Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Step One: Citigroup Writes Bill. Step Two: Congress Passes Bill--w/ Help of 70 Dems

 Yesterday, the House voted to allow your 401(K) adviser to scam you.

Today, the House voted on financial deregulation legislation that was, effectively, written by Citigroup.

The New York Times reported on Citigroup's authorship back in May:
In a sign of Wall Street’s resurgent influence in Washington, Citigroup’s recommendations were reflected in more than 70 lines of the House committee’s 85-line bill. Two crucial paragraphs, prepared by Citigroup in conjunction with other Wall Street banks, were copied nearly word for word. (Lawmakers changed two words to make them plural.)

The lobbying campaign shows how, three years after Congress passed the most comprehensive overhaul of regulation since the Depression, Wall Street is finding Washington a friendlier place.

The cordial relations now include a growing number of Democrats in both the House and the Senate, whose support the banks need if they want to roll back parts of the 2010 financial overhaul, known as Dodd-Frank.

This legislative push is a second front, with Wall Street’s other battle being waged against regulators who are drafting detailed rules allowing them to enforce the law.
Congress, of course, has a history of passing laws specifically designed for Citigroup. What does the so-called Swaps Regulatory Improvement Act do?
The bill that Citigroup helped draft takes aim at one of the more contentious provisions in Dodd Frank, a requirement that banks “push out” some derivatives trading into separate units that are not backed by the government’s insurance fund. The goal was to isolate this risky trading and to prevent government bailouts.

A main culprit in the 2008 financial crisis, derivatives are contracts that allow companies to either speculate in the markets or protect against risk. Such contracts helped push the insurance giant American International Group to the brink of collapse in 2008.

The House bill scheduled for a vote Wednesday would significantly curb the requirement that banks separate their derivatives trading operations, a plan that was created as a compromise by Citigroup lobbyists. In essence, the compromise exempted a wider array of derivatives from the push-out rule.
Rep. Maxine Waters (CA-43), ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee, has been the bill's most vocal opponent. The Times quotes her as saying, "After inflicting so much pain and suffering on the American people, now is not the time to let the largest banks back into the casino."

Rep. Jim Himes (D-Wall Street suburbs) has been the bill's most vocal Democratic supporter.
The legislation, Mr. Himes said in an interview, poses no financial risk to the country. And while he is the second-largest recipient among House Democrats of financial sector donations, that is not what is compelling his vote, he said.

“It hardly determines, thank goodness, how legislators think about these issues,” said Mr. Himes, a former Goldman Sachs executive.
His comment is precious, isn't it?

Occupy the SEC activist (and reformed former banker) Alexis Goldstein got into an epic Twitter battle with Himes back in May, when the bill was still in Committee.

The bill passed the House easily, with a bipartisan majority of 292 to 122. 70 Democrats voted for it. 3 Republicans voted against it. The fact that a majority of Democrats opposed it is a welcome development, considering it passed committee 53 to 6. However, they all should have opposed it.
The three Republican opponents were Jimmy Duncan (TN-02), Walter Jones (NC-03), and Tom Massie (KY-04).

And now for the 70 Democrats that supported weakening Dodd-Frank to satisfy their donors:

Ron Barber (AZ-02)
John Barrow (GA-12)
Joyce Beatty (OH-03)
Ami Bera (CA-07)
Sanford Bishop (GA-02)
Earl Blumenauer (OR-03)
Corrine Brown (FL-05)
G. K. Butterfield (NC-01)
John Carney (DE-AL)
Yvette Clarke (NY-09)
Jim Clyburn (SC-06)
Gerry Connolly (VA-11)
Joe Crowley (NY-14)
Henry Cuellar (TX-28)
John Delaney (MD-06)
Tammy Duckworth (IL-08)
Eliot Engel (NY-16)
Elizabeth Esty (CT-05)
Bill Foster (IL-11)
Marcia Fudge (OH-11)
Pete Gallego (TX-23)
Joe Garcia (FL-26)
Colleen Hanabusa (HI-01)
Denny Heck (WA-10)
Jim Himes (CT-04)
Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15)
Steven Horsford (NV-04)
Steny Hoyer (MD-05)
Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08)
Hank Johnson (GA-04)
Robin Kelly (IL-02)
Derek Kilmer (WA-06)
Ron Kind (WI-03)
Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-01)
Annie Kuster (NH-02)
Rick Larsen (WA-02)
John Larson (CT-01)
Daniel Lipinski (IL-03)
Nita Lowey (NY-17)
Dan Maffei (NY-24)
Carolyn Maloney (NY-12)
Sean Maloney (NY-18)
Jim Matheson (UT-02)
Mike McIntyre (NC-07)
Gregory Meeks (NY-05)
Grace Meng (NY-06)
Gwen Moore (WI-04)
Jim Moran (VA-08)
Patrick Murphy (FL-18)
Bill Owens (NY-21)
Ed Perlmutter (CO-07)
Scott Peters (CA-52)
Gary Peters (MI-14)
Jared Polis (CO-02)
Mike Quigley (IL-05)
Nick Rahall (WV-03)
Charlie Rangel (NY-13)
Cedric Richmond (LA-02)
Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-02)
Loretta Sanchez (CA-46)
Brad Schneider (IL-10)
David Scott (GA-13)
Terri Sewell (AL-07)
Brad Sherman (CA-30)
Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09)
Albio Sires (NJ-08)
Juan Vargas (CA-51)
Marc Veasey (TX-33)
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23)
Frederica Wilson (FL-24)

Notice that several members of the party leadership--Clyburn, Hoyer, and DWS--were on that list. Pelosi and Israel were not there for the vote.

Lest you get your hopes up that notorious Blue Dog Jim Cooper had a change of heart and voted against it, he didn't. He wasn't there.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

30 House Democrats Joined the GOP to Sell You Out to Wall Street. Which Ones?

Republicans and conservative Democrats just voted to sell you out to Wall Street. In other words, it's Tuesday.

Today, the House passed the so-called Retail Investor Protection Act 254 to 166.  30 Democrats voted with 224 Republicans in favor. 165 Democrats--and one Republican--voted against it. Those following H.R. 2374 thought it would pass with wide bipartisan margins, so having 165 Democratic NAY's was better than expected. The 30 Democratic YEA's still need to be named and shamed, however.

First, let's begin with the important question: What is the Retail Investor Protection Act? The bill delays a new Department of Labor rule that would prevent financial advisers from stealing from your 401(K) plans or IRAs. Allowing financial advisers to rip you off is a great complement to that other plank in the Republican-Conservadem retirement insecurity platform, cutting Social Security.

