Each morning, Bill Scher and Terrance Heath serve up what progressives need to effect change on the kitchen-table issues families face: jobs, health care, green energy, financial reform, affordable education and retirement security.
MORNING MESSAGE: Trickle-Down in the Other ‘Down Under’
OurFuture.org’s Sam Pizzigati: “GOP White House hopefuls want taxes on the rich cut even lower than they’ve already been cut. What might a tax-the-rich-even-less future bring? The land of the kiwi offers one frightful answer. Where in the developed world do rich people pay the least in taxes? To Americans these days, this question would seem to have an obvious answer. The most rich people-friendly nation at tax time simply must be the United States, a land where the mega rich pay taxes at lower rates than their secretaries and a White House hopeful with a quarter-billion-dollar fortune pays only 13.9 percent of his annual take-home in federal income tax. But that obvious answer would be wrong. The rich people-friendliest developed nation in the world just happens to be New Zealand.”
The Obama Budget
President Obama will present his 2013 budget plan Monday [CNN]: “When President Barack Obama rolls out his 2013 budget proposal Monday, it’s likely to unleash another round of political finger-pointing on Capitol Hill. The White House bills the document as a ‘blueprint for how we can rebuild an economy where hard work pays off and responsibility is rewarded.’ While the White House and Democrats are advocating a balanced approach to economic growth — including spending cuts, increased tax revenue and investments in rebuilding infrastructure such as highways and bridges, Republicans will argue for deeper spending cuts and lower tax rates. Both sides contend that their positions will bring the economic growth needed to stimulate significant reductions in the federal deficit and rising national debt.”
Obama’s 2013 budget request to include community college training fund [Washington Post]: “As he unveils his 2013 budget request Monday, President Obama will highlight a proposal to invest $8 billion in community colleges to help them train workers in high-growth industries, the White House said. The plan would support Obama’s State of the Union goal of training 2 million unemployed Americans with new skills that would help them find a job. Under his proposal, Obama hopes to create a new Community College to Career Fund that provides grants to schools to partner with businesses and deliver training in fields such as health care, advanced manufacturing, clean energy and information technology… The president is set to announce the package at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, where he will make remarks about his 2013 spending plan.
Jacob Lew defends Obama’s spending plan [Washington Post] “White House Chief of Staff Jacob J. Lew on Sunday dismissed Republican criticism of President Obama’s latest spending plan, arguing that it charts a long-term strategy for tackling the national debt while offering a short-term boost to the recovering economy. …During appearances on all five major Sunday talk shows, Lew, who served until recently as Obama’s budget director, refused to acknowledge that lapse, arguing that Obama had been forced to take expensive action to shore up an economy in far worse shape than anyone had imagined. While debt-reduction remains a top priority for the president, Lew said, it would be a mistake to cut too much too fast. ‘The American people should be pleased that we now have a recovery that’s taking root,’ Lew said on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press.’ ‘The thing that we have to be careful about is to make sure that Washington doesn’t get in the way.”
The Obama Economy Bounce
Obama Gets Bounce as Economic Advances Lift Poll Standing [Bloomberg]: “A brightening economic picture is improving President Barack Obama’s re-election prospects even as the pace of the nation’s recovery from financial crisis remains a vulnerability for his campaign. Public approval of Obama’s performance in office in the Gallup Organization’s daily tracking poll climbed to its highest level since last June just days after the unemployment rate dropped to 8.3 percent, the lowest in almost three years… Obama registered 49 percent job approval and 45 percent disapproval in polling conducted Feb. 6-8, the best reading since the month after al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. special operations forces.”
Jonathan Chait says Republicans finally realize they’re helping Obama: “The Republicans, to be sure, are still plenty full of crazy. The ideological zeal remains almost fully intact, but the political zeal — the sheer bloody-minded insistence that steadfastness would invariably bring triumph — is always the first to flag. Signs have been popping up for a few weeks now. At their retreat last month, a pollster told House Republicans that their polling numbers had collapsed while Congressional Democrats have actually seen theirs improve. The larger problem is that President Obama has rehabilitated his own political standing in large part by highlighting the opposition of congressional Republicans. …Obama’s campaign of publicly highlighting Republican opposition has simultaneously helped to absolve him of at least part of the blame and made him look more like a strong leader.”
