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Democrats Successfully Force their Hand During Coronavirus Stimulus Bill Negotiations

Democrats Successfully Force their Hand During Coronavirus Stimulus Bill Negotiations

Just a quick update on the outcome of the coronavirus stimulus bill negotiations.

Mitch McConnell attempted to ram through $2T spending bill that focused more on boosting big business than providing care for thousands of Americans suffering and dying from severe cases of COVID-19 (and thousands more to come) and alleviating the financial stress put on millions of Americans who suddenly became unemployed because of the coronavirus. Charles Schumer and the Democrats rightly objected to the Republican Senate’s bill and fought to focus on people instead of big business. The Democrats got much of what the wanted in the bill.

The New York Times reports:

The resulting measure is an attempt to sustain the workers and businesses that are losing income as vast sections of the American economy are shutting down under quarantine orders and to help the economy rebound quickly once the pandemic abates.

It includes direct support for companies large and small that have lost all or most of their customers in recent weeks, and direct payments to low- and middle-income families. The package also includes measures meant to encourage companies to keep employees on their payrolls even if their businesses have shuttered temporarily — and it increases aid to workers who are laid off anyway or have had their hours and wages cut back.

The measure will be the third legislative action taken by Congress this month to address the pandemic. Mr. Trump previously signed both a $8.3 billion in emergency aid and a sweeping package providing paid leave, free testing and additional aid for families affected by the pandemic into law.

In the final measure, lawmakers agreed to a significant expansion of unemployment benefits that would extend unemployment insurance by 13 weeks and include a four-month enhancement of benefits, officials familiar with the unfinished agreement said. Democrats said that it would allow workers to maintain their full salaries if forced out of work as a result of the pandemic.

In the interim, lawmakers also agreed to provide $1,200 in direct payments that would apply equally to workers with incomes up to $75,000 per year before phasing out and ending altogether for those earning more than $99,000. Families would receive an additional $500 per child.

We haven’t seen a senate compromise of this magnitude in a very long time. Probably not since Mitch McConnell said in October 2010, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president”.

Bravo Democrats. It’s your time to lead. Keep doing it and do it well, then maybe President Trump will be a one-term president.

Coronavirus Stimulus Bill Sabotaged by Republicans

Coronavirus Stimulus Bill Sabotaged by Republicans

Senate Republicans don’t care about people. They only care about big business, corporate donors, and their extremely wealthy friends. We knew that when a Republican controlled senate passed President Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December 2017. It gave huge tax cuts to corporations and provided a big tax loophole for pass-through income. The bill was advertised as a move that would lower taxes for workers and help businesses expand by providing them with more cash. Most workers saw very small decreases in their taxes and some actually saw their taxes go up a little, but businesses were left with a lot more cash in pocket and they used it to buy back their own stock to line the pockets of their already obscenely rich corporate executives. They did not increase investment any more than they would have otherwise and they did not provide any substantial increases in wages or benefits for workers. Some cities and states saw increases in wages because they mandated higher minimum wages themselves. Republicans in congress refused to increase the minimum wage like they always do.

Trump’s tax-cut was an expensive failure.

So they were fine with their 1.5 Trillion Dollar tax cut for the rich, but they aren’t so fine with a new and much needed coronavirus stimulus bill that will cost somewhere between one to two trillion dollars if most of that money is funneled to the people who really need it – the unemployed workers.

The Democrats focused their efforts on people first, not profits first. They would direct the money to the millions of people in the service industry (restaurants, bars, hotels, ride-share drivers, salon workers, dental hygienists, etc.) who are all out of work. This is a huge sector of our economy. Workers need cash to buy food, pay rent and mortgages, and obtain healthcare – all urgent stuff. The stimulus bill should provide that urgent aid first. A one-time check in the $500 to $1,200 won’t provide the long-term aid they are going to need.