Here's David Dayen with more details:
The Labor Department proposal, known as the “fiduciary rule,” would change the ethical standards by which employer-based retirement products like 401(k)’s and IRAs are marketed and sold. The rule has not been updated since 1975, before 401(k)’s and IRAs even existed. The Labor Department wants to broaden the definition of a “fiduciary” to cover all financial advisers who offer individual investment advice for a fee. Under the rule, they would be legally required to work in the best interest of their clients. For example, a fiduciary would not be able to push investment products on customers in which they have a financial stake. The agency defines the goal of the proposal as “to ensure that potential conflicts of interest among advisers are not allowed to compromise the quality of investment advice that millions of American workers rely on, so they can retire with the dignity that they have worked hard to achieve.” ...
Currently, it is depressingly common for financial advisers, more than 80 percent of whom are not fiduciaries, to self-deal when offering advice. First off, they obtain large fees from the retirement products they sell. According to the think tank Demos, a median-income, two-earner household will pay $155,000 during their lifetime to financial advisers on average. (The lifetime gains for two-earner households from retirement accounts are around $230,000, meaning that nearly two-thirds of the profits go to the industry.) Second, non-fiduciary financial advisers can enjoy kickbacks; right now there is no rule against an adviser from a mutual fund company encouraging clients to put their money in specific funds sold by that company. In fact, that’s the norm, and the adviser typically receives a commission for the sale.

Conflicts of interest like this cost retirement investors at least $1 billion a month, because the funds they get channeled into underperform the alternatives. Financial advisers also encourage rollovers into high-cost IRAs when an individual changes jobs. None of these schemes have to be disclosed to the customer, under the current standard. The National Bureau for Economic Research found in a recent study that “adviser self‐interest plays an important role in generating advice that is not in the best interest of the clients.”
So in the middle of a retirement crisis, when the majority of Americans already aren’t accumulating the savings they need to maintain their standard of living, sellers of retirement products are skimming close to $60 billion a year off the top through deceptive practices, making a bad situation even worse.
Now that we know what it is, let's move to the next question: Who voted for it? 
The lone Republican NO was Walter Jones (NC-03).

And here are the 30 Democratic YEA votes. Most of their names should look familiar if you've seen any of my past roll call diaries.

John Barrow (GA-12)
John Carney (DE-AL)
Gerry Connolly (VA-11)
Jim Costa (CA-16)
Henry Cuellar (TX-28)
John Delaney (MD-06)
Ted Deutch (FL-21)
Bill Foster (IL-11)
Pete Gallego (TX-23)
Joe Garcia (FL-26)
Denny Heck (WA-10)
Jim Himes (CT-04)
Derek Kilmer (WA-06)
Ron Kind (WI-03)
Rick Larsen (WA-02)
Dan Maffei (NY-24)
Jim Matheson (UT-04)
Mike McIntyre (NC-07)
Gwen Moore (WI-04)
Patrick Murphy (FL-18)
Bill Owens (NY-21)
Ed Perlmuter (CO-07)
Scott Peters (CA-52)
Gary Peters (MI-09)
Collin Peterson (MN-07)
Bradley Schneider (IL-10)
Kurt Schrader (OR-05)
Brad Sherman (CA-30)
Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09)
Filemon Vela (TX-34)

Note the appearance of Gary Peters on the list. He’s racked up quite the number of awful votes since he declared his intention to run for Carl Levin’s Senate seat. He must be doing it for the fundraising.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Jokes with a Side of Austerity? Misinformation on Social Insurance on The Daily Show

Jon Stewart can be a very good interviewer when he knows his subject. His interview with Betsy McCaughey about the ACA always comes to mind. However, when he hasn't read up on a subject, misinformation can win the day. Social insurance is often one of such topics for misinformation.

I debunked some of the myths and lies on the show from interviews with Charles Krauthammer, Robert Reich, and Alan Simpson over at the Daily Kos. I'll just link to it to make life easier. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Mike Tomasky Acknowledges Dems Want to Cut SNAP, Too...But Gives Them a Pass

Earlier today, I stumbled upon an article by Daily Beast columnist Michael Tomasky entitled "The Republicans’ Food Stamp Fraud: It’s Not About Austerity."

The title is somewhat strange in and of itself. He seems to be saying that cutting SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or "food stamps") would be okay if such cuts were for austerity. So if the Republicans were cutting SNAP because of THE DEFICIT, then it would be okay?
Let's go over to the article itself.

He begins by noting that Republicans want to cut SNAP for sadistic reasons rather than budgetary reasons. Tomasky won't say this because of his VSP leanings, but we must never forget that, as Chris Hayes eloquently explained, no one actually cares about the deficit.
But spare me a moment here—plus a thousand words down the page—and I think maybe you’ll agree with me that the single worst thing the Obama-era Republicans have done is try to push through a $40 billion cut to the food-stamps program. It’s just unspeakably cruel. They usually say publicly that it’s about saving money. But sometimes someone—one congressman in particular—lets slip the real reason: They want to punish poor people. The farm bill, which includes the food-stamp program, goes to conference committee next week. That’s where, the cliché has it, the two sides are supposed to “iron out their differences.” The only thing the Democrats on this committee should do with an iron is run it across the Republicans’ scowling faces. ....
This cut is the fraud, because it’s not really about fraud or austerity. It’s entirely about punishing the alleged 47 percent. The bottom half or third of the alleged 47 percent. It’s absolutely appalling. These folks have done a lot of miserable things in the past four years. But this—the morality of this is so repulsively backward, the indecency so operatically and ostentatiously broadcast, I think it takes the gold going away.
I wouldn't disagree with any of his indictments of Republicans. But wait a moment. There's also this:
It’s costing about $80 billion a year. Senate Democrats proposed a cut to the program. A small cut, but a cut all the same: $4 billion over 10 years. The Republicans in the House sought a cut of $20.5 billion over 10 years. But then the farm bill failed to pass. Remember that? When John Boehner didn’t have enough votes to pass his own bill?  After that debacle, the House took the farm bill and split it into two parts—the subsidies for the large growers of rice and cotton and so forth, and the food-stamp program. Two separate bills. And this time, Eric Cantor doubled the cut: $40 billion over 10 years. This number, if it became law, would boot 3.8 million people—presumably, nearly half of them children—off the program in 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office
(Emphasis added) 
He acknowledges that Senate Democrats also wanted to cut the program. However, he seems to give them a pass. They don't face any criticism in his article. Only Republicans do.

By all means, $4 billion over a decade is not as deep of a cut as $4 billion per year over a decade. However, we shouldn't even be considering cutting SNAP when the program has been the only thing keeping many people afloat in the still-depressed economy. Is it okay that Democrats want to cut SNAP because of THE DEFICIT, as one might infer from reading Tomasky? NO.

The Democrats' support for cuts also has an insidious consequence: putting the debate on Republican terms. The debate is not "if" the program should be cut; rather, it is "by how much." And Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) has already expressed a willingness to cut even deeper than the Senate bill already did. And when the debate is not "if" but "how much," the resolution will always tend toward "more."

During the debate over the Farm Bill, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand proposed an amendment to restore the $4 billion that the Debbie Stabenow and Thad Cochran's farm bill cut from SNAP and to offset this restored funding with a limitation on crop insurance reimbursements. Our current crop insurance subsidies benefit large farms at the expense of smaller ones and are one of the many glaring manifestations of corporate welfare that Congress never fixes.  Gillibrand's amendment would, in essence, cut corporate welfare spending to restore social welfare spending.  Did this progressive proposal pass?  Not even close.  It failed 26-70. Not even a majority of Democrats voted for it.

