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Norquist and LaPierre: Emperors Losing Their Clothes?

Barkley Rosser at Econospeak offers his take on the current political situation and two players.
(re-posted with permission from author)

Norquist and LaPierre: Emperors Losing Their Clothes?

Two figures have held near-dictatorial sway over a majority of members of Congress for several decades: Grover Norquist and Wayne LaPierre.  However, both may be losing their grip to some extent at this time, although it is too soon to count them out yet.  Both may yet get their ways to some extent despite appearances to the contrary.

Norquist’s schtick has been the pledge he has foisted on largely Republican members of Congress never to raise taxes in any way, shape, or form.  This effort dates to the Reagan presidency and has only gradually gained the nearly universal submission that it currently has among Republican politicians at both the state and national levels.  In the face of the current huge deficit and the oncoming “fiscal cliff” (curb, slope, whatever), some are now making noises about abandoning ship on this.  Indeed, this past Thursday saw House Speaker John Boehner proposing to raise income taxes on those earning more than $1 million per year.  While this was a cutoff higher than the $400,000 President Obama was demanding (which is in turn higher than the $250,000 he successfully campaigned on this year), it was a significant break for Speaker Boehner.  However, in the end he was unable to convince his caucus to support him.  The rank and file of Republicans in the House are simply not yet willing to go against their pledges to the will of Norquist.  Boehner’s clothing may be getting pulled at and a bit messy, but he continues to seem pretty fully dressed.

Wayne LaPierre has not made Congressional members sign a specific pledge, but he has demanded that those the NRA supports do exactly as it requests on pain of facing primary or other opposition backed by strong funding and advertising.  Whereas Norquist’s group largely focuses just on Republicans, LaPierre has worked his ways on polticians of both parties, although increasingly his focus has been on Republicans as Democrats have begun to thumb their noses at him.  This movement has accelerated since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT just over a week ago, and the reaction to LaPierre’s speech a week after it calling for armed guards at schools has been ridiculed widely.  Nevertheless, despite a lot of discomfiture, at least Republicans continue to appear to be completely obedient with not a single GOP member of Congress expressing support for any movement to control guns in any way.  One can expect my own representative, Bob Goodlatte, to prove to be the ultimate blocker of any efforts to change gun laws in his new position as House Judiciary Committee Chairman, as he has strongly stated opposition to any changes in gun laws.  So, LaPierre also  appears to be keeping most of his clothing on as well for the near term.

A curious details is that this authoritarian pair has a curious mutual connection.  Norquist is on the board of the NRA, and both are closely connected to John R. Lott, Jr.  Lott has most recently coauthored a book with Norquist, and he has long been the most prominent pro-gun rights advocate in the nation, much relied on and praised by LaPierre.  His book, _More Guns, Less Crime_ has been cited repeatedly by those pushing to loosen gun laws in many states and also at the national level, such as when the NRA succeeded in blocking a renewal of the assault weapons ban in 2004.  Curiously, Lott’s effort to step forward to defend gun rights at this time has brought much focus on his long record of data manipulation and outright fraud, most notoriously in his creating a sock puppet named “Mary Rosh” to praise himself on the internet over a decade ago.  His studies have come under strong criticism on multiple grounds by many, such as Mark Duggan in his “More Guns, More Crime,” Journal of Political Economy, 2001.  His recent claims that mass murders happen only in gun free zones, except for the Gabby Giffords tragedy last year, appear to be false, with at least three this year happening in non-gun free zones: the Clackamas OR shopping mall attack, the Sikh Temple attack in Oak Creek WI, and the Accent Signage attack in Minneapoli, MNs.  For more detailed discussions of the various fraudulent activities Lott has engaged in see http://www.tnr.com/blog/plank/111063/meet-john-lott-the-man-who-wants-teachers-carry-guns  and http://mediamatters.org/research/2012/12/17/who-is-gun-advocate-john-lott/191855

Ironically, while Norquist and LaPierre may just barely be able to keep their clothes on, it looks like it may end up being Lott, who may finally lose his.

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The Idiotic Politicization of the Term “Politicization”*

We have got to calm down and not take tragedies like this, crimes like this, and use them for political purposes.

