Archive for May, 2010
Early yesterday, I attended a Third Way panel discussion on the budget and deficit that featured Rep. Jim Cooper, Sen. George Voinivich and Sen. Kent Conrad.
I arrived late, so I probably missed some important bits, but here’s my takeaway:
Conrad: can’t do austerity in middle of worst recession since great depression, but austerity measures will have to be implemented. His best guess is in 2 or 3 years, after the economy has turned. Entitlements, including social security, will have to be reined in. Go after overseas tax dodges/abusive tax shelters. Cites wealthy Americans purchasing European infrastructue (sewer systems), depreciating them for purposes of American taxes, and leasing the sewers back to the countries. Not just sewers, either. Other infrastructure deals too.
Voinivich: ALL Americans will have to accept tax increases. Norquists’ “no new tax” pledge inconsistent with his colleague’s oath of office. Mortgage tax deduction must be eliminated.
I ask something akin to, “The commission is composed of creatures of the status quo. The status quo has worked out quite well for them so far; that’s how they got on the commission. How can we have faith that they will break from the status quo to consider the full panoply of solutions? For instance, generating growth by investing in a new energy economy, or reducing our role as the world’s policeman, or if we are going to be the world’s policeman, asking others to pay the cost of the security we provide? And a specific question about social security: the refrain last decade was “it’s the people’s money, they should get it back”. But of course, we all know that the tax cuts went, largely, to the ultra-wealthy and the dollars they got came from the paychecks of working Americans payroll tax contributions. Is there any way to claw back those tax cuts so that we might leave social security alone?”
Conrad answered that he agreed the Bush tax cuts were a transfer to the wealthy from the middle class, but it is too late to do anything about it. There’s simply no way to leave Social Security and Medicare alone. (It was difficult isolating Social Security – they always want to throw in Medicare. ed.). Starts in again on abusive tax shelters/offshore tax havens.
Moderator follows up on my question and asks if Bush tax cuts will expire. Voinivich says that’s a foregone conclusion, although we may be able to make sure the marriage penalty is permanently eliminated.
Cooper sat there the whole time looking down his nose at the great unwashed, despairing about our lack of economic literacy.
After the event, I tracked Conrad down because he didn’t answer the first half of my question about the Deficit Commission being composed of the same old creatures that got us into this mess and personally benefited from the status quo. Talked about how in America’s “Glory Days” – when we were gaining in stature under Eisenhower/Kennedy – top marginal tax rates were at 70-90%. That you didn’t see CEO pay at $200 million/year because $140-$180 million of it wound up in gov’ts purse. Instead, companies invested in R&D and new plants, putting more people to work. Conrad agreed! I said, “Great, but how can progressives be sure their voices will be heard and considered by the Commission?” Conrad replies, “Your talking to me right now.” Somehow, I’m not overwhelmingly reassured.
Finally, I didn’t think of asking Conrad at the time, but if he is concerned about abusive tax avoidance, perhaps it’s time to poll the Deficit Commission members to see how many of them have availed themselves of such instruments. A birdy whispered in this reporter’s ear that Erskine Bowles – Co-Chair with Alan Simpson – has dirty hands.
He’s number three int he House and widely thought to be quite liberal. For him to be calling for social security means-testing is kind of a big deal…
After running into Pete Sessions in Orlando, I ran into him on Capitol Hill. I reintroduced myself and asked him if he could offer any advice with regards to which Republicans are safe enough or brave enough to accept the Chris Matthews Challenge and publicly dispute Rush Limbaugh.
Sessions replied, “I would not encourage any Republican to agree with Chris Matthews; he’s as far left as he claims Rush is to the right.”
The reason I decided to ask Sessions for advice is that I had previously approached Republicans Bob Latta (OH), John Boozman (AR), and Peter King, (NY, video below) and they each declined the opportunity. To a certain extent, they had good reasons: they don’t listen to Limbaugh and there are more important issues facing the nation than what any particular entertainer has had to say on any given day.
I responded by pointing out that when Professor Ward Churchill called the deceased 9/11 WTC victims, “little Eichmanns,” virtually every Democrat felt compelled to beat a path to the nearest microphone to denounce him. Why then can’t Republicans denounce Rush when he says Obamacare is akin to Nazism?
I suspect that Chris’ counter (he’s counting every day the challenge goes unanswered) is going to be retired before any Republican takes his challenge.
On May 15, Pete Sessions was in Orlando, Florida to rally his troops with several Republicans vying to win the primary for Florida’s 8th CD (currently held by Democrat, Alan Grayson).
