Bill Scher

The Biggest Spender Backing Donald Trump? The NRA.

Why is Donald Trump pandering so hard to “the Second Amendment people”? Possibly because the National Rifle Association is the biggest financial backer of his campaign.

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If Anything Can Unite the Democrats, It’s Climate

recent Gallup poll exploring issue priorities of Democrats and Republicans found that the “sharpest issue-priority disagreements,” by far, were regarding climate change. While 72 percent of Democrats deem climate an “extremely or very important issue to their vote this year,” only 25 percent of Republicans say the same.

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What Republicans Did Instead of Creating Jobs This Summer

The August congressional recess is here, and many members of Congress will head home and touch base with their constituents. Some will have town halls. Others might conclude: better not.

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10 Funniest Things About the GOP Autopsy Report

Today the Republican National Committee released its “autopsy” of its 2012 electoral defeat, officially titled the “Growth and Opportunity Project.”

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A Key Concept the Media Are Missing About the Economic Crisis

Earlier this week I expressed some hope that the traditional media would accurately cover the debate over how to best get our economy back on track: robust public investment that pays off long-term, or a short-term focus on balancing the budget that clamps down on investment.

While much of the media has been making a false presumption that new public investment is fiscally impossible, several economic experts have been trying to correct that notion, and Monday's New York Times noted that "the extra spending, a sore point in normal times, has been widely accepted on both sides of the political aisle as necessary to salvage the banking system and avert another Great Depression."

Yet today we see a backslide in the Los Angeles Times, with an article titled, "Obama and McCain in Denial About Deficits, Economists Say."

The article fails to inform on several fronts:

1. The first sentence falsely asserts: "Despite harsh scrutiny from economic analysts, Barack Obama and John McCain remain reluctant to admit what is becoming obvious -- that the nation's economic crisis will take a heavy toll on their ambitious tax and spending plans." But it is not a certainty that the current economy "will take a heavy toll" on their plans. Both could execute their stated plans, even if they add to the deficit in the short-term, in hopes of stimulating the economy. Obama could proceed with additional public investment, tax cuts for working families and tax increases for families earning more than $250,000. McCain could proceed with his corporate tax cuts (although McCain would need deeper spending cuts, as yet unstated, if he is to meet his pledge of a balanced budget in four years.) In fact, the article contradicts itself later on when it says: "a growing number of economists, including some free-market-oriented experts, say the nation faces massive deficits over the next several years no matter who is elected president." In other words, both could choose short-run deficits as a response to the economic crisis, far from the crisis taking a "heavy toll" on their plans. They both have choices. Nothing is preordained. A professionally reported article would explain the pros and cons of those choices so people can make informed decisions.

2. The article repeatedly assumes budget deficits as unequivocally bad, but never actually offers a reason why they would be bad. In fact, as I noted above, many economists support deficit spending in response to economic recessions.

3. Numbers from the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget are cited to show how the candidates' plan would increase the deficit, and its president, former McCain Social Security adviser Maya MacGuineas, is paraphrased. Yet the article completely ignores MacGuineas' comments to the New York Times from Monday. The NYT reported: "'Right now would not be the time to balance the budget,' said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan Washington group that normally pushes the opposite message."

4. An even deeper contradiction is found in this excerpt:
Facing such a steep wall of debt at the same time the economy is teetering would hamstring any immediate efforts to balance the budget, leading economists predict. "It's highly likely we're already in a recession," said Alan J. Auerbach, director of the Robert D. Burch Center for Tax Policy and Public Finance at UC Berkeley. "That suggests policies aimed at short-term help for the economy will have much greater importance than concern about the deficit." Free-market advocate Alan D. Viard, a former senior Federal Reserve Bank economist and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, agreed that "in either case you will have demands on government resources that will crowd out the amount of money available -- whether it's for reducing tax rates, as McCain wants, or adding programs, as Obama wants."
But Viard's remarks do not inherently agree with Auerbach's.

Auerbach is saying the deficit will take a backseat to stimulus, meaning the president and Congress may invest in energy, infrastructure and health care to create jobs, or cut taxes to give more money to workers (or more profits to business executives, in the case of McCain.)

He is explicitly disagreeing with Viard, who claims that it will be impossible for either McCain or Obama to pursue their plans. (Viard also misleads about Obama's agenda, ignoring his proposals to cut taxes for working families earning less than $250,000.)

But by blurring the disagreement, the LA Times glosses past the real debate over our short-term priorities between public investment or budget balancing, and continually makes the presumption that only short-term budget balancing is the responsible course.

It is critical debate to have. Both presidential candidates are actually trying to have it. But the media isn't helping.