The spending should cover the cost of extending the unemployment insurance for at least a year or two. It should probably force large employers to provide sick pay for as long as is necessary for their workers to recover from COVID-19. The bill should prevent people from losing their jobs because of government-mandated work stoppages. It should make sure that everyone afflicted with the disease gets the healthcare they need regardless of whether or not they have insurance. To put it simply, the stimulus bill can’t be about “creating jobs” right now. It should be all about alleviating hardship and suffering caused by the outbreak, because it can’t help put people back to work until the pandemic is gone, and it looks like that isn’t going to happen for months.

The Republicans’ bill includes $5B for a corporate slush fund. It’s weak on worker retention and has loopholes. It’s treasury lending section is vague. It doesn’t provide provisions to protect people from evictions and foreclosures. It provides zero money for state and local governments. Is that because the states hardest hit are blue states? No additional spending on SNAP when the program will obviously be under extreme pressure. No direct payments for people who did not file tax returns in 2018 or 2019. It offers no help for the uninsured and no help for people with student loans.

What this all adds up to is, as James Martin wrote in The New York Times today, a Moral Evil. That’s suffering caused by the actions of individuals or, in this case, the inaction of individuals. And even worse; the deliberate redirection of resources that should be used to alleviate suffering of the most vulnerable people to the least vulnerable, most wealthy people in our country. That’s right. Who do you think will be the recipients of a slush fund?

Maybe enough Republicans in the Senate will read The Bible tonight and decide to do what Jesus would do (from the James Martin column):

Needless to say, when caring for someone with coronavirus, one should take the necessary precautions in order not to pass on the infection. But for Jesus, the sick or dying person was not the “other,” not one to be blamed, but our brother and sister. When Jesus saw a person in need, the Gospels tell us that his heart was “moved with pity.” He is a model for how we are to care during this crisis: with hearts moved by pity.

I’m not betting on it.

Donald Trump – Pussy Grabber

Donald Trump – Pussy Grabber

There's nobody that has more respect for women than I do.
TOM PENNINGTON/GETTY IMAGES

Donald Trump grabs pussy because, when it comes to women, he can do anything he wants. He’s God’s gift to women!

How do we know this? Because The Washington Post obtained a video of Donald Trump preparing for an appearance on “Days of Our Lives” with actress Arianne Zucker in 2005. Here is a part of the transcript of the conversation he had with “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush about Nancy O’Dell, who was his co-host at the time:

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Mitch McConnell has nothing to offer Kentucky. He’ll be re-elected anyway.

Mitch McConnell has nothing to offer Kentucky. He’ll be re-elected anyway.

Kentucky is one of the poorest states in the union. It vies with West Virginia and Mississippi for bottom place in any well-being list. Its rates of poverty, obesity and general ill-health are among the worst in the country. It has high unemployment. And residents of Kentucky are among the most miserable in the nation, attributable in part to the high incidence of poor health.

In the 30 years he has served it as a United States senator, Republican Mitch McConnell, who is up for re-election this year, has provided little substantive help to the state. Oh sure McConnell steered a good chunk of earmark money to Kentucky over the years; but, as this Huffington Post profile on his career found, the money was directed scattershot fashion primarily in ways that would best cement McConnell’s own power and support in the state rather than as part of any strategy to enhance the state’s welfare. And since 2011 the earmark well has dried up, banned by McConnell’s own party in a largely symbolic show of fiscal rectitude.

Thanks to its Democratic governor’s wholehearted embrace of the Affordable Care Act, however, Kentucky stands to benefit enormously. Already about 360,000 people have signed up for health insurance under the ACA, of whom 75% were previously uninsured. All but 20,000 of the new enrollees are covered under the ACA’s expanded Medicaid, thanks to Kentucky’s low median income level and high poverty rate.

There are few states whose residents need it more. As the 24/7 Wall Street summary of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index 2014 noted:

Kentuckians had some of the most unhealthy behaviors last year. Less than 60% of those surveyed said they ate well all day, the worst among all states, while the smoking rate was the highest in the nation. Unhealthy habits in the state likely contributed to poor physical health. Respondents from Kentucky were among the most likely to complain about lack of energy and sleep, and nearly 30% said health issues prevented them from going about their normal lives. The state’s population was the nation’s most reliant on prescription drugs, with 19.3 prescriptions filled per capita in 2011, tied with West Virginia.

