Saturday, January 5, 2013

Hagel to be nominated for Defense ?

Several news sources are reporting that former senator Chuck Hagel is to be nominated as Secretary of Defense as early as Monday.   To me, that is good news.   The only drawback I see is that he made a remark in 1998 that suggests an anti-gay attitude.  LGBT groups -- and Barney Frank -- are opposed to him for that reason.

Well, yes, I would certainly not want to have a homophobic autocrat heading up the Pentagon at a time when we've just made it safe and acceptable for gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.

But, come on, that remark was 14 years ago.   Many people have gone through rather major transformations in attitude since then.   Do we know that he has not?  He has apologized for those remarks, saying they were insensitive.   It's true, that could be merely a convenient and necessary prerequisite to the nomination, rather than a change of feelings and attitudes.   But we shouldn't just decide that's all it is;   give him a chance to elaborate on it, including how he would handle the issues of gays in the miliatry.  I'm sure not all of the generals who oversaw the sensitivity training and implimentation of DADT repeal were ardent friends of gays and lesbians 14 years. ago.

Here's why I would like to have him in that office.   He give the impression of being a realist and an independent thinker, one who would forthrightly tell the President, and everyone else, what he thinks.  He is not an idealogue, either as a hawk or a dove.   He initially voted for the Iraq war but fairly early became one of the most highly placed critics of the war, including the Bush escalation.   He does not kowtow to the American-Israeli lobby;  rather, he would take a realist position on the Middle East conflicts.   Here's what he has said in response to criticisms about his attitude toward Israel:
"I'm not an Israeli senator. I'm a United States senator. . . .  I support Israel, but my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States, not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel. . . ."
People who know and have worked with him over the years say that this is partly his principles and partly that he does not sugar-coat his views to conform to media-friendly messagesHe speaks bluntly and honestly.  He is the antithesis of the kind of politician who will tell you one thing for its effect, and then do the opposite behind your back.

John Kerry at State and Chuck Hagel at Defense would make a strong team -- both with experience in the senate on foreign affairs and defense matters.  Both serious men with a world view that trumps partisan parochialism.   That's exactly what we need.


Friday, January 4, 2013

Barney Frank: "Put me in, Coach."

Retiring after 32 years representing Massachusetts in the House, Barney Frank has seemed eager to retire from politics.   However, with Gov. Duvall Patrick's plan to appoint an interim senator for the several months before the special election, one who will not run for the seat, Barney has now come forward and said he would like to have the interim job.

Today, Barney said on "Morning Joe:"
"A few weeks ago, I said I wasn't interested. It was kind of like, you're about to graduate and they said, you've got to go to summer school. But that [fiscal cliff] deal now means that February, March, and April are going to be among the most important months in American financial history.

"Yes, in fact, I'm not going to be coy, it's not anything I've ever been good at. I've told the governor that I would now like, frankly, to be a part of that. It's only a three-month period, I wouldn't want to do anything more, but to be honest, it's a little arrogant."

"Coach, put me in."
That is an excellent plan.   Barney has the smarts, the arrogance to tell it like it is, and he was chair of House Financial Services Committee.   No one could be better in the Senate as they battle with the Republicans over the fiscal cliff, the debt ceiling, and tax reform.

Put him in, Coach.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Take the compliments and run . . .

After the Senate passed its fiscal cliff compromise, progressives were sorely disappointed that Obama "caved in" and let the no-tax-hike income level rise to $400,000.

But then the House finally passed the same Senate bill, with significant support from Republicans, including Speaker Boehner and Chair of the Budget Committee Paul Ryan.  So now the media is focused on conservatives' complaints that Republicans caved in.

Newt Gingrich texted:   "The GOP has been engaged in a two month dance of defeat and surrender.   I hope tonight is the end of this self-defeating strategy."

Charles Krauthammer had already complimented President Obama on his "great skill, and ruthless skill, and success -- to fracture and basically shatter the Republican opposition."  After last night he wrote that "it is a complete surrender on everything . . . it's a complete rout by the Democrats."

