TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

01/06/2013 09:02 am ET | Updated Jan 07, 2013

Good morning, everyone and welcome to the Sunday where I try to get through the Sunday morning political chat shows with enough of my sanity and dignity left over to make it to a bar to watch the football game this evening. My name is Jason. Hope you are well and enjoying the beginnings of this new year as much as one can.

When we last left each other, it was like a hundred million years ago and Congress was trying to figure out how they would avert the utterly ridiculous crisis that they invented for themselves to face so they could feel good about accomplishing something, by which I mean this crisis of their own making, by which I mean there are a lot of abject losers and idiots among your Congresscritters and the people they pal around with -- many of whom will be appearing on and/or hosting these shows we are about to watch. Well...I am about to watch, anyway. Which makes me the biggest loser/idiot of all, I guess! The rest of you should stay in bed or cook a nice soup or something.

As always, while I am typing and wishing for a meteor to strike me you all may enjoy yourselves in the comments. You may drop me a line if you feel the urge. I am on Twitter, so if you'd like to experience my exulting or weeping over the aforementioned football game, following me there would allow you to do that. And, as always, some of the more interesting things I've read on the internet this week have been posted to my RebelMouse page -- feel free to go read them yourself.

Ok, so, on we go!

FOX NEWS SUNDAY

John Roberts, generic looking news guy, is filling in for Chris Wallace today. "If you thought the fight over the fiscal cliff was tough, stay tuned for a bruising round two." The fight over the fiscal cliff didn't actually evince any "toughness." It was mostly caused by morons who created an ornate series of stupid committees to avoid doing the jobs they were elected to do. The second round is the one that features actual psychopaths who want to threaten default and global economic disaster, so it's a good thing we're normalizing that behavior right off the bat. This, from the network that insisted that "suicide bomber" wasn't a mean enough thing to call someone.

Performing their schtick today will be Representatives Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and later Fox will continue their now-five year long project to revivify the GOP by letting Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) babble at the camera about "fresh thinking." Also, a panel discussion, as usual. But first, let's have Van Hollen and Jordan yell at each other, predictably.

It is really very funny to hear media people now refer to the "fiscal cliff" as no big deal after endlessly hyping it for a month.

Anyway, Van Hollen says that anything that's not a "balanced approach" to deficit reduction, and the revenues raised in the fiscal cliff fooferfaw balance off the cuts made by the Obama administration to spending, and now the next step is to do something "like Simpson-Bowles" -- by which he means make targeted spending cuts and raise revenues through the "tax breaks and loopholes" that Romney and Ryan ran on closing. (The problem with suggesting Simpson-Bowles at this point is that Simpson-Bowles began with the suggestion that the Bush-era tax cuts should go away completely. They aren't, so it's not something we can implement now and then take credit for later.

Naturally, Jordan isn't having it, because the cuts did not go into effect immediately enough for him. And then we get a paragraph of 2012 campaign-era talking points.

Van Hollen points out that the characterization of there being no cuts is incorrect, as is the notion that his side hasn't proposed more, and reminds that House Republicans were not "willing to follow Speaker Boehner in that balanced approach." They are the "danger going forward."

Roberts brings up the debt ceiling, generically starting off the discussion by noting that breaching the debt ceiling is a danger. Jordan, as it turns out, revealed himself to be a Debt Ceiling Truther-Doofus -- he suggested that breaching the ceiling was no big deal. That is like telling your landlord that not paying the rent you agreed to pay when you mutually entered into a contract with one another is not a big deal. As Henry Blodget pointed out earlier this week, "threatening to turn the United States of America into a deadbeat nation that refuses to pay its bills," is not the responsible or safe way to begin this debate.

Jordan, today, glosses over his previous position with more 2012 campaign era blatherskite and complaints about the process that led to the fiscall cliff. "We've got to stop the madness," he says, but I'm waiting to hear if he'll actually participate in the madness. Roberts asks him again if he plans to side with the gleeful gravediggers of the global economy, and he spits more talking points, avoiding the question.

Van Hollen insists that the sequester cuts were not "kicked down the road," but that's a wallop of high-test nonense, too! In fact, it was kicked right into the path of the "Mad Max" style convoy of meth-heads and freakers who want to set fire to the debt ceiling. (This is why resolving the "fiscal cliff" should have included the permanent deweaponization of the debt ceiling.)

Ha, Roberts, pointing out that the debt ceiling is scheduled to rise once this year and once in 2014, asks, "When does this stop?" Well, those raises DON'T STOP unless you go back in time and stop things like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Medicare Part D from happening, along with a lot of laws that Congress enacted and which cost money. Raising the debt ceiling is not an action that permits future spending. Raising the debt ceiling simply re-affirms your prior commitments. Every month when I pay my bills, I raise my debt ceiling. I could, if I wanted to, stage a long debate over whether I am sensibly budgeting money or if I could create more savings, but I'm not actually allowed to dodge my committments. Roberts needs to understand this better, but then he is far from alone. He is actually the norm.

There is a lot of crosstalk and yelling, in which Van Hollen says we need a balanced approach and Jordan supports an unbalanced approach. Both men believe they are the true devotees of Simpson-Bowles, of course. Worship of Simpson-Bowles is Washington at its most moronically sectarian.

