It Makes Sense, If

December 8, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comments Off 

Douthat's take on the tax cut compromise:

As policy, the bargain Barack Obama just struck with Congressional Republicans is a classic “it makes sense, if …” situation. Given the parlous state of the economy, it makes sense to maintain the low Bush-era tax rates, it makes sense to extend unemployment benefits, and it makes sense to temporarily drop the payroll tax rate … if, that is, our leaders use the time between today and 2012, when this bargain comes up for renegotiation, to make real progress on a strategy for long-term deficit reduction, joined to a base-broadening, rate-lowering tax reform package that renders the debates over the Bush tax cuts obsolete.

But that’s a big if.

And a big opportunity the Dish has been begging Obama to seize. Howard Gleckman is on the same page, but more pessimistic:

It would be nice if Congress did what former Budget Director Peter Orszag, my Tax Policy Center colleague Len Burman, and others have suggested, which is to use the next couple of years to enact serious tax reform. It would be nice. But it won’t happen.

Remember the virtuous talk of fiscal prudence that washed over Washington for, oh, three days last week. Forget it. Forget as well the promises of change that Republicans (and Obama before them) brought to Washington. This is business as usual and at its worst: You have a bad and expensive idea. I have a bad and expensive idea. Let’s compromise and pass both of our bad ideas. 

Avent looks at the bright side:

It's worth continuing to argue for sensible deficit-reduction policy. But it's difficult for me to see movement within Congress for meaningful deficit reduction until bond markets provide pressure. And the shortest way to get there is via a strong economic recovery. Which, happily, will make austerity more bearable. In short, this deal seems to amount to a meaningful if modest improvement in the near-term impact of fiscal policy on the economy, without bringing with it much of an additional budget cost. In the highly imperfect world of Washington policymaking, America could have done much worse.

Chait's warning

[If] Obama caves again, or if Republicans win the White House and push through another tax cut extension, this deal will go down as a huge blunder for Obama. The good news for Obama is that the deal probably increases the chance that he'll get that second term. If so, he'll need to handle this issue better than he did the first time around.





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The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan

Robert Kaplan Is Not Making Sense

December 6, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comments Off 

By Justin Logan

Robert D. Kaplan

The main article in Sunday’s Washington Post Outlook section was an essay by Robert Kaplan titled “A World with No One in Charge.”  Kaplan has traveled much more widely than he has read, and this essay demonstrates that fact in spades.  The article is rife with internal contradiction and errant theorizing, to the point of bordering on the psychedelic.

The thesis is basically a rehash of “The Coming Anarchy,” Kaplan’s 1994 article warning that Western strategists needed to start concerning themselves with “what is occurring . . . throughout West Africa and much of the underdeveloped world: the withering away of central governments, the rise of tribal and regional domains, the unchecked spread of disease, and the growing pervasiveness of war.” Kaplan went on to warn, “The coming upheaval, in which foreign embassies are shut down, states collapse, and contact with the outside world takes place through dangerous, disease-ridden coastal trading posts, will loom large in the century we are entering.”

The center of gravity in Kaplan’s work, from Coming Anarchy through this piece, is that the natural state of the world is swirling chaos, and the only thing preventing the sorts of horrors discussed in the paragraph above is empire, be it Roman, British, or American.  Now Kaplan warns us that America is in slow-mo decline, and consequently our “ability to bring a modicum of order to the world is simply fading in slow motion.”  So probably you’d better strap a helmet on and get ready.

Maybe it’s best to take the odd assertions in the piece one by one.  First, Kaplan notes that the first Gulf War was a consequence of the end of the Cold War.  “[I]t is inconceivable that the United States would have invaded Iraq if the Soviet Union, a staunch patron of Baghdad, still existed in 2003.”  He doesn’t spell out exactly why it is inconceivable, but we probably ought to acknowledge the decade-long war that took place right in the middle of the Cold War that cost almost 60,000 American lives and made a wreckage of our domestic politics.  We managed to get that one started even before the Soviet Union was really headed down the toilet.

Kaplan knows enough international relations jargon to be dangerous, but only just enough.  Take, for example, this paragraph:

Husbanding our power in an effort to slow America’s decline in a post-Iraq and post-Afghanistan world would mean avoiding debilitating land entanglements and focusing instead on being more of an offshore balancer: that is, lurking with our air and sea forces over the horizon, intervening only when outrages are committed that unquestionably threaten our allies and world order in general. While this may be in America’s interest, the very signaling of such an aloof intention may encourage regional bullies, given that rogue regimes are the organizing principles for some pivotal parts of the world.

