This post first appeared on Washington Monthly. When it comes to women's issues, extremist Senate candidate Ken Buck (R) of Colorado isn't exactly a champion. He is, for example, on record supporting bans of forms of birth control and the criminalization of all abortion rights, even in cases of rape or incest. During his GOP Senate primary, Buck even mocked his opponent for wearing high heels. But revelations about Buck's handling of a 2005 rape case have put the candidate's attitudes towards women in an even more painful light.
Three weeks from Election Day, stories have suddenly emerged about Buck's refusal to follow up on rape allegations involving a University of North Colorado student during his stint as Weld County District Attorney. While other prosecutors have filed criminal charges against alleged rapists in similar cases, Buck declined, claiming insufficient evidence. Renewed criticism has erupted over Buck's handling of the case in light of some of his newly-resurfaced remarks, including a conversation he had with the victim and his suggestion that a jury would view the rape charges as merely her "buyer's remorse." [...] The Huffington Post has obtained the audio of the meeting Buck held with the victim as well as the pertinent police report -- both of which, critics say, make him seem callous and even hostile in dismissing her pleas.
At the time, a 21-year-old student had gotten together with a man she used to date. Intoxicated, the young woman invited her alleged attacker to her apartment. She apparently passed out, but woke up to find herself being violated. The attacker conceded to police that the woman had said "no," and the police report added, "he realized he had done something wrong." The same report went on to say he felt "shame and regret" and even tried to "apologize" to the victim. Despite all of this, Buck concluded the case wasn't worth prosecuting. In his conversation with the victim, in which Buck was recorded without his knowledge, he argued, "It appears to me and it appears to others that you invited him over to have sex with him." I realize that prosecutors have a variety of factors to consider before filing criminal charges, but in this case, Buck was not only dismissive of an apparent rape victim, he had a police report in which the attacker practically confessed to the violent crime. I've long questioned Ken Buck's judgment. He does, after all, support repealing the 17th Amendment, privatizing Social Security, eliminating the Department of Education, scraping the federal student loan program, and has even said liberals are a bigger threat than terrorists. But these revelations about his record as a county prosecutor seem to make his judgment look even worse. Editor's update: Transcripts of the recorded conversation suggest that part of the reason Buck did not want to take the case was because he suspected the alleged victim had had an abortion. (from Colorado Independent, h/t Daily Kos):
BUCK: There are a lot of things that I have a knowledge of, that I would assume (name of possible suspect redacted) knows about and that they have to do with, perhaps, your motives for (unintelligible) and that is part of what our calculation has been in this. VICTIM: I’m interested to hear more about that, my motives, for what this has been. BUCK: You have, you have had HIS baby, and you had an abortion. VICTIM: That’s false, that’s just false. BUCK: Why don’t you clarify? VICTIM: I did have a miscarriage; we had talked about an abortion. That was actually year and a half ago. So ... BUCK: That would be something that you can cross-examine on, that would be “something that might be a motive for trying to get back at somebody.” And it would be a (unintelligible). And it’s part of what we have to take into account whether we can prove this case or not. And there are a lot of things that, um, you know, for as why weren’t not prosecuting the case. We’ve got to weigh all that, and it not something that I feel comfortable with, but something I have to be.
This post first appeared in the Washington Monthly. Ron Brownstein notes in a terrific new National Journal column just how striking it is to see a major American political party decide, all at once, to reject climate science in its entirety. (via Jay Rosen) British Foreign Secretary William Hague, a prominent conservative leader in the U.K., was in the U.S. last week, and described climate change as perhaps the 21st century's biggest foreign-policy challenge," He added, "An effective response to climate change underpins our security and prosperity."
His strong words make it easier to recognize that Republicans in this country are coalescing around a uniquely dismissive position on climate change. The GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science that appears unmatched among major political parties around the globe, even conservative ones. [...] Just for the record, when the nonpartisan National Academy of Sciences last reviewed the data this spring, it concluded: "A strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems." Not only William Hague but such other prominent European conservatives as French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have embraced that widespread scientific conviction and supported vigorous action. Indeed, it is difficult to identify another major political party in any democracy as thoroughly dismissive of climate science as is the GOP here. Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, says that although other parties may contain pockets of climate skepticism, there is "no party-wide view like this anywhere in the world that I am aware of."
