Happy It’s Supposed To Be Tax Day, everyone!
By a strange quirk in scheduling, your income taxes won’t be due until Monday, but what I’m wondering is: where are the Tea Partiers? This is, after all, the Glorious Second Anniversary of the formation of what some called the “Taxed Enough Already” movement (“TEA” — get it?), and yet I’ve heard of no plans for huge Tea Party rallies across America. The last time the Tea Partiers tried to turn out their numbers in force, a few weeks ago during the budget fights, they only managed a few hundred people (and even that’s being generous) at the U.S. Capitol. From every shot I’ve seen of their rally, it seemed like there were more press in attendance than actual protesters. So perhaps the media is a bit shy about getting burned twice, which may be why I’m unaware of any plans this year for large demonstrations.
Which leads one to wonder: Has the Tea Party movement (to provide a horrendous metaphor mixup) jumped the shark? Time will tell, of course, but there are so many other newsworthy items crowding the past week that we’ve simply got to ask the question briefly, and then move on.
Something the media largely missed in the midst of multiple budgetary battles this week was the fact that this is what bipartisanship looks like. The media, at least the “serious” ones, residing either inside the Beltway or in lower Manhattan, have long made much sport out of decrying “partisanship” — at least, when Democrats act like Democrats, at any rate. Politicians are supposed to “work together” in some Utopian dreamland, to “get serious things done.” It sounds great in an editorial, and all of that.
But then, when it actually happens, the media doesn’t even deign to notice it, because of the double game they love to play. Partisanship raises the emotion level. It gets people angry at each other. Conflict! And conflict is so much more entertaining to put on television than bipartisanship in any form. This allows the media to spout pious drivel (“Can’t all the politicians just get along?“) while at the same time they book the most partisan hacks they can, knowing they can be relied upon to scream at each other and (as a result) make it easier to sell lots of ad space.
But, with the divided government we now have, this is the only way anything is going to get done in the next two years. The 2011 budget compromise had plenty of things in it for both sides of the partisan divide to hate. In the House, Nancy Pelosi and Michele Bachmann both voted against it — a rare occasion (to put it mildly) where these two were on the same side. Speaker John Boehner couldn’t make good on his vow that he’d get 218 votes from the Republican side alone, and a whole bunch of Democrats had to vote for the bill to pass it (the Tea Party freshmen were divided — some voted for it, some voted against).
The interesting thing to me, though, was the Senate. In most contentious legislative battles in Washington, the Senate vote is the important one (because it is usually harder to win, due to the filibuster). But this week, all attention was on the House. The Senate vote wasn’t even close — 81 to 19. Three Democrats voted with 16 Republicans against, but everyone else voted to pass the bill.
As I said, bipartisanship. I’m not saying it’s a good thing or a bad thing, here, I’m just pointing out that it exists — which is more than the mainstream media has done this week.
Speaking of other thing the mainstream media has been ignoring this week, here is the full text of President Obama’s speech on the budget this week. It’s a great speech, and I encourage Democrats who have become disillusioned with Obama to give it a read. Also — are you ready for this? I mean, are you sitting down and everything? — it was partisan. Gasp! It is, as many have pointed out, his first true campaign speech.
Republicans shifted into full-on whiny mode, immediately. How dare the president give a partisan speech on the budget, Medicare, the size of government, and… you know… all those other things that the two parties completely disagree upon! How dare he! Republicans were apparently expecting the president to throw his full support behind the Paul Ryan budget… or something. Which, of course, Republicans (with no sense of irony whatsoever) have been promoting every chance they get in the most stridently partisan tones they can muster.
It’s as if they think only Republicans are allowed to be partisan, or something. Perhaps this is because the media fully supports such thinking, as evidenced by which side gets labeled “partisan” in pretty much every single debate.
Republicans in the House came roaring back today, and passed Paul Ryan’s budget on almost-strict party lines (four Republicans voted with all the Democrats against it). Democrats everywhere should be down on their knees today in sheer gratitude. Harry Reid, if he is smart, will immediately introduce this measure — with no modifications — onto the Senate floor, in order to force all the Republicans in the Senate to vote on it. Get the votes on record, Harry! Do it as soon as humanly possible!