Offshore balancing means something, and it’s not what Kaplan says it is.  In general, as the term has been used for decades in the IR literature, offshore balancing would entail a “balancer of last resort” strategy [.pdf], whereby the United States would rely on local balances of power unless another state threatened to consolidate control of Eurasia or Northeast Asia (or possibly the Persian Gulf), becoming a regional hegemon in one of those regions like the United States is in the Western Hemisphere.  But Kaplan’s identification of “offshore balancing” as entailing coming to the defense of all the allies we’ve accumulated over the past 65 years would entail not offshore balancing but a strategy of dominating every major industrialized region of the world.  If we tell NATO members, Japan, South Korea, Israel, et al that we identify our own security interests with theirs (and sometimes allow them to dictate our definition of our interests), they have every incentive to shirk, allowing us to become the balancer of first, not last, resort.  That’s not what the term offshore balancing means, and it’s certainly not “offshore.”

Moreover, I thought we’d gotten beyond the whole “America is in decline” shtick, but I guess not.  Kaplan is judicious on this subject at times throughout the essay, allowing that “there will be no sudden breakdown on our part,” and that “the United States still dominates the seas and the air and will do so for years ahead,” but we’re told that “the post-imperial order we inhabit allows for greater disruptions than the Cold War ever permitted.”

This is just nuts.  Every empirical study of the topic of which I am aware (try here) shows that interstate, and in many cases intrastate violence has steadily and consistently declined.  Despite this, as early as 1994, skeptics like John Mueller had begun noticing that the Beltway foreign-policy establishment (of which Kaplan is a member) had concluded that the threat environment had grown worse, not better, since the end of the cold war.  As Mueller remarked at the time [.pdf], in order to arrive at this belief, “the past has been simplified, a Eurocentric bias has been introduced, definitions have changed, standards have been raised, and problems previously considered to be comparatively minor have been elevated in perceived importance.”

I’ve probably taken enough of your time, but one last point bears mentioning: Kaplan warns that although “Americans rightly lack an imperial mentality…lessening our engagement with the world would have devastating consequences for humanity.  The disruptions we witness today are but a taste of what is to come should our country flinch from its international responsibilities.”  To be sure, different sorts of conflicts, different balances of power could well emerge in the absence of Kaplan’s American empire, but two questions present themselves.  First, what about the devastation America has wrought on various parts of the world under the current unipolar system?  The “war on terror” is only one example of the phenomenon, but it bears examining the “debit” side of the empire ledger as well.  Second, what is Kaplan’s theory about how other countries interact?  It’s not stated, but it sounds like he believes the rest of the world-including most importantly America’s current allies-are like infants waiting to be devoured by the bears that will come out of the woods if we scale back our international involvement.  Why should we believe that countries like Japan, South Korea, and America’s European allies wouldn’t (couldn’t?) do more if it became necessary in the absence of an American military commitment?  What will happen?

Actually, one final point.  In their book on lobbying and policy change, Frank R. Baumgartner and his coauthors write that defending the status quo is the easiest position for lobbyists (and presumably other policy advocates), and that “one particularly useful tactic was simply to sow doubt about any proposals for change: it might cost more than proponents say; it might not work as intended; any tinkering with the existing policy might have serious unintended consequences given the complexity of the policies already in place.”  This is so commonly the case with defenders of the foreign-policy status quo that it really stuck with me.  We have to evaluate these same claims about the implications of a prospective policy change as they might apply to the status quo.  Probably there are various cognitive factors at work here, but at the very least we need to dig much more deeply into the theories that underlay our various policy prescriptions to get at anything worth debating.  Which, of course, happens almost never here in Washington.

Robert Kaplan Is Not Making Sense is a post from Cato @ Liberty – Cato Institute Blog


Cato @ Liberty

Cartoon Common Sense

December 4, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comments Off 

(John)

Today the Democrats put on a tiresome theatrical performance in the Senate, posturing themselves as advocates for the “middle class.” Actually, a family that earns $ 250,000 a year isn’t rich; for most such people, it just means they live in a city and have two incomes. And I’ve been a little surprised at how few people buy the idea that raising someone else’s taxes is somehow a big benefit to them. As someone said quite a few years ago, Democrats love employment but they hate employers. Which probably helps to explain why more people aren’t Democrats.