Which Democrats voted against restoring food stamps--voting against veterans, children, seniors, and those struggling to get by?

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD)
Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE)
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE)
Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA)
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN)
Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC)
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA)
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM)
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD)
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV)
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL)
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR)
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT)
Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO)
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA)

I was shocked to see Al Franken on that list, but I'd guess it's because he's from a big agricultural state. None of these Democrats deserve a free pass from criticism. They may not use the hateful rhetoric of the GOP, but that doesn't make their cuts noble.

On the other hand, these 26 senators voted to restore SNAP funding.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK)
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Sen. Sherod Brown (D-OH)
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
Sen. Robert Casey (D-PA)
Sen. Mo Cowan (D-MA)
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI)
Sen. Angus King (I-ME)
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT)
Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI)
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT)
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)
Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI)
Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI)
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Only two Democrats---Sheldon Whitehouse (who was not there to vote on Gillibrand's amendment) and Jack Reed, both of Rhode Island--voted against the Senate Farm Bill. The rest ultimately gave their implicit approval to the idea--and policy--of cutting food stamps.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Nothing Says "Progress" like Having Walmart Fund Your Conference...And Other Think Tank Hypocrisy

The Center for American Progress is now ten years old and had its 10th anniversary celebration yesterday, bringing in a number of Democratic Party heavy-hitters. The Huffington Post caught something seemingly incongruous at the event:
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought down the curtain on the celebration of the Center for American Progress' 10-year anniversary on Thursday, but not before CAP President Neera Tanden thanked a few of the event's sponsors: Walmart, AT&T, the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Because nothing says progressive policy like Walmart and AT&T, right? 
Now, I could talk about how Walmart's policies kill American jobs, cost taxpayers money, destroy small businesses, violate labor laws, and excaerbate economic inequality. I could also talk about the Walton family's activism in the school privatization movement.

Instead, let's just turn to CAP's own blog, ThinkProgress. Here are some headlines from just the past few months.

"Walmart CEO: Most Salespeople Make Less Than $25,000 A Year" (Bryce Covert; 10/23/2013)

"Dozens Of Walmart Workers Walk Out On Strike In Miami" (Bryce Covert; 10/21/2013)

"Walmart Workers Arrested While Protesting Unjust Firings, Low Wages" (Aviva Shen; 8/22/2013)

"The Company With Lower Prices And Better Benefits Than Walmart" (Bryce Covert; 8/9/2013)

"Will Walmart Create Any Extra Jobs If It Opens In DC?" (Bryce Covert; 7/12/2013) [The answer, as Bryce Covert explains, is NO.]

"Walmart Threatens To Shut Down Stores If DC Passes Living Wage Bill" (Aviva Shen; 7/10/2013)
Here's how CAP describes its mission:
The Center for American Progress is an independent nonpartisan educational institute dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through progressive ideas and action. Building on the achievements of progressive pioneers such as Teddy Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, our work addresses 21st-century challenges such as energy, national security, economic growth and opportunity, immigration, education, and health care.
I think you have to jump through a lot of rhetorical and logical hoops to say that Walmart fits into an MLK-inspired vision of economic progress. Just saying. 
And how about AT&T? Well, AT&T has been violating customers' privacy rights evading wiretap laws with the help, of course, of the DOJ, which wants access to AT&T's data for surveillance purposes. Progressive!

When writing about CAP's questionable funding (more extensively chronicled in The Nation), I was reminded of another bit of hypocrisy I saw today from one of DC's "center-left" think tanks.

That other bit of think tank hypocrisy was courtesy of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Today, CBPP's Kathy Ruffing had a good blog post about how Social Security keeps 22 million people out of poverty.
Social Security lifted 22 million people out of poverty in 2012, according to our updated analysis (with state-by-state data) of Census data.  This includes not just 15 million elderly Americans but also many younger people, including 1 million children who either received their own benefits as dependents of retired, disabled, or deceased workers or lived with relatives who received Social Security.  (See table below.)

Without Social Security benefits, 44.4 percent of elderly Americans would have incomes below the official poverty line, all else being equal.  With Social Security, only 9.1 percent do.  (See graph.)

Given the program’s powerful anti-poverty impact, cuts in Social Security benefits could significantly raise poverty — particularly among the elderly and the disabled — depending on their design.

Social Security benefits are already modest, both in dollar terms (the average retired worker receives less than $1,300 a month) and by international standards.

Social Security accounts for two-thirds of income for its elderly beneficiaries, on average.  And more than a third of beneficiaries — generally the oldest and poorest — rely on Social Security for at least 90 percent of their income.

While policymakers should work to close Social Security’s long-term funding gap, they should remember this program’s vital importance for Americans of all ages.
I have no qualms with that post. I though it was quite good. However, it does not align with Ruffing and CBPP's own past positions. 

In February 2012, Kathy Ruffing, Paul N. Van de Water, and Robert Greenstein produced a report entitled "Chained CPI Can Be Part of a Balanced Deficit-Reduction Package, Under Certain Conditions," in which they argued for cutting Social Security benefits. They, of course, used the same (rather empty) qualifying comments that the Democratic Party leadership has always used--that any changes would have to protect the very poor and very vulnerable, etc. But nonetheless, they are arguing for a cut to the benefits of retirees. You can see a takedown of that report by the Economic Policy Institute's Larry Mishel here.

CBPP was still pushing benefit cuts back in April:
Pelosi told reporters she thought Democrats ought to hear both sides, arranging a debate conducted by outside experts for Democrat members.

Pelosi joined the rest of her membership at the weekly House Democratic Caucus meeting where lawmakers heard from Damon Silvers of the AFL-CIO labor federation, representing opposition to Obama's proposal, and Robert Greenstein, executive director of the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, which favors including entitlement reform in budgets.

Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota told Reuters after the meeting that while there were a few Democrats in favor of maintaining an open mind to Obama's proposal, the caucus as a whole "overwhelmingly" delivered the message that the so-called chained-CPI was a non-starter.

"There was a lot of concern," Ellison said.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

When Did We Start Being Viewed as Consumers Rather Than As Citizens?

When reading the President's remarks from the other day about the problems with, I was somewhat discomfited by the concept of "president as corporate salesman" that pervaded the speech. The most glaring example of this is the line "....because consumers want to buy this product and insurance companies want to sell it to you."

The Affordable Care Act, by design, accepts the conservative (neoliberal) notion of health insurance as a market good. We (unless we are very poor, disabled, or elderly) are supposed to "choose" private insurance from the marketplace. When the state views its residents as "consumers," it will tell them to make a purchase. When the state views its residents as "citizens," it seeks to provide the universal goods and services needed for a healthy and educated body politic, for the universal attainment of positive liberty.