And since approximately 640,000 or 17.5% of residents under 65 lacked insurance prior to the ACA, the law may be a game changer for a state that has traditionally struggled. While there is as yet no clinically proven connection between health insurance and good health, research indicates that having insurance coverage at the very least relieves stress and depression by ameliorating the strain of financial insecurity. Over time it is not unreasonable to hope that the expansion of health coverage in Kentucky will have an enormously significant and positive impact on its population’s well-being.

One would think that this might change the political landscape in this very conservative state. After all a law passed by Democrats in Washington and implemented brilliantly in Kentucky by Democratic Governor Steve Beshear through a remarkably trouble-free website, is already benefitting scores of thousands and has reduced the rate of uninsured by over 40%.

Alas not so. Hatred for Obama and anything associated with him overshadows any actual benefit from the ACA. According to Yahoo News:

Far from being seen as a success story, though, in Kentucky, the health care law and Beshear’s strong embrace of it remain deeply controversial. A recent poll showed that a plurality of Kentuckians continue to favor repealing the law. Other than Beshear, many of the state’s leading Democrats, aware of the lingering tensions around the ACA, avoid speaking about it publicly, wary of being seen as too supportive of “Obamacare.”

Assuming McConnell survives a GOP primary challenge, his Democratic opponent in November will be Allison Lundergan Grimes. In a rational world, Grimes would be trumpeting the success of the ACA in Kentucky and its promise of a better future for so many. Instead:

Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat challenging McConnell in a closely watched U.S. Senate race, does not include any mention of the law on her campaign website and has avoided associating herself with Beshear’s embrace of it.

The Economist wonders:

Why are Kentucky Democrats running away from a law that has for the first time brought free or affordable health insurance to hundreds of thousands of their constituents— mainly at the expense of wealthy out-of-staters? This is one of the poorest, unhealthiest, least-insured states in America, the state with the fourth-highest rate of Social Security disability status in the country, a state that is a byword for cancer-ridden smokers and black-lung-plagued coal miners. Why, among these voters especially, is Obamacare such a losing issue?

Because it was conceived and passed by Democrats and pushed by a black Democratic president, that’s why.

McConnell, of course, has nothing to offer Kentucky but his usual manipulations of the feeble-minded on issues like gun-control, and the promise to repeal a law that stands as the most positive development for the welfare of ordinary Kentuckians in a generation or more. Yet Grimes is a distinct underdog and current trends suggest that Democratic office holders will soon be rarer than unicorns in the state.

In his trenchant book, Thomas Frank asked the question: What’s the Matter With Kansas? People in Kentucky should be asking the same question of themselves.

From the disorderly chaos of the splintered Republican Party, the Democrats formed a spine.

From the disorderly chaos of the splintered Republican Party, the Democrats formed a spine.

Today the Republicans finally realized that almost everyone in the country despises them and that, as a result, they lack the political capital necessary to force President Obama and the Democrats to defund the duly enacted Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare. Instead their Tea Party Tantrum went pretty much exactly how the Democrats said it would: “It’s all there black and white – clear as crystal. You get NOTHING! You Lose!  Good DAY Sir!

We watched like Scooter here…

Mr-Fish-The-Horror sm

… but it was kind of like watching a Marvel Comics film. There may be a lot of drama along the way, but we knew who was going to win.

Jonathan Chait explains why in this excellent post for New York Magazine:

Most of the analysis has focused on the mind-boggling stupidity of Republicans in Congress, who blundered into a debacle that failed in exactly the way they were warned it would. The episode will be retold and fought over for years to come, perfectly emblemizing the party’s internal disorganization, mindless belligerence, and confinement within an ideological echo chamber that sealed out important warnings of failure. A grassroots revolt forced Republicans to shut down the government two weeks before the debt ceiling deadline, serving to weaken the party’s standing at the moment they hoped to hold the default gun to Obama’s head. (It’s possible the lesson they’ll take away from their failure will only be not to shut down the government and threaten default at the same time, requiring another showdown.)