Chuck Asay makes the point effectively; click to enlarge:

ca120410dBP20101201014521.jpg




Power Line

Tea Party Nation chief: It makes sense in theory to limit voting to property owners

December 1, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comments Off 

Nuance.


Via Mediaite, which soberly observes that Judson Phillips’s opinion proves nothing about tea party opinion generally. I’m not so sure that this clip proves anything conclusive about Phillips’s opinion either: It’s conspicuously brief, seemingly cutting out before he leaves the subject, and it comes from Think Progress, which hasn’t always done a sterling job of […]

Read this post »

Hot Air » Top Picks

Gay Rights Activist/MSNBC Anchor Contessa Brewer: Support for DADT ‘Doesn’t Make A Lot of Sense’

December 1, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comments Off 

During Wednesday's 12PM ET hour on MSNBC, anchor Contessa Brewer attacked those who want to maintain the military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy: "…the Marine Corps and Catholic chaplains, who say they support the policy on moral grounds. It doesn't make a lot of sense…if it's homosexuality that they have a problem with – they're basically saying, 'Yeah, just keep lying about it.'"

Later in the hour, Brewer interviewed Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman about his support for repealing the policy. She labeled Arizona Senator John McCain as the villain preventing repeal: "So John McCain has been one of the most formidable foes when it comes to repealing this policy….Both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen support repealing this policy. Have you talked with Senator McCain? Is he willing to give?"

read more

NewsBusters.org – Exposing Liberal Media Bias

Gay Rights Activist/MSNBC Anchor Contessa Brewer: Support for DADT ‘Doesn’t Make A Lot of Sense’

December 1, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

During Wednesday's 12PM ET hour on MSNBC, anchor Contessa Brewer attacked those who want to maintain the military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy: "…the Marine Corps and Catholic chaplains, who say they support the policy on moral grounds. It doesn't make a lot of sense…if it's homosexuality that they have a problem with – they're basically saying, 'Yeah, just keep lying about it.'"

Later in the hour, Brewer interviewed Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman about his support for repealing the policy. She labeled Arizona Senator John McCain as the villain preventing repeal: "So John McCain has been one of the most formidable foes when it comes to repealing this policy….Both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen support repealing this policy. Have you talked with Senator McCain? Is he willing to give?"

read more

NewsBusters.org – Exposing Liberal Media Bias

Gay Rights Activist/MSNBC Anchor Contessa Brewer: Support for DADT ‘Doesn’t Make A Lot of Sense’

December 1, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

During Wednesday's 12PM ET hour on MSNBC, anchor Contessa Brewer attacked those who want to maintain the military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy: "…the Marine Corps and Catholic chaplains, who say they support the policy on moral grounds. It doesn't make a lot of sense…if it's homosexuality that they have a problem with – they're basically saying, 'Yeah, just keep lying about it.'"

Later in the hour, Brewer interviewed Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman about his support for repealing the policy. She labeled Arizona Senator John McCain as the villain preventing repeal: "So John McCain has been one of the most formidable foes when it comes to repealing this policy….Both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen support repealing this policy. Have you talked with Senator McCain? Is he willing to give?"

read more

NewsBusters.org – Exposing Liberal Media Bias

Sarah Palin – Common Sense

December 1, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Commons:DaybyDayCartoon

Chris Muir at Day by Day, of course!


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J O S H U A P U N D I T

WikiLeaked: France politely points out that Iran makes no sense

December 1, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

If you know anything about the first
batch of WikiLeaks, it’s that Arab officials have a lot to say about the Iranian
nuclear program. (Shorter: They don’t like it.) But they’re not the only ones
in a Persian state of mind: the U.S. Embassy in Paris has also been a hotspot
for Iran strategy sessions. The cables from Paris aren’t as explosive as those
from the Middle East: when describing the Islamic Republic, French officials
refrained from reptile
metaphors and Nazi
analogies. Instead, Tehran’s political class is soberly, but devastatingly,
portrayed as out-of-touch, unorganized and unreliable.

