Welcome to the Ides of March, now known as the day after "Pi Day." If you need to look up either of those references, may I humbly suggest that your pop-cultural education may not be quite wide enough. The Wides of March? Maybe I'm just being too snarky -- yet another of the Snides of March, perhaps.
OK, I'll stop. We'll get on instead with the normal chiding we do here on a weekly basis (must... not... repeat... subtitle phrase...). Speaking of chiding, New York City Mayor Bloomberg is fit to be... well... tied. No, really, I'll stop now -- I promise. Ginormous soda drinkers across the city are assumably rejoicing in the streets, now that a judge has struck down Bloomberg's "nanny-statist" law. Bloomberg vows to appeal. Will Gotham streets be held in the grip of the Sodameister? Will Batman and Robin save the day? Stay tuned, kiddies....
Moving on from the Soda Wars to our neverending War On (Some) Drugs, sooner or later the math is going to become compelling to budget cutters, one hopes. Want to cut something like $850 billion from the next 10 years of budgeting? End the War. There's a novel budget-cutting idea, eh, folks? The Drug War has now cost us roughly the same amount as the Iraq War, to put it in context -- $2 trillion each. In other "white smoke" news this week, the United Nations came out and condemned the states of Colorado and Washington, and urged the Obama Justice Department to fight their marijuana legalization laws full-force -- on the same day the U.S. Ambassador came out and chided his colleagues for their serious drinking problems in the U.N. You just can't make this stuff up, folks -- a gaggle of drunkards getting on their high horses (and then, likely, falling off) about continuing harsh temperance laws.
In other ironic and/or hypocritical news, Republican Senator Rob Portman bravely switched his position on gay marriage... after his own son came out as gay to him. Well, two years after, but who's counting? Now if only other children of Republicans were to come out as unemployed, or perhaps marry a minority, maybe party thinking could further evolve. There's always hope.
Speaking of hope, President Obama continued his charm offensive this week, by meeting with all four partisan caucuses up on Capitol Hill (two parties times two houses equals four caucuses). Whether any of this reaching out will pay any sort of dividend is yet to be seen, but at least the atmosphere seemed to be a little less harsh in Washington this week, so perhaps hope is not entirely unjustified this time around. Then again, there's always next week. We'll see.
Donald Trump has offered to pay the price to reopen the public White House tours, meaning... um, I'm not sure. Meaning it's time for a reality show based around touring Washington landmarks? It'd certainly be more interesting and educational than watching Trump fire people. You could have a race up the steps of the Washington Monument, for the grand finale, even!
But let's return to the concept of hope to wind up this week. Because the Catholic world is certainly hopeful for the success of the new Pope Francis I, and we will certainly lift a glass and wish him well on one of the two upcoming "saints' days" that Americans celebrate across sectarian lines (Valentine's Day being the other, of course). Which is our way of working around to saying have a Happy Saint Patrick's Day, everyone! Or, to put it properly: Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig!
There were a number of impressive things on the Democratic side to note this week. Maryland's governor is about to sign the abolition of the death penalty in his state, which is certainly noteworthy.
Senator Patty Murray, who chairs the Senate budget committee, put out a Democratic budget proposal this week. This is impressive only because it is the first time in five years that such a document has come forth. Now, this isn't Patty's fault, really, since the committee was chaired for the past four years by Kent Conrad, who retired in 2012. But, at best, it rates only a Honorable Mention for Murray, because we're really supposed to get one of these every year, like clockwork.
Our second Honorable Mention comes with no caveats, because the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Pat Leahy, successfully moved all four gun control bills through his committee this week. While their future is uncertain even in the full Senate, this is a necessary first step -- moving the bills out of committee. Leahy has done so with blinding speed (by Washingtonian standards, that is), only a few months after the tragedy in Newtown. While the country is still waiting on bills to reform immigration or the minimum wage or any of the other agenda items President Obama put forth in his State Of The Union speech, gun control is now moving forward as solid legislative proposals. For doing so, Leahy certainly has earned an Honorable Mention.
But our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week falls into the "credit where credit is due" category, from an event which happened almost a year ago. A bartender working a fundraiser casually put a video camera on the bar and taped what was going on at the event he was serving. That event was to raise money for Mitt Romney, and it is where Romney uttered his now-famous "47 percent" remarks. Thanks to not only the foresight in taping the event in the first place, but also to his determination to get the tape out to the political chattering classes, Scott Prouty changed the course of the presidential election.