For whatever reason, we shift to gun control. Van Hollen says he supports some sensible and comprehensive gun control. Roberts hits him with two arguments at once -- he criticizes Van Hollen for the inaction of his caucus ("Why isn't your caucus talking about that?") which simultaneously criticizing the action he just criticized Democrats for not taking ("How would this have stopped Adam Lanza?") -- you sort of have to pick one, bucko!

Jordan limply regrets that so many people have to die because of guns but, you know, "freedom," what are you going to do? The Sandy Hook tragedy was a tolerable number of dead people, to Jordan.

And, more crosstalk, Van Hollen wants a comprehensive background check, so criminals do not get guns, Jordan only seems to want them in certain instances. I am having a hard time understanding his position, actually! Van Hollen puts a question to him: "So if you've broken a law and committed a violent act, you can go out and buy a semi-automatic assault weapon?" Jorden answers, "You shouldn't be able to get a concealed carry permit, that's for sure." But...huh? People with violent criminal convictions can have powerful guns, but they can't conceal them? Well, that will sure show somebody!

I think I'd just respect Jordan's position a little more if he'd be honest and say, "I'm not so moved by the deaths of these people that I feel policymakers should intervene," instead of inventing some new level of obtuseness.

And now, for a brief exercise in corporate cross-branding, here is Ted Cruz to wax philosophical about the state of the contemporary GOP, and how it can get better. (The short version: be more like Ted Cruz.)

Ted Cruz says that he cannot see himself voting for former Senator and rock-ribbed conservation Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense because he's insufficiently abeisant to Israel and doesn't spend nearly enough time rattling his saber mindlessly as he obviously should. I'm sort of mystified by the willingness of GOP Senators to walk right into the clear intransigence trap that Obama is setting for them, to make them look as rabid as the House GOP. That said, until he actually puts forth Hagel as a nominee, I'm going to remain concerned that demonstrating the ills of the other party by launching trial balloons and watching his not-yet-proposed nominees get excoriated in public by lyncanthropes as sort of bush league. I mean, if Hagel doesn't get a shot at Senate confirmation, I am going to feel a little bit bad for the guy. Which isn't to say that he's the person I'd like to see run the Pentagon (my choice is Michelle Flournoy), but I'm willing to walk a little bit in his shoes.

Anyway, the model for Cruz is Reagan during the Cold War, so, you know...there's some super fresh contemporary thinking. He doesn't know if the Senate will confirm him. He honestly thinks that Obama is making an odd choice, here, doing something that the Senate Minority doesn't want him to do. He is sincerely flabbergasted that the lesson he's extracted from his own re-election is that he should be permitted to have ideas or notions that do not line up 100% with Ted Cruz's own ideas or notions. Cruz is legitimately baffled and offended that Obama would ask him to join in a debate.

Cruz doesn't know so much about Jack Lew as Treasury, but says that any Treasury Secretary would have to "present some ideas for growth" and that the Geithner track record is "dismal." That is pretty hilarious to me -- because of some facts. First, U.S. corporate profits hit an all time high in the 3rd quarter of 2012. Second, people like Cruz generally tend to support the idea that wealth should be redistributed to wealthy people, who are euphemistically called "job creators," and, well, you got to hand it to President Obama: as Chris Lehman reported in the Baffler (sorry, subscription required), "The top 1 percent of income earners have taken in fully 93 percent of economic gains since the Great Recession, the numbers show. That share outpaces Bush-era figures by a mile; as the economy emerged from the 2001-2 recession, the top 1 percent claimed a lousy 65 percent of the gains that followed."

What's been dismal in the recent economy is prolonged unemployment and an inadequately addressed crisis of aggregate demand. We could DEFINITELY afford to have a Treasury Secretary willing to be less dismal -- but Cruz isn't likely to support any such candidate!

Ha, ha, Roberts asks Cruz if he "shares the opinions" of other Republicans who found Lew "arrogant and impossible to work with" during the 2011 debt ceiling debate. Ha, that's like asking, "The guy who was appointed to run the Fire Department has been deemed impossible to work with and arrogant by arsonists. Really, the nerve of that guy, who won't even listen to any point of view other than his own, by which I mean specifically the point of view of people who want to burn down other people's houses if they don't get their way or are forced to negotiate in honest, honorable fashion." Cruz says that Lew has never been arrogant to him, so he'll keep an open mind.

Cruz says that he's open to new revenue, but through "growth," and as discussed, I'm not sure that Cruz understands what that means, but I'll assume for the moment that while he's averse to more tax rate hikes, he's not averse to revenue raised through tax reform. As always, the stupidity of "revenue neutral tax reform" should be apparent to everyone (it is the same as "cake-neutral cake baking") but having secured some revenue through rate hikes already, it seems pretty clear that the White House intends to present the Romney "loopholes and exceptions" tax reform plan and then hold the line on cuts to as close to a 1:1 ratio as he can. MAYBE! I mean, this administration loves to bargain away their position!

Cruz says that if we can get GDP up to "three, four, five percent, that would be dramatically more revenue." Indeed it would! Of course, once you get to the point where you are wishing for a sustained five percent GDP, why stop there? Wish for leprechauns! Wish for ponies that poop gold doubloons!