– Grover Norquist, yesterday

I agree.  We also shouldn’t, say, take tragedies like the hijacking of four commercial planes and deliberately crashing them into huge buildings with large numbers of people inside them, and use them for political purposes.  Or take the sudden, near-complete collapse of the banking system and use it for political purposes.  Or take a steep economic downturn and resultant high unemployment rate, and use these for political purposes.  Or take the large federal fiscal deficit and debt, and use those for political purposes.

We should, however, address the problems that these and other occurrences and facts notify us about or highlight.  And when, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration and Congress, with bipartisan participation and support, enacted sweeping legislation to try to address our vulnerability to terrorist attacks, neither Bush nor the congressional supporters of the legislation was politicizing 9/11.  That is, they were not using that terrorist attack to try to push through legislation whose actual purpose was something other than its advertised purpose.  Which is what the term “politicization” means.  

This is apart from whether you (or I) think that legislation, or any other legislation, is wise or is, instead, say, excessive and harmful in important respects (as many people, I among them, thought, and think, much of the post-9/11 legislation is).   The officeholders, including Bush, who pushed for the legislation did so for the purpose they said: to reduce our vulnerability to terrorists, not to achieve some unrelated political or ideological goal.  

Bush did soon unabashedly politicize 9/11, most glaringly by encouraging the false belief that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11 in order to garner public support for the invasion of Iraq, but also in the non-security-related domestic arena.  But at least the former was national-security related (or so it was claimed), and the latter was not overt.

Similarly, with the TARP legislation, its stated purpose was its actual purpose, which was to save the financial system from near-total collapse, and it was supported not just by the Republican president but, in Congress, by many members of each party.  But this also was true of the stimulus law enacted in early 2009 and the Dodd-Frank law, both of these supported almost exclusively by Democrats.  Just as it was true of the New Deal legislation, such as the Securities Exchange Act and the Federal Deposit Insurance Act, whose stated and actual purpose was to address the causes of the financial collapse, and the Works Progress Act and other classic Keynesian New Deal laws, whose stated and real goal was to alleviate some of the effects of the downturn and spur growth of the economy.  

Grover Norquist, of course, of all people, well knows the difference between using a pretext for pushing and enacting legislation for an unrelated purpose, and, instead, pushing legislation whose stated and actual purposes are the same.  He has led a decades-long campaign of deceit founded upon the false claim that the call for federal reductions in spending is an attempt to eliminate the federal debt–a purpose obviously incompatible with Norquist’s primary goal of eliminating income taxes on the wealthy and corporations.  Unless, of course, his companion goal also is achieved: eliminating the social safety net and most federal agencies, such as the EPA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, and (to borrow a phrase from Mitt Romney) what have you.

What have we, of course, would be a country and society that most Americans would find repugnant, and a substantial majority of the public now sees that.  What have we, also, is a profoundly dishonest political Svengali who, after decades of substantial but not complete success in achieving his aims, is finally witnessing his stranglehold on American politics and government pried loose, leaving him at loose ends and gasping for that final breath.

The problem with that final, gasping breath is that it’s too obviously ridiculous. There probably just aren’t very many people, even among gun-rights zealots, who think Obama and the Democrats are trying to enact laws prohibiting the sale to the public of military-style assault rifles and huge ammunition clips in order to achieve anti-global-warming policy regulations, or something. Most people, even, I suspect, most NRA members, do understand that there is a connection between mass-shooting rampages and the issue of gun-control policy, even if they disagree about the utility of gun-control laws. That’s because they recognize that mass-shooting rampages do actually have something to do with guns.

*This post has been edited slightly since its publication.

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Calling all Americans: we face an "austerity crisis" not a fiscal "cliff”

by Linda Beale

Calling all Americans: we face an “austerity crisis” not a fiscal “cliff”; we need a piecemeal solution, not a “grand bargain”

Keynesian economic theory is the only theory that has gotten much of what’s gone on in the last few decades correct, but of course the GOP market fundamentalists, in reliance on the unrealistic assumptions of most freshwater economics, still claim that all we need to do is starve the beast more, cut taxes and regulations more and economic growth will take off and take care of every problem imaginable.  In the process of trying to enact their ever-more-absurd vision of how to legislate a good economy, the GOP is prepared, once again, to be the obstructionist party of “no”, with Boehner saying no tax rate increases, Ryan claiming that Obama’s reelection (with exit polls showing majority support for tax increases on the wealthiest Americans) does not signify a mandate to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and the GOP generally pushing for benefit cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security –irrelevant to the deficit and actively harmful to the livelihoods of millions of Americans and hence to the economy –as the solution of choice to the horror (in their view) of cutting military expenditures or raising taxes on the rich.