"Choice" has its role in some aspects of the economy. I've discussed this elsewhere.  However, if we say, as liberals do when talking about education and health care, that "everyone deserves the best quality, then we are implicitly arguing for universal provision as against choice, especially in those cases where "choice" only means "you get only what you can afford, not what you need.” “Choice” as a concept makes sense when there are qualitative differences, particularly qualitative differences at each price level. When “shopping” for health insurance plans, the questions are “how much do they cover” and “how much do they cost.” The concerns are quantitative. One does not ask if a health insurance plan is yellow or blue, sweet or spicy, funny or serious. One can say those about clothing, about food, or about entertainment, where “choice” is a matter of taste, not just price.

Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute has an excellent piece up today called "What Kind of Problem is the ACA Rollout for Liberalism?" Konczal argues,
Conservatives in particular think this website has broad implications for liberalism as a philosophical and political project. I think it does, but for the exact opposite reasons: it highlights the problems inherent in the move to a neoliberal form of governance and social insurance, while demonstrating the superiorities in the older, New Deal form of liberalism.
It's worth reading in full. 
One of the key aims of the neoliberal project is to change the individual's relationship with the state to that of a consumer, rather than that of a citizen.

This tension between the individual as citizen and individual as consumer made me ask a question: When did the emphasis on the consumer become greater than the emphasis on the citizen?

Out of curiosity, I turned to the Google Books Ngram Viewer and tracked the relative frequency of the words "consumer" and "citizen" in the corpus of the English language over the past two centuries. I found the results rather revealing.

From 1800 to the late 1890s, the word "consumer" was comparatively infrequent. It then experienced its first acceleration between (roughly) 1896 and 1920. For most of this time, however, the word "citizen" was becoming more frequent as well.

The word "citizen" experienced a download trend between 1919 and 1931. This largely coincides with the materialism of the "Roaring Twenties."

The word "consumer" rose sharply throughout the 1930s, the Great Depression. The word "citizen" rebounded slightly in the 1930s from its downward spin in the prior decade.

In the decade after World War II, with the beginnings of the era of mass consumerism, "consumer" continued to rise, and "citizen" began to fall again. "Consumer" passed "citizen" in 1957.

From 1966 to 1980, the word "consumer" saw a sharp increase. This might be a result of the rise of the "consumer protection" movement a la Ralph Nader. But it is also likely a result of the increase in consumerism . It seems fitting, in a way, to see that Reagan was elected in the year of peak "consumer."

From 1970 to 1988, the word "citizen" saw a quick decline. Trough "citizen" occurred in 1988, the end of the Reagan presidency.

I think that the chart serves as a great inspiration for a longer think piece on the relationship between the individual as consumer and individual as citizen. Maybe I'll write it someday.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Which 12 Dems Voted Against Protecting Environmental Review for Water Projects?

Today, in a nearly unanimous vote, the House passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, which authorized waterways and port projects across the country.

Many Democrats expressed their concerns about how the bill could weaken environmental protections, but they voted for it anyway.

Numerous amendments were proposed, but I'd like to highlight one in particular, the one that addressed the problem noted above.

Rep. Pete DeFazio (OR-04) proposed an amendment to delay the streamlined environmental review process until the backlog of projects falls to less than $20 billion from its current level of about $60 billion.

The Hill explained,
The Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), H.R. 3080, includes language that seeks to streamline environmental reviews in order to move these projects to the construction phase more quickly. But several Democrats argued that environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) are not the reason why projects are delayed, and said the real reason is a lack of funding that has created a $60 billion backlog of unfunded projects. .....
"There's no evidence that the public participation environmental review process has caused delay," said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.). "The problem is not NEPA. The problem is that this Congress has failed to appropriate enough money to keep up with the projects we authorize."
DeFazio's amendment failed on a mostly party line vote of 183 to 236. 
Only two Republicans voted for it: Mike Fitzpatrick (PA-08) and Chris Gibson (NY-19).

Twelve Democrats (many of the usual suspects) voted against it:

John Barrow (GA-12)
Sanford Bishop (GA-02)
Timothy Bishop (NY-01)
Henry Cuellar (TX-28)
Gene Green (TX-29)
Eddie Johnson (TX-30)
Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-01)
Jim Matheson (UT-04)
Collin Peterson (MN-07)
Nick Rahall (WV-03)
Kurt Schrader (OR-05)
Filemon Vela (TX-24)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

With Two Weeks Until the Election, Chris Christie's Campaign Website Still Has No Issues Page

The New Jersey gubernatorial race is coming up in two weeks. Don't forget to vote on November 5th, progressive Garden Staters!
Earlier today, I got into a discussion with an NJ environmentalist on Twitter, who was expressing his disgust with the big green groups in New Jersey because they have decided to sit the gubernatorial race out.

In what was a seemingly incomprehensible move, back in 2009, the New Jersey Environmental Federation (NJEF) endorsed Chris Christie over Democrat Jon Corzine, who had a far better environmental record.

Chris Christie is a climate denialist who has gutted the state's environmental regulations and withdrawn from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. NJEF has since regretted their 2009 endorsement and endorsed Christie's challenger Barbara Buono, a progressive with the third highest NJEF score in the state senate.

NJEF, which endorsed Buono back in June, is alone, however, among the big green groups in the state. Conserve NJ, the NJ Audubon Society, and the NJ League of Conservation Voters have all decided not to endorse despite the fact that the differences between the candidates on environmental matters could hardly be starker.

During my discussion noted above, I decided to check Buono's website to see what she says on the environment:
New Jersey’s environment is an essential part of our state’s character. From our world famous coast to our rolling hills, our state’s natural beauty is a major contributor to our quality of life and our economy.

But Governor Christie has repeatedly undermined efforts to reduce pollution and grow our clean energy economy. By unilaterally pulling New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that includes states throughout the Northeast, Christie has held back investment in our solar and renewable energy industries and could cost New Jerseyans high tech jobs.

Barbara will restore New Jersey’s leadership in clean energy, attracting solar and wind projects and spurring new hiring. As governor, she’ll put a stop to the Christie Administration’s use of waivers that allow polluters to dirty our air and water and jeopardize public health.
I then thought, "Why not check out Chris Christie's website, too?"  If you remember, back in June, I wrote a diary about how Chris Christie's website had no issues page.   

Fun fact: It still doesn't.

He has several bullet points in his "About" page, which I've already torn apart for misrepresentations and falsehoods (See the diary link earlier). However, nowhere on his site does he present an agenda for the next four years. Nowhere does he say what he wants to do, how he plans to use an electoral mandate. His website touts his "strong leadership," but "strong leadership" is only good when used for the right ends. Strength is amoral--it can serve purposes both beneficent and nefarious.

It's quite telling that Chris Christie doesn't want to inform the people of New Jersey about what he plans to do. I'm sure he knows that the public doesn't support his reactionary economic, social, and environmental policies, his agenda for the 1%. But many of those voters think he's the type of candidate with whom you could "have a beer," and they'll set the issues aside. At their own peril.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Star-Ledger Calls Christie "Overrated" and "Fraudulent"---and Then Endorses Him?