Roberts asks him about the debt ceiling, and whether he will push the country to default. Cruz says that "he does not support default on the debt, we should never default on the debt, and the only players in Washington who are threatening that are Barack Obama and Harry Reid." That's two true things and one false thing. The only way I'd suggest that it's true that Obama is pushing default is that he didn't fight harder for the deweaponization of the debt ceiling as a component of the fiscal cliff deal. To that extent, I worry that he does not take the debt ceiling psychopaths seriously enough.

Ted Cruz is also really bummed out by the tragedy in Sandy Hook, but it was still an acceptable level of casualties and he doesn't want a whole lot of new gun control, save for maybe the improvement of the federal database that monitors criminals and mentally ill people. He is actually offended that policy makers even wanted to respond to the Sandy Hook tragedy with policymaking,

There is a brief sappy monologue about "opportunity" and "the American Dream" that is super fresh contemporary thinking but, oh, whoops, look at that it failed to create any jobs, so sad, frowny face.

Roberts asks, "What's to prevent you from becoming a spineless jellyfish?" I think it's sad that not enough people understand that "spineless jellyfish" is redundant. Anyway, Cruz says that he is inspired by the "grassroots" and he thinks that he can govern by "standing strong" on some vague ideas that appear on the GOP caucus' flash cards.

Okay, it's panel time, with Brit Hume and Nina Easton and Bill Kristol and Charles Lane.

Easton says that we will continue to "look over cliffs" and notes, correctly, that ending the payroll tax holiday will make our crisis of aggregate demand worse. She is rah-rah-rah behind scuttling earned benefit programs like Medicare and Social Security, as are most people who live in the posh political media cocktail bubble.

Hume assures everyone that there is no danger of defaulting on our debt. In every play where a gun is brandished in Act One, there is a character who thinks the gun will not be fired in Act Five and they are usually pretty tragically wrong. He gives the greenlight to the GOP to use the threat of breaching the debt ceiling as a legitimate bargaining tactic. This is not something that he would endorse if it were a Democratic Congress and a Republican President.

Kristol says that "in real life" the President has the leverage, but the good news is that the raising taxes further is off the cards. Kristol seems to think that Obama has given ground on this and the GOP scraped out a win. I will tell you that the extent to which Obama and many of his fellow Democrats in Congress were willing to go to the mattresses to keep the line at $250,000 has been GREATLY exaggerated.

Lane agrees that Obama has become "adept at exploiting the differences within the GOP caucus" but goes further and says that it's kind of amazing that the GOP caucus has as many differences as they do. Kristol objects to this, saying that the "troubles that Boehner is having with his caucus are a trivial thing to take pleasure in" but that wasn't what Lane was talking about.

Hume, very firmly, says that "going forward Republicans are going to resist any increase in taxes," but here's a hot scoop for ya, Brit -- no one is going to propose any! The only thing that will even look like a request to raise taxes will be a proposal from the White House to do revenue-neutral tax reform in the style of the policies that Republicans spent all of 2012 insisting were necessary, forcing the GOP into a position where they have to oppose their own beloved plan.

But okay, everyone should know, officially: The GOP is going to stand really firm against doing the thing that they've already done and that no one is going to ask them to do anytime in the immediate future.

The discussion shifts to the pending nomination of Chuck Hagel. Hume doesn't understand why he picked Hagel, other than to say that maybe Hagel is a "maverick." Hume is also sort of surprised that it's Leon Panetta that's warning about the effects the sequestration cuts will have on the Pentagon and not Obama, but that's a little silly -- Panetta's position is Obama's position, and Obama's never been a great fan of the sequester (in presidential debates he criticized them), it's just he got stuck with all of that when saving the economy required the enactment of the Budget Control Act.

When that was passed, by the way, the implicit promise was that the sequester was going to finally be the "stick" that would force a Congress that had gorged itself on "carrots" while doing nothing about the budget to finally do something. Paul Ryan stood in the well of the House, and sang the Budget Control Act's praises, saying that it was an epic bipartisan achievement and that it would change the entire culture of Congress. The subtext there? "We promise this is going to work, this time!" Well, they failed at even that.

But the idea that Leon Panetta is somehow running a fifth column from inside the Executive Branch is just a little nuts. But then, there are other, weirder examples of this. As Jonathan Chait wrote this week:

Part of this Republican aversion to negotiating with Obama seems to arise from some misplaced personal anger at the president that is manifesting itself in affection for Joe Biden. Washington Post conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin heartily endorses the no-negotiation-with-Obama line in the sand, instead urging the party to deal with good ol’ Biden:

"The question remains whether, after two failed attempts and much bad blood spilled, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will insist on the same fruitless one-on-one meetings with the president. Frankly, it would be far more productive to meet, if he insists on meeting with the White House, with Vice President Biden."

Do Republicans think Biden is authorizing deals that Obama won’t agree to? How is Rogue Biden tricking Obama into signing these compromises he opposes?

The answers to these questions are "Apparently yes," and "Nobody knows, it is the weirdest effing thing in the world but there you go!"

Kristol also thinks the Hagel nomination is weird and isn't averse to seeing Michelle Flournoy or other administration members getting the nomination.