Up until now, the journalist who first spotlighted the tape has gotten most of the credit for the tape's impact. We here have lavished praises (and two MIDOTW awards) on the man who connected the journalist with Prouty -- James Earl Carter IV, President Jimmy's grandson. But now that he's gone public and admitted his role as the originator of the video, we in all fairness have a long-overdue Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award for Scott Prouty. We're not even sure if he's a registered Democrat or anything, but he certainly deserves a lot of credit for the Democratic presidential campaign efforts last year. Romney never truly recovered from the damage the tape did to his campaign, and it will be remembered decades from now as a historical turning point. For making such history possible, Scott Prouty definitely deserves our weekly MIDOTW award.
[Scott Prouty is a private citizen, not an elected or party official, so it is our policy not to provide contact information, but you can always offer up your congratulations in the comment section.]
With so much lunacy on the right this week (what with the CPAC convention and Florida's Lieutenant Governor stepping down hastily), it was hard to find any examples of disappointing conduct by Democrats.
President Obama at least deserves a (Dis-)Honorable Mention this week, for his justification of being "no Dick Cheney" on drone warfare. Seriously, Mister President? This is the bar Democrats set for themselves now? Being slightly better than Dick Cheney? Wow, that's a pretty low mark to hit.
Obama needs to realize that what worries Democrats (and Rand Paul) is not that we really think Obama himself is guilty of far-fetched drone scenarios, it is instead the "just trust me" attitude -- because setting such a precedent is an incredibly bad idea. Having a secret drone policy in the first place means that while we may be justified in "just trusting" Obama, what will happen with the next president? And the one after that? Sooner or later, we will indeed have someone just as bad (or worse) as Dick Cheney in the White House, and that is the president we are worried about. Or you can spell that "precedent we're worried about" -- it works both ways.
But while Obama deserves at least a (Dis-)Honorable Mention for his off-the-cuff comment, we just dinged him last week, so we don't feel his remark rises to the level (or "sinks to the level") of the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.
In fact, no one does. For the first time since the 2012 election, no Democrat has seriously disappointed us this week, so there will be no MDDOTW award this week -- unless someone nominates a doozy in the comments whom I have missed or forgotten to mention.
Volume 249 (3/15/13)
It's the week of the battling budget proposals! Woo hoo!
So far, we've had three competing budgets appear, from House Republicans, House Democrats, and Senate Democrats. None will pass as-is, which gives us pundits and wonks months and months of arguing about their relative merits, which is certainly more interesting than watching paint dry, right?
Well, let's get right to it, such as it is. As always, these talking points are offered up to Democrats everywhere, from those about to sit down on a Sunday morning chat show to those shooting the political breeze around the water coolers of the nation.
So much for the "liberal" press
What's that? You weren't aware there were three budget proposals? I'm simply shocked. If you want a stellar rundown of what I'm talking about, check out Robert L. Borosage in the Huffington Post for the best article I've seen yet about the Progressives' House budget.
"You know, for all the griping on the right about the supposedly 'liberal' mainstream press, I have yet to hear a rundown of the Congressional Progressive Caucus' Back To Work Budget in any of the big media outlets. Oh, sure, Paul Ryan got lots of press by introducing essentially the same budget he's introduced for the past three years, and Patty Murray got somewhat-less attention for her budget proposal, but the real 'liberal' budget has yet to see the light of day in any mainstream press I've seen. The Back To Work budget is just as serious as Paul Ryan's budget, and it deserves equal attention because it is much more in tune with what the American people tell pollsters they want, in poll after poll. I mean, somebody should alert the soi-disant 'liberal' press, or something."
Obama already cut the deficit
These next two are true talking points -- phrases that need repeating, over and over again, until the media realizes their inherent truth and stops parroting nonsense from Republicans.
"You know, I keep hearing Republicans saying we need to cut the deficit. But somehow I never hear from them that President Obama has indeed cut deficits by something like $2.5 trillion over ten years. It's not like Obama hasn't signed off on budget cuts and deficit reduction. Republicans are scared to admit it, but this president has cut yearly deficits by at least one-third already -- when the numbers for 2013 are in, they will be around one-third lower than the deficit Obama was handed when he walked onto the job. Deficits have come down from $1.3 trillion per year to what looks like less than $900 billion this year. How about a little credit for Obama already moving so far in the right direction?"