Do you remember the Des Moines Register's endorsement of Mitt Romney last year because he, the DMR said, would be able to end partisan gridlock, etc., etc.? It was surreal in its distance from facts.
And remember when David Frum endorsed Mitt Romney because Frum wanted a carbon tax?
I think I've found a new addition to the list of nonsensical endorsements: the Star-Ledger's endorsement of Chris Christie for re-election.
So let's hear what the Star-Ledger had to say about Christie.
That his record is mediocre and untested, if one can even be so kind:
The surprise is that his achievements have been only modest. He signed an important reform to contain pension and health costs, but it was mostly done before he arrived. He signed a useful tenure reform last year, but it is a weak version that still protects bad teachers with seniority. His reorganization of the higher education system is promising, but untested.

Balance that against his measurable failures, and you have to conclude he is much better at politics than he is at governing.
That he is "hostile to low-income families" and environmentally destructive:
The property tax burden has grown sharply on his watch. He is hostile to low-income families, raising their tax burden and sabotaging efforts to build affordable housing. He’s been a catastrophe on the environment, draining $1 billion from clean energy funds and calling a cease-fire in the state’s fight against climate change.
That he's a fiscal fraud:
The governor’s claim to have fixed the state’s budget is fraudulent. New Jersey’s credit rating has dropped during his term, reflecting Wall Street’s judgment that he has dug the hole even deeper. He has no plan to finance transit projects and open space purchases now that he has nearly drained the dedicated funds he inherited from Gov. Jon Corzine.
That he's an egomaniac:
His ego is entertaining, but it’s done damage as well. By removing two qualified justices from the Supreme Court without good cause, he threatened the independence of judges at all levels, and provoked a partisan stalemate that has left two vacant seats on the high court. This was a power grab gone wrong.
That his record on Sandy recovery is mixed, even troubling:
The public gives him top marks for his handling of Sandy, but the record is mixed. Why would his administration park NJ Transit trains in a low-lying area where they flooded, causing $120 million in damage? Why did the federal government have to strong-arm the state to include more relief for renters and Spanish-speakers than Christie had proposed? And why should anyone believe taxpayers got the best price on refuse removal when the governor awarded a no-bid contract through a political friend?
That he's overrated:
Our own view is that Christie is overrated. His spin is way ahead of his substance.
But then they endorse him!

Why?  The Star-Ledger calls Barbara Buono a "deeply flawed" candidate. Let's look at the reasons they give.

(1) That she supports the teachers union and opposes privatization schemes and corporate reforms backed by Christie, the neoliberal Democratic establishment, and the bipartisan donor class

(2) That she supports public workers

(3) That she doesn't like doing "back-room deals" and has a bad relationship with Jersey's corrupt Democratic political bosses like George Norcross

(4) That universal pre-K and increased aid to public colleges will cost money

(5) That she hasn't named a single spending cut beyond the traditional promise to attack “fraud and abuse" (which, as the same article just mentioned, are rampant under Christie!)

The Star-Ledger then criticizes the corrupt Democratic establishment for failing to support her and praises her progressive record and proposals:
Its major players were scared to challenge Christie, and only Buono showed the conviction to stand up to him. If anyone should be ashamed in the wake of the crushing defeat the polls predict, it is the lethargic and compromised party establishment, not the lone woman who took up the challenge.
Buono has long been a sturdy voice for progressive causes. She was a key player in establishing paid family leave, protections against bullying and revamping the school aid formula.

As governor, she would allow gay couples to marry, raise the minimum wage and stop the baseless attacks on the courts. She would raise taxes on incomes greater than $1 million, and restore at least some of the property tax rebates that Christie cut. She would also restore funding for Planned Parenthood, and sign strong gun legislation. On each of those issues, we are with her.
The Star-Ledger then offers more reservations about Chris Christie: The fact that Christie refused to meet with the Star-Ledger editorial board:
He has refused to speak with The Star-Ledger editorial board for four years, the first governor in either party to do so.
That they fear he will move far to the right because of higher ambitions, heighten his war with public unions, orchestrate more power grabs, and continue his hostility to low-income families:
The endorsement of Christie comes with the hope that Democrats hold control of the Legislature to contain his conservative instincts. It is especially important that Democrats hold the Senate to block him from remaking the Supreme Court in his image, a move that would doom urban schools and affordable housing efforts.

Christie has said little about his plans for a second term. Our fear is that he could veer rightward to impress Republican base voters in the 2016 primaries, by reviving his plan to cut income taxes for the rich, by escalating his campaign to strong-arm the Supreme Court, or by picking a fresh fight with the unions.
One has to wonder whether the owners of the Star-Ledger demanded that its editorial board endorse Christie, destroying any editorial independence that may have existed.

Friday, October 18, 2013

For 2014, 218 is not enough

As the Republican Party has been (deservedly) sinking in the polls because of their efforts to shut down the federal government because of, at first, their displeasure with PPACA and, later, a twisted sense of revanchism and pride, there have been glimmers of optimism about the Democratic Party's chances at taking back the House in the 2014 elections. The Cook Political Report recently moved 14 House seats in the Democrats' direction. Recent polling by PPP has shown that Democrats could have good chances in a number of swing districts.

These tend to focus on the Democrats getting to 218, the number needed to have a majority in the House. However, as the title to this diary says, 218 is not enough.

Unlike their counterparts in many parliamentary system in which representatives vote en bloc with their ideologically consistent parties, many Congresspersons--especially Democrats--defect from the party line, often with the leadership's approval. A majority of 218 could not suffer a single defection. Nancy Pelosi is very good at counting and whipping votes, but passing bold legislation with an ideologically diverse caucus that can suffer no defections (without corresponding pick-ups) is a formidable challenge to any speaker. The accomplishments of the Democratically-controlled House in Obama's first term were only able to happen because there was a sizable buffer in the majority. Many of these bills suffered several dozen defections.

27 Democrats voted against Dodd-Frank. 6 of those 27 are still in Congress:

Henry Cuellar (TX-28)
Marcy Kaptur (OH-09)
Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-01)
Mike McIntyre (NC-07)
Kurt Schrader (OR-05)
Peter Visclosky (IN-01)

34 Democrats voted against PPACA. Most of the 34 got wiped out in the Blue Dog massacre of 2010 or have since retired from/lost their seats. However, four of them are still with us:

John Barrow (GA-12)
Dan Lipinski (IL-03)
Stephen Lynch (MA-08)
Jim Matheson (UT-04)
Mike McIntyre (NC-07)
Collin Peterson (MN-07)

44 Democrats voted against the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), the climate bill.
Most of the 44 got wiped out in the great Blue Dog massacre of 2010, some retired or lost last year, and 1 (Joe Donnelly) moved up to the Senate. But 8 are still in the House:

John Barrow (GA-12)
Jim Costa (CA-20)
Pete DeFazio (OR-04)
Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-01)
Jim Matheson (UT-04)
Mike McIntyre (NC-07)
Nick Rahall (WV-03)
Peter Visclosky (IN-01)

The DISCLOSE Act suffered 36 defections.