And in case this isn't clear, unanimous Republican opposition to any meaningful efforts to combat global warming makes any kind of coordinated international effort impossible. What's more, as the climate crisis intensifies, and the need for swift action becomes even more painfully obvious, the GOP line is getting worse, not better. How many Republican U.S. Senate candidates on the ballot this year support efforts to address global warming? None. I realize that part of the problem here is that Republicans reject the science because they oppose the solutions. If they acknowledged reality, GOP officials would no doubt have a harder time explaining why they don't want to deal with a climate crisis that has the potential to wreak havoc on the planet in dramatically dangerous ways. But the result is the same. The combination of deliberate Republican ignorance and the Republican scheme to break the United States Senate makes the crisis even more serious, with little hope on the horizon. It also speaks to a larger truth -- because there's no commonly shared reality among Democratic and Republican policymakers, the prospects for compromise are effectively non-existent. Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine this morning noted, "I don't know who first described politics as the 'art of compromise,' but that maxim, to which I have always subscribed, seems woefully unfashionable today." Yeah, I wonder why that is.
This post originally appeared at the Political Animal. No matter what happens in the midterm elections, opponents of the Affordable Care Act will struggle to repeal the law through legislative means. They're better off, at least marginally, taking their case to the courts, where there are currently over a dozen challenges to various provisions of the health care law, most notably the individual mandate. There were a couple of procedural rulings over the summer, but none dealt with the law on the merits. That changed yesterday, when a federal judge found the law constitutional, ruling that the mandate is legal through the Commerce Clause.
Judge George C. Steeh of Federal District Court in Detroit ruled that choosing not to obtain insurance qualified as an example of "activities that substantially affect interstate commerce." That is the standard set by the Supreme Court for Congress's compliance with the Commerce Clause. Judge Steeh, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton, agreed with the federal government that not obtaining health coverage is effectively an active decision to pay for medical care out of pocket. "These decisions, viewed in the aggregate," Judge Steeh wrote, "have clear and direct impacts on health care providers, taxpayers and the insured population who ultimately pay for the care provided to those who go without insurance."
The case was brought by a conservative legal outfit called the Thomas More Law Center, which insisted the public couldn't be compelled to purchase insurance. The Justice Department responded, pointing not only to the Constitution's Commerce Clause, but also to the "congressional power to tax and spend to provide for the general welfare." Judge Steeh agreed with the Obama administration on both. Jonathan Cohn added that the ruling is "pretty much a wholesale win for reform," and that "the future of health care reform just became a little more secure."
[T]he premise of Steeh's legal argument seems to be a notion about policy -- that it's not possible to regulate the insurance industry, in a way that would make coverage available to all people, without compelling every person to get coverage. On that count, I would argue, Steeh is correct. So what does this mean for the repeal movement? My limited understanding, informed by a few casual conversations with some law professors, is that Steeh's decision is consistent with the traditional understanding of the Commerce Clause -- that the only way to throw out the mandate would be to reexamine conventional assumptions about the Commerce Clause. That would be a fairly radical move.
That's the good news. There are, however, plenty of rulings yet to come, and yesterday's decision will be appealed to the 6th Circuit, which is one of the nation's most conservative and might be inclined to make a "fairly radical move." Still, yesterday was a heartening win, and will likely be the first of many.
This post first appeared on Washington Monthly. In West Virginia's U.S. Senate race, where polls show right-wing businessman John Raese with growing support, Democrats have tried to highlight the fact that the Republican nominee isn't what he might appear to be. Raese, for example, claims to side with working people, but he opposes the minimum wage and mine-safety laws. He claims to be a West Virginian, but his home is in Florida. The Democratic case was made slightly easier with evidence that a Republican ad in support of Raese is a sham, too.
A new Republican ad that shows a couple of guys at the counter of a diner, wearing ball caps and plaid shirts as they take shots at West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D), was shot with actors, from a script, in Philadelphia. [...] "We are going for a 'Hicky' Blue Collar look," read the talent agency's casting call for the independent-expenditure ad, being aired by the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "These characters are from West Virginia so think coal miner/trucker looks." "Clothing Suggestions" included jeans, work boots, flannel shirt, denim shirt, "Dickie's [sic] type jacket with t-shirt underneath," down-filled vest, "John Deer [sic] hats (not brand new, preferably beat up)," and "Trucker Hats (not brand new, preferably beat up)."