Obama has offered entitlement reform, too
Once again, rinse and repeat.
"I hear Republicans call for entitlement reform, but the one person in Washington who has put more solid offers on the table to reform entitlements than any other is President Obama. Obama has, at various times, suggested means-testing Medicare, moving to the 'chained CPI,' raising retirement ages, and that doesn't even count the savings within Obamacare -- the $716 billion that Paul Ryan raked him over the coals for doing before Ryan added the savings to his own budget. Obama steps up to the plate again and again with serious suggestions for entitlement reform, and the only solid proposal from Republicans is to voucherize Medicare which is simply never going to make it through the Senate. Republicans just keep repeating 'Obama must lead on entitlement reform' over and over like a mantra, when Obama is actually the one out there with all the viable proposals to do just that. Obama is leading on entitlement reform, but Republicans refuse to take him up on any of these offers, and fail to come up with any realistic ideas of their own. Obama has offered entitlement reform, and Republicans should stop saying he hasn't, because it is simply not true."
What year is it?
This is a common refrain for all sorts of people, upon seeing Paul Ryan's budget proposal.
"Well, we all got a good dose of 'meet the new Ryan budget, same as the old Ryan budget' this week, as the most substantive change I see was to do a global search-and-replace to add 'fiscal year 2013' to Ryan's budget blueprint. It's like the election never happened. Ryan said he thought his party 'won the argument' politically on budget matters in the last election. Really? The 2012 election was a big win for Republicans? Wow. Paul Ryan's budget is being seen as less and less serious the more the American public gets to know what's in there. Investor Business Daily pointed out that federal spending outside of Social Security and the interest on the debt would be at the lowest level of GDP since 1948 if Ryan's budget actually became law. Think about that for a minute -- the lowest since 1948, before Medicare and Medicaid even existed. The American public rejected such severe austerity in the election, but apparently Paul Ryan didn't get that memo."
GOP for it before they were against it
The flip-floppiness of Republicans needs not just one but two talking points as well.
"Three months ago, Republicans from Mitt Romney to their congressional leadership were for cutting tax expenditures, otherwise known as loopholes. Romney actually ran on cutting loopholes. Now that President Obama is proposing doing so, Republicans are against it. It's like their position just a few months back went down the memory hole. Republicans don't really want a big budget deal, it seems. They are going to be against whatever Obama is for -- even when it's an idea they were pushing three months ago. The hypocrisy is just astounding."
GOP against it before they were for it
Sadly, it works the other way, too.
"Six months ago, Paul Ryan was out on the campaign trail using 'Mediscare' tactics to win votes among seniors. Ryan and Romney made a ton of political hay over terrifying seniors that Obama was stealing $716 billion from their Medicare benefits. They swore up and down that the first thing they'd do in office would be to 'restore those Medicare cuts.' Funny how Paul Ryan now includes them in his budget, isn't it? In case there was any doubt, the 'biggest lie of campaign 2012' has now been crowned. Even three months ago, Republicans were warning the sky was going to fall and the American economy would collapse if we raised tax rates on something like two percent of all earners. That didn't happen, and now Ryan is including those deficit-cutting tax rates in his budget as well. What I thought was screamingly funny was Ryan's pathetic inability to square this circle in his budget proposal rollout press conference. He was asked why he included the tax hike, and he answered 'it is settled law,' and he was asked why he was still fighting Obamacare while retaining the $716 billion in savings he had loudly denounced, and he had no real answer for that. Paul Ryan: against the $716 billion Medicare cut before he was for it, and against the new tax rates before he was for them, too. The hypocrisy is getting deep, folks, and it looks like it'll get even deeper soon."
You got that one right, Congressman Ryan
But, of course, I saved the best for last. Ryan had a slip of the tongue or perhaps a gaffe, or perhaps just a Freudian moment with his subconscious. When attempting to formulate some sort of answer on the Obamacare question, Ryan responded with a true gem of an answer:
This to us is something that we're not going to give up on, because we're not going to give up on destroying the health care system for the American people.
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