Yes, the dreaded “sequester” cuts begin taking effect today, but syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer is reminding Republicans that -- at least for the moment -- they actually have the upper hand politically. During an appearance on “Special Report” last night, he urged Republicans to do two things to expose the Left’s cynical, doomsday scare tactics and curry favor with the public: 1) emphasize that the GOP has indeed offered Senate Democrats and the president “utter discretion” to pick and choose which government programs to cut in lieu of “sequestration” -- which the former rejected and the latter threatened to veto, and 2) highlight how much waste/fraud/abuse there actually is in Washington -- “an example a day,” he suggests -- thereby forcing the president to explain why he didn’t work with Republicans to cut those programs, and instead allowed the sequester to happen when it was easily avoidable (via Ed Morrissey):
Dr. K’s column this week reinforces these points, of course, but also zeros in on the White House’s well-known singular objective:
When the GOP House passed an alternative that cut where the real money is — entitlement spending — President Obama threatened a veto. Meaning, he would have insisted that the sequester go into effect — the very same sequester he now tells us will bring on Armageddon.
Good grief. The entire sequester would have reduced last year’s deficit from $1.33 trillion to $1.24 trillion. A fraction of a fraction. Nonetheless, insists Obama, such a cut is intolerable. It has to be “balanced” — i.e., largely replaced — by yet more taxes.
Which demonstrates that, for Obama, this is not about deficit reduction, which interests him not at all. The purpose is purely political: to complete his Election Day victory by breaking the Republican opposition.
At the fiscal cliff, Obama broke — and split — the Republicans on taxes. With the sequester, he intends to break them on spending. Make the cuts as painful as possible, and watch the Republicans come crawling for a “balanced” (i.e., tax-hiking) deal.
In the past two years, House Republicans stopped cold Obama’s left-liberal agenda. Break them now, and the road is open to resume enactment of the expansive, entitlement-state liberalism that Obama proclaimed in his second inaugural address.
But he cannot win if “nothing bad really happens.” Indeed, he’d look both foolish and cynical for having cried wolf.
Obama’s incentive to deliberately make the most painful and socially disruptive cuts possible (say, oh, releasing illegal immigrants from prison) is enormous. And alarming.
Destroying the Republican Party may be Team Obama’s top priority, but the GOP is on solid footing now in part because the Left's failed to win -- in Krauthammer’s words -- “the propaganda war.” We’ll see how long this lasts.
The White House wants you to believe that tomorrow’s looming “sequester” cuts will be so devastating and draconian that once they take effect, America as we know it will cease to exist. But on Wednesday perhaps the fear-mongering reached a new level of insane when the vice president announced publicly he would no longer accept military aircraft escorts during his weekend sojourns, and instead take public transportation to save “taxpayers” money:
As the federal budget goes off the rails, Joe Biden's getting back on -- with Amtrak.
The looming sequester is forcing the veep to once again take the train -- as opposed to military aircraft -- to his weekend trips home to Delaware.
Biden said Wednesday he initiated the change, calling it the one thing about the sequester that's working to his "benefit."
Speaking at the National Association of Attorneys General, Biden said that while he took nearly 8,000 train trips as senator, the Secret Service made him travel by air because the Amtrak "gives too many opportunities for people to interact with me in a way they wouldn't like to see."
But because of the looming budget cuts, Biden said: "I was able to say, 'Look guys, I've got to take the train now -- it's cheaper than flying.' So I get to take the train again."
The implicit message is clear: sequestration could very well put the vice president’s personal safety at risk. Why do I say this? Because the express reason Mr. Biden initially stopped taking Amtrak in the first place, according to the Secret Service, was because too many people had unrestricted access to him in “a way they wouldn’t like to see.” In other words, they frankly thought it was unsafe. But now -- because of these coming budget cuts -- Biden heroically agreed to start taking the train again (a less secure option) every weekend. See how this works?