For Dems hoping to make the case that the GOP message, like its candidate, is a big deception, this certainly can't hurt. For that matter, one wonders how West Virginians will respond to being called "hicky" looking. On a related note, Salon's Joan Walsh noted that John Kasich's (R) latest ad in Ohio's gubernatorial race features a "steelworker" trashing incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland (D). As it turns out, Kasich's campaign couldn't find a real Ohio steelworker, so the former Lehman Brothers executive hired an actor to pretend to be an Ohio steelworker. "When we saw Congressman Kasich's ad, we wondered why any Ohio steelworker, whose job has been threatened by the unfair trade deals Kasich supported in Congress, would be willing to appear in his commercials," said USW Local 1238's John Saunders. "As it turns out, when Congressman Kasich couldn't get a real steelworker to do his dirty work, he did what any congressman from Wall Street would do -- he paid someone." To be sure, hiring actors for campaign ads isn't exactly new or shocking. But under the circumstances, and the ways in which these revelations cut against the Republican message, it's the kind of story that might get some attention in the closing weeks of the campaign.
This post first appeared on Washington Monthly. Remember RNC Chairman Michael Steele? As the midterm elections draw closer, he's kept a fairly low profile, traveling by bus around the country to small events where key candidates avoid him. He was, however, gracious enough to chat with MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell last night, where the host asked a straightforward question: "What is the minimum wage?" (I think he was looking for a specific figure, not an explanation of the policy.)
Steele obviously didn't know -- though he started to suggest otherwise -- so he did his best to say the answer was irrelevant. "The reality of it is, that is not the most paramount issue that voters out there are facing," the RNC chief argued. Of course, it's not hard to argue that wages are a critical issue, and that some Americans who have jobs are still just barely getting by. For those working hard and playing by the rules, but who are struggling badly anyway, I think the size of their paycheck probably ranks pretty high on the list of "paramount issues." And the significance of this issue becomes even more acute when we realize that several U.S. Senate candidates this year -- all Republicans -- have said publicly that they'd consider lowering the minimum wage, or perhaps even eliminating it altogether. But in trying to obscure the fact that he doesn't know the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, Steele said something else that stood out for me: "Close to 3 million jobs have been lost and this canard that, you know, we've 'saved or created,' you know, x number of jobs is a joke." Actually, Steele may think millions of Americans who have jobs right now thanks to government intervention is a "joke," but I suspect those workers and their families would disagree. In reality, by the end of 2010, there will be 3.5 million Americans with jobs that wouldn't otherwise exist were it not for the Recovery Act. That's not a "canard," and it's not a "joke," it's a fact. And had the stimulus been bigger -- in other words, had we moved even further away from the Republican line -- it would have been even more successful. Steele probably ought to take all of this far more seriously. Given that the Republican National Committee will probably give him the boot early next year, the state of the minimum wage may take on a personal resonance for the beleaguered party chairman fairly soon.
This post first appeared on Washington Monthly. A month ago, a Washington Post/ABC News poll came as a punch to the gut to Democrats. On the generic congressional ballot, Republicans had an enormous 53% to 40% lead among likely voters, and it looked as if the entire midterm cycle was slipping away from the Democratic majority. A month later, things are looking up for Dems -- at least a little. Several recent polls have showed the Republican advantage slipping a bit, and the new Washington Post/ABC News poll offers similar evidence.
Less than a month before the midterm elections, the political landscape remains strongly tilted toward Republicans, although Democrats have made modest improvements with voters since their late-summer low point, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Democrats have cut in half the GOP's early-September advantage on the question of which party's candidates voters say they will support on Nov. 2. They have also made small gains on the question of which party people trust to handle big issues, such as the economy and health care. Voters give Democrats a significant edge as the party that would do a better job in helping the middle class, which has been a key campaign message from the White House in recent weeks. President Obama's approval rating has rebounded to where it was in July after hitting an all-time low a month ago. Also, in some state races, Democratic candidates have taken the lead over their Republican opponents or narrowed GOP advantages.
It's a stretch to say the new numbers are good news for Democrats, but they're at least better news. It's certainly helpful, for example, that President Obama's approval rating has ticked up in the poll to 50%, and support for the president's handling of the economy is up four points to 45%. On the generic ballot, a month ago, the GOP lead was 13 points, 53% to 40%. In the newly-released poll, the Republican advantage has shrunk to six points, 49% to 43%. (Among registered voters, Democrats actually lead by four points, suggesting the enthusiasm gap between the parties is still likely to be the deciding factor.) Of course, a six-point deficit may yet prove devastating to Democrats at the ballot box -- at this point in 1994, the GOP lead was two points, and the party went on to do pretty well -- but what Dems are focusing on now is the trend line. Republicans may have peaked in late August and early September, with Democrats starting to turn things around. At least, that's the hope. Elsewhere in the poll, the "Pledge to America" appears to have gone almost entirely unnoticed, and among those who did hear about it, the plan isn't particularly popular. It's not exactly the stuff "mandates" are made of. Also, support for the Affordable Care Act appears to be increasing, at least in this poll. Opponents of health care reform still outnumber backers, but a combined 47% support the new law -- the highest level in nearly a year -- while 48% oppose it.