There may finally be some light at the end of the long, corporatist, Koch-funded, Norquist-induced “big sleep” in which too many Americans were lulled into thinking that taxes were all bad, spending was all bad unless on military, and the GOP greed-is-good; let-the-rich-keep-getting-even-richer philosophy was okay.  Alex Seitz-Wald even asks “Is it game over for Grover Norquist?”, Salon.com (Nov. 14, 2012).  Seitz-Wald reports that Norquist has only 217 no-tax pledgers in the new House and an all-time low of only 39 in the Senate, and contrasts that with 238 House members and 41 Senators last year.  Id.  Thousands of Norquist’s political arm Americans for Tax Reform were spent on two GOP pledge signers–Ricky Gill and Lee Anderson–who were ultimately defeated.  Some who signed the pledge, such as MN Chip Cravaack (who lost) recognized too late that giving away your responsibility to think was an act of political suicide.  Even Senators Graham and McCain have suggested that the time of adhering to a no-taxes-ever pledge has passed, and Jeb Bush, the family’s current presidential aspirant, says he doesn’t believe in “outsourc[ing] your principles and convictions to people.”  Id.  Even Boehner, after all, has admitted he could support limiting deductions as a way to get more taxes from the rich, even if he won’t yet say he will agree to tax rate increases.

Robert Reich notes that the apparent GOP willingness to allow some tax increases through “base broadening” should be looked at squarely for what it really is–not generally a way to ensure that the rich pay more and that the poor and middle class continue to get appropriate breaks on their taxes to avoid a renewed recession.  See Robert Reich, So much for ‘grand bargains’, Salon.com (Nov. 14, 2012).

‘Broadening the base’ has nothing whatever to do with the rich paying more.  That’s because a lot of tax credits and deductions help the middle class and the poor.  If we end the Earned INcome Tax Credit, for example, some of the poorest Americans weill end up sacrificing.  That tab was $63 billion last year.  Or if the ‘loophole’ is tax-free employee health care, or the home mortgage tax deduction, or tax-deferred 401k accounts, most of the added tax revenues will come out of the pockets of the middle class.  So when Republicans talk about ‘broadening the base’, watch your wallets. Id.

Instead of cutting these types of loopholes that are beneficial to the middle and lower income classes, Reich suggests that Congress take aim definitively at the lairs of tax loopholes for the rich.
If Republicans won’t budge on raising tax rates but insist on broadening the base, Democrats should take aim at the biggest tax loophole of all for America’s wealthy: the preference for capital gains.  Id.
Krugman in his blog, An Austerity Bomb (Nov. 14, 2012) argues that we’ve again allowed the extremists on the right to set the tone of the dialogue by letting them label the current situation.  We aren’t facing a “fiscal cliff”, he notes, but rather an “austerity bomb”.

[The term 'fiscal cliff' implies] “a problem of excessive deficits when it’s actually about the risk that the deficit will be too small; also and relatedly, the fiscal cliff stuff enables a bait and switch in which people say ‘so, this means that we need to enact Bowles-Simpson and raise the retirement age?’ which have nothing at all to do with it.  Id.

http://ataxingmatter.blogs.com/tax/2012/11/calling-all-americans-we-face-an-austerity-crisis-not-a-fiscal-cliff-we-need-a-piecemeal-solution-no.html

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Via The Dailey Beast comes this tidbit from Grover Norquist at the Defending the American Dream Summit in Washington, sponsored by Americans for Prosperity:

The most quoted speech at CPAC this year was Mitt Romney’s, but my vote for the most significant goes to Grover Norquist’s. In his charmingly blunt way, Norquist articulated out loud a case for Mitt Romney that you hear only whispered by other major conservative leaders.