The opposition came from different directions in the caucus. A few Blue Dogs opposed it because they do the bidding of the moneyed interests. Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus feared that it would have a negative impact on the NAACP. I would guess that Carolyn McCarthy’s NO vote had to do with the NRA carve-out.

15 of the 36 are still in the House. Many of the Blue Dogs lost their seats, and one Blue Dog—Joe Donnelly, again—moved up to the Senate.

John Barrow (GA-12)
Sanford Bishop (GA-02)
G. K. Butterfield (NC-01)
Danny Davis (IL-07)
Donna Edwards (MD-04)
Marcia Fudge (OH-11)
Alcee Hastings (FL-20)
Carolyn McCarthy (NY-04)
Mike McIntyre (NC-07)
Bill Owens (NY-21)
Collin Peterson (MN-07)
Bobby Rush (IL-01)
Bennie Thompson (MS)
Maxine Waters (CA-43)
Mel Watt (NC-12)

Granted, the pressure on representatives would differ in the situation of a weak majority. Pelosi would not allow 28 defections on the party's budget if the Democrats (a) had the majority and (b) needed all of those votes for passage. And the fear of being the single representative to tank a publicly popular bill like a minimum wage increase would create pressure as well. Even still, legislating with a slim majority is a formidable task and will not likely lead to the bold legislation needed to adequately address the continued unemployment crisis, widening inequality, climate change, and the many other challenges we face. To see any good legislation passed, the Democrats will need far more than 218 next year, and they'll need quality candidates getting them past it.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Pelosi Appoints Clyburn, Lowey, and Van Hollen to the Budget Conf. What Should We Know About Them?

Yesterday, Nancy Pelosi named her three conferees for the bipartisan, bicameral budget conference:
Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi today named three House Democratic Members to serve on a conference committee to complete a final FY 2014 budget agreement.  She appointed Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn; Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Ranking Member on the Budget Committee; and Congresswoman Nita Lowey, Ranking Member on the Appropriations Committee.
What do we know about these three?

First, all three of them voted for the Budget Control Act of 2011. In case you forget, that was the legislation that came out of the manufactured crisis of July 2011. It imposed austerity on the country by capping spending levels and paving the way for sequestration cuts. Anyone who has not been living under a rock for the past few years should have known that the Supercommittee created by the BCA would produce no bipartisan deficit reduction plan, so a vote for the BCA was a vote for sequestration cuts.

None of them have signed onto John Conyers's Cancel the Sequester Act of 2013, which would repeal and not replace sequestration cuts. None of them have signed the Grayson-Takano letter opposing any plan that cuts Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

James Clyburn was one of only 16 Democrats to vote for the Simpson-Bowles plan when it came to a vote in March 2012. That is even worse than it looks because S-B critic-turned-cheerleader Nancy Pelosi argued that the plan being put to a vote was to the right of Simpson-Bowles. She refused to whip for it accordingly.

Last fall, in the lead up to the "fiscal cliff," Chris Van Hollen expressed a willingness to cut Social Security by the implementation of chained CPI and to raise the Medicare eligibility age:
On Capitol Hill, it isn’t clear how strenuously Democrats will resist cutting entitlements. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.) said he and others were open to changes as long as they were done in a measured way and were part of deal that included tax increases. Mr. Van Hollen also said changing Social Security and increasing the Medicare eligibility age above 65 should be part of negotiations.

“I’m willing to consider all of these ideas as part of an overall plan,” Mr. Van Hollen said Tuesday at the Journal’s CEO Council.
He backtracked on the latter part, but I take him at his original words behind closed doors. Nita Lowey is the only one of the three that seems to be much of a defender of Social Security. She was one of the 100+ House Democrats to sign onto a letter stating their opposition to any plan like Simpson-Bowles that cuts Social Security:
Dear Mr. President,

We oppose any cuts to Social Security benefits, including raising the retirement age. We also oppose any effort to privatize Social Security, in whole or in part.

You have charged the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform with proposing recommendations that improve the long-term fiscal outlook and address the growth of entitlement spending. It is our view that Social Security--which is prohibited by law from adding to the national budget deficit--does not belong as part of those recommendations.

By 2023, Social Security will have built up a $4.3 trillion surplus, and, without any action, can pay at least 75 percent of all benefits thereafter. Because Social Security is funded separately from the general treasury and has no borrowing authority, it has not contributed to the federal deficit. Despite these facts, some Commission members have repeatedly alleged the need to cut Social Security for budgetary reasons.

For 75 years, Social Security has been a promise to the American people that if they work hard and pay their fair share, they will have a financially secure retirement. In communities across this country, Social Security benefits are often the only source of income helping families maintain a decent standard of living. Social Security's benefits are modest, averaging less than $13,000 a year, but they are vital to the vast majority of Americans who receive them.

Cutting Social Security benefits further than they are already being cut by raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 would create needless hardship for millions of vulnerable Americans. This is especially true in the face of an economic downturn that has wiped out trillions of dollars that Americans were relying on for their retirement security and the increased dismantlement of the private and public pension systems.
If any of the Commission's recommendations cut or diminish Social Security in any way, we will stand firmly against them.
There are some promising names on the Senate side, but, again, just "some." Whereas Boehner and Pelosi only get three appointments each, the full Senate Budget Committee gets to go:
The next steps in the fractious dance we call governance will be up to the conferees. That committee consists of House members Paul Ryan, Tom Cole, Tom Price, Diane Black, James Clyburn, Chris Van Hollen, and Nita Lowey. And from the Senate, the entire Budget Committee: Patty Murray, Ron Wyden, Bill Nelson, Debbie Stabenow, Bernie Sanders, Sheldon Whitehouse, Mark Warner, Jeff Merkley, Chris Coons, Tammy Baldwin, Tim Kaine, Angus King, Jeff Sessions, Charles Grassley, Mike Enzi, Mike Crapo, Lindsey Graham, Rob Portman, Pat Toomey, Ron Johnson, Kelly Ayotte, and Roger Wicker.
I have strong faith in Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley, and Sheldon Whitehouse. They've all been strong defenders of Social Security and Medicare and have signed onto the Harkin-Sanders no-chained-CPI resolution. I have no faith, however, in Mark Warner. Bill Nelson and Angus King are on the right wing of the Democratic caucus. Despite his excellence on security state issues, Ron Wyden has a strong neoliberal bent.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Yes, We Do Have Obligations to the Future

A few days ago, the New York Times's Stone blog ("a forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless") published an essay with a provocative title: What Do We Owe the Future? I find the topic of intergenerational morality to be good fodder for intellectually stimulating discussions, and I've written about my thoughts on the matter in the past. I was disappointed, however, when the NYT piece turned out to be as intellectually lazy as it was.

The authors--Patricia Vieria and Michael Marder--criticized the act of designing policy with the future in mind as a form of colonization of the minds of the future, an attempt to speak for the voiceless, the not-yet-born, those whose intentions we do not, yes, cannot know.

