The Cruel, Cynical Lie at the Heart of Paul Ryan’s Budget…and Mitt Romney’s Campaign

Do you think the government should spend less money on Medicare? On Medicaid? On education? On aid to the poor? On veterans’ benefits?

If you’re like most Americans, your answer to all of these questions is, “No.”

According to a recent poll, less than a quarter of Americans want the government to cut spending on these programs. Even the majority of Republican primary voters are opposed to such reductions.

Yet House Republicans recently passed a budget that significantly reduces spending for all these programs. And those same Republican primary voters are most supportive of the one candidate who has publicly endorsed this budget: Mitt Romney.

Clearly, most Americans have no idea what Romney and the author of the budget, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, stand for.

Ryan’s budget slashes spending from almost everything except Social Security and defense. Of the $5.3 trillion he wants to eliminate over the next decade, $3.3 trillion comes from programs that benefit low-income Americans: Medicaid, Pell Grants, food stamps, job training, school lunch, etc.

Seriously, school lunch. Evidently, Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney believe that the richest country in the history of the world can’t afford to provide its children with one decent meal a day.

Yet we can afford to pay the average millionaire an extra $265,000 per year. That’s how much more they’d earn if Ryan’s tax cuts became law.

Millionaires would get a raise of 12.5 percent on their after-tax income. The middle class would get a raise of less than 2 percent.

Is there an epidemic of suffering millionaires that I’m unaware of? Are they unable to pay their health insurance? Their student loans? Their mortgages?

No. Those are middle-class problems.

And they’ll become bigger problems if Ryan’s budget becomes law. Fewer Pell Grants will result in a lot more student debt, and less funding for the Affordable Care Act will rescind affordable health insurance for upwards of 30 million Americans.

Economists expect unemployment to remain high for several more years. Ryan’s solution is to fire thousands of federal employees.

Our veterans are suffering from record levels of post-traumatic stress disorder after multiple tours of duty in a war that most Americans no longer support. Ryan’s solution is to dishonor their sacrifice by skimping on their health care.

Income inequality has triggered protests in the streets and unsustainable household debt. Ryan’s solution is to pay the rich more and the poor less.

“If they can’t afford food or health care, let them die.” That should be Paul Ryan’s motto. Put that on your Mitt Romney bumper sticker.

And don’t think this is hyperbole, because they are dying. According to Harvard Medical School researchers, 45,000 Americans die every year because they lack health insurance and therefore cannot get the necessary care. According to researchers at Columbia University and the Federal Reserve, being unemployed for a year increases your odds of dying by 50 percent. Another year, and it’s 100 percent.

This is a cruel, cynical world we live in where hard-working men and women are tossed aside like road-kill for political gain.

“I’ve always resented the smug statements of politicians, media commentators, corporate executives who talked about how, in America, if you worked hard, you would become rich,” said the great historian Howard Zinn. “The meaning of that was: if you were poor, it was because you hadn’t worked hard enough. I knew this was a lie about my father and millions of others, men and women who worked harder than anyone.”

Indeed they did. This country was built on their broken backs. But Mitt Romney thinks they’re expendable — and when you go to the voting booth in November, he’s counting on you not to notice.

==========

This op-ed was published in last Friday’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

When Money Talks, Congress Listens

With the Republican primary coming down to the wire, the candidates are running low on cash.

Thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Super PACs have sprung up, with no limit on how much they can spend. According to OpenSecrets.org, Super PACs have raised $153 million so far, prompting a renewed debate over the effect this money will have on policymaking.

Let’s begin with the obvious: Money matters.

In multiple studies, scholars have found that policymakers pay no attention to the views of the bottom third of income earners and that the views of the upper third receive 50 percent more weight than the middle third. Take a moment to consider just how undemocratic that is.

There are many reasons for this behavior, but here are a few.

First, 75 percent of campaign contributions come from the top 25 percent of income earners and only 2 percent come from the bottom 20 percent.