But it also represents a huge Democratic success — or, at least, the closest thing to success that can be attained under the circumstances. Of the Republican Party’s mistakes, the most rational was its assumption that Democrats would ultimately bend. This was not merely their own recycled certainty — “nobody believes that,” a confident Paul Ryan insisted of Obama’s claims he wouldn’t be extorted — but widespread, world-weary conventional wisdom. Democrats would have to pay a ransom. Republicans spent weeks prodding for every weakness. Would Senate Democrats from deep red states be pried away? Would Obama fold in the face of their threat?

Part of what undergirded Democratic unity went beyond a (correct) calculation that it would be dangerous to pay any ransom at all. Democrats seemed to share a genuine moral revulsion at the tactics and audacity of a party that had lost a presidential election by 5 million votes, lost another chance to win a favorable Senate map, and lost the national House vote demanding the winning party give them its way without compromise.

I wish this episode was the last fart from a rotting corpse, but I know better. John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, Michelle Bachman and company will wage another losing battle or two before they lose the war.

The real reason why the Gun Bill was voted down in the Senate

The real reason why the Gun Bill was voted down in the Senate

“In the end it didn’t pass because we’re so politicized. There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.” Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), co-sponsor of the Toomey-Manchin background check bill.

Shameful.
Pigheaded.
Intransigent.
Disgraceful.
Dishonorable.
Contemptuous.
Disdainful.

Gallup’s misery index highlights emptiness of GOP’s vision for the country.

Gallup’s misery index highlights emptiness of GOP’s vision for the country.

The competing visions of the Democratic and Republican parties are clearly on display in their respective budget blueprints for the next decade. The Democratic vision includes the preservation of a strong role for government in providing a decent social safety net for the nation’s disadvantaged. The GOP on the other hand would slash government programs for the poor, cancel the expansion of health care insurance to millions of uninsured Americans, cut taxes on the rich and continue the sort of deregulatory policies that facilitated the financial meltdown and subsequent Great Recession of 2008.

It seems reasonable to ask where the GOP’s path would lead us and for the answer, a glimpse is provided by consulting Gallup’s annual Wellbeing Index, useful insight into the state of the states in terms of health, happiness (or misery), access to government services and other measurements.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the most miserable states are predominantly in the South, with their elevated rates of poverty, violence, medically uninsured and low level of government services. Not coincidentally, the South is the heart and soul of today’s Republican Party. Take Kentucky, the home state of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. He has a lot to say about the need for small government, and his red state is certainly an exemplar of GOP ideology so let’s see how that’s working out (thumbnail sketch from MSN Money 24/7):

Most miserable No. 2: Kentucky

Well-being index score: 62.7

Life expectancy: 76.2 years (seventh lowest)

Obesity: 29.7% (sixth highest)

Median household income: $41,141 (fourth lowest)

Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 83.1% (sixth lowest)

Kentucky has one of the lowest proportions of adults with at least a high school diploma, and the state’s median income is the fourth-lowest among all states. Kentucky ranked second from the bottom in terms of physical health.

Twenty-nine percent of state residents indicated they had health problems that prevented them from doing age-appropriate activities, a higher proportion than residents of any state except West Virginia.

Not a pretty picture and it mirrors the situation in most other Southern states. What’s more their record has been consistent. The region has promoted its business-friendly, non-unionized, low tax environment for many years, yet as evinced in the data on Kentucky – fourth lowest median income in the nation and sixth lowest percentage of adults with at least a high school diploma – the failure of southern states to invest sufficiently in their human capital continues to keep them mired at the bottom in most measurements of wellbeing.

Yet the failure of their low-tax, low government service model at home has not deterred McConnell and the GOP from trying to impose their failed ideology on the rest of the country. Most of us I suspect would rather not go there; turning out to vote on the next election day and every one thereafter is one way to make sure we don’t.

Fanatical Republicans fight for the super rich and against America’s future

Fanatical Republicans fight for the super rich and against America’s future

A Fiscal Cliff

Anyone need further proof of the extremism and detachment from reality that permeates today’s Republican Party? Look no further than its stance on the talks over the so-called fiscal cliff.