Because this budget is going to become an albatross around the Republican Party’s collective neck in next year’s campaign. All that needs to happen is for Democrats to get out there and explain what Ryan’s budget means. As President Obama did so well this Wednesday. Absolutely hammer the fact that Medicare will soon become a voucher that doesn’t cover the cost of medical insurance. Every third sentence out of every Democrat’s mouth for the next six months should include the words “voucher” and “Medicare.” I am not kidding. The public needs to be informed. Here’s an example. If asked, “Senator, do you agree that the sky is blue?” a Democratic politician should respond with: “Well, I’m glad you asked me, because while the sky is blue for seniors today, under the Republican budget in ten years it will be dark indeed when they realize they’re not going to get Medicare, but rather a voucher — and if that voucher doesn’t cover the costs, then Granny’s got to pay, even if that means Granny winds up eating catfood as a result because that is all she can afford.”
It’s really not that tough. The ads just write themselves. But I’m getting ahead of myself here, as we’re going to have lots of fun with the Republican budget in the talking points section. But first, let’s get the weekly awards out of the way, shall we?
President Obama was pretty impressive this week. His budget speech, if you’ve only heard a five-second soundbite on the news, is really worth reading or watching in full. Now, I know that some disillusioned Democrats are leery of any Obama speech by now, and would prefer to see what the end result is rather than the lofty promises made in a single speech. But this speech laid out the philosophical differences between Democrats and Republicans in a fantastic way, it laid down several clear “lines in the sand,” and it told a good narrative about the values of the Democratic Party as a whole. In other words, it was a humdinger of a speech. But, while we think this deserves an Honorable Mention this week (if, for nothing else, for how much it annoyed the Republicans), Obama will have to wait to win a Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week until he follows through on the promise of this speech. Obama has been making the rounds of media interviews — and doing a pretty good job of it — ever since he gave the speech. Which means that the conventional Washington wisdom is correct, for once — this truly is the beginning of Obama’s campaign for re-election.
Republicans, as a result of the 2011 budget deal, forced a vote in the Senate on killing what they love to call “Obamacare.” They did this to put Democratic senators on record, so they could use the vote against them in next year’s campaign. This is basic politics — as I was earlier suggesting Harry Reid should do to Republicans on the Ryan budget. The Democrats, to their credit, held firm — including a number of them who are quite vulnerable on the healthcare reform issue back in their home states. These Democratic senators at least deserve an Honorable Mention, for putting what they believe in ahead of political considerations.
A bunch of House Democrats were up to a bit of mischief over in the House this week, as they forced Republicans to change their votes against an even-harsher budget plan. That’s right — by voting “present” they forced the Republicans to intentionally kill their own budget plan, exposing the entire exercise as nothing more than “getting a vote on record on a bill we sincerely hope never actually becomes law” — another favorite Washington trick. Read the full details over at the Huffington Post. All the House Democrats who engineered this embarrassment for the Republicans also deserve an Honorable Mention this week.
But the coveted Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes out to Representatives Raúl Grijalva and Mike Honda, who have been pushing their own budget plan, to anyone who will listen (in other words, only the Lefty press, and certainly not the mainstream media). Their budget, which they call [PDF download] “The People’s Budget,” is as far-reaching as the Ryan budget — in the opposite direction. Grijalva chairs the Progressive Caucus in the House, which came up with the plan.
It would be nice if the American people were presented with three basic budget plans: Ryan’s from the Right, Grijalva’s from the Left, and Obama’s as a compromise measure. It would be nice, but my guess is that it simply isn’t going to happen. So much for the supposedly “liberal” mainstream media, eh?
But both Mike Honda and Raúl Grijalva deserve credit for trying. They’ve put a solid plan on the table, and they are out there promoting the heck out of it to anyone who will listen. Their budget is a statement of Democratic principles, in the same way Ryan’s is a statement of Republican principles. It deserves a lot more attention than it is likely to get. Which we are going to rectify (in our own small way) by awarding both of them the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award this week. Well done, guys, and more power to you!
[Congratulate Representative Mike Honda on his House contact page or via Twitter or Facebook, and Representative Raúl Grijalva on his House contact page or via Twitter or Facebook, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]
Vice President Joe Biden provided late-night comedians with fodder for jokes this week by apparently nodding off during his boss’ speech. But you know what? The man’s had a busy few weeks (he was central to the budget deal struck with Congress). And he likely had already heard Obama practice this speech.