Thank you very much, Sirs.   I think we'll just take those compliments and call it a big win.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Senate bill passed the House 257 to 167

What a volatile day it has been on Capitol Hill.   At 2 am, the Senate passed the compromise, bipartisan fiscal cliff bill by 89 to 8.   Then it went to the House.   They tried to amend it to include some spending cuts, but that didn't gather the necessary Republican support after the Senate sent word that they would not reconsider any changes.  The House to vote, yes or no, on the bill as it is.  For a while it looked like they might not pass it.

Then there was apparently a major reversal in their thinking, and the mantra became:  "We will live to fight another day."

They realized that voting it down would leave the House Republicans taking the blame for our going over the cliff, and the American people clearly didn't want that.  Not did the financial world.   So they passed the bill, with the intent to insist that raising taxes has now been dealt with and can't be used as a negotiating issue when they come back in March to deal with spending cuts, the deficit, and the debt ceiling.

The final vote was 257 t0 167.   The yea votes included 172 Democrats and 85 Republicans, making it a solid bipartisan vote, with room to spare.


Krugman on the deal

Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times today that this budget fight is really a fight over the future of the welfare state and that there are two ways they can lose.   One is to have it voted down outright, which the Romney defeat put to rest for the time being.

The other was is the conservatives' "starve the beast" strategy, which cuts available money in the budget so that social welfare programs have to be cut.   The Bush tax cuts, plus fighting two wars on credit and a drugs-for-seniors program without providing to pay for it.  So the results of that are what we are struggling with now.

Krugman writes:
"The bad news is that the deal falls short on making up for the revenue lost due to the Bush tax cuts. Here, though, it’s important to put the numbers in perspective. Obama wasn’t going to let all the Bush tax cuts go away in any case; only the high-end cuts were on the table. Getting all of those ended would have yielded something like $800 billion; he actually got around $600 billion. How big a difference does that make?

"Well, the CBO estimates cumulative potential GDP over the next decade at $208 trillion.So the difference between what Obama got and what he arguably should have gotten is around 0.1 percent of potential GDP. That’s not crucial, to say the least.

"And on the principle of the thing, you could say that Democrats held their ground on the essentials — no cuts in benefits — while Republicans have just voted for a tax increase for the first time in decades.

"So why the bad taste in progressives’ mouths? It has less to do with where Obama ended up than with how he got there. He kept drawing lines in the sand, then erasing them and retreating to a new position.  And his evident desire to have a deal before hitting the essentially innocuous fiscal cliff bodes very badly for the confrontation looming in a few weeks over the debt ceiling.

"If Obama stands his ground in that confrontation, this deal won’t look bad in retrospect. If he doesn’t, yesterday will be seen as the day he began throwing away his presidency and the hopes of everyone who supported him."
Good analysis of the situation.


Senate passes the stopgap measure 89 to 8

Well after midnight, the Senate passed the Biden-McConnell compromise by an overwhelming majority of 89 to 8.   The House supposedly will vote on it sometime today, where it's far less certain to pass, although such a big Senate majority makes it a little more likely.

This compromise prevents taxes going up on the middle class -- and up to incomes of $400,000/$450,000, blocks spending cuts for another two months, extends unemployment benefits, prevents the 27% cut in fees to Medicare doctors, and delays Congress's own pay raise for three months.

So it's another fight for another day.  That fight will come at a worse time, when the debt ceiling will also have to be raised and the fiscal cliff will be gone as an incentive.

Was this really a good idea?   What if Obama had held out for the $250,000 limit on tax hikes?   What if Republicans had continued to say 'no' to any tax hike on the wealthy?

What if the House doesn't pass it?

Some will say that, once again, Obama caved and that he'll never have any negotiating clout again.    Some will say they can't trust their representatives not to break their promise of 'no new taxes.'

The political theater will continue.    Welcome to 2013 and another year of the Washington soap opera.