The country is facing huge and looming expenses as more and more baby boomers retire, our brave veterans return home from two wars with long term medical care needs, an enormous infrastructure deficit begs for investment spending as does the critical requirement to adequately fund those things will help to make us economically competitive in the long term: basic and applied research and development in science and technology, and our education system. And let’s not forget the key responsibility that any civilized society has, which is to provide a decent safety net for the poor in America.

Protecting the Rich from Taxes

So in the face of all these crucial needs what is the GOP’s contribution to the fiscal cliff talks? What is it they are willing to go to the mat for? To hear the whistle, climb the ladder from their trenches and charge with fixed bayonets to defend? Well, that would be to ensure that those poor rich souls who earn $250,000 or $25 million or whatever don’t suffer a paltry tax rate increase from 35 to 39.6%.

How does anybody with half a brain and a heart not see the lunacy of this position? The rubbish these Republicans peddle that higher tax on the wealthy rates hurt the economy is simply not supported by the facts, as anybody who reads Paul Krugman’s columns knows full well. When the Congressional Research Service said much the same thing the GOP forced it to withdraw the report. Pesky things, facts.

Fanatical Zeal for their Positions

However, the point is that the GOP has adopted an insane and indefensible position on taxes that is incompatible with the future America faces and they defend it with a mindless and almost fanatical zeal. And this is the second of America’s two major political parties.

GOP intransigence and blackmail may be about to bear fruit

GOP intransigence and blackmail may be about to bear fruit

The GOP had a plan in 2009: Bitterly oppose and obstruct every policy initiative the Obama administration and congressional Democrats proposed, create tumult and crises, then blame Obama and the Democrats for the gridlock which, they could then argue, would be fixed only by electing a Republican president to break the paralysis.

For their plan to work, GOP congressional leaders Mitch McConnell of the Senate and John Boehner in the House required three essential elements: party discipline in the congress, a rabid base that supported their intransigence and an inattentive and largely uninformed electorate.

Imposing party discipline has rarely been a problem for Republicans and so it has proved over the last 4 years even with the very occasional flashes of independence displayed early on by the so-called “moderate” Maine women (Senators Snowe and Collins).

And with the Tea Party now the driving force of the GOP, McConnell/Boehner had an extremist base that not merely supported the strategy but punished anyone deemed a compromiser. Such conservative icons as Richard Lugar of Indiana paid the price.

Finally, a huge swath of the American electorate either failed to see what was going on or simply dismissed it as politics as usual. It wasn’t.

In all the years I’ve lived in the US I cannot remember a time when one of the two major parties so blatantly put its interests before those of the country to discredit a president of the other party and, ultimately, regain the White House.

The beauty of the American political system we’ve always been told is that compromise is an essential feature. But there is no spirit of compromise in today’s GOP. Or rather, the word is only used in connections with an expectation that Democrats will compromise with a President Romney and GOP congressional leaders; conversely, the latter will never do the same for a re-elected Obama.

There is an underlying element of blackmail in this strategy. In effect the GOP is making clear they will render the country ungovernable under a Democratic president. And they are willing to wreak great damage to the country if necessary; we saw an example of this clearly with the actions of House Republicans in the negotiations over raising the nation’s debt limit in 2011. And they are now threatening as much for the looming “fiscal cliff” as it has come to be known.

And it’s working. Ezra Klein in The Washington Post cites the shameful (my word not Klein’s) endorsement of two newspapers which supported Obama in 2008 and have now endorsed Romney for 2012 precisely because they see continuing gridlock with Obama and the GOP leadership, but the possibility of compromise if Romney wins the White House.

The conservative pseudo-intellectual David Brooks in The New York Times explicitly makes the case for Romney in citing the virtual impossibility of congressional Republicans meeting Obama half-way. Of course in doing so, he dishes out his usual cloud-cuckoo palaver about Romney’s likely tack to the center, magically dragging along congressional Republicans as he does so. Sure he will.

Republicans are confident they will prevail in large part because, unlike themselves, Democrats are not a reckless, destructive force willing to tolerate harm to the country through governmental failure or inertia. And they’re right.