Actual question asked on Fox News Sunday: Roberts cites a quote from Hagel in which he said, "I will do everything I can to avoid needless, senseless war," and then asks, "Is that a reasonable position?"

Just gonna copy and paste that last paragraph four more times.

Actual question asked on Fox News Sunday: Roberts cites a quote from Hagel in which he said, "I will do everything I can to avoid needless, senseless war," and then asks, "Is that a reasonable position?"

Actual question asked on Fox News Sunday: Roberts cites a quote from Hagel in which he said, "I will do everything I can to avoid needless, senseless war," and then asks, "Is that a reasonable position?"

Actual question asked on Fox News Sunday: Roberts cites a quote from Hagel in which he said, "I will do everything I can to avoid needless, senseless war," and then asks, "Is that a reasonable position?"

Actual question asked on Fox News Sunday: Roberts cites a quote from Hagel in which he said, "I will do everything I can to avoid needless, senseless war," and then asks, "Is that a reasonable position?"

Nina Easton also supports Michelle Flournoy's nomination, but I worry that she's doing so because she somehow believes that Flournoy is open to getting America involved in needless and/or senseless wars.

Lane says that Obama and Hagel just sort of bonded in the Senate when they both served there and that Obama simply "likes the guy." He also says that appointing Hagel gives some sheen of "bipartisanship" because Hagel is "nominally a conservative" and Hume quips "Boy, nominally is right," and I am just stunned because NO ONE EVER TALKED ABOUT HAGEL BEING A SQUISH LIKE THIS UNTIL OBAMA SUGGESTED HE JOIN HIS ADMINISTRATION. It's amazing how the sliding scale for squishness has become so uncalibrated in recent years. Richard Lugar is a liberal, now! Bob Inglis must be defeated! Bob Bennett is working with Ron Wyden on something? CHOP OFF HIS HEAD! And Chuck Hagel's former friends in the Senate can't believe they would be asked to accept him as a member of the U.S. government.

Cray-cray.

FACE THE NATION

Today's schtick also includes multiple appearances from Mitch McConnell so that's going to be happening. And then Face The Nation will be a rerun of Fox News Sunday in that we'll have two guys yelling at each other impotently (in this case Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.)) and then a Republican who vows to do a lot of "fresh thinking" and revive the party (Representative Mike Kelly (R-Penn.). Though he'll be joined by a couple other guys -- Representatives Rick Nolan (D-Minn.) and Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.). And then David Sanger and Rana Foroohar will talk about stuff, and maybe there will also be a magic act or a ventriloquist.

So, Nancy Pelosi says that no one is done with the debate over revenues, and that it's actually continuing by "looking at the tax code" and "closing loopholes" and ending needless subsidies. So, critically, the debate over tax rates is done, and now the Democrats will take up the GOP's offer of "revenue neutral tax reform" or something akin to that.

I wonder if Mitch McConnell is going to object to this? I am guessing yes.

Pelosi says that she's not willing to bring in more revenues at the expense of the middle class, and I wonder if she's heard about the ending of this payroll tax holiday? I think it's something that should have been extended through 2013, because we are having this problem of inadequate aggregate demand.

I guess Pelosi is sort of a guest today also? Schieffer asks her if Democrats are willing to make reforms of earned benefit programs like Social Security and Medicare, to which she responds, "We already have." Schieffer says, "I know that," and Pelosi compliments him on his discerning newsgathering abilities, saying, "Good!"

She says that it's important to remind people that Democrats already have not as a signal that they refuse to accede to further reforms, just to ensure that they get credit for responsibly taking up the debate and proposing solutions. She sites especially the reform to Medicare Advantage that saved Medicare a lot of money and improved its solvency dramatically -- you know, the one that Romney and Paul campaigned on reversing by pretending that it "looted" the Medicare system that they, themselves, want to deconstruct completely. It was a weird year for irony, 2012.

Pelosi says that she wants to prolong, not destroy, these earned benefit programs. She is averse to raising the eligibility age to Medicare, but she isn't allowed to explain why (it impacts poor workers and people who have menial labor jobs unfairly). She seems to be open to some means testing.

Schieffer asks if she'd be open to altering the "formula for Social Security" and Pelosi says, "What do you mean?" Schieffer doesn't actually specifiy anything. So Pelosi kind of just gives a brief lecture of what a "social insurance program" is. She says that reducing the earned benefit is a non-starter.

The obvious reform to Social Security is to raise or remove the income caps on contributions. But policymakers prefer that something much more complicated and idiotic get done instead.

Pelosi reminds everyone that people who threaten to breach the debt ceiling and default on our sovereign credit and plunge the global economy into spasms of intractable turmoil are crazy, and then very helpfully points out what "raising the debt ceiling" actually means -- reaffirming the intent to make good on obligations that have already occurred, not permissively allowing future obligations or removing the possibility of a robust debate over the long-term budget trajectory of the country -- a debate which could end in bringing about reductions in spending.

Schieffer asks why are continuing to go through these instances where Congress breaks down in embarrassing fashion. She basically says that he will have to ask a Republican, because she doesn't quite understand it. She points out that Bush got regular raises of the debt ceiling, despite the spending he requested, because Congress, after all, committed themselves to those obligations willingly. (Though one guy who did rattle Bush's cage a little bit over the debt ceiling was Senator Barack Obama, who I'm guessing has learned the hard way about why participating in the old tradition of idle talk and fake bravado over the debt ceiling contributed to the rise of the Debt Ceiling Psychopaths.)