Reporters often revert to "pox on both houses" mode as it helps protect from charges of partisan bias. But it is biased to presume that balanced budgets should be a policy goal during any economic circumstance.

The media's job is to shine a light on policy disputes, blow the whistle on misinformation, and draw contrasts between legitimate differences of opinion.

No policy dispute may be more important than this one. Yet the media so far has largely failed to do its job to cover it.

Conservatives Addicted to Big Oil

After passing last month a penny-ante compromise bill on energy, Senate leaders finally launched a real confrontation over the direction of our energy policy.

And the Senate conservative minority was exposed, as they once again filibustered legislation reflecting the public will. The AP wire headline was plain: "Senate GOP blocks windfall tax on Big Oil."

The bill laid out a clear shift in energy policy. The proposed tax on oil companies would not apply to profits "reinvested in clean, affordable, domestically produced renewable fuels, expanding refinery capacity and utilization, or renewable electricity production." This is a compromise approach, creating an incentive to increase the supply of both clean energy and refined oil.

And the bill brought back a previously filibustered proposal to repeal $17 billion of tax subsidies to BIg Oil. Both the repeal and the windfall tax revenue would have been returned to consumers to help with current price spikes and invested in clean energy to help with energy costs in the near future.

Furthermore, conservatives filibustered another critical bill, extending tax credits to companies generating renewable energy including wind and solar power. Why? As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, "it would have raised taxes on hedge-fund managers to pay for the tax credits."

Heaven forfend!

But perhaps more important to conservatives than protecting hedge fund managers profits, is protecting oil companies from having to compete with other energy producers on a level playing field, denying consumers a real choice for their energy needs.

President Bush has said, "America is addicted to oil." But perhaps it's more accurate to say: conservatives are addicted to Big Oil.

Because we Americans have been quite clear that we want a new energy policy that uses our tax dollars, not to pad Big Oil's record profits, but to increase the supply of clean energy so we won't be at the mercy of Big Oil forever.

Given the opportunity to break their addiction, conservatives refused to take the first step and admit they have a problem.

Bring on the intervention.

Do Republicans Feel Any Remorse for Screwing Over Sick Kids?

This post, written by Bill Scher, originally appeared on Tom Paine

The morning after 159 congresspeople voted against the people's will, and sought to deny more health insurance for kids, might they be feeling any regrets?

Time Magazine blogger Karen Tumulty writes:
Democrats have been handed what could be a powerful issue going into an election year in which health care ranks at the top of voters' domestic concerns. The bill got 45 Republican votes in the House--a sharp increase from the five who supported the original House version of the bill and more than some of its sponsors expected. That isn't much consolation to all those children, though. Which is why Nancy Pelosi vows this won't be the end of it[.]
Furthermore, a TPM Election Central report on a new Democracy Corps poll will strike more fear in conservative hearts:
The poll finds that voters side with Dems on the issue by 60%-35%; that independents want the program expanded by a 34-point margin, 62%-28%; and that voters in Republican-held districts also overwhelmingly favor the expansion, 55%-39%.

Getting to the Bottom of the SCHIP Debate

The State Children's Health Insurance Program battle -- soon to heat up once Bush vetoes a bipartisan compromise and attention turns to the politically tenuous House Republicans -- is about two things.

One, of course, is the children themselves: 6 million currently covered under SCHIP (less if conservatives get their way) and 9 million still uninsured.

Without more health insurance, more kids will get sick and die. Period.

Conservatives, being compassionate and all, will swear up and down they don't want more sick kids. They just don't want "big government" to deal with them.

Now, I could give you some defensive arguments to insist SCHIP really isn't "big government." States take the lead in implementing the program. Private insurers generally deliver the coverage.

Which would be true. But that would leave out a critical part of the program's success: our federal government.

We all chip in and fund children's health insurance through our federal government. And we make sure the coverage is decent by regulating the private companies involved.

In return, we all save money and strengthen our economy as kids get more preventative care, instead of waiting for grievous illness to take them to the ER.

This is not theory. While more and more adults have had to go without health insurance, SCHIP has increased the percentage of kids with health insurance.

It is simply a proven success.

And local media has begun introducing their readers to kids who are alive and well thanks to that success.

None of this was happening, or would happen, without government -- without us citizens calling on our federal government to invest our taxes and set ground rules to solve this problem.

Having said that, this is not really a debate of government versus no government.

This is a debate between good government and bad government.