So we’re not going to pile on Joe this week with everyone else, and deem that his nap doesn’t even merit a (Dis-)Honorable Mention.
In fact, Democrats had such a good week all around that we’re left with absolutely no candidates for Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week. Nothing like a budget fight to bring Democrats together, eh?
[Further Napping Note: We did consider for the MDDOTW award Air Traffic Organization chief Hank Krakowski, who resigned in embarrassment this week over the air traffic controllers' woes, but we weren't sure if he was a bureaucrat or a political appointee -- and when we called them up to find out, the phone just rang and rang. It's like they were all asleep at the switch, or something. Ahem.]
Volume 163 (4/15/11)
Was that “catfood” comment a wee bit over the line?
Well, maybe for some Democratic politicians, but for the boldest, we would like to humbly suggest slapping a label on things: “The Paul Ryan Catfood Budget.” After all, the Left called the “presidential deficit commission” the “catfood commission” for almost a full year, and the Bowles/Simpson plan (which I prefer to call the “B/S Plan,” myself, for obvious reasons) wasn’t nearly as Draconian as what the House just voted on.
It’s a pretty easy metaphor to draw. Granny’s got to spend an extra six thousand dollars on Medicare, and on a fixed budget that means less money for everything else — including food.
One might even suggest working in the lyrics to the King Crimson song “Cat Food,” to wit:
No use to complain
If you’re caught out in the rain …
Cat food! Cat food. Cat food again!
Or perhaps, a Marie Antoinette theme: “Let them eat catfood!”
But we do realize that some Democratic politicians would shy away from using such graphic language. So, instead, we’re going to provide six other ways of ripping into the Ryan budget’s priorities (and now, the House Republicans’ priorities). And then, at the end, we’re throwing one unrelated item in just for amusement value.
Any of these talking points could easily be turned into Democratic campaign ads, anywhere in the country where Democrats are running against someone who just voted for Ryan’s budget. Perhaps in the coming weeks, I’ll actually draft a few ad suggestions along these lines myself, just to show how easy the process can be. Seriously, folks, the ads just about write themselves on the subject of Medicare. The Republicans, by supporting Ryan’s plan to kill Medicare as we know it, have just defined a large part of the 2012 political campaign.
All Democrats have to do is point out what Republicans just voted for. Over and over and over again. This ain’t rocket science, guys. If you stand up and fight, you’re going to win this battle. So do so!
Hands off my Grandma!
For being first out of the gate, Kenosha County (Wisconsin) Supervisor Rob Zerban deserves the first talking point this week. Zerban is not just a Democratic politician attacking Paul Ryan’s budget, he is a Democratic politician attacking Paul Ryan. This is entirely within reason, because Zerban is running against Ryan in next year’s congressional election. Within days of Ryan’s budget being released, Zerban had set up a website to attack it — with an absolutely great name.
“You know, Paul Ryan is being challenged in his own district by Democrat Rob Zerban next year, and Zerban I think best summed up what the public reaction is going to be to Ryan’s plan to turn Medicare into vouchers. Zerban set up a website called HandsOffMyGrandma.com to take on Ryan’s plan to throw America’s seniors off Medicare. I agree with Zerban — Hands off my Grandma, Paul Ryan! Hands off my Grandma, Republicans!”
Pulling the plug on everyone’s Grandma
The whole “Grandma” theme, of course, came from Republicans warning of the evils of the Democratic plan over the last two years, of course. Which is why they have absolutely no leg to stand on now, when it comes to Granny, not to mention “death panels” and all the rest of that dreck.
“Paul Ryan shed some crocodile tears the other day, decrying Democrats for ‘demagoguing’ and ‘lying’ about his plans for Medicare. One wonders where he has been for the past two years. I fully remember when Republican Senator Chuck Grassley said Democrats were guilty of, quote, pulling the plug on Grandma, unquote. This was for cuts to Medicare Advantage which are now included in the Ryan budget plan, I might point out — cuts the Republicans were against, before they were for them. So now Republicans are complaining about the language being used to describe their plan? Oh, please. Their plan is going to literally pull the plug on everyone’s Grandma, in ten years, when they privatize Medicare and turn it into a voucher program.”