Yet there is great peril in all this for the country. To vindicate the GOP strategy is to encourage repeat performances whenever a Democrat wins the presidency. To blackmail the country into electing a GOP president or face governmental paralysis will effectively disenfranchise the half of the electorate that doesn’t share the GOP’s narrow and mean-spirited ideology, one which would move us inexorably towards a survival of the fittest society.

More importantly, it would fundamentally undermine the very foundation of the American form of government and conceivably usher in what looks more like a parliamentary system where one party can rule. And we know which one that will be.

Up to now, Americans have failed to recognize today’s Republican Party for the extremist and destructive force it represents. And it is well past time for the American people to wake up and deliver the electoral blow that is the only way to pull it back to the mainstream.

Republicans Freak Out about the 7.8% Unemployment Report

Republicans Freak Out about the 7.8% Unemployment Report

On Friday the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the economy added 114,000 jobs in September and unemployment declined to 7.8 percent.

Those are not great numbers, but they’re not bad either.

Apparently the report was too good for Republicans and their rightwing media pals who responded by going off the rails and accusing the BLS of fixing the numbers to make President Obama look better the month before the election.

“Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can’t debate so change numbers.” Former GE CEO Jack Welch.

“I agree with former GE CEO Jack Welch, Chicago style politics is at work here.” and “Orwellian to say the least and representative of Saul Alinsky tactics from the book ‘Rules for Radicals.” – Rep Allen West (Rep Fl)

“There is widespread mistrust of this report and these numbers.” and “How convenient the rate drops below 8% [for the] first time in 43 months, five weeks before the election.” Stuart Varney, FOX News

“I don’t think BLS cooked numbers. I think a bunch of Dems lied about getting jobs. That would have same effect.” Conn Carroll, Washington Examiner

“I told you they’d get it under 8 percent — they did! You can let America decide how they got there!” – Rick Santelli, CNBC News

“Jobs #s from Labor Secretary Hilda Solis are total pro-Obama propaganda–labor force participation rate at 30-yr low. Abysmal!” – Laura Ingraham

And this the poll was on her website today:

Like I’ve said before, when facts don’t fit the Republican narrative, Republicans make stuff up. Their narrative is that Obama’s stimulus was wrong, his auto bailout was wrong, his investments in alternative energy sources are wrong, and the government spends too much money. Well in spite of what they say, Obama’s plans were effective and created around 3 million jobs. And had he been able to get his American Jobs Act through congress, Friday’s unemployment rate would be much lower.

Republicans care less about taking steps to improve the economy than they do about making Obama a one-term president, so anything that would help the economy is bad for them. John Boehner in the Republican controlled House and Mitch McConnell in the very undemocratic, minority controlled Senate made sure that Obama’s job creation bill got nowhere.

However, in spite of their obstructionism, the economy has slowly improved but, since they tried everything they could do to make sure it did not improve, they have to make up stories about the BLS in order to reconcile the 7.8% figure with their false reality.

As the above graph from Paul Krugman’s blog shows, Obama inherited an economy from George W. Bush an that was in freefall left to him by, and after Obama’s policies kicked in, the economy started to improve. Krugman created another graph in a post that shows the 7.8% figure follows the trend, so Friday’s BLS report shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who pays attention to real data.

Is the BLS a partisan entity controlled by Obama? No.

Betsey Stevenson, a former chief economist at the Department of Labor under President Obama, said in a phone interview with TPM that the conspiracy theories were misguided in just about every way possible. For starters, the Bureau of Labor Statistics isn’t currently run by a political appointee. For most of Obama’s term, the commissioner was a holdover appointed by President Bush. The current acting commissioner John Gavin is a career BLS economist, not an Obama appointee.

 

The underlying data behind the BLS reports is also publicly released and used by analysts across the private sector and academia, meaning a conspiracy would have to survive scrutiny from trained economists of all political stripes.

Nor is there much time to cook the books at the top level if they wanted to.

None of that matters in the fantasy world of the modern Republican Party.