Alex Gourevitch and Aziz Rana examine America’s failed promise of equal opportunity: “Americans are increasingly aware that the ideal of equal opportunity is a false promise, but neither party really seems to get it. Republicans barely admit the problem exists, or if they do, they think tax cuts are the answer. All facts point in the opposite direction. Despite various tax cuts over the past 30 years, not only have income and wealth inequality dramatically increased, but the ability of individuals to rise out of their own class has declined. Social stagnation is increasingly the norm, with poverty rates the highest in 15 years, real wage gains worse even than during the decade of the Great Depression, average earnings barely above what they were 50 years ago, and more than 80 percent of the income growth of the past 25 years going to the top 1 percent. In fact, since 1983, the bottom 40 percent of households have seen real declines in their income and the same goes for the bottom 60 percent when it comes to wealth. We know what the economic status quo does: It redistributes upwards.”
Jared Bernstein pares down the 2012 question on the economy: “Interesting piece in the NYT today about how many people benefit from some form of government spending on ‘entitlement’ programs, and how they feel about it. …With our aging demographics, middle-class wage stagnation and job losses—which play an important role in this piece–increasing inequality, macroeconomic booms and busts, it seems axiomatic to many of us that we need an amply funded federal government. Market failures … clearly abound. Yet, people like those in this piece struggle with what to them seems like a contradiction: they want to think of themselves as self-sufficient and independent, yet when pushed, most recognize that they need the help…to me, at least, it seemed like most grasped–begrudgingly in some cases–the logic of the role for government when markets fail.”
Greeks Riot Against Austerity
Greeks clean up after riots against austerity vote [USA Today] : “More than 120 people were hurt in the rioting which also broke out in other Greek cities. Authorities said 68 police needed medical care after being injured by gasoline bombs, rocks and other objects hurled at them, while at least 70 protesters were also hospitalized. Police arrested at least 67 people, while in several cases they had to escort fire crews to burning buildings after protesters prevented access. The rioting began Sunday afternoon ahead of a historic vote in Parliament on yet more austerity measures. Lawmakers approved the bill in a 199-74 vote, to the relief of investors who pushed the Athens stock index up 5 percent on Monday.”
Greek bail-out hopes bolster bulls [Financial Times]: “The euro is firmer and markets are displaying a broadly bullish mood as investors absorb news that the Greek parliament has passed a further package of austerity measures. Athens will next attempt to reach a bond restructuring agreement with its creditors that should allow the beleaguered Mediterranean nation to receive its second, €130 bn bail-out package. This in turn, traders hope, will remove the chances of a messy default and reduce the risk of sovereign debt contagion and any intensification of financial system tension.
Daily Beast’s Barbie Latz Nadeau asks “Have Greeks Had Enough of Austerity?”: “The demonstrations followed general strikes last week that were meant to warn politicians against passing a biting austerity package that would save Greece from debt default—at a hefty price tag for the population. The $4.3 billion package was ultimately approved by a 199 to 74 margin in a late-night vote, but the victory was bittersweet for Greek leaders. …But the violent reaction led many to wonder whether ordinary Greeks can afford to stay in the euro zone and whether the weekend’s events will become the norm. Concern that the Greek measures are like putting a band-aid on a cancerous tumor have prompted many European leaders to openly question the fate of the euro zone’s single currency. Greek leader Antonis Samaras, head of the conservative opposition who is favored to win Greek elections, warned supporters of contagion among the weaker European economies. ‘We should show the Europeans that what is happening in Greece will soon spread to the rest of Europe if we do not change the policy of endless austerity.’”