In 2007, for example France’s Deputy
Assistant Foreign Minister briefed U.S. embassy officials on his meeting in
Tehran earlier that year, shortly after the election of President Nicolas
Sarkozy, with Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy advisor to Supreme Leader. Among
Iran watchers in the West, Velayati is sometimes thought of as a
Kissinger-style behind-the-scenes operative, with the access and influence of a
political heavyweight and the tact of a master diplomat. In that reading, the radical
public polemics of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are actually a front for the nuanced
political analysis of the real Iranian foreign policy establishment headed by
Velayati.

But Velayati comes across more as a
bumbler than a mastermind: His sinewy attempt
to establish a back-channel with French officials betrayed not sophistication
but ignorance: "Velayati’s (apparently convoluted) thinking," reads the cable
to Washington, "had been expressed in an article he
had written that took the view that the election of Nicolas Sarkozy gave France
a chance to break free of its ‘dependence’ on the U.S. in terms of its foreign
policy." Of course, this reading of Sarkozy’s politics was precisely backwards:
the French president took office explicitly emphasizing his intent on
establishing closer ties with the United States.

Other cables should put to rest the old cliché that relations between the United States and Iran are primarily hampered by Washington’s estrangement from and lack of familiarity with the Iranian political system. France’s attempt to advise the U.S. government as it seeks the release of three American hikers arrested and imprisoned by Iran in 2010 are a case in point. Washington may have been hoping to leverage France’s experience with the Iranian political system. But all Paris can offer is a shrug. One of the paragraph headings reads simply: "GOOD LUCK FIGURING OUT WHO IS IN CHARGE IN TEHRAN". Another: "BRACE FOR UNCERTAINTY." The Iranian political system is described as "opaque" and "arbitrary."  "We know next to nothing," one French official admitted: Even good faith efforts to understand Iranian decision-making end in guessing games. The only proven tactic, French officials say, is to try to manipulate their leadership by publicly castigating the regime. It’s clearly not for lack of a Tehran embassy that the U.S. usually resorts to such pressure tactics.

(Though France did offer one tip for future reference: a French citizen recently arrested in Iran was apparently released after he told the Iranian police that he was "following the paths of the dinosaurs." Something for future American hikers to keep in mind.)

FP Passport

WikiLeaks, the Law, and Common Sense

November 30, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

By Roger Pilon

With the third WikiLeaks dump now before us, and more promised down the road, two questions that arise are whether prosecutions of those responsible are possible and what can be done to better protect classified material. Neither question admits of easy answers. One can start, however, by noting that overclassification is a perennial problem in government, and correcting that problem would go far toward more open government better able to protect classified material.

That said, whether in families or foreign affairs, confidences are necessary, and the need to keep those confidences is inescapable.

Accordingly, one can say with certainty that any  government official who knowingly downloaded and then released classified documents to a person unauthorized to see or possess them, as Private First Class Bradley Manning is alleged to have done, can be prosecuted  under any number of federal statutes. With respect to someone like WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, however, the issues are more complex. Attorney General Eric Holder has said that the Justice and Defense Departments are conducting a criminal investigation, presumably under the Espionage Act of 1917. That is a vague statute that may be broad enough to enable the president, under his foreign affairs powers, to go after someone who disseminates such documents.  But it has rarely been used, and never against a publisher.

The larger question, however, is how all of this was allowed to happen. Speaking from personal experience, during two brief stints at the State and Justice Departments during the Reagan administration I held a Top Secret clearance, which gave me access to highly classified materials. At that time, however, just to see those materials we had to go to the inner sanctums at State and Justice—areas that were shielded from any kind of eavesdropping—and then the materials were brought to us by agents who stayed with us while we read them.  In light of that experience, I find it incredible that a young Army PFC could download this material and go undetected for long enough to disseminate it and boast about it afterward. More than anything else, this is one more government failure. Heads should roll, but mostly the heads of those who enabled so lax a system to exist.

WikiLeaks, the Law, and Common Sense is a post from Cato @ Liberty – Cato Institute Blog


Cato @ Liberty

TCU in the Big East? For football, it makes sense – Tbo.com

November 30, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

New York Times
TCU in the Big East? For football, it makes sense
Tbo.com
TAMPA – It's about a 1600 mile cattle drive from the campus of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth to New York City, heart of the Big East Conference. It takes about four hours by air, but if you want to drive
Weiss: A bigger Big East as Frogs Horn inNew York Daily News
TCU headed to Big East starting in 2012Dubuque Telegraph Herald
TCU is heading to Big EastWashington Post
Boston Globe –Ruston Daily Leader –ESPN (blog)
all 1,169 news articles »

Sports – Google News

What should Obama’s message be? His current one certainly makes no sense.