Pulling the plug on Medicare
Representative Bruce Braley, Democratic chair of the Populist Caucus in the House, picked up on this theme as well, in an article he wrote this week. His article ends with an excellent way to frame the issue:
Our nation’s fiscal future is a very serious issue. And it’s long past due time that we have a serious conversation about how to cut spending and reduce the deficit in a long term, sustainable way. But pulling the plug on Medicare isn’t the answer. We need a responsible approach to our fiscal problems, not a reckless plan that hurts our seniors and puts millions of elderly Americans at risk of not getting the health care they need. Grandma and [G]randpa deserve much better than that.
Mmmm! Donut holes!
Here’s a Big Lie from the Republicans (for this week, anyway) which needs to be called on the carpet, immediately.
“Speaker Boehner said about the Ryan budget this week, and I quote, The changes being proposed would not affect one senior citizen in America, not one. Anyone 55 years and older will not be affected by any of these changes, unquote. But this is a lie, Mister Speaker. Last year, under the Democratic healthcare law, we started to close the ‘donut hole’ for seniors’ prescription drug costs. Seniors who had been paying up to seventeen hundred dollars a year when they fell into this donut hole got two hundred and fifty dollars back in the mail last year, because of the healthcare plan Democrats passed. Under our plan, this donut hole will be shrunk over time until it no longer exists. Under the Ryan budget — because this is part of what they derisively refer to as ‘Obamacare’ — this money was cut. Granny’s not going to get that check this year, if the Ryan budget passes — and the donut hole will open wide once again. Democrats got rid of the donut hole, Republicans are fighting to take this money away from seniors. And that would happen this year, Mister Speaker. The American public simply cannot believe anything the Republicans say on this issue, because they keep getting caught in these lies. Seniors who vote need to know: a vote for Republicans is a vote to re-open the donut hole. A vote for Democrats is a vote to keep closing it until it disappears. It’s really that simple, no matter what lies Boehner is telling this week.”
Government hands off my Medicare!
It’s like you can almost hear Peter, Paul, and Mary singing “Where Have All The Tea Partiers Gone?” in the background, isn’t it?
“I remember during the debates over healthcare reform last year seeing Tea Party folks with signs demanding ‘government hands off my Medicare!’ I wonder where those folks are now, eh? Think the townhall folks will be back this summer to demand that Republicans keep their hands off Medicare, since almost all of them just voted in the House of Representatives to turn Medicare into a voucher program that will require seniors to pay thousands of dollars more each year — to receive care from insurance companies instead of the government? I would bet good money that when the public becomes fully aware of the Republican plan to privatize Medicare and turn it into vouchers which do not cover the full costs of insurance — when the full impact of this radical plan sinks in, that voters are going to be expressing a little displeasure with the Republican ‘government hands’ on their Medicare.”
Reverse Robin Hood
Bernie Sanders has been using this one, although I can’t swear he’s the originator of the phrase. Here he is from a press release on the 2011 Republican budget, although you don’t need to change a word to apply it to the 2012 Ryan “Let Them Eat Catfood” budget (sorry for slipping that in there, but Sanders is one of those Democrats who might actually use the phrase…).
Today, in order to reduce deficits that Republicans helped create, they now are slashing programs of enormous importance to working families, the elderly, the sick and children. At a time when the gap between the very rich and everybody else is growing wider, this budget is Robin Hood in reverse. It takes from struggling working families and gives to multi-millionaires. This is obscene.
…IS intended to be a factual statement…
Senator John Kyl was caught in a whopping lie he told on the Senate floor the other day. According to Kyl, “90 percent” of Planned Parenthood’s budget went towards abortions. The actual figure? Three percent. Hey, he was only off by 2,900 percent (of the right answer), right?
The amusing part, though, is that his office, faced with the impossible task of walking Kyl’s whopping lie back, could only meekly state that he “didn’t intend it to be a factual statement.” Hoo boy. Democrats have been having some fun with this, as well they should. It’s quite easy to force the press to talk about this pants-on-fire lie, all you have to do is preface any remark (on any subject) with the following (perhaps with a significant pause at the end):
“I’d just like to point out that what I’m about to say IS intended to be a factual statement….”