To insist on any one notion of the future in political and philosophical debates risks turning it into an ideological instrument used to justify present policies. The discourse of anti-abortion advocates, for instance, emphasizes the rights of the unborn in order to regulate female sexuality. The reductio ad absurdum of this argument is the prohibition of any form of contraception by certain religious conservatives, who place abstract reproductive possibilities above existing persons. Arguments like this turn future generations into mere pawns in the power games of the present.

And so, suffocating under the excessive burden of the future, we project our worries onto it, and usurp its proper space. In claiming to speak for the future, we represent it in a double sense: by electing ourselves as its delegates and at the same time turning it into an extension of the present.

Another dimension of the colonization of the future is its idealization as the be-all and end-all of our actions. The future is converted into a fetish that supplements the deficiencies and redeems the flaws inherent in the present. Since the coming generations have not yet attained empirical existence, the ones now living will never be able to measure up to their purported perfection.

This seemingly new phenomenon is actually a mutation of the old metaphysical tendency to debase the world here below at the expense of an otherworldly ideal: Plato’s Ideas, Aristotle’s unmoved mover, medieval philosophy’s God, Hegel’s Spirit and the rest. But the emerging metaphysical paradigm differs from its predecessors in that its fate is tied to historical becoming, rather than to the eternal principles of being. This temporal characteristic is illusory, since the future is postponed indefinitely. It always remains beyond the present, immune to contestation, much like the chimeras of old metaphysics.

The examples they provide about such "colonization" of the voices of the future are (1) the debate about abortion and contraception, (2) the debate about personal and public debt, and (3) the debate about environmental protection.

They complement these with the central question "why are the demands of the present neither pressing nor absorbing enough in their own right?"  Such a question is highly relevant in issue #2, the subject of debt--particularly public debt. Budget projections are not known for their sterling reliability, and thinking about the debt of those living 50 years from now makes no sense when there is plenty of suffering today ignored by our politicians. However, I think the authors give an unfair treatment to environmental concerns, particularly climate change--about which they seem dismissive.

The scientific knowledge about climate change is far more certain than the economist's knowledge of future debt, and addressing climate change is a far more formidable endeavor. We do need to plan for the future so that, frankly, there can be a future. However, as the USA Today editorial board noted yesterday,  climate change is not just a matter of the future: it is a matter of the present. We are already seeing the effects of the increasingly unstable weather patterns that will increase in the future.

Moreover, the authors conflate several concepts of the future. You can look at the "future" as the "not-yet-born," but you can also see the future as the "future selves of the born." If I think of the world 20 years, 30 years, 50 years into the future, then I am thinking of a world in which I still live. And I believe that we have a duty to our future selves--a longitudinal moral obligation--just as we have a duty to others--a latitudinal moral obligation.

The authors, ultimately, appear to be arguing with a straw man with their criticism of the use of the future as a "diversion" from the concerns of the present. Their critique would make sense if it were targeted at revolutionary utopians who believe that the suffering and toil of the present will be justified by the creation of a glorious future of material abundance that no one in the present will ever know. But they do not orient their critique as such. Most environmentalists that I know are not ascetics who believe in inflicted austerity on the present world in order to make things viable in the future; rather, they believe in transforming society into a more just, equitable, and sustainable system. They are not sacrificing the needs of the present for the idea of the future: they see them as irrevocably linked and believe that the most effective ways of addressing climate change acknowledge such linkages.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

UT/NJ Poll: 4/5 of Americans Say, "Hands Off Social Security & Medicare!"

United Technologies and National Journal came out with a poll recently that tracked public opinion on the government shutdown, the debt ceiling, and the budget.

I want to highlight a few of the results that I found interesting.
(CC4) Which one of the following possible outcomes of an agreement to reduce the deficit concerns you MOST?
35% said that they were most concerned that it would cut too much from government programs like Medicare and Social Security.

25% said that they were most concerned that it would raise taxes on “people like them.”

17% said that they were most concerned that it would not meet its target for reducing the federal deficit and debt.

14% said that they were most concerned that it would allow for too much federal spending in the next few years.

The question on taxes, to me, shows the success of Republican messaging. They've been able to condition people to see "taxes" as "taxes on them" and get them, consequently, to identify with the interests of the 1%.

The UT/NJ poll compared these results to those in polls taken in October 2012 and November 2011. The results were within the margin of error of each other.
CC5. I’m going to read you some government programs whose spending could be cut to reduce the federal budget deficit. As I read each one, please tell me if you think spending on that program should be cut back a lot, some, or not at all to reduce the deficit?
Social Security & Medicare
76% said that Social Security should not be cut at all; only 18% thought it should be cut “some,” and a nearly non-existent 3% said that it should be cut “a lot.”  Americans oppose such cuts, then, 76 % - 21%.

81% said that Medicare should not be cut at all; only 14% thought that it should be cut “some,” and a nearly non-existent 4% thought that it should be cut “a lot.” Americans oppose such cuts, then, 81% - 18%.

The results in both cases showed little change from November/December 2012 and February 2012, the last times such questions were asked.

In other words, as we all know, it would be political malpractice for the Democrats to agree to any plan that cuts Social Security and Medicare benefits. (I would emphasize the “benefits” aspect of Medicare because you can cut spending by allowing the government to negotiate for prescription drug prices.)

The Republicans who’ve been pushing cuts to these programs over the past few days are, as we already know, out of touch with their base:
Broad deficit reduction could strain R coalition more than #Obamacare: nearly 4/5 of whites >50 oppose any medicare cuts in new #UTCNJCCPoll
— Ronald Brownstein (@RonBrownstein) October 11, 2013

34% thought that defense spending should not be cut at all, 44% thought that it should be cut “some,” and 18% thought that it should be cut “a lot.” Thus, Americans supported defense cuts 62% to 34%. Maybe our leaders in Washington will listen?

These numbers were within the margin of error of past polls.


60% thought that Medicaid for low-income families should not be cut at all. 30% thought that it should be cut “some,” and 7% thought it should be cut “a lot.” Thus, Americans oppose Medicaid cuts 60% to 37%.

These numbers are similar to past polls, but do show a slight increase in support for cuts and slight decrease in opposition to them.

Food Stamps

42% thought that “food stamps and housing vouchers that go to low-income families” should not be cut at all. 39% thought that such programs should be cut “some,” and 17% thought that such programs should be cut “a lot.” That produces a 56% to 42% support for cuts.

While most of the other categories showed little, if any, movement, there was noticeable change across polls here. In February 2012, 51% supported not cuts at all, 37% supported “some cuts,” and 9% supported a “lot” of cuts. Back then, opposition to cuts won 51% to 37%. In November/December 2012, support for (50%) and opposition to (49%) cuts were effectively tied.

This seems, unfortunately, to be a case in which both parties really are to blame. I would guess that Republicans followed their party away from “some” to “a lot,” and Democrats followed the party away from “not at all” to “some.” We can’t forget that the Senate version of the farm bill contained cuts to SNAP as well (although not as deep as the House’s), and that Sen. Debbie Stabenow said she’d be willing to cut even deeper. A majority of the Democratic caucus even voted against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s amendment to restore SNAP cuts by cutting crop insurance subsidies.