November 27, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Obama has been saying (erroneously) for two years now that Republicans have good policy ideas for creating jobs, whereas Republicans have been saying (erroneously) for two years that Obama has job-killing policies.  Is it any wonder he had a shellacking in the 2010 election?

This is the worst White House in decades at communications, as one journalist who has covered five presidents told me recently.  Of course, you don’t have to have been around that long to see how dreadful their messaging is [see “Can Obama deliver health and energy security with a half (assed) message?“) and links below].

Indeed, WH communications is so bad, I’m starting a series on the subject, since they have literally become a textbook of what not to do.  If they can’t learn from their own mistakes, at least others can — and certainly climate hawks will have to be at the top of their game in the next two years, when the science (and the EPA) goes on trial in Congress and probably during the presidential election.

Please send me any examples you see of bad White House messaging, especially on energy and the environment, but also more broadly.  And I’d be very interested in your thoughts on what Obama’s message should be.

lucy-2.jpgThe first job of the President, the most powerful person in the free world, is to project strength.  Most voters can’t adjudicate policy issues on the basis of the status quo media coverage and the handful of sound bites they hear, particularly since independents and swing voters tend to think politicians from both parties are just lying all the time.  But people can discern strength and weakness — and they invariably punish the latter quality in those they elect to the highest office.

I wouldn’t go quite as far as James Carville, who unapologetically said, “if Hillary gave him one of her balls, they’d both have two.”  But Obama increasingly sounds like Charlie Brown, I’m afraid. Here’s the AP’s framing of his Thanksgiving morning radio address, headlined, “Obama calls for bipartisanship to fix economy“:

In yet another acknowledgment of Democrats’ recent drubbing and the tectonic political shift in Washington, President Obama used much of his Thanksgiving morning radio address to call for bipartisanship in tackling the country’s persistent economic ails.

What is the definition of insanity?  Obama has been calling for bipartisanship for two  years now.  Memo to White House:  Nobody is listening!

In the first year, I thought it was a clever strategy to set the Republicans up in 2012 as the obstructionists or “The Party of No.”  But that required a pivot that never came.  Now Obama just seems beyond naive and wimpy, a frame that the media amplifies:

Just a day after expressing relief that he had prevented another November “shellacking” by sending two pardoned turkeys to live out their days at the Mount Vernon home of George Washington, the nation’s 44th president argued that neither party could achieve meaningful economic change on its own.

Citing the urgency to “accelerate this recovery,” Obama said: “But we won’t do it as one political party. We’ve got to do it as one people. And, in the coming weeks and months, I hope we can work together, Democrats and Republicans and independents alike, to make progress on these and other issues.”

The president mentioned a White House meeting next week with congressional leaders from both parties, a get-together delayed once and intended, he said, to yield “a real and honest discussion.”

The Republicans aren’t even like Lucy van Pelt in Peanuts anymore.  Yes, in the first year they pretended that they would let Charlie Brown Obama kick the bipartisan football, only to take it away at the last minute over and over again.

But now they are just open about their strategy of refusing to let anyone play with their football.  Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said last month, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

And so their message remains, as AP reports:

Republicans chose incoming Georgia Rep. Austin Scott to deliver their radio address, another signal that their party’s House leadership is according much attention to the vanguard of the chamber’s 85 new GOP lawmakers, whose ranks include tea party supporters and others who are making deep spending cuts a priority. Scott said voters’ fundamental message to Washington is clear: “Listen up, stop the job-killing policies, stop the runaway spending and focus on getting our country back on track.”

Obama has been saying (erroneously) for two years now that Republicans have good policy ideas for creating jobs, whereas Republicans have been saying (erroneously) for two years that Obama has job-killing policies.  Is it any wonder he had a shellacking?

Related Posts:

Climate Progress

Criminal Trials for Terrorists Make Legal and Political Sense

November 24, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

The recent verdict in the Ghailani trial has reignited the long-running debate over whether terrorism suspects should be tried in federal court or military commissions. (See Eugene Fidell’s excellent summary of why coercive interrogations—and not any flaws in criminal justice system—are the root cause of any dissatisfaction with the Ghailani verdict). Ghailani however, has also prompted a defense of indefinite and prolonged detention without trial, thus far the fate of all except a handful of Guantánamo detainees.