Pelosi says that the President should use the 14th Amendment to deweaponize the debt ceiling.

Pelosi says she doesn't understand why Congress has gotten so terrible, because even when she was the Speaker under the Bush administration, she worked with the White House to get things done. Though, she points out, "We didn't agree on the wars." Yes, well, you guys didn't actually do anything to END THOSE WARS, like, say, refusing to fund them, even though the Democrats who swept into office in 2006 were vowing to put a stop to them, so I'd say that even if you didn't agree with Bush on the wars, the inaction was as good as a hug.

Now here's Mitch McConnell to generally object to all of those contentions. He says that the Democrats have a "voracious appetite" for taxes, and now the tax discussion is over, but he's still talking about all of this in terms of tax rates, and I keep telling him, "You don't have to worry about anyone coming to you looking to raise tax rates, buddy."

Anyway, he wants the President to come up with a plan to cut spending, so that he can reject it and criticize the president for insufficient "leadership," which will create jobs. (The previous plan to cut spending, which was developed in concert with John Boehner, is probably off the table, and why McConnell thinks he'll get a better deal now is a little bit mystifying. Still! The White House doesn't like to hold the line on such matters, so who know?)

Schieffer brings up Senator Jon Cornyn's op-ed. in which the Texas Senator suggested that "it may be necessary to partially shut down the government in order to secure the long-term fiscal well being of our country, rather than plod along the path of Greece, Italy and Spain."

McConnell avers on whether or not he'll push it that far. But it's a stupid suggestion. Per Matt Yglesias:

What he's missing here is that the path he's advocating is much worse than anything that's happened in Italy or Spain. He proposing that the federal government simply default on payment it's obligated to make.

We have had, in the past, episodes that have been called government shut-downs. What's happened in those cases is that no new appropriation bill has been passed authorizing many branches of the federal government to operate. Absent an appropriation, there's no legal basis for the government programs to be administered and so they aren't administered. Then congress appropriates new money and things come back.

What Cornyn is talking about is something else. He's talking about the government not paying bills that it's already obliged to pay. Social Security and Medicare exist. Bondholders are owed interest payments. State and local governments have submitted paperwork to get their grants. Veterans are owed benefits. Contractors have agreed to do work. Congress has passed the appropriations bills. But if the debt ceiling isn't raised, the Treasury won't have the money to pay the bills it has to pay. The result won't be a "shutdown" of government functions; it'll be a deadbeat federal government. Some people won't get money they're legally entitled to. But who won't be paid? And who will decide who won't be paid? Does the Secretary of the Treasury just arbitrarily get to decide that bondholders and residents of blue states get paid, but there are no Social Security benefits for Texans? Can Obama dock Cornyn's pay but not Chuck Schumer's? Certainly there's no legal authority for that kind of prioritization, but what's Obama supposed to do if congress tries to prevent him from spending money that he's legally obliged to spend.

That's another key thing about the debt ceiling debate. The Republicans want to create a situation where President Obama is fully RESPONSIBLE to figure out what to do when the time comes for him to make the payments he's legally obligated to make because of laws that Congress agreed to in the past, while simultaneously DENYING HIM THE MEANS to do the very thing they are making him fully responsible to do. It is the essence of INSANE.

McConnell said a bunch of other stuff while I was typing, but he's going to be on THIS WEEK later, saying all the same crap so we'll catch up with him then.

Schieffer gives a big monologue about how awful and bipartisan things have gotten in Congress and remembers a time when Republicans and Democrats worked together, and also Tip O'Neill and Reagan, blah blah weren't those days great! I guess! I mean, just a few days ago the Republicans and the Democrats came together, united in their desire to continue the unaccountable surveillance state they created together, so WOO BIPARTISANSHIP. I hope that we enshrine that day in memory, for certain. Also, the Bipartisan War In Afghanistan continues on, as Monument To Beltway Comity, like a charnel house made of marble.

Now here's Jeff Flake and Chris Murphy to yell at each other about the things that Pelosi and McConnell just subtweeted at each other about. Flake says that he "doesn't see how President Obama goes back to the well on tax increases" and again, THE GOOD NEWS IS THAT HE ISN'T GOING TO PROPOSE FURTHER INCREASES TO TAX RATES.

This has been a wonderful day of watching Republicans come out very strongly against something that no one is seriously asking them to do, because they already went and caved and did it.

Murphy reminds everyone that taking the debt ceiling hostage is irresponsible and that the debate over the budget needs to take place in an environment where that threat isn't overhanging.

Now we're joined by Mike Kelly and Rick Nolan and Matt Salmon, so we'll probably brew up an exciting conversation. Kelly takes what should be the rational view of the fiscal cliff debate from the GOP -- hey, they enshrined most of the Bush tax cuts again! He also says that we need "an adult conversation" going forward, and I'm left wondering if when Obama comes to Kelly and says, "let's do what your party standardbearer suggested we do during the election if he's going to continue to call that "adult."

Salmon wonders about the Senate's failure to pass a budget, and asks, "If not now, when?" (SPOILER ALERT: The Senate will capably pass a budget they very moment the filibuster is reformed and not one day before!)