Republican Primary Saga
The Guardian’s Jim Newell writes that CPAC conservatives decided to settle for Romney: “The key to understanding how Mitt Romney – “Massachusetts Moderate” Mitt Romney! – came to win the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll is knowing that his supporters disguise themselves. Mostly. There was a spectacular moment in the bowels of Washington’s Marriott Wardman Hotel on Friday afternoon, in which 20 or 30 students formed what we’ll call a Mitt Romney “flash mob”. For a solid minute or so, these jubilant foot soldiers in the Romney revolution hopped on the carpet screaming, “ROMNEY! ROMNEY! ROMNEY! ROMNEY!” These folks were not disguising themselves so much as puzzling all of the conference’s other patrons. And that’s how Mitt Romney won the CPAC straw poll. His “supporters” – or should we say vote-casters – may find him as lame as Democrats do, but oh well, he’s still the only one who seems capable of beating President Barack Obama, the most vile creature in the history of civilization. Just don’t ask them to cheer enthusiastically. Most of them aren’t there yet, and may never be.
Romney Runs as an Outsider but Makes Room for Lobbyists [NY Times]: “For a candidate running against the entrenched interests of Washington, Mitt Romney keeps an awful lot of lobbyists around. …At least 294 registered lobbyists donated a total of at least $401,000 to Mr. Romney through the end of 2011, according to a New York Times review of federal disclosure records, while an elite group of 16 “bundlers,” representing interests as varied as Wall Street, Microsoft and the tobacco company Altria, gathered more than $2 million worth of checks from friends and business partners for Mr. Romney’s campaign. Other lobbyists serve on one of Mr. Romney’s policy advisory teams, have hosted fund-raisers for his campaign or have joined the many influential Republicans whose endorsements Mr. Romney’s campaign has hailed.”
Paul backers, campaign cry foul over GOP caucus tally [Kennebec Journal]: “The campaign of GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul and his supporters say the libertarian-leaning Texan was robbed of victory Saturday night when Mitt Romney was declared the winner of the Maine Republican Party’s presidential caucuses. The Paul campaign says a local caucus meeting in Washington County that was canceled Saturday afternoon because of a snowstorm would have provided the margin of victory over Romney. But Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster is standing behind the results showing that Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, won the nonbinding presidential straw poll by 194 votes.”
NPR’s Kevin Rudin writes that conservatives’ concern contraception suggests it’s not just “The economy, stupid!”: “Republicans will argue, as they have been for years now, over Mitt Romney’s true views on abortion. Many debate whether his opposition is based on core principles or expediency, and that debate is likely to continue. It’s a debate that can only help the Democrats in November… Still, one can’t help but think that in the end, this is less about contraception and religious teachings and more about what some inside the GOP see as a winning issue, one that paints Obama as hostile to religion and religious freedom. It also once again draws attention to the fact that the White House once again found itself the need to backtrack on a controversy it created, whether or not the original policy was the correct one. As we’ve learned these past three years, whenever it backtracks, it satisfies no one.”
Health insurance plan: No more changes on birth control rule [Christian Science Monitor]: “President Barack Obama will not make any more changes to the rule announced last week requiring health insurance plans to provide women with coverage for contraception, although U.S. Catholic bishops have said it violates the Church’s religious principles… The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a statement saying Obama’s proposal involves “needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions”. The Catholic leaders urged Congress to overturn the rule and indicated they would also take up the issue in the courts.”
Paul Abrams casts the culture war — and the economy — as The Party of “And” vs. The Party of “Or”: “President Obama’s resolution of the contraception issue provided women access to free contraception AND churches the exemption for conscience that they wanted. ‘And.’ America has always been at its best, and achieved exceptionalism, when it has been a country of “And” — , as the preamble to the Constitution says, liberty AND justice AND the general welfare. Republicans are the party of ‘OR’ — medicare OR a balanced budget; heterosexual marriage OR gay marriage; natural born citizens OR immigrants; constitutional principles OR evolution to reflect new circumstances; protecting the environment OR economic growth… or, as Newt Gingrich puts it, paychecks OR food stamps. Probably the most ridiculous argument Republicans make is that our economic choices are either free enterprise OR government spending. We have always done both.”