In a Washington Post op-ed, Benjamin Wittes and Jack Goldsmith argue that Ghailani illustrates the risks of bringing terrorism suspects to trial—the main risk being that the government cannot guarantee the outcome. (Given that Ghailani still faces a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison, despite the manifest problems with the government’s case, the verdict hardly provides a compelling example for their argument). Wittes and Goldsmith argue that the better option—at least for Guantánamo detainees—is to hold them without trial. For some, such as Khaled Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) and others accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks, that surely means permanently.

Wittes and Goldsmith seek to claim the “middle” ground. But, as Stephen Vladeck suggests, their argument is anything but moderate.

I have written elsewhere about the legal flaws in the type of sweeping detention authority advocated by Wittes and Goldsmith and argued against it on behalf of various clients held as “enemy combatants,” including Ali al-Marri, whose case was mooted by the Obama administration to avoid a Supreme Court ruling precisely because the detention there was not “tradition-sanctioned, congressionally authorized, and court-blessed,” as Wittes-Goldsmith posit. While recent D.C. Circuit decisions in the Guantánamo habeas cases have largely sided with the government on its legal authority to detain under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, the most relevant Supreme Court case—Hamdi v. Rumsfeld—cautions against the type of detention Wittes-Goldsmith advocate.

Wittes and Goldsmith’s real pitch, however, is not legal but political. They package indefinite detention as the best option for an administration seemingly caught between the Scylla of right-wing fury against civilian trials and Charybdis of liberal and international opposition to military commissions.

But adopting the Wittes-Goldsmith approach would be short-sighted. Federal criminal trials can help repair some of the damage to U.S. credibility caused by torture and other post-9/11 practices. They also offer Obama a unique teaching moment. Criminal trials are not merely about a “defendant’s rights”; they also embody a collective yearning to see justice done. Paradoxically, the trial of alleged 9/11 mastermind KSM—viewed as the most politically sensitive—is in many ways the easiest choice since the government’s evidence for conviction there is so strong.

Principle should guide the administration’s decision on Guantánamo’s future. But the administration might consider the political gain in saying that it put those responsible for the worst terrorist attacks in the country’s history on trial in a process that secure from challenges to its legitimacy and convicted them. Surely that is not “more trouble than it’s worth.”

Balkinization

Kent Conrad: ‘That makes so much sense that it’s unlikely to happen’

November 15, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

conrafbluetie.JPG

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, a member of the deficit commission and one of the party’s leading voices on tax reform. Recently, he proposed a plan tying an extension of the Bush tax cuts to comprehensive tax reform. Earlier today, he walked me through the details of his proposal, A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Ezra Klein: I’ve been surprised watching the chaos among the Democrats as they attempt to figure out what to do about the Bush tax cuts. This was a completely predictable legislative battle, and yet it’s been greeted, as far as I can tell, with ample confusion and almost no consensus about how to handle it.

Kent Conrad: Yep. It’s very unclear what’s going to happen.

EK: You’ve proposed tying a short extension of the tax cuts to fundamental tax reform. How would that work, exactly?

KC: We’ve come up with several ideas. One would be to give Congress a certain amount of time, say 18 months, to come up with a reform plan. And then we could begin imposing reductions on tax expenditures across-the-board on some formula basis until something passes. Another possibility is that after whatever period of time you gave Congress to do tax reform, if it wasn’t done, you’d reimpose the Clinton-era rates on at least high-income people.

EK: In the coming months, Congress has multiple must-pass initiatives on the docket, including an extension of unemployment insurance and an increase in the debt ceiling. Is there any move toward tying the extension of the Bush tax cuts to action on those items, rather than letting each fight move forward on its own?

KC: That makes so much sense that it’s unlikely to happen. That’s in a way what the deficit commission was all about. Trying to put things together in a package so you didn’t face these things one at a time.

EK: If the issues aren’t grouped together, the likely outcome seems to be that we’ll blow a hole in the deficit and extend the tax cuts for people making more than $ 250,000, cut off unemployment benefits for 2 million Americans, and in a few months, Republicans will hammer Democrats for needing to raise the debt ceiling. Aren’t your colleagues concerned about all that?

KC: Well, I hope so. It’s pretty clear.

EK: As a member of the deficit commission, does the difference between the inevitability of extending deficit-increasing tax cuts and the cool reaction towards anything that would seriously reduce the deficit worry you?