Never mind that the proposed cuts are far from draconian (indeed, projected federal spending levels will still be higher in 2013 than they were last year even if the cuts take effect), but there’s scores of other government programs that could obviously be cut way before the vice president should even consider traveling without the protection he needs. But Biden’s public declaration fits nicely into the president’s narrative that the “meat cleaver” approach to governance is bad for America, and Republicans are to blame.
And yet this isn’t to say that military escorts are inexpensive, and that the White House couldn’t find cheaper or better ways to transport the vice president to and from where he needs to go. Nor do I doubt that the Veep actually enjoys taking the Amtrak or mingling with the public. But it does seem as though the White House is once again using fear-mongering and scare tactics to win a political argument. The looming, across-the-board spending cuts will hurt the economy, of course, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they should jeopardize the safety and well-being of our vice president. And that’s exactly what the White House seems to be implying.
Federal law requires that each chamber of Congress introduce and pass a budget resolution every single year. Lest we forget, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives fulfilled their legal responsibilities for the past two years, and will do so again in 2013. By contrast, Senate Democrats -- presumably because they’re afraid to submit a budget plan that addresses out-of-control entitlement spending -- have shirked this responsibility for 1400 straight days. Instead, they’ve been on the offensive for years, blaming “Republican obstructionists” for their running failure, even though Republicans cannot legally filibuster budget proposals. In short, Democrats could easily pass a budget if they wanted to (they only need 51 total votes), but decided long ago that demonizing the opposition makes for better politics.
And so to mark this shameful milestone, the House Republican Conference released a video today pointing out that since American families have to budget their finances every year, Senate Democrats should be held to the same standard:
Good news: the Democrats will reportedly introduce and pass a budget this year. And so what if it’s entirely because Republicans forced their hand? At least Democrats will put their ideas on paper, and Americans will finally see how Reid & Co. intend to cut spending, balance the budget, and reduce the deficit. This ought to be interesting.
Well, because he’s too squishy on Second Amendment rights, or something. National Review Online’s Eliana Johnson has the exclusive report:
New Jersey governor Chris Christie was not invited to address the Conservative Political Action Conference because of his position on gun control, according to a source familiar with CPAC’s internal deliberations who requested anonymity to speak freely.
Christie has a “limited future” in the national Republican party given his position on gun control, the source tells National Review Online. As a result, the CPAC insider says, the focus of this year’s conference, “the future of conservatism,” made Christie a bad fit.
Christie, the source adds, is simply not a conservative in the eyes of organizers.
The New Jersey governor, who has expressed concern about “an abundance of guns out there,” has said he backs the gun-control legislation currently on the books in his state, some of the nation’s most restrictive. Christie has also not been afraid to speak out against the National Rifle Association, calling an ad the group ran in the wake of the Newtown shooting “reprehensible” and “awful.”
Christie’s conservative credentials took another hit today when he announced to the world that he would accept funds from the federal government to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. This was somewhat unexpected: The New Jersey governor said as recently as last year that forcing states to accept federal funding -- or face severe financial penalties -- was tantamount to “extortion.” Obviously he’s had a change of heart, and conservatives are not impressed.
By the way, it’s sort of depressing to stop and reflect how a little more than a year ago -- in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library of all places -- grown-ups were literally begging Chris Christie to run for president of the United States. He exuded bold, conservative leadership in those days, and was a shining example of how conservative policies can bring about positive change -- even in the bluest of blue states. Now he can’t even get an invitation to CPAC...
Sure, Christie’s approval rating in the Garden State has reached an eye-popping, historical high, but can he somehow find a way to rekindle his relationship with influential conservative groups and be taken seriously once again for high national office? Or is that a bridge too far, given his tendency to lavish praise on the president and flip-flop on issues conservatives hold dear?
My hunch is the latter, of course, but nothing in politics is permanent. We’ll just have to wait and see how things unfold.
Considering the last time the bishop of Rome resigned his office was before Columbus discovered the New World, many are wondering what exactly the faithful will call him when he steps down later this week. According to the Associated Press, there’s been much speculation, but it seems Benedict himself has chosen “emeritus pope” as his official title:
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI will be known as "emeritus pope" in his retirement and will continue to wear a white cassock, the Vatican announced Tuesday, again fueling concerns about potential conflicts arising from having both a reigning and a retired pope.