As I wrote in an earlier post:
Bush and fellow conservatives are just fine with government subsidies to prop up Medicare Advantage private plans, even though they cost taxpayers more than the traditional Medicare public plan.
They are just fine keeping the children's insurance program, so long as we underfund it and millions remain uninsured.
As Robert Borosage commented earlier: "faced with a choice of providing children with health care or protecting the profits of private insurance companies, the president chooses the latter."
Conservatives fear losing the SCHIP debate because they fear losing the entire health care debate. This fear is unchanged from 1993, when they decided they had to kill universal health care, because "[i]ts passage will give the Democrats a lock on the crucial middle-class vote and revive the reputation of the party."

Politics over policy. Party over people. Bad government over good government.

SCHIP is not health insurance for all. It's just a rare bright spot in our overall inefficient, convoluted, patchwork, private-sector dominated health care system.

Expanding SCHIP does not automatically get us to quality, affordable health insurance for all.

Nor does defeating SCHIP -- and further upsetting the public by worsening our health care system -- ensure conservatives (despite their delusions) that they can stop the momentum for universal health insurance. Perhaps the opposite.

And that bigger debate is rapidly coming, as Sen. Hillary Clinton's new health care proposal joins plans from Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards.

To address the myriad of domestic problems that Americans want solved, including our shoddy health care system, we need effective government.

To win these debates with the public, we need to be able to propose solutions that involve our government.

That means when we have a program where our government has shined, we must praise it for that very reason.

The fundamental question that is always before the public is: whose people and which philosophy knows the difference between good government and bad government?

We must make it clear: if you're against SCHIP, you don't know good government. And you can't be trusted to lead on the challenges we all face.

More information on the State Children's Health Insurance Program »

Republican Senator Spends August Recess Attacking Uninsured Children

This post, written by Bill Scher, originally appeared on Tom

Several congressional conservatives are continuing to spend their August recess spreading misinformation to justify their votes against children's health insurance.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., is a notable member of the anti-kids crew.

He's up for re-election in 2008. A recent poll showed his standing among Georgia voters is much weaker than presumed.

And earlier this year, Georgia's federally funded child insurance program, PeachCare, had to temporarily stop enrolling kids because they were out of money.

In fact, the state Associated Press reported the votes of him and his allies by saying, "Months after Georgia ran short of money for PeachCare children's health insurance, Republicans in the state's congressional delegation are opposing efforts to expand its parent program in Washington."

So, it takes a lot of peaches to deny your own constituents the necessary funds to provide health insurance to their kids, a year away from your next election.

And he's on defensive. To avoid further damage to his political career, he's been trying to explain his vote, disseminating the standard misinformation to at least two local papers and a joint meeting of several Rotary clubs.

His favorite tack is to rail against New York: "I don't think Georgia taxpayers ought to be subsidizing a family in New York making $80,000 a year."

But such misinformation may only go so far.

Framing the Climate Crisis Solution

Saturday's Live Earth global event will hopefully take the global warming issue beyond raising awareness and towards rallying support around a comprehensive solution.

As Eric Alterman and I said in our recent segment, the film "An Inconvenient Truth" has already accomplished the goal of solidifying consensus that there's a human-created climate crisis. Global warming deniers have been effectively marginalized. The remaining challenge is the solution.

Two recent essays point us in the right direction.

One is by Al Gore, the driving force behind Live Earth, from Sunday's New York Times. The other is from Peter Teague and Jeff Navin in The American Prospect.

The two pieces may seem at first blush to be at odds, but in fact they both offer critical counsel and complement each other well.

Gore's op-ed seeks to build support for the number one item on the Live Earth Pledge, a global agreement to cap greenhouse gas emissions: "we should demand that the United States join an international treaty within the next two years that cuts global warming pollution by 90 percent in developed countries and by more than half worldwide in time for the next generation to inherit a healthy Earth."

Teague and Navin, however, caution against emphasizing regulatory measures, arguing that would raise fears of higher energy costs on working-class Americans. They recommend emphasis on "large-scale, long-term investments" of "billions of taxpayer dollars to speed the transition to a clean energy economy" which will "create jobs and economic opportunity."

But both pieces recognize that this is not an either-or debate and that a comprehensive approach is needed.

Teague and Navin properly observe that:

[Regulation is] one piece of a larger set of strategies designed to speed the emergence of [a clean energy] economy, with interlocking investment, tax, and fiscal policies also designed to send the right market signals and prompt private-sector investment and innovation.

And Gore urges readers to:

focus ... on the opportunities that are part of this challenge. Certainly, there will be new jobs and new profits as corporations move aggressively to capture the enormous economic opportunities offered by a clean energy future.

Gore also notes that forging the desired global treaty will be much easier once "we give [American] industry a goal and the tools and flexibility to sharply reduce carbon emissions...". Providing "tools" would surely require the sort of public investment Teague and Navin champion.