One of those Republicans was Dan Fanelli (I’ve flagged him in the video). Fanelli is the guy that ran ads (no longer on YouTube because he never paid the producer, who retained the copyright) suggesting that common sense requires racial profiling at airports.
The guy speaking in the video is Dr. Jack Cassell, the Florida urologist that told Obama voters to seek treatment elsewhere.
After the rally concluded, I asked Sessions if he thought a viable path to defeating health care would be for more doctors to refuse to treat Obama voters and other Democrats. Sessions told me that doctors hate the bill and want it repealed. I asked him if he agreed with Fanelli that the country should be taking an extra hard look at brown and tan people at our nation’s airports. He told me that Fanelli never suggested such a thing.
I’ve been bringing this up with a number of Republicans that have endorsed Marco Rubio. They say that the Republican Party has turned a corner and can be trusted to govern again. At the same time, they fall all over themselves to endorse Marco Rubio, the Florida Senate candidate that has got himself in some trouble for misusing Republican Party credit cards.
Reports I’ve heard indicate that Rubio used those cards for things like groceries and music and electronics from Amazon.com. I haven’t seen any actual statements, so I cannot make any definitive statement with regards to the accuracy of those reports.
But let’s assume for a second that they are true. Let’s also assume that Marco Rubio personally pulled the card from his wallet when the purchases were made. Those are two big assumptions, but until Rubio sits down and puts this issue to rest, I think it is fair to assume the worst from politicians. After all, a politician’s reputation for integrity is critical; scandals involving graft (or tax evasion) can be fatal. For that reason, it’s hard to understand why Rubio wouldn’t sit down with a reporter, the credit card statements and his tax records to put all of this behind him once and for all. Since he is not opening is books, it leaves the impression in my mind that he’s got something to hide.
The way he answered my questions has done little to retire my concerns.
Let’s go through his answers:
Q: Why would you use the corporate credit card instead of your own?
Rubio: Well, the majority of them were actually mistakes by travel agents or staff…
What about the minority of charges that were not mistakes by staff or travel agents? Which charges were made by you personally, and again, why did you choose to use the Republican Party card instead of your own? I don’t know anyone in my personal life that would pass over their own credit cards to use the company card for personal purchases. Which of the charges were you personally responsible for and how did that happen?
Q: So there was nothing there that lasted a long time that you only repaid after you got caught?
Rubio: No, no… other than the state travel…
What were those state travel expenses? How much time transpired between the charge and your repayment? Who made the decision with regards to which card to use for those expenses?
Ultimately, the only thing that will dissipate the cloud hovering above the Rubio campaign is full sunlight. Rubio should release the full records, annotate the charges for which he was personally responsible and then have a press availability of some sort to answer any remaining questions. To his credit, I haven’t heard the classic dodge, “On the advice of counsel, I cannot comment on these matters while an investigation is underway,” but Rubio hasn’t been as transparent and forthcoming as he could be. In fact, even this brief questioning was cut short by his staff.
I’ve been meaning to ask the Senator about this for a while. Unfortunately, our paths haven’t crossed until today. So this isn’t particularly timely, but it’s nice to know the Senator thinks she’s “a very nice lady doing her job.” I just wish he had taken more time to defend against Maddow’s charge that he has lied about her and her intentions.
(I also wish I had thought to ask if calling the Senator a liar was part of Maddow “doing her job.” I happen to think it was, but it would have been nice to know what the Senator thinks.)
Senator Levin and I talked for a while about all the different sorts of conflicts that were riddled throughout the financial services industry… From ratings agencies that took money from the banks whose deals they rated, to the mortgage writers that sold the paper without keeping any skin in the game, to investment banks selling products they knew were “shitty”… Levin wants it all fixed. Good for him.
I tried to get into her DC fundraiser this afternoon. She wouldn’t take my hens.
If she won’t take my birds, why does she expect doctors to take pay in fowl?
Florida’s junior Senator says no new wells until we figure out what happened. Aside from that, right now the focus has to be on getting the mess cleaned up and minimizing damage. He says we’ll assess blame and implement the appropriate response in due time.
I was in Florida for a while researching the 8th CD, currently held by Alan Grayson. There are 7 Republicans competing for their party’s ballot line. Most observers think the line will be won by Todd Long, Daniel Webster, Bruce O’Donoghue or a grass-roots tea-party leader, Patricia Sullivan.
Senator LeMieux all but endorses Webster.