The pope's title and what he would wear have been a major source of speculation ever since Benedict stunned the world and announced he would resign on Thursday, the first pontiff to do so in 600 years.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Benedict himself had made the decision in consultation with others, settling on "Your Holiness Benedict XVI" and either emeritus pope or emeritus Roman pontiff.
Lombardi said he didn't know why Benedict had decided to drop his other main title: bishop of Rome.
In the two weeks since Benedict's resignation announcement, Vatican officials had suggested that Benedict would likely resume wearing the traditional black garb of a cleric and would use the title "emeritus bishop of Rome" so as to not create confusion with the future pope.
Benedict's decision to call himself emeritus pope and to keep wearing white is sure to fan concern voiced privately by some cardinals about the awkward reality of having two popes, both living within the Vatican walls.
Benedict will spend the rest of his life in retirement “hidden from the world” in prayer, although he will still live in the Vatican. But his final 48 hours as head of the Catholic Church will be anything but tranquil:
Lombardi also further described Benedict's final 48 hours as pope: On Tuesday, he was packing, arranging for documents to be sent to the various archives at the Vatican and separating out the personal papers he will take with him into retirement.
On Wednesday, Benedict will hold his final public general audience in St. Peter's Square — an event that has already seen 50,000 ticket requests. He won't greet visiting prelates or VIPs as he normally does at the end but will greet some visiting leaders — from Slovakia, San Marino, Andorra and his native Bavaria — privately afterwards.
On Thursday, the pope meets with his cardinals in the morning and then flies by helicopter at 5 p.m. to Castel Gandolfo, the papal residence south of Rome. He will greet parishioners there from the palazzo's loggia (balcony) — his final public act as pope.
And at 8 p.m., the exact time at which his retirement becomes official, the Swiss Guards standing outside the doors of the palazzo at Castel Gandolfo will go off duty, their service protecting the head of the Catholic Church now finished.
Benedict's personal security will be assured by Vatican police, Lombardi said.
The College of Cardinals will meet Monday to discuss “various issues” within the Catholic Church, and to set a start date for the conclave to begin.
So how do Americans want to reduce the federal deficit? Well, according to a new Rasmussen poll, nearly half of the U.S. likely voters surveyed say cutting spending -- and not raising taxes -- is the “best” approach:
A plurality of voters continues to believe spending cuts alone are the best way to reduce the federal deficit. But even among those who favor a “balanced approach” of tax hikes and spending cuts instead, half want more emphasis on spending cuts.
Forty-five percent (45%) of Likely U.S. Voters think, generally speaking, that the long-term federal budget deficit should be reduced by cutting spending, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Thirty-six percent (36%) think the better way to reduce the deficit is through a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. However, this includes 18% who want the combination to include more tax increases than cuts and 18% who want more spending cuts than tax hikes.
Only six percent (6%) feel the deficit should be reduced by raising taxes alone. Thirteen percent (13%) are undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)
The president fervently believes he has a mandate to impose “the people’s will” through government action. Indeed, in a tight presidential election cycle, the public narrowly chose Mr. Obama to lead the nation for another four years, and therefore feels emboldened to move forward with his progressive, left-wing agenda as outlined in his second inaugural address. But what’s striking to me is that his “balanced approach” to long-term deficit reduction is not shared by almost half the voting public. Forty-five percent, according to this sample, believe cutting spending is the “best” -- and perhaps only -- way to achieve meaningful deficit reduction; they don’t believe tax hikes should even be on the table.
Of course, a plurality of Americans supports some combination of both spending cuts and tax increases. But even of those who fall into this latter category (see above), exactly half want more spending cuts rather than another round of tax hikes. This suggests, if anything, that a growing majority of Americans understand that putting our fiscal house in order is essentially impossible without cutting spending. This is a very good sign and, more important, underscores just how remarkably out of touch some leaders of the so-called People’s Party truly are.