The eight senators voting No were:
Democrats:  Harkin (Iowa), Carper (Delaware), Bennett (Colorado).
Republicans:  Lee (Utah), Shelby (Alabama), Rand (Kentucky), Grassley (Iowa), Rubio (Florida).

Monday, December 31, 2012

Did we go over the cliff . . . or not?

It's one hour and fifteen minutes to midnight -- the witching hour that was supposed to mark us falling down the over-hyped fiscal cliff.   Then it turned out it wasn't that big a deal, at least not immediately.   Most of the effects can be fixed.

But it was still used as a negotiating incentive for the political implications, for both parties.

Now, as the minutes tick away, it's not really clear whether we going over or not.   I supposed technically we will, because they say it's impossible to write up a bill and get it passed.  In fact, the House adjourned and wouldn't vote on it tonight anyway, even if the Senate does pass it.   And they're not likely to get it done before midnight.

So yes, we're going over the cliff.   But we may hardly notice it.

What's actually in the deal that Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell supposedly have hammered out.   This is the third team, so to speak.    First it was Obama and Boehner.   That fell through.  Then it was Obama and Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell.  That went nowhere.   So they called in good old Joe, who has worked with McConnell for 23 years in the Senate and knows how to work a deal.

The bottom line, I think, is that, because the more liberal Democrats hate it and the more conservative Republicans hate it, it's probably a pretty good compromise.  Each side gave in on a very important point for them:   Republicans gave in on their pledge never to raise taxes on anybody;  and Democrats gave in on Obama's campaign promise to raise them for anyone making over $200,000/250,000.

It also extends unemployment benefits, extends child tax credit and college tuition tax credit amd fixes the Alternate Minimum Tax.  It also cancels the 23% cut in payment to Medicare doctors, which would have decimated the number of them taking Medicare patients.   The Republicans also got some of what they wanted on estate and capital gains taxes.

Both sides got some of what they wanted and agreed to some of what they hated.

The fact is, however, that this really only kicks the can into March, when they will have to try to deal with tax reform, spending cuts, and the debt ceiling all at the same time.   That's not good.  The Democrats will have lost some of their advantage, since avoiding the fiscal cliff and being blamed for it, won't motivate the Republicans as it does now.

Strategically, who won?   That's not clear either.   You could argue that Republicans broke the most solemn (to them) promise by voting to raise taxes on the wealthy.   Democrats, especially labor and progressives, hate that Obama gave in on holding the tax break to $250,000 as he had said he would do.

But will it pass?   That's not so clear.   Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have said they will support it.   Will the more liberal Democrats and the Tea Party Republicans?   That's not so clear.

Stay tuned.

And, by the way, Happy New Year.


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Chuck Hagel for Defense

Big changes coming in the Obama cabinet.  Already, he has nominated John Kerry to replace Hillary Clinton, after striking out on undeserved opposition to Susan Rice, his obvious first choice.

Now, opposition is mounting in the Senate to his rumored first choice for Secretary of Defense, former Senator Chuck Hagel.

Hagel would make a first rate Secretary of Defense.  A moderate Republican and former Senator from Nebraska, Hagel currently co-chairs President Obama's Intelligence Advisory Board.   He is Purple Heart Viet Nam War veteran and, in the Senate, he has served on both the Foreign Relations and the Intelligence Committees.

Opposition to Hagel's nomination comes primarily from conservatives who say his policy views are "out of the mainstream."   Frankly, that's what makes him such a good choice, in my opinion.   After voting for the Iraq war, he soon became a critic and wanted to bring it to an end.   However, he has mostly angered conservatives for speaking forthrightly about Israel.   Although he is a staunch supporter of Israel's survival, he does not remain silent about the current Israeli policy toward Palestine.  In fact, he believes that the survival of Israel, as well as peace in the Middle East, depends on reining in its current self-destructive direction and a revival of the center-left political influence.

He has even been described as to the left of President Obama on some issues concerning the Middle East, including Iran, where he would push for diplomatic negotiations rather than military action.

So.   Wouldn't it be a good idea to have him in a significant place in our government?