Second, the median individual net worth of legislators is approximately six times the median net worth for the general population.

Third, throughout history, less than 5 percent of legislators have come from the working class, while more than 75 percent of them have been lawyers and businesspeople (who only comprise 10 percent of the general population).

Fourth, it’s easier for concentrated powers like corporations and unions to organize large-scale lobbying efforts than for dispersed groups like the homeless or the unemployed.

And fifth, only the rich can afford lobbyists and personal access to policymakers.

As Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig points out in his new book Republic, Lost, legislators do not literally vote in exchange for money. That would be bribery, which is a crime. Instead, they listen to lobbyists whom they consider their friends. Maybe the lobbyist is an ex-employee or an ex-colleague or just a really smart, well-connected Washington insider. The lobbyist gives the legislator advice, and the legislator uses that advice to advance legislation that both of them support. It’s more like an exchange of gifts, says Lessig, than a cash transaction.

This is not a new theory. In the 1990s, social scientists Dan Clawson, Alan Neustadtl, and Mark Weller performed the most thorough investigation to date, interviewing hundreds of behind-the-scenes players in campaign fundraising. In their book Dollars and Votes, they concluded that the true value of money in politics is access to power. Only the top few percent can afford to take their case directly to policymakers, and that makes all the difference.

A few years ago, in the book Lobbying and Policy Change, a team of political scientists reported results from an unprecedented study where they tracked dozens of specific policies over time, including everyone who lobbied for or against the policies. The imbalance they found between the corporate elite and the rest of the population is stunning.

In a lobbying battle, the side with more high-level government allies won 78 percent of the time! Business corporations had a high-level government ally 74 percent of the time, compared to 45 percent for unions and 33 percent for citizen groups.

Similarly, the side with more “covered officials” lobbying won 63 percent of the time. Business corporations had a covered official lobbing 91 percent of the time, compared to 14 percent for unions and 24 percent for citizen groups.

“Where the mobilization of resources is unbalanced, we do find that the wealthy side tends to win,” they report. On average, business corporations spent $1 million on lobbying. Trade associations spent $1.3 million. Unions spent $0.5 million. Citizen groups spent $0.2 million.

Policy is made by the elite. Always has been.

You can overturn Citizens United. You can ban Super PACs. You can even institute public financing of elections. But you can’t take money out of politics.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t try. I’m saying this problem predates Super PACs. It goes so much deeper than lobbying and campaign contributions. The elite have always had the ear of Congress. They have always been Congress. They have always owned the media. They have always controlled the conversation. And they do not speak for us.

==========

This op-ed was published in today’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

What to Read on Perry vs. Romney

Republican Front-Runners Mitt Romney, Rick Perry Come From Different Worlds — Philip Rucker

One was born into a privileged family in a tony Michigan suburb; the other, onto a flat expanse of West Texas dirt with no indoor plumbing. One spent his youth tooling around his father’s car factory; the other, selling Bibles door to door so he could afford to buy a car. One excelled at Harvard University, simultaneously earning law and business degrees and swiftly climbing the corporate ladder; the other, his hope of becoming a veterinarian dashed when he flunked organic chemistry at Texas A&M University, joined the Air Force.

Where Mitt Romney is obedient and cautious, Rick Perry is bombastic and spontaneous.

“It’s populist against patrician, it’s rural Texas steel against unflappable Romney coolness, conservative versus center-right establishment, Texas strength versus Romney’s imperturbability, Perry’s simplicity versus Romney’s flexibility.”

Romney is campaigning as a steady, capable grown-up who can fix anything that needs fixing; Perry, as a passionate, principled leader who can channel the ire of a frustrated electorate.

Romney represents both the party’s upper-crust establishment and the state — Massachusetts — that for so long has been the GOP’s boogeyman. Perry represents the angry grass roots that are giving the party new energy and he personifies the state — Texas — that for a generation has been the GOP’s soul.