This post first appeared on Washington Monthly. Readers probably got tired of my reports on one of the most effective federal jobs programs in recent memory, but it was my hope the Senate would find a way to keep it alive. As usually happens when counting on the Senate, those hopes were in vain. At issue is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Fund, which should have been one of the most popular programs in Congress. A key component of the Recovery Act, the fund subsidizes jobs with private companies, nonprofits, and government agencies, and has single handedly put more than 240,000 unemployed people back to work in 32 states and the District of Columbia. Governors, including Mississippi's Haley Barbour (R), have sung its praises, and urged its extension. In July, CNN called the TANF Emergency Fund "a stimulus program even a Republican can love." Except, Republicans didn't love it. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) led the floor fight this week, and was even willing to accept a compromise: instead of a year-long extension that Democrats had requested, Durbin sought a three-month extension, at a cost of just $500 million, in order to keep the fund alive through the end of the year. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) refused to allow it.
"The majority has known this program was going to expire at the end of this month all year and has taken no steps to reauthorize this important social safety net program," said Enzi, who blocked Durbin's request for "unanimous consent" for a reauthorization.
Enzi either isn't very bright or he hasn't been paying attention. Dems first tried to reauthorize the TANF Emergency Fund in March, but Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) blocked it. Dems tried again earlier this month, but Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) blocked it. Dems tried again this week, but Enzi blocked it. Regardless, what difference does it make when and how often it's come up? If Enzi agrees that this is an "important social safety net program," then why the hell did he feel it necessary to let it die? This isn't some academic exercise -- by killing the measure, Republicans will force thousands of Americans out of work. The House approved an extension of the program (twice) but the Senate GOP just didn't care. As a result, the TANF Emergency Fund comes to an end tonight at midnight. Thousands of layoffs will begin quickly, and continue as we get closer to the holiday season. And we'll once again face an ironic dynamic: Americans will get frustrated with Democrats over more job losses, instead of the Republicans responsible for killing an effective program that kept tens of thousands on the job. Indeed, in a sane political world, the death of the TANF Emergency Fund would be a pretty big scandal, and Republicans would have been afraid to kill an effective jobs program with an unemployment rate near 10%. Instead, the GOP is counting on being rewarded by Americans for taking steps like these, and polls suggest that's exactly what's going to happen. Republicans will keep asking, "Where are the jobs?" and no one seems inclined to answer, "Your party got rid of them."
This post originally appeared on the Washington Monthly. Unlike Gallup's erratic generic-ballot tracking poll, the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has proven to be far more stable over a long period of time. With that in mind, when it shows the midterm cycle narrowing, and the enthusiasm gap shrinking, it offers some legitimate encouragement to Democrats.
With Election Day exactly five weeks away, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that the battle for control of Congress has tightened, as key Democratic-leaning demographic groups are expressing more enthusiasm about the upcoming midterms. Among likely voters, Republicans now hold a three-point lead in the generic-ballot test for control of Congress, down from their nine-point lead last month.
Among registered voters, Democrats and Republicans are now tied on the generic ballot at 44% each. Among likely voters, a month ago, the GOP enjoyed a nine-point edge (49% to 40%), which has now shrunk to a three-point advantage (46% to 43%). According to the NBC/WSJ analysis, the gap narrowed thanks to "increased enthusiasm for the upcoming midterms by African Americans (who saw a six-point gain in high interest) and Hispanics (who saw an 11-point gain)." For Dems, that's the good news. There is, however, good news for Republicans, too. At its root, the larger national mood hasn't changed much -- voters are still deeply frustrated; the dislike of Congress remains intense; and younger voters, who tend to favor Democrats, are still prepared to sit out the midterm cycle. That said, while the general trends clearly point to a GOP-friendly climate, Republicans probably hoped to be hitting a stride right and pulling away right about now, and that's just not the case (at least not yet). The generic ballot is tightening; President Obama's numbers have ticked up a bit; the Democratic Party is still more popular than the Republican Party; and the most well liked politician in America is Bill Clinton, who's hitting the campaign trail for key Democratic candidates. Moral of the story: Dems are in a tough spot, but it's not over.