Nolan says that he's surprised that Congresscritters don't work very hard anymore and then rails about how much our politics is governed by a "toxic" and "obscene" amount of money and I'm thinking, "Holy cow, how did THIS GUY get elected because it sounds like he's actually sane and not some clapped-out cretinous piece of total filth." (Sadly, it will probably be a matter of weeks before K Street sinks their lamprey-tentacle fangs into his husk and drains his soul down to Evan Bayh levels, but I will allow myself to LIVE IN HOPE for this unexpected demonstration of Buddy Roemerism.)

Schieffer asks about Cornyn's position on shutting the government down (which is actually an argument to shoot the government in the head). Kelly says that if our credit rating goes down "it's not because we haven't paid our bills it's because we haven't addressed our future." That is almost perfectly incorrect! When your credit rating goes down, the uncertainty about your future is IMPLIED, and it's implied because, "HEY LOOK AT THIS GUY WHO NEVER PAYS HIS OBLIGATIONS." And when you gleefully state, "I am not going to honor my obligations," it makes it really easy to downgrade your credit rating.

The panel is divided between passivity -- "Oh I agree we shouldn't shut down the government or default on our credit so I sure hope someone else does something about it." -- and people like Nolan and Salmon, who are both returned to Congress after long absences and have come back with the attitudes that governed previous legislatures -- that it is INSANE for a Congress to suggest they not allow the President to discharge the legal duties that come along with the laws Congress enacts.

Nolan: "I'm a hunter, and I believe in the Second Amendment, but I don't need an assault weapon to shoot a duck and I think they ought to be banned." Okay, but what if you need to go out and show that duck who the real man is by humiliating him with a ton of ammunition as a vital extension of your own scrotal bulge? How are you going to do that with a mere state of the art hunting rifle? THINK ABOUT IT.

Flake says that he "looks forward to Biden's thoughts" on the matter of guns. Murphy says that a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines is Constitutional, and that it will "absolutely make a difference," and "save lives." (He is not referring to the lives of ducks.)

That would make a good title for a memoir: THE LIVES OF DUCKS.

Okay, Sanger and Foroohar, give it to me! Sanger says that "at the end of the fiscal cliff, people saw a Washington that was still dysfunctional." Ha, really? I guess I will begrudgingly concede this unexpected point. Anyway, there is still this sense, internationally, where people wonder if our Congress is insane, but they also wonder if "we'll remain engaged in the world" seeing as how we are pulling out of Afghanistan and Iraq. Is that the way the world wants us to be "engaged with them?" "Oh my, I am very concerned that the Americans will not continue to flop around like hooked fish in these deadly global quagmires!"

But investors are "not fleeing the U.S." and I'm not sure why they would because...oh, here's Foroohar making the point I was going to make: it did not affect the investors' opinions of U.S. Treasury bonds. She does suggest that continuing dysfunction could change the game. I'll say! Especially if we blow up the economy because we can't agree at which level we'll impoverish old people.

Sanger and Foroohar both think that we shouldn't default on our debt and that we maybe won't do that. Foroohar is also sane about growth, suggesting that 3% GDP is the realistic goal (instead of the weird, pie-in-the-sky 5%) and that only when we've hit those targets reliably should we be talking about making dramatic cuts to public sector output.

MEET THE PRESS

Today's Meet The Press features Mitch McConnell. And Newt Gingrich. And Carly Fiorina. And Simpson and Bowles. And the eternally re-booked Xavier Becerra and E.J. Dionne. And Angus King, who at least today said, "THE DEBT CEILING HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE FUTURE. IT'S ABOUT SPENDING IN THE PAST," but is otherwise one of those Maine Senate weirdos who like to take their policy preferences and suborn them to a weird kabuki show of mystification that they call "independence."

Rather than reblog this show, here is a brief video, titled "WHAT IT'S LIKE TO WATCH JASON WATCHING MEET THE PRESS," starring my fellow Swedish kinswoman Noomi Rapace as me.

THIS WEEK WITH WHOEVER

Oy, so this will be another scatterbrained mix of OMG NEW CONGRESS IN TOWN and DOODZ MORE FISCAL DEBATEZ but first, here's Mitch McConnell again.

McConnell says he's mystified as to why these last minute deals keep happening and the answer is "because the legislature keeps setting up the circumstances that lead to these last minute deals" and maybe he should spend some time studying what the Senate has been doing for the past few years. SPOILER ALERT: it's been keeping debate on any number of issues from even happening with the use of a filibuster. This is why debates don't get resolved outside of these weird near collapses. If you stage debates and hole votes, you get different outcomes. It doesn't mean you get preferred outcomes, but the whole point of campaigning for office is to make a case for those.

NO ONE IS FORCING ANYONE TO DO THIS STUPID VERSION OF LEGISLATING OUTSIDE OF THE LEGISLATORS. All this dysfunction is just an affirmative choice. It can be ended tomorrow. McConnell can play a heroic role in doing so, and not give up a lick of getting to stand up in front of the country and make the case for what he believes in. He simply has to be one of the people who wants it to end.

McConnell repeats a lot of what we've already heard. HE REFUSES TO HAVE ANY FURTHER DISCUSSION ON TAX RATES. Conveniently, no one else is either.