Articulating that comprehensive message will be much easier if Congress proposes bold legislation that does the needed investment and regulation at the same time.

The energy proposals currently working their way through Congress do invest and regulate. It's just not on a grand enough scale to completely solve the climate crisis.

But congressional leaders fully acknowledge their current legislation is just one step in the right direction, and they plan to offer bigger legislation in the fall, including a "cap-and-trade" strategy to cap carbon emissions.

As I and others have said previously, cap-and-trade can be structured well or structured poorly. Close attention will need to be paid to make sure special interests don't undermine the goals of any such bill.

And a strong cap-and-trade bill will be fortified from special interest attack if it's coupled with the visionary Apollo Alliance program - investing $30 billion a year for 10 years to build a vibrant clean energy economy.
When it's clear that good jobs will be created and affordable clean energy choices will be readily available, the predictable special interest scare tactics will have no place to go.

Right-Wing Judicial Activism Runs Amok

Way too many folks rolled over when John Roberts and Sam Alito were nominated for the Supreme Court. And now we're seeing the consequences.

In my recent book, I characterized the conservative judicial activist agenda as "elitist government, no longer representative of and responsive to the people, handcuffed from insisting upon responsible corporate behavior, but free to subject all Americans to one group's version of morality."

And today, we're seeing that vision in all its glory.

The conservative activists on the Supreme Court decreed in a series of 5-4 decisions:

* Individuals, who believe their tax dollars are being unconstitutionally misused by the White House to promote religious beliefs, aren't allowed to enter a courthouse to make their case.

* The Environmental Protection Agency can avoid its responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act, even though it's a law reflecting the public will as passed by the democratically-elected Congress.

* Corporations can once again use their checkbooks to flood the public airwaves with political ads during election season, again overruling Congress.

It's critical to recognize these decisions -- along with earlier decisions to end privacy between a woman and her doctor, and to make it harder to challenge pay discrimination -- are part of a pattern.

Because the battle for the Supreme Court is not over. As Justice Anthony Kennedy remains a swing vote, conservative activists do not have complete control. Yet.

Roberts and Alito were able to get on the Court because their dishonest PR operations went largely unchallenged. Roberts was christened "brilliant" and lauded as a lover of grammar. Alito was heralded as an "open-minded" judge who loves baseball and his mom.

All that was meaningless fluff intended to mask their conservative agenda.

We must remember how these nominees were misrepresented so they could get confirmed.

We must catalog the damage they did after being confirmed.

We must crystallize what the conservative activists are trying to achieve, and how it undermines what our founders wanted our judiciary to do.

If we do all that, the next time a conservative activist is being sold to the public, we can insist on proof that the nominee will uphold constitutional principles of representative government, not undermine those principles with elitist government.

And if we don't get any proof, we can reject that nominee on the merits -- that we cannot risk granting another lifetime appointment to someone who will not protect our constitution and our democracy.

Driving our gas-guzzlers on Memorial Day

This post, by Bill Scher, originally appeared on the Campaign for America's Future blog.

It's Memorial Day in America / Everybody's on the road / Let's remember our fallen heroes / Y'all be sure and drive slow

-- James McMurtry, "Memorial Day"

Gas prices are at all-time highs, yet more drivers -- 38 million total -- are expected to hit the road this Memorial Day weekend.

Why? The folks at AAA (the American Automobile Association) say it's "America's love for the motorist and love for the car."

That's spin to make you think there's nothing that can be done to break our dependency on oil.

People still drive with high gas prices because they have no choice! Not out of blind love for a vehicle.

We don't have policies to provide accessible, affordable alternative fuels and mass transit options.

People need to get to work, see their families and friends, and relax on vacations. The only choice we have is to drive with fossil fuels or be hermits.

That's why we're oil dependent, so dependent that it almost doesn't matter how high prices go. People are compensating in other ways, vacationing closer to home and staying in cheaper accommodations.

As I'm driving on Memorial Day, I'll be thinking about the honorable men and women who have given their lives in service to their country, regardless of the quality of their civilian leadership. And I'll be thinking about the fossil fuel that I'm presently powerless to stop burning.

And then I'll think about how those two thoughts might be related.

The truth about the Iraq bill and the Bush veto

President Bush, desperately trying to tamp down the rising tide of public pressure against the war, is seeking to misframe the Iraq bill he will soon veto.

Realizing he can no longer win the argument about the war itself, he is maligning the bill's backers as playing politics and risking the safety of our troops. In a speech on Wednesday, Bush said:

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