They have reconciled themselves to a Romney candidacy because they see Romney as essentially a weak and passive president who will concede leadership to congressional conservatives:

All we have to do is replace Obama. … We are not auditioning for fearless leader. We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go. We want the Ryan budget. … We just need a president to sign this stuff. We don’t need someone to think it up or design it. The leadership now for the modern conservative movement for the next 20 years will be coming out of the House and the Senate.

The requirement for president?

Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become president of the United States. This is a change for Republicans: the House and Senate doing the work with the president signing bills. His job is to be captain of the team, to sign the legislation that has already been prepared.

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Which Spending Is Easier To Cut And By What Level Of Government?

by Professor Barkley Rosser

Reposted from Econospeak with permission from the author

Which Spending Is Easier To Cut And By What Level Of Government?

Back from his break, our former co-blogger, Dean Baker at Beat the Press, takes down WaPo ed page editor, Fred Hiatt, for his pushing yet again for cutting Social Security because it is supposedly “easy to do” in contrast to medical spending, with Hiatt pinning the blame on Dems for not supporting cutting either.  Baker notes that putting med costs in line with those in other countries would alone completely eliminate the federal budget deficit, and that Dems are not the ones opposing cuts to drug companies or “overpaid medical specialists.” CEPR   Hiatt barely nods at GOP opposition to tax increases and the possibility of cutting defense spending, even though the US is winding down some of its current active wars.
 
Dean kindly avoids noting that Hiatt is part of a group of established media mavens in Washington who long ago convinced themselves that somehow not only is Social Security “in crisis,” but that somehow it is the easiest program to cut (future) spending on politically, although that will do nearly nothing to limit near-term deficits and that there is nearly zero support among the public of both parties for such an action, and that efforts by various politicians of both parties in recent years to do this have ended up as embarrassing failures.  But this gang does not give up easily, including Hiatt, back at it yet again.


Unfortunately, the alternative appears to be a trick buried in Paul Ryan’s budget proposal: send certain social safety net programs down to the states, with the leading candidate being Medicaid, which is already partly funded by the states.  As much as any program, this is one that should be solely funded by the feds as that would help even the playing field across states, given that the states that need it the most are the states with the most poor people and thus least able to support their poor people.  But no, Ryan thinks that Medicaid should be sent fully to the states, and some movement in this direction has already happened.
 
This hypocritical trend of Grover Norquist “no higher taxes” politicians sending important programs to lower levels of government so they can claim “savings” without tax increases is going on more widely, also reflecting Norquist’s influence at even state levels.  So, in Virginia where I live, this most recent legislature, newly run fully by the GOP with our GOP governor, has in an effort to balance the state budget without raising taxes or appearing to cut programs, sent an unfunded mandate to the local governments, removing the funding but requiring that they contribute more to teacher pension funds.
 
This has led to a fairly astounding result, although the mayor or Harrisonburg, where I live, tells me that a lot of these legislators somehow convinced themselves it would not happen.  Nearly every local government in the state, including the vast majority of ones run by Republicans, has raised local taxes, mostly property taxes, but also others as well.  They have been cutting and cutting their budgets for the last several years, something manifesting itself nationally in the steady stream of layoffs at both state and local government levels.  The expectations by citizens for continuing to have basic local public services of some sort simply overrode this idiocy of no new taxes in the face of this unfunded mandate from the state, which in turn at least partly reflects the ongoing rise of Medicaid costs, exacerbated by the feds pushing even more of those down to the states.
 
As it is, here in Harrisonburg, property taxes are going up, along with a small increase in the rate on restaurant meals.  The alternative to the meals tax rise (much opposed by local restauranteurs) was to raise personal property taxes.  Around the state, different combinations of such increases have been implemented, and it will be interesting to see whether local voters punish their leaders for doing this or will figure it out that they have been pushed to this by the irresponsibility of state politicians.  This problem may well be worse for local Republican leaders than for Dems, given that in general the latter have not hobbled themselves so tightly with all these inane pledges about taxes, although so far, Grover Norquist has not gotten down to the local level guys with making them sign pledges and holding them publicly to them.  There are just too many of them for him to keep track of all of them.
Posted by Barkley Rosser at 12:40 AM

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