I am allergic to eggs, so I don't eat them, but Mitch McConnell is really teaching me today that if I really want to be firm about it, I should go to the grocery store and loudly lecture the eggs about how "The debate over whether I'll eat you guys is over! Sorry, eggs, but I'm not having any more of this!"

(The irony here is that I accidentally ate some eggs yesterday and spent a few hours of internal turmoil that thankfully didn't result in anything horrible but wasn't exactly fun. Don't tell my mother! She worries about things like this!)

What about Chuck Hagel? George Stephanopoulos points out that when "Senator Hagel left the Senate in 2008," McConnell "praised his clear voice and stature on foreign policy and national security" and asks him now: "Do you stand by that praise?"

MCCONNELL: Well, whoever's nominated for secretary of defense is going to have to have a full understanding of our close relationship with our Israeli allies, the Iranian threat, and the importance of having a robust military. So whoever that is, I think, will be given a thorough vetting. And if Senator Hagel's nominated, he'll be subjected to the same kinds of review of his credentials as anyone else.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Several of your colleagues have come out against his appointment, saying he's not sufficiently supportive of Israel or tough enough on Iran, among other issues. Do you share their concerns?

MCCONNELL: Well, I'm going to take a look at all the things that Chuck has said over the years and review that, and in terms of his qualifications to lead our nation's military.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But do you still believe he has the stature on foreign policy and national security to be secretary of defense?

MCCONNELL: Well, he's certainly been outspoken in foreign policy and defense over the years. The question we will be answering, if he's the nominee, is do his views make sense for that particular job? I think he ought to be given a fair hearing, like any other nominee, and he will be.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you still have an open mind?

MCCONNELL: I'm going to wait and see how the hearings go and see whether Chuck's views square with the job he would be nominated to do.

So! The answer is "No." (I know this, because otherwise McConnell would have simply answered "Yes.")

We move to the issue of gun control, and this is apparently the agreed-to GOP talking point, because I've now heard three times: "Well, first, we need to concentrate on Joe Biden's group, and what are they going to recommend? And after they do that, we'll decide what, if anything, is appropriate to do in this area."

You know, it's the whole two step process -- 1. insisting that the White House to do stuff and 2. insisting that the White House proposing everything constitutes something being "rammed down their throats" -- that has led to this Congress' weird state of dysfunction.

Time to celebrate some Congressional newbies, who Stephanopoulos insists are "rising stars." That is, by the way, a bit of crazy overflattery, because it's totally possible that none of these people will amount to anything and I'd personally just like a bunch of more people who are ready to put their heads down and do some work like good little salt miners and NOT try to be "stars." The only other profession that insists its every public participant is some sort of "star" is pornography, and frankly, they have a better record of raising revenue and funding themselves.

But, whatevs. Your "stars" are Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-S.D.) and Representative Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) (who is a Harvard elitist!) and Representative Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) who is famous for having a famous twin brother named Julian who is the mayor of San Antonio and spoke at the Democratic National Convention.

OR DID HE?????

Anyway, the blah-dee-blah. Heitkamp said during the campaign that Obama had not done a good job uniting the country, because that's what she had to say to get elected in South Dakota. What's her solution to Congressional gridlock?

"We have to stop talking in ultimatums," she says, issuing an ultimatum. You know, I take back what I said, this woman is clearly going to be a superstar here.

"You put everything on the table," she says. OMG, she is going right for "Beltway cliche Yahtzee!"

Castro says that "whenever you come to a compromise with the other party you get criticism from your own" (which wasn't what Heitkamp was saying) but that he thinks that Obama has "worked in earnest" with Republicans (which is what she was suggesting wasn't actually happening).

Cotton, you want to weigh in, here? "We have a debt crisis in this country that's caused by too much spending and too little growthzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz........"

Huh, what? Zoned out there, on a cliche overdose! They are talking about Chuck Hagel. Stephanopoulos asks Cotton if he would vote against him if he was in the Senate. Jesus wept! Well, guess what, Cotton wouldn't vote for him but here's the thing: he is a total non-factor in the issue, so who cares? (He also doesn't sound any different from any of his former Senate BFFs who now think he's terrible, so thank you, the honorable White Noise Producer from whatever Arkansas District sent you slouching toward Washington.

Heitkamp is all, "Shucks, I don't know."

So, terrific, the guy who won't cast a vote on Hagel loudly repeats what he's been told to say, and the woman who will cast a vote doesn't know what to say. THIS IS ALMOST TOO AMAZING.

Here's the next exchange:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Castro, I want to bring up another issue I brought up with Senator McConnell with you. It's pretty clear from talking to Senator McConnell that he doesn't believe that the Senate should take up gun control measures until after these fiscal issues are dealt with the first part of this year. He says three months at least.

CASTRO: Well, you know, there's no question that the debt is an important issue, but immigration reform and gun control are also important issues that the American people, quite frankly, have asked the Congress to deal with. So I am giving him the benefit of the doubt that he's sincere in wanting to deal with the debt first, but I hope that it's not a stalling tactic.