Romney, a former consultant who founded a successful private-equity firm, seems at his best discussing the intricacies of how businesses grow.

It’s when Romney tries to relate to average folks or banter about trivial things that he can struggle.

It’s in relating to people that Perry seems most at ease. He routinely puts down elites.

Perry, Romney Offer Contrasting Approaches to Job Creation in GOP Race — Philip Rucker

Romney’s view of the economy is shaped by his time as a management consultant and venture capitalist. Perry’s frame of reference is his family’s cotton farm and his state’s oil and gas boom.

Despite both candidates’ focus on the economy, neither has offered more than standard Republican positions.

Romney talks more about his business career than his four years as governor of Massachusetts, when the state’s job-creation record was among the worst in the nation. The state did add jobs, about 1 percent, but it bested only Louisiana, devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and Michigan and Ohio, both beset by declines in manufacturing.

Although he is partially responsible for big success stories — for instance, the founding of Staples, the office supplies superstore — he also was involved in controversial decisions, including the laying off of hundreds of workers.

Just the (Tax) Facts: GOP Candidates Parade Terrible Tax Ideas — Citizens for Tax Justice

Perry [supports] the radical balanced budget amendment (BBA)…, [which] would tie the hands of lawmakers to react to changing economic conditions and force immediate catastrophic cuts to critical government programs like Social Security, food inspection, and housing. Although Perry is one of the BBA’s most outspoken advocates, all of the GOP presidential candidates have voiced their support for it in principle.

Romney did reject the claim that 47% of Americans pay no federal income taxes (a popular conservative talking point) when prompted by the moderator. Instead, Romney rightfully noted that every American feels that they are contributing “through the income tax or through other tax vehicles” and that he does not want “to raise taxes on the American people,” presumably even on those on low end who pay very little.

Although Romney signaled his intention to not raise taxes on the poor, his recently released economic plan provides insignificant token relief for lower income Americans and heavily favors tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations.

Fact Checking the Tea Party Debate: Republican Candidates Stumble on Tax Issues — Citizens for Tax Justice

Romney made misleading statements about President Barack Obama’s tax record, claiming that Obama “had raised taxes $500 billion.” What’s deceptive about this is that while Obama raised taxes by $500 billion dollars (mostly through the progressive tax included in the healthcare reform bill), he has simultaneously cut taxes overall by more than double that. Specifically, Obama cut taxes by $243 billion as part of the economic recovery act in 2009, $654 billion as part of the tax compromise he signed at the end of 2010, and is now proposing $240 billion in additional payroll tax cuts, to say nothing of his proposal to continue 81 percent  of the Bush tax cuts and other smaller tax cuts at a cost of an additional $3.5 trillion.

Romney expressed skepticism toward the [so-called Fair Tax (a proposed national sales tax)] saying that it would decrease taxes for the “very highest income folks” while increasing taxes for “middle income people.” An analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy confirms this point showing that a Fair Tax would primarily benefit the super-wealthy, while increasing the taxes paid by the bottom 80 percent by more than half.

While rejecting the radically regressive Fair Tax may seem like a logical move for any presidential candidate who wants to be taken seriously, Romney is actually bucking at least half of the Republican field (and most notably current front-runner Texas Governor Rick Perry) who have come out in favor of it.

Perry Struggles To Make His Foreign Policy All That Different From Obama’s — Benjy Sarlin

“I think the entire conversation about, how do we deliver our aid to those countries, and is it best spent with 100,000 military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan, I don’t think so at this particular point in time,” Perry said…, calling for a transition to Afghan forces.

But the next day,…an unnamed adviser [said] that “a precipitous withdrawal is not what he’s recommending.” But the same adviser also mentioned that Perry might entertain using only 40,000 troops in Afghanistan — far below numbers either Obama or his generals have suggested is doable so far.