Whom will our politicians in Washington represent: Wall Street and the defense contractors OR the voters?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

When a Problem Comes Along, You Must...Create a Supercommittee

The House just voted 224 to 197 to create a new bipartisan, bicameral "working group" (i.e. supercommittee) to debate spending and the debt ceiling. Unsurprisingly, since this was drafted by the GOP, it does not allot for discussions on revenue.

What do they say about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results again?

The vote was mostly party line. Blue Dogs John Barrow (GA-12) and Mike McIntyre (NC-07) voted with the Republican majority.

Five Republicans voted NAY: Jim Bridenstine (OK-01), Walter Jones (NC-03), Tom Massie  (KY-04), Ted Poe (TX-02), and Tom Rooney (FL-17).

What does it do? The text isn't available in THOMAS, but The Hill has some details:
Under the legislation, a committee of 20 lawmakers would have to be appointed to the fiscal working group one day after the bill becomes law. Six members from the majority party and four from the minority party in both the House and Senate would be assigned. It would then require the group to meet until it has recommendations.
Democrats--rightfully--scoffed at the proposal:
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the bill “an absurd proposal,” and asked, rhetorically, “Who writes this stuff?”

“I expected better,” said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-N.Y., the ranking member of the Rules Committee. “Another supercommittee for crying out loud? Look what happened to the last one.”

Slaughter’s Rules Committee colleague, Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., twice called the working group “Supercommittee II: The Wrath of Cruz.” It was a reference to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who has been a leading proponent of the GOP’s decision to demand that Obamacare be defunded in exchange for a temporary spending bill to fund the government.

Democrats also scoffed at the bill’s lack of a timetable, and that its mission statement did not include opportunities for discussions on revenue and in closing tax loopholes for the purposes of deficit reduction.

“That is a farce by definition,” said Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.
(If you want to read a history of the failure of these awful committees over the past few years, I wrote one a few months ago.) 
There were other votes today. One was a unanimous vote to approve a resolution making sure essential federal workers who have remained on the job are paid on time.

The other was the latest episode in the GOP's piecemeal budgeting stunt, always focused on the departments or programs in the news--this time, Head Start. It passed 248 to 168.

The vote was, as to be expected, mostly party line. Two Republicans--Tim Huelskamp (KS-01) and John Duncan (TN-02) voted no.  23 Democrats voted with the GOP:

Ron Barber (AZ-02)
John Barrow (GA-12)
Ami Bera (CA-07)
Bruce Braley (IA-01)
Cheri Bustos (IL-17)
Suzan DelBene (WA-01)
Bill Foster (IL-11)
Joe Garcia (FL-26)
Dan Lipinski (IL-03)
Dave Loebsack (IA-02)
Stephen Lynch (MA-08)
Sean Maloney (NY-18)
Jim Matheson (UT-04)
Mike McIntyre (NC-07)
Patrick Murphy (FL-18)
Scott Peters (CA-52)
Gary Peters (MI-09)
Collin Peterson (MN-07)
Nick Rahall (WV-03)
Raul Ruiz (CA-36)
Bradley Schneider (IL-10)
Kurt Schrader (OR-05)
Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09)

No surprises there.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Asymmetric Polarization: 1988, 2000, and 2012

In the discussions of the current government shutdown, many have mentioned the death of moderation in the Republican Party, with a revanchist minority taking the reins of the party and its direction. This piqued my interest in looking at the ideological evolution of both parties and the asymmetric polarization that has defined the past few decades.

To get a look at asymmetric polarization in action, I decided to pore through the data on, which runs the DW-Nominate scoring system. The system provides a rank ordering of all of the members of the Senate and House in each Congressional session. Scores range from -1.000 (most liberal) to 1.000 (most conservative). You can read their methodology on the site linked above.
As is the case with any such scoring system, there are flaws. The most obvious and annoying one, in my opinion, is the fact that congresspersons are given only lifetime scores, so you can't see the evolution of a particular person's ideology. This also makes the rank-orderings of past Congresses imperfect because they are not treated as sessions frozen in time. The flaws of DW Nominate are perhaps most evident in the scoring of Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Gillibrand went from being a Blue Dog representative from upstate New York to a member of the liberal faction of the Senate Democrats, now representing the full state. DW Nominate does not account for this because it only provides a single score based on her full career.

Nevertheless, the scoring system is still quite useful for tracking trends over time.
Out of curiosity, I decided to track how many representatives of each party received a score more than 0.500 or more than 0.600 away from the center. Democrats with scores between -0.500 and -1.000 can be called liberal Democrats, and Republicans with scores between 0.500 and 1.000 can be called conservative Republicans.  The use of 0.600 adds another layer of intensity.

This allows us to see how strong the liberal faction of the Democratic Party and the conservative faction of the Republican Party are.

I decided to look at three Congressional sessions: the 100th (1987-1989), 106th (1999-2001), and 112th (2011-2013). The 113th session, the current one, has not been scored yet. This takes us from the end of the Reagan presidency to the end of the Clinton presidency to the present.

I tried to work with only the members currently seated at the end of the Congress so that I would not have any duplicates.

100th Congress

The 100th Congress had 254 Democrats and 178 Republicans at its end.

15 Democrats (5.9% of the caucus) had scores between -0.600 and -1.000.
42 Democrats (16.5% of the caucus) had scores between -0.500 and -1.000.

7 Republicans (3.9% of the caucus) had scores between 0.600 and 1.000.
26 Republicans (14.6% of the caucus) had scores between 0.500 and 1.000.

106th Congress

The 106th Congress had 210 Democrats and 222 Republicans at its end.

16 Democrats (7.6% of the caucus) had scores between -0.600 and -1.000.
54 Democrats (25.7% of the caucus) had scores between -0.500 and -1.000.

24 Republicans (10.8% of the caucus) had scores between 0.600 and 1.000.
59 Republicans (26.6% of the caucus) had scores between 0.500 and 1.000.

112th Congress

The 112th Congress had 191 Democrats and 240 Republicans at its end.

18 Democrats (9.4% of the caucus) had scores between -0.600 and -1.000.
51 Democrats (26.7% of the caucus) had scores between -0.500 and -1.000.

57 Republicans (23.8% of the caucus) had scores between 0.600 and 1.000.
113 Republicans (47.1% of the caucus) had scores between 0.500 and 1.000.


Across Congresses, the size of the liberal faction has been relatively the same; its share mainly fluctuates because of the size of the total caucus. The movement to the left of the mean DW Nominate score of the Democratic Party (which you can see on the website) is not a result of a stronger liberal faction, but rather a result of the disappearance of conservative Southern Democrats from the caucus.

The conservative faction of the Republican Party has seen substantial growth, both in terms of raw numbers and in terms of its share of the party. Conservative Republicans now make up almost half of the caucus.