Remind me again when it became accepted that Congress could only work on one thing at a time, or that it was vital that things got done in a certain order? And then explain to me that if it is true that some things are more vital than other things, why is it that we order everything like this:

1. GOTTA FIX THE LONG TERM DEFICITZ, OMG.
2. MAYBE DO SOME COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM
3. GUNS! FINALLY! (I mean maybe...you know, probably not.)
4. REAUTHORIZE ALL THE WARS
5. HOLY CRAP THE WHOLE SURVEIL ALL AMERICANS ALL THE TIME THING NEARLY LAPSED, WILL WE EVER OVERCOME THE INTRACTABLE BIPARTISAN DIVIDE TO DEBATE THIS IMPORTANT -- oh, never mind everyone agrees we should still have an unaccountable surveillance state
6. NAME SOME MORE POST OFFICES.
7-19. [OTHER STUFF]
20. Okay, maybe we should talk about the fact that there was a huge economic collapse in 2008 and we've assiduously avoided doing anything responsible about it.

Anyway, super duper bored by these people.

Let's briefly cover the powerhouse roundtable natterings. I am throwing the TiVo remote to the other side of the room.

Will says that Democrats can no longer tax the middle class and now we can't have an entitlement state. Reich says that the problem is that we need short-term stimulus and long-term deficit reduction but we basicall keep confusing the long-term deficit stuff as the thing that's going to solve the problem that the short-term stimulus would solve. That's a major problem with the current discussion. We talk about this as an either/or proposition. We can either have stimulus and big debts for ever or massive ruination now and austerity that magically saves us in a few decades. We actually need to put out the house that is on fire so it doesn't spread and then come back after everyone is safe and have a robust debate on how we need to be less flammable in the future.

Should we breach the fiscal cliff? Will says that one of the reasons people aren't afraid of default is because the Standard and Poor's downgrade actually made people more willing to invest in U.S. Treasury bonds. That's all probably true -- and you should probably take anythign S&P says with a salt lick because they were happily declaring all sorts of poisonous derivative burritos to be super AAA investments and it turns out they weren't and the economy died -- but the default is very real and the effects are very deleterious.

Reich says that what Obama needs to do is mobilize the business community and Wall Street to come out and lobby the Congress about how dangerous breaching the debt ceiling really is. That is probably exactly what he has to do, actually! (And he had already gone to the Business Roundtable to ask for their support.)

Greta van Susteren criticizes Obama for sending Joe Biden out to cut deals and says that this is "outsourcing" and that's just so stupid I can't even contemplate. Every organization has people at the top of the org chart and people under those people at the top and you are not "outsourcing" when you delegate responsibilities to the people under you. The people under you are EXTENSIONS OF YOU. I honestly don't understand when it became possible for people to say stupid things like this and continue to be invited to be a pundit. That is just some rivetingly dumb stuff.

Okay, now they are talking about Hagel. Stephanopoulos plays an ad from Hagel opponents who criticize Hagel for suggesting a military intervention in Iran neither "responsible" nor "feasible," and I wonder if it occurs to anyone that former SecDef Robert Gates said the exact same thing. I mean, is the conventional wisdom now that war with Iran would be easy and fun? Also, what military would we hire to attack Iran with, seeing as ours is permanently mired in Afghanistan? There's your outsourcing question!

Reich is wondering why Obama is spending political capital on Hagel when he could appoint a lot of other people. I would posit that Obama probably understands that no matter who he nominates, the GOP are going to force him to expend political capital -- and more than is necessary -- that it's almost pointless to worry about it. His response, in light of this, is to do things that exemplify just how dysfunctional and internally wrought the current Republican Party is. And look! Here they are! Here they are! Devouring one of their own! Again!

Here's the thing, though! In terms of how you impact the politics in Washington, that's a great strategy. Keep demonstrating your opponents are rabid, dysfunctional idiots, and you might keep on winning elections! But sooner or later, you have to do more than "stick it to Republicans" and in this case you actually have to run a Pentagon with some good sense and smart policy.

Van Susteren and Reich put all the stupid Hillary Clinton Concussion Conspiracy Theorists on blast, which is nice. Then Van Susteren starts talking about the gun issue and what a terrible example Obama is setting by having Common come to the White House and read poetry. Gwen Ifill, appropriately, gives her the gas face. Van Susteren, citing Hollywood, says that the real problem is a society that uses violence to solve problems. But the plots of movies are not "problems." They are "stories." And popular entertainments are not things that produce free-floating "influence germs" that turn people into weird monsters. Even if the creators of popular entertainments wanted to do that, the clear evidence suggests that they have failed spectacularly in turning anyone other than a minute and statistically insignificant segment of the population into murderers.

(Also, ha, ha, ha I can't wait for it to suggested that a War with Iran is an example of us ignorantly assuming that violence will solve our problems with violence. I'm sure that will come up directly.)

We cut to commercial. "We'll be right back with all of your picks on who to watch in 2013," says Stephanopoulos. UGH, PASS.

Okay, well, we shall call a halt to this right here. Thanks, as always, for joining in today. Have a great Sunday, and a wonderful week, everyone, except -- on a temporary basis -- the Seattle Seahawks. See you next Sunday!

[The Sunday Morning liveblog returns on 1/13/12. In the meantime, check out my RebelMouse page for some fun and diverting reads.]

CONVERSATIONS