Previously he had been called out for condemning “military adventurism” while also urging Americans to “renew our commitment to taking the fight to the enemy wherever they are before they strike at home,” employing two loaded and contradictory phrases associated with the Bush administration’s foreign policy.

Mitt Romney [said,] “One lesson we’ve learned in Afghanistan is that Americans cannot fight another nation’s war of independence.” He quickly followed up by indicating that he would first consult with generals on the ground before coming up with any timetable for withdrawal. Later that month, he criticized President Obama for planning to reduce troop numbers…

Romney simultaneously supported the Libya mission, criticized Obama’s “tentative, indecisive, timid and nuanced” foreign policy, and offered no suggestion as to what he would have done instead as president. The next month he accused the White House of “mission creep and mission muddle” for expanding airstrikes beyond their stated goal of preventing civilian deaths, and quoted former Bush aide John Bolton warning that Obama was setting himself up for “massive strategic failure” by demanding Qaddafi’s removal. Qaddafi’s regime appears to be gone for good, a development that Romney celebrated with no reference to Obama’s policies.

As a general policy, Romney has consistently condemned Obama as a wuss on the world stage… Obama has heavily escalated the Afghanistan war, initiated a second military conflict in Libya, and ordered a raid into an allied nation’s territory to kill Osama Bin Laden…

Rick Perry’s Crotch Shot — William Saletan

Perry attacked the Massachusetts health care law signed by then-Gov. Mitt Romney. Perry said the program showed “what will not work, and that is an individual mandate in this country.” People “don’t want a health care plan like what Governor Romney put in place in Massachusetts,” Perry concluded. “What they would like to see is the federal government get out of their business.”

Half an hour later, Perry defended a 2007 executive order in which he ordered girls to be vaccinated against HPV, a sexually transmitted virus.

Perry can’t continue to denounce mandatory health insurance while defending mandatory vaccinations for a sexually transmitted virus…

Perry’s Immigration Problem: Even Bigger Than It Looks — Byron York / David Frum

Start with the border fence. Perry opposes it. “Building a wall on the entire border is a preposterous idea,” he said recently in New Hampshire. “The only thing a wall would possibly accomplish is to help the ladder business.”

Perry opposes E-verify, which is a program requiring employers to check the legal status of new hires.

Then there is taxpayer-subsidized, in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. Perry signed the Texas Dream Act in 2001 making it the law in Texas. [He] still supports the measure

“I support a guest worker program that takes undocumented workers off the black market and legitimizes their economic contributions without providing them citizenship status,” Perry said in 2006. “A guest worker program that provides foreign workers with an ID removes the incentive for millions of people to illegally enter our country.”

By contrast,…Romney articulated something almost never said in a Republican primary: much, much, much more important than a fence or “boots on the ground” is tighter enforcement of labor laws inside the country.

Why Jon Huntsman Is More Dangerous Than You Think

If you’ve been reading this blog over the last couple days, you have a good idea what Michele Bachmann and Jon Huntsman stand for. We hope to continue that series throughout the campaign, if only because most Americans go to the polls without the faintest clue of where the candidates stand on the issues. You now know, for instance, that Bachmann is a delusional bigot with little interest in public policy other than to turn America into a quasi-theocracy. You might think she’s the one you should be afraid of. You’d be wrong.

Bachmann is too extreme to be elected president. Even if the Republican primary voters completely lost their minds and nominated her, she’d lose the general election by a landslide, even in her home state of Minnesota.

Huntsman, on the other hand, is a very good match for President Obama. He’s moderate, handsome, polished, and well-spoken. His positions on Afghanistan, Libya, climate change, gun rights, the national debt, and gay marriage line up directly with the public’s opinions. (It’s almost as if he’s just saying what the public wants to hear. Naw, politicians don’t do that…) If he can overcome the powerful extremists in his party, you might consider voting for him.

That’s what makes him dangerous.   Continue reading “Why Jon Huntsman Is More Dangerous Than You Think”