.

Bachmann said, “”I opposed U.S. military involvement in Libya and I am hopeful that our intervention there is about to end. I also hope the progress of events in Libya will ultimately lead to a government that honors the rule of law, respects the people of Libya and their yearning for freedom, and one that will be a good partner to the United States and the international community.”

Huntsman said, “The impending fall of Colonel Gaddafi is one chapter in the developing story of a nation in turmoil. Gaddafi has been a longtime opponent of freedom, and I am hopeful — as the whole world should be — that his defeat is a step toward openness, democracy and human rights for a people who greatly deserve it.”

Perry said, “”The crumbling of Muammar Ghadafi’s reign, a violent, repressive dictatorship with a history of terrorism, is cause for cautious celebration. The lasting impact of events in Libya will depend on ensuring rebel factions form a unified, civil government that guarantees personal freedoms, and builds a new relationship with the West where we are allies instead of adversaries.”

Former Sen. Rick Santorum said, “Ridding the world of the likes of Gadhafi is a good thing, but this indecisive President had little to do with this triumph.”

Mitt Romney supported the US intervention in Libya, but he argued repeatedly that President Obama was going about it all wrong. Steve Benen noted at WashingtonMonthly.com (8/22), “And *that’s* tougher to address now. If Bachmann and Huntsman want to make the case that the mission drove Gaddafi from power, but the effort wasn’t worth the costs, fine. It’s clearly a legitimate area of debate. But Romney’s line — in effect, Obama’s going to screw this up — leads to inconvenient questions for the inexperienced former governor now that it appears the president’s approach worked out the way the administration had hoped.”

Romney ended up calling on the incoming leaders of Libya to extradite the mastermind of the Lockerbie bombing to face justice in the United States. “It is my hope that Libya will now move toward a representative form of government that supports freedom, human rights and the rule of law,” Romney said (8/22). “As a first step, I call on this new government to arrest and extradite the mastermind behind the bombing of Pan Am 103, Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi, so justice can finally be done.”

Meghrahi was tried and convicted by a Scottish court in 2001 for his role in the Pan Am bombing, which killed 259 people in 1998, but after serving less than nine years of his sentence he was released by a Scottish court on the “compassionate” grounds that his death from cancer was imminent.

PREZ RACE UP FOR GRABS. Gallup is out with its first head-to-head presidential polls, and with the caveat that a poll this far out is nearly worthless, David Atkins noted at digbysblog.blogspot.com (8/22), the results are a cause for concern.

President Obama is closely matched against each of four possible Republican opponents when registered voters are asked whom they would support if the 2012 presidential election were held today. Mitt Romney leads Obama by two points, 48% to 46%, Rick Perry and Obama are tied at 47% and Obama edges out Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann by two and four points, respectively.

Worth noting in particular are the numbers among independents: Obama 44%, Romney 47%; Obama 44%, Perry 46%; Obama 43%, Ron Paul 46%; Obama 48%, Bachmann 42%

“Two things are worth pointing out here,” Atkins wrote. “First, if the President thought that embracing austerity would work to secure support among independents, he and his team were clearly mistaken. The data has been showing that for weeks. Even as a purely political calculation for electoral advantage, embracing austerity was a dumb move.

“Second, the only thing that really separates Romney, Paul, and Perry from Bachmann is that the media hasn’t decided to call them out as deranged lunatics like they have with Bachmann. The media has admittedly been appropriately harsh on Bachmann. There may be a gender effect as well, but it mostly has to do with media scrutiny.

“If the President is counting on the support of independents for his austerity cutbacks and a friendly media environment going into November 2012, his campaign is going to be in for a world of hurt. It might be time to rethink the status-quo strategy.”

A Public Policy Polling survey shows President Obama and Mitt Romney tied among voters surveyed nationally, 45% to 45%. In other match ups, Obama leads Rick Perry, 49% to 43%, tops Michele Bachmann, 50% to 42%, beats Sarah Palin, 53% to 40% and leads Herman Cain, 49% to 39%.

Key finding noted by Taegan Goddard at PoliticalWire.com (8/23) “One big reason Obama’s doing pretty well in these match ups is the Hispanic vote. Exit polls in 2008 showed him winning it by a 36-point margin over McCain but he builds on that in all of these match ups ... This is a good example of what Republican strategist Mike Murphy has described as the economics vs. demographics tension for next year’s election. The economy could sink Obama but at the same time an ever-growing expanding Hispanic vote that he wins by a huge margin could be enough to let him eke out a second term. It’s certainly propping him up on this poll.”

BORDER DRONE USE SURPRISES PERRY. Gov. Perry also made news when he suggested that the federal government should use the same predator drones to patrol the border that we use in combat abroad. Nathan Pippenger at the New Republic noted that it was already happening. “If you’re an average voter (and not, say, the governor of Texas), you could be forgiven for not knowing the details of our current southwest border surveillance efforts, which include 250 towers with daytime and nighttime cameras, 38 truck-mounted infrared cameras and radar systems, 130 planes and helicopters, and, yes, a fleet of unmanned aircraft systems. ...

“It is not, in any way, a new idea. In fact, the New York Times reported on the use of unmanned aircraft at the border almost two years ago. And it’s been over six months since DHS Secretary Napolitano gave a major speech announcing that Customs and Border Protection had Predators covering the entire southwest border, from the El Centro sector of California all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. She even gave the speech in El Paso! This shouldn’t be news to the governor of a massive border state.”

‘INDY-NET’ PARTY PLANNED. Elliot Ackerman, founder of Americans Elect (AmericansElect.org), hopes to mount an independent candidate for president, nominated directly by the American people. Appearing on the Stephen Colbert Show (8/11), Ackerman said Americans Elect stands for whatever participating registered voters want it to stand for.

Richard Winger of Ballot-Access.org noted (8/11) that 850,000 signatures are required to get a presidential candidate on the ballot of all 50 states (though as a practical matter, more signatures are required to give petitioners a margin for disallowed signatures). The Reform Party in 1996 chose its presidential nominee by a mail-in ballot, then gained ballot access for that candidate in all 50 states.

From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2011


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