And unsurprisingly, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul isn’t happy about it. In truth, Paul has become one of the most outspoken Republican advocates in the upper chamber for cutting military spending -- a position too many on the Right seem wholly uncomfortable with. But after studying Senator Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) shell-shocking report last year exposing Washington's wasteful spending habits, Paul seems insistent that there are plenty of ways both Republicans and Democrats can come to together to reduce annual federal expenditures. And cutting military spending, he argues, is a good place to start:
To cut the budget, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is looking under the sea for solutions.
Paul said Thursday he would give President Barack Obama the power to cut the $5.2 million spent on what he called “goldfish studies” and other wasteful military spending as the country inches closer to March 1, when the $1.2 trillion cuts in federal spending over the next decade take effect.
“In the military they have $5.2 million they spent on goldfish — studying goldfish to see how democratic they were and if we could learn about democracy from goldfish. I would give the president the authority to go ahead and cut all $5 million in goldfish studies,” Paul said on Fox News.
In an era of trillion dollar-plus annual deficits, $5 million might not seem like a lot of money. But it’s a start. And because Paul recognizes that there are so many other government programs that are wasteful and serve no meaningful purpose, he wants to give the president more leeway to cut them:
“I would give him more authority if he’s willing to use it to cut off some of this nonsense, but I don’t really trust a lot of what’s going on when I see him putting local firemen and policemen behind them and saying, ‘Republicans are going to make them lose their job,’” Paul said.
He added: “The sequester was his idea — he signed it into law and he needs to take responsibility and he needs to act responsibly and we’ve given him a list of cuts he could do without laying off anybody.”
Senator Paul is right to be cautious, of course. The president’s hysterical reaction to the looming “sequestration” cuts was unseemly and misleading, in part because he sought to blame Republicans for the impending “crisis” when in fact it was his idea from the start. In any case, giving the president unilateral authority to cut defense spending (or other areas of government) raises an important question: if Republicans are more willing to put military cuts on the table -- as Paul believes we should -- would the president and his party be more willing to take a good, hard look at cutting ineffectual entitlement programs? Maybe.
Then again, according to National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar, the president “[has] avoided challenging his liberal base on any idea” that he knows they wouldn’t support.
So why would he want to start now?
Florida Governor Rick Scott was one of Obamacare’s earliest and most vociferous critics -- one of many reasons why conservatives are up in arms now that the Sunshine State will accept federal funds to expand its Medicaid program. In some ways, conservatives are justifiably apoplectic, but as Charles Krauthammer explained on ‘Special Report’ last night, the situation in Florida is more nuanced than meets the eye (h/t NRO):
“You can act honorably either way. You can oppose [Obamacare and] then say you lost the fight. It’s the law of the land. It passed through Congress and got the signature of the president. It was approved by the Supreme Court. And, when the president ran for reelection against somebody who would abolish it, the president wins … [I] think it’s honorable to say ‘I will take the money because people in my state are paying federal taxes, are subsidizing people in other states,’ or you could argue it the other way and say ‘I still want to keep up the fight and that if enough states stay out, it’ll collapse.’”
Let’s face it: Obamacare isn’t going anywhere -- at least anytime soon. Voters had an opportunity last November to elect a compelling candidate who promised to repeal the president’s health care law in full. They declined. Now, it seems, Governor Scott is merely adhering to one of President Kennedy’s old injunctions: Deal with the world as it is, not as you might want it to be. This reasoning is: Why should Governor Scott deny his constituents access to affordable health insurance -- especially now that Obamacare is likely on the books forever and the federal government will foot the bill one hundred percent?
On the other hand, Florida (and Scott himself) led the charge to repeal Obamacare in state and federal court immediately after it was signed into law. But apparently standing on principle now doesn’t seem as important to Scott anymore (even though he spent millions of dollars out of his own pocket to help overturn the law). Meanwhile, scores of other states with conservative chief executives have refused to participate in the program, including Louisiana, Texas, and Wisconsin, among others. Question: Despite Governor Scott’s heretofore impeccable conservative bona fides, is it really that hard to believe he would capitulate and reverse his position on the Medicaid expansion program now that he’s up for re-election in a purplish state with a notably high elderly voting population? Hmm.