KC: Here’s the lens through which I see it. Revenue is the lowest it’s been in 60 years as a share of our economy. Spending is the highest it’s been. That tells me you’ve got to work both sides of the equation. If you look at what the Domenici-Rivlin group will do, at what the Esquire group did, at what the deficit commission co-chairs put out, all of them recognize that you need to work on both sides of the equation. But there are those among us who don’t believe that revenue has any part in this. They don’t see revenue as creating deficits, they think it’s solely a spending issue. It’s an article of faith among them.

EK: But it seems that the dogmatism of the supply-side position has won out. You and many of your colleagues don’t subscribe to the idea that tax cuts are free, and you do worry about the deficit, and Democrats still control the Senate, but there’s not been any evident move to block the extension of the tax cuts unless they’re offset, much less stop them altogether. It seems that the strength of the commitment on the other side, wrongheaded as it may be as a matter of arithmetic, is overwhelming the Democrats, who can’t agree on what to do.

KC: Well, the final card has not been played here. I hope that doesn’t prove to be the case.

Photo credit: Melina Mara/Washington Post.







Ezra Klein

Kent Conrad: ‘That makes so much sense that it’s unlikely to happen’

November 15, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

conrafbluetie.JPG

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, a member of the deficit commission and one of the party’s leading voices on tax reform. Recently, he proposed a plan tying an extension of the Bush tax cuts to comprehensive tax reform. Earlier today, he walked me through the details of his proposal, A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Ezra Klein: I’ve been surprised watching the chaos among the Democrats as they attempt to figure out what to do about the Bush tax cuts. This was a completely predictable legislative battle, and yet it’s been greeted, as far as I can tell, with ample confusion and almost no consensus about how to handle it.

Kent Conrad: Yep. It’s very unclear what’s going to happen.

EK: You’ve proposed tying a short extension of the tax cuts to fundamental tax reform. How would that work, exactly?

KC: We’ve come up with several ideas. One would be to give Congress a certain amount of time, say 18 months, to come up with a reform plan. And then we could begin imposing reductions on tax expenditures across-the-board on some formula basis until something passes. Another possibility is that after whatever period of time you gave Congress to do tax reform, if it wasn’t done, you’d reimpose the Clinton-era rates on at least high-income people.

EK: In the coming months, Congress has multiple must-pass initiatives on the docket, including an extension of unemployment insurance and an increase in the debt ceiling. Is there any move toward tying the extension of the Bush tax cuts to action on those items, rather than letting each fight move forward on its own?

KC: That makes so much sense that it’s unlikely to happen. That’s in a way what the deficit commission was all about. Trying to put things together in a package so you didn’t face these things one at a time.

EK: If the issues aren’t grouped together, the likely outcome seems to be that we’ll blow a hole in the deficit and extend the tax cuts for people making more than $ 250,000, cut off unemployment benefits for 2 million Americans, and in a few months, Republicans will hammer Democrats for needing to raise the debt ceiling. Aren’t your colleagues concerned about all that?

KC: Well, I hope so. It’s pretty clear.

EK: As a member of the deficit commission, does the difference between the inevitability of extending deficit-increasing tax cuts and the cool reaction towards anything that would seriously reduce the deficit worry you?

KC: Here’s the lens through which I see it. Revenue is the lowest it’s been in 60 years as a share of our economy. Spending is the highest it’s been. That tells me you’ve got to work both sides of the equation. If you look at what the Domenici-Rivlin group will do, at what the Esquire group did, at what the deficit commission co-chairs put out, all of them recognize that you need to work on both sides of the equation. But there are those among us who don’t believe that revenue has any part in this. They don’t see revenue as creating deficits, they think it’s solely a spending issue. It’s an article of faith among them.

EK: But it seems that the dogmatism of the supply-side position has won out. You and many of your colleagues don’t subscribe to the idea that tax cuts are free, and you do worry about the deficit, and Democrats still control the Senate, but there’s not been any evident move to block the extension of the tax cuts unless they’re offset, much less stop them altogether. It seems that the strength of the commitment on the other side, wrongheaded as it may be as a matter of arithmetic, is overwhelming the Democrats, who can’t agree on what to do.

KC: Well, the final card has not been played here. I hope that doesn’t prove to be the case.

Photo credit: Melina Mara/Washington Post.







Ezra Klein

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