This post originally appeared on the Washington Monthly. Perhaps the most important benefit that comes with the release of the House Republicans' "Pledge to America" is that we can start to see credible comparisons between two competing visions.
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The Center for American Progress prepared an analysis of how the GOP plan would affect the federal budget, and more to the point, how it would exacerbate an already-large federal budget. The "Pledge" vows, "[W]e will ... bring down the deficit." We know reality suggests otherwise, but the CAP research helps drive the point home nicely. "The 'Pledge to America' budget would mean $11.1 trillion in deficits over the next 10 years, CAP reported. "By 2020, the federal budget deficit would be 6.3 percent of gross domestic product, the federal debt would exceed 93 percent of GDP, and interest payments on the debt would be more than $1 trillion a year. The budget deficit would be about $200 billion larger in 2020 under the 'Pledge to America' plan than it would be under President Barack Obama's budget, and over the next 10 years deficits would be $1.5 trillion higher than under the president's budget." Now, if Republicans were willing to increase the deficit as part of a larger effort to improve the economy, that'd at least be worth debating. But the "Pledge" intends to pursue policies that already failed to generate growth and create jobs. In other words, they intend to expand the deficit without anything to show for it. And in case that weren't enough, the GOP approach complains bitterly about the Obama administration's fiscal management, but Republicans have nevertheless presented a plan that would run larger deficits, for more years, than the Democratic president. Jon Chait adds that the CAP report is itself generous, since "it assumes that the huge cuts to domestic discretionary spending will be carried out" by Republicans, which seems rather unlikely. Anyone taking the GOP seriously on budget issues just isn't paying attention.
This post originally appeared at the Political Animal. Paul Krugman's column today does a nice job explaining that one of the nation's "great political parties" seems to have launched a "war on arithmetic."
Howard Gleckman of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has done the math. As he points out, the only way to balance the budget by 2020, while simultaneously (a) making the Bush tax cuts permanent and (b) protecting all the programs Republicans say they won't cut, is to completely abolish the rest of the federal government: "No more national parks, no more Small Business Administration loans, no more export subsidies, no more N.I.H. No more Medicaid (one-third of its budget pays for long-term care for our parents and others with disabilities). No more child health or child nutrition programs. No more highway construction. No more homeland security. Oh, and no more Congress." The "pledge," then, is nonsense. But isn't that true of all political platforms? The answer is, not to anything like the same extent. Many independent analysts believe that the Obama administration's long-run budget projections are somewhat too optimistic -- but, if so, it's a matter of technical details. Neither President Obama nor any other leading Democrat, as far as I can recall, has ever claimed that up is down, that you can sharply reduce revenue, protect all the programs voters like, and still balance the budget. And the G.O.P. itself used to make more sense than it does now. Ronald Reagan's claim that cutting taxes would actually increase revenue was wishful thinking, but at least he had some kind of theory behind his proposals. When former President George W. Bush campaigned for big tax cuts in 2000, he claimed that these cuts were affordable given (unrealistic) projections of future budget surpluses. Now, however, Republicans aren't even pretending that their numbers add up.
This is probably definitely an obscure reference, but there was an episode of "The Simpsons" many years ago in which the family visits "Itchy and Scratchy Land." A giant robot Itchy greets the Simpsons, takes off the top of its head as if it were a hat, exposing circuitry, chips, wires, etc. Marge turns to Homer and say, "See all that stuff in there, Homer? That's why your robot never worked." You see, in Homer's mind, simply building something that looked like a giant robot should have been enough. Plop a tin bucket on a metal torso, give it a name, and the thing should just start working. It didn't occur to Homer that robots are very complex, and that the advanced technology that goes into the tin-bucket head actually makes a difference. In this little allegory, House Republicans are obviously Homer. They believe they have a policy agenda because they published a document they call a "policy agenda." Their tin-bucket head is empty, but they aren't quite sharp enough to realize that this matters. This isn't to say all Republicans have always been like this. Not surprisingly, I was never especially impressed with Reagan's supply-side agenda from 30 years ago, but credible economists had thought out a specific approach and could back up their ideas with data. The point, however, is that this new generation of GOP leaders just doesn't bother. They find pesky details like arithmetic to be annoying distractions. It leads to a desire to meet with the House Minority Leader and show him a real policy document. "See all that stuff in there, John? That's why your agenda never worked."