After reading about the money he stole, the expensive swag he bought with campaign funds, and the constituents he ultimately betrayed, it’s hard to feel anything but contempt for disgraced celebrity son and former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. But apparently not everyone agrees with me. Indeed, the folks over at ‘Morning Joe’ are -- wait for it -- saddened by his downfall (via Jazz Shaw):
Jackson: “For years I have lived off my campaign”
Scarborough: “It’s a sad story.”
Jazz summarized exactly how I felt after watching this nauseating segment:
At what point did this become a “sad story” exactly? The criminal was caught and brought to justice. The system worked. Aren’t we generally happy about that? To reiterate what I was ranting about on Twitter, this guy stole nearly a million dollars from the people of his district, many of whom live below the poverty level! Was anybody “sad” when Bernie Madoff got caught? Was anyone praying for “a new chapter” in Madoff’s life where he would “turn things around?”
Jackson Jr. got what he deserved. He betrayed the public’s trust and got caught. Americans, for their part, should be rejoicing that a corrupt, thieving politician can no longer steal money from the hard working Americans he ostensibly represented.
But there’s something else at play here that really bothers me about his behavior. When middle class Americans read that Jackson Jr. was literally living off his campaign and purchasing $43,000 Rolex watches with public funds, how will that make them feel? Simple: Angry, cynical and less inclined to trust any individual whom serves in government. How sad. Of course, as Alexander Hamilton reminded us long ago in The Federalist Papers, “a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidding appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government.” In other words, the Jesse Jackson Jr.’s of the world will always exist in public life. And it’s our job to keep our eyes on them at all times and, when necessary, hold them accountable.
Jackson Jr. spent years duplicitously pretending he was working on behalf of his constituents, when in fact he was actually stealing from them. Americans should not be saddened by these revelations; we should be glad that justice was finally served.
Meet longtime Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey -- if you haven’t already. He’s the U.S. Democratic Senate candidate who said during a recent campaign event that the Citizens United case is analogous to the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision. Excuse me?
“I want to go to the United States Senate in order to fight for a constitutional amendment to repeal Citizens United. The whole idea that the Koch brothers and Karl Rove can say we’re coming into Massachusetts, to any state of the union with undisclosed amounts of money is pollution, which must be changed. Constitution must be amended. The Dred Scott decision had to be repealed, we have to repeal Citizens United.”
These comments are so breathtakingly ignorant and offensive one must seriously question whether Mr. Markey is fit to serve in the Senate. The Dred Scott case essentially legalized slavery in all U.S. territories -- stripping every living African-American of the right to ever become a citizen -- and perhaps did more than any other singular event to bring about the Civil War. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the High Court’s controversial ruling is precisely why indifferent or apolitical Northerners took a concerted stand against the South’s increasingly hostile and vociferous defense of chattel slavery in the late 1850s, thus precipitating a conflict that didn’t end until 600,000 Americans were dead. This ruling would change the trajectory of world history, and was ultimately the reason Abraham Lincoln re-entered politics in 1858 (after spending years in private life) to eloquently denounce the flawed proposition of “popular sovereignty” and the spread of American slavery into the western territories.
Who among us can imagine the 19th century without President Abraham Lincoln? I certainly can’t.
In short, there is a no way to plausibly compare, let alone equate, a Supreme Court ruling that de-humanized individuals solely based on the pigmentation of their skin, and a ruling that some Americans believe poisons U.S. elections because there’s too much undisclosed money in politics.
But Markey’s comments are particularly rich -- and hypocritical -- for another reason: he received millions of dollars in PAC money over the course of his political career. The National Republican Congressional Committee pulled the data (via Open Secrets):
The hypocrisy and negative campaign tactics Markey is employing to win votes speaks volumes about the kind of candidate he is. And I can’t wait for Gabriel Gomez -- or another Massachusetts Republican -